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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Art and Belief, the Sacred and the Secular

Stimulating and toothsome essay in the latest Poetry Ireland Review by Seán Lysaght on the subject of ‘eco-poetry’. After my small run-in with an Australian poet the last time I posted about it, that’s a topic we can shunt to one side for the moment. No, what I wanted to think about here was the question of poetry and belief, as it comes up in the course of Lysaght’s argument. He cites George Steiner’s Real Presences as a restatement of the theist position: our Western tradition, Steiner insists, is underpinned by a ‘belief in the mystery of transcendence’. ‘If this were true’, Lysaght comments, ‘John F. Deane’s asphodels on Achill were unintelligible, in their wonderful aspect as a chorus of souls, to those of us who do not share religious sentiment, let alone belief.’ He goes on: ‘The basic argument here is that language has an ability to communicate the world, that there is a covenant between the word and the world, and that this covenant is founded on belief in mystery and the transcendent.’

This is a large topic, and not one Lysaght proposes to settle definitively in a few pages, though since few enough people would want to push the believers-only line very strongly (I hope) he retreats into a more secular version of it for his conclusion. ‘The unexplained power of language to capture and restore our experience of nature is something we can point to without resorting to sacred paradigm (...) The mystery is entirely secular.’ In that case (and at this stage I am addressing Steiner more than Lysaght) what role do we still assign to the sacred in our aesthetics? Which is it, when we read poetry, sacred or secular? Because it’s hardly both, I assume.

George Steiner is as heavyweight a rhetorician as they come. That’s rhetorician, not critic, since I don’t really rate his critical performances much: he is someone, I feel, who chooses rhetoric at the expense of critical persuasiveness or even coherence. And nowhere more so than in his writing on the sacred. George Steiner, Isaiah Berlin said, was that rarest of things, a complete charlatan, and while that’s fightin’ talk, I don’t think it’s too strong a condemnation to use of the argument behind that much-touted tract of his, Real Presences. For a few years, on a course about literary journalism, I used to teach my students James Wood’s essay ‘George Steiner’s Unreal Presences’, until I gave up, mainly because I had to admit defeat in the face of my students’ overwhelming unfamiliarity with the Christian mythology, without a working knowledge of which Woods’ essay can’t be expected to make much sense. But I still think of it as one of the noblest put-down jobs in contemporary critical writing. Steiner, as any fule kno, is very concerned to dignify the written word, to confer on it something of the aura of the mystical in these jaded and desacralised times. How does he propose we do this? Here is Steiner:

Where we read truly, where the experience is to be that of meaning, we do so as if the text (the piece of music, the work of art), incarnates (the notion is grounded in the sacramental) a real presence of significant being. The real Presence, as in an icon, as in the enacted metaphor of the sacramental bread and wine, is finally irreducible to any other formal articulate...

{Quotation ends}

Steiner is summoning Pascal here, but even with my Christian Brothers-level theology, there are two words in that passage I’d want to pause on. But James Wood has seen them too (‘as if’) and comments:

So Steiner is saying, in effect: ‘deconstruction has eroded our belief that texts mean anything; in opposition, I propose that, as Pascal wagered on God’s existence, we must wager on meaning’s existence. And I will wager on this in the same way that the Real Presence is a wager.’ But this ‘idea’ is no more than the milk of optimism, and is soaked in errors. First of all, the Real Presence is not a wager like Pascal’s (...) Pascal wrote that we should force ourselves to believe in God even if we are doubtful about his existence, because if we are right, and God exists, we win heaven, and if we are wrong, and God does not exist, we have not harmed ourselves by believing in an illusion. How could the Eucharist possibly be a wager of this sort? The Christian, if he or she believes in the Real Presence, believes that the bread and wine of the Eucharist service refer to Jesus’s body and blood because they incarnate them. (...) It is not a wager, but a belief. (...) While on the one hand the text is taken to ‘incarnate’ meaning, a word with a specific theological gravity of embodiment, in the next sentence, this incarnation is made than an ‘enacted metaphor’. This is intellectually feeble.

{Quotation ends}

Steiner borrows all the pomp and gravity of his religious comparison, in other words, but none of the meaning. He writes the cheque, made out on the bank of high seriousness, but with nothing in the account. He takes something as startingly unmetaphorical as the conversion of bread and wine into flesh and blood, since that’s what we’re talking about here, if you are a believing Catholic, and, first, collapses if into the banality of an ‘as if’ transubstantiation-lite, but then still has the nerve to peddle this to us under the title Real Presences, As If Real Presences presumably lacking a certain something by contrast. It’s rhetorical sleight-of-hand, a slippage as devious as that of any trainee deconstructionist. The fact, then, that otherwise intelligent people (John Banville, for instance) can swallow this fakery and take Steiner at his own estimate as any kind of serious thinker on this subject is as puzzling as it is disappointing. But the problem remains. Art works do not incarnate real presences, let me humbly suggest, any more than the signifier ‘cat’ is capable of sitting on my laptop and purring noisily while it tries to type long Dadaist poems with its belly. Get over it! Deconstruction need no more endanger your enjoyment of your favourite Beethoven string quartet than The X-Factor spoils my enjoyment of the blackbird on the gutter outside my window now, and an argument based on melodrama and basic terminological confusion is not going to help me appreciate anything better, frankly, Beethoven or a blackbird. You are wallowing, George Steiner, in a false opposition, the better to drum up a little of the high-rent angst that is your stock-in-trade. But let’s get back to the debate at hand. Does being a religious type increase one’s sensitivity to the natural world? Absolutely not, I would answer. Does possessing a sensitivity to the natural world predispose one to sign up for Christianity or other socially approved cosmic fairy tales? Equally absolutely not, I would hope.

So what becomes of the sacred in art these days? Though not remotely of the quavering agnostic (rather than merely atheist) persuasion, I am sometimes forced in classroom situations to reconsider the benefits of consigning religious belief to the scrapheap. Asking a seminar group once, in a discussion of Plath’s ‘Lady Lazarus’, who Lazarus was I eventually elicited the timid suggestion that he was ‘the bloke with the hair’. Tom Paulin has complained about blank stares from students (in Oxford) when he tells them that George Herbert was an ‘Anglican’ priest (wossat then?). But if I think so little of the Christian mythology drummed into me thirty years ago by Brother Micky Mud and Dicky Dirt, why do I think they should waste any of their time polishing up on it? Oh, I see, for cultural reasons. To those such as Arnold who thought that, even now that literature has replaced religion as our principal source of humane and civilised values, we could always find a place in our hearts for the Bible, if only because of its impeccable prose style, Eliot like to counter that people who admire the Bible as a monument of culture do so over the grave of Christianity. Which may not be a bad thing, but there you go.

I always enjoy Christmas, Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling declares to Ludovic Kennedy, but it was all still commercial in my childhood and I notice a note of religion coming in now, and I don’t like that. I was reminded of that, re-reading Empson on Milton - a very different experience from reading Steiner on these topics, need I add. What a wild and wacky book Milton’s God is, and how amusing to see him designate his opponents ‘neo-Christians’, can I also say. But Empson, yes. Since Steiner mentions Pascal’s wager, I can’t let the opportunity pass to quote the great and good Sir William on that subject:

He (Pascal) argued, while more or less inventing the mathematics of Probability, that since the penalties for disbelief in Christianity are infinitely horrible and enduring, therefore, if there is any probability, however tiny (but finite) that the assertions of religion are true, a reasonable man will endure any degree of pain and shame on earth (since this is known beforehand to be finite) on the mere chance that the assertions are true. The answer is political, not mathematical; this argument makes Pascal the slave of any person, professing any doctrine, who has the impudence to tell him a sufficiently extravagant lie. A man ought therefore to reject such a calculation; and I feel there has been a strange and unpleasant moral collapse during my own lifetime, because so many of our present literary mentors not only accept it but talk as if that was a moral thing to do. Clearly, if you have reduced morality to keeping the taboos imposed by an infinite malignity, you can have no sense of personal honour or of the public good.

‘The slave of any person, professing any doctrine, who has the impudence to tell him a sufficiently extravagant lie’ – what a noble and beautiful answer to the imposture of religion.

Oh, and the sacred and the secular. I’ve totally failed to sort that one out, haven’t I. Some other time then.

I should say before finishing, by the way, that much of my favourite art is religious, or at least produced by devout believers: Messiaen, Tarkovsky, Hopkins. Only the crudest reading of my thoughts here could see any contradiction in this, I hope.

And many thanks to SL for his article providing the occasion for these

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ethna MacCarthy, Poet

Beckett fact no. 97.

By way of a footnote to my discussion of Lyle Donaghy, I might also mention Ethna MacCarthy, whose name came up a few times in the discussion that followed my paper (and that of Graley Herron) the other day. Her part in inspiring Krapp’s Last Tape has long been known, not to mention her appearance as the Alba in Beckett’s earlier fiction. But the woman herself has also remain more than a little elusive. How serendipitous then, in thumbing through an Irish Times publication of 1944, Poems from Ireland, which includes Donaghy’s work, to find two poems by her, ‘Requiem’ and ‘Harlequin’. She has published poems, her contributor’s note tells us, in Hermathena, the Dublin Magazine, and the Farmer’s Gazette. Here is ‘Harlequin’:

My love is of the moon –
pale sequin and velvet cratered depths,
pure light and softest shaggy dark.
Like her he seeks the sun for warmth
to ramble the livid streets from dusk
and barter his tranquillity for tears,
and never knows how good he is
or tired, but fights the sordid strident day
till like a child he rests a little in my arms.
And then the fearful maturation of the light
lifts at his languid head. And so he goes,
to skim the scattered sequins from the pools.

‘The Celtic-Aristocratic-Classical Channel’: Lyle Donaghy and Samuel Beckett

Beckett fact no. 96.

Text of a short talk I gave the other day.

‘Enter again into the womb /(...) Descend into the dark cell’, wrote Lyle Donaghy in his 1927 poem Primordia Caeca. The theme of Beckett and the dark cell of his Irish beginnings has received generous attention in recent times, notably in Emilie Morin’s book Samuel Beckett and the Problem of Irishness and Seán Kennedy’s edited essay collection, Beckett and Ireland. A significant shift to have occurred in recent years, I would suggest, is the abandonment of previous models of Beckett’s evolution that saw him achieving artistic maturity through the expedient of rejecting his Irish background. Writing of Beckett’s dealings with his poetic contemporaries in the 1930s, for instance, Seán Kennedy argues that ‘the evidence gleaned from Beckett’s immersion in the field (...) is not that he became modernist “despite” his Irish roots (...), but precisely because of them.’ The non serviam moment of ‘Recent Irish Poetry’ in 1934 is a good test case for this position, as critics first argued that Beckett had identified the small number of like-minded internationalists in 30s Irish poetry, then shifted their ground to stress the Irishness and well as the modernism of these writers (MacGreevy, Devlin and Coffey), before, most recently, questioning the extent of Beckett’s commitment to these writers and how much, if anything, they really had in common. A name peculiarly absent from these debates is Lyle Donaghy, whose work I have been researching with a view to publishing a Selected Poems. At a slight oblique angle to Revivalist culture though they were, the triumvirate of MacDevley, to resort to shorthand, at least formed a support network among themselves, with likeminded figures such as George Reavey offering critical validation. Donaghy’s literary friendships failed to find him a critical champion, and it is a telling symptom of his apartness that a posthumous tribute issue of the Ulster journal Rann devoted to him should consist entirely of reprinted poems, with not a word of reminiscence or appreciation. In this critical vacuum Donaghy’s reputation could only dissolve, which it duly did. It is always a bad sign when reference books cannot agree on a fact as basic as the year of an author’s death (Donaghy’s death is often listed as taking place in 1947, and Anthony Cronin dates it to 1942), but this is only one of numerous indignities suffered by Donaghy since his actual death in 1949. Who was Lyle Donaghy?

Lyle Donaghy is the most significant unread Irish poet of the 1930s and 1940s. He was born on 28 July 1902 in Larne, the eldest son of a Presbyterian minister, and was educated at Larne grammar school and Trinity College, Dublin, after which he became a schoolteacher. The chronology of his adult life is often mysterious, with even the Dictionary of Irish Biography struggling to flesh out the ‘elusive details of Donaghy’s personal life’. He was in London in 1930, but was back in Ireland shortly afterwards, living in Dublin and Wicklow. In Dublin, Donaghy was active in theatrical circles. In 1927 he produced Chekhov’s The Bear at the Abbey, for ‘The Anomalies’ theatre company, and in 1932 founded The Phoenix Theatre in Dun Laoghaire. An Irish Times report described this group as ‘experimental’ in aim and devoted to the evolution of a new national drama, as Donaghy hoped to demonstrate in a production of his own play ‘The Fall of Conchobar’, now lost; and thereafter the trail goes cold. In his poetry, meanwhile, Donaghy cast himself as a hybrid of the Gaelic and classical traditions, writing with skill and sensitivity of the natural world and ranging from the short lyric to the longer visionary sequence. He published in Eliot’s Criterion; two of his collections were published by the Yeats sisters’ Cuala Press; and he appeared (intermittently) in anthologies of the day, such as the Devin-Adair volume New Irish Poets (1949). Long before this date, marital and mental breakdown had complicated the picture, and on his death from tuberculosis on 4 May 1949 he was described in an Irish Times obituary as being ‘aged about 45 years’. The destruction of his papers after his death, possibly out of a fear of infection, set a precedent for the striking of Donaghy’s name from the record that followed.

The Beckett-Donaghy connection is as elusive as it is intriguing. Their association dates from at least 1930, when Beckett visited Donaghy in London. In a letter of 26 March 1936, Beckett describes to Arland Ussher walking with Jack Yeats by Stephen’s Green and quoting Donaghy’s ‘A Thought of Suicide’. On 7 July of the same year he tells Thomas MacGreevy of travelling to Glencree to visit Donaghy’s estranged wife Lilian, who was then living with Charlie Gilmore, brother of George Gilmore, founder of the Republican Congress (the poet’s son Kevin retains a cordial memory of these visits). Into the Light, Beckett tells MacGreevy, was ‘full of good things in what [Donaghy] believes to be the Celtic-Aristocratic-Classical channel’, though he deplored the preface with its ‘words like puissant and affiliations with F.R. Higgins’, always a Beckett bête noire. Donaghy’s Wicklow years were marked by solitude and mental distress, at a time when Beckett’s depression drove him into the same terrain, as he wrote to Mary Manning Howe on 30 August 1937 (‘I lie for days, on the floor, or in the woods, accompanied & unaccompanied...’). On 10 December 1937, Beckett reported to Mary Manning that ‘Donaghy is in Enniskerry, living in sin with his beard’, the Powerscourt Arms in Enniskerry being a favourite watering hole of Beckett’s on the return leg of his walks to Glencree. The difference between the two men’s plight was that 1937 was also the year of Beckett’s definitive flight from Foxrock to Paris, while Donaghy stayed where he was, sinking further into the mantic vortex of his two last books, Wilderness Sings (1942) and Wild Sun and Moon (1949).

The tiny print-runs of Donaghy’s books mean that many of these poems could hardly have been much more read in their day than they have been subsequently; in the words of the addendum to Watt, they have ‘never been properly born’. The place of publication of Wild Sun and Moon, Brockagh, is a mountain in Wicklow, where it seems Donaghy was then leading a semi-destitute existence. For the reader of Donaghy’s work exploring these long-out-of-print collections in Dublin’s National Library, there is the surprise of marginal communications in the author’s own hand: a prefatory note to ‘Sonnet’ in Wilderness Sings informs us of Donaghy’s composition of ‘a certain Philosophical Work in Two Volumes, called An-t-Slighe Cruithuighthe (Creation Path)’ only for a fountain-pen to upgrade that ‘two’ to ‘three’. No trace of this pantheist tract has survived.

I mentioned Wicklow, that county derided by Belacqua in More Pricks Than Kicks for its abundance of ‘breasts and pimples’. When Beckett set out from Cooldrinagh for a walk, he would regularly proceed to Glencullen and thence to Glencree, the long glacial valley overlooked by Prince William’s Seat, of sacred memory to Watt’s Mr Hackett, and from the north by the Lemass memorial on the Featherbed Mountain, as contemplated on their rambles by Mercier and Camier, a small gesture of patriotic memory of the kind that inspired the contemporaneous description (in ‘First Love’) of those rural sites where ‘nauseated time has dropped one of history’s ancient turds’, in the ‘Elysium of the roofless’ that was the Free State. ‘The lowest mountains here terrify me’, Beckett noted in 1932: ‘was reduced almost to incontinence by the calm secret hostility.’ He is ‘exhausted of meaning by the mountains’ in 1934, chained by them to the ‘oar of his fidgets’, as he announces in the midst of a disquisition on landscape and Cézanne. The Wicklow of Donaghy’s last years may have retained the aura of Synge’s melancholy essays a generation before, but more brashly modern influences were also in evidence. George Plant, IRA gunman and Church of Ireland renegade, stalked the hills until his arrest and execution in 1942 in one of the Free State’s most notorious court cases. German Abwehr agents parachuted into the country would make their way to Iseult Gonne’s cottage in remote Glenmalure, its address supplied to them by the Berlin-based novelist and amateur broadcaster Francis Stuart; some of these agents, including Herman Goertz, would find a permanent Wicklow resting place in the German war cemetery in Glencree. Here again then, the larger European picture is more actively at work in Ireland than a simplistic dichotomy of Ireland and elsewhere allows. If anything, the claustrophobia evident in those well-known lines from First Love, as in other works from this period such as Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, not to mention Donaghy’s poetry spells out unmistakably the violent efforts required to impose its appearance of pastoral harmlessness on Irish society at the time.

Donaghy’s work displays a Revivalist patina round its edges, with a weakness for postures of ‘exorbitant loneliness’ and desire to commune with the ‘proud in beauty and the laurelled head’. An appreciative Irish Times review of Into the Light in 1934 put it in Little Chandleresque terms: ‘Call it the Gaelic note’. These poems’ pastoralist leanings are not all swooning daydreams of Tir-na-nÓg, however. As Beckett suggests in ‘Recent Irish Poetry’, the long central poem of Primordia Caeca is a veritable Saison en enfer, with Blake’s prophetic books are an appreciable presence too; the sprawling long poems of his final books show an encyclopaedic ambition comparable to late Hugh MacDiarmid. The poem I wish to consider, ‘The Falcon’, is something different again. Raptors are a recurrent Donaghy motif, and the aforementioned mountain named as the place of publication of Wild Sun and Moon adjoins a lonely corrie, Lough Ouler, whose name translates as ‘eagle lake’. Something aloofly murderous patrols the ‘granite headland’, leaving a mess of carrion in its wake. Consider Malone Dies’ Sapo, who had ‘gull’s eyes’ and ‘loved the flight of the hawk’, fascinated by its ‘extremes of need, of pride, of patience and solitude’. Where Beckett’s vulture, from Echo’s Bones, ‘stoop[s] to the prone’ with food on its mind, Donaghy’s bird finds itself subject to the rending of a cruel trapping post, the handiwork, perhaps, of one of the pigeon-fanciers so abundant ‘in these islands’, as Beckett notes in ‘Recent Ireland Poetry’ [lines three and four of each of the following stanzas indented one tab: sorry still can’t format this properly]:

The slick numb gin beneath the trapping post
Corrodes the falcon’s limbs – those limbs
From which the choughs veered windily
Under the granite headland.

The chain lies still upon the rocks: the long
Keen eyes are lidded heavily – those eyes
Which only closed when the hot gorge
Had followed flight and stoop.

The gin teeth shut, now, on a bone-breadth,
But the iron-hurt beak is unfrenzied – that beak
From which the chough gore dropped
So often down ledge and ledge;

The rabbit bait dries from the bones – he shall not return
To his shapely mate, nor ascend with new
Sticks to the nest, nor chisel with wide wing
His steely joy.

‘Hunger, earth and sky’ will be reduced to ‘offal’ before the birds reascends, but the power of Donaghy’s poem, as with Beckett’s responds to a subtle logic of absence and belatedness. In ‘13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ Wallace Stevens wondered which he preferred, ‘the beauty of inflections /Or the beauty of innuendoes, /The blackbird whistling /Or just after.’ Beckett’s and Donaghy’s poems are very much poems of afterwards, but all the more powerful for that. The ‘steely joy’ of Donaghy’s last line is a risus purus of pure posterity, echoing from the ‘no-man’s-land, Hellespont, or vacuum’ identified by Beckett as a prime hunting ground for his fabled rupture of the lines of communication.

Should we follow Donaghy into this inhospitable territory in search of further dispatches? Most certainly so, I would suggest. Literary history is all too often a raft of The Medusa rather than a lifeboat, its poets eyeing one another up beadily and braced for posterity’s push overboard. Strictly literary rather than sociological acts of retrieval can only go so far, and there is a sober pleasure to be derived from the utter defunctness of sub-Revivalist warblers mentioned in passing in ‘Recent Irish Poetry’ such as Irene Haugh, R.N.D. Wilson and Pamela Travers. Others again such as Geoffrey and Blanaid Salkeld have more substance to them, and await their own appeal hearings for reprieve from the library special collections in which they now languish. But, as I have attempted to convey, Donaghy’s achievement goes well beyond special pleading. His work offers multiple rewards, both in itself and concomitantly for what it tells us about Beckett and our still-evolving sense of 1930s Irish poetry. It is work of substance and achievement, and deserves to re-enter the modern Irish canon and stay there.



Monday, May 23, 2011

Derek Mahon, New Collected Poems

I do this kind of thing so you don’t have to: really, I do. Getting my copy of Derek Mahon’s New Collected Poems in the post in the morning, the first thing I did was sit down with a copy of the old Collected Poems and his three volumes since then (Harbour Lights, Life On Earth and An Autumn Wind) and compare contents pages. From this I learned:

The poem most recently called ‘In Carrowdore Churchyard’ is now called ‘Carrowdore’; ‘De Quincey in Later Life’ is now ‘De Quincey at Grasmere’; ‘The Forger’ has gone missing; ‘Thinking of Inis Oírr in Cambridge, Mass.’ is now ‘Inis Oírr’; ‘How to Live’ has gone missing; ditto ‘Ovid in Love’; ditto ‘from The Drunken Barge’; ‘North Wind: Portrush’ is now ‘North Wind’; ‘Morning Radio’ is now ‘Radio Days’; ‘After Pasternak’ has gone missing; ‘Achill’ is now ‘Beyond the Pale’; ‘October in Hyde Park’ has gone missing; ditto ‘Night Drive’; ditto ‘An Orphan at the Door’; ditto ‘The Race’; ditto ‘Galatea’; ‘The Yaddo Letter’ is now ‘Yaddo, or A Month in the Country’; ‘The Hudson Letter’ (a whole book title, dagnabbit) is now ‘New York Time’; ‘The Yellow Book’ (a whole book title, double-dagnabbit) is now ‘Decadence’; ‘Night and Day’ has gone missing; ditto ‘Michelangelo’; ditto ‘A Dirge’; ditto ‘A Siren’; ditto ‘Stanzas for Mary Stuart’ [old Collected Poems ends]; no sign of ‘Lucretius on Clouds’ (Harbour Lights); ditto for ‘High Water’; ditto for ‘Langue d’Oc’; ditto for ‘A Game of Cards’; ditto for ‘The Enchanted Wood’; ‘Shorelines’ now ‘Sand Studies’; no sign of ‘Red Cloud’; ditto for ‘White Cloud’; ditto for ‘On the Beach’; ditto for ‘The Seaside Cemetery’; ditto for ‘Ariadne on Naxos’ (Life on Earth); ditto for ‘The Lady from the Sea’; ditto for ‘The Clifden Road’; ditto for ‘Sceilig Bay’ (from An Autumn Wind); ditto for ‘An Aspiring Spirit’; ditto for ‘Antrim Road’; ditto for ‘Romance’.

Which leaves the following new items: ‘Monochrome’, ‘Here in Tenerife’, ‘The One-Thirty’, ‘Shandon Bridge’, and ‘Dreams of a Summer Night’.

His collected translations and versions, Adaptations, accounts for most but not all of those absentees, but as with Mahon’s many previous selections from his own work there is no indication of which poems come from what book, and no notes. This I’m assuming is by authorial choice, not that I’m saying volumes like this should all sprouting bearing thickets of apparatus. There is an index of titles and of first lines, unlike in Collected Poems.

As for changes to the actual text of the poems, well, go find out for yourselves. Though I notice from the very first of the renamed poems I look at (‘Sand Studies’) that it boasts two stanzas not in the previous version...

There, happy now?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Kingston, Wincolmlee

Some artwork I came across last night in a most obscure pub indeed, the Kingston in Wincolmlee – a pub obscure enough not to feature in Simon Mason’s otherwise exhaustive list of Hull pubs, which is saying something. This fresco represents the celebrated bare-knuckle fight of 1860 between Tom Sayers and John Camel Heenan, which ended in chaos when the ropes were cut and the public invaded the ring. Sayers had a colourfully doomed life, to judge from his Wikipedia page. The landlord in the Kingston was telling me about a boxing padre in Hull in days gone by, but his name escapes me, as things tend to do, the morning after.

Alabaster Effect Virgin Mary (Discontinued Line)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Don Merton (1939-2007), Friend O'Kakapos

As feats of conservation go, Don Merton’s is surely unique: he saved a species, the Chatham Island black robin, whose numbers had fallen to a single surviving breeding female. For more on how he did this see here. He was also at the centre of kakapo-conservation, a project that involved transporting that species en masse to the predator-free islands where they now live, and where their numbers have steadily risen. The bird in the photograph here is Richard Henry kakapo, the only surviving mainland Fiordland bird when he was discovered in 1985, and who was believed to be between 80 and 100 years old when he died recently. A one-minute’s skraark! of tribute, please, from any flightless parrots reading this.