Poem: The Last Unicorn

I am real; just reclusive.
I prefer to stay away from
Humans – it doesn’t do wonders
For your self esteem when
They keep confusing you with
Rhinos. Do I really look that fat
From behind? And when they
Started denying my existence
I just lost it –
And went to live in the forest.
Can you blame me? I have no
Regrets; I enjoy my solitary
Lifestyle; sparkling, rendering
Poisoned water potable
And whatnot. But sometimes
Even I must admit I get sick
Of being a symbol of chastity so
If you happen to know
Any good-looking male unicorns
(Or horses – I’m not fussy)
My number is 77123.
Do I seem forward? Sorry –
It’s just that sometimes
I get a little bit
Horny.

BR: ‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James

‘The Turn of the Screw’ is a classic ghost story, set in an English country house, in which a young, naive governess is alarmed by the appearance of malign spirits who attempt to possess her young charges. As the novella progresses, she becomes increasingly unhinged as she tries to save the children from their fate.

It sounds great in theory, but I was disappointed. Reviews I read labelled it as ‘chilling’, so much so that it terrified even the author, but I didn’t find it mildly frightening. It could be argued that 21st-century readers have more exposure to the grisly than the Victorians did, but in this sense I am practically Victorian anyway: I have only ever watched one horror film in my life and I don’t like going down the bottom of my garden in the dark.

The novella simply lacked atmosphere – little time was devoted to building up the creepiness of the setting, which in my opinion is a vital aspect of any horror story. None of the characters rang true for me; the author explained how wonderful the children were at least a thousand times but never really showed why this was the case. The descriptions of the governess’ emotions were rambling and over-complicated, the dialogue oblique and unrealistic; I found myself skimming over the paragraphs, waiting for something truly haunting to happen, but then I turned the last page and that was the end of it. I think James’ intricate, psychologically observant style of writing is much better suited to realistic stories such as ‘Washington Square’, in which the characters’ actions are believable and he is able to showcase his wit, something that was lacking in this book.

Not only was the story disappointing in itself, but the author displayed blatant sexism, not least in the phrase, ‘What surpassed everything was that here was a little boy who could have for the inferior age, sex and intelligence so fine a consideration.’  I suppose this statement is hardly surprising coming from a male Victorian novelist, but on top of everything else it tipped me over the edge. I will not be recommending this one to a friend.

 

Top 7: Poems from ‘The Whitsun Weddings’

I had never read anything by Larkin before I picked this collection up, and I confess myself pleasantly surprised; though there was a thread of melancholy running throughout, it was never heavy-handed enough to become depressing. Each poem was deep and many-layered, yet extremely accessible. If you’re interested, here are my recommendations:

  1. MCMXIV – a very poignant portrayal of a blissfully innocent England on the eve of the First World War.
  2. The Whitsun Weddings – the titular poem captures one seemingly unimportant moment in time beautifully.
  3. Love Songs in Age – an understated yet pitch-perfect depiction of ageing and grief that uses the motif of old records.
  4. Mr Bleaney – I like the way this poem effortlessly depicts the characters of two men who inhabit one room at different times.
  5. First Sight – I appreciate the sentiment behind this poem, which implies that there is always something better, even if you can’t see it at first.
  6. Afternoons – a lovely but melancholy interpretation of the disillusionment felt by many young mothers of Larkin’s era.
  7. Take One Home for the Kiddies – this poem is grimly sassy and turns very dark, very quickly.

Bluebells

This may perhaps seem a bit random, but I’ve never seen as many bluebells as this before in a single year so I thought I’d spread the spring joy and share them with you.

(Apologies for the proliferation of graveyards – I’m clearly drawn to them)

Bookishly Roundup 2

A summary of my second 3-month subscription to Bookishly:

Month 4

Month 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Akenfield’ by Ronald Blythe, Alice in Wonderland birthday cards and bookmark. Also some Lapsang Souchong Butterfly tea, of which there is no longer any evidence!

Month 5

Month 5

‘The Outsider’ by Albert Camus, blank travel notebook, Alice in Wonderland bookmark. Also some (again sadly vanished) Mint Chocolate Rooibos tea, which I must say is a particularly delicious variety.

Month 6

Month 6

‘This Side of Paradise’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Duchess Earl Grey tea, Shakespeare cards, floral bookmark.

Again I have been delighted with everything I’ve received from Bookishly, although I do resent being sent several tantalisingly beautiful cards which I will eventually have to give away when my friends have birthdays…

BR: ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

‘The Great Gatsby’ is narrated from the perspective of a fairly dull young man, Nick Carraway, who moves to an affluent suburb of New York and becomes drawn into a world of extravagance, wild parties and deceit. Most intriguing of all is his new next-door neighbour, Jay Gatsby, whose glittering, fantastical world is about to come crashing down.

I feel as though I should have read this a long time ago, but am slightly ashamed to admit that I watched the film with Leonardo DiCaprio first and therefore felt as though I knew everything there was to know about it. However, I can say with confidence that already knowing the outcome did not spoil my enjoyment of the story; the novel’s best features are its beautiful atmospheric writing and insightful social criticism, rather than its plot, which is slightly thin on the ground.

I think one of the reasons why ‘Gatsby’ is so loved is because, even after all this time, it transports you straight into the seductive world of 1920s New York with evocative descriptions such as that of Daisy, ‘drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed.’ Yet alongside this beautiful imagery, there is also a sense of emptiness, of something off-kilter, which never quite goes away. This is particularly apparent in the pathetic pretensions of Myrtle, the poor lower-class mistress of a rich married man, who begs him to buy her a dress, then simpers to her friends, ‘I just slip it on sometimes when I don’t care what I look like.’ There is even something unsettling in the understated mention of ‘children’ singing, ‘Your love belongs to me/ At night when you’re asleep/ Into your tent I’ll creep‘; to me this implied a corruption of innocence, a price paid for the pleasures of a hedonistic lifestyle. It is this dichotomy of beauty and emptiness, squeezed into every line, which makes ‘Gatsby’ such a memorable and enjoyable novella. I would certainly recommend it as a readable and deserving modern classic.

London on a budget

London has a well-deserved reputation for being an expensive place and, as an impoverished student, this can be offputting when planning a day out. However, as my friends and I discovered over the summer, it is still possible to do and see plenty without bankrupting yourself. Here is an account of how we spent – and how much we spent on – one packed day out:

Borough Market

Swordfish

We wandered around here first thing in the morning, when it was lively and bustling and everything was fresh. The food was fairly pricey but almost all the stalls offered free samples; consequently I tried a dazzling variety of mustard, bread and vinegar! Although we didn’t actually buy anything here, it was fun just to soak up the atmosphere and look at all the weird and wonderful food varieties. Of particular note was the fish stall (see above) where they seemed to be selling a giant starfish and the man behind the counter was holding the biggest swordfish I have ever seen in my life.

Tate Modern

yellow-triangle.jpg Shopping list

One of the best things about London is that all the art galleries and museums are completely free to visit. We chose to go to the Tate Modern because it is always entertaining. Reading the captions is just as much as fun as looking at the art: take, for example, the sign beside ‘Yellow Curve’, which read, ‘Can a yellow triangle be just a yellow triangle?‘ Or that for ‘Monochrome Till Receipt (White) 1999’: ‘A shopping receipt may seem like a strange thing to put on an art gallery wall. How can this be art?‘ – a sentiment which I rather agreed with.

Pizza Express

We spent no money at all on our meal at Pizza Express! No, I am not confessing to a minor crime; we simply used Tesco vouchers we had saved up to pay for the meals and we all drank tap water. Not only this, but we went to the branch on the South Bank (one of my favourite places ever because it always feels so vibrant and lively) and had a view out over the River Thames and Southwark Bridge.

The Monument

monument-1.jpg monument-2.jpg

I always feel that the Monument is very underrated. For only £3.00 (student price) you can climb right up to the top and spend as long as you want on the viewing platform, looking out over London (see above for some of the views). Then, at the end, you get a certificate for your trouble!

Greenwich

Statue clock.jpg Greenwich

Here we took a bit of a detour out to Greenwich, which is one of the joys of having a day travelcard; you can go anywhere you like in London spontaneously and at no extra cost. We rested our tired legs in the park, then walked up the hill to the Royal Observatory. There was a beautiful view out over London and, though we did not go inside to see the Prime Meridian line, it was perfectly visible through the gate so we thought that was as good as anything.

Emirates Air-Line

river.jpg o2.jpg cable-car.jpg boats.jpg

This was probably the highlight of the day. For a mere £3.40, we sailed over the Thames in a cable car. We picked a good time of day as it was the afternoon and the sun was low in the sky, so the sunlight sparkled beautifully off the water. It provided us with a unique perspective of London and the chance to view many familiar landmarks from a different angle.

Oxford Street

We ended the day in Oxford Street. It was just as busy in the evening as in the day, and the flickering lights, crowds of people and darkening sky created a very exciting atmosphere. We sniffed various different bath bombs in Lush before heading to H & M, where I bought a big floppy sunhat at the bargain price of £3.00.

So, travelcard aside, the grand total spent on that amazing day out was £9.40! Not only that, but I have a certificate, floppy sunhat and several panoramic photos of London to show for my efforts. Next time I will see if I can do even better…

Poem: April

Blossoms unfurl where snowflakes trembled once
James Taylor singing on the radio
An Easter egg firm in my curled hand
Hidden but there like the promise of you.
A moorhen skitters across the lake
The sky blooms pink like an early rose
The road is a ribbon of golden sun
Flushed green, the trees drip with hazy dew.
And April, April, April Rise
Everything tinted with beautiful you.