Not a good start

I drove West

In the season between seasons.

I left behind suburban gardens.

Lawnmowers. Small talk.

(White Hawthorn in the West of Ireland, Eavan Boland)

On Monday evening I was shocked and quite upset when I heard that Eavan Boland had died. She was one of my very favourite poets and she was only 75. With one foot in suburbia and the other in the west of Ireland, she managed to conjure up images of both with grace and precision. She brought a much needed woman’s voice to poetry in Ireland: sometimes angry, sometimes abrasive, sometimes gentle but always illuminating. Her poetry was thoughtful and was rooted both in the nation’s history and in the everyday experience of people, mainly women. It had a beautiful cadence to it. She was one of those people who I thought would always be around. Any time I saw or heard her interviewed, I felt she brought an accessible intellectualism to her subject. This morning on the radio, John Bowman played a clip of her talking about Sylvia Plath. Characteristically, she spoke about Plath the poet rather than Plath the sufferer of a mental illness.

I’ve also been thinking more about the effect of the pandemic on society, thoughts ignited by a rather moving video currently doing the rounds and sent to me twice during the week …

I’m not certain that what I wrote last week made that much sense. But this video helps, with its poetic sense of optimism, an optimism that the world will in some way be healed by the pandemic. That out of the fracture brought about by fear and containment, collectively we will realise that the path we were on was unsustainable. That there are more important things than profit margins and getting the latest gadget. That people matter and that society is better when everybody has a roof over their heads and access to care when they become ill, and that education and scientific discovery is about enhancing society’s collective experience rather than lining the pockets of those who already have enough.

What I was trying to articulate last week was my dismay that public discourse has shifted from a concern about the effect of the virus on society to an unseemly rush to re-open the economy and ‘get back to normal’. At its most pointed, those on the political right have started to espouse a heartless social Darwinism, a view that concern for the medically vulnerable should not dictate how the perhaps more healthy should live their lives. It’s the crudest of crude versions of the ‘survival of the fittest’. Like an iceberg, however, this vicious tip conceals a massive lobby on the part of industry to get people back to work regardless of the consequences. But the virus has gone nowhere. It will still disproportionately affect the elderly, the compromised, people living in poverty and those who have fewer choices. Even after a vaccine has been produced, they are the ones who will still have to wait in line until after the more prosperous have been inoculated.

I don’t want to get back to that normal. I want a different normal. I want a slower, more thoughtful, more empathetic, less fraught society where people look after and look out for each other.


Thank goodness for my early morning walks. They provide a physical outlet and the mental space to think and be. The surroundings also provide some creative inspiration. I’m quite conservative in my route, partly because I like it and partly because I know it’s about 5k which is about right. Part of the route takes me along the Dodder where I see this heron pretty often …

The weather so far in this age of constraint has been fantastic and, as the sun rises earlier in the day, I am more and more likely to see its effects in the bits of park I walk through …

Creatively, this week has been mostly about Cyanotype printing, with two distinct themes. While I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy many aspects of the stay at home thing, other aspects I find frustrating and I have to admit to an occasional sense of being hemmed in, confined, and a bit trapped. It’s not really cabin fever. I do get out. But getting out has to have a reason, such as exercise or shopping for essentials. It’s not even that I’m missing frequent jaunts off somewhere on a whim. My life is not like that. It’s more that I don’t feel I can give expression to a whim at all. So, the theme of locks, chains, gates and barriers commended itself to me …

Whether in parks or walking by suburban gardens, flowers and plants are a key feature of my walks. Several spring flowers are now trapped in Larousse’s Gastronomique which, in turn, is trapped under several other weighty tomes in a crude flower press. We shall see how they fare in a few weeks. The more leafy plants were either photographed and made into negatives or laid directly on photosensitive paper, exposed to the sun and became these …

Otherwise, I helped Christine recreate Boreas by John William Waterhouse, another episode in the Getty Museum Challenge …

… and I walked a GPS flower which, at the time, seemed a very important thing to do …

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