Bunburying

Bunbury +‎ -ing, coined by Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) after Bunbury, the fictitious invalid friend of the character Algernon whose supposed illness is used as an excuse to avoid social engagements.

I loved this announcement on Facebook from my alma mater and former workplace.

I messaged Mitchell, a former SBHS student, now an English/ESL teacher and a FB friend quite well known to some of my other friends there and on this blog.

Me: Loved the idea of this but obviously I won’t be there.

Mitchell: haha good on them!

Seems to be an all male cast too, as well as multicultural — as is the school. The free cucumber sandwich is jusr brilliant!

My Wollongong High colleague from the 1970s commented:

How delightful that students are still performing plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest. The farcical comedy and the witty dialogue can still entertain a contemporary audience. And with the added accompaniment of cucumber sandwiches, who could resist! So many witty quotes I still remember……”I’m sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever these days.” “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” are just a start!

Took me back twenty years!

Mitchell and Sirdan — Shakespeare Hotel June 2009

Thursday, March 21, 2002

(Mitchell was by 2002 well into his university studies.)

Cecily. Well, I know, of course, how important it is not to keep a business engagement, if one wants to retain any sense of the beauty of life, but still I think you had better wait till Uncle Jack arrives. I know he wants to speak to you about your emigrating.
Algernon. About my what?
Cecily. Your emigrating. He has gone up to buy your outfit.
Algernon. I certainly wouldn’t let Jack buy my outfit. He has no taste in neckties at all.
Cecily. I don’t think you will require neckties. Uncle Jack is sending you to Australia.
Algernon. Australia! I’d sooner die.
Cecily. Well, he said at dinner on Wednesday night, that you would have to choose between this world, the next world, and Australia.
Algernon. Oh, well! The accounts I have received of Australia and the next world, are not particularly encouraging. This world is good enough for me, cousin Cecily.
Cecily. Yes, but are you good enough for it?

That is of course from Act II of The Importance of Being Ernest and still got a good laugh from an Australian audience on a warm night when there was hardly a neck tie in sight!

Particularly when Cecily was played by a six foot tall Australian male in a fetching Edwardian summer frock.

Yesterday was a sheer delight. I met Mitchell for lunch where we discussed some matters of mutual interest. We then remembered that a rather important horse race was being run that day, or at least Mitchell did, so we went in search of a betting shop, managing to walk straight past the nearest one. However, we found another and Mitchell made a small investment on our behalf, which (it turned out) confirmed my ambivalence about gambling…

Then to the New Theatre where we met up with PK, Sirdan and Colin. The first play, Gross Indecency was Moises Kaufmann’s docudrama on the trials of Oscar Wilde, and is quite a splendid play. Peter Flett as Wilde was convincing in appearance and I was moved, I have to say, particularly by the speeches of Wilde towards the end as his life descended into chaos and the prison house beckoned. The Marquess of Queensberry, on the other hand, was just a bit too caricatured. There was a delightful sequence where Queen Victoria was literally wheeled in to sign into law the Act forbidding “Gross Indecency” (except between women).

One could not but be struck by echoes of the past week in Australia (the Justice Kirby issue).

The Sydney Morning Herald reviewer had damned the second play, The Importance of Being Ernest out of hand. It is, admittedly, Barry Lowe’s transformation of the text: we find ourselves at the beginning in Reading Gaol, the prisoners (including Wilde) circling in the exercise yard. Then we move to Wilde’s memory of the performance of The Importance of Being Ernest with Wilde sitting to one side of the stage. Twice he appears within the play; after the interval we enter the theatre and see Wilde talking to Cecily, who addresses her first lines to him. Then near the end, Wilde makes a short speech just before the last few speeches of the play. I thought it worked very well, particularly when you had just seen Gross Indecency.

The play itself was fresh, funny, well-paced, and the audience loved it. Sirdan had never read the play before or ever seen it, and he really enjoyed himself. The fact all parts were played by men was not at all disturbing. In fact it added to it, in my view. They did not camp it up outrageously but stayed in character and respected the text; the disjunctions, when they occurred, were delicious. I loved it. So did Mitchell, and PK, who is a bit of a purist when it comes to theatre.

We concluded the Herald reviewer must have been to another play!

Between plays we had the most delicious African food in a restaurant in King Street.

It was a really beautiful afternoon/evening.

Later

I had fun rereading The Importance of Being Ernest at various times during the day.

Then, this evening at 7.30 SBS showed the first episode of the PBS series on the reign of Queen Victoria. I certainly learned something from it. Next week it deals with India–must watch.

Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde

Moments in my eBook Library — 5 — William books — pure nostalgia

When I was a lad going to Sydney Boys High in 1955 I borrowed many a William book from the school library.

So I was chuffed to find that Project Gutenberg could take me back all those years, and indeed to the decades before when these books were appearing.

I have placed four in my eBook Library on Calibre.

I wonder who else remembers them?

There was a TV series in the 70s. I do not recall seeing it.

CHAPTER III
WILLIAM BELOW STAIRS
William was feeling embittered with life in general. He was passing through one of his not infrequent periods of unpopularity. The climax had come with the gift of sixpence bestowed on him by a timid aunt, who hoped thus to purchase his goodwill. With the sixpence he had bought a balloon adorned with the legs and head of a duck fashioned in cardboard. This could be blown up to its fullest extent and then left to subside. It took several minutes to subside, and during those minutes it emitted a long-drawn-out and high-pitched groan. The advantage of this was obvious. William could blow it up to its fullest extent in private and leave it to subside in public concealed beneath his coat. While this was going on William looked round as though in bewildered astonishment. He inflated it before he went to breakfast. He then held it firmly and secretly so as to keep it inflated till he was sitting at the table. Then he let it subside. His mother knocked over a cup of coffee, and his father cut himself with the bread knife. Ethel, his elder sister, indulged in a mild form of nervous breakdown. William sat with a face of startled innocence. But nothing enraged his family so much as William’s expression of innocence. They fell upon him, and he defended himself as well as he could. Yes, he was holding the balloon under the table. Well, he’d blown it up some time ago. He couldn’t keep it blown up for ever. He had to let the air out some time. He couldn’t help it making a noise when the air went out. It was the way it was made. He hadn’t made it. He set off to school with an air of injured innocence—and the balloon. Observing an elderly and irascible-looking gentleman in front of him, he went a few steps down a back street, blew up his balloon and held it tightly under his coat. Then, when abreast of the old gentleman, he let it off. The old gentleman gave a leap into the air and glared fiercely around. He glanced at the small virtuous-looking schoolboy with obviously no instrument of torture at his lips, and then concentrated his glare of fury and suspicion on the upper windows. William hastened on to the next pedestrian. He had quite a happy walk to school.

School was at first equally successful. William opened his desk, hastily inflated his balloon, closed his desk, then gazed round with his practised expression of horrified astonishment at what followed. He drove the French master to distraction.

“Step out ’oo makes the noise,” he screamed.

No one stepped out, and the noise continued at intervals.

The mathematics master finally discovered and confiscated the balloon.

“I hope,” said the father at lunch, “that they’ve taken away that infernal machine of yours.”

William replied sadly that they had. He added that some people didn’t seem to think it was stealing to take other people’s things….

Me as an avid reader of William books 1955,

Moments in my eBook Library — 3 — Siegfried Sassoon

June 2022 is his time again thanks to this much anticipated movie.

His friendship with great World War 1 poet Wilfred Owen has been represented in film before. In 1997 Gillies Mackinnon, the director of the movie Regeneration, imagines the composition of “Dulce et Decorum est”. Wilfred Owen started writing war poetry at Craiglockhart Hospital in 1917 under the influence of Sigfried Sassoon.

I have Wilfred Owen’s poems in my eBook Library.

In his preface to that volume Siegfried Sassoon wrote:

He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry while taking part in some heavy fighting on 1st October. He was killed on 4th November 1918, while endeavouring to get his men across the Sambre Canal.

A month before his death he wrote to his mother: “My nerves are in perfect order. I came out again in order to help these boys; directly, by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can.” Let his own words be his epitaph:—

              “Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
               Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery.”

To Sassoon himself now. My eBook Library has two volumes.

From that second one I have selected a poem I had not read before. It gains even more resonance when one considers the theme of the 2022 movie — Sassoon’s homosexuality.

LOVERS
You were glad to-night: and now you’ve gone away.
Flushed in the dark, you put your dreams to bed;
But as you fall asleep I hear you say
Those tired sweet drowsy words we left unsaid.

I am alone: but in the windless night
I listen to the gurgling rain that veils
The gloom with peace; and whispering of your white
Limbs, and your mouth that stormed my throat with bliss,
The rain becomes your voice, and tells me tales
That crowd my heart with memories of your kiss.

Sleep well: for I can follow you, to bless
And lull your distant beauty where you roam;
And with wild songs of hoarded loveliness
Recall you to these arms that were your home.

And a poem of the war:

DEVOTION TO DUTY
I was near the King that day. I saw him snatch
And briskly scan the G.H.Q. dispatch.
Thick-voiced, he read it out. (His face was grave.)
‘This officer advanced with the first wave,
‘And when our first objective had been gained,
‘(Though wounded twice), reorganized the line:
‘The spirit of the troops was by his fine
‘Example most effectively sustained.’

He gripped his beard; then closed his eyes and said,
‘Bathsheba must be warned that he is dead.
‘Send for her. I will be the first to tell
‘This wife how her heroic husband fell.’

An amazing instance of intertextuality as the story of David and Bathsheba — a story of betrayal and corruption in high places — is grafted on to an event Sassoon may well have witnessed during the War.

Engraving by the German painter Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (March 26, 1794 – May 24, 1872)

AFTERMATH

Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked awhile at the crossing of city ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same,—and War’s a bloody game….
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz,—
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench,—
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack,—
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads,—those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the Spring that you’ll never forget.

EVERYONE SANG
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on—on—and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror

Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing
            will never be done.

A less well-known poet of World War 1 — Isaac Rosenberg

The names that come to mind when English-language poets of World War 1 are mentioned include Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves…. I knew of Isaac Rosenberg, but less of him. I had read poems such as “Dead Man’s Dump” and this –very famous:

I think of him because an edition of his poems has just appeared on Project Gutenberg,

An outline of his life is here.

He loathed war and hated the idea of killing, but he was now unemployed and, hearing that his mother would be able to claim a separation allowance, in late October he enlisted. He was initially assigned to the 12th Suffolk Regiment, a Bantam Battalion formed of men less than 5’3″ in height, but in the spring of 1916 he was transferred to the 11th Battalion, the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment (KORL). In June that year he was sent to France. Shortly before leaving he published his third and final collection of poems, Moses.

Throughout his twenty-one months in the trenches he maintained a correspondence with Edward Marsh, Gordon Bottomley, and Laurence Binyon, all of whom took an interest in his poetry. His trench poems, written on whatever scraps of paper he could find, went through many drafts which he sent home to his sister Annie to be typed and then forwarded to his friends. Despite the difficult conditions under which he worked, he produced remarkable and powerful work, including August 1914Louse HuntingReturning, we hear the larksDead Man’s Dump and Break of Day in the Trenches. These poems were not published in a single volume until 1922.

Rosenberg was killed early on the morning of 1st April 1918 during the German spring offensive. 

One that has struck me from the 1922 edition Project Gutenberg gives us is “Louse Hunting”.

1915, The Vosges, France — in well constructed German trenches in the Vosges 1915. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

LOUSE HUNTING

Nudes, stark and glistening,
Yelling in lurid glee. Grinning faces
And raging limbs
Whirl over the floor one fire;
For a shirt verminously busy
Yon soldier tore from his throat
With oaths
Godhead might shrink at, but not the lice,
And soon the shirt was aflare
Over the candle he’d lit while we lay.

Then we all sprang up and stript
To hunt the verminous brood.
Soon like a demons’ pantomime
This plunge was raging.
See the silhouettes agape,
See the gibbering shadows
Mixed with the baffled arms on the wall.
See Gargantuan hooked fingers
Pluck in supreme flesh
To smutch supreme littleness.
See the merry limbs in that Highland fling
Because some wizard vermin willed
To charm from the quiet this revel
When our ears were half lulled
By the dark music
Blown from Sleep’s trumpet.

Gordon Bottomley quotes a letter from Rosenberg:

To Gordon Bottomley (February, 1917).

“Your letters always give me a strange and large pleasure; and I shall never think I have written poetry in vain, since it has brought your friendliness in my way. Now, feeling as I am, cast away and used up, you don’t know what a letter like yours is to me. Ever since November, when we first started on our long marches, I have felt weak; but it seems to be some inscrutable mysterious quality of weakness that defies all doctors. I have been examined most thoroughly several times by our doctor, and there seems to be nothing at all wrong with my lungs. I believe I have strained my abdomen in some way, and I shall know of it later on. We have had desperate weather, but the poor fellows in the trenches where there are no dug-outs are the chaps to pity. I am sending a very slight sketch of a louse-hunt. It may be a bit vague, as I could not work it out here, but if you can keep it till I get back I can 40work on it then. I do believe I could make a fine thing of Judas. Judas as a character is more magnanimous than Moses, and I believe I could make it very intense and write a lot from material out here. Thanks very much for your joining in with me to rout the pest out, but I have tried all kinds of stuff; if you can think of any preparation you believe effective I’d be most grateful for it.”

The “louse-hunt” refers to a night scene in which Rosenberg took part, and which forcibly struck his imagination as a subject for a Goya picture or for a poem like the “Jolly Beggars”: a barn full of naked soldiers—Scottish and others—singing, swearing, and laughing, in mad antics as they pursued the chase.

He was also an artist. This 1914-15 self-portrait is the London National Portrait Gallery.

Rosenberg, Isaac; Isaac Rosenberg; National Portrait Gallery, London

See also Chloe Nahum, ‘Death does not conquer me’: the poetry and painting of Isaac Rosenberg.

The preface to the 1922 first edition (Gutenberg) is by Laurence Binyon, nowadays known almost only for one poem, though there is much more to his career:

Writing to Edward Marsh in 1915 Rosenberg said

I never joined the army for patriotic reasons. Nothing can justify war … I thought if I join there would be the separation allowance for my mother.’

In June 1915 he had written to another friend that ‘Most people find my poems difficult’ but later on wrote to Marsh that he thought his poems were ‘as simple as ordinary talk.’

Discover War Poets

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 3

Things have not improved significantly. Hopefully my on-line order (see yesterday’s post) arrives this morning, keeping me in food and such necessities!

Now one thing you can do in lockdown is read. As well as my few library books, I have the vast eBook library I have posted about before. That now stands at 2,830 books! One recent acquisition — and 99.9% of my eBooks are freebies — is E M Forster, A Passage to India. I would say it has just emerged from copyright, as it was not available from Project Gutenberg before.

Now of course I had read it before, first while a student at Sydney University around 1961-2, and again later on. Naturally I also saw the movie.

All sorts of interesting things can be said about the book and the movie! We perhaps need to be reminded of three things: 1) E M Forster was a closeted gay man 2) the book appeared in 1924 3) the emphasis on the Muslim in India was one with the way the British tended to think about the “natives”. The novel, while not autobiographical, is rooted in Forster’s own experiences in India and with Indians. Much has been said, and fair enough too, along the lines of post-colonial critique; the first and still most famous example of that is Edward Said.

But what struck me most as after all this time I read the first few chapters is what absolutely brilliant writing it is. Also, that it really is better than any movie or other adaptation. Let me close by indulging in a long quotation from Chapter 1.

I quote the entire chapter!

Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off—the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. There is no painting and scarcely any carving in the bazaars. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.

Inland, the prospect alters. There is an oval Maidan, and a long sallow hospital. Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground by the railway station. Beyond the railway—which runs parallel to the river—the land sinks, then rises again rather steeply. On the second rise is laid out the little civil station, and viewed hence Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place. It is a city of gardens. It is no city, but a forest sparsely scattered with huts. It is a tropical pleasaunce washed by a noble river. The toddy palms and neem trees and mangoes and pepul that were hidden behind the bazaars now become visible and in their turn hide the bazaars. They rise from the gardens where ancient tanks nourish them, they burst out of stifling purlieus and unconsidered temples. Seeking, light and air, and endowed with more strength than man or his works, they soar above the lower deposit to greet one another with branches and beckoning leaves, and to build a city for the birds. Especially after the rains do they screen what passes below, but at all times, even when scorched or leafless, they glorify the city to the English people who inhabit the rise, so that new-comers cannot believe it to be as meagre as it is described, and have to be driven down to acquire disillusionment. As for the civil station itself, it provokes no emotion. It charms not, neither does it repel. It is sensibly planned, with a red-brick club on its brow, and farther back a grocer’s and a cemetery, and the bungalows are disposed along roads that intersect at right angles. It has nothing hideous in it, and only the view is beautiful; it shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.

The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the river. Clouds map it up at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after sunset it has a new circumference—orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple. But the core of blue persists, and so it is by night. Then the stars hang like lamps from the immense vault. The distance between the vault and them is as nothing to the distance behind them, and that farther distance, though beyond colour, last freed itself from blue.

The sky settles everything—not only climates and seasons but when the earth shall be beautiful. By herself she can do little—only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and so enormous. Strength comes from the sun, infused in it daily, size from the prostrate earth. No mountains infringe on the curve. League after league the earth lies flat, heaves a little, is flat again. Only in the south, where a group of fists and fingers are thrust up through the soil, is the endless expanse interrupted. These fists and fingers are the Marabar Hills, containing the extraordinary caves.

I just revelled in that!

Inspiration point

It is very tangentially related to the above, if you give yourself enough leeway! But in fact it is from our local Wollongong news, and is a marvellous example of human kindness and also of Australian multiculturalism at its best.

You may have read here in the past about one of the favourite restaurants of my friend Chris Turner and myself — Samara’s. See for example Munching against the fear of “the other”…

On Facebook I remarked by way of introduction:

Samara’s is such a great restaurant, and such wonderful people. Their restaurant is halal.

If that worries anyone, then those worriers have the problem, not Samara’s.

Chris Turner and I were meant to do Friday lunch at Samara’s when the signs of what we are now going through became apparent — before Gladys actually called it.

Screenshot - 24_07_2016 , 8_40_05 AM

Now see what they are up to in the current lockdown.

Update

The grocery order arrived! Early, in fact!