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Cycling, Classified, Poems, Burns & Engels and Love's Executioner

Ever since I got my bicycle a couple of months ago I've noticed articles and cycling campaigns everywhere. Today's Observer Review has a feature on cycling, including a group of retro fashionista cyclists! I put my bike in for a service yesterday morning because in the short time I've had it I've trashed it somewhat. I went crashing into a car a few weeks after getting it and broke the rear mud-guard, and then the chain guard became buckled so......and I'm getting it back tomorrow, hopefully feeling all brand new again, in time to cycle into the west end. Yesterday it was off to Tate Britain, not to the usual Pre-Raphaelites, but to Classified, billed as a 'rare chance to see exceptional works by today's leading artists'. The Chapman brothers collection of Ronald McDonald African type artefacts was both aptly dark and sinister but most other works left me somewhat cold, save for a dark brown block painting of tree trunks, though I forget the name of the artist.
Today I asked a few friends what their favourite poem was and, so far, it's interesting to note that there was Robbie Burns, Cavafy, and (me) Yeats, and no surprise to learn that the first friend hails from Scotland, the second has his roots in Greece, and my own are, half at least, in 'that part' of Ireland. Is this cultural loyalty? It will be interesting to see what other poems are picked, if at all.
And glad to report that I'm getting back into the swing of Mary Burns, halfway through Mary and Fred's first evening together. It really makes me wonder just what it was like for them both, he, young and in a strange city, the son of a mill owner, yet staunchly socialist already, she, spirited and principled and no doubt trying to keep body and soul together whilst always on the hunt for the next bit of work and yet they come together, something clicks and ...! Away from the heady heights of love/lust to my second Yalom book in a week, Love's Executioner & Other Tales of Psychotherapy. Not sure how disturbed I should be at relating to some of the stories but there you go, I put it down to a heightened sense of self-awareness! I like Yalom's frankness, the tales are just as much about his own stuff as those he treats.

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Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

Booker Shortlist announced

It's been a while... I know. Dog walking on the Downs, a bit of theatre, a bit of baking, a bit of writing etcetera etcetera. I also managed to read two complete books in the past month, which I was so pleased about. I had not read a whole book for about a year. The first was A Lie About My Father by Scottish poet/writer, John Burnside; a very well written memoir about father and son, but like all memoirs, some unreliability I felt. Poignant and tragic in equal measure. Then my husband returned from Cyprus (too hot for me this time of year, I can barely cope with England!) with Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong. He loved it. And then I read it and also loved it. I had originally picked it up several years ago but didn't get beyond Amiens, where the first section is set, but was really glad I did this time around. Another incredibly well written book in the style of a good Victorian! I felt a bit unsure about bits of Elizabeth, in the later section, but I have never learnt so muc…

Days Without End and Mosul's Avengers

So fed up am I of buying books that I don't finish, that I decided I would go to the local library for a copy of Sebastian Barry's latest novel, Days Without End, which has just been awarded the Costa Prize. Unfortunately, I could only borrow it on the proviso that it was return by 1 February. I returned it the day after, without having finished it. I was about three quarters through, and will now have to go out and buy it for the final quarter. I loved Barry's The Secret Scripture, and on every publication of a new work, his star rises. Days Without End follows two boys, one descended from native Americans, and the other having arrived on one of the notorious coffin ships from famine struck Sligo. The tale is brave, funny, touching, but most of all Barry has achieved the perfect pitch. It is quite remarkable.

Another remarkable work comes in the form of reportage in the New Yorker (February 6, 2017) The Avengers of Mosul, by Luke Mogelson 'A Reporter at Large'.