The Dead Thread

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The Dead Thread

Postby GregB » July 21st, 2009, 8:35 pm

I thought it might be a good idea to create a thread to comment on the deaths of well-known people (hopefully, none will prove as controversial as Michael Jackson!)

To set the ball rolling (or the coffin lowering :mrgreen: ), the Irish/American novelist and Pulitzer* Prize winner, Frank McCourt, has died in New York of skin cancer at the age of 78. He came to fame late in life, of course, with his book about his mother and his grim childhood in Ireland, 'Angela's Ashes'. It's already become a modern classic, though I've never read it as I confess the subject matter didn't appeal to me very much. Two more books followed, 'Tis and Teacher Man.

My local paper also reported the death in its obituary column of Gordon Waller, better known as the second half of the 1960's duo, Peter and Gordon, the former being Peter Asher, the brother of Jane Asher, actress and one-time girlfriend of Paul McCartney. The duo had their biggest hit in 1964 with 'World Without Love', which the other oldies here like me will remember well. The song was written by Paul McCartney, of course. I never liked it (or them) much as I thought they sounded rather prissy and Asher, with his Beatle cut and horn-rimmed glasses, looked like a younger version of Austin Powers. Apparently Waller continued with a solo career when the two split up. He died of a heart attack aged 64.

[* I discovered some time ago that it's pronounced 'Poolitzer' and not, as I had always thought, 'Pullitzer'.]
"I hate reality but it's still the best place to get a good steak."
- Woody Allen
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Re: The Dead Thread

Postby Pondero » July 21st, 2009, 9:53 pm

I haven't read Angela's Ashes either, but, it is about poverty in his Irish upbringing. If Val has read it, his comments would be worth hearing about.
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.

— St. Teresa, The bookmark of Teresa of Ávila, [28]
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Re: The Dead Thread

Postby Val » July 22nd, 2009, 2:55 pm

Pondero wrote:I haven't read Angela's Ashes either, but, it is about poverty in his Irish upbringing. If Val has read it, his comments would be worth hearing about.


Hi Pondy

I have read it and will gladly read it again as soon as I get a chance and after 'A Brief History of Time' and a book by your favourite author called 'Unweaving the Rainbow' :twisted:

Anyways Angela's Ashes is a fine read but some may find it a little bit parochial, you have to remember that it is from a different time – a much darker Ireland, a time when the church ruled with an iron glove, It reminds me so much of my own childhood and upbringing… :oops: .apart from the bad weather and almost constant rain

Here is a little snippet of Angela’s Ashes where he describes his first holy communion

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt,
“First Communion day is the happiest day of your life because of The Collection and James Cagney at the Lyric Cinema. The night before I was so excited I couldn't sleep till dawn. I'd still be sleeping if my grandmother hadn't come banging at the door.

Get up! Get up! Get that child outa the bed. Happiest day of his life an' him snorin' above in the bed.

I ran to the kitchen. Take off that shirt, she said. I took off the shirt and she pushed me into a tin tub of icy cold water. My mother scrubbed me, my grandmother scrubbed me. I was raw, I was red.

They dried me. They dressed me in my black velvet First Communion suit with the white frilly shirt, the short pants, the white stockings, the black patent leather shoes. Around my arm they tied a white satin bow and on my lapel they pinned the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a picture with blood dripping from it, flames erupting all around it and on top a nasty-looking crown of thorns.

Come here till I comb your hair, said Grandma. Look at that mop, it won't lie down. You didn't get that hair from my side of the family. That's that North of Ireland hair you got from your father. That's the kind of hair you see on Presbyterians. If your mother had married a proper decent Limerick man you wouldn't have this standing up, North of Ireland, Presbyterian hair.

She spat twice on my head.
Grandma, will you please stop spitting on my head.
If you have anything to say, shut up. A little spit won't kill you. Come on, we'll be late for the Mass.

We ran to the church. My mother panted along behind with Michael in her arms. We arrived at the church just in time to see the last of the boys leaving the altar rail where the priest stood with the chalice and the host, glaring at me. Then he placed on my tongue the wafer, the body and blood of Jesus. At last, at last.

It's on my tongue. I draw it back.
It stuck.
I had God glued to the roof of my mouth. I could hear the master's voice, Don't let that host touch your teeth for if you bite God in two you'll roast in hell for eternity. I tried to get God down with my tongue but the priest hissed at me, Stop that clucking and get back to your seat. God was good. He melted and I swallowed Him and now, at last, I was a member of the True Church, an official sinner.

When the Mass ended there they were at the door of the church, my mother with Michael in her arms, my grandmother. They each hugged me to their bosoms. They each told me it was the happiest day of my life. They each cried all over my head and after my grandmother's contribution that morning my head was a swamp.

Mam, can I go now and make The Collection?
She said, After you have a little breakfast.
No, said Grandma. You're not making no collection till you have a proper First Communion breakfast at my house. Come on.

We followed her. She banged pots and rattled pans and complained that the whole world expected her to be at their beck and call. I ate the egg, I ate the sausage, and when I reached for more sugar for my tea she slapped my hand away.

Go easy with that sugar. Is it a millionaire you think I am? An American? Is it bedecked in glitterin' jewelry you think I am? Smothered in fancy furs?

The food churned in my stomach. I gagged. I ran to her backyard and threw it all up. Out she came.

Look at what he did. Thrun up his First Communion breakfast. Thrun up the body and blood of Jesus. I have God in me backyard. What am I goin' to do? I'll take him to the Jesuits for they know the sins of the Pope himself.

She dragged me through the streets of Limerick. She told the neighbors and passing strangers about God in her backyard. She pushed me into the confession box.
In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's a day since my last confession.
A day? And what sins have you committed in a day, my child?
I overslept. I nearly missed my First Communion. My grandmother said I have standing up, North of Ireland, Presbyterian hair. I threw up my First Communion breakfast. Now Grandma says she has God in her backyard and what should she do.

The priest is like the First Confession priest. He has the heavy breathing and the choking sounds.

Ah ... ah ... tell your grandmother to wash God away with a little water and for your penance say one Hail Mary and one Our Father. Say a prayer for me and God bless you, my child.

Grandma and Mam were waiting close to the confession box. Grandma said, Were you telling jokes to that priest in the confession box? If 'tis a thing I ever find out you were telling jokes to Jesuits I'll tear the bloody kidneys outa you. Now what did he say about God in my backyard?

He said wash Him away with a little water, Grandma.
Holy water or ordinary water?
He didn't say, Grandma.
Well, go back and ask him.
But, Grandma ...

She pushed me back into the confessional.

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it's a minute since my last confession.
A minute! Are you the boy that was just here?
I am, Father.
What is it now?
My grandma says, Holy water or ordinary water?
Ordinary water, and tell your grandmother not to be bothering me again.
I told her, Ordinary water, Grandma, and he said don't be bothering him again.
Don't be bothering him again. That bloody ignorant bogtrotter.
I asked Mam, Can I go now and make The Collection? I want to see James Cagney.
Grandma said, You can forget about The Collection and James Cagney because you're not a proper Catholic the way you left God on the ground. Come on, go home.
Mam said, wait a minute. That's my son. That's my son on his First Communion day. He's going to see James Cagney.
No he's not.
Yes he is.
Grandma said, Take him then to James Cagney and see if that will save his Presbyterian North of Ireland American soul. Go ahead.

She pulled her shawl around her and walked away”
“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
John Stuart Mill

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Edmund Burke
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Re: The Dead Thread

Postby Lyn » July 22nd, 2009, 3:57 pm

I read Angela's Ashes and 'tis (I haven't read his third). I couldn't put either of them down. After reading Angela's Ashes, I went to see the film of the same name when I was away for a weekend in Oxford. I think it might have been while I was there that I bought 'tis. I might re-read both and buy his third book.

I am sorry Frank McCourt has died but I am glad he lived to 78. 78 is not a great age by today's standards but if we think of it in terms of 80 minus 2, it's not a bad innings considering his childhood and youth when he would undoubtedly have been severely undernourished. He was a good writer.
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Re: The Dead Thread

Postby Pondero » July 22nd, 2009, 6:06 pm

Victoria Plum wrote:I read Angela's Ashes and 'tis (I haven't read his third). I couldn't put either of them down. After reading Angela's Ashes, I went to see the film of the same name when I was away for a weekend in Oxford. I think it might have been while I was there that I bought 'tis. I might re-read both and buy his third book.

I am sorry Frank McCourt has died but I am glad he lived to 78. 78 is not a great age by today's standards but if we think of it in terms of 80 minus 2, it's not a bad innings considering his childhood and youth when he would undoubtedly have been severely undernourished. He was a good writer.



I have not read "Angela's Ashes" but a columnist in today's National Post,Barbara Kay, writes "True to the Irish Spirit" and she says she clapped the pages of the book shut after reading 100 pages!
"No disrespect meant to McCourt's extraordinary talent or his sad memories. It's just that when you combine the Irish people's inordinate supply of human wreckage with their astonishing gift of the gab, well, what McCourt so competently described was deja vu all over again. That neck of the woods had already been thoroughly mapped and its beaten paths widened to four-lane highways in fiction before he got to it in memoir.
James Joyce's 1916 novel Portrait of the Artist, is the ur-text for alienated Irish writers. In the novel the artistically ambitious protagonist, a thinly disguised alter ego for Joyce, becomes increasingly detached from the stultifying anti-individualism of Ireland's Catholic Church and the narrow political revanchism of his upbringing.He chooses exile from Ireland in order "to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race." Joyce himself, sexually liberated by his lifelong lover Nora Barnacle, left Ireland as a young man, never - except for one brief weeks-long interlude - to return.


She continues:
"Poverty, squalor alcoholism, despair; Frank McCourt's all-too-authentic childhood had it all."


There is much more in the column,but those quotes just about say it all!

After writing all this I have just read Val's post about the dead author and it is hilarious :grin: Pity the one who wrote about the Rainbow isn't dead too :twisted:

I must read that book Angela's Ashes,
I need something to alleviate the pain of losing a front tooth ( it was taken out by the dental specialist) and having an implant put in this morning all at the same time with a "flipper" (Nothing to do with performing seals) I am not allowed to drink alcohol and I have found out that the implant is not covered by my insurance policy. And I need another implant later on in another area. Cheers :grin:
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.

— St. Teresa, The bookmark of Teresa of Ávila, [28]
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Re: The Dead Thread

Postby Lyn » July 22nd, 2009, 10:04 pm

Interesting review :) .
There is humour in "Angela's Ashes" and there is heaps of humour in "'tis".
It is easy to be cynical but people of my generation were not taught Irish history in school and we really had little idea of what life was like in Ireland. The only Irish people I ever met as a youngster were nuns, teachers and doctors. It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned about the desperate poverty, the near starvation and, going further back, the potato famine. Ireland has come a long way since independence and I am glad of it. Frank McCourt came from a strata of society where money was scarce, couples often had large families. I can't remember how many siblings he lost in infancy except his one sister Margaret who was a baby, and twin brothers aged about two. They were so undernourished. None of them had any possessions worth mentioning, no decent clothes and his father was an alcoholic - but someone he loved very much. His mother - Angela - did everything she could to keep her family together and one scene I remember clearly from the book and film is when she had to go before a charity board, carrying her little children, to ask for help. They questioned the fact that she was wearing a decent coat, she explained her sister had given it too her and it was torn and mended. She stood up while the panel asked her questions are wrote things down, not giving her very much respect.

At one time they lived in a house that flooded and the could not get downstairs, they lived upstairs until the flood subsided but their father made it magical for them, said they had to cross the sea to Italy or something like that. I found that touching. Though he was a drinker he worked when he could and when there was food on the table he often didn't eat. preferring to drink tea, black, from a jamjar. He went to England t o work on a building site and Angela patiently awaited his postal order which came sometimes but not often. When it did the rent was paid and there was food but she often got nothing and had to beg. Then he disappeared and she went to keep house for an old cousin who was a dirty old man and demanded of her more than she had bargained for. Frank writes about that humiliation, he was so annoyed with her, it is very sad, he is a young boy and can't do anything to help his mother and is frustrated and angry, takes it out on her. That was a sad scene, something he later regretted but he was only a boy. He got a job with the post office and his auntie borrowed some money froma woman money lender to buy him a suit for work. He delivered letters to this lady and she asked him to do little jobs for her until one day he found her dead. He took her ledgers which included details of what his aunt was paying for his suit and threw them into the sea. He had chronic eye infections and no medication, that is not really mentioned in the film.
He als0 fell in love with a young girl who was dying of TB and when she died he was in terrible distress believing he had contributed to her downfall. A kindly priest set him straight, said that she was safe with Jesus.

After that he decided to leave the family and seek his fortune in America which he did, aged only 16 o6 17 - and that is the start of "'tis". Very very interesting and funny when he becomes a teacher in a sink school and how the children view the Irishman teacher, wonderful to him on St Patrick's Day - that was so funny and touching, sad at times. His mother joined him eventually and died in America.

I think it worth reading, it is an insight. If it were your family background you would want to communicate it so that people read the truth about the Ireland that was.

I think it is wrth reading. I have probably not described the books very well, I am tired.
The Angela film is very dark, several deaths in the first half hour and endless rain. Humour still. Quite an eyeopener for us English.
I'll say goodnight now. Have to be up at the crack of dawn in order to get a bath or shower, the gas is being turned off at 8am for five hours as they are laying pipes along our road. Going out later. See you all.
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Re: The Dead Thread

Postby Pondero » July 22nd, 2009, 10:53 pm

Very interesting Victoria. The book was not seen on the bookshelves in the library although there was supposed to be a few copies somewhere. I looked under fiction, and biography, and autobiography for it without success. I think it is perhaps a mixture of fiction and autobiography.

Things must have been bad in Ireland. My wife was the eldest of twelve children ( who survived) in MaltaGC and she experienced no poverty whatsoever which is described in "Angela's Ashes." Her father was a labourer in the dockyards - he didn't drink, of course. Later he went to Canada and used to visit home every year or so, and he sent money at other times when he was away. You can blame alcoholism for the author's misfortune, but you cannot blame the Catholic Church for it. In MaltaGC my mother-in-law was very religious and so were all her children - going to the MUSEUM and later on the Legion of Mary,and of course Catholic Schools. Even later on Mary was sent to a converted private school for teacher training, and they paid her for doing so. The Sacred Heart Nuns were told to open up this enclave of the rich to the poor or the PM Don Mintoff ( called the "red" at Oxford said he would expel the lot of them.)
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.

— St. Teresa, The bookmark of Teresa of Ávila, [28]
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Re: The Dead Thread

Postby Bev » July 23rd, 2009, 1:25 am

I've not read McCort's books, but I did see Angela's Ashes in film, and I thought it was very well done. After reading this thread, I'll have to put it on my list.

On passings, here we lost CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, a veritable fixture on pre-cable television news and documentaries. Here is one of his more famous broadcasts of the Kennedy assassination. He brought a sincerity and heart to news broadcasting that we've not experienced before or since. Comparing him to McCort, Cronkite was 92 years old.
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Re: The Dead Thread

Postby Lyn » July 23rd, 2009, 7:32 am

It is not fiction Pondy.

I heard of Walter Cronkite's death, Bev. Glad he lived to such a good age.
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Re: The Dead Thread

Postby GregB » July 23rd, 2009, 8:07 am

Yes, as I said on another thread the other day, Cronkite was an American institution in himself and I can't think of any kind of parallel figure of his stature in the UK media.

Although 'Angela's Ashes' is more autobiography than fiction, it comes across (to me, anyway) more like the latter and as I read very little fiction - or even 'faction' - these days (though just about everything else) I won't be earmarking it for reading.

However, in the past I have read some Irish fiction, notably James Joyce (except for 'Finnegan's Wake' and portions of 'Ulysses', which are unreadable), but also Samuel Beckett (the antithesis of wordy Joyce), Seán Ó Faoláin (I've read all his short stories at one time or another and loved them), William Trevor (OK, he's a Prod and Anglicised, but he's Irish and his short stories are excellent, if you can take the sadness in a lot of them), some things by Aidan Higgins if I recall correctly and probably other bits and pieces I've forgotten.

I've saved for a special mention the wonderful Flann O'Brien, whose novels 'At Swim Two Birds' and the incomparable 'The Third Policeman' are masterpieces of surrealistic humour. To be read accompanied by that legendary pint of plain...
"I hate reality but it's still the best place to get a good steak."
- Woody Allen
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