Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Founded on Fear: The Sad Story of Peter Tyrrell

I would never have read this book had the author not shared the same surname as me. It is a harrowing tale.

Peter Tyrrel was born on a small farm in Ireland in 1916 to a feckless father who would do anything for his neighbours but nothing for his family - "God is good" was his stock answer when funds got low.

Along with a number of his brothers Peter was taken from the family and sent to the Letterfrack Industrial School when he was only eight years old.

In the book he describes the endless beatings by the Christian Brothers, and evokes the horror of an institutionalised childhood which marked him and many others for life. As far as I can gather he did not once see his parents during the eight years he remained at Letterfrack.

On leaving he worked for a time as a tailor, but like many young Irish before and since he left for London, and in 1935 joined the British army. He served in Malta, Palestine and India, and in the latter stages of the war was fighting on the continent when he was captured by the Germans and spent time in a prison of war camp, where he felt he was treated better than at Letterfrack.

After the war he moved around a number of English cities looking for work. Keen to expose the horrors of the industrial school system and to seek justice for those whose lives like his had been ruined by it, he came into contact with Senator Owen Sheehy Skeffington, who was fighting an almost single handed campaign against the widespread use of corporal punishment in Irish schools. He sent Senator Skeffington a number of envelopes containing his story. These documents were fairly recently discovered among Senator Skeffington's papers in the Irish archives, and in 2006 were published.

Peter burned himself to death on Hampstead Heath on 26th April 1967. It took a year before his body was identified. But for the fragments of a postcard bearing the words "Skeffington" and "Dublin" it is probable that his body would never have been identified.

A dreadful story, and unfortunately not an unusual one. Whilst reading this, and without taking anything away from the systemic horrors that have been exposed in Ireland, I could not help reflecting on other horrific examples of offically sanctioned child abuse and ruined lives that have come to light in recent years in countries that have a more liberal reputation than Ireland: the shameful treatment of the Norwegian children who had been fathered by German soldiers during the second world war; the forced emigration of thousands of orphaned British children to Australia, Canada and elsewehere.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Scandinavian Women

From the age of 11 until I reached 21 I was educated at male only institutions. Although I have lived most of my life with women since then, and indeed have two daughters, I have to admit that the fairer sex remains something of a mystery to me. But I obviously like Scandinavian women, or one at least.

They tell me that Scandinavian women are the most beautiful in the world, said the late great George Melly when I asked him to sign a record for my wife.
I am sure of it I foolishly replied.
I'm not! said George.
That was the end of that conversation. I haven't seen him since.

Anyway my wife was amused by the following which I found on the web. Norwegian Women

What are Norwegian Women Like? asked Gary from the U.S.
I have thought about getting a bride from Norway. I am so tired of American women. I guess Norwegian women and Scandinavian women are more traditional, just like Russian women. I think Norwegian women look more beautiful than American women. I have heard that they are better at cooking, more submissive, dress better, are more innocent, don't drink as much, don't smoke as much etc. Is it true? I have also heard they are not wearing pants, due to their viking culture. Do they dress like that everyday?
I really want to discover Norway. Where could I go look for a Norwegian woman? Are Norwegian parents very strict? How do they react on their daughter marrying an American man? Should I go to Oslo the capital or should I go to some more far-away place? Where do I find the traditional norwegian vikingladies?
And is Norway cheap? Do they have bank automats? And are there good standards?

Compared to Gary I think I may be Einstein.

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Lady From The Sea

One of the many delights of living in Manchester is being able to visit the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Over the years I have seen some tremendous performances - one that sticks in my memory is the world premiere of Ronald Harwood's "The Dresser", with Tom Courtenay in the leading role.

There have been many more, as well as a few not so memorable ones. This year I have been fortunate enough to see "1984" and Marlowe's "Dr Faustus".

I have never seen a production of Ibsen that I have not enjoyed, and "The Lady from the Sea" was no exception.

Full of humour, which we tend not to associate with Ibsen, it is nevertheless a powerful play which still resonates in our time. Ibsen's comments reproduced in the programme will stay with me: The Norwegians are under the domination of the sea and fjords make philosophers of us all.

He was a remarkable playwright, writing of course at a time of exceptional creativity in Norwegian history.

The Royal Exchange has a tendency to produce over elaborate and expensive sets which though technically admirable do not seem to me to be necessary or perhaps even appropriate for theatre in the round. Happily the set for this play was minimal: light was used to depict water. The last time it was played here I believe that the stage was flooded.

Last time also the lead role was played by Vanessa Redgrave - a hard act to follow. I liked Neve McIntosh's rendition of Ellida. Not all reviewers did. I agreed with the comment from one that her soft Scottish accent and celtic appearance help to give her that aura of an uncomfortable outsider.

Apart from performances at the theatre, the building alone is always worth a visit.

A board high up on the west side still displays the closing prices in Liverpool and New York, and is a reminder of its previous role as a cotton exchange which came to an end in the 1960's.

There have been a number of buildings on the site since 1729. The largest, built in the early twentieth century, was destroyed in the second world war. Its successor, built soon after after the war, was itself seriously damaged by the IRA bomb that exploded just outside in 1996. On this site Engels used to work as a trader in his father's business, smiling on bad days in anticipation of the demise of the capitalist system.

Set in the floor are small metal plaques that supporters of the theatre have purchased to commemorate deceased relatives. The most notable name is that of John Thaw, better known perhaps as Inspector Morse. Often I walk over one commemorating a lady with whom I shared an office when I first came to Manchester many years ago.