Wednesday, December 31, 2008

J.D. Salinger at 90

Tomorrow, New Year's Day 2009, J.D. Salinger is 90 (next term, The Catcher in the Rye will be the main text being studied by our Transition Year). In today's New York Times, Charles McGrath writes about the famously reclusive writer:-

There probably won’t be a party, or if there is we’ll never know. For more than 50 years Mr. Salinger has lived in seclusion in the small town of Cornish, N.H. For a while it used to be a journalistic sport for newspapers and magazines to send reporters up to Cornish in hopes of a sighting, or at least a quotation from a garrulous local, but Mr. Salinger hasn’t been photographed in decades now and the neighbors have all clammed up.

In the rest of the article, McGrath looks back over Salinger's 'career', especially the Glass family stories, including the strange letter called 'Hapworth'.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Last Cigarette

The Last Cigarette, the third volume of Simon Gray's The Smoking Diaries, is good holiday reading - funny, poignant, always engaging. Throughout the book, Gray is resolved to give up smoking, but when he comes to 'the last cigarette' in the final section of the book, it's darkened by double tragedy.

Over the previous volumes, The Smoking Diaries and The Year of the Jouncer, Gray developed one of the most brilliantly original prose styles in contemporary writing. His discursive, faux-naif rambling discourses have been among the funniest things in recent literature. This may well be the best volume of all (a final one, Coda, was published in 2008). It's full of superb set pieces, such as the description of a flight to Athens and an hilarious stay in a Barbados hotel. It's also full of tenderness, since few writers have written as well in recent times about male friendship - in earlier volumes about Alan Bates, and more recently about Gray's other great friend, Harold Pinter.

So this books gains even greater poignancy by his concern for the long-ill Pinter, who died last week on Christmas Eve, and thus, against all expectations, outlasted Gray:-

He's over there in London, in a hospital, quite possibly dying, and I'm here in Spetses, swimming, eating, reading, writing, and though I'm also dying, it's only in the sub specie aeternitatis kind of way, as people are, everywhere. I feel abundantly, boisterously, healthy.

Sadly, Simon Gray was wrong, and died in August 2008 of lung cancer. But at the end of his career, this playwright produced a most surprising and special masterpiece series of diaries.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Best Group Blog

Many thanks from the English Department to all visitors to this blog, including pupils, parents, staff, Old Columbans, Frog Bloggers, fellow teachers in Ireland, and others who voted for us in the 2008 Edublog Awards, and kindly gave us an early Christmas present, the Best Group Blog Award. The full list of award-winners is well worth checking out (as well as the nomination list, of course).

At the start of the year, when we reached our 300th post, we listed the material we'd posted since starting. Here's an update, a year later, in the 530th post:
  • 128 poems by pupils at St Columba's
  • 92 essays (both literary and creative) and stories by pupils, including Extended Essays, TY work portfolio pieces and book reports
  • 162 book recommendations by pupils and staff
  • 46 posts about interesting sites and articles on the Web
  • 61 posts about plays in the College
  • 18 reviews of plays and other events by pupils
  • 15 evocations of Christmas Past from the recent Everyday Writes project
  • 53 notices about other school events, including debates, speech competitions concerts and competitions
  • 41 Poems of the Week and associated material, and also the 'Poetry Aloud' national competition
  • 21 news items about theatre visits
  • 15 items about talks and lectures
  • 63 posts about English school prizes
  • our full official Department of Education and Science Inspection report
  • as well as a lot of other material - photo albums from plays, visits to famous authors' graves (Keats, Beckett, Hopkins), news of Old Columbans, plenty on new books in our Library, an MP3 Shakespeare project, a pupil's interview with Jennifer Johnston, 'Teaching English' magazine, 'Conference and Common Room' magazine, the Library magazine 'The Submarine', and much more.
  • plus over 125 recommended links in our sidebar.
  • and our first book, Going Places, with highlights of writing by pupils and staff on the blog, published in May this year.
We have plenty of plans for innovation for 2009, including a start on podcasting. Meanwhile, all the best for the coming holiday season to all our visitors.

Julius Winsome

Julius Winsome is Gerard Donovan's third novel, after Schopenhauer's Telescope and Doctor Salt. It tells the story of a man in his early fifties, isolated in the woods of North Maine; at the start of the book, he finds his dying dog Hobbes lying near his cabin and rushes him unsuccessfully to the vet. The ensuing story, voiced by Winsome himself, tells in clear lucid prose how this isolated and lonely man handles this personal disaster. It's a short novel, distinguished by a perfect pace, and a tone which alternately horrifies and moves us.

Michel Faber reviews it here in the Guardian, writing that it is a memorable tale, distinguished by masterful prose, an intriguingly peculiar sensibility, and something hard to define that many great works of art have: a kind of dignity. Such books are rarer than publishers' hype encourages us to believe.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ebublog Awards 2008 Voting Deadline

Voting for the international Edublog Awards ends at 9am Sunday Australian time, so in our part of the world we hope you'll consider voting for us by 10pm on Saturday evening, in the Best Individual Blog and Best Group Blog categories - just click on the badges at the top of the right sidebar, tick SCC English and click the 'Vote' button. And to see the fine quality of work being done around the world, browse through the other categories and vote there too.

This has been an extremely busy term for us at SCC English (including our 500th post since starting), with posts on lots of subjects (and of course there are many others too):-
The Hilary Term starts on Wednesday 7th January. There will be the occasional post here before then.

Books of the Year

Many thanks to our colleague Dr Garry Bannister, Head of our Irish Department, who in a cross-curricular spirit has responded to our call for visitors' Books of the Year recommendations. He writes:-

For those interested in modern Gaelic culture An Leabhar Mór - which has some fine poetry in it, visual art stuff, calligraphy and the like. Beautifully produced. I'm not really into sport much but Sonia: My Story is a tremendous insight into the life behind the public life of Sonia O'Sullivan. She comes across as a very sincere and passionate woman who struggled hard to achieve the sporting achievements that seemed to come so naturally to her. It's a very compelling and readable book. I was a bit disappointed in Stepping Stones but maybe I have already read too much about Seamus Heaney. I didn't feel that the book conveyed the great humanity of this amazing Irish poet. On the other hand I was very impressed with Dermot Keogh's Jack Lynch - this is a really insightful portrait of the man and his times. I remember well the Jack Lynch period, the fragile and disintegrating political situation in Northern Ireland. I would say that Keogh gives a balanced and very authoritative account - but mainly, it is a riveting read.

There have been some good reads from the fiction-shelf too. For thrills and spills and incredible suspense
Arctic Drift by Clive Cussler and Maeve Binchy's Heart & Soul provides the usual light-handed Binchy soapy magic. I used to get a lot of flak from my family for reading so much of Maeve's work but I still enjoy them and continue to recognise so many of people in her books. She is so very readable. I think there should be two new words coined - a 'Binchy' for a book that everybody reads but doesn't admit to reading and a 'Bragg' for a book that everyone has on their shelf but nobody reads or finishes reading.

Finally, Philip Roth's Indignation is one of those all-and-everything fictional creations covering a young guy's development, his education, his inexperience, his sexual awakening, his courage and the understandable mistakes he makes along the way. It's quite clever in places and rather witty.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

End of Term

And so the Michaelmas Term ends. Last night in the BSR there was much relief all round as St Saints' School survived to fight another day at the end of the College pantomime My Fat Laddy, and the first review has now arrived, on the College website here. Shortly we'll have a summary of the term.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Fat Laddy

Tonight in the BSR, we have our annual Christmas Entertainment at the end of term, after the Christmas Dinner. This year the pantomime is called My Fat Laddy, and again features the strangely-familiar school called St Saints', completing the trilogy begun two years ago with Up the Hill, and then Glancing at Lufthansa last year.

The poster alleges that this is 'astonishing', 'heart-breaking' and 'a tearjerker'. We shall see. Read the programme here.

(Please note that this is a fully environmentally-friendly production, with 100% recycled jokes and no new material. All the humour is sustainable, seasonal, and locally-sourced).

Romeo and Juliet cast

The cast for next term's Junior Play production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Mr Jameson, is:-

Romeo: Jasper Pickersgill
Benvolio: Henry Roe
Mercutio: Patrick Tice
Balthazar: Tom Crampton
Escalus: Opeline Kellett
Abram: Tom Gibbs
Lord Montague: Robin Fitzpatrick
Lady Capulet: Opeline Kellett
Apothecary: Angus Johnson
Juliet: Emma Moore
Lord Capulet: Thomas Emmet
Nurse: Olivia Plunket
Tybalt: Igor Verkhovskiy
Sampson: Tyrone Langham
Friar Lawrence: Eamonn McKee

Plenty more here about the production next term.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Past 6

As we head into the last week of term, two more anonymous contributions from the Everybody Writes day on the theme of 'Christmas Past':-

The white glistening snow is new to her every time. In the house it's the same, smells flowing like rivers, giggles from smiling children opening presents, and fires spitting, warming the atmosphere.

But out on the porch she sits looking up at the lit window above the door, wondering if anything will change, getting excited. At every muffled voice she makes another noise looking for attention.

The hair on her back bends as the icy air races round her. Mixed emotions from needing the warmth of inside, and being out in the cold, confuse her, and she once again begs to be loved. She paws the door in hope one last time and starts to turn away towards the dark cold night. Head down, and tail between her legs, she walks slowly.

Jumping at the slight sound of a hand on the doorknob, she spins around and is greeted by a wide smile : 'Come on then, Pups!'

Christmas. Yo, ho, ho, bottles of rum. Forced jollity and the seething undercurrent of resentment that accompanies the gravy, the candles, the infinite sage and onions. All the tensions we are allowed to release during the rest of the year are fastened down under the weight of a turkey stuffed with Ferrero Rocher and tied together with thick, itchy tinsel. On television we watch people in cartoon form, animals too, toast the season with sappy grins plastered on their rosy-cheeked faces. We are slumped in armchairs, pickled in sherry, sighing and belching at the screen. Our limited supply of goodwill and merriment is all used up.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

III book report: Godberson, Meyer

For her Junior Certificate book report this term, Opeline Kellett wrote a formidably thorough essay comparing Anna Godberson's The Luxe, and Stephanie Meyer's Breaking Dawn. The latter's 'Twilight' series has quickly become a real publishing phenomenon, especially with girls. Above, Meyer talks about Breaking Dawn and the series.

In her conclusion, Opeline writes :-

It was the ultimate out of a series of books and exceeded my expectations. It was supernatural fiction - vampires, yet it seemed so real. A normally bloodthirsty creature was turned into the most desirable creature around: Edward Cullen was every girl's dream!

Breaking Dawn mixed every emotion; each character was unique and shaped the book. As a book it creates an imaginary world of which you wish you were a part. I was thinking about the novel for days after I finished it. It still does enter my mind sometimes. It is also a book I could read again and again without a problem, I feel I would enjoy it just as much as the first time, with The Luxe I can't wait for the sequel, but reading it again, not for a while. It could get tiresome. With Breaking Dawn, getting tired of it is not in my vocabulary!

Read Opeline's full comparative essay here.

III form book report : Lee, Harris

III form Junior Certificate have a long book report to complete, which is then counted towards their examination mark. Albert Kyd-Rebenburg wrote about two very different novels, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and Robert Harris's dystopia Fatherland. He writes:-

The beginnings of Fatherland and To Kill a Mockingbird were very different. In Fatherland the beginning starts off with action: a dead body. The person died in strange circumstances, and one soon finds out that it was murder. On the other hand at the start of To Kill a Mockingbird one is immediately plunged into Scout's thoughts and at her funny way of looking at things.

When I think about it
Fatherland’s beginning is slightly more catching because there is a lot more going on, and you immediately get into the quick rhythm and the race-against-time feeling. The endings are also very distinct one from another. I have to say To Kill a Mockingbird’s ending is far better than Fatherland’s end. Only at the end does the whole story come together, and that is when one can fully understand it. Fatherland’s ending is good and bad at the same time, and was easily predicted. Questions remained unanswered, and although To Kill a Mockingbird’s end didn’t have any questions left, I can still imagine Finch leading a very nice family life after the book ended.

Read Albert's full book report here.

Romeo and Juliet

Next term's Junior Play, to be directed by Mr Jameson, is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, in a specially-stripped down version - in the words of the audition poster, 'Shorter. Faster. Louder. Better.' Auditions are currently being completed. More news in due course. The production itself will be put on in the BSR on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th February.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Past 5

More from Everybody Writes, on the subject of 'Christmas Past', from three more anonymous writers:-

The streets are full. Boys and girls giggle and laugh. The town is alive. The air is icy but our hearts feel warm. Two lovers sit on a park bench and as the hordes of Dubliners pass by they sit, speaking and listening. His hand in hers, hers in his. His warm heart beats faster while she laughs angelically. He feels warm, gentle love. This is not reciprocated. As caring as her eyes seem, they are cold, bleak. She feels nothing. The closer they become the lonelier she is. Her heartbeat never stops, her eyes never flash. But she won't break him - not before his Merry Christmas.

All of us sitting around a table. A technicoloured feast of sights and smells is arrayed before us. The first succulent slice of turkey is cut. The juice dribble and pool on the plate.

Hours later. People begin to stumble up to bed, content and smiling. Red wine stains the staircase. The pillows are so soft, and my eyes begin to close. Outside the window, a tiny star shines through the curtains. A memory arises unbidden from the depths of a fogged mind. I wonder why we have forgotten another little boy lying under star, on his birthday.

Every Christmas before going through the ritual of Christmas lunch, and opening oddly-shaped wrapped items, we would go and pick up my grandfather.

Tall and gaunt, he was always the dominant character at our festivities, telling interesting stories from his trips around the world and his time when posted in Hamburg in World War II. Sitting there with his poison of choice - Angostura Bitters and Coke - he would calm any family arguments and was always the merriest (and drunkest) when the day came to an end.

Two years ago we went to pick him up as usual, only to find an ambulance waiting outside his house. It transpired that the night before he had choked on one of the larger raisins in his Christmas pudding.

Churchill said in World War I that 'every house has its empty chair', and this could not be more true in our house at Christmas. It seems that for the years to come Christmas will be a little quieter, a little less merry and we will no longer have his own version of brandy butter, made up of one part butter, nine parts brandy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Past in Clones

Continuing our series of pieces from the Everyday Writes project on Tuesday, here's the first piece (the 11th) that isn't anonymous. This evocative short essay was written by Mr Peter McCarthy, Head of our Classical Studies Department, about his own Christmas memories:-

I never really knew the meaning of the word 'cold' until Christmas morning in 1968. I was eight years old, and this was the date of the first outing of the rejuvenated Clones Brass Band. We were a small ensemble, no more than a dozen hardy music lovers ranging in age from the elderly to those not yet in their teens. 'Silent Night' and 'Adeste Fideles' rang out from the various locations around the town, where we set up our mobile stage: the churches, the Butteryard and a visit to my grandparents' house. My grandfather had been a bandmaster in the past and now his son-in-law, my father, wielded the baton, metaphorically, since he also played while conducting.

That morning was bitterly cold with eyes, noses and fingertips ravaged by the snowless breeze. The warmest parts of the body were the lips, shielded from the cold by the round mouthpieces and toasted by the constant currents of hot breath discharged into our instruments in order to make music. Performing in public bestowed a certain status, even if the precise circumstances lacked trendiness.

Much of the music we played was arranged by my father with each part written out by hand - no photocopier made it an immensely laborious and difficult task.

It is a long, long time since I heard a brass band performing on Christmas morning, and the Clones Brass Band is defunct. But whenever I hear a band playing Christmas carols I think of my father, of his little band and especially of that very cold morning.

Christmas Past in Clones was cold but it evokes warm memories. My father played the trumpet, not the melodeon, and my mother certainly never milked the cows. But I still have my memory like a white rose pinned on the Virgin Mary's blouse.

TY Extended Essay: Shan, King, Baker.

The latest TY Extended Essay we're posting is by Thomas Emmet, and examines violence in three works of fiction: Bec by Darren Shan, The Shining by Stephen King (famously made into a film starring Jack Nicholson), and a radio play, The Shepherd by Garrett Baker, which last week won the 'Drama of the Year' for RTE Radio 1 at the PPI Radio Awards.

Thomas writes, about the central figures of the latter two books:-

These two violent characters are incredibly well written. Both Garret Baker and Stephen King write them as very complex characters but in completely different ways. Anyone who has read a Stephen King novel knows that no character he writes is without a tragic backstory or some kind of mental disorder. This is not a bad thing. Fragmented characters are far more interesting then the one dimensional heroes that many pulp writers create. Jack Torrance is no different. He is one of the best-written Stephen King characters as we see his journey from father with a second chance to raving lunatic, and still have sympathy for him. Stephen King says in his introduction "a man who tries to kill his family partly because of his father’s influence over him... now that's scary”, which is a perfect description of what he creates. This is a very real monster, a creation of what we all have the potential to do.

Read the full Extended Essay here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Everybody Writes: Christmas Past 3

The latest post from the Everybody Writes project, on the theme of 'Christmas Past', from two different perspectives:-

The same wind that blew a hundred Decembers ago rattles the shutters of the dark drawing room, and all of a sudden I'm aware of the hundred or more Christmas Eves and Days that have been spent here. The smell of turkeys and geese roasting, wafts up from the kitchen, mingled with the murmuring coives of maids and housekeepers. I shut my eyes and I imagine the room, glittering with other people's holly wreaths.

Golden baubles sparkle on a tree behind me. There are hurried, joyful footsteps on the stairs. Somebody is singing a carol to himself. Behind my eyelids, I can see children unwrapping ribboned gifts, new dolls' houses and carved figures. I could swear that a cleric walks past the slightly-ajar door, beckoned by the ringing of Christmas bells. A mother looks slightly harassed as she tweaks her children's best outfits. Somebody sits at the piano, their fingers fluttering like hummingbirds' wings as they produce 'Deck the Halls'. A fire crackles in the hearth, bathing the room in a soft red glow. The shutters are open and a white sheet of snow is forming outside.

Then the phone rings, my eyes shoot open and I'm back in the present, realising with a smile that the house is about to collect another set of green and red memories.

It fell like rain, but slower. So white it was almost blinding. To walk out into it was like walking into the great beyond. It seemed to never end, it just kept falling, falling, falling. If you looked around, all you could see was white. When you stuck your hand out, in seconds it would be covered like a magnet with metal. And when you walked, it wasn't like you were walking; it was like you were floating or gliding across the ground. Then, for no particular reason, you fell to your knees. You felt it on your your shins and feet. You picked some up with your hands. It was cold, like an ice lolly that had just come out of the freezer. You started to play with it, and realized that you could do anything out here.

Poem of the Week: Christmas Past

The 41st Poem of the Week appeared yesterday anonymously, as part of the Everyday Writes project. It's actually by Transition Year pupil Olivia Plunket, and is a response to the idea of Christmas Past :-

A cold wind bites at my face.
The wind is cloaked with a white cloth,

with the morning light dancing across it.
The flashing lights glisten in people's eyes,

there is joy and love and hope,
there is laughter and singing.

But as soon as the day has gone,
the black fog flows down,
and we are blinded by the sense of absence,

And we wish, and wait
for that feeling again, of life,
that ecstasy, that wholeness.

III book report

As part of their exam mark, III form Junior Certificate pupils again this term wrote book reports on books of their own choosing. Here, Lingfan Gao writes about Jeffrey Archer's The Fourth Estate, unusually comparing it to William Golding's Lord of the Flies.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Everybody Writes: Christmas Past 2

More writings from the Everybody Writes project: they could be from any pupil or any member of staff ...

I was five years old and Christmas was coming. We never asked for something specific. It was just accepted that we would get a surprise which, when you think about it, was absolutely tantalising. I remember the incredible anticipation, the inability to sleep and pretending to do so. The soft voices of people downstairs broken by the occasional bout of laughter. I can clearly remember the very starry sky from my window.

I awoke to my sisters' and brothers' shrieks of delight and scrambled for my box, placed silently by an incredible Santa, at the end of my bed. When I lifted up the huge box I could instantly see through the cellophane - A DOLL! MY DOLL! Given to ME! I fell in love instantly. She was beautiful, and I hugged her and hugged her. Her eyes were the colour of the flowers that grew wild in our fields, so I called her Violet.

For many years Violet was my confidante, my best friend and my comforter. She travelled with me everywhere and she stayed with me when I was sick. She was a real person, with no faults. I sewed and knitted to keep her in the highest fashion. When she got sick many many years later, her eyes fell out. I saved my money to have her 'hospitalised', and her sight restored.

No other Christmas has been like my Violet's arrival. Santa was really good to me!

Woken by the call to prayer. The mosque next door continues its duties, untouched by the West. Downstairs the marble is cold underfoot. The soft sound of creeping steps cuts the silence. Outside the sky is ablaze, streaked with deep crimson and pale pink. The waves gently lap at the shore, so quietly, not wanting to wake anyone. The windows cloaked with condensation barely allow light to pierce the dark. Candles cast shadows on the wall and reflect off the floor.

The tree stands alone, tall and proud in the stifling desert. Inscribed on the window are big bold letters : HAPPY CHRISTMAS.

I'm not the first up.

A cold wind bites at my face.
The wind is cloaked with a white cloth,
with the morning light dancing across it.
The flashing lights glisten in people's eyes,
there is joy and love and hope,
there is laughter and singing.
But as soon as the day has gone,
the black fog flows down,
and we are blinded by the sense of absence,
And we wish, and wait
for that feeling again, of life,
that ecstasy, that wholeness.

8 (Haiku)
Just another day.
Celebrate with bowl of rice,
Complaining 'How cold!'

TY Extended Essay: Alexander, Ibbotson, Lingard

The second Transition Year Extended Essay we're posting is by Susannah Cooke, who chose three novels with historical backgrounds, and writes:

"The sub-theme that I have chosen for my extended essay is relationships in times of conflict, though I have chosen Relationships as the overall theme. The books that I have chosen to study are The Kitchen Boy- A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander, The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson and The 12th Day of July by Joan Lingard.

When I chose these books I didn’t realise that they had so much in common. Every time I find something new about one book, I notice that there is a connection in one or both of the other books. I chose these books as they all have some sort of relevance to me. Each one is set in a period in history, and as history is one of my favourite subjects I enjoy reading about it. The Kitchen Boy is set during the Russian Revolution, The Morning Gift in during World War II and The 12th Day of July is about the troubles in Northern Ireland, and the conflict between Protestants and Catholics.

Reading these books wasn’t just a matter of pick them up, read them, and then never really think about them again. I had to analyse them, and this was probably the hardest part. Having never taken so much about a book into account, it was interesting seeing what I could discover when looking a bit deeper. With each book, I related to them differently, and had some own personal experiences and feelings that were similar in them. When reading a book, and I have nothing in common with it, it is much harder to read and focus on.

With each book set in a time of conflict, it made it easier to observe the differences and the similarities. My favourite book at the beginning of this essay was The Kitchen Boy, by far. I loved how it was a mixture of historical facts and fiction, it makes it much more enjoyable to read, and knowing that some of the horrible things actually happened makes it a bit more gripping. Though by the end of the book, I started to like The Morning Gift more than I originally did, I think it’s probably due to the relationship being almost perfect that it makes you want something like that.

I chose relationships as my theme, as I think that they were the main things that were affected by conflict. As conflict was something that ran throughout all of the books, I thought that it was only appropriate. I could have done other themes, but out of the ideas that I primarily wrote down, relationships was the most appealing, and the one I could write most about."

Susannah's impressive essay is now online here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Everybody Writes: Christmas Past 1

Today, in our first-ever Everybody Writes day, over 300 pupils and staff wrote for about 15 minutes anything they wanted on the subject of 'Christmas Past'. In the next period leading up to Christmas, we'll be posting many of these contributions. Most of them are anonymous, and there will be no indication what age the contributor is, or even (usually) gender. There's a huge variety of approach.

Here's the first batch. (Visitors can add their own contributions via the Comments link at the bottom of each post).

Awake, darkness and cold. My breath is like fog as I jump out of bed. The frost forms patterns on the inside of the window. So cold, so very very cold. Dressing gown and slippers on, I run down to the drawing room. The lights on the Christmas tree shining brightly fill the room in a golden glow. Warm and cosy, I just sit on the electric storage heater. Amazed, I gaze upon the presents, so many gifts in a multitude of brightly coloured papers. Nobody awake, the house is silent, and I just sit there, warm and amazed. I just sit and gaze at the tree, the lights, the gifts and all about the room. A heaven of warmth and light, on a cold cold dark silent morning.

Being in Africa, this was normal to me: sure, on all the advertisements on TV he looked different, but I never knew why. All I knew was Africa, and I was too young to know anything else. So when I think back to the first Santa I met or remember, this is always the first thing I think about. The black Santa with his pure, white beard and huge hands picking me up and sitting me down on his knee, and asking 'What is it you want me to give you for Christmas?'

All my Christmases have been much the same - too much food, too many presents, too many family members squeezed into our house. One Christmas though sticks out more than the others. It had snowed, and the garden was completely white. My Mum had just managed to get my four-year old sister dressed, and then she opened the back door. And my sister tore out into the snow and rolled down the hill outside, followed closely by our dog. Both of us spent about two hours doing this, rolling down the hill and then dragging each other back up it. We were forced back inside and my sister screamed for the rest of the day, because we weren't allowed back out. That's all I can remember from that Christmas, not the food or the presents, just the snow. Over time the rest of my past Christmases have merged together into one happy memory.

'Jingle bells, Batman smells,
Robin laid an egg.
The Batmobile lost its wheel,
And Joker got away.'

I remember singing these songs in the playground of my primary school. Another one is:

'We three Kings of Orient are
One in a taxi, one in a car,
One on a scooter with a bazooka,
Smoking a rubber cigar.
Oh star of wonder, star of light,
Fill my pants with dynamite,
Light the fuse and off we go,
All the way to Mexico.'

Dermot Bolger posters

We're shortly putting up in English classrooms fine block-mounted posters of four poems by Dermot Bolger - 'In a Clonkdalkin Supermarket Carpark', 'Things he will miss', 'Graffiti on a Corner' and 'Haulier passing The Red Cow Roundabout, 11.15 pm.' These are being distributed to schools in South Dublin as part of the InContext3 Project commissioned as part of the South Dublin County Council Per Cent for Art Scheme. First written for the posters, these poems were then added to ones by other authors in the newly-published Night & Day: twenty-four hours in the life of Dublin City. Bolger's poems from 'The Clondalkin Suite' are being displayed outdoors in the Clondalkin area (above).

From the Republic of Conscience

Today's Irish Times has an A2 poster marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with at the bottom Seamus Heaney's poem 'From the Republic of Conscience', useful for classroom display.

Inside the paper there's a supplement with reflections by 31 writers on the Declaration, and an introduction by Heaney. These pieces can all be read on Amnesty International's website here, including essays by Joseph O'Connor, Roddy Doyle, Claire Kilroy, Colm Toibin, Anne Enright and Jennifer Johnston - again, plenty of material for Leaving Cert language work.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Everybody Writes

On Tuesday, we're experimenting: the first-ever 'Everybody Writes' day in school, when every single pupil (and we hope lots of staff too) will write on the same subject, this time 'Christmas Past' - a poem, a paragraph, a memory ... And we'll see what happens and blog some of it here (we have a few other ideas about working on the material). We'll be asking pupils to think about this overnight before spending 10/15 minutes writing something in English class (more perhaps for Juniors).

This is prompted, albeit on a modest level, by the UK's recent Everybody Writes day in all schools there.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Extended Essay: Spinelli, Bailey, Ibbotson

The first Transition Year Extended Essay we're posting this year is a fine long piece by Amelia Shirley, which analyses three novels, Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl, Anne Bailey's Scars and Eva Ibbotson's Journey to the River Sea. Amelia writes :-

The topic, on which I have decided to base my essay, is one that every single person in the world is able to relate to - Growing Up. As with most things, these two words bring a different thought or emotion or memory to each individual and that is why I have chosen it.

No matter how cultural or politically important it is for people to know ab
out wars or elections or other related topics, I feel as though it is important for people to also know about “all the other stuff”, the more personal stuff, such as families, friendships and relationships. I, myself am fascinated by people’s upbringing; where they came from, their happy childhood memories, or perhaps not so happy ones.

I think it is important that people can see how valuable and tender the years that one spends as a child, really are. This is why I have chosen the theme of Growing Up to study for this essay.

Read Amelia's full Extended Essay here.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Edublog Awards 2008

We're delighted to have been short-listed in two categories in the 2008 Edublog Awards, the best-known international awards for education blogs. The categories are : Best Individual Blog (the main overall category) and Best Group Blog. The latter is a tribute to the 100s of pupils who have contributed work since we started in 2006.

Of course, we'd be delighted to receive votes from our friends and visitors in these two categories : click here and here (or on the badges in the right-hand sidebar) and then click a tick into the PollDaddy box opposite 'SCC English' and 'vote'. Done!

To head off multiple votes by individuals, and thus rigging, only one vote is accepted from each IP address - which, for the less technically minded, means that if you're voting from SCC itself on the school network your vote may already have been taken - so please vote instead on your home/another computer. Parents, OCs and friends ... pass on the word.

The results will only be made public after voting is complete (so there's no running score), which is on Sunday 21st December, after the end of term (Australian time deadline is 10am, which in Irish time is ... er ... please just vote in good time).

Yes we can.
(Many thanks to our colleagues in the Science Department Frog Blog for their initial nomination).

Louise C. Callaghan

A friend and regular visitor to the College, Louise C. Callaghan (left, reading on World Book Day 2008 in the Cadogan), has a lovely new poem in The Copenhagen Review, titled 'Pallas Athena' : click here and then on the relevant link in their left-hand sidebar (under Third Issue). It starts :

The goddess threw her warring
spear aside
and her shield...

Afghanistan Aware

Our friend Terry O'Malley, a regular visitor to this site, has a exhibition of photographs from Afghanistan over the last 15 years this weekend at the Riverside Gallery in Arklow Town, opening on Friday at 2.30pm. Terry is heavily involved in SAFE (Support Afghan Further Education) and has previously sent us some of his evocative photos (see an Animoto film here).

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

'I am very bothered'

Today we resume term after our weekend Exodus break; exams finished on Saturday. We have a very busy period now pre-Christmas, and will be posting plenty of work here over the coming two weeks.

This week's Poem of the Week (our 40th) is our third by Simon Armitage, from his sequence 'Book of Matches', the title-less 'I am very bothered when I think' (here). It features in Cliff Yates's fine book Jumpstart: poetry in the secondary school (1999), as 'a contemporary sonnet that take liberties with the form', and shows 'how the sonnet can be made to accommodate the everyday and the mundane. The co-existence of the two registers in the poem reflects the confusion of the narrator which results in his disastrous attempt to attract the attention of the girl he admires.' He then suggests this as a starting-point ('jumpstart') for pupils writing their own poems, 'I am very bothered when I think ...' or using sentences from novels, such as his own favourite, Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep.

Cliff Yates, a highly successful teacher of poetry for his pupils, recently featured in the Guardian here. You can see an example of his classes (on William Carlos Williams's 'This is Just to Say' our own Poem of the Week in September 2007), from Jumpstart, on the Poetry Class website here.

Below, Armitage reads from Gig, a prose memoir:-

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Poetry Aloud final

Well done to Opeline Kellett and William Maire, who both reached the national final of the Poetry Aloud competition at the National Library of Ireland on Friday (thus SCC had 10% of the national finalists!), and to Molly Buckingham, who did very well in the semi-final. We hope to build on this success by continuing to push learning and reciting poetry in junior forms in particular.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Poetry Aloud finals

Good luck to Opeline Kellett (III), William Maire (II) and Molly Buckingham (I) who this morning take part in the semi-finals and (this afternoon, we hope) the final of the Poetry Ireland / National Library Poetry Aloud competition - details here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Teaching English magazine

The latest edition of 'Teaching English' magazine from the English Support Service is out now, and can be seen below via Issuu (click on the magazine for larger view and scroll through the pages).

It features winners from their recent poetry competition; a guide to the 2010 Leaving Cert comparative texts (including a section on one of our choices, The Story of Lucy Gault (by Old Columban William Trevor); ideas for teaching first years; fiction choices for junior pupils (such as Anthony Horowitz's Raven's Gate, and Sharon Creech's Replay); 14 ideas for working on a class novel; and an interview with teacher John Clarke from Clonkeen College in Dublin about his album-project with TY pupils. See below for the full magazine. For previous posts on earlier editions, click on the TE Mag label at the bottom of this post.

Travelling by Night

(This is the 500th post since this blog started in June 2006).

Ms Smith writes : During the winter timetable the last lesson of the day takes place in darkness. This is new to the Primaries, and it prompted them to write about their most memorable experiences of darkness. They wrote under the title 'Travelling by Night'. Here are three of their pieces:-

Rishi Manuel:-
Clambering up the metal stairs that glinted in the moonlit sky, we got into the colossal flying machine. It slipped off quietly into the dark night sky. As we flew I nodded to the minuscule white stars that shone brightly in the black sky. I glanced down below through the oval window. I gazed at the white horses’ heads; a message that indicated the arrival of yet another unknown land. I leaned back onto the comfy chair, listening to the soft hum of the engines, which soon called the darkness to take over me.

Mark Russell:-
I am in a car, in the middle of the night. The light is dim as if it’s twilight. I cannot see my legs or my arms. On my left, golden orange streams go by at intervals, on my right is the black silhouette of hedgerows against a silver, moonlit, night sky. In front, crimson lights up every part of my vision. At my back, a reassuring seat.

Roman Sharykin:-
The best place to watch shooting stars in Russia is a place not far from Moscow; on the roof of a cinema. My story starts when my friends and I were climbing up the metal stairs to this great place; the roof of the famous cinema. The long shadows of trees were falling below the great night sky. Although we knew we weren’t allowed to be up there, it was still one of the most important nights of the century for us.

We were pleased to be up there at last, waiting for the meteor shower to begin. It was time. It should have been happening. We turned our heads to the sky. No movement, no stars, no moon, just dark sky. We were waiting for one, two, three, four, five minutes. Nobody believed it would happen anymore. Some of my friends were ready to go home. But then something made the sky shine. We all put our heads up and saw how beautiful it was; lights and stars falling like shattered glass.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Review of 'The Great Hunger'

Tom MacIntyre's version of Patrick Kavanagh's The Great Hunger is now 25 years old; last night Balally Players opened their revival at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum. In his programme notes, director Geoffrey O'Keeffe emphasises the importance of the play as 'a touchstone in Irish theatre-making' which 'rejected the restrictive confines of an intellectual, naturalistic idiom and created a theatrical language that was inventive, visceral and engaging'. It's a brave choice, since the text could now seem a rather dated sub-Beckettian piece of theatre. However, O'Keeffe's production, driven by strong performances, shows that it's worth having another look.

The freshening-up starts with Gerard Bourke's set, which features big sloping slashes of corrugated iron topped by an ironic deeply-blue Mediterranean sky and a disconnected gate which goes from nowhere to nowhere. It also helps that the Mill is a small space, with the audience close to rather than physically distanced from the performers. It's clear that Beckett is the greatest dramatic influence on MacIntyre, and if the play is to work, it needs to echo not just his techniques, but his tenderness with his characters. There's plenty here that seems to come from Godot, Happy Days or Endgame - the bleak landscape, the snatches of language, the repetitive rituals, the comic set-pieces, the silences, the gesturalism - but thankfully the actors also manage to imbue a sense of warmth and humanity to their characters.

We admit that here at SCC English we're hardly disinterested, but the greatest credit goes to Evan Jameson in the central role of Patrick Maguire. A big presence on stage, Jameson uses his size and expressive face to powerful effect, dominating the production (he is on for almost all of the 100 minutes). He plays Maguire as a big gawky child, with touches of Max Wall and John Cleese, bewildered by life, innocent and sometimes infantile (he ends the production in a foetal huddle). At one stage (as on the poster), he spends several minutes upside down on the gate, an arresting image of the freshness he brings to the part. It's a hugely demanding and physical role, and he's the main reason why this production is emotionally engaging.

The rest of the cast support effectively, especially Maguire's male friends Francis Cahill as Malone, John Canning and Packy and Oran O'Rua as Joe, and the women Jacqueline Dooley (Mary Anne), Judy McKeever (Agnes), Niamh Daly and Siomha ni Aonghusa. Significantly, the Schoolgirl as played by Niamh Holland often seems the most mature individual in the story. In this production, the women's sexuality is rapacious and hungry, whereas the men are baffled innocents (a barnyard animal sex scene descends into schoolboy giggling).

[added June 2009 - click here for a podcast review with Evan Jameson about the production]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Yorker offer

One of the world's repositories of great writing, the New Yorker magazine, has an offer at the moment of four free digital issues of the magazine, which can be scrolled through on screen similarly to our use of Issuu, via their new Digital Reader. Well worth registering just for the pleasure and elegance of its design, let alone the writing, which in the current December 1st issue features articles on V.S. Naipaul and Stephen Sondheim as well as a personal essay by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Register here.

This Week

Exams are on for everyone, so a quiet time for the blog. We start a weekend Exodus on Saturday, and school resumes on Wednesday, following which we have an extremely busy period leading up to Christmas. We'll then be posting plenty of work by pupils - TY Extended Essays and book reports especially.

Before long it'll be time for all those newspaper 'Books of the Year'. We'll be pleased to highlight our own visitors' Books of the Year, too: please email any contributions to scc'dot'english'at'yahoo'dot'ie, and we'll gather them up and post before the end of term (or just Comment at the end of this post).

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Great Hunger

One of the poems on the V form poetry course (examined in 2010) is Patrick Kavanagh's 'The Great Hunger'.

Good luck to a member of our Department, Evan Jameson (left, upside down...), who tomorrow night opens in the lead role of Patrick Maguire in the Balally Players' production of Tom MacIntyre's 1983 dramatisation at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum. In the words of their website:-

The story is centred on the life of Inniskeen farmer Patrick Maguire. He is a lonely man, living a physically and emotionally isolated life. While the play draws a very clear picture of the frustrations associated with such an existence, it has hilarious as well as brutal and tragic moments. Maguire has occasional and ultimately futile skirmishes with Agnes and the 'local girls'. This, and his failure to communicate with the other women in his life, his mother and sister, is very well portrayed. In contrast to this, he finds with 'the lads' a camaraderie and a sense of fun that lifts his spirits. This is a piece of physical theatre where the lines of the poem are used sparingly and appropriately.

The play is directed by Geoffrey O’Keeffe, All-Ireland Winning Director and Chairman of Balally Players this year. This adaptation of Patrick Kavangh's poem of the same name became a touchstone for fresh and exciting approaches to Irish theatre when it was first produced in The Peacock Theatre in 1983.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Fair Lady photos

Here's our photo album of the recent highly successful production of My Fair Lady. The majority of the photographs were taken at the Friday night performance by our Head of Photography, Mr Peter Watts, and his pupil Amelia Shirley. Additional rehearsal photos have been added. Click below on the arrow for slideshow, or if you can't access it, try here. Click on the photo to bring up the album, and then on 'Slideshow' for a larger view. See yesterday's post for a collage, and an Animoto video using some of these pictures. Cast can download photos from here by clicking on 'Download'.

My Fair Lady review

Here is V former Kate Haslett's review of last weekend's Senior Play, My Fair Lady:-

"On Friday 14th November at 7pm,the school gathered in the Big Schoolroom to watch the eagerly anticipated adaptation of the Nobel Prize winner George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, My Fair Lady

The play opens on a rainy night in Edwardian London as the opera patrons are waiting under the arches of Covent Garden for cabs. A cheerful mood engulfs us, until a chance meeting between the eponymous 'fair lady' (Poppy Vernon) and the aristocratic Freddie (Shane Lavin) leads to Colonel Hugh Pickering’s (Michael McBurney) challenge. Linguistic expert Professor Henry Higgins (Oli Smith) has six months to turn this 'creature' into a sophisticated lady.

The staging was excellently done, and succeeded in adding a certain atmosphere to the play. There was one backdrop for the entire play, which managed to fit universally into every scene. The frequent scene changes, executed by Josh Buckingham and Ian Fraser, were witty and kept a lightness to the play.

The acting in this play can not be faulted either. Each actor carried out his or her role exceptionally with pitch-perfect vocals. However, three stars seemed to stand out in my mind, and to everyone I spoke to as well. Poppy Vernon's unique portrayal Eliza Doolittle, Oli Smith's excellent performance as Professor Henry Higgins and Michael McBurney's take on Colonel Hugh Pickering were the talk of the evening. There were also many other actors who stood out, such as Fred Mann's illustration of Alfie Doolittle, Shane Lavin as the love-struck Freddie, Anna Traill as the empathetic Mrs. Higgins and Gina Mirow as Mrs Pearse.

The play was exceptionally directed by Jeremy Stone and Julian Girdham, who managed to combine strict direction with the talent of each of the actors, and the music was directed by Geraldine Malone-Brady

This was a very demanding portrayal of the adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. However it was enjoyed by all, and I would just like to say congratulations to everyone who took part. "

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My Fair Lady Animoto

Above, a collage of some of the photographs we're assembling from last weekend's production of My Fair Lady - the full album will be here shortly. Click on the image for a closer view. And below, an Animoto video using some of the photos. Click on the arrow on the poster to start the video; the music is Zemer Attic/Tanz Tanz Yiddlelac by 3 Leg Torso (honestly).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Growing Pain, by Vernon Scannell

A year ago, almost to the day, Vernon Scannell died. His 'Growing Pain' is our 39th Poem of the Week. See here for our previous post about Scannell and his fine poetic career. The poem itself can be read here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My Fair Lady reaction

Our first response to the weekend production of My Fair Lady comes from our former Head of English, John Fanagan, who retired in the summer, and who writes :-

It was good to be back in the Big Schoolroom on Friday evening last for the first night of My Fair Lady, this year's senior play/musical, produced by Jeremy Stone, Julian Girdham and Geraldine Malone-Brady. It is a very demanding piece, with some very large individual roles, ensemble singing and frequent scene changes (the latter masterfully executed by Josh Buckingham and Ian Fraser who added their own quirky touches).

The two main roles (pictured) were perfectly cast. Poppy Vernon as Eliza sang and acted with exceptional confidence. Her scene at Ascot where she mingles with English high society was particularly effective. Oli Smith made the misogynist Professor Higgins unusually likeable. Michael McBurney as Pickering was very assured as Higgins's bemused sidekick.

The production looked terrific: the huge number of costumes (well done Helen Roden and Karen Hennessey) and the clever set. Both Oli and Fred Mann (as Alfie Doolittle)made good use of my grandfather's top hat. It was great to see so many pupils from Sixth Form down to Primary taking part, especially in the choruses; Geraldine Malone-Brady had worked her usual magic.

The smaller roles were also strong. I particularly enjoyed Shane Lavin's lovestruck Freddy, Gina Mirow as Mrs Pearce and Anna Traill as Mrs Higgins.

It was hugely enjoyed by pupils and adults alike in the audience. I know just how much work goes in to bringing it all together. Congratulations to everyone.

Many thanks to John for his kind comments. Later this week we'll have a full pupil review

Striped Pyjamas & Damaged

The Transition Year Extended Essays are due in on Thursday, and after they've been marked we'll post some of the best ones here. Meanwhile, here are more recommendations from the pupils' reading for their projects.

Stephanie Brann has read John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (previously also recommended by Robbie Hollis and Kate Boyd Crotty) :- "This book is set during the Second World War. A young boy whose father is a high soldier in the Germany Army moves to a house in the country beside a Jewish concentration camp. Bruno is very adventurous and decides to investigate the area around his house, even though he is specifically told not to.

I like this book because it is very realistic and detailed. The ending is very sudden and makes you think how awful life must have been - and not so many years ago. This book can be read by people of all ages as it contains very simple language, but is still full of interesting moments."

Rebecca Moran has read Damaged, by Cathy Glasss :- "This book follows the story of a young girl's tragic life, and the events that take place in her foster home. As she grows to love her new family she reveals the horrors of her past. I really enjoyed it because the storyline, although haunting, is extremely gripping. What makes this book so heart-breaking is that it is a true story. I would recommended it to anybody who is interested in the psychology of a disturbed child."