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2015 Grateful 1

Hard to believe that another year is drawing to a close. So much has happened. So much has changed. And it all went so quickly. Perhaps it’s a symptom of getting older. Of aging. Time flies. It seems like yesterday that I started this year’s Grateful 52 and now the countdown has ended.

Many of my friends had significant birthdays this year; many more see the half-century next year, myself included. And yet in my head I’m still 32 and will always be. I was asked over drinks this Christmas if I had a choice, which one would I pick:

a) €4 million
b) To  go back to being 20 knowing what I know now

Apparently it’s a polarising question with most women opting for the dosh and the men opting for a do-over. I can’t speak to that. But I’d have taken the €4 million without hesitation. There’s no way I’d want to go back and do over.

I’m grateful that I have few regrets and those I have are negligible in the grand scheme of things. I’m grateful, too, that people read this blog and comment and interact and let me know that I’m not just writing for my own amusement (although I think I still would even if no one read anything I wrote – it’s therapeutic). Thank you, though, for engaging.

And a present for you – in case you haven’t heard it already:

carolsChristmas carols are my favourite part of the season – I like the oldies, the classics – and I like, the new ones, too. This one – The Flight – was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge as part of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. It was sung for the first time this Christmas and is written by Hungarian-born George Szirtes.

The child on the dirtpath
finds the highway blocked
The dogs at the entrance
snarl that doors are locked
The great god of kindness
has his kindness mocked
 May those who travel light
 Find shelter on the flight
 May Bethlehem
 Give rest to them.

The sea is a graveyard
the beach is dry bones
the child at the station
is pelted with stones
the cop stands impassive
the ambulance drones

We sleep then awaken
we rest on the way
our sleep might be troubled
but hope is our day
we move on for ever
like children astray

We move on for ever
our feet leave no mark
you won’t hear our voices
once we’re in the dark
but here is our fire
this child is our spark

Words: George Szirtes
Music: Richard Causton

 

Johnny Valiant

Three hundred and seventy verses, 1480 lines, make for one hell of a long poem. But I read them all, cover to cover, the first time I picked up a copy of Petőfi Sándor’s book János Vitéz (John the Valiant) or, as I’ve christened him, Johnny Valiant. I did the same the second time, and the third time, and the fourth time. What’s more, remembering back to 2007, I think everyone on my Christmas list got a copy of John Ridland’s 2004 translation.

It’s a marvellous tale of love and loss, of bravery and courage, of tenacity and faith, of loyalty and belief. A tale where the shepherd boy turns down a French throne and instead returns to his sweetheart. ‘Tis the stuff that magic is made of. And it simply goes on and on and on. In his foreword to this particular edition, George Szirtes says:

As  children, we raced through Petőfi’s poem, exhilarated by its pace, enraptured by its heroism, sharing its jokes, scarcely believing its tragedies.

Although nature’s current depiction of me is hardly childlike, once I picked up this poem, I was twelve again. Catapulted back in time, I was just beginning to notice boys and lose myself in the innocent romance between Laura and Almonzo (Manley) on the Little House of the Prairie.

Ráckeve Cemetery Johnny Valiant

To discover as I walked the cemetery of Ráckeve last weekend, that Petőfi had based my Johnny Valiant on a real person, came as quite a surprise.  If Hórvath János (1774-1848) was even half the man that my Johnny was, he’d win a place on the list of dead people I’d invite to dinner. Judging by the medals and honors cited on his gravestone, Hórvath was no coward. I wonder though if he had a sweetheart …

Ráckeve Cemetery Johnny ValiantBeautifully in keeping with Petőfi’s folksy style, the sign pointing the way to Hórvath’s grave deserves a place in the Tate Modern. A broom handle, topped with a radiator cap, holds tight to a simple board with a strip of metal edging held together with four nails, each painted in white, tied off with the requisite red, white and green ribbon. A lovely touch.

Each year, in the town of Ráckeve, on János Viték Napok,  locals commemorate this great work by acting out selected parts. This year, I just missed it (2/3 June). Next year, it’s already fixed in my calendar.

This poem begs to be read aloud. If you have kids, so much the better. But if not, while sitting at home one evening with a postprandial digestif of your choice, I challenge you to pick it up and keep silent. It’s impossible.