Book review: Country roads, take us home
Actress Mary McEvoy, formerly of 'Glenroe', on the magical new book from Alice Taylor
Alice Taylor's Do You Remember? is a book about times gone by, taking us back again to the era of her great bestseller, To School Through the Fields. This time her concentration is on house and home.
The book transports us back to a different age, when butter was made by hand at home, life took place around the fire, all food was home-cooked and everything was reused. Taylor takes us through the house, reflecting on the routine of her family life growing up in rural Ireland in the 1950s.
Reading the book, I felt a faint ache in my heart. Here are memories very familiar to me. Cosy kitchens, clocks ticking in frequent silences, daily rituals of lamp lighting, milk straining and hen feeding. These memories call up a past that seduces. When all was well and certainty abounded. When people were happier and more contented. When we knew what was what. I find myself longing for those days because now it is so different.
Then I remember a feisty little girl born out of her time. This child wanted to run and shout and climb trees. This child grew into a teenager who was deeply spiritual but questioned everything. Why no women priests? Why was it such a disaster to leave a convent? Why were babies born out of wedlock spoken of in hushed tones? Why were their mothers creatures of shame? Why would this teenager have probably chosen death rather visit such a calamity on her parents? I remember bringing tea to the fields when the hay was being saved and, yes, the sun always seemed to shine back then. I remember endless hours of play with mud and flowers. Digging for fairies in rotten logs, wrapping myself in convolvulus and pretending to be Titania among the trees in the garden. I remember all that and it was lovely.
I also remember beatings at school, the fear and ignorance that surrounded burgeoning sexuality. I remember the evenings spent balancing on a chair, my ear to the radio to try and hear Radio Luxembourg through the crackles, an often vain effort to access the world beyond the narrow confines of our kitchen. It is dangerous to romanticise the past. And yet, and yet, what Alice Taylor remembers is also how it was, and to dismiss what we might think is our "pigs in the parlour" past is to throw the baby out with the bath water.
This book is important social history. We would do well to learn from the frugality of our forebears. They lived in a world that had no sense of entitlement, they were hugely self reliant, and knew how to cut their cloth. Modernity has instilled a sense of wish fulfilment as a right.
Our wants have become our needs and the planet is dying on account of our cupidity. We invent machines and structures to give ourselves more time and when we get that time we don't know how to spend it. We go on retreats to find the peace and serenity we have lost and then return to the rat race to create more of what we tried to escape.
I wouldn't return to the past I knew; I doubt Alice Taylor would either. But in the past she chronicles there was a serenity, a lack of needing more than was available.
Remembering our past is important. Alice Taylor has given us a handbook for survival. In fact, it is essential reading. If we don't cop ourselves on environmentally, we will need it sooner than we think.
Do You Remember?; Alice Taylor; Brandon Press, tpbk, 256 pages, €16.99
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350