Saturday 26 May 2018

Biography: Maggie Smith, A Biography by Michael Coveney 

Best known in recent years as the dowager, Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey and Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter film franchise, Margaret Natalie Smith, born in Ilford, 1934, is renowned for the “stifled aside, the muttered barb, the malicious crack”. A theatre, film and renowned Shakespearean actress, with two Oscars and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to her name, you will rarely have seen Maggie Smith on a chat show.

Reader, I Married Him, Short Stories edited by Tracy Chevalier

Fiction: Reader, I Married Him, Short Stories edited by Tracy Chevalier 

Reader, I married him is one of the most riveting lines in English literature. Taken from the last sentence of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë's seminal, protofeminist work, it is loaded with significance. As if anticipating almost 200 years of international readership, Brontë individualises the reader and gives Jane Eyre ownership of her decision to marry her enigmatic employer, Rochester. In a period where class distinction was vivid and social mobility limited, Brontë depicted a 19th-century orphan who becomes a governess and an inspiring woman of strong heart and keen endeavour.

Farida Khalaf tells her incredible story of how she escaped the grips of the most feared group on earth

Brave escape from Isis torture to asylum 

It is only two years since 18- year-old Farida Khalaf was on school holidays with ambitions to become a mathematics teacher. She had a contented life in the remote Yazidi village of Kocho in northern Iraq. The family garden was a little haven of mulberry, almond and apricot trees. Her father trained her to shoot an AK-47 at the age of 15, in case of attack while he was on army duty at the border with Syria. The reason why millions of people have risked their lives over thousands of miles, to reach a boat not fit for purpose, to cross the Mediterranean, is provided in Farida's story. Hers is...

Marina Benjamin embraces change in Middlepause, her thoughtful narrative on the business of getting older.

Liberating meditation on embracing age 

Despite its subtitle, this book does not contain advice on diet, yoga, emollients or wardrobe makeovers. Marina Benjamin instead pursues an intellectual perspective of her journey to 50. Living on a Victorian square in London, her home is full of character and charm, a green park abundant with ageing trees out front. Familiarity with pleasing vistas and the shock when appearances change is a metaphor for ageing that comes full circle in her landscape. Body contours and facial features change irrevocably in the autumn of life, as Benjamin approaches 50, she realises that next...

All at Sea by Decca Aitkenhead

Memoir: All at Sea by Decca Aitkenhead 

How life can change in the blink of an eye is poignantly narrated in this tragic memoir. As she did yoga stretches on her hotel terrace, Decca Aitkenhead watched her partner, Tony, playing with their four-year-old son on Treasure Beach, Jamaica. The next time she looked up, Jake's head was bobbing on a wave. A rip tide had pulled him out to sea. Decca ran down to the beach and found Tony had managed to swim out to the boy, Decca grabbed her son and swam back to shore. The tide was too powerful for Tony. He drowned before her eyes, leaving her alone with their two...

Fiona Shaw springs to mind as Minister for Foreign Affairs, maybe because Cork considers itself a country apart and she does a great job as an ambassador for arts, hearts and minds

For five years, let's give this all-female Dream Cabinet a go 

The next general election will be like none before. For the first time, 30pc of the major (shrinking) parties' candidates must be female or they will face a financial penalty. Ireland is 83rd in the world ranking of women's representation in 190 parliaments, alongside North and South Korea. Contrary to the old chestnut that this will produce tokenistic females, there are robust, fearless women taking their first steps into the gladiatorial arena, not giving a fig for the patriarchal parties.

Belinda McKeon is included in the The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers

Books: Homeland and away 

Long before the Bible there have been stories of exile and distance, of migrants seeking refuge from the cruelty of despots and mankind. The relative distance of memory is a shifting element in the short story form. There is no beginning, middle and end. Long and short-term memory mesh and unspool. Geographical distance no longer determines eternal separation. The elasticity of the far and near past, of home and distant lands, the relative closeness between individuals, stretches and shrinks in A Kind of Compass, edited by Belinda McKeon.

Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney

We can't allow defence budget to vanish into thin air 

As soon as he sold the national airline, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe launched a hefty national aviation policy. The first of its kind. Essentially, it pledged that Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports shall remain in national ownership. Nothing new there then. Over the weekend, a 25-year plan was mooted by Dublin Airport Authority to develop a 70-acre site into a new 'Airport City', though no planning permission or funding is yet in place.

'The transport plan is heavily focused on pedestrian, cyclist and bus use. Not a city for old men - or women - then'

Restricting access to the capital will not solve traffic chaos 

Somebody down in the bunkers of Dublin has a crystal ball. It appears that in the future there will be balmy days and sunshine aplenty to go with the radical Dublin City Centre Transport Study. Besides good weather, you will need good shoes and possibly a facility for several languages. The objective is to 'provide an attractive environment for pedestrians that facilitates and encourages social interaction'. To achieve this, all access to private cars and taxis will be eliminated from College Green, Westmoreland Street, O'Connell Street.