But before my carefree holiday spirit wears off, let me tell you what I did in south-west Ireland. I slept a lot. I read a daily newspaper, sometimes two. On paper. I walked. I attended two stages of the Rás Mumhan bike race (anglophones: however you think this is pronounced, it isn't) and took lots of photos. I went to a well-blessing up a mountain and visited the sub-tropical paradise of Kells Bay. I even got a bit red in the sun, which is rather a contrast to the UK's experience of the past few weeks and made me feel a bit smug. I ate way too much chocolate and meat (not my usual diet at all) and read several books, mostly for pleasure. Matt Ruff's Mirage is a very enjoyable and provocative reversal of the 9/11 (or for the rest of us, 11/9) attacks and their aftermath, though rather uneven. Cobley's Seeds of Earth trilogy is enjoyable space opera hokum without much else to recommend it and a rather dubious racial premise, and Jilly Cooper's Riders (chosen for a module on social class) is execrable. It's not fun. The plot alternates between men riding horses and riding women (as they put it). The women shop to make themselves feel good. Then they have sex with the men. Then they feel bad. So they go shopping. At one point, the hero explains to his wife that he had to have sex with the stable girl because she (the wife) isn't sexual enough. She accepts this and apologises. All without a trace of irony. The New Statesman is described as 'Trotskyist' and the IRA and the 'Socialists' are roundly horrible. The heroine joins an anti-hunt demonstration but is converted to pro-hunting because the antis have bad hair whereas the huntsman has a large penis. We're told that all women really want – even the career women – is a husband and nice wallpaper. Though they're unhappy when they get it and wreck their marriages. The one strident feminist is converted after one forced kiss by the hero, after which her hair and clothes magically improve. Bad women have arm and leg hair. They can improve by shaving their pubic hair off, a real marker of the 1980s.
Of the lower orders, we only see the horrid but talented Jake. Jake is a Gypsy, and therefore superstitious, inscrutable and chippy. And his horrible family all have horrid Birmingham accents. But at least being a Gypsy he's mysteriously attractive: the rest of the lower orders, like the IRA and the Socialists, are threats which loom large but don't really appear. Foreigners are bloody. The Germans are efficient and speak viz lots of vees and zees; Italians are stylish but lazy, Spaniards are lazy and smelly except for the Fascist dictator Franco who has 'wonderful manners' and dresses well; the French are stylish but untrustworthy; Americans are gauche and prudish. The English middle classes are unutterably boring, but better than new money Brits, who wear medallions and undo their shirts and sell cat food and prefer carpets to Cotswold stone. You can shag them but you have to despise them.
And so interminably on. One damn illiterate sentence after another, one repeated plot twist after another, all mixed with the most astonishingly patronising narrative commentary, almost as if Cooper assumes her readership consists of drunk moronic halfwits. There's even a horse called Revenge so that people can say things like 'Revenge is sweet' and 'I'll get Revenge if it's the last thing I do'. For 915 pages, roughly the same length as Trollope's The Way We Live Now which covered similar ground only about a million and a half times more interestingly. I keep hoping for a shaft of humour or self-awareness, but none appear. For Cooper and her readers, the world really is (or should be) like this: National Velvet mixed with a Tory Party manifesto and the offcuts of some Danielle Steele juvenilia. That this misogynist nonsense is written by a woman is simply proof that false consciousness isn't a discredited notion. Apologies all round to my students.
What I didn't do on my holidays: listen to music or the radio; watch much TV; check my email; surf the web; mark essays; Tweet; switch on my phone; buy books. Very restful altogether.
Anyway, enough of this. Some holiday snaps. Click on them to enlarge, or see the whole lot here.
|Killorglin and the Dingle Peninsula hills in the background|
|Waiting for the off in the Rás Mumhan|
|The Holy Stone of Clonricert, recently upgraded to Class 3|
|Remember this? It's called… er… it'll come to me any minute…|
|Over the estuary to the Dingle peninsula|
|Boat and reeds|
|Pain and pleasure|
|Kells Bay Garden|
|All fields should have a bath|
|Burned foliage on the mountainside|
|Dinosaurs at Kells Bay garden|
|A shag goes fishing|
|Dingle from Kells Bay|
|Snowdonia from the train crossing Anglesey|