Burned, buried and brought back to life

A look back (first published 17 February 2015): discovering the secrets of the papyrus scrolls of Herculaneum, now in the National Library in Naples, Italy.

The Phraser

Library of Naples Library of Naples
Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli

It’s never a good idea to judge anything by appearances.  Here’s an example.

Mid-autumn of last year I was new in Naples.  The language was a challenge and I still didn’t know my way around.  The city seemed hectic and disheveled.

Then, on a wet Wednesday in November, I was invited on a trip to the Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli.

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SHORT STORY: Questions (from ‘Could do Better’ by Peter Rolls)

This is the final chapter from ‘Could do Better’ by Peter Rolls.  It is divided into three sections: ‘Boffie O’Toole and the Prospect of Cool’; ‘The Ode that Growed’; and ‘Lunch-time tête à tête’.  The chapter will be the longest post on The Phraser but it does conclude with key questions perfect for the end of a complicated 2012.  Boswell Figgis, ‘a boy on the edge’, meets these questions head on .

IMG_0587Boffie O’Toole and the Prospect of Cool

‘Nothing, sir?’  Figgis felt his voice squeak and tried for a more manly tone.  ‘Nothing?’  But, however he said it, the word had a doom-struck ring.

‘Nothing, Figgis.’  Straker dug deep the judgemental knife.  ‘You got Nothing, Nought, Nil.  As I believe the expression goes – z-z-zilch.’

Figgis pointed at his answer.  ‘How can I have got nothing?  There’s – like – ten pages of it.  Didn’t you notice?  All with my name on – and that copyright thing.’

‘Indeed, Figgis.  There were ten pages.  I studied every one – in wonderment, not to say disbelief.  And – as far as copyright goes – I assure you that no-one else is likely to lay claim to them.  Indeed, if the case goes before the High Court, I shall happily attest to your exclusive authorship.’

‘Well, then …’

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Short Story: ‘But soft! What light …’ (from ‘Could do Better’ by Peter Rolls)

Apologies for the delay in this post – too much  Christmas is a very good thing.

IMG_0587Angela Figgis believed that “The family that eats together stays together”.  She made a big deal of this – and, at 6.30 every night, the five Figgises sat and ate:  a good helping of meat, or pasta, or fish, or whatever.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing rubbish.  Occasional puddings.  All calories counted and five portions of fruit or veg a day.  Plus walking to school, rain or shine.  They would thank her for it one day.

Figgis meals involved more than just eating.  They were an occasion for being ‘together’:  for family bonding, sharing news, giving guidance, forming young minds.  And forming three teenage minds – girl, boy, girl – was no small job.

She looked at Boswell twiddling spaghetti on to his fork.  Here was a mind so unformed that it was frightening.  He spent much of this time in a ‘wool-gathering’ dream and the result was a mind like a badly-knit jumper – with the tension all over the place and likely to unravel at any moment.

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Spare a thought for the people of Newtown

This time last night, sorting through Christmas presents, I heard about the school shooting in Newtown, America.   The news hit me like a thud to the heart.

We may not all have had the privilege of being parents but we have all been children.  Most of us can still remember the excitement of Christmas – not the horror that must now haunt the children and staff from Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut.

I was at a nativity play in an infant school last week.  It had a cast of thirty or so five year olds.   The stage wriggled with over-excited donkeys, shepherds who poked each other, proud soldiers, stars, and a pair of angels who, from two wobbly steps on high, giggled and waved to their parents.

Young siblings bounced on their parents’ knees; grandparents strained forward; parents flashed cameras; staff hurried around music systems – the first Christmas was unfurling all over again.  We were held entranced in the palms of thirty tiny happy hands.

Last night when I heard about Newtown I remembered those children.  I knew the gunman had not reached them but I also knew that somehow he had.  He had reached us all.

My sense of shock can never touch Newtown’s  grief but I know that across the world our hearts are streaked with guilt,  pummelled by the fists of children killed.

We either look away or we learn.  We must try to learn from children lost to violence and the only place to start is with questions.

What do we know about the mind – about loneliness and the casual consumption of violence through the web?

Have we thought enough about our own responsibility for isolation?  About our need to involve ourselves with our neighbours and their children?

Should we talk rather than text? Visit as well Facebook?  Show that lives shared in person have a dimension beyond 3D?

Do we do enough to show that Christmas is more than just an online shopping spree?

These may not be the right questions, and answers may be as slippery as shadows, but we must keep looking.

The mind that spat bullets in Connecticut appears to have been acting alone.  Those that killed the children of Houla in Syria were not.  For the young innocent victims the difference is irrelevant – it is what we do about such massacres that matters.

Short Story: Figgis and the Summer Rain by Peter Rolls

From ‘Could do Better’ by Peter Rolls

IMG_0587It was the last week of term.  In Art, the given theme was ‘the place you plan to visit on holiday’.  Most people’s pictures were of somewhere exotic – electric blues, over-heated reds and citrus-sharp yellows – but Figgis struggled with a landscape of rain-storm grey.  His holidays were always in North Devon and his memories were mainly of Summer rain:  his watery, free-flowing style was based on personal observation of the forces of nature.

Jilly Martin came and looked at the picture.  She smiled and he knew that she smiled not at him but with him.

Figgis hadn’t previously thought much about Jilly.  She wasn’t the prettiest girl in the class, not one of the ‘look-at-me, look-at-me’ crowd.  She was just quiet and pleasant and tall and an ace at basket-ball.  The smile was small but good.

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