Into the dark water: Philip Hoare on the life and death of Wilfred Owen


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In peace and wartime, the poet found solace and sensuality in swimming. A new film marking the centenary of his death explores the refuges he sought away from the battlefield

I spent my childhood holidays in Torquay, but I’d forgotten how blue its waters were. Meadfoot beach arcs around the bay, looking out to a single, sharp rock in the distance, angular, as if driven from the sky into the sea. In the years before the first world war, the teenage Wilfred Owen spent his own summers on this beach. He’d always loved the water. His father taught him to swim; Tom Owen was a railway clerk in Shrewsbury, but on his days off he’d dress up as a captain and wander Liverpool’s docks. Once he brought home four Lascars; Wilfred and his brother Harold remembered their bare brown feet beneath the tea table.

Wilfred knew where his future lay. ...

Into the dark water: Philip Hoare on the life and death of Wilfred Owen


This post is by Philip Hoare from Books | The Guardian


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




In peace and wartime, the poet found solace and sensuality in swimming. A new film marking the centenary of his death explores the refuges he sought away from the battlefield

I spent my childhood holidays in Torquay, but I’d forgotten how blue its waters were. Meadfoot beach arcs around the bay, looking out to a single, sharp rock in the distance, angular, as if driven from the sky into the sea. In the years before the first world war, the teenage Wilfred Owen spent his own summers on this beach. He’d always loved the water. His father taught him to swim; Tom Owen was a railway clerk in Shrewsbury, but on his days off he’d dress up as a captain and wander Liverpool’s docks. Once he brought home four Lascars; Wilfred and his brother Harold remembered their bare brown feet beneath the tea table.

Wilfred knew where his future lay. ...

Tides by Jonathan White review – getting to grips with the power of the ocean


This post is by Philip Hoare from Books | The Guardian


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A scintillating exploration of how ebb and flow influence our cultures and determine our fate, from the musings of Da Vinci to the effect of waves on time itself

I write this waiting for the tide to return so I can swim in it. My time is determined by the tides. The sea rules our lives in subtle ways – in what its tides reveal as well as in what they cover. Their movements are not only essential to our lives, but they may also be where we began: 3.5bn years ago, when the moon was much closer to Earth, the tides rose several hundred feet high, leaving huge intertidal zones that stretched for hundreds of miles and created “a gritty, soupy, fecund environment that may have provided the perfect nursery for life’s beginnings”, as Jonathan White writes in his revelatory new book.

The sense of the mythic draw of ...

Shark Drunk and A Sea Monster’s Tale review – the lure of an astonishing fish


This post is by Philip Hoare from Books | The Guardian


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Morten Strøksnes is in search of a Greenland while Colin Speedie in mesmerised by the basker. Philip Hoare considers a new kind of shark feverIt is the ancientness of sharks that helps to enthrall and appal us. The sly, sideways sway of their whiplash bodies; the nerve-sharp signifier of their angular fins; the sense of something impossibly old, and possibly malignant. Sharks have been around for 400m years, and collectively, these cartilaginous creatures sum up all that is frightening about the deep dark sea. On his mid-19th-century walks along Cape Cod, Henry David Thoreau recorded that sharks would be “tossed up and quiver for a moment on the sand”, and saw one “singularly film-like and indistinct in the water, as if all nature abetted this child of ocean”. On that same shore recently, a fisherman showed me a photo he had taken on the beach where I’d just been swimming. ...

The Mighty Franks by Michael Frank review – a glorious tale of Hollywood dysfunction


This post is by Philip Hoare from Books | The Guardian


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A bitterly amusing memoir of growing up as part of an unusual family, under the influence of a despotic aunt

We all long for drama in our private lives, as if to make sense of the chaos into which we are plunged at birth. But only in looking back is a pattern perceived, the narrative ordered. “Perspective does not come to us while we are living life,” Michael Frank’s mother tells her son. Frank, now a successful writer and critic, begins his story as a somewhat precocious schoolboy growing up in 1970s Los Angeles, with an inordinate love of art and eavesdropping. He is the scion of an extraordinary coalition. The “Mighty Franks” are an overachieving, stylish clan of Jewish émigrés from Europe – their two halves united by dint of a brother and sister marrying a sister and a brother – who occupy neighbouring homes in Laurel Canyon, LA. ...

Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith review – the octopus as intelligent alien


This post is by Philip Hoare from Books | The Guardian


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A scuba-diving philosopher of science explores the wonder of cephalopods, smart and playful creatures who live outside the brain-body divideYea, slimy things did crawl with legs / Upon the slimy sea.” Coleridge’s lines evoke those Precambrian depths where sensate life first stirred, and which remain lodged atavistically in our collective imaginations. Perhaps that’s why we look on the octopus as an eldritch other, with its more-than-the usual complement of limbs, bulbous eyes, seeking suckers and keratinous beaks voraciously devouring anything in its slippery path. Peter Godfrey-Smith’s brilliant book entirely overturns those preconceptions. Cephalopods – octopuses, squids and nautiluses – “are an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals”, he writes, having developed on a different path from us, “an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behaviour”. This is why they present themselves as a fascinating case study to Godfrey-Smith, who is a ...

Pacific: The Ocean of the Future by Simon Winchester review – does salvation lie in the world’s ‘dominant entity’?


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Simon Winchester argues that our destiny will be dictated by the Pacific’s vast expanses

Will the Pacific save us? In his biography of an ocean, Simon Winchester finds an optimistic note among all the doom we humans trail in our wake. This enormous body of water, which covers roughly a third of the planet’s surface, has become a cistern for our western sins. We have raided its indigenous peoples and animals; our world wars and nuclear tests have contaminated its islands and seas. How does it repay us? By absorbing the heat caused by our excessive burning of fossil fuels, acting as a “gigantic safety valve” to global warming. Archipelagos may be overwhelmed and coral reefs die, but in the end, Winchester intimates, the Earth will survive because of “the dominant entity on the planet” – all 64 million square miles of it.

As a companion to his magisterial ...

Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins by Susan Casey – review


This post is by Philip Hoare from Books | The Guardian


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A feelgood account of an encounter with dolphins, and their abilities, darkens into a chronicle of their devastating treatment at the hands of mankind

Dolphins are sexy beasts. I was once caught up in a superpod of 200 dusky dolphins off the coast of New Zealand. The sleek cetacean torpedos were zipping all around, and at one moment I turned to face two dozen of them charging directly at me. I thought I was about to be run down. But these animals can detect an object the thinness of a human fingernail at 20 yards. Effortlessly, they turned and swooped between my legs and under my arms.

Only later, as I climbed, exhausted, out of the water, was I told by the naturalist on board that in fact my playmates were continually having sex around me. Dolphins can mate three times in five minutes – not only with their own, ...