Sur cette page, les élèves d'English Comm' sont invités à publier des textes de leur composition : récit de voyage, visite de musée ou d'exposition, description d'une passion, d'un événement historique... un très bon exercice de production écrite !

 


   The violent Anglo-Irish conflict marked most of the twentieth century. One of its episodes was the unfair case of Gerry Conlon, an Irish man wrongfully accused and imprisoned by the British army in the 1970s. Thomas wanted to pay tribute to him. Thanks for this interesting text…

    Gerry Conlon, born on the 1st of March 1954 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a member of the "Four of Guildford", wrongfully convicted of a bombing in 1975. The famous "Four of Guildford" were : Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong, Carol Richardson, and Gerry Conlon of course.

    1975 : the English army occupied Northern Ireland. The IRA committed several attacks both in Ireland and throughout England against the English army. Hatred between Irish people and English people persisted unfortunately. Terrorism of Irish members of the IRA was in the sights of the British army. Divisions were created.

    Gerard Patrick Conlon, nicknamed Gerry, was a child and a teenager without story. On the 30th of November 1974, he was arrested by the IRA and sent to Guildford, in England, because he was stealing lead from the rooftops and was attracting the attention of the British army, which was in danger of discovering the hiding place of the IRA. He left Belfast with a friend, Paul Hill and they went to Gerry’s aunt's house. Shortly after, he was arrested and interrogated by the English police as the main suspect of an attack : the attack of two Guildford taverns on the 5th of October 1974, in which five people found death and fifty others were wounded.

    After three days of interrogation, he signed a false statement, in which he explicitly said he was part of the perpetrators of this attack. In this statement, Gerry involved seven members of his family living in England: the Maguire family and three of his friends : Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson. They were also arrested and signed false statements, under the pressure from the English police. Gerry Conlon's father, Guiseppe Conlon, was also arrested while traveling to England to only see his son. He was convicted for handling explosives, like the seven other members of the Maguire family. But they were all innocent...


Giuseppe Conlon
Giuseppe Conlon

   On the 22nd of September 1975, Conlon, Armstrong, Hill and Richardson were convicted of murder and conspiracy. Gerry was sentenced to 30 years of prison and Guiseppe was sentenced to life imprisonment. In October 1977, the call of the "Four of Guildford" was rejected. After 7 years, on the 23rd of January 1980, Guiseppe Conlon died of an illness. Gerry was shocked. From that date, all the friends and relatives of the Maguire family and the "Four of Guildford" questioned the media and campaigned to claim their innocence.

  On the 19th of October 1989, the family's lawyer found evidence of their innocence, hidden from the defense by the British police. The charges against the prisoners were cancelled and they were released after fifteen years in prison. This piece of evidence was the testimony of a homeless person who was with Conlon and Hill at the time of the attack, which confirmed his innocence and that of the other accused too. In February 2005, Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly apologized for this miscarriage of justice.

    Gerry Conlon died of lung cancer on the 21st of June 2014 in Belfast. A film was directed by Jim Sheridan in 1993, «In the Name of the Father» with Daniel Day-Lewis in the role of Gerry, Pete Postlethwaite and Emma Thompson.        

 

    To know more :


    A few weeks ago, I had a lovely surprise… I was invited to the theatre to see an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray… I was very happy ! I couldn’t wait to see how my favourite writer’s only novel had been turned into a play. And what a great success it was !

    Oscar Wilde was born in 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. He made his studies in Oxford, and later became the talented writer known worldwide… He was an exceptional playwright : who doesn’t know The Importance of Being Earnest for example, which is said to be one of the best plays in English ? He also wrote beautiful tales such as The Happy Prince or The Selfish Giant, which were first composed for his own children : his two sons Cyril and Vyvyan. Less well-known were his philosophical essays like The Critic as Artist, or The Decay of Lying, which are worth discovering too ! But his most famous work is probably The Picture of Dorian Gray, his only novel, published in 1891.

    In The Picture of Dorian Gray, the main character : Dorian, a young man of an exceptional beauty, is being painted by a friend of his : the painter Basil Hallward, who succeeds in capturing the young man’s beauty and innocence, in his best painting ever… Once at Basil’s studio, Dorian makes the acquaintance of Lord Henry Wotton, a charming talker, a famous wit, and a brilliant intellect, whose hedonistic theories on life and youth will soon disturb Dorian… The young man tells himself : « How sad it is ! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful ! But this portrait will always remain young ! ». Lord Henry’s influence on Dorian will grow, and the young man will totally fall under his spell… and follow his radical advice, for example, breaking up with the young actress Sybil Vane, who was so in love with Dorian that she committed suicide. Dorian will start a new life dedicated to new experiences and pleasures, making a « Faustian exchange », whereby he will retain his beauty whereas the picture will age... His wish granted, the picture rather than the man degrades as he pursues a life of hedonism and debauchery, reminding him that although his looks are pure and unscathed, his soul is not…

   Having read most of Oscar Wilde’s works, I knew the story of the book quite well. However, seeing the story  « on stage » was a brand new experience. And it’s true that Dorian Gray is a novel that was meant to be played… The reader can easily picture the main characters Basil, Dorian and Henry talking together around the so-called painting… wearing smart, dandy clothes, and sitting on upholstered sofas… What I also liked in the staging was the fact we only saw the back of the painting, which was laid on an easel… You could thus try to imagine what the picture looked like… and how it deteriorated through time. The actors were really good too… embodying their character with passion. Here is a short video with extracts from the play :

   The Picture of Dorian Gray examines the relationship between art and reality, highlighting the uneasy interplay between ethics and aesthetics… If it is a brilliant story, it was not always considered as such… The story, at the time it was realeased was really shocking… What was this totally new kind of novel, whose subject was rather gloomy, and whose main character adopted a still unknown attitude to life, making a pact with the devil ?

   In the late Victorian society where the words conventionality, morality, rigidity and public opinion meant so much the originality and « immorality » of the plot didn’t please a very « stiff » public.

According to Oscar Wilde, there shouldn’t be any link between art and morality… As he wrote in his preface to the book : « There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. »


    Oscar Wilde said about Dorian Gray : It « contains much of me : Basil Hallward is 'what I think I am,' Lord Henry 'what the world thinks of me,' and Dorian what I would like to be - in other ages, perhaps ». Oscar Wilde was an exceptional writer, and if you have never read his works The Picture of Dorian Gray is a good way to start !


    Thomas pays tribute to three heores of World War II, whose lives were turned into famous films… Thanks for this new text !

    One, two, three men. Three American soldiers during World War Two. Desmond Doss, Louis Zamperini, Charles Butler McVay III. Three great and incredible true stories during the hell of the Pacific war (from the attack of Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima and Nagasaki)...

    Desmond Doss was a medic in the army. He was a very exceptional soldier because he never touched a weapon, never ! He did not want to kill anyone. Even only one Japanese soldier. He wanted to save people, not to kill them. That was all. Everybody thought he was crazy but not at all, he was simply a pacifist thanks to his faith. During the greatest battle of the Pacific, the battle of Okinawa island (1st of April 1945 - 22nd of June 1945) Desmond carried 75 wounded men to safety on the hill of Hacksaw Ridge until he was wounded himself by Japanese soldiers. He was the first conscentious objector to receive the Medal of Honor, America’s highest award for courage under fire, by president Harry Truman. He remained characteristically modest, giving all the credit of his actions to his God. He said simply : «The real heroes are buried over there». Desmond was married to Dorothy Doss until her death in 1991. Desmond Doss passed away at the age of 87 years old in 2006.

 

One film, «Hacksaw Ridge» was directed by Mel Gibson in 2016 with Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn.

    Louis Zamperini had already been famous thanks to the fact he was an American olympic athlete! During his military career during the Second World War, he and several of his comrades were captured by Japanese soldiers in the Pacific ocean. They were sent in a prisoners camp where they were held in captivity, severely beaten and ill-treated until the end of the war in August 1945. Louis met the man who became his worst enemy : the guard Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who was later included in the list, by general Douglas MacArthur, of the 40 most wanted war criminals in Japan. Louis married Cynthia Applewhite in 1946. His enemy, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, nicknamed «The Bird» remained hidden for several years as a war criminal until he was granted amnesty by the United States in its efforts to reconcile with Japan. After several years of severe post-traumatic stress but always motivated by his faith in his God, Louis returned to Japan where he found and made peace with his former captors ; only the Bird refused to meet him again. Louis Zamperini died in 2014.

 

    One film, «Unbroken» was directed by Angelina Jolie in 2014 with Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson and Garrett Hedlund.

    Charles Buter McVay III was the commander of the boat USS Indianapolis. This ship delivered the first atomic bomb in history, that of Hiroshima, the bomb, in the atoll of Tinian. On the night of July 29th to 30th 1945, while the cruiser was sailing in a calm sea, two successive explosions teared the front starboard side of the ship. The Japanese submarine I-58, under the command of Mochitsura Hashimoto, launched two torpedoes. When the two torpedoes hit the cruiser, 1 197 men were on board. The order to abandon the ship was given immediately and the men threw themselves into the sea. The boat disappeared taking with it about 300 men. Despite the SOS launched by the cruiser, no ship came to pick up the survivors. They were left on their own in the middle of the Pacific ocean, most equipped with their kapok lifejackets. Many sharks were attracted by the smell of blood. They fed mainly on dead bodies of drowning and exhaustion. Then it was the turn of the surviving sailors and, every day, sailors disappeared, caught by the squales. But these predators were not the only causes of death for survivors. The sun, lack of food, thirst and fatigue assailed the sailors. Others fell into delusions or hallucinations and some came to their own fellows. Finally, Charles Buter McVay and 316 other men survived to this tragic episode. 317 survivors in total. Charles Buter McVay committed suicide in 1968 after many years of depression.

 

    One film : «USS Indianapolis Men of courage», was directed by Mario Van Peebles in 2016 with Nicolas Cage, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane.


    Ghislaine enjoys travelling, and especially to Greece, her « adopted » country as she calls it. Here are her « Greek impressions », after her last stay in Athens… Efkharîsto !

    Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world that subtly combines antiquity and modernity. Renowned for its glorious past during antiquity, it has sites full of stories and History. Very attractive capital, most people love it or hate it, however it has many assets and gathers a very large number of tourist attractions to better surprise us. So, let's go now to discover Athens...

The changing of the presidential guard
The changing of the presidential guard

When we visit Athens for the first time, we absolutely have to visit the major attractions : Syntgama Square, geographical and political center of Athens ; the changing of the presidential guard in front of the Parliament. Go to see it on Sundays at 11 am because it's the most beautiful parade ! The National garden : an oasis in the middle of the city; The Olympieion and Adrien's gate.

   In the "Plaka" district, it's a real pleasure to stroll along the beautiful neoclassical mansions whose hot and colorful plaster rival the bougainvilleas. It's only enchanting with the winding and steep lanes. We can visit the Acropolis : standing up there, on the sacred rock as the Greek people named it, all of blond marble, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world; the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds (also named Clock Andronicos); the monument of Lysicrates; the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens : symbol by excellence of Greek orthodoxy; the Hill of the Muses named the Hill of

Philopappos, the Panathenaic stadium : symbol of the modern Olympic Games; not forgetting the atypical Anafiotika : a small village with tiny passages so similar to those which punctuate the archipelago of the Cyclades. Don't hesitate to get lost in the streets of Plaka. It has a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere where locals and tourists gather for a drink in the taverns and admire this unique mixture of ancient and modern art.

 

My small wink: my favorite tavern is the "Melina", a tavern dedicated to Melina Mercouri, a great personality in Greece.

 


     The "Monastiraki" district is dominated by its former Tsisdarakis Mosque, today a museum of Greek folk art. You can feel the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the oldest district of Athens. There you can visit : the ancient Agora , the main square of the city of Athens where we discussed politics and made business. This square was the cradle of democracy. You can also see the flea market with its stores of antiquities and uncountable itinerant salesmen. Let's go on Sunday morning, it is impressive.

 

     But Athens is not that only old stones, it's also a very important cultural center with a lot of impressive museums where you can admire magnificent exhibitions. I had the opportunity to see three and I wanted to talk about them.

The "Van Gogh Alive" experience
The "Van Gogh Alive" experience

   The first "Van Gogh Alive, the experience" at the Athens Concert Hall, is an exhibition full of poetry, however not a single painting of the master is exposed, but we are plunged into the work of the painter. And with a beautiful classical music, you live a real experience that upsets the senses. A beautiful, moving and captivating journey...

"The Odyssey" at the Archeological Museum
"The Odyssey" at the Archeological Museum

   The second "Odyssey" at the National Archaeological Museum which celebrates the 150th anniversary of its founding. "The Odyssey" inspired by the mythological hero Ulysses includes 184 ancient works. This exhibition was accompanied by the music of Vangelis, Greek musician and composer, for me a genius of electronic music. The last one "Money - Tangible Symbol of Ancient Greece" at the Museum of Cycladic Art presents another aspect of the coins with 85 different coins and 159 objects from 32 Greek and European museums.

   But Athens, with its different districts, is also the city of cats, of graffiti… the city where you can find an atmosphere, a city with a lot of identites, a city with a tumultuous History.

   Athens is also the sea and the beaches, the Mediterranean cooking with Italian or oriental influences...

   A cooking with 1000 flavors … but with its own character and of course olive oil.

 

   Athens can't be summarized, it must be lived, so let's go there without hesitation because Athens is a magical city with its own identity where life is good !


Street graffiti in Athens
Street graffiti in Athens

     King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table are knwon all over the world… But who was he really ? Thomas reminds us of this part of History. Many thanks to him !

  Who really was King Arthur? In fact, we do not really know. In history, a King Arthur, in the United Kingdom, really existed but he was not as we know him in the myths and legends that students study during French lessons or British literature. Apparently, before becoming king, Arthur was a warrior and the military chief of Britons, who helped the last Romans against barbarian invasions, finally letting them to continue his own life. More exactly at the end of Antiquity and at the beginning of the Middle Ages. The story ends there.

    The rest : the knights of the Round Table etc are fiction. But even, they are known in the world. The most famous are : Lancelot, Perceval, Gauvain, Tristan, Galaad, Kay, Yvain, Erec, Agravain, Girflet, Gareth, Bédivère, Bohort, Thor (who served King Arthur since always), Accolon, Méléagant, Mordred (who declared war to King Arthur later).

The stories of Christian of Troyes are nourished by the exploits of these knights. They go on an adventure in search of an ideal (perfect love, perfection) and fight in trials as well as against enemies (symbols of evil). Their main objective is to bring to the kingdom the Grail, a symbol of immortality. The Grail is a sacred vessel that would have contained the blood of Christ.


The Knights of the Round Table
The Knights of the Round Table

    Some knights were invented and added during centuries, mostly in different adaptations. The ennemies of the king were : Fairy Morgane and all kinds of creatures of evil.

    Everyone knows the story of treason between Arthur and Lancelot because of the love between Lancelot and Guinevere, Arthur’s wife. But at the end of the story, just before dying, Lancelot and Arthur were reconciled for life. It was Perceval who survived in the last battle.

    Without forgetting the legendary Excalibur, the magic sword of King Arthur, trapped in stone by his father, Uther Pendragon, before dying and confiding Arthur to Merlin.

Several movies were directed about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Among the most famous are :

  • «Monty Pythons», directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, in 1975.
  • «Excalibur», directed by John Boorman, in 1981, with Helen Mirren and Liam Neeson.
  • «First Knight», directed by Jerry Zucker, in 1995, with Sean Connery and Richard Gere.
  • «Quest of Camelot The magic of sword», with Gary Oldman and Pierce Brosnan.
  • «King Arthur», directed by Antoine Fuqua, in 2004, with Clive Owen and Keira Knightley...

    To know more :


    Evelyne recently saw the wonderful exhibition « Millet USA » at the Palais des Beaux-Arts (Lille). She was impressed by his career and his style. The exhibition was called « Millet USA ». Indeed, although he was French, Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) became very famous in the USA, where the notion of « land » meant so much. He also later influenced photographers and film-makers… Thanks a lot to Evelyne for sharing her feelings and impressions on this great artist…

    This wonderful exhibition let us discover several aspects of the life and work of Millet. In the 1900s, he was one of the first to create paintings of peasants toiling in rural landscapes. In the mid 1840s, he turned his back to the academic style of his early artistic education , and co-founded the Barbizon school near Fontainebleau. He became renowned with his most famous painting : The Angelus.

 

    American painters came to France and worked with him to discover this new style. Many of his paintings were reproduced in the USA as photographies and lithographies. They became very popular because they were also a representation of the pionners’ life. Later, photographers and film makers saw Millet as an inspiration and mentor.

The winnower - 1848
The winnower - 1848

    This painting made in Barbizon was exhibited at Le Salon, and gave him his first great success. This masterpiece was the turn of his career and the beginning of his recognition as an "artist to the people".

The angelus - 1857-1859
The angelus - 1857-1859

    The scene shows a farmer and his wife taking a break from their work, to pray beneath an evening sky. Some thought it was a religious glorification. Others believed it to be an homage to the hardships of the working class. Sold for 1800 frs in 1860, it was several times auctioned, and its price increased to 800,000 frs. In 1909, the owner bequeathed it to le Louvre.

   These works are characterized by breadth and simplicity. They depict the peasant figures quietly engaged in their labour. By his personal brushwork, Millet dignifies characters and transforms them into heroic pictorial beings.

 

    Millet’s naturalism and poetic imagery impacted many painters' methods. For example, in the 1880s, Van Gogh made a drawing of The peasant woman gleaning and painted The sower using modern color theories.

    In the 1930s, Millet’s influence could be seen on many realist photographies of the rural American life, as those of Lewis Hines and Arthur Rothstein.

Berry pickers, Lewis Hines
Berry pickers, Lewis Hines

   Many things have been said and written about the history, or rather the fate, of native American Indians... As the first settlers arrived from Europe to conquer the "New World" that would become the USA, these tribes disappeared little by little. Thomas wrote the following text in tribute to them... Thanks a lot to him. Don't miss the interview of Kevin Costner at the end !

    Indians... These people were 500 nations : Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, Sioux, Hurons, Pawnees, Iroquois, Cheyenne, Mohicans, Apaches and more... They had been the pioneers of the Americas since Prehistory ; since their ancestors arrived in the Bering Strait 20 000 years ago. Then they colonized the entire American continent, from North to South, little by little. They lived rather peacefully, in spite of the wars between various and different tribes.

    Until the arrival of European settlers in 1492 with the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.

 

    The historical irony was that : these Indians were the first settlers on the American continent. European explorers did not suspect that they had just found again another part of the family of Humanity.

 

   Remember : racism is expressed as hostility, hatred towards a group or a category of people. As we know it today, it appeared more exactly at the time of Christopher Columbus. Before 1492 and the discovery of the New World, there was talk of xenophobia, not really racism. Xenophobia means fear of the foreigner, fear of the other. A very great choc of cultures.

 

Indeed, just after the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the successors massacred, killed and reduced in slavery, without pity, the Indian tribes.

   Considering them as savages, foreign to Western culture, and unknown in the Bible. The first tribes affected were those of Central America and those of South America, between the 15th and the 18th centuries. Then those of North America during the conquest of the West in the 19th century. Wars were not the only causes of the extermination of the American Indians. The diseases transmitted by settlers and their domestic animals from Europe made many more victims and decimated large tribes at great speed!


    Some Indian tribes managed to ally themselves with the European settlers. Although some Indian tribes lived in peace, negotiated and traded with European settlers, there were many more wars between them than peace unfortunately. And why? One of the explanations : the mentality of men was not the same as today during these past centuries. In the past, we did not know many things that we know today. Mostly thanks to DNA.

    Today we must remember the past, to understand the present and plan the future of these peoples, and not feeling guilty about this chapter of History. We can and we must repair the errors ; turn the page. In 1990, the American director and actor Kevin Costner directed the film "Dance with Wolves" in tribute to the Sioux tribe, and a few years later he directed the documentary series "500 Nations" in memory of all these tribes, all these Indian people, forgotten by History.

    Other films were also made : «The revenant» directed by Alejandro Gonzalez in 2016, with Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hardy; «The New World» directed by Terence Malik in 2005, with Colin Farrell, Christian Ball, Christopher Plummer, David Thewlis and Q’Orianka Kilcher; «The Last of the Mohicans» directed by Michaël Mann in 1992, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe; «Mission» directed by Roland Joffé in 1986 with Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Aidan Quinn and Liam Neeson; «1492, Christopher Columbus» directed by Ridley Scott in 1992, with Gérard Depardieu, Sigourney Weaver, Tchéky Karyo, Michaël Wincott and Armand Assante; «Little Big Man» directed by Arthur Penn in 1970, with Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway; «Apocalypto» directed by Mel Gibson in 2006. The Indian American actors Wes Studi and Graham Greene are two of the most famous in America and in the World.

    To know more, the interview of Kevin Costner about the making of "500 Nations" :


   Françoise is fond of history and she wanted to pay tribute to a famous English writer : Rudyard Kipling, whose courageous son unfortunately died at an early age during the First World War. Rudyard Kipling is mostly well-known for his Book of the Jungle, but also for his famous poem : If… Thanks a lot for this text entitled “In the name of the Son…”.

    The great writer Rudyard Kipling and his wife Carrie had an only son: John. This boy was 17 years old in 1914 at the beginning of the Great War. John wanted to join the army to do his patriotic duty. But he was very much short-sighted and was reformed twice. Rudyard, his father, supported his son. So, he asked support to many friends and relations. Lord Roberts integrated John in his Irish Guards’ Regiment. Rudyard was very happy and wrote a famous poem entitled If with this last very famous sentence: “you’ll be a man my son”.

   On the 25th of September, John wrote a letter to his parents. On the 2nd of October, a telegram broke bad news in England: John was missing, supposed wounded on the front line at the battle of Loos-en-Gohelle in Pas-de-Calais.

   Rudyard was dismayed, he had self-reproach and his wife’s reproach. He wanted to know what was happening to John. He looked at the photos of the prisoners of war, and at the lists of wounded. And after the war he came to Pas-de-Calais in the places where he could find a trace of John. He visited cemeteries between Lens and La Bassée (Loos, Hulluch, Vermelles, Auchy les mines…). He was so British (smart, lorgnette, top hat, Rolls Royce...) that the residents called him: “the Rolls Royce man”. Nothing, no trace of John!

   In 1930, in Loos, Rudyard Kipling had to speak in the name of the Memorial War Graves for the inauguration of the war memorial. He couldn’t speak, he was too much moved and affected… Did you know that it’s Rudyard Kipling who chose the epitaph “known unto God”?

   Rudyard Kipling died on the 18th of January 1936. He never had any news of his son. A few years before his death he wrote: “If anybody wants to know why they died, tell him, it’s because our fathers have lied “.

 

In 1990, the body of John was finally identified in a military grave in the cemetery of Haisnes-les-La Bassée. John was 18 years old when he died.