A book of our time, a book about dealing with losing time, place and opportunities

I’ve never posted a book review, the mention of an odd art or education related book perhaps, but I’ve never felt the need to…. despite being a fairly avid reader.  Until this week that is.  I have been reading Jean-Dominique Bauby’s book The Diving-bell and the Butterfly.  It is a collection of observations and anecdotes made whilst paralyzed with Locked-in Syndrome. Trapped inside a completely static 44-year-old body Bauby dictated his text using a system of blinking his left eye to indicate which letter his assistant should note down.

The sudden and completely unexpected brain injury the writer suffered that left him bed-ridden is both shocking and confrontational to read about in someone so young.  But as you read on you are drawn into Jean-Dominique’s world, his past, his family and friends as well as the interactions with his carers.  This should, you would think, be a challenging and heavy read, and yet it is anything but that.

Bauby displays an ability to see so far beyond his hospital bed plight.  It seems an almost superhuman achievement to explore and reflect on his life and his future when all his faculties to communicate have been closed down by his injury.  He discusses the simplest things, such as not being able to run his fingers through his son’s hair, to amusing stories from his past as an editor in chief of the French edition of Elle magazine.  He takes the reader away on memories of holidays past, dictating them to us the reader just as he has explored them for himself time and again confined in his prison-like body.

Throughout there is little evidence of a voice that is expressing regret, rage, or frustration, although all of those emotions must surely have been experienced. No, what comes out of this short one-hundred page book is a writer who seems to want to share, to maybe open our eyes a little more and to still feel part of a world that is in so many ways cut off from him.

Whilst reading it isn’t long before you started to see the connections with the world as we are experiencing it now. We are all feeling restricted, like the world as it was, is passing us by. Times are indeed difficult and challenging. But Jean-Dominique Bauby’s book does throw it into a different perspective and one that does bring a feeling of wonder for one man’s inner spirit and inner world.

“Other than my eye, two things aren’t paralyzed. My imagination and my memory

Footnote: Although I have only just read Bauby’s book The Diving-bell and the Butterfly I did also see the film made by artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel several years ago.  The structure of the film is rather different to the book, but it too is excellent and visually fantastically strong.   

H3P going where few classes dare to go

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a slightly tongue in cheek post that mentioned my third year class H3P (mostly 14 year olds).  The post referred to how they sit down the back of the classroom, seemingly trying to get as far away as possible from me, which in the Covid classroom is, in some ways, quite welcome.

But H3P deserve a mention today for a completely different reason.  They are just over two years into their bilingual education. About 70% of all their timetabled lessons are taught not in their native Dutch, but in English.  We work hard at school with our classes to break through the tendency pupils have to slip out of English and back into Dutch.  Being a native speaker of English my own use of English is 100%, but even with that sort of input, some classes have to be pushed, cajoled and bullied into full participation.

Today during my lesson with H3P at the end of the afternoon I had to pop out of the room to go to the copy machine.  On returning to the art department I entered the corridor, the door was open and from the far end of the corridor I could already hear the class.  They can be a rowdy and chaotic bunch, especially when they think that I am not looking!  I crept up to the doorway to have a listen to hear what all the noise was about before entering the room.

The class seemed to be shouting and arguing with each other.  Nothing too heavy, it was all good humoured.  I listened on.  It was fascinating to hear my group of fourteen year old Dutch children arguing with each other in English, shouting to each other in English, joking in English. 

Two years ago I traveled to England with the very same children.  A trip that we use to try and help the children over the psychological barrier of daring to speak their first English words and broken sentences.  And now, two years on, the same group is arguing amongst themselves in English.  I stood outside for a while, it was fantastic to hear!