Day 81

The Tackle in Gaelic Football

It is Sunday, so please indulge my inclination to talk about sport. For a more erudite and funny take on Sundays, I refer the jury to yer man’s book [good idea; helps pay the rent – Ed.]. His take on the subject starts with the line, “Agus ar an seachtú lá, chruthaigh Dia an Domhnach mar, go bunúsach, ní raibh smaointe maithe ar bith fágtha aici,” which is a fairly strong opening gambit, you’d have to admit.

“But why sport as a subject on a Sunday?” wonders Smart Boy from the back of the class, where I have placed him to try to get him out of my way. “Why not religion?” And the answer to that is because I am a Catholic, and if you cannot see what I did there, you are wearing your covidnovid mask too far up your face. Please note my (correct) use of the term for the sect I belong to, by birth and by inclination: I am not now, and never have been, a Roman Catholic, and as for what people mean when they deploy the explosive term Irish Catholic, God alone knows. And she is not telling anyone else. ‘Roman Catholic’ was devised as a term of abuse by Anglicans, and even though it is the term that appears on community monitoring forms in Norn Iron where job applicants are asked to reveal their religious background, I now tick the other box beside it designated ‘Other’, and then explain in the box below that Roman Catholic is a term of abuse and that the official title of the Church with its head bombardier in the Vatican is The Catholic Church. I’m sure they love me, the wee minions who have to read those stupid forms.

Catholic is the answer because, after one gets out of the juvenile ranks of the GAA and into senior competition (a bit like the Fianna and the IRA in that regard: the same rules to both, but there is an increased risk of serious injury in the senior code), the matches are generally on a Sunday. And traditional throw-in time (never kick-off time, be warned!) is 3.30pm. I do not think that these stipulations were conceived to differentiate all things GAA from soccer in England with its traditional kick-off time of 3.00pm on a Saturday, but I would not be too surprised, given the sectarian, racist bigots who instituted them, if that were in fact the origin of them. In a more equanimous mood, I am inclined to think that Sunday was chosen because a lot of the players would not actually be off work on Saturdays – they would be running around doing homers to supplement their meagre Mon-Fri incomes. Also note the qualifier ‘in England’ above, because in poor Catholic countries in other parts of the World, Sunday was the traditional day for soccer too – even in Buenos Aires, which must have caused fixture congestion with the hurling club in that fine city.

So the whole playing GAA on a Sunday thing is not designed (solely) to annoy Northern Protestants with their ‘never on the Sabbath’ mantra. It is, in fact, an attempt to teach them to actually read the Bible they are so fond of misquoting: God never specifically ruled out senior reserve football or hurling games on the seventh day, and had very little to say about junior championship replays either. In fact, all He did say in his best-selling book on the subject was this:

Ar an seachtú lá chríochnaigh Dia an obair a rinne sé. Scoir sé ar an seachtú lá den obair go léir a rinne sé. Bheannaigh agus naomhaigh Dia an seachtú lá mar scoir sé an lá sin den obair go léir a rinne sé sa chruthú. Sin iad céatúsa neimhe agus talún nuair a cruthaíodh iad.

In the original Irish there, to avoid any confusion. But youse can look it up youseselves: it is Genesis 2:2-4, and that is my religious duty as an intinerant monk of the Second Gaelic Illumination done for the day.

Pupils who are not linguistically challenged will note that even God Herself did not abstain totally from work on the Sabbath She was in the process of creating – She did a wee bit of top and tailing in the morning before breakfast to finish off the work of the previous six days. That chríochnaigh there in the first line gives the game away. And, in the rest of the quotation, the significant word is obair, ie ‘work’. Now, whatever about professional sports where participants are paid to participate, no one gets paid for playing GAA, so it cannot in any way be classified as work, and is not, therefore, in any way excluded from the activities available to anyone on a Sunday, even to Protestants. Please inform your nearest one of this Biblical fact. If your nearest one is outside your own county, or more than 20km away (whichever is the greatest distance), leave your address in Comments down there and I will send you one through the post.

The GAA, God bless it, has come up with some sort of road map for how to get its competitions back on the … road. The social distancing thing of 2m, or 1m, has not yet been sorted out, and standing even 1m away from a hurler you are trying to tackle would actually be more dangerous that going into a covidnovid ward with no protective equipment on, so it remains a bit of a problem for Croke Park. I am surprised they have not yet phoned me up to garner my advice on the issue. I would tell them that, as far as football goes, this is not actually a problem but an opportunity. As things stand, no one, particularly referees, knows what the rules are about how to tackle the other guy in Gaelic football. So here we are with yet another benefit of the Kerfuffle: we can now define once and for all what a tackle is in Gaelic football. My copyrighted suggestion is as follows: if the tackler is able to touch elbows with the tacklee in a clear and unequivocal single movement, the tacklee has to give the tackler the ball, and start chasing him.

Hurlers can continue to do their own thing and have no need for rules, about tackling or anything else. They are artists, are engaged in a World Heritage recognised activity and, like all artists, only learn the rules so that they can break them.

For another take on the connection between sport and religion, have a read of Eccles – he is good crack. And ‘crack’ is how you spell that word if you are writing in English, by the way: ‘craic’ is an Irish word, and should be reserved for written material in that language. Happily enough, both words are pronounced the same, but please use air quotes if you are dropping craic into your English conversations. Same goes for agus ceol. Or you will get a yellow card.


Day 80

Hey ho! Hey ho! It’s off to protest we go …

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

are full of passionate intensity.

WB Yeats, the usual one

It is a truth almost universally ignored that people need to be careful when choosing their secular saints. Even Uncle Bob got it wrong, apparently, in the case of Rubin Carter, although Hurricane is still a brilliant song.

It is also a truth universally ignored that policemen never learn anything. I mean, why would they? There is no motivation or reward for them to do anything other than to continue to blindly misapply the law as they understand it. What would be the point of looking up the archives and trying to glean some ciall cheannaithe from similar events which happened in the past?

And so, when I watched the PSNI man on the news basically saying that the demonstrations planned for Belfart and Derry Hey today were illegal and effectively banned, I held no great hope that he would continue his spake with, “But as a police force and as a society, we have had quite a bit of bother with banned marches and demonstrations in the past, so I am telling all my officers to take the day off on Saturday and to stay away from the two cities (sic and sick) in our wee country.”

You heard it here first: there will be trouble ahead.

But that there pic up there is not actually a mob of locals waiting for the bus to take them off to act the eejits at a protest in Belfast about a matter that has little or nothing to do with them, so it’s not, so it isn’t. (Please excuse my slipping into Belfast vernacular there; it happens the odd time when I mention the place I was released from after 43 years for good behaviour. So it does.) It is actually the local primary school children waiting for the school bus to pick them up. They do not always dress like that, however, and I did not always take a photograph of them every morning. This is them heading into school for the Hallowe’en party (that apostrophe is for you, beeagain; enjoy!) and annual, eagerly-awaited, (by the teachers) fancy-dress competition – sometimes the teachers put more work into their costumes that the poor, put-upon parents did. Three children (presumably of mine) went through seven years each in that school and we never came close to winning a prize in the competition. Blatant discrimination against blow-ins, if you ask me. Particularly the year Girl decided upon and created her own costume, and went in with a dagger and a Cornflakes box on her head. She was, of course, a Cereal Killer (geddit?), but obviously that level of sophisticated wordplay went straight over the culchie heads of the judges.

There is a Cummings in the picture above. Guesses will be welcomed in the Comments sections down there, prizes will be awarded and terms & conditions will apply.

I may or may not struggle out of my dressing gown today. I did most of my non-essential essential journeys yesterday, but I am looking forward to Monday when I will have to drive the whole length and breadth of County Antrim, according to my understanding of Leo’s latest rules for relaxation of lockdown. Why anyone would want to relax lockdown rules is beyond me. When was the last time you had Mormons knocking on your door trying to sell you Jesus? (For info, Jesus would like to let it be known that He is not for sale, not even for thirty pieces of silver.) Or gypsies offering to colour in your driveway with a black marker? Those two groups will be back out on the streets annoying people if we come out of lockdown, along with the never-ending hordes of GAA ballot-selling con-men and women. Do we really want to put up with riff-raff like that at our doors just so that we can leave our own houses and our own expensive coffee machines to drive to a shopping centre and queue up (there were always queues, even in times PC) to drink expensive coffee in the company of strangers? Think before, not after, taking a decision; you know it makes more sense that way, even if, like the police, you have never tried it in that order.

A drop of relevant poetry to finish youse off this morning – wee Prufrock and his life of coffee spoons.

Now wash your hands. And the dishes. (That last one has just been screamed in my direction by Part-Time Wife.)

Day 79

Stuck on the inside of the local gun shop

Advertising in Culchie

That ad up there is the reason I moved to Culchie. [You had worms? -Ed.] Tis the little things like that about my semi-literate cohabitants that delight me and that keep a spring in my step as I stride purposefully among them on my rare excursions beyond the stone walls of the Estate. I would prefer to call it ‘the Demense’, but they already had one of them before I muscled my way in here to grab land from my Part-Time Wife’s people and then evict some of the locals from it to make more room for my sheep, and my grazing herd of PhD students. And they pronounce it wrong as well (their version is ‘the domains’), so ‘the Estate’ (pronounced with a capital E) is probably a safer bet.

But back to the ad. What I like immediately is the presumption that everyone knows who Charlie is. And the rest of them almost certainly do, because everyone knows everyone else in the country, and everyone else’s business too. And Charlie was always your man for worms round here, anyway, sure everyone knows that. No need for anything as formal, or as defining, as a surname: that would be way too fancy for the locals. Charlie himself (who probably designed the advertisement, although it seems he employed a five-year-old to write it out for him) has no compunction about giving out his personal details to all and sundry. No GDPR worries for our Charlie, as everyone who matters already has his mobile number on speed dial anyway. In an earlier version of the publicity material, he had told the five-year-old to stick down ‘call round to Charlie’s’, but neither of the two of them was certain enough about where the apostrophe should go, so they changed the business delivery model on the hoof.

As for what is actually being advertised, there are various possibilities. Cattle around these parts do be, betimes, afflicted with worms. So do some of the human inhabitants. It is possible that Charlie is the designated healer in the area who has ‘the cure’ for said disease. If you do not know what ‘the cure’ is, you are obviously an ignorant city-dweller, and you are more than welcome to stay there, with yours warts, your styes and your nose-bleeds. Country people know that minor afflictions such as these can be dispensed with simply by making contact – even by phone – with the person who has the cure for the particular ailment. This is no Black Magic, but testified, guaranteed and fool-proof folk medicine passed down through the centuries. Should a supplicant find – or claim – after contact with the holder of the cure that the affliction persists or returns, why then it is clear that said applicant was faulty in the first place as to the strength of his belief in the efficacy of the cure. No blame can be attached to the designated bearer of the cure, and more than a hundred testimonies of successful cures can be readily sourced from the brother-in-law of your second cousin’s wife’s aunt’s washing machine repair man as irrefutable evidence that this alleged ‘non-cure’ is a thing as unheard of and as rare as hens’ teeth. Neither will any refunds be considered. For the perfectly logical reason that no payment has taken place. The anointed one who bestows the cure sees it as a sacred service to the community, and would not sully the practice with coin or note. He might not put up much of an argument, though, if you happen to leave a naggin of whiskey behind you after your visit.

As to the other possibilities, and given the fact the marketing brochure was stuck to the inside of the fish and tackle shop near the bridge, Charlie may be on the lookout for a supply of bait, either for his own use or to sell to other local poachers. (There are no licensed fishermen round here, just poachers.) Or he could, in fact, be the local worm-pusher. But why on Earth (wait till you see what I do here) anyone on Earth would want to buy or sell worms in this locale is an insoluble pancake of a conundrum, given that they are freely available in the earth beneath the locals’ feet. Surely they are not so lazy that a bout of digging is beyond them?

Which leads me to the most likely explanation of the ad. ‘Worms’ is obviously local slang for heroin, and there is a drug problem heading our way unless I do something about it. Now while police intelligence is an accepted oxymoron, there is a fine line between ignoring the obvious and dereliction of duty, and Charlie is at the end of it, fishing for victims.

I expect to hear news of an arrest forthwith. In a local shop window.

Day 78

recent viewing stats for this site

The Irish experience

… as I was saying, one of the problems with dictionaries is that they are out of date as soon as they are published. [Take that out of your mouth, María, and get back down to the kitchen – it looks likes he’s back in business. And put your clothes back on as well – Ed.] Take the word ‘gay’, for example: visit a nineteenth-century dictionary, or any number of folk songs, and you will find that the entry for ‘gay’ (Oh, er, Missus!) is sitting there innocently with no foreknowledge that it is on the cusp of becoming embroiled in some below-the-belt business. Now have a look at the listing for ‘gay’ in a contemporary dictionary. Finished? Did you scroll all the way down? If you did, you will have noticed, I’m sure, that nowhere in that definition did you find what my children mean when they use the word. (I suppose they are mine, but I have only my Part-Time Wife’s word for that, and I still suspect that I should get the DNA test done just to be sure before I rewrite the Will in their favour: no point in leaving my shed-loads of moolah to strangers, is there? I am not Bill Gates, after all. And neither is he the Anti-Christ.) When any of the resident, indigenous teenagers spouts the phrase, “That’s a bit gay!” they intend no reference to the sexual proclivities of the subject under discussion, nor to its merriness or wantonness. The phrase covers a multitude of sins, as does gayness in its other meaning, but, in general, it conveys the meaning that whatever is under discussion is not an activity, or attitude, or look they would advocate themselves and is something that all right-thinking people should disapprove of. I suppose we will have to wait for the publication of a mid-21st century dictionary to get a definitive definition of what ‘gay’ means for modern teenagers, or what it used to mean because, by the time it is published, that future definition will be out of date, as I said at the start.

Wittgenstein is germane here, but I will leave you do to your own research on that – you cannot expect me to spoon-feed youse everything! Oh, all right then, here’s a link, but only cos I have been off a couple of days and am feeling generous. [How’s your shoulder? – Ed.] (None the better for you constantly looking over it – me) On that point, it would seem from the pic of the stats at the top of this post, that I was not greatly missed: the viewing figures, for a reason beyond the ken of the non-existent Marketing Manager of the blog, appeared to increase on the days when I did not in fact post a daily blog – are there lessons to be learned from that? (As for that other Ken, any news? This is a private family query and if you are not a member of a private family, kindly remove yourself from these brackets.)

Which brings me neatly round to one of the other problems with dictionaries. (There is actually an underlying structure to these posts, but I will leave that for future literary critics to discuss and reveal.) To wit [to woo? – Ed.] that unless they were to run to several thousand printed or interwobbled pages, dictionaries will always fail to provide enough detail about context for each of the entries in them. This is true of L1 to L1 dictionaries, but it is particularly dangerous for L1 to L2 dictionaries, or for the users thereof. (Do I have to? All right, L1 to L1 is, for example, an English dictionary that gives definitions, in English, of English words; L1 to L2 is, for example, an Irish-French dictionary that provides French equivalents of words in the Irish language. Oh, while I’m in here, right-thinking people is in italics up there because a) I had some money left over in the italics budget cos I was off for a few days with my shoulder, and b) because, in Norn Iron, it is used by Protestants public figures as a euphemism for ‘Protestants’ – and you will not find that definition in any dictionary.)

Take, or look at, or consider, the word “experience” in this context, ie for the poor, bottom-feeding Irish translator whose work then enjoys the privilege of being firmly, but fondly, caressed by my editorial eye. (I told you there was an underlying structure; see title of this post.) He will get away with using the Irish word taithí most times, but not all times. It is not always correct because you can have taithí of something without having actually learned anything from having had the taithí. For that shade of maning of experience, the translator should – but rarely does – employ the phrase ciall cheannaithe, which literally means ‘bought sense’. And the point about that is that I cannot buy it for you; you have to spend the money, or effort, yourself in order to learn from the experience. Under very few circumstances should the translator choose the Irish word eispéireas, but that is invariably what they do when seeking to translate the word ‘experience’ as used in the almost compulsory description of tourist activities, when we used to have tourist activities: the Viking Experience, the Arigna Experience, the Hunger Striker Experience. (Any tourists interested in that last one, give the Finance Director a call and she will send you out a – small – package in the post for a – large – fee.) This stems from a common failure among translators, namely their inability to use a dictionary, or in some cases, to even think about using a dictionary. The Irish word eispéireas only means ‘experience’ in the strict meaning it has in the realm of philosophy, and it states that much in the dictionary entry for it. Maybe the dictionary is out of date, you say? Well done, Smart Boy, but until its successor is published, the red pen is staying out for that one.

In general though, and in Major Major (that one’s for you, Hazel, although you are not reading), you will find that your ciall cheannaithe is only of use to you: if you try to pass it on, you will come up against one of the other great barriers to human advancement, that being the inability of about 83.7% of the World’s population to listen. To anything, never mind good advice.

It’s good to be back in Boston. Youse can stop reading now.

There is a link, but he says it later in the same album

Day 77

A Tale of Two Beaches

(Fair play to her, a commenter from down there anonymously sent me the content below because she believed I have a sore shoulder and cannot type with my fingers, which are connected, loosely, to my shoulder, via my wrist and other bodily parts. So, take it away, Anonymous.)

So my sister told me yesterday that she was heading to the beach this morning. I texted her today to see if she was having a nice day.

Sister: Lovely. We are at Castlerock, my first time here cos you put me off it!! (Double quotation marks are never acceptable in edited prose, but this originated as a text, so I will give her sister the benefit of the doubt – me) Actually really nice!

Me: I’m sure it is lovely on a day like this but imagine it on a cold, wet January day, to an anxious teenager, who has just been thrown off the train because she had the wrong ticket, who is too nervous to go into the only cafe which is open at this time of year as it’s so small she knows she can’t socially distance from people like she normally would in the corner. And even if she could distance from people she would feel too apprehensive to go in anyway as she’s not actually sure she knows how to order in said cafe. Do you order at the counter? Or is it table service? She doesn’t know and there’s no one in the queue who she can copy. So, you know what, it’s just easier to keep on walking in the cold and rain because the worst thing that could happen is that people actually discover how awkward and scared she is.

Now imagine again this socially awkward teenager walking around Castlerock of all places, in the pouring rain with a bitterly cold wind coming in off the sea, and can I mention here that the only time this girl has actually ever heard of Castlerock is in a recent news report about four Catholic workmen being murdered there? As this girl lives in a house with a father who sleeps with an actual pitchfork at the side of the bed “in case someone comes in to assassinate us”, the answer she was given as a young child when she asked what the pitchfork was for, I’m sure you can understand why she didn’t feel completely comfortable in this loyalist backwater.

Now not only is this girl worried about not getting the correct train back to Coleraine to get her connection home, but she also has another underlying anxiety to deal with. Her mother is lying dying in hospital at that very minute. In fact she will be dead within the fortnight. The girl doesn’t realise this at the time. BUT to be fair to the girl, the other people in her family, the adults, the grownups, the people who should be guiding and teaching her as the ‘baby’ of the family, don’t realise either. Or maybe they do, but this family has a tendency not to talk about difficult subjects; in fact they have a tendency not to talk to each other at all, if possible. So the girl will never know if her mother’s death was as unexpected to everyone else as it was to her.

 So, this socially awkward girl goes home to her equally socially awkward family, soon to face the worst pain they have ever experienced.

As the years passed, this girl’s memories of Castlerock became entangled with the memories of her mother’s death, so please forgive her and understand exactly why her view of Castlerock might have been tainted to such an extent.

Sister: Lol! That is so sad so why am I laughing so much??

Day 73

A Friend in Need …

… is, generally, a pain in the balls. But Yer Man over there on the other parts of the site (which he owns) has offered one of stories to fill the gap caused by the absence of my right hand – the typing one. As with drug dealing, he says the first one is free, so I hope youse won’t like it as I cannot afford to pay for any subsequent ones.

Abnormal service will be resumed as soon as. Or maybe sooner.


            And he came to one of the places known as Patrick’s Well and stood and looked out to sea and thought that yes, he could stay here for a while, so he placed his hands on the sloping stones of the roof of the well and let their coldness mingle with his and become part of it before setting off down the hill towards the flat, straight strand with those first, few steps of what was to become a never-ending circling of this stretch of shoreline.

            The waves amused him a lot that first time because the wind was blowing from across the golf course down the dunes and out to sea and when the waves started to break some of the white foam was blown backwards so that they were travelling in two directions at the one time, and he thought again about how much he would love a pair of jeans frayed like the ones he was wearing now but dyed that colour of light-filled green glimpsed just under the white curl of a breaking wave.

            And the rising Sun at his back warmed him as he followed the tideline and the feeding seagulls took off and flew before him and settled again and took off again as he caught up with them, and they never once thought that it might be easier to fly back to where he had already passed so, to give them a rest, he walked closer to the centre of the beach where the sand was firmer but the flotsam not so interesting, and when he thought he was about half-way along its length he stopped and turned around to look back at the hill and the well and he noticed that there were dark clouds gathering in from the east and he knew that he was going to get soaked and he smiled in anticipation.

            When he finally reached the causeway at the end of the strand he found that the first part of it was just rocks tumbled together in a line and that he would have to be careful of his footing before he reached the smoothed cement because his shoes were new and slippy, and he was shocked at the speed of the black shag skimming along the surface of the river and out to its mouth and back in again in the time it took him to clamber twenty yards.

            Sitting with his back against the white pillar that housed the warning light, he watched what he thought were shoals of fish swimming through the incoming waves but which turned out to be the undercurrent of the river still flowing outwards beneath the waves flowing inwards, and he knew that he was looking at something that he could not really believe even though he was watching it so he caught some of the saltspray and rubbed it into the sores on his wrists.

            And the rain broke over him on his way back along the causeway and it stung his cheeks above the stubble and it stung his left leg through the rip in his jeans and it pitted the river on his right side and the sea on his left side and the wind stirred them both up and sped him along and over the rocks and onto the sand and back towards the stone steps on the side of the hill which led to the path which led to the town.

            And some of the scenes along the shore seemed familiar, but he had had that feeling before in places he’d never been to, so he knew that it was just his mind playing tricks on him or else that instinct that sometimes all places are basically the same or similar and that it’s only the memories we associate with them that distinguish them, and he was glad when the path climbed again and he was able to turn and look back at the strand and the causeway and see how far he had come since morning and measure how far he could travel before night.

            The sunset found him on the slopes outside the next village along the coast and, as it sank behind the headlands to the north, he stopped and stood still and waited for morning and then walked back the way he had come and spent the second night in the shadow of the well.

            Sometimes he varied his pace so that he went a little further beyond or slept a little closer to one of the towns and he eventually knew nearly all the stones he passed and would now and then lift some of them and put them in different places along the way to give them a sort of a holiday and to give himself a sort of a memory test when he tried to put them back in their original places.

            And this is where my story starts because I met him one night at sunset, silently sipping champagne on the rocks behind the harbour, looking as abandoned as a rock pool at low tide, and he was staring off into the west like he had lost something there as I sat down beside him and drank from the bottle he passed to me and looked at the sadness in his eyes and eventually asked him what he was doing there and he told me that he wasn’t sure whether this or the harbour wall in Portrush at midnight was his favourite place, but that he liked the suck and surge of the sea here, and I took some of the sandwich he offered and I asked him why he was staring like that and he told me that he was looking for the Sun because he knew that one night it would go down behind those mountains and not come up again, or else that it would stay suspended above them in perpetual, glorious evening – he wasn’t sure which anymore – and that he wanted to be ready when it happened.

            When he said it like that, looking into the distance across the sea like a fisherman or a mystic, I sort of believed him for a second or two before I caught myself on and took another slug of his champagne and got up to go but then he asked me to stay and something in his voice made me want to, so I sat down again and he showed me some of the stones he carried with him in his pockets like a child and, after a while, he started to tell me some of his story and it shocked me in a way that’s hard to describe because of the distances involved and because it was so difficult to tell if he was lying and because it was so hard to guess what age he was because, sometimes, he looked the same age as me and other times the white flecks in his beard made him seem as old as the moonlight, but when he showed me the soles of his feet and I saw the callouses and colours and the cuts of countless walks along this coastline I couldn’t really stop myself believing him so I asked him who he was and all he said was that sometimes he felt as useless and as permanent and as devoid of meaning as the grey sea cracking against the elephant skin of the black rocks of Portstewart and, after a pause, I asked him again and this time he said that he was less than a man but more than an image, that he was a sort of red electricity bill, a kind of final reminder of a debt once owed, and I told him then that I thought I would have to kill him because I could not go on listening to that sort of naked truth for much longer and he nodded and said that yes, it probably had to be like that and that everyone had to do it in their own way and he reached into his jacket and handed me a long knife and I asked him had he nothing easier like a rifle or a pistol and he said that he hadn’t and that it had to be something like a knife so that you really had to put effort into it and really be aware of what you were doing and that only then would you be forgiven, and that got me really angry so I stuck it into him as far as it would go and I felt the thrill of the hot spurt of blood on my arm so I pulled it back out and struck again and again and all the time he looked at me with the sadness in his eyes as if he’d thought that maybe this time he had found someone who would stab himself instead, but I snarled at his sorrow and stabbed and stabbed until I saw the light leave his eyes and then I shrugged his body off the shaft of the knife and toppled it over and off the rocks and down into the dark waves.

            And the sorrow hit me like a sledgehammer.

            And I saw that what I had done we all must do in our own way and that it’s not just those who did it the first time who share the guilt.

            And I sit here some nights watching the sunset because I think that some time it’s not going to rise again, or maybe it’s not going to set, and I’m not sure which, and I’m not sure which and I’m not even sure which I’d prefer.

(Published: Stinging Fly Issue 13 Summer 2009)

Day 71

Waiting for Samuel Beckett

by John Minihan, resin print, 1984

I failed to meet Beckett in Paris one time. Instead of the usual rigmarole with the free airport shuttle, the RER, then the Métro and finally out to wander les rues de Paris, I decided that time to get a real bus from Charles de Gaulle airport into town, a bus that you have to buy a ticket for, as I wanted to see a bit of the city on my way into it instead of being underground for up to an hour. But I reckoned without the notorious Paris traffic, and it was probably about one hour and twenty-eight minutes later before I hopped off the bus in an Lár, and what the Hell, I was on holidays, took a seat on the terrasse of one of the cafés at the side of Notre Dame Cathedral. [You have exceeded your italic limit for the day; speak English from here on in – Ed.]

What are US of Aers like? (Don’t answer that; it’s rhetorical. I wish Part-Time Wife was too.) Even when grown-up, civilised people point out to them the correct pronunciation of foreign words, they persist in their ignorant, original error. Have you ever heard them trying to say van Gogh?

So anyway, I sat there sipping my Orangina very slowly, trying to make it last as long as possible as I could not afford to take out another mortgage to buy another drink. We Irish are no good at this trick, which is second nature to Europeans (and I know what I am doing there). In pubs in Ireland, four of them can sit around one pint for hours on end if that is what it takes until it is time for them to do whatever it is they came out too early to do. But we, on the other hand, are guzzlers. We also get embarrassed when the waiter comes out to do his round of cleaning clean tables, collecting empties and lounging languorously by the doorway while he has a sneaky smoke. We presume he is hinting that we should either order another drink or hump off out of it and give the table to a real customer, but nothing could be further from his mind. He does not own the café and so does not care about total turnover, a customer who orders only one drink is as likely to leave him a tip as a custmer who orders twenty – maybe more likely, as the abstemious customer has some money left in his pocket – and the only thing on his mind is Marie-Louise and what she will be wearing when he meets her after his shift is over, and before his other shift begins. [He means ‘shifting’ Marie-Louise, Shirleen; do try to keep up! – Ed.]

For information for those of you Frenchily-challenged, be wary about leaving a tip if you are drinking on the terrasse of a café (I’ll pay for the italics myself!): you are already paying over the odds for your drink because of where you are sitting. There is a three-tier price structure in French cafés: comptoir, salle and terrasse, in ascending order. Thus standing at the counter drinking is cheaper than drinking at a table inside, and both are much cheaper than outside where the tourists sit getting fried in the Sun. Also, when you used to be allowed to smoke inside, it was unlawful to use an ashtray when drinking at the counter: you had to just drop your butt on the floor and stamp it out with your foot. This made sense as the cost of cleaning an ashtray would have had to be added to the price of your drink, thus making counter drinking more expensive. Ah, but all those folkloric gems are gone now because of the stupid smoking ban. What a loss to the World!

So I sat there uncomfortably at the side of Notter Dame, ignoring my drink and watching the people go by for about two hours. But Beckett failed to show up. I wasn’t too disappointed at this as I hadn’t arranged to meet him or anything. It had just struck me on the bus on the way in that he lived in Paris, and that there was therefore a chance that I would bump into him out on the street if he was out doing his shopping or something. But what a meeting of two great Irish writers it would have been, although Beckett is probably better defined as a French writer, maybe. His loss. Anyway, there are many similarities between us, but friends will know that I do not like to talk about my work for the Résistance during the War. (Not that war.)

The best story about Beckett is the time an interviewer wrongly assumed he was English, and said so during the interview. His answer is classic Beckett: minimalist, pithy and funny. It consisted of two words. “Au contraire,” is all he said by way of reply, and you can make of that what you will.

As for the best story about me. that remains to be seen. The time I ignored the Hedge in Pat’s Bar is up there, but there is life in the old chien yet, so we’ll leave the final decision to my executor. My literary executor, not the other one: she can make up her own stories.

Day 70

T-Shirtless Taoiseach

I have been asked, by government sources, to say something about the Taoiseach without portfolio row. The sources did not, however, specify what I should say, and they’ll know better next time. (I can be bought, but only at a price.) I’ll be brief so, and at least Leo kept them on. The State Torso is currently attached to a gay man; as such, I’m afraid it does not come up to gay man standards for torsos: there is a touch of man-boob going on there in those pictures, and judging by the belly overhang on the shorts, he appears to have drunk, rather than develop, any six-pack that came within his bailiwick. I would therefore advise Leo to keep the State assets loaned to him under cover during any future picnics in the park he has planned. (That Miriam Lord article linked up there is worth a read during your tea break – don’t just look at the picture. Also, while I am in here, while ‘tee-shirt’ appears to be an acceptable alternative – in English, but not in Irish – it does not cut the mustard for me: they are called T-shirts because they have the shape of an upper-case T, so why not reflect their origins in the spelling?)

But I have much more urgent things on (what remains of) my mind this morning, so I’ll just have a quiet word with Leo the next time I am down in government buildings to emphasise to him that the office currently lent to him should have some dignity attached to it, and that he does not want to be going down the Bertie ‘Anything for Money’ Ahern road of appearing coming out of a closet to advertise one of the Sunday rags.

The first urgent thing is that the cat has impressed upon me the need to specify that she, too, is a real person and not a literary creation. She did this by sitting on the keyboard and giving me one of her special stares, one eyebrow cocked in an inquisitive manner, until I finally understood by telepathy (her preferred method of communication) what she was trying to tell me. Mission accomplished, she then got up from the keyboard, turned around and typed out a message addressed to the female teenager and her mother to the effect that their efforts the previous night to interfere in her torturing of a baby bird she had captured were not only unwelcome, but were, to boot, an unwarranted and probably unlawful incursion into the Way of Nature.

She will phone up David Attenborough should it happen again, she warned. She signed off with the start of an Irish proverb, namely briseann an dúchas … and, by nodding in the direction of the interwobble, ordered me to put in a link to explain that to the hard of Irish. Finished with her typing, she turned around and stared at me again with the look that means, “Is is not time you were putting out some food for me, Human Chief? Get yourself a coffee while you’re in there, sure.” I’ll be back in about 59.6 seconds.

The second urgent thing [you may have to redefine ‘urgent’ for this one – Ed.] (How do you know what I am going to be writing about? I could change my mind while I’m in these brackets.) [If you do change your mind, get one that works this time (drops mic) – Ed.] is that the hunt for the remains of Red Hugh O’Donnell is finally over. (No, me neither). Diggers have apparently found a body, and a skull, and this is a better link to read about it.

Now, in case you’re wondering, and in case you do not do links, Mr O’Donnell is not one of the Disappeared, and the IRA has asked me to make clear that they had no hand not part in his disappearance. But they did not ask me nicely enough, so I will leave some doubt over that matter, despite the fact that the IRA as an organisation did not come into existence until roughly 307 years after Mr O’Donnell took himself off on a jaunt to the Continent.

Two further things to mention about those linked newspaper articles about the find. Firstly, the Irish Time should know better than to publish a picture of a deceased person’s face: descendants of Mr O’Donnell are still sadding about Donegal, and they may be very upset as seeing their dead great-great-great-great-second cousin once removed staring at them over their Cornflakes. Have some human sympathy, Irish Times! Secondly, why in Hell did the designers of the Chapel of Marvels put it under a city street? Would it not have been advisable to stick it above ground where everyone could see it if it was so marvellous? But that’s monks for you, I suppose.

I was going to extract the urine from this article off of really wick Wikipedia on the subject of Red Hugh Roe O’Neill, but I do not have time today. Well, actually, I have plenty, but not for that. Remind me tomorrow, please. If there is a tomorrow.

Day 69

Normal People not Distancing

One of the delights – and there are many – of the television adaption of Sally Rooney’s Normal People is that there are no queues outside the supermarkets and that none of the characters are wearing masks, although Connell is certainly in heavy disguise as a wannabe writer who cannot talk – whoever heard of a writer who cannot talk endlessly about himself and his emotions? You did, Query Boy? But that is just because you have never read a book in your life so you have never heard of any writers, so I shall treat your contribution this morning with the contempt it deserves. Back to the point (and there is one before you open your square brackets, SquareBracketsHead), as with Jamie Doran and his stalking women round Belfast show, part of the crack of watching the series is recognising cafés or shops or pubs or streets or back alleys around Dublin that are familiar. With the added pleasure that the series is set, and was shot, in times PC so there is none of that nonsense about staying two yards away from each other, only taking your shirt off with consenting adults in a park (is that Phase One or Phase Two, Leo?) and staying gindoors all the time except when you have to go out. (‘Gindoors’ was a typo there, but I’m keeping it; I may even try to copyright it!)

Loike, most of you will recognise thon mountain up there in the pic, and a fair few of you could probably find the beach if it was sunny enough and if you were allowed outside. Now while Connell in the pic is much further away from Marianne than I would be in the same situation (I would be all over her like a rash), that is probably indicative of his emotional immaturity and frigidity rather than a fortuitous prediction about social distancing from the director of the TV series. So we can enjoy Ireland as it used to be pre-Kerfuffle in the series, and that adds to the pleasure. Maybe that will be one of the only ways we can enjoy Ireland pre-Kerfuffle in the post-Kerfuffle future if some of the worst predictions about how long lockdown and some sort of social distancing prove to be true.

It is great to see how much publicity this adaptation of a novel is getting. It would even cheer writers up, if they were upcheerable beings. The New York Times got in on the act the other day, with its critics discussing how the adaptation was going. (I have eventually caught up with the TV series in time for the end of it next week, so no spoilers in the comments, please.) Even yer Man from over there on the other parts of this site put his spake in this morning in the letters page of The Irish Times, and quite a witty spake it is too, if I do say so myself. And I don’t.

For the benefit of Shirleen aka Query Girl, I am going to vouchsave y’all (I have been waiting a while to use that one) a glimpse behind the curtain here.

Yer Man over there on the other bits of this site is a real person, and there is historical, documented evidence to back this up. I am a literary creation of his, employed for the purposes of writing a daily blog to amuse him during the Kerfuffle. Ed. (short for Editor) is a fictional creation of mine [am I? – Ed.] (you tell me), as are Query Boy, Question Girl and Darzo and the PhDs, although loosely based on human beings. Part-Time Wife is yer Man’s part-time wife, and he flagrantly uses me to say things about her that he would not dare to say to her face; well, not dare to say to her face twice, anyway. The resident teenagers are his as well, and, as with Part-Time Wife, I have no real power over them. The Spanish-speaking staff at the hacienda are real, as is the haciencda, but I would advise against trying to find it on a map, or even in real life, a concept with which I have little or no experience? Clear now? [As a duck – Ed.]

Another of the pleasures of Normal People is the great number of times it gives me the desire to jump into the television screen and give Connell Waldron a shake. He is a complete tool when it comes to expressing his feelings – for Marianne and for nearly everything else – and as yer Man says in his letter, that is less than ideal for a fictional character who thinks he is going to be a writer when he grows up. It reminds me of when I was reading l’Assomoir by yon French guy. [Could you be less specific? – Ed.] (Shut up! There’s a link.) I spent almost the entire novel wishing I could jump into its pages and save Gervaise from the awfulness of her life by the simple expedient of allowing her to meet a decent man, ie me, as yer Man wrote me as a well-rounded, sensitive, feminist soul. It doesn’t always come out that way, though, but I blame him for that.

Roight. Time for the daily chaffeur duties for Part-Time Wife, who can drive but who, employing female perogative to be illogical at all times, chooses not to, and so forces me out of my dressing gown (usually) to bomb her the whole half a mile to the garage to get her Ma the Irish News and herself some essential non-essentials. As for the legality of a fictional character driving a car, she could not give >1<3 hoots about that. I do not hold a licence of any kind bar the poetic one, and never sat, stood or ran a driving test in my life.

Is the PSNI toutline still open?