Jesus winked at me as I went into the hardware shop. When I looked again His eyes were open. He wore the crown of thorns. He looked sad. I went closer. His eyes were shut. Had I been chosen for a special purpose? I hoped not. Prophets do not live comfortable lives. They are reviled in their own country. They dress in goatskins and live, howling, in the wilderness. Would pilgrims come in their thousands to venerate me, down the years, buy knick-knacks and seek to touch the hem of my cloak? My what? I listened for soaring celestial music. But ,stay. It was a portrait on ribbed glass, an ingenious device, showing different facets from different angles. The wink was the result of the frame lying at an oblique angle. I have seen one of Napoleon and Josephine, an imperial knick-knack, a gimmick, probably worth a fortune to a collector.
I went in to buy picture hooks. The proprietor, an amiable man, discussed the news of the day. He discussed old news, old people long gone and picture hooks. I told him that a friend and I were hanging paintings in a new restaurant. We had to put them up before opening night, but we were not allowed to bang nails into the new plaster and paintwork. We discussed adhesive hooks. Just the job.
“That place used to belong to Willie Woods.”
I remembered Willie Woods. He was a retired entertainer. He walked with his feet turned out, like Charlie Chaplin. Trick of the trade. He walked from the knees down, in a blur of footwork. There is a branch of Japanese theatre that concentrates exclusively on legwork, but Noh, I digress.
“That was before Bamboozalem. He sold it to Val Hatton. Long after Bamboozalem.”
Before Bamboozalem! ‘Bam bam bam bam Bamboozalem!’ I saw Bamboozalem. He came to The Arcadia theatre, dancehall, place of wonder, shortly after the War. He could do magic. He made people disappear. He cut ladies in half. He told jokes, mostly above my head. He hypnotised people, to general amusement. He winked at the audience. The hypnotised became famous, in an oblique way. The girls in a local choir got their moment in the limelight. They were angels. I see one or two of them around the town still. They are mortals now. There were other singers, but I wanted more magic, more cymbals, pound notes produced from apples, coins from ears, welded steel rings, ‘See, solid steel. Clink, clink,’ intersected and pulled apart. I didn’t go up on stage to be hypnotised. I am still wary of stage magicians, hypnotists, street performers. I am terrified of clowns.
We came home, scampering ahead of our parents, racing from one lamp post to another, making our shadows stretch out behind and then ahead and then disappear like magic, when we were directly beneath the lamp. It was so late that the street lamps went off, before we got home. The night sky leaned closer. We saw the stars. My father told a joke about a man who lost a half-crown down at the Monument but he went up to the railway station to look for it….because the light was better up there…ta dah! Good, but not quite Bamboozalem. Bamboozalem stayed for a week. We talked of nothing else. I Googled him, Bamboozalem, but he has disappeared again. The Arcadia ballroom/theatre has disappeared too. It became a shirt factory…. and thereby hangs a tail….ta dah! Oh, never mind. Now it is a block of apartments.
By the way, all the pictures fell down on opening night. They fell on tables, glasses, dinners, diners, cutlery,vases of flowers, as soon as the pianist struck his opening chord. Dah dah dah dahhhh! Beethoven, your only man. Dramatic…but no cigar. The hooks left little scars on the lovely new paint.
Sir Henry Sidney landed in Skerries, long before Bamboozalem, in 1575, to be precise. He came as Lord Deputy for Queen Elizabeth, to restore the Irish to loyalty and civility. Here he is, leaving Dublin Castle to go ‘on a progress’ through Ireland. His methods were simple–burn the barns and harvests and reduce the populace to famine. Harry them in winter, ‘when the covert is thin’ so that you will have little to do with them in summer. Put the heads of the more reluctant Irish chiefs on spikes over the gate. Like Richard Nixon, he believed : ‘when you have them by the nuts, their hearts and minds will follow.’ He was highly regarded as an administrator. He pulled few rabbits out of that hat. He reduced the chieftain, Rory O More, to such misery in the wilderness, that even the wolves pitied him. I think Jesus closed both eyes during those terrible years.
Oh Sidney worthy of triple renown
For plaguing the traitors who trouble the crown.
Sir Henry’s son, Philip wrote: ‘But this country where you set your foot is Arcadia, this country being thus decked with peace and the child of peace, good husbandry; these houses that you see, are of men that live upon the commodity of their sheep, a happy people, wanting little because they desire not much.’ Arcadia Sir|Philip Sidney. I don’t think he based it on Elizabethan Ireland.
Virgil imagined Arcadia and its happy shepherds. Evelyn Waugh saw it in Brideshead Revisited. All very good, but were they there the night that Bamboozalem…..?
Poor Rory O More’s story made such an impression on the English, that he survives in Cockney slang, an oblique kind of fame, along with Johnny Horner and Skin and Blister, Worry and Strife, Godfors, Sweeney Todd, etc. etc.etc. The language of Shakespeare?
Note: When impaling heads over your door, do not use adhesive hooks.