Prepositions and Preposterous Rules. Churchill and Carparks.

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The sound of the bell was probably the first sound  I was aware of. Sorry, ‘of which I was aware.’ I was born in the square house immediately across the street from Saint Patrick’s Church in Skerries. The house is marked for demolition at some point in the near future, as is the rusty-roofed one to the left and Mrs Behan’s tall house to the right. Mrs Behan was in attendance on the night I was born on. There I go again. ‘the night on which I was born.’ My mother, a linguist and teacher of languages for many years, forgot herself. “It’s a terrible world to bring a child into.” ‘Into which to bring a child.’ Write it out fifty times. I said nothing at the time. I had to take this story on trust, at a later date. I later heard that Mr. Churchill stated: “That is a construction up with which we will not put.” There were many things up with which he did not put at the time. I consulted the Irish Times, some seventy years later. I nearly said ‘later on.’ My mother was right. A bloody, awful world then and for many people, still a bloody and awful world, especially for children.

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Mr Churchill told the House that there was ‘no point in calling for explanations at every turn in this dangerous struggle.’  Air attacks on shipping; The Duce is confident; The French (Vichy) are defending their political interests in Syria; Aftermath of the bombing of the North Strand in Dublin; British and French (Free French/De Gaulle’s forces) now only sixteen miles from Damascus; A gift of half a million dollars of Red Cross funds and two freighters of food to Éire from the United States. 15,000 British killed in Crete. And so it goes on. Damascus, for God’s sake! Two rival French armies fighting to retain Syria? A terrible world and a mad and bloody world. I wonder if those freighters made it across the Atlantic. I wonder if I got any of that food. Food was a constant preoccupation in those days. Irish children are much taller nowadays. You don’t hear of rickets, chilblains or infantile paralysis any more.There were great advances in medicine during that war. Doctors got plenty of practice.

There was a right-wing Catholic organisation called Maria Duce. An inspired choice of names. Their newspaper was called FIAT. Nothing to do with Mussolini or Italian motor cars. Fiat: Let It Be Done.  Mary as Leader. Their particular line was that Article 41 of the new Irish constitution, guaranteeing the ‘special position’ of the Catholic Church, should be ‘enforced.’ All non-Catholics should be expelled from Ireland. There are people in Syria today with similar ideas and worse. Rudolf Hess in England. Mr. Churchill was asked if Herr Hess had brought any proposals with him ‘to solve the problems of Europe.‘  ‘Are not the people of Britain entitled to know what these proposals might be?’  ‘I have no statement to make to the House on this matter.’ (Cheers). Refreshingly direct. I didn’t read all this on the night I was born on…or whatever. After a  lifetime of reading The Irish Times, I have almost given up on it because it is always so glum, censorious and downright negative. Maybe the fault is mine. Maybe the news is on a loop and it is still a terrible world. However, the luxury of Viyella weekend shirts, for men’s lighter moments, golfing, cycling, gardening or just plain lazing; 16/6; with their brighter colours and attractive patterns, provided some relief to the general gloom. I have a couple of just plain lazing shirts to laze around in ..eh…in which to laze around.

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I take on trust the fact that the garden gave onto the Tennis Court Lane. I have no recollection of the garden or the house. My brother broke his arm in a fall in the garden and spent some time in Jervis Street Hospital. He developed a life-long hatred of potatoes during his stay. Bloody lucky to get potatoes, I say. And medical treatment. He fell over a garden roller. Somebody had at some time, laid a lawn there. Not my Old Man. ‘Gave onto’..Give in…give up……give away…ah! give over. More prepositions. There is a new school there. I wonder if the teachers give out as much as they used to. That is something into which I must enquire.  My Old Man gave out to me and my brother for making noise in Mr. Van Aalst’s shop. We had two round biscuit tins that made a satisfying, plangent noise when we pressed down on the lids. We had gone to collect a sugar ration, that my mother wanted to make blackberry jam with. (Full of vitamins…and pips.) Mr.Van Aalst asked us to stop. We grinned, daring each other to continue. We played a little counterpoint. The consequences were grim. He told our parents. We got a hiding and were skull-hauled down to apologise to Mr. Van Aalst. I think Mr. Van Aalst was a Jewish refugee from Holland. In another place we might well have got a pat on the head from our parents. I am still quite proud of their instinctive reaction. They couldn’t do that nowadays. They had no time for Maria Duce either or their little Italian motor car. (The foregoing should of course, read ‘ with which my mother wanted to make jam.’) Her inadvertent misplaced preposition in June 1941, left me maimed for life by an anxiety about syntax, punctuation and grammar. Should the Viyella shirts refer to ‘men’s lighter moments’ or mens’ lighter moments’? Apostrophes are also things that people have difficulty with….

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That dark line marks the old boundary between the townlands of Skerries and Holmpatrick. I was born in Holmpatrick. That makes me a Southsider. In Dublin that would have a special cachet and a special accent. I know a man, of my own age, who was conceived in Clontarf, born dead on Butt Bridge and revived in Holles Street Hospital. This made him, uniquely, both a Southsider and a Northsider or neither. He has devoted his life to music and harmony. He has made the world a better place. His accent is pleasantly unaffected, due to his unusual coming into the world…twice.

My parents came to Skerries in 1939 because they feared that there was going to be a war. They feared that Dublin would be bombed. They were right. More correctly, they were correct. They wanted to ensure that they could get fresh milk for the children. It proved to be a good move. They settled here. We , by and large, have stayed here. It is a good town to put down roots in. It has been a good town for Margaret and me, in which to raise a family. (Not ‘Margaret and I’ by the way. You wouldn’t say ‘for I to raise a family’ etc. Oh, never mind.) I tend to look back on birthdays and reckon up the good things that have happened over the years. That garden is now a car park. The motor car is king. The house is derelict. I feel no sentimental pangs. I left that house at the age of one. My memories of it are second hand.

Our grandchildren are growing. Our eldest grandchild finished her secondary education yesterday. Now that’s a significant landmark. She magicked us into grandparents. We brought her to nursery school and collected her. We have seen her grow. Margaret made all the cakes for her significant occasions and for those of her siblings and little cousins. It has been a wonderful experience. She intends making a career in music. May she always spread harmony and make the world a better place..

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The sun did shine, even in the 1940s, despite what you may have heard.

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The house looks better from the front….but where did all those cars come from? Or, from whence came all those cars?

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Music and Murder in the Cathedral and elsewhere. Young Dublin Symphonia.

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It was Churchill who said, wryly, that The Balkans produce more history than they can consume. One hundred years ago they exported some of their history  and ignited a world war. Similarly in Ireland, we produce a lot of history. It is all around us, in the shape of our towns and villages and in the stones of our streets, pavements and buildings. We walk on top of it every day. It can turn to quagmire and pull people down into futile blame and recrimination. It permeates our songs and stories. It can set brother against brother and parent against child. It requires careful handling.

Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin is a good place to ruminate on history…and myth…and gossip…and legend… and rats… and forgetfulness. We went there last Thursday to hear our grand- daughter’s orchestra, The Young Dublin Symphonia and their Italian friends, a youth orchestra from Viterbo. Here’s a good one: back in 1278, the College of Cardinals  withdrew from Rome to Viterbo to elect a new Pope. They dithered for a year or so, much to the frustration of the good people of Viterbo. No doubt the cardinals were on expenses. Eventually the authorities stopped all deliveries,  took the roof off the palazzo in which the eminent churchmen sat and locked the door with a clavis (Cum clave—a key or bar for a door.) They got a result in three days.  Hence the locking of the door on the Sistine Chapel, until the white smoke comes out of the spout. (You couldn’t call it a chimney.)

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Then I got distracted by  the meerkats. They are everywhere, in meerkat sunbursts in the floor tiling and incised into the backrests of the seats. The meerkat seemed to be the presiding spirit of the cathedral, the genius loci. He was looking over his shoulder There was something knocking at the back of my mind, from a visit long ago. It was something about a rat. I remember  seeing a rat in a glass case. He was tricked out in plus-fours and a tweed jacket. He carried a golf club, or was it a walking stick? This fellow seemed to be holding a pilgrim staff. That’s definitely a golf ball at his feet. I consulted the brochure. The rat and his associate, the cat, can be seen in the crypt. Was that the crafty cat that crept in the crypt? I would have to refresh my memory after the recital.

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This is Strongbow, leader of the invading Normans. The Dublin merchants paid over their rents and settled their debts on Strongbow’s tomb. He collaborated with Saint Laurence O Toole, on the rebuilding of the old Christchurch. Gossip says that the truncated figure to his left is the son whom he killed in a rage. The small figure is excluded by the shield. His son should have been to his right. It is no way to treat a child. The cathedral collapsed and destroyed his original tomb. This is, in fact a replacement, borrowed from some other noble knight. I wonder if he has a long lease on it. I hope that he is keeping up the rent and has made some restitution to his child in the Hereafter. Gossip also says that he is in fact buried in Ferns, in Wexford. Even historians come to blows over differences like that. Stalin removed Lenin’s widow from the Party and air-brushed her from photographs and from history, but he still needed her for appearances….so he appointed a new, “Official Lenin’s Widow.”  So where is the real Strongbow?

Saint Laurence prostrated himself before the high altar here, to pray against a ‘serjeant’ who had struck one of his servants. The ‘serjeant’ fell down some steps, shortly afterward and broke his thigh. The injury became gangrenous. The ‘serjeant’ died in agony, proof to all of the power of the church. Saint Laurence was subordinate to Beckett who was murdered in Canterbury. He himself was attacked in a cathedral on his way to Rome and died in agony, proof to all of the power of the iron bar, (clavis) that the madman had borrowed from the door.

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Fortunately, the recital began, driving away dark thoughts. The sun came out and shone down through a high window, illuminating my granddaughter and her fellow musicians. It was a joy to hear. No doubt the old knights underground, tapped their toes and jingled their spurs with pleasure.  Bach, Boccherini, Bizet, rinsed the shadows from the gloomy vaults and raised the spirits of proud parents and ambling tourists. The sun shone for  the rest of the day.

I still had to say ‘hello’ to the rat. I went down into the crypt. He is not an insouciant fellow with the jaunty air of a cartoon meerkat. He carries no staff or five-iron. He is not togged out in hideous tartan slacks. The tableau shows a poor divil fleeing for his life. It is difficult to feel sorry for a rat. He took refuge in an organ pipe and the cat followed him in. Think, for a moment, of their nightmare predicament.  A cat’s retractable claws are perfectly designed for climbing up or down, guaranteeing him nine lives. Unfortunately, they have no reverse setting. The creatures were irrevocably stuck, locked in life and death by mutual hatred. They were discovered, over a century and a half ago, in a mummified state , achieving  posthumous fame and prominence on a par with that of Strongbow. {“The moral of this story/Is a very simple one:/Them wot’s up the bleedin’ spout/Don’t ‘ave no bleedin’ fun.Wilfred Bramble} In terms of slaying human beings, the rat and his fleas, leave Strongbow and his Normans in the ha’penny place.

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‘On the Feast of Tiburtius and Valerian,’ wrote Friar John Clyn, in 1334, ‘the burgesses and true men of Kilkenny began to pave their streets. ‘  They took the stone from the collapsed belfry in the cathedral of Saint Canice, while the turbulent bishop was abroad. The townspeople freed themselves from the mire and walked dry-shod, but the bishop returned and there was Hell to pay. Friar John saw the advent of the Black Death to Kilkenny in 1348. The rats did for him too. Enough of this remembering. It was time to forget and follow the orchestra to Malahide Castle for an afternoon recital. The sun stayed out.

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Here she is again, caught in a sunbeam, taking her turn as First Violin. Well done to YDS and to Il Centro Sperimentale  Musicale per L’Infanzia, from Viterbo, for raising the roof, this time in a good way and of course, to their conductors and tutors. Now that’s a better way to encourage young people, than Strongbow’s iron hand. Malahide Castle was built by a Talbot, one of Strongbow’s companions. He got the lease from the king for a rent of one mounted archer per year. The family held it for 800 years That’s a lot of archers. Oh, never mind. Now it is a great public space. Well done to Fingal County Council, for ensuring that it will remain so, at least for another 800 years.

Disembodied voices. The joy of shopping.

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We went shopping on Friday. At least, Margaret went shopping. I went to read the paper, sort out the world and drink coffee. I also had a nice bowl of soup and some more coffee. I like shopping because I rarely take the time to read the paper thoroughly. I offered her sound advice: ‘never listen to anything I say about clothes or style.’ It works. I read The Irish Times business section. Happily, I am unemployable. Have you noticed that, for all the top jobs, there is no pay? There is compensation. 150K, 250K. Kilometers? Nobody ever compensated me for getting out of bed on cold , wet mornings and going to work. I could have been at home reading the paper. What about some retrospective compensation?

The day started out of kilter. I went to the bank machine to get a few bob. ‘Are You Ready For SEPA?’ asked the machine. There was a cube shaped graphic, no doubt done by a computer. When Brother Francis taught us perspective drawing, he showed how to drop the far corner of a cube, or a box.  Otherwise it looks as if somebody gave it a whack or used unequal sides in the assembly. Ikea would never allow that. I’m not ready for SEPA. There was an article about SEPA in the Business Section, with another nifty graphic. I took the trouble to measure the letters. I knew it looked wonky. The letters looked bigger as they receded. Remember the poster for Ben Hur. You probably don’t. The letters looked as if they were graven from towering rocks, a masterpiece of perspective, an epic. Brother Francis would have approved. It was going to be a long day’s shopping.

A correspondent criticised the members of the ‘quasi-judicial Public Accounts Committee.’ He objected to the members coming out after every session to raise their profiles as ‘heavy hitters’. They speculated. They surmised. They anticipated what might emerge. I agreed with the correspondent. It remined me of the O.J. Simpson trial, where every juror and every lawyer, was interviewed on the courthouse steps. They were on television. They got book deals. There was further grim news in the paper, about wars and rumours of wars and talks about talks about peace talks. I looked for something light. I remembered why I have become a newspaper skimmer.

(Newspapers improve with age. I have a framed page from the Irish Times dated on my birthday. Mr Churchill was asked about  the case of Herr Hess.

Mr Churchill: ‘I have no statement to make.’ (Cheers.)  He added that if at any time, the Government thought a statement was necessary, or advantageous, it would be made.  None of that accountability and transparency there.

I have some old Irish Times, found under linoleum in Leo Flanagan’s house. The Japanese have landed in The Solomons. In the district court some traders have been fined for selling tea and cocoa to unauthorised persons. Phyllosan keeps you fit after forty. It stimulates all the physical and vital forces. I could do with some of that.)

There was an interview in my Friday paper,  between a journalist and a scientist, about a forthcoming film, Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix forms a relationship with his computer. The computer has developed a personality. Fortunately, the scientist was able to reassure me that computers are bits of plastic and wires and are incapable of developing independent intelligence or emotions. It relies entirely on human input. People develop a sort of attachment to old cars, or old boots, or boats, but there is no evidence that this feeling is reciprocated. That’s a relief. I wouldn’t like my computer’s feelings to be hurt when I swear at it. I did develop an attachment to a soft-spoken Chilean lady in an Hispano-American, Linguaphone cassette tape. ‘Her voice was ever gentle, low and soft, an excellent thing in woman.’ She spoke about trains and buses and restaurant menus. Unfortunately my cassette player is defunct and she has gone away to a sunnier clime. She was really only a series of magnetic impulses. I knew that all the time.

Good luck with Her, Joaquin. I saw him playing Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, on a long-haul flight. He was brilliant, but my earphones didn’t work. I had to imagine the dialogue. For the music, I remembered Johnny Cash. I detest Mrs Garmin, the back-seat driver. I hate the voices that say enter.your.code.now. when I try to pay a bill over the phone. I prefer to ‘interface’ with humans. I am even wary of puppets. They tend to be unsettling,  malevolent, alter egos of the puppeteer. There was a long-standing joke about the Irish having Irish dancing on the radio. Why not? You could still hear the music. Was it any more ridiculous than Peter Brough, the ventriloquist and Archie Andrews, his puppet, on BBC radio, in the 1950s? Ventriloquy on radio?  How could you tell? Did his lips move?

The paper reported that Paramount will no longer distribute film on celluloid.  The future will be digital. I thought of Jemmy Devlin pushing his bike up the Dublin Road, on his way to the station, with tin drums of films, Pathé  News and cartoons. It was easier for him on the way back, freewheeling downhill with all the latest releases. Jemmy used to collect the tickets at the door of the cinema. One night he was indisposed and the owner, Leo, took his place. He held out his hand for the tickets.  Suddenly, in the gloom, he found someone thrusting a bag of eggs into his hand. ‘There you are, Jemmy. I’ll have a few more for you next week.’  Jemmy shone a torch into many dark corners, when the audience became boisterous. A bit like the Public Accounts Committee, I suppose.

The shopping went well. We also bought some saucepans. Mustn’t get too attached to the old ones. They have to go.  On the way out, I bought a very fine monkey puppet. I could be big on radio, like Marcel Marceau. I have already mastered ‘gottle of geer’ and ‘gread and gutter.’  He likes to slob around, like I do. We could go far together.

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He went far. My little grandsons loved him so much that they spirited him away. I had to go back for another one, first thing on Sunday morning. There are more grandchildren arriving on Friday. Maybe I can impress them with my amazing skill. On my way out of the shop I had to pass through the half-acre of cosmetics counters. The young ladies never even saw me. I noticed a Brow Bar: raising eyebrows since 1975. I contemplated, for a moment,  getting a consultation for my new friend, but thought it wiser to keep going.

Sunday was a busy day. I decided to relax and watch television. I hoped that there was something other than political wrangling going on. Attenborough, perhaps?

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