The Birds are Back in Town. WAGS and The Spice of Life.

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The making of laws, observed Bismarck, and the making of sausages, should not be too closely examined. The Germans know a thing or two about sausages, as do the Italians. Think for a moment on what constitutes a sausage. No, don’t. Just enjoy it. The film 1900  has a memorable scene in which a pig is slaughtered, dismembered and re-assembled into hams, bacon, joints, brawn, crubeens and sausages. Every component of the original animal, every component, was used.  It would be a grave discourtesy to the animal to throw any of it away.  As to sausages, it’s all in the seasoning. I saw a headline in a newspaper yesterday: A spicy diet guards against dementia. Job done. I love a good sausage. (Latin botulus)

Did you ever dismember a golf ball?  With The Ryder Cup in full swing, I am reminded of how we used to peel a golf ball to get at the  miles and miles of rubber inside. Miles and endless miles of mini catapults and that was without even stretching. Inside that again were a few miles of broad rubber band, a flaccid version that was good for nothing. At the very core was/is a small balloon of deadly poison, a bacterium, a living organism that swelled and grew, constantly reinforcing the tension of the outer skin. Considering the treatment meted out to golf balls, it’s not much of a life. Is it?  Don’t touch that. You’ll die. At least run it under the tap before you try to blow it up. Those balloons won’t blow up. They are no use for anything except for imprisoning bacteria. I threw an old golf ball into the fire. It writhed and squirmed. A hissing reptile emerged from its shell and bombarded me with a blizzard of burning scraps. The golf ball’s revenge.

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As children we went down to the harbour when the trawlers came in. The fishermen always put up a box of fish for the lads. The harbour master always chased us away. “Get off the quay. Get off the quay.”  He actually said ‘Kay.’   “Get off the kay.” It has a ring of authority about it. I recall the cold of winter evenings and the pain of the string  when you carried a hank of  ‘whitenin’.  If you were lucky you had the comfort of a bike. You could drape the hank over the handlebars. The handlebars were freezing too. Most of all though, I remember the gulls, screeching and wheeling, emerging from darkness, yellow in the trawler lights and disappearing again, to squabble in the water over scraps and fish guts. The gulls bred on the islands. They knew their place. They swarmed after the boats, as press men swarmed after Eric Cantona. (He is a poet, fond of a good metaphor.) For a couple of decades the gulls moved into town. They nested on the houses, with broods of squealing chicks.  They white-washed the roofs in dry weather. They bullied cats away from their food and stalked imperiously around the bins. They became commuters, from one dump to another, from Ballealy to Dunsink and Kill in Kildare, crossing and re-crossing the flight paths to the airport, without a care for their own safety or that of anyone else, thinking only of their own gratification. Jet-setters. But always they came,  impeccable as golf WAGS, in their white suits, to The Brook at low tide. How can they stay so clean, given the nature of their work? The gulls, that is, not the WAGS.

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Then came botulism, dodgy sausage disease, bad food disease. If you dine out in low dumps, what can you expect? Clostridium botulinum. Dammit. Those sausages are ‘on the blink.’ I meant to cook them days ago. No amount of alchemy by Olhausens, Haffners, (clever Germans), or even Dennys, Kearns or the wizards of Clonakilty, can ward off that sinking feeling, that fruity whiff of a deceased sausage, that ruined breakfast. Not even the iron constitution of the sea gulls could withstand botulism. Their numbers dwindled spectacularly. They became, for a few years, rare birds indeed. Even the Iron Chancellor, a thrifty man, would not have endangered his health to a superannuated sausage. That would be the wurst fate imaginable. He wore a military uniform because he could get one free. He had a pickelhaube, a spiked helmet. I always wondered what he put on the spike. A pickle? A sausage? Nah!

On the other hand, if you are feeling bedraggled and worn down by age, you might consider spicing up your life with the miracle of botox treatment. Botox is a derivative of botulism. It is.  I understand that the sausage meat is injected into the areas in need of an uplift, eyebrows, sagging cheeks, scraggy necks and all points south. Get it into you. You’ld be mad not to. You will look swell.  The seagulls are back at The Brook, in greater numbers than I can ever recall. A man with a golf club, put them all to flight yesterday. A great golfing spectacle.

The Fighting Irish Novelists and other Tough Guys.

In the Simpsons television cartoon show they had Springfield’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. There was a float full of The Fighting Irish Novelists. They were a lively bunch, jumping down at regular intervals to trade blows and abuse. There was reason to suspect that there was drink taken. Some said that this was grossly offensive, showing the worst stereotypes of the Irish character. It was particularly disappointing to those of us who aspire to being Irish novelists, but are no bloody good at fighting. Why would the Simpsons ignore the undoubted literary genius of the Irish in order to concentrate on our bellicose reputation?

When Jack Dempsey was preparing to fight Gene Tunney for the first time, he sent a spy to Tunney’s training camp. Dempsey was a hard man. He learned his trade in saloons and mining camps, fighting all comers. He was often brought home in a wheelbarrow. Tunney trained by chopping down trees— and sparring partners.
The spy returned in high glee.
‘It’s in the bag, champ’, he announced. ‘The guy is readin’ a book.’
Tunney went on to defeat Dempsey twice, although there are still arguments about the famous Long Count. If you want to put down your pint and step outside, we can settle it, coats off, man to man. Tunney’s father was from Cill Aodáin in County Mayo. Cue Raftery, the blind poet, ‘full of hope and good will.’ Raftery enjoyed a drink too.
This might suggest that literary types are natural tough guys. Hemingway liked to box. He was a fairly nifty writer. Brendan Behan set the gold standard for bellicose Irish writers. There was reason to suspect that drink had been taken. Drink makes some people bellicose. That means ‘warlike’ although drink and ‘bellies’ can have a different connotation. Drink makes others want to sing or become friends with everyone. A few believe that it fuels literary genius. The fuel can burn out.

I published my first novel many years ago. I was quite pleased and full of good will. I was having a drink in a pub, with a beautiful view of the harbour. I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was quite a large hand.
‘You know,’ said the man, ‘you’re going about this writing business the wrong way.’
Ah, here we go, I thought. You’re wrong, you know. They didn’t have helicopters at the Battle of Waterloo.( Didn’t they?) There’s a spelling mistake on page 147. The red mist of rage began to cloud my vision.
‘How come?’ I asked, with a steely edge to my voice.
By coincidence at the time, I was the same weight as ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler. Marvin’s weight was distributed differently from mine. He had trapezius muscles instead of a neck. He had an iron chin. He had biceps and triceps. I had a couple of pints.
‘You should be drinking and getting into fights in pubs,’ said my interlocutor. ‘That way you would get all the publicity you could ask for.’

There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. The bigger they come and all that nonsense. I thought of taking his advice and making a start there and then, by hurling him through the plate glass window and leaping after him to pound him with lefts and rights etc. in the way of Hollywood cowboys. I could have smashed a bar stool over his head. He who hesitates is lost. I began to weigh up the situation. The bigger they come, the closer they are to the ceiling.

I never like to cause a fuss. Plate glass is hideously expensive to replace. Those bar stools are quite heavy, you know. I hadn’t finished my drink. He is a foot taller than me. He played rugby for Ireland. Anyway I like the chap. His advice was kindly meant. I bought him a pint. I heard the doors of the Pantheon of Great Drunken Irish Novelists slamming shut. The noise still reverberates in my head.

I have won only a single decisive victory in a fight in my entire life. It was in fourth class in the National School. His name was Tom. His brother was one of the toughest lads in the school. His brother used more hair oil than the rest of the class put together. I bumped into Tom in the yard. He took serious offence. A fight was unavoidable. A crowd gathered around. I had read about John L. Sullivan and Gene Tunney in The Wizard. Scientific pugilism was called for. Tom was not a reading man. I shut my eyes and took a swing. I connected. I opened my eyes. One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, was Tom’s astonished expression and the blood, snot and tears on his face. He retired in the first round. I was carried shoulder-high for a few seconds, until The Master appeared, swishing his cane, to investigate all the noise. It was a cane like Charlie Chaplin’s one. Not a bit funny. It was heady stuff, all the same. What a thing it would be, ‘to ride in triumph through Persepolis’. I have never been carried shoulder-high for any of my literary efforts.

I had a go at boxing in later years but I found that, not only have I a glass chin, I have a glass head. One punch gave me a blinding headache and visual disturbance. I concentrated on the writing. Marvin’s titles were safe. Not only did Gene Tunney read books, He wrote one as well. So it’s ok to write. Anyway, I always thought all that skipping was sissy stuff. Jack Dempsey went on the stage. He owned a restaurant. He complained that he was in more danger behind the bar, than he had ever been in the ring, from silly asses who wanted to boast that they had knocked out Jack Dempsey. He put it differently. Marvin went into movies. Rocky Graziano produced a great book.

King Levinsky, a Chicago fish seller, made a few dollars from the fight game. His manager, his sister, by the way, set up a bank account. The bank manager gave him a cheque book. The king wrote cheques. The manager called him in.
‘Your account is seriously overdrawn, Mr. Levinsky,’ says he.
‘What are ya talkin’ about?’ says the king. ‘ The book aint even half finished.’ Prize fighters and books, eh.
I wrote some of my best fiction for bank managers.

Is The Simpsons a work of fiction? Are there any real drunken Irish fighting novelists at all at all? The present lot look a bit too refeened. They occupy a higher plane. They are treated with deference. No need for them to take the coats off and have a good brawl. They duel with rapier wit and occasionally, pens dipped in acid. Can we believe anything we see on the screen? Special FX? Very bad spelling too.

John Wayne’s real name was Marion. Steven Seagal deals out punishment to bad guys, with the efficiency of a gents’ haberdasher tidying his shelves. ‘Suit you, Sir.’ Clint almost always relies on a gun. How come all the bad guys are such lousy shots? Bruce Willis causes major havoc and damage to property. He litters cities with dead villains. (Caution: never go up in a cinematic helicopter.) It’s all illusion. Read the credits: Fights arranged by… Fights choreographed… for crying out loud. Or is that Bruce Forsyth? Nobody seems to mind a flesh wound. Shaking your head to clear your vision is not wise. The hero is always bandaged up and comforted by the heroine or the kid who had been kidnapped. Ah, wuzzums! There is always a joke at the end. You would need a stiff drink, after all the explosions and car crashes.

Some silly ass shouted abuse at my fellow watercolourist, Eric Cantona. Eric took a flyin’ lep at the eejit and levelled him. I contemplated forming a Franco-Irish Fighting Watercolourists association. We could kick some ass, like the gentleman in the preceding paragraph. Then I saw him in a film. He was poncing around in tights at the court of Queen Elizabeth. He was pretending to be the French ambassador. Would you pick Eric for the Diplomatic Corps?

There is one great cinematic fight. It is the best worst fight of all. It is between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. They were fighting over Bridget Jones. (Not a bloke’s film, but anyway..) They were spectacularly inept. Useless. They were utterly convincing.

If I wuz ten years younger, with a pint in me, I could fight either one o’ them. I’d… I’d…. Five years and a couple o’ pints, bejayziz….one hand tied behind me back…I’d take the both o’them together…What year is it anyway? …

Here, hould me coat.