Prepositions and Preposterous Rules. Churchill and Carparks.

Nokia car park etc 041

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.

Irish Times 1941 and one map 002

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.

Tennis court lane and wall 026

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….

Floravillle path, some clouds 019

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..

midwintwr shrift justin painting bad moonlight 013

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

Church Street and house 013

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

Advertisements

What’s all the noise about?

Dun an oir 2 and sarah's 041

This is the time of year when we are invited to look back at the past and look forward with anticipation, to the coming year. Perhaps this is because the newspapers need material to fill their pages. The ancient Romans appointed the god Janus, a celestial janitor, to keep guard over the door of the dwelling. Janus had the advantage of having two faces, one to look inwards and one to keep a sharp lookout on the world outside. Would you trust anyone with two faces?  Would you trust someone whose life is spent, standing in a draught, beside a whistling keyhole or a rattling  letterbox? I have more confidence in the lads with the black leather jackets and shaven heads. They rock back and forth on their heels. They shrug, ready for every emergency, particularly at festive times, like New Year’s Eve. They look down impassively and size up the prospective customers.

I am concerned for the ushers in the Dáil. They sit all day, with their backs to a set of double doors, listening to our legislators teasing out the finer points of law and framing new ones to make our lives even better than they were last year or even thirty years ago. They listen to the flow of lofty rhetoric that characterises the daily exchanges in our parliament. Cicero himself, would sit entranced in such company. Edmund Burke would be stricken silent by such mellifluous oratory, but for the poor ushers at the door, it must be a pain in the neck.

I am alarmed by the cabinet papers of three decades ago, which are released around the turn of the year. The assumption is that passions will have died down over the years. The ministers and public figures shown in the photographs will have shuffled, or will have been ushered, off the stage. Old animosities will have been forgotten and all will unite in a spirit of good will and optimism for the future.  What alarms me is the fact that they are all so familiar. I didn’t realise that that was THE PAST. Some of these people are still around in public life. Some are still performing well and some are fossilised and petrified by the passage of time. Hair styles have changed since those wise heads nodded over the affairs of state. At New Year celebrations,  you may see pictures of yourself from such occasions thirty or even forty years ago. You may not even recognise yourself, or you may see evidence of an incipient bald patch. Nothing to worry about there. Everything is getting better, not like the bad old days. I don’t need or want, reminders that I am thirty years older, or that my flowing locks have gone with the wind. Even less do I want journalists and commentators raking over the coals of  old rancour. Good Janus! This is Ireland, for God’s sake. I wish a happy and peaceful 2014 to Richard Haass and fair play to him for trying. THE PAST hasn’t gone away, you know, Richard, but thank you anyway.

Around the time that the Pope came to Ireland, my little daughters learned a new hymn. Bind us together Lord…. There were lots of new hymns, with lots of guitars and hand-clapping. They argued about the words. One of them sang:

 Bang us together, Lord. Bang us together… 

‘Don’t be stupid’,  insisted the other. ‘It’s’…

Bang doors together, Lord.

Bang doors together,

With love that cannot be bro-wo-ken.

Now that made more sense. There are ways of banging doors. There are ‘tones of voice’ to the shutting of doors. ‘No need to slam the door.’ ‘I didn’t slam the door. It was the east wind, emanating from the ‘cold pole’ of Asia that slammed it, the wind that blows across the frozen tundra, freezing the Kulaks on the blasted Steppes and whipping through our house in January, that slammed it. ‘ ‘Well anyway, don’t slam it again.’  ‘Good Janus! I told you I didn’t slam it. Is it my fault that the vast Eurasian landmass, loses heat in winter and exhales cold air over half the globe, for Janus’s sake?’   ‘Just try to be more careful in future.’

My friend converted his attic into an office, where he worked in peace and quiet. He stuck a notice on the lock on his front door. I noticed it: Please close this door QUIETLY. I made one like it. It must have been against the spirit of the hymn. It made no difference. People remarked on my penmanship and my optimism, but the sellotape shrivelled in the draught from the keyhole. The little notice blew away in the wind that shakes the Poles and the poles,  freezes the Lithuanians and Geordies and stirs up the Irish Sea.

Christmas 2013 waves 037

Until I discovered the beauty of PVC, I relied heavily on the power of the press at this time of year. Strips of Irish Times, inserted into warped window frames, did wonders to frustrate the gods of the wind, especially Boreas, a right pain in the neck. (No disrespect to gods in general, of course. Zephyrus is welcome in our house at any time, provided he doesn’t slam the door.) It is no coincidence that long balbriggans were invented in Balbriggan, four miles further north along the east coast, than Skerries. I associate balbriggans, (terminal underwear for keeping your end warm) with the glamour of Hollywood, especially when worn by (wanderin’) stars like Lee Marvin.

I had an up-and-over garage door, operated by a complex system of springs and pulleys. It yawed in the wind and sometimes came off the rails. Unhinged we might say, if it had had hinges. But who doesn’t become a bit unhinged in the time of east wind?  There was a law in certain eastern countries that excused murder of one’s wife at the time of the east wind. A bit extreme.  I set to fixing it. I removed the outer cover with a few skillful twists of a spanner. Suddenly, CRASH,WHANG, WALLOP, the garage was filled with uncoiled springs, flying plastic ‘bushes’ and rollers ricocheting from walls, roof and floor. It was like the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. It seems that the springs are at maximum tension when the door is down. Janus should have warned me. To refit the whole thing, I would have had to dismantle the whole shebang.  A stoa is a portico, in Greek. That’s where the Stoics used to sit. They would have taken the disaster with a shrug of resignation. ‘What can you do? Turn your collar up. Get on with the job.’  I’m no Stoic. I sold the door to a travelling man who happened to be passing with a horse and cart. I got fifteen quid for it.

I read an obituary for Kalashnikov, in the New Year newspapers. He has shuffled off this mortal coil, having armed armies, psychopaths and child soldiers all over the world. It seems that his assault rifle worked on a similar principle to my garage door, a simple spring-loaded device. He made 90,000,000 of them. No home need be without one.

My three-year-old grandson, a Jungle Book fan, said to me: ‘The animals live in harmony.’  ‘What does that mean?’ I asked him. ‘It means that they live in harmony.’

We should try it sometime.