What goes around comes around. Winds of Change.

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Don Quijote saw windmills as giants, with disastrous results. For most of my life, the windmill wore only one or two feathers, hanging down, in a louche, kind of Kiowa style. Not for him the full war- bonnet of eagle feathers, tacking in the wind. He was a battered old warrior, veteran of many battles, but still, he stood defiantly on his hill, waiting for his time to come again. Saint Colmcille, our Irish Nostradamus, predicted that the end of the world would come when there is a windmill in the middle of Skerries. Who in their right mind, would build a windmill down in the middle of the town? Isn’t there a grand big hill up there with plenty of wind? It’s even called Mill Hill, for God’s sake.  But..

Prophets delight in leading us astray. Oracles and Sybils talk in riddles. ‘But I thought you meant….’ Macbeth’s witches gave him copper-fastened guarantees. They all came true, but not as he expected. ‘Security is mankind’s chiefest enemy.’ It’s a bit like the law of unintended consequences. The North Slobs in Wexford (no relation) were reclaimed for farmland. All very good. But…Wexford harbour was deprived of the twice daily tidal rush of water from this great penstock. The harbour silted up. Post-war Britain built high-rise housing and dismembered old urban communities in the process. Many of these developments stand empty, awaiting the wrecker’s ball. I saw somewhere a suggestion for colonies, built exclusively for I.T. people, rookeries of genius, on artificial islands. It will end in tiers, mark ‘ee my words.

A landscape, especially that surrounding a small town, is a palimpsest, a manuscript worked and scraped and re-worked. New boundaries and roads emerge. The fields gradually fill with buildings. New populations arrive. Children lay claim to ‘our street’ and ‘our road’. We keep a romantic attachment to the old image of rural and small town life. But… it was often cold and damp. Poverty may look romantic in old sepia photographs., but who would really want to go back?

There was a man in Skerries who applied for a new house, when the County Council built fine, solid houses along The Cabra, just beyond the Mill Pond. He was unsuccessful. He received the standard letter of regret, topped and tailed in Irish: A chara….. application unsuccessful at this time… when funds become available…. assure you etc… Mise le Meas…..name undecipherable.  He was not reassured or consoled. He took to showing the letter to anyone who would listen.  ‘Lemass,’ he snorted, ‘I caddied for that oul’ huer up in the Golf and he can’t even get me a council house.’  Maybe his indignation set some gears in motion, because he got his house in phase two.

The bad winter of 1947 awoke memories of Black Forty Seven, the worst year of the famine. I was too young to pick up on those nuances. 1947 was the year of tobogganing down   Derhams’ hill, where Hillside Estate now stands. It became Saint Moritz or Chamonix for weeks and weeks. The hill was steeper then. It seemed to a child’s eye, that the entire population of the town forgot their woes, in order to go sliding down the hill. Office workers, coming off the evening trains, threw caution to the wind, even in their business suits, to stop off for a few goes. I was struck by the spectacle at night when the few street lights illuminated the slopes.  I was also struck by a group of lads on a ladder, as they came hurtling downwards. I knew they would hit me. I was paralysed by indecision. I can recall the blow on the shins and flying through the air. I can recall my brothers’ solicitude; ‘You stupid eejit. Why didn’t you get out of the way?’ A good question. A young man picked me up and dusted the snow off me. There were no broken bones. There were bonfires on that hill when he became a priest. He then became a bishop in Africa, where he probably got no chance to go  tobogganing. By the time he retired to Skerries, the hill was covered in houses.

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There was a pit in the side of that hill, from which earth was taken, a century and a half ago, to build a mound for Holmpatrick Church to build  it above the flood plain. The pit filled with water. I learned to swim there in 1953, on another snowy day when our toboggan went further than expected. I was on the front. The first swimming lesson should not involve an overcoat and rubber boots, but I made it to the other side. I felt quite proud of myself, if a little chilly. I was in Holmpatrick Church last night and felt proud again, as my grandaughter and her youth orchestra filled the building with wonderful music

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It’s not a big mound, but it does the job, when the Mill Stream goes walkabout and escapes onto its flood plain. The old marshy Mill Pond is gone, (our pond, as it was,) but we have gained in the transaction, with two new ponds.

I once set a group of students to draw a map of the town on the school yard. The squares were already there. All we needed was the paint. Students from the various new estates corrected me. ‘No, Sir. You don’t know our estate. The road goes that way.’ Then they set to work, laughing about adventures in their secret places and who lives where, and where they played football and the boy from their road who spent Christmas in America and emerged onto their road a week later on his new bike and said: ‘Hey, Dudes, check the wheels,’ and ..and…. These were fields when I knew them. I watched and learned. I gradually began to realise that there is a windmill in the middle of Skerries. The gears are grinding again. Skerries has flowed out from its nucleus to fill the areas around the hill. Dum, dum, dum. Like a Kiowa in a John Wayne movie, that old Indian on the hill is looking down on all of us. He has his full war-bonnet on again. Head for the hills.

Hooray for Hollywood. They don’t make movies or gags like those anymore


Just south of the town of Blessington, the sky grew dark. Gigantic cumulo-nimbus clouds loomed over the mountains. The wind was rising.
‘Don’t be afraid’ I said bravely. ‘There are no tornadoes in Wicklow.’
No sooner had I spoken than WHOOOSSSHH!!! We were tumbling over and over in the sky. The wind stopped suddenly. There was a cute little dog on the back seat of the car. There was a big sign on a hill.
‘Oh, look,’ cried Margaret. ‘We’re in Hollywood.

It was true. How exciting! There were helicopters in flames plummeting from the skies all around. There were police cars with sirens screaming, crashing into each other. There were bad-ass dudes with short sleeved tee-shirts and tattoos lounging menacingly at street corners. I noticed that they tied their headscarves at the back. Charladies tie them at the front, except for a few kick-ass charladies who are really tough. Demure Catholic girls tie them under the chin, like wimples. I’m not sure what wimples are but I understand that nuns wear them, so that’s okay. There were vampires everywhere, slinking through the shadows. I don’t like vampires.

A young nun and a reverend mother were driving one night, through Transylvania. The rain poured down. Thunder crashed. Jagged lightning illuminated the trees. The ululating howl of a wolf echoed in the forest. The windscreen wipers went Wup, Wup. The young nun clutched her rosary beads. her lips moved in silent prayer. Suddenly out of the night, a cloaked figure landed with a thud, on the bonnet of the car. In the intermittent flashes of the lightning, the women saw his ghastly, blood crazed leer and his slavering fangs. It was the Count himself. His eyes blazed with Satanic hatred. His talons clenched the windscreen wipers.
‘Quick, Reverend Mother,’ screamed the young nun, in terror. ‘Show him your cross.’
The reverend mother brought the car to a halt with a screech of brakes. Dracula hung on for dear life…or whatever. The reverend mother stepped out into the storm.
‘I’m raging with you for jumping on our car,’ she said sternly. ‘Report to my office,first thing in the morning.’

We drove on through some minor explosions. Godzilla took a swipe at us, but I cleverly evaded him by putting the car on two wheels and left him gnashing his teeth. He does that anyway. I inadvertently knocked over a stall of watermelons. (It’s a tradition.) Outside The Last Cliché saloon stood seven coffins, with seven corpses and a photographer with a camera and tripod.
‘ The Dalton boys,’ volunteered an old-timer, lounging by the hitching rail. ‘Wyatt Earp done gunned them all down. Oh, you sure should a’ bin there.’ He spat a livid stream of chawin’ tobaccy into the dust, narrowly missing a passing tumbleweed. ‘ Be careful around here, stranger,’he added. ”There are some mean hombres in town.’
‘I’m rightly obligated to you, neighbour,’ I replied, ‘but I reckon I’ll jest mosey inside and have a drink.’ It’s important to master the language and, as an aspiring writer, I had other motives. There’s an old gag in Hollywood about… Actually there are lots of old gags. They are mostly used by serial killers and psychopaths, for tying up their victims. Where would we be without serial killers and psychopaths for our entertainment? Gags can also serve to tie ranchers’ beautiful daughters to railway tracks. Anyway, the gag is that there are some actresses in Hollywood so desperate that they will sleep with the writer. I tilted my writerly hat and told Margaret and Toto, (for it was he) to stay in the car and keep a sharp lookout for Arapahoes. It seems they’ve busted out of the reservation again.

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I tripped over a drunken doctor as soon as I stepped inside. ‘Wup, Wup went the bat-wing doors behind me. The piano man stopped in mid bar. All eyes turned in my direction; hard-bitten frontiersmen, hell-raising cowboys Yul Brynner all in black, a couple of mafiosi with natty suits, although the lapels were a bit too wide. Flashy, not to my liking. There were GIs and sailors who gave me a passing glance and quickly went back to their recreational brawling. I bellied up to the bar.
‘A glass of milk, old boy,’ I said to the barman. He left off wiping the bar. He uses the same cloth for the glasses. I must report him to the health and safety people. ‘Shaken, not stirred.’
Two Nazi spies went into a pub in London, disguised as American officers. ‘Alvays order martinins’ they had been told. ‘Americans alvays drink martinis.’ Hey Bud, said one of the spies. Give us two martinis and make it snappy.’ ‘Certainly, sir’, said the affable barman. ‘Dry martinis?’ Whereupon the spy reached over the bar, seized the unfortunate barman by the collar and slapped him sharply across the face.’Nein, schweinhund!’ he shouted, ‘Zwei martinis.’

A lissom lady in lamé, slid onto the stool beside mine. ‘Cigarette me,’ she purred. This was it. In like Flynn. She wielded a long cigarette holder. She could take someone’s eye out with that thing.
‘I’m sorry, I don’t smoke’, I said with what suavity I could muster. ‘Actually I don’t approve of smoking. It’s bad for your chest.’ To be fair there wasn’t much wrong with her chest. She gave me a look of withering contempt.
‘Call yourself a writer,’ she sneered, her lovely features contorted by chagrin and loathing. She turned away. I finished my milk, vegetarian soy milk.

Ernest Borgnine waddled over to me. He was looking for trouble. He stood close. There was a smell of whiskey off his breath.
‘We don’t like your kind in these here parts,’ he snarled.
I faced up to him. Spencer Tracy, at a nearby table, gave me a wink. He made a chopping, kung fu, judo gesture. He smiled his avuncular smile. Borgnine was in for a hiding.
He moved closer. ‘I’m givin’ you till sundown to….get off my foot,’ he growled.
The hell I will, I thought, but I was a bit worried about them pesky Arapahoes. Moreover, the horses was actin’ up. A bad sign.
I vamoosed.

It began to rain. I opened my umbrella. I inadvertently stepped on Gene Kelly’s footprints and felt the urge to sing. Gotta dance. Gotta dance.
I recognised Robert Newton, coming off set, still in his Long John Silver costume. (Lee Marvin almost made long-johns sexy. No he didn’t.) Newton was accosting poor Charles Laughton, still in his Quasimodo gear.
‘Ahar!’ says Newton, ‘where be that fiver I lent ee last month, Charlie lad? Ahar! ahar!’ He ran his hand along the blade of his cutlass.
Laughton made an effort to stand up. His hump wobbled obscenely. He slobbered and wheezed. His good eye rolled in his head.’I will give it to you…’He gasped for breath. ‘I will give it to you…as soon as I get myself straight.’

There was Newton, one eye, one leg, a hook for a hand and there was poor Quasimodo. They should take more care of their health. It was time to get out of town. We’ll never eat lunch in Hollywood again.

We stopped at a bridge over The King’s River. There is a rock in mid-stream, almost cleft in twain by some mysterious force. As we arrived, a handsome young swain was pulling a sword from the cleft. The brand caught the beams of the low October sun. He brandished it aloft. He had a regal bearing.
‘Be careful young sir, with that brandishing, I prithee,’ quoth I. ‘Thou could’st put someone’s eye out.’
He smiled a cheerful smile.
I tried to photograph some sheep nearby. They were uncooperative and camera-shy.
‘Would yonder sheep bite thee? I asked him.’
‘No,’ quoth he, smiling again. ‘But they would give thee a nasty graze.’

There was a wild looking man coming down from the mountain. He wore a beard and long robes. He stood in the way and verily, he smote upon the car window. He bore two tablets of stone with letters graven thereon. He looked familiar. I wound down the window and asked if he needed a lift.
‘I spake with The Lord God on the mountain.’ His eyes were wild. ‘I have good news and …’ He spread his hands in a gesture of regret. ‘And I have bad news. The good news is that I managed to beat Him down to ten. The bad news is…’ Again he shook his head sadly. ‘The bad news is… adultery is still in.’
There is a low and vulgar gag about Moses when, woe is me, he suffered from constipation. He took the two tablets and went out into the desert. No point in telling it now, as you have just heard the punch-line.

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There were some mutants and zombies dug in at the old lead mines. A platoon of reverend mothers gave us covering fire over the rise of the Wicklow Gap. We were halted by a war party of braves. Fortunately they were friendly Kiowas. I was raised by Kiowas and hunted with them, when Wicklow was covered with buffalo, before the paleface came with firewater and thunder sticks.

The wind whipped us up again. Over and over we turned. When we came to land the dog was gone. There was no yellow brick road, only the long slope down to Glendalough. Darkness was coming on, coming on apace, actually.
‘We should find somewhere to stay for the night,’ said Margaret.
‘No problem,’ I replied with a certain amount of relief. In the distance I could see a flashing sign: MOTE…L..flicker, flicker, wup…MOTEL..flicker, wup.. flicker… PROP NORMAN BATES..flicker, flicker. ‘Have you noticed all the crows?’

The End.

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(Wicklow Gap photo taken with hand-held camera during the tornado.)