Time and the hour run through the longest day

 

I looked up to this clock for most of my young life. It was on the top mantlepiece, the one most likely to wear a fine film of ash from the fire below. It was out of the reach of small children and is so again, hedged about with the same dire warnings. It punctuated our lives with its soft, harmonious chime… time to get up, time for school, time for the train, dinner time, Rosary time, time for ITMA, The Goons, homework, a story read aloud, O Henry, Joyce..( not James. His uncle. Old Celtic Romances,) The Wind in the Willows. THE PIPS..check the clock. ‘This is the BBC Home Service. Here is the News.’ Better get a move on. Look at the time! I imagined that Ratty had a clock like that in his snug little house on the riverbank. Time for bed…bong bong bong… you have insomnia. Time to get up.

It may have been a wedding present or maybe presentation. It was there before me and I treated it with respect as was fitting. My father might lift me up to see how he wound it.  It absorbed ash, tobacco smoke, piano music, yarns and jokes, arguments and discussions, French and Irish lessons, songs, some hideous skiffle crimes committed by my brother and his mates and all the little dramas of a large family. It is a ‘Witness Clock.’ The key miraculously survived to this day.This ceremony of winding has now become my responsibility. There is an element of tension involved…obviously. It was in intervention for a long time, in my mother’s house. Its mainspring was spavined by some enthusiastic winder. For many years it looked down impassively, taking no part in the proceedings.

                                                           

Today is Midwinter. The sun rises far to the South. The ancients watched its progress in the great oscillation, bringing light and warmth back to the earth, new life, fertility and harvest and then Winter again. They constructed enormous stone circles to keep track of time by the stars, the Moon and by the rising and setting of the sun.  I’m fortunate enough to have a headland for Winter and islands for the Equinox and Midsummer. I also have a calendar, a watch and now again, the chiming clock of my childhood. No need to ring bells for Matins, Lauds at ungodly hours, Vespers and Compline for a good night’s sleep. Or is that Complan? No need to lug megaliths, menhirs or monoliths to the summits of mountains to catch the fleeting rays. I have been to Newgrange, beside the fabled Boyne, and have seen the amber light creep up the passageway to illuminate the burial chamber at the heart of the mound. It evoked thoughts of countless years and countless millennia, when people looked back at their lives and savoured memories good and bad and looked forward to the coming year with hope and trepidation.  Too long for my mind to grasp. It is as futile as trying to comprehend the immensity of the Universe and the ever expanding Multiverse. The moon will wobble away from us in fifty million or billion years time and we will all be doomed. Don’t worry about it. Even Stephen Hawking has admitted to the odd mistake. It mightn’t be so bad in the long run.  I came home and had my breakfast and went to work. I was probably a bit late.

We took the broken clock to Tom Black, the ingenious clock-mender, on the road from Monasterboice to Termonfeckin, not far from the Boyne.  He performed some heart surgery. He set it to rights again. On the way back we met a childhood friend having lunch with his family. We reminisced. I recalled the time my father told me to dig and rake his vegetable patch…’and get it done by the time I get home..’ He was an occasional gardener but it never lasted too long. The clock was ticking. My friend and his brother looked over the wall.  ‘are you comin’ for a dip in the Captains?’  ‘ I can’t. I have to have this dug before my Dad’s train gets in.’ (5 past 6 from Amiens Street…on the dot). They came over the high wall like a pair of Ninjas, grabbed spades and forks and set to work. We were finished with plenty of time for a dip. I may even have got a tanner for my diligence. I can’t remember but the kindness of the two lads has stayed with me ever since.

I brought the clock home and put it on a high shelf. I noticed that it was in the company of our youngest son, who arrived too late, by a year, to meet his grandfather but knew and loved his Nana for a good many good years. Beside it is  the Chronicle of the 20th Century. My father saw a few years of the 19th Century and four fifths of the 20th. He experienced the worst of it on The Somme but survived to live with those memories of barbarism. My mother saw all but six years of the century and devoted her life to education and to making things better. The clock chimed, prompting a flood of memories. Forget the ancients. I can comprehend the memory of people I have known and loved and those I know and love today. I have a new mainspring. I look forward to a great stretch in the day

You can watch the sun at Newgrange online right now but you may not see much.  Eight minutes to nine by the clock.It’s a bit overcast. I will leave it to the Druids, romantics, astronomers and archaeologists. When the clock chimes nine I shall make some tea and bestir my self and of course, the tea.

 

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Size is Relative. The Patter of Tiny Feet. Money Laundering. Brother Bernard and Showbiz.

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You pays your money and you takes your choice/chance. The view from the top is not quite staggering. Small children nowadays, are used to Legoland and Thomasland. They play in specially designed play zones, with enough slides and ladders to tire them out by bedtime. Worth every penny. The carnival amusements were here: chair-o-planes, dodgems, roundabouts and a carousel with horses galloping over an undulating course. There were hoopla stalls, a rifle range of sorts and even a ghost train. Infants rattled the steering wheels off wooden cars and lorries as they whizzed around and around, to screeches of fear and delight. There were occasional thimble-riggers and three-card-trick men to ensnare the gullible. Ensnared by a brilliant sales pitch, I bought a pack of trick cards. Ten of clubs! Ten of clubs! Which card have you picked? Ten of clubs! Amazing! Every second card in the pack was a ten of clubs. They were slightly smaller than the regular cards, so that the nimble fingers of the dealer could always find ten of clubs!! I couldn’t remember the patter. Nor could I find the ..which one was it again? Flop-sweat. Goddammit, I must be gullible.

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Build it and they will come. It’s true up to a point. The biggest bull-ring in South America was built in Colonia del Sacramento in 1910. The following year the government outlawed bull fighting. Timing is everything, as with conjuring, comedy and card tricks. They come to The London Eye because it is new. The view from aloft is quite staggering. There is no shuffling, except in the queue. You pays your money etc. They come to the Pyramids and the Colosseum because they are old.

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Roll up! Roll up! Will rubber-neckers of the future gaze in wonder at the rusted spokes of The Eye or buddleia sprouting from the ruins of Big Ben? Will a latter-day Barnum sell tickets to The Egress and The Incredible Floating Match on the Thames? Will they come and will they buy? Of course they will.  It’s all in the patter.  Poets will  inevitably, get in on the act. There now is but an Heap of lime and sand/For the Skriech-Owl to build her baleful Bower….All those(O Pity) now are turned to Dust/And overgrown with black Oblivion’s Rust.  A few coats of hammerite and a tarpaulin should get the carnival through the winter. Come along and join my heritage tour of the site, (for a modest fee). A few places still available.

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I fell for this one: miniscule human skeletons unearthed near The Boyne, not far from Drogheda. At last, archaeological evidence of The Wee Folk, The Little People, Leprechauns, if you will. Empirical proof that the Good People, The Fairies who lived underground and in our collective imagination, actually existed. The account was couched in scholarly language. The Boyne Valley is overflowing with legends and ancient ruins. Hundreds of thousands of tourists go there every year to gaze at the tombs and megaliths of ancient kings who lived before history began. Those were people who understood magic and the movements of the Sun and stars. The tourists come to wonder and most importantly, to buy tickets. There is no need to shout ‘Roll up! Roll up!’ They want to encounter the magic of antiquity. I wanted to believe. I wanted to see the Little People dancing by moonlight on the sands at Mornington. I wanted to hear their unearthly music sprinkling on the raths and tumuli of legend. The evidence showed that they ate fish and hunted moles. Moles? In Ireland? I should have smelt a rat. Goddammit, I must be gullible. Of course, the Fairies (not that I really believe in them) are noted for their trickery. Maybe this is the distraction technique beloved of conjurors, pick-pockets and three-card-tricksters. Maybe they put mole bones in their graves to deceive us into thinking that they were never there in the first place; that it is all a hoax. Maybe I’m not so gullible after all.

Brother Bernard was charged with raising funds for the building of a new school. The blood of the great Barnum flowed in his veins. There was a touch of gentility about him. He claimed to have taught Prince Rainier of Monaco. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. He organised concerts and played to packed halls. We had conjurors, comedians and opera singers.  We had Juno and the Paycock and John B. Keane.We had Charlie McGee and his gay guitar.  It was a miniscule Palace of Varieties. He bought a new piano for the school. He directed us to dispose of the old wreck of a piano  by throwing it off the fire escape. It went out with a bang, crash, tinkle, tinkle. Pure showbiz. I looked down at it. It had become an archaeopteryx fossil in the yard below, with bones and arpeggios in a pile and teeth scattered far and wide. We should have left it for the archaeologists to ponder over in times to come.

He sponsored the carnival and took a percentage. This meant that senior boys were expected to lend a hand. I collected pennies from children on roundabouts and swings. I originated ‘the Moon Walk’ later popularised by Michael Jackson. I hadn’t meant to do it, but sometimes the roundabout started before I had got to all the customers. I learned about how centrifugal force can hurl you off the spinning disc in ignominious fashion, if you don’t hold on, to the great amusement of the kiddies. I collected tickets at the door of the Wee Man’s tent. He was about two feet tall. He was dressed as a leprechaun. He sat on an upturned pint glass and endured the guffaws and ribaldry of the spectators. He laughed a lot. It was probably the saddest thing I had ever seen. I applied for a transfer to the chair-o-planes.

Brother Bernard’s piece de résistence was the clothes line with one hundred pound notes pegged to it. The raffle took place at midnight….every night, ladies and gentlemen. The line was raised to much fanfare and patter, early in the evening. People came to gaze. The dreams of avarice. The pot o’ gold.  He did more for temperance than Father Matthew, because the pubs emptied out early as everyone wanted to share in the dream. They believed. It could be you. Prince Rainier, with his palace and his film stars and his glittering casino and his suave dinner-jacketed guests and racing cars and mega yachts, wasn’t a patch on Brother Bernard. You can’t fool me. I never heard tell of any clothes-line with £100 notes, fluttering in the balmy Mediterranean night air. Them was the days, Joxer. Them was the days.

Rien ne va plus

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