Donald Trump and Small Potatoes.

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Donald Trump in his characteristically dismissive way, described his Irish golf club venture as ‘small potatoes.’ While I have no knowledge of golf, I happen to love small potatoes. ‘Hazards’ was the name for them in days gone by. I wonder if Donald is suggesting that greens will be dug up, water hazards drained for cultivation, bunkers filled with compost and crops of spuds planted on the Doonbeg fairways. Chipping would take on a new significance. A mashie-niblick could be used to produce the creamy mash so beloved of the Irish diner. Wedge potatoes, perhaps? ‘Potatoes Augusta’, in (green) jackets. Never underestimate Donald. There is big money in spuds.

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A noisy blighter.

This unprepossessing Andean tuber is inextricably linked with Irish history. The survival of eight million Irish came to depend on the potato crop. Potato blight impelled the first great wave of Irish emigration to the United States, a tradition that has continued into modern times. Almost everyone in Ireland has a relative in America. The Irish contributed to their new home and benefited from it. Our stories and songs are shot through with the adventure and heartbreak of emigration. There was no wall. It is sad to hear presidential candidates speaking of the Secret Service raiding homes to round up undocumented Irish and other immigrants with a view to deporting them. “You better believe it.” The language is that of aggression….’Them and Us’. I noticed in one of Michael Moore’s films, that the Secret Service wear jackets with Secret Service written on them. You will know who they are if they knock on your door early in the morning. At what point will french fries turn again to the absurdity of freedom fries?  The Statue of Liberty must blush metaphorically, to hear such un-American ranting.

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A quiet and unassuming Skerries man and former school companion of ours, Bernie Rice, was instrumental in developing the blight-resistant rooster  potato, named for its red skin, not for any strutting flamboyance or arrogance. Subconsciously, it laid the ghost of the Great Famine and that atavistic fear of blight. I can see Bernie’s family farm from my window. The walls  and gate pillars of The Lane Farm are invariably white-washed. They catch the morning sunrise. Bernie’s achievement did not make him a millionaire. He didn’t rant or threaten from behind his white walls. He was a benefactor, an exemplary public servant, using his talents for the benefit of others.  Besides its other attributes and advantages, the rooster tastes good too.

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Anyway, we went here to see how the other half lives. We cleared immigration. ‘No, we were never members of the Nazi party; never charged with or convicted of terrorist crimes; had no intention of committing any acts of terrorism; were not carrying any foodstuffs or snails, etc. etc.’ Fair enough. A strong man armed, keepeth his house. We were free to roam. When I grow up I want to drive at speed up and down Rodeo Drive in a red convertible, with a sun tan, an open-top shirt and a medallion on my chest. I want to mingle with the beautiful people and have doormen tip their top hats to me. I want to browse in the jewellery shops and pick up some bargains. 2007_0708daffs0518

We dined with friends in a steak-house on Beverley Drive/Street/Boulevarde.  Can’t remember. The wine was excellent. The steaks were great. The company was superb. The atmosphere… well the joint was jumpin,’ as we say in Hollywood. The exchange rate was kind to us at the time. I noticed that my baked potato cost $8. 50c, but what the hell! That was three week’s wages when I picked spuds for Bernie Healy a century ago. We strolled back to our hotel in the balmy night air. There was a young Latina mother shining the towering glass doors of a locked office building. Her baby slept in a buggy in the lobby. It was nearly midnight.

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I always enjoyed Anthony Quinn’s work. He was the ultimate Greek, Mexican bandido, wild desert tribesman or whatever you needed. I gather that he was half Mexican and half Irish. His inscription reads: ‘Dreams do come true.’ How many millions have followed their dreams to America. What did that young mother dream of as she cleaned those glass doors in the dead of night?

Every twenty years or so, I watch The Magnificent Seven. It never palls. The Mexican farmers work and fight to survive. The bandidos are magnificently evil. It is an idealised fable. The good guys defeat the bad guys to defend freedom. My young grandson was engrossed. “Are they the people Donald Trump hates?” he asked. “Are they the reason he wants to build a wall?”  Out of the mouths of babes and innocents etc.

The aran banner is a huge blond potato. It impresses with its, bulk, but there is a void at its heart. It is unpleasant to the taste. It rots from the inside.

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Gandon and Identity

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A young fellow tried to rob the shop in our local garage. He wore the requisite garb for the occasion, including a balaclava. He carried a hammer. He spoke in a menacing manner. He demanded money. Unfortunately for him, the lad behind the counter recognised him as a former classmate and identified him by name. “No I won’t, XXXX”  (identity concealed to avoid litigation from would-be thieves). The robber was indignant. ” Eff off, YYYY” (crude attempt to protect the identity of the hero of the piece)..”It is not me.” It was and he was nabbed. In Gandon’s Four Courts, as in every court in the land, you will be required to identify yourself on oath.

A common greeting in Ireland is:  ‘Is it yourself?  If you have been away, you may be asked: ‘Are you back?’ In both cases, the answer is usually: ‘Yes.’  I study the fellow in the mirror in the morning. He has been known to wound me with a blunt razor, on occasions. I could identify him on an identity parade, if required, but occasionally I don’t recognise him in old photographs. If I am not myself on any given day, I go back to bed until I am myself again. I used to look like the man on the Identikit pictures and expected to be arrested for a myriad of heinous crimes. On passport photographs (Do not smile!! Take off your glasses!!) I looked like your average neighbourhood axe murderer. I have been finger-printed in the U.S.A. Immigration Service, in case I should come back in twenty years time and do all the stuff I said I had never done, on the immigration forms. On the dust jacket of my first novel, I am an amiable young lad with flowing locks. On my latest, computerised driving licence, I have pixels and lines all over my face. There is a hologram of a harp and what I would swear is Gandon’s Custom House, obscuring half of my features. There is a regal touch…Rameses II, after the embalmers had done their best. I don’t look myself.

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That’s Gandon’s Custom House to the left. I liked the ship. It suggests the age of sail,  trade and commerce in a simpler time, when ships came all the way up the Liffey, at least as far as Carlisle Bridge (built by Gandon).  Casks were piled on the quayside and vessels from all over the world, disgorged their cargoes onto horse-drawn drays, under the watchful eyes of the riverine heads and H.M. Customs. There were tallies, ledgers and stamps. Documents were authenticated with wax seals. All was made manifest. There were no bar-codes, pixels or computers. The computers are housed in the building to the right, the IFSC, a temple to lucre and the ephemeral business of financial trading. The instigator of the IFSC, Charles Haughey, lived in a Gandon mansion. Perhaps he had lost the run of himself.

I was excited to be summoned to Gandon House to authenticate myself with a new identity card. I shaved carefully, avoiding wounds. Nothing betrays a miscreant as readily as scars on the face. I mean…Scarface! A friend was surprised to see me at the railway station early in the morning. ‘I didn’t recognise you.’ He meant clean and tidy and wearing shoes. I lacked the hunted demeanour of the commuter. I looked out of the train window. I had no electronic device to insulate me from the world. I speculated on what Gandon would have built in the great age of steam.  He died about six years before the first railway locomotives tooted their whistles and sent up smoke signals of what was to come. I looked forward to being greeted by a bewigged flunkey and ushered into an echoing marble hall. I expected ceilings of astonishing Italian plaster-work and oil paintings of grave and dignified statesmen, Lords Lieutenant and Generals festooned with medals and sashes. I checked my evidence of identity, a birth certificate, passport, driver’s licence, utility bill and the letter summoning me to be there. I thought I had everything. Cogito, ergo sum.  I definitely was me.

Gandon was having an off day. This is Gandon House, in Amiens Street, near the city morgue.

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There were no flunkeys. The staff members were courteous and helpful. It was a painless experience, except that my feet were protesting about the shoes. Me dogs were barkin’, as they say in Dublin. I answered a few questions about things I hadn’t thought about in years. I was photographed and no doubt, pixillated again. I must await the outcome. I came home on the next train. The countryside sparkled in the heatwave. The sea glistened invitingly.

I took off my shoes. I was myself again.