Plums

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Last year our tree produced one plum. It was our first-born from this tree, a cause for muted celebration. During the winter and spring, some surrounding trees were removed and suddenly, the plum tree stood in a sunny space. It responded, as we all do, when the light breaks through the gloom. It put out blossoms, but we had fallen for that before. It seemed to be a good year for bees. The blossoms struck. Suddenly, we realised that we had plums.  The branches drooped under the weight of fruit. We were not used to this. A fly appeared and some mould. We investigated remedies. Let us spray.  We covered the fish-pond. The labels carried dire warnings about the effects on aquatic organisms and on those who drink or inhale the insecticide/fungicide or neglect to wash their hands afterwards. There are no flies on us.  It worked,  although it entailed some nifty funambulism and aerial work on a wobbly step-ladder. Next year, if all goes well, I will invest in a knapsack-sprayer with a long spout or an agile youth who won’t shatter on impact with the ground.

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There is a catch. You have to repeat the process every two weeks, but not within fourteen days of consuming the fruit. I recall a fisherman suggesting that the (annual) blessing of the fishing fleet should only have to be done once. It’s not like scraping the hairy woar of the bottom of the boat and putting on anti-fouling– a messy job that has to be repeated every year. We took a chance. The plums began to ripen. We noticed little gashes appearing on some of them and wasps beginning to pay attention. We blamed the birds, unfairly, as it turned out. There is a belief that birds are deterred from fruit trees by the flashing of compact discs hanging on strings.The old method of placing a small child with a clapper, under the tree, probably works better, but this is no doubt, illegal nowadays. Anyway, they would eat all the fruit.

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Windows 95,– Ocean-Free.net,– Esat-B.T.– H.P. Photosmart Printer Set-Up, now defunct. (It was only a little plastic lug, but it snapped off and the paper shot out at the back.) A few CDs palmed off by Sunday newspapers. In bright sunshine the discs laser around the garden like demented lecturers emphasising important points. In a stiff breeze they chime like a herd of Alpine goats. Now, goats would make short work of the plums —and the tree. I have reservations about philanthropists sending goats to Africa, on the grounds that goats can survive in desert conditions. They make the desert conditions. The notorious Lord Leitrim, not the vanishing one of later years, would not tolerate a goat on any of his tenant farms, on pain of eviction. “Kill that gourmandiser,” he would say. We would need The 1812 Overture , with full artillery, to scare off a herd of goats.  Lord Leitrim himself, met with some artillery from disgruntled tenants, on a cold winter morning.

The hanging discs put me in mind of Billie Holiday’s chilling song Strange Fruit. Nina Simone sings it: ‘the ugliest song I ever heard.’ It’s about lynching. A delegation of black leaders from the Deep South, went to see President Truman in 1949 to ask for a law outlawing lynching. He explained that ‘the country was not ready for such a law just yet.’  A century ago, a Dublin cinema advertised a lynching film as entertainment. I will take down the discs. The birds are not impressed by technology anyway.

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We are getting a lot of fruit. Even the fallen ones and the mouldy ones, make a pretty picture. The worms are quite pleased. The wasps are buzzing with excitement. It doesn’t do to think too much, early in the morning. Put aside the sadness of the world for a little while. Carpe diem, as poor Robin Williams repeatedly quoted.  We will enjoy the plums and maybe make some jam. Maybe even play a little music to some Skerry goats.

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Like Virgil, we will have to talk about the pruning knife and next year.

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Visitors to Skerries (2) A sense of History.

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Jesus winked at me as I went into the hardware shop. When I looked again His eyes were open. He wore the crown of thorns. He looked sad. I went closer. His eyes were shut. Had I been chosen for a special purpose? I hoped not. Prophets do not live comfortable lives. They are reviled in their own country. They dress in goatskins and live, howling, in the wilderness. Would pilgrims come in their thousands to venerate me, down the years, buy knick-knacks and seek to touch the hem of my cloak?  My what?  I listened for soaring celestial music. But ,stay. It was a portrait on ribbed glass, an ingenious device, showing different facets from different angles. The wink was the result of the frame lying at an oblique angle. I have seen one of Napoleon and Josephine, an imperial knick-knack, a gimmick, probably worth a fortune to a collector.

I went in to buy picture hooks. The proprietor, an amiable man, discussed the news of the day. He discussed old news, old people long gone and picture hooks. I told him that a friend and I were hanging paintings in a new restaurant. We had to put them up before opening night, but we were not allowed to bang nails into the new plaster and paintwork. We discussed adhesive hooks. Just the job.

“That place used to belong to Willie Woods.”

I remembered Willie Woods. He was a retired entertainer. He walked with his feet turned out, like Charlie Chaplin. Trick of the trade. He walked from the knees down,  in a blur of footwork. There is a branch of Japanese theatre that concentrates  exclusively on legwork, but Noh, I digress.

“That was before Bamboozalem. He sold it to Val Hatton. Long after Bamboozalem.”

Before Bamboozalem!   ‘Bam bam bam bam Bamboozalem!’ I saw Bamboozalem.  He came to The Arcadia theatre, dancehall, place of wonder, shortly after the War. He could do magic. He made people disappear. He cut ladies in half. He told jokes, mostly above my head. He hypnotised people, to general amusement. He winked at the audience. The hypnotised became famous, in an oblique way.  The girls in a local choir got their moment in the limelight. They were angels. I see one or two of them around the town still. They are mortals now. There were other singers, but I wanted more magic,  more cymbals, pound notes produced from apples, coins from ears, welded steel rings, ‘See, solid steel. Clink, clink,’ intersected and pulled apart. I didn’t go up on stage to be hypnotised. I am still wary of stage magicians, hypnotists, street performers. I am terrified of clowns.

We came home, scampering ahead of our parents, racing from one lamp post to another, making our shadows stretch out behind and then ahead and then disappear like magic, when we were directly beneath the lamp. It was so late that the street lamps went off, before we got home. The night sky leaned closer. We saw the stars. My father told a joke about a man who lost a half-crown down at the Monument but he went up to the railway station to look for it….because the light was better up there…ta dah!  Good, but not quite Bamboozalem.  Bamboozalem stayed for a week. We talked of nothing else. I Googled him, Bamboozalem, but he has disappeared again. The Arcadia ballroom/theatre has disappeared too. It became a shirt factory…. and thereby hangs a tail….ta dah!  Oh, never mind. Now it is a block of apartments.

By the way, all the pictures fell down on opening night. They fell on tables, glasses, dinners, diners, cutlery,vases of flowers, as soon as the pianist struck his opening chord.  Dah dah dah dahhhh!  Beethoven, your only man.  Dramatic…but no cigar. The hooks left little scars on the lovely new paint.

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Sir Henry Sidney landed in Skerries, long before Bamboozalem, in 1575, to be precise.  He came as Lord Deputy for Queen Elizabeth, to restore the Irish to loyalty and civility. Here he is, leaving Dublin Castle to go ‘on a progress’ through Ireland. His methods were simple–burn the barns and harvests and reduce the populace to famine. Harry them in winter, ‘when the covert is thin’ so that you will have little to do with them in summer. Put the heads of the more reluctant Irish chiefs on spikes over the gate. Like Richard Nixon, he believed : ‘when you have them by the nuts, their hearts and minds will follow.’ He was highly regarded as an administrator. He pulled few rabbits out of that hat. He reduced the chieftain, Rory O More, to such misery in the wilderness, that even the wolves pitied him.  I think Jesus closed both eyes during those terrible years.

Oh Sidney worthy of triple renown

For plaguing the traitors who trouble the crown.

NPG D32917; Sir Henry Sidney by Magdalena de Passe, by  Willem de Passe

Sir Henry’s son, Philip wrote: ‘But this country where you set your foot is Arcadia, this country being thus decked with peace and the child of peace, good husbandry; these houses that you see, are of men that live upon the commodity of their sheep, a happy people, wanting little because they desire not much.’  Arcadia  Sir|Philip Sidney. I don’t think he based it on Elizabethan Ireland.

Virgil imagined Arcadia and its happy shepherds. Evelyn Waugh saw it in Brideshead Revisited. All very good, but were they there the night that Bamboozalem…..?

Poor Rory O More’s story made such an impression on the English, that he survives in Cockney slang, an oblique kind of fame, along with Johnny Horner and Skin and Blister, Worry and Strife, Godfors, Sweeney Todd,  etc. etc.etc. The language of Shakespeare?

Note: When impaling heads over your door, do not use adhesive hooks.

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