Early Morning Ninja

Aug 22nd 2015 railing 007

Tom Hoare made a balcony railing for us thirty eight years ago. Wrought iron, shot blasted and rust proofed. It’s almost as good as the day he installed it. I have given it a dab of paint once or twice over the years to fight off the effects of sea air, salt and rain. I like it. It chimes when you strike it in a certain way. It used to be possible to play the opening bars of Blueberry Hill on it, but  the few coats of paint put a damper on that. When we slept in a different room, the railing gave notice of night-roistering offspring climbing over it to avoid detection….boooom..ah… boooom…ah… a soft reverberation that travelled to where we lay. Heh heh. A spider lurks in hiding, his palps gauging every tiny vibration of the web. Gotcha! I’ll talk to him in the morning. He’s home safe. Go back to sleep.

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Insomnia gives opportunities to review old and current concerns. I asked Tom to put a bit of a flourish on it. The good people of Verona added a balcony to Juliet’s house. You couldn’t have Juliet’s house with no balcony. The tourists would be up in arms. But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?  It is the east and Juliet is the sun….  ‘We paid good money to see Juliet’s balcony. Didn’t we Ethel? Have to have a bloody balcony…’ I worried about small children climbing over the railing. ‘They can’t,’ said Tom. ‘They’ve nothing to put their feet on.’  It was true. A few curlycues at the top for the spiders, but it has been infant proof for two generations. In the pre-dawn gloom I reviewed a host of worries. I’m good at that. Health, failures, opportunities not taken, finances, jobs to be attempted, offence given, offence taken, political upheavals, wars, the death of the Universe. Then the eastern sky lightened. It was like balm to a bruised consciousness. It happens on most mornings, the greatest show on earth. Roll up! Roll up! I could see the earth rolling towards the light. I could almost feel the vertiginous movement.

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Then I saw the Ninja at work. back and forth like a shuttle in a loom. He set stays and braces to steady his web. He tested the tension. Palpable tension, as the cliché merchants say. Round and round he went, in a dizzying spiral, paying out the sticky silk. Why does he not get stuck in his own glue, hoist with his own petard? Amazing footwork. Two feet at the back give forward propulsion; two at the front grab on; two on either side are for ordinary walking. Why then does he not move like a crab? A moth blundered into the structure. It flapped around, threatening to destroy the entire net. The spider leapt out and cut it free. It is very difficult, as you know, to catch a moth. You can buy camphor balls and make your clothes smell like an old teacher in September, trapped in his suit, timetable and syllabuses ( syllabi ?) You can buy cedar balls and hurl them at the moth, but he will munch on happily through worsted, serge and even Donegal tweed. The Ninja repaired his web and waited like a true fisherman.

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I thought of friend remembered not and benefit forgot…I thought about the countless millions of creatures even then, stalking their prey, in undergrowth, at water holes, from the air, on the world wide web, in early morning meetings in boardrooms, the hunters  and the prey. The Ninja took a wandering fly, a creature almost helpless in the light breeze.He sprang upon it, delivered the coup de grace and immediately began to wrap it in silk, to be enjoyed later. He rolled it with his forelegs and palps, tucking it into a neat parcel. There was a pretty girl in Bewleys of Westmoreland Street, a lifetime ago, who wrapped bags of coffee in little brown paper parcels and tied them with string. I watched her fingers. I was entranced by her dexterity. I really wanted to say something charming, something to ensnare her in a web of eloquent compliments. ‘ I really admire your dexterity.’ Maybe not. ‘ I love the way you loop the string and snap it with a flick of the wrist.‘ I have never been able to do that. Butchers were able to do it, even though they had knives enough. Grocers could do it. I said nothing. Flick! ‘There you go, sir,’ she said, smiling. ‘Three shillings, please.’ I was cut adrift. I blundered away like the moth. Why did I remember her at that hour of the morning? Tom Hoare told me that he trained as a blacksmith down in Westport. ‘I came up here in 1941, the year of the foot-and-mouth.’  That was the year of my birth, a few hundred yards up the street from where he worked amid the clangour of steel and the blaze of welding torches. I am possibly the last survivor of the variant disease of foot-in-mouth. Probably better that I didn’t release my eloquence on the pretty girl in Bewleys. I went away with my coffee, Kenya Coarse Ground and a vague feeling of inadequacy.

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The light intensified. It insisted. I began to count some blessings. One: the Ninja was outside the window. Two: no infants have fallen through the railing so far. Three: I had some stitches snipped yesterday by a doctor with nimble fingers, after a successful operation. Four: I actually feel pretty good. Five: the beloved occupants of the house are still sleeping peacefully. It might be time to put a dab or two of Hammerite on Tom Hoare’s handiwork and maybe get another thirty eight years out of it.

Ah found mah thriyell on Blueberry Hiyell

On Bluebery Hiyell, when Ah found you…

Good ol’ Fats Domino.

 

Railway art, crocodile tears and Hamlet.

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You never regret a railway journey, no matter how crowded or hot the train may be or how glum your fellow passengers are. There is always that childish air of promise, some surprise to intrigue or divert  your mind. Your companions may be caught in a moment of suspended animation or indeed in animated conversation. The train presents opportunities for concentrated people-watching, probably the oldest entertainment in the world. You must keep an impassive poker face. Or you can look out the window. A vast cyclorama unfolds as you go along: sheep grazing, a man ploughing with a tractor, birds descending on the furrows, golfers deliberating, boats on the dry, back gardens with the bric a brac of family life strewn about the lawn, projected suburban developments long abandoned and overgrown with weeds. Three jet planes there, racing westwards. The passengers are too high to see the ducks in Rogerstown estuary or the reflections of the trees where once there were orchards and strawberry beds.

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The young lady beside me was applying her mascara, preparing a face to meet the faces that she meets. It’s a delicate process. It took her all the way to Malahide to get it to her satisfaction.  I thought she looked okay before she started. Strange stuff, mascara. I looked it up. It was used in ancient Egypt by priests and pharaohs and notably by Elizabeth Taylor. It was compounded from wax, kohl, soot, the juices of berries and crocodile stool. I looked that up too. You don’t want to know. Victorian ladies were very fond of mascara and spent hours every day, applying their cosmetics. There was no shortage of soot, what with children climbing up chimneys all the time. Gentlemen used mascara to darken their moustaches. The children in the chimneys had no need of makeup. It would have been wasted on them. Kohl to Newcastle. Just a thought.

Eye liner? Young girls emphasise their eyes with black stuff. It makes the eyes small and sneaky looking. A pity. The windows of the soul.  Eyebrow pencil is a hoot. The eyebrows are painfully plucked away and then replaced further up the forehead, with black paint. It makes for an expression of perpetual surprise. I bet the crocodiles would have been surprised too, if they had known what was being done with their stools. God has given you one face and you paint yourselves another. Hamlet. W Shakespeare. The illusion of beauty might be better if it were not accomplished in public, under the eyes of strangers. Magicians guard their secrets jealously.

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The Victorians had many other accomplishments worth noting. They made cast iron a thing of beauty and utility. They built railways to link countries in meshes of steel. They strung wires and cables to create a world-wide-web. Their municipal and railway building were works of elegance. They invented new colours that a pharaoh might envy. They developed industrial war. They developed photography to record their achievements for better or for worse.  They grew great beards and Dundreary whiskers—the men mostly. They did not invent that ugly perspex, or the aerosol spray can. No wonder Turner and The Impressionists loved the iron, the light and smoke of the railway age.

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That shed had an elegance of its own. It was built by craftsmen in time gone by and defaced by modern vandals. It is difficult to admire graffiti artists. Their slogans are illegible. They appear in the most unlikely places, no doubt at great danger to the artist in question. Perhaps it is akin to the Victorian desire to place a flag on inaccessible peaks. There is an air of revolt and anger about graffiti.  I saw one once, Sod the Ozone Layer. Enough said.  And yet, in certain circumstances, they might have a point. That oil tank is more interesting, even though I can’t read what the artists have written. A lot of work went into it. Maybe like WWI dazzle paint, you don’t see an ugly tank at all.  A spot of crocodile stool might complete the effect.

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The building behind is still ‘a blank canvas’. We shall see.