Maureen

Maureen

1989

Living in London but in Dublin for a weekend for a quiz show…

13th November, Monday

There were plenty of f*ck-ups in the programme preparations but in the end of the day I pulled off a clean sweep of the show. The unexpected stoppage I caused [by giving two answers to one question] must have helped. With flights having been cancelled due to fog, J. wanted to keep going so we hit Bad Bob’s and Leeson Street again. In a wine bar maybe I fell in love with a blonde called Maureen. She’s from Leitrim and she teaches English to Spaniards. She’s cynical and witty but I got the better of her on Eurovision trivia. She gave up on Paris. Why? “Parisians.”

20th November, Monday

I started as a chain boy on J’s site near Tower Hill. It’s all right. It’s better than labouring. I can cope with heights.

21st November, Tuesday

In a wine bar called Suesy Street, at the end of the night of the quiz, J. and I ran into Maureen, who was sitting on her own at the counter, with her friend in the process of getting off with a guy nearby. Soon he told her that there was something strange about her.

“Maybe it’s because I don’t simper.”

Description: fairly tall; hair clasped up none too carefully; a fine-looking woman without being stunning; a hearty, earthy laugh; slim but solid. In the short time I spent with her, maybe two hours, she impressed me more than any girl I’d met before. “Come on boys, walk me home.” She gave us a cup of tea.

22nd November, Wednesday

This could prove to be the best job I’ve been on. I can stand the cold, taking measurements. I don’t like using a sledgehammer but it helped me stay warm. Steel work seems more manly than being a donkey.

25th November, Saturday

Up on the steel girders of the seventh floor I sang Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne to myself to help me stay calm. As somebody wrote on site – erectors get you high. There is a rush of adrenaline all right. I went to Harlesden to collect a typewriter. It was too cold to get mugged.

26th November, Sunday

The sun these mornings is dazzling as you feel the cold steel under your arse.

29th November, Wednesday

The docklands: sandy brick in the morning sun and frost, yellowy-brown like a painting. It turned out I was glad to have gone to work. Breakfast sorted me out. Am I getting more used to the cold? The warm office is a sanctuary.

30th November, Thursday

I got paid. It feels calming to have money again. Some of the lads watched a man and woman bonking in an office across the street.

The psychology of steel: fear keeps you careful. I climbed up on the ninth floor this evening, partly to keep in practice and challenge myself to the test. To stay up too long brings on stiffness and that needs to be avoided. On the steel always keep two limbs firmly fixed. It’s pointless looking down. Your world must only be the few feet of space in your immediate vicinity. I tie my glasses around my head. I don’t need my concentration to be upset by the worry that they’ll fall off. After a spell up on the steel and the resultant buzz, the ground can feel unreal. I get flashes of the feelings of newness from when I first came to London. The strange red buses.

1st December, Friday

I was thinking a lot about Maureen. I was freezing. On a foggy evening Tower Bridge and its lights remind me of a Whistler painting.

3rd December, Sunday

“If you f*ck this one up I’ll never speak to you again,” J. said, re Maureen.

4th December, Monday

After work I called the number Maureen gave me and was told she’d been killed two weeks ago when she was knocked down in Killiney. A hit and run. The rest of the night I was waiting to wake up from this unbelievable dream.

5th December, Tuesday

Life is never dull, is it? I collected the rest of the script notes from Rouse. Two silent Japanese girls were making breakfast in the kitchen in Harlesden. They served tea without a word. When I got home I put on Vesti la Giubba and then I cried. It was only the beginning. There is no future with Maureen, because she’s dead. The conversation on the phone with the girl who told me was like something out of a film.

“Could I speak to Maureen please?”
Silence.
“Am, who is this?’
“My name is John Flynn.”
“Am, are you a friend of hers.”
“Yes.”
Pause.
“Where are you calling from?”
“London.”
Silence.
“Am, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Maureen had an accident two weeks ago… she’s dead.”

There I have been, feeling death close at hand every day up on the steel and this unbelievable turn of events happens. I really don’t know how I feel. Kind of numb with the shock. Angel it doesn’t matter who took your life that night. You’re gone but your face will haunt me. It makes everything else look trivial doesn’t it?

I used to think these things don’t happen to me. After all, I was twice hit by cars and walked away both times. Now, it just seems that the way something unforeseen and bizarre often gets between me and women has taken a seriously unfunny turn.

I realize I’m missing the agony of her close friends and relatives. This circumstance is truly bizarre. A lot of the time I can only think in terms of black humour. You win some, you lose some. Passing strangers in the night. Life is never dull, is it? This kind of thing makes everything seem pointless, worthless. Maybe there’s a tarot card for it. An evil eye watching over those around me. Make a grave for the unknown lover. Just think of it, she was already dead when I wrote about her in earlier pages. You in truth were the unknown lover, the Other, maybe you were, to a man who doesn’t want a whole sex at his feet, who never wanted that, but if you can be taken away just like that…

When I heard over the phone I instinctively felt I knew it would happen, like some dream, like I once wrote: lucky to have achieved a preparation for death and creative fulfilment at such an early age, I just missed out on a partner and economic viability. It’s as if my written moans over the years have now come into their own, that I was right all along, as if I understood all along. It’s just beyond belief, it’s mind-boggling that all I should have had of her were those few hours. That she had only a few days to live. It must have been a tearful, very emotional occasion, her funeral. I was told she was never conscious again so she didn’t feel any pain. Here I sit upstairs, writing, drinking, listening to music and crying from time to time. Maybe it’s things like this that make a man of a man. A queer twist of fate. My eyes are stinging from the tears.

6th December, Wednesday

I haven’t cried like that since I was a child. J. described her as like Jim Morrison in a female body. When we met her she went to bed at six to be up by eight.

14th December, Thursday

I got a doctor’s cert around the corner from the flat on North Pole Road. He started talking to me about the IRA (“Why don’t they hang them?”).

Have I yet described the way Maureen used to throw her head back between her shoulders when she was laughing? Or how at first she was stiffening her lips trying not to laugh (her raised eyebrows – “Are you speaking to moi?”). Weren’t the first impressions brilliant? By the end of the night I had her attention in the palm of my hand. J. can always vouch for that. He described it as a brilliant performance when we left her place, saying it had never been done to him before, being blown out of the water like that. She must have sparked me off.

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Sigmund Freud & the interpretation of everyday life

Sigmund Freud & the interpretation of everyday life

It was the German sociologist Marianne Krüll who analysed Freud’s handling of the Oedipus story in the light of his own family history. In her view it was a creative compromise of the kind sometimes used by children with parental conflicts. Instead of seeking the real source of hostility toward his father, Freud made the Oedipus myth one of the most pervasive parables of intellectual life. Thus, she claimed, he may have stood Oedipus on his ear and a ‘Laius complex’ would have been more accurate.

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In other words, it was Laius, the father, who, because of a prophecy that he would one day be murdered by his son, left the infant Oedipus on a mountaintop. Freud chose to believe that the power of Sophocles’ drama lay in the tragic destiny of the son who, not knowing his real parentage, unwittingly murders his father and marries his mother. Krüll claims it was only Freud’s bias that prevented him from recognizing the guilt of Laius. Nevertheless there remain convincing reasons behind Freud’s interpretation and one of these ironically comes not from The Interpretation of Dreams but from The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.

The strange fact that the [Oedipus] legend finds nothing objectionable in Queen Jocasta’s age seemed to me to fit in well with the conclusion that in being in love with one’s mother one is never concerned with her as she is in the present but with her youthful… image carried over from childhood.”

The Psychopathology of Everyday Life deals mainly with the type of error (parapraxis) which has become the everyday concept of the Freudian slip. Apart from the many vivid examples of slips of the tongue and pen, and of forgetting and bungling, we should be interested too in a comment he makes on the losing of objects of value. He says it may be the offering of a sacrifice to the obscure powers of destiny to which homage is still paid today. This is one explanation of karma: despite logically ridiculing superstitions, often we are unconsciously superstitious and will attract misfortune because we believe deep down we deserve it, for something we have done or failed to do. Another lies in the fact that bad behaviour that earns an advantage in one situation often rebounds in another.

Later in the book he unsurprisingly states that superstition is in large part the expectation of trouble. In this light, Oedipus is trouble. He too is a sacrifice to the obscure powers of destiny; a lost object of value. A Greek tragedy reflects that life is a tragedy. Is it any surprise then that Freud’s favourite cynical joke concerned a brandy drinker who was ordered by his doctor to give it up on the chance that might save his failing hearing? As soon as he did, his hearing improved, but when his doctor hailed him to no effect on the street, months later, he knew he’d gone back on it. In a loud voice, he asked the man why. Solange ich nicht getrunken hab’, hab’ ich gehört; aber alles, was ich gehört, war nicht so gut wie der Branntwein (‘When I didn’t drink, I heard, but nothing I heard was as good as the brandy’).

The Psychopathology of Everyday Life shows us that many absurdities in human interaction are almost miraculously capable of rational explanation but moreover his work also carries the implication that the surreal aspects of existence evoked by slips and superstitions are part of the eternal order of human affairs and therefore comprehensible, at least to a figure like Freud. Given his field of interest, he doubled up for a twentieth-century casting out of spirits.

Assault on Precinct Gombeen

Assault on Precinct Gombeen

February 1984

At the time the strapped Irish government had abolished free student medical cards and our (union) president was cooling with a few more in Dublin’s Mountjoy prison for defying a protest injunction. One of the other martyrs was the eventual talk radio star Joe Duffy, whose photo (above) shows him being dragged out of a hall in Trinity. A professor who liked to see his names in the papers had, in a not-so-progressive outburst, labelled such protesters “subsidised brats” for invading a lecture given by the Taoiseach (prime minister).

As part of the national campaign, three cohabitants were surprisingly keen to fulfil a promise to help occupy the health administration in the Kildare town of Naas. Nevertheless just thirty-one students got on that bus that morning, so my address alone contributed four. That was more than an eighth. The thought crossed more than one mind that if this went badly one could always hitch the fifteen miles back, as many had often passed that way.

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We entered shortly after noon, climbed to the third level and tied ourselves with thin ropes to the legs of desks in the large office space that was all women. We refused to leave when asked by the manager, a man in a grey suit. Soon we had our names taken by the police, who set up a siege around the building, leaving anybody out and nobody in.

The women typed away at their desks once no further disruption was evident. The students then untied the ropes for comfort. At five, the women all left and the management turned off the heating. The numbers inside had by then dropped to seventeen, as anyone who wanted a J1 summer visa to America had split, just in case.

The nearest pub was called the Wolfe Tone and a few brats hanging around on the streets below slipped in there after dark. It had a fire. When the pub heard what was going on, it was all for the revolution. It gave out free sandwiches to anyone who wanted to go across and throw them up on the roof. The windows of the top floor led onto a gravel roof with a large atrium in the middle. Half the republican sandwiches and several of the brown bags of burgers and chips that were bought nearby overshot the gravel and flew into the hole.

Kipping in our coats should have been second nature to us, otherwise, but it was a very cold night inside. Miserable. Cigarettes were in short supply but at least we found a couple of large, industrial rolls of brown paper in the cabinets and then noisily wrapped ourselves in it on the floor.

In the college canteen in the arts block the following lunchtime, the next year’s president made her name by standing on a black table and telling the crowd that seventeen comrades were holding out and needed their support. That news filled a few buses and a couple of hundred turned up in the afternoon. The ropes were let down into the crowd so sleeping bags could be attached. For the law, pushing and shoving at the fringes, this was just taking the piss.

The crowd below couldn’t understand why the heads above suddenly disappeared from the roof’s edge but, up top, cops with batons drawn were pouring through the windows on the far side of the atrium.

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We ran for the nearest office windows (see photo). Back inside, I ducked aside, behind a filing cabinet, but anyone holding a sleeping bag was chased down and battered. The women at the desks were horrified. They stood up and protested and then refused to leave, despite keen Garda encouragement to do so.

Understandably the ladies wanted to know who would mop the walls if the cops were let mop up. The man in the grey suit then got involved and, after everybody calmed down, it was the police who left, eventually. The seventeen remaining then emerged with the staff, to loud cheers. It all seemed heroic and exciting, especially as I had avoided a baton.

A night in Madrid

A night in Madrid

2016

28th December, Wednesday

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Those f*cking Marianistas are having a pow-wow in the corridor near my door. I complained to them once. Since then they have stopped shrieking. They probably think their normal talk is cutting me some deal. I came back too early. I’d have liked to stay in the dark Luna bar on the Paseo, with the Eighties music and the old lads in a back corner, playing Ludo for money, but Juana won’t go there, so B. and I had just the one before reverting to the tapas bars.

They’re even shushing each other now and then, outside.

29th December, Thursday

Update: come half past midnight I got dressed and went out again to advise them all that I was heading downstairs to complain. Porqué aqui, fuera mi puerta? Trenta minutos tras medianoche. Ahora tengo que reclamar, con el jefe. Dondé están las habitaciónes? They all sat on the floor in early teenage silence. At the lift I added a head-shaking “Sin respeto” before pushing the ground floor button. I found the night porter. Hay diez Marianistas fuera mi puerta, trenta minutos tras medianoche. Yak yak yak... I made the international hand signal for yakking. He just asked for my room number. That was the end of it.

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B. came with me to Madrid. From my hotel near Atocha we got a taxi to Sol. In trying to get away from the crowds we stumbled upon the royal palace.

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After lunch (back near Atocha) he went off shopping before his train home and I went for a nap. At dusk I got up and walked to the top of Paseo del Prado before turning left onto Gran Vía.

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After a few hundred yards of that I couldn’t stick it anymore and turned back. The anthill was even more teeming. The park down the middle of the Paseo del Prado is nice, though. I was photographing the many fountains and the art gallery after dark.

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Tonight is a night for doing nothing but resting and sleeping before an early start.

30th December, Friday

Another all-Spanish chat with a taxi driver saw me to the airport early but all the cafés down by the departure gates were f*cked up in one way or another – no cards accepted, out of croissants, kitchen closed etc. Luckily the plane wasn’t packed. A mercy.

Dead Scrolls #1

Dead Scrolls #1

1984

At twenty, we think we’re invincible. Though still a few months short of it, Quirke was about to test the notion. Having borrowed a bicycle, he left the arts block on a dark, wet February evening. He skipped the footbridge to the old campus and emerged onto the main road before heading down through the small college town. Turning right at the bend outside the church, he passed the mill and crossed the little river before he took a left at the bottom of the main street. Halfway up that street he turned right before the traffic lights and then passed between a bus stop and the brown-brick public convenience that stood on an island in the middle of the town square.

Just as he reached the forking point of the road that pointed uphill to the railway bridge and the canal, an incoming car veered to the right of the island, to pass between the brown bricks and the pub called The Bucket of Blood. He looked up just as the car hit the bike, which had no light. The impact slid him over the wet bonnet and windscreen and off the roof. He spun in the air but somehow landed square on his feet, upon which the flight momentum ruined his perfect ten. He fell over and cut his finger. The woman driving stopped and got out, horrified, as he got to his feet.

“It’s OK. I’m OK,” he said.
“I didn’t see you. Oh God. Are you alright? I couldn’t see you.”
“Me neither. I had my head down. But I’m OK. I’m OK.”

The same could not be said for the bicycle. The front wheel was well buckled. Are you sure you’re alright? I couldn’t see you. A light would have helped, he admitted. But look, it’s alright, I’m OK. The woman calmed down after repeated assurances and then she insisted on driving him to wherever he lived.

Back at the house, his escape struck him more as he turned the key. Escaping that was even more satisfactory than coming home after closing time and turning on a kitchen tape recorder, turning on a cooker ring, toasting a slice of bread with a fork, buttering it and folding it over a slice of cheddar, all to the sound of What Difference Does It Make. He was simply blessed.

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He took a deep breath and went into the shabby front room with his news, only to be told first by little Pat that one of the other inhabitants was about to be released from hospital after an episode with a collapsed lung. Pat’s family had a pub, a hearse and a van for selling gas. Good for him. I just got knocked down.

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Low Country

Low Country

The Fall is the most famous book set in Amsterdam, “a capital of waters and fogs, girdled by canals, particularly crowded, and visited by men from all corners of the earth”. Albert Camus also wrote of it “asleep in the white night, the dark jade canals under the little snow-covered bridges” but, in 1997, a two-hour BBC documentary on him ended with the camera on the sunlit trees along the French road where he died in January 1960. His last letters, read in a sombre voice-over by Brian Cox, were unintentionally funny. Each time, the only changes to the artist’s passion were the woman’s name and the day they were to meet, after he got back to Paris. How did he get time to write a line?

Another January, in the Gare Centrale in Brussels, while waiting for the train back to Amsterdam to get going, Pat had just one woman to think about. He’d landed in Amsterdam a few days earlier, when there were snow flurries rippling across the runways at Schipol. Viewed from the tram on the way from the station to the hotel, the snow on the dark brown stone was like a Black Forest gateau but the cold that white night was unreal. Reaching as far as sixteen below, it was too cold for red light. He’d never have thawed out in time, for one thing. For another, there was someone on his mind.

What really made Saturday night there, nonetheless, in The Grasshopper hash bar on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, was the guy who came up the stone steps inside the front door and then collapsed across the table beside him, smashing cups and saucers before hitting the floor like a dead man. At least, Pat thought he might be dead. The bunch of teenage American girls at that table went, “Oh my gawd, is he like, OK?” “I hope so,” replied the cute little Dutch one who reluctantly came out from behind the counter. Pat helped her pick him up, as an American girl turned and asked one of his companions a question.

“Is your friend a doctor?”
“No. But it’s OK, he’s got a Master’s in Sociology.”

The guy they picked up and put on a seat rested for a minute before making his way to the toilet. Later that same night, the Bamboo bar was where they met a young American chancer who came in with a Dutch mother and daughter. The American explained the presence of his two companions.

“I picked up these two babes in a McDonalds.”

The daughter was in her early forties, a good-looking Germanic blonde, among many, among the menacing trams and bicycles. Her mother was maybe seventy. The American had gone up to them and given them a little-boy-lost story. The charm had worked and later he bought them a drink or two before they all arrived and squeezed in around the table.

At this stage the daughter was clearly on a high, which was only added to by the fact of getting into the bar, away from the cold and the snow and the slush and the frozen canals. She was waving money and insisting on getting the drinks and laughing and seemingly telling her mother that she didn’t have to stay if she was fed up.

Pat didn’t think the mother looked too bothered, actually, but the daughter seemed just thrilled to be having a bit of fun. He imagined a suburban home and a divorce. The young American looked to be on a definite promise that night.

Twenty minutes into these reflections, the train was in Mechelen. I’m a bit deranged, I suppose, really. Too long in the dark facing the wall of the cave and unable to imagine the light. Taking the shadows on the wall to be real. Shadows, shadows, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

Antwerp was reached after another twenty minutes, after he’d listened to a bunch of Flemish suits in the carriage practising their English. Her unpleasantness had mostly taken the form of so much snapping. Talking to him as if he was less than a dog, while he felt a strange kind of sickness that enveloped the ache and left him in a daze.

Soon the train was crossing the Dutch border and he saw Rotterdam again from high over the Rhine. He made the airport with four hours to kill. It’s hard to believe, all the same, considering the fact that I didn’t care that she was gone. The fourteenth of April. The calendar is meaningless sometimes.

Having moved from one garish airport bar to another, he bought a bottle of beer. TV shots of European Union landmarks had given no overall impression of the Belgian capital. It was more like Auden’s poem, Brussels in Winter. Wandering through cold streets, the formula had escaped him alright.

“What’s wrong with you?” she snapped.
“I’m freezing.”
“Well, you should be wearing layers. That’s how to dress, over here, in winter. Don’t you know that?”

In the church of Saint Nicolas he’d lit a candle as an offering to Job. She realised what he was doing and for a moment the old warmth and amusement seemed to return. Back in her place, he fell asleep in his overcoat on her couch as she sat at her computer across the room. When he woke, she was actually smiling.

“What’s so funny?”
“You’re such a waster,” she explained.

At least the tone of voice was mild, that time, but that couch was where he lay awake for long periods over two nights, her discreet door slam both times echoing in his brain in the silence. All he’d hoped for, on leaving his friends behind in Amsterdam, was her good company in another strange city.

He finally checked in but another hour had to pass before boarding. The bitterness and resentment had taken him aback. He didn’t want to believe it but now it was a must. Yet, think of what she used to say (“I do love you in a way”). Now look at me and understand my epilepsy. There’s a chasm between love and justice.

Her mother had given him a pair of shoes she’d left behind and Pat had brought them over but they were no glass slippers. With nothing or no one to turn to, or turn on, he’d been too cold and miserable and too far from home to take the hits with dismissive indifference. He wasn’t too weak, though, to twist the knife a little, in retaliation, before he left.

“Alright, you’re right. I didn’t care, in the end. But no one’s innocent here. So don’t tell me you think you are?”
“We’re just not compatible. I’ve told you that before.”
“I know that. But I don’t want to fight with you. So, if you can’t be civil to me – no more contact.”

This put tears in her eyes. She admitted that they could talk about this all day. Pat remembered times when her tears would have made him do anything to stop them. She had one more thing to say, one more observation to make.

“You think it’s easy to go back to being friends.”

He’d never heard a woman say that before. That used to be his line. All the same, this time he just couldn’t talk about this all day, unlike all those other days.

“Well, look, I have to go.”
“What time’s your train?”
“As early as possible.”

She moved no farther than her doorstep. There was nothing more to say. He looked at his watch. After four hours in the airport the time was gone and he actually had to run for the plane. It was a long, long way to the gate but he just had to get out of there.

They would never completely forgive themselves, of course, but, after two months had elapsed since that last battle, he just knew one day he’d wake up and it would be two years. One day when he’d know that that was it, there was nothing left, except maybe a cold aversion, until that too melted into the past, the history of a foreign country. Out of the loop and beyond the pale, over the seas and far away.