“…I have not received anything quite like it and I was very pleased to get it. I am still researching diaries for an anthology and am not certain what form it will take – so can I keep the manuscript you sent… What has happened to you since? I hope you are warmer and richer and illuminated. Oh those golden days of youth… I like the little incidental things you throw in like the tip of your nose being cold and the lack of light bulbs…”
– Melosina Lenox-Conyngham (editor, Diaries of Ireland, 1590-1987), 1st June 1995
That letter from the late Melo got retrieved lately in reaction to stumbling upon an issue of that Hello of the groves of academe: the alumni mag. The cover star had been busy networking, even as a fresher, but there had been even worse issues of this Pollyanna bullshit. The one devoted to shameless boasting about charity work and how they could afford their ostentatious contributions was a particular low. Overall, though, this stuff that gives kitsch a bad name makes me think of William Golding finishing Coral Island and turning to his wife. I wonder what English boys would really be like on a desert island.
5th January, Tuesday
Conor Mac had enquired about experiments in clinics. Four thousand for a six-second heart stop. Dermot picked a mouse up off the bar floor in the Roost. He had won seventh prize in the Roost Xmas draw. It included a bottle of port, which we drank hot. I slept in my clothes so I wouldn’t freeze to death.
6th January, Wednesday
We now have two light bulbs for seven rooms, including both jacks but not including the Rock ’n’ Roll Kid’s room, which is locked. (He has a key.)
7th January, Thursday
There are some good records popular at the moment – Terence Trent D’Arby (Sign Your Name) and George Michael (Father Figure). It is so like a squat now that there are three mattresses laid out in one room with the television. It is a squat.
8th January, Friday
A rejection slip came from the Irish Times (“We are greatly overstocked with poetry contributions”).
10th January, Sunday
When I got back to the house, Pearly had a f*cking crossbow, which his girlfriend got him for Christmas. A bedroom door was all shot through.
11th January, Monday
As a new beginning I cleaned the kitchen and got Dermot to help me clean the front room. We got briquettes too and lit a fire. The college opened again. Zig and Zag have attained cult status.
12th January, Tuesday
Typing a couple of pages in cold early hours by the light of a new bulb at last (150w) in a house on the edge of darkness. Starving in a garret.
15th January, Friday
Dermot, Pearly and I remained awake until 7.30 AM in order to wake CB for his weekly day’s work. “These boys are like vampires,” said Joe Caulfield later in the day. Dermot’s possessed tape recorder spewed out my Joy Division tape.
17th January, Sunday
All-night radio is on. The coal in the fire is reddening away, slowly. The Rock ’n’ Roll Kid made the statement of the year so far, to Pearly (“…and in the morning, we made love”).
18th January, Monday
Pearly came in and started to trash Dermot’s room. He smashed the crossbow when I wouldn’t help him load it. After much hassle, I ended up talking to him by the fire and he finally agreed to go to a doctor tomorrow. He fell asleep on the chair and I listened to the radio and ‘read’ Mayfair. By missing the daytime I am so much less bored.
21st January, Thursday
Joe Caulfield, CB and I stayed up talking until five o’clock. In the afternoon in bed I decided not to go home. Joe and I later sat talking in the cold. It began to snow later still. Back in the house we burned a chair and a shelf for heat.
22nd January, Friday
It’s after 5 AM. Dermot insisted on making and playing with a ouija board. Dan K. and Pearly joined in so I decided to teach them a lesson and pushed the glass around for hours. Both the fact that I had to stretch my imagination and the effect it was having on the boys proved quite draining but it was an interesting psychological experiment for a good cause. I don’t want to do it again.
23rd January, Saturday
Brilliant ideas are essential for fiction. If you make up ‘ordinary’ people and situations it is a bland recipe for boredom.
27th January, Wednesday
Afternoon session. Talking about mysteries. Sean kicked Downes out of the Roost, saying he couldn’t listen to any more. At a table quiz in Celbridge we lost a sudden death play-off but came away with a fiver each. They also forgot to take our entrance fee, so it was really £7.50! M. and J. are now separated. We sat in the car outside this house talking and smoking. She feels rejected by the academics. It was a good day for Dermot. He shifted a nice girl and flashed the pocket telly scandal on PF, who had accepted one as a bribe.
29th January, Friday
A letter from my mother. She keeps telling me I’m lucky to be away because of the weather. CB broke up another sign to light a fire. We are surviving on a four-stone bag of spuds.
31st January, Sunday
Rose at 5 PM. Showered, ate, cleaned kitchen. The tube went in the television.
4th February, Thursday
The tip of my nose is very cold every morning. A shower in the college puts me right each time. In the Country Shop, M. said something about a factory job in Munich if I wanted to go right away. Last night I’d to ring the landlady. The phrase “legal action” was mentioned in her first sentence but through a mixture of buck-passing and semi-grovelling I got her to hold off for a while. This house wouldn’t get me down if it were clean more often. I feel better after washing up, for instance, but it pisses me off that I’m the only one to do it. I get at the others to light a fire and clean the front room. Joe is moving out very soon. His gloomy nervousness has been unsettling me lately but he’s better off out of here. Pearly will probably kill himself before the summer. It’s a pity. He can be very witty. I must write to keep sane. I read All That Fall on a 66 bus.
8th February, Monday
Rag Week. On arriving in Maynooth I started with a flagon of Strongbow and a naggin of vodka. I got mouldy drunk. On waking at teatime I saw the Union was in a mess and no people were left. I thought I’d missed the whole lot and felt ready to slash my wrists. I stood on my glasses in a toilet cubicle in the Roost and cracked a lens. At the bar ex, N. sold me a ticket for a raffle in aid of a woman who’s dying. “What’s the point in buying a ticket so?” I asked. I shifted but I couldn’t get it up. I missed a sitter.
9th February, Tuesday
Pearly came in and saw that we’d had his quilt the whole time. On the couch he’d only had two jackets. Outside, there’s a hurricane. If I really wanted to, I could finish the book in a fortnight but typing a chapter a day isn’t too bad. I discovered that by putting on two jumpers and wearing my pyjama bottoms under my trousers I don’t feel cold in my room.
10th February, Wednesday
In the afternoon in Dermot’s room we drank sparkling cider and joined the dots in a pornographic picture book. I’m a blind man. On leaving the bar ex early again I was cheered a bit to find almost a quid in change on my windowsill. It means I can eat something tomorrow. Someday I’ll get out of here. I’m in a poverty trap.
11th February, Thursday
A shower did a great deal of good. After four burgers on the end of the gas I washed up and cleaned the downstairs. It’s not for anyone else, it just does me good. Empty flagons are good for lighting fires. Nothing gets wasted around here except time and money. We listen to Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead.
12th February, Friday
Coping with the welfare state is a Kafkaesque experience. The new guy behind the desk in the Health Centre said he didn’t think I should have had to reapply for rent allowance. Wait about another two weeks. I get the feeling that those people delight in delaying you even if it is only for one week. So maybe you’ll give up.
Parson’s Street is getting to be like Beasley Street. Beauty problems are redefined, the doorbells do not ring. Even Tom H. wants to move out and he hasn’t officially moved in. My achievement was to achieve creative fulfilment and a preparation for death at such an early age. I just missed out on a partner and economic viability.
13th February, Saturday
The landlord’s brother called, saying he was going to collect fifty quid a week from now on. I suppose I could go home if need be. Without the radio the silence would drive me insane. It would be like Leixlip.
16th February, Tuesday
Bed for the day. The tip of my nose being always cold is fairly irritating. It’s chronic. Just what is under the yellow tarpaulin in the field behind?
17th February, Wednesday
The landlord’s brother agreed to give us a breather.
19th February, Friday
AM: there seemed little point in writing something now but things feel bad so I thought I’d better record this moment. In silence in this room you can always hear two sounds: the running of an engine or a boiler somewhere and the tapping of a pipe, probably arising from the water which drips away out of the wall at the back. They are mysteries.
At the weekend I hope to get some peace. Every day is a blur without my glasses and poverty grinds on my faith in a future. I can’t stay at home, I know that, but where can I go? I need a good break to come my way fast. Nothing I write could convey the jumble of boring nothingness. Everything sounds like bombast in print. Fourteen hours in bed and I wake up to find my last tenner lost. Suicide is out of the question, as are violence and self-mutilation. Whatever I’m going through is not as bad as adolescence. It’s just irritating to a large degree. A lot of banal difficulties are getting in the way.
When I break clear from here, when I break clear from here, there must be something about to turn up. It’s like getting bad hands of cards all night long. The lack of money to buy typing paper has been a simple obstacle in recent weeks. I don’t mean to sound self-pitying but I worry about the hopes and fears of my parents. It’s like being a cuckoo chick. The parents aren’t designed for the monster in their midst.
As the cold air begins to reach up my legs the only therapy is to write down sentences. The feeling of wanting to piss is increasing but the cold fingers of my right hand continue in the hope of re-entering a stylish vein of thought. A cup of tea and the radio are the best things life has to offer at this time of night, apart from an attractive girl who doesn’t talk shite. The world of Parson’s Street is one of icy temperatures, empty flagons, queer smells. I am like an old man here.
20th February, Saturday
Dermot and I had no luck thumbing so I attempted to cash my rent cheque. I tried the Roost, Kevy’s, Brady’s, the Leinster Arms and the petrol pumps outside Quinnsworth before trying Barry’s as a last resort. Robert cashed it, in part.
21st February, Sunday
CB woke me at four to get money. Robert gave me the remaining fifty. You couldn’t wait, huh? Spent it all? It’s relaxing to have money in my pocket.
22nd February, Monday
There is one shelf left in the downstairs bedroom. Pearly’s tape recorder died.
24th February, Wednesday
The landlord’s brother came again but no one answered the door. Old Luke emerged from next door and gave him an opportunity to give out loudly.
25th February, Thursday
Upon discovering that my coat had been missing for an indefinite period I asked in the Roost. The barman just said it’s out there under the flap in the cocktail lounge.
27th February, Saturday
Now that the problems of material existence have taken over from those of adolescence I must try to decide which are worse. So far I prefer to be the way I am but as I sink deeper and deeper it may all change. Listening to people on buses at the weekend would make you give up hope for the country. Apart from the bog primitiveness, which is one cause of hopelessness, there was a couple in front of me who pissed me off too. She was Spanish and he was a dry, clean-cut, Gaelic footballer type of student or something. When she asked him to explain a piece of Irish on the inlay card of a Sinéad O’Connor tape he couldn’t even make an attempt to do so.
I think Parson’s Street is the really bad aspect of life. It is only sinking home how bad the house itself is, even before our way of life e.g. the hole in the ceiling in the downstairs bedroom caused by a broken toilet pipe. That’s not really meant as an excuse for me drinking my rent cheque. I wouldn’t have done so had the place not been so intolerable, or at least I wouldn’t have guzzled it all. At least I’m home tonight in a decent house. The comforts of home are appreciated at a time like this. You know, when read in the light of the conditions in Parson’s Street, the letters from the landlady are quite comical.
Sexually my run of misses must come to an end. The ball is going everywhere except into the net. The bonk in November is approaching mythical status.
28th February, Sunday
We are wrinkles from another age. Our lives would not fill a problem page.
2nd March, Wednesday
On the phone the landlady told the Rock ’n’ Roll Kid to tell everyone to get out by Monday. Look, can I just keep my room? Best news: Dermot got the two of us a room in Beaufield.
9th March, Wednesday
We broke into Parson’s Street to retrieve my letter. After trying to fish it out with coat hangers, Dermot thought of removing the new windowpane where the putty had not dried. The temperature had dropped after the rain, which had fallen for hours.
10th March, Thursday
A free film and being skint drew us to the Arts Block. It coincided with the surprise visit of Mary O’Rourke to a uni high society night. We blocked her car on the way out and the Special Branch horsed in, swinging girls by the neck.
15th March, Tuesday
Dermot told me he tried to torch Parson’s Street at the weekend. He smashed in through the back but the lighter wouldn’t light the damp blankets.
5th August, Friday
When I got to Parnell Square they just introduced me to everyone, told me what days to be in etc. I just wanted to acclimatise myself to the feel of the place. I ran into B. on O’Connell Street. He had twisted his ankle so he was on crutches again. It was very warm in the city and he struggled as the two of us went to find Dan M’s flat. We had a few pints and, after B. left to meet his father outside Trinity, Dan mentioned the time he had come to Parson’s Street after we were gone. On hearing the knocking, Old Luke came out of his house, waved his arms and said, “It’s over!”
It’s the last house, with the smoke.