Tales you can take to the bank

Tales you can take to the bank

1711
To reduce the power of the privately-owned Bank of England, a plan was hatched by Robert Harley, the Earl of Oxford, for a group of merchants to assume parts of Britain’s national debt in return for an annual payment of three million pounds for a set period and a monopoly of the trade to the South Seas i.e. South America. The group then assumed the title the South Sea Company. Extravagant notions of the available riches in faraway fields were fostered and the company’s stock flourished until, in early 1720, it offered to take on the entire national debt. The British state’s creditors were encouraged to swap what they were owed for company shares and speculation then carried South Sea stock to ten times its nominal value. Then the chairman and directors sold out, the bubble burst and the stock collapsed. Thousands were ruined.

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Companies of all kinds had been floated to surf on this tidal wave of interest in South Sea stock. They soon got the nickname of Bubbles, the most appropriate description that the popular imagination could invent. Some of them lasted for a week or a fortnight, while others were only around for a day. The most preposterous of all showed the complete madness of the people sucked in. It was started by an unknown adventurer who is definitely a candidate for the title of the unknown soldier of cynicism. His venture was entitled a “company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is”. The genius who mounted this bold and successful test of public gullibility merely stated in his prospectus that the required capital was half a million, in five thousand shares of one hundred pounds each, with a required deposit of two pounds per share. Each subscriber, paying his deposit, would be entitled to one hundred pounds per annum per share.

How this enormous profit was to be obtained he did not inform them at that time. Instead he promised that after a month full particulars would be announced and a call made for the remaining ninety-eight pounds of the subscription. The very next morning, at nine o’clock, this entrepreneur opened an office in Cornhill in London. Crowds flocked to his door and when he shut up shop at three o’clock, he found that the deposits had been paid for one thousand of his shares. He was thus, after five hours, the possessor of two thousand pounds. Content with his day’s work, he set off that same evening for the Continent. He was never heard of again.

1715
With the death of Louis XIV, the finances of France were in a bad state but the Duke of Orleans became Regent and this meant everything to a Scottish gambler called John Law who was a friend of the Duke and a man convinced that no country could prosper without a paper currency. In May 1716, a royal edict authorised Law to establish a bank. He made all his banknotes payable at sight and in the coin current at the time they were issued. This was a masterstroke and immediately made his notes more valuable than precious metals. The latter were constantly liable to depreciation by the tampering of the government.

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Law publicly declared at the same time that a banker deserved to be put to death if he issued notes without having sufficient security to answer all demands. It was not long before the trade of the country felt the benefit and branches of his bank were established in several cities. In the meantime, Law started the project that has handed his name down to posterity. He proposed to establish a company that would have the exclusive privilege of trading to the Mississippi river and the province of Louisiana, where the country was supposed to abound in precious metals. This company was set up in August 1717.

It was then that the frenzy of speculation began. Law’s bank had brought about so much economic good that any promises for the future were swallowed but, when the bank became a public institution, the Regent ordered a printing of notes to the amount of a billion livres. Law helped inundate France with this paper money, which, based on no solid foundation, was sure to cause a crash, sooner or later.

Law otherwise devoted his attention to the Mississippi project, the shares of which were rapidly rising in spite of the opposition of Parliament. At least three hundred thousand applications were made for fifty thousand new shares. Every day the value of the old shares rose and new applications became so numerous that it was deemed advisable to create three hundred thousand new shares so the Regent could take advantage of the popular enthusiasm to pay off the national debt.

From the tremendous pressure of the crowds, accidents continually occurred in the narrow rue de Quincampoix where Law lived. A story goes that a hump-backed man who stood in the street made considerable money by lending his hump as a writing surface to the speculators. The great masses of customers and spectators drew all the low life of Paris to the spot and constant riots and disturbances occurred. At nightfall, it was often found necessary to send in a detachment of soldiers to clear the street.

Thus the system continued to flourish until the beginning of 1720. The warnings of the Parliament that this massive creation of paper money would bankrupt the country were disregarded but, despite every effort made to stop its exodus, the stores of precious metals in France continued to be smuggled to England and Holland. The little coin that was left in the country was hoarded until the scarcity became so great that trade could no longer be conducted. An edict then forbade any person to have more than five hundred livres (then the equivalent of twenty pounds sterling) of coin in his or her possession, under threat of a heavy fine, plus confiscation.

It was also forbidden to buy up jewellery, plate and precious stones. Informers were encouraged by the promise of getting half of any amount they might discover.
Lord Stair, the English ambassador, said that it was now impossible to doubt the sincerity of Law’s conversion to Catholicism, as he had established an inquisition after having given ample evidence of his faith in transubstantiation by turning gold into paper.

All payments were then ordered to be made in paper and even more notes were printed – to the tune of more than a billion and a half livres – but nothing now could make the people feel the slightest confidence in something that was not exchangeable for metal. Coin, which the Regent aimed to depreciate, only rose in value on every fresh attempt to reduce it.

The value of shares in the Mississippi stock had also tumbled and few people still believed the tales that had once been told of the immense wealth of that region. A last trick was therefore tried to restore public confidence in the Mississippi project.
A general conscription of all the homeless in Paris was made by order of the government. More than six thousand of the poorest of the population were press-ganged, as if in wartime. These unfortunates were provided with clothes and tools and told they would be shipped off to New Orleans to work in the gold mines. They were then paraded day after day through the streets with their picks and shovels before being sent off in small detachments to the ports to be shipped to America. Two thirds of them never reached their destination but melted into the countryside. There they sold their tools for whatever they could get and returned to their old way of life. In less than three weeks, half of them were back in Paris.

1907
Sometimes cynicism is wrapped up in a man simply knowing his strengths and limitations. Take JP Morgan in the 1907 American financial crisis, sitting alone in a room in his home, smoking cigars, while all the ordinary bankers were huddled in the next room, presumably with ties loosened and pencils perched over their ears. When a servant entered and ventured to ask him if he had a plan, he said, “No.” By way of reassurance, he added that he knew someone would come through the door with the right plan and then, he also knew, he would be the person to know it was the right one. Who knows that much today?

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1940
W. C. Fields made The Bank Dick. In this film, Fields plays a drunk named Egbert Sousé who trips a fleeing bank robber and becomes a security guard at the bank as a result. Upon being introduced to his daughter’s boyfriend, Og Oggilby, an official at the bank, Egbert remarks, “Og Oggilby… sounds like a bubble in a bathtub.”

Egbert talks Og into embezzling money from the institution. In order to divert a bank examiner from discovering the theft, Egbert takes him to his favourite bar and asks if “Michael Finn” has been in yet – a signal that the barman, one of the Three Stooges – is to spike the examiner’s drink. During Fields’ career, Hollywood standards demanded that good be rewarded and evil be punished but, in The Bank Dick, Fields’ character lies, cheats and steals and yet at the end is rewarded with wealth and fame.

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1976
Willie Sutton’s autobiography denied that he’d ever explained why he robbed banks by saying “because that’s where the money is”. Though the apocryphal quotation became known as Sutton’s Law, he dismissed the story but, at the same time, admitted that, had anyone ever asked him, he probably would have said it.

Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life.

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Biarritz, June 2017

Biarritz, June 2017

19th June, Monday

Resting in the hotel, Le Gamaritz, where I was checked in by a lovely (both senses) girl of no more than thirty. Most probably less. Her father was recently in Ireland. He liked la bière. This morning I got a taxi to the station in Bordeaux. If you tell a Frenchman that you’re from Ireland it seems fifty-fifty that he’ll mention rugby. At the station I just sat there, conserving energy. Nearby a little blonde of five or six watched a lame pigeon. She spoke to her father. Il a mal.

On the train, a quite elegant lady sat across the table but spent much of her time nose-picking, while reading documents. I nodded off a few times but in Biarritz there were no taxis at the station.

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Got a bus for a euro to the Mairie and then set off on foot in the general direction of the hotel. A green neon pharmacy sign said thirty-six degrees. Bag or no bag, I took a break in the church of Ste. Eugénie before getting the camera out along the rocky seafront. This is a tasty resort. Surf crashes on the brown rocks both onshore and offshore and falls back into the varying twinkling shades of blue. The swimmers down below look and sound happy.

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Though I found the street name at a T-junction, I took the wrong turn that wound around to a very hot hill but a retired gent put me right. Je vous accompagne. After seven I headed out.

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Dined very well at Casa Juan Pedro, which overlooks the water at the Port des Pêcheurs. A fillet of hake and a half-litre carafe of white wine were followed by some fruity ice cream. Less than thirty euro.

 

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Thirty-one years ago (1986) there was a plan of sorts for a family holiday in Biarritz. It fell through and my parents took themselves to Antibes, on a bus from London, I think. They were harder times. The original plan gets a mention in the short video I’d made out at the Rocher de la Vierge.

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While I was at the tip, there were some swimmers (and surfers) hundreds of yards offshore but still inside the outer rocks. There must be strong tidal currents, though, as they changed position very fast. From there I wandered around to the rocky harbour that now only contains pleasure craft. By the time I left the table at the restaurant (it’s all al fresco) some cloud had gathered, out at sea. Wind rose down on the Grande Plage.

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Bordeaux, June 2017

Bordeaux, June 2017

17th June, Saturday

I’m in the Black Velvet Bar at eight, with a pint of Carlsberg. A burger is on its way. Though this place was on my list I’ve just found it by accident, in that I took a left off the Quai Richelieu to photograph something, on my way to the Bourse, and spotted the street name.

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The Garonne is muddy filthy, like a series of chocolate whirlpools. Though very warm, it isn’t as hot here as I’d feared. There is a breeze. I was right about a wine convention bunging up the local hotels. At the airport I saw a sign for the VinExpo and the taxi driver asked had I come for it. Non, le rouge me donne une gueule de bois. That was my way of saying red wine blows my head off. Too much of it. At nine, I found the Café Brun. I took some photos before it filled up.

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The DJ is behind my end of the counter. He had a problem with his Mac charger. Wires exposed on the lead meant it was fumé – i.e. ‘smoked’ – and he had to shoot home on his scooter for another.

“Lor” AKA Lorenzo also told me he was ordered by le patron to play Eighties stuff tonight but I got him to put on some French hits from that decade, starting with France Gall and Ella Elle L’a. The crowd liked that. Anyway, there was a bit too much English junk otherwise (e.g. Pass the Dutchie) but Hoegaarden’s on tap & I even got a buy-back. I’ll be back.

After leaving there I wandered around some more, lingering in Place St. Pierre and thinking this city is lovely, not least at night with the calm, warm ambience. It’s a mini Paris, without the hassle.

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I went back to the Black Velvet Bar and had a few more. I got joined by two young lads, one of whom banned the other from practising his English. The former later threw up in the toilets, in a brief time-out. Another character to appear was a flower seller in a fetching blond lady’s wig. Except he wasn’t selling flowers. They were plastic sticks with lights in them. He had a quick drink and kept going. The other time-passer was the silent TV screen showing a documentary on Lemmy. The subtitles were English. It never ended. Almost like Lemmy.

18th June, Sunday

It was a long walk to Gare St. Jean and I’m feeling the heat a bit more now. Resting on a soft seat, I’ll have to go about a return ticket to Biarritz soon… That’s done for tomorrow but I’m in no hurry to leave. The tickets cost €62 plus a few cent.

I’m in the St. André cathedral. It’s cool in here and there are lots of chairs. I could eat, I could sleep, I could take a leak. On the wander back from the station I passed two cardboard begging signs – in Arabic.

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La Terrasse St. Pierre: an elderly American woman nearby seems to have married more people than Elizabeth Taylor but in a professional capacity. She was on about doing it in Nepal and then performing on the side of some hill. That was before she got on to her “Anne Frank experience” but I didn’t catch those details. I’ve had a duck burger here to fill a gap. It’s not that I’m into duck. Burger du canard was chalked on the board and I was curious.

After chilling at the hotel for three hours, I walked back over the Pont de Pierre. It was baking in the fierce evening sun. The brown water runs one way, then the other, but that must be the tide fighting the river.

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A tall cruise ship has somehow made it upriver to dock north of the Bourse. It must be here for the wine. I sat on a stone bench on the Place de la Bourse. At ten past ten the lights came on and I filmed the show.

 

Happy Nights

Happy Nights

Happy Nights

© John Flynn 2006

Characters

PATRICK, a burglar
MICHEL, a burglar

Scenario

Happy Nights was inspired by a real event, in that, one night in July 1961, Samuel Beckett’s Marne cottage at Ussy was burgled. According to Beckett’s biographer James Knowlson, the burglars, as well as enjoying all the food and drink they could find, stole his clothes – even his old underpants – but left a painting that was quite valuable untouched. Happy Nights was produced by Red Kettle theatre company and premiered in Ireland at the Waterford Festival of New Plays in April 2007. John Hurt was the special guest at the first performance.

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Set

A representation of a window is seen in the centre at the back. A bookcase stands to the left of the window. A rectangular bureau desk, stacked with papers, stands to the right, with a chair. A round dining table should be placed in front, flanked by two wicker chairs, each with arms and a cushion on its seat. A small wicker footstool and a large wicker wastepaper basket should also be present.

– – –

The scene is darkness apart from moonlight in the window. From off left come the sounds of a shutter being forced and a window broken.

Enter PATRICK and MICHEL, dressed as tramps. PATRICK switches on the light and MICHEL ducks under the furniture.

PATRICK limps, having hurt his leg gaining entry. He grimaces, mutters, holds his knee. MICHEL observes but makes no comment.

MICHEL
Hope nobody comes.

PATRICK
We won’t wait around.

They take time to size up their surroundings.

MICHEL
What time is it?

PATRICK
Past midnight.

MICHEL
Never knew such silence.

PATRICK
At this place, at this moment, all mankind is us.

MICHEL
I like it that way. We should have plenty of time.

PATRICK
We have time to grow old.

They begin to search through books and papers and quickly make a mess.

MICHEL is rougher at this and shows less finesse. He throws books on the floor.

PATRICK
Take it easy. Have some respect. For the books, at least.

MICHEL takes it easier. After a couple of minutes, PATRICK halts.

PATRICK
I’m hungry. Do you want to go and see if there’s anything to eat?

MICHEL
That’s an idea. We could feed ourselves.

MICHEL exits left.

PATRICK

Calling after MICHEL

Don’t bother with anything like carrots or radishes. No vegetables of any kind!

PATRICK examines the contents of desk drawers. Pots and pans rattle off left.

MICHEL returns with a re-corked bottle of wine and two glasses. He pulls the cork with his teeth. They sit on the wicker chairs.

PATRICK holds his knee. MICHEL sniffs the wine in the bottle.

MICHEL
This wine should still be all right. There are a couple of unopened bottles too.

PATRICK
Any food?

MICHEL
Some tins. But I couldn’t find an opener or a corkscrew.

Brief pause as PATRICK reflects.

PATRICK
How did prehistoric man open cans? What did he use?

They sample the wine.

MICHEL
It’s a pity. I’m hungry too. Damn.

PATRICK

Producing a knife

Be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything.

PATRICK hands the knife to MICHEL, who exits left.

PATRICK resumes the search.

MICHEL returns with a couple of open tins and sits again. He samples the contents before passing it to PATRICK, who tops up their wine glasses.

PATRICK tries the contents of the tin and they both drink some more wine.

MICHEL stands up again and exits left. He returns with his arms full of clothing and footwear (a pair of boots, a straw hat, a working jacket and an old pair of underpants).

They inspect and swap these items continuously until PATRICK is wearing the straw hat and jacket and MICHEL the boots and the underpants (on the outside). They sit again.

PATRICK raises a toast.

PATRICK
To our absent host.

MICHEL
He’s a writer or something, isn’t he? Personally I wouldn’t know him even if I met him.

They guffaw.

PATRICK
To the maestro.

MICHEL
What if he comes?

PATRICK
Maybe he’ll come tomorrow. Back in Paris, he is sleeping. He knows nothing. Let him sleep on.

MICHEL
But while we’re not sleeping…

PATRICK
Others suffer. We’re no saints. We make no appointments.

MICHEL
But arrive unannounced.

PATRICK
Unlike billions.

Pause to look around

Far from this Marne muck.

MICHEL
As though the world were short of slaves.

PATRICK
It’s a vile planet.

MICHEL empties the first tin, scrapes it and leaves it on the table.

MICHEL

Cocks an ear

What’s that? What’s happening?

PATRICK
A robbery is taking its course.

MICHEL
Hope nobody comes.

PATRICK
You should know better. There’s no hope of that happening. Not now. Relax.

MICHEL
I don’t know. I can’t relax. I can’t go on like this.

PATRICK limps to the window to look out past the curtains.

PATRICK
Uninhabited.

MICHEL
Do you think we’ll ever be caught?

PATRICK

Deep breath first

The chances are fifty-fifty, I’d guess. Over an entire lifetime of crime, that is.

MICHEL
It’s a reasonable percentage. From a life.

PATRICK
Or maybe one of us will be safe, while the other is damned?

MICHEL

Trace of anguish

Until then, must we go on?

PATRICK
We’ll go on. Unless you have a better idea.

MICHEL
I have no idea. Well, none worth talking about.

PATRICK
We won’t despair. Whatever we find here.

MICHEL
We won’t presume, either.

PATRICK
Never presume, except that somebody might be hanging around. It’s safer to presume that much, at least.

MICHEL
Yes, but-

PATRICK
Yes?

MICHEL
Maybe you’re different but I don’t have eyes in the back of my head.

PATRICK
I think you’re hearing voices.

MICHEL
A normally reliable little voice told me about this place.

PATRICK
And? Drink your wine and count your blessings. I wanted to do this one because it’s an ugly little thing.

MICHEL
I thought this chap would have lots of stuff.

MICHEL tosses more papers onto the floor.

PATRICK
Quite spartan, isn’t it? Never mind. It’s good to be in his den, in his old rags. And we always find something, eh, to leave the impression we existed?

MICHEL
There are still those bottles of wine.

Points off left

There’s a painting out there too, if you want to take a look at it.

MICHEL hands the knife and the second tin to PATRICK and then pours more wine.

MICHEL
And what if we do get caught? What if? One day – one night – happy pickings, and then – bang! – all our troubles are only beginning.

MICHEL takes the empty tin from the dining table and throws it on the floor.

MICHEL
What time is it?

PATRICK
Stop asking me the damned time. Are there any more tins?

MICHEL
Billions. This was the break we needed all along.

PATRICK looks up. He puts down the knife and tin, as if something is dawning on him.

PATRICK
Do you have some aspirations?

MICHEL
I think more of resolutions, these days.

PATRICK
To drink less?

Brief pause

And to eat more, at this very moment. Are you sure there’s nothing else?

MICHEL
There are some bananas. But they’ve gone off.

PATRICK
Ah.

Pause

Have you grown attached to those underpants?

MICHEL
I’m going to keep them.

PATRICK
After you, I wouldn’t want them back.

Brief pause

MICHEL

Smiling

No, I wouldn’t want them back.

PATRICK removes the jacket and puts it on dining table.

MICHEL
Have we sunk so low that we’ve gone too far?

PATRICK
There must be something in here.

MICHEL
Don’t you think we should stop?

Spreads his arms

While the going is bad.

PATRICK
All life long the same questions.

MICHEL
The same answers. You should have been a lawyer.

PATRICK

Indicates his shabby clothes

I was.

Brief pause

MICHEL
And if we do get caught?

PATRICK
They’ll make an example of us. So much happens around here.

MICHEL
So many robberies.

PATRICK
We’d have to repent.

MICHEL
Our being thieves.

PATRICK
All the break-ins.

Brief pause

PATRICK and MICHEL

Together

We’d be crucified!

They both ponder in silence.

PATRICK
Then we’d wonder if we’d have been better off alone, each one for himself.

Pause

PATRICK
In the meantime, let us converse calmly.

MICHEL
We are capable of being silent.

They go silent.

MICHEL
How’s your leg?

PATRICK
Bad.

MICHEL
But you can walk.

PATRICK
I’ll live.

MICHEL
Is this any way to live?

Brief pause

MICHEL
We should have done something else.

PATRICK
We should have thought of that a million years ago.

MICHEL
Back in the Fifties.

They think of the Fifties.

PATRICK
We have our excuses.

MICHEL
It’s because we want drink.

PATRICK
Add naked bodies.

MICHEL
So she said, last night.

PATRICK
We should have done somewhere else.

MICHEL kicks papers around.

PATRICK replaces a couple of books on the shelves.

PATRICK then sits again, grimaces again. MICHEL follows suit.

PATRICK
Have a last look in the kitchen.

MICHEL
You look this time.

PATRICK
But my leg-

MICHEL
If you tell me any more about the blows you received I’ll stick a carrot up your arse.

PATRICK limps off left. More rattling. He returns with some more tins and puts them on the table.

Then he exits right again, this time returning with two bottles of wine. He puts them in the same place.

When he limps off a third time MICHEL sits up and pays attention.

When PATRICK comes back he is carrying a bottle of whiskey.

PATRICK
Finish your tin.

MICHEL
Finish your own.

Pause for MICHEL to indicate the whiskey bottle.

MICHEL
I suppose you’ll want to keep that for yourself?

PATRICK
You can have the wine. And the clothes.

MICHEL
We ran out of stuffy little bourgeois types to rob. Then you just picked on people you didn’t like.

PATRICK
Ignorant apes.

MICHEL
Just what do you want now?

PATRICK
Whiskey.

Pause as PATRICK examines the bottle.

PATRICK
Even then I didn’t let you take anything of sentimental value.

Brief pause

For sentimental reasons.

MICHEL
People get sentimental about money. I needed money. Now I’ve saved some.

Brief pause

Why don’t you just leave this place?

PATRICK
I can’t, I’ve spent mine.

MICHEL
Don’t you ever think of something you’d like to do, apart from this?

PATRICK
Lie on my back and fart and think of Beckett.

MICHEL finds no answer to that.

PATRICK
Just how much money do you think you need anyway?

MICHEL

After a little hesitation

Enough to open a little shop.

PATRICK

Laughs wildly

That’s no job for a man.

MICHEL
Maybe not, but there’s no money here for us, buried up to our necks in books and papers.

PATRICK
If you ever open that shop I’ll rob it. And lose my last friend here. Maybe then I’ll leave.

MICHEL exits left and brings in the painting. He examines it from various angles before PATRICK grabs it, turns it the right way up and props it against a leg of the dining table.

The audience cannot see it.

PATRICK
Don’t put a boot through that.

MICHEL
I’m more cultured than that. What makes you think…?

PATRICK
Whether you do it on purpose or accidentally, on purpose.

MICHEL
These boots are starting to hurt me.

PATRICK
Take them off.

MICHEL
I can’t. They’re stuck.

PATRICK
Just like the underpants.

They sit again, facing each other, having moved the chairs and footstool closer together.

PATRICK pulls off the boots. MICHEL sighs, puts his shoes back on, then picks up the boots.

MICHEL
I’ll keep them anyway. I might even give them to some tramp.

MICHEL puts the boots on the table. PATRICK examines the unopened tins.

MICHEL
Are you going to take that stuff too?

PATRICK
I thought I might eat it. But I’ll give it to the dog.

MICHEL begins to assemble a clothes pile on top of the boots. PATRICK grabs the jacket and puts it back on, rubbing his knee.

PATRICK

Referring to the old jacket

Don’t worry, I’ll give you this later.

MICHEL
What about the painting?

PATRICK
Put it back. How would we get rid of it around here?

MICHEL
Except hang it from a tree?

They pause for an unenlightening bout of reflection. PATRICK sticks tins in the jacket pockets.

MICHEL
Well, shall we go?

PATRICK
Take off your underpants first.

MICHEL removes the underpants, folds them and puts them on the straw hat on top of the boots.

PATRICK picks up the bottles of wine and passes them to MICHEL.

Then MICHEL picks up the underpants again, in order to wrap the bottles after he places a bottle in each boot. Finally he places the hat on top of the finished pile.

PATRICK lifts the whiskey bottle and then takes a book from a shelf. He shows the book to MICHEL, who lifts the pile in his arms.

PATRICK
He signed it. I’ll sell it, down the line.

MICHEL
I can’t do this anymore.

PATRICK
That’s what you think. We are French. We don’t care. Nobody care unless it happens to him.

They take a lingering last look around the room.

PATRICK
Well, shall we go?

MICHEL
Yes, let’s go.

They leave.

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Paris, November 2016

Paris, November 2016

18th November, Friday

Over here it’s not as cold. JP was in the hotel (Verlain) when I got there. We were in adjoining rooms. I suggested going to the Quartier Latin. We got two fine planches at La Méthode on the little square/junction on rue Descartes where I stayed in 1996 and 2000.

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Then, around the corner on rue Laplace, I showed him Le Piano Vache, which he liked even more. I hadn’t been in it since October 2000.

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The first time, it was a June afternoon in 1996, when an outrageous little flirt named Estelle bent over further than a gymnast when poking in her school bag, across the bar. Elle portait la culotte bleu pâle.

Anyway, JP didn’t care for the nearby Le Violon Dingue (nor did I, though I’d been there before too) and we soon headed back for the Cork & Cavan on the Canal St. Martin. I saw no familiar face there. We didn’t stay too late.

19th November, Saturday

Today we walked a long way. We started at Place d’Italie and headed to Montparnasse via La Butte des Cailles and Place Denfert-Rochereau.

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After lunch at Le Select, we got the metro on to Charles Michels, just a street away from the river and Allée des Cygnes.

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From there we walked past the Tower, near which an anti-Trump demonstration was in progress, and cut down to rue Cler before passing Hôtel des Invalides on our way into St. Germain.

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The metro took us from St. Germain des Prés to Goncourt, back near the C&C. D. joined us. He had witnessed a couple get shot dead, one after the other, outside a restaurant on Bataclan night. He was upstairs in a bar across the street.

The lads played darts. I’d made sure we got that narrow corner of the bar. A pretty Cavan girl called Aisling told me we’d known what we were doing by getting in there. I ended up drinking a couple of glasses of water before the end. JP and I left around one.

Paris, December 2013

Paris, December 2013

26th December, Thursday

Hard frost shrouded the night. My throat felt like the aftermath of a tonsils operation without anaesthetic. The drive to Cork was slowed by ice and frost. I had a bit of a skid on the Youghal bypass, where a driver got killed a few mornings ago.

Rugby players: Peter Stringer was in the security queue; Ronan O’Gara was on the plane. I only spotted O’Gara on the airport shuttle train in Paris. He grunted something like thanks when I let him disembark before me with his wheelie bag.

After a shower at the hotel I went to the 15e, to the Allée des Cygnes, where Beckett used to walk.

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From there I passed the Tower in the twilight.

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I ate in a nice, informal place on rue Cler (L’éclair), where the chicken burger and chips were good and good value. I had a notion that I might watch some of a match in Kitty O’Shea’s but it was closed. The front door looked sandbagged. Last time I looked, there was a hole in the door window, like it had been shot at. I was sick of walking by then. Back in the tenth I went down the canal to see if the C&C might be open. It was. The legendary owner (Kevin) was out to play. He was up on the counter at one stage and speaking Irish at another.

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27th December, Friday

Having stayed in bed until two, my only symptoms were of the cold. Somebody on Amazon.com bought a copy of The Cynic’s Handbook. Hanging in there – my nose and chest have it now – I dined in Café le Buci in St. Germain at four, after searching those streets in the damp chill. The côte de boeuf (€22) was big and tough but the waitress was sweet. Dark and pretty too. Bonne fête, were her parting words. When I got back to Gare de l’Est it was dark and wet. I’d been filming down by the river. Some Indian then sold me two dodgy-looking choc ices, leading to some more customer dissatisfaction. The Mars bar was OK. I ate that.

Earlier I passed a place where I dined well, before (Au Père tranquille, next to Forum des Halles). That was before descending into the ant pit in a vain effort to get on the Métro there. With the swarm, it was too difficult to get a ticket. I’d go home right now because of the sore nose and the cough. By the river I took some photos and made two videos: one from Pont des Arts, when it was still day, and another of Notre Dame over the lights shimmering on the river, from Pont St. Michel.

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I’d have slept and rested better this evening only for f*ckers/guests around me constantly opening and closing their squeaking doors. The room is a return to the street noise too. I’m finished with the Sibour. In future I’ll get a better hotel.

Three pints in the C&C left no mark. For a second night I was with a Middlesbrough father and son. The son is stuck in Paris. The wife has put him on a couch. There are two kids and a bust company. Why is my tongue sore near the tip? I was sweating in the pub but can only hope it’s a good symptom.

28th December, Saturday

A night of nightmarish discomfort was followed by a lull of sorts before the more usual kind of nightmare of security at the airport. Home is colder than Paris and I missed another storm (on the twenty-sixth). Even my teeth are sore.

Paris 2012

Paris 2012

2012

31st August, Friday

Paris, hotel room, six o’clock. “Your buckle is facing the wrong way.” That’s what a stewardess said to me before take-off. Sleep had not been deep and the drive had been grey and gloomy but when I sat in, on the plane, it didn’t take us long to get going. There was a lot of empty seats. Even though I’m on a side street, it’s just off a noisy junction (Magenta/Strasbourg, 10e), I’ve just been dozing for the best part of an hour. Soon I’ll get dressed and go.

1st September, Saturday

Le Saint Jean, rue des Abbesses, 3pm. I’m in Montmartre. I just went up to the Sacré Coeur. Now I’ve eaten here and I’m working my way through a short selection of drinks. The sun is shining but this place is on the shady side of the street. When I went out yesterday, I first went to The Cork and Cavan pub on the Canal St. Martin, as planned. It had a young crowd but not of student age.

Later I had some trouble finding The Quiet Man, which was tiny. In looking for it I went a bit too deeply into the Marais, as could be seen by the growing number of gay couples that passed. Anyway, when I found it, about the only Irish thing in there was the green shirt on the barman. Beside me at the end of the short counter sat a young American couple. They were graduate students in California. She was into whales while he was studying the geochemistry of noble gases. She turned out to be related to Michael Fingleton, the notorious Irish banker. “We don’t like him,” she said. She added that Fingers had become his family nickname too. After the long walk back I found an open burger joint near the hotel and ordered two. It was late and when I confirmed “à emporter” to the black manager, who was trying to keep his staff awake, he dumped some condiments out of a bag meant for another customer and gave it to me and my burgers.

5.45pm, hotel room. The bells of the church of St. Laurent across the street are banging now. When I was walking back here, down Magenta, a green neon sign said 26° C and there was a noisy march about undocumented immigrants. It was a left-wing protest, not a right-wing one.

The bells soon stopped but knocked out another six on the hour. When descending from rue des Abbesses in Montmartre I came out at Pigalle and saw nothing scary on the quiet daytime way except a transvestite who reminded me a bit of Doctor Zaius in Planet of the Apes. Over here, some of the girls are too beautiful, for anyone with a taste for female beauty.

Will I go to Kitty O’Shea’s this evening, just to say I was there? I could take the metro but if I walk I could go straight down to the river and cross to call into Shakespeare & Co on the way. While I’m OK now, I may not feel like doing that or making much effort tomorrow.

The first time I came here on my own (1996) I was actually a bit lonely. One afternoon in Le Piano Vache in the Latin Quarter an outrageous little flirt named Estelle bent over further than a gymnast when poking in her school bag, across the bar. Elle portait la culotte bleu pâle. I was thirty-two but I’m better at chilling now, which is not the same as dossing or daydreaming.

 

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Late on Saturday: I got back to the hotel by midnight. Having taken the metro down to Les Halles, I crossed the river via Pont Neuf. When I found Shakespeare & Co upriver, on the other side, I got a black girl to take four copies of The Cynic’s Handbook. Then I crossed back and got something to eat at a nice place called Le Père Tranquille near Les Halles.

The long walk to Kitty O’Shea’s near Place Vendôme was basically in vain. It was practically empty, there was a hole in the door window, like it had been shot at, and – another bad sign – it didn’t have any beer mats. The even longer walk back made me feel what a warm night it was/is but I want to be fit for tomorrow. I’m just hoping that the weekend will continue to go right.

2nd September, Sunday

It’s gone noon. I’m out of the shower but haven’t shaved yet. How I get enough sleep is by staying in bed long enough. To pass the afternoon I think I’ll take the metro to St. Germain des Prés.

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Place St. Anne des Arts, 3pm, at a café of the same saint’s name, on a cool, breezy side street: I saw a sign earlier that said 28° but I’m erring on the side of chilly here. A girl is upset at a nearby table but the guy keeps talking like his voice is the most important thing to hear. My back seems quite cold. I try to watch my back. I think the guy is dumping her. He’s getting more agitated. He’s dumping her (“Je départ”). A bunch of teen girls with feminine intuition (“Une bagarre,” said one) are now sitting and watching from the other side of the narrow street. But here’s my food. It should warm me up.

Hotel before half eight: my work here is done. I’m after my third shower today. Madame Paris succeeded in blowing me away eventually. I must go now to eat and drink. For food, I’ll go back some of the way I came. I feel like a good night. The walk back from the ninth meant I could appreciate the beautiful evening. On my way I diverted to take a few photos of an imposing church that’s not even named in the Rough Guide. St. Vincent de Paul.

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3rd September, Monday

The early hours of Monday: I went back to The Cork and Cavan and sat by the canal until I saw a few older people going in and out. I got a seat at the bar and the young Kerry barman started talking to me and eventually he confirmed that the most tanked-up person in the pub was the owner. I ended up sitting beside him and even his Japanese wife joined in and told me they had rows over disciplining their young son. It turned out to be a place that welded a smile to my face.

Monday afternoon, at the airport. It naturally took me a while to get myself together this morning but by midday I was in sufficient shape to leave. The blanches at the C&C last night didn’t do much damage, so. There’s an American man across from me wearing a rug and it reminds me of an Asian in a shop last night who looked like he had one stitched to his forehead.

The owner of the C&C said his son was actually doing more than OK in his class. His wife also gave him credit for doing sports and activities with the boy too but the punch-line concerned a key piece of info in the boy’s possession. “He knows I’m a millionaire.” The top man insisted on getting me a last drink and before that the Kerryman had given me one on the house, saying it was a French tradition, like a buy-back, I suppose. I enjoyed the pantomime there.

I got home at seven. It’s nice to have normality waiting here. First student tomorrow, back in the temple of Apollo.