Escape from Washington

Escape from Washington

Bertolt Brecht appeared in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on 30 October 1947. Facing him that morning were the Chairman, J. Parnell Thomas, born John Parnell Feeney, who had not only changed his name but also his denomination, to Episcopalian. His political career ended soon afterwards. In 1948 he was indicted and subsequently jailed for defrauding the federal government.

Other members present were Reps. John McDowell (died by suicide in 1957) and Richard Vail (d. 1955). Most of the questions were asked by HUAC Chief Investigator Robert E. Stripling, a Texan who, a year later, assisted Richard Nixon in his pursuit of Alger Hiss. Nixon, though also a Committee member, was not present on the day.

Brecht was flanked by two lawyers, Bartley Crum (died by suicide in 1959) and Robert Kenny, and an interpreter, David Baumgardt, about whom a committee member can be overheard at one point interjecting, I can’t understand the interpreter any more than I can the witness.

The only foreigner called up on a Hollywood list of “unfriendly” witnesses, Brecht left the country the very next day, never to return. He was too clever for them and they ended up thanking him for it.

It was like Kafka’s Trial, but in reverse.

The links below are to parts one and two of the full show, with later commentary by Eric Bentley.

The reader is now directed to the audio link part one above, from 18:22, as follows

STRIPLING: Now, I will repeat the original question. Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of any country?

BRECHT: Mr. Chairman, I have heard my colleagues, eh, and they considered this question not as proper but I am a guest in this country and do not want to enter in any legal arguments, so I will answer your question fully as well I can. I was not a member or am not a member of any Communist Party.

CHAIRMAN: Your answer is, then, that you have never been a member of the Communist Party?

BRECHT: That is correct.

STRIPLING: You were not a member of the Communist Party for Germany?

BRECHT: No, I was not.

STRIPLING: Eh, Mr. Brecht, is it true that you have written a number of very revolutionary poems, plays and other writings?

BRECHT: I have written a number of poems and songs and plays in the fight against Hitler and, of course, they can be considered, therefore, as revolutionary because I, of course, was for the overthrow of that government.

CHAIRMAN: Mr. Stripling, we are not interested in any works that he might have written calling for the overthrow of Germany or the government there.

From the start of part two, above, Stripling asks about a play called Massnahme, which was one of two Brecht adaptations of a particular Noh play from Japan, but Bentley tells us that Brecht’s explanation relates to the second adaptation, not that Stripling or the Committee spotted the difference.

STRIPLING: Now, Mr. Brecht, will you tell the Committee whether or not one of the characters in this play was murdered by his comrades because it was in the best interests of the Party, is that true? Of the Communist Party.

BRECHT: No, it is not, eh, not quite so in the story.

STRIPLING: Because he would not bow to discipline he was murdered by his comrades, isn’t that true?

BRECHT: No, it is not really so in the play. You will find, when you read it, carefully, that like in the old Japanese play where other ideas were at stake, the young man who died, uh, was convinced that he had done damage to the mission he believed in and he agreed to that and he was ready to die, in order not to make greater such damage. So he asks his comrades to help him and all of them together help him to die. He jumps into a… abyss and they lead him, eh, tenderly to that abyss. And that is the story.

CHAIRMAN: Well I gather from your remarks, from your answer, that he was just killed. He wasn’t murdered. (laughter)

BRECHT: He wanted to die.

CHAIRMAN: So they killed him?

BRECHT: No, they did not kill him, not in this story. They, he killed himself. They supported him. But, of course, they had told him it were better when he disappeared (laughter) … for him and them and the cause he also believed in, up ’til the end.

From 09:32 in part two, above, Stripling leaves the issue of party membership aside to press Brecht on whether he ever attended any dubious assemblies. More laughter ensues.

STRIPLING: Eh, Mr. Brecht, since you have been in, eh, the United States, have you attended any Communist Party meetings?

BRECHT: No, I do not think so.

STRIPLING: You don’t think so.

BRECHT: No.

CHAIRMAN: Well, aren’t you certain?

BRECHT: (chuckles) I am, I am certain, I think, yes.

CHAIRMAN: You are certain that you have never attended?

BRECHT: Yeah, quite. I think so (laughter). You see I am here six years, I am here six years, I do not think so. I do not think I attended, that I attended, eh, political meetings.

CHAIRMAN: No, no, never mind the political meetings, but have you attended any Communist meetings in the United States?

BRECHT: I do not think so. No.

CHAIRMAN: You’re certain?

BRECHT: I think I am certain.

CHAIRMAN: You think you’re certain. (laughter)

STRIPLING: You don’t know what a, what it, what a –

BRECHT: No, I have not attended such meetings, eh, in my opinion.

From 27:23 in part two, the final joust plays out, leading to the longest laugh of all.

CHAIRMAN: Some people did ask you to join the Communist Party, didn’t they?

BRECHT: Uh…

KENNY (lawyer): In Germany or…?

BRECHT: In Germany, you mean in Germany?

CHAIRMAN: No, I mean in the United States.

BRECHT: No, no, no.

CHAIRMAN (to Kenny): Now you let, you let him, he’s doing all right, he’s doing much better than the other witnesses that you’ve brought here (laughter) … (to Brecht) You don’t ever recall anyone in the United States ever asked you to join the Communist Party?

BRECHT: No, I do not recall anybody having asked me.

The Chairman then asks each of his colleagues in turn if they have any more questions.

STRIPLING: I would like to ask Mr. Brecht whether or not he wrote a poem – a song, rather – entitled, Forward, We’ve Not Forgotten.

McDOWELL: Forward we’ve what?

STRIPLING: (louder, irritated) Forward, We’ve Not Forgotten.

Stripling then recites an entire lyric lost in translation.

STRIPLING: Did you write that, Mr. Brecht?

BRECHT: No, I wrote a German poem but that is very different… (extended laughter) … from this thing.

STRIPLING: Eh, that is all the questions I have, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Brecht. And you are a good example to the witnesses of Mr. Kenny and Mr. Crum.

A gavel then bangs for a recess until that afternoon.

On the tape Bentley then recalls meeting Brecht a year later near Zürich, when Brecht laughed at a recording of the show. He added that he had chosen to risk disregarding Bartley Crum’s advice to tell them he was a communist party member (though it was not true) in case a membership card was later forged to ensure a perjury conviction.

They weren’t as bad as the Nazis. The Nazis would never have let me smoke. In Washington they let me have a cigar and I used it to manufacture pauses… between their questions and my answers.

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Night in Vienna

Night in Vienna

27 May, 2019

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Had a night to kill in Vienna on the way home from Hungary. It rained in the late afternoon but out later it was dry and pleasant. The sight of the Burgtheater recalled Thomas Bernhard’s at times grotesquely funny 1984 novel Holzfällen, which for a time turns into a rather good play, once the Actor appears, to ramble on and on about Ekdal in The Wild Duck, even while slogging through his dinner party soup. Suicide is a theme – the funeral earlier in the day has been for a woman who hangs herself, in some detail – but by then its treatment has turned blackly comic, as in when the host asks the Actor if working at Vienna’s Burgtheater wouldn’t give someone every reason to do that. Before the end, as if to stress the point, the host also waves his false teeth in the Actor’s face.

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Behind the theatre can be found Harry Lime’s doorway in The Third Man (1949), where Orson Welles first appears by the smooth, sloping cobbles of Schreyvogelgasse. The first time I stood in, there was still daylight but lights shone from scattered windows. They reflected in others. Evening traffic hummed and rumbled on the nearby Ringstrasse, beyond which the university rose in the dusk.

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After the Freyung square, on Herrengasse a drunk American woman (“I’m a human rights defender” blah blah) wanted “twenty or thirty euros for a hotel” (i.e. for more drink). You must be f*cking joking, I thought, before I walked on (“Eh, no”). Looking back I saw her simply waiting for the next man to pass. Thought then of the night in Vienna I met Gabi, a sweet Romanian girl from somewhere near Bucharest who did not ask for money.

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Further down Herrengasse, the Café Central was in darkness for the night. One evening in that café, a young French girl came back to my table, blushing, looking for her annotated city map. I offered her mine but hers had “mes notes”, while another French girl, alone at the next table, read Freud. Trois essais sur la théorie sexuelle. I’d already read somewhere that France had six hundred thousand psychology students.

It was on a New Year’s Eve when I set off to find Berggasse and Freud’s apartment, even though I presumed it would be closed. It wasn’t. It was packed. A mixed French group pushed the street door ahead of me. Upstairs a stubbly Frenchman with a woolly cap didn’t bother going in. His wife turned to him. Tu restes au café en face? He chuckled and nodded. Il y a un sex shop en face.

The people jumping the ‘queue’ to swarm around the entrance desk had been more of an illustration of Alinsky’s key psychological principle – that people only push to get on a bus they think has limited seating – than anything Freudian. Schlange means both queue and snake in German but there, one couldn’t dream of either.

At the hotel that same night I ended up talking to the man from Kiev behind the desk, comparing the death tolls of the Irish and Ukrainian famines. He must have asked me something about Ireland for us to jump on to that topic but in fairness he was curious about Irish dancing as well. He imitated the arms held down by the dancers’ sides, a style I explained was ordained by the puritanical priesthood. Das war ein Befehl von den Priestern. Sonst, zu sexy.

He didn’t want to pin Holodomor on Stalin, just “die Moskau Regierung” (the Moscow government), and I wasn’t going to argue with him about the 1930s. Not on New Year’s Eve. My impression was that he missed the USSR. He was proud of Nikita Khruschev and Ukrainian generals and a nearby monument to the soldiers of the First Ukrainian Front. I’d have guessed he didn’t care much for Jews either, though all he did was express sympathy for the Palestinians. Woher kamen diese Juden? (‘Where did those Jews come from?’)

Though he’d claimed Rokossovsky was Ukrainian, that invited a later check. The Marshal was of Polish origin and spent almost three years as a prisoner of the state from 1937 until his release without explanation in 1940, during which time he somehow never signed any false statement. He later told his daughter that he always carried a revolver so they would not take him alive if they ever came for him again.

From Herrengasse one can get to Graben via Am Hof or via Hofburg and Kohlmarkt.

 

 


For me, the best book about Vienna is the German version (the English version is a travesty) of the extraordinary early diaries of Alma Schindler, before she married Gustav Mahler, who basically drove her cracked, as the Irish phrase puts it.

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Take this example from 24 September 1899, which only appears in the German. Rosa Kornbluh was a friend who had a weird experience with Gustav Klimt on an Italian train, where he terrified her in a tunnel. That much is in Beaumont but on this day Alma details Rosa stalking her Italian fiancé. He had come to Vienna but hadn’t let her know. She ran into him on Graben and followed him into the cathedral, where she fainted. When she came around, he told her he’d thought she was in Budapest. Alma then describes two occasions watching the pair at the opera. The second time she sees them sitting together in a porch during an intermission. ‘He: sulky and silent. She: like a sleepwalker, excited, with glazed eyes. She must be crazy… He has my sympathy now… He cannot save himself from her, from her love, from her jealousy.’ Er kann sich ja nicht retten vor ihr, vor ihrer Liebe, vor ihrer Eifersucht.

Turning back south towards the Ring, I emerged at the back of the Opera House. In doing so I passed the junction of Führichgasse and Tegetthofstrasse. On 15 November 1961 Austrian television broadcast the hour-long dramatic monologue Der Herr Karl. It was set in the basement store room of a Viennese delicatessen. Therein a middle-aged character called Karl talked to an unseen younger colleague while intermittently replying to the voice of his female boss upstairs and helping himself to samples of the stock. The public response to the play about a Nazi Mitläufer (fellow traveller) was uproar but the hour had made the performer – Helmut Qualtinger – immortal.

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Der Herr Karl was no invention from scratch. Another actor, Nikolaus Haenel, had worked in such a deli and with such a character just after the war. The establishment stood on the corner of Führichgasse and Tegetthofstrasse and the chap was called Max, though Haenel forgot his surname. Nevertheless he later drew a picture of a bespectacled and rather thin-faced figure, aged about fifty, with a moustache a little wider than Hitler’s. While going through the motions at work, stocking shelves and mopping the floor, this Man of the Crowd had told Haenel his life story.

Years later, Haenel became aware that Qualtinger was in search of a character with a Nazi past so he approached him with the idea of Max. Though Qualtinger was still in his early thirties and much heavier than the original, he was intrigued and the pair met in a restaurant over three or four days, wherein Haenel told him all he remembered and Qualtinger took copious notes, which he later turned into a script with his writing partner, Carl Merz.

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One of my favourite images from the city’s history is of Qualtinger and Falco having a laugh at a bar counter. The Viennese humour known as Wiener Schmäh has been linked by Georg Markus to Vienna’s ethnic mix. He defines it as including melancholy, sarcasm and a little malice. It’s more than ten years now since my first night in Vienna, when I got talking to two Austrian chaps in a bar. They asked if I spoke any German. It was rusty then. I know the words to Rock Me Amadeus. They said Falco was a hero, in death. He’d undergone a posthumous resurgence in popularity at home, as the things he’d said had come to make more sense. The autumn day I found Falco’s grave in the sunshine and falling leaves of the huge Zentralfriedhof, the main cemetery, it was peppered by the smell of sewage wafting up from the shores on the lanes.

Despite Claudio Magris’ Danube being largely pretentious verbiage, he couldn’t ruin everything with his waffle. Some of the material is just too strong. The funniest part of his book is set in the early hours in the Zentralfriedhof, in the company of one Herr Baumgartner and his shotgun. The weapon is used, for example, on the hares that have a “passion” for tearing up and eating the pansies left by mourners. It is not quite a free-fire zone, though, as Herr Baumgartner has to answer for any graves or offerings damaged or shattered or bloodied or peppered by stray buckshot in the dark.

Wien ist anders. Vienna is different.

Sam and Jim

Sam and Jim

Paris 1971 … an American and an Irishman meet by chance in a bar.

The young American tries in vain to attract the attention of a waiter for another beer. Nearby the Irishman reads a newspaper and sips a whiskey.

JIM
Excuse me. Excuse me. S’il vous plaît. Une bière. It’s no good. But hey, it’s Paris. (turning to SAM nearby) Excuse me, sir, can you speak French?

SAM
Would you like some help?

JIM
You live here?

SAM
Yes. A long time.

JIM
I live here too, now. Not so long.

SAM
I see. How do you find it?

JIM
Hey man, it’s Paris. But I can’t speak the language. That kind of bums me out a little.

SAM
Why don’t you learn it?

Pause

JIM
Why don’t I learn to play the guitar too… why didn’t I just plod away in my own garden?

Pause

SAM
Cela est bien dit, répondit Candide, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin… Are you interested in music or gardening? Or do you like both?

JIM
More like music is interested in me.

SAM
I don’t follow you.

JIM
I’m in… eh, show-business, back home.

SAM
But you just said you live here now.

JIM
I’ve got the soul of a clown and it’s taken me a long way, so far. But who knows what’s round the next corner? I came here to get away from something.

SAM
Haven’t we all? What do you play? Maybe you sing. Is that it? Do you sing?

JIM
Classical buff, I imagine? Thought so. Well, it ain’t Schubert. Let’s just say I’m a troubadour. A minstrel. But where are you from?

SAM
Eh, Dublin.

JIM
Getting nowhere here with this waiter reminds me of a play by an Irish guy. It’s about two bums on a road, just shooting the breeze. Years ago, when I was back there in some school or other, I had to write a paper on it. I put forth the proposition that it was a Civil War story. It had a Grant, a Lee and a Slave.

SAM
What part of America are you from?

JIM
California.

SAM
Warm and dry. People can swim. They can be happy.

JIM
The water is very cold. I’m Jim.

SAM
Sam. I was in New York once.

JIM
Yeah?

SAM
It was a few years ago now. The people there… were all a bit odd.

JIM
I should have been a poet. A love poet, perhaps… I wish I was a girl of sixteen/I’d be the queen of the magazine/And all night long you could hear me scream.

SAM
Ah, sweet sixteen. An exceedingly unhappy birthday, zero by the chronometer. But why a poet?

JIM
Feelings are disturbing.

SAM
Einer muss wachen, heisst es. Einer muss da sein. Someone must watch, it means. Someone must be there. Find someone you can talk to. It’s just a bonus if you don’t mind the cut of her jib.

JIM
Jib – a triangular staysail, set forward of the forward-most mast. That implies going by first impressions. I never heard of an unattractive muse so I’m looking for another flashing chance at bliss.

SAM
When I was your age, or thereabouts, I used to console myself by saying that at least, with my initial efforts, Lord help us, I’d achieved creative fulfillment and a preparation for death at such an early age. Later, I maintained that success or failure on a public level didn’t matter and indeed that the latter had a certain vivifying air about it.

JIM
I guess you knew what you wanted to do. You just didn’t know what you were doing. What tripped your wire?

SAM
It was an extraordinarily bitter season, zero by the thermometer. The winter of forty and forty-one. The Gestapo started arresting my friends. I couldn’t just sit around, waiting for inspiration. But I ended up down South, working on a farm, just for food, until other Americans came, so don’t talk to me about gardens, metaphorical or botanical.

JIM
What did you do then? Just come back here and stroll around?

SAM
When it was over, I went back to see my mother.

JIM
Don’t talk to me about mothers, man.

SAM
That’s when I finally saw it. What I had to do from then on. I was nearly forty. Imagine. If only she could have seen that I made something of myself, in the end, on my own terms.

JIM
Some of us get the vision early. Maybe it was the acid… This waiter could be a regular guy on a bad day or he could be a real asshole. Were we in former times, back home, way out west, I could just shoot him and put him on my tab. But I haven’t reacted because at least he doesn’t know who I am. I haven’t given him any trouble yet.

SAM
It must be a pact with the Devil, setting out down that road into the high life.

JIM
It was different with me. Spring came early.

SAM
Shed some light.

JIM
I think I knew exactly what I was doing, at least at the beginning. Even when no one else knew it.

SAM
There are two great, mirror questions of faith, it seems. How should one live and when should one believe that other people actually know what they’re doing.

JIM
I knew, man. I knew.

SAM
I admire your youthful clarity.

JIM
But if you’ve got anything to say, you’ve only got so much of it to say and you’ve got to hope you don’t run out too fast.

SAM
I admire your clarity.

JIM
If you failed first, when you were young, at least you know you can live with it.

SAM
I went on. Like almost everybody.

JIM
I was sleeping on the roof of an empty warehouse and doing a lot of acid. It was then that the orchestra started up, just in my head. All I had was a candle and a blanket and an occasional can of soup. Then I met one of the other guys on the beach and I gave him a blast. The rest is, well, you can guess the rest.

SAM
You’re in pop, I take it.

JIM
So here I am, an American in Paris, at the end of an incredible springtime. Why are you here?

SAM
It was the place that bothered me the least. Why don’t you stop what you’re doing now and go do something else for a while? Clear the head a bit.

JIM
Like what?

SAM
I don’t know.

JIM
I’m an American in Paris. What you want me to do? Start dancing?

SAM
You must have some idea otherwise. Plus you can always keep your hand in.

JIM
If I try to keep my hand in they’ll take it off at the shoulder.

SAM
There’s always the Legion. But you’d have to learn French.

JIM
My father was in the navy… could be, still… From a thin raft, one clown could be drowned while the other was saved.

SAM
Well, why not?

JIM
It’s my job. There’s no going back now. When we started out we dreamed of being big in the city or even all along the coast but then the bullshit took over and I made interviews into an art form. It’s something I invented. But I wish I could build me a woman.

SAM
Bastard journalists. I wouldn’t give them the time of day.

JIM
I gave them the best time of their lives.

SAM
Never say anything under interrogation, if you can help it at all.

JIM
Is that something you learned in the war?

SAM
In boarding school.

JIM
Now I can’t stand it anymore. I’d be so glad if people just didn’t recognize me.

SAM
Poor you. The world is full of distress. What did you expect? A land without shadows? Why should you or I think we should be any different?

JIM
What gives you the most pain?

SAM
Whatever it is, we must master our anguish.

JIM
But what gives you the most pain?

SAM
What I’ve had to master.

JIM
But what-

SAM
The past, what else? Christ, what else?

JIM
Pain is something to carry, like a radio, to keep us awake.

SAM
I usually listen to sports on the radio.

JIM
I guess that’s enough pain if it’s your guy who’s losing.

SAM
We must master our anguish.

JIM
If you hide your feelings, you’re denying a part of yourself, you’re letting society twist your reality.

SAM
What I’ve felt has been clear since 1945. I don’t care about society. I just know that I’m not afraid to stand up for my friends. That’s all. That’s me. It’s not about what I feel, it’s about what I do. It’s what you do with it. The tracks of my tears are like invisible ink.

JIM
But how’s that trick done?

SAM
You don’t have to be a saint. Heaven knows you don’t. When you have to be somewhere, you’re there, that’s all. Someone must be there. Someone must be sound.

JIM
You don’t know shit, my friend.

SAM
That’s what tortures me.

JIM
Tortures you? You’re killing me, man.

SAM
You try to grasp a piece of flotsam, only to slip beneath the waves into the black void again.

JIM
That’s the killer on the road. Is that all you have to tell me?

SAM
For heaven’s sake, boy, go easy on the sauce.

JIM
Like I said, who knows what’s round the next corner? Now I think I got to get out of here.

SAM
I’m about to leave, myself.

JIM
Come on a crawl with me, man.

SAM
I don’t think so.

JIM
Come on, man. I can show you an amazing hole in the ground just a few blocks from here.

SAM
What hole? The earth is full of holes. Getting out at night holds different meanings for us now, Jim.

JIM
Come on. Let’s move on.

SAM
I can’t go on.

JIM
I’ll go on.

SAM
Good luck, Jim.

JIM
You threw me a bone, you explained your twilight. But I’ve got to believe there’s still manna in Paris for imbeciles like me. So long, Sam.

SAM
God bless.

Head Space : 1999

Head Space : 1999

Twenty years on… from Dublin… from truly the lowest ebb… on a programming course… 😦 … f*ck me, it was some dump.

1999

13th July, Tuesday

The plankton eater was complaining about the pointless questions asked by his neighbour (Hugh). The plankton was eaten for his colon. Gone overboard on health food (including liquid protein) and still he doesn’t look overly healthy.

14th July, Wednesday

Some petty c*nt of an assistant manager put me out of the “staff toilets” in the corridor next to the canteen. I couldn’t believe it when it happened. I’d finished my leak. I didn’t say a word to him in response to “You’re not allowed in here” but just looked at him, washed and dried my hands and left. We’d been told not to react to things like that.

12th August, Thursday

Stalag FÁS: Marcos and the Limerick boys were prevented from driving out to the nearest shop at breakfast time and then Marcos was put out of the staff toilets.

3rd September, Friday

Niall and I are sitting down to breakfast in the canteen when the plankton eater comes over. “I’ve got nits,” he says, straight out, before we take a bite. Niall christened him Nit Boy. Hugh won’t sit upstairs on a double-decker bus. He’s afraid of heights.

6th September, Monday

Went to James’s Street post office this morning but got no rent allowance. They had new computers. Made it more of a pleasure, more of a breeze, for the blonde to tell me there was nothing there. Any question was cut short by telling the customer to go see social welfare. Who are the true parasites? The option is always to f*ck them out of it, for some small satisfaction, but you ration that. What about the day one of the Hitler Youth behind the glass gave the fella called Mustapha the grief about ID? No one else, just the dark-skinned gent. He said he was coming there every week and that he wasn’t a refugee (“I’m not refugee, I’m married here”). Not that the public servant’s words were objectionable but his tone was far out of order, as was his ‘discretionary’ (i.e. discriminatory) cheek. They wouldn’t be long having manners put on them up in the Barn. According to my neighbour, they never give anyone hassle up in Dolphin’s Barn. They wouldn’t dare.

7th September, Tuesday

Nothing there again this morning. This was the extent to which the Nazi with the earring was helpful: he muttered something behind the glass and when I said “What?” he exaggerated the words “Is it your day for signing on?” After a long wait in Bride Street, where I was almost the only Irish person in the queue, I discovered it was only a computer problem. I asked if I could get changed back to Leonard’s Corner post office.

10th September, Friday

A bunch of us were drinking in The Full Shilling in Finglas. Niall was asked to leave after slagging a one-legged biker.

13th September, Monday

Compassion on the bus. I gave Niall and Dara a tenner each and we had a few pints in Bowe’s. Niall was thinking of nine quid out of reach in the bank and Dara was locked out of his flat.

21st September, Tuesday

At breakfast in the canteen, the plankton eater complimented the state of my teeth. He said he’d noticed on the bus the previous afternoon.

Last night I’d fallen asleep when the Algerians underneath came in after midnight and woke me up with their mouthing. They kept it up for an hour and when the guests left, one of the tenants had a ferocious dump. The smell wafted up to me, like a coup de grace. Open both windows. They had been good, quiet boys since the confrontation over the blaring of Rod Stewart a few weeks ago, when I stamped on the floor and one of them came up, giving out in broken English. I had a cold so I wasn’t worried about this Arab hothead. I figured the only way to get through to him was to speak French. He backed down and said sorry, once I’d explained and turned up my radio full blast, as a demonstration.

18th October, Monday

A whirlwind start with Mike, the fat English instructor, at ‘C’, or C++? He described one of my programming attempts as “logical spaghetti”.

19th October, Tuesday

The plankton eater told us he’s been riding a married woman for a couple of years and in an effort to get her to break it off with him he stole £60 from her purse. It didn’t work but it’s not much of an exaggeration to say Gary was in awe.

21st October, Thursday

In the night the winos were fighting in the back alley. When given out to, a woman among them mentioned the (symbolic) fact that a window was between them and the person giving out. A male wino shouted, “Nobody tells me what to do with my woman!” The power of the powerless.

26th October, Tuesday

It got to a stage where (I reckon) Mike was trying not to tear out his hair, while I was trying not to laugh, as he attempted to drum in the structure of a program I couldn’t grasp. I wanted the code, not the (mathematical) philosophy.

27th October, Wednesday

No class due to roofing. Three radio ads are signs of the times:

(a) an appeal for factory workers in Blanchardstown, money spelt out;
(b) the soccer player Paul McGrath on about a plastic surgery clinic;
(c) a hotline for software piracy.

29th October, Friday

A multiple choice exam in Basic 2. 14 from 18 = pass mark. I got 14. Some educated guessing and plain guessing.

2nd November, Tuesday

Cold and bright. No heating due to the roofing. Had a couple of pints in the Bridge with Niall and the plankton eater.

4th November, Thursday

The tool’s equation of maths with fun reminds me of how in school such problems seemed as meaningless as cryptic crossword puzzles. What on earth is the relevance of calculating massive prime numbers to what we’re doing?

10th November, Wednesday

Past the halfway point now. With this thing I feel I’m in the trenches. It’s not helped by this tosser, this smart-arse talking to me like I’m a schoolboy. He’s putting me off learning the blasted language. Life feels full of annoyances. This is what it’s like, tired in the evenings. Walking up through town I saw a city of students. Some buskers on Grafton Street were doing I Shot The Sheriff in the style of Oasis. Some yahoos on the Green were mixing up Brits and Britney Spears in a Spanish guy’s head, explaining the crowd and the limos outside the Fitzwilliam Hotel (re MTV Awards, Thursday) and up on Wexford Street, across from Whelan’s and the Mean Fiddler, an aged-looking Noelle Campbell-Sharp stood in a black skirt and leather jacket talking to some green-jacketed bozos. All I heard while passing was “…really f*cking something. Now let me introduce you to…” One limo was reportedly burnt out on the Northside.

11th November, Thursday

A drunken scumbag landed beside (almost on) me on the bus. Fiddling with a walkman, he said he’d just robbed a car but his mates had driven it away on him.

14th November, Sunday

While my brother was a distant silhouette on a beach I thought about the fact that at twenty-one I couldn’t imagine being thirty but at thirty-five I can easily imagine being fifty.

15th November, Monday

Class abandoned due to lack of heating. Stages of life are only stages but should one worry, getting older, that the chances of better periods lessen? From ‘This will end’ to ‘How will this end?’

21st November, Sunday

Looking for the hoover, Sarah knocked on the door of number nine (top floor). One of those Algerians emerged (scratching his balls) from a haze of dope smoke and a sing-along to camel music. No, they didn’t have it.

30th November, Tuesday

Windy, then wet. Didn’t sleep too well. Still, there was a bit of poetic justice in the end of the day that made my day. Despite having the exam program done for them by Dazza and then keeping it to themselves, the Three Licks still failed, to general delight. Everyone bar Keith failed.

I wonder how long it will be before I lose it with fat, snide Mike. I’d have done it before now if I thought he was worth rearing up on but he just may pester me over the edge soon. He seems to be goading me to quit, to suit himself, but he’ll be the last person I’ll do anything to suit.

This morning on the bus I had to listen to a DCU student who incidentally looked a bit like me, with glasses and cap. I saw what he looked like when I looked around to see who was talking like that. He was from the West and he was pontificating in the manner of a typically ignorant student of some technical subject. The object of his bullshit was a girl who was both Australian and Jewish. He told her that the passing of the Millennium marked two thousand years from the start of “modern civilization”. She was able to point out that the Romans were established long before that and when he turned to the purely Christian thing she countered with the priority of Jewish history. Then he said, “You’re a lapsed Jew, I presume” and (luckily for him) she said, “What’s ‘lapsed’?” He had been to America so of course he knew everything. He knew nothing, except that “California rocks”, and I wanted to shoot him.

2nd December, Thursday

Dazza told Keith he thought he’d have to extend the course (on a day when he did forty-five minutes’ teaching).

Went to see Morrissey at the Olympia. Seventeen songs. When he threw his (first) sweaty t-shirt into the crowd it arrived back on the stage after a few minutes. (“When I threw it in I didn’t expect it back. Really, I insist.”) When he sang “Do you care how animals die?” I’d swear I heard a chorus of “No!

4th December, Saturday

Frost. Tour guide to T. and V. A good day was had, in the cold, bright capital. First time in the Cellar Bar. T. told me his junkie half-brother survived a shotgun blast, which blew a hole in him, but died later of an overdose. The Yugoslavian Mafia have now flooded Oslo with good, cheap heroin.

7th December, Tuesday

Having had a bad night (hot, aching, dizzy, with laboured breathing) I was surprised this morning to find the oncoming ‘flu’ gone. Cold twilights leaving Finglas. The women on Camden Street looked well, wrapped up but feeling the cold. It made them more alive. You could see it in their eyes, in their faces.

8th December, Wednesday

As well as the cold now, the wind is up and the rain is down. Some vessel is missing off Galway in the storm. Since last night I’ve had a pain in my left shoulder, roughly speaking. Nothing’s gone.

14th December, Tuesday

I was only words away from a successful cog at the telephone program test. I had a hard copy of the program inside my jacket but made a simple error copying it and the program wouldn’t run. I’d never have seen the obvious mistake.

15th December, Wednesday

Which word is more accurate, “lonely” or “alienated”? When the majority of women seem to dream of timber floors and freezers big enough to hold a man, I cling to the latter term. You know the way they think when you pass them on the street because you can hear them talking into their mobiles.

The Boys from Ballymun

The evening bus picked them up on Ballymun Road. At first they seemed to be talking about an ominously immediate situation like shoplifting or mugging. The more sober and coherent of the two made two points.

(a) He’d batter anyone who decided to mix it
(b) It only takes a minute to get away

When they were talking about how much “a fix” is these days (£20) I thought ‘That’s cheap heroin’ but they were on about prostitutes. The same guy said he got one for £15, when he was a truck driver. He used to park the truck down on Benburb Street and do the business. “You wouldn’t go down there now,” said his more out-of-it companion (who was carrying something in a grey bag). Reason? “They’re all riddled with AIDS.” The first one said he’d had a fourteen-year-old down there who’d been abused by her father since she was six, “until he put her out on the game”. They said they’d roast that man on a small fire. “I’d keep adding coal to it and his screams would be heard for a thousand years,” said the main talker, the leader. Then he extrapolated.

You see some people with their kids and they’re f*ckin’ bootin’ the bollix out of ’em and punchin’ ’em in the head. I mean, what do these people be tinkin’?

They said that Ballymun’s kids had gone quiet “because their fathers told ’em ‘Watch out for him’ and ‘Stay away from him’ and so on”. They were scared, in other words.

But Finglas is still a wild place. The kids are into it, turnin’ over coppers’ cars with coppers inside in ’em.”

Their last earwig-able subject was driving. On being told he couldn’t drive the number two said he’d driven when he was pissed. Then the leader told his own parable.

This is what I did. I went and bought a car off the knackers and I got me ould fella to drive me up to the industrial estate. By nine o’clock that night I was a f*cking rally driver. I was fifteen.”

Those two were an education. And these are only the bits I could make out from their conversation, while the clicks of the lighter signalled joint-rolling was going on (“Put in more soup”).

16th December, Thursday

Ran off a hard copy of the doctoral thesis. 190 pages. I need to go over that with a pen in order to come up with a total draft for January. I could have done it by now but who would look at it over Christmas? Who will anyway?

I’ve addressed a letter to the customer complaints section of Dublin Bus on Upper O’Connell Street.

Since last July I have had to use the 19/19A service on a daily basis and in general the impression I have formed is that it is an utter disgrace… This morning I was the last passenger on a single-decker 19A that turned on to Cedarwood Road. The bald, bespectacled driver stopped the bus and disembarked, saying he’d be back in a couple of minutes. Given that the terminus for the 19A is McKee Road, for which I had paid, what really made me lose my temper was the fact that the same driver had pulled the same stunt at the same point a couple of months earlier. On that occasion he said he wanted to go into a shop to get his breakfast so I said it was okay, got off and walked up Sycamore Road. This time, I got off and asked why he wouldn’t do his job – with a few expletives added, admittedly – and he then gave the excuse that he wanted to go to the toilet. Colleagues of mine who use the same route have had similar experiences with this individual. Employees like him and another individual who happens to live on Sycamore Road and who has been witnessed taking breaks in his own house during shifts only add to the common impression that many of your drivers treat the public with contempt.

Even a fellow driver parked on McKee Road confessed that the last chap indicated was taking the piss.

22nd December, Wednesday

Town is mad. It would be a good day to punch a few people’s lights out. I lost it a bit with some screeching little slappers on a bus stuck dead in traffic.

23rd December, Thursday

Did my bit of shopping. Got a poster for Bela Lugosi’s Dead in Final Vinyl. At the end of the night Dermot bought a voucher so I could have a lap dance in Strings. I declined the offer.

29th December, Wednesday

Before the end of the year let me note the last strange thing told to me by the plankton eater, of a morning in the canteen. He said he saw a girl electrocuted at a rave in a big squat in London, in Willesden Green. She was heating a hash knife at a cooker when she let the knife touch the ring. Dodgy wiring meant she was blown back against the wall, dead. He said that three fellas tripping with him at the time started crying and that they weren’t right for days. When I asked him what he did, he said he just left, along with everyone else.

30th December, Thursday

George Harrison was stabbed by an intruder but his wife managed to knock the guy out. I hope nothing takes to the air in Russia (Y2K). The Finns have stocked up with iodine tablets.