Breakfast Paranoia

Breakfast Paranoia

1998

Dublin

26 October

A strange, unsettling outbreak of paranoia in the renamed Billboard (“Leroy’s”) on Camden St: I was upstairs, waiting patiently, admiring the voluptuous new waitress. Thirty-something, a dyed blonde, bobbing up and down the stairs she came and went.

Three guys sat quietly at the table behind me, the farthest one back, in a raised corner under a translucent skylight. As I was eating the indifferent brunch, one of the other staff below discreetly called the lady in charge about an issue upstairs. Whatever the problem was, I was suddenly keen to find out. I just felt that I should know what the matter was but it wasn’t being broadcast.

Looking down I could something of a contagion spreading among the black-attired waitresses, an almost silent but visible effect like the chill in The Masque of the Red Death.

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I wanted to know more. The problem created a paralysis, like it was frightening, at least to women. I wanted to know but all I managed to make out was a simple exchange.

“Have you been up there?”
“No, I haven’t been up there,” replied the one in charge.
“Well, there’s something up there.”

It didn’t get any more appetising, what was on my plate. Those three guys behind abandoned their table and didn’t pay. When they had left, I was alone in the eye line of the anxious women in black, down below. They couldn’t stop themselves raising their eyes in my direction, in that of the skylight. Remember Harry Dean Stanton and the cat in Alien.

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Don’t look back. It was time for me to leave. I paid but wouldn’t be back. If we only knew, we’d go nowhere. Start a panic. If I’d turned around before the door and demanded to know what was going on, I’d have been the one to start that stampede.

Springsteen, Slane Castle, 1985

Springsteen, Slane Castle, 1985

On the first of June, preparations began quite early. Luke had the hash. For food he had a brown paper bag with half a pound of sliced ham from the shop. Just for the day he exchanged his van for a four-door saloon. The first stop was the shopping centre, for some slabs of beer and cider. As he, Doherty and Quirke pulled out across the forecourt of the petrol station in front, a woman pulling in to do her shopping started pointing upwards and beeping. Luke stopped. One slab was still on the roof of the car. It was a sunny day and they headed off. Bryan Ferry’s Slave to Love came on the radio as the breeze rippled through the open windows.

It was a Saturday. In 1984 the Slane concert had unwisely been staged on a Sunday, allowing the zombies a whole weekend to get tanked up enough to riot and besiege the local police station. That was the night before the concert. Things hadn’t improved much the next day as, backstage, Lord Henry tried to get Bob Dylan – who was caked in orange make-up – to get his act together and just go out there.

In 1985 the peaceful smoking of doobies and the eating of ham slices behind one of the goals on Slane’s GAA pitch was interrupted by the opening blast of Born in the USA, out of sight just down the road. A few songs later the three boys entered the concert over the vast panorama of the natural amphitheatre, the stage, the castle and the river. Springsteen was singing Trapped at that moment.

The sun was strong, beating down all day. The crowd was massive and Bruce told them they had never played to so many people before. For most it was just a day out and there was no festival atmosphere. Quirke hadn’t that much interest in the concert but Luke was on a different level, most of the time. He kept on and on about getting his hole. Quirke let Doherty talk to him.

When it was all over, they climbed back up the steep slope, grabbing tufts of grass, and Quirke glanced around to see hundreds of people tumbling back down the hill, left, right and centre. That much was a bit biblical. He fell asleep in the back of the car on the way home but woke up when they stopped for a minute. In the dark, Luke told Doherty to ask somebody for directions. It had been a long day. By the time he rolled up the window the passenger had forgotten whatever he was told.

The Irish Patient

The Irish Patient

The group of long coats passing down the hospital corridors on a night before Christmas carried no flowers. The nurses who spotted them decided they could only be visiting one patient. It had to be the one with the smashed wrist, acquired after climbing up a drainpipe that had given way and cast him down by a dark basement door, below the steep stone steps to the main entrance of the block.

One of the nurses brought in a plate of triangular ham sandwiches for the patient’s tea. The inhabitants of the coats sat on and around his bed. He shared the room on the ward with a couple of elderly men in bathrobes who wandered in and out.

The pair seemed to be looking for something, in the background, as the patient recounted what had happened to his wired-up wrist, as the eyes on and around the bed watched the good hand find the barest two triangles of bread, lay them out face up, and then methodically extract all the ham triangles from the others in order to stick them in between those two.

“They use industrial butter in here,” he explained.

Then he got one of the visitors to pour a soft drink into a plastic cup in order to wash that one thick triangle down. When finally allowed liquids after the operation, he’d polished off a couple of two-litre bottles of lemonade in the space of fifteen minutes.

Next a female visitor entered. Space was made for her at the foot of the bed. His girlfriend revealed she had told his father the truth – it had been her window over the ledge by which the drainpipe had given way – but the patient in the bed equably rationalized this confession. Damage done, there was nothing he could do about it now.

“Oh, it’s OK. I’m sure if somebody didn’t tell him he would have smelled a rather large rodent.”

The elderly men in the background were by now beginning to get a little agitated. They were looking for something.

“What’s wrong with those two?” whispered one of the visitors.
“They’re looking for the remote. They want to watch Glenroe.”

Watching the Sunday night soap was a simple pleasure, not to be missed.

“Eh, have you any notion where it is?”
“I’m sitting on it.”

The patient explained the apparent meanness of this concealment in a further murmur.

“At seven this morning the guy on the left there decided to empty his colostomy bag.”

Heads recoiled from the bed in distaste.

“While I was having my egg.”

Austria, a notebook #1

Austria, a notebook #1

Dr. John Flynn

Austrians tend to make their lives easier, so first of all they are very polite and second they don’t mean it… The difference between Austrians and Germans is very much like Irish and English.

– Christoph Waltz

In Michael Frayn’s Travels with a Typewriter, a collection of articles from the 1960s and 1970s, the penultimate piece finds him in Vienna in 1975. His acquaintance there with a mathematics student from Berlin “outraged by all this charm” makes him consider “these two German worlds” but the effort to reconcile them in his head proves disconcerting. Frayn is, after all, English, and the irony of Austria can be rather more spiritually familiar to an Irish person. That’s if it even bears thinking about.

On the subject of the unwillingness of the Irish to step beyond the English-speaking world, economically or culturally, it is true that most of them…

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The Irish Fight Clubs

The Irish Fight Clubs

The first credit on Na Chéad Fight Clubs means ‘Based on an idea by Michael McMahon and research by John Flynn’ (see above). In late 2007 I submitted a written proposal for a TV history documentary to an Irish production company that took it up with enthusiasm.

For a year or so it seemed I was in the loop. Then silence descended again, due to funding issues, I thought, until I discovered by accident in April 2010 that the thing had been commissioned by the Irish-language channel TG4 and was already in production. My father happened to be visiting an old friend who had whitewashed buildings in his yard when a location scout knocked on the door.

Legal advisers were then called in – a single letter from ours had the production company meekly offering to settle – and happily the project soon got put back on the rails, contractually. Plus we got paid. As did their very expensive lawyer. The legal lesson for all concerned was that copyright isn’t just about plagiarism, it also covers adaptation. Méaracha dóite is the Irish phrase for burnt fingers.

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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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