Dead Scrolls #1

Dead Scrolls #1

1984

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

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

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

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

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

THE_SMITHS_WHAT+DIFFERENCE+DOES+IT+MAKE+-+TERENCE+STAMP-5757b

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

Dead Scrolls cover

Advertisements

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…

View original post 1,206 more words

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.

john-hurt-in-spectacles

IMG_5214

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.

IMG_4034.JPG

Planet of the Naked Stranger

Planet of the Naked Stranger

…the Sixties trip viewed through the prism of three period classics: The Naked Ape (1967); Planet of the Apes (1968); and Naked Came the Stranger (1969). That two of the texts have a Taylor only adds to the minor challenge of quote attribution.

“You don’t seem too cut up about it…
It’s too late for a wake. She’s been dead nearly a year.”

“Ah, yes – the young ape with a shovel.”

“When a wife smashes a vase on the floor it is, of course, really her husband’s head that lies there, broken into small pieces.”

“Dammit, Taylor, if you break my chair,” he roared. But they didn’t hear him. For a moment Taylor lay there. “In a wheelchair,” his boss said softly. “That’s something, Taylor.”

“Taylor, don’t treat him that way!
Why not?
It’s humiliating!
The way you humiliated me? All of you? You led me around on a leash!
That was different. We thought you were inferior.
Now you know better.”

“I’d forgotten there was more to life than mowing a lawn.”

“Well, Taylor, we’re all fugitives now.
Do you have any weapons, any guns?
The best, but we won’t need them.
I’m glad to hear it. I want one anyway.”

“A belief in the validity of the acquisition of knowledge and a scientific understanding of the world we live in, the creation and appreciation of aesthetic phenomena in all their many forms, and the broadening and deepening of our range of experiences in day-to-day living, is rapidly becoming the ‘religion’ of our time.”

“It lacks the element of challenge, luck and risk so essential to the hunting male.”

“There’s got to be an answer.
Don’t look for it, Taylor. You may not like what you find.”

“Doctor, I’d like to kiss you goodbye.
All right, but you’re so damned ugly.”

“…faster, quicker, faster, needful… lost in immense, billowy softness and riotous colours and roaring winds; he was the sand, the sea and the star-pierced sky.”

“What will he find out there, Doctor?
His destiny.”

“It was easy enough to decipher loins, hores, bores, penny kings, panders, tapers and leapolds, but almost impossible to be certain of the species referred to as bettle twigs, the skipping worm, the otamus or the Coca Cola beast.”

“She was driving, floating actually, toward her new house, floating past the freshly butchered lawns dotted with the twisted golden butts that were the year’s first fallen leaves, past the homes built low and the swimming pools and the kempt hedges and all the trappings that went into the unincorporated village of King’s Neck.”

“The threat-faces of cars have become progressively improved and refined, imparting to their drivers a more and more aggressive image.”

“Ernie found what Cervantes and Milton had only sought. He thought the fillings in his teeth would melt.”

“Her skin, the colour of India tea at summer’s end, flowed nicely over a slender frame.”

“Imagine me needing someone. Back on Earth I never did. Oh, there were women. Lots of women. Lots of lovemaking but no love. You see, that was the kind of world we’d made. So I left, because there was no one to hold me there.”

“She knew she had aroused the creature in the torn, paint-spattered T-shirt.”

“In my world, when I left it, only kids your age wore beards.”

“He simply couldn’t. (He could.)”

“It is the white colour we have to watch for here: this spells activity.”

220px-Nakedape

“I’m pretty handy with this.
Of that I’m sure. All my life I’ve awaited your coming and dreaded it.”

“Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”

“With that he thrust Gillian back onto the bed and made a flying leap with the clear intent of pinning her down to stay. But she swerved to one side and the holy man, stiff with lust, came down standard-first on the bedpost. For a full two minutes he did not rise; he lay there, crumpled up, hissing incoherently.”

“Anti-contact behaviour enables us to keep our number of acquaintances down to the correct level for our species.”

“She stretched the tiny member to its full length, and it seemed to shrink even more in embarrassment.”

“You are right, I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand and hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a warlike creature who gives battle to everything around him, even himself.”

“Our fundamental biological tendency, inherited directly from our monkey and ape ancestors, is to submit ourselves to an all-powerful, dominant member of the group”

“The pre-copulatory patterns are brief and usually consist of no more than a few facial expressions and simple vocalizations.”

“… faster and faster they communicated. Fingers on skin, teeth on skin, then great shudders of total communication, and explosions of understanding.”

“The screams were not meant for him, they were meant for the other girls in the audience.”

“If these non-stop grooming sessions are to be successful, a sufficiently large number of guests must be invited in order to prevent new contacts from running out before the party is over. This explains the mysterious minimum size that is always automatically recognized as essential for gatherings of this kind.”

“Then methodically she drained him a second time, emptied him, calmed him and gentled him.”

“On this planet, it’s easy.”

“And that completes my final report until we reach touchdown. We’re now on full automatic, in the hands of the computers. I have tucked my crew in for the long sleep and I’ll be joining them soon. In less than an hour, we’ll finish our sixth month out of Cape Kennedy. Six months in deep space – by our time, that is… the Earth has aged nearly seven hundred years since we left it, while we’ve aged hardly at all. Maybe so. This much is probably true – the men who sent us on this journey are long since dead and gone. You who are reading me now are a different breed – I hope a better one. I leave the twentieth century with no regrets.”

“She was at that moment gently massaging him at his point of greatest altitude with a bottle of pink Johnson & Johnson baby lotion.”

naked came the stranger

Robert Musil’s Diaries

Robert Musil (1880-1942) is best known for Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (‘The Man Without Qualities’), an unending, unfinished novel, of which the first volume appeared in 1930. I tried to read it once but found it too essayistic – Musil’s diaries concede that – and boring and thus gave up. The first funny thing I came across in the diaries was the farcical account of the seduction of a seventeen-year-old pal of his. Let us call the story The Cougar of Brno. Musil’s early years were strange, to put it mildly. The sleeping rule (hands outside the covers), the presence of ‘Uncle’ Heinrich in the house and Musil’s deal with Herma Dietz are just three of the oddities.

robert-musil-4

Musil was small but combative and from early on he exhibited the small-man syndrome. Herma was a servant girl who looked after Musil’s grandmother but was let go after the old woman died. Musil, then a student in Berlin, offered her a place to live on condition she became his ‘mistress’. His flat description of her reaction (“She doesn’t say yes nor no nor thank you”) seems repulsive to modern eyes. He later gave her syphilis, she had a miscarriage and she died in 1907. Soon afterwards he married a widow (Martha) seven years his senior and they stayed together until his death from a stroke in Switzerland in 1942.

Reading Musil’s account of his ill friend Alice’s crazy adventure (1910) that ended with her being locked up in Venice, I made a note at the end. This is mental, in more ways than one. It appears in a context where he expresses an interest in sodomy and incest. Raised an only child, he was long obsessed with a sister who had died before he was born. Musil was a bit of a perv (i.e. prurient) and only occasional passages are worth reading until the seventh notebook (1913). The translator says Musil was “at the height of his receptive powers” then but he probably means most observant, with less navel-gazing.

Musil is quite morbid too. A brief passage about dying consumptives in Rome exemplifies how morbid, while his description of a tour of a mental asylum there reads like a thriller. In that light, Musil’s wartime notebooks are also well worth reading. He was an officer on the Italian front before his transfer to a desk job in propaganda. There are touches of everything from The Good Soldier Švejk to Apocalypse Now.

In the Thirties he’s again very interesting, this time on the Nazi takeover, which happened while he lived in Berlin. It is seen as a spell of bad weather… a police car with swastika flags and singing officers, speeding down the Kurfürstendamm. It is alarming that Germans today possess so little sense of reality… the streets are full of people – “Life goes on” – even though, each day, hundreds are killed, imprisoned, beaten up

Usually, otherwise, these are not really diaries at all, more often just notebook ráiméis, to use the Irish language word for rambling nonsense. There’s not a huge amount of comedy and not much observation outside of key historical and personal moments.