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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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

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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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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.”

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“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

The Vampires of Parson’s Street

The Vampires of Parson’s Street

“…I have not received anything quite like it and I was very pleased to get it. I am still researching diaries for an anthology and am not certain what form it will take – so can I keep the manuscript you sent… What has happened to you since? I hope you are warmer and richer and illuminated. Oh those golden days of youth… I like the little incidental things you throw in like the tip of your nose being cold and the lack of light bulbs…”

– Melosina Lenox-Conyngham (editor, Diaries of Ireland, 1590-1987), 1 June 1995

That letter from the late Melo got retrieved lately in reaction to stumbling upon an issue of the Hello of the groves of academe: the alumni mag. The cover star had been busy networking, even as a fresher, but there were even worse issues of this Pollyanna bullshit. The one devoted to shameless boasting about their charity work and how they could afford their ostentatious contributions was a particular low. Overall, this stuff that gives kitsch a bad name makes me think of William Golding finishing Coral Island and turning to his wife. I wonder what English boys would really be like on a desert island.

1988

5th January, Tuesday

Conor Mac had enquired about experiments in clinics. Four thousand for a six-second heart stop. Dermot picked a mouse up off the bar floor in the Roost. He had won seventh prize in the Roost Xmas draw. It included a bottle of port, which we drank hot. I slept in my clothes so I wouldn’t freeze to death.

6th January, Wednesday

We now have two light bulbs for seven rooms, including both jacks but not including the Rock ’n’ Roll Kid’s room, which is locked. (He has a key.)

7th January, Thursday

There are some good records popular at the moment – Terence Trent D’Arby (Sign Your Name) and George Michael (Father Figure). It is so like a squat now that there are three mattresses laid out in one room with the television. It is a squat.

8th January, Friday

A rejection slip came from the Irish Times (“We are greatly overstocked with poetry contributions”).

10th January, Sunday

When I got back to the house, Pearly had a f*cking crossbow, which his girlfriend got him for Christmas. A bedroom door was all shot through.

11th January, Monday

As a new beginning I cleaned the kitchen and got Dermot to help me clean the front room. We got briquettes too and lit a fire. The college opened again. Zig and Zag have attained cult status.

12th January, Tuesday

Typing a couple of pages in cold early hours by the light of a new bulb at last (150w) in a house on the edge of darkness. Starving in a garret.

15th January, Friday

Dermot, Pearly and I remained awake until 7.30 AM in order to wake CB for his weekly day’s work. “These boys are like vampires,” said Joe Caulfield later in the day. Dermot’s possessed tape recorder spewed out my Joy Division tape.

17th January, Sunday

All-night radio is on. The coal in the fire is reddening away, slowly. The Rock ’n’ Roll Kid made the statement of the year so far, to Pearly (“…and in the morning, we made love”).

18th January, Monday

Pearly came in and started to trash Dermot’s room. He smashed the crossbow when I wouldn’t help him load it. After much hassle, I ended up talking to him by the fire and he finally agreed to go to a doctor tomorrow. He fell asleep on the chair and I listened to the radio and ‘read’ Mayfair. By missing the daytime I am so much less bored.

21st January, Thursday

Joe Caulfield, CB and I stayed up talking until five o’clock. In the afternoon in bed I decided not to go home. Joe and I later sat talking in the cold. It began to snow later still. Back in the house we burned a chair and a shelf for heat.

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22nd January, Friday

It’s after 5 AM. Dermot insisted on making and playing with a ouija board. Dan K. and Pearly joined in so I decided to teach them a lesson and pushed the glass around for hours. Both the fact that I had to stretch my imagination and the effect it was having on the boys proved quite draining but it was an interesting psychological experiment for a good cause. I don’t want to do it again.

23rd January, Saturday

Brilliant ideas are essential for fiction. If you make up ‘ordinary’ people and situations it is a bland recipe for boredom.

27th January, Wednesday

Afternoon session. Talking about mysteries. Sean kicked Downes out of the Roost, saying he couldn’t listen to any more. At a table quiz in Celbridge we lost a sudden death play-off but came away with a fiver each. They also forgot to take our entrance fee, so it was really £7.50! M. and J. are now separated. We sat in the car outside this house talking and smoking. She feels rejected by the academics. It was a good day for Dermot. He shifted a nice girl and flashed the pocket telly scandal on PF, who had accepted one as a bribe.

29th January, Friday

A letter from my mother. She keeps telling me I’m lucky to be away because of the weather. CB broke up another sign to light a fire. We are surviving on a four-stone bag of spuds.

31st January, Sunday

Rose at 5 PM. Showered, ate, cleaned kitchen. The tube went in the television.

4th February, Thursday

The tip of my nose is very cold every morning. A shower in the college puts me right each time. In the Country Shop, M. said something about a factory job in Munich if I wanted to go right away. Last night I’d to ring the landlady. The phrase “legal action” was mentioned in her first sentence but through a mixture of buck-passing and semi-grovelling I got her to hold off for a while. This house wouldn’t get me down if it were clean more often. I feel better after washing up, for instance, but it pisses me off that I’m the only one to do it. I get at the others to light a fire and clean the front room. Joe is moving out very soon. His gloomy nervousness has been unsettling me lately but he’s better off out of here. Pearly will probably kill himself before the summer. It’s a pity. He can be very witty. I must write to keep sane. I read All That Fall on a 66 bus.

8th February, Monday

Rag Week. On arriving in Maynooth I started with a flagon of Strongbow and a naggin of vodka. I got mouldy drunk. On waking at teatime I saw the Union was in a mess and no people were left. I thought I’d missed the whole lot and felt ready to slash my wrists. I stood on my glasses in a toilet cubicle in the Roost and cracked a lens. At the bar ex, N. sold me a ticket for a raffle in aid of a woman who’s dying. “What’s the point in buying a ticket so?” I asked. I shifted but I couldn’t get it up. I missed a sitter.

9th February, Tuesday

Pearly came in and saw that we’d had his quilt the whole time. On the couch he’d only had two jackets. Outside, there’s a hurricane. If I really wanted to, I could finish the book in a fortnight but typing a chapter a day isn’t too bad. I discovered that by putting on two jumpers and wearing my pyjama bottoms under my trousers I don’t feel cold in my room.

10th February, Wednesday

In the afternoon in Dermot’s room we drank sparkling cider and joined the dots in a pornographic picture book. I’m a blind man. On leaving the bar ex early again I was cheered a bit to find almost a quid in change on my windowsill. It means I can eat something tomorrow. Someday I’ll get out of here. I’m in a poverty trap.

11th February, Thursday

A shower did a great deal of good. After four burgers on the end of the gas I washed up and cleaned the downstairs. It’s not for anyone else, it just does me good. Empty flagons are good for lighting fires. Nothing gets wasted around here except time and money. We listen to Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead.

12th February, Friday

Coping with the welfare state is a Kafkaesque experience. The new guy behind the desk in the Health Centre said he didn’t think I should have had to reapply for rent allowance. Wait about another two weeks. I get the feeling that those people delight in delaying you even if it is only for one week. So maybe you’ll give up.

Parson’s Street is getting to be like Beasley Street. Beauty problems are redefined, the doorbells do not ring. Even Tom H. wants to move out and he hasn’t officially moved in. My achievement was to achieve creative fulfilment and a preparation for death at such an early age. I just missed out on a partner and economic viability.

13th February, Saturday

The landlord’s brother called, saying he was going to collect fifty quid a week from now on. I suppose I could go home if need be. Without the radio the silence would drive me insane. It would be like Leixlip.

16th February, Tuesday

Bed for the day. The tip of my nose being always cold is fairly irritating. It’s chronic. Just what is under the yellow tarpaulin in the field behind?

17th February, Wednesday

The landlord’s brother agreed to give us a breather.

19th February, Friday

AM: there seemed little point in writing something now but things feel bad so I thought I’d better record this moment. In silence in this room you can always hear two sounds: the running of an engine or a boiler somewhere and the tapping of a pipe, probably arising from the water which drips away out of the wall at the back. They are mysteries.

At the weekend I hope to get some peace. Every day is a blur without my glasses and poverty grinds on my faith in a future. I can’t stay at home, I know that, but where can I go? I need a good break to come my way fast. Nothing I write could convey the jumble of boring nothingness. Everything sounds like bombast in print. Fourteen hours in bed and I wake up to find my last tenner lost. Suicide is out of the question, as are violence and self-mutilation. Whatever I’m going through is not as bad as adolescence. It’s just irritating to a large degree. A lot of banal difficulties are getting in the way.

When I break clear from here, when I break clear from here, there must be something about to turn up. It’s like getting bad hands of cards all night long. The lack of money to buy typing paper has been a simple obstacle in recent weeks. I don’t mean to sound self-pitying but I worry about the hopes and fears of my parents. It’s like being a cuckoo chick. The parents aren’t designed for the monster in their midst.

As the cold air begins to reach up my legs the only therapy is to write down sentences. The feeling of wanting to piss is increasing but the cold fingers of my right hand continue in the hope of re-entering a stylish vein of thought. A cup of tea and the radio are the best things life has to offer at this time of night, apart from an attractive girl who doesn’t talk shite. The world of Parson’s Street is one of icy temperatures, empty flagons, queer smells. I am like an old man here.

20th February, Saturday

Dermot and I had no luck thumbing so I attempted to cash my rent cheque. I tried the Roost, Kevy’s, Brady’s, the Leinster Arms and the petrol pumps outside Quinnsworth before trying Barry’s as a last resort. Robert cashed it, in part.

21st February, Sunday

CB woke me at four to get money. Robert gave me the remaining fifty. You couldn’t wait, huh? Spent it all? It’s relaxing to have money in my pocket.

22nd February, Monday

There is one shelf left in the downstairs bedroom. Pearly’s tape recorder died.

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24th February, Wednesday

The landlord’s brother came again but no one answered the door. Old Luke emerged from next door and gave him an opportunity to give out loudly.

25th February, Thursday

Upon discovering that my coat had been missing for an indefinite period I asked in the Roost. The barman just said it’s out there under the flap in the cocktail lounge.

27th February, Saturday

Now that the problems of material existence have taken over from those of adolescence I must try to decide which are worse. So far I prefer to be the way I am but as I sink deeper and deeper it may all change. Listening to people on buses at the weekend would make you give up hope for the country. Apart from the bog primitiveness, which is one cause of hopelessness, there was a couple in front of me who pissed me off too. She was Spanish and he was a dry, clean-cut, Gaelic footballer type of student or something. When she asked him to explain a piece of Irish on the inlay card of a Sinéad O’Connor tape he couldn’t even make an attempt to do so.

I think Parson’s Street is the really bad aspect of life. It is only sinking home how bad the house itself is, even before our way of life e.g. the hole in the ceiling in the downstairs bedroom caused by a broken toilet pipe. That’s not really meant as an excuse for me drinking my rent cheque. I wouldn’t have done so had the place not been so intolerable, or at least I wouldn’t have guzzled it all. At least I’m home tonight in a decent house. The comforts of home are appreciated at a time like this. You know, when read in the light of the conditions in Parson’s Street, the letters from the landlady are quite comical.

Sexually my run of misses must come to an end. The ball is going everywhere except into the net. The bonk in November is approaching mythical status.

28th February, Sunday

We are wrinkles from another age. Our lives would not fill a problem page.

2nd March, Wednesday

On the phone the landlady told the Rock ’n’ Roll Kid to tell everyone to get out by Monday. Look, can I just keep my room? Best news: Dermot got the two of us a room in Beaufield.

9th March, Wednesday

We broke into Parson’s Street to retrieve my letter. After trying to fish it out with coat hangers, Dermot thought of removing the new windowpane where the putty had not dried. The temperature had dropped after the rain, which had fallen for hours.

10th March, Thursday

A free film and being skint drew us to the Arts Block. It coincided with the surprise visit of Mary O’Rourke to a uni high society night. We blocked her car on the way out and the Special Branch horsed in, swinging girls by the neck.

15th March, Tuesday

Dermot told me he tried to torch Parson’s Street at the weekend. He smashed in through the back but the lighter wouldn’t light the damp blankets.

Postscript

5th August, Friday

When I got to Parnell Square they just introduced me to everyone, told me what days to be in etc. I just wanted to acclimatise myself to the feel of the place. I ran into B. on O’Connell Street. He had twisted his ankle so he was on crutches again. It was very warm in the city and he struggled as the two of us went to find Dan M’s flat. We had a few pints and, after B. left to meet his father outside Trinity, Dan mentioned the time he had come to Parson’s Street after we were gone. On hearing the knocking, Old Luke came out of his house, waved his arms and said, “It’s over!

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It’s the last house, with the smoke.

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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 much – 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. I named 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.

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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 (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. 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.

Der Herr Karl

Der Herr Karl

On 15 November 1961 Austrian television broadcast an hour-long dramatic monologue 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 was uproar but the hour had made the performer – Helmut Qualtinger – immortal.

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.

Married three times, their Herr Karl seems amiable at first but bit by bit, in a mixture of Viennese dialect (what he really thinks) and imperfect standard German (for what he thinks his audience wants to hear), he reveals himself to be a Mitläufer (a camp follower) and opportunist who rode each wave as it came.

Until 1934 he was a socialist but it didn’t pay. He demonstrated for rent-a-crowd right-wing groups because there was a bit of money going (fünf Schilling). Karl then vividly describes the arrival of Hitler in Vienna, the rapture of the multitude on the Ring and Heldenplatz and the police all wearing swastika armbands. To Karl the intoxicating atmosphere felt like the buzz of a wine tavern. Qualtinger’s impression of the blue-eyed Führer passing close to where Karl stood and simply grunting Jaja! at him is blackly comic. Da hab i alles g’wusst, wir haben uns verstanden (‘Then I knew everything, we understood each other’).

A Jewish neighbour in his apartment block – sonst a netter Mensch (‘otherwise a nice guy’) is forced to wash the pavements. Karl describes the block’s Hausmeister laughing at this, though, as a Nazi party member, it is Karl himself who supervises the cleaning. When the neighbour (somehow) returns after the war, Karl raises his hat and greets him in a simpering fashion but the neighbour won’t even look at him. This hurts Karl’s feelings. He argues that someone had to clean the pavement. I war ein Opfer. Andere san reich worden, i war a Idealist (‘I was a victim. Others got rich, I was an idealist’).

When the Russians came, people rushed to throw their Hitler portraits on the nearest dung heap but Karl kept his on the wall and deliberately encouraged some Russian soldiers into his apartment. They tore down the picture excitedly and trampled on it but then, satisfied with this gesture, they left him alone. Karl subsequently got the chance to suck up to the Americans, whom, he notes, had good food. Wangling a job as a civilian guard, he had ample opportunity to chase away hungry compatriots now that he was a self-styled defender of the West.

An excellent introduction to Qualtinger and Der Herr Karl is available in Georg Markus’ Wenn man trotzdem lacht – Geschichten und Geschichte des österreichischen Humors (2012), which has Quasi, as he was known, as the main figure on the cover.

Markus

Both a history and compendium of Austrian humour, this book begins with a chapter on Wiener Schmäh, which Markus links to Vienna’s ethnic mix and then defines as including melancholy, sarcasm and a little malice. Nevertheless, in the very first paragraph the author makes a rather dubious claim. Das Lachen ist hierzulande von geradezu existenzieller Bedeutung und die Heiterkeit mit der anderer Völker nicht vergleichbar (‘Laughter is, in this sense, of an almost existential importance and the amusement is not comparable with that of other peoples’).

The Begrudger’s Guide to Irish Politics (1986) is a book by Breandán Ó hEithir (1930-90) that traces the political evolution – even thirty years on from publication, development may still be too strong a word – of the Irish state and its adjoining northern statelet over sixty years, from the early 1920s to the mid-1980s. The writer defines the begrudger of the title as the most common type of Irish character. Such a person is usually cynical, snide and hungry for the next unflattering story about an official role model or public event that won’t bore anyone else in the retelling.

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Ó hEithir describes most Irish people as really time-serving sycophants but, to be fair, the begrudger is often justifiably cynical, as the author also points out. One may easily be short of a job, a house, regular sex, drink (rarely) or food in Ireland: one is rarely short of a bitter belly laugh.

The book begins with an anecdote from the morning after the signing of the Treaty (1921) that partitioned the island and created the Irish Free State. A passing priest asks a blacksmith why he looks so glum.

It was the gentry that kept me going and what’s left of them will leave the country now. I’m ruined.

The priest assures him that freedom will mean the Irish will have their own gentry but this only causes the blacksmith to mutter darkly in his wake.

Our own gentry!? We will in our arse have our own gentry.

The blacksmith was right. Instead, we got opportunists, the post-colonial class whose innermost vocation Frantz Fanon saw as remaining part of the racket. The success of the Irish in America magnifies the awareness – learnt from the Brits – that electoral politics is the safest form of organised crime, where privileged access to the trough of opportunity is tolerated thanks to successful patronage. Incidentally, charity-sector fiddling has emerged in recent years as a type of scam at which the Irish in-crowd have proved themselves world-class.

In a nation of embezzlers, though, this phenomenon of camp-following and opportunism isn’t just restricted to politics and those with political connections. To give a simple example, there was a party for the elderly in one rural parish at Christmas in 1999, the year the Irish prime minister had issued a national apology in the wake of the States of Fear TV series, which had documented our children’s gulag. Just imagine, the number of children in institutional ‘care’ in the Irish state between the 1930s and 1970s had been, in absolute terms, greater than that in Britain, while our population had been little more than 5% of that across the water.

Of course it became fashionable and convenient to blame the Church alone for such horrors but what of the society that gave the Church such power? In 2017 the latest such scandal is that of the mother-and-baby homes, those institutions where unwed mothers were put and where their babies – if they didn’t die and get thrown into unmarked graves – were often secretly sold for adoption. These places were never secret, the people knew the score, that’s how things were done. 2017 is also the year that Brunhilde Pomsel died. She was Goebbels’ secretary and lived to be 106.

‘The people who today say they would have done more for those poor, persecuted Jews… I really believe that they sincerely mean it,’ she said in interviews for A German Life. ‘But they wouldn’t have done it either.’

On a lighter note, the Christmas party committee had asked a relative of mine to help out at the event. The members had already gathered a lot of good food and drink in the form of donations. At the party in the parish hall, a retired nurse advised that some hot whiskey punch would be the best drink for the old people in the winter but that suggestion was shot down. Instead, the committee gave them sherry. They had plenty of sherry. Soon there was a crash. An old lady had keeled over. After that the guests only got tea and sandwiches. The wine, the chocolates, the brandy and whiskey bottles and the beautiful cakes remained untouched. Soon the old people were packed off on a bus.

What happened to the goodies? The cars reversed in, loaded up and drove away. “Never again,” said my relative. What happened to Max? According to Markus, all is known is that he got fired from the delicatessen after he was caught trying to take home some bottles of vermouth in a small case.

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