Confucius v. Tzu-lu

Confucius v. Tzu-lu

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Sigmund Freud & the interpretation of everyday life

Sigmund Freud & the interpretation of everyday life

It was the German sociologist Marianne Krüll who analysed Freud’s handling of the Oedipus story in the light of his own family history. In her view it was a creative compromise of the kind sometimes used by children with parental conflicts. Instead of seeking the real source of hostility toward his father, Freud made the Oedipus myth one of the most pervasive parables of intellectual life. Thus, she claimed, he may have stood Oedipus on his ear and a ‘Laius complex’ would have been more accurate.

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In other words, it was Laius, the father, who, because of a prophecy that he would one day be murdered by his son, left the infant Oedipus on a mountaintop. Freud chose to believe that the power of Sophocles’ drama lay in the tragic destiny of the son who, not knowing his real parentage, unwittingly murders his father and marries his mother. Krüll claims it was only Freud’s bias that prevented him from recognizing the guilt of Laius. Nevertheless there remain convincing reasons behind Freud’s interpretation and one of these ironically comes not from The Interpretation of Dreams but from The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.

The strange fact that the [Oedipus] legend finds nothing objectionable in Queen Jocasta’s age seemed to me to fit in well with the conclusion that in being in love with one’s mother one is never concerned with her as she is in the present but with her youthful… image carried over from childhood.”

The Psychopathology of Everyday Life deals mainly with the type of error (parapraxis) which has become the everyday concept of the Freudian slip. Apart from the many vivid examples of slips of the tongue and pen, and of forgetting and bungling, we should be interested too in a comment he makes on the losing of objects of value. He says it may be the offering of a sacrifice to the obscure powers of destiny to which homage is still paid today. This is one explanation of karma: despite logically ridiculing superstitions, often we are unconsciously superstitious and will attract misfortune because we believe deep down we deserve it, for something we have done or failed to do. Another lies in the fact that bad behaviour that earns an advantage in one situation often rebounds in another.

Later in the book he unsurprisingly states that superstition is in large part the expectation of trouble. In this light, Oedipus is trouble. He too is a sacrifice to the obscure powers of destiny; a lost object of value. A Greek tragedy reflects that life is a tragedy. Is it any surprise then that Freud’s favourite cynical joke concerned a brandy drinker who was ordered by his doctor to give it up on the chance that might save his failing hearing? As soon as he did, his hearing improved, but when his doctor hailed him to no effect on the street, months later, he knew he’d gone back on it. In a loud voice, he asked the man why. Solange ich nicht getrunken hab’, hab’ ich gehört; aber alles, was ich gehört, war nicht so gut wie der Branntwein (‘When I didn’t drink, I heard, but nothing I heard was as good as the brandy’).

The Psychopathology of Everyday Life shows us that many absurdities in human interaction are almost miraculously capable of rational explanation but moreover his work also carries the implication that the surreal aspects of existence evoked by slips and superstitions are part of the eternal order of human affairs and therefore comprehensible, at least to a figure like Freud. Given his field of interest, he doubled up for a twentieth-century casting out of spirits.

Assault on Precinct Gombeen

Assault on Precinct Gombeen

February 1984

At the time the strapped Irish government had abolished free student medical cards and our (union) president was cooling with a few more in Dublin’s Mountjoy prison for defying a protest injunction. One of the other martyrs was the eventual talk radio star Joe Duffy, whose photo (above) shows him being dragged out of a hall in Trinity. A professor who liked to see his names in the papers had, in a not-so-progressive outburst, labelled such protesters “subsidised brats” for invading a lecture given by the Taoiseach (prime minister).

As part of the national campaign, three cohabitants were surprisingly keen to fulfil a promise to help occupy the health administration in the Kildare town of Naas. Nevertheless just thirty-one students got on that bus that morning, so my address alone contributed four. That was more than an eighth. The thought crossed more than one mind that if this went badly one could always hitch the fifteen miles back, as many had often passed that way.

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We entered shortly after noon, climbed to the third level and tied ourselves with thin ropes to the legs of desks in the large office space that was all women. We refused to leave when asked by the manager, a man in a grey suit. Soon we had our names taken by the police, who set up a siege around the building, leaving anybody out and nobody in.

The women typed away at their desks once no further disruption was evident. The students then untied the ropes for comfort. At five, the women all left and the management turned off the heating. The numbers inside had by then dropped to seventeen, as anyone who wanted a J1 summer visa to America had split, just in case.

The nearest pub was called the Wolfe Tone and a few brats hanging around on the streets below slipped in there after dark. It had a fire. When the pub heard what was going on, it was all for the revolution. It gave out free sandwiches to anyone who wanted to go across and throw them up on the roof. The windows of the top floor led onto a gravel roof with a large atrium in the middle. Half the republican sandwiches and several of the brown bags of burgers and chips that were bought nearby overshot the gravel and flew into the hole.

Kipping in our coats should have been second nature to us, otherwise, but it was a very cold night inside. Miserable. Cigarettes were in short supply but at least we found a couple of large, industrial rolls of brown paper in the cabinets and then noisily wrapped ourselves in it on the floor.

In the college canteen in the arts block the following lunchtime, the next year’s president made her name by standing on a black table and telling the crowd that seventeen comrades were holding out and needed their support. That news filled a few buses and a couple of hundred turned up in the afternoon. The ropes were let down into the crowd so sleeping bags could be attached. For the law, pushing and shoving at the fringes, this was just taking the piss.

The crowd below couldn’t understand why the heads above suddenly disappeared from the roof’s edge but, up top, cops with batons drawn were pouring through the windows on the far side of the atrium.

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We ran for the nearest office windows (see photo). Back inside, I ducked aside, behind a filing cabinet, but anyone holding a sleeping bag was chased down and battered. The women at the desks were horrified. They stood up and protested and then refused to leave, despite keen Garda encouragement to do so.

Understandably the ladies wanted to know who would mop the walls if the cops were let mop up. The man in the grey suit then got involved and, after everybody calmed down, it was the police who left, eventually. The seventeen remaining then emerged with the staff, to loud cheers. It all seemed heroic and exciting, especially as I had avoided a baton.

A night in Madrid

A night in Madrid

2016

28th December, Wednesday

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Those f*cking Marianistas are having a pow-wow in the corridor near my door. I complained to them once. Since then they have stopped shrieking. They probably think their normal talk is cutting me some deal. I came back too early. I’d have liked to stay in the dark Luna bar on the Paseo, with the Eighties music and the old lads in a back corner, playing Ludo for money, but Juana won’t go there, so B. and I had just the one before reverting to the tapas bars.

They’re even shushing each other now and then, outside.

29th December, Thursday

Update: come half past midnight I got dressed and went out again to advise them all that I was heading downstairs to complain. Porqué aqui, fuera mi puerta? Trenta minutos tras medianoche. Ahora tengo que reclamar, con el jefe. Dondé están las habitaciónes? They all sat on the floor in early teenage silence. At the lift I added a head-shaking “Sin respeto” before pushing the ground floor button. I found the night porter. Hay diez Marianistas fuera mi puerta, trenta minutos tras medianoche. Yak yak yak... I made the international hand signal for yakking. He just asked for my room number. That was the end of it.

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B. came with me to Madrid. From my hotel near Atocha we got a taxi to Sol. In trying to get away from the crowds we stumbled upon the royal palace.

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After lunch (back near Atocha) he went off shopping before his train home and I went for a nap. At dusk I got up and walked to the top of Paseo del Prado before turning left onto Gran Vía.

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After a few hundred yards of that I couldn’t stick it anymore and turned back. The anthill was even more teeming. The park down the middle of the Paseo del Prado is nice, though. I was photographing the many fountains and the art gallery after dark.

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Tonight is a night for doing nothing but resting and sleeping before an early start.

30th December, Friday

Another all-Spanish chat with a taxi driver saw me to the airport early but all the cafés down by the departure gates were f*cked up in one way or another – no cards accepted, out of croissants, kitchen closed etc. Luckily the plane wasn’t packed. A mercy.

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.

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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.

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Low Country

Low Country

The Fall is the most famous book set in Amsterdam, “a capital of waters and fogs, girdled by canals, particularly crowded, and visited by men from all corners of the earth”. Albert Camus also wrote of it “asleep in the white night, the dark jade canals under the little snow-covered bridges” but, in 1997, a two-hour BBC documentary on him ended with the camera on the sunlit trees along the French road where he died in January 1960. His last letters, read in a sombre voice-over by Brian Cox, were unintentionally funny. Each time, the only changes to the artist’s passion were the woman’s name and the day they were to meet, after he got back to Paris. How did he get time to write a line?

Another January, in the Gare Centrale in Brussels, while waiting for the train back to Amsterdam to get going, Pat had just one woman to think about. He’d landed in Amsterdam a few days earlier, when there were snow flurries rippling across the runways at Schipol. Viewed from the tram on the way from the station to the hotel, the snow on the dark brown stone was like a Black Forest gateau but the cold that white night was unreal. Reaching as far as sixteen below, it was too cold for red light. He’d never have thawed out in time, for one thing. For another, there was someone on his mind.

What really made Saturday night there, nonetheless, in The Grasshopper hash bar on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, was the guy who came up the stone steps inside the front door and then collapsed across the table beside him, smashing cups and saucers before hitting the floor like a dead man. At least, Pat thought he might be dead. The bunch of teenage American girls at that table went, “Oh my gawd, is he like, OK?” “I hope so,” replied the cute little Dutch one who reluctantly came out from behind the counter. Pat helped her pick him up, as an American girl turned and asked one of his companions a question.

“Is your friend a doctor?”
“No. But it’s OK, he’s got a Master’s in Sociology.”

The guy they picked up and put on a seat rested for a minute before making his way to the toilet. Later that same night, the Bamboo bar was where they met a young American chancer who came in with a Dutch mother and daughter. The American explained the presence of his two companions.

“I picked up these two babes in a McDonalds.”

The daughter was in her early forties, a good-looking Germanic blonde, among many, among the menacing trams and bicycles. Her mother was maybe seventy. The American had gone up to them and given them a little-boy-lost story. The charm had worked and later he bought them a drink or two before they all arrived and squeezed in around the table.

At this stage the daughter was clearly on a high, which was only added to by the fact of getting into the bar, away from the cold and the snow and the slush and the frozen canals. She was waving money and insisting on getting the drinks and laughing and seemingly telling her mother that she didn’t have to stay if she was fed up.

Pat didn’t think the mother looked too bothered, actually, but the daughter seemed just thrilled to be having a bit of fun. He imagined a suburban home and a divorce. The young American looked to be on a definite promise that night.

Twenty minutes into these reflections, the train was in Mechelen. I’m a bit deranged, I suppose, really. Too long in the dark facing the wall of the cave and unable to imagine the light. Taking the shadows on the wall to be real. Shadows, shadows, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

Antwerp was reached after another twenty minutes, after he’d listened to a bunch of Flemish suits in the carriage practising their English. Her unpleasantness had mostly taken the form of so much snapping. Talking to him as if he was less than a dog, while he felt a strange kind of sickness that enveloped the ache and left him in a daze.

Soon the train was crossing the Dutch border and he saw Rotterdam again from high over the Rhine. He made the airport with four hours to kill. It’s hard to believe, all the same, considering the fact that I didn’t care that she was gone. The fourteenth of April. The calendar is meaningless sometimes.

Having moved from one garish airport bar to another, he bought a bottle of beer. TV shots of European Union landmarks had given no overall impression of the Belgian capital. It was more like Auden’s poem, Brussels in Winter. Wandering through cold streets, the formula had escaped him alright.

“What’s wrong with you?” she snapped.
“I’m freezing.”
“Well, you should be wearing layers. That’s how to dress, over here, in winter. Don’t you know that?”

In the church of Saint Nicolas he’d lit a candle as an offering to Job. She realised what he was doing and for a moment the old warmth and amusement seemed to return. Back in her place, he fell asleep in his overcoat on her couch as she sat at her computer across the room. When he woke, she was actually smiling.

“What’s so funny?”
“You’re such a waster,” she explained.

At least the tone of voice was mild, that time, but that couch was where he lay awake for long periods over two nights, her discreet door slam both times echoing in his brain in the silence. All he’d hoped for, on leaving his friends behind in Amsterdam, was her good company in another strange city.

He finally checked in but another hour had to pass before boarding. The bitterness and resentment had taken him aback. He didn’t want to believe it but now it was a must. Yet, think of what she used to say (“I do love you in a way”). Now look at me and understand my epilepsy. There’s a chasm between love and justice.

Her mother had given him a pair of shoes she’d left behind and Pat had brought them over but they were no glass slippers. With nothing or no one to turn to, or turn on, he’d been too cold and miserable and too far from home to take the hits with dismissive indifference. He wasn’t too weak, though, to twist the knife a little, in retaliation, before he left.

“Alright, you’re right. I didn’t care, in the end. But no one’s innocent here. So don’t tell me you think you are?”
“We’re just not compatible. I’ve told you that before.”
“I know that. But I don’t want to fight with you. So, if you can’t be civil to me – no more contact.”

This put tears in her eyes. She admitted that they could talk about this all day. Pat remembered times when her tears would have made him do anything to stop them. She had one more thing to say, one more observation to make.

“You think it’s easy to go back to being friends.”

He’d never heard a woman say that before. That used to be his line. All the same, this time he just couldn’t talk about this all day, unlike all those other days.

“Well, look, I have to go.”
“What time’s your train?”
“As early as possible.”

She moved no farther than her doorstep. There was nothing more to say. He looked at his watch. After four hours in the airport the time was gone and he actually had to run for the plane. It was a long, long way to the gate but he just had to get out of there.

They would never completely forgive themselves, of course, but, after two months had elapsed since that last battle, he just knew one day he’d wake up and it would be two years. One day when he’d know that that was it, there was nothing left, except maybe a cold aversion, until that too melted into the past, the history of a foreign country. Out of the loop and beyond the pale, over the seas and far away.

A Comedy of Manners

A Comedy of Manners

Of a number of false dawns, the acceptance of a play script by a Tony-Award-winning Irish theatre company really stands out. Despite the December 2000 email (see above), we didn’t meet until 11 April 2001, in central Dublin, when their man described it as a one-act, middle-class version of the English sitcom The Royle Family.

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The first warning signal, though, came on 18 May, from an unlikely source.

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He did not but more importantly he was not wrong. Heard no more and by early March 2002, I’d simply had enough.

You may rest assured of the lasting impression made by the lack of courtesy shown me by you and your company. I’d ask for my script back only I couldn’t see the point, given that an e-mail costs less than the price of a stamp and I haven’t received even that minimum after almost a year. Such casual, arrogant rudeness may seem to cost little or nothing when dealing with someone who is unknown and without the influence that can command prudent good manners. That would be a short-sighted view. At present my only satisfaction is the Schadenfreude resulting from reading about Druid’s troubles in the press. Whatever fortunes rise and fall in the future, the fact that I was misled and shabbily treated will remain uppermost in my mind.

In response their man apologised and acknowledged the absence of any update had been out of order. Unfortunately for him, the company’s financial problems saw him lose his job soon afterwards, which was worse than me being messed around.

Anyway, the script got renamed The Coolidge Effect, after the old joke about President Coolidge and the First Lady visiting a poultry farm and spotting a cock jumping on a hen.

The Coolidge Effect

© John Flynn 2001

Characters

TIM, a middle-aged middle manager

SHEILA, his wife

TOM, a retailer

SANDRA, his wife

Scenario

This is an episode in an undeclared war within and between rival two suburban couples who have nothing better to do.

TIM has the remote control, a newspaper and the sofa. Enter SHEILA with pen and paper. She sits on an armchair and reads from her list in progress.

SHEILA
We need to do some shopping. Let me see. Eggs… bread… teabags… cereal… yoghurt… paté… chutney… ethical coffee…

TIM
Assorted smelly cheeses…

SHEILA
Kiwi fruit… avocados…

TIM
What happened to the frequency band of low fat and high fibre?

SHEILA ignores him.

I’m thinking of buying a new drill, by the way. I want to put up a few shelves in the attic.

SHEILA
Why there? But what am I saying? You can never have enough shelves.

TIM
Can I have some fat bacon?

SHEILA
No. We’ve discussed that before. We can’t have you eating what you like, not at your age.

TIM
I’m also thinking of changing my car, by the way.

SHEILA
Already?

TIM
I have it two years. Almost.

SHEILA
Is there something wrong with it?

TIM
No. I should be able to get good value on the trade-in. I just feel like a change.

SHEILA
How long have you felt this way?

TIM
I meant to tell you, I just forgot.

SHEILA
You just forgot, just like that.

TIM
I’m sorry, darling.

SHEILA
Something important like that. You didn’t think to tell me.

TIM
Forgive me. Find it in your heart. I haven’t done anything yet.

SHEILA
I was only thinking I’d like to spend some money on the house.

TIM
But we added the extension only last year. What do you have in mind? The kids are gone, practically. Though I still feel their, eh, impact.

TIM rubs his thumb and forefinger. SHEILA stands up and points, like a visionary.

SHEILA
I want to knock out the wall between this room and the downstairs bedroom. Think of how good it would look, when we have people over for dinner. That reminds me, Tom and Sandra said they’re going to call over tonight.

TIM
Oh no. What do they want?

SHEILA
I don’t know. Perhaps they’re going to suggest going on holiday with us.

SHEILA removes some holiday brochures from the armchair and puts them aside but within reach.

She sits again.

TIM
Oh great. How would we promote Tom? Let me see. Genuine Irish character. Guaranteed to bore the arse off you.

SHEILA
He’ll be talking shop, as usual.

TIM
His shop.

SHEILA
It’s hers too, Tim. But tell people what they want to hear, that’s my motto. In fairness they’re not the worst.

TIM
No, they’ve never let us down. But I prefer to stand up and be counted. Except now. Don’t tell him I watched the match on TV the other night.

SHEILA
Why don’t you want to tell him you watched the match?

TIM
No need.

SHEILA
You were sprawled there all evening.

TIM
I just don’t want to talk about it. It’ll just mean listening to more of Tom’s philosophy. He has some funny ideas about the game. Despite all the games he travels to see.

SHEILA
Sandra was on about curtains as well. I wonder what she’s thinking of getting.

TIM
Since we are but man and wife clinging to a speck of dust that’s careering through the universe… who gives a squint?

SHEILA
Anyway, that wall, knocking it down, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Promise me you’ll think about it.

TIM
I’ll think of the expense.

SHEILA
We’re doing well enough, aren’t we?

TIM
We’re doing all right, I suppose, but Richard and Jane are costing us a fortune in college. We’re haemorrhaging cash here, darling.

SHEILA
Now we have the extension we hardly need the old downstairs bedroom, do we?

TIM
Maybe not, but I’d like to put any more of your proposed alterations on hold for a while. I’d like to change my car. Whatever extra loan I’d get I’d want for that.

SHEILA
Next year, then? Is that what you’re saying?

TIM
Whatever. Maybe. We’ll see.

SHEILA
Knocking out a wall is not a huge job.

TIM
But it’s messy. We’ll need a builder, and a decorator.

SHEILA
That’s only for the tricky bits. We could do some of the work ourselves.

TIM
If we paid them, then maybe the kids would help out.

Pause as SANDRA gives him a look. She picks up the brochures.

TIM
I’m joking. Christ, I’m joking. Are they the holiday brochures?

SHEILA
Any preference this year?

TIM
You pick a place. I’m easy. Where are they for?

SHEILA
Spain, Portugal, the Canaries. The usual.

TIM
We know pretty much what we’re going to get, so. Just pick a place where we won’t get ripped off, or kept awake all night by chavs screeching, smashing flowerpots, shagging in the pool and tramping around in high heels at six in the morning.

Brief pause

So, what do we get? Two weeks in summer, one in winter, and some weekend away during the year. That’s our total. And everything has to be paid for.

SHEILA
We could go back to the same place as last year. That’s one option.

TIM
I don’t know. It was nice. But there wasn’t that much to see there.

SHEILA
The beach was lovely.

TIM
The beach was nice. But I didn’t like the hassle to buy a timeshare.

SHEILA
You could get that anywhere. They left us alone after a couple of days. Remember the restaurant across the road from the complex? That was good.

TIM
It was good value all right. Big helpings. All the chips you could eat. Look, you decide, dear. I’m easy. Just tell me how much.

SHEILA
I’ll see if I can come up with a shortlist from what’s available. Oh no, that’s my shopping list.

SHEILA has got momentarily confused.

TOM
By the way, I must get a saw blade. Add that to the list.

SHEILA
Shouldn’t I make a separate list for the things you want to buy?

TIM
Make mine on the other side of the grocery list.

SHEILA crosses out hardware items and writes them instead on the back.

SHEILA
Do you think we need more toilet paper?

TIM
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from life, it’s that you can never have too much toilet paper.

TIM lies back with a sigh.

SHEILA
What are you thinking about?

TIM
The past.

SHEILA
What about it?

TIM
It will never come again.

SHEILA
What will never come again?

TIM
What were you like, in college, say?

SHEILA
College? Let me see. I suppose I was a bit of non-entity. No missing lectures, no heavy drinking, no sex. Not in the Biblical sense anyway. I don’t think it affected me at all, really, looking back. It was only after I started working and before I met you that I loosened up a bit, experienced real hangovers, did it for the first time. Got it out of the way, so to speak.

She studies a list again.

Why do you ask? I must have told you before.

TIM
Several times.

SHEILA
Why ask, so?

TIM
I only got drunk when it was student night in the local barn. I wasn’t the type to lodge in a pub simply because it was drizzling on a Monday afternoon. I had a girlfriend most of that time and it was all lovely and stable. I was never depressed.

TIM sits up again.

Never elated, either, mind you.

SANDRA
Depressed? Why would anybody be depressed in college? Unless they were actually hungry. Or they expected too much out of life.

TIM
I flew through. A part of me sneered at the wasters. Sometimes, now, I envy them.

SANDRA
You envy our kids, I’ll bet.

TIM
Perhaps I wasted my time.

SHEILA
The news is on. Do you want to turn the sound up?

TIM
No. I’m not in the mood for other people’s disasters.

SHEILA
Neither am I.

TIM
Do you want to go late night shopping during the week, or tomorrow, in the daytime?

SHEILA
Tomorrow, if that’s OK with you? I’ve a stack of tokens and vouchers collected and some of them will be out of date if we don’t go then.

TIM
Add chocolate biscuits to the shopping list. Please.

SHEILA picks up the wrong list.

TIM
You’ve got the wrong one there. That’s your holiday list.

Doorbell rings.

SHEILA
That must be them.

TIM
Here we go.

TIM rises somewhat stiffly and exits to answer it welcomingly, offstage (“Come in, come in”) while SHEILA tidies cushions, newspaper and brochures.

TIM returns with TOM and SANDRA.

General meaningless utterances ensue before everybody is seated.

TIM
What’ll it be? The usual?

TOM and SANDRA hesitate politely, mumbling uncertainties.

TIM tells them what they are going to have, from experience: a whiskey and water and a gin and tonic. Then he looks at SHEILA who says she’ll have a vodka and Coke.

Phone rings. SHEILA drops her brochures and exits to answer it.

TIM dispenses drinks and pours a whiskey for himself. TOM wears tinted specs. Then TIM cocks an ear.

TIM
By the tone of her voice, it has to be one of the kids. They don’t ring to say hello. How much is it this time, I wonder? I’d better not say too much, though. She’d rear up on me at the thought that her babies might miss a meal.

SANDRA
They’re your babies too, Tim.

TOM
If they do that, then it’s their choice. It’s not like you don’t give them enough, I suppose.

TOM takes out a cigar and gestures for permission to light up.

Re-enter SHEILA.

SANDRA
Tom!

To TIM and SHEILA

He’s not allowed to smoke those things in our house.

TIM
It’s OK, Tom. Think of it as a treat, to celebrate the fact you’re over here.

SANDRA
I’m sure Sheila would appreciate it if you didn’t light that up.

SHEILA makes no comment.

TOM puts away the cigar.

SHEILA

To TIM

It’s Richard. Your son. Do you want to say hello to him?

TIM rises in order to exit.

SHEILA
He’s looking for money.

TIM looks beseechingly to heaven and exits.

SHEILA sits again.

SHEILA
It’s Richard.

SANDRA
How is he?

SHEILA
He’s fine, I think. He’s preparing for his finals.

TOM
I hope he’s keeping the head down, so.

SHEILA
We can but hope.

TIM returns.

TIM
I had barely begun speaking to him and he was gone. Said he explained to you about the money. What was the cock-and-bull excuse this time? Don’t tell me he said it was for books.

SHEILA
He said it was for Jane. Apparently her grant came in before his did and she lent him money and now she needs some to go on some field trip and was afraid to ask, so he said he would.

TIM
A field trip? At this time of year? I suppose it means that in some way he’s looking out for her.

SHEILA
I wouldn’t be so sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was her idea and she put him up to it.

SANDRA
Nothing on this earth matches the talent for conspiracy possessed by teenage girls. We see it all the time in the shop, don’t we Tom?

TIM
How much did he ask for, anyway?

SHEILA
Two hundred.

TIM
Ninety for his bar bill, ninety for hers, twenty for food? Who knows? Jesus, what next? They have part-time jobs and grants and standing orders and still-

SHEILA
College is expensive, even for hermits.

SANDRA
Burning all that midnight oil, like we did ourselves. Though I never went on, myself.

TIM
Burning my wallet at both ends, more likely. Did he say anything about them coming home? When are the exams over?

SHEILA
It was all a bit vague. It’ll be after his finals, whenever they finish. That’s all I know.

TIM
They must sense the fridge is empty. I must get a saw blade. Add that to the list, will you?

SHEILA
You told me that already.

TIM
There may or may not be a field trip but I just have visions of my daughter spending my money buying pints for some long-haired bozo who only gets out of bed to go to the pub or the toilet but who – she thinks – is deep.

SHEILA
If you want to put it that way, I can see your son wasting it on some gorgeous little bitch whose only justification is, I’m beautiful, blow it all on me.

TIM
More likely they’ll be holding each other up at the counter. They’re young.

SANDRA
They’re there to work and they have to work to get there.

TOM
Look at how well our Robert has done by applying himself.

TIM
When was he last home?

TOM
As long as they’re doing the work, we have to keep forking out, investing in their futures.

TIM
No sign of him lately, eh? But we must drive on.

TOM
How’s your car going, Tim?

TIM
Oh, it’s OK. I’m thinking of changing it, actually.

TOM
I change mine every year now. It’s the only way. Has to be done.

TIM
It’s every two years with me now. Almost.

TOM
Don’t you get bored with driving the same car that long? I know I used to.

TIM
I get bored with a lot of things, Tom.

SANDRA
Any holiday booked yet?

SHEILA
No. This year we’re seriously thinking of Italy, or maybe Greece.

TOM
Ever been to America, Sheila?

SANDRA
There’s nothing in Italy.

TOM
Not that we saw anyway.

TIM
Really? When were you there?

SANDRA
That year we went to the south of France, to the Riviera. Bloody French. Can’t even speak English like normal people. Anyhow, while we were there we went over the border on the train, to Ventimiglia. There was nothing there.

TOM
And when Robert was in Zürich, with the bank, while we were over there to visit him, we went down to-

SANDRA
Lugano, was it?

TOM
I think that’s actually in Switzerland, pet. You remember the other place we were. Como.

SANDRA
Oh yeah. I think it had a lake. Robert’s girlfriend was Italian. She was a nice girl. Her English was fluent. She was well educated.

TOM
I imagine we’ll go back to the States. To see Robert and then go down to Florida. Next year, probably. We’ve a lot on our plate at the moment.

SHEILA
Where exactly is Robert now? Any sign of him coming home for a visit?

SANDRA
Phoenix. It’s in Arizona. It’s hot. He’s busy.

TOM
He’s making a fortune out there. The bank just paid for a trip to Disneyland for his whole development team.

TIM
Wow.

SANDRA
Florida is great. All the shopping malls.

TOM
The freeways. It’s a big country, America.

SHEILA
But how is he? Apart from the fact that he’s making lots of money. Has he a girlfriend? Maybe he’ll arrive home with an American wife one of these days.

TIM
Or a husband?

TIM shrugs.

SANDRA
Oh I don’t know if I’d like him to get serious with an American girl.

SHEILA
Why ever not? What happened to the Italian one? You showed me photos of her once, I remember.

SANDRA
It just didn’t work out, I suppose. Robert’s job and everything. It’s a pity, in a way. At least the Italians are Catholics.

TIM
Tell me, Tom, has he been to Vegas yet? Plenty of paint and powder there for young lads like him. But he wouldn’t ever waste his greenbacks like that, would he?

SANDRA
He’s always been good with money.

SHEILA
How’s the shop doing? It must be flying, I suppose.

SANDRA
We’re getting by.

TOM
We have two main problems, always.

SANDRA
Shoplifting is one.

TIM
What’s the other?

TOM
Trying to keep staff.

SANDRA
Between the girls getting pregnant-

TOM
And the boys giving lip. There was a reason for unions maybe, once upon a time. Nineteenth century.

TIM
Don’t tell that to Sheila.

SANDRA
I didn’t know you were a union person. But then again, you are a public servant.

SHEILA
I’m not, I wasn’t, not really, but when it’s there and you have to join, well…

TOM
Boys or girls, it doesn’t matter, they’d rob you blind, even more than the customers.

TIM
Fingers in the till?

TOM
More like their elbows. How are things at work with you, Tim?

TIM
At the factory, Tom, we find that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

SANDRA
I’d say he’s only winding you up, dear.

SHEILA
Of course he is.

TIM
That’s all it is, Tom. That’s all it is. A wind-up from start to finish.

TOM
But I respect your opinion.

TIM
Everybody should have a chance to earn a living wage. Everybody should mind their own business. They’d be my policies. But I’m not a politician.

SHEILA
He wouldn’t have the patience.

TOM
Sandra didn’t know you were such an extremist, Tim.

TIM
How come it’s only the madmen who ever speak up? That’s what I ask myself. That’s what I want to know.

TOM
Now what you’re saying sounds reasonable in theory but-

SANDRA
If you ask me, it’s all in the breeding.

TIM squirms in his seat with growing frustration.

SHEILA
So, any scandal? What’s the talk of the town? If there’s one thing sure in this life, in this town, someone else will always make a blunder.

SANDRA
Eh, nothing much.

SHEILA
Well?

Pause

SANDRA
We do have some… big news, actually. That’s why we came over.

SHEILA
Well? Tell us.

SANDRA
Tom, you say it.

TOM
We’re moving house.

Pause

SANDRA
We thought it only fair to tell you before the “For Sale” sign goes up next door. You have the right to know.

TOM
It’s only fair.

SANDRA
We’re a bit tired of the lane.

TIM
The lane.

SHEILA
The lane? How many years have you been here?

TIM
How long have you two been running the residents’ association with an iron fist?

SANDRA
There’s a good community spirit established here now.

TIM
I know. There isn’t a lawn uncut on the estate.

SHEILA
Where are you going?

SANDRA
To the new development, over the bridge.

TOM
Ampleforth Close.

TIM
Ampleforth Close?

SHEILA
So, you’re moving house. Well, all I can say is congratulations. When can we see the place?

TOM
They won’t be ready for a few months yet, at least.

SANDRA
There’s just so much to do. All that new furniture to get, of course. I’m going shopping for new curtains on Saturday. They’re to help spruce up our interior spaces. Would you like to come with me?

SHEILA
Oh… I’d love to. What time?

SANDRA
I’ll call for you around twelve. We can have lunch in town. My treat.

SHEILA
Lovely. I need to buy a new bag anyway so we can have a look for that too.

SANDRA
That’s settled, so. Great.

TIM
More money, eh Tom?

TOM
She hasn’t even mentioned the garden yet.

SANDRA
I’m thinking of putting in an extra effort there. I’m talking to a designer.

SHEILA
Have you? That’s interesting.

TOM
She even wants concrete lions on the gate pillars. But we’ll get a few dossers on the dole to do all the donkey-work, for cash in hand.

SANDRA
I told you I’m not too sure about that. What if they get caught by a welfare inspector?

TOM
Don’t worry about that. We can say the landscaper-

SANDRA
The designer-

TOM
-hired them, if push comes to shove. I’m sure he’s hired enough of them in the past. Who do you think does all the digging on these projects anyway?

TIM rises and tops up the glasses. He is most generous to himself.

SANDRA
Oh I don’t know, really.

TOM
I find these people do fine, if it’s just for a few days, if you keep a close eye on them. As long as it’s daylight. But if you give them cash in hand, and a few cans of lager, and all the chips they can eat, they can be useful.

SANDRA
The poor you shall always have with you. It’s a sad fact.

TIM
Murphy’s Law.

SANDRA
It’s people like us who keep the finger in the dyke, who keep the show on the road.

TOM
Otherwise there’d be anarchy.

SHEILA
At least it’s tranquil around here. We should count our blessings, I think.

TIM
Well, good luck to you both, with your purchase. It’s nice, I suppose, though the name of the estate is kind of… stupid, to be frank. Will you stay for a few sandwiches? Sheila will make them, won’t you dear? If you’d had more notice you could do a few chips for our guests.

SHEILA
Do ye want chips?

TIM
Right, now, I must take in the bins before I forget.

TOM
That reminds me. So must I. No grub for me, thanks.

SHEILA rises and sits again.

Exit TIM and TOM to take in the bins.

SANDRA
So tell me more about what you are going to do with this house.

SHEILA
It’s nothing compared with your news. Concrete lions, eh? Wow. But I have to persuade Tim first, to do the little bit I have in mind over here.

SANDRA
I’m sure he’ll do what he’s told. Eventually.

SHEILA
He’s not bad with his hands, to give him his due. A bit more suggestion and gentle persuasion and he’ll take it up like it was his own idea. The thrill of the drill. Maybe it’s a sex substitute. Do you know something I can’t remember the last time that wasn’t after the pub on a Saturday night.

SANDRA
The last time? I don’t know. We rarely go to pubs.

SHEILA
Don’t you have any more… interest?

SANDRA
In Tom? In that way? When he turns over and farts in my face at the drop of a hat? Don’t tell me you still have faith in that kind of thing?

SHEILA
But don’t you ever see some fella and think I wouldn’t mind a bit of that?

SANDRA
It’s never going to happen, I tell myself that, so why think too much about it? My child has grown up, Sheila. Although there are moments, still, when… ah, nothing.

SHEILA
But what about Tom’s feelings?

SANDRA
I don’t know and I don’t really care. I don’t want to know.

SHEILA
A young man at work made a pass at me at the Christmas party. I told him I was old enough to be his mother. I know, he said. I asked him what he wanted. He asked me what did I think he wanted. He was quite brazen about it. I didn’t do anything – I kissed him – but afterwards I thought to myself… I don’t think I’ve gone to seed. I’m not ashamed to lie on the beach. Some people have no shame, I suppose.

SANDRA
You’re shaping up to be a bit of a Shirley Valentine, Sheila.

SHEILA
Well, it’s always left to me to organise holidays. I love the sun, and Tim likes to unwind, so I’ll just pick somewhere he can relax and I can stretch out. We’ll drink wine on our balcony in the evenings and maybe even make love in the dark. Our sex life is about as thoughtful and reflective as… a trip to the bathroom.

SANDRA
It’s comfortable, I suppose. You’re comfortable together.

SHEILA
To lie in the sun again. Away from all this damp. It’s like a dream. Some day I’ll have the house the way I want it.

Pause

SANDRA
We didn’t mean to put this place down, by the way.

SHEILA
Of course you didn’t.

SANDRA
It’s just that we always had our eye on moving over there.

SHEILA
We won’t be able to miss your new house, with the lions.

SANDRA
Let me show you a model of one. I just got it from the designer. Come on.

SHEILA
Can you bring it over to show Tim? He’ll be amazed.

Exit SANDRA and SHEILA.

Enter TOM and TIM.

TIM
If I were really honest with her I’d tell her I’ve never been hugely into sun holidays. Or skiing for that matter. Well, that’s a bit different – I usually end up pulling something at that.

TOM
What? A bird? You dirty dog!

TIM
No. My wire.

TOM
What?

TIM
A muscle, a ligament, something painful, whatever. It’s not that I’ve never liked the sun – I do – it’s nice – but maybe I’d prefer to see more of the world.

TOM
You should see America.

TIM
I did, I saw New York, when I was a student. I like to look at buildings – not that I know much about architecture or anything. To be fair, she’ll take a look too, and take photos, but it’s a habit we never really developed. I guess in the early days I had a suspicion that if I pushed her too far she’d snap.

TOM
Let me guess.

TIM
What do you want to look at them for? They’re only old. She’s happiest lying in the sun. I think I’m most relaxed when I’m sawing and hammering.

TOM
I know what you mean.

TIM
She’s still in good shape.

TOM
The house?

TIM
The wife. I should compliment her more on that. For the effort. Does she ever wonder if I’ve been unfaithful to her? The most I’ve ever done is think about it. These days it’s all I ever think about.

TOM
Really?

TIM
I’m bored, I suppose. I doubt if she thinks about all that too often anymore anyway. Sometimes, after the pub. There’s a girl at work – I’ve had a few drinks with her.

TOM
And?

TIM
She seems not to think I’m past it, somehow.

TOM
My advice is to avoid messing with the girls at work. You have more to lose.

TIM
I know, I know.

TOM
But don’t throw in the towel, just yet. Money talks, Tim, remember that.

TIM
Do you mean hookers?

TOM
Tim, please.

TIM
You dirty dog. How often do you ring?

TOM
Tim, please.

TIM
Has Sandra any idea?

TOM
Sandra asked me – nicely – not to touch her anymore, so that suits me fine.

TIM
But does she know?

TOM
No. She’d only be a dog in the manger, if she saw me enjoying myself, that is. Tim, what I’m saying is that you need a hobby. A package. What I mean is some excuse to be away from home, on your own, so to speak, occasionally. A change of scene does wonders for my patience.

Enter SANDRA and SHEILA.

SANDRA carries a large model lion.

TIM
What on earth…

TOM
Well, what do you think?

TIM
What am I supposed to think?

TOM
By the way, can I borrow your drill, Tim?

TIM
What for?

TOM
I want to hang some things on the wall.

TIM
Like what? That thing?

TOM
A few pictures.

SANDRA
They’re for the people who’ll be looking at the house. Viewing will be strictly by appointment.

TOM
I bought a few pictures, just to hang up.

TIM
To add a bit of class, eh?

SHEILA
Get the drill for him, Tim, please.

SANDRA
No, there’s no hurry.

TIM
No, it’s fine. I’m going to get it now. That thing’s eyes are following me.

TIM rises to get the drill.

TOM
Have you any spare drill bits too? If you have, that would be great.

Exit TIM for the drill.

SANDRA, SHEILA and TOM start examining the model lion on the coffee table.

Re-enter TIM with the old drill, which he inspects and plugs in. He sits back down with it. He squeezes the trigger occasionally, punctuating the conversation with its revving.

TIM
This one no longer packs a sufficient punch.

Squeezes trigger for a rev

I did something brave at work today. It followed on from a little incident at breakfast, in the canteen, yesterday. The general manager was behind the financial controller in the queue, watching him getting his tray filled. When the big man asked for beans, the boss tapped him on the shoulder. What are you doing, getting beans? You’re management. We don’t eat beans. Only poor people eat beans.

TIM points the drill like a gun at the lion and squeezes the trigger again.

SHEILA
What did he do?

SANDRA
I suppose he couldn’t give them back. Scraping them off the plate would be too messy.

TIM
He stood his ground and ordered his beans.

SANDRA
And?

TIM
He went and sat down with his tray.

SHEILA
What’s all that got to do with you?

TIM
The rest of us in management just had to order beans at breakfast this morning.

SHEILA
I see. There’s safety in numbers.

SANDRA
Nobody can be singled out after that, if you all did it.

TIM
I don’t know if that has anything much to do with the point I was trying to make.

SHEILA
What do you mean? You all did it, so you’re all OK.

TIM
Never mind. Forget it.

SHEILA
Look, I know it was stupid, to say that thing about the beans in the first place.

SANDRA
I would have just ignored it.

Pause as TOM asks for and takes the drill and then gives it a few revs.

TOM
This baby has seen some service, hasn’t she, Tim? But I don’t see any space for more shelves.

TIM
I know, we’re cramped, aren’t we? I’ll have to do my thing in the attic.

TOM
You should invest in a new one. A drill with real power.

TIM
That’s what I was thinking.

TOM
I’m about to buy a mighty one for our new place, if you want to borrow it for a while, later on.

TIM
I was thinking you would. But this one will have to do for now, won’t it? Will you be happy enough with it for now?

SANDRA
Yes, thanks very much, Tim.

TIM takes the drill back.

TIM
They’re going up very fast over there.

SHEILA
They look like they’re going to be nice houses.

TIM
Bird houses. Don’t tell me you’re tired of the lane now, as well?

SHEILA
No, no, what do you mean?

TOM
Listen, Tim, we didn’t mean to, you know…

SANDRA
Even though you said Ampleforth Close was stupid.

TOM
We hoped you’d be happy for us, if anything.

TIM
It would be going too far to say I’m happy, here. Ampleforth Close? Mother of Jesus, what kind of name is that for an Irish address?

SANDRA
I think it sounds classy.

TIM
You would.

SANDRA
If you’re so interested in old hat, why don’t you sign up for an Irish language class, or something?

TIM
What else have I got left, apart from herself here and two fuckers bleeding me dry and pissing it away? Marriage, mortgage, shopping, death.

TIM stands up with the drill.

TOM
Sit down, Tim.

SHEILA
Where are you going?

TIM
I’m leaving you. However briefly, darling. I’m hitting the pub. I’m not doing any more DIY, I’m not knocking down any more walls and I’m not going to fry in the sun anymore.

TOM
Hey, relax there, Tim.

TIM
Our home is warm and comfortable and structurally sound. So leave the bloody thing alone. That’s going to be my new motto. She can come to the pub with me if she likes. I know you two won’t go, whatever happens.

SANDRA
Going to the pub doesn’t solve anyone’s problems.

TIM
Whatever, I leave you both to your dreams of a property ladder going up to heaven. Ampleforth Close. Jesus. You’re welcome to it.

SANDRA
Well, if that’s they way you feel…

TOM
Er, Tim, can I still have your drill?

TIM
Sure, Tom, I won’t need it any more. I still have my meat and two veg. They don’t belong on any shopping list. But first let me prove to you that it still works.

TIM drills through the lion’s head, before totally destroying it by stamping on it repeatedly before their amazed eyes.

This is what we do to vulgar trespassers around here. Now, I’m going out. Before I forget where to get a late drink in this town. That’s going to be my new hobby. Garden cleaner.

Exit TIM. Embarrassed, shocked silence.

SHEILA
I don’t know what’s got into him.

TOM
Is he under a lot of pressure?

SANDRA
You just sat there and let him do that!

SHEILA is still looking at the lion in bits.

SHEILA
I’m really sorry about… that. Can it be… fixed?

SANDRA gets up to go.

SANDRA
Come on, Tom.

SHEILA
Let me talk to him, when he calms down. He’s never been any way violent before, you both know that. He’s a good provider.

SANDRA
I’ll see you on Saturday, if Tim’s recovered his composure and apologised and replaced the lion by then. Come on, Tom.

SHEILA
He’s under a lot of pressure at work, Tom.

TOM
We know, we know. Are you OK? Don’t worry about it. Do you want us to stay?

SHEILA
No, thanks.

TOM
Do you want me… to go after him?

SANDRA
Are you going to the pub too?

TOM
Who, me?

SHEILA
No, no, forget it. I think I’ll go to bed, in fact. He’ll come back and cool off on the sofa, or somewhere. It was an eventful day.

SHEILA has another look at the smashed lion. She puts a hand to her mouth. She may even be laughing.

TOM then lights up a cigar and has a smoke before they leave.

SANDRA
Tom!

TOM
Shut up. I had a hard day too. A cigar is just a cigar.

He takes a drag.

Sometimes.

CURTAIN