Photo: Upper Sean MacDermott Street, 1980 © Tommy Ward
Photo: Upper Sean MacDermott Street, 1980 © Tommy Ward
Roxy Music’s My Only Love was playing on a tape. One of the other occupants had fallen asleep again on a bed in the living room of the cramped flat. The one seemingly awake was losing the worst part of a hangover and writing up a few days in his diary. The haunting four bars of the song reminded him that he had to meet his ex in Dublin city centre at seven o’clock.
He put away the diary and left the flat to walk down the street, sweating and feeling grotty and uncomfortable. A couple of friends sat at a table outside the Mongoose Inn. They asked what he was doing later and he told them but played it down. The conversation at the table nevertheless drifted into the recycled waters of relationships. They wanted to know how he’d taken it when he’d been blown out.
He said the thrill had gone for her and added there was nothing he could do about that. Then he went back to the flat for a shower. The dust and debris on the living room carpet felt thick and prickly under bare feet. He woke the sleeper who then tried to blow the coming night out of proportion but he remained calm. Little did the prince know, however, that he wouldn’t be allowed to sleep on.
As he neared the door of the pub, fifteen minutes late, she emerged into the bath of evening sunshine. Her arms went around his shoulders and she leant up to kiss him on the lips for the first time since she’d said it was over. He snapped out of a sauntering mood. The faint blue eye shadow and the lip gloss were the only make-up. With the tip of his tongue he felt the gloss left on his own lips.
“I’m a bit drunk but I didn’t want to wait inside on my own any longer, like a piece of meat.”
They went back inside. The disco music was tolerable for the moment. She insisted on buying him a drink, which he drank slowly, still feeling the effects of the night before. She asked him what she should do with herself, now she’d finished her education. He knew she could make use of her face but barely mentioned the fact. She’d been abroad and said she’d probably go again, after a while. She urged him to go somewhere too. She seemed to be gazing at him with a lost intensity.
“I need you because, in ways, you’re very sane.”
They left and headed down O’Connell Street in order to cross the river to the south side. After a few steps she stopped, took off her shoes and put them in her bag because she didn’t like the clicking of the heels. He watched as she moved, seemingly oblivious of the reactions of passers-by. Men glanced at her twice before their eyes passed downward. He watched them until he caught their startled looks. Women looked too. He heard a Dublin working-class voice’s exclamation.
“She’s got no shoo-es!”
Feeling a vague new weariness, he hung his head as they walked, thinking of Kafka’s parable concerning a man from the country who came to seek admittance to the law. Smiling shyly, she moved to raise his chin with her hand as she’d often done before. He asked her if his jacket looked filthy but she assured him it did not. They arrived at another pub, across the street from Trinity College, and he sat in the quiet upstairs lounge looking at the unattended musical equipment in the corner and the dormant couples in the other alcoves. She’d disappeared into the ladies’ toilets. Time passed and there was no sign of her emerging. He began to get impatient and wondered what the hell was keeping her but her eventual explanation proved simple.
“God I’d an awful job to wash the black off my feet.”
He laughed and she turned and went up to the counter, having earlier refused to tell him what she wanted to drink. As she returned to the table, glass of lager in one hand, bag and pack of cigarettes in the other, the quivering breast suspension made him look away. Like the man in the parable, he guessed the door was shut now. When she sat down the talk dragged a bit at first but then she asked for and held his hand in another antique gesture. He began to talk freely once more and she reacted with energetic interest but this was cut short when she said she had to leave early to go to a hen party in an affluent southern suburb.
Outside, before she crossed the street to a bus stop, she turned and opened her arms. She asked him to kiss her again. He promised to ring her. Once she was gone, he smiled fatalistically, knowing he would have her back without hesitation.
If you have ever wondered why minor characters in horror films always stupidly venture down dark corridors, or alleys, or open forbidding doors, maybe it’s because by being there at all that they simply have no choice.
Living in London but in Dublin for a weekend for a quiz show…
13th November, Monday
There were plenty of f*ck-ups in the programme preparations but in the end of the day I pulled off a clean sweep of the show. The unexpected stoppage I caused by giving two answers to one question must have helped. With flights having been cancelled due to fog, J. wanted to keep going so we hit Bad Bob’s and Leeson Street again. In a wine bar maybe I fell in love with a blonde called Maureen. She’s from Leitrim and she teaches English to Spaniards. She’s cynical and witty but I got the better of her on Eurovision trivia. She gave up on Paris. Why?
20th November, Monday
I started as a chain boy on J’s site near Tower Hill. It’s all right. It’s better than labouring. I can cope with heights.
21st November, Tuesday
It was in a wine bar called Suesy Street, at the end of the night of the quiz, that J. and I ran into Maureen, who was sitting on her own at the counter. Her friend was in the process of getting off with a guy, nearby. Soon J. told her that there was something strange about her.
“Maybe it’s because I don’t simper.”
I was hooked. Description: fairly tall; slim but solid; hair clasped up none too carefully; a fine-looking woman without being stunning; an earthy laugh. In the short time I spent with her, maybe two hours, she impressed me more than any girl I’d met before.
“Come on boys, walk me home.”
She gave us a cup of tea. I asked if I could see her again, at Christmas.
22nd November, Wednesday
This could prove to be the best job I’ve been on. I can stand the cold, taking measurements. I don’t like using a sledgehammer but it helped me stay warm. Steel work seems more manly than being a donkey.
25th November, Saturday
Up on the steel girders of the seventh floor I sang Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne to myself to help me stay calm. As somebody wrote on a girder – erectors get you high. There is a rush of adrenaline all right. I went to Harlesden to collect a typewriter. It was too cold to get mugged.
26th November, Sunday
The sun these mornings is dazzling as you feel the cold steel under your arse.
29th November, Wednesday
The docklands: sandy brick in the morning sun and frost, yellowy-brown like a painting. It turned out I was glad to have gone to work. Breakfast sorted me out. Am I getting more used to the cold? The warm office is a sanctuary.
30th November, Thursday
I got paid. It feels calming to have money again. Some of the lads watched a man and woman bonking in an office across the street.
The psychology of steel: fear keeps you careful. I climbed up on the ninth floor this evening, partly to keep in practice and challenge myself to the test. To stay up too long brings on stiffness and that needs to be avoided. On the steel always keep two limbs firmly fixed. It’s pointless looking down. Your world must only be the few feet of space in your immediate vicinity. I tie my glasses around my head. I don’t need my concentration to be upset by the worry that they’ll fall off. After a spell up on the steel and the resultant buzz, the ground can feel unreal. I get flashes of the feelings of newness from when I first came to London. The strange red buses.
1st December, Friday
I was thinking a lot about Maureen. I was freezing. On a foggy evening Tower Bridge and its lights remind me of a Whistler painting.
3rd December, Sunday
“If you f*ck this one up I’ll never speak to you again,” J. said (re Maureen).
4th December, Monday
After work I called the number Maureen gave me and was told she’d been killed two weeks ago when she was knocked down in Killiney. A hit and run. The rest of the night I was waiting to wake up from this unbelievable dream.
5th December, Tuesday
Life is never dull, is it? I collected the rest of the script notes from R. Two silent Japanese girls were making breakfast in the kitchen in Harlesden. They served tea without a word. When I got home I put on Vesti la Giubba and then I cried. It was only the beginning. There is no future with Maureen, because she’s dead. The conversation on the phone with the girl who told me was like something out of a film.
“Could I speak to Maureen please?”
“Am, who is this?’
“My name is John.”
“Am, are you a friend of hers?”
“Where are you calling from?”
“Am, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Maureen had an accident two weeks ago. She’s dead.”
There I have been, feeling death close at hand every day up on the steel and this unbelievable turn of events happens. I really don’t know how I feel. Kind of numb with the shock. Angel it doesn’t matter who took your life that night. You’re gone but your face will haunt me. It makes everything else look trivial doesn’t it?
I used to think these things don’t happen to me. After all, I was twice hit by cars and walked away both times. Now, it just seems that the way something unforeseen and bizarre often gets between me and women has taken a seriously unfunny turn.
I realize I’m missing the agony of her close friends and relatives. This circumstance is truly bizarre. A lot of the time I can only think in terms of black humour. You win some, you lose some. Passing strangers in the night. Life is never dull, is it? This kind of thing makes everything seem pointless, worthless. Maybe there’s a tarot card for it. An evil eye watching over those around me. Make a grave for the unknown lover. Just think of it, she was already dead when I wrote about her in earlier pages. You in truth were the unknown lover, the Other, maybe you were, to a man who doesn’t want a whole sex at his feet, who never wanted that, but if you can be taken away, just like that?
When I heard over the phone I instinctively felt I knew it would happen, like some dream, like I once wrote: lucky to have achieved creative fulfilment and a preparation for death at such an early age, I just missed out on a partner and economic viability. It’s as if my written moans over the years have now come into their own, that I was right all along, as if I understood all along. It’s just beyond belief, it’s mind-boggling that all I should have had of her were those few hours. That she had only a few days to live. It must have been a tearful, very emotional occasion, her funeral. I was told she was never conscious again so she didn’t feel any pain. Here I sit upstairs, writing, drinking, listening to music and crying from time to time. Maybe it’s things like this that make a man of a man. A queer twist of fate. My eyes are stinging from the tears.
6th December, Wednesday
I haven’t cried like that since I was a child.
14th December, Thursday
I got a doctor’s cert around the corner from the flat on North Pole Road. He told me I had the flu. Then he started talking about the IRA (“Why don’t they hang them?”).
Have I yet described the way Maureen used to throw her head back between her shoulders when she was laughing? Or how at first she was stiffening her lips trying not to laugh (her raised eyebrows – like ‘Are you speaking to moi?’). Weren’t the first impressions brilliant? By the end of the night I had her attention in the palm of my hand. J. can always vouch for that. He described it as a brilliant performance when we left her place, saying it had never been done to him before, being blown out of the water like that. She was the spark.
She was twenty-three.
Photo: Facebook/Classic Dublin Gigs/Noel M
Doherty and Quirke went into Dublin for a street carnival i.e. a day on the beer. U2 played in the country’s biggest stadium Croke Park for the first time that evening, to add to the hype. Having a drink that night in the Berni Inn – long since Judge Roy Bean’s, across from Trinity – Quirke met a chap from home who’d taken a few punches after the concert, when one or more gougers snatched his U2 hat and he tried to get it back.
After midnight, Doherty and Quirke headed up towards St. Stephen’s Green, expecting a mere open air disco, as also advertised. There were thousands and thousands walking in the city but by then the fighting had started. There was a riot underway on Grafton Street. Police with riot shields were baton-charging this way and that. A wave of panic and confusion spread through the crowd every time they moved. Those not at the front could only see the crowd coming back on top of them and this only added to the fear. A saving grace was that the police did not lash out indiscriminately in response to those who were firing bottles. There were so many people that few knew what was going on. Gangs of young men were emerging from the side streets to attack before retreating again. It was chaos, confusing and frightening. Doherty saw a cop get a bottle stuck in his face. The sheer number of people in the way prevented the police getting at those who were pelting them.
The boys nonetheless kept moving towards the Green to see what was happening up there. They kept well to the side and passed by the waves. At the top of Grafton Street the whole area around that corner of the Green was covered in broken glass. There was nothing on but there the situation was relatively quiet. Evidently they had just passed through the shifting battleground.
They stood there looking around for a few minutes. The broken glass sparkled under the neon lights and the crunching of people walking on it mingled with the wail of sirens. They decided to make their way back down Grafton Street but by then much of the throng had dispersed and those remaining were getting down to full-on battle. The missiles were flying thickly and the cops were trying to advance towards the river. The boys dashed by shop windows with their hands protecting their heads and they ducked in doorways to avoid the batons and the bottles. “Quick, in here!” shouted Doherty as Quirke almost ran past a good niche during one charge.
In this way they made it as far as O’Connell Street where they began to wonder how to get home. Taking it from the top, they took a side of the wide boulevard each and walked back towards the bridge to see if anyone they knew was still in town. Doherty met two girls who said they could get them a lift but first they all had a toke as they sat beside the car on Bachelors Walk.
Across the river the fighting had come down Westmoreland Street and reached the far end of the bridge but, as isolated silhouettes ran in different directions, it could be seen to be petering out. Back in Doherty’s house the boys finished the hash and just fell asleep in the front room until it was bright.
Dublin, twenty years ago. The nights spent darkening the door of the Gigs Place in later years – it could take some time to get in – can be counted on one hand but all the key details had been sketched at the outset.
7th September, Saturday
Gigs Place: out of the corner of my eye I saw a young crew-cut slipping out with a Groucho Marx walk (a runner). Then there was the long-haired musical type who insulted me after roaring for pepper. Got into a slanging match over pepper, saw a guy do a runner, met two women: a fifty-one-year-old female Dorian and a doctor in the house (her niece). More wine. The pinch test: Dorian showed me the difference between the skins of ‘old’ and ‘young’ via the elasticity of the back of the hand.
8th September, Sunday
On Sunday morning the ends of long streets in their post-dawn haze – all cities look the same then. Awake, shake scenes from your awareness. Bed at 7.20 AM.
17th October, Thursday
Gigs: people crashing out left, right and centre. Of a group of four women across from us, the one good-looking one lost the plot after making a pudding sandwich with her toast. She had to be helped out, while I never saw what happened to another member of her group who’d dipped first.
Behind us, one of a group of three women lay stretched out like a corpse. I only spotted the horizontal human-like shape on rising to go to the toilets.
Over to my right, beyond the dried-leafy trellis, a ginger-haired fella rested his head on his table, with his clean fry-up and a tall glass of milk. Vermeer might have captured it. Every so often a waitress would make a token effort to wake him. The Gigs Place is some place.
21st October, Monday
Words for a review of the Gigs Place: fare with no exotica and no frills. Optional chips with everything. Bad wine, the list consisting of red & white.
16th November, Saturday
Gigs: the sight of the night was a fella puking like a muck spreader.
A strange, unsettling outbreak of paranoia in the renamed Billboard (“Leroy’s”) on Camden St: I was upstairs, waiting patiently, admiring the voluptuous new waitress. Thirty-something, a dyed blonde, bobbing up and down the stairs she came and went.
Three guys sat quietly at the table behind me, the farthest one back, in a raised corner under a translucent skylight. As I was eating the indifferent brunch, one of the other staff below discreetly called the lady in charge about an issue upstairs. Whatever the problem was, I was suddenly keen to find out. I just felt that I should know what the matter was but it wasn’t being broadcast.
Looking down I could something of a contagion spreading among the black-attired waitresses, an almost silent but visible effect like the chill in The Masque of the Red Death.
I wanted to know more. The problem created a paralysis, like it was frightening, at least to women. I wanted to know but all I managed to make out was a simple exchange.
“Have you been up there?”
“No, I haven’t been up there,” replied the one in charge.
“Well, there’s something up there.”
It didn’t get any more appetising, what was on my plate. Those three guys behind abandoned their table and didn’t pay. When they had left, I was alone in the eye line of the anxious women in black, down below. They couldn’t stop themselves raising their eyes in my direction, in that of the skylight. Remember Harry Dean Stanton and the cat in Alien.
Don’t look back. It was time for me to leave. I paid but wouldn’t be back. If we only knew, we’d go nowhere. Start a panic. If I’d turned around before the door and demanded to know what was going on, I’d have been the one to start that stampede.