Flann’s Your Only Man!

The craic house

The craic house

Well, it’s that time again, thankfully, and fans of the great wordsmith will be gathering once more to celebrate his wit and wisdom in The Palace Bar. It’s the perfect place for such an occasion and this year the day has pushed back to Easter Monday – April 2nd – but that will not in any way dampen the fun. It’s a great day where fans read, recite and sing from his extensive canon of words and a lively time is had by all. I have been to a few such days and I can only say that it’s one of the best and most friendly ways to spend an afternoon, or later as I vaguely remember. You know what I mean. So, if you are in town, why not drop in and enjoy the craic – see you there. Slainte.

I think The Third Policeman should see this....

I think The Third Policeman should see this….

 

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Filed under Art, Dublin, flann o'brien, Humour

Saved by the Book

Sail Away

Sail Away

1

She turned over and winced when a sunbeam cut straight past the sleep in her eyes. A small guttural sound involuntarily escaped from her throat and she pulled a pillow over her head. The sunbeam had woken her and she knew that change had come. There was no going back and, for better or worse, she was moving on. No, no…the worse doesn’t come into it, that’s over. Fool me once, she thought, her breathing even and loud with her nose pressed against the mattress. Yeah, you’ve caused me too much pain to go back, she said, hearing the words reverberate in her head and was genuinely surprised at the thought.
But then all things change.
Standing in front of the mirror she brushed a few loose hairs from her face and exhaled, loudly. The first thing she noted were the eyes; the eyes that had seen her boyfriend with another woman yesterday. They were red and sore and she shivered when she realised how tired she looked. She hated what she saw but didn’t look away. Not even her droopy shoulders could do that as she wanted to remember this image and imprint it on her brain. She did that and then stepped under the shower for a long, cleansing of both body and soul.
Images of Roger, her Roger, kissing a woman outside a restaurant on Merrion Street kept coming to her mind as she dressed and made coffee. She tried to push them away and eventually surrendered to the intrusion while she packed some clothes in a bag. She had been to see her dentist on Merrion Square and was making her way to St Stephen’s Green where she spotted Roger. From across the street she recognised his familiar, confident steps as walked up and then embraced a woman with shoulder blonde hair. This was not a friendly, work-colleague kiss on the cheek greeting, but something much deeper. She remembered feeling her mouth falling open as Roger and the woman looked at each other before going into the swanky restaurant. The pain from her visit to the dentist was forgotten as she wondered what to do. I can’t handle this now, she decided, and hailed a taxi that took her home.
The doorbell sounded near eight o’clock and she took a deep breath, went to the door, and opened it.
Thinking back on what happened she saw it all from above, as if she was having an out-of-body experience. It helped not to be part of the story, to be removed from it, but she knew she wasn’t fooling her herself.
‘What’s wrong Shelly?’ Roger said when he saw her red eyes. He had to know that she had been crying but had he been rumbled? ‘Are you ok?’
He leaned close to kiss her but she stepped back. ‘What’s the matter?’ he said, his eyes clear and wary.
The moment that had been on her mind all day had arrived. ‘Who is she?’
Roger’s brow lifted. ‘Who…who are you talking about?’ He opened his hands out in a ‘I-don’t-know-what-you’re-about’ gesture and their eyes locked.
Shelly kept telling herself to ‘keep cool’. ‘The woman you went to lunch with today. The blonde you kissed like there was no tomorrow, that’s who.’
Roger’s nostrils flared and the sneer gave him a nasty look. He didn’t move and Shelly could almost see and hear his brain working as it considered and weighed her words.
Since she’d known him, about sixteen month now, he had always been sure of himself but not in an overt and pushy way. He was confident, she liked that, but now there was an arrogance that she had not seen before. And she didn’t like it.
‘Spying on me, are you?’ he said, his words mocking and dangerous. He stood tall, looking down on her, every movement and gesture now threatening.
‘I was coming from the dentist when I saw you with…her. It was an accident, that’s all. I mean, why do you think that I was spying on you?’ Even as she said the words she wondered if she had gone too far. It was done now and she knew that the next few moments would make or break them.
Roger drew a hand over his mouth, the sneer a tight line now. ‘She’s a friend if you must know, and she’s…’
‘Go on say it…it’s not like you to be stuck for words.’
Roger stepped forward an raised a hand.
Shelly, to her own great surprise, didn’t flinch. ‘That’s it…lash out. Is that the best you can do?’
Her words taunted him and for a long moment he was undecided. She could see the guilt in his eyes and knew he hated being found out. She had heard stories about men beating women but she never for a moment believed that it would happen to her. But now as she looked at Roger with his hand raised, she realised that she might soon have her own story to tell.
‘You’re not worth it…no way,’ he said clearly and lowered his hand. Then he opened the door, glanced back over his shoulder, and left.
Shelly stood in the hall staring at the lock on the door as she felt her pulse begin to slow. She didn’t want to break the moment and waited…and waited until she was ready, and walked over and turned the key in the lock.
It was over, they were over, and she went into the kitchen and put on the kettle. I need to clear that bad taste from my mouth, she thought, putting a spoonful of coffee into a cup. Later, as she sat at the table, she began to shake. It was a strange, knife-edge type feeling that she hadn’t expected; she didn’t know what to expect, but she had reached a new place where there was no room for Roger. He hadn’t even challenged her, confirming his guilt, and the blonde was welcome to him. He was a cheat, a two-timing liar and, painful as it was, she was better off finding it out, now.
Later she called her mother who invited her for dinner. That was all she needed right now, and then she went for a long walk on Sandymount Strand where the salty air and cawing seagulls helped her to think about other things.

 

After a big hug and a cup of tea Shelly told her mother the whole story.
‘You’re better off…and that was very brave. It could have turned nasty.’
It was a close run thing and thankfully nothing like that happened. Roger the Rat had run down a sewer and she hoped never to see him again.
‘So what are you going to do?’ her mother asked.
Shelly had thought about that when she was walking on the beach. It took a while but she had decided to call her friend Rachel who had a shop in Skibbereen, west Cork. She was always asking her down and now she was going to take her up on the offer for a month or so. School had just closed and her work as a junior school teacher meant she was free.
‘At least that’s some good news, so when are you heading off?’
‘Tomorrow morning. And don’t worry, my apartment is fine. Everything…will be ok.’
Shelly was up early the next morning and put a suitcase and a small bag of clothes, shoes, books and other bits and bobs in the boot of her car and drove away. The day was sunny and she hoped that it was sign of something good.
Her phone pinged. It was a text from Rachel. ‘Your room is ready. Take care.’
She replied. ‘Just leaving. I’ll bring wine. Thanks.’
She took one last look around, got into the car and headed south.

2

‘Where shall I put these?’ asked Mark, pushing a box of books into a corner of the shop.
Andrew turned. ‘You can leave them there for now as I want to move a few more things about first. Then we’ll have a better idea of where they should go.’
That made sense Mark thought. ‘And there are half-a-dozen posters as well,’ he said tapping the tall, white tube.
Andrew nodded. ‘That’s good, because the last time the printers forgot them and it was…well, let’s just say it wasn’t good.’
Mark grinned at the understatement. He had been working in the bookshop for three weeks now and liked the way Andrew spoke. He was articulate, had more to say about writers than his English teacher in school and didn’t talk down to him. They were equals, nearly, and he liked that.
Andrew looked around the shop. ‘Ok, I’m going to get a coffee, fancy one?’
‘Sure.’
‘Right then, you mind the shop for a few minutes,’ then the bell jangled as Andrew opened the door and crossed the street.
The smell hit him before he opened the door and stepped into T R Coffee, the most aptly named shop in town. Rachel, the owner, pushed the cash drawer closed. ‘Morning Andrew, and how are you today?’ she asked.
‘I’m good thanks, and can I have two cappuccinos and Danish pastries please.’
‘Mark with you today?’
‘Yes, and for a seventeen year old he’s doing fine. He’s a great help.’
Rachel looked over. ‘And I’ll also have an extra pair of hands later.’
‘That’s a good idea with the holidays kicking in.’
Rachel nodded. ‘Exactly, and it’s very much appreciated.’
Andrew let two customers pass. ‘I know, as I have a book launch in a few days and Mark’s been very good.’
Rachel handed over the coffees and cakes and Andrew paid her. ‘Do come along, I’m expecting a good crowd as the author is local,’ he added. ‘You must know Ian Reed?’
‘The photographer?’
‘That’s him, and his new book is, from what I’ve been told, a very entertaining read…with great photographs.’
Rachel smiled. ‘Thanks, and can I bring a friend?’
‘The more the merrier. Thanks,’ he said and stepped onto the sunlit pavement.
He and Mark moved tables and chairs about until they were satisfied with ‘the look’. The shop, Turn The Page, was narrow but stretched a long way back where old stock was stored in an adjoining room. Andrew also used the room as a studio where he painted, and Mark was impressed with the canvasses that lay against the wall. ‘Are you going to sell those? he asked.
‘Hopefully,’ said Andrew ‘and we’ll find good places for them later.’
And they did before Mark went home, and Andrew locked up.
The old shop was looking good and his aunt Lilly, who had left it to him, would be happy. The place was busier than ever, and although he was not going to make a fortune, having regular Readings by aspiring authors and showing off works by local artists all went to lift the shop’s profile. And the fact that Des, one of his sailing friends who he owned a boat with, ran the nearby radio station in Ballydehob that often mentioned the shop, all helped.
Running a bookshop nowadays demanded thinking outside the box, and it never stopped. It was so different to working for a hedge fund in London, but he’d done that and didn’t miss it. Apart from the money, of course, but he had made enough, and he was happy not to be in that rat race any longer. There was more to life than making money and being under constant pressure, and now he was enjoying himself. He wasn’t going back.
After making dinner he put on his painter’s garb and enjoyed the strong sunlight as he added to his latest work. It wasn’t quite finished, yet, but it was close. Later, he thought, closing the door and heading upstairs to bed.

3

Shelly worked hard in her first days and Rachel was delighted. ‘You should have come sooner,’ she quipped when Shelly wiped her brow.
‘Being on my feet all day is tiring,’ Shelly said ‘but good. I feel as though I’ve lost a few pounds, and that’s never a bad thing.’
‘It happens,’ said Rachel ‘and better than going to the gym.’
They both laughed at that.
It was on the second night that Shelly told Rachel her story. Rachel hadn’t asked, wasn’t going to, but Shelly wanted to talk. Needed to talk.
‘You’re better off, Shelly, he sounds like bad news.’
‘That’s one way of putting it…but he was a real charmer when he wanted to be. That’s what fooled me for so long. Bastard.’
Rachel leaned close. ‘You’re here now, so forget the past and enjoy the future. I mean, you never know, nobody does, what might happen.’ She shrugged and Shelly smiled ‘Thank you’.

The bookshop was packed as Andrew talked with Ian Reed and his publisher. A good crowd was always welcome and that sort of news spread long after the launch was over. Mark was operating the cash register while Des poured wine for the guests. He was busy and waved Andrew over. ‘Have we more wine?’
‘In the store, but we’ll start now and people can pay attention to the author instead,’ said Andrew.
‘The voice of experience, eh.’
Andrew winked. ‘You wouldn’t want the guests to forget about buying a book now, would you?’
Rachel and Shelly arrived in just before the speeches and grabbed glasses of wine. ‘Nice place,’ said Shelly looking about the crowded shop. ‘It’s quirky; I like it.’
Ian Reed spoke well, told a few funny stories, and signed plenty of books afterwards. The local newspaper had sent a photographer who was busy snapping guests who were enjoying the night. The launch was a success and Mark had never seen so much money in the till.
Andrew came over to get wine for the author. ‘Hi Rachel, it was good of you to come.’
‘Delighted, Andrew,’ she replied ‘and this is my friend Shelly.’
Andrew’s eyes flicked onto Shelly. ‘Hi there, I suppose Rachel has you working all hours.’
Rachel made a face and Andrew shrugged.
‘You bet,’ Shelly said, and Rachel slapped her on the shoulder.
‘No fighting, please, at least not inside,’ said Andrew taking wine over to the author.
Rachel pointed to paintings in the window. ‘Andrew paints these, and…’
‘And you have one in the lounge,’ offered Shelly ‘I recognise it.’
‘Very good, you’ve been paying attention.’
Later when Shelly was reading through a book Andrew stopped. ‘Ah, that’s a really positive book and well worth a read.’
It was what she wanted to hear. ‘That’ll do nicely,’ she said.
He pointed to a sign near the door. It was a square of white, with black letters that read You Can, You Must, You Will.
‘Very profound,’ Shelly said, liking the message.
‘Those words are from the book,’ Andrew said ‘and I think they’re great. I put them there for people to see, and they like them.’
Andrew topped up their glasses with the last of the wine. ‘I’ve been busy all day so – Cheers.’
They clinked glasses and chatted for a while before Andrew had to talk again with the author. ‘I hope you like the book,’ he said. ‘It’s been nice talking with you.’
Rachel had a signed copy of Ian Reed’s book under her arm. ‘You look happy,’ she said to Shelly. ‘What’s happened?’
‘Nothing really. I bought this book on Andrew’s recommendation and we chatted for a bit.’
Rachel turned and spotted Andrew. ‘I’ve known him for years. He’s a nice guy, and a very good sailor..’
‘..and artist,’ added Shelly.
‘Of course, and he’s made this shop a very ‘happening’ place. Look,’ she continued ‘the place is still packed and that cash register has been ringing all evening. The town needs a place like this.’
Shelly sipped her wine. ‘Have you never…you know..’
Rachel laughed. ‘No…I know him too well. It’s just one of those things.’
Rachel and Shelly waved to Andrew when they were leaving.
‘Enjoy the book,’ he replied nodding to Shelly.
‘Well, guess who’s made an impression?’ Rachel said outside as they walked back to the apartment.
Shelly chuckled. ‘I liked talking with him, that’s all. And thanks for the invitation, I really enjoyed myself.’
Rachel put an arm around Shelly’s shoulder. ‘You’re very welcome…and thanks for being here.’

4

Two days later Andrew helped Mark tidy up after the Book Club members had finished their monthly meeting. As it was the holiday season there were only a few participants but two of them bought new books. ‘I really enjoyed the other night,’ said one man ‘there was a great atmosphere in here. Well done, Andrew.’
‘Thanks, and keep spreading the word.’
Mark was cutting photos of the launch from the local newspaper and pinning them to the notice board on the wall opposite the cash register. ‘It went well, didn’t it,’ he said.
‘It sure did, and the publisher called me earlier to say thanks. He was impressed, and maybe, we’ll have more launches. It’s what I wanted to hear.’
Mark nodded.
‘Coffee?’ asked Andrew, repositioning the one remaining painting in the front window.
‘Thanks,’ Mark said, clipping the edge of another photo.
Andrew checked his watch and didn’t realise that it was nearly midday. No wonder I’m hungry, he thought, and headed across the road to Rachel’s shop. As he approached he could smell the coffee and checked that he had enough money.
As he opened the door Andrew was suddenly aware of the strange, quiet atmosphere. The place was usually a hub of chatter but now all he could hear was one voice, and he recognised it. It was Shelly’s and it was pleading.
‘Please go Roger, just go away,’ she said from behind the counter to a man Andrew didn’t recognise.
‘Don’t you dare tell me what to do,’ the man shouted and Shelly stepped back nervously. ‘Nobody tells me to go away…nobody.’ His voice was louder and Shelly was slowly curling into herself as she leaded against the wall.
The nine or ten customers in the shop were all struck dumb and silent.
Andrew took a step towards the counter. ‘What’s the problem?’ he asked.
The man turned and snarled ‘It’s none of your fucking business; now get lost.’
Andrew noticed Rachel behind Shelly, a look of total dread on her face. ‘That’s what you’re going to do,’ he said, watching the man carefully.
The man stared at Andrew, stepped over to him and swung a punch. Shelly and everyone in the shop screamed as Andrew ducked and swept the man’s legs from beneath him with a scything kick. The man hit the floor and Andrew stood over him, daring him to continue.
Seconds later the man scrambled to his feet and without a backwards glance left the shop. A loud cheer went up and Andrew grinned like he had just beaten Mile Tyson. ‘Thanks,’ said Shelly ‘I really appreciate that.’
‘Yeah, thanks Andrew, I’m impressed,’ Rachel said. ‘Where did you learn that?’
Andrew touched the side of his nose. ‘You don’t want to know…believe me.’
Andrew looked at the two women. ‘Well, is somebody going to tell me who that was?’
‘My ex-boyfriend,’ said Shelly ‘and he’s crazy. He hates not getting his own way…and that’s why I broke-up with him. He was impossible to be with.’
‘In that case I hope that he’s now got the message,’ said Andrew, looking over to Rachel.
‘Oh yeah, loud and clear,’ added Shelly before reaching up and kissing Andrew on the cheek. ‘Thanks again,’ she said and went behind the counter and into the kitchen.
Rachel was smiling. ‘That was some surprise Andrew, really.’
He shrugged.
‘And, to show my appreciation coffee and cakes on me today. Ok?’
Of course it was ok, and Mark was wide-eyed when he told him about the incident. ‘It sounds like something from cowboy movie,’ added Mark, shaking his head.
Andrew almost swallowed his cake. ‘Thanks, but I think you’ve been reading too much lately.’
Mark grinned and had an even stronger reason for liking the man who chased thugs out of town and painted lovely seascapes. Interesting, that was the word he was looking for, he thought, before taking another bite from his delicious, free pastry.

5

Andrew had just uploaded a post to the bookshop’s blog, when there was knock on the window. It was Shelly.
‘Hi there,’ he said opening the door ‘this is a nice surprise.’
Shelly had two cups of coffee and a bag with donuts. ‘I brought these to say thanks.’ She looked around the shop. ‘One of them is for your assistant. Is he here?’
Andrew shook his head. ‘No. I let Mark go early as he’s playing in a golf competition in the local club. So, I guess you’ll have to drink that.’
‘I guess so,’ she replied.
‘I’m posting photographs from the book launch to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, so give me a minute.’
‘You’re a jack-of-all-trades?’
He looked up. ‘Well, if I don’t promote the shop nobody else will, so…’
Shelly understood. ‘I didn’t hear any music the other night,’ she said trying to work out who was playing.
Andrew sipped his coffee. ‘I know. Before Mark left I was painting…and I like to listen to music when I do so.’ He turned his head. ‘Come on, I’ll show you.’
The storeroom was tidy with racks of books dominating one wall. Opposite, Shelly saw tins of paint, brushes and a number of finished works. The window, at the back, was large and looked onto a tiny garden that was now bathed in early, evening sunshine. There was an easel in the middle of the room and the painting that Andrew was working on.
‘It’s not quite finished,’ he said, sitting on a high chair ‘but it’s close.’
Shelly immediately liked the blues, some strong, some light, making it look very natural. It was a scene looking across a beach and out to an endless sea that rolled onwards to a horizon. She could almost feel a salty breeze blowing. ‘What are you missing?’ she asked, sitting on a wooden box by the door.
Andrew looked at Shelly and then at the painting. ‘I don’t know.’ He drank some coffee. ‘It happens like this sometimes.’
‘What does?’
‘It’s like you’re going down one road, seeing nothing else, when suddenly a completely different idea or perspective shows itself. It’s like coming to a fork that you hadn’t anticipated.’
‘That’s interesting.’
‘Yeah, and I’m not sure if that’s called inspiration or luck. Maybe they’re really the same thing!’
Maybe, thought Shelly, looking at Andrew as he studied the painting. Rachel reckoned that he was two or three years older than they were, probably thirty, and his clear blue-grey eyes, collar-length fair hair and easy composure were attractive. And she couldn’t forget what he’d done to Roger.
He looked over. ‘I take it that you were not expecting your visitor today?’
That was a nice of putting it, Shelly thought. ‘No, I was not. I can only say that he knows where Rachel lives and he put two and two together…’
‘And got five.’
Shelly laughed, spilling coffee on the floor.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said ‘it’ll add to the story of the shop.’
Shelly wasn’t expecting that. ‘Roger would have started screaming if that had happened.’
‘He’s a bully…and unhappy.’
It had taken Andrew only minutes to sum up what Shelly had been thinking for months. Maybe she was too close to the issue, that sometimes happened, but she was still impressed at his insight. ‘Yes, you’re right. He was great fun when things were going his way, but I noticed him change recently.’
‘Any particular reason why?’
‘I began saying no to him. No, I didn’t want to go to this place or that, and he began to lose interest in us. Then I saw him with another woman, and when I challenged him about it he stormed out. He hated not being in control.’
‘A bully, and hopefully he’s learnt something from his visit.’
Shelly nodded.
‘Otherwise it was such a wasted journey, don’t you think?’ he added casually.
This time Shelly smiled.
‘And what’s your plan? Are you staying here for a while?’
Shelly put her cup down. ‘I’m a school teacher on holidays, so I’m going to help Rachel for the next month or so. It’s getting busier by the day and I know she appreciates the help. And I’m…thankful that she invited me down.’
‘That’s what friends do.’
‘And thanks for what you did today. I mean, I was scared stiff when Roger started shouting at me. He was crazy, and God only knows what he might have done.’
Andrew brushed a stray hair from his brow. ‘I know, but he didn’t and that’s all that matters.’
There was a long silence between them with only the quiet playing of Myles Davis’s trumpet intruding. It wasn’t uncomfortable, and Shelly noted how relaxed she was when she found herself looking at her feet in a square of sunlight. It was a funny thought, and she liked it.
‘Do you fancy sailing sometime?’ Andrew asked.
Shelly was surprised. ‘Sailing?’
‘Yes, the thing people do when they put a boat into the sea.’
She laughed at that.
‘I’d love to but you better tell me what to wear, and what to do as I..’
‘What is it?’
‘I can’t really swim,’ Shelly replied nervously, hoping that Andrew was not going to cancel the outing.
He was unfazed. ‘Well, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve never lost a passenger yet. Ok?’
Shelly offered a relieved grin. ‘Fine; and when is the big day?’
‘I think that tomorrow evening would be good, say six o’clock.’
‘Fine, I’ll clear it with Rachel.’
After Shelly had left Andrew put on another CD and thought about the day. It was so unplanned, but then nobody ever knew what was going to happen. But it had, and as he contemplated the painting he reached for the brush and made a few strokes. Yeah, that was what it needed, he thought, remembering how the sound of Shelly’s laughter filled the room. He liked that, and maybe he would hear more tomorrow. He made a few more strokes, sat back, and was happy. On The Beach was finished.

6

Shelly had a lot to say when she returned to the apartment.
‘Going sailing, are you?’ said Rachel, unable to hide a grin.
‘Like I said, he invited me and I couldn’t very well refuse, could I?’
Rachel was laughing. ‘No you couldn’t, not after what he did to Roger the Rat.’
‘That’s what I mean.’
Rachel topped up their glasses. ‘And I know he’s a very good sailor because I’ve been out with him.’
‘And…?’
Rachel shook her head. ‘I told you before, nothing happened. I guess it’s chemistry…or the lack of it. There are somethings in this life that you just can’t force.’
Shelly nodded. ‘You’re so right, and maybe he’s just asked me out after the incident in the shop. Make me feel better.’
Rachel sipped her wine. ‘It’s possible…but then again.’
They laughed out loud, all memories of the nasty incident with Roger blown away in a heartbeat.

‘My friend Des was out in our boat and he should be back by now,’ Andrew said slowing the car as they came into Baltimore. The small village was busy with flags and colourful bunting flapping in the steady breeze.
‘What’s all this for?’ asked Shelly.
‘There’s a big regatta next week, and it’ll be manic here. It’s not to be missed.’
Shelly had borrowed Rachel’s sailing gear and she was excited when they walked to the sailing club and met Des. There was plenty of activity around, and after putting on her lifejacket Des helped them push away. Here goes, she thought.
Andrew looked over. ‘Done this before?’
‘Once, on a school holiday.’
‘Then you’re an expert; so, just try and relax. Ok?’
Shelly nodded as Andrew passed her a rope. ‘Hold that,’ he said, and as he moved the tiller the wind filled the mainsail. They were off, and in a few minutes the boat was heading away from the busy quay at a steady rate.
‘You ok?’ asked Andrew.
‘Yes, this is great,’ Shelly said, listening to the sail as it rippled in the breeze. ‘Where are we going?’
Andrew pointed. ‘Straight out, then left past the Beacon and we’ll go around to Kedge Island. And after all that fresh air we’ll be ready for a bite in Villa Carlotta.’
‘What’s that?’
‘It’s the best tapas bar in west Cork.’

As the boat rocked back and forth Shelly’s stomach got used to the movement and she was feeling fine. She had been worried about getting sick and making a fool of herself, but now she was enjoying the experience. ‘This is great, and thanks for the invite.’
‘You’re welcome, but it might get a little choppy soon, so hold on.’
‘Yes, Captain,’ she replied and Andrew winked.
He was right and before long Shelly wasn’t feeling quite so comfortable. The ferry to Sherkin Island passed by and Andrew waved over, but Shelly kept her head down. She was concentrating hard when they passed below the Beacon and barely noticed the people waving down at them.
‘It’s choppier than I’d thought it was going to be,’ Andrew said. ‘Are you ok?’
Shelly nodded and felt water splash her face. She looked up to see a wave hit the boat side-on tossing her to the other side where she banged her knee. ‘Ahh,’ she cried out and Andrew leaned down to help. In an instant the boon swung violently, smacking into his head and over he went into the sea.
‘No,’ Shelly screamed when she saw Andrew lying face down as the boat moved away. She was in a panic and started shouting HELP and waving her arms at the people on the cliff. She was getting further away from Andrew, and with heart pumping, she heard a voice in head shout GO.
She jumped.
The water was cold and she splashed and swam as waves lifted and dropped her. GO, GO, GO the voice kept shouting as she struggled, doggy-paddling like crazy. She thought her heart was going to explode when she stretched for Andrew’s lifejacket. On the third attempt she got a hold, and with a massive effort, her arms, legs and every part of her screaming in pain, turned him face-up. He was unconscious and there was blood coming from a cut above his left eye. ‘Oh Jesus,’ she cried as the boat continued to float away with each passing wave. She couldn’t believe what had happened, and put her hand under Andrew’s head to keep it above water. She kept crying out HELP and wondered if they were going to survive. As the blood trickled into the water she heard herself saying over and over ‘Please don’t let him die’.
They floated close to the cliffs and Shelly had to use her feet to stop Andrew from banging against the jagged rocks. She had no time for being scared and, with strength she never knew she had, they moved away from danger. The swell was getting worse and they waited, rising and falling, for about twenty minutes until she heard the sound of an engine getting close.
Two men helped pull Andrew and her aboard before another was left off to sail Andrew’s boat back to the club.
‘What happened?’ asked one of the men examining the injury to Andrew’s head.
Shelly told him as best she could, not taking her eyes off Andrew’s face.
There was a crowd of onlookers at the quay where an ambulance waited. ‘He’s hardly breathing,’ said the medic, ‘that’s not good.’
The ambulance raced along the narrow roads, its siren screaming and blue light flashing, as the medic worked on Andrew. There was real concern on his face and Shelly was in silent shock as she looked on. At the hospital Andrew was rushed into an emergency room and Shelly feared the worst. And started to cry.
Half-an-hour passed before a doctor, stethoscope around his neck, opened a door and came over to her. ‘He’s a lucky man,’ he said.
She was surprised, and relieved. ‘Lucky?’
Andrew had been knocked unconscious and the cut above his eye was deep and needed a dozen stitches. ‘Well, if you hadn’t flipped him he may well have drowned. He was knocked out and…’
He didn’t finish the sentence; he didn’t need to.
Rachel arrived and threw her arms around Shelly. ‘Des called and told me what happened. How is Andrew? And how are you?’
Shelly was wearing pyjamas and a nightgown and looked both tired and relieved. She told her story and Rachel shook her head a few times. ‘That’s crazy, Shelly, absolutely…I don’t know what to say.’
Shelly brushed her hair back. ‘I know, but that’s…’
Rachel’s eyes suddenly were open wide. ‘I…I didn’t think you could swim.’
Shelly twisted her head from side to side. ‘Barely, but I just had to try and save Andrew…so I jumped.’
‘Jesus, Shelly there’s never a dull moment with you, is there?’
The two women were smiling and wiping tears away when a nurse came over and spoke to Shelly. ‘Andrew would like to see you,’ she said and they walked down the corridor.
Andrew was sitting up in bed, a stack of pillows behind him. There was large white plaster on the cut above his eye that was now closed. He was looking at her with his one good eye and even that looked tired. ‘Thanks,’ he said, his voice quiet and thicker now. ‘You saved my life.’
Shelly waited for a few seconds before sitting on the edge of the bed. ‘I’m just so happy that we’re talking, that’s all I wanted.’
Andrew understood. ‘They told me that you dived in…that was a very brave thing to do, especially as you can barely swim.’
Shelly steepled her hands, fingertips touching her nose. ‘I had to…there was nobody else around.’
‘Mmmm.’
She shook her head slowly. ‘I told you that I could barely swim, but when I saw you in the water I had this powerful feeling that I had to do something. My leg was hurting like hell and from somewhere inside I heard this voice screaming.’ She took a deep breath. ‘It said GO, GO, GO and I knew what I had to do. And that’s when I jumped in.’
Andrew leaned his head into the pillow and was silent for a while. ‘That’s crazy.’
‘In the book that I bought in your shop one of the positive thoughts was ‘Let go, and go’. And that’s what I did.’
Andrew managed a crooked smile and Shelly saw a tear roll down his cheek. ‘Thanks. I’m sorry that this happened,’ he said ‘it was meant to be…’
‘There’s plenty of time for that,’ Shelly said, as she leaned close and kissed him.
Andrew exhaled loudly. ‘I was saved by the book, eh.’
Shelly smiled.
Andrew’s head began to hang to the side and his breathing slowed.
Shelly sat with him, holding his hand until he was asleep. Her one-eyed seafarer with the plaster across his damaged brow almost made her laugh. She would laugh later with Rachel, and now couldn’t wait to tell Andrew what she was thinking. She had saved his life and, maybe she had saved her own, too. It was a positive thought and one she knew the Captain would understand.

The Beacon

The Beacon

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There’s a Starman…

It started off as nothing more than a spin around South London, but by the time we were finished it seemed as though we had been on a pilgrimage. The heavy, slow-moving traffic didn’t intrude, giving us more time to talk about our musical hero whose untimely death had left his millions of fans stunned and heartbroken. David Bowie may have gone to the great gig in the sky and, as we sang along to yet another of his songs, it was with a mixture of pleasure and pain that was both equally uplifting and sad.

*

School of Stars

School of Stars

The day was bright and cold and it was my first time in London since Bowie’s passing. My cousin, who lives in Dulwich, had sketched out a route that would take us to some of Bowie’s haunts from his early years. It was a plan that would allow us time to listen to his music and discuss his unique cultural contribution. We had often done this, usually late into the night, but with the great man’s passing it seemed more like a duty and something we just had to do. As he started the car and we moved off he clicked on the music player and the sound of Station To Station. ‘You drive like a demon,’ I said, getting the first laugh of a memorable day.

David Jones was born on 8th January 1947 at 40 Stansfield Road in Brixton where he lived until he was seven when his family moved to Bromley. He went to a local junior school before arriving at Bromley Technical High School for Boys (now Ravens Wood School) in 1958. And it was her under the guidance of teacher Owen Frampton, the Head of the Art Department and father of guitarist Peter, that Bowie’s creative side began. He was a superb dancer and played saxophone with Peter Frampton in a school band called The Little Ravens.

Hunky Dory

Hunky Dory

And it was here in 1962 that he received a punch in the eye from his friend George Underwood, that left him with a frozen pupil. Bowie had taken George’s girlfriend Carol and the unfortunate result gave Bowie a unique look that fitted perfectly with his soon-to-be-famous image. George went on to become very successful in the art trade and was involved in designing the album covers for Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. My cousin turned up the volume on John, I’m Only Dancing as we passed the old school where rock legends once learned to play.

After leaving school Bowie worked for a time as a commercial artist and continued his musical journey by playing in different bands. One was a group from Margate and they performed as Davy Jones & the Lower Third, but he left after recording a few singles that failed to make an impression. Later he made the first of the many changes that he became famous for when he dropped Jones for Bowie. This was because another Davy Jones, from Manchester, was becoming famous as the lead singer with The Monkess and Bowie did not want to be confused with him.

*

Soon we were near Beckenham where Bowie moved to after he left school. And that was when we had to stop because of major roadworks. I would normally be unhappy at sitting in traffic but now was fine as we listened to, in particular order that I remember, Space Oddity, Let’s Dance, The Jean Genie, Suffragette City, Life on Mars, Oh! You Pretty Things, Changes, Starman, Rock n’ Roll Suicide, Rebel Rebel and Diamond Dogs. ‘It’s a magnificent collection of songs,’ I commented, realising that there so many more to follow.
‘I’ve always loved Queen Bitch,’ my cousin said ‘Mick Ronson’s guitar playing was a thing of beauty.’
And who was I to argue!

Bowie outside Haddon Hall

Bowie outside Haddon Hall

In October 1969 Bowie moved into Haddon Hall on Southend Road. He lived in the ground floor apartment and painted the ceiling silver to remind him of the night sky. He married Angie Barnett on the 19th March and the large house (now sadly demolished) soon became home to his band The Spiders from Mars. Bowie loved parties and over the next three years while they lived there it was one of the most popular ‘party houses’ in London. And it was here that most of the Ziggy Stardust music was first heard before it was taken into the recording studio.

Where it all began

Where it all began

Close by is The Three Tuns pub on Beckenham High Street where he had played his first gigs in 1969, and there is a red plaque on the front of the building (it is now a Zizzi restaurant) in his honour. ‘And, a lady called Suzi Fussey, who worked in a hairdressers across the road from the pub, gave him the haircut that was associated with all things Ziggy Stardust,’ my cousin added, slowing the car before briefly heading off to Brixton and the end of our trip.

We walked to the memorial on Tunstall Road, opposite Brixton Underground Station, where a small group of Spanish fans were taking photographs. I took their camera and happily snapped off a few photographs before taking my own shots. The memorial was a spontaneous reaction to Bowie’s death and the local council has now protected the painting and comments behind a sheet of heavy, clear plastic. It works, and as my cousin and I stood there in quiet contemplation one of the Spaniards turned up the sound on his mini player and we smiled and sang together, each one of us knowing that as long as we believe ‘We can be heroes, just for one day’.

Bowie memorial in Brixton

Bowie memorial in Brixton

Words and wishes on Bowie memorial

Words and wishes on Bowie memorial

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Aroma Memory

‘I’m getting gooseberry,’ said the lecturer, sniffing deeply from the glass. He looked up, enjoying the moment, closed his eyes and was lost in contemplation of the swirling wine. The class was busy as we sniffed our glasses, following his lead, trying to understand the wonderful aromas filling our nostrils. Mumbles of agreement soon filled the room as we began to understand the beauty and power of the smells that we were experiencing. It was a moment to remember, but nothing like one that I had experienced some years before.

It was Christmas Eve, and I was on my way home with the last of my shopping, when I passed the front door of my old school. It had been many years since I had left the place and in all that time I had never darkened its doorway. ‘Why not?’ I thought, and skipped up the steps and knocked on the large, carved door. The sound echoed in the hallway behind, and seconds later I heard footsteps approaching.

I introduced myself to the Christian Brother who opened the door, and I could see that he was intrigued as much at my presence as I was at being ‘in school’.

For whom the school bell tolls...

For whom the school bell tolls…

‘Come in, come in,’ he said and we shook hands warmly. ‘This is a real surprise, and Happy Christmas,’ he added and I could only smile and agree.

We chatted as we walked down the hall and he told me about teachers who had passed on since I was a pupil. He pointed to lines of dusty, class photographs many of which were fading and showing the unmistakeable yellowish hue of old age. Times past indeed, I thought, when my guide asked if I would like to see the ‘old place’. Considering that ten minutes before I hadn’t even thought about this, I was now looking forward to a walk down memory lane.

The place had changed somewhat since my time, that was to be expected, with rooms altered and corridors painted in bright colours. The stairs were smoother than I remembered, and the view of the local church from the top of the building was unchanged, except that acid rain had added to its aging beauty.

Desks were tiny and the blackboards not nearly as massive as they once appeared, where algebra, Latin verbs, dates of famous battles and hand-drawn maps of foreign places had once held my attention.

I was really enjoying the unplanned visit and was unprepared for what happened next.

As I pushed open the door to my old classroom I was suddenly stopped in my tracks. The smell of the place hit me like a slap in the face and I was instantly transported back to those carefree days. There was no doubt about the images that filled my mind, and I could see all the desks and my former classmates. They hadn’t changed, and I slowly looked about the small room where coats and jackets hung from crowded hooks. And schoolbags lay on the floor.

The teacher was at the front of the class writing neatly on the blackboard, as tiny flecks of white chalk drifted away. I saw where I used sit and felt a nervous shiver run up my back.

It was a very, real sensation that was only broken when my guide walked past, the loud creaking of the old floorboards breaking my dreamy connection.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked, noting my bemused look.

‘Yes, thanks,’ I replied and took a last, deep breath before leaving the room. Up until that moment I had never thought much about the sense of smell, but since then I have come to view it differently, and especially its power to stimulate and rekindle memories that I thought were gone forever.

Desk life

Desk life

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Trinity College Booksale (20-22 February)

As booksales go the annual one held in Trinity College is one of the best. Spread over three days there is something for everyone and the ‘price is definitely right’. This year is the 29th Annual Trinity Secondhand Booksale and the place will, no doubt, be as busy as ever. All the books are donated during the year by staff and students, and the funds raised are used for the purchase of materials for various college libraries. So, not only are you getting a bargain but helping improve college facilities.

Exam Hall

Exam Hall

The old Exam Hall, a place steeped in history with wonderful paintings on show, is a splendid venue and worthy of a visit in its own right. There you be surrounded in the steady murmur of book hunters searching for bargains as they shuffle from one stuffed table of books to another. The books are usually laid out under various heads; like History, Sport, Science, Languages, Philosophy, Adventure and many, many more. It’s always a treat and you will find oodles to choose from – and at the right price!

As the tables of books are emptied they are just as quickly refilled by volunteers. Many buyers slide cardboard boxes of books from table to table – something that I’ve not seen anywhere else – as they gather their precious finds. You can get a year’s reading here for the price of a couple of new books – and that’s what most people tend to do. It’s a book lover’s heaven – so happy hunting and reading!

A book lover's heaven!

A book lover’s heaven!

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Sir John Lavery – Art and the man

Sir John Lavery

Sir John Lavery

Lavery was born in Belfast on 20th March 1856. His father was an unsuccessful publican who was drowned when his son was only three years old; and not too long afterwards he also lost his mother. Orphaned at such an early age he was raised on a farm north of the city by an uncle, until he was ten years old when he travelled to Scotland where he was cared for by other relatives.

He went to the Haldane Academy in Glasgow and was later apprenticed to a photographer/painter where his love of art was fired. From this time on it was his singular ambition to become a painter and he studied at the Glasgow School of Art. By the time he was twenty-three he had set-up as an independent artist. In 1879, in order to improve his technique and find out what was going on in the art world, he went to London where he studied at Heatherley’s School of Art for six months.

Hungry for knowledge he travelled to Paris in 1881, where he studied drawing and fine art at the Academie Julian. In 1883, he visited the artists’ colony of Grez-sur-Loing (which is about 70km south of Paris) and got to know the Irish artist Frank O’Meara, who was from Carlow, and the French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, both of whom influenced his painting style. Among the many artists that he met there were the American painter John Singer Sergeant, writers Robert Louis Stevenson and August Strindberg and the English composer Frederick Delius.

The Bridge at Grez

The Bridge at Grez

While at the artists’ colony he became absorbed with landscape painting in the open air (en plein-air), which was very much in fashion due to the influence and growing interest in Impressionism. It was the ‘in thing’ and Lavery wanted to know all about it. His painting The Bridge at Grez (sold by Christie’s in 1998 for £1.3m) clearly shows how he had taken on board the influences that surrounded him. Later in the year he exhibited his first French landscape, Les Deux Pecheurs.

Barry Edward O’Meara,

Barry Edward O’Meara

O’Meara’s grandfather, Barry Edward O’Meara, was a surgeon in the Royal Navy and sailed on board the HMS Northumberland with Napoleon Bonaparte, as his physician on St Helena. Later he wrote about his experience in Napoleon in Exile, or A Voice From St. Helena (1822). Among the mementoes that O’Meara brought back from St Helena is Napoleon’s toothbrush with N stamped on its silver handle. He gave it to O’Meara, and years later it made its way to the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland on Kildare Street.

In 1885 Lavery he returned to Scotland and became one of the leading lights in the Glasgow Boys group of painters that included, among others, James Guthrie, James Paterson, and David Gauld. These painters were at the forefront of introducing modern art into Scotland, and many often painted outdoors, preferring the immediacy of the light and atmosphere to the sterility of the studio. The following year brought him his first significant recognition when his painting The Tennis Party (1885) was shown at the Royal Academy, London where it was widely admired and later purchased by the great German gallery Neue Pinakothek in Munich.

In 1888 he won the commission to paint Queen Victoria’s State Visit to the Glasgow International Exhibition. He was subsequently granted a sitting by the Queen and from then on his position as a much sought-after painter was assured. After that he could afford to move to London where he set-up his studio in Cromwell Road, Kensington. His portraits of the rich and famous made him a wealthy and busy man, and one who liked to travel. This lust for new places took him across Europe where his works featured in exhibitions in Paris, Berlin and Rome. His paintings were popular on the Continent, so much so that two of them, Father & Daughter and Spring, were acquired by the Louvre. Also, he was given the rare honour of having a one-man show at the Venice Biennale of 1910. And for a time he had a studio in Tangiers where he liked to paint outdoors in the brilliant light.

Lady Lavery

Lady Lavery

Lavery was first married to Kathleen MacDermott in 1889, but she tragically died of tuberculosis in 1891 after the birth of their daughter  Eileen (later Lady Sempill 1890-1935). In 1904, while on holidays in Brittany, Lavery first met Hazel Martyn who was then engaged to a Canadian doctor, Edward Trudeau, who died five months after their marriage. Lavery met Hazel again, and in 1909 he married the beautiful Irish-American who was almost thirty years his junior. They had a step-daughter, Alice Trudeau. During the First World War he, like William Orpen (from Stillorgan, Dublin) was appointed as a war artist by the British Government and he was knighted in 1918, with Hazel becoming Lady Lavery.

Irish Delegation

Irish Delegation

They lived at 5 Cromwell Place, South Kensington, a palatial residence where they entertained the great-and-the-good of British society, with Winston Churchill, Hilaire Belloc, George Bernard Shaw, Lytton Strachey and WB Yeats being regular guests. With her undoubted beauty and poise Hazel was known as the foremost hostess in London. During the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations the Laverys lent their home to the Irish delegation who they often met. To this day there are rumours of an affair between Hazel and Michael Collins but these remain unproven.

Due to his assistance and hospitality during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations the Irish Free State, in 1928, commissioned Lavery to design the artwork for the new banknotes. He painted Hazel as Caithlin ni Houlihan, the female personification of Ireland, and her image was on all notes issued until 1977.

Hazel, Lady Lavery 'On the money'

Hazel, Lady Lavery ‘On the money’

Lavery eventually returned to Ireland and lived in Rossenarra House, Kilmoganny, Co. Kilkenny where he died on 10 January 1941, aged 84. He was later interred in Putney Vale Cemetery, London where Hazel had been buried six years earlier.

Rossenarra House

Rossenarra House

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Samuel Beckett – Less Is More

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett

For someone born on Good Friday, April 13th it was not surprising that such double luck might suggest something special was to be expected. So, Beckett, who was born in Foxrock, Co Dublin in 1906, went on to become one of the most important writers of the 20th century and an inspiration to dramatists like Vaclav Havel, Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter. His influence on the Beat Generation and their ‘experimental writing’ was vital for Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and many others.

Beckett’s father William, who traced his lineage back to the Huguenots, was a quantity surveyor and successful property developer and had the family house Cooldrinagh built in 1903. His wife Mary Jones Roe was a nurse and they had married in 1901 and Frank, their first son was born the following year. The local woods and open fields of the surrounding countryside were an area where the young Sam often walked with his father, and he often referenced them used them in his writing.

He attended junior school in Dublin before going as a boarder to Portora Royal School (1919-1923) in Enniskillen where Oscar Wilde had once been a pupil. He returned to Dublin and entered Dublin University (Trinity College) where he studied Modern Languages from 1923-1927. He was a bright student and a competitive athlete, excelling at tennis and cricket. Playing as a left-handed batsman he took to the field in two first-class matches against Northamptonshire and, as such, has the unique distinction of being the only Nobel laureate (Awarded in 1969) to be mentioned in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac – cricket’s ‘bible’.

He graduated first in his class and briefly lectured at Campbell College, Belfast. He soon tired of this and with his college first behind him he was invited to be a reader in English at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1928. There he met James Joyce, who was basking in the glory of having written Ulysses in 1922, the controversial, modern novel that made his name. Beckett was invited to join Joyce’s inner circle and helped him in carrying out research for his next project – Finnegans Wake.

In 1930 he returned to Ireland to take up a post as lecturer in French at Trinity College, but he left in December 1931 after only four terms. This was his final fling with teaching and he went off on an extended tour of the Continent. He did odd jobs and wrote short stories, poems to earn money and filled many notebooks with notes about places and people that would provide inspiration in the following years. He hated the cruelty of the Nazi regime that he had seen in Germany and in 1937 finally decided to settle in Paris. Before that he returned to Dublin where Murphy was published the following year. Then he fell out with his mother who he was more like than his father and returned to Paris, and did not see her again until after the war.

The Samuel Beckett Bridge (on the Liffey) 2009

The Samuel Beckett Bridge (on the Liffey) 2009

Back in Paris Beckett almost died when he was stabbed in the chest by a pimp after he had refused his solicitations. The knife missed his heart by inches and it was during his stay in hospital that he met Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil who was to become his life-long companion and greatest supporter. She was in Paris studying piano and they had met once before at a social gathering, but after this they became lovers and eventually married in a secret wedding in Folkestone, Kent in March 1961.

During World War II, Beckett’s Irish citizenship allowed him to remain in Paris as a citizen of a neutral country. He joined the Resistance movement but he and Suzanne fled Paris when some members of their group were arrested by the Gestapo in 1942. They spent weeks making their way, on foot, to Roussillon, in south east France, where they worked as farm labourers until late 1944. After the war, Beckett was awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery during his time in the French Resistance. He, however, was typically understated at his efforts referring them to them as ‘boy scouts stuff’. His most famous work Waiting for Godot has been described as “a metaphor for the long walk to safety, when Beckett and Suzanne slept in haystacks during the day and walked and talked by night.”

He returned to Dublin in 1946 and stayed with his mother for a while. And it was here that he had a revelation that would direct his writing from that moment. Fearful of remaining in Joyce’s shadow he was prompted to change direction and find his own path. ‘I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, of being in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding.’

Beckett's most famous work

Beckett’s most famous work

He and Suzanne returned to their pre-war apartment in Paris where he had his most prolific period as a writer. In five years, he wrote Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories and a book of criticism. Although he was a native English speaker, he wrote in French because, as he reasoned, it was easier for him to write ‘without style’.

Having completed Godot he was unhappy with the lack of response from publishers and it was Suzanne who badgered them until Beckett’s work was recognised. Godot was written between 9 October 1948 and 29 January 1949 and had its premiere on 5 January 1953 in the Théâtre de Babylone, Paris and ran for over 400 performances. This brought Beckett international recognition and the English language version was premiered in London in 1955. In a poll conducted by the British Royal National Theatre it was voted the ‘most significant English language play of the 20th century’.

Beckett focuses on the essential elements of the human condition in dark humorous ways in a style that was called ‘Theater of the Absurd’. His plays focus on human despair and the determination to survive in a hopeless world that offers no help in understanding.

Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969 and died on 22nd December 1989. He is buried with Suzanne, who had died five months earlier, in Montparnasse Cemetery and they share a simple granite gravestone that follows his instruction that it should be ‘any colour, so long as it’s grey’.

Grave in Montparnasse Cemetery

Grave in Montparnasse Cemetery

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