Monthly Archives: August 2018

Joyce and Stream of Consciousness – kind of!

 

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand

Arguing with the guy you know who can beat you – I had never thought of it like that before but it makes sense, especially now as I am walking on Sandymount Strand with nobody within two hundred yards, and I can hear words go back and forth inside my head as the argument carries on. And I am nervous because I feel that I might just lose. How crazy is that? Very, I thought, and I wondered which one of those arguing had responded. I stopped, looked around making sure that I was still out of earshot of any beach walkers, and said ‘What’s going?’ There was a long silence and I heard nothing as both voices seemed to have, well, lost their…you know. It was a weird moment and I remembered that James Joyce, a keen stroller and habitué of the strand where I now stood, was fond of using stream of consciousness in his writing, a literary device that awakened the world to its subtleties in his most famous work Ulysses, a book that is considered a difficult read by many who pick it up and one of the greatest ever written by countless others. That such a difference of opinion should exist is partially a response to Joyce’s idiosyncratic style with his referencing of mythological and historical characters; differing chapter layouts where various rhythms reflect the story being told at that point and his use of the stream of consciousness technique that permitted the reader to be ‘inside the character’s head’ and in the story like never before. This was a new and radical approach that did not win favour at first, except with a small number who saw the liberating aspect that he had revealed. Being ‘inside the character’s head’ was not only interesting and revelatory but, as many readers found out to their surprise, an uncomfortable place to be, as much for its unexpectedness as its lack of familiarity, and the not-knowingness of what was coming a step too close to a reality they thought they had left behind, if only for a little while.

Joyce's magnum opus

Ulysses – book for thought

Yes, Jimmy, my man, you have managed deliberately, of course, to ‘get under the skin’ and show normal life in all its simple and twisted moments; a life that happens more surprisingly that we ever imagined; where what we see is not always what we think it is and where the opposite is equally true, and where stream of consciousness, although a wonderful addition to the writer’s quiver of literary techniques is above all, to put it simply and something that I suspect Jimmy recognised because he was such a sharp observer, about thinking people thinking as they move through the day, as they have since the dawn of time.

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Filed under Art, Dublin, Ireland, James Joyce, Sandymount Strand

Ballybrack Dolmen – Ancient Link

Ancient stones

Ancient stones

It’s often the case that when you have something ‘on your doorstep’ that it’s ignored for another time. And that was certainly the case, for me, when I decided to check out the Dolmen near Ballybrack village. I knew about it for a long time but had put my visit on the long finger until a few days ago. It was warm and sunny when I arrived and the old stones looked bright and sharp in the middle of the green that is almost surrounded by modern houses. (It is on a green in Cromlech Fields, and it’s no surprise that cromlech is another word often used to describe such ancient structures.) What was it like here on the day the last stone was put in place, I wondered, and walked to the group of heavy stones.

Back in time

Back in time

I read that the large, roof stone weighs about twelve tons and that must have taken some effort to set it in place. Thinking about that and the commitment of those who first decided and then erected the structure it must have been important to them, and it’s a statement of the focus and skill that it is still standing after, possibly, more than four millennia.  A small, stone beside the dolmen says that it is a Dolmen, Portal Tomb, circa 2,500 BC – a timeframe that is impossible to understand. Since that time, getting on for nearly five thousand years, almost all of recorded history has come and gone and the dolmen is still standing and awaiting the next sunrise. There are many dolmens around the country, but having one so close to home and easy to visit it was a real treat to see it, and think about druids in flowing robes carrying out mystical rituals by firelight back in the mists of time.

Ballybrack Dolmen - link to ancient times

Ballybrack Dolmen – link to ancient times

 

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Teacher Hooked

Hook you like...

Hook you like…

It was a bitterly cold day shortly before Christmas and the class was restless. The room was packed as we prepared for English, which was always one of the most enjoyable classes. The teacher, Mr. Stores, or Dick as he was commonly known, was considered to be one of the best in the school and, although not a pushover, we could get on pretty well with him. This was important as most of the other teachers were much older than Dick and we had little or nothing in common with them. He was like an older brother, and we felt an affinity that was to our mutual benefit.
That was until one fateful day.
On that particularly sharp and windy morning Dick came into the class, took off his coat and cast his eyes about for a spare hook. When he could not find one he proceeded to remove coats from a hook near the lectern and let them fall to the floor. Then he placed his coat on the now free hook and, tapping its pockets to ensure that nothing was left in them, started the class by asking ‘Well, class, what do we think of Shakespeare’s use of irony?’

The class was distracted and barely paid attention to his question after this unbelievably, crass act. It was a bad moment, and to use one of his pet phrases ‘a Rubicon had been crossed’. Furtive glances were exchanged and heads were shaken in disbelief as thoughts of revenge silently grew. We soon focussed on the lesson, while conjuring up all sorts of cruel punishments for Dick’s despicable behaviour.
Over the next few days many suggestions were offered ranging from the diabolic to the downright inventive, all generating much mirth. It was no surprise that the most colourful suggestions were thought up by someone who has since become a leading politician. A talent for deception and the ability to laugh at another’s misfortune is an essential for such a career, and Kelly had it in spades. When I think about it now I’m sure that he was must have been emotionally damaged at an early age, or maybe he was just nasty git. The best suggestions came from those in the back row, always a source of nefarious thinking, and, appropriately, the winning idea came from one of the boys whose coat Dick had dropped onto the floor. And, like all great endeavours it was deceptively simple, but it needed careful preparation.

And above all, timing.

Gummed up

Gummed up

The plan called for a nice, shiny new hook to be made available to Dick at the start of our next English class. Unbeknownst to him we had removed the screws from a hook and substituted them with a large blob of wet, sticky chewing gum. This mouth-watering work of adhesive genius took five of us an entire lunch-hour to prepare and our jaws were sore from all the chewing. Mine were numb and I thought that I had had a rough time at the dentist. My face as red as a cardinals hat when I finished and offered my blob to one of the ‘engineers’. Murphy’s job was to join all the blobs and have a trial run. He did it with great commitment as coats were hung and the resistance factor calculated. After stringent testing he decided that more gum was needed and Connolly was sent to the local shop for supplies.
When the final solution was prepared and tested, under the watchful eyes of the entire class, the shiny hook was pressed into position and fingers were crossed in anticipation. ‘Well done, Murph,’ someone shouted and we all cheered. The engineer smiled, took a bow and slipped casually into his desk.
There had been many pranks played on teachers over the years and our magnum opus would definitely to be remembered. The story would go around the school like wildfire, and with everything in place we waited in scholarly silence for the coat tosser to get his comeuppance.

Ring-a-ding-ding

Ring-a-ding-ding

Shortly after the school bell rang we heard the sound of Dick’s steel-tipped shoes coming down the corridor, and the tension in the classroom rose a notch. ‘All things come to those who wait,’ whispered Doyle conspiratorially into my ear as he leaned over from the desk behind. I grinned and followed the other thirty pair of eyes as the door opened and the lamb walked easily to a silent, sticky slaughter.
Dick put his case down and, as usual, looked about for a spare hook. His eyes moved along the line of coats before landing on the shining beacon that almost cried out for his attention. ‘I’m free,’ it seemed to say and he grinned in surprise at his good fortune. He walked across the front of the class, took off his coat and, as the moment of truth was reached, carefully placed it on the hook. It held, thank God, and we collectively breathed a sigh of relief.

The class started with a discussion on the merits of the sonnet form but our attention was elsewhere. It was difficult not to keep an eye on Dick’s coat but nothing happened for the first ten minutes or so. As time passed without incident we begrudgingly cursed Murphy for his obvious brilliance as an engineer. Dick moved about the room, as was his style, asking questions and developing an argument that was informative and lively. I made a contribution and sat back, as the first movement of the Dick’s coat was spotted.
All eyes darted to and from the hook as its adhesive support began to stretch like only quality gum can. It moved slowly, like a river of pink lava against the wooden panelled wall. I looked at Dick and wondered about his possible reaction when he realised what had happened. ‘It might turn nasty,’ had been the general opinion, and we were about to find out.
Dick continued to walk about as his overcoat continued its inexorable, downward slide. It was a wonderful sight and it killed off all the idle chatter in the room. The quiet was bordering on the religious as the thick, pink line began to unravel and fray.
‘There she goes,’ Doyle sniggered under his breath.
Dick turned abruptly and asked. ‘Well, Doyle, have you got something to share with us?’ He raised his brow waiting for an answer, but none came.
There was total silence in the room as the gum, having performed beyond all expectations, its elasticity stretched to the maximum, finally and gloriously broke.
We all turned to see Dick’s coat lying on the floor below the thin strip of glistening, pink gum that was about three feet long.
Dick was furious, and he snatched his coat up and roughly brushed it before tossing it over the back of his chair. Breathing hard and staring at us with fire in his eyes we braced ourselves for the inevitable explosion. To our surprise, though, he put his hands up in a gesture of surrender and uttered just one word. ‘Sorry.’ It was a comment that earned him a round of applause and cemented our new, mutual understanding.

Scene of the crime

Scene of the crime

 

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The Mystery Train

It was another wonderful, bright summer morning as I got dressed and then went downstairs for breakfast. Exciting smells floated from the kitchen as my mother sang along to the music on the radio. She put tea and toast down on the table, and smiled. ‘Are you looking forward to the journey?’
‘Of course, Mum,’ I said. ‘Where do you think we’ll be going? Any ideas?’ I took a bite of toast and a mouthful of hot tea and looked past her to the blue sky beyond. A trip on the Mystery Train on such a brilliant day was something to get excited about, and it was no surprise that I spilled tea on my clean shirt.
‘Easy cowboy, it’s going to be a long day, so slow down and take your time. Ok?’

I nodded and brushed flakes of toast from my mouth with the back of my hand and went to get the camera. It was my job to make sure that we brought it when we went for a picnic or a spin in the Wicklow Mountains, and I was certainly not going to forget it today. I had already been on a Mystery Train journey a month before and, with all the excitement and anticipation, I had forgotten to bring the camera. It was a disaster as the train took us to Wexford town where a colourful circus troop had paraded up the main street and we had no camera to capture the tumbling acrobats, amazing fire-eaters and jugglers. ‘Let that be a lesson to you,’ Mum said later. She wasn’t upset, just letting me know that if I really wanted something then I would have to pay attention. We were ready to go and, as she rinsed our teacups clean, I got the camera and checked that there was a spare roll of film in the bag. We were set for the day and made our way on the bus into Pearse Street station, wondering all the while, where we would be heading?

The Mystery Train

The Mystery Train

The long, incline to the main platform was busy as truck drivers delivered and collected bags of mail and the smell of burning coal was everywhere. I got excited when the train driver gave a loud blast of the whistle, before it stopped a few feet from where we were standing. He wiped his brow with his sleeve leaving a dirty mark. He grinned. ‘Want a look?’ he said.
My heart skipped a few beats. ‘Me’, I said looking around to see if he was talking to someone else.
He nodded.
‘Go on then,’ said Mum ‘while I go and get the tickets.’

I handed the camera to her and that photograph she took of me and the train driver on that Iron Horse is a fond memory.
The driver reached down a big hand and the next moment I was standing on the running plate of a train for the very first time. ‘Wow,’ I cried when he opened the coal hatch and the blast of hot air made me jump. Deep inside I could see the white heat of burning coals as my new best friend expertly tossed a shovel load of the dark fuel into the blazing furnace. He shut the hatch and pointed at the whistle’s cord. ‘Go on, give it a try?’
I took a deep breath and pulled hard on the cord. The scream of hissing steam was so loud it made me shake with nervous laughter. The driver smiled and when I looked down onto the platform Mum was giggling into her handkerchief. It was an unforgettable moment and we hadn’t even left the station! As the driver helped me back down onto the platform he said, ‘Thanks, partner, hope you enjoyed that!’
‘I sure did. It was absolutely brill. Thanks.’
‘Good, and I hope that you enjoy the journey.’
‘Do you know where we are going?’ I blurted out.
The driver grinned down from his smoky throne. ‘Of course, I’m driving the train after all.’ He shrugged. ‘And it’s going to be good. Ok?’
I nodded. ‘Ok, partner.’
He laughed and gave the whistle another shrill blast.
Finally a guard waved his green flag and the train slowly chugged out from beneath the dirty roof and into the sunlight. Beyond, the tracks seemed to stretch forever, all the way to our mystery destination. Soon the train built up speed, and before long I could hear the familiar clickity-click as we sped along.
Mum handed me a hard sweet and told me to ‘make it last’.
Dublin was far behind us and still we had no idea where we going to end up. I loved journeys on the Mystery Train and today had already been special. Was it going to get any better, I wondered, looking at the funny shape of the mist from my breath on the window? All the while Mum ‘rested her eyes’, lost in the travelling rhythm. I didn’t disturb her and continued to look at the passing landscape and thought of cowboys riding across flat plains that stretched to the horizon. The smell of the rushing smoke added to the images of cattle rustling and dangerous stampedes that were running around my head. We still hadn’t come to the Shannon, the big river, or was that the Mississippi, and I sucked hard on my sweet.

The big river...

The big river

The train eventually slowed and stopped in Athlone. I was disappointed, kind of, as I had been to Athlone many times on my way to Roscommon where Mum’s sister lived. Aunt Lilly was my favourite aunt and, although I had not seen her for months, she had sent me a nice birthday present and a postcard of the Eiffel Tower from her holidays in Paris.
‘All stay on the train,’ shouted the Inspector as he moved along the platform. ‘This is not the destination for the Mystery Train, so please stay where you are, thank you. The train will be leaving any moment.’
At the head of the train I saw the driver jump onto the metal ladder and after a blast of my whistle we were off again. ‘Well, Mum, where do you think we are going?’ I said as the train crossed the Shannon, where small boats floated and passengers waved up.
Mum leaned back, her head resting comfortably on the high seat. ‘Don’t know….but it might be Sligo. You never know.’
‘Or Galway,’ I answered.
She closed her eyes again, and nodded. ‘Could be….you’ll just have to wait and see.’

Wild horses

Wild horses

The train rattled along as I imagined Indians in war-feathers with murder in their eyes trying to jump aboard. Grey, stone walls were the boundaries to ranches and every home a place where cowboys returned at night with tales of derring-do and chasing wild stallions. This was the West alright, my west, and I was heading deeper into it, not knowing what lay ahead. Pioneers, that’s what we were, and still the train rattled on.
Just as I was expecting a raid from Indians hidden near the bend in a river, the train slowed. And kept on slowing
Mum opened her eyes and looked at me. ‘I think I know where we’re going!’ she said a note of surprise in her voice. She sat up, looked out the window, and smiled.
The look on my face asked its own question.
‘You’ll know soon enough,’ she said and playfully tossed my hair. She was giggling now and didn’t stop until the train pulled up at the station and the Inspector announced that we had reached our destination.
‘All out,’ the Inspector shouted again, ‘this is Roscommon, the end of the line for today’s journey. You have until six o’clock to get back here for the return trip. Have a nice day!’
Without any further ado we stepped into the heat of the station and headed down the road to my aunt’s house. I knew Mum had been surprised when the train stopped, but it was nothing like the look on my Aunt Lilly’s face when she opened the door. And I remember them laughing out loud, and the magical day I spent rounding up stray cattle on the ranch in the big garden at the back of the hacienda.

Round 'em up, Cowboy!

Round ’em up, Cowboy!

 

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The Druid’s Chair

If you go down to the woods today you may find…

Sun dappled wood

Sun dappled wood

It was with this thought in mind that I made my way to Killiney Heath (just off Killiney Avenue) in anticipation of seeing something that, up until a few days before, I had no idea existed. Past the large stone on the right-hand side of the road with Killiney Heath carved on it, I stepped onto a small path and entered the sun-drenched copse.

Slipping past the remnant of an old gate I was suddenly in a very quiet little area, and a few yards further along I came upon some very large, cut stones. I had read that they belonged to Bronze Age cairns that once stood there, possibly surrounded by a Stone Circle where druids might have held ceremonies. It was an interesting thought, and standing there in the quiet, it was not difficult to imagine those white-robed, ancient priests looking to the heavens as they chanted prayers for a good harvest.

Ancient stones - what stories...

Ancient stones – what stories…

 

More ancient stones

More ancient stones

Beyond the stones is the Druid’s Chair, and a fine piece of it is. There is much discussion as to its authenticity as some believe it to be nothing more than a Victorian-era folly. Whatever it may be it is an intriguing piece of local history (that, of course, gives its name to the local pub) and one worth checking out.

The Druid's Chair - take a seat!

The Druid’s Chair – take a seat!

 

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Belle of the Ball

The Campanile

The Campanile

It was a photograph that triggered the memory like they so often do. As I turned the page of my newspaper I noticed the group of happy revellers as they celebrated and danced the night away at the Trinity Ball. I smiled and cast my mind back to the first time that I had been there on a warm, May night many years before.

The Ball, as everyone called it, was the best night out in Dublin, and that time Peter and I were determined to make it a night to remember. And with that in mind we invited girls that we knew only slightly – but fancied a lot. When they accepted our invitations we were walking on cloud nine, and suddenly in a desperate search for dress suits. We spent the next few days running from one dress hire shop to another but without any success. It was all getting a little nervy and panic wasn’t far away. The high demand for suits was making it impossible to get anything suitable and our big night was beginning to look in doubt. However, after many, anxious phone calls and much scratching of heads Peter’s uncle saved the day. He was part-owner of a theatre costume company and when we dropped in to see him, he put us right.

‘I still think that you boys would look better as a pair of pirates – I’ve plenty of eye-catching stuff upstairs. Want to check them out?’ he said before laughing out loud.

He’s mad, I thought, and stared at him.

‘I wouldn’t worry about him’, Peter said when we left the shop ‘he’s always like that. He loves playing games on people. He’s a real messer.’

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting and planning, the big night finally arrived. My mother said that I ‘looked the part’ while my young brother said I looked like Fred Astaire or maybe a gangster. With those thoughts in mind Peter and I went to collect the girls, with two bunches of flowers on the back seat of his dad’s car.

Bouquet for a belle

Bouquet for a belle

Jenny looked great in her long white dress and Peter was delighted when she kissed him on the cheek. A few minutes later we pulled up at Shelly’s house and I felt my heat beat a little quicker. My throat dried up as I rang the bell, and when her mother opened the front door I barely managed ‘Hello’. Her friendly smile eased my nerves, but the sight of Shelly coming down the stairs made my heart jump. She looked wonderful in a long, black dress and her blonde hair fell to her shoulders. She was fabulous, a picture that burned itself into my excited brain. I awkwardly handed her the bunch of flowers and she smiled her thanks. After a quick sniff she took one out, broke the stem off and stuck the red bloom in her hair. Suddenly she was like an exotic Spanish dancer and I beamed my approval.

Our excited chatter lasted all the way into the city where we had booked a table at Nico’s Restaurant on Dame Street. This was really pushing the financial boat out but it didn’t matter one little bit. The place was buzzing and we had a great time and lots of laughs. The night had started well, and many of the diners wished us well as we left the restaurant and walked to Trinity College where a long, noisy queue was moving slowly.

Music from the festivities reached over the old building and people were dancing and singing as the queue made its way to the gate. There was magic in the air and I felt it when Shelly put her hand in mine and we moved with the music. We swayed our way through the gate and entered a wonderland of bright lights, colourful tents, fun and music.

‘Let’s dance,’ Shelly said and we skipped off to the old Exam Hall where a band was whipping up a storm. The place was manic and I had never seen such a frenzy of excitement as the band upped the pace. It was brilliant and Shelly loved to dance – and boy could she dance! She didn’t mind my clumsy efforts and laughed when I almost fell over trying to do some fancy turn. She doubled up and a stream of happy tears shone on her face. She said it didn’t matter and that I was actually better that most of the other guys anyway.

When the band finished we left and walked about for a while taking in the sights and sounds. Across the cobble-stoned yard a disco blasted out the latest hits while inside a pink-coloured tent unsteady groups were barn dancing. Or at least that’s what it was supposed to be! Looking down on it all was the bell tower – the campanile – from where someone had tied a bicycle with its light flashing. ‘How did they do that?’ asked Shelly as we gazed up wide-eyed.

Let's swing again

Let’s swing again

‘I’ve no idea’, I replied ‘but…I’d hate to be looking for a lift home later!’

The night passed as we danced, swung and screamed on a brilliantly lit chair-o-plane, chatted to friends and watched a very adult Punch and Judy show. And before we knew it the sun was rising and the bright, colourful lights began to lose their sparkle as all around us revellers began to drift away. The music had dropped off as, arm-in-arm, Shelly and I walked across the yard and again looked up at the flashing, bicycle light. ‘Hey, it’s still winking at us.’ I said.

Shelly stopped and looked at me. ‘Yes, and thanks for a wonderful night. It’s been really great fun!’ Then she leaned close and we kissed.

‘Memories,’ I thought now, remembering Shelly, the belle of the ball, on that warm, wonderful night.

Here comes the sun...

Here comes the sun…

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Filed under Dublin, Ireland, short stories, trinity college