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The Long Wait

The Long Wait is a short story set in strange and trying times.

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‘Great, I’ll call you next week,’ I said and put the phone down. Then I clapped my hands and shouted ‘Yeah’.

Little did I know then that things wouldn’t go according to plan, as the presence of the pandemic put a stop to so much, and sadly took many lives. Restrictions were introduced and I’ like everyone else, just had to hunker down and get on with it. ‘Stay at Home,’ was the order of the day, and with travel limited to 2Km there really was nothing much to do except to grin and bear it – and accept that I was one of the lucky ones. But I still looked forward to that ‘next week’ that had yet to come when I would meet Barbara.

We had met briefly at my friend Paul’s house where she was filling cups of Pimm’s. They were proving very popular and I wasn’t the only one who went back for seconds, and more.

‘Same again?’ she asked.

I nodded. ‘Sure, and with so much fruit in this, I know this is good for me.’

She laughed, and I noted that my glass was definitely fuller than it had been before.

There was a big crowd in the back garden and I spoke with some people who I hadn’t seen since I returned to Dublin, and a few of Paul’s neighbours. It was a fun day, and I did manage to have a brief chat  with Barbara before she had to leave. Later, as I helped Paul tidy up I asked him about Barbara.

‘Interested, are we?’ he said, a cheeky grin on his face.

What have I said?, I thought before replying ‘Yeah…is there a problem?’

He shook his head. ‘None as far as I know, but she’s occupied right now – keeping an eye on her mother.’

‘Is she sick?’

‘No, just old, and in need of care and attention.’

I nodded.

‘Barbara’s a nurse so she’s happy to be able to help, especially as her brother lives in Australia.’

‘I hear you, so can you give me her phone number?’

He gave me Barbara’s number and we shared a final drink. ‘I’ve not see you move so fast before…is it love at first sight?’

I knew he was teasing me but the more I thought about it he might just have been right. I remembered the infectious sound of Barbara’s laugh, and how her brown eyes seemed to shine. ‘Possibly, and you’ll be the second to know.’

Paul frowned for moment and then laughed out loud. ‘The second to know….I love it.’ He leaned over and we clinked bottles.

As the sun went down I left, thanked Paul for a great day and the phone number that was safely stashed away in my back pocket.

*

The next day I picked up the phone and dialled Barbara’s number. I was hoping that she would answer as I didn’t really want to leave a message, and thankfully she did. ‘Hello.’

‘Hi there, I was wondering if there is any Pimm’s left?’

She giggled. ‘Let me check,’ she said, and then we had a short and friendly chat before I asked if she would like to meet sometime.

‘Maybe next weekend,’ she said.

Fine I thought, but then the quarantine was introduced and we never got to meet. And with the travel restrictions there was no possibility of that happening for some time. It was disappointing but a small price to pay for staying healthy. I called her and we spoke about how we were coping and she told me that her mother was not doing well. I knew she was upset and it only got worse when her mother was taken into hospital. She wasn’t suffering with the coronavirus but her breathing was causing a concern. I wished both of them well and waited for more news.

Over the next five or six weeks we spoke at least once a week and realised that we had a few friends in common. We both liked, among other things, music, tennis and reading. And she was interested to know the progress on the book I was writing. ‘I’m almost finished, and if you like you can be the first person to read it.’

‘That’d be great. I look forward to getting it,’ she said and paused before adding ‘so you trust me with your bestseller?’

‘Of course,’ I replied immediately, there being no other answer.

‘I can be a tough critic; you might not like what I have to say.’

‘I know, but I’ll take that chance.’

There was silence before Barbara said ‘Good…that’s very good of you.’

‘Right, I’ll send it to you by the end of the week…and you can get busy with a red pen.’

She laughed and I did too. ‘Got to go…and thanks,’ she said and hung up.

*

With her mother in hospital and working in the same building Barbara was busy and we managed only brief phone calls. It was understandable especially when her mother’s condition deteriorated and she was place in an Intensive Care Unit. It was, as they say, a ‘touch-and-go’ situation but, thankfully, she came through it. I could hear the relief in Barbara’s voice when she told me the good news.

‘And I just want to say that it’s been great talking with you, Joseph, over the last few weeks. With my brother in Australia I really needed to tell someone about what was going on…and you’ve been a great help.’

I wasn’t expecting that but it was nice to hear. ‘You’re very welcome, Barbara, and I suppose it’s like the old saying ‘’A problem shared is a problem halved.’’ Know what I mean?’

There was a long pause before Barbara replied. ‘You’re so right…and thanks again.’

‘Anytime,’ and then I told her that I had a plan for where we would meet.

‘Tell me.’

‘Never,’ I joked, more than happy to hear her laugh gain. ‘Well, the restrictions are being eased next week, so maybe we can celebrate if that’s the right word to use.’

‘It is…and I’m almost finished your book.’

‘And what do you think of it?’

‘Hey, if you have a plan that you’re keeping to yourself then I’m certainly keeping my thoughts on your book to myself…for now.’

‘Touche…and should I be worried?’

‘I guess you’ll just have to wait…won’t you.’

There was nothing I could say to that. ‘You got me there. Ok, like I said a long, long time ago I’ll call you next week.’

‘Good…and my mother will be coming home in a few days.’

‘A double celebration, eh?’

That got another laugh, a perfect end to our conversation.

*

The days raced by, and then I called Barbara. ‘Hi there, I was wondering if you’d like to meet up?’

‘Sure do. So have you a time and place in mind.’

I had, and we met at the front gates of the Peoples’ Park in Dun Laoghaire on a day when the sun was shining from a cloudless sky. I smiled as Barbara approached, noticing the brown envelope under her arm. I knew that I was in for a critique, but right then I really didn’t care as I was so happy to see my favourite bartender again.

‘Hi,’ she said.

‘Hi, and how are you?’

‘I’m fine…considering that I’m meeting a stranger.’

I frowned. ‘Stranger, is it?’

‘Well, I know we spoke for a little while at Paul’s house, but I’ve never spoken so much with someone I don’t really know.’

‘It’s a first for me, too…and I’m delighted that you’re here.’

Barbara smiled and I could see her searching look. ‘So, where are we going? I mean, it’s the middle of the afternoon and there are hardly any places open.’

I had expected this. ‘I know, but this is the best I could manage in the circumstances, ok?’

‘O..k.’ she replied, her eyes questioning.

‘This way,’ I said, and we walked through the park, past the hissing fountain, the curved benches and groups of people sitting on the grass, and onto the promenade.

‘Here we are,’ I said stopping outside Teddy’s ice cream shop, the best in south Dublin.

Barbara smiled. ‘I’m impressed…you really do know how to treat a lady, don’t you?’

I shrugged. ‘That’s me. Now, what would the lady like?’ I asked, and that was how our first date began. The long wait was finally over and, as we sat on a bench touched by a gentle sea breeze, we chatted and laughed as only familiar strangers could.

Teddy's ready!

Teddy’s ready!

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Bloomsday Hero

James Joyce Museum

James Joyce Museum

They say that you should never meet your heroes, but I suspect sometimes they are wrong. I know this, because when I, fortunately, met one of mine, it was a brief, but beautiful, moment.

It was on Bloomsday, a few years ago, and I went to Sandycove to sample the atmosphere and get my copy of Ulysses date-stamped in  the James Joyce Museum in the old Martello Tower. The place was alive, with many people dressed in Edwardian-era attire and lively chat filled the sea air. James Joyce look-alikes were everywhere, and a few, very attractive Molly Blooms caught the eye. ‘Yes, yes,’ one said in a sultry voice, like her famous namesake, and the crowd laughed and cheered.

James Joyce

James Joyce

Inside, the curator stamped the postcards that I was going to send to friends who were Joyce fans. Then she flicked open the cover of my book, put ink on the date-stamp and pressed down hard. I was delighted, and eased my way past the colourful crowds overlooking swimmers in the nearby Forty Foot, and headed home.

I got off the train at Booterstown and headed up the road, book and postcards safely tucked under my arm. I had only recently finished reading the great book after numerous false starts, and had decided to get it stamped on Bloomsday as a reminder of my long-delayed achievement. Yes, I had finally finished it, and it seemed like a good idea to get it stamped in the place where the story begins, and also to enjoy the merriment at Sandycove.  It was a good decision, and a few photographs and a luscious ice cream helped make the day.

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney

As I neared the local shops and thinking about finding a proper place for the book on a shelf at home I looked up, and stopped dead in  my tracks. I had to be seeing things, I thought, and quickly headed to the newsagents where none other than Seamus Heaney was buying a copy of the Irish Times. I waited at the door, heart beating fast, and when he stepped outside I stuck out my hand. ‘Happy Bloomsday,’ I said.

‘And a very Happy Bloomsday to you, too,’ he replied, giving me a firm and friendly handshake.

He noticed my book. ‘Good day for it,’ he said, smiling.

‘Yes,’ I managed ‘and I’ve just been to Sandycove to have it date-stamped.’

‘Good idea,’ he said ‘and a nice reminder of the day.’

I nodded. ‘Yes….and I wonder if you would be so good as to sign it. That would be terrific.’

So standing in the sunshine I handed my book to the great man and the cover was flicked open again. Moments later he handed the book back and again bid me a ‘Happy Bloomsday’. Then he pushed his spectacles up his nose, fixed the newspaper under his arm and walked to his car. He gave a final, friendly wave and was gone.

I stood there for a few moments looking at my book, a smile as broad as Dublin Bay on my face. It had indeed been the briefest of encounters, but I was very happy to have met my hero.

A little treasure!

A little treasure!

 

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Bloomsday – Where It All Begins

June 16th is unique in literature in that it actually has a day named after it. Now known the world over as Bloomsday, it  is named after the main character Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s most famous work Ulysses. And the date was deliberately chosen by the author as it was on this day in 1904 that he and Nora Barnacle, his future lover and wife, went on their first date. By the following October she would leave Dublin and accompany him to France, where they struggled for many years until his eventual breakthrough and international recognition.

Martello Tower, Sandycove - where it all began

Martello Tower, Sandycove – where it all begins

Joyce had stayed in the Martello Tower, in Sandycove, with his friend Oliver St Gogarty (who had rented the building) for a short time before leaving hurriedly after a gun was fired late one night. However, he chose to set the opening scene of his book in the building and Gogarty (as Buck Mulligan) is immortalised in the first line:

Stately, plumb Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

A view north from the roof

A view north, to Dublin city, from the roof

The tower was one of many erected along the coast in preparation for an invasion by Napoleon’s forces. However, after Admiral Horatio Nelson (he of Nelson’s Pillar fame) defeated the French navy at the Battle of Trafalgar on the 21st October 1805, the threat was extinguished. Many of the towers were subsequently sold off while others were left unattended and remain derelict to this day. The tower at Sandycove was maintained in good condition when Gogarty rented it in the early summer of 1904. Today, it houses the James Joyce Tower & Museum which is a ‘must-see’ for all Joycean fans and those interested in literary history. There is a fabulous collection of items, including; an original copy of Ulysses, many of Joyce’s notebooks and a vinyl recording of his voice! Up the narrow stairs the space has been remodelled with table, chairs and various contemporaneous items showing the living space as Gogarty and Joyce would have known it. Outside, there is Joyce’s death mask  and a guitar that he was fond of playing. Up the last flight of steps to the roof (from the stairhead..) you have the wonderful panorama of Dublin Bay, the coast northwards to Dublin City, leading you around to the mountains to the south-west. On a clear day it is spectacular and, not surprisingly, very popular with photographers.

Main Room - 1904 style

Main Room – 1904 style

Celebrating Bloomsday has become big business and events are now held in many cities around the world that have Joyce’s works to an ever increasing audience. However, the first Bloomsday celebrations on it’s 50th anniversary in 1954 (see short silent clip below) were rather prosaic by today’s standards, and involved a number of Dublin’s literati and two horse-drawn carriages.

The group: John Ryan (owner of The Bailey pub and founder of Envoy art magazine), Flann O’Brien, Anthony Cronin, Patrick Kavanagh, Tom Joyce (a cousin) and AJ Leventhal (Registrar of Trinity College) had planned a ‘pilgrimage’ along the circuitous route set out in the book. However, after a number of stops for ‘refreshments’ the adventure was abandoned due to ‘inebriation and rancour’ and they retired wistfully to The Bailey (on Duke Street).

Bloomsday's first Pilgrims: JR, AC, FO'B, PK, TJ

Bloomsday’s first Pilgrims: JR, AC, FO’B, PK, TJ

You may very well see some horse-drawn carriages on the big day but as to whether they will be ferrying such an illustrious group, well, I guess that you will just have to wait and see – and then you may have an interesting story to tell.  Happy Bloomsday!

 

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Martello Towers – A Defensive Line

 

James Joyce Tower

James Joyce Tower

Although it is the most famous of them all, the Martello Tower in Sandycove that houses the James Joyce Tower & Museum, is one of about fifty built to repulse a possible invasion by Napoleon’s navy. After the passage of the National Defence Act 1804, towers were erected along the East Coast from Bray to Balbriggan, with others on the south coast and Cork harbour.

When war broke out between Britain and France in 1793 two British ships, the Fortitude and Juno, attacked  a round tower at Cape Mortella in Corsica in February 1794. After hours of heavy bombardment by the two ships the tower was finally taken with little damage to the structure. However, the Fortitude had been set on fire and lost 62 men in the fight. Impressed by the strong defensive nature of the tower, engineers used the design when building the line of towers in 1804.

Howth Tower

Howth Tower

Around Dublin 28 towers were erected: 16 stretching southwards from Sandymount to Bray, and 12 northwards from Red Rock, Sutton  to Balbriggan. Seven of those to the south have been demolished while all to the north are standing. Many are in private ownership with Howth tower, now the Ye Olde Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio, the only one open to the public on the northside.

Cannon atop Seapoint Martello Tower

Cannon atop Seapoint Martello Tower

Apart from that at Sandycove, Seapoint tower is the only other open to the public (during the summer) on the southside. There you can see the equipment used for loading the 18-pounder gun (there is a replica on the roof), and feel what it was like to have lived there. The towers were usually 40feet tall with eight-foot thick walls and housed an officer and 10-15 soldiers. Although built in time of war they, thankfully, never saw any action as the French invasion never materialised. It is somewhat ironic that towers designed in Corsica, where Napoleon was born, were the blueprint for a defence against him!

 

Seapoint Tower

Seapoint Tower

As part of dlr Summer of Heritage 2018 the Martello Tower at Seapoint is open Wed/Sat/Sun, from1-5pm, until 2 September. The James Joyce Museum is open every day from 10am-6pm.

 

 

 

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James Joyce – A Native Son

41, Brighton Square

41, Brighton Square

Although his native city features in all his writing, the relationship between the two was never easy. Joyce left Dublin when he was twenty-two years old and only returned for a few short visits. He lived in Trieste, Paris and died in Switzerland in 1941, aged fifty-nine, recognised as one of the major writers of the twentieth century. His influence on Modern writing is undeniable, and his native city is at the centre of his work.

He was born on 2nd February 1882 in 41, Brighton Square, Rathgar, which at the time was a recently laid out middle-class suburb. Joyce was the eldest of ten siblings born to John Stanislaus Joyce and Mary Jane Murray from whom he inherited his musical love and good voice, as she was an accomplished   pianist. His father frittered away his inheritance on different business ventures, and over the years the family sank into poverty making many late night departures from one house to another. The nomadic life was something Joyce understood, and during the years on the Continent he and his family often moved house.

JJ bust in St Stephen's Green, Dublin

JJ bust in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin

Joyce found the conservative religious atmosphere and the changing political landscape in Ireland too oppressive for creative thinking, and he and Nora Barnacle left for Paris. In this most cosmopolitan city, a place of tolerance in all areas, Joyce could grow as a writer and human being and encounter ‘the reality of experience’ that he desired. It was the environment he needed, and even though his financial position did not noticeably improve, the freedom to think and write was paramount.

It is interesting that Joyce, although ‘exiled’ from the city that he disliked for its shortcomings and conservative mindset, still chose to use it as the canvas on which he wrote. From his earliest work Dubliners (1914), the hugely popular collection of short stories to his most famous works, Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939), the city is a ’character’ in its own right, adding colour, sound and feel to the stories. He said that if the city was destroyed it could be rebuilt, brick by brick, using Ulysses as a model. He may, indeed, have left Dublin but it certainly never left him!

Martello Tower, Sandycove - Ulysses begins

Martello Tower, Sandycove – where Ulysses begins

 

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Sweny’s – A final Bloomsday?

Joyce - weighing things up....

Joyce – weighing things up….

It’s that time of the year again when the bespectacled figure of James Joyce appears in many shop windows as fans and  visitors celebrate Bloomsday on 16th June. Interest in the great man’s work has increased in recent years, and there is now a weeklong programme of events that caters for all interests. On an international scale, celebrations are now held in many major cities, which eventually lead to more tourist interest and the growing opportunities for local actors, writers, musicians to play a part.

And, as this year is the 100th anniversary of Joyce’s collection of short stories Dubliners there is any amount of events to attend. The big day begins at the Martello Tower in Sandycove and continues in many different venues until late. Traditional breakfasts will be served in Caviston’s and Davy Byrne’s, and readings from the book can be heard during walking tours. Many people will be dressed in Edwardian period clothes that adds to the colourful atmosphere. Around the town there is plenty to do with plays, films, sketches, street theatre and much singing to enjoy.

'Sweet lemony wax'

‘Sweet lemony wax’

But for one group of volunteers this Bloomsday may be their last. They have maintained Sweny’s Pharmacy (Lincoln Place) for a number of years, but the future looks uncertain. The shop, which dates from 1847, was made famous by James Joyce in his book Ulysses. In the story, Leopold Bloom steps inside and buys a bar of lemon soap and carries it with him for the rest of the day – a lucky talisman. Amazingly, the shop is just as it was in Joyce’s day, an instant reminder of a different time and a living connection to one of the greatest books ever written. Sadly, the shop, a literary, historical and cultural landmark may be forced to close due to the imposition of commercial rates. I wonder what Joyce would have to say! SOS – Save Old Sweny’s.

A packed Sweny's listening to a reading on Bloomsday 2013

A packed Sweny’s listening to a reading on Bloomsday 2013

The video below was taken by Brendan Hayes on Bloomsday 2013. The actor, Shane Egan, was reading The Bloomsday Boys, a longish short story that I had written about Joyce and other famous Dublin writers as they went on their annual pub crawl. I hope that we have more opportunities for such readings and fun gaterings in Swenys in the future. SOS

 

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