Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Sales Drive

I know what I’ll do.
I thought.
When I’m in Dublin next I’ll drop into the Dún Laoghaire Shopping Centre. To see how that book of mine is doing. I’ll pretend to be a customer. And ask the staff for the book. And if it’s out of stock I’ll look very very disappointed. And then when I am gone they’ll order a new supply. Because they’ll suspect there’s been some publicity for the thing and customers will be gathering. And anxious queues will be forming. Throngs. Starting at the cash desk, sneaking out the door and threading all the way through the shopping centre.
The sales ploy didn’t work.
Because when I arrived at the bookshop there was Mary Burnham womanning the till.
She knows me. We go way back. Though never a girlfriend, I seem to remember a warm embrace outside a restaurant in Killiney Village. The context escapes me. Probably drink. But whatever. There are no restaurants in Killiney Village now. And it was a long time ago. As said, she and I go way back. I knew her parents. Her mother taught piano. And I knew Mary’s sisters. And her brother. One of her sisters and the brother both worked for me when I ran a building business. Don’t even ask.
 Mary’s single name was Hughes. Which is strange, because the former rival Dún Laoghaire bookshop was, whilst no relation to Mary B,  Hughes and Hughes. It went bust. No loss. Neither my publishing hat nor the head beneath it dealt with Hughes and Hughes. It’s a long story. I didn’t like Hughes or Hughes. And I didn’t like the Hughes that came before. A financial matter arose between us. Yes right, I do not merely harbour grudges. I provide a full docking service of repair and maintenance.
But enough of that. Dubray Books is a different kettle. I knew the mother of the organisation when she was an old lady presiding over Bray Bookshop. Canny without being cunning, she was knowing without being knowall. It’s a theory of mine that organisations have their own DNA systems, and the ethos and understanding of the founders travel down through managerial generations. I may be right and I may be wrong, but it’s a notion that appeals to the genealogist in me.
            Instead of books, Mary and I discussed mutual acquaintances of days gone by. And lovers gone and lovers lost. And who had died, of drugs and drink and suicide, that sort of thing. Yes those were colourful times, around Dún Laoghaire, the nineteen eighties I suppose. And we were younger then.
            I left the bookshop.
Peculiar for a writer to admit, but I actually don’t like bookshops very much. All those soon to be forgotten tomes screaming for attention. And meaning so little in the scheme of things. The book industry is a gigantic intellectual X-Factor, performed on paper instead of the screen.
Depressing really.
So, really depressed, I wandered through the shopping centre. Though recently revamped it had the air of decline. Not helped by closed up shopfronts. And too many security guards and not enough customers.
This is the way the world ends
Really, really depressed now. I wandered out into Dún Laoghaire, my home town. And though I divide my time now between Italy and the West of Ireland it is still my home town. Born there. And yea back through timeless generations. My grandmother Mollie McGovern was married in the old church, the one that burnt down.
I went in to the newer version, and lit a candle for her. Then walked about the town. Remembering myself drinking in these pubs, and courting girls in alleyways and lanes and down there on the metals. Then I went back along to where my car was parked in Haigh Terrace. Opening the door I noticed that I had parked right opposite the house where once had lived my great grandmother Jane Carroll. And I remembered that further along in Adelaide Street my grandfather on the other side of my family had lived. They wouldn’t have known each other, those generations. But here they were united in my dna.
Funny old world.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


There was the worry.
Dublin's Morrison Hotel has gone bust. I read. Or words to that effect. Administration. Receivership. Bust.
“What”, I said to my wife H, “what if the tango do is cancelled?”
“What do, what tango do?”
“Didn’t I tell you?”
“We’re going to a tango do in Morrison’s Hotel. Saturday. A dance thing. My friend John the polymath is taking us. I took him to Sonairte in Laytown. He’s taking us to a tango do. Give and take. It’s what friendship is all about”.
“Oh”, she said. “Well the hotel is probably still open. Even if it is bust.”
“Like the country?”
“Something like that”.

I’d never been to the Morrison Hotel. But I had heard it was very happening. I do happening. Cutting edge stuff, socially speaking. On the cusp of. Etcetera.
Doesn’t come easy, that role. Happening, cutting edge and on the cusp sort of stuff. Needs planning. I planned. I brought the Louis Feraud from the Italian place to the Dublin apartment. And then I sat in the latter, working out the journey to the Morrison. 
It had been decided…or, to rephrase, H said we’ll go on the Luas…so I examined the ins and outs of that excursion. Instinct told me that there was a Luas stop somewhere near the Morrison. I googled. A little map popped up on the Morrison Hotel website. A little arrow popped up on the little map. The little arrow seemed to point us to Merchant’s Quay, to dead on exactly the location  of the Merchants' Quay Project. Now trust me on this. Whilst I do do happening, and cutting edge, I don’t do projects. Anything with the word project appended to other words is no go as far as I am concerned. Whether that appended word or phrase be art, or travellers, or migrants, no matter. I don’t do projects.
“I thought”, says I to H, “I thought Morrisons was on the north side of the river”.
“It is”, said H.
“No it’s not”, said I, it’s on Merchants Quay. South side.”
“It’s not”, said H.
“It is”, said I, “lookit here”.
I pointed to the screen. She didn’t look at it. She doesn’t look at screens unless Downton Abbey or Casualty is on them. She is not an internet person.
“I know furrafack”, she said, “I know it is on Ormond Quay. I don’t care what it says on that silly thing”.
“But this is my new laptop. I’m running Vista.”
“It is on”. Full stop. “Ormond Quay. Furrafack."
“How do you know?”.
“Morrisons is built in the former premises of the Ormond printing works. I know this. Furrafack. When I was working in publishing I used go there to check proofs of books. Big four colour presses. Pounding away. Those were the days. The smell of ink.”
“Ok”, said I. “One of us is right. The tango do is either in a drug rehabilitation centre or a derelict printing works”.
It wasn’t.
We went.
It was in a bankrupt hotel on Ormond Quay. A very nice bankrupt hotel, be it said. Maybe a bit overdesigned. Oh alright, a lot overdesigned. Just as were the three slender girls wearing Moulin Rouge outfits who greeted us at the door. Their lipstick was very rouge indeed, and they each held aloft a silver yoke containing chocolates in silver paper. And each stood exactly the same. Feet just so. Silver salver held just so. And free hand on hip just so. All in all, just so.
The gathering tango dancers chattered around a large circular table. And the large circular table groaned under half filled flutes of champagne. And I was just wondering whether a half filled flute of champagne is very posh or very mean when my friend John the polymath appeared. He was wearing an orange jacket and yellow shirt. I thought Fossetts. Nineteen eighty six. That guy with the exploding car and red nose and giant shoes. But I held (alongside my half filled flute of champagne) my peace.
John talked to H.
I examined the Moulin Rouge girls 
I noted, a chap does, that they were all three flat chested. But I supposed Moulin Rouge is all about legs and thighs. Can Can etc. Horses for courses. So it didn’t really matter. And remembered that my own aunt  and godmother had been a chorus girl in the Theatre Royal, a Royalette. I wrote about her a few weeks ago, I remembered. And thought how life is a weave. And it all hangs together. And then I shrugged away philosophy. And looked forward to a bit of high kicking later on in the evening.
Yeah right well, look forward I may well do. But I was to be disappointed. After necking back the champagne we all made our way into the ballroom and sat around the dance floor. I bought a bottle of wine for myself and H and John.
It cost €28.
How, I wondered, how can a hotel go bust that charges €28 for a bottle of €6 wine?
No answer.
No Can Can either.
But there was tango. An awful lot of tango indeed. And there was Caroline Moreau. A french chanteuse. She sang somewhat like Edith Piaf. Though without that attractive memory of many cigarettes and prostitution in the voice.
Then more tango.
Some finger food.
Then more tango.
Then out into the night. Traffic and rain. I looked down the quays and thought I saw James Joyce's Mina Kennedy going home from work. But it was dark and raining and I could have been confused. I looked up the quays and raised my arm. A taxi skeetered across through the traffic. It was being driven by what The Irish Times would describe as a new Irishman. We piled in. We shot off. It didn’t take me a hundred yards to realise it wasn’t being driven very well by what The Irish Times would describe as a new Irishman. We shot across O’Connell Bridge and on towards Amiens Street. Hurtling  from lane to lane with joie de vivre, and a dash of  je ne sais quo. All that.
“So…what part of the world are you from?” said I. Conversationally.
Nigeria”, he said.
“Ah”, I nodded. And found my fingers checking my seatbelt.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


It seems a long time ago. And I reckon it is. I don’t quite know exactly how many years until I get home and refer to google. And yes, I find, it was, a long time ago. Thirty four years in fact. Thirty four years since I walked through  Little Bray behind the coffin of Seamus Costello, founder of the IRSP and the INLA. He’d been assassainated by another faction of republicanism, the one that included our current Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. Not that  slippery Eamo was the actual assassain no, we’re just talking factions and movements and splits and vague discontents here, we’re talking the Irish way.
But anyway, it was all a long time ago.
Thirty four years ago.
Let the dead bury the dead.
Thirty four years after all that I’m walking through Little Bray again to another funeral. I’m older. My knee is sore. Not actually walking behind a coffin this time, no, I’ve just parked a car near Sunnybank and am headed to the graveyard. My wife H walks beside me. As ever. Yes there’ll be a day when one of us will walk alone at a funeral. But not quite yet. Today we’re together, at a family funeral. The burial of one of the older generation, maybe the last. Which kind of makes us part of the older generation now, I reflect. And that reflection bounces off the pain in my knee like something unwanted in a mirror.
This is our second funeral in as many weeks. The earlier was in Rathdrum, also in County Wicklow. Not that Little Bray is really in County Wicklow, not really. Yes they do call it County Wicklow now, but it’s on this side of the Dargle River, which makes it County Dublin. Hardly matters, these bureaucratic niceties. Particularly to me. I’m well out of it, living in the West of Ireland as I do. Handy enough that, being removed. Though there is a downside. In the past ten days I’ve had to travel twice across the country to attend funerals. And after this funeral now will travel back again. That car just parked in Sunnybank is merely borrowed in Dublin for the day. We’ll go back to Mayo by train.
In the old days, I tell  H the wife, Sunnybank was actually called Bloodybank, because of battles and slaughter and mayhem in the vicinity. Wild Wicklow men pouring across the Dargle to rape and pillage Dubliners every so often. She nods vaguely at the information. And I reckon I’ve told her that before. But then we’ve been married a long time. Running out of things to tell her. Whereas she’s doing the opposite. Discovering new things to tell me every day. Like not to forget this, and do this and don’t do that. As she moves inexorably along that path of a married woman’s life, from mistress, to friend, to nurse.
            Yep, cheerful enough, these funeral thoughts.
            We’re early at the graveside. The hearse is somewhere in the traffic. But the grave is ready. I look down into the hole. And know that down there, just below the discreet layer of earth at the bottom which covers an earlier coffin, just below that lies the body of the husband of the woman we’ve come to bury.
I knew him well. If I were Hamlet and was being written by Shakespeare I’d pick up his skull and orate. But I’m not Hamlet. I’m merely a middleaged man looking into a grave. And thing is…a middleaged man looking into a grave is looking back at his past, and towards his future too.
It’s a moment.
The coffin arrives on shoulders of grandsons. There are prayers, but not too many.
A relation comes up to me.
"You'll be coming back to the house" he says.
I will.
Back at the house I sit alone in the garden, eating triangular sandwiches. Wife H is away working the crowd, like she’s standing for election. Or being polite, one or the other. I’m doing neither. I’m just sitting on a bench which I remember from fifty years ago when I was a little boy. It was in the garden of my grandmother’s house in Dalkey. And before that I know…I know because I’ve seen it in old photos…it was in the garden of another house in Dalkey. Grandfather’s House. I wrote a book of that name.
Beside me here is a marble topped garden table. That too came from my Granny’s house in Dalkey. And, as a little boy, I took tea at it with her. My new novel The Nottingham Road Hotel will reveal all. When I finish the damn thing.
A blonde woman sits down beside me. (At the bench, not in the novel). She is bright and bubbly and her name is Siobhan. And when I learn her name I think of my own dead daughter. Buried in Connecticut. And how her name was Siobhan too.
I think of this while we laugh together, Siobhan and I. And as we laugh I suddenly wonder… which particular Siobhan am I sharing the laughter with? With my dead daughter or with this living woman?
But then, what else to do at a funeral?
Except laugh, and wonder.
And let the dead bury the dead.