- This is My Hadji Bey
- Eurovision in a Cowshed
- The Boll Weevil 3: On the Waterfront
- A Year in Brocante 11: An Easter Egg
- A Year in Brocante 10: Upscaling and Hacking
- Kevin Pearce
- The Bol Weavil and the Lightning Bug 2: On the Ground
- The Boll Weevil and the Lightning Bug 1: A Home in Ireland
- Love In The Air
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I got an awful fright in September; it was all over the Irish news that Clery’s department store in Dublin was going into receivership and part of the company’s holdings, Guineys on Talbot Street, was closing down.
Originally established in 1853 as “The New Palatial Mart” Clerys was one of the world’s first purpose-built department stores. Clerys is an institution in Dublin and still a landmark of the main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street. ‘Under Clery’s clock’ is such an accepted rendezvous that it has featured in song and story. In 1886 the New Palatial Mart was taken over and the name changed to that of the owner, MJ Clery. The current building dates from 1922, as the original – apart from the façade with its giant classical row of columns above continuous uninterrupted shop windows set in large bronze frames – was destroyed in the 1916 Easter Rising. In 1941 Clerys was bought by Denis Guiney, who died in 1967, his widow, Mary, continuing as Chairperson of the company until her death in 2004 aged 103. The firm is still in the Guiney family, but now, the Gordon Brothers of the US are poised to take over.
Anyways, the reason I got so upset when I heard the news of Guineys closure was because I thought it was the Dublin, Cork and regional stores known as MICHAEL Guineys which were going out of business. (It’s not.) Michael Guineys is a kind of treasure trove place where – if one were so inclined – one could find Ireland Team supporters’ t-shirts, outsize nylon underwear, men’s work overalls and suits, Christmas decorations, lampshades, proper screw-in light bulbs – none of your CFL rubbish – raincoats and dark Asian furniture. The store claims: “No matter what the occasion, Michael Guineys can help. Do you need a Boys five-piece Suit or Occasion wear for a Christening or Communion? Maybe it’s a Moses Basket or Duvet Set you’re looking for as a present for new parents?” Their claim is absolutely true, and then some. Me, I go for the furnishing fabrics, the curtain poles, hooks, tapes and black-out lining, pure cotton bed linens, shower curtains by Martha Stewart, towels by LL Bean, Waterford glass made in Bohemia, pub counter slop mats with legends such as “Céol”¹ “Craic”² and “CORK”³ and the occasional canoe.
Many years ago I bought my very first canoe in Michael Guineys – a yellow inflatable 2 seater – for something like £25.99, and was so charmed I named it “The Michael G”. I have got so many wonderful things in Michael Guineys that wherever I go in the world, on finding an Aladdin’s Cave of fabrics or furnishing over-runs, if the store lives up to my high standards of off-the-wall never-know-what-you’ll-find bargains I name it after the original. In Madrid I have a Miguel Guiney’s, take the sterile, soulless, glitzy towers out of it and Kuala Lumpur is one vast Mohammad Guiney’s, in Sydney there is Victoria Guineys (aka “Mr Tablecloth”) but the best of all is in Singapore…Mustafa Guineys.
About a decade ago I discovered Mustafa’s, a vast 24 hour-a-day complex which includes an entire floor of gold jewellery. There is everything on the six floors, from currency exchange, flat screen tvs, luggage, spices and herbal medicines, hair bobbles, Indian and Muslim traditional clothing, plastic table ware and baroque gold plastic tissue holders, souvenir, prayer rugs and velour depictions of the Last Supper, to embroidered saree fabrics that would knock the sight out of your eyes. In 2000 I got pure cotton embroidered duvet covers and pillowcases, five years ago hand-made wool needlepoint cushions, and over the last decade, saree fabric to make summer curtains for every window in our first house in France, with enough left over to clothe the nieces and Goddaughters who now troll off on a regular basis to weddings in India, Christmas table runners, and discarded on the floor, gorgeous off-cuts which I quilted as wall hangings. I got a gold ankle bracelet (which I subsequently lost in Ikea in Frankfurt) and looked enviously at the selection of wooden cuckoo clocks, which were just too heavy to bring home on the plane to ….er…Geneva.
Last week in Singapore, I made a pilgrimage along Racecourse Road, where the lights are already up for Diwali, and through the bright,narrow maze of Little India. Turning off to Syed Alwi Road, two Western women overtook me in their excitement….”Holy Shit!” said one, pushing a toddler in a stroller “I can’t believe it!….the legendary Mustafas!” and elated and laughing, they hurried on, through the myriad of doors, where, if one is carrying a plastic shopping bag, it is secured by staff with cable ties before one is allowed to enter.
I wonder how the pair got on. Did the palatial mart live up to their expectations? There were indeed 150,000 products stacked high along the narrow aisles of 6 floors, but quadruple that again by the range and materials and colours of each. Sarees and blouses and leggings and dresses and kurtis and salwar kameez in more designs than one would think the world could hold, coverings for Muslim women stealthily brightened in as many ways as possible without invoking the wrath of the style police, bales of the heaven’s embroidered cloths, woven and spun and dyed and decorated with every glistening thing.
But there was nothing for me.
No, I lie. I did buy one thing: Muslim women, who appear to be wearing full long sleeved t shirts under their shorter sleeved outerwear, have obviously got it sussed…the undergarment is simply a pair of long cotton sleeves, elasticated at the top and cuffed at the wrist, but without a body. Still suffering from over-sensitivity and terrified of being jostled, or even rubbing against something rough, such a cotton-jersey sleeve was just what I needed for my still aching broken arm. $4 worth in a cable-tied plastic bag, and I was out the door.
It was a bit worrying really, for if one is tired of Mustafa’s is one tired of life?
² The best of fun
³ The centre of the universe
Their head bones connected to their iPhones
Their ear phones connected to their iPhones,
Their neck bones connected to their iPhones
Their shoulder bones connected to their iPhones
Their arm bones connected to their iPhones
Their hand bones connected to their iPhones
Oh hear the word of the Lord.
Dem phones, dem phones gonna walk aroun’
Dem phones, dem phones, gonna walk aroun’
Dem phones, dem phones, gonna walk aroun’
Oh, hear the word of the Lord.
“A man with a new iPhone5 walks into a bar…no, it was a shop…no, it was actually a church…”
After my sister The Younger told me this joke on the ‘phone the other night, I re-told it to Himself. “Yeah?” sed he. “Yeah what?” sed I (we’ve been together a long time.) “What’s the punch line?” sed he. He was recumbent on the couch, tired after a long day which had involved getting up at 6 a.m. to drive to Geneva be at the Apple Store when the first iPhone5s were being released at 8 o’clock. Customers were marshalled efficiently along the street behind a crash barrier (it was Switzerland after all) and the queue consisted predominantly of Arabs (male) Russians (male) and Filipinas. Staff handed out cups of coffee, and to save time at the counter, order slips for the prospective buyers specifying the memory capacity and colour they wanted and their preference for contract or no contract. By ten o’clock Himself had his ‘phone, but the Arabs behind him in the queue were getting tetchy, anxious to know that they’d be out of the shop by 12 o’clock in time to read their sacred texts. (It was Friday.)
Now I must say fare thee well to my old ‘phone, as I get the cast-offs when Himself upgrades his technology. I will never forget the day he threatened to throw my portable typewriter out the window, to make room on my desk for an upright Apple Macintosh 512k. Personally, I’m not pushed. For a long, long time my Nokia, a perfectly good ‘phone with all the bells and whistles one would require for communication, has kept me in touch across 4 continents with the rest of the world (well, Cork.) It has relayed the news of many births and many deaths, joys and disappointments and safe flight arrivals and happy birthdays, Christmases and New Years in between. On the first day of every month it gave and sent “White Rabbits!” good luck wishes to two generations of female family, on the first of February each year, welcomed spring “O lá le Bríde amach, bionn na héin ag déanamh nead, bíonn na caoire ag breith na n-uan is an lá ag dul i bhaid….brat Bríde timpeall ort…” and on the first of May brought “Flowers of the fairest and blossoms the rarest” to Marys and honorary Marys in my circle. In August it informed my husband that his wife had been delivered by emergency ambulance to a hospital in Chamonix with a fracture and needed urgent TLC. The most common messages of the 947 clogging up my inbox, are “Skype?” and “Grand” and from the 1,479 sent :“ETA?”and my favourite new one: “three rings.”
Back when phone calls were made from machines attached to walls with wires and they cost dear money, we were in the habit of calling, and expecting to be called, about safe arrivals home, by dialing the number, letting it ring three times and then hanging up. In 1994, after spending the evening with an Irish-born harpist in downtown Banff, who was anxious that I’d be safe from wandering stags or the odd brown bear when walking up the hill to my residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts, I told her when I got back to my studio I’d give her “the three rings.” I think she’s still laughing….she had not heard that phrase or thought of all it implied, since emigrating to Canada many years before. These days, I just text ‘three rings.’
I have not been anxious to swap my old phone for a newer model. Its case is broken and when its on/off button stuck 18 months ago I demanded that it be mended rather than replaced. As luck would have it, we were meeting up that week with my brother (a real electronic/technology boffin) - and multifarious Sessaregos from around the world at a Sessarego family re-union in the village of Sessarego on the Ligurian coast near Bogliasco. On e-Bay, Himself found parts in China and The Brother was requested to bring with him to the gathering his teeny tiny soldering iron. On the morning we were leaving, the hotel chambermaid alerted the management after walking in on two men in a bedroom – in which there was a metallic smell of burning – one bearded, both speaking in a strange, indecipherable accent and hunched over the desk on which were pieces of black plastic, circuit boards, nefarious electronic equipment and lots of wires…..had there been any question of questions, of course there would not have been any trouble. In true Italian fashion, I was having a big thing for the Mayor.
As soon as I learn how to work the white cast-off, it will even announce on recipient’s screens “sent from my iPhone.” OMG, TMI! I am in the habit of ending mails with the locator “sent from my Hill Top.” (The joke in that – for slow, humourless people like my husband – is that it means I sent the message by smoke signal.) Get it?
For both humour and new technology, try this: http://biertijd.com/mediaplayer/?itemid=24882
Annecy is the capital of the Haute Savoie, in the Department of the Rhone Alps. With the new motorway, it is less than an hour from Geneva. It is a small city – in Irish terms, about the size of Cork. Annecy is beautiful, facing south down its 14km long 3.5wide lake – the second largest in – and the cleanest in Europe. At 446 metres elevation the city itself has a pleasant micro-climate, with lots of sun, enough rain water and little snow. On the East side are high mountains, jagged grey rock above the tree-line, snow covered from November to June. On the West are rolling forested hills and gentle pastureland, the Parc National du Massive des Bauges, and the Semnoz, which offer magnificent no-nonsense Alpine and cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and dog sledding in winter, and in summer, when the cows with their tinkling bells are out to pasture in the fields, hiking, climbing and mountain biking. In the monastery of Tamié the contemplative monks tend their dairy herd, make their Tomme cheese and chant in the unadorned chapel, just as they have done for centuries.
All along this side of the lake from Annecy is a dedicated cycle path built on the abandoned lines of an old railway line which stretches south by the lakeside villages of Sevrier, St Jorioz, Duingt and Doussard into the departement of the Savoie, past the pretty, but more gritty industrial town of Ugine with its metal factories, for 45kms as far as Albertville. This must be one of the most popular and spectacularly beautiful bike routes in Europe, if not the world. Here, every kind of muscle+wheel-propelled device rules the piste…..no horses or motors allowed, dogs only on a lead. Guys on slim carbon fibre machines, their rippling muscles barely covered in skin-tight Lycra whizz past couples on tandems, entire families pulling baby carriers, tots wobbling proudly on tiny pink and yellow bikes, their nappy swaddled seats the same size as their helmeted heads and people with silly little dogs in handlebar panniers. Above all, eagles and paragliders soar. Everyone cycles, including the police; the kids rollerblade or skateboard to school.
Nothing ever happens in Annecy. It is not fast paced, the people are friendly, the food tasty and healthy, the living is easy. You do not go there to party. The amenities and emphasis are geared to physical exercise and fresh air, but culture is not forgotten; Annecy hosts the long-running annual Animation Film Festival, music and dance are celebrated, practiced and enjoyed, it has an excellent Art College. In winter the town is swollen with puffa-jacketed skiers, but after dark in local restaurants, even the groups of young holidaymakers eat all but silently they are so tired from days on the nearby slopes of La Clusaz, Chamonix, Tignes and the Trois Vallées. Locals snowshoe or ski cheaply in the Semnoz, a 20 minute car or bus ride away. The magnificent blue lake has beautifully maintained beaches for relaxation, picnics, swimming, diving (the water is between 40m+80m deep) canoeing, rowing, wind surfing, Stand Up Paddle boarding, fishing, and power boats whose noise annoys with their attendant water-skiing and wake boarding which are wrecking the microenvironment. In summer the place if full of families –predominantly Dutch – staying in rental accomodation or campsites. The single lane roads along the lake are thronged with cars, caravans and camper vans, the supermarkets crowded. All the tanned people are enjoying themselves, and the locals are benefitting; the flowers bloom and the flags fly. It is relaxed, peaceful and democratic.
Nothing ever happens in Annecy. Oh we have parades with bands, open-air film shows in the parks, Medieval weekends in tents by the water where participants dress in felt and leather, joust and dance and make their meals on spits and in cauldrons. There are fetes and festivals, which usually include lots of St Bernard dogs and accordions, great slabs of hot cheese, chestnuts, mulled wine, breads baked in communal commune ovens, more cows with bells, clogs and Alpenhorns. There are torch-light sleigh rides and occasionally the spectacle of the Tour de France passes through the town. Light shows wash the façade of the Hotel de Ville, and at Mardi Gras, elaborately costumed pier, harlequins and columbines pose on the bridges of the swan-dotted canals.
Nothing ever happens in Annecy. The authorities, who tend the parks and flower-beds with such artistry and diligence, ensure it is so. There is no shark in the bay.
The hospitals around Annecy, in Grenoble and Chambery specialize in bone and back and sports injuries. The emergency services are highly efficient; in summertime injured mountain climbers and paragliders are airlifted for medical care with a minimum of expense to the victim, and in winter, it is skiers. Holiday makers are chewed in the propellers of water-skiing power boats, are drowned while swimming, lost when diving. Young residents slam family motor boats into cliffs late at night. Cars fall into the water, cyclists fall off their bikes, rocks fall on climbers, avalanches fall on skiers. People disappear when out walking. The police shrug. Maybe the South African man who left the Bed and Breakfast in which he had been staying and was never seen again, fell down a sink hole in the karst limestone terrain. France TF1 News reports the weather, the food industry, stories about education and the state of Johnny Halliday’s health.
Annecy is on a route between southern Europe and the Alps. Since the collapse of the construction industry in coastal Spain and the loss of North African immigrant jobs, the drugs trafficking has increased on this route. Couriers or ‘Mules’ are given the drugs – heroin, cocaine, ecstasy – and a ‘phone number, often paying their own transport costs to get by train to Madrid and onwards to Lyon and Annecy. They are instructed on reaching Annecy to call the number they have been given, and get on a bus to Geneva. In Geneva, they are met by the drug dealers, mainly from Eastern Europe and most particularly Albanians. The most common carrying method is ‘body packing’. Balloons made from condoms or the fingers of latex gloves are swallowed or hidden in body cavities. If they have swallowed the drugs, the dealers sometimes do not bother to wait for the balloon to be excreted, but slit the carrier’s stomachs open with a knife on the Swiss street and leave them dying in the gutter.
If the mules are detected in Annecy, they are either brought to Annemasse, a less salubrious town on the Franco/Swiss border, or to Albertville and jailed, questions asked later. If charges are brought, then the press reports state that the suspect is either in custody in Annemasse or Albertville, because nothing ever happens in Annecy.
(Pictures are by photographers posting on the Facebook page of “Annecy la Venise des Alpes”)
I have personal experience of what it is like, how it feels for oneself and one’s gender, to be derided by men on a political convention platform. On a plane to Berlin last week, still reeling from the ignorance and misogyny of Todd Akin’s ‘Legitimate Rape’ travesty, I read a piece in the “Speech and Debate” section of the New Yorker magazine (August 13-20) by Mark Singer. It was about gender and equality in 1972.
One of the subjects of The Democratic Convention currently taking place in North Carolina is the adoption of marriage equality as a plank in their 2012 Presidential campaign.
Forty years ago, in 1972, the Democratic Convention was held in Miami. According to Mark Singer, one woman introduced herself on the platform thus: “My name is Madeline Davis. I am an elected delegate from the 37th Congressional District, Buffalo, New York. I am a woman. I am a lesbian.”
Davis “appealed to her fellow Democrats to endorse platform language in defence of the rights of gay people to live their lives with the same civil liberties and protections as all Americas.” (With Party leadership approval, her speech was followed by another female delegate who “delivered a rebuttal that grouped homosexuality with paedophilia and prostitution.”) Davis was defeated on a voice vote.
Four decades ago, according to the New Yorker, Madeline Davis was an artist, not an activist. “During college and graduate school at the University of Buffalo, she played guitar and sang in coffee houses, acted and wrote poetry and music. In 1971, two years after the Stonewall riots, she joined a gay-rights demonstration in Albany. Just before it began, one of the leaders informed her ‘because I was a woman and lived upstate’ – that she would be making a speech. ‘I don’t remember the speech’ she recalled, ‘except for the last line: ‘It’s a beautiful day for a revolution.’”
Madeline Davis is now 72, a retired librarian, who still lives in the same area, with her wife Wendy, their two dogs and three cats. “I speak publicly at least four or five times a year” she told Singer “everybody from grade school teachers to college classes to political groups. I still write music, I quilt, I embroider, I’m a gardener. Wendy and I have been doing dog rescue for years. I’ve been writing my memoirs. Otherwise, we’re just your regular getting-old lesbian married couple on the street.”
Around two decades ago, when Charles Haughey was Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland and a General Election was imminent, Haughey called a press conference to introduce the Fianna Fáil (“The Republican Party”) candidates for the Cork city constituencies. In a room in the Imperial Hotel, a two-tier podium had been built and the nine or so Fianna Fáil candidates each sat in their raised seat around their Duce. They were all men. I indicated a question, and Haughey nodded his head. Why, I asked, were all the candidates men? Why had Fianna Fáil not nominated any women representatives? “Would you like to come up here and join us?” Charlie Haughey smirked. I glowered, meeting his infamous, fearsome, cowled-eye stare. The Prime Minister’s lack of respect for a legitimate question was bad, but his put-down was exacerbated by my journalistic colleagues, who to a man – and they were about 95% men – all tittered along with the suits on the podium, allowing the question to be subsumed in sneers and no answer given. Una Duce, Una Voce.
Spool on another two decades……
A couple of weeks ago, the ‘Obama for America’ campaign sent out an email from a Sandra Fluke. This is what she said: “I entered this national debate on women’s rights in February, when, as a Georgetown Law student, I testified before members of Congress on the issue of contraception. Without knowing me or my story, Rush Limbaugh called me a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’ on his radio show. Many Americans stepped forward to tell me they agreed with me, and supported my right to speak out without being verbally attacked. President Obama stood with us.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand? He didn’t even condemn the remark, instead saying only: ‘It’s not the language I would have used.’
Since that moment, I’m even more resolved to continue the fight to make sure every single woman – and every man who cares about the women in his life – knows exactly what’s at stake in this election. The Republicans are frighteningly clear on these issues. The (Republican) party platform itself includes a ‘salute’ to states that have pushed ‘informed consent’ laws, such as those that force women seeking an abortion to first undergo an invasive and medically unnecessary ultrasound.
Just last year, Paul Ryan joined Todd Akin and more than 200 other Republicans in co-sponsoring legislation that would have narrowed the definition of rape, limiting which victims of rape were ‘legitimate’ enough to receive financial assistance for access to abortion care. Mitt Romney famously says he would ‘get rid of’ Planned Parenthood if he had the chance. And both Romney and Ryan pledge to go back to a system where insurance companies can discriminate against women and charge us more than men for the same health insurance.”
“Akin’s comments shouldn’t be surprising. But this isn’t about him – just as it was never about me. President Obama has told us what he’s fighting for: ‘I want women to (be able to) control their own health choices, just like I want my daughters to have the same opportunities as your sons.’ Republicans, led by Romney and Ryan, have made it clear that they want to make our decisions for us.
President Obama trusts us women to make our own decisions.”
When men are allowed to make the rules governing the ‘legitimacy’ of physical and mental torture in the form of sexual abuse of women, and the rules governing women’s internal reproductive organs – sometimes based on an complete ignorance of basic physiology – it’s not such a long step from a pink dress on the political podium to burcas in public.
Autocorrect can be handy…but is infuriating when one lives by the colour of saying, embroidering, dovetailing, language-hopping words to suit mood, flow and rhythm (using as a medium British English…none of your ‘colors’ here.) If there had been Autocorrect in James Joyce’s time, he could not have written Finnegan’s Wake, the darned machine would have kept coming back at him saying “Did you mean : ‘River, run past Eve and Adam’s from swerve of shore to bend of bay, bring us by commodious vices of recirculation back to Heath Castle and environs’?……”
Last week I was pondering this, and decided to investigate….could it be that Mr Joyce’s delicious train of thought could be turned back, by a robot in the cloud, to show the original spark from whence it evolved and thus offer new insight….or even intellectual craic? I bamboozled my Beloved into showing me how to work Autocorrect on an iPad (a gift he gave me 4 months ago and which I have used, grudgingly, unenthusiastically, five times in the meantime [3 for reading Martha Stewart Living magazine on-line]) but I have befuddled his brain and he’s stormed off in a huff, bellowing that neither he nor I have time to transcribe Finnegan’s Wake and besides, the exercise is bullshit. I beg to disagree, though having one arm broken in a plaster cast – which makes every upper case, every double or shift key stroke painful – and having to type, then robotically autocorrect each divinely inspired word of the classic masterpiece in order to either a: see what Autocorrect thinks it should be and pick the first choice, or b: scroll down the options to choose what I consider the most illuminating and colourful option, does make the exercise time-consuming and could jeopardize the knitting of os. (Himself deserves a bit of exasperated bellicosity at the range and breath of my requests for quotidian aid; he bathes me, bakes me brown bread and blueberry muffins, carefully tears single images from paper napkins at my behest so I can pimp my plaster with decoupage.)
But of course, there is nothing new under the sun: someone has already Autocorrected segments of Finnegan’s Wake on an iPhone ….
So, l thought I’d do a shorter opus, as befits a One Armed Mam: John Lennon’s “In His Own Write” or “A Spaniard in the Works”
The problem with John Lennon is that he mostly used everyday words, so Autocorrect sees nothing untoward in it being “A red lettuce day” and “Speak up, come forth, you ravel me, I potty menthol shout” is also fine by the Autocorrect Police.
MR BORIS MORRIS
However Mr Boris Morris was morgan thankful for his narrow escape is largely put down to his happy knack of being in the right place at the right place. For stance, Boris was the one whom cornered Miss Pearl Staines at her impromtu but light- hearted garbage partly.
‘Miss Staines’ he had shouted ‘how come you never invited yer sister to the do?’
‘For the same reason I didn’t invite you Mr Morris’ she re-plight reaching for anoven helping.
Boris was no fudge, he quickly melted into the backcloth like an old cake, slighly taking candy shots of Miss Staines with her relatively.
‘She won’t invite me to the next do either’ he remarked out loud with above average clarity.
Boris was elsie the man whom got the photies of the Dupe of Bedpan doing things at the anyearly jap festival, much to the supper of the Duchess set. Thus then was Boris Morris a man of great reknown and familiarity, accepted at do’s of the wealthy and the poor alike hell. He was knew as the jew with a view, and he had. Not long after one of his more well known esca-pades, he was unfortunable to recieve a terrible blow to his ego. He was shot in the face at a Hunt Ball but nobody peaple found out till the end becaugh they all thought it was a clever mask.
‘What a clever mask that man has on,’ was heard once or twig.
It was not the end of Boris as you might well imargin, but even before his face set he was to easily recognizable at most places, with peaple pointing at him saying thing like ‘What a good shot’ and other. All this set Boris thinking, specially in the morning when he was shaving his scabs, as only he knew how.
‘Must fix this blob of mine’ he’d smile over a faceful of blot-ting paper.
‘You certainly must dear’ said his amiable old wife, ‘what with me not getting any younger.’ John Lennon “A Spaniard in the Works”
To-day, nearly half a century after this was written, we’re not often reduced to giggling in grass induced glee at the goings-on of Mr Boris Morris, but as this is an exercise in contemporary thought, let’s manually change Mr Morris to Mr Johnson, and allow a robot do the rest:
“How Mr Boris Johnson was more than thankful for his narrow escape is largely put down to his happy knack of being in the right place at the right place. For instance, Boris was the one whom cornered Miss Pearl Stains at her impromptu but light-hearted garbage partly.
‘Miss Staines’ he had shouted ‘how come you never invited
your sister to the do?’
‘For the same reason I didn’t invite you Mr Johnson ‘ she re-
plight reaching for an oven helping.
Boris was no fudge, he quickly melted into the backcloth
like an old cake, slightly taking candy shots of Miss Staines with her relatively.
‘She won’t invite me to the next do either’ he remarked out
loud with above average clarity.
Boris was else the man who got the phonies of the Dupe of
Bedpan doing things at any early jape festival, much to the
supper of the Duchess set. Thus then was Boris Johnson a man of great renown and familiarity, accepted at do’s of the wealthy and the poor alike hell. He was knew as the jaw with a view, and he had. Not long after one of his more well known escapades, he was unfortunable to recieve a terrible blow to his ego. He was shot in the face at a Hunt Ball but nobody people found out till the end besought they all thought it was a clever mask.
‘What a clever mask that man has on,’ was heard once or
It was not the end of Boris as you might well margin, but
even before his face set he was to easily recognizable at most
places, with people pointing at him saying thing like ‘What a
good shot’ and other. All this set Boris thinking, specially in the morning when he was shaving his scabs, as only he knew how.
‘Must fix this blob of mine’ he’d smile over a faceful of blot-
‘You certainly must dear’ said his amiable old wife, ‘what
with me not getting any younger.’
PS : I love love love love love Boris Johnson (Himself always refers to the Mayor of London as “your boyfriend”) and I would never wish anything untoward to befall his clever mask, his jaw with a view…or indeed that of his amiable old wife.
It was like being in a scene from M*A*S*H. Lying on a gurney in the hall of the hospital, my arm aching in fresh plaster, I tried to relax, but helicopters kept coming close, hovering,whirleygig rumbling, taking off, their sound growing fainter, only to return like thunder echoing around the mountains, booming and bouncing from peak to peak. Their engines never cut. Within three minutes of the loudest noise announcing their arrival, reverberating through the walls, a trolley would swish down the hall, followed by the soft flap of bare feet in flip flops. That would be the doctor.
Yesterday dawned another glorious morn. On radio at breakfast we heard a report on Team Rwanda – the cycling team I follow – whose expertise is tough mountainous terrain. A rider fell in training and the coach berated him …”what were you doing lying on the road?…did you think an ambulance would come and collect you?…. you fell off your bike, so you get up again and ride. You will fall off again, and you will get up again and ride.”
Later, I went to Chamonix, Mont Blanc to exercise my passion for Extreme Sportsgearshopping at the sale in Patagonia. It was 28C at 1,000m., lat 45.9189° N, 6.8653° E and the Alpine town was thronged with knotty-kneed people in impressive boots and Asian ladies in cotton sun bonnets. Aprés shopping I headed back to the car, changed into shorts and peaked cap, unfolded my little foldy bike from the trunk, clipped its nifty bag on the front and set off obeying the town’s oneway street system. The residential roads are often narrowed still by parked cars and as I happily – exultantly – tootled along on my two wheels, four wheels came up behind, impatient, aggressive, so deeming the footpath safer I tried to hop it but the little wheels didn’t make the step and I fell, spreadeagled on the ground. The red car, cause of my grief, didn’t stop.
Two women did, and a man and a dog. I knew the wrist was gone, so I wouln’t be able to drive the 90kms home. They asked if I wanted an ambulance. Thinking of Team Rwanda, I was shocked…no, no, I’ll just….just… get some advice, maybe an elastic bandage….The young woman took the bike, I took the dog and we walked to a doctor’s rooms….then to two pharmacies (depositing the bike back in the car en route) but it was lunchtime, it was France, and nobody would be stirring from their meal and siesta to open their shutters for another two hours. The dog, a tiny, fluffy grey thing, was bemused. The young woman, from Grenoble, was on her day off from her job in the Snell Sports shop. If she hadn’t been so fit and pretty, the low slung dog so softly coiffed, we would have made a sorry trio, walking through the town. By the time we reached the third shuttered pharmacy, I told her to go on her way, about her day, I would go to the Tourist Office and get a taxi to the hospital.
In the Tourist Office, much to my chagrin, they called the Pompiers (fire brigade ambulance.) My predeliction for Pompiers is well known, how sad then – as the Tourist Office staff pointed out, that with an Oompapa band in the square outside – for the féte des Guides Alpine – I could not dance with the three handsome men now dancing attention on me. Stretchers and neenawing ambulances embarrass me, but they insisted. The Tourist Office staff phoned my husband, I lay there and looked up at the glacier melting as the band played Waltzing Matilda, and then off we went.
When the Pompiers delivered me, they kissed the two nurses on duty (3x2x2 = 12 kisses) and then began my assessment. I had a photocopy of my passport so I existed. The Pompiers had taken off my wedding ring. I assured them I was a strong peasant, my vitals were fine. The nurses talked over me in a blur of fast paced, good humoured French. My phone kept bleating “you have a tiny text message, a very tiny one, please read it” making them laugh. When my daughter called, tears swam. A young doctor with long hair and the most sunburned nose I have ever seen, padded in in his Havaianas, and asked me to join my thumb and index finger. Ever anxious to please, I did so….by using my other hand to make the circle. Doc said that was cheating; my arm was broken. They put the x-ray image up on a light box, Doc took a picture of it with his phone and flapped off to call the surgeon in Sallanches, a bigger hospital down the mountain….the break might require an operation there. Otherwise, I’d be plastered in situ.
The peaks of the Pays de Mont Blanc, overlooking three countries, France, Switzerland and Italy, towered outside the window, the tallest the Aiguille du Midi. I can take pain, but not needles, and I feared they were going to put an aiguille in my midi. I was plastered in situ. I love Plaster of Paris, wished I could embed some cotton lace in the upper layer. The nurses said they thought I was ten years younger than my passport and enquired my secret (poverty and hardship, wine.)
I was wheeled out to await collection in the hall. Beside me was another gurney, onto which, after every admission, the Pompiers’ red plastic inflatible limb slings (sounds like a cocktail; ‘I’ll have a red limb sling please, and water for the dog’) were flang, presumably for bulk collection later- with more kisses. As I lay there, the mound grew ever bigger. In Chamonix they get mountaineers, hikers, skiiers, bikers, BASE jumpers, paragliders, kayakers, ramblers, rovers, runners, riders, rock climbers, boarders, skaters, mushers, dog teams and party animals. The mayor (and the hospital ER) have seen it all, and are not easily alarmed, but this week, he banned wingsuit fliers. “For us, adventure doesn’t mean extreme risk,” said Chamonix mayor Eric Fournier. “We have to ask questions of responsibility and respect for other sports.”
First in was a young man, whose mobile companion (scowling, not impressed) clanked and clattered up and down the hall in a chastity belt; she was still in an absailing harness. His leg was plastered, he left in a wheelchair, all the time chatting as casually as if he were in for a haircut. Then came a young woman with a ponytail, sleek and golden as a Ralph Lauren ad. A student, she had sprained her ankle. With three companions, she was on a road trip from Minnesota, via Guatamala and Austria to Morocco. “It’s not expensive really” she said “we sleep in the open, the only real expense is gas.” I pictured them cooking up a Camping Gas storm, but of course, she meant petrol. The night before, they had spread their sleeping bags and tarps on the ground, but a thunderstorm erupted with torrential rain. They were the highest thing above the tree line on a high mountain, so had to squidge together under a rock outcrop for fear of lightening. That morning they had hiked for an hour to the nearest Refuge to spread their stuff to dry….then, still optimistic “it could have been worse” they were heading down the mountain, when she slipped. She didn’t cry either, was quite chuffed about the helicopter ride, but, being American, and without insurance, worried about the cost. I kept telling her “you’ll be grand” (she probably thought I meant she’d marry a European aristocrat.)
When Himself came to collect me, he walked in an unattended door, into an unattended hall, turned this way and that, followed an ‘Urgences’ sign into a maze of deserted hallways. He called it Hospital Marie Celeste. I had asked Doc the hospital’s address for my husband, but the doc had shrugged…. He didn’t know the address… “just follow the ‘hospital’ signs” he said (the Bermuda Triangle doesn’t have an address either.) The bill was paid – we have good insurance, so 70% was covered – but in toto, it would still have been under €100….and not a word about about my TLC ambulance trip. I think some French resort locations take on the responsibility and cost of emergency evacuation, so I hope Ms Minnesota won’t be charged.
Came home to discover that life had changed. Couldn’t undo my bra, couldn’t get the toothpaste out of the tube, couldn’t jam a croissant. This morning, there was a card in the post from friend Kathryn: ‘Feck it, Sure it’s Grand.’ And it is, and it will be. You just get back up on your bike and ride.
Thank you M. Hollande. Thank you kind young Grenoble lady from Snell Sports. Thank you little dog, for walking the mile with me. Thank you ladies of the Chamonix Tourist Office, thank you my darling darling Pompiers. Thank you Marie Celeste nurses and doc….thank you Sue for the lend of a car. Thank you husband; literally, my better half. Feck it, sure it’s grand.
Montani semper liberi
When our children were small we parents swapped around clothes and toys and paraphernalia. I cannot remember how many of the group’s babies were wheeled out in a red pram (but no doubt Martin can! [Naoise, Catriona, Lucy, Maddy…….?]) but the most popular of all was a little doll’s pram moulded in pink plastic lettinon ‘basketweave’ with a metal handle and 3 wheels, over which the children squabbled for a go. (It did not lose its appeal, even after it got melted in the conflagration when my mother’s house burned down.)
Another coveted toy was from a different group; it was a doll’s stroller with a seat like that of a deckchair, belonging to Aoife Collins. Before I gave it back, I mended a tear in the fabric with a piece I had in my stash. Because I liked it so much and was kinda loath to part with it, I remember the design to this day, a face on the sun. It was, of course, an original piece of Fonasetti textile which is today available on-line for $154 a metre. Ah well. (I also remember mending the stuff bag of The Daughter’s sleeping bag with navy blue, red logo-ed Yves St Laurent lining fabric….as one does.)
So that is how long Fornasetti images have been in my consciousness. On Saturday in Annecy, I came across a circular cardboard box in which was a set of china coasters. Just as one automatically snaps open one’s napkin on one’s lap on sitting down to a meal, in other people’s houses or in restaurants, I automatically reach for a plate and turn it upside down to read the maker. I am oblivious of, immune to and somewhat perplexed by the amusement which this action inevitably ivokes amongst fellow diners. On Saturday, in the same action, I turned over one of the coaster, and below a laurel wreath encosing a hand holding a paintbrush, was the back stamp “Fornasetti Milano”.
The coasters are 4inches in diameter, with a gold rim, and a black and white design of mythological figures – Centaur, Satyr, Minoraur, Mermaid…Pan and Cupid and their ilk, hybrid zoomorph/anthropomorphic with scaley tails, wings, claws and hooves, flowing hair, pert-busted or of muscular torso. The complete set of 8 coasters in their original box from Florence, was €2. (The pic is from http://bit.ly/MW4MHL )
“So I dressed with remaining ceramics, furniture and objects; so I placed a message in each, a small story, at times ironic and obviously wordless, but audible to those who believe in poetry.”(Piero Fornasetti.) One of the most original and prolific creative talents of the twentieth century, Piero Fornasetti was born in Italy in 1913. He was painter, sculptor, interior decorator and engraver. He attended the Brera Art Academy in Milan from 1930-32 when he was expelled for insubordination. He went into exile in Switzerland from 1943-46 returning to Milan after WWII. Working predominantly in black and white, with a style reminiscent of Greek and Roman architecture – by which he was heavily influenced – and with “a visual vocabulary that is instantly recognisable and unceasingly engaging” he created more than 11,000 items, many featuring the face of a woman, the operatic soprano Lina Cavalieri, or the sun and time as motifs.
Fornasetti’s muse, Lina Cavalieri made her operatic debut in Lisbon in 1900 and starred in Paris opposite Enrico Caruso in “Fedora” in 1905, taking the production to New York in 1906 where she remained with the Metropolitan Opera for 2 years and starred in Oscar Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera Company in 1909-10. Renowned for her great beauty and hourglass figure, Lina Cavalieri was one of the most photographed women of her time. Her many romances as well as her acting and singing abilities made headlines. She returned to Europe before WWI retiring from the stage at age 40 in 1914, to write a book on beauty and become a beauty columnist for a women’s magazine, where Fornasetti first saw her picture. “What inspired me to create more than 500 variations on the face of a woman? I don’t know. I began to make them and I never stopped.” There were 350 “Tema e Variazioni” (theme and variation) versions of Lina Cavalieri’s physiognomy in his plate series alone.
Having made 4 silent films in the United States, she returned to Italy with her fourth husband and worked during WWII as a volunteer nurse. Lina Cavalieri was killed in February 1944 at her home in the countryside near Florence. The servants ran to an air-raid shelter in the grounds on hearing an American plane approaching, but Cavalieri and her husband delayed, collecting her jewels from the house and were killed en route. All those already inside the shelter survived.
Piero Fornasetti created a variety of objects both decorative and functional, designing in all, more than 11,000 products. Today it is most common to see Fornasetti’s style in décor; furniture such as tables, chairs and lamps, textiles and fashion accessories such as scarves and ties. He died in 1988 but the Fornasetti home and workshop are still extant in Milan, where his son, Barnaba Fornasetti, continues to design in his father’s name.
In 1955, Gina Lollobrigida played Cavalieri in the film “The World’s Most Beautiful Woman” and her biography, “Lina Cavalieri:The Life of Opera’s Greatest Beauty, 1874–1944” by Paul Fryer and Olga Usova, was published in 2004.
The coasters may be worth around $500…..but no matter, I got all this fun for €2!
According to an expert in the Geology Departments of the Flat Earth University, (me) one is less likely to be the victim of an earthquake in Ireland than almost anywhere else on earth. That said however, I was once the victim of an earthquake in Cork. It was on 19th July 1984, and on this day in 1984 my “Change of Address” article was published in The Irish Press. This is it: (the tempora and mores have changed since then and there are many local and contemporary references, so I have edited the original piece slightly.)
I’ve just bought my very first house. It is on The Banks (the Trustee Savings Banks) and it is the most beautiful house in the world. Because I only bought it for the cracks, I keep thinking it’s going to fall down.
The first day I spent in the Teach Nua there was an earthquake, but I had prayed very hard the night before to Nano Nagle to protect it, and the earthquake avoided Cork. (I was making breakfast and a mug – with my name on it – wobbled off the draining board and smashed on the tiled floor. It seemed like an inauspicious omen, but nonetheless, it turned out to be a very happy home and when it sold 23 years later, the house made 30 times what I had paid for for it. The family who bought it have filled the house with children and are very good neighbors to our friends locally, and when, in 2009, with rain, a high tide and wind blowing the sea up the harbour mouth and into the city, the Electricity Board opening the dam up river and releasing a tsunami, the water came just to the front step of the house, and no further. The new owners had moved all their valuables upstairs…..but were saved. Good karma. (http://www.irishexaminer.com/archives/2007/0317/features/southern-comfort-down-by-the-riverside-27991.html )
But Nano Nagle is all very well for the spiritual, one must also have a bit of worldly protection, so I checked my insurance policy and sure enough, I had been covered against earthquakes since the day before. How’s that for a bit of forward thinking? The Baden Powells would be proud of me.
I very nearly wasn’t covered at all, as the firm’s computer kept losing me as it couldn’t cope with a double-barrelled name and the insurance company kept sending my policy to a firm of coal importers. What with cracks and earthquakes and being located in the Marsh area of the city, I was glad to see that I was also covered for subsidence, but being addled and excited, I told a friend I had “subsistence insurance. ” He said he knew I was poor, but that was ridiculous!
It is amazing the things one learns when one buys a house, like the proper heights for sockets (3ft off the ground) what is a Phillips screwdriver and that seagulls get up very late. The University sports grounds is just across from my bedroom window. (In the centre of the All Weather track is where Yuri threw his hammer and broke four World Records.) (I’ve just checked this, and the event is actually up on YouTube, though because of the angle from which the action is shot, my house can’t be seen.
The seagulls of Cork, having (like me) an eye for a good location, like to roost just there. I got up early after my first night in the new house, to view the world from the privacy of my own home, and they were fast asleep. (It must have been before 5.56am because that is when the 5.4 earthquake rumbled under the Llyn Peninsula in Gwynedd, North West Wales.) The following morning I got up a bit later, but the birds were still asleep and the next morning at 10.30 they were still there, snoring their little herring gull snores. So if you happen to hear a loud chorus of “The Boys of Killybegs” wafting over the Lee of a morning, you will know it is 8 o’clock and it’s just me getting the seagulls up.
I would be carrying on a long-standing family tradition, for in my youth, my mother would come storming into my bedroom at 8 a.m, throw back the curtains and hiss “thousands of pounds spent on your education, it is half past nine and you are still in bed….” The curtain opening ceremony would be accompanied by a vicious onslaught with the vacuum cleaner and the radio turned to something devastatingly boring, on high volume. I think I shall modify the call slightly for the seagulls; something like “thousands of pounds spent on your eradication and you are still on the ground.”
When house hunting one also learns a lot about auctioneers and estate agents (like that many of them in Cork aren’t the slightest bit interested in selling houses) and to pick one’s solicitor wisely. When my brother asked if I had a good solicitor, I replied my choice was made on the grounds that the lwayer was a woman, a feminist and anti-nuke. He asked if I was contemplating buying Greenham Common Airforce Base.
But you know the way lawyers are always writing letters and then must await a reply – and a Bank Holiday always intervenes – and then writing more letters which begin “In reply to yours of the 21st inst”? well, from the other side of a desk of papers for signing, my solicitor says “hang on a minute and I’ll phone and find out…” She lifts the telephone: “Hello?…Crosby,Stills, Nash and Young?…this is Anne….” It gets things moving.
Another thing I learned about buying a house (from novelist Jilly Cooper’s husband) and unfortunately did not heed, was that one should always put one’s knickers in black plastic bags so they won’t be seen by the removals men. My removals men were all B.Es (Black Economy: a horticulturalist, the Road Manager with the National Ballet Company and the brother-in-law.)
I took the drawers out of the car in an open drawer and they promptly fell on the pavement outside the new house. Just then the brother-in-law arrived, and arms full of empty drawers, I wailed that my knickers were on the ground. He promptly looked behind me, thinking maybe they weren’t making elastic the way they used to do….
So that’s it. We’re in. Do drop in if you happen to be passing, we have a huge stock of new and completely re-built pianos, we are open until six on Saturdays, and remember: if you feel like singing….do sing an Irish song.”
Alexander Claud Cockburn died on Friday aged 71 in Bad Salzhausen in Germany, where he was being treated for cancer. He was, like his two brothers, Patrick and Andrew, and his father Claud before him, a journalist and writer. He grew up in Ireland, worked in London for the New Statesman and Times Literary Supplement but lived most of his life in the United States, of which he was granted citizenship in 2009 (despite the fact that one of his ancestors, English Admiral Sir George Cockburn, had helped in the burning of the White House in 1814.)
Radical, controversial and an apologetic leftist (also a family trait; at one time, his father Claud Cockburn was 84 on the list of the 250 Most Wanted Men in the world) he had a wide range of knowledge and interests. He wrote columns on politics and news media for the Village Voice in New York and for publications as disparate as the magazine Chronicles ( published by the Rockford Institute), The Nation and The Wall Street Journal, often castigating the American liberal establishment – including President Obama – when he felt they were being hypocritical, not progressive enough or not strong enough in upholding their convictions. He sometimes took strange stances for a leftie-liberal, being anti abortion and skeptical of the claims that global warming was induced by man, yet wrote a book on the destruction of the Amazon Rain Forest. One of his best-known books “Corruptions of Empire” (1988) dealt with Regan’s America. In 1996 he founded and co-edited the political web based newsletter CounterPunch.
Alexander Cockburn was a graduate of Oxford. His mother wrote “All authors will tell you that what you need above all in the literary world is a ‘name’. Claud (his father) had an internationally known name all right – in fact two. One was Frank Pitcairn, the sinister agent of the Comintern and foreign editor of the Communist Daily Worker and the other was Claud Cockburn the extreme left-wing and allegedly scurrilous editor and owner of The Week. Publishers fled in terror from association with such dangerous and subversive characters. At the age of 40 Claud had to start his literary career all over again like an undergraduate just down from university.” (He wrote “Beat the Devil” under the name of James Helvic. It was later made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones and Gina Lolobrigida.) “……Gradually Claud built up a reputation as a non-political writer. His first autobiography ‘In Time of Trouble’ was a Book Society Choice and a great success. He was writing for more and more newspapers and magazines, which was just as well as Alexander was being expensively educated.”
Claud Cockburn dictated a humorous column for the Irish Times to his wife two days before his death in St Finbarre’s Hospital in Cork in l981. Alexander Cockburn’s last article for The Nation was published on July 11.
In to-day’s New York Times, the Nation’s editor and publisher is quoted as saying that “it was an honor, in many ways, to join the growing list of people Alexander would attack with his pen” Not me. In his collection of essays “The Golden Age Is in Us: Journeys and Encounters, 1987-1994” (Verso, l996) he wrote, after the death of his mother a few days earlier: “The papers have obituaries. A good one in the Cork Examiner, also Richard Ingrams in the Independent……..” Alexander Cockburn then re-produced almost the entire article I wrote for the Examiner in October 1989 (he left out only the two paragraphs on the burial and family attendance at the funeral service) http://bit.ly/PwhqQf
I met him, but did not know Alexander Cockburn, but I knew his mother, and she too, had strong views, huge talents and was controversial. The (Protestant) Bishop of Cork suspended her christening in l914 and went on strike, threatening to walk out of the country church and go back to the city if her Arbuthnot parents insisted on calling her the names they had chosen: “Kawara Finnbaragh Evangeline.” In raging whispers parents and Bishop finally agreed on “Patricia Evangeline Anne.” (She was born on St Patrick’s Day)
My Examiner article reproduced by Alexander Cockburn is entitled “A Fantastically Interesting Life”….and she had. Patricia Cockburn, beautiful, rich, grew up in Myrtle Grove, the Youghal home previously owned by Sir Walter Raleigh when he was Governor of Ireland in 1588 and possibly where Spenser wrote part of the “Faerie Queen.” She kept horses, came out stylishly as a debutante at Buckingham Palace in 1931 with a party of champagne, lobster and caviar (this during the Depression) for 500 at her Grosvenor Place London home. At 18 she married Arthur Byron, an underwriter at Lloyd’s. Bored, she travelled for the Royal Geographical Society, researching, listing and mapping the aboriginal tribes and languages of remote parts of Africa, Asia, the South Sea Islands and Australasia and later lecturing on her travels. She rode on horseback from Calgary to Banff, and driving from San Francisco towards Mexico, dined en route with Charlie Chaplin. Her two year old son Darrell, born in l936, died of blood poisoning after getting a scratch on his nose in her family’s garden in Youghal. Depressed, she left for a remote part of the former Czechoslovakia to write for the Evening Standard. She was only 24, World War II was about to begin, her son was dead and her marriage ended. Her husband joined the army, she -“passionately anti-Nazi”- joined the Air-Raid Precautions organization. In 1939, at “a very grand party” she met Claud and when she announced that they were getting married, her father replied “Don’t you realize Patricia, that if you go ahead with this mad plan, you will never be allowed into the Royal Enclosure at Ascot again?” and cut off her allowance.
Alexander, the first of their three sons was born “punctually and easily” in Scotland in 1941 where his mother was staying with a friend for health, safety and nourishment (grouse and salmon every day; there was nothing else.) Mother and baby returned to London nine days later. Food was scarce, there was rationing and Alexander developed glandular fever. “…..When Claud returned from the founding of the United Nations with a host of hilarious stories his The Week paper was broke.” The Cockburns sent Alexander to live with his grandparents in Youghal and left for the Balkans on assignment for The Worker. Claud had one pair of shoes, which were stolen son their first night in Belgrade while the couple slept. Later, when his mother collected Alexander, he was “pleased to see me, but not pleased at the thought of going back to London.” He had had a wonderful time, complaining only when faced with eggs in their natural state. As a war baby he had only known powdered eggs.
The Cockburns returned to live in Youghal in 1947. At one time in the 1950s, almost penniless, three of the family of five were ill with either TB or polio. Patrick was the worst affected with polio, and was told he would never walk again – but he threw away his stick when working in Northern Ireland for the Financial Times as it might have been construed as a weapon.
Patricia bought ponies from the Travellers (known at the time as ’Tinkers’) bred, broke and trained hunters and designed gardens. The family were often rescued by Patricia’s posh friends. Always interested in molluscs, when depressed, she would walk the beach at Youghal collecting shells. She drove for miles to find rare specimens and collected the first complete set of Irish shells. One night, staying in the Leixlip Castle home of Desmond Guinness and unable to sleep, she found an art folio of 18th century shell pictures in the library. Inspired by the folio, she turned to making shell pictures as thank-you gifts for friends. The Founder and President of the Irish Georgian Society, Desmond Guinness encouraged her work and she has been credited with its revival, sticking carefully to the 18th century rules rather than hot-glueing the gaudy souvenirs of seaside towns. The pictures, which she exhibited in Cork, London, Washington and New York are exquisite.
When the lease on their Youghal home ran out, with the help of their three grown sons, the Cockburns bought a house overlooking the sea in the fishing village of Ardmore, County Waterford, eight miles from Youghal, where Patricia lived until she died. We first met when I interviewed her for a television piece in 1985 and we got on famously. I will always remember visiting the cottage, with its comfortable furnishings, her needlework and its “Family Bookcase” of tomes written only by members of the immediate and wider family…in which are many prolific authors. I am very glad I bought one of Patricia Cockburn’s shell pictures, which is now far from Ardmore bay, under the sun of the French Alps. She was a friend and neighbour of the writer – and fellow ‘HorseProtestant’ Molly Keane. It was a competitive friendship. “I nearly killed Molly Keane the other day” she told me….but I have forgotten whether through accident or design (and she didn’t succeed. In the end, Molly Keane won by outliving her by 7 years.)
There were many autobiographies in the ‘Family Bookcase’ and one of the very best is by the Matriarch herseself, Patricia Evangaline Anne Cockburn, third wife of the more famous Claud. It is called “Figure of Eight”(Chatto and Windus 1985) read it if you think you are living in interesting times. Read it for history, read it for pleasure.
In April l989, the poet Sean Dunne (who described Alexander’s style as having “the same wit and bee-sting sharpness that distinguished his father’s writing”) wrote in the Cork Examiner: “……As the tide turned in Ardmore and I started to walk back towards the road, I thought of how journalists like him (Claud Cockburn) are the ones to think about when people start complaining about the media. Often, what is really meant is that journalists are not presenting the point of view most useful to the interests of those who make the criticism.”
The same could be said of his son, Alexander. Ar dheis Dé – or whatever he wanted himself – go raibh a h-anam.