Homage to Myles – Friday – Mind your Language

Himself was in rare form when he reached the pub last night. Coming in on the bus, he was afflicted by a notice: Room for 10 standees only. “It’s the same when some young fellow does a bunk from Mountjoy: the next day the papers have headlines about the escapee. And are we burning our copies of the Irish Times, or screaming that there is no such thing as an escapee, that it is an impossibility?” 

The Writer had the misfortune to suggest that the mistake was around for so long now, it was probably approved by the Oxford English Dictionary. That really drove Himself wild. He laid into the Writer. Accused him and his kind of crimes against language. Then he demanded to know where the apostrophe had gone from the Irish Writers Centre.

He claimed there should be public floggings for such crimes. Look at the hash they were making of Yeats’s poetry on his 150th. Hadn’t a bull’s where to stick the apostrophe. Might as well keep it for scratching their backs. What we needed was a bunch of greybeards, as the French had, to protect the language against atrocity. You wouldn’t catch those boys inserting their dangling apostrophes into inappropriate places.

The Cynic snorted at the ribald innuendo. “What you’re looking for,” he said, “is a CIA or an MI5 for homeland language security”.

“Bloody right, I am, and a Guantanamo for offenders.”

But the Writer was game and rose to it. He said it demonstrated the flexibility of the English Language. Yeats himself, he said, wouldn’t have had a clue where to stick the apostrophe in Yeats’s poetry. He could write, but he couldn’t spell, and he wouldn’t recognise grammar if he met it marching down the street, led by a fife and drum band.

When the Writer gets the wind up, he is well able for Himself. He took a long draft from his Guinness, wiped his lips, and sat back, good and square. “The English Language,” he said, “is infinitely flexible. It is organic, always growing, not like French, which has been fossilised since the Eighteenth Century.”

“Stop waffling,” said Himself, “and tell me how the Writers’ Centre became the Writers Centre.”

“They just decided to drop the apostrophe,” said he, smug as you like – and he sounded like the boy in class who knew the answer when no one else did.

“Apostrophe – you might as well be talking to yourself.”  Himself looked around to see if anyone twigged his witticism, but was disappointed. It was two minutes later when I twigged it, and smiled, but the conversation had moved on by then.

“But is it right or wrong?” asked the Young Lad. “To leave out the apostrophe.”

“It’s right if you decide it’s right,” said the Writer, “and wrong if you decide it’s wrong.”

Himself was winding, like a cock looking for a cockfight. “You sound like a Jesuit,” he said. “Tell me the answer you want and I’ll give you the justification.”

“Those boys were ahead of their time all right,” piped in the Cynic.

“So what’s your justification for leaving out the apostrophe?” Himself had decided to drive for home.

“As with the Jesuits, you first decide what outcome you want. If you decide that the Centre belongs to the writers, then it is the Irish Writers’ Centre, apostrophe included. But if you decide that it is a Centre dedicated to Irish Writers, then no apostrophe, the words Irish Writers become an adjectival phrase qualifying Centre. Both are grammatically correct.”

Himself shifted uneasily on his high stool.

“And what about standees?” asked the Young Lad.

“You mean you don’t know your ‘ers’ from your ‘ees’!” scoffed the Cynic with mock astonishment.

“For God’s sake, give him a lesson” said Himself, as he got up abruptly and headed for the door marked WC.

“Alright,” said the Cynic. And the Young Lad was all ears. “Once upon a time Paddy the Irishman and his dear friend, Jock the Scotsman, boarded a bus in London without tickets. It was a Thursday evening and they didn’t have a red rex between them. They sat on the top deck, but after a while they heard the dreaded words behind them, ‘tickets, please’. As the Inspector was making his way towards them, Jock whispered, ‘What will we do, Paddy?’ ‘Don’t panic,’ said Paddy. ‘We’ll pretend we’re two lawyers. They’re scared shitless of lawyers. Now put on your poshest accent and your best English, and start talking.’ So good and loud, and posh as hell, Paddy said, ‘So you were in court today, Jock. How did you get on?’ ‘Oh, very harrowing, very harrowing indeed, a dreadful case.’ ‘Really? What kind of case was it?’ ‘Oh it was that dreadful rape case that is all over the papers today. Dreadful.’ ‘And tell me, Jock, were you representing the fucker or the fuckee?’ ”

There was a bit of a guffaw but it was drowned by the whine of the hand-drier behind the door marked WC.

“Right so,” said the Young Lad as he took a long draught from his pint and thought about it.






Homage to Myles – Wednesday – Art is for everyone. Right?

Himself is into art now. Or so he says. He always had a passion for art but realised when he was a kid that he couldn’t draw for nuts. If he brought a line for a walk, the line would jump over the fence and bolt across the fields, never to be seen again. No, Himself and the pencil never got on. And if you couldn’t keep manners on a pencil, how could you expect a paint brush to behave for you. So he abandoned his art career before it could make a mockery of him.

It was different nowadays, he maintained, and he pulled something from the pocket of his overcoat and put it on the table in front of us. We drew back our glasses to have a better view.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Straight away the Young Lad, not yet having acquired the circumspection of the mature, blurted out, “A beach stone. I always wondered how all the holes are made in those stones. Looks like they were eaten away by some insect in the sea.”

Sure enough, it was one of those perforated stones that litter the shores of Ireland. And it was a good question, how do they get so many holes? But himself was not to be distracted by such curiosity. He had a new perspective.

“That’s where you are wrong,” said Himself. “It’s a work of art.”

“Is it valuable?” asked the Cynic. “If it is, I’m heading for Killiney Beach.”

“You can bring a tractor and collect a trailer-load, but they will be worthless. What makes this one unique is the concept.”

“Conceptual art,” sighed the Writer rolling his eyes heavenwards.

“It makes art accessible to all,” said Himself. “Even to someone who has two left hands, like me. All you need is the concept.”

“What are you going to do with it?” The Young Lad had taken it up and was turning it over in his hands.”

“Mind what you’re doing,” said the Cynic. “That’s a work of art you have there, not a bloody stone.”

Himself took it back. “I am going to have it mounted on a plinth, with the title underneath, ‘Holey Stone’. Spelt with an ‘e’. And then I’m going to submit it to the RHA.”

The Young Lad’s eyes were wide as saucers. “And do you think they’ll take it?”

“Why wouldn’t they? It’s a clever concept, isn’t it?”

“We’ll go out tomorrow with you and collect some more. Then you can have a one-man show.” The Writer didn’t look impressed.

“An original talent never repeats himself. Anyway, I have my one-man show all planned out.”

“What gallery?” asked the Writer.

“It won’t be in a gallery. That’s passé, bourgeois. I want to bring art to the people. The important thing is to engage the public, get the people to use their imagination. So my exhibition will be out in Herbert Park. I am going to have a set of little plates made up, the kind you can stick in the ground. Like the ones that say ‘Do not walk on the grass’, that type of thing. I will have a plate stuck in front of a park bench with just the word ‘Grass’ on it. That will be the title of one of my pieces. And people can sit on the bench and think about grass, what it means to them. I will be inviting them to use their imagination. That’s what conceptual art is all about. And if it goes well, I will have themed exhibitions. For example, Sport. In front of each bench in Herbert Park, I will have a plate saying, ‘Soccer’, ‘Cricket’, ‘Hurling’, etcetera, and people will sit there thinking of the game, maybe remembering matches they saw.”

“Bohemians must have discovered that. It’s the way they train, without going out, just looking through the window of the clubhouse, thinking about it.” The Cynic could make all the jokes he liked about Bohs, so long as he kept his snide remarks off Rovers.





Homage to Myles – Monday – Gender abuse in Irish Soccer

Himself was in the pub last night. In flying form. Back from a soccer match in Dalymount between Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers. And his beloved Rovers lost. He said he was going to report the FAI to the Gardai. And to UEFA and FIFA. For failing to stamp out Racism. He claimed that the abuse and intimidation of the Referee was what lost Rovers the match.

The men in black with their little whistles and their little cards in their back pockets were all that stood between civilisation and chaos. And what do they get for their heroic efforts? Nothing but abuse. And what is the FAI doing about it? Nothing.

Oh he was in flying form alright. The nub of the problem was the chanting of the fans. He claimed it contravened everything the soccer authorities said they opposed in their multiple campaigns – Fair Play, Respect, Stamp out Racism, No to Racism, and what have you. You would think these campaigns never made it across to Ireland. But the Irish are quick enough to complain about the Scottish and Rangers fans chanting the Famine Song.

What Himself heard in Dalymount made the Famine Song sound like a sentimental ditty. Abuse on the basis of sexual orientation, that’s what it was. And no one was raising a whisper in protest. No, but Himself was going to start the campaign, There and then. In the pub. Last night. Historic moment.

He took out his phone, slapped it on the counter, and played what he had recorded. Evidence. You could hear the sounds of the match, the cheering, the oohing, the aahing, the shouts of indignation, then the clear chant:

Referee, you’re a wanker, you’re a wanker,

Referee, you’re a wanker, you’re a wanker.

Now, he challenged us, is that not abuse on the basis of sexual orientation?

Mmm. We pondered.

Look at it this way, he said: it’s against the rules to abuse someone on the basis of his skin-colour, his race, his religion. Right? It’s against the rules to slag him for being gay, or transsexual, or a cross-dresser. So why should there always be open season on wankers? If sexual preferences are to be kept out of the arena, why are wankers not given the protection of the law like everyone else? And why should the referee’s sexual orientation be flaunted in an effort to humiliate and intimidate him?

You’re dead right, said the Cynic. Wankers have suffered enough in recent years. Time was when they were discreetly shielded by rhyming slang, and referred to as ‘bankers’. Now it’s vice versa, and the bankers are shielded by the same rhyming slang. The poor wankers are doubly humiliated by that association. I’m with you, said he.

The Writer pretended to take a long draught from his pint, but whispered to me from behind his raised glass: with the Cynic behind you, you’d want to watch your back.

But Himself is going to go hell for leather for the cause. Nothing less than having the FAI cited for Racism will do him. He won’t stop, and he won’t be satisfied, until referees are free to execute their duties without the threat of their private lives being flaunted to influence their decisions.