Monday, 24 December 2012

Paddy McFadden

Paddy McFadden, my first father-in-law, was an important man in my life. He had been brought up in the Bogside in Derry, in Northern Ireland. He was a Roman Catholic and when I first knew him I was seriously thinking of becoming a Roman Catholic myself. (I was young, hotheaded and -although North London was hardly rural El Salvador- inspired by the liberation theology). An only child in a lapsed-Protestant family, I was also drawn by the magnetism of the Catholic family culture I'd encountered.

Through Paddy I learned that the importance of  not only the communion around the bread and the wine in church but also of the communion of minds meeting over a moderately-consumed bottle of whisky. He loved to talk about politics. He believed vehemently in the importance of education. Education had enabled him to join the civil service. Though retired when I knew him, he had risen to be the manager of the Employment Exchange in Littleborough (Coincidentally, his grandson -my son- and I were sitting by the Pennine Way just yesterday looking down on that area).

Paddy was a member of the Labour Party. He was, I think, a man of the centre of that party: his heart tended leftwards, his head, though, veered towards well-intentioned realpolitik. He wanted the opportunities he had had to be available to everyone. He stood for election and became a councillor on Greater Manchester Council. One cause he espoused passionately was the establishment of a war memorial to the members of the International Brigades from Manchester who had fallen in the Spanish Civil War. He was a great Orwell fan but it went deeper than that: he had also known, as a child in Ireland, people who had fought in Spain in the "Connolly Column".(I remember him talking about the "brave young Christian Brother" and other characters in the Christy Moore song, Viva la Quince Brigada - Paddy was a real link with an important part of the past). I speculate as sadly he's no longer here to ask but I think like many people from his background and geneneration he felt he understood from his own experience what motivated militant republicanism in Ireland. However, he felt that needless violence was deeply wrong and that the less glamorous humdrum work of government was not only more morally acceptable but also more likely to deliver results for oppressed people wherever and whoever they were. There was a passionate firebrand in Paddy (he kept a case of old Wolfe Tones records in the spare room) but being a humble man he was happy to direct his passion where he felt it would be most effective. I hope I've got that right. In the war, he had been at Dunkirk. When asked about it he always said his enduring memory was of digging latrines on the beach. However, he was awarded medals -which ones I don't know- and chose not to receive them. Whatever else he'd been upto we'll probably never know.

In his youth, Paddy had been a keen walker. He had spent a lot of time in the Peak District, walking over Bleaklow and Kinder Scout. I think I'm right in saying that though these adventures he met  his wife Margaret (my ex-mother-in-law). These have become favourite places of mine, too. His walking companions had included a young Bernard Cribbins. Years later, Cribbins found himself on This is Your Life and, as a result, so did Paddy. We all went along to the studio to watch. My ex-sister-in-law Sue discovered, to her delight, that someone we don't know just recently happened to post a clip from the show on Youtube, featuring Paddy! Watch out for him: he's the man in the pixellated image on the left which I took from the video (I could hardly align him on the right, could I?)

Sadly, in the last few years of his life, Paddy contracted Alzeimer's disease. He died in the early 1990s. Before that, I was lucky enough to go back with him to Derry.

Elegy for Patrick

OK, so the Irish songs you taught me
were sentimental, to say the least,
but once in your bones you could never get them out:
a vendetta of words, almost a eucharist.

Outside Aunt Mary's house the liturgy
is written on the wall. We take a walk
around the city, searching for a place
we'll never find. Perhaps it's blown away.

Paddy's been away so long, he says,
he can't be sure. We'll ask. (Meantime,
we'll do the sights: see how the cannon
that originally pointed out to sea

now point at the bank. The irony's not lost).
When asked, Aunt Mary says:
Oh that! It was the boys on the corner did it.
They made such a clean job of it as well.

In a way, his loss of memory began
there, in Derry, as we walked around.
The first to go, the trivial monuments.
From thereon in, the semtex took a hold.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Reading, dreaming, listening...

I've been reading the late Christopher Logue's recreation of The Iliad, War Music, today. I'd forgotten just how visceral and violent Homer can be. Take this:

  His chariot bucked too slow over the rutted corpses,
And as Patroclus drew abreast of him,
The terrified boy let the horses baulk,
Leaving the reins to flow beside the car,
And cowered in its varnished basket,

  They passed so close that hub skinned hub.
Ahead, Patroclus braked a shade, and then,
And gracefully as men in oilskins cast
Fake insects over trout, he speared the boy,
And with his hip his pivot, prised Thestor up and out
As easily as later men detach
A sardine from an opened tin.

I was going to say it's a thought-provoking poem to read in violent times but, on reflection, I suppose all times in human history are violent. It's an interesting poem to read at any time, which is probably why people in successive ages read it and re-invent it.


I had a strange dream the night before last. I was living in a town where there were two drop-in  centres run by two different religious groups. I had friends in both and often dropped in for a chat. I said religious, but neither centre espoused a particular religion. What each promoted was a particular approach to religion.

The first held that a past age of miracles should be recreated with the aid of technology. When I visited, the people there had just built (and were testing) a body-suit in the form of a god often portrayed as being surrounded by an aura. In this case, the aura was powered by calor gas.

The people at the second held that for what we now think of as religion to survive, it should be stripped of all things irrational, from miraculous traditions to esoteric theologies. They believed that once stripped down, enough remained for people to live their lives by to make the exercise worthwhile. They also considered it beneficial that the process of stripping down could bring religions closer together - the rejected traditions, they felt, were often the things which  set one religion apart from another.

I spent more time at the second centre. I had a long chat with a man called John in a comfortable yet sparsely-furnished, brightly-lit room. After a while, there was a knock on the door. The new visitor was someone I knew.

"What a coincidence," I said. "John - meet John." But I needn't have bothered. The two men obviously knew each other. The John from the centre leapt to his feet. John the visitor stood his ground. Both men stood face-to-face, clenching their fists, eyeballing each other and growling. They obviously knew each other already. At this point I woke up.

And finally this - for no other reason than I like it and it takes me back to the seventies and late student nights in Whalley Range in Manchester, drinking strong tea, smoking Woodbines... Woodbines were filterless, which was handy when you were a poor student. If you ran out it was a simple matter to roll up the nubs. And even, at a pinch, the nubs of the nubs...

It's a good job I gave up.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

A Quiz!

Not long ago I finished reading Ulysses. Quite a book. Interesting, the things people have said about the book over the years. One myth that started early on, I suspect, is that the book is just the record of one man's thoughts, walking round Dublin. It's a lot more traditionally structured than that. I found myself reading a story about how someone who finds himself excluded devises ways of coping, of sustaining civil, even friendly relations with the people around him - even when they treat him differently to others in ways which range from almost noticeable to the downright hostile. This is reflected in his relationship with his wife who is repeatedly unfaithful to him. Bloom too, in his way, plays the field, as evidenced by his letter to one Martha Clifford. He seems to be unable to move beyond a world of (often masochistic) fantasy. One is left wondering if, in his case at least, the dysfunction has been brought on (or, at least, exacerbated) by the death of his infant son, Rudy.

I read the book once before, a few years ago. I must say I found reading it a second time much more rewarding. To amuse myself and with one eye on a blog post, I decided to compile a quiz as I read, one question per chapter. One can work out the answers either with the help of the book or a search engine. Either way, you don't have to read the book. In fact, doing so would be a pretty long-winded way of working them out. That being said, if Ulysses gains one new reader from this, it was worth doing.

1. What three things should an Irishman be wary of?
2. What did Mr Deasy think Stephen would find very handy?
3. What is the live dog called?
4. What did Milly buy her father for his birthday?
5. What did the soap smell of?
6. Who darns Mr Bloom's socks?
7. What opera is like a railway line?
8. What sort of cheese does Bloom have in his sandwich?
9. What did Stephen drink with Dan Deasy's ducats?
10. What was not on the slab?
11. "From the saloon a call came, long in dying." Who had forgotten what?
12. Who won the Gold Cup?
13. Who kissed Molly under the Moorish Wall beside the gardens?
14. Who is the "remarkablest progenitor barring none in this chaffering allincluding most farraginous chronicle"?
15. Bloom's real name is Higgins - according to whom?
16. What flashed "through his (Bloom's) busy brain"?
17. What is home without Plumtree's Potted Meat?
18. What year did the Blooms marry?

Anyone who has read the book will know I've left out one of the most intriguing questions: who is the man in the macintosh? Personally, I think gossip quoted about the man in Ulysses is as unreliable as gossip often is and I suspect the answer lies in Joyce's collection of stories, Dubliners.

I wrote the questions -along with the answers- on a tatty old envelope I used as a bookmark. I'll endeavor not to loose it and publish the answer later. Have a go!