From “May Toal” in We All Die in the End.

I was discussing domestic abuse with some friends recently, on the dreaded Zoom – I’m really not comfortable with it. I never know when to speak up and I miss looking straight at people, and reading body language as well. Anyway, I suffered domestic violence myself, as did an awful lot of women I know, which is probably why it appears in more than one of my stories. So, I thought I’d post a short passage from May Toal here.

‘”It was just the same as usual, Henry, that priest that’s visiting, Monroe, he’s called. Isn’t that gas? Do you think he’s related to Marilyn? He gave the sermon, better than the usual oul stuff, love your neighbour and all that. There’s nothing to tell, Henry, not a thing, unless you want to know what the neighbours were wearing.”

            Oh, but she had plenty to say for herself, lickity spit, lickity spit, galloping on. Henry slapped her hard; he felt the sting on his palm and she stumbled, reaching out a hand to the sink.

            “By God!” Henry caught her by the arm.

 “I’m going to find out what you’re doing with my money.”

            He shook her until the permed curls hopped and jumped and tears splashed from her eyes. Behind them the potatoes boiled up and water hissed on the ring. Henry’s fingers bit deep.

            “I went to the church, May. What do you say to that? I went to say a prayer alongside my wife, but my wife wasn’t there. And I phoned my wife but I got no answer. What’s up with you now? Speak up, woman! You had plenty to say a minute ago.”

            He grabbed the wiry curls.

            “Ah, don`t. Ah, don`t!” May cried out.

            “I went there in the storm,” he said into her ear, “to bring you home so you could make my dinner and not be whinging about getting wet.”            

Henry could feel the heat in his chest burning hotter and hotter. He forced May to her knees, still with his fist in her hair and he never even saw her arm swing up with the saucepan. It cracked against his head and he swayed there with his arms loose.

“Jesus . . .  ” he said.

            When the second blow landed he fell against the table and slid onto a chair. He stared with dopey eyes at May. She’d gone mad, was all he could think.

            “Now! Now! Now! Now!” she said. “I’ll tell you where I’ve been if you want to know, not that I could go far on the bit of money you dole out to me.”

            She laughed suddenly.

            “And did you wait there long? I can just see you lurking around and squinting up your oul face. Well, I was in Dinnie’s, Henry. Me and your Irene, yes, your sister – we go to talks in the ladies’ club, and after that we go to the pub, and after that we get fish and chips and go down to the harbour, and we sit on the wall and eat them. So now you know what the collection’s for. It’s for me! But you can stuff it up your arse in future because I’m going back to the Civil Service and I won’t need your oul money. The girls are gone now and I don’t have to be here all the time to cook you steak for your dinner and wash your dirty clothes.”‘

From “A Moveable Feast” by Hemingway

When I first read this book, I had never been to Paris; I was enchanted. I had read most of Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald though, and I followed their adventures in Paris with delight. When I did eventually go to Paris, I found that some of the cafés mentioned in the book, were no longer in existence. But of course, I loved it anyway.

Has anyone seen the movie “Midnight in Paris”? It’s a Woody Allen movie and covers the same sort of territory. Any writer, or reader, would love it.

‘It now began to rain heavily and we took refuge in the next village at a café. I cannot remember all the details of that afternoon but when we were finally in a hotel at must have been Chalon-sur-Saone, it was so late that the drug stores were closed. Scott had undressed and gone to bed as soon as we reached the hotel. He did not mind dying of congestion of the lungs, he said. It was only the question of who was to look after Zelda and young Scotty. I did not see very well how I could look after them since I was having a healthily rough time looking after my wife, Hadley and young son Bumby, but I said I would do my best and Scott thanked me. I must see that Zelda did not drink and that Scotty should have an English governess.

We had sent our clothes to be dried and were in our pajamas. It was still raining outside but it was cheerful in the room with the electric light on. Scott was lying in bed to conserve his strength for his battle against the disease. I had taken his pulse, which was seventy-two, and had felt his forehead, which was cool. I had listened to his chest and had him breathe deeply, and his chest sounded all right.

“Look, Scott,” I said. “You’re perfectly O.K. If you want to do the best thing from catching cold, just stay in bed and I’ll order us each a lemonade and a whisky, and you take an aspirin with yours and you’ll feel fine and won’t even get a cold in your head.”

“Those old wives’ remedies,” Scott said.

“You haven’t any temperature. How the hell are you going to have congestion of the lungs without a temperature?”

“Don’t swear at me,” Scott said. “How do you know I haven’t a temperature?”

“Your pulse is normal and you haven’t any fever to the touch.”

“To the touch,” Scott said bitterly. “If you’re a real friend, get me a thermometer.”

“I’m in pajamas.”

“Send for one.”‘

Can’t you just see the pair of them, bickering in their pajamas! Scott, here, reminds me of Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory.

From Minus One | A haiku for Venice

Last night I watched a documentary about the writer Colm Tóibín and a lot of it was set in Venice. His latest book “The Magician” is about the wonderful Thomas Mann who wrote the short story Death in Venice, which I loved. And I loved the movie – Dirk Bogarde leaning against a wall with black hair dye running down his face! And of course the music – from Mahler’s Fifth.

Narrow, stone-walled streets,

palace, church and square resound

with strains of Mahler.

Best hangover description, ever!

From Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. i enjoyed this book so much, and I think it’s time for me to read it again. I always remembered that the hangover description here couldn’t be improved on. The pain of it was staggering. So here’s a taste of it:

The telephone blasted Peter Fallow awake inside an egg with the shell peeled away and only the membranous sac holding it intact. Ah! The membranous sac was his head, and the right side of his head was on the pillow, and the yolk was as heavy as mercury, and it was pressing down on his right temple and his right eye and his right ear. If he tried to get up to answer the telephone, the yolk, the mercury, the poisoned mass, would shift and roll and rupture the sac, and his brains would fall out . . .

The telephone was on the floor, in the corner, near the window, on the brown carpet. The carpet was disgusting. Synthetic; the Americans manufactured filthy carpet; Metalon, Streptolon, deep, shaggy, with a feel that made his flesh crawl. Another explosion; he was looking straight at it, a white telephone and a slimy white cord lying there in a filthy shaggy brown nest of Streptolon. Behind the Venetian blinds the sun was so bright it hurt his eyes . . .

These days he often woke up like this, poisonously hung over, afraid to move an inch and filled with an abstract feeling of despair and shame. Whatever he had done was submerged like a monster at the bottom of a cold dark lake. His memory had drowned in the night, and he could only feel the icy despair. He had to look for the monster deductively, fathom by fathom. Sometimes he knew that whatever it had been, he couldn’t face it . . .

The telephone exploded again. He opened his eyes and squinted at the sun-drenched modern squalor, and with his eyes open it was even worse . . .

He rolled out of the bed and put his feet on the floor, and the horrible yolk shifted. He was thrown into a violent headache. He wanted to vomit, but he knew it would hurt his head too much for him to possibly allow it to happen. He started towards the telephone. He sank to his knees and then to all fours. He crawled to the telephone, picked up the receiver, and then lay down on the carpet, hoping the yolk would settle again.

“Hello,” he said.

So, there you are. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed typing it out, chuckling as I worked.

If This is a Man | A poem by Primo Levi

This poem is printed at the beginning of Levi’s book, “If This is a Man | The Truce”, which is a truly wonderful book. I re-read it recently and felt I had to share the poem.

You who live safe

In your warm houses,

You who find, returning in the evening,

Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider if this is a man

Who works in the mud

Who does not know peace

Who fights for a scrap of bread

Who dies because of a yes or a no,

Consider if this is a woman,

Without hair and without name

With no more strength to remember,

Her eyes empty and her womb cold

Like a frog in winter.

Meditated that this came about:

I commend these words to you.

Carve them in your hearts

At home, in the street,

Going to bed, rising;

Repeat them to your children.

Or, may your house call apart,

May illness impede you,

May your children turn their faces from you.

Upcoming books | Felix Finds Out, and Ghosts in Trouble.

When I first began to write, I wrote only for children, and published a book called The Silver Tea-Set which was published in 1990. Then there was FELIX FINDS OUT which I never did anything with. Since Christmas I have been working hard on both books and they are now ready for publication in paperback and on kindle. The Silver Tea-Set has been restructured, updated and renamed, and I’ll be uploading both books on Friday. In the meantime here is a sample from each. I should say they would suit children between 9 and 12, according to my beta reader – my grandson.

From FELIX FINDS OUT:

Felix was sitting on the floor in front of the fire, his short legs sticking out in front of him, and his homework balanced on his knees. One side of his face and one arm and leg were hot; the other side of him was frozen. He was trying to get through his maths homework so he could get back to Harry Potter (he was reading the very first book) but Uncle Eddie wouldn’t stop talking. He was upset again, worrying about his job at the pub on the corner.

         Felix was only half-listening to him. He was thinking about the Fancy Dress party; to be held in the evening of the last school day before the Christmas break. He didn’t want to go; the whole school would be there and all the teachers and all the parents. He wouldn’t be able to breathe.

         Eddie’s voice rose and Felix sighed and looked up at him.

         “The only thing I know for sure,” Eddie said, walking up and down and squeezing his hands together, “is that someone is stealing. It’s not me, and it’s not Mrs Boyd. We have our suspicions, you know, oh indeed we do. In fact, we’re quite sure it’s that Hennessy who works weekends but we can’t prove it. And now we’re on our last warning! The boss says he’ll get the police in and then he’ll sack the lot of us, guilty or not.”

From GHOSTS IN TROUBLE:

Lizzie smiled to herself, swaying about the room with a duster, thinking of coffee and cream buns, and then she saw Cormac, almost stumbling up the path. He leaned against the door, wheezing and panting for breath,  clutching his chest. Lizzie gave a little squeal.

“What is it? Cormac! What’s wrong?”

Cormac fanned his face. Grey wisps of hair rose and fell on his shiny head as he tried to steady his breathing. His big hands flopped and flapped helplessly and his nose, big and bright in his face, quivered.

“Cormac,” Lizzie cried again. “Speak to me! Is it the police? Oh, come in, come in. Don’t stand there gasping where anyone could see you.”

Cormac stumbled into the hall, nearly knocking down a stack of mirrors and Lizzie shut the door smartly behind him. She pushed him onto the nearest empty chair.

“Now,” she said. “If you don’t speak, I’ll murder you.”

And her eyes raked the room for something sharp to threaten him with. Cormac patted his chest, coughed and caught his voice at last.

“Oh, Lizzie,” he said. “Wait till I tell you what I saw this morning. The most beautiful thing – oh, we’ve got to have it. The most beautiful, lustrous, shining – “

And he smiled and closed his eyes.

“Yes?” said Lizzie, bending over him. “Go on, the most lustrous, shining what? What? Go on!”

Her fists were tightly clenched, and her arms swung stiffly forwards and back and she was ready to thump Cormac, or scream, or kick him, when he sat up straight and opened his dreamy eyes.

“A silver tea-set,” he said, his voice reverent. “And we’re going to have it, Lizzie. I can see it now, set out on our table and me pouring tea into those special, pink cups we’ve never used.”

And his eyelids drooped again as he painted pictures in his head, ignoring the way Lizzie was staring at him with her eyebrows as high up her face as they would go.

        

The books will be available in paperback and on kindle.

Thanks for reading this!

LAMENT from “Minus One”

I think I posted this poem before, but I am moved to repeat it. So much unhappiness and absolute misery in various parts of the world – nothing to do with Covid, just people mistreating other people. Why do we do this? And it has always been the way of humans.

My mouth is stretched –

A soundless wail of anguish

For the sorrows of the world

An eye into hell

In the corner of my room

Cry out your lamentations

Prostrate yourselves

And weep, and weep, and weep.

“Skiey Blossoms”

I was walking along the river today, enjoying all the trees and hedges covered with blossoms, feeling all Spring-like, and a line from a poem I learned in school, came into my head. I thought I would share some of it with you all. It’s from “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thomson. It seems apt for Easter weekend.

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the days;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

(Yet I was sore adread

Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)

But, if one little casement parted wide,

The gust of His approach would clash it to:

Fear wist not to evaxe, as Love wist to pursue.

Across the margent of the world I fled,

And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,

Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars;

Fretted to dulcet jars

And silvern clatter the pale ports o’ the moon.

I said to Dawn: Be sudden – to Eve: Be soon –

With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over

From this tremendous lover!