Sunday, June 21, 2015

504. Swimming in SE Asia

I love to bound around
the countries of Southeast Asia,
which are so perfectly,
weirdly, historically designed
for chase and concealment.

Maugham gets it exactly right
by following one of his colonial types
from harbour to harbour along the coast
in the knowledge there is no escape,
not then, not now, not ever 

as when you sit in a Chinese restaurant,
on the ground floor, open to the weather;
the cook shambles in over the poured concrete
in his stained white T-shirt and baggy shorts,
bringing your beer in a glass with ice.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

503. Old Sins Cast Long Shadows

I hear stonebreakers in my mind,
their hammers pounding,
rhymithic, ceaseless,
loudly sounding.

Dead children do not give us dreams,
they give us nightmares.

After 20,000 – 25,000 days
I am sitting in a pub in Dublin
when the Squeaker walks in, grins enormously,
then seats himself beside me.
I’d buy you a pint, says I,
if I had the money. Feck that, says he,
ye won’t be leaving here sober!

And of new light then was a crack,
with the young men struggling at the door,
the old men holding it back.

After Chamberlain’s Munich fiasco
(J’aime Berlin hissed the colluding French)
young Jimmy upped stakes, headed for the UK
where the idiot joined the RAF,
explaining, in his irritating, slow and reasonable way,
that Ireland didn’t possess an air force,
and should Britain fall we’d be next.
Nobody at the time believed him.

Ah, the lemons of Lebanon,
the drowned bodies of Cyprus:
where are the jewels that were his eyes?

With friends, I joined the army in 1914
at the behest of Sir John Redmond,
who told us the defence of Belgium
would lead to the freedom of Ireland.

I remember the boat to Boulogne
with sick all over the decks,
and the sergeant-major laughing,
handing around pints.

The shells came falling over the Front,
puffed and puling, rising up in layers,
and in that early and insane six months, a year,
all loyal soldiers were promised exemption, a redemption,
with death the only answer to our thoughts and prayers.

Fuck the British Army, thought the Irish lads,
(employing the language of the time),
What the hell have we got ourselves into?

My younger brother was shot in 1916
in Dublin, while I was still in France,
and on July 1st came the Somme
and so I heaved myself up and walked over,
with 70-80 lbs. of ridiculous equipment
and I thought, now, now, ye fuckin Huns,
just finish me off. They finished off 20,000 of us
on that first day alone, but they missed me.

I’ll never, I think, forgive them for that, because I had to
go back to Dublin and face my parents,
absorb the cold looks of school and childhood friends
in my stained and dusty khaki uniform,
the uniform of the alien, the enemy of Ireland.

The war ended.
They all end and then the next one begins.
I found myself doing bits for Ireland
under a man called Michael Collins.
To hell, so, with little Belgium.

The Depression next came down upon us
unfolding like a load of smothering blankets,
made worse by an incompetent government.
I had a job by then with the gas company
who were paying me less and less,
when I met young Eileen O’Connor,
and she put the lift back into my walk
and the original twinkle back in my eye.
Ah, it was grand and glorious!
I’d never been the same since the goddam feckin war
but now I was coming back to life.

Young Jimmy shot down three German bombers
and so they gave him one of the medals
they occasionally sling over to the Irish: NINA was
one of the signs of the times – No Irish Need Apply -
all over jobs and rooming houses, but not the RAF.
In time Jimmy got quite good, causing havoc among the enemy,
and so he got the real medals and a promotion.
He also found a shy but lovely English girlfriend.

My Daddy was doing poorly, and since I was the eldest,
I was told to ake care of Aunt Gertrude, his elder sister.
Gertude had been a political disaster since 1893,
joining Hyde’s Gaelic League and then Sinn Fein,
so now I was faced with a bing- bang –bong
of threat and apparition, then the rapid
appearance of private and public disaster.

Even in Dublin, this was simply not on.
Not just then, but even today.
I thought of strangling her in her bed,
but she died before plans were complete.
Still, I could tell you stories …

She was a friend of Maud Gonne,
and of that interesting feminist vegetarian bloke,
Francis Sheehy-Skeffington,
who got shot by Bowen-Coulter in 1916,
later adjuged insane
(the shooter not the shootee)
and she was an outspoken bosom companion
of all the peculiar people of the period,

but I perceive I lack the time,
and I know I lack the money:
since I am lately bereft of wife and family,
even any form of human sympathy,
I shall regress to the underground tunnels
of aggressive feral youth.

A happy man has no past, I think,
an unhappy man has nothing else.

Hello, Johnny, how are you?
Ten dollars now
or I’ll smash your face.
The tens move up into hundreds,
thousands even. It’s really quite simple.

Eileen and the kids had died in a fire:
only Jimmy, the eldest, survived.

All history grows silent, literature dumb, science crippled,
all thought and speculation comes to a standstill.

You live on, so you do,
nobody knows where the years go.

On a silent autumn day,
high above the Channel and the fields of Kent,
a random single round hits home,
and from the heights comes a plume of smoke
and the sudden rush of a falling plane,
no parachute, only a descending spiral,
homing, inevitably, towards the sea,
and then comes a great splash
and a sudden white plume of waves.
O Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

502. Sideterms

Nothing is over, not a thing,
until time actually ceases.
And as you stand below, waiting down in the street
looking up, open-mouthed,
wondering, speculating,
nothing at all happens.
nothing for 20, 30, 40 seconds,

and when such silent moments exist
in this flickering world
there will be no further kisses, grunts, or gunshots.
And so
turn away, young Damian,
turn aside from life and love

for love is a heavy thing to carry
with its sagging burden of lust,
its well-fed writhing bodies,
its financial speculations.
Many unheard voices, crying out.
mouth the hope, I hope I hope
never to do/see this again

and since the world is round
those fat Chinese make it heavy
living, as they do on the edge,
sucking up noodleas, failing to emigrate,
and so they drag us down, the bastards,
causing climate change.

I write letters to world leaders
about this, about other serious things,
and they respond, ever so
brittle but quite polite, advising me
to fuck off and go away. In Newcastle
the girls are the real problem on weekends
but not as bad as in Dublin. There you need
strong arms & unfailing waves of charm
to herd the howling hags homeward.

Disco, disco, Saturday night!
and so legless are
the lazy lanes of pleasure
that I measure
essence in grams, not ounces.

Friday, August 30, 2013

501. Recollections

We were snoozing happily in our hammocks
when, with a surfeit of roaring soaring sound,
the invasion arrived around teatime
and from waters, rushing in a writhing ring,
a feeble hand arose from the waves
absent Excalibur.

The smothered fish lay along the shore,
and the mountains sank into the sea.

This is not good, I remember thinking,
as I raced to the palace of the Queen,
the heady heave and clash of arms behind me,
but her bloated face was a bawdy green
and a cloud of flies were buzzing around:
‘ I perceive, milady, the realm is sinking’.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

496. Wild Geese

On the rain-sodden field at Fontenoy
there is nothing to be seen or remembered
but a misty view of Belgium, formerly France,
just outside the town of Tournai.
And here are no ghosts,
no galloping horses,
no spirits moaning in the air.

I return to the waiting car,
settle into its lingering warmth,
and turn my mind to the evening:
back to Brussels or on to Paris?
There, there are many ghosts,
perhaps no galloping horses,
but lighter spirits in the air.

That year of Bonnie Prince Charlie
when the butcher Duke of Cumberland,
who won the slaughter at Culloden,
was soundly defeated here,
is rarely recalled. So many
wretched, reeling years
have sadly intervened.

And it was my young clansman Liam,
sweet Liam Óg Ó Laighin,
a harpist of darling promise,
who, following his father and grandfather,
grew to military age in France
and happily joined the regiment
whose flag you see below.

1745: Banner of the Irish Brigade
(Invalides Military Museum, Paris)

Young Liam, Liam, ochóne,
you did not survive the battering day
although the hard-fought field was won.
And you were carried to your father’s home
by six young sorrowful comrades,
and sadly laid to rest. The weathered stone
lies broken under a grove of elms.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

495. Souvenir

In a mist-filled snow 
cast in grey shadows 
sat an old green bench 
with flaking paint; 
it had a beady-eyed crow at its end 
who crossly flew away 
when we approached. 

I don’t really know, you said, 
what I’ll do; and I said, 
I know, darling, but I’m sure 
it will be all right. And then 
I brushed the snowflakes 
away from your eyes 
and kissed you. 

That was in Istanbul
where old green steamers went lurching across the Horn
softly, silently puffing …

I have grown old 
and resent each bedridden day 
spent thinking; I particularly 
despise the night, each 
sleepless night and deep 
where ancient memories 
softly creep.

494. Emigration

I’ll be going down to New York town 
to meet my love, my sweet young man, 
who has worked so hard to make our home 
away across the broad Atlantic. I must 
take a step away from friends, from relations, 
from my weeping mother, who will never 
see me again. My father spits silently in the fire 
and I know how he feels. 

I am sorry (I am not sorry) for I wish to get away 
and live a life away from Ireland, for Ireland 
beautiful and grand as it is, truly, crushes 
the hearts of its downtrodden women. And I am not 
and never will be a downtrodden woman. 
I read books, some of which I understand, 
and some of which I don’t, but never mind, 
I am a proud and nervous nationalist. 

Ireland looms out of the darkness. 
It sits there, balefully, in the wide Atlantic Sea. 
Aviators say, thanks, Christ God, land at last, 
a place we can crash or land upon. As did 
Alcock and Brown in Clifden in 1919 
long before Lucky Lindbergh. It’s there. 
Land at last, the farmhouses and the fields, 
waiting to welcome or kill you. 

Ireland is a place we all want to leave 
or stay in forever. 

I will take this ship called Titanic.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

493. Overnight at the governor's mansion

7-character, regular verse:

清秋幕府井梧寒, 獨宿江城蠟炬殘。
永夜角聲悲自語, 中天月色好誰看?
風塵荏苒音書絕, 關塞蕭條行陸難。
已忍伶俜十年事, 強移棲息一枝安。

Clear and cold is this autumn night with parasol trees in the courtyard.
Alone in this river town, I watch the flame of a guttering candle.
From the dark outside comes the plaintive note of a bugle,
and though the moon is in mid-heaven, is there no-one to share with me?
My messengers are scattered amid clouds of rain and sand
and the city gates are closed to the traveller: high mountains are walls in my way.
I, who have borne the last ten years of pitiable existence,
find here a perch, a little branch, I feel safe for the night.

(a non-precise rather cavalier translation which needs an extra line co contain the limpid Chinese, but the essence is there.)

Du Fu, 712-770

Friday, January 11, 2013

492. Light as Lilac, Heavy as Falling Stone

A country river, an old willow tree,
there I first met my love and she met me,
how my heart misbehaved! She gave
me a ribbon still warm from her breast,
a pink ribbon, I think, which I caressed
and from that time I was enslaved ...

to love only her and her alone,
and so on. But this actually happened,

and as I decipher these spidery scrawls,
the discovered diaries of 18th century Uncle John,
I think what a sentimental fool he was, to be sure,
but a dangerous man with the rapier,
a deadly shot with those early pistols!

Well, you had to be impressive, really,
with ancient pretensions to aristo birth
and no bloody money to speak of.
Fend off the rivals and carry off the girl!
Naturallement! You’d be looking at
ten thousand (pounds) if you were lucky.

He continues:

The zephrys blow upon the trees
as I gaze upon wild raging moors.
My heart contracts to an aching please
to open up those shuttered doors!

This is pretty slick, almost modern.
Johnny is getting into his groove here.
The girl replies (we think), since nearly
all girls reply to love letters in some way
if even to say don’t send them any more.

Her replies are sadly lost to history.

The girl’s family were blithely unaware,
blissfully blinded to this mutual passion,
and so carefully set up an arranged marriage
for Georgiana (for that is her name, poor girl)
to a somewhat equal male companion.

John goes berserk!

He wants to challenge the guy to a duel!
Of course he will kill him, slash or boom,
so Georgiana exerts feminine perspicacity
and takes to her bed for three weeks.
The prospective suitor backs off rather quickly

for who wants a sickly wife, when your plan
is to have, say, six to maybe 14 children?

John, not surprisingly, moves in:
He writes to the parents …

My dear Lord and Lady R ------ ham
It is with the greatest regret that I have been informed
of the severe illness of your beloved daughter
whom I have been given to understand is a person
of the greatest refinement, and a credit to her sex,
which she is not getting a lot of, thanks to you,
and which I am damn sure I can do something about!

The latter part of the letter, I believe,
was not included.

He writes (by messenger) to Georgiana:

I don’t want your money.
I want your cunny.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
somewhat mischievously cites this
as the first appearance of the slang term,
but this is untrue, academically unsound.

So … what happened, then?
Did Georgiana and John get married?
Ho, yes, indeed! Had a load of kids.
And were they happy forever after? Don’t  
ask silly questions. Romance, my dears,
burns out, burns out in every marriage.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

491. Samurai

Slowly, slowly
the little snail
climbs Mount Fuji -

sends a message to his wife:
pretty good day today!
Snails have their systems.

Well, dear, I made – oh - 2.5?
He’d be talking about metres:
Fuji has 3776 of those things

going up into the snowline
getting gradually colder, so
pure, apart from the sweltering

skin-itching, sleep-depriving
bugfucked Japanese summers
the people endure below.

Even snails in their shell
have been known to complain
among the raucous cicadas

in their dusty pines
down on the plain.
Don’t take a chill my honey

says Mrs. Snail. I want you
back here safe and sound.
It’s all right my darling.

I know my way along the ground.
I do not share the human hell
of doing things for money.

I do what I must do
for the snails of Japan, for the Emperor,
but most of all for you!

Friday, November 23, 2012

490. Eyeless in Gaza: An Exchange of Views

AMIT: What truth is that exactly? What I see is the face of a person who doesn't know what he is talking about. Do you really think that Israel is in it for the purpose of killing Palestinians? If that was the case there would have been thousands dead. Israel is going out of its way NOT to kill innocents! Sadly, it is not always possible, especially when the enemy is "bravely" hiding behind civilians. The who shoot indiscriminately into civilian population are Hamas. The only reason there aren't many, many more casualties on our side is that their weapons are crap and our defense system are better and for that, we don't need to apologize. If Hamas had the ability, every one of their missiles would have hit a school. So please, Facts first, then talk!

BRENDAN: Everyone has a right to live in peace and dignity. After Shoah many countries supported the creation of the State of Israel. Israeli treatment of the Palestinians who lived on the same land before them has been very brutal. This is the main problem. The right of the State of Israel to exist is accepted but within what borders - 1948 or 1967? You say you cannot make a settlement with the Palestinians because they are terrorists. Israeli settlements and military occupation have created these "terrorists" just as British stupidity in Northern Ireland created the IRA. In fact, you had to fight against the British yourselves with Haganah and Irgun in the post-WWII period when they still maintained the Palestinian Mandate. Now you are taking on the attitudes and policies of your former occupiers with regard to the Palestinians because you are the people with the real power, and, among other things, "their weapons are crap". This is not a military war, in the final analysis, it is a political conflict. So far America supports you no matter what you do. This will not last forever. Your support in Western Europe is already fading. You cannot simply lash out at people who don't support you and label them "anti-Semitic". The war in Europe and the Holocaust has been over for 77 years. People around the world tend to judge your government by its present actions. In spite of these sharp differences of opinion, I hope we can remain friends in the more-or-less "neutral" surroundings of Hamamatsu!

BRENDAN: Oops! 2012-1945 = 67. Another mathematical bloop. No wonder I can't understand the family finances, never mind Wall Street ....

AMIT: Brendan, on the point that Israel and the Palestinians should exist as 2 states side by side I couldn't agree more. But whose fault is it that it's not the case? What happened in 48 a day after the UN declared the Jewish and Palestinian states? A DAY AFTER! 1 DAY! That's what it took the Arab world to decide that Israel doesn't have the right to exist and to attack the day old country. Hamas shares that point of view to this day. How do you negotiate with someone who does not recognize your right to exist? Answer me that because I really want to know. The fact that Israel should have withdrawn from all the conquered land after 67 (another win or die war) will not be argued by me. But why did the Arab world, who is so "concerned" with the well being of their Palestinian "brothers", (namely Egypt) did not demand to get the Gaza strip back in 79? They demanded, and got every last inch of Sinai. Why did Jordan didn't demand the West Bank in 95? I'll tell why. Because the Palestinians are a thorn in Israels ass and the Arabs like them to stay that way. Why Does the Arab world, namely Iran, instead of sending doctors, civil engineers, building schools and infrastructure, why instead of that do they send weapons and weapon expert? See the reason above. You are talking about 67 borders. Why after the war of 48 didn't Jordan and Egypt establish a Palestinian state and instead kept those areas as their own? You are talking about the people who lived there before us. How far back do you want to look? Jewish people lived in that land and were kicked out. There was never in all of history a Palestinian state except for 1 day after the deceleration in 48 and that state died as a sad side effect to the failed attempt to destroy Israel. It's very easy to blame "big, bad" Israel in all the shit that is going on (and you will never hear me say that Israel is totally blameless) but again, I suggest knowing the facts, all the facts not only those that fit you worldview, before doing that.

AMIT: By the way, you craftily managed to dodge my more urgent concern that if Hamas could, each and every one of their missiles would have hit a school. Or perhaps you disagree on that too?

BRENDAN: I am not going to get further involved in this discussion, Amit, not because I don't stand by the opinions previously stated, but owing to the fact that this is an endless argumentative swamp with heated emotions going back and forth for the last half-century and more. This is one of the so-called "intractable" problems, with the Indo-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir running a close second. The Northern Ireland business was up there as well for about thirty years but wonder of wonders (!) we managed to hammer out an Agreement in 1998 which left the area under UK sovereignty for the forseeable future but brought Nationalists into a power-sharing political settlement in NI for the first time since the partition of the island in 1922. If we can hammer out our differences, which actually go back far longer to the early 1600s when the Crown repopulated confiscated lands with Protestant settlers brought over from the British mainland (maybe that sounds a little familiar), then there is some hope that Israelis and Palestinians might one day do the same.

AMIT: I know you too well, Brendan, to know that you won't change you mind and I too, have no intention to get any further into it. I was actually debating long and hard before I wrote my first reply but decided it's important to give my point of view because there are too many people out there who like you (at least judging by your words), think that Israel is 100% in the wrong while the Palestinians are 100% in the right. In my experience people who see the world in black and white are, in most cases, wrong. That's actually what bothers me the most Brendan, that I never once heard you indicate that you feel any other way. That's the reason I kind of insisted on getting an answer to my question about Hamas' intentions. But I guess answering it will force you to admit that maybe, just maybe, the Palestinians are not always the "good guy" in this ongoing tragedy. About the possibility of ever seeing this conflict resolved. I remember clearly when I read the newspaper about Rabin and Arafat's meeting (ironically I was a soldier in the West Bank at the time..). I'm not exaggerating when I'm saying that I was shivering with excitement at the thought that this senseless war (is there any other kind) is finally about to be over. I was actually imagining myself getting in a car, driving up north through Lebanon, Syria, and into Europe. 20 years later I'm much less of an optimist and much more of a realist and I do not believe that I will see peace in my lifetime. And that's all I'm going to say.


POSTSCRIPT: Dear Amit – I believe the Palestinian people are the victims in the ongoing situation but I do NOT think they are 100% correct. In fact, they have been pawns of a corrupt local political leadership – Arafat and the PLO for many years – not to mention the manipulation of their condition by other Arab states and Iran as a way of striking at Israel. The situation is extremely complicated and it is certainly not black-and-white. Hamas can be seen as a reaction against the PLO and these two groups hate each other intensely. In any case Hamas won the last election in Gaza and they were duly punished for it by both the USA and the EU through withdrawal of aid funds: they were not supposed to win. As I said in my first post the problem needs a political, not a military, solution. The best chance came at Camp David in 2000 when Barak met Arafat and the Clinton government were trying hard to reach a settlement. Clinton was also very active in the Northern Ireland settlement which was also very difficult but managed to reach a compromise agreement. By and large, this agreement continues to work in spite of occasional violence by hardline idiots such as the Real IRA (the Omagh bombing) and ongoing distrust between Protestants and Catholics. After all, the problem goes back 400 years, but all sides finally came to the conclusion that violence was not the answer. The two situations are historically quite different, I know, but the need for a political settlement is the parallel that draws them together. In order for that to happen both sides need a credible political leadership with overwhelming support from its electorate and a bit of help from the outside, preferably the USA. This happened to come about in 1997-1998 after Tony Blair replaced John Major as the British prime minister, after Sinn Féin under Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had convinced the membership of the IRA to accept their political lead, and both sides had their leadership confirmed by very strong electoral support. And of course Clinton was there and ready to help. Unfortunately this combination didn’t work two years later at Camp David. Barak, like Rabin before him, was entirely credible to the Israeli electorate, not least because of his military record. Arafat, fearful of his own position, was the one who faltered. Then, of course, we had Ariel Sharon and his provocative march to the Temple Mount and the Second Intifada. Now we have Netanyahu, and I’m not even sure who we have on the Palestinian side. Bush simply didn’t want to get involved and Obama has a load of other problems on his mind. So I agree with you … it doesn’t look good. Nevertheless, the only possible settlement will be political when the factors I have outlined above (hopefully) come together again.

I had no info on Hamas declaring they intended to hit schools with their rockets, and doubt they could have done so anyway. This was the only point in our public exchange when the tone became a little personal … “craftily …”?

Our public exchange of views is officially over, by mutual agreement, and I want you to know that I do not hold a completely black-and-white view of the situation. Hope to see you soon and exchange a couple of beers!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

489. Prince Charles

Birthday Boy. Same year.
I am five days older than this idiot.

like fire
lights up the world.

Banners unfurled
and toes upcurled
we walk the wire

with equanimity.
An infinity
of glowing light

underlies the night
and we know
from long ago

the fire of desire
can turn. And burn
us into anonymity.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

488. Prague Concerto

Snow in the wind, my thoughts
slide over to the Winter Queen, so easily
brought to mind in this unbombed
Central European city: War, having
taken its pound of flesh from the people
spared its buildings.

The Munich betrayal. Heydrich.
No wonder they feel the way they do.
Chamberlain. J’aime Berlin.

I visited you before and after.
In the summer of 1989, the border
was a nest of guns and barbed wire
with apologetic young recruits
going through your bags. In 1991,
when I came again with my family,
all of that stuff had gone.

The river, the Charles Bridge, the palace,
all of that stuff was still there.

The West betrayed you, England and France,
and condemned you to a half-century
of misery: fascists followed by communists,
and if I were Czech, I’d be angry.

Surprisingly, you are not angry. Rueful,
I think is the tone. You sure as hell
got rid of the Sudeten Germans, every
last single one of the Nazi bastards,
which in its way is a pity, when you think

Of Kafka, for example, no Sudeten farmer,
just a person who thought and wrote in German,
and most of that has been lost. Also Slovakia,
who were not much help to you during the war.
Pity the countries with no seas as shelter!

Land borders in Europe pay no attention
to the people who happen to live within them
and never really have. The Versailles Conference,
post-Great War, was supposed to change all that
and didn’t. They simply carved up Europe
and set the seeds for the next great war.

And they carved up the Arab world as well,
drawing straight lines with rulers on maps,
setting up "mandates" for France and Britain,
promising everything to everyone, including,
of course, the Jews. Which is why, Ladies & Gentleman,
we get 9/11, the problems that continue today.

No, I haven’t forgotten about Prague. The food
improves (MacDonald’s was a step up, if you can imagine!)
and the beer has always been good. It is a quaint
and lovely city with its old clock towers and cobblestones,
with its trace of the nostalgic Old World “Mitteleuropa”,
which hasn’t been seen since the 1930s. America

has a great deal going for it, or had at one stage,
but it will never never replace, with its Disney dreams,
the real and honest thing.

487. Elvis: "Last Train to Memphis"

I was a small Irish kid in Germany in 1958 (my Dad worked in the AFEX system as an accountant) when Elvis came over as an army draftee. A family friend got his autograph for me which I lost soon after (damn & double-damn!) and this is the point where this book - the first of a two-part biography - closes. The first part of this biography takes us back from the arrival in Germany to Elvis' birth in Tupelo, to his family's move to Memphis, his geeky high school days, the $12 guitar his father bought for him, and his burning desire to cut a record. This brought him to Sam Phillips and Sun Records. This early recording took off thanks to radio play throughout the South and a series of live gigs followed,  getting ever bigger and bigger. Soon things became so big they nearly got out of control. From some peculiar mixture of gospel, hillbilly, and Negro blues Elvis had hit on a new sound that caught the imagination of teenage America. By the age of 21 (1956) he was pulling in huge audiences and the music moguls were taking an interest. The predatory ex-Carnie barker "Colonel" Tom Parker moved in to guide this boy along and in his manipulatory and conniving ways made Elvis a national phenomenon.

What makes this story so fascinating is the way it is told. The author, an early fan of the music, spent 11 years tracking down all the surviving friends and associates of Elvis and tells the story as if he were looking through a keyhole, recording conversations and first impressions and opinions from such a wide number of people that you begin to feel you are there yourself. The way this book was put together is extremely impressive: by no means is it your "standard" biography. Whether you like the music or not (I did even then, I still do!) you cannot help but get caught up in the story. After such a meteoric rise you just know that a fall is bound to come: hubris, as we know from the wise old Greeks, is followed by nemesis.

A second volume of the biography entitled "Careless Love" charts the course of Elvis' career from the time he was released from the army to his early death at the age of 42. That will require another review.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

486. In Reply to a Letter from an English Friend

We don't hate the Brits, Ben. We used to, that's true, but we don't any more. They seem to get along pretty well with us, too, much better than, say, with the modern-day Scots! The divorce - politically speaking - has been decisive and complete, apart from the dispute over the kids in Norn Iron and even that has been levelled down thanks to the IRA campaign, although nobody will admit that was the real reason. Terrorists!! Local boys (and girls) if you want to know the truth. The Queen could finally come over after a hundred years, and she was very welcome. On the personal level the old antagonisms just don't exist any more. We still have the old songs, of course. They're great old songs, so no reason to throw them out! And we still have the Gaelic tradition - the poetry and sagas and what one might describe as our 'national' character  - going back to the early centuries, both BC and AD. This will never never die out and our very strong sense of place and all the multiple layers of our long and colourful history can still inspire the rising generations ... and people like me!

We have the national or more precisely, tribal, failing of falling in love with Ireland, the landscape, the people, the whole surrounding atmosphere, and although this is touching, I suppose, it is more than a little weird! Nobody who leaves Ireland can ever stop talking about it.

The most important thing is that we are a free country again, the only sensible and natural way in which the Irish can exist and openly deal with the world, and we are a relatively 'elderly' free country at that, in the sense that younger generations have no interest in how we broke the chains of oppression and simply take their freedom for granted. Overall, I think this is a good thing. Our people grow up this way and they think it is a human right and they can't understand why other countries don't have the same privileges. So a lot of our nurses and activists go over to Palestine to get shot at by Israelis .... because the Palestinians are the same as the Irish, man, 150-200 years ago!