Thursday, June 16, 2016

Blooming on Bloomsday

Pants Patch - Photo by Pants

Happy Bloomsday, fellow citizens.

I thought I had a pencil portrait of James Joyce to put up but it turns out that I don't. So, please accept a tangential take on blooming by way of an illustration. I present instead a snap of my allotment beds, captured today just before I harvested some of that mizuna, rocket and cos lettuce for tonight's supper. I stopped in there on the way back from the Larrikin's End sawmill where I loaded a huge pile of frozen offcuts into the Pantibago.

A nightly roaring fire is necessary at this time of year. Not only is it charmingly atmospheric, it keeps my fingers from falling off. The nights are cold but the days glorious, as you can see from the sun dancing on those broad beans in front. Back home at Seat of Pants, I dumped the load of hardwood bits onto the asphalt drive so that they could thaw out in the afternoon blaze. They dutifully did so while I stripped down to one layer of clothing and basked on the sun deck to read Ulysses for a couple of hours.

This year, I looked for and quickly found, a section to fit today's mood. I was thinking about my Uncle Bob who died in 2011. We did Bloom's walk together in 2003 - but not on Bloomsday. It was on an extended-family holiday with three generations of paternal Pantses crammed into a Toyota something-or-other for three weeks. Actually, it was a lot of fun. I was somewhat surprised when Uncle Bob chose the Joyce pilgrimage with me over a visit to the Guinness brewery with the other family members on one of our Dublin days.

I knew that Uncle Bob had been an editor of school books. His literary tastes, at that point, were not a matter of record. He knew, of course, that you can get a decent Guinness anywhere in Dublin. I guessed that he did want to spend time alone with me - as I did with him. My father had been dead a long time and Uncle Bob was the image of him - except older, smaller and gentler. I'd lived in England for twenty years and we hadn't seen a lot of each other.

We began the day with a visit to The James Joyce Centre where we picked up a map for the walk. As we browsed the exhibits, Uncle Bob spotted a familiar edition of Finnegans Wake in a glass case. He told me that, as a young soldier in World War 2, his unit had received a copy in a Red Cross package. Not only that - it was popular with the boys, and they were boys. Uncle Bob would have been twenty.

Our walk did not strictly adhere to the map. Uncle Bob was over eighty and the Pantses aren't known for following rules, so we skipped bits and changed other bits. We lunched in Davy Byrne's pub. Of course we did. Uncle Bob had a steak and kidney pie, which was far and away his favourite dish for his whole life as far as I can tell. The pub no longer did a glass of Burgundy and a Gorgonzola sandwich, more was the pity. We were there in August, one of the four months of the year where one can't get oysters. Damn. I had the fish'n'chips and a glass of house wine. Uncle Bob had a half of Guinness.

Here's a passage from my Bloomsday reading,

- There he is, says I, in his gloryhole, with his cruiskeen lawn and his load of papers, working for the cause.
   The bloody mongrel let a grouse out of him would give you the creeps. Be a corporal work of mercy if someone would take the life of the bloody dog. I'm told for a fact that he ate a good part of the breeches off a constabulary man in Santry that came round one time with a blue paper about a licence.
- Stand and deliver, says he.
- That's all right, citizen, says Joe. Friends here.
- Pass, friends, says he.
  Then he rubs his hand in his eye and says he:
- What's your opinion of the times?
   Doing the rapparee and Rory of the hill. But, begob, Joe was equal to the occasion.
- I think the markets are on the rise, says he, sliding his hand down his fork.
  So begob the citizen claps his paw on his knee and he says:
- Foreign wars is the cause of it.
  And says Joe, sticking his thumb in his pocket:
- It's the Russians wish to tyrannise.
- Arrah, give over your bloody codding, Joe, says I, I've a thirst on me I wouldn't sell for half a crown.
- Give it a name, citizen, says Joe.
- Wine of the country, says he.
- What's yours, says Joe.
- Ditto MacAnaspey, says I.
- Three pints, Terry, says Joe. And how's the old heart, citizen? says he.

Ulysses, Penguin Modern Classics (1971 edition pp 293-294)

I first read Ulysses as a university text. I was twenty. The copy I read from today is that same crumbling paperback. It's travelled far with me and is as dog-eared as I am. I liked the book a lot when I was called upon to study it and I wrote a credible essay about it, apparently. But I never actually got it until I'd spent a couple of evenings in a proper Irish pub, and by that I mean being allowed to stay after the lock-in, lots of times. Then, and only then, did I begin to understand what a grand and marvellous piss-take this book is.

In memory of Uncle Bob and in deference to James Joyce I give you a paraphrase from Finnegans Wake,

We live. We laugh. We love. We leave.