Saturday 26 October 2013

Forty Years On

I would like to review the play Forty Years On, Alan Bennett's brilliant, edgy, dated satire about the English
Franklin: Have you ever thought, Headmaster, that your standards might perhaps be a little out of date? Headmaster: Of course they're out of date. Standards always are out of date. That is what makes them standards.
But I have another 40 years to celebrate today.  Cue Peter Sellars singing My Old Dutch My Old Dutch and me, we did indeed spend a chunk of time in Holland.  I met The Beloved 40 years ago on the evening of 26th October 1973.  It was different times.  In April, I was reflecting briefly on the three-centuries life of my (1893-2001) grandmother, and the changes that had been wrought in her lifetime by the growth of air-travel which was, of course, science fiction when she was born and became reality in her teens.  We met in TCD, as you do when you're both students in Dublin, had a fragment of conversation and went our separate ways towards bed.  When we left the campus through different gates, we found that we couldn't go back even if we wanted to, because the whole college was on lock-down by Security and the Gardai after Minister of Justice Paddy Cooney was jostled and heckled by "students and Internationalists" before he could make his prepared speech about the prison system.  The minister had to leave through the back-door via the kitchens.  So that's a change: you don't find students rioting about perceived injustice much nowadays and I don't think there are many Maoists left in the country.

We did get to meet again, largely through the good offices of a woman who was in my science class and in the same hostel dorm as The Beloved.  Cue LP Hartley's Go Between.  Because there were no cell-phones in the those days.  Dammit, there were remarkably few telephones.  You had to apply for one to be installed by P&T (Posts and Telegraphs), it could take weeks or even months, doctors could insist that they be prioritised and doubtless you could expedite your own process if you knew in which hands to place the brown envelope.  So we had to make assignations in advance, or by letter (with a stamp!) or a note carried by our Go Between. A meeting has both a time and a place, so we had to be careful to specify which corner of St Stephen's Green we were to meet. I remember one early date when I visited each one several times to be sure to be sure because TB was running late.  We had to meet in such public places because she was living in a hostel run by LSU nuns where Y chromosomes could come in the front door but not leave the vestibule immediately behind it.  I, on the other hand, had a room (to myself) in digs in Sandymount whose landlady viewed women as corrupt and corrupting.  But meet we did and we walked out.  And walked, and walked: along the canal, out to the Pigeon House and round and up and through what was left of Georgian Dublin, so that we got to know the city intimately as we got to know each other.

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