Saturday 16 September 2017

The Ginger Man

I pretty green in 1973; but at least I had the gumption to leave home and country to go to college. Travel broadens the mind and I really needed to be exposed to different vistas after more than ten years being institutionalised by my very expensive education in England. On the ferry from Liverpool, I had brought a 20 lt volume box of volumes mostly Penguin paperbacks which I considered essential to civilised life. It turned out the at least two of these not particularly racy [for 1970s England] books were on the Index Librorum Probitorum and banned in Ireland. I had, for example a copy of La porte ├ętroite by Andre Gide. I've written before about how another of these banned books, The Ginger Man by JP Donleavy, or rather my laughing at one of these, brought me and The Beloved together. It is accordingly with a certain sadness that I note the passing of Donleavy [L last year at his 90th bday with Glen "Once" Hansard] at the beginning of the week. There was a time when I read The Ginger Man ragged; riffling through it to find favorite passages and slapping the open book's face down on the kitchen table to acquire some accidental butter stains. I read a lot of his other books but they seemed a bit tired and derivative after Donleavy's first and most immediate book.  I will acknowledge that I cannot remember reading his Fairy Tale of New York but do rate The Pogues song of the same title.  The Ginger Man itself inspired Brian Cadd's song of that name.

I wrote him a letter in about 1974, offering to come out to his country mansion and interview him for the TCD student newspaper (with which I had absolutely no connexion or affiliation). Donleavy, quite sensibly, didn't reply to my letter.

Donleavy must have been an engaging chap, he was certainly a great boozer and intimate of Brendan Behan. You get a flavor of this listening to him on Desert Island's Discs DID in 2007. I've had occasion to mention DID as the ultimate tribute of respect from the British Establishment (=BBC): better than a medal, better than an honorary degree. I must ask The Brother, who has landed all three fish. Somewhere in his interview-with-music JPD offered the suggestion that some of the 45 million copies of the book have been so good for the morale of the sick that they have recovered "You don't die in bed if you have read The Ginger Man". That is likely to be confirmation bias, selective attention or cherry-picking. So many copies out there and everyone dies, most of us in hospital beds (or on mere trolleys in Ireland, there being insufficient beds). If every sick person receives ex officio a copy of The Ginger Man, some of them will recover and that connexion will wing its way back to head office at the publisher; the unmiraculous copies of the book won't be noticed under the hospital bed, let alone tallied up.

Nevertheless, I will share a nice story that was going the rounds when I started working in St Vincent's Hospital in 2001. In 1990, Ireland did surprisingly well in Italia 90, that year's World Cup soccer tournament. An elderly lady was occupying a hospital bed for her last journey surrounded by her anxious family. As the time for a crucial Ireland match approached, she told her sons and daughters to go off and watch the match in the common room "sure don't be worrying about me". After the game, her rellies trooped back somewhat sheepishly having had their priorities exposed. "How did we do?" murmured the old lady
"We won on penalties" they chorused
"I'm feeling much better, so; is there a cup of tea to be had?"
The restorative power of tea (and soccer) worked its magic, she was soon discharged and lived on for several more years.

It is strange and peculiar how sporting events can be so inspiring for people; even those whose nearest approach to a football is sitting on a sofa all Saturday afternoon working through a slab of tinnies and shouting at the ref. The case has been made many times that Ireland's somewhat limping progress through Italia 90 was the catalyst for the rise and roar of the Celtic Tiger.  On 3rd September this year Waterford and Galway met in the All Ireland Senior Hurling Final. Waterford, of all Ireland's cities, has had the roughest time through the recession and could do with a boost. Galway with a critical mass of IT companies is doing much better.  It was mental in Waterford in the run up to the key weekend: every house was dressed out in blue&white  Pat the Salt was compelled by his carers to buy a large flag although he has no time at all for GAA having grown up in Wales where Rugby is king. When Waterford went down GALWAY 0-26 WATERFORD 2-17, I wrote to my pal Paul who used to hurl all over Galway in his youth "Thanks a bunch Paul, you and yours have screwed over any chance of economic recovery in Waterford this decade"

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