Nice, gentle canter for Frank McNally in today’s Irishman’s Diary. It’s a serial meditation based on the theme of “wall”: precisely the kind of outing Frank can manage stylishly, without working up a sweat.
Just the thing to go with a mid-morning tea-break, particularly when one has negotiated, and tried to comprehend the Byzantine mayhem that is the (heavily-doctored) Anglo Irish Bank report.
The punch-line is the theft of the granite wall, alongside the Liffey, across the river from St James’s brewery:
… equipped with heavy-lifting equipment, thieves broke into the site one night and make off with 24 square metres of it. In a poignant footnote, the stolen material was described as “priceless” by the then deputy city engineer, a man called “Tim Brick”.
Thank you, Frank: don’t call us; we’ll call you.
Only with the preceding paragraph did Malcolm find any point of mild dissention. McNally had been dealing with the old idiom to give the wall:
which, according to Brewers’ Dictionary, meant to “allow another, as a matter of courtesy, to pass by. . .at the side furthest from the gutter”. (The risk of having something emptied on you from an upstairs window might occasionally diminish this courtesy.) The dictionary also notes another phrase, “to take the wall”, meaning “to take the place of honour”. Thus Shakespeare’s: “I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague’s (Romeo and Juliet I:1).
Ok, Frank, we’re with you there, all the way, until when you chickened out. It’s the low-comedy first scene of Romeo and Juliet, and it illustrates why the designers of the National Curriculum got it so wrong:
SAMPSON: A dog of that house shall move me to stand: I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague’s.
GREGORY: That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes to the wall.
SAMPSON: True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push Montague’s men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall.
Oh dear, the first of a series of crude knob-jokes that proliferate through this hallowed text. Did nobody warn the Secretary of State?
Or, perhaps, Frank intended us to ruminate further on his wall motif. He did, after all, imply a connection with the current economic problems:
IN A certain school I know, when children misbehave, they may be asked to stand for short periods at the “Balla smaoineamh”, or “Wall of reflection”…
Where would we erect a State-sponsored Balla Smaoineamh? Well, it would have to be somewhere central, I suppose: probably in Dublin. In fact, the city already has the “North Wall”, just down the road from the Financial Services Centre. So for various reasons, that might be as good a place as any.
Meanwhile, the rest of us have suffered the fate that inept Sampson fantasised for Montague’s maids:
we have gone to the wall, and been well-and-truly screwed.