This post is a bit of a rummage round the lumber-room of Malcolm’s mind. Take it as such, or leave it.
Let’s start navigating at the prime meridian
In 1941 Myles na gCopaleen , a.k.a. Brian O’Nolan, published An Béal Bocht. It is to Irish literature as Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm had been a decade earlier to the English of-the-earth, earthy stuff.
Alas! Malcolm’s Irish (failed Leaving Certificate) was never up to appreciating the original Irish, and an English translation, magnificently illustrated by Ralph Steadman, only became available in 1996. So for too long, whenever the works of the Great Flann, Myles and Brian came into the conversation, on any mention of An Béal Bocht, Malcolm could but nod sagely, and seek to redirect onto more familiar Dalkey Archive territory.
Flann/ Myles/ Brian was never averse when it came to Épater la bourgeoisie. Thus with An Béal Bocht. Irish officialdom, especially since the ascent to power of Éamon de Valera, was heavily promoting da kulcha — in this parallel universe, the main ‘Culture’ was agriculture — not for nothing did the Dubliner refer dismissively to ‘culchies’. No Fianna Fáil bun-fight was complete without a flush of Fáinní (those ring lapel-pins to indicate an Irish speaker). Such types were indoctrinated to revere Peig Sayers as the true voice of “real” Ireland, and so inflict her serial miseries on the school-student.
For the record the prevalence of Fáinní in Fianna Fáil has declined in direct proportion to their increase among Sinn Féiners. When Gerry Adams began sporting a Fainne, that was the ultimate no-no! in polite political society.
A bit of plot (Sacs–Béarla version)
It’s always raining torrents in Corkadoragha, home of the first-person narrator Bonaparte O’Coonassa. Corkadoragha is about as impoverished and unreconstructed as anywhere could be in deprived, rocky, drenched Connacht. Or, as the Dalkey Archive edition blurb has it:
The Poor Mouth relates the story of one Bonaparte O’Coonassa, born in a cabin in a fictitious village called Corkadoragha in western Ireland equally renowned for its beauty and the abject poverty of its residents. Potatoes constitute the basis of his family’s daily fare, and they share both bed and board with the sheep and pigs. A scathing satire on the Irish, this work brought down on the author’s head the full wrath of those who saw themselves as the custodians of Irish language and tradition when it was first published in Gaelic in 1941.
Yet it has one natural resource: the Irish spoken in Corkadoragha is regarded as the most perfect in the island. Annually, therefore, Corkadoragha becomes infested with language-revivalists from the city — until the weather and the all-too-“authentic” poverty drive them away again.
Nearer home, and a few points east
A blog-artist of some ability has adopted the persona of ‘Bonaparte O’Coonassa’ — though, to be honest, there cannot be many literary grotesques who don’t have an afterlife on the net. Mr Downey of Romford (where Malcolm was once a borough councillor) has a nice sense of humour, is sound on the things that matter (Nick Griffin is a piece of shit), though is lamentably soft on cats. Nobody is perfect.
Fond of Romford as Malcolm (almost) is, he would usually be visiting Mr Downey blog, and passing by without acknowledgement. However, a wrinkle appeared.
Whale song and Zentz
Riffling through a drawer Malcolm had come across a well-worn key-ring. Beyond decipherment of any text on the plastic tag was a memory source: that New Age coffeehouse/bookshop the Redfellow entourage visited in Cortez, Colorado — back in the summer of 1994.
He recalled that the ambiance was being reinforced by whale song on the muzak channel. That seemed a trifle odd, since Cortez CO is some mean distance from either ocean.
Somehow that recollection triggered another: a song by Bob Zentz of Norfolk, Virginia:
Zentz, as a young man, had served in the US Coast Guard, and this song recalls being on watch. Yes, it’s sheer romanticism; but — one way and another — it persists as a repetitive soundtrack to Malcolm’s life. Here is the lyric is full:
Ocean Station Bravo, North Atlantic Ocean,
Somewhere west of Greenland, somewhere far from home.
Nothing on the radar, nothing on the sonar,
Hove-to and drifting on this ocean all alone.
CGC Sebago, high-endurance cutter,
Ocean station vessel number 42,
Studying the weather, aids to navigation
Plotting ships and aircraft as they come sailing through.
In the middle of the ocean, center of the circle,
There’s nothing but horizon, wind and sea and sky:
This whole world in motion, blowing from the northeast,
Not a hint of sunshine, just the gray clouds running by.
Then the lookout calls the bridge-watch, objects in the water —
Moving surface contacts off the starboard bow:
Plot ‘em on the radar, fire up the sonar
Listen for their echoes, can you hear ‘em now?
Well there’s echoes in my headphones, whale sounds on the speakers,
Filling all the spaces inside CIC:
Songs of loves and travels, songs of generations,
Echoes of the ages in cetacean harmony.
And me, I had to answer, I sang, I talked, I whistled.
Well, I even played the mouthharp through that microphone;
And they returned the favor with chirps and clicks and whistles —
A sound of celebration not so different from our own.
And when the watch was over, it’s out onto the bridge-wing
To view them sounding singers as they sing and sport and play:
Just a pod of humpbacks, farewell flukes a-wavin’,
A memory worth saving as they travelled on their way.
For we’d had a conversation with Leviathan that day.
Skirting the board …
That was somewhere on the periphery of Malcolm’s mind while he was daubing white paint onto bedroom skirting-board.
In a senior moment, he realised he couldn’t quite recall the name of the author: Zing? Zane? Zlotz? So, downstairs and crank up the search-engine.
Weather Station Kurt
One of the bits of serendipity that cropped up came from Mr Downey’s Poor Mouth, which for this post was very rich. One of the themes Mr Downey seems to revisit is “Backwaters of history”, little gems of actuality that have dropped out of consciousness, or only been rediscovered. In this particular post, Mr Downey has the quite remarkable tale of
… the only armed [Nazi] landing anywhere in North America [which] took place in Canada in October 1943 when a U-Boat landed a small party in Northern Labrador to erect an automatic weather station.
It looks as if Mr Downey resurrected this one from wikipedia. It was a good find, makes a good story, and provided Malcolm with a welcome diversion from the glossing task in hand (his knees, in particular, thank Mr Downie). It is a story, in its own way, almost as bizarre as anything in Myles.