A Royal Flush

I imagine that just about now, a rogue-ish Prince Harry is pulling back his hand-carved mahogany chair, after a few too many gulps of Montrachet 1978, to deliver his Best Man’s speech. I can almost hear the tap-tap-tap of his silver spoon on the rim of his wine glass and oh, despite the royal fuss of it all, what I’d do to be a fly on the crystal chandelier; or indeed one of the couple’s three HUNDRED “close” (but probably only facebook) friends.. There’s nothing for it but to deflect my curioisity by pondering the following five nuptial nuggets:

1.Kiss me, Kate?
When William and Kate kissed for the second time during the balcony scene, one of the BBC royal correspondents commented that “She was game, he less so”. Having watched this scene repeatedly and considered the comment, I am convinced of its inaccuracy . As delightful as Kate’s putative enterprise is- when watched carefully- it is clearly William who initiates Peck Two, unless I am missing some subtle display of microexpressions?

2. Wed-lock?
It’s well known that changes in temperature cause the limbs to expand and retract and it’s only natural that beneath her poise and exquisite cherry-lipped smile, the Princess was experiencing immense physiological imbalance. It was an agonizing few seconds, but William did finally succeed in encircling Kate’s blood-starved ring finger with a golden hoop- but what if he hadn’t managed? Could he have asked little bro for a hand?

3. How many times had they practised their vows?
They fail – they endearingly fail – to keep straight faces as they repeat before the eyes of God what they have been stumbling over ad nauseum for weeks.

4. Is William’s receding hairline indicitative of his humility?
It certainly is. As Prince, he could have opted for all sorts of cover-up treatments, and the fact is, he didn’t.

5. Does Princess Catherine’s academic future lie in the history of meterology?
Unlike most disciplines, meterology shows a distinct bias for future events over retrospective analysis. It was widely reported that Kate’s first official statement was that she was “glad the weather held up”. I believe this sagacious remark to be representative of an impressive and rapid immersion into the royal fixation with the past. At the same time, it adds a little authority and glamour to the utterance: “Lovely weather we’ve been having!”

And now to return to Harry’s speech, which he should be wrapping up about now: God save them all.

The Wild West or just a quiet town?

A boy of 15 is standing still; thigh-deep in muggy river water. His pomona green Wellington boots are just visible beneath the surface. It’s about six in the evening. He is alone, and the town about him sleeps. He is fishing.

“That’s a lonely image”, I say as we watch him from a distance.

We are leaning against a stony wall by the riverbank. I am unzipping my camera case gingerly because I want to remember the stillness and his solitude when a blonde-haired man of about thirty staggers, stony-eyed towards us.

“Don’t you dare take my picture”, he yells. “You’ve no right, you sons of bitches. You’ve no fucking right at all”.

Startled, I glide the camera down and wait for him to pass. He is still ranting as he shuffles away. He is alone and mad maybe, if mad is a thing.

This was our first of impression of Sligo and the scene I have just described took place just metres away from the impressive glass structure of our hotel, which is shaped like an enormous boat, and obscures the little twist of the river as it stretches itself into an estuary.

The Glass hotel, Sligo

Later that night, after a walk through the town, Andrew asked, “so what do you think of it?” I paused, because this was our special break away and you’re not really supposed to acknowledge that it’s not perfect until months later, when you joke about it and realise that the other thought it was a bit shit too.

“It’s a bit dead”, I said. That was indisputable. As dusk settled, the town was lifeless but for a line of three drunken old men, smoking outside their local.

You’d have to move, if you were our age, we agreed, unless you were a farmer or wanted to work in a tattoo parlour, of which there were a disproportionate amount in the town.

We spent only three days in Sligo but it was long enough to perceive how fuzzy a boundary divides what is still and unspoilt from what has been forgotten.

One of the first things we noticed in Sligo town, was a page stuck with blu-tac to the door of a bank (of all places!). It was a reminder of what’s been forgotten. A man, a poet, had penned some verses, on the subject of the queen’s visit. In the penultimate verse, he asked simply “Why won’t they let her visit the west?” And indeed the following day, as we climbed Knocknaree and observed the beautiful, rocky wilderness that surrounded us, it was hard to believe that this wild, unspoilt landscape wouldn’t be to Her Majesty’s taste. And yet, the way I had described Sligo town the night before as “dead”, was as if stillness were a sin.

And when on our last day we visited the majestic lake at Glencare (strictly in Leitrim, but whatever) and the waterfall that inspired Yeats in his poetry we were cast under a spell. Beneath gleaming sunshine, the lake water lapped with low sounds by the shore and there was not a soul to be seen. It was beauty unbridled. It didn’t need the Queen’s visit to make it so. It was too beautiful for words or tourist brochures.
And looking back, I am glad that I never did take the fisher boy’s picture. Without that angry, lonely interruption to the peace, his stillness wouldn’t have resonated into prose.

The lake at Glencare

Plans for my retirement

Rupert - Image courtesy of prospect.rsc.org

For some time now I have been contemplating retirement with singular focus. My requirements are modest but particular. For one, I intend to continue living in the cosy, two-storey red-brick, rat-and-mouse-proof house by the canal which I acquired for next to nothing in my mid-to-late twenties during an immoderate slump in the property market. In spite of the life of reluctant employment I have led, I will not be lured by idleness. I will occupy myself with both a vegetable patch and herb garden and feed the fruits of my daily weeding to my guinea pig, Rupert and his rabbit friend, Baltishar, who will munch dandelion leaves in amicable silence while gazing at me adoringly.

I will cultivate my faculties by daily mastery of the ancient Arabic scripts, having established firm mastery of the basics in quarter life. In the attic will be housed a superior telescope where I will while away long nights in contemplating the stars.

I willl engage in late rebellion by smoking hash for the first time, and by taking part in an extreme sport. Though it may seem uber-efficient- given my care-free lifestyle- I might take hallucinogens on the occasion of my first parachute jump. I will enjoy in equal measure my subscription to New Scientist and to Rolling Stone. I will engage in risk-taking behaviour on account of having achieved longevity, which fear of failing at, had held me back before. (Details of my quarter-life crisis can be found here). If LSB has had enough of me, I will become promiscuous.

Speaking of LSB, we are taking the train to Sligo in the morning for a jaunt in the northwest and for some time to ourselves, for the first time in aaaages. I hope that the mytho-poetic landscape there will inspire me to finalise plans for my retirement.

O’Connell Street: Was it for this?

On cold, wet days I really feel for them; O’Connell, Larkin and the other lads, condemned – on account of their noble achievements- to a life of stony immobility rooted to the grey, chewing gum-smeared concrete of our main thoroughfare. I scurry by them in the mornings and wonder whether the tick-tock of Clery’s clock imposes order to their lives and whether they ever sigh to themselves “I’d fecking kill for a drink in The Grand Central” or “I’d risk my bronze plating for a win at the slot machine in Dr Quirkeys”.

The tiny Mary Mediatrix shop, which blasts out religious tunes from a battered speaker and which claimed on hand-made posters in advance of the general election that “a vote for the Labour party is a vote for abortion” is an historical artefact made charming by the implausibility of its continued existence. The Spire too – the triumphant baby claw that remains of the Celtic Tiger – speaks of time passed.

Image courtesy of Flickr

The news stands selling the Herald, as well as some specialist magazine titles survive against the odds to compete with the similarly-priced and far more extensive range in Eason’s. Those that man them are industrious and tough and their presence often masks the groups of three or four addicts slumped against the walls outside of shops with cans of Dutch gold at their feet and expressions that flicker from vacant to murderous.

The beggars too are early risers. I admire their flowing gypsy skirts and the sleepy faces of the babies they cradle in their free arm. I watch in the afternoon as tipsy old men respond to flirtations, addressed to them in wide-eyed, broken English. There is always a moment when the few coins that these men have paid for their flattery are rejected for being too paltry and it is at that moment that the expressions of the men change for it is then they know that they have been had and that the price of their time was an extra portion of curry chips at Londis.

The top of O’Connell Street is a blend of Belvedere boys and foreign children in wine-coloured pinafores making their way to school. There is a grotesque butcher’s shop on Parnell Street just at the junction with North Great George’s Street. All sorts of fleshy entrails dot the grubby countertops and I see a pair of Chinese hands skilfully tidy them into rows and columns.

Families in tracksuits queue for social welfare in a little newsagent which doubles up as a post office. Once I saw a father assault his three-year-old son on Marlborough Street. The most brutal and disgusting face I have ever seen; there is a sharp knot of disgust in my stomach as I type and the memory floods back. I didn’t intervene and it fills me with some shame. What would have been the point though? I had seen the violent force the man was capable of and the little boy’s mother was with him, watching it all with the ennui of perpetual deprivation.

There are moments of relief though. Daffodil Day coloured the street golden and pinned to bopping buttonholes an image of energy and hope and growth. The man who hops about on O’Connell Bridge each morning, wearing a gigantic grin on his face as he hands out a complimentary copy of MetroHerald to groggy commuters on their way to work makes me smile every day. And in spite of the indignity of public urination, unsolicited mounting and discarded beer cans, perhaps Larkin, O’Connell and the lads do stand proud as they watch over the city and the people they helped to forge. After all, it is their city, as it is mine and for every loss at Dr Quirkey’s there is the possibility of redemption across the road at Mary Mediatrix.

Cat Psychology

Psychofelinology is a discipline waiting for the right moment to pounce onto a field of unsuspecting, mousy-haired academics. The research journal Behavioral Processes is ahead of the trend though. Its researchers have recently observed that:

Cats … seem to remember kindness and return favors later. If owners comply with their feline’s wishes to interact, then the cat will often comply with the owner’s wishes at other times. The cat may also “have an edge in this negotiation,” since owners are usually already motivated to establish social contact.

This analysis has wide-ranging implications. For one, it dismisses as empirically unsound my own experience of cats as sefish creatures with little motivation to engage in co-operative interaction without the prospect of being either fed or housed. Furthermore, it indicates that cats have a rather sophisticated emotional memory system. I had always assumed that their disproprtionately large cerebellums – responsible for their extraordinary balance and super-felxibility as well as their ability to remember the way home in the dark-was countered by an impaired capacity for empathy.

However, it also vindicates my intuition that non-human animals can engage in a considerable degree of introspection and planning. I remember reading an article a while back about a chimpanzee in a zoo that collected and stored stones in order to hurl at ogling visitors at a later date. This was reported as a breakthrough discovery because the chimp was engaging in planned behavior. I thought this a rather primitive (you forgive the pun) conclusion to draw given that all hunting requires at least a degree of strategy, be it “instinctive” or not.

The finding that cats “may have an edge in negotiation” is in line with my prejudiced expectations however. Given that the Feline appears to have a capcity to understand emotional interaction, I am not at all surprised that it possesses an innate distaste for engaging in spontaneous displays of affection without at least the pleasure of adhering to the principle of reciprocal determinism, better known as “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”.

I believe that cats are divisive creatures for the very reason that their shrewdness taps into the deepest analysis of our own identity. I for one experience in the cat’s talents a stark reminder of my own shortcomings; unlike the feline fiend, I have a very poor sense of direction, impaired flexibility (as evidenced in my continued struggle in Beginner’s yoga) and am over-sensitive. Not quite a pushover, but I’m a bit of a ‘Yes Katzi’ when it comes to facilitating people against my more selfish – even catty – judgement. Furthermore, since I am still under my parent’s roof, I respect and envy in equal measure the self-sufficiency of the cat which house-hops for the best meals.

As I was apt to conclude in the final paragraph of all my undergraduate Psychology essays: further research is needed.