A lady unknown to me approached me last week in a bar at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin and told me she was not Penelope and ought on no account to be mistaken for her. Her pallor, as of the grave, was impressive. I assured her I would never mistake her for Penelope and offered her a drink. 'I will have a gin and tonic with a twist of lime and a dash of Angostura Bitters,' she said. 'I have told Penelope she must emigrate to Australia. Otherwise we will be mistaken for one another all our lives and I will get the blame for everything she gets up to.' I was able to sympathise. 'It could be worse,' I said. 'You could be part of a triplet. You haven't by any chance got a sister called Persephone?' She detected sarcasm, mistakenly. 'No,' she said. 'I'm Phillida.'
The day following, a woman, precisely similar in appearance, identified herself to me as Pamela, in the same place and asked for a drink. She had misplaced her purse. 'I will have a gin and tonic with a twist of lime and a dash of Angostura Bitters,' she said. Heredity is a wonderful thing.
THE GREY, mutinous waves (Mr Joyce's phrase) of the Irish Sea break below me. My cousin, Kim Sue, who speaks with a delightful New Zealand accent and lives in Australia, has been to visit, and at this time of year. Imagine leaving the southern hemisphere for Ireland in January. I felt constrained to apologise for the weather. We even had snow, which does not properly belong to this island. It is a foreign substance, ill at ease in our subtropical paradise wherein, in shame, it transforms itself into a brownish muck which makes locomotion near intolerable.
Kim Sue, whose genetic inheritance is entirely Cantonese, had been in Ireland before when her adoptive parents, my aunt Irene and uncle Jim, had been establishing a new university in Ulster some 20 years ago. They had adopted two orphans from Hong Kong. I thought this the most marvellous example to set. The province is bisected by the River Bann, which reaches the sea near Coleraine, where the university was built. Mostly, there are Protestants to the east of it and Catholics to the west. It occurred to me then, some 20 years ago, that the ideal solution to our little local difficulty would be the welcoming here of several million Cantonese from Hong Kong, as that colony imminently faced doom.
They might, by the example of their industry and intelligence, transform us, and with their physical presence separate our warring factions. It would be the fulfilment of Bismarck's prescription. 'The solution to the Irish problem,' said that sagacious statesman, 'is the transfer of populations between Ireland and Holland; the Dutch, by their industry, would make Ireland the breadbasket of Europe and the Irish, by neglecting the dikes, would all drown.'
This is perhaps too drastic a remedy, though there are gentlemen in England, I think, who would approve it. My own has the merits of compassion and economy. Could we not try it before it is too late? My cousin, Kim Sue, I offer to the nation as the perfect example of the solution to all our problems.
TO CELEBRATE the new house above Killiney Bay, where seals desport themselves and Wales is just over the horizon, I bought a Japanese music machine incorporating compact discs. It makes a lovely noise and the seals may now amuse themselves to the sound of Bach, Wagner and Richard Strauss. I am sublimely happy to have my music back again. The neighbour below has a piano, which means that I may have one also, without fear of complaint. I might even get the fiddle out again, but to expect that to attract no complaint would be to reach the very depth of optimism.
Television, however, remains a problem. The stations I can pick up are all either Welsh or Irish. This means that whereas previously, in the west, I had often the choice only of two programmes in Gaelic, I have now, oftentimes, the choice of two in Gaelic and three in Welsh. This might delight my friend, the immortal Michael Wharton of Peter Simple, could he bring himself ever to watch a television set, but by my own substantial ignorance of both these exquisite languages I fear I miss a great deal. I found myself last week watching Llanelli rugby club trouncing some inferior opposition. The trick here, I learn, is to turn off the sound on the television and substitute on the Japanese miracle machine the end of Act Two of Die Meistersinger. It might have been written specifically to accompany Llanelli.
SALMAN RUSHDIE appeared last week to attend a debate about censorship which I chose to avoid. It was organised by our bien- pensants who, largely, wish to allow our terrorists access to television. I am all in favour of that, so long as we are able to lock them up immediately they leave the studio, but I do not think that is what they have in mind. Carl Bernstein who, by his adroit muckraking, brought down the greatest president the United States is likely to see, was also present to lecture us on the freedom of the press, a subject which frequently makes me ill when I am addressed by hypocrites.
I never met Mr Bernstein, nor do I wish to, but I once met Mr Rushdie. He struck me as quite charming, as he struck even Molly Keane, who needed the Booker Prize money (on the occasion they were both nominated for it) more than he did. 'That frightful Indian,' she says. 'How very pleasant he turned out to be.' Had I met him this time, I would have asked him did he not know that Bernard Shaw had decided, about the time he was writing St Joan, not to write a play about Mohammed. He dearly wished to, but he had been reliably informed that if he did so he would certainly be murdered. For this reason, I tend to avoid all mention of religion in everything I write.
There are people in this world who deserve to be shot, but I am not one of them and I do not think Mr Rushdie is, either.Reuse content