At a loss for words

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Scribbled notes left to oneself on the worktable before turning in are a useful, if somewhat unreliable, index of what one has been up to the night before, if you follow me. What, for instance, does 'altercation' signify? I am aware that I was involved in some mild verbal fracas (none of my doing) in the Shelbourne Hotel last night, but why should I wish to remind myself of it? On reflection, the business is best forgotten, but Dublin being Dublin, it will not be.

It was anciently my habit, and still is, to decline to surrender the invitation card to any party I attended, as to do so might deprive me of information as to what I had been doing: namely, the identity of my hosts and the purpose, if any, of the function.

I am, at this point in my life, like a mountain well-weathered, with all the sharp bits rounded off by millennia of incessant rain, and presenting, therefore, or so I flatter myself, a pleasing intellectual aspect. I mean that I have forgotten most of those things that are not worth remembering. Synapses collapse as if one had pressed the wrong button on the computer, but I do not much mind, except for certain infelicities that increasingly intrude themselves. Now how could I have forgotten the word 'agent' last night, which signifies a person who, for a modest percentage of one's income, ensures that one has any income at all? Nevertheless, I did so.

The one sure-fire way of repairing these synaptical lapses is to construct some mnemonical overlay, to put down a new track, so to speak, where what is left of the mental process may tread. For fear of losing the word 'agent' from my vocabulary, I am searching for the appropriate verbal short- cut. 'Baghad' occurs to me, because the first word that comes to mind when I think of that city is 'thief'.

I HAD a pleasant encounter not too long ago in Co Kildare with Michael Foot, who was addressing a symposium on Jonathan Swift. I share many enthusiams with Footie, including Swift and Byron, and used to salute him civilly when I came across him walking on Hampstead Heath, where we were neighbours. I am of the opinion that he is the best leader ever to have graced the Labour Party, but, out of consideration for his career prospects, kept that opinion to myself while he held that office.

Michael, when we met, was taking luncheon as a guest of Patrick and Louise Guinness, who had got up some entertainment in their stableyard. John Hurt was among those performing for us. All quite splendid, really. 'Why are you so damn civil to me?' he barked. 'You're a bloody Tory, aren't you?'

'Not at all, Michael,' said I. 'I'm a thundering reactionary.' So is he, of course. We got on famously after that, particularly when I reminded him that he had given me my first employment, on Tribune. Last time I had seen him was when a friend, Desmond O'Grady, brought him to my house in Kinsale, where I was able to show him a pirated edition of Don Juan. Not only was it pirated but bowdlerised also. It amused him greatly. Perhaps it reminded him of the present condition of the Labour Party.

I HAVE been to see the RSC production of The Winter's Tale, presented as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival, the first time I had seen it performed. I remembered why. It is not a good play at all, most of it, I would guess, blocked out by drudges for, by the time William put his name to it, he could well afford drudges. Its best line is the stage direction, 'Exit, pursued by a bear,' and I must say that the company made a meal of it, as indeed the bear makes a meal (off stage) of Antigonus. This is the bit, I would say, that was most certainly written by William.

The first half of the production consists in the principals roaring at one another in best tragical fashion, so that I had almost given up on it when there was an outbreak of bucolic festivity that had us entirely delighted. We are a nation extraordinarily given to attending the theatre; a country where it is considered a disgrace that there can be a town with a population above 2,000 that has not its own auditorium; where, indeed, the most awful rubbish is put on the stage so long as it is new rubbish.

Cyril Cusack, our most eminent actor, timed his exit with rare skill, dying while his daughter Niamh was appearing at the Gate Theatre in a superb production of A Doll's House. She went on stage, her performance radiant, and drew a tremendous and heartfelt round of applause. I never got more than a few words out of Cusack, but Mary Finnegan tells me that she once congratulated him on his portrayal of the village idiot in the film Ryan's Daughter. 'I'll pass that compliment on to John Mills when next I see him,' said he.