Don't try begging from a beggar

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The Independent Online
WE MAY boast now of having one of the most expensive currencies in Europe. I carry bales of the stuff around in my pockets but it does not seem to buy anything. Mysterious entries on my bank statements indicate, apparently, that I am paying off the National Debt in monthly instalments and beggars snarl if they are given less than a fiver. American and English friends are pauperised as soon as they set foot here, and dare not enter a restaurant unless escorted thence by some kindly Irishman like myself. The punt rides high and cheerfully we beggar ourselves. Our politicians, for whom we entertain the greatest affection (they are the chiefest source of amusement to us) are curiously proud of their success in making Ireland almost as expensive as Germany. (I gave 10 marks to a freezing beggar in Hamburg three years ago. 'Deutsch?' he asked, incredulous. 'Nein,' said I, 'Irisch.' 'Ah,' said he, deeply relieved, as if the prospect of reckless generosity having overtaken one of his countrymen might spell ruin for the entire nation.)

It is for my American friends that I feel most keenly, for they are a generous people themselves and unused to tribulation whereas the English, notoriously, cannot do without it. I recall leaving New York many years ago with dollars 25,000 in my back pocket (the fairest prospect in NYC is the high road to JFK) when the taxi driver asked me what was wrong. I appropriated Mr Waugh's remark about Manhattan having been built specifically for the hydrogen bomb. 'When you hit rock bottom, fella,' said this philosopher, 'there's only one way to go.'

'Oh yes?' said I sceptically, 'and where would that be?'

'Sideways,' said he.

No doubt he is right. Only a week before extracting this seemingly large but in fact grossly inadequate sum from crooked and recalcitrant creditors, I had found myself stranded in the city on a Saturday morning with no money. No money at all. One had not yet been entrusted with those cards which electronically abstract money from machines set into the walls of banks. I walked from my expensive, box-like apartment the 30 blocks north to Costello's bar and restaurant, where I was well-known to the management, in order to cash a cheque. I was well-known also to the black beggar on the corner of 44th Street and Third, who accosted me with his usual charm. I told him I would give him the customary dollar as soon as I had one and walked into Costello's to find every last sinner gone on holidays and nobody known to me. On the way out, parched and facing another 30 blocks to get back to my telephone, it occurred to me to approach the black fellow, with whom I must by then have deposited at least dollars 300 in daily instalments. 'If you could lend me dollars 1 for the subway fare,' said I, explaining my predicament, 'I will give you dollars 5 on Monday.'

Well, dear me, that was a frightful mistake. I have never before or since seen such a case of outraged amour propre. It was as if someone had asked a finance minister to make up the losses caused by his own incompetence. The poor fellow, fortunately (he was very large), went into paralysis from shock and I was able to escape before he laid hands on me. I fear such scenes will be commonplace soon in Europe.

I HAVE been visiting Bea, a most delightful person, in Galway. We are surrounded by bogs and mountains. Neighbouring sophisticates have largely gone home to New York, London, Hamburg. The fairies who live on the hill nearby most gratefully accept whatever whiskey is left out for them. The trout have all been murdered by fish farmers, which is a pity, but there is much to enjoy. Television is not one of the pleasures available in Connemara, unless you want to watch Australian soaps or the news in Gaelic. There is a fellow known to Bea, who gives lifts to him, who has no television, no radio and only one book. This is a dictionary, which he reads avidly. 'Do you know,' says he shyly, upon the last occasion she picked him up, 'what is meant by 'hippopotamus'?'

'I don't,' says Bea, a generous creature.

'It is,' says this fellow, pleased, as Bea knew he would be, to exhibit erudition, 'a river horse.'

'Is that so?' says Bea.

'It is true,' says he. 'But we have none of them here. It is on account of the climate. It is too cold for them.'

We went to see Edward Delaney in Carraroe. He is our most distinguished sculptor. He does his own casting and welding. On occasion his works are blown up or otherwise damaged, though I cannot imagine why anyone should be so deranged as to want to remove such splendid ornaments. Still, the world is full of savage lunatics and self-appointed art critics, and there is no point denying it. Did Rodin have to put up with this? I think not. Delaney did, as a matter of fact, hang about with amusing people in Munich in the Fifties who subsequently became the Baader-Meinhof Gang, but one can never tell what one's friends at university are going to get up to once they are let loose.

He describes the process of 'inching'. I had quite forgotten about it, though an aunt of mine was an adept. This consists in allowing, or assisting, one's boundary walls to fall down ('There is a terrible rake of earthquakes in Galway') in such a manner as to be able to re-erect them some way into neighbouring territory. As all such land, and title thereunto, was mapped out with the utmost precision by the army during the 18th and 19th centuries, with the purpose of delineating every parish and the pathways between them so thoroughly that the military would never have any trouble suppressing insurrection, we are perhaps the most well- mapped country in Europe.

'The wall is on the map, they tell you,' says Delaney, delighted. 'It is the law.' He watches them, with satisfaction, inching on to his land. 'I wonder where they think they're going,' says he. They can have very little sense. I would not mess with Delaney.