Gardening: Knickers to Bloomsday, I say

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THE TORRENTIAL rains of the past few weeks corresponded exactly to my mood. It was thought that my garage might fall into the road, and so it did. The fire brigade turned up with an ambulance in attendance which was fortunately unnecessary. Boulders were strewn all over the place. We are a volatile country and it is as well to have reality visited on us from time to time. Last week in Dublin and London was celebrated the great bogus clangour of Bloomsday.

The more I read Ulysses the less I like it, and as it was I who revealed to an unastonished world precisely why Mr Joyce had set all of the action of his monsterpiece (you see? it is contagious) on that particular day, 16 June 1904, I feel under no obligation to deck myself out in Edwardian garb, eating kidneys for breakfast and riding thereafter around the city behind horses. Horses tend to fart in your face if you sit behind them.

Mind you, I have gone through this nonsense myself, encouraged by the Tourist Board, which believes these festivities attract many Joyceans to Dublin who otherwise would not come. My principal memory of these shenanigans is of treading on the hem of my escort's skirt every few steps until, eventually, it detached itself entirely from her rump, revealing a pair of very modern knickers. 'Did your grandmother never teach you how to walk behind a lady?' she snarled.

There was a more fetching sight, even, this year when Brigid's antique dress disintegrated entirely on a restaurant dance floor. It is a pity I was not present at that instant.

Never mind; I was enjoying myself elsewhere, at dinner with Bea in a Chinese joint. While naturally I wished to grant her conversation my full attention, I could not help being distracted by the sight of three exceptionally large geisha girls (and what are geisha girls doing in a Chinese restaurant?), until one of them roared at the waitress: 'Hey you, would you ever get us a bottle of (blank) wine?'

'I've been trying to tell you they weren't girls,' Bea said, giggling.

OUR MINISTER for Culture, the Gaelic language and Telecommunications is Michael D Higgins, an amiable socialist from Galway. He is in the government by reason of the peculiar coalition inflicted on us by our last election. There was a minor fuss last week about his appearing on one of his own television stations (I mean, of course, one of our television stations) to read some of his new poetry, but I saw no harm in it.

Not many of our politicians are poets, though all of our poets are politicians. Poor Michael D is pursued, because of his twin vocation and the suspicion that he might be more generous than his predecessors, by persons in the artistic trade looking for handouts. Meeting him at a gallery opening just recently, I asked after a gentleman whom I knew to be in search of a grant. 'I didn't know he was a friend of yours, Stan,' said the minister. 'I didn't say he was, minister,' said I, 'but he owes me pounds 100.'

'I'll see what I can do,' he said.

His Gaelic is pleasant on the ear and he intends granting us a television station exclusively in that language. This project does not meet with universal approval as it can be the case that our two television channels are broadcasting in Erse while, simultaneously, three of the four British ones that can be picked up here are devoted to Welsh. A television station that broadcast entirely in English would certainly be welcomed by most of the citizenry, but I fear it is not on the cards.

AN AMATEUR terrorist has flung a small bomb at the monument to George IV's short visit here (1821). I believe he spent more time that year in Hanover, but it was considerate of him to drop in at all. One unfortunate gentleman built a magnificent mansion in Co Cork in order that the king might rest there in comfort, but he never turned up. The mansion was burnt down in 1921. The assaulted monument is a modest edifice upon the pier at Dun Laoghaire. I used to pass it every day as a child and got to be very fond of it, as one does anything familiar, even memorials to James Joyce. It will have been familiar to passengers getting off the boat to catch the train to Dublin. It is frequently taken to be a commemoration of George's arrival in Ireland.

But is it? Thackeray is in no doubt. 'A hideous obelisk,' he says of it (Irish Sketch Book, 1842), 'stuck upon four fat balls and surmounted with a crown upon a cushion - the latter were perhaps no bad emblems of the monarch in whose honour they were raised - commemorates the sacred spot in which George IV quitted Ireland.'

The IRA, who had not then the wherewithal to blow up shopping centres, blew one of the balls off it when I was a child. It still stands. May it continue to do so.

OUR PAGAN ancestors were much given to worship around trees, if not exactly in them. We now have the most distressing tendency to cut them down. In Cork for a party at the Old Yacht Club in Cobh (formerly Queenstown), I note with gloom that 450 have gone on the Fota estate to make way for chalets - and this under the guardianship of University College. The clubhouse, with generous assistance from Americans, is in the process of conversion to a gallery and already functions as a restaurant. The QE2 most delightfully saluted us as she sailed past 100 yards away on an inaugural day- trip from Southampton. My spirits were almost lifted.