Some of my best friends are 50

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The Independent Online
'DUBLIN was a city of derision at best,' wrote GBS, 'but in our family reverence did not exist.' There was no room for it. The Shaw birthplace museum has just opened in Dublin. I went along to have a look, for when I was a child I preferred Shaw to Shakespeare, rather as children prefer Beethoven to Mozart, and I suppose he did as much damage to my prose style as any other writer. The house is a poky affair in a not terribly salubrious district; Pooterish, I suppose you could call it. There are eight box-like rooms and a tiny, walled garden containing the usual outdoor convenience which had to be shared between a family of five with, presumably, their servants and Shaw's unfortunate tutor. Shaw records that his drunken father suffered frequently from diarrhoea. The happiest day of his life was the day his mother told him they were leaving 33 Synge Street and moving out here where I am now, to Dalkey.

He was 11 years old at the time. The Mediterranean vista of Killiney Bay and the Wicklow mountains impressed him, as they do me. He swam in the sea and set fire to the gorse above the railway. His Protestant conscience getting the better of him (only GBS could claim St Joan for a Protestant) he confessed to this crime and was let off. He maintained his abhorrence for Dublin to the end of his days, endowing the National Gallery here in perhaps the same spirit that Swift left us a lunatic asylum, in the hope of improving us. I swore myself that I would never live in Dublin again, but the place has its charms, along with the routine dangers of any capital city.

It is possible to learn to live with it. Noel Pearson, our famous impresario, had pounds 40,000 of camera equipment pinched from outside the Abbey Theatre during the first performance of Brian Friel's new play a couple of weeks ago. Last week, an RTE team filming a mile or so from the Shaw homestead were approached by an urchin. 'Hey, mister,' said this child, 'would youse like to buy some camera equipment, sound recorders, tapes?' They settled, on Pearson's behalf, for pounds 1,000. An ABC team, finding themselves in the same predicament, had refused. Their camera wound up in the canal.

We now have three writer's museums at last count, and the season of symposia is on us - Yeats in Sligo, Joyce in Dublin, Swift in Celbridge, George Moore in Kilkenny. Too much, surely? Every time I meet a literary acquaintance, he is on his way to open some summer school or art exhibition.

BASTILLE DAY is celebrated here at Kilmainham Gaol as well as in the French Embassy. The gaol was the place of execution for certain leaders of the 1916 rebellion and is consequently maintained as a shrine to Republicanism. Con Howard organises these annual hooleys, as many others of a cultural nature. Speeches are made and libations poured, usually Pernod. I no more approve of Pernod than I do of revolution, but a party is a party.

Our new Lord Mayor, an unreconstructed Communist who has done time himself (do not ask me, please, how the only Communist in Dublin comes to be Lord Mayor), made a speech regretting recent setbacks to the revolutionary cause but holding out hope of a revival. One of our government ministers hoped for the spread of French revolutionary ideology everywhere. I thought of making a brief speech myself, to the effect that Louis XVI was quite a decent chap really and that revolutions were principally productive of terror and mayhem - if successful, permanent terror and mayhem - but thought better of it, not wishing to be torn apart by a crowd of thirsty republicans.

There is little to fear from them in any case. 'The Pernod's here all right,' rang out an anguished cry during the festivities, 'but there's no water to mix it with, and no glasses to drink out of.' Not even hardened revolutionaries, as is well-known, can drink the stuff neat.

I HAD anticipated my 50th birthday by announcing that I swore off falling in love ever again. This was widely misinterpreted (except by my friends) as my embracing celibacy and chastity, but as any competent theologian can tell you, the one condition does not necessarily involve the other. 'This,' said Mary, reading my public delcaration on the subject, 'is either the best love letter I've ever read, or the most blatant advertisement I've ever seen.' It seems to have been interpreted as the second. I have not had so many passes made at me in one day as at my party here on Saturday. Very tiresome, of course.

The sun shone. Innumerable flowers I cannot recognise bloomed in the rock garden. Mary's son, Sam, looked after the barbecue. Another youth, remarkably civil, dealt with drink. The children present disported themselves no more destructively than is usual. An eminent art critic spent some time scrutinising what I hang on my walls but held his peace; perhaps as well, since two of the artists were present. The eminent cinema director who was present was offered, unsolicited (not by me), an idea which would make his fortune.

Breakages were kept to a minimum. It was necessary to eject only one person. Several volunteered to stay on as house-guests but only three were chosen, one of them my daughter. Sarah, from Donegal, came in to make a stab at cleaning up the mess in the morning. I shall not have to worry about returning the glasses I borrowed from my vintner as there are not enough left to be worth bothering with.

In the evening, to another birthday party shared with two other fellows at the Polo Club. It is all quite exhausting. I am sorry I missed Keith Floyd's 50th in Devon this week, but not Mr Jagger's. I do know Mr Jagger but even if I loved him dearly I would not have dressed up as a French revolutionary to attend any party. Floyd is another kettle of fish. We shall have to do something about the 51st.

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