Staring down the barrel of a gun

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The Independent Online
I HAVE been wandering around in a new white suit, pretending it is summer, with a sprig of montbretia in the lapel. At least, I am told it is montbretia. It is an orange plant that lasts for six weeks in this climate and is generally regarded as a weed. 'Ah,' says Mike (J P) Donleavy in the Shelbourne, 'I see you are wearing a tiger lily.' That is indeed what I used to call them when I was a child.

The town and its hinterland are at present strewn with celebrities of one sort or another. It is necessary to take the side entrance into the Shelbourne in order to avoid being bowled over by the likes of Woody Allen, Van Morrison or Mick Jagger. Presently we shall have more, for the Minister for Culture has announced an ambitious scheme for the relief from income tax of interpretive, as opposed to creative, artists.

As is well known, our former prime minister, C J Haughey, exempted writers, painters, sculptors and composers from this burden, but many singers and actors of my acquaintance felt left out.

The minister thinks they have a case. I do not mind, so long as there is no consequent increase in the number of warblers and mummers who already infest the place. 'An interpretive artist can contribute equally as a creative artist,' says the minister (or words to that effect).

True enough, but it is possible to discourage the efforts of a novelist or poet simply by ignoring his effusions, whereas one is bombarded by the outpourings of the interpretive crowd. It is my experience that any artistic organisation that expands its membership to admit performers winds up by allowing entry to PR people.

'HAVE YOU fallen in love again yet?' I am asked by every wit in town. That is because I announced some months ago that I was finished with the business. 'Falling in love,' said I the other day, wearied by the question, 'is like playing Russian roulette with a shotgun.'

'If that were so,' said an unkind friend, 'you would be dead 20 times over.'

THE SUBURBAN village below my home has twice recently been the scene of armed depredation shortly before I have walked down to it on some business. One sees little knots of excited citizenry gathered on the pavement (and obstructing it) while retailing to one another their own versions of the violent event that has just transpired. They are extraordinarily happy to have been involved in something real.

I do not much mind their indulging this innocent pleasure, but last week I was mildly inconvenienced when I discovered that my bank had been knocked over. There was a sign on the door, flapping in the wind, reading, 'Branch closed due to raid'. I had gone there with the intention of extracting enough money to get into town, but two fellows, one of them with a sawn-off shotgun (the worst thing you can do with one of these useful implements, apart from killing yourself with it, is to cut the barrel off it), had anticipated me by half an hour.

As I passed by in a taxi, bound for the city a while later, I saw a civic guard allowed admittance by a bank official hefting a pint in his hand. Apparently it is the admirable policy of the bank to allow its employees the rest of the day off on such occasions. I quite agree; I have always needed a stiff drink after staring down the barrel of a gun.

Usually it is my habit to lecture people who point guns at me on their manners, but I do not suppose that would go down well with bank robbers. This pair of desperadoes got no farther than two miles before crashing the escape vehicle. I am surprised they got that far, given the traffic into Dublin.

A Swiss acquaintance has meanwhile been arraigned on fraud charges by a British bank for having allegedly borrowed pounds 1.5m more than he is presently able to give back. I am sure it is all a frightful mistake, but as his passport has been impounded he is unable to return to Ireland for the duration, which seems a cruel and unusual punishment.

I do not understand the business of getting money out of banks; surely, if bankers lend you money for the purpose of investment, and that investment fails, it is their fault as much as your own? After all, if I were to lend pounds 100 to an acquaintance to put on a horse and that horse lost, I would not blow the whistle on him or demand that he surrendered his passport until he paid it back. The gentlemen with the shotguns may have the best idea.

HUGO O'NEILL has been visiting us from Lisbon, where his family has been resident since 1740. His ancestor had the wisdom to marry into the Portuguese royal family, but the O'Neills are our own Gaelic royal family and Hugo, being The O'Neill, is, or ought to be, our king.

He is a saturnine gentleman with blue eyes that flicker sometimes upon pretty women whom I have noticed myself. He might recite a brief passage of verse (Pope, in this case), first in English, then in French, in order, I regret to say, to demonstrate the superiority of the French. (I do not reckon Pope, anyway.)

Hugo's precise lineage is traceable to the 4th century, members of it having been High Kings of Ireland. He was here for some meeting of the Council of Chieftains (nothing to do with Paddy Moloney) who seek to preserve what is left of the Gaelic aristocratic order, if not, more's the pity, to resurrect it entirely. He has certain powers to him, I gather, which include the possibility of bestowing some title on myself. I have always wished to be known as the Graf von Gebler, having had a dubious maternal ancestor known as the Baron von Gebler, but I should hate it ever to be exposed as bogus.

Hugo says he may create me Graf if I wish, but Margrave would suit me better. True enough; a graf is only a count, but a margrave is a prince of the Holy Roman Empire. I think I could bear that title with dignity.

Ambushed by some boring person who insists on off-loading his misconceptions of Irish history and genealogy, as ill-digested as a drunk's vomit, to The O'Neill and myself, I ask him politely either to keep his silence or go away. Invariably I find that this technique works very well with guttersnipes, who are more used to being told to clear off in gutter


I look forward to receiving my margravate.