The cherub snaps back

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The Independent Online
Arthur Fields, the Dublin street photographer, has died at the age of 92. In his heyday, before the availability of cheap, idiot-proof cameras, there were many such snappers in European and American cities.

The form was that you paid over a few shillings and would, in due course, receive the snap in the post. Arthur's particular pitch was O'Connell Bridge, the epicentre of Dublin, once quite a fashionable thoroughfare, claimed to be the widest in Europe (it was not), now infested by beggars and noisy young tourists from Spain allegedly studying the English language.

Over the bridge would proceed my grandfather, Adolf Gebler, on the way to rehearsals of the Radio Eireann Symphony Orchestra, where he was in charge of the wind section. His chosen means of transportation was a pre-war bicycle of curious Japanese design, incorporating a seat in front of him where I might perch in comfort, my feet on a specially constructed platform which allowed me to face forward into the traffic.

Arthur took a snap of this spectacle in, I suppose, about 1947. I appear to be blond and angelic. We are passing the monument to Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator, which, as my German grandfather pointed out, had been riddled with bullets by my countrymen during the late civil war.

I greatly enjoyed these rehearsals. Adolf was teaching me the rudiments of music and let me conduct the band of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union in a seaside bandstand on Sundays. I suppose I looked unbearably cute, but I had picked up a few tricks from Adolf, who amused himself by terrorising visiting conductors. (A favourite ploy was to dismantle his clarinet just before an important solo, only to reassemble it only at the last possible moment, without taking his eyes off his sweating victim.)

Our method of locomotion was the cause of scandal in the orchestra. The other members considered that they were civil servants and entitled to a degree of respect. If you could not afford a motor car, they reasoned, you should walk, on no account be seen getting on or off trams, and certainly not be caught aboard a bicycle.

'But this is 1947,' my grandfather pointed out. 'Where am I to find a motor car? The child cannot be expected to walk.'

I have another photograph of myself, this time taken by my grandfather. My cherubic features contorted in rage, I raise the broom with which I am to smash the camera from his hands. Perhaps I was not so angelic as I appear to be in Arthur Fields's version.

IN A misguided fit of parsimony, the Dail Committee on Procedure and Privileges has turned down a proposal to build a tunnel under Kildare Street to connect Leinster House, the parliament buildings, to some government offices opposite. This would have enabled our parliamentarians to escape the attentions of unruly elements who gather outside the gates of Leinster House in the hope of attracting their attention.

It seems a false economy of the first order to me. Across Kildare Street is conveniently situated Buswell's Hotel, a pleasantly old-fashioned establishment which is favoured by our politicians. Such is their devotion to duty that I have often seen them continue their deliberations there on the state of the nation until well into the morning, even when they are scarcely able to stand up from fatigue. (One of them, indeed, knocked on my door seeking help at about 6am. When I opened the door, I discovered the poor fellow outside on all fours.)

As it happens, there is a subterranean bar in Leinster House. There is another in Buswell's. For the trifling cost of pounds 200,000 (we have much experience in building tunnels) we could have connected the two and, in the process, constructed the longest, as well as one of the busiest, bars in Europe. How very short- sighted of us not to do so.

Certain farmers have applied for permission to grow cannabis on this island for the purpose of extracting hemp from the plant. Hemp is useful in making ropes. As it happens, I am familiar with the economics of cannibiculture in Ireland, having once found a monograph of that title in the British Library. It was written, circa 1860, by a retired colonial administrator who had returned from Africa and India and wished to suggest an alternative crop to his countrymen, whose potatoes had let them down.

Ireland, being wet and temperate, he argued, could easily produce two crops of cannabis a year, in the process meeting the Empire's hempen requirements twice over. Needing little or no cultivation, its production would be ideally suited to Irish notions of industry.

It was true that the plant had narcotic qualities which had been exploited by natives elsewhere, and would undoubtedly be discovered by the Irish, but a system of plantations surrounded by high walls and policed by a special constabulary would keep them out. Construction of the walls would provide useful employment and the constabulary would come in useful in case of further insurrection.

I do not know why this enlightened proposal was not taken up in the 19th century. It could have saved us a lot of trouble. But its time has come at last.