The penalty for vanity is boils

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The Independent Online
I AM NOT to be trusted at book sales, but Klinke's description of the annual clean-out at the library of Trinity College was irresistible. It is always interesting to see what libraries choose to discard. Benvenuto Cellini is not thought worth reading any more, nor Bocaccio, nor Addison. I picked up, very cheap, the ruminations of Herbert Henry Asquith, who appears to have had a great deal of spare time on his hands after 1917, and the essays of Arthur Balfour. This latter volume, printed in 1893, is in pristine condition; indeed, it has never been cut. I have not the heart to cut it myself. Considering that no one had bothered to read it in 100 years, it was perhaps wise of the librarians to make room on their shelves for some other volume on, perhaps, cryogenics or reflexology.

The prize acquisition, however, is the Justice of the Peace for Ireland, 9th edn, 1897. This fat tome (1,000 pp) is the catalogue of all crimes available to Irishmen in that year, from murder to ringing doorbells without invitation for the purpose of soliciting trade. The appropriate penalties are provided. The penalty for the first was death and for the second it was a fine of 10 shillings. Palmistry was punishable by a term of three months' hard labour. These seem to me to be eminently civilised ordinances. The book would have been the subject of much study, no doubt, by the Irish RM. I considered briefly forging the signature of Edith Somerville on the fly-leaf, but thought better. Perhaps Dan Somerville would lend me some old bookplate of his aunt's. The punishment for forgery, by the way, was penal service of three to seven years.

DR DENIS HOPKIN died in Kinsale last week and was buried at Putney, south London, on Thursday. I had known this generous and courteous Englishman for many years. Indeed, he was instrumental in saving my life. He was a distinguished anaesthetist, who married Angela Foley from Kinsale. They were in Singapore at the time of the Japanese invasion. Denis put Angela and their eldest child on the last ship out, but stayed on himself, reasoning that the many thousands taken prisoner would need all the medical attention they could get. He served in the notorious Changi jail, with little or no medicine at his disposal. He was a gallant and revered gentleman. I never heard him speak ill of the Japanese, but then I never heard him speak ill of anyone.

I ATTEND a fashion show in Dublin for the purpose of appearing as a mannequin. There are several hundred comely women in the audience, and under normal circumstances I should be delighted to display myself to them. I may never get the chance again. Naturally enough, the reaction of friends to the prospect of my strutting the catwalk is incredulous hilarity. Even Bea says she would like to see me in paint.

In the event I have to cry off, being covered in psychosomatic boils. The charity that was to have benefited from my performance is, appropriately, Victim Support. I sat in the audience, being fed drink, while Lord Henry Mount Charles deputised for me.

AT LUGGALA, met friends from Connemara who were present with two children. The children, I had noticed, mostly spoke our wonderful, mellifluous, guttural first national language, but in Wicklow speak English.

The magnificent bounty of pounds 10 a year is granted to children in areas designated as Gaelic speaking if they prove themselves proficient, but it is withdrawn if they are overheard conversing over the garden wall in the foreign tongue. This reminds me powerfully of the 'tongue police', as they are known in Quebec, where the government is engaged in a doomed attempt to wipe out English.

The Gaelic spoken in Connemara, incidentally, offends the inspectors sent from Dublin, as it does not correspond to the official variety. It transgresses in that it incorporates words ('bicycle', for instance) from the Sacs-bhearla (literally, 'the Saxon tongue'), and employs descriptions of parts of the body that are not to be found in the dictionaries. The lady who told me this should know: she is a doctor.

IN THE dreadful hour that precedes awakening, I accompany the beloved in a dream. We enter our favourite salon in Dublin, but there is another woman there who so violently displeases her that she turns on her heel. I detain her, unwisely. 'What on earth is the matter?' I cry, with the inborn idiocy I have only so lately come to recognise as an ingrained and incurable part of myself.

'I cannot stand to be in the same room as that woman,' she murmurs. 'Please do not make a scene.'

She is gone. I turn and regard the other woman: it is herself.

She has had a dream vision of me, also. In it, she has left me for a moment, abandoning me by the car, and when she comes back, I have disappeared but left a bunch of irises on the bonnet.

I wish I had but the slightest sense. One has learnt, roughly by the age of 30, precisely how to behave in order to avoid inflicting grief or annoyance, either on oneself or anyone else, and yet one persists, 20 years later, as if one had memorised the human rule book only in order to tear it up and throw it away; and with it, everything that was precious and might, in the absence of idiocy, be enduring.

In short, ladies and gentleman, I am mightily displeased with myself, and this is no dream.