Friday, January 14, 2011
James Joyce and a stream of Doritos
It becomes clear to me that I don't know much about how Virginia Woolf died but I'm sure she drowned herself. This makes me think of the swimming underwater scene in Iris; mainly because Kate Winslet was naked. You remember things like that. More so than the older Iris scenes where Judi Dench is losing her mind and bowel control with Alzheimers. I had a friend whose grandfather had it. Horrible disease. He would open the gates to let the cars in where there were no cars.
History has been kind to Joyce even if Ulysses is virtually unreadable to my mind and Finnegan's Wake more so. It's hard to write down the first thing that comes into your mind without thinking too hard about what you are going to write. It's hard not to think of the tart with the cart, or cockles and mussels and Molly Malone. But there - I thought of the clock tower at Culzean Castle and how I got dizzy on a sunny day and my mother had to take me down while everybody else went to the top. And hot and cold rushed in and out of the old stone walls and I stood at the bottom in the manicured gardens and watched them all at the top and I felt so left out.
Have I felt left out ever since? Have I felt that people get to the dizzy heights and I just watch them. But I wouldn't like to climb with crampons and an ice axe because there was a show on this week about two climbers on Mount Rainier who fell down a crevasse and one died and the inexperienced one had to climb up a 70 foot sheer ice wall. It took him about six hours and it was miraculous in a way, more so than those shrines where statutes are seen weeping blood or milk and you stand and watch in awe clutching a packet of Doritos.
I was a weird kid in more ways than one. For weeks I never spoke to other kids. I just made faces. I moved schools a lot and felt dislocation. I could never get in with the camaraderie. I complained once to the teachers about kids making noise during break time and I was reprimanded.
I spent a term running around the playground with my arms whirling around because I believed I was a helicopter. I was a weird kid. I was phased by things mainly Aldibonkers, the head master who taught us times tables using a barking method he picked up in the army. I was easily distracted and when I heard some kids outside the mobile classroom, I turned my head and watched them. Suddenly a shadow fell over me, and he was there, in my face; 5 foot 4 of undistilled anger, his nose purple and transparent, the veins dancing a frustrated waltz.
"Pay attention boy," his hands shook as if he wanted to beat me. He was a repressed beater. His wife never gave him any.
He bawled at me to look at my tables book and I buried my head in it, so deeply that I wasn't coming up for air. Suddenly the light was cut off again and I realized in horror I had missed the cue to put my book down.
"You boy. What are you doing? You are cheating boy. Cheating."
If I had known how to think it, I would have thought 'oh shit'.
But the playground was a bleak place too. Acres of concrete. For years, it seemed, I talked to nobody. I just looked at the spiders in their beautiful silver webs in the undergrowth beyond the wire. My childhood was like the Wall.
Of course at university we watched the Wall. It was Clara's idea. She was the most depressed person I knew. And I knew a lot of depressed people at university. For a while she'd invite me round her room and cook for me or ply me with Tia Maria. But on the night it was supposed to happen, I passed out. I didn't know how depressed she was at that time.
Of course, I was jealous when she started dating my best friend but ultimately relieved. Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction had nothing on Clara. Your bunny would be salami on the first date with Clara if you said the wrong thing. After my best friend decided to finish with Clara (Brits call it packing in, but this term confuses my boss), we were on 24/7 suicide watch. For a while every time we went out, Clara would try to throw herself in front of a car. It was most trying.
I still can't account for that time in Leicester.
Still it's hard for me not to think of James Joyce without thinking of my teacher Mr. Brown. That and Doritos. Mr. Brown was such a fish out of water in a comprehensive school, with his clipped hair and clipped manners. He had studied classics at Oxford. He was probably gay and trapped in a sham marriage, not to mention suburbia. Everyone called him Brassneck. Sometimes they would hide in the bunker at the school mini golf course and shout it out. There'd be big disciplinary action because it was a serious thing to say. I still don't understand what it meant but I felt his clipped, fish out of water pain. I read his fantastic poems and realized he was trapped. When we studied Gerard Manley Hopkins, I wondered if Mr. Brown had chose the poet because he identified with him.
I liked most of the teachers who nobody else liked. Mr. Macintosh seemed a decent bore, even if his stale coffee breath could knock a horse dead at 10 paces. I steered clear of Mr. Annetts following stories he'd kicked Kevin Rider in the balls.
In saying that I found solace in the simplicity of the Stevenson's Screen and the way it was painted pure white to reflect the sun's rays. I loved its little thermometers. I thought if I could be a weather man when I grew up, life would always be pleasant and professional. I'd cast a discerning eye over graphs, look at fronts coming in and make official sounding broadcasts wearing a tweed jacket.
But I am distracted by fronts, I confess. Even since Mr. Partington (known variously as Rodriguez and Pugwash) due to his resemblance to a Spanish pirate, shattered the sleep of an afternoon geography class when he said: "And this is where the warm front comes over."
Except he didn't say front. He said a word that rhymed with it, and the class howled for hours and hours. Somewhere in some Godforsaken place one of them is probably still howling at the thought.