This is extracted from the joint memoir Herself and myself are composing at the moment, momentarily entitled A JOINT ACCOUNT (we seldom agree on titles). This chapter is what James Joyce would have called a fadograph of a yestern scene and concerns some Dublin characters who should be memorable to everyone, one of them certainly one of the largest characters I have ever known - in more ways than one... If you enjoy this extract I'd love to know so that we may be encouraged to plough this particular furrow on.So please feel free to leave your comments (he said rashly).....
THE BROTH OF A BOYO
My personal passions were threefold, music, acting and writing and to my profound delight and pleasure I found outlets for all three activities at Trinity. I wrote for and finally edited both Icarus, the literary magazine, and TCD the college miscellany, a publication whose editorial staff and contributors had to remain compulsorily anonymous. I had the drum seat – with a borrowed professional kit - for Group One, Group Two and Group Three, bands of varying sizes and sounds, the size and the sound being determined by the nature of the gig, and I acted, directed, wrote for and finally for two years ran the famous Players Theatre, the college dramatic society that also had a semi-professional arm known as The Festival Players, a company that would tour Ireland - most famously to play annually at the Wexford Opera Festival - and finally when I was at the helm the company would even cross the Irish sea and play in England. In college we did a major production every term, and theoretically a one act play every week, but this being Ireland the feast was not fixed and production of these one-acters generally depended on how many weeks there were in that particular fortnight.
The major productions were held in high regard by Dublin’s theatregoers as well as the city’s own professional strolling players, and many was the talent that was spotted in the eighty seat pocket theatre, as well as many the luminary in the audiences. One night during a performance of one of William Saroyan’s incomprehensible plays entitled Jim Dandy which all takes place in an egg (difficult), one of our patrons, the then current Lord Longford, a man built from the same blueprint as the senior Orson Welles, rose to leave at curtain call with his second hand cinema seat still firmly attached to his Dublin derrière, earning a much bigger round than the cast and deservedly so for it was a truly memorable exit. Oddly enough the following year the wonderful and truly eccentric actress Margaret Rutherford got wedged in the very same seat when she came down to watch rehearsals, a habit adopted by many visiting stars who would often drop by to watch a production or just jam about theatre. We once even got to meet the mighty maker of Citizen Kane himself, friend and relative by marriage to the FitzGeralds who kept a famous house out at Dalkey where all manner of the well-known were entertained and whose son had the piano chair in our band. Orson Welles was utterly magnifycent, both in girth and personality and although I can’t distinctly remember any bon mots I do remember his ability to perspire freely led to a change of shirts the half of every hour.
On the other hand I recall most every word Samuel Beckett said to us. He too was a frequent but always anonymous visitor to Players Theatre and a good friend of the Professor of English, the wild haired and pink eyed albino Alec Reid. Mr Beckett had been offered Trinity’s Chair in English but wisely had declined to concentrate instead on his writing which while the University’s loss was the world of theatre and literature’s gain. And here’s something else about the great man - he was the only Nobel Prize winner ever to play cricket for Hampshire. Not a lot of people know that. I once discussed this fact with some cricket loving friends and since none of us knew any detail about the author of Waiting for Godot’s cricketing skills it was finally and unanimously decided he would not have been a batsman, nor wicketkeeper but rather more a spin bowler, most probably left arm over.
Alec Reid once invited a small party of us to have a pint with Mr Beckett in a bar adjacent to Side Gate. Before leaving for the drink the Professor briefed us that whatever else we were not to ask the playwright what people were forever asking him, namely Who or What were They Waiting For. As one we swore we would not, but sure as eggs and isn’t it always the way when you tell someone not to - the pressure finally got too much for one of our number to bear and plucking down the forbidden fruit he took the bite.
Please Mr Beckett sir –what are Vladimir and Estragon waiting for? The playwright, poet, novelist, and slow left arm over the wicket regarded the foolish student (not me, sir) benevolently through his round wiry spectacles while he thought about the question as if he had never been asked it before.
“Good,” he said finally. “Well I’ll tell you something, young man. It isn’t a question of who they are waiting for, but what. What they are waiting for is the latest test score from the Oval.”
There were other characters too, plenty of them - from the brilliant Dr R.B.McDowell, Lecturer in History and wildly eccentric Junior Dean, famous for everything including his hat which looked as though it had been purloined from the Crazy Gang - on leaving a party once he was seen searching for his hat which I found well squashed on his chair. Here’s your hat, Dr McDowell, I said. You seem to have been sitting on it. Ah! he replied. Good. Good, he continued, putting the battered chapeau back on. It’s just as well I wasn’t wearing it at the time - to a Professor of History who doubled as Beethoven, two Junior Lecturers in English who spent their existence fighting -sometimes physically - over the proper use of punctuation – See the colon still isn’t speaking to the semicolon, we’d observe as they passed each other wordlessly in Front Square - a perfectly dapper senior lecturer in English who was the nephew of the great Percy French, whose own private passion was to write songs and what in those days were called skits in his spare time that were then performed with delight by amateurs and professionals both, a Professor of Classics whose party piece was to sing Irish folk songs in Greek and a bushy red bearded wild man who lectured in Engineering and whom everyone swore was the reincarnation of the mighty Brian Boru.
And then of course there was the brothiest boyo of them all, Brendan the Behan, rollicking madcap and dipsomaniac genius. He was not of course a student or lecturer; in fact the only interest he had in the nefarious Trinity College Protestants was to take as much money off then as he could, generally in the front bar of Bailey’s pub at No. 23 Duke Street where he was hourly to be found, black overcoated, bottles in pockets, a chin well stubbled and with a wedge of pound notes stuffed in his top jacket pocket - whether his own earned or just put there by some friend or relative it was never clear. His brief but amazing theatrical career first came to life also in the little Pike Theatre just the same as Hampshire’s world famous slow left arm spin bowler’s did. The Quare Fellow was first produced at the famous little theatre and in no time at all Brendan was the toast of both London, Dublin and New York, his plays transferring from Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop out East to London’s theatreland up West, leading someone quite unfairly and very unkindly to remark that while Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood, Brendan Behan wrote under Littlewood.
On one occasion on my own way over to work at the Theatre Workshop, some friends and I were put in charge of escorting Ireland’s favourite broth of a boyo safely across the water to keep an appointment with his theatrical commodity brokers. We managed to get him on and off the ferry and onto the train at Holyhead but by then he was fighting drunk. He was very expert at getting legless because he’d been drinking since he was eight, vide the famous story told by Ulick O’Connor - his friend and biographer - of how when the eight year old Brendan was returning from a drinking session with his Grandmother a passer-by exclaimed loudly that it was quite dreadful to see such a beautiful boy so deformed. How dare you! his grandmother yelled back furiously. The boy is not deformed! He’s just drunk!
And when drunk he was desperately hard to contain as we soon found out, although first we had to find him. With the mail boat due to sail in less than an hour we scoured his favourite bars but could find no trace of the playwright. Finally and just in time, following a tip off we found him hiding out in the gent’s at The Bailey, reluctant as always to leave Dublin and cross to the mainland. After a brief but fairly violent struggle we got him into a cab and onto the ferry just as the gangway was about to be raised.Having drunk the bar dry he then and mercifully slept for the main part of the sea journey but by the time we had him on the train at Fishguard he was back in full fighting mode, yelling at anyone within yelling distance of our chosen compartment that if they did as much as look at him he’d fill them all in. We did our best to keep him upright but every time we got him up to near ninety degrees his knees would suddenly buckle and he would collapse fairly catastrophically all over us. All the time he was now shouting that he had this great focking idea which he must write down at once or it would be eternally forgotten and focking gone for ever so once we got him almost sitting upright on the seat we gave him a pen and paper which he immediately hurled out of the window, announcing that he was done with focking writing!
Next with the train already well in motion he lowered the window and tried to open the door to alight, announcing that he had to catch the boat train to London. Somehow we just managed to stop him stepping out to his death but by then he had his wild woolly head stuck out of the window and was roaring further blasphemies into the bible black Welsh night. Manhandled back into the compartment, we sat him down and also sat on top of him to try and keep him down only for him to start shouting all over again that he needed a pen and paper before this great focking idea of his was lost and gone for evermore! Once again a pencil and paper were put in his hand whereupon he began telling us how much he focking loved each and every man jack of us and that he would fight anyone who said differently. Shortly afterwards a guard swayed down the corridor and into the compartment just as the boyo had decided to try and take a leak out of the window. The guard demanded to see his and everyone’s tickets, an invitation Ireland’s greatest living playwright chose to ignore as he concentrated all his resources on not only the task in hand but in beating the hurricane Mother Nature had loosed through the open window to do battle with the poet’s passing of water. The guard tapped the boyo on his back with a repeated request to see the Irish Republican’s ticket and with the playwright still in full flow was immediately rewarded with pair of wet trousers and matching toecaps. I have no focking ticket! the boyo roared. I have no need of any focking ticket! Do you not know who I am, Taff? I am the Great Gogarty!I am the Great Gogarty re-in-focking- carnated! The Guard was not amused. The Guard was from the valleys, the Guard was Chapel and for most of these reasons was entirely not amused. He said he didn’t care if the man who had just watered his shoes and trousers was Harry Houdini – which was not much of a repartee when you come to think of it – and what he the Guard needed to see was a ticket. We duly searched the pockets of the wildly swaying boyo but found no ticket. We found bits of plays, bits of books, bits of stories and bits of the quite unidentifiable while the Guard kept on insisting he needed to see a ticket or else. We tried arguing how could our charge have got on the boat and across the Irish Sea without a ticket but the Guard paid no attention and threatened to have Harry Houdini here off the train at the next stop if we didn’t produce his ticket - at which threat the boyo rose ominously to his full and considerable height to wonder if this little Welsh pestilence wasn’t looking for it. In return the Guard made himself as small as possible and said he was indeed looking for it - not a fight see - but the necessary second class ticket. The boyo ignored the logistical refinement and instead of a railway ticket offered the guard a right handed haymaker, a swinging punch that whistled over the diminutive guard’s head to knock cold one of our number. In the meantime another of our number did some inspired sleight of hand and produced a ticket from one of the boyo’s pockets. It was actually his own ticket that he had already shown the guard but which had not been clipped due to the on-going Celtic civil war. Gratefully the shaky handed guard clipped it, warned the boyo there was to be no more trouble whereby the boyo took another wild swing at him, this time connecting with and bursting someone’s suitcase in the luggage rack, making the contents well and truly airborne. The Guard fled fearfully, not bothering to check any more tickets, done now with the broth of a boyo and his wild fists, done with the black coated loony called Gogarty, taken flight while muttering revenge at Cardiff Arms Park in the coming season, leaving the boyo to collapse suddenly and dramatically with a great sigh like a punctured airship falling to earth. He landed face down on the seat and remained so until hours later the train rumbled and clanked into Euston.
By the time we got him up and off the train we were exhausted and he was still half asleep and more than three quarters drunk. There was a visibly apprehensive and typically pusillanimous delegation from the theatre management waiting to greet him but their trembling hands were unable to get the still lurching figure into a taxi so we gave some aid, decanting the great man headlong through the cab door and on to the back seat of which he took total possession flat on his back. Good luck, we called as the brokers fearfully took seat on the little pull downs. You’re going to need every bit of it – which was the very last we all saw of him in person and a shame his going was, too. For not long after the drinker with the writing problem as he described himself, the diabetic who only ever drunk on two occasions, when he was thirsty and when he wasn’t, he died from a life-long overdose of champagne and sherry and was accorded a Republican Army funeral while thousands upon thousands of mourners lined the streets of Dublin to mourn their country’s great loss.