Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Complete Purple Notebook Part Six

What is my purple notebook? A notebook of inspiring memories, of various kinds. I describe it here, and list the first few entries, explaining what they mean to me.

Fingers of fire are making corruption clean. A line from 'The Burning of the Leaves' by Laurence Binyon, a poem I read when I was just discovering the glories of poetry. It's fragrantly and quintessentially Halloweeny and Autumnal.

C-- K---y's house, Tarantula. I had a 'step-grandfather'-- my mother's step-father-- who my mother and my brother and myself visited a few times, in my childhood. Nobody in the family liked him, though I feel rather protective of his memory for that reason, and often pray for him. His house had a powerful effect on me. For some reason, it felt more real and solid and vivid than almost any other place I knew. The fact that it was a bit sombre only gave it more of an appeal. There was a spider in the bath and it reminded me of a character in a comic called Tarantula.

Crows, Croom. My step-grandfather lived in Croom. One morning, very early, I was the only person awake and I saw the white morning sky explode with crows. There seemed to be hundreds of them. I've loved crows all my life. This was one of the most formative sights of my life.

Ever since I've assumed that this wasn't really such a big deal, and that my imagination enlarges it in retrospect. But only very recently there was a story on the radio about huge amounts of starlings in strange formations flying over-- Croom. A pretty obscure part of Ireland.

Music in cinema before screening. Nothing is more tremulous or gentle or contemplative. It seems to be whispering the secret of the universe.

Stars in Limerick. Avalanche. This is a very important memory to me. My mother, my younger brother, my sister and her husband called to my aunt Kitty's farm in Limerick. For some reason, there was nobody there, and we were locked out. I remember standing on the farm with my brother and looking at the night sky. There were more stars than I had ever seen in the polluted Dublin sky and the more we looked, the more stars seemed to emerge. Hardly anything in my life has given me such a sense of the sublime, the solemn, and the awe-inspiring.

Eventually my aunt and uncle came along and we got into the house. I found myself reading a girl's comics that was in the house for some reason. The idea that there were girl's comics was a revelation to me. For some strange reason, it seemed unutterably strange and surprising-- I felt like Keats's astronomer "When some new planet swims into his ken". This particular comic involved a girl in some Tibetan-type mountain kingdom, and featured some kind of Eastern sage with a shaven head and a robe. Someone shouted and there was an avalanche.

It sounds ridiculous, but this was the moment in my life when the otherness of the female struck me most powerfully. And not only the otherness of the female, but an infinitely exciting sense of otherness in general. The difference between the sexes has always seemed to me the paradigmatical instance of otherness-- on earth, anyway.

Joh Bjelke Petersen interview, cosy middle-aged interviewer.

Fifth Avenue shop, night. There was a clothes shop in our local shopping centre called Fifth Avenue. It was actually a cheap clothes shop, as I learned much later, but in my childhood it seemed like the summit of elegance and classiness. I had a dream about being outside it at night-- I thought being out at night was also the summit of elegance and classiness.

All's Quiet on the Western Front, Christmas. In my early teens, I got gastroenteritis immediately before Christmas. I couldn't eat anything at all-- though I cheated by sucking lollies. I was reading All's Quiet on the Western Front. I remember sitting in the living room while my father was speaking to my cousin D-----, who had just become an adult. The Christmas tree was pretty in the corner. My father asked D----- what he was going to get from Santa Claus. "Bills", said Dominic. "Shouldn't you give them back to Bill then?" asked my father. I felt very happy.

I think one of the reasons I was happy was because I realised growing up didn't mean giving up Christmas.

Picture of J----, mullioned windows. J is my uncle. I once saw a photograph of him with my brother, when my brother was very young, against a backdrop of mullioned windows. He may have been wearing a tartan jumper. Mullioned windows and tartan always seemed to me symbolic of a kind of middle-aged, mildly traditional, mildly genteel atmosphere that I savour very much. Middle age has always seemed to me like a world of its own, with its own poetry.

Mary, Mother of the Son. A trilogy of apologetic books about the Blessed Virgin Mary and her role in Catholicism, by the fantastic Catholic author and blogger Mark Shea. It's one of my very favourite books and I love the conversational, friendly, chatty tone. I read all three, pretty much (not for the first or last time) on one transatlantic flight. Mark Shea's writing style has influenced my own a great deal, but you shouldn't hold that against him. I love the atmosphere of the book.

The hall in Scoil Caitriona, study class, history timelines. I was sitting in the desks in the main hall of my secondary school, studying history timelines during a free class. A certain hush had come over the school. I was almost alone in the hall. And suddenly I was struck by the reality of the past. All of this had happened, a second at a time, in the same way and at the same pace that things happened today. There was no moment when the present became the past. The past flowed into the present. The fluidity and reality of time has never struck me so powerfully. We were all part of one vast story.

Hot summer's day in Limerick, Ireland's Own. Hot summer days are rare in Ireland. This was a day on my aunt's farm in Limerick. My mother was sitting outside in a chair while me and my brother sat on the grass, me reading an old-fashioned magazine called Ireland's Own. And I had such a sense of the day being an event-- a special time--- as though it literally had a spirit of its own.

Because you have better things to do with your ears. The caption to a magazine ad for headphones. It was in black and white, very high quality, showing an old-fashioned cabaret comedian, with a bandage (the only part of the ad in colour) over his mouth. The appeal of the ad to me was the idea of the private world that headphones-- and, even more, imagination-- make possible.

Westbury Hotel, Gothic club. The Westbury Hotel is a very plush hotel in Dublin city centre. My horror club-- a bunch of guys who are really into horror fiction and horror movies-- often meet in its lobby, since it is spacious and quiet. The quality, seriousness and profundity of the conversation in the Gothic club-- which doesn't always confine itself to horror-- is beyond almost anything I know elsewhere. How often I've looked at the elegant furnishings around us, as the conversation probed into the profundities of art and life, and felt so awakened to the excitement and enigma of human existence!

Black family in London café. I was with Michelle in a pleasantly down-to-earth café in London. A young black family were sitting at a table opposite. The mother was telling one of the daughters that when she got very old she would die and go to Heaven. In that moment, life seemed very simple and charmed.

Back to School computer game. An eighties console game that my brother D---- had. I never really got to play, but just looking at my brother and cousin playing filled me with awe.

Michelle smiling at me from a Merry-go-round horse. A blissful memory from a visit to King's Dominion theme park in Virginia.

Radio Four, Dandelion Books. Dandelion Books was a brilliant second-hand bookshop in Dublin, that I often haunted during my college years. It was full of every sort of book, but I especially liked the sight of the big bulky serious books on politics and economics and so forth. Radio Four, a very serious and sober British radio channel, was always on the radio.

Pub mirrors. Especially ones with lots of florid decorations. The same kind of working man's gentility and refinement that I associate with tartan and mullioned windows.

The Rage Against God, hot chocolate, Dublin Airport. The Rage Against God is Peter Hitchens's account of how he returned to faith from atheism. It's superbly written and full of the biographical, anecdotal asides I love. I was reading it before a flight from Dublin Airport, while drinking a big cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows, and thought: "Golly! This is wonderful!".

Magazine racks on level two. On level two of the library where I work there are shelves containing the current issues of various magazines. Many are highly niche magazines, accounting trade journals and the like. The sight of them fills me with delight at the 'incorrible plurality' of life.

Hello, Goodbye bath. I was taking a bath in my sister's house and listening to herself and her children downstairs. Somebody starting playing 'Hello, Goodbye' by the Beatles. Suddenly I felt absurdly light and happy.

Volleyball court white-out. Twice in school I had a strange experience while playing volleyball (a game I don't like). I suddenly forgot where I was and came to after a few moments, with the world completely reborn. It was a feeling that was at once ecstatic and completely detached. Very hard to describe.

Fish shop sign. A cartoon hanging sign of a fish in a raincoat in a fish shop of my childhood. Looking at it made me feel happy.

Mairead's candle, school leaving. At my graduation, there was a school leaving ceremony during which parents handed children a candle, symbolically granting them adulthood. I didn't attend. At the time, I scoffed at the silliness of such a ceremony. But in my heart I craved ceremony and I was very impressed. It was organised by a class-mate called Mairead.

Fourteenth birthday, dinner table, N. Just that. I realized I was an adult. N--- is my sister. She said: "You're an adult now". And I felt pleased. It was one of those moments in your life when you feel like you're looking at yourself from outside yourself-- or maybe looking into your life as though you are looking into a window in a house, glimpsed in passing from a train.

Amber. Reflection in a window. In my teens, I liked a fantasy book by Roger Zelazny called Nine Princes in Amber. It is set in a 'multiverse', the centre of which is a city called Amber-- the only place that is real. It's portrayed as being the most desirable thing in the multiverse. I took Amber as a symbol of happiness. For some reason, reading this novel, it first occurred to me that happiness might be possible, and Amber might be a symbol of that. One day, in a maths class, I saw the horizon of Dublin city mirrored in a piece of glass. That seemed to me also a symbol of ultimate happiness-- the very evanescence and ghostliness of the image made it more poignant. I felt no spiritual undertones to these emotions at the time, but I guess I was thinking of Heaven, seen 'in a glass darkly'.

City lights. I've always loved the stereotyped silhouette of city lights, as a way of evoking big city life and excitement. There is a particular barber's in Dublin called City Barbers that uses this. I love every idyll that can be evoked so simply. The way Christmas can be evoked by a bauble.

Breakfast Club, industrial estate, faded posters. Not sure how to explain this, it's so specific. Somehow, the pop culture of the eighties and some picturesquely faded and worn parts of Dublin city seemed to harmonise together in my mind. There is something wistful about both. I couldn't explain without an essay. Again, the glamorous and the everyday accentuating each other.

W--- singing The Fields of Athenry. The Fields of Athenry is a song about the Irish Famine, but at the time I didn't know it was about the Irish famine. I was a child and I heard my farmer uncle singing this in the bathroom; the tiles made it echo, the house was empty apart from us, and the farm was very quiet. The tag-line is: "It's so lonely round the fields of Athenry". It was such a haunting sound.

Killinascully screening for community. There is an Irish comedy called Killinascully, set in a fictional village and filmed in a real one. I saw a few moments of a documentary about the show, in which they showed footage of an exclusive pre-screening of the latest series in the village hall, as a 'thank you' to the villagers. I relish that kind of informality and life behind the scenes, of any enterprise whatever.


  1. In regards to your strange experience during volley ball, I remember I used to get strange experiences when I was younger too (though I'm not sure if it's anything like what you described).

    From time to time, for whatever reason, I would suddenly become very aware of my own consciousness, and I would be astounded at the very fact that I am alive for, some reason.

    1. It's a very good reason to get astounded-- the astounding thing is that more people are not astounded...

  2. Ha ha Well said. Life is too busy and distracting I suppose.