Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Rumpus Room

Be warned...this is one of my "private fascination" posts!

I've been watching a lot of Frasier recently. I've watched every episode several times over. In one episode, Frasier's snobbish brother Niles has to downgrade from his elegant apartment to a grotty one. Trying to put a good face on it, he cheerfully announces that there will be "a ping-pong tournament in the rumpus room".

I'd never heard that term, "rumpus room", before. It pleases me vastly, and it's been on my mind for weeks now.

It's not just the phrase that appeals to me, however. It's the idea of a rumpus room, especially in a rather grotty and cut-price apartment block. It's the idea of facilities in general-- especially facilities that you wouldn't necessarily expect to be there.

This concept has been on my mind a lot recently, but it's always fascinated me.

I'm blessed in the place where I work, in this regard. University College Dublin is a world unto its has everything. It has a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a small cinema (though I've never been in it), a bike shop, a bank, a post office, a pharmacist...and many, many more, as the K-Tel ads so deliciously used to put it. I delight in these facilities even when I don't use them.

Indeed, even the more euphemistic use of the term "facilities" touches on this fascination of mine. I love bathrooms! I love that UCD is full of bathrooms (or rest rooms, as the Americans say). I have a choice of five different bathrooms in the library alone. In the summer, or at other out-of-term times, they are often unoccupied. There is something delicious about walking into a deserted bathroom, away from everybody else. Most of all, there's something delicious about having a choice of bathrooms.

The old Ballymun
Another example. I often have dreams in which the "old Ballymun" (seven-storey apartment blocks, and fourteen storey towers, all now demolished) is still standing. Except, in my dreams, it's a science-fiction version of Ballymun. The apartment blocks (or "flats", as we called them) are like cities unto themselves, with all kinds of businesses and facilities available inside them. (And everything is gleaming white.)

Another example. When I visited Bavaria on my honeymoon, we stayed (briefly!) at a five-star hotel...the only time I've ever been to a five-star hotel. My favourite part was visiting the swimming pool, saunas, and jacuzzis on the bottom floor. But the cherry on the cake was a sign beside a telephone on the wall, which announced: "If you would like a drink from the bar, please call us on this telephone and we will bring it down to you". That drove me wild (although I forebore from ordering one...I was too busy enjoying my first jacuzzi!)

Another example: visiting a hotel or bar and seeing that it has a book collection worthy of the term "library", especially if it has an interesting selection. (I'm thinking of a particular hotel I visited once, whose lounge has a collection of old and idiosyncratic hardbacks. Sadly, I had no time to browse them.)

The original Cluedo board, with its library, billiards room, lounge, conservatory, and ball least Dr. Black went out in style!
So far, I've been talking about physical facilities. But my fascination isn't restricted to physical facilities in physical spaces. It includes any kind of "facility" that is unnecessary or unexpected.

The first example that comes to mind: growing up, I was always envious of the home-made "family magazines" that seemed to be common in the childhood homes of nineteenth-century writers. I was equally envious of the amateur dramatics that seemed a common feature of such homes.

I love to hear about any kind of activity, or institution, in a setting where one might not be expect to find it. For instance, clubs and magazines attached to workplaces, or to small communities, or schools, or other settings.

I love to hear about Bible study groups, writer's groups, fantasy football leagues, camera clubs, reading groups etc. which are specific to some place, institution or circle.

To move even further from the physical realm, this concept includes features in magazines and newspapers, or on broadcast media. I'm always pleased to see a poetry page (especially proper poetry) in any magazine, or a religious column, or a "Ripley's Believe it or Not" type column.

Or it can include a magazine or other publication whose very existence is surprising; for instance, the magazine of Westminster Cathedral, or Inside Time, the newspaper for prisoners and detainees in the UK.

The principle can extend to online spaces, too. As administrator of the Irish Conservatives Forum, I took great pleasure in introducing a thread called "The Salon", where members can post original creative works. (It's had one photograph and a couple of poems so far-- although one of the poems was mine!)

I have often used the phrase "curtains make a house a home" as an expression of my social and cultural philosophy. It applies here. In fact, this love of "facilities" is deeply conservative on many grounds. I've always hated centralization. (I hate centralization in time, as well as in space...I've often complained on this blog that Christmas tends to gobble up all the traditionalism in the year).

This fascination goes to the very foundations of my being, the bedrock of my soul. Will anybody share it? I don't know. This sort of blog post is always somewhat akin to a message in a bottle. I hope it speaks to someone, out there, in the great no-man's-land of the internet.

Monday, July 9, 2018


It's a long time since I wrote a proper poem. This poem was inspired by an idea expressed in the following Facebook post, which I posted last week:

Whenever I have to do shelving in the library, I always choose the film studies section, and I greatly enjoy shelving the film books. I found myself pondering why this morning. Why film studies? Why not poetry or philosophy or religion or any of my other interests?

And I realized I love shelving in the film studies section because I like the reflective, distanced mood it puts me in. A book of film criticism is looking at the glowing screen through the printed page, and the glowing screen is looking at life itself. It's life twice removed. And the appeal of this isn't to escape from life, but that there are two filters of human consciousness between me and life in the raw. Not so much screening me from it as heightening it, accentuating it.

It's also inspired by a friend of mine who is silver-haired, has a huge library, and is a connoisseur of whisky.


The man with silver hair hair rose with slow grace
And scanned the bookshelves lining every wall.
Outside, the summer night began to fall,
A rich, full-bodied dusk. He drew a book
About the later Kubrick from its place
And sauntered, browsing, back into his nook.

He flicked through twenty pages. Ah yes, here,
The Shining-- the Prince Charles in Leicester Square--
Munich and Watergate were in the air.
He raised his glass of Redbreast, took a sip,
And held it on his tongue. Kubrick's career
Unspooled within his memory, a trip

Through darkened auditoria, bright screens--
From fuzzy black-and-white to Blu-Ray. So
He swallowed, bathing in the subtle glow.
The movie's aura only grows with age,
He read. He saw again the well-known scenes,
Viewed through the prism of the printed page;

The screen seen through the word, and life itself
Seen through the screen; the flickering mystery
Best seen obliquely, darkly, partially;
The shadows on the wall, the images
Pondered in every book upon the shelf;
Dreamworlds less dream-like than the thing that is;

He drained the glass, and poured another. Light
Streamed through the blinds, an amber-sepia.
A hush fell on the world. That cinema
Whose screen is bigger than the sky was filled
With images too vivid for the sight;
Life filtered, heightened, gloriously distilled.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Ireland's Great Shame

Here is an excellent video from my friend and fellow Angelico Press author, Roger Buck, on the catastrophe of Ireland's vote for abortion on May the 25th. He kindly draws on something I wrote, at one point in the video. Watch and share!