Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Audio + the inevitable

Lots of trouble sleeping since the temporary suspension of my before-dawn commute through hellish traffic forty miles to Irvine, down the perpetually under-construction Golden State Freeway aka Interstate-5 (only Angelenos by the way seem to append "the" before a freeway or highway name, an echo of the days when we had names for freeways--even parkways in the first in the world, my local Pasadena Freeway/ originally Arroyo Seco Parkway, and not those ugly numbers). Thus, audiobooks or podcasts as soporifics multiply.

On that commute, I'd been forever listening to at last count 52% of The Count of Monte Cristo. It started out great in prison scenes after the arrest, but they were over soon and the rest of this feels like an endless gaslighting of protagonist's accomplices who framed him.

Having finished similar weighty books from then, Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Anna Karenina, The Idiot, (half of--gave up) David Copperfield, Middlemarch, Adam Bede, Bleak House (half--will resume), Dracula, Gulliver's Travels, Redburn, The Betrothed, and both Notes from Underground and Notes from a Dead House, well, I needed a break from classics. I had Paul Murray's novel Skippy Dies on my shelf and when the Audible cast of characters for it appeared, I figured--as casts generally satisfy (even if Dracula despite their efforts was surprisingly boring on re-reading as hearing it decades on), to give it a try. The fact its length was about what I'd already invested in Count dissuaded me a bit. But nearly anything save, maybe, Atlas Shrugged or Dune (the former is a joke, but my elder son likes the latter, as he's immersed in it now; one of those I've been asked if I've ever read it and no, I have not--I keep thinking of Sting in a metal thong), seemed a wise choice. As an aside, showing how small the old sod is, I gave a paper on Beckett at an Irish Studies conference a decade back; the eminent drama scholar who's Paul's father was there. Not sure if he felt like he had to hear my talk before he left to prepare his keynote speech for dinner that night, but he did without comment; he did not seem enthused. Not the first or the last presentation in which I received no questions at all from anyone. But I had sat on a panel with him years before, at another one in Hungary, and that I recall went well. His biography on Sean O'Casey's great, by the by, so check it out.

Well, deep into the pages of Skippy, all about a school standing in for the very prestigious boy's "college" in Irish terms, the preparatory Dublin academy Blackrock run once by the now-disappearing ranks of the Holy Ghost Fathers (renamed Spiritans), it's Seabrook staffed by their equivalents home from the African missions, the Paracletes. Lots of accurately rendered off-color to say the least enjoyable adolescent banter and insults pepper the conversations of the lads, while their instructors and erstwhile mentors try to deal with their own marital, personal, and institutional difficulties. The plot spins about into quantum physics, sexual awakenings, drugs, and the usual drudgery universal now of teaching to the test. Deviating from this, Howard Fallon decides to bring his restive history class out into the streets, trekking up to the abandoned (which it was back then in fact at Kilmainham) WWI memorial in Islandbridge, a derelict neighborhood of scrap metal and seedy pushers.

The gist of this is Howard's passionate narration of the "D Company" of that city's elite schoolboys who'd enlisted en masse to sail off to glory in 1914 on. They were decimated at Suvla Bay, shadowed by the now-more-famous Gallipoli, and their survivors returned to be ignored at best and derided even more by an Irish nationalism bent on elevating the sacrifices of those who'd fought the British rather than those who joined their imperial cause. The episode Murray conjures up powerfully, especially as heard after dark in my bed.

Which brings me to my guest access a couple of years ago. I used Ancestry-com to find out that my grandfather served in that war. From what I can gather, he'd been born in Co Roscommon at our family's farm. He'd left to mine coal in Bolton. While in England, he'd have been about 19, I estimate, when in 1917 he entered the ranks of the King's Own Lancashire Regiment. I'm not sure if he willingly joined or was conscripted. Records do not indicate place-of-birth for British Army ranks, strangely to me, so the estimates of how many Irish-born men served in the war cannot be discerned. As Kevin Myers' study which I am reading now explains, about 40,000 died from purportedly "Irish" regiments, although not all of them were even Irish. Contrarily, a lot of "English" or Scottish or Welsh formations supplemented their recruits, volunteering or not, with Irish. So, it's jumbled. I'd like to find out more, but even the Ancestry site could only show me the dim page of his enlistment. And that vanished, as even the photo thumbnail I have of it seems to have disappeared no less irretrievably than the spirit of the titular Skippy, who as we know from page one, like Malone in Beckett's trilogy, gets taken off this mortal coil too soon. Is death ever on time?

Image credit.

No comments: