An Irishman's diary: Monty Python’s cycling circus

An Irishman’s Diary about back-pedalling

 On July 4th, ‘Le Monde’ had to publish a correction to the effect that the “former prime minister of Ireland, Brian Cowen” was not, and had never been, a member of the British comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Photograph: Alan Betson

On July 4th, ‘Le Monde’ had to publish a correction to the effect that the “former prime minister of Ireland, Brian Cowen” was not, and had never been, a member of the British comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Photograph: Alan Betson

Wed, Jul 9, 2014, 12:26

First l would like to reassure concerned readers and the French police that, contrary to my previous confession (July 4th), I was not “peddling” a Velib bicycle in the Belleville area of Paris any time last week.

As some of you have since pointed out, that would have been illegal, since the Velibs are all owned by the city council. I was entitled only to borrow one, for half an hour at a time, and then return it.

But concerned readers and the gendarmerie can relax. The activity I meant to describe was “pedalling”. And I’m sure that’s what I was doing for most of the trip from Belleville back to the city centre. Then I must have dropped the middle vowel somewhere – probably on that rough, cobbled section around the Place de la Bastille – and didn’t notice until the word was in print.

Nevertheless, I can now clarify that the bike was returned, in compliance with the rules. I’m almost certain I left it at the Velib station on Rue St Jacques. But wherever I left it, if the Mairie de Paris is reading this, I trust there won’t be any unpleasantness over my €150 credit card deposit.

Embarrassing as such misspellings are, it could be worse. I could be Le Monde newspaper which, also on July 4th, had to publish a correction to the effect that the “former prime minister of Ireland, Brian Cowen” was not, and had never been, a member of the British comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Yes, in a feature the previous day about the Python reunion concerts, the newspaper had suggested they would take place without one of the original members, Mr Cowen, who had died in 1989.

Of course the reporter meant Graham Chapman. And part of the mistake, clearly, was to conflate Chapman with his title role in The Life of Brian (where the character’s surname is “Cohen”). Even so it took another leap, less explicable, to arrive at the name Cowen and then go so far as to spell it correctly.

The day of my controversial Velib trip, there were headlines in many newspapers, including this one, about former French president Nicolas Sarkozy being arrested for “influence peddling”. This must have planted the word “peddling” in my head, where it waited to be picked up by mistake, like somebody else’s lookalike coat. That’s my excuse, anyway.

But how do you explain confusing the real-life Brian Cowen and the fictional Brian Cohen? Was Le Monde half-remembering that the former Irish politician had also once been mistaken for a Messiah, with tragicomic results? Was it hinting that some of Cowen’s old colleagues, a highly influential group of comedians, were now trying to make a comeback without him? I just don’t know.

IN ANY case, the incident provides me with an almost seamless link to mention the annual Swift Satire Festival in Trim, the seventh edition of which takes place this coming weekend. It promises the usual intoxicating mixture of politics and comedy, with David McSavage among the comedians who will attempt to be even more cutting than the Le Monde features section.

Keynote events include a two-course satirical lunch, with Val O’Donnell performing his one-man show on Flann O’Brien, followed by former Mountjoy governor John Lonergan, who will deliver this year’s festival lecture on Swift.

I can also safely predict that the weekend will involve some earthy humour, if only because, for one of the events, a bag of clay has had to be imported from Antrim. Details of this and the rest of the programme are at swiftsatirefestival.com.

Patrick Kavanagh once wrote poetically about the “tremendous silence of mid-July”. That was the era before summer schools and satire festivals, obviously. Now, he himself is adding to the annual cacophony around this time, thanks to another of his poems, which since last year has become the most literally translated event in the cultural calendar.

Thus the second annual Inniskeen Road July Evening, which also takes place this weekend (see patrickkavanaghcountry.com), on Sunday. A sort-of rural Bloomsday (but with any Joyceans kept on a tight leash), the event recreates the poem’s 1930s locale, and period dress is encouraged.

As you’ll remember, the bicycles in the poem went by “in twos and threes”. So cycling, especially on machines of the time, will also feature. This may be an ideal opportunity to dust off your old Sturmey Archer 3-Speed. But remember, if pedalling in Inniskeen or anywhere else this weekend, make sure to use three vowels as well.

@FrankmcnallyIT

fmcnally@irishtimes.com

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