Gone West: concluding the Ballina Diaries


Gone West: the Ballina Diaries. Continuing the unexpurgated diaries from Ballina in the late 1960s

Monday, November 21st, 1966

I spent this morning in a complete daze in the library, quite unable to concentrate on anything but my memories of Saturday night: of Harriet, her strange parents, their even stranger butler, a dinner that - for sheer awfulness - was beyond belief, and what happened afterwards, which still seems more like a dream than ineffably blissful reality.

I have read somewhere, possibly in my Freud in Short book, that truly life-changing and cathartic experiences cannot be properly verbalised, never mind committed to print, by those who endure or enjoy them till long after the event.

This makes sense to me (it is about the only thing that does, today.)

The whole thing is a happy jumble in my mind.

Some day, of course, I will have to commit it to my diary. But as yet I feel utterly removed from the dreary banalities of Ballina life and the daily drudgery of the library.

Fortunately, Ms Cartwright has noticed nothing of my state of mind. Indeed she appeared this morning to be floating on her own particular cloud, and her physical appearance, which is often remarkable, was quite startling.

She wore bright red lipstick and a very tight black shirt, but the most stunning thing about her, and literally "about her" was a vast white fox fur, which she proceeded to swing and unswing about her neck while striding meaningfully up and down the aisles of the library.

The effect was quite unnerving.

It was only when she began to sing something apparently called The Laziest Girl in Town that I realised what was going on - Ms Cartwright was going through a Marlene Dietrich phase, following her attendance at the star's show in the Adelphi Theatre in Dublin at the weekend.

Reflecting my own inner turmoil, Ms Cartwright seemed quite unable to put her experience into words, but evidently she had a good time.

When I asked her what Ms Dietrich (an elderly grandmother, after all) was like, she breathed faintly that "when she is sad she is gallant, and when she is gay she is generous".

Apparently this line appeared in some review of the concert.

I felt sorry for our clients in the library this morning, because Ms Cartwright and I were far too preoccupied to deal with any of their queries.

We were on higher planes of being.

Tuesday, November 22nd

The person who hides under the name Tatler Two in the Western People has been expressing outrage over the recent pornography debate on the Late Late Show, alleging that the show "is used to sluice hogwash into Irish homes".

Not having seen the show myself, I asked Mother about it. At first she attempted to deny having watched it at all, but I reminded her that she had never missed the Late Late since it began.

She then admitted she had tuned in, believing the debate to be about "photography", in the hope it would help her make better use of her new Kodak camera.

Mother is, of course, a hopeless liar. However, I then reminded her of what Tatler Two said about her beloved author Edna O'Brien - that she "had been thrown in our faces so often by Telef∅s ╔ireann (and The Irish Times) that the poor woman must be feeling like a ping-pong ball (and there is more pong than ping about her books)".

This finally got Mother going (as I knew it would).

She asserted that Tatler Two knew as much about sex "as poor Mavourneen Kelly" - a notoriously weak-minded young woman from Bunree who has already had three children by three different men and apparently thinks babies sprout inside her each year like hardy annuals, without any outside assistance.

Mother bought Edna O'Brien's book, August is a Wicked Month, the day it appeared last year, knowing it would very quickly be banned. She is currently devouring Casualties of Peace.

It is hard to think of one's mother (and particularly my mother) as a radical sexual activist but I suppose one must maintain one's capacity for surprise.

And women are quite unfathomable, that much I do know.

Wednesday, November 23rd

Karl unveiled a new subversive plot in Jordan's last night.

He pointed out that Telef∅s ╔ireann recently gave full televisual treatment to Merriman's raunchy Midnight Court, so "obviously sex in Ireland is OK when presented through Irish".

His plan therefore is to learn Irish, translate obscure but filthy tales into the language, and entirely subvert the school curriculum.

Since I know this plan will, like all Karl's other plans, come to nothing, I encourage him, and suggest he might even translate Edna O'Brien's work into Irish.

Is urch≤ideach an m∅ Θ L·nasawould be a good title to start with, I tell him.

When I write this out for him, he is so happy he buys me drink for the rest of the night.

In some ways anarchists are the easiest people in the world to please.

(This concludes the current extracts from the Ballina Diaries)