Larks in the Park – An Irishman’s Diary about James Joyce, cricket and running in the dark
James Joyce, circa 1917. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The many similarities between sex and cricket may have escaped most literary authors but not, of course, James Joyce. In Finnegans Wake, he uses the game as a sweaty metaphor for the love-making of his protagonists, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker and Anna Livia Plurabelle. No crease, boundary, or sticky wicket is left unexplored until, an epic series of double-entendres later, they finish their record-breaking partnership on “nine hundred and dirty too not out”.
Like the rest of the Wake, the page-long paragraph is written in a language of Joyce’s own, full of puns and jokes and deliberate misspellings designed to suggest the workings of the subconscious mind. This is one of the reasons why the book remains famously unread, except by a fearless few.
But if you’re interested in sex or cricket, or both, the aforementioned extract is one of the better places to start. Should cricket history be your thing, I further recommend you read it in conjunction with an excellent blog by the writer Peter Chrisp (peterchrisp.blogspot.ie).
Chrisp is a self-confessed “Joyce obsessive”, who explains the many cricketing tactics, rules, and personalities referred to in such phrases as “we’ll both be bye and by caught in the slips for fear he’d tyre and burst his Dunlops” (a passage that, for non-cricketers, is really about the risks posed by friction to certain kinds of prophylactic).
Even so, and call me a Joycean scholar if you must, there is one word play that Chrisp doesn’t fully explain, although it seems to me an example of the omniscience with which Joyce is sometimes credited. It occurs at the end of the love-making, as dawn breaks over Chapelizod, where the scene is set. Hence the last words: “. . . at all times long past conquering cock of the morgans”.
Of this, Chrisp notes only that “morgen” is German for morning. But allowing for the possibility that Joyce was referring to some cricketing Morgans of his own era, it’s uncanny that he should give the final word to the name of a famous Dublin cricket family of the 21st century, one of whom would achieve the feat – remarkable on several levels – of captaining England.
Maybe I’ll write a PhD on the subject yet. In the meantime, what set me delving into my (not overly worn) copy of the Wake was news of an event due to happen not far from the aforementioned sex scene this weekend.
It’s the annual “Wake Walk”, by which fans of the book mark the anniversary of publication. This year’s will start at the Phoenix Cricket Club in Phoenix Park at 2.30pm Sunday.
The Wake Walk is jointly hosted by Joyceborough, an offshoot of the Phibsborough Community & Arts Festival, and Sweny’s Pharmacy, home of another famous Joycean scene and now a mini-museum.
The latter-day Sweny’s provides a safe, legal environment wherein consenting adults can engage in group readings of Joyce.
But this weekend, they’ll be making a rare foray into the open-air.
It’s a happy coincidence that the Finnegans Wake Walk should be happening in the park on Sunday, because a day earlier, the same venue will host another walk/run with waking up as its theme.
There, probably, the similarities end. The Pieta House Darkness Into Light 5K has a more sombre purpose, expressed by this year’s theme “wake up to suicide”. And unlike Joyce’s book, it’s also a mass participation thing. The symbolism of an event that begins in darkness and ends at dawn has so caught the imagination it now extends to 150 different venues, all around the world.
After years of finding excuses not to, I did it myself last year.
Setting the alarm for 3am then, I walked blearily up the main road of the Phoenix Park amid thousands of others. But I was fully awake by the starting line. And even though the 5k is not really a race, I ran it like a startled deer.
I’ll never forget the experience afterwards of seeing the thousands of walkers wend their way across the Fifteen Acres as dawn broke. But running a 5k in the dark was also one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done. I highly recommend your local event (see dil.pieta.ie) this Saturday. Barring the sort of thing Joyce was writing about, it’s probably as much fun as you can have in a park at 4am.