Tag Archives: Dublin

Does it not hurt your eyes?

At a dinner party in Dublin last week  – silver,cut glass and sparkling conversation – I couldn’t help noticing that the central candle in one of the candelabras was leaning to one side. Should I  straighten it or ignore it?

“I wouldn’t risk it,” was the advice of the guest on my right. “it might cause offence.” As he was a racing man who could weigh up the odds, I took his advice and tried to ignore the Pisa-like candle.

But I couldn’t help glancing at it from time to time, just to see and guiltily explained to the racing man about conditioning: ” My mother had me trained to straighten out things – coverlets on the bed, cushions on the sofa, curtains drawn badly.

” Look,” she’d say, pointing at a  thread hanging down from a badly sewn seam or a pillow not lying square on the bed: ” Does that not hurt your eyes?”

And so I spent the evening trying not to let the  candle hurt my eyes and was glad that I did for our host made a short speech welcoming us and remarking that one of the joys of being a diplomat was being able to give these sort of what he called friendship dinners.

He went on to say that the two things he was warned about on becoming a diplomat were money and protocol.

Leaning forward to straighten the candle, possibly spilling a glass of red wine en route, would surely have offended the diplomat or his spouse and would  certainly have got one of the three waiters into trouble.

When in doubt, sit tight and don’t worry about what your mother might have said.


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Remembering Easter Monday 1916

2016: an invigorating walk up and around Cumnor Hill ( Oxfordshire) was so energising that when I got back I poured myself a glass of champagne, added some orange juice and sat down at my newly decluttered desk to watch again Tom Hiddleston play Henry V (Harry) in the BBC’s marvellous Hollow Crown series. Meanwhile,in Dublin, the first shots in the 1916 Easter Rising are being remembered on Irish television. Within a few days, the ring leaders would be  shot and their coffinless bodies buried in lime.

Would that Harry had been on the rebels’ side in 1916: they might then not have been executed with such haste: “Use them with mercy” Henry V instructed his soldiers of the citizens of Harfleur after he had taken the port by force. Though that compassion may have been Shakespeare’s and not that of the real Henry V.


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No one leaves home: a poem for refugees

No one leaves home….

I’ve just been to see Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet in London’s National Theatre production. It’s currently being beamed round the world as part of the NTLive series of plays.
Cumberbatch gives everything he’s got. And then a little more. If you haven’t seen any of these stage to cinema productions, check out your local cinema to see what’s on offer and if Hamlet is there, try to see it.
The play ends with the main characters lying dead on the stage and Fortinbrass ordering a military salute for Hamlet.
“Let the soldiers shoot,” he says as the drums roll.
When it all ended,  I sat silent and stunned by the horror, thinking of war generally and especially of the country now being torn apart, its citizens decimated by war: Syria.

But this was only a play and so the actors came back on stage, holding hands, smiling, bowing as we, the audience, applauded. It had all happened a long time ago, after all.

And then something unexpected happened. Benedict Cumberbatch stepped forward and began to speak asking us to think of the children of Syria left dead and injured by the war there. Or drowned as they tried to escape.
I have to say I was very close to tears that, having played this demanding role and being on record as saying that after each performance he always felt exhausted and very hungry, Cumberbatch should step out of his role and speak up for the children of Syria.
Further, he went on to quote a short poem by Warsan Shire, a British/Somali woman writing about refugees fleeing across perilously dangerous waters to what they hope will be a safe place.

Here’s the poem. It’s called No One Leaves Home.

No one leaves home unless
Home is the mouth of a shark.
You have to understand
No one puts children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.

Cumberbatch asked the NTLive audience – the film is being shown worldwide – to contribute financially to helping the children of Syria. This can be done by contacting Save The Children or via UNICEF.
In Dublin, Hamlet will be shown again on October 27, January 6 and June 8.
You can Google NTLIve to find out where the film is being shown near you.

By June, many countries will have welcomed some of the Syrian refugees they have undertaken to help – as well as refugees fleeing other dangers.
So, if you go to see the NTLive production of Hamlet in the next week or months, why not contact your local Save the Children or UNICEF office and offer to support Cumberbatch by rattling a few tins. Oh and, enjoy the play as well….

Mary Russell’s latest book is “My Home is Your Home. A Journey Round Syria.”

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James Joyce’s Knocker.Here’s the story that started it…from my piece in The Irish Times

As Bloomsday approaches, Mary Russell goes on a transatlantic odyssey to solve the mystery of No 7 Eccles Street’s multiple door knockers

We met in Manhattan, Fred and I, in a small cafe near where I was then living, not far from the Bowery. Third Avenue, to be precise. The number three would turn out to have some significance, as would the number seven, though I didn’t yet know it.

Fred was part of an international organisation I belonged to, which helped you to meet local people wherever you were staying.
We had lunch, chatted and then he took a metal object from his bag and placed it on the table between us.
“What’s this?” I asked, though I could clearly see it was an old, black door knocker.
“It’s the door knocker,” he said and paused dramatically, “from No 7, Eccles Street, Dublin.”

The table shuddered slightly as if an earthquake were on the way. No 7 Eccles Street, after all, was the fictional home of Ulysses’ Leopold and Molly Bloom. When James Joyce discovered the house was empty in 1904, he conveniently installed the Blooms in it without so much as a by-your-leave.
And then along came Fred Seiden. In July 1966, he was an eager young American doing a sort of odyssey on wheels around Europe. Arriving in Dublin, he immediately pedalled off to retrace some of Bloom’s steps. In Eccles Street he found No 7 dilapidated and certainly not celebrated as home to the most well-used marital bed in literary history. Then – and put your hands over your ears now if you don’t want to be an accessory after the crime – he wrenched the door knocker from the door, believing he was saving at least one small part of a house that clearly would not survive much longer.
Thirty-eight years later, he looked gobsmacked when I told him that, in fact, the door was alive and well, its knocker in situ, and on display at the James Joyce Centre.
We eyeballed each other, neither flinching from these two versions of the truth, but as soon as I got back to Dublin I hightailed it to the James Joyce Centre to examine the knocker. I saw from the marks on the door that, yes, there had been a number of previous ones.
In New York last year, I met up with Fred again and compared notes and drawings. His knocker could have come from the door, as he says, though its shape didn’t seem to fit the fading outline of previous ones.
The thing is, Joycean scholars, understandably, are not overly interested in the door knocker. Austin Briggs of Hamilton College, New York, however, wrote in a short innuendo piece (knockers, geddit?) that he thought he must have seen the door in Eccles Street before the house was demolished, but felt sure the knocker now on the door in the James Joyce Centre was not the same one as he had seen.
David Butler, the centre’s education officer, isn’t overly surprised: “A lady gave us another one only last year, ” he says.
Famous Joycean David Norris was able to reveal the identity of “the lady” – none other than Mary Maher, one-time women’s editor of The Irish Times and “a fierce union woman”, as a colleague described her.
“Yes,” Mary says, “a friend gave it to me years ago. I can’t say how he came by it or who he was but I decided to donate it to the centre last year.” It’s on display upstairs in a glass case.
Which means we have three No 7 door knockers, and you can’t get a better magical mix than that, so don’t anyone even think of finding a fourth one.
Back at the James Joyce Centre, as I talk to David Butler, a visitor approaches the door and reverently strokes its knocker. Politely, I avert my eyes during this sacred moment so I am not able to tell if the pilgrim is Japanese or American or from another of the many far-flung outposts of Joycean culture. Naturally, I don’t tell him about my discoveries.
We’ve managed to deal with the fact that St Patrick was a fictitious person, but how awful it would be to learn that, when it comes to the door knocker, we’ve all been rubbing the wrong relic.

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Where to have coffee in Oxford.

In fact, there are lots of places to have a pleasant cup of coffee ( or tea) in Oxford but the cafes  listed below are all places I have visited. Plus 1) they are all independently run and 2) not expensive. The average  cost of a cappucino works out at £2:50 and some are less.

First off is the cafe in Oxford’s  Town Hall, in St Aldates.


A modest little cafe tucked away within the Town Hall where they serve buns, croissants, brownies and everyday cheese and ham sandwiches. It’s very central and a good place to drop into to recharge the batteries. Watch out for it on the way to Christchurch Cathedral and for your walk around Christchurch Meadows.2014 OXFORDE CHEST PORTOBELLO GARRYS DO ETC 029

Near Westgate Shopping Centre, is a place I sometimes go to early in the morning and after I’ve been to the gym  – the Art Cafe. You get your coffee downstairs and carry it upstairs. Lots of food on offer here served by very cheery staff. It’s handy if you want to drop in to Oxford’s Central Public Library.


2014 OXFORDE CHEST PORTOBELLO GARRYS DO ETC 027                        Here’s what’s on offer though there’s lots  more inside.

And if you’re a cyclist ( who isn’t in Oxford? ) you might like to head for Zappi’s on St Michael’s Street. Downstairs, it’s a bike shop, upstairs it’s a cafe.


You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see St Michael’s Methodist Church at the end of the street with


Cornmarket at the other end of the street. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached here.

On a Sunday morning, the street is packed with cyclists decked out in their lycra, ready to speed off into the countryside.

The  next place isn’t strictly a coffee house but I just can’t leave it out. It’s where people using the Bodleian Library come with their thermos flasks and little plastic lunch boxes to have a break from  reading. You have to swipe your reader’s ticket to get in. Totally lacking in style or atmosphere (apart from the entrance, of course) it’s a sort of workman’s caff for Bodleian Library people, if you can imagine that. ( Off the main room is a special room for the librarians, equipped, it is whispered, with an electric kettle and a microwave oven.) 2014 OXFORDE CHEST PORTOBELLO GARRYS DO ETC 042

Here’s the entrance to this august place.  And because I took these pictures last winter, I’ve included the Bodley Christmas tree.


Finally, and I know I’m cheating here as the sign relates to  the Christmas Market on Dublin’s Stephen’s Green, I’ve included a billboard that speaks for itself, though you’d have to be in Dublin to test its veracity. But, as we say, in coffee veritas. Or something like that.


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Twelfth Night or Women’s Christmas

It’s Twelfth Night in England, Nodlaig na mBan in Ireland and Epiphany elsewhere.

Nodlaig na mBan means Women’s Christmas – when, back in the day, the women put their feet up and the men did the housework. One way or the other, it marks the end of Christmas.  By tomorrow, the tree and the decorations must be down and normality restored. In the old days, the paper decorations – which, of course, you had made yourself out of brightly coloured  crepe paper –  all that is saved till Shrove Tuesday  and then used to make the fire on which the pancakes are cooked.

I’ve celebrated Nodlaig na mBan with women friends and family wherever I’ve been including the High Veldt in South Africa, the Opera Bar in Sydney, St. John’s on Antigua and, many many times, La Cave wine bar in Dublin, which is where I’ll be tonight.

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My mantlepiece and its inhabitants

Here are a few items ( icons?) which hang from my mantlepiece.


A daily reminder that I don’t practice my alto sax often enough and sometimes not at all.


I think the only thing these two have in common is water and their moving limbs. She’s from Schipol Airport, bought on my way back from Tel Aviv. I’d had a glorious time walking in Palestine, not far from Bethlehem and staying with local people. Her friend, Olaf the Swordsman,  appears in the next  picture,


Well, not Olaf but another Viking who strayed in from the great Viking Exhibition in London which I wrote about for The Irish Times. The exhibition coincided with the celebrations in Dublin to mark the Battle of Clontarf in1014 when we thought we’d driven out the Vikings for good. Luckily for our blood.line, they came, liked what they saw – and stayed. All Dubliners are Vikings if you dig deep enough.


Oops. Where has he come from? The Black and White Minstrels? Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Neither. I bought him in Dublin’s Rathmines, in the  Support the LIfeboats shop there. John de Courcy Ireland would have had something to say about that. Or maybe he wouldn’t….


This is not an apple.  Bought in the Magritte Museum in Brussels when I passed through with FR on our way to a the Commonwealth Cemetery in Harelbekke to look at a grave of a young Aboriginal boy who died in WW1, aged 17.The Museum was a very welcome and fascinating distraction.


A seasonal appearance from a visitor from the United Nations building in NYC, brought to me by a Bostonian who has lived in Ireland so long she’s now Irish.

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