Work stuff


Some Shakespeare plays, pictured yesterday

For the simple reason that I’ve got into disagreements on this for years and not because the Internet needs another resource of this type, here is my count of the largest roles in Shakespeare by line.

For years I’d thought it was Iago (shows how much I know), but that always went against my instinct which can’t see further than Hamlet. According to www.shakespearelinecount.com, which doesn’t seem to explain which edition it uses, the following are the biggest parts in Shakespeare (no puns allowed). Although people may quibble about folio editions and what constitutes a line, the following list is relative and in no way legally binding. I’d also much rather play Macbeth than Coriolanus, so let’s not all be size queens, shall we?

Falstaff speaks for a total of 1486 lines in three plays.

  1. Hamlet: 1476
  2. Richard III: 1171
  3. Iago: 1098
  4. Henry V: 1028
  5. Coriolanus: 897
  6. Othello: 887
  7. Timon of Athens: 865
  8. Antony: 851
  9. Richard II: 758
  10. Lear: 747
  11. Brutus: 728
  12. Titus Andronicus: 723
  13. Leontes: 692
  14. Macbeth: 690
  15. Falstaff (2HIV): 637
  16. Falstaff (1HIV): 616
  17. Pericles: 609
  18. Petruchio: 586
  19. Prospero: 572
  20. Henry Percy: 562
  21. Claudius: 538
and the ladies:

Amanda Barrie had slightly fewer lines in Carry On Cleo (1965)

  1. Cleopatra: 686
  2. Rosalind: 677
  3. Imogen: 605
  4. Portia: 588
  5. Juliet: 541
  6. Helena: 473
  7. Isabella: 420
  8. Desdemona: 388
  9. Paulina: 340
  10. Viola: 337
  11. Olivia: 308

I left in Olivia because Viola would be lost without her.

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The mouth of the wolf: La Scala, Milan. Source: http://www.milanprivateguide.com

With all the messages wishing the best to students sitting the Irish State Exams (known as the Leaving Cert.) today I thought I’d take a look at why exactly it’s bad luck in some jurisdictions to wish people ‘good luck’. On the stage it’s well known, I think, that the term ‘break a leg’ is preferred, but have you ever been wished ‘toi toi toi’? Has it ever been suggested that you enter the mouth of a wolf? Or have you ever been told to forge a physical relationship with a whale?

Thought not.

Anyhow, it’s now not really the done thing, I’m told, to wish someone a broken leg on stage. Theatrical tradition, however, has long favoured the cheery “break a leg”, and phrase.co.uk offers several points of possible origin. If, we are told,  ‘break’ means to deviate from a straight course (as in the phrase ‘leg break’ in cricket) then it could be seen as encouragement to take a bow, or, in bygone days, bend to pick up coins or tributes thrown to the stage.  These (and several others[1]) are fanciful, it seems; the phrase as used in the theatre is of American origin and most likely originates from association with the phrase as suggestive of a strenuous effort. One more from phrase.co.uk: the term ‘break a leg’ used to mean ‘give birth to a bastard’: now that would be some performance.[2]

Blackadder greets the superstitious actors, Mossop and Keanrick.

I think it’s the old superstition you hear from a number of cultures, wherein you avoid wishing for good things that inevitably turn against you or your intended. The theatre has always been a superstitious place, as any Blackadder III fan will tell you, and wishing someone good luck (given the bitchiness pervasive back most stages) might well be seen as a curse more than a blessing. Yiddish, long a staple of the US theatrical set, has a phrase for blessings thought to relate to a German blessing to break an neck and a leg: say hatzlakha u-braha and see where that gets you. Or you could just get all Gallic about it and say ‘merde‘ loudly. That works.

The lovely Renée Fleming

In the Operatic world, I’m told (by my wife), the phrase used is ‘toi toi toi’. Originating in Germany and variously described as a corruption of ‘teufel’ (so you’re calling out the Devil) and the expletive, literally (an onomatopoetic rendering of three spits). It’s used more widely than for opera in Germany, I’m told, and has the same good-luck-in-reverse thing as wishing compound fractures on your colleagues. Anyway, Renée Fleming uses it so you should, too.

Such expectorating in the name of Satan is mere prose, however, when you get to the Italian take on the phrase.  ‘In bocca al lupo’, or ‘into the wolf’s mouth’, has become idiomatic for ‘good luck’. Once again, the wish for someone to be eaten by a wolf is seen to have the opposite intention, especially given the appropriate riposte: ‘Crepi il lupo’, announcing the imminent death of the wolf. When I heard this once again in the world of opera, the riposte was explained: it’s taking pity on the poor wolf for facing such a noble adversary—’the wolf is fucked’.  So you’d say “into the mouth of the wolf” and they’d say “pity the poor wolf”. The ‘mouth of the wolf’ is the view of the darkness when the curtain goes up and you look into the audience[3]. I like this one—it’s got plenty of melodrama and is camp as a row of gondolas.

Three more interpretations from our Italian friends: take your pick:

  1. To hunt wolves was a very appreciated activity on Appennini mountains. The hunter who killed a wolf (named “luparo”) usually went door by door in mountain villages, with the skin of the wolf as a bag, and villains used to fill it with presents, to show their gratitude, being wolves a real threat for their sheep and their lives! So the hunter who killed a wolf was considered a very lucky guy! Please note the answer “crepi!” which means literally ‘Let’s hope the wolf will die!’ (and not you…) pointing out to the difficulty of killing a wolf…[4]
  2. It’s a reference to being raised by wolves, like the twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Pretty self-explanatory, except our wolf is a male, which renders the next one a little less credible.
  3. If, as has been suggested, ‘lupi’ is an ancient slang term for prostitute, one’s luck is characterized in quite a different manner.
  4. In one Sicilian version which does nothing for their stereotyping, it originated from the necessity of killing a wild enemy with one shot, usually through the mouth.

What of the whale? Didn’t someone want a whale fucked? Well…

There’s another Italian expression, where instead of the wolf there’s a whale and instead of a mouth it’s an arse. You ready? Sitting comfortably? Let us go and make our visit:

‘in culo alla balena!’.
‘Speriamo che non caghi!’.

Literally:

‘In the asshole of the whale’.
‘Let’s hope he doesn’t shit’.

Nice.

It’s translated in once particular source in this way. Education, huh?

‘I’m having trouble dealing with this problem’.
‘Good luck, I know you can work it out’.

The lovely Seámus Heaney

While many suggest that it’s the whole body going into the wolf, I always find that the more profane the origin the greater the verisimilitude.

Good luck, everyone. Break a leg. In the mouth of a wolf which is stuck in a whale’s bum and has been spat on three times by the Devil. And I hope Heaney comes up.


[1] Sarah Bernhardt, it’s remembered, had one leg and she was quite the actress; John Wilkes-Booth broke his leg jumping onstage having shot Lincoln.

[2] The rejoinder to this I read about recently (‘and a handful of shit’) makes more sense now.

[3] Thought to be a reference to how La Scala looks from the stage. I wouldn’t know.

[4] From a forum entry on http://www.wordreference.com (2006).

For reasons which might become clearer in five months I’ve been reading up on Julius Caesar, a play I’ve always loved until the moment the conspirators are chased from Rome. After that it gets more than a little tedious to me, and I’ve been reading (partly) to overcome this disdain. Shakespeare is one of those writers where the problem is usually yours, not his….[1]

At any rate, and also connected to a long-overdue collation of all my Shakespeare sources from office, classroom and piles at home, I found a little article in a fun book titled Henry V: War Criminal? by John Sutherland and Cedric Watts. The book ponders some of the less convenient implications of Shakespeare’s many plot twists, contradictions, loose ends and sins of omission. The second essay, The Watch on the Centurion’s Wrist, refers to the four occasions in JC where a clock is mentioned—termed by Sutherland “anachronistic chronometers”—and attempts to put in context the seemingly-embarrassing references to Roman clocks in the play.

It’s perhaps an issue for another day that Sutherland lets Shakespeare off the hook (it’s not, we’re told, that he expected there to be clocks in Rome, that a nearby church clock had to be worked into plot lines at the Globe, or that he was showing off his new timepiece) by reminding us that

…the Romans, like the Elizabethans, read the time by day (either by sundial or public clock face) and heard the time at night: either through the watchman’s cries… or through the chiming of some public (or domestic) clock[2].

What’s more interesting is that such an omission on Shakespeare’s part bounces off the idle speculation of the Oxfordians, that coterie of thinkers and doers which asserts that Shakespeare (and they insist on mispronouncing his name like Henry did with the Dauphin/Dolphin) didn’t write the plays. I watched Roland Emerich’s Anonymous the other day and enjoyed it (apart from the characterisation of Shakespeare as a frat boy and the fact that it’s all horseshit) but it doesn’t warrant much in the way of chat because it adds little to the conventional wisdom[3] on the subject.

One of the Oxfordians’ contentions is that because there are no records of Shakespeare’s formal education beyond grammar school he must not have been educated and therefore couldn’t have written much more than a shopping list[4]. In the same way they explain away the works written between the death of the Earl of Oxford in 1604 and the death of the Man from Stratford, as they like to disparagingly identify Shakespeare  (he stored up some stuff which was released posthumously, like Jeff Buckley), they point out the tons of evidence of Shakespeare’s erudition and forget the little mistakes in plays like Julius Caesar[5]. Like clocks. The Stratford Man’s an idiot, an illiterate drop-out. The man who wrote the plays is far too posh to put his name to muck like this in times like those. How convenient. That’s why they’ve no evidence to support their claim, any more than the Stratfordians do for theirs.

The sundial at Queen’s College, Cambridge, source of de Vere’s higher learning. Unfortunately for him the original one wasn’t installed until 1642.

But hang on. Isn’t the contention that Shakespeare didn’t write these things at all? That they were, in fact, written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford? A man too schooled to make such appalling errors, surely? Just as Brutus’ clock shows that Shakespeare was ill-educated, doesn’t it also show that de Vere was either a bit thick himself, or not too well-educated to commit to parchment the odd embarrassing oversight? Sutherland explains the mistake away in defence of Shakespeare, but the Oxfordians can’t have their cake and eat it. Either their hero didn’t write the plays and Shakespeare had an average education, or he did and their point about how formal education is necessary to write this sort of thing falls on its snobbish face. Sutherland believes, at least, that Shakespeare wrote the things. The Oxfordians are claiming that Shakespeare made mistakes in plays he didn’t write? Hardly so, to be fair, but they’re failing to see that the man who wrote these plays made some oversights that might challenge the omnipotence of the Earl’s posh education.

The last word on the Oxford argument, not to mention the reason I began this post, comes from Philip Hensher, published in the Spectator in 1999 and quoted in the Sutherland piece. Hensher draws attention to the snobbery of the Oxford case in a way I hadn’t really thought of before, and puts the de Vere groupies in their box:

There is absolutely nothing in Shakespeare’s plays which displays any kind of exceptional learning; they show much what would expect, a mind of enthusiastic but patchy reading. He was obviously fond, like many of his contemporaries, of Ovid, though not learned enough, say, to know that there were no clocks in classical Rome…. It is rubbish to say that the author of Shakespeare’s plays must have travelled widely in Europe; a play may be set in Venice or Verona, but there is never any local colour, and it is hard to believe that a seasoned traveller would fail to remember that Bohemia doesn’t have a coastline…. The whole Oxford claim rests on ignorance, a deplorable and unpleasant snobbery, and a ridiculous assumption that the limitless genius displayed in the works of Shakespeare must have had an expensive education and the right sort of friends[6].

That.


[1] Understatement of the year.

[2] Sutherland and Watts, Henry V: War Criminal: Oxford World’s Classics, 2000.

[3] In the same way that homeopathy is characterized as a form of conventional wisdom.

[4] In informal logic, boys and girls, we call this an Appeal to Ignorance.

[5] And there are loads of them, especially when it comes to Italy.

[6] Sutherland and Watt, 8.

So, Gentle Reader, here’s a thing about evolution and education. If you get bored half way through (as I’m sure you will), make sure you click through the link at the end: it’s really impressive and concise in a way I could never be.


In a week where contestants for the Miss USA pageant were asked their views on evolution in schools (via Ben Goldacre, ta), we once again find ourselves baffled by the answers given by otherwise sentient human beings. While we should really feel a little gratified that the eventual winner was the self-confessed ‘huge science geek’ from California who was forthright in her support for evolution and the Big Bang theory, we should also be chastened by the answers given by most of the other empowered, alert women cross examined in the piece. Most declared it to be a choice, that both should be taught in schools, while the women from more conservative states predictably noted that God made them with a purpose (Miss Alaska, presumably refrerring to the swimsuit section) and that evolution was therefore something with which they could not agree, even though ‘you can never have too much knowledge’ (Miss. Kentucky). If you get the chance to see Miss Indiana, about 4.35 in the full video, do: a classic kick to touch that convinces no-one. Big shout out to Miss Minnesota, who might as well have lit up a crack pipe when she references the Pope on the subject. You go, Catholic girl.

The recent debate to find the most right-wing person in America

I have several problems with this issue, not least having to watch the women squirm a little when asked a question they knew had to be answered in a certain way: letting the whiff of success get in the way of one’s beliefs indicts the whole process. Of course the Miss USA pageant is not the place to air one’s leftfield views (or so we thought until the leftie Californian actually won), but it does show how such controversy has a chilling effect on expression. Look at the Republican contenders for next year’s Presidential election and you’ll see a selection of intelligent people all vying to be more extremely right-wing than the others. It’s under this penumbra that mad laws get passed, that ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ become terms of abuse. It helps nobody. But look at the premise behind most of these answers: evolution and creationism are posited as rival beliefs. I find this intriguing.

This issue is one which has the potential to rive education in America, an issue that already has. When evolution as a theory is posited alongside creationism, as either a science or a matter of religious faith, I have to draw a line. It’s been said many times and much more eloquently than I can declare it, but evolution is not a matter of faith and should in no way involve one having to compromise one’s belief. It’s science, and we evaluate science based on how the theory stands up to scrutiny, how well evidence supports it and whether exceptions outweigh the rule. It allows us to change our minds, to step back, to step down.

Religion is your own business. If you’re secure in your beliefs I think there’s little I can do to sway you but I wouldn’t want to, so we’re both good to go. On the other hand, there is little to be said for the attempts of those on the fundamentalist side of things to block the teaching of evolution in schools. Evolution is a theory, and a well developed one as theories go. If you look at the evidence of fossils, of embryology and of plant and animal life all around us and can’t see how the theory of evolution actually increases the awe we should feel at the complexity and love of creation then you’re really putting the cart before the horse. Instead of God having created a world where life adapts and develops to meet different challenges offered by other developments, what fundamentalist belief offers is that fossils were left there to test our faith, that scientific progress is not a gift from God but some kind of human imperfection from which true believers will be raptured one of these days. So the implication is that God puts some stuff out there to take the mickey out of us? Shouldn’t the argument for God’s abiding love be strengthened by the theory of evolution? It’s no more provable than denying God’s abiding love so it remains a question of faith, but nobody is offering (well, nobody in science classes, anyway) evolution as a faith. It’s a theory. I keep saying it. Learn about it in Science class and then go across the hall and ponder the metaphysical implications of what you’ve learned.

A great man: Al Panuska, SJ

For years science and religion have gone hand in hand: sometimes, as in the case of Galileo, progress met with opposition from Church elders; sometimes the most prominent proponents of scientific advance were men of the cloth: look at Gregor Mendel, for one. The Jesuits struck me as particularly important in the development of science in the religious context, and when I discovered that the great man who was president of the university I attended was most famous (so famous that he’d been on Oprah, I’ll have you know) for his work in cryogenics I didn’t see it as a conflict, no more than I see medical science as an abberation of God’s will to kill people at His whim. My father’s generation believed the letter of the Bible: the creation theory of the Garden of Eden and the Flood were literally understood. But when I explained to my father how something scientific worked he was genuinely impressed, despite his lack of pretty much any formal education. We were taught about creation theories and flood allegories in different religions, but the message was the same. It now fit in with the understanding progress gave us of how the universe came to being. God didn’t give us fossils to test our faith, he gave us Newton, Einstein and Darwin to explain creation to us, all the better to stand on the shoulders of these giants and bellow out the first verse of How Great Thou Art. Why does science threaten religion now when people used to be able to discriminate between the two, just like Miss Minnesota?

I recently read with interest an article about faith-based schools in Ireland. One of the worries that the Church has with regard to a push towards non-denominational schools by our current Minister for Education is that religious belief is being seen as anti-intellectual, a barrier to educational progress. Perhaps the disgust felt by a generation determined to learn the lessons of clerical abuse is clouding the appreciation of the role ethos plays in education: these views have the effect of (to borrow someone else’s words) ‘mischaracterising religion as inherently or distinctly irrational, divisive, anti-intellectual and a constraint on the development of an individual’s full potential’. For me, working as I do in a Jesuit institution, nothing could be further from the truth. Students are encouraged to develop critical thought and to make value judgements of their own, sometimes at odds with the strict doctrinal line of the denomination supporting the institution. As long as they’re considered, mature and reflective, opinions are respected. The American model, based on the extreme position of some church groups to curricular issues, suggests that the Church offers nothing but interference, a very sad characterisation indeed. When the age-old story of the Texas Board of Education (which approves content for its state schools and, as the largest market in the US, consequently influences curriculum throughout the state system[1]) resurfaces as it did last year, it again posits education as the enemy of religion. To some, that suggests that education threatens our values; to others it suggests that religion likes to keep its followers in the intellectual dark. Nobody wins and, in the vast majority of cases, it’s not accurate anyway.

Anyway, here’s a truly tremendous post from a man so talented he couldn’t have been put here by accident and is consequently proof of the abiding love of a Supreme Being: British artist Darryl Cunningham explains in a comic strip the broad theories of evolution and natural selection. Why can’t this be seen in wonder as evidence of an even more carefully-considered creation? It’s plausible, no?


[1] Although apparently the iPad’s use in State schools has reduced the Texan influence: now content can be changed much more easily in states not controlled by seven mad people. Hurrah for technology.

“These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs”.

“Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long that they have come to esteem the religious, learned and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on property. They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is”.

“I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions”.

All three quotes come from Self-Reliance, first published in 1841.

One of only two photographs of Emily Dickinson, we're told.

It’s well-known that Emily Dickinson was a recluse, but not so well-known that she was extremely erudite and well-read. She enjoyed Wordsworth and Whitman;  there is a record of her attending a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson, champion of the American Romantic (or Transcendental) notion of self-reliance (apparently, though, she was too shy to visit the next-door neighbour’s house in which Emerson was staying at the time). Like Thoreau and Whitman, Emerson opted out of quite a lot of society’s institutions, claiming as you see that everything one needed was provided for without capitulating to the shackles of society.

Dickinson was clearly thinking of these notions and, although the originality and consequent obscurity of many of her poems separates her from the declarations of other Romantic poets, her thought is more conventional than allowed for by scholarship, at least the conventional wisdom of what passes for Leaving Cert. scholarship. Many of the textbooks like to concentrate on the “wild witchy woman locked inside because some man screwed her over” school of gossipmongering, rather than engaging with a remarkable talent on its own terms. Pity.

Phineas P. Gage

I have a colleague who is pure at heart. He is a simple, old-fashioned family man who has quite a rural take on things—you know the sort of thing, clichés, reading death notices with a little too much relish, asking you how much you paid for every bloody thing. Says “janey mac” instead of swearing and eats stinky sardines out of a tin for his lunch. So nobody was as surprised as me to hear that he’d bought quite a posh bike.

Very posh. It was—is—all black and sleek and aerodynamic, much more than its putative rider who cut less than a dashing figure in his Spandex banana hammock cycling shorts and a helmet resembling Geiger’s sketches for the Alien. Imagine Ned Flanders put through one of those new 3D printers. Eighteen hundred of your Earth euros, it cost (the bike, not the hammock), plus whatever for a saddle which matches the contours of whatever and a thing you can put a water bottle in, and some clips and some shoes for the clips. Eighteen hundred Euros. I’m spelling it out so it sounds like a lot of money because it is a lot of money. For a bike.

“Well, you know, I don’t drink, and I don’t smoke, so…”, he justified to me as I held the door open and hoped nothing I did scratched something he’d just made more aerodynamic.

“That’s good to hear”, I replied, “because I don’t smoke and I don’t ride a fuckin’ bicycle”.

I don’t smoke. I came close, as you’ll see soon, but never got into the habit. I reason it comes from having a father who, when I was a teenager looking for an addiction, was up to two, three lighters a day. He outlasted, as I suppose many men and women of his generation survived, several brands, Navy Cut, Players No.6 to name but two. I remember clearing out a house for a friend once and finding two hundred Dunhill in a cupboard. I took them home to the old man, who unwrapped and lit one. In a real-life example of time-lapse photography Darren Aranofsky would later make a living from my father dragged to ash about two thirds of the cigarette with one inhalation before delivering his verdict as he exhaled gallons of smoke into the already pulmonary atmosphere of his living room, “there’s not much of a cut off them, is there”? He still finished the other hundred and ninety-nine over the next few days.

I got the worst of his addiction, craving cigarettes for about a year after I moved out of the house without ever getting to come across all James Dean or Bogie. It’s a true test of an addiction, though, when you stop merely bumming the drug off others when you’re out and make the purchase yourself, and to be fair I never bought cigarettes in my life, except when my father couldn’t leave the house. He eventually cut a deal with the pizza delivery man after I’d moved out, just like most drug users do in the suburban wastelands of the First World.

Issues? Moi?

But the thought of his ever giving up the fags was, well, unthinkable. He turned eighty—I’m spelling it out so it looks like a big number because it is a big number—last month, and about ten years ago a doctor told him to quit[1]. He asked the doctor what the point was, as he’d by then been smoking sixty-two years. It’s another big number, a long time since his dad gave him his first butt in a vignette Norman Rockwell kicked himself regularly for having missed. Why spend the last few years when the damage was, or in his case wasn’t, done? In the end he managed to kick the habit in a rather unorthodox way. He was found on his floor having almost died from blood loss connected with colon polyps. After a week in intensive care he came somewhat to consciousness, although he had permanently lost what was left of his marbles, and asked the nurse what the patch on his arm was for. Two days later they’d stopped giving him the patches and he hasn’t craved them since. Sort of like that bloke in Vermont, Phineas P. Gage, who got a tamping iron through his frontal lobe and became a heartless twat overnight, the bit of me da’s brain that craved smokes was erased. He forgot he smoked.

Drastic? Sure. Effective? Who knows? Suffice it to say that giving up something that intrinsic to one’s day is a huge sacrifice, but for my health I suppose I would. Having passed the age where I thought myself indestructible I suppose it’s only a matter of time before someone tells me to curtail one or other of my indulgences on pain of some dread debilitation. But to do it for Lent seems a little gratuitous to me. I’m trying to give up drinking alcohol for Lent. Just to see.

See this film. Good stuff.

I think addiction is all about the association, the ritual, and I’m not alone. If you want to stop drinking, stop going out with drinkers, stop going to places where your addiction is enabled. If you want to stop smoking, break the routine. That’s why I’m giving up drink; because my current situation keeps me home most of the week, I might as well. Before you ask this makes me a bad Catholic, but you knew that already, I suspect, from the references to black metal and Pasolini, and from the wide variety of other heathens paid tribute to on this site. They tell us you must give up something you really need, something you depend on. My not drinking for forty days—I’m spelling it out as if it’s a long time because it’s not really a long time—is no more a sacrifice than telling me I can’t listen to Snow Patrol for the month, or that I am absolutely banned from entering triathlons for the duration. Ask me ten years ago and I would have told you nobody wants to see me not drinking; these days nobody would notice. It’s not a leap, so it’s not much of a sacrifice. That, they tell me, is the point of Lenten pledges. Despite the tweeted gag I posted at 10:30 am today that protested that “this giving up drink for Lent [was] much harder than I’d thought”, it won’t be: that’s why I’ve picked it to give up.

My friend John never gave up smoking. He has, for the past twenty three-odd years, been between cigarettes. He had one back then and at some stage he’ll have another. Because he never gave up he never needed willpower. He’s a smart man and is mentally and emotionally a very together person: he has since married a smoker (this seems to my uncharitable mind dangerously close to showing off) and has never, to my knowledge, lapsed. The closest my father got was his claim that he was not a chain smoker because he always put one out before lighting another. Chain smokers are so called, he told me on more occasions than he can or I care to remember, because they light the new one from the butt of the old. He proudly resisted that particular vice and gave himself quite remarkable kudos for his restraint. Someone had to.

Brian Mullins (left), pictured with Ciaran Duff.

When I was fourteen I was walking up the road, taking numerous drags strong enough to keep the thing lighting and shallow enough to avoid coughing up a lung (the approximate equivalent when you’re fourteen of wearing a taffeta ball gown to school), when a voice from behind bellowed something. My Physical Ed. teacher, a legendary former Dublin Gaelic footballer named Brian Mullins, rolled by and enquired rhetorically as to the identity of this young smoker. My bastard friend who had given me the cigarette wasn’t identified as a smoker, but in every sub-standard PE class—and there were a great many sub-standard PE classes over the next couple of years—the familiar refrain of “lay off the fags, son” whistled through his GAA-ravaged front teeth and into the air to the delight of all and sundry. So I never really got my smoking off the ground, and I have to thank Mr. Mullins for that. He knew what he was doing. Riding a bike, he was, and you know what? I bet it didn’t cost eighteen hundred shaggin’ euros.


[1] What is it about the word ‘quit’ that entitles it to be used in relation to smoking when its not really in regular English usage on this side of the Atlantic? It’s like that horribly ungainly phrase ‘stopping smoking’. I will have no truck with either.

One can reckon on one’s intelligence as long as one also reckons on the probability of occasionally sitting for a whole evening on a Malteser.

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