No Graceful Ageing
Age is a schizophrenic thing. I donít like all the effects of age, but Iíd hate to be young again. Letís do some detail. I canít stand being patronised. I donít like being told Iím fit for my age by some portly fecker I could easily see off if I was dead. I resent the youngsters whoíve a yearning for the age of hippy free love but equally believe that the idea of people of that generation still doing sex is faintly disgusting. Look, we invented sex (version 0.0). It was just our parents who didnít do it. Even if, as Cra pointed out to me, most often we did it alone. When I started putting this together I was relieved that Iíd not been hit by the real disablers, back or knee problems. But meanwhile one of my ankles has ballooned. The physio waggled my feet about and said my ligaments were utterly slack. Itís the legacy of football injuries but I could only think of the Armistead Maupin quote ďthey donít just have limp wrists, theyíve got limp ankles.Ē And if we move to hair Ėok, not having it can be great on the hill, water just runs off so no need to put up your hood. But spiritually Iím long-haired. Iíve got used to looking in the mirror but I cry when I catch sight of myself in a video-conference and I hardly ever use a wig except on artistic occasions.
Getting long-sighted doesnít help either. Youíre trying to navigate in a snow-squall. Gloves off, glasses on, map out. Frozen fingers trying to line up a compass. Glasses off, map away then try to use rigid digits to fit the glove. I donít know how I kept my fingers forty years ago in winter in the Mayo hills. I wore a combat jacket and knitted gloves. In those days, nobody went up Croagh Patrick except on Reek Sunday, or as a penance. When weíd done it twice around New Year, we were getting respect: that sort of penance argues serious sinning. Iíve got a picture from that time of me half way up Mweelrea in denim shirt and flares. God knows what I was thinking. Iím sure we didnít make the summit. My memory is we couldnít stand for ice but maybe we just turned back at the thought of a bit of warmth and a pint in Morrisonís hotel.
Age makes you part of history. The west of Ireland when I first knew it was pre-industrial. In Louisburgh there was no electricity beyond the bridge. Sundays everyone came in from the west to mass by jaunting car or bicycle. I was talking to a friend from Dundalk, Brendan, and saying Iíd been reading H.V. Mortonís In Search of Ireland, an early Ď30s travelogue. I was saying to him that the Ireland I first knew seemed nearer to the one Morton described than to the present day. ďWell it should do, ya eejit,Ē he replied. ďItís 20 years less of a gap.Ē Quite. I am part of history but I want to keep it an oral history. I bumped into Simon and his partner Margaret in Letterfrack last year. Ronnie and I had dropped off the Pins and were wondering at the Industrial School cemetery, which weíd passed as we came down. Margaret told us some of its history, the mindless cruelty and the deaths involved. Later I mentioned this to my sister. She reminded me of tales of my grandfather, whoíd borrowed a horse car to come over from Louisburgh to pick up an apprentice from the school. It must have been a long dayís circuit. And done more than once, because one apprentice emigrated to New York and sent back a photo of himself standing cross-legged on Broadway with a bowler hat and an umbrella which really impressed my mother. Another of them just went out the window one night and ran. And you learn that some tales are just that. In our exploration round the Reek we heard of a souterrain near Durless that had been used by the IRA in the War of Independence. We found it, and in great condition. But later we were talking to one of the Joyces and he told me ďAh yes. We were going to use it to store guns and we cleared it out, but sure the truce came before we were finished.Ē Each of us is history to a later group. I was staying in a B&B in Louisburgh a few years ago and I met a fascinating Irishwoman with a similar love of the hills. I canít remember her name so Iíll just say Mary. Anyway sheíd worked in Mar Lodge in the Cairngorms in the 60s and she had met all the legends of Scottish climbing at the time. She told me of Cunningham, who had said to her ďMary, you can say the word fook and make it poetry.Ē When I asked her about Tom Patey, whose book ďOne Manís MountainsĒ is worth seeking out, she was emotional in her enthusiasm. I suppose I was guilty in my turn of treating her as a history book. Being a monomaniac I also ranted a bit about poles. She said when your knees are shot and itís no poles, no hills, then poles it is. I can relate to that. Iím getting away from my point but I believe in oral history but not in recording it. When you write it down or make a recording you freeze something that should flow. Listen, distort and retransmit. Brendanís family are from South Armagh and heís keen on recording their memories. I think heís wrong, tell the tales in the pub, listen to other tales and the next time you tell your tale it may have just been improved a little. I was in Gougane Barra recently and listening to someone who knew the Tailor and Ansty. The Tailor was a countryman whose tales were recorded in a book that succeeded in getting banned by Devís lot in the 40s. Anyway, I was fascinated by what she told me but she did say that not only were the Tailorís tales often not true, often heíd borrowed them from someone else entirely. Well if he hadnít Iíd have been disappointed. Maybe thatís what Iím most worried about. I should be telling my tales in a pub and MV is a sort of Internet Cafť. Oh well, pass me a bottle of Deucharís and let me ramble.