As time Goes By – April 1983

The guy with the scraggy mustache nicked another of my cigarettes and said, "Of course, Ballagh is an excellent technician, but, well, one looks for more ... more heart really. Don't you think?"

I'd stopped thinking minutes earlier. Stopped talking, too. Just kept drinking, smoking, nodding at Scraggy Mustache and staring across the room at the Anne Bancroft type in the black dress.


Really shouldn't go to parties. Not this kind. It's okay when everyone just gets drunk and falls down, someone starts the sing-song and four in the morning there's a row about the proper words to Camptown Races. That's a party. These days you go to a party and the kind of thing it is is people talking - talking politics or journalism or feminism or - god between us and Aosdona - Art. This was an Arty party. Art with a capital punishment.


I'd already prowled the room looking for something human. Not a sausage. I'd have left if it wasn't raining and if my lift wasn't in a corner discussing Post Impressionism In The Context Of A Nihilist Nuclear Age. Decided to stick it out with Scraggy Mustache. Couldn't do any better, might do worse.


(Before anyone starts bleating about philistinism let me state that Phyllis and I make no bones about our longstanding relationship and I won't hear a word said against Ms Steen.)


Last time I tried to get to grips with the Art thing was an exhibition at the Project - this was ages ago. "Submerging Artists", or something like that, it was called. First thing you saw when you went in was a giant Rubik Cube - maybe four feet square. The audience was invited to lift it up - it took three or four people - and twist it and turn it to solve the puzzle. This was called Life Is A Rubik Cube.


Then there was the chalk circle drawn on the floor with the little sign inside it saying, "Keep Off The Grass". Very cute, that one.


Most popular exhibits were the two massive Ever Ready torch batteries, nine-feet-five-inches high, accurate in every detail. SP2 type, blue and red and, silver, really shining. This, I was told, was an example of "non-verbal theatre of the unconscious". And so it might be.


The artist, Roderic Broderick, had just received a seven grand grant from the Arts Council to enable him finish his next work - a giant. torch, into which the two batteries would be inserted. Whereupon, no doubt, it would all happen. We would perhaps, see the light.


The night I was there two young guys erupted into the room wielding hammers, shouting, "Okay you posh bastards, this is a stick-up and anyone what makes a wrong move gets splattered, right?"


The audience immediately burst into applause, believing this to be an example of "performance art". Handed over their wallets, handbags, rings and watches with murmurs of, "Jolly good", "Oh, really, really!" and "Too much, man." The two guys got another round of applause as they left with the loot, their expressions adjacent to puzzlement.


Charlie Haughey was there that night, doing his Patron Of The Arts bit. Before the two guys left he tried to hire them to do their "piece" at Eimear's next birthday party.


Craggy Mustache started out by explaining his theory that the average length of brush strokes in water colour painting has decreased by approximately one millimetre per decade since the middle of the nineteenth century. (He has a grant from the Arts Council to explore this theory and expound on its significance.) It was about that time that I first noticed the Anne Bancroft type in the black dress. She was being talked at by a tall guy in a cheesecloth shirt who gesticulated a lot. I like Anne Bancroft. Glanced over now and then, thinking some-enchanted-evening thoughts.


Scraggy Mustache drifted into expounding on Literature. Joyce, of course. His "almost cinematic use of dissolve, flashback, flashforward - and flashsideways, for god's sake - don't you think?"


"He once managed a cinema in Mary Street", I offered.


"A veritable chart of the unconscious, his work, don't you think?"


"Gay Byrne was in that game, too." "Who?"


"Gay Byrne. He managed a cinema. And Tom Corkery."


"Of course, Joyce was . . . or perhaps it might be' more appropriate to say, Joyce is ... "


"Matter of fact, I think it was the same cinema they managed. Joyce, Corkery. Mary Street. Different times, of course. Corkery's still at it."


"The thing about Joyce was his simply exquisite way of encapsulating the significant within, so to speak, what one might call the insignificant."


I was about to tell him my story of how Corkery stole tenpence-ha'penny from me in his managerial capacity in 1972, but Scraggy Mustache nicked a smoke from my packet and launched into his theory of the influence of Finnegans Wake on the comedy of The Marx Brothers. That's when I decided to shut up and just stare at the Anne Bancroft type in the black dress. After a while she copped on and stared back. ... night after night, strange as it seems ...


Sheep as a lamb, I told myself, Never know your luck. I left Scraggy Mustache explaining the phallic symbolism of Groucho's cigar and crossed over to the Anne Bancro type in the black dress. I interrupt, the gesticulator as he was explaninl that Braque's addiction to still lifes was a cop-out and said to the A Bancroft type in the black dress, "I' bored and I'm lonely and no one getting any younger, right?"


"Right", says she.

She didn't have a car, either, so rang a taxi from the hall. While waited she asked if I'd yet seen the current Douglas Hyde stuff. Heart sinking, I sighed, "No, 'fraid not.

"Mmmmmm, who're you into? "Sam Fuller."

"Mmmmmm, what's he into? Bronze, stone, oils, batik?"


"Mmmmmm, interesting. Does cast it or construct it, or what?

"Shoots it. " "Mmmmmm, very formance art, eh?"

"You could say."

"Can't recall any of his stuff, off hand."

"Pickup on South Street, Ric Widmark, Thelma Ritter: Merrill Marauders, Jeff Chandler: Run of the Arrow, Rod Steiger: Forty Guns, Barry Sullivan, Barbara Stanwyk ...


It was along about then that both shrugged and she went back inside and I went walking home in rain. Singing Camptown Races.

Do-dah, do-dah.