As Time Goes By - May 1982
Sometimes it all gets to be too much. Too many stones in the shoe of happiness, right? In an effort to improve my mood I spent a day wandering around the city, tearing up Wet Paint sings. The yelps of outrage from subsequently smudged gentlefolk should have helped raise the gloom there's nothing cheers me up like playying a particularly nasty trick on someeone - but, no, it needed more than that. Things have been closing in.
First, there's money. (Well, actuallly, there's not. Which is the problem.)
Ambition. Remember that? The crowd screeching, whistling, as I wipe the sweat off the stratocaster between numbers - and backstage the apoloogetic manager is explaining, "I know he's over-run by an hour, Mr. Jagger, but there'll be a riot if I take him off now and we'll just have to cut. your act." Nowadays I do a little hum and the guy at the next desk wonders aloud if there's a typewriter free downstairs.
Travel, there was a thing. Rememmber that? The Camargue, doing the cowboy bit. Winter in Moscow, summmer in a little adobe village in Mexico, anytime in India. That was the plan. This year I might rise to a day trip to Tallaght. Things get in the way.
And women. Remember them?
Ah, you do. Bumps and things. Yes, that's them. There was going to be that delicious thrill of guilt as I walked off leaving her (it didn't matter who - it was just the experience that matttered) heartbroken. And you could even get a decent kick out 'of your own cardiac fracture. Remember Bogey in Casablanca - "a guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look on his face because his insides have been kieked out". Way t'go, Bogey, way t'go!
Except that nowadays yer wan with the broken heart thoughtfully reminds you to take your Springsteen records and pleasantly suggests that you get together on Tuesday for dinnner 'cos there's no reason why we can't be friends, right? Doesn't anyone have a sense of occasion these days? And you can't even have a decent romantic whinge anymore - you're standing on the station platform, tryying to work up some tears, and a krishhna freak tries to sell you an album of The Master's Greatest Mantras.
Sometimes you get to thinking that this life is not all it promises on the packet. Too many preservatives, too much artificial colouring. The way things are - you know that scene in the movies where the guy comes out the door and goes Taxi! and three seconds later the yellow cab pulls in? In life as it's lived you pull that one and an hour later you're hoarse and it's raining and you're looking for a bus stop. Drama, said Hitchcock, is life with the dull bits cut out.
Every now and then I think of such as the aforegoing and get a touch of the moodies. The only thing to do is climb on a barstool and bark at anyyone who smiles. On such occasions my friends mutter about that dour couple, Uncle Gene and Anti Social.
Such was the case lately. Friends came around and told Haughey jokes in an attempt to cheer me up - but vociferous ascension was not to be mine. And then, on the last Sunday in April, it happened. I discovered The Secret of Life.
In the years to come, if there are any, earnest young people from the Irish Times will be coming around to The Oasis to interview me about that Sunday back in '82 when I cracked it. I'll save them the exercise.
It was a sunny day and I was trying to persuade Lazy Pete Maguire that we should drive out to Brittas Bay and run up and down the beach screaming Shark! But Pete has a rather stuffy sense of social responsibility. The most he would agree to was that we drop in to a prominent burger joint in town and loosen the caps on all the ketchup bottles. (Shake, shake, splaadt!)
(Pete likes to put on his goodyygoody face these days, but it should be known that he was responsible for The Great Rain on the 1973 All-Ireland Football Final. On the day before the match Pete spent six hours motoring around the Croke Park area in a van full of breadcrumbs. The crumbs, laced with a laxative of Pete's devising, were sprinkled thither and yon for the benefit of the local birds. The ball had hardly been thrown in next day when ... well, let's just say that radio listeners were somewhat puzzled when the R TE commentator referred to the unexpected snow.)
(It strikes me that the aforegoing might be confused in some minds with the kind of "practical jokes" indulged in by student layabouts. What we are talking about is Performance Art. It's a Statement On Life. Just like those geniuses who get grants for dipping their genitals in self-raising flour. Our work-in-progress, Life Is A Ketchup Bottle With A Loose Cap, presently is being considered for the No, Nigel Rolfe Is Really Quite Sane Award for 1982.)
Anyway, to get back to The Secret Of Life. At the time, Pete and I were listening to RTE's This Week and a reporter was asking some Argentinian fascist why his government didn't just bugger off home now that they had established a claim on the Malvinas. (It's important to point out that this did happen, we heard it.) "Haven't you", said the reporter, "made your point?"
"Well", said the fascist, "our major point ... "
Pete, who reads the Sunday Tribune, thought that this was "positively Joyycean", Me, I think that's how the world is run. Thick-eared lumps blusstering through life with an insatiable need for power to feed their egos.
With the lithness of a TD chasing a vote my mind hopped and skipped from this reflection to another and another, making connections. Pete, who is sensitive to these things, notiiced my pallor and hurriedly passed me a notebook and biro. It was then that it clicked and I scribbled down The Secret of Life.
It has not escaped my attention, nor your's, I'm sure, that the bottom of the page is coming up to meet us. (See, there goes another line, just like that.) One would like to go on at great length, but, unfortunately, there are limits.
(I should perhaps have mentioned back there at the beginning that aside from poverty, failed ambitions as a rock star, the knowledge that I'll proobably never spend winter in Moscow, and the banalities which take the drama out of romance, another thing which was closing in was a deadline. And it occurred to me that there might be people who thought they would get a magazine of excellent quality plus The Secret of Life, all for 80 pee, and would read right to the end in the hope of getting it - thereby fulfilling my obligation to this page. As I say, there's nothing cheers me up like playing a particularly nasty trick on someone. Shucks.)
(The Secret of Life comes free with next month's column. Honest.) •