Coincidences No.s 359, 360, 361 & 362 – Back in the Old Country

first edition ulysses james joyce 1922 paris book novel

A snip at €30,000

No. 359 – 06:12:17

I am packing for a trip to Dublin to address the board of RTÉ, the national broadcaster of Ireland. There is one area of the subjects I am covering which I’m not feeling 100% confident about.

As I take stuff out of my work bag to make space, an old copy of Broadcast (the TV industry trade paper) surfaces. It’s from late September. Two pages have become detached from the centre. They are about exactly the subject that was niggling me.

No. 360 – 06:12:17

I am at Luton Airport in the queue to get on the plane to Belfast (I have a meeting at BBC Northern Ireland before heading south to Dublin). The plane is heading to Belfast International / Aldegrove which is north of the city in Co. Antrim.

My phone goes while I’m in the queue. It is Home Counties-based Northern Irish radio broadcaster Peter Curran. We almost never talk on the phone – we do face to face and use email/text to arrange getting together. He tells me he is recording a programme in Antrim and something he saw made him think of me. I tell him that that’s a bit weird as I’ll be in Antrim in about 55 minutes.

lemon soap sweny dublin james joyce ulysses

A snip at €5

No. 361 – 07:12:17

I go to a reading of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ in the old pharmacy (Sweny’s) near Merrion Square where Leopold Bloom buys his lemony soap in the novel. (I’d seen a copy of the ultra-rare 1st edition a few streets away earlier in the afternoon – see photo above.) People show up ad hoc and each person reads a page from where the group had last gotten to – the reading goes round the attendees for the duration of the session. To make it feel just right an auld drunk fella showed up to take advantage of the warmth and light. The section they are reading today happens to be my favourite in a 733 page book.

I go to turn my phone to silent before the reading starts. My phone shows 19:04 – the year ‘Ulysses’ is set in these streets of Dublin.

Earlier in the afternoon I drop into the old pharmacy (now run by Joyce volunteers) and buy a bar of the lemon soap in a facsimile wrapper.

As we read we read the line “To wash his soiled hands with a partially consumed tablet of Barrington’s lemon-flavoured soap”. A couple of pages later we read: “in Lincoln Place outside the premises of F. W. Sweny and Co. Limited, dispensing chemists”. Between we read:

“What reminiscences temporarily corrugated his brow? – Reminiscences of coincidences, truth stranger than fiction…”

(I have just noticed Sweny’s intials – F W. I came to the reading directly from the National Gallery of Ireland, 3 minutes away. I had been at an exhibition of F W Burton (Frederic William) called For  The Love of Art.)

lorraine chase campari TV advert

Lorraine Chase

No. 362 – 02:12:17 & 09:12:17

The name Lorraine has been following me around this week.

At the start of the week (last Saturday) I am directing a documentary about cycling. I go to interview a couple in Birmingham. The wife is called Lorraine and is an ex-church minister – I have pictured her as a thin white sticky woman, influenced I think by Lorraine Chase, the woman made famous by the Campari TV ads in the 80s (catchphrase: “Nah, Luton Airport!” – see No. 360 above).

As it turns out the interviewee is a substantial black lady.

At the end of the week (yesterday, Saturday) I go to a screening of ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, the feature documentary by Raoul Peck about James Baldwin and Black Lives Matter (from the 40s to the 2010s). I sat next to documentary veteran Peter Dale, my old colleague from Channel 4. During the film I noticed in the archive footage a sign for a diner in one of those southern towns like Selma, I forget which: it is called Lorraine.

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