Archive for the ‘ulysses’ Category

Sirens

I was about to sit down to write this when Bob Geldof came on the radio to discuss his documentary ‘A Fanatic Heart’ about the Shakespeare of Ireland that is WB Yeats. During the lively and fascinating interview (with Robert Elms on BBC Radio London) he mentioned that Yeats helped secure a Civil List pension for Joyce.

Joyce and Music and specifically the Sirens chapter of ‘Ulysses’ was the intended subject of this post.

But the radio intervention provides an appropriate Overture for a piece on that chapter which begins with an Overture composed of seemingly randomly colliding sounds and words.

Yeats made a mistake (self-confessed) about ‘Ulysses’. He read parts of Joyce’s great Modernist novel in the ‘Little Review’, the American literary magazine in which it was initially published, and judged it “a mad book” (ironic, given that Geldof has just characterised Yeats as “nuts”). But on further reading Yeats changed his mind: “I have made a terrible mistake – it is perhaps a work of genius… It is an entirely new thing – neither what the eye sees nor the ear hears, but what the rambling mind thinks and imagines from moment to moment. He has certainly surpassed in intensity any novelist of our time.”

Yeats bought himself a copy of the first edition of ‘Ulysses’ (1922) like this one I saw in Dublin in December while I was over working at RTE (the launch of whose TV services Geldof also mentioned in the wide-ranging interview in relation to Ireland’s sense of itself as a nation).

1st edition of james joyce ulysses novel

This one has a €30,000 price tag. A bargain given that a copy sold in 2009 for £275,000.

Yeats was an early champion of Joyce. They first met in October 1902 at the National Library in Dublin (which I visited a few minutes after taking that picture of the 1st edition, it’s literally a stone’s throw away). Yeats was 39 at the time, Joyce half the age at 20. As they parted Joyce declared: “I have met you too late. You are too old.” The kind of thing Geldof would have said when the Boomtown Rats first made their mark.

When Joyce travelled to Paris in 1902 and 1903 he passed through London and hooked up with Yeats (who lived a stone’s throw from Euston), had dinner with him and allowed Yeats to introduce him to his London literary circle.

Here’s another piece I wrote (Yeats Mates) prompted by the Robert Elms show about Yeats (in London). I wrote that piece back in 2015, the 150th anniversary of Yeats’ birth, on 14th June, the day after his birthday and the events described in that post. Yeats’ birthday is therefore the day after Robert Elms’s (which I happen to know as it is the same day as my wife’s) and three days before Bloomsday (the day Ulysses takes place on): 16th June. Things seem to be aligning themselves.

So Geldof, a musician, was talking about Yeats, a poet/writer, as I was preparing to compose a piece on the chapter of ‘Ulysses’ which examines “what … the ear hears”, the seduction of Music.

Last night I went for the second time to the Charles Peake Ulysses seminar, a seminar series that has been running monthly for yonks. I was first told about it some ten years ago by Fritz Senn at the Stiftung James Joyce in Zurich but I never quite got my act together to track it down. Until December, prompted by a visit to the shop where Leopold Bloom bought the bar of lemon soap he has it his pocket throughout 16th June 1904. I wrote about that visit here (Back in the Old Country).

sign for Charles Peake ulysses seminar university of london senate house

On my first visit to the seminar I was welcomed with enthusiasm: “You’re timing is lucky – we’re just starting a new chapter.” I didn’t quite appreciate the significance of this until it became evident that the group had spent 4 years doing the last chapter. When we reached the end of our session someone commented, straight faced, no messing: “Great session, folks – we did 76 lines!”

So the rambling mind comes to the point of this post (which will be an evolving post). While we were working our way word by word, comma by colon, through the next few lines last night I made an observation that when the boots (servant) in the Ormond Hotel bar on the north bank of the Liffey (where the Sirens chapter largely takes place) slams down a tray of tea things for the two barmaids who are those said Sirens, it is like the cymbals player in an orchestra, a lowly member of the ensemble delighting in his simple task and loud execution. For some reason it brought to mind the crescendo of Hitch’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (1956 US version) in the Technicolor Albert Hall.

The crashing tea tray made me reflect on the sequence of non-verbal sounds in the chapter so I took a notion to make a list of those sounds and see what patterns emerge.

So here is a list of the sounds making up the music-focused chapter (No. 11) of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ – ‘Sirens’:

(page references are to the Danis Rose edition of 1997 (Picador) which my Mrs bought me two decades ago as ‘Ulysses’ emerged as my favourite book)

  1. the “ringing steel” of hoofs from the cavalcade passing by the bar (p.246)
  2. tittering of Lydia Douce (one of the barmaids)
  3. laughter of same
  4. “chattering china” of tea for Lydia and Mina Kennedy (the other barmaid) followed by the tea tray being “banged” on the counter by the boots
  5. steel and hoofs (reprise) “steelhoofs ringhoof ringsteel” (p.247)
  6. “shrill shriek of laughter” of Mina (p.248)
  7. “huffed and snorted” – Lydia
  8. Lydia “chimed in in deep bronze laughter”
  9. “giggling peal young goldbronze voices blended” – both barmaids “high piercing notes”
  10. “panting, sighing, sighing”
  11. Mina “gigglegiggled”
  12. Lydia “spluttered … choking … laughter … coughing” “a splended yell, a full yell of full woman”
  13. [to be continued – from p.249]
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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.

Profumo promenade

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17 Wimpole Mews, Marylebone, London W1

This weekend’s wander had the theme of Profumo, a pole to pole stroll from Stephen Ward’s house at which the Profumo Affair kicked off to Peter Rachman’s love nest for Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies where all the pieces of the puzzle assembled.

The signs weren’t good. I lost my favourite pale blue & grey scarf, given to me years ago by Una, on the tube from Hampstead (where Rachman lived) to Oxford Circus. I got shat on by a pigeon (supposedly lucky but I’ve never bought that). And then I got to Stephen Ward’s house at 17 Wimpole Mews, Marylebone and it had been killed by developers. Has no-one got any respect for history any more?

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1962 and 2012 {photo courtesy of Euronomad}

Above you can see the place on Friday 14th December 1962 after Johnny Edgecombe lost his shit with Christine Keeler and fired at the door in a vain attempt to get in to where Christine and Mandy were cowering. The bottom picture was taken on Friday 14th December 2012, exactly 50 years on, by Euronomad. Whilst it had been modernised by 2012, it’s now been ripped to pieces by barbarian property developers.

Lost scarf, bird shit, desecrated history – the walk wasn’t going so well.

I headed westwards through Marylebone, across Baker Street, towards Montagu Square and Bryanston Square. In the corner of a mews by the latter is the small house where Peter Rachman installed first Christine and later Mandy.

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1 Bryanston Mews West, W1

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Rachman of course was dead before Edgecombe fired those fatal shots but that didn’t stop the press and establishment making him the second scapegoat of the Profumo Affair, alongside Ward who they would hound to his death soon enough.

Here’s where Rachman lived when life was a little rosier for him. He’d pop down the hill to Bryanston Mews for a shag or a chat.

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Rachman’s house in Winnington Road

To raise the tone of the walk I made a small diversion a couple of streets away from Mandy’s shag-pad to one of the London homes of T. S. Eliot. TSE died in January 1965, just after the Scandal. According to Frederick Tomlin (in T. S. Eliot: A Friendship) Eliot was disturbed by the serious corruption in public life indicated by the Profumo Affair. He strongly disapproved of the letter Kenneth Tynan and Angus Wilson had written defending Ward (although that might have been on account of the review Tynan had written of The Elder Statesman).

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Corner of Crawford Street & Homer Row – Eliot lived at 18 Crawford Mansions, 62-66 Crawford Street, W1 from 1916 until 1920

Eliot must have enjoyed living on Homer Row (not his official postal address but as much his street as Crawford Street, the entrance to his block being on that side). Eliot read Homer at Harvard and borrowed some of his characters throughout his career. Tireseus from The Odyssey, for example, makes an appearance in The Waste Land.

And there on poets’ corner my own mini-odyssey came to a more salubrious but less colourful conclusion. Personally I would have liked to see an intact 17 Wimpole Mews with its very own plaque, indicating respect for modern epics.

Marilyn in Bloom

1955 by Eve Arnold

1955 by Eve Arnold

Photographer Eve Arnold on the background to this photo…

We worked on a beach on Long Island. She was visiting Norman Rosten the poet…. I asked her what she was reading when I went to pick her up (I was trying to get an idea of how she spent her time). She said she kept Ulysses in her car and had been reading it for a long time. She said she loved the sound of it and would read it aloud to herself to try to make sense of it — but she found it hard going. She couldn’t read it consecutively. When we stopped at a local playground to photograph she got out the book and started to read while I loaded the film. So, of course, I photographed her. It was always a collaborative effort of photographer and subject where she was concerned — but almost more her input.

A couple of other Ulysses posts if this puts you in the mood:

Starless and Bible Black

Caught in Session

ReJoycing in Dublin

Tower of Power (Day 89)

Tidied up my model chapter, With a Little Help from My Friend, added the intro and the piece between Chapters 1 and 2 and then sent it to two people for some fresh-eyed feedback. The first tentative steps into the public domain! No. 1 copy went to my Other Half and the second to a friend, Farrah, whose opinion I really respect but who I feel sufficiently safe with.

Then I went for a run back to Sandymount Strand where a Godsky was illuminating the beach.

Sandymount Strand morning sunrise Dublin Ireland

A good breakfast back at Bewley’s, a quick catch-up with an old friend of mine on his way back from an interview for production design on a horror movie, and then a great chat with TV producer Steve Lock who hails from my NW London neck of the woods but has ended up in Greystones, along the coast South of Sandymount and Dun Laoghaire (I’m always impressed with myself that I can actually spell that name). Steve helped me a few weeks back with the Tony Wilson/Music chapter, Chapter 2) by being interviewed about his time working with Tony at Granada. He kindly brought along today the Factory Christmas card for 1988 consisting of a flick-book animation from a New Order video and his FAC51 card for the Hacienda.

Factory records Christmas card 1988 and Hacienda membership card

Steve dropped me off at Sandycove Point where I went to visit the Martello Tower where Ulysses begins. First a scene on the roof of the tower, looking across the bay to Howth Head where the book ends, the story physically embracing Joyce’s native city; then the characters descend and head over the lane to the Forty Foot, a rocky outcrop just opposite the Tower from which people have been swimming in the Irish Sea of Dublin Bay all year round for some 250 years. There was an auld fella swimming just round the corner this very afternoon – January 15th, full on winter, albeit a beautiful sunlit afternoon.

The Forty Foot where Buck Mulligan swims

The Forty Foot where Buck Mulligan swims

I didn’t get any other writing done today, too busy immersing myself in a perfect yellowy afternoon, which will charge the creative batteries if nothing else. I’ll get onto the synopsis document I need to produce tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some images from the Sandycove adventure…

Martello Tower at Sandymount Dublin from Ulysses by James Joyce

The Martello Tower getting a bit of a spruce-up

The Forty Foot Dublin Bay Sandycove

The view to Howth Head

The Tower and the Forty Foot

The Tower and the Forty Foot

The Forty Foot Sandycove

The Forty Foot togs sign

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