Wednesday, September 26, 2007

One hundred not out

The other day, an A4 sheet of paper bearing what can only be described as a royal crest was hurriedly slid beneath the door of the Community Voice offices. As the sound of yelping corgis retreated down the street, my editor picked up the paper and read it out loud.
“My husband and I,” he read, “are delighted to offer congratulations on the occasion of one’s hundredth birthday / issue / international cap (please delete as necessary) Signed E.R.”
Of course it is unlikely that we will ever discover the identity of the semi-anonymous well-wisher but her sentiments are typical of the thousands of letters and cards that have been pouring in from around the world on the occasion of the 100th issue of Community Voice.
There is something magical about the number 100 that sparks the imagination. It is like a long thin rasher with two fried eggs by the side of it. It is often referred to as a round number, though not as round as 800, which is a veritable feast of circular shapes.
For many, the newspaper is like a favourite jacket, though without the rolled up tissue and sticky sweet in the inside pocket. Together with Phoenix FM, it provides the only real source of information about what is happening in the local community and, in an age when a sense of community often comes a long way down the list of people’s priorities, this service cannot be underestimated.
Of course, it has other uses too. It is great for spreading out on the kitchen floor when the wife cuts your hair because, unlike the Northside People, it doesn’t have any staples in it. It is also great for swatting flies and wasps and even otters when they become too inquisitive and one enterprising sculptress in Porterstown takes multiple issues from her supermarket every fortnight because “they make great papier mâché” as she later told the jury.
But it is for its well-written local news coverage that the paper is held in high esteem throughout the western world, as just a sample of the well-wishing letters show.
“I always read the Community Voice from cover to cover, and sometimes the inside bits too,” writes a world-famous trapeze artist from Vaduz.
“It is full of good reading, especially the articles,” says a V. Putin from Moscow.
“It has everything a good newspaper should have – pages and writing and pictures and things,” applauds R. Murdoch from Australia.
“It is great for spreading on the kitchen floor when my wife is cutting my hair,” writes a ghost-writer for a D. Beckham from Los Angeles.
Believe it or not, the Community Voice is not the first newspaper to reach one hundred issues but it is the first one to do so without straying outside of its Dublin 15 catchment area. The Times of London may be in its 3,000th year but events in Ongar and Littlepace often do not make it into the news section, let alone the front page. Pravda, too, occasionally eschews bringing its readers up to date information on Draiocht in favour of armed conflicts, nuclear disarmament and global warming, much to the dismay of the cultural Muscovite population.
Of course we have all passed a lot of water under Clonsilla Bridge since “The Voice,” (as it is affectionately known to those who know it and view it with affection) first hit the streets many many years ago. In those days, Blanchardstown consisted of a couple of farm dwellings and several outhouses, overwritten with “Here be dragons” on the Ordnance Survey maps of the time. Horse-drawn barges traversed the territory by way of the Royal Canal on their way to exotic and far-fabled destinations like Mullingar and Longford. The Blanchardstown Centre, yet to be built, was a thick impenetrable forest inhabited by wild boar and wolves and houses made out of gingerbread.
Into this wilderness strode a man with a typewriter in one hand and a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus in the other. Fergus Lynch was that man’s name, though many people simply called him Fergus, especially members of his own family. He was determined to put Dublin 15 on the map and he did so in a size 11 Tahoma font.
He had all the attributes of a great editor – he championed the poor and downtrodden; he fought corruption wherever it reared its evil head; he refused to reproduce press releases verbatim to the public; and most importantly, boy, could he spell! Even words like “minuscule,” “marmalade” and “Tyrrelstown” wouldn’t faze him. “Show me a word I can’t spell,” he used to bark at the copy boy, “and I bet you it’s Polish. Or maybe Welsh.”
He has been courted by the rich and famous though he refuses to let power turn his head. “That’s what neck muscles are for,” he tells puzzled undergraduates. Many an aspiring and indeed established politician has felt the venom of his scathing pen if they try to hoodwink him with bluff and bluster. He has sources in every corner of Dublin 15, even the circular bits, and it is well known that he has a pair of eyes and ears in the James Connolly Memorial Hospital, which are often used for medical research.
Throughout these hundred issues, he has consistently championed the cause of the poor, especially those without much money. “The pen is mightier than the sword,” he is often heard to say, though friends admit that he is reluctant to put it to the test. “It is easier for a rich camel to enter the kingdom of heaven, than for the eye of a needle to,” is another of his cryptic sayings.
The Community Voice has become a beacon of hope for many of the oppressed and underprivileged in the world today. As they lie in their beds in Charnwood and Diswellstown, they feel comforted by the fact that there is a newspaper out there that gives them a say, gives them a voice. Let us raise a glass, preferably containing some kind of drinkable liquid, and pray that the Community Voice may continue fighting tyranny as well as bringing heartwarming good news stories to Dublin 15 for another hundred issues.

Love at the Bookshop

A few months ago, one of the very interesting morning programmes on RTE One radio had a competition to write a Mills and Boon story. The prize was the chance to meet a Mills and Boon editor who would more than likely tell you that your stuff was rubbish.
Notwithstanding this, I decided to turn my not very considerable talents to the art of writing romantic fiction and submitted the following piece, which I am sure will reduce most women to quivering wrecks. Get your hankies out, girls, you’re going to need them.

There’d been a special offer on the spaghetti hoops in Tesco and as Brad exited the store he couldn’t help thinking that the plastic bag he’d bought to carry the tin had wiped out the money he had saved in the first place. “Drat!” he said – or words to that effect – causing an elderly woman to go careering into the line of trolleys, which in turn rolled into the car park, making an oil tanker jack-knife and overturn.
Brad ignored the screams and the 200 foot plume of smoke that rose into the stratosphere like a giant mushroom cloud and marched off along the pedestrian pathway. “If Kylie had been here, she’d have warned me of that,” he thought, swinging the bag idly and accidentally shattering the plate glass of Boots window. “She always knew about bargains.”
He passed Fothergill’s. “Purveyors of fine food,” he read absent-mindedly, as he headed on towards Ladbroke’s (Purveyors of Fine Betting Slips) and Roselawn Hardware (Purveyors of Fine Bathroom Tap Washers.)
As he passed the Roselawn Bookshop, he glanced inside and stopped. Sure it looked like the same bookstore but it was under new management “for the summer months only.” Same as Kylie, he thought. Under new management.
Soon the brightly coloured shelves festooned with a vast array of novellas, poetry anthologies and paperbacks would be a gloomy shell. Dust would cover the fixtures and the floor and grinning spiders would abseil delightedly from the light bulb.
This was where he had first set eyes on Kylie, he remembered. They had both reached for the same Dr. Seuss Cat in the Hat book and their eyes had met. After a short tussle, she had wrestled the book from his grasp and ran to the counter to pay. He had executed a full-length rugby tackle on her and the book flew out of her grasp. Turning round she clicked a flick-knife and held the blade at his throat and he knew in that instant that he loved her.
Her eyes were like lucent rockpools, even as far as the tiny shrimps darting here and there among the seaweed. Her cheeks were ruby red like the Manchester United home jersey from the late nineties and her full pouting lips seemed to quiver like a blancmange on a rollercoaster. As they locked in a passionate embrace, he reached down and grabbed the book and placed it on the counter with a €5 note.
All had gone well at first. He had moved into her tiny basement flat on the Clonsilla Road and had shared her bed for three months until she found out. He used to wave her goodbye as she went out to work in the evenings, selling all-night home insurance along the Quays. Idly he used to wonder why she would return home in the early hours with her hair dishevelled and her clothing in disarray. “All part of the home insurance business, sweetie,” she would say, placing her fat finger on his lips and standing on his foot.
They used to go for walks in the park and he cut their initials in the bark of a tree until the knife slipped and he lacerated her cheek. Hand in hand, they would skip through the long grass and deer excrement while up above the birds twittered in the trees annoyingly. Nothing it seemed could ever go wrong with their love. It was a match made in heaven.
It was when he came home one afternoon and found her naked beneath the local rugby team that he began to suspect something was wrong. He had believed her explanation that they were simply “looking for a shinpad” but he noticed how she crossed her fingers as she said it. Occasionally he would wake up in the night and think there was a third person in the bed until a big gruff voice assured him he was only dreaming.
Matters came to a head when he started receiving letters addressed to “Mr and Mrs Cohen.” She denied it at first, vehemently and passionately, but after five seconds, she admitted that yes, she was indeed Mr. and Mrs. Cohen.
It was like a bomb had hit him and in fact a piece of shrapnel did penetrate his right buttock. It was not the fact that she was an elderly Jewish couple – it was the fact that she had lied to him. This was what hurt him the most, apart from the shrapnel. He had always been open and honest with her about everything, except maybe the incident with the liquorice allsorts.
That was three months ago and he still found her smiling face haunting his every waking moment. Even now, as he gazed into the plate glass window of the bookshop, he fancied he saw her beautiful reflection, all gappy and gummy with a Woodbine hanging out of the corner of her mouth. In a sudden fit of rage, he drew back his fist and slammed it through the glass. “Get away from me!” he yelled as the blood spurted triumphantly from his main artery.
“Why?” said a voice behind him and he swung around to find himself staring into that familiar face with its four inch scar down the side of her nose.
For a minute, neither of them spoke, though Brad involuntarily broke into a few bars of “Dancing on the Ceiling” by Lionel Richie. Then they rushed into each others arms in a hot passionate embrace that had all the tramps in the neighbourhood coming around to warm their hands.
“Oh Brad,” she whispered, as she came up for air. “Let us never part again. Let us be always as one, entwined together in the great embrace of love.”
“Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Cohen,” he managed to reply weakly. As the last pint of his blood splashed gaily onto the window of the boutique next door, he vaguely wondered if a second can of spaghetti hoops would have made the trip to Tesco’s worthwhile.

Well I guarantee there isn’t a dry eye, or indeed a dry pair of trousers in the house after that. The only problem is that the competition finished three months ago and I still haven’t heard anything from the judging panel. Still there’s plenty of time yet. I expect the contract’s in the post.