Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (with apologies to the shade of David Foster Wallace)

Sojourning in Schull with some bibulous friends I decided we needed a break from the unceasing revelry. The sailing season had just commenced and the harbour had begun to fill with boats fresh from their winter quarters in dry dock. My brother-in-law (henceforth known as Skipper) was amongst the sailing fraternity eager to kick off their season so I offered the three of us as sailing companions and ballast for the next day. The weather was promising but we decided to make a final decision the following morning based on prevailing conditions.

The next day dawned and as I made my way down to Brosnan’s for the Irish Times I noticed a stiffish breeze. My hungover companions were less than enthusiastic about the whole venture but agreed to let Skipper make a decision. He too was non-committal but said he’d leave it up to us – a pattern that was to repeat itself with dire consequences later in the day. Eventually I suggested we go for a “tootle around the harbour”. I’m not sure what “tootle” actually means but everyone agreed that this was a reasonable plan.

So off we go, Skipper and Son and the three amigos. We proceed sedately around the harbour for 40 minutes or so until Skipper suggests we go look at some seals on a little island outside the harbour. And we do. So far so idyllic – apart from Skipper treating us to various physical indignities (brushed aside, leant over, groped between the legs, stood on etc.) as he went about his sailing business. After the seal sighting he suggests we head for Sherkin Island – a fairly sheltered journey about an hour and a half away. We agree and settle back. The wind is behind us so it’s relatively smooth despite the freshness of the breeze. After a while as we reach a point quite close to Cape Clear. Skipper asks would we rather go there instead as it was only 20 minutes away as against Sherkin’s one hour. He makes it clear that it’s entirely up to us. Son stays quiet - in fact he remained resolutely uninvolved in all group decisions. There is no discussion on the relative quality of the routes – it’s purely a time thing. We have a pressing engagement in Hackett’s at around six so we opt fatefully for the shorter journey.

We proceed benignly to Cape Clear and decamp for a drink while Skipper and Son remain on the boat and enjoy a little snooze – and an intense bout of biscuit scoffing. We return in about an hour and head out of the harbour towards Schull – a journey of 90 minutes or so Skipper estimates. As soon as we leave the shelter of the harbour we hit what can only be described as a boiling maelstrom. The prow rises high in the air and bangs down alarmingly (and surely plank splittingly) on the turbulent sea, the boat tilts to the side at around 45 degrees and waves wash over all five of us sitting in the unsheltered stern. We had taken down the sails for the trip home but the conditions demanded they be hastily raised to bring some stability. Some stability still meant bouncing around at a 45 degree angle and getting soaking wet. To our left on the dancing horizon I could see the ominous sight of the Fatstnet – a name forever associated with sailing fatalities. Terror and acute discomfort battled for supremacy so I decided to repair to the small cabin and confront the demons alone. There the fear and physical discomfort were joined by a feeling of acute queasiness as I began to inhale the diesel fumes. To the side the small toilet smirked at me suggestively. My gorge rose with the seas. Through the hatch I gained some comfort and distraction by observing my ashen-faced companions stoically enduring their torments. Nobody said a word. Salty dog Skipper and salty dog Son, ensconsed in water proofs, seemed unmoved by the whole debacle. Benign indifference was their attitude to our plight – although I suspect Skipper of basely entertaining some well-concealed schadenfreude.

On it went endlessly. I never quite got sick but the bile that is vomit’s precursor filled my throat. I did breathing exercises: breathe in for 10 seconds, hold for 10 seconds, breathe out for 10 seconds. Now repeat. I’m not sure that breathing in diesel fumes was helping so I quit that and distracted myself with thoughts of my loved ones and how they would get along without me.

And then it was over. As we tied up Skipper averred that it was the roughest crossing he’d ever made from Cape Clear. He also said that he was by no means certain our life jackets were still working (some gas bottle issue) but he felt that he should wait to tell us this until we docked.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Encounter with Famous Cork Artist

Down to Cork for the launch of the Graphic Studio Dublin Visiting Artists show in the Lavit Gallery - en route to a weekend in Schull. As we arrive a little early (around 18:00) I decide to call and see an old artist friend in St. Luke's - the eponymous Famous Cork Artist - henceforth to be entitled FCA. A phone call to Henchey's ascertains that the FCA had left the premises a little earlier so I call to his house up the road. He answers the door, a most infrequent occurrence, and greets me with enthusiasm. It's clear that he is very well lubricated. I realise that I've made a tactical blunder - my assumption that the early hour would find him lucid was mistaken. I tell him of the event in the Lavit and suggest that he joins me and my companions later. Not a chance - he will join us now. But first he insists that we have a look around his studio. He turns off whatever mess he was cooking and we repair upstairs from the decidedly funky and hard-core bohemian living room (don't ask). The studio however is immaculate, gear laid out in serried ranks (including 2 palette knives in their wrapping) and a dozen or so paintings in various stages of preparation. There has been a long hiatus since his last show but it's clear that he's painting again - albeit on a modest scale.He treats us to the usual comparison of his work with Mozart's and we nod appreciatively if not enthusiastically. There's nothing especially new except a painting of a blasted, barren vineyard, with a couple of the denuded stalks shaped like crosses - tricksy and alien to the FCA's normal style. This is for a series he's doing on The Somme.

Viewing over he joins us in the car and we head down to the Hi B - famous for it's misanthropic owner ("the grumpiest man in Cork"). We join another old friend there and settle in for a few pints before the opening. We get up to leave after a brace of Murphy's but the FCA's glass is still half-full. The old friend offers to look after him so we decamp to the Lavit. There the amiable women from the Graphic Studio are working the room. It's a very classy print show with works by Teskey, Crozier, Barbara Rae, Mary Lohan, Hughie O'Donoghue and many others. Go and see it. Following the show we have booked a table at Isaacs - including the GSD folk. The FCA is not a big eater and I hadn't included him in the booking but as luck would have it they can squeeze him in.

Things rapidly deteriorate. The FCA has always felt that an artist is entitled to behave like an absolute prick and be tolerated by the lesser mortals around him. His opening gambit is to blatantly light up one of malodorous roll ups - inviting the immediate horrified censure of the waitress. Next he decides that one of the women at the table and himself have a special affinity, the type only available to artistic sorts - like Abelard and Heloise perhaps. She is more than a little alarmed by this sudden outburst of affection and has to be rescued by various diversionary conversational gambits. Things get worse. Thwarted of his true love he begins to abuse his food. Eschewing knife and fork he begins to eat his duck, mash, and gravy with his bare hands - scooping handfuls into his gob indiscriminately - for all the world like a naughty child looking for attention. We decide it's time to go - heading to Henchey's for a nightcap. There's no room in the car for the FCA - we have to forcibly prevent him getting in beside the deeply alarmed object of his affection. A volunteer is assigned to escort him towards Henchey's and home.

We arrive in Henchey's and enjoy a restorative pint while we brace ourselves for the arrival of the FCA and escort. But he never gets over the threshold - an alert bar man spots his condition and he's consigned to the night. We are rather tainted by association and are confined to one drink. Irony of ironies, while the FCA walks off rejected into the night we sit back and admire his work hanging all around the pub - at least seven good sized pieces.