Celtic Illumination, part 297, I’m so bored I could eat myself.
The eleven of us sat down for our group meal for our first evening at Lumb Bank. Nine course participants and two facilitators. The meal was prepared and served by the two centre directors. We were told that we should plan our menu, for when each group had to cook, tell the directors what ingredients we needed and they would provide the necessary. I was happy with a straw as the red wine they provided was sumptuous and going down well. The course didn’t have a nine to five type timetable; every moment was to be used, making the most of our stay and resources. After the meal we had a bit of fun where we all had to stand and give a short five minute talk about ourselves and our name. I thought the project a bit strange; I mean how can you talk for five minutes about your name?
Well; I must have been on form that evening for I could have talked for fifteen minutes about my name and on reflection probably did. I began by explaining that I didn’t know what my name was at birth, and still didn’t, and then for some reason ran over all the other names I had had throughout my life. I hadn’t really thought about the subject and was quite amazed at what was coming out of my mouth. I explained that in Belfast I had been called Peter, by people who knew me and a little Catholic bastard by those who didn’t. At boarding school there were many names but it was either Boris or Fatarse. In the forces there were so many different ranks that I had, and even one position where I had no rank or status at all when I was a TAG, and then the other names such as Paddy, an orrible excuse of a man, and of course the Newry Bomber on the rescue teams because of my penchant for blowing things up.
At one stage I used to spell my name as Peetah, to try and make people see that my name was not Paddy, but as usual it would go over their heads, “Why have you spelled your name that way Paddy?” “Pick your teeth out of the gutter and I’ll tell you.” I sat down and was amazed at what had just happened, I think most people there were a tish impressed too. The only down side so far was the fact that as we had discussed forthcoming menus for the week, we discovered that there were a couple of vegetarians in the group so every meal was to be vegetarian. As long as there was a copious supply of decent red wine I wasn’t going to complain.
With us all presented, the two facilitators began to introduce themselves. There were six female type girls on the course and three fellows. I can’t really remember any of the girls, apart from Joan and one of the other girls who was from Northern Ireland, but she was very much into poetry so we hardly ever communicated. One of the chaps was a beautiful man from Edinburgh, Shields Henderson, I know, a lovely man with a lovely name. Shields was a chartered accountant and wanted to dabble in literature, he wasn’t a serious writer, just starting out. The other fellow was Paul, a poet who was crazy about Salvador Dali. I was still interested in the breakdown of the course as from what I could tell there were three interested in writing, five for poetry and Shields who would float between the two.
John Barton Harvey took centre stage. This was the fellow I had to impress, I didn’t hold much hope out for impressing Carol Anne Duffy as she and the other poets would be rabbiting on about flowers and God into the wee small hours. John began to read an excerpt from his new novel which, he informed us he was just off to promote through a book tour in America. He began reading and it was about some detective in Northampton in England. I still to this day remember him reading something along the lines of, “He sat the thermos and his ham on rye on the passenger seat then drove north away from Northampton.” I couldn’t help myself and asked him to stop. I accused him of writing that book specifically for the American market as no one in England would speak in such a way.
I argued that in England we wouldn’t say Thermos, we would say flask, we wouldn’t say ham on rye, we would say a brown ham sandwich and no one in their right mind drives North, although I do believe that police people sometimes walk in such a way. John got quite angry and we began to argue. When he had introduced himself he confessed that although he had a good number of books published, he wasn’t sure if he would make the grade these days as it was so much more difficult to get published now. I accused him of writing for the American audience he was about to go and smooze rather than use his own words. As I spoke I realised that I was upsetting the man I should have been trying to impress, but I was simply stating what I felt and thought there was no harm in being honest. How wrong I was, John Barton Harvey did not appreciate a novice writer like myself confronting him on any issue concerning his writing.
He sat in the corner fuming as Carol Anne Duffy began to give us a talk on her life and her work. She had a book of her poems with her and opened it preparing to read one out. She began to read a poem she had written called ‘Warming her pearls.’ At least it wasn’t about God or flowers I thought as I listened to her. After she read the poem she explained what it was all about. I was blown away, she had written about a black house maid who wore her mistress’s pearls throughout the day as she skivvied around the great house. It seems that real pearls need heat from the body, and the oil from the skin, to give them lustre, so if the lady of the house decided to wear her pearls that evening then the maid would wear them through the day, as she completed her duties, warming up the necklace for her mistress.
It was exquisitely written, but it wasn’t just the language that floored me, it was the fact that the poem was relevant. I was falling in love with a lesbian. When I first met Carol Anne Duffy I sensed that she was a hard nut, it was later that I discovered she was from Glasgow and had a pretty rough upbringing. She was the sort of girl you knew would smash a bottle across your head if you said the wrong thing to her, she was quite intense. But to show that she didn’t spend her life spitting venom she then read another of her poems called ‘Stealing’ where she talks about the madness of stealing a snowman, among other senseless crimes. There is a whole industry where academics and critics analyse and try to decipher peoples work, but to have the actual poet sitting in front of you explaining exactly what she was trying to achieve was brilliant, even down to the fact where she would clarify why she used a specific word, this was exposing the real nuts and bolts of writing.
But now I found myself in a quandary, the fellow I wanted, and perhaps needed, to impress wasn’t speaking to me, while the person I thought I had no interest in was now most appealing to me. The way that Carol Anne had mastered the language and used words amazed me. We had all been asked to bring selections of our own work, and as the two facilitators had finished their presentations, we were encouraged to read our work out to the group. As Carol Anne Duffy had been the more powerful of the two, the poets began to read their work out loud. Who would have thought that I would find myself at midnight, in Ted Hughes house, reading poetry by candlelight, slurping red wine with the next Poet Laureate? I promise you, I was perhaps the most comfortable and satisfied I had ever been in my life, it really was perfection.
Once again it is only with reflection that I can see what actually had happened. The double top secret cabal who had been preparing me to take the throne of Ireland knew exactly what the perfect reward would be for me, after all the training and testing they had put me through. And for those of you who realise that a reward is normally only given after an event, you are correct. My training was almost over, up ahead, in the near future was the point where I would be informed not just of my real name and my heritage, but my destiny to be the greatest Master Candle Maker the world has ever known, The High Chief of the Clan O Neill and the true King of Ireland.