Older, Wiser, One Guinea Pig Down

Birthdays are often a time when a little reflection and soul searching are in order and once a year I try to find the time between cake and wine to indulge in such things. This year is particularly pertinent as everything is about to change for me, but most comforting are the things that stay the same. My birthday inevitably involves a pilgrimage back home to visit the family, an event that was especially exciting this time around as next week I will be taking up residence very near the family seat once more.

Birthdays are always celebrated at my grandparents’ house. Nan insists on doing all the cooking and there is always a protracted argument after the meal about who gets to do the clearing up. Weirdly, the fight for this dubious privilege plays out in an identical fashion each and every time. It begins when anyone dares to start stacking plates and Nan insists that we should ‘leave it’ and that she will ‘do it later’. Someone – usually Mumsie – then says ‘it’ll only take a minute’, at which point everyone at the table stands up to either assist Mumsie or to stop her in her tracks (depending whether you are on the side of pro-clearing up or anti-clearing up). Increasingly raised voices from the anti-clearing up side squeal ‘Leave it! Leave it!’ like there is some kind of pub closing time fight about to erupt, while the pro-clearing up side insists ‘I’m not clearing up, honestly’ as they proceed towards the sink with armfuls of used crockery. Then, Nan will have another glass of wine and scold the pro-clearing up team, who continue to insist that they are not clearing up at all. This goes on until everything is cleared up and put away and we can all move on to coffee as if nothing untoward has happened.

Another family birthday quirk is taking unseemly amounts of glee at something awful happening on the special day in question. This year, my brother was delighted to inform me that my birthday was ruined because Daisy, one of Mumsie’s guinea pigs, had died that morning. This was quite sad news but I didn’t consider it birthday-ruining. But my brother insisted – my birthday was ruined, so there you have it. Mumsie declared thoughtfully that Daisy was now ‘with the angels’ and noted, somewhat off-handedly, that there was ‘one less little mouth to feed’.

The rarely-seen Little Brother and a disturbing scene where my family came under attack from a unicorn

I feel that the passing of a family pet should be noted, but it’s difficult to know what to say about Daisy. Her entire existence consisted of little more than squeaking, eating continually and doing tiny poos all over the place. The most notable thing she ever did was die on my birthday. She was a nice little thing, very fat with lovely pink feet. She is survived by fellow furry poo-factory Fluffy, who is slightly more notable in that she is prone to weeing on your leg in addition to squeaking and eating.

The dearly departed Daisy (left) and (right) Fluffy in mourning

The arrival of my 38th year sees me still unsuccessful at maintaing coherent personal endeavours, but happily my literary output remains solid, if not a little improved over the last twelve months. The news of my return to my home town has given rise to the surprising speculation that I am planning a return to the police. The amount of people who have contacted me about this is astonishing, so much so that I almost considered it. The enthusiasm for this prospect is most flattering, but all in all I don’t think it would be a very good idea. They don’t even have proper hats any more so I’m afraid the whole thing is out of the question.


This is a proper hat

And so I find myself fairly satisfied with my years on the planet thus far, my hat collection continues to grow, along with my circle of curious and delightful friends and acquaintances. As ever, I shall strive to work harder, do better and be better. But I shall also remember to follow the example of Daisy and make sure I take the time to worry about nothing more than squeaking and eating.

Finnegans Wake: Book 2.4

This chapter is a sort of dream sequence, quite possibly of our now shamed hero Here Comes Everybody, as we left him unconscious on the pub floor at the end of Book 2.3. There seems to be little connection to the main story, but that is probably true about most of the book anyway. It opens with a poem about a chap named Mark, who loses his shirt and trousers in a dark park. He appears quite full of himself and is described in the poem:

‘You’re the rummest old rooster ever flopped out of a Noah’s ark

And you think you’re the cock of the walk.’

But apparently he isn’t the cock of the walk, that accolade goes to Tristan, a young fellow who is wooing a beautiful maiden, Isolde. Whilst they go about the general business of being lovers – including canoodling on a fifteen inch love seat – they are watched secretly by four dirty old men, known as the Four Masters. They are:

Matt Gregory – wears a ‘saltwater hat’ and is a ‘queenly man’

Marcus Lyons

Luke Tarpey – possibly Welsh

Johnny MacDougall – wears half a tall hat. The other half he lost to someone called Lally, who also took other belongings from him.

The Four Masters seem to represent Matthew, Mark, Luke and John whilst also being related to the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water. They are old men, all divorced by their ‘shehusbands’, who reminisce endlessly about their own past conquests and the many lovers who have left them. As they spy on Trstian and Isolde, they repeat themselves constantly about their memories, which revolve around women, education, the great flood, auctioneers and drinking.

The theme of repetition is presented as the Four Masters (and mankind in general) being destined to repeat the same mistakes:

‘…when hope was there no more, and putting on their half a hat and falling over all synopticals and a panegyric and repeating themselves…’

They eventually implore the Almighty to release them from this cycle so that they are able to die – which they eventually do (‘happily buried’), having forgotten all their memories.

Meanwhile, we are presented with some sort of alternative creation story and tales of a lot of people dying at sea. The education system is mocked and there is a bearded Queen who has various dealings with Roneo and Giliette. These two undoubtedly reference Romeo and Juliette, but I can’t help thinking it would be better if it was Gillette; not only could the bearded Queen sort out her face fuzz, but she could claim to be ‘the best a man can get’. Anyway.

HCE laughs at Welshman Tom Tim Tarpey and four middle-aged widowers, who are no doubt the Four Masters.

A woman plots to kill a man (possibly HCE) with a pair of borrowed curling tongs.

Biddy is writing her memoirs, which are being serialised in Grocery Traders Monthly magazine! (Someone should really write some fan fiction based around this, I think).

The chapter – and, indeed, Book 2 – ends with a poem about Tristian and Isolde, in which he proposes to her and she accepts. But somehow the suggestion of an undisclosed tragic ending to their tale looms large.


I have various thoughts about what this is all about, but they are pure conjecture. Repetition is a device that has been employed liberally by Joyce since the beginning and there are two purposes for this of which I am certain. The first is to draw the reader’s attention to aspects of the tale which are important. The second, I believe, is to evoke particular feeling and atmosphere within the reader. Often the words of a passage are irrelevant and it is the soundscape they create upon the tongue and mind where the meaning is found.

There is no concrete reality or true narrative in Finnegans Wake, making it impossible to tell unconscious from conscious thought and truth from gossip, rumour and myth. In some ways this makes it the most realistic of novels as real life is endlessly interwoven with our different perspectives and understandings of people, events and the world at large. It makes for bloody complicated reading, though.

Favourite Lines

‘The new world presses. Where the old conk cruised now croons the yunk.’

Even if I knew what a conk and a yunk were, it still probably wouldn’t make much sense.

‘…and he was so sorry, he was really, because he left the bootybutton in the handsome cab and now, tell the truth unfriend never,’

I would be sorry to misplace a bootybutton, for sure.


Finnegans Wake: Book 1.3

I feel I am getting a bit of a handle on this delightful tome now; the trick is not trying too hard to understand absolutely all of it (or even most of it) rather wait until those rare moments of clarity pop up and read around those. It also helps to look out for the letters HCE appearing in sequence – these bits relate to our main character Here Comes Everybody, or Harold / Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker as he is also known. Talking of characters, there seem to be an endless amount of them. I think some of them are the same person and also some people are lots of other people too. Who anybody is just doesn’t seem important. Which is just as well, because three chapters in and I haven’t definitively identified anyone apart from HCE.

This chapter seems to be a mishmash of various things all happening at once, quite possibly across different timelines and with varying versions involving an epic cast of people, some of whom  flit between life and death with surprising nonchalance. In Finnegans Wake, not only does it not matter who you are, being alive or dead is also irrelevant. I am beginning to think that Joyce’s characters are related to Schrödinger’s cat.

Best guess for the opening passage is that a play and actors are being discussed. But there is also a suggestion that false rumours are abound – I am confident that these relate to whatever HCE did or did not get up to in the park. After that, things get pretty confused and several threads are randomly over-lapped and I have to pick my way through the bits I can comprehend. There is no linear storyline whatsoever.

Hosty pops up again – it seems he was the composer of the song that closed 1.2 and is described as a musical genius with a good voice. He might have served in the Crimean War, but that could be someone else.

Paul Horan has been jailed. I don’t know if this is a recent thing or even who he is or what crime he committed.

Sordid Sam (sounds pleasant) died on Halloween night, it says painlessly but also suggests he was hit over the head. But don’t worry, dear reader, he keeps cropping up in the text so for him, death isn’t the handicap it might have been.

A whole host of persons are discussed at length but I couldn’t really tell you what’s going on. They are from different countries and periods in history; your guess is as good as mine as to how they relate to anything else going on, if at all.

Further reference is made to boats and HCE and some kind of evil. Sailors and fishermen feature prominently.

Someone buys a stetson for one and a penny.

There looks like some kind of court case going on (however I later think that this could just be people gossiping in a pub) and I think two of the jury might have died. There is what is described as a ‘snappy comeback’ from a chap in the ‘shoutybox’ which I think is the dock:

“Paw! Once more I’ll hellbowl!! I am for caveman chase and sahara sex, burk you! Them two bitches ought to be leashed, canem! Up hog and hoar hunt! Paw!”

If that was the comeback, I wish I could work out what said to him.

I now have three theories on what HCE might have done to cause so much discussion:

He raped his friend’s wife, making her pregnant with two girls.

He committed manslaughter.

He ran away from a ship in the middle of the night.

But really, the parts that led me to these conclusions could be relating to anyone or could be irrelevant entirely. Still. I am trying.

A tall man carrying a parcel is accosted by a man with a gun, who threatens to shoot him (over a woman), then threatens to shoot his aunt. An altercation ensues, before the following text says that none of this is true, the man isn’t tall and there is no woman. So… Okay. No word on the aunt, but I’m assuming she’s okay.

An American turns up at the pub wanting a drink, then proceeds to insult HCE for quite some time – “…weathering against him in mooxed metaphores from eleven thirty to two in the afternoon without even a luncheonette interval…” which is quite something. There then follows a great rambling list of all the insults hurled at HCE which, although imaginative, do not sound like insults at all. A small sample of the less strange ones are bogside beauty, york’s porker, tight before teatime, archdukon cabbanger and Mister Fatmate.

The chapter ends with a musing about raindrops.


I am finding myself enjoying this book immensely. Not only is it quite unlike anything I have read before, it is also a great deal of fun. The fun is mainly in trying to make sense of any little thing and then the joy experienced when I manage to comprehend something. I imagine a lot of people might not find this fun and it has actually given me a headache on a couple of occasions. But I haven’t enjoyed a book so much in bloody ages. Anyway – it is now obvious that there is no linear storyline, no definitive characters and no discernible time line. So many topics are touched on and things alluded to that they are impossible to list. Or even really identify conclusively.

Favourite Lines

“By the siege of his trousers there was someone else behind it – you bet your boughtem blarneys – about their three drummers down Keysars Lane (Trite!)”

‘By the siege of his trousers’ is now my favourite phrase and I shall be employing it wherever possible.

“Nonsense! There was not very much windy Nous blowing at the given moment through the hat of Mr Melancholy Slow!”

Probably about a lesser-known Mister Man. It also mentions a hat, which especially pleases me.