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Thursday 5 February 2015

Flann O'Brien: Is it about a bicycle?


Gorgeous #FullMoon over the Sperrins tonight @barrabest #SkyFullOfStars: image via Naomh @naomhs, 2 February 2015 Northern Ireland

Policeman MacCruiskeen put the lamp on the table, shook hands with me and gave me the time of day with great gravity. His voice was high, almost feminine, and he spoke with delicate careful intonation. Then he put the lamp on the counter and surveyed the two of us.

'Is it about a bicycle?' he asked.

An Autocycle. We haven't really had a clear shot of an autocycle before, so I was delighted to spot this one alone and palely loitering outside Margaret O'Doherty's Hotel at Malin Head in Co. Donegal...: photo by Robert French for Lawrence Photographic Studios, Dublin, between 1907 and 1911 (?) (National Library of Ireland)

'Not that' said the Sergeant. 'This is a private visitor who says he did not arrive in the townland upon a bicycle. He has no personal name at all. His dadda is in far Amurikey.'

'Which of the two Amurikeys?' asked MacCruiskeen.

'The Unified Stations,' said the Sergeant.

 'Likely he is rich by now if he is in that quarter,' said MacCruiskeen, 'because there's dollars there, dollars and bucks and nuggets in the ground and any amount of rackets and golf games and musical instruments. It is a free country too by all accounts.'

Next stop, America! Locomotive 107 at Valentia (Valencia) Harbour Station in County Kerry: photo by Robert French for Lawrence Photographic Studios, Dublin, c. 1904 (between 1901 and 1908) (National Library of Ireland)
'Free for all,' said the Sergeant. 'Tell me this,' he said to the policeman, 'Did you take any readings today?'

'I did,' said MacCruiskeen.

'Take out your black book and tell me what it was like a good man,' said the Sergeant. 'Give me the gist of it till I see what I see,' he added.

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Whose name would you write down, if you owned this? #annoying #revenge #blackbook: image via Epic Boxx @EpicBoxx, 8 November 2014

MacCruiskeen fished a small black book from his breast pocket.

'Ten point six,' he said.

'Ten point six,' said the Sergeant. 'And what reading did you notice on the beam?'

Drawing of Artificial Arm: US Department of the Interior, Patent Office, 11 August 1865 (Cartographic and Architectural Records Section, US National Archives) 
'Seven point four.'

'How much on the lever?'

 View from top of Nelson's Pillar, Sackville Street (O'Connell Street), Dublin: photo by W.D. Hogan, c. 1921 (National Library of Ireland)

'One point five.'

There was a pause here. The Sergeant put on an expression of great intricacy as if he were doing far-from-simple sums and calculations in his head. After a time his face cleared and he spoke again to his companion.

Elisha Otis's Elevator Patent Drawing: US Department of the Interior, Patent Office, 15 January 1861 (Cartographic and Architectural Records Section, US National Archives)

'Was there a fall?'

'A heavy fall at half-past three.'

'Very understandable and commendably satisfactory,' said the Sergeant. 'Your supper is on the hob inside and be sure to stir the milk before you take any of it, that way the rest of us after you will have our share of the fats of it, the health of it.'

New Living Pictures. Sackville Street and O'Connell Street, Dublin: photographer unknown, c. Spring 1913 (National Library of Ireland)

Policeman MacCruiskeen smiled at the mention of food and went into the back room loosening his belt as he went; after a moment we heard the sounds of coarse slobbering as if he was eating porridge without the assistance of spoon or hand. The Sergeant invited me to sit at the fire in his company and gave me a wrinkled cigarette from his pocket.

#amywinehouse #queen #blackandwhite #cigarette: image via beka @beka_kakabadze, 16 January 
'It is a lucky thing for your pop that he is situated in Amurikey,' he remarked, 'if it is a thing that he is having trouble with the old teeth. It is very few sicknesses that are not from the teeth.' 'Yes,' I said. I was determined to say as little as possible and let these unusual policeman first show their hand. Then I would know how to deal with them.

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General John Adams CSA. He was KIA at Franklin, Tennessee in Nov. 1864. His father was a #Strabane #Tyrone emigrant: image via Damian Shiels @irishacw, 1 November 2014

'Because a man can have more disease and germination in his gob than you'll find in a rat's coat and Amurikey is a country where the population do have grand teeth like shaving lather or like bits of delph when you break a plate.'

 Draw! Boy drawing a cowboy on a wall at Essex Street, Dublin: photographer unknown, 1953 (National Library of Ireland)

'Quite true,' I said.

'Or like eggs under a black crow.'

'Like eggs,' I said.

Drawing of Hat to Prevent Drowning: Department of the Interior, Patent Office, 14 October 1840 (Cartographic and Architectural Records Section, US National Archives)

'Did you ever happen to visit the cinematograph in your travels?'

'Never' I answered humbly, 'but I believe it is a dark quarter and little can be seen at all except the photographs on the wall'.

#CharlieChaplin, #PauletteGoddard and #NormaShearer, 1936 #oldhollywood #FotoCinéphila #FotoKabemayor: image via Luis A. Cabezón, 10 December 2014

'Well it is there you see the fine teeth they do have in Amurikey,' said the Sergeant.

Flann O'Brien (Brian O'Nolan), b. Strabane, County Tyrone, UK, 15 October 1911 d. Dublin, Republic of Ireland 1 April 1966: from Chapter 4 in The Third Policeman, writ 1939-1940, first published 1968

The Mall in Tralee, County Kerry: photographer unknown, c. August/September 1952 (National Library of Ireland)

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“I saw that my witticism was unperceived and quietly replaced it in the treasury of my mind." #flannobrien 47yrs dead today: image via Pub n Snugs @Pubsabdsnugs, 1 April 2013

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#LittleMuseum of #Dublin preserves #FlannOBrien's belongings @dublinmuseum: image via UE English @ueenenglish, 4 February 2015


Barry Taylor said...

Once it has you, The Third Policeman never lets you go. A brilliantly engineered and absolutely airtight torture room of a novel. I gingerly slid it in my son's direction last year (his eighteenth - you have to take some care), and now there's two of us in its thrall. Passages of startlingly beautiful lyric prose, to boot. O'Nolan was unfortunately all over the place a lot of the time, but he got it together here, spectacularly. Like anyone has to manage it more than once in a lifetime.

tpw said...

Flann-Brian-Myles was a very funny and fascinating character who ultimately kept whoever he was carefully hidden behind his various identities. This was a most enjoyable post, Tom. All those great archival photos that seem to plant you right down on the streets of the past.

Jonathan Chant said...

Lovely post to go with a wonderfully strange book. You might like this:

TC said...

Many thanks, friends, for the generous testimony to the brilliance of possibly the greatest -- and weirdest -- one-off in the history of comic novels in English.

Is it about a bicycle? The story of Brian O'Nolan

And what a beautiful hat he did have, did he not.