The Elephant and the Toilet Seat

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So a little while back, when my daughter was 4, she asked if myself and herself could write a story together. I gave her ‘Once upon a time …’ and asked her a series of “and then what happened?” questions. This was the result …

 

The Elephant and the Toilet Seat

by Seán Carabini and  Matilda Carabini

 

Once upon a time …

There was an elephant that lived under a toilet seat.

His name was Seancrunch because he was a little baby. Any why, you might ask, did he live under a toilet seat? Well, because everybody knows that baby elephants live under toilet seats.

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One day, Seancrunch had terrible hiccups. He also had terrible wind for some reason.

What should I do?” wondered Seancrunch. He decided to sit on the toilet seat to try and get rid of his wind.

Oh No!” cried Seancrunch as – SPLASH – he fell without grace or dignity into the toilet.

The cold toilet water made him poop on entry, adding to his already deep sense of embarrassment.

Luckily, the Stamprunch was walking by. The Stramprunch, for the uninitiated, is green, with black hair and roars like a scary gorrilla-lion.

And then there were balloons.

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The End.

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Sligo: My 24 Hours in the Shadow of W. B. Yeats.

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For one throb of the artery,

While on that old grey stone I sat

Under the old wind-broken tree,

I knew that one is animate,

Mankind inanimate Fantasy.

(W.B. Yeats, A Meditation in Time of War)

It was business that took me to Sligo in late November. Things were not good – though they had started to show signs of improvement. The IMF was about to leave the country, figuring that we’d spent enough time sitting in the corner thinking about what we’d done as a nation. The Celtic Tiger, however, was long since gone, having been been proven to be no more than the Irish Rover with go-faster stripes painted on.

I had attended a meeting in Letterkenny that morning and was approaching Sligo Town, having just driven through the bleakly spectacular mountains that surround the N-15. To be honest, this was not a part of the country that I knew that well. I had been camping here as a young teenager and had attended a wedding a couple of years back – but that was all. I knew I’d have a little time to kill, but didn’t really know what to do with it. I recalled that the Yeats family were from around here – wonder if I should try and track W.B.’s grave down and pay homage?

WB Yeats. Image from US Library of Congress,  file LC-DIG-ggbain-00731

W B Yeats. Image from US Library of Congress, file LC-DIG-ggbain-00731

Yeats had always held a fascination for me. I thought him somewhat overly idealistic and somewhat distant from the Ireland that he actually inhabited – but the words he chose and the sentences he wove never failed to connect and move me. For years, I made the mistake of trying to be a poet by reading Yeats exclusively – a trap into which many an aspiring poet has fallen. It is something of a rite – or write (pun intended…) – of passage in Ireland. Yeats casts the greatest shadow.

About 8 kilometers from Sligo Town, I meet a wall of traffic. The sun had long since set and the rain had begun. The traffic jam served only to push me over the line of misery. Nothing is moving. I lean my elbow on the car window and rest my head against it – settling in for the long haul. By chance, I turn my head to the left. Drumcliff Graveyard. Well bugger me! This is where Yeats was lain …

Immediately, I turn the car into the deserted parking lot. I’m not going to miss a chance like this. The church itself lies only about 100 meters from the main road – but it may as well be a thousand miles away. It is a majestic little stone building. At this time of night, it is locked and illuminated by large spotlights set into the ground. It hides behind trees, gradually revealing itself with each step that I take forward. Behind it – barely visible in the darkness – is the outline of Benbulben – that great hunk of flat rock that defines the area so.

The graveyard itself encircles the church. The headstones are old – many are slowly capsizing and sinking into the surrounding earth. As I enter the graveyard proper, I begin to search for the Yeats name. And I search. And I search some more. I look through the prettier parts of the graveyard first – knowing that, as a tourist trap, the Yeats grave is probably situated in the most beautiful part of the yard.

It is not.

It takes me twenty minutes to find him. He lies, rather ignobly, not two feet from the asphalt of the parking lot. Yeats would have hated this …

That evening, I head to the hotel bar for a glass of whiskey and a read of the Irish Times. A local strikes up a conversation with me.

“Tourist?” he asks. Nice ice-breaker …

“Em, no – here on business.”

“Oh – I thought you might be one of those Yeats groupies.”

I smile. “Actually – I did go to see his grave today.”

“Ha – it’s not his grave.”

I look a little perplexed. He elaborates:

“Yeats died in France and was thrown into a common grave type-thing. There were hundreds of people buried in the same spot. When the Irish Government asked for him back, the local French town opened it up and just sent back the first body they though might be him. But it’s probably not him.”

I had no idea. If true, Yeats would have also hated this…

*

Next morning, I get up, chow down some breakfast, and decided to explore the town a little – after all – my meeting isn’t until noon. I stroll out and immediately cross the bridge. Here, I encounter the town’s Yeats statue – they’re really doing all they can to connect themselves with the man around here. The statue is odd – it looks like Oscar Wilde’s body with Yeats’ head atop it. The statue shows a skinny-framed man with a ballooning jacket. He is standing, on a plinth, with his hand to his chin – his bespectacled eyes contemplating something. Yeats quotes are engraved all over the statue. My first thought is to wonder what the statued Yeats is facing to justify the contemplative pose. I attempt to follow his line of vision, but cannot quite decide what he is looking at. Knowing Yeats, it is something that represents the search for a glimpse of true ‘Irishness’ through the smokey wisps of modernity, or his struggle to find an identity for the emerging Irish Free State. But I am well off target… The statue of W.B. Yeats, struck eternally in a permanent pose of intense contemplation … appears to have been placed randomly. Yeats looks not at an article of historical importance, nor at a site of literary inspiration. Instead, statue Yeats is looking into a shoe shop window – one that, as it happens, has placed a ‘Runner Sale’ sign unwittingly in the line of sight of the Nobel Laureate. The great man … is contemplating the price of sports footware …

Unsure whether to be amused or despondent, I make my way into the town museum for a quick look around. There is a Yeats room, containing his Nobel award, and a room dedicated to the remarkable Countess Markiewiecz.

I enter this room to have a look around. It will be nice to get a little respite from the rather oddly thought-through Yeats memorials. I make my way up to a large cabinet in the Markiewiecz room to see what is inside. I see a cannon ball from a 17th century battle. I see a document that twins Sligo with the German town of Kempten in Allgau. I see randomly arranged rock specimens that may (or may not) come from the area. I see prehistoric tools. And I see vinyl records from the 1950s. What I don’t see in this cabinet in the Marciewiecz room is ANYTHING AT ALL to to with the countess.

Confused, I decide to leave the museum and go to the only thing that has made sense to me all morning. I purchase a half-price pair of Puma runners. Turns out W.B. was right to contemplate it – it was a damn good sale.

St. Augustine’s Well, Galway City

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Galway is a city of extremes. It has extreme nightlife. It has extreme souvineer shops. It is also on the westernmost extreme of Europe. Indeed, if for some reason you decided to swim due West, you’d not hit land until you bumped head first into Venison Island in Canada – a place itself so remote that its wikipedia page boasts  only about the erstwhile presence of a wireless telegraph station. To the immediate East of the city lies Lough Atalia (pronounced a-tall-ee-a), a tidal lake fed directly by the Atlantic Ocean. The name, rather unimaginatively, simply translates as ‘The Salt Lake’. Take that, Utah.

It is, however, along the shores of this lake – less than a ten minute walk from Eyre Square, Galway’s pacemaker – that one can find a rather unexpected little corner of tranquility.

There are some 3,000 holy wells in Ireland – most of them having been in use for thousands of years and simply being re-branded when a new God shows up. On the shores of Lough Atalia sits one of the more unusual of these wells – the well of St. Augustine.

The current well is the only that survives of the three original wells. A roughly built stone enclosure marks out the site. At the centre, a white-washed stone circular structure is enclosed within a low stone wall. A man wearing boots and a hat that suggest he is a fisherman is leaving the site as I descend the steps from the main road. “Bless you,” he utters as we pass. I smile in response.

This small site is deserted. I am not twenty feet from a busy road and not ten minutes from the centre of a bustling city – yet I am hit with the sheer peace of this location. As if to underscore and ridiculously parody my point, a swan wanders lazily up from the salt lake and nestles himself down beside the enclosure wall. If there are cares to be had, he has none of them.

I approach the white-washed basin and peer into it. There are votive offerings inside – mainly shiny copper coins. Fresh water bubbles up from the ground below and finds its way into a ramshackle channel that brings it to the lake. When the tide comes in, the well floods and the spring disappears beneath the salt water. The grass verge gives way to seaweed. My leather shoes sink into the wet and salted gravel.

Out across the lake are the suburbs. To the right, in the near distance, I can see the fuel tankers of Galway docks. Yet the noise does not reach here.

Like all good Irish Catholic sites, this one is associated with a legend. It was here on 11th June 1673 (the Feast Day of St. Barnabie who is, of course, the Patron Saint of hail storms…) that local boy Patrick Lynch was brought by his parents to try and cure his terrible (yet unnamed) illness. And cured he was – this being Ireland. Indeed, today, I am reliably informed by the locals, that the well continues to have curative functions and is particularly good for eye and ear ailments. This in mind, I dab a little of the water on my ear to see if I can cure the long-standing strange ‘thumping’ noise I experience at night. As I write this, it is night time and there is no sound – though my ear feels as if it is in the first stages of an ear infection … perhaps I should know better than to insert water bubbling up from beneath an urban area into my orifices.

This site has also seen its share of tragedy. It was here in the 1660s that a massacre of civilians took place when Cromwelian troops were ordered to open fire on a large group of bathers – though the reason for the attack has not been recorded.

The site itself has been in use since pre-history and there is some speculation that it was associated with the Crom Dubh – the cult of what was thought to be a fertility god. Indeed, the feast days associated with this well – the last Sunday in July – is very close to the ancient veneration of the Crom Dubh – the first Sunday in August. I visit on November 5th, a date which has no meaning locally – though it is the feast day of the remarkably named Italian Saint Dominator – presumably canonized on the strength of his name alone.

Galway, Ireland

St. Augustine’s Well

Although not particularly known for my ‘religious devotion’, I do experience a serenity at this spot. The city doesn’t exist down here. All that matters is the waters that gently emerge from the well, the smell of the salt, the lazy swan, the distant train lines. Here, my feet walk on the ground that people have walked upon for thousands of years. The oddly shaped basin, the poorly constructed channel, the beaten drystone walls … this is where ramshackle feels like a whole lot more.