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This Is Just To Say – or; On a domestic argument between two writers

‘After telling my wife about Boston’s Great Molasses Flood, she accused me of putting together a fake Wikipedia page, just to mess with her.’ — Navin Weeraratne 

I had researched
that story
the Great Molasses Flood

you were clearly
I had made up

Forgive me
it was pretty unbelievable
so sweet
and so dark

Found poetry



Of arshins, poods, and workplace happiness. A whole new week’s worth of the news where you aren’t.

For Queen Mob’s Tea House

’5 Living Presidents’? ASH Smyth demands a recount

A list of all the living presidents, as at 5:57pm, December 1st, 2018 – for reasons that, I think, should be self-evident.

For Queen Mob’s Tea House

Portrait of a ‘lady’ – Constance Markievicz, by Sarah Purser

Tonight, the Irish journalist Mary Kenny has a play on at the Irish Cultural Centre. Entitled Dearest Old Darling, it’s based on letters sent between the Dublin feminist, socialist, communist, Sinn Fein MP (elect, but never sitting) Constance Markievicz – née Gore-Booth – and her sister Eva.

My great-great-great-aunt, Sarah Purser, portraitist, landscape artist, and leading light (no pun) in the Irish stained glass industry revival, once made a well-known painting of these sisters.


According to John O’Grady’s monograph, The Life and Work of Sarah Purser, this double portrait was commissioned by ‘enlightened resident landlord [and] amateur Arctic explorer’ Sir Henry and his wife Lady Georgina Gore-Booth, of Lissadell, Co. Sligo, in about 1882, when the sisters were roughly 14 (Constance) and 12 (Eva). It is approximately life size, and in its style and setting (a beech grove, apparently) it is thought ‘boldly unconventional’ for the Ireland of the time – and it is credited, writes Elizabeth Coxhead in Daughters of Erin, with being ‘one of the two pictures which put [Purser] on the road to success’.

The original ‘Constance and Eva Gore-Booth’ is displayed at Lissadell House to this day, where it’s available to members of the public in the summer. I must admit I’m not in love with it; if anything, I’d say it’s most remarkable for the fact that it betrays – and fair enough – nothing at all of the hard-line, gun-toting political activist that Constance Gore-Booth/Markievicz was to become. That said, a few years later Constance went to study painting with a friend of Purser’s, and progressed, from there, to the French Académie Julian, where – fatefully? – she met Count Casimir…

No inconsiderable lady in her own right, Sarah Purser (1848-1943) was born into a financially-unstable offshoot of the Guinness-brewing Purser clan. Taking her future in her own hands, she set off to train in Paris (on ‘a pound a week’), and was exhibiting at the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts by the age of 23. Three years later the Royal Dublin Society awarded her a certificate for still lifes, and before long she was elected an Honorary Academician of the RHA, whose first female full member she eventually became in 1924.

She founded the An Túr Gloine (Tower of Glass) stained glass cooperative in 1903, which she then ran for almost 40 years. She helped establish Dublin’s Municipal Gallery of Modern Art and develop the National Gallery of Ireland, where various of her portraits (and much stained glass produced under her sponsorship) now, quite properly, reside.

Often referred to in the same breath as Markievicz, Maud Gonne, Lady Gregory, and other notable women of the era (and indeed Eire), Purser moved in very much the same cultural circles – minus the Catholicism part; she being of Huguenot descent – and went on to paint all of the aforementioned (including Constance several times again), as well as luminaries like WB Yeats, Roger Casement, Douglas Hyde and Brendan Behan’s mother, Kathleen Kearney (‘The blue hat’. (It was Behan’s grandmother, NB, who famously took her bath ‘every year, whether she was dirty or not’)). Her continued friendship with the Gore-Booths was particularly helpful, work-wise. She once remarked that she “went through the British aristocracy like the measles.”

Now and then, the increasingly ‘indomitable’ Purser was herself sketched and painted, among others by John Butler Yeats, WB and Jack’s father. JB’s somewhat beaky portrait especially seems to reflect not some head-in-the-clouds romantic artiste but a professional arts-and-crafts intellectual whose income, for the most part, came through her quite astute investments – in particular, in Guinness. Her large home, Mespil House, on Dublin’s Grand Canal, became, in John O’Grady’s words, ‘a salon frequented by writers, politicians, visionaries and revolutionaries.’

One contemporary describes this scene as ‘full of bubbling gaiety’, and Coxhead claims that Purser’s later portraits were ‘not done for money, but for love of good talk and good company.’ This may be true; but the family remembers her as something of a fierce old stick (‘not notoriously a cuddly creature’ was, I think, my father’s summary), who once threw out a burglar just by talking at him, and who, aged 89, demanded to be taken up by Oliver Gogarty (Buck Mulligan in Ulysses) in his private plane, to inspect the house roof, then wrote complaining to her landlord – to be informed, rather politely, that her lease had actually expired a decade previous.

Artistically, though, she’d become most definitely someone to be reckoned with. She was wont to give her sitters ‘a few scoldings and home-truths’ along with their likenesses; she objected strongly to Catholic bishops having their official portraits done in Rome, not locally; she once gave Yeats an earful for suggesting one of her artists’ windows was derived from an old German print; and in the last week of her life she wrote in fury to the President of Ireland (a former sitter) to excoriate him for the ‘bad art’ on a recent postage stamp.

With her caustic wit and enthusiasm for ‘discussion’ to the fore, and her personal network of poets, painters, politicians, and the occasional heavyweight boxing champion all around her, on the second Tuesday of every month, regular, she hosted, presided over, held forth, and generally tried to bend all aspects of the Irish national culture to her will. For thirty years her soirées were widely considered to be unmissable – if only in the sense that half the guests came primarily out of fear of what might well be said about them in their absence. It was not for nothing these ’at homes’ became known to Dublin wags as Sarah Purser’s ‘dies irae’.

Still fuming at the business of the ugly stamp, she died on August 7th, 1943. Her funeral, her friends were not too grieved to note, was on the second Tuesday of the month.


No alternative facts to see here, people!

For Queen Mob’s Tea House

Bleak Howzat!?— Charles Dickens pays a visit to The Cricket Club

(in loving memory of its former incarnation)

Colombo. The Galle and Pallakele matches lately over, the series lost, and the selectors falling back on Maitland Place in hopes of inspiration for the third and final test.

The last of the erratic rains now gone, the water in the half-uncovered sewers stagnant, rank with garbage. One might not be surprised to see a starving crocodile shamble desperately inland from the Beira Lake. Sea-misted smog drapes, sulkily, along the coast, the Chinese dock work hurling dust into the air as it claws land back from the ocean’s warm insistence.

The sun still harshly present, if hardly visible. The town about its routine business. Stray dogs, all indistinguishable pariahs, lying panting on the pavements; the beggars scarcely better, heat-blasted, all-too-grateful for the slightest splash of generosity. Foot passengers in moistened Bata slippers, keeping extremities beyond the reach of swerving auto-rickshaws and on-rushing omnibuses; office secretaries in saris, umbrellas jostling with a cordial lack of urgency; clerks in unsympathetically-soled city shoes, tripping occasionally on broken paving slabs and buckled tree roots, like thousands of their countrymen before them. Leather-faced, rough-stubbled sweepers fighting valiantly to remove the day’s detritus (if indeed this day is distinct from the one before it), crows, bats and other fauna adding new deposits to the crust, the compound interest of existence.

But cricket – everywhere. Cricket from the high Anglican environs of Mount Lavinia to the long-venerable sports clubs of Havelock Town and Cinnamon Gardens; cricket at the well-kempt forces grounds across Slave Island, and on north to the Premadasa stadium, which casts its shadows on the shunting yards. Cricket up the Galle Road, in narrow lanes and private driveways, and over empty strips of road at poya; cricket down the Baseline Road, at union workers’ grounds and prison yards, in the college and the vidyalaya sports facilities, and on the hardened dirt tracks of the public playing fields.

Cricket drifting in and out of windows on the airwaves; cricket dressing building sites, on half-torn fliers; cricket wrapping short eats in stapled newsprint. Cricket in the ears of the bus conductor as he counts out change; cricket in the day-dreams of white-bearded elders as they journey homeward; cricket in the oversize bags of tiny schoolboys, conveniently kitted out in pristine white.

Cricket in the afternoon on Galle Face Green, and in the lobbies of two- and three-star boarding houses. Illicit early-evening cricket in the temple courtyard, played by the young monks, after duties. Night cricket on the roofs and in the gardens round the international schools. Cricket the length and breadth of this sprawled, and sport-obsessive city.

Come rain or shine, defeat or victory, cricket on billboards, bus shelters, projector screens in pool halls. Cricket in bookies’ shops (the formal and the more informal kind), cricket on telephones, cricket in conversations at the grills of bottle stores, and in communications outlets. Cricket as a base commodity – as film, as hardware, as ritual vestment – in commercial streets, department stores and markets. And cricket peddling in its turn: the heroes of the bygone age, their names and faces writ large on the sweetshop hoardings, street signs, walls of emporia, viaducts, lending their lustre to the jewellery trade, assurance firms, vendors of soft drinks, chain stores, and providers of sundry other services.

But when the hot afternoon is at its hottest, and the bright glare is brightest, and the thirsty cricket-loving gentleman is at his thirstiest, there is, in truth, but one appropriate destination. Here, hard by the Bambalapitiya Junction – well-served by railway and stagecoach, equipped with automobile spaces, and known to every hansom driver – just across from the stately, vaulting dignity of the British Council, on Queen’s Road, at the very beating heart of all this cricket – here sits The Cricket Club Café.

Never can there come a cricketing occasion too big, never can there be a match too early or too late, which The Cricket Club, this primary temple to the gods of cricket – itself pre-eminent among the sports – is not ten times more than a match.

On such a day, as on so many like it, the Proprietress will herself be bustling about – as indeed she is now – within her avocado-painted palisade, in the garden beneath the flowering frangipani, or inside the white-walled, red-roofed bungalow, endeavouring to attend to the administration of her establishment without being drawn into a conversation with a journeyman of the enthusiastic class, who thinks – and talks, need it be said – of nothing but the cricket. On such a day – as here they are – some twenty or so members of an English village touring side will be dining at one agglomerate, unwieldy table, attempting to trip one another up over technicalia, reminiscing, in detail, on their own and international lifetime batting figures, feigning ignorance of their own grosser misdemeanors in preceding seasons, and all in all pretending to a comradeship that might be even less sincere than it is mutual. On such a day – as are they not? – at least one large Sri Lankan family birthday party will be in progress, some two or three perhaps contending to take on the business from their father, who made a fortune by it, ranged in a line, discussing legal and financial quandaries, the aptness of their academic training, headmasters’ reports, their mountainous expenditure on tuition classes, their swimming certificates… the younger offspring keeping their eyes on the unfolding innings – or folding up, as might too often be the case.

Well may the back bar be ill lit, and pervaded with the stale fug of cigarettes; well may the propinquity of the front parlour be so cheek-by-jowl that one’s conversation is clearly audible to every man, woman and child seated therein; well may the chilly, over-punkah-wallah’d family room, on the East side, be deleterious for anyone not drinking hot soup; well may each and every room have conflicting journalistic coverage (present or archival) of two or more unrelated sporting contests performed at any given time; and well, indeed, as the hours wear on, may the assembled drivers, vagabonds and passers-by out on Queen’s Road be decidedly deterred from entrance by the hearty chuntering of much-contented, moneyed folk.

But this is The Cricket Club, which has its signposts directing travellers to Newlands, Lord’s and Eden Gardens; which has its vitrines stocked with Botham’s bat, Greg Chappell’s shoes, Wasim Akram’s shirt, and caps from every franchise on the subcontinent; which has long-sleeved jumpers worn through yeoman innings; which has its signed photographs of youthful Indian legends and hard, West Indian enforcers; which has its telegrams from national premiers to their leading batsmen; which has its clocks telling the time in cricketing capitals (sometimes as much as twice a day); which has its framed newspapers celebrating Sri Lanka’s World Cup victory; which has virtual shrines to Bradman, Warne and Muralitharan; which has its punning menus, randomly apostrophised and intermittently updated, but never – like the laws of the great game – changing too radically in the fundamentals; which has its ‘slash outside the off stump’ mural in the gents; which even has that tea towel explaining cricket to ‘a foreign visitor’ (though who has given that a second glance?). From floor to ceiling, North to South, and port to starboard, these are the glories – howsoever intangible and fleeting – of cricket, the whole cricket, and nothing but the cricket, which among lesser men exhausts the finances, patience, courage, and hope, but which among heroes so overflows the brain and impassions the heart that there is not an one among the patrons here who would not – does not – hasten in and cry, with heedless confidence: “I’ll have the ‘Punters’ Pepper Chicken, please. And a pint of Lion Larger.”

Also published at The Oldie

Russian proverb

A pike there is
lives in the lake.
His job’s to keep
the carp awake.

Howl (after Ginsberg)

I saw the best memes of my generation.


A little bit more idiocy from around the global village.

For Queen Mob’s Tea House