Archives for May 2007

The Mystery of the Monster of Limerick Docks

After foolishly getting quite excited about (and engaged with) the soul-sappingly predictable thing that was the general election, it’s high time I turned my gaze from prosaic matters and focused on more important, magical things. Coming into focus today: Sea Monsters.

Way back in October 2005, when was but a mewling babe, I related the blood-curdling (1922) tale of The Mystery of the Monster of Limerick Docks. At the time I promised to dig out a copy of Denis O’Shaughnessy’s Limerick: 100 Stories of the Century to flesh out the rather sketchy details I’d gleaned from Graham J. McEwan’s Mystery Animals of Britain and Ireland and the Limerick Leader. Despite my half-arsed efforts the book had remained, like mystery beasties themselves, frustratingly elusive. That is, until now.

Goodbye sketchy details, hello not-very-detailed sketch:

Shannon Monster

The artist was one Stephen O’Gorman (a Limerickian who’d emigrated to Birmingham) and the above depiction was submitted to the Limerick Leader after they’d reprinted the story in 1974. The original witness was Mr. A. E. Aldridge (of Gloucestshire), master of a schooner docked in Limerick at the time. A quick (updated) recap of his account is in order:

He and his crew were getting the ship ready to sail on high tide in the afternoon when the mate called him from the cabin: “Captain! Come up here at once!”

“When I reached the deck I saw the quays on both sides of the river crowded with people and they were watching the most amazing sea creature they or I had ever seen or read about. The object was close alongside my vessel [resembling] in size and shape…a small submarine. It was large and black and shining and it had a very long neck, at least twelve feet long, held proudly erect and shaped like a swan’s. It waved its small head from side to side and its bright shining eyes seemed to express alarm.

“Behind its long neck for a distance of ten or twelve feet was a massive black cone-shaped hump.”

Mr. Aldridge then stated that at this stage the monster was heading upstream at a very slow speed and seagulls in the vicinity flew off in fright. He then described how the creature eventually turned and headed downstream.

My original post on the incident ended there, but (as Mr. O’Shaughnessy tells us) “this extraordinary story was not yet concluded”. Back over to you, A. E. Aldridge:

“After we had passed Foynes [on the Shannon Estuary] it was nearly dark when I and the crew heard a blowing sound, like a porpoise makes when it surfaces for air, and we saw the long neck of the sea creature shoot out of the water; then it disappeared. It returned within a few seconds surfacing to blow and take in air again. This it did again and again and we eventually left it behind. This was the last we saw of it.” (O’Shaugnessy, p.7)

As Aldridge notes, the banks of the river were teeming with (presumably) agog locals. One of them was the afore-mentioned Stephen O’Gorman, and his recollections colourfully corroborate those of the bould Capt. Aldridge.

Stephen was a teenager at the time and was playing handball in Shannon Street with several of his pals when suddenly they noticed that people were gathering in large numbers at the quayside. “We immediately joined them and to our amazement saw this strange creature in the middle of the river. It was travelling very slowly towards Sarsfield Bridge.”

“The creature travelled as far as Limerick Boat Club and then turned back[...]A group of Free State soliders with rifles came dashing by (I believe they came out of the Strand Barracks) and they kept pace with the creature. When it passed the end of the Docks…they opened fire from Cleeve’s Bank and every so often they repeated the shooting until the creature passed Barrington’s Pier and finally disappeared into the distance.”

“They did not hit it, merely content to hit the water just behind it. I believe they were just trying to encourage it on its way”.

Nice to see that the Free State soldiers were operating on a principle later prevalent in 50s B-Movies: “It’s something that defies our understanding! Quick, Shoot it!”

So there you have it. What makes the tale so fascinating and unusual is that the incident took place in the middle of a city, apparently in full view of dozens of witnesses. I’m not sure if O’Gorman’s sketch was done at the time, or not till 1974 when he offered his account. I suspect the latter, so it’s likely his depiction was influenced both by Aldridge’s story and the “Nessie” lake/sea monster template that had (by then) become prevalent.

Whatever the case may be, it sure beats readin’ or writin’ about the terrifying, unstoppable behemoth that is Fianna Fáil.

Cloisim an tiún, is tú mo rún

Writing in Village (Feb 22nd, 2007) John Waters described how “hurtful and confusing” he’d found it when Joe Duffy read out (o’er the radio) Waters’ lyrics for Ireland’s Eurovision entry and “lined up a couple of cornerboys to slag them off.”

While I part company with Mr. Waters on just about everything else he says, I couldn’t help but feel some sympathy for his view that “without its melody, backing, arrangement and phrasing, a lyric is a naked thing, utterly devoid of its emotional content and context.” Anyone who’s ever rolled their eyes at ludicrous, pseudo-academic debates like “Is Dylan as good as Keats?”, will probably admit that there’s a good dollop of truth buried in Waters’ wounded complaints.

Having said all that, and acknowledging that I too pitched in with the cheap digs, Waters’ words still stink to high heaven, even when reunited (through Dervish’s performance) with their “emotional content and context”. They did not, of course, stink much more badly than many (or any) of the lyrics on show in Helsinki tonight, but given Ireland’s rock bottom placement (24th out of 24) it seems, to paraphrase the rats from Fraggle Rock, that “The Cornerboys have spoken”.

Given that Ireland were only saved the ignominy of a nil pois catastrophe by the kindly (5 point) intervention of our loyal Celtic brothers Albania, it’s reasonably likely that Mr. Waters is even now putting pen to paper, furiously criticising the canny “political” voting of Eastern Europe’s pop lovers. If he’s cross and cranky, he’s not alone.

A quick glance at the BBC News “Have Your Say” pages reveals a mass outpouring of outrage and indignation (after the UK entry joined us in the competition’s basement). A sample entry from one Peter Millar:

It’s true, they are happy to come here and suck our government dry of it’s money but deep down they don’t like us. the whole shows is Political, Political voting, If your country isn’t from the east your stuffed.

Pete’s use of expressions like “suck our government dry” (Damn those Eastern Vampires!) should lead to lucrative job offers from the Mail or the Express. The reply from Marko (Chapel Hill) was, I thought, rather amusing:

And as for the Balkans – it seems those people can’t do much right. They are either condemned for their “barbarous” wars or reprimanded for expressing a spirit of solidarity when voting for each other.

As for Ireland – our second relegation in three years confirms our status as 21st Century Eurovision no-hopers. With apologies to Bjorge Lillelien:

Dana! Johnny Logan! Johnny Logan again! Linda Martin! Niamh Kavanagh! Paul Harrington & Charlie McGettigan! Eimear Quinn – can you hear me, Eimear Quinn! Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!

Winning this bizarre competition is (of course) no guarantee of quality (“Why Me?” was hideous, big-haired gack). Likewise, there have been many noble failures. Take the following two gems for example: Muriel Day and The Lindsays’ (Burt Bacharach-tastic) “The Wages of Love” (7th in 1969)…

It’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more…

Back in our conker-playing, football sticker-collecting days, my primary schoolmates and I were in clear and enthusiastic agreement as to the funniest thing ever dreamed up by humankind: The campfire farting scene in Blazing Saddles. It had no serious competition (although a joke involving a passenger having a poo out a train window did, at one time, run it reasonably close).

Though farts and poos remain, of course, potent comic muses, the sad reality is that they just don’t occasion as much hilarity as they once did. When last I saw Blazing Saddles, for example, I sat stone-faced and disappointed throughout much of it. Even the copious wind-breaking left me cold.

The reason why childhood/childish humour is on my mind is as follows. Last weekend, for some reason, “The Sailor’s Hornpipe” began heavy and insistent rotation in/on my mental jukebox (and once tunes pop in like this it can be tough work to pop them back out). Before long I was tunelessly whistling it. Not long after that the words

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inevitably tagged themselves on. I defy anyone to (mentally or aurally) hear said melody without one thing inexorably leading to the other.

Much the same can be said for the paintings of Piet Mondrian. Who (of a certain age) can view their rectangular forms without thinking immediately of VO5 hair gel? Poor Mondrian himself, God rest his soul, probably spins in his grave (also thinking of hair gel).

After happily singing a few verses of “Popeye”, detailing the connection between being “strong to the finich” and “eating spinach”, my mind flashed back to this playground classic:

I’m Popeye the sailor man
I live in a caravan
When I go swimmin’
I kiss all the women
I’m Popeye the sailor man!

Believe it or not that ditty was once capable of making tears steam down even the most mirthless child’s cheeks. The chief alternative version I recall went something like:

I’m Popeye the sailor man
I live in a frying pan
I turned on the gas
And burnt my ass
I’m Popeye the sailor man!

A cursory bit of (Googly) research reveals that there were/are many other versions: He lives in a watering can, he sleeps with his granny, when it gets chilly he tickles his willy etc. The one quality all the versions share is a pronounced unfunniness, at least to my (reasonably) adult eyes. Yet back in the early/mid-80s such mildly bawdy rhyming would have sounded (to my pals and I) like edgy, taboo-busting humour of the most uproarious kind.

All of which, I suppose, just goes to show that though young children are often poetically imagined to be icons of freedom and unpolluted wildness they actually have (in most cases) a clear sense of moral/social propriety. That, I imagine, partly accounts for the popularity of scatological, gently ribald humour in playgrounds. There’s nothing quite like talk of farts and mickies to deliver the po-faced adult world of “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not” a much-needed kick in the pants.

One wonders if new versions of the Popeye song continue to be created. Are they still out there, evolving and adapting to reflect the ostentatious ‘marvels’ of contemporary Ireland?

I’m Popeye the actuary
I drive a big SUV…

A few final notes –

Though I’ve always been a fan of E.C. Segar‘s gurning old sea dog, it wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I got to experience Popeye in some of his earlier, less-diluted, forms. Fantagraphics’ recent decision to (handsomely) reprint all of Segar’s Popeye-related Thimble Theatre strips would be cause for celebration if I wasn’t so broke. I’m finding it tough enough keeping up with their wonderful Krazy Kat series without another dangly, sugar-coated carrot of comic goodness being held in front of me.

Must get money. Money good.

I discovered further evidence of my need for deeper pockets the other day with the anouncement that:

The first 60 Fleischer Popeye cartoons (from 1933 to 1938), restored from the original negatives, uncut, all Paramount titles restored, will be released as a 4 disc collector’s edition DVD set this summer.

Major Fleischer Studios’ releases like this are must haves. Not only did they capture Popeye in all hs surreal, mutterin’/mumblin’ glory, they also produced the most sumptuous Superman cartoons ever created. I’m sick of not having the cash to buy such wonderful things.

It’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more…

[tags]Popeye, Fleischer Studios, Superman, Blazing Saddles, Playground humour[/tags]

Wo kann ich ein kühlschrank magnet kaufen?

Snooker Table

And so it ends. After 18 days of squinting at shifting, swirling, pixellated blobs of colour and light on the lousy feed, the World Snooker Championship packs away its balls and white gloves for another year. My eyes may never fully recover.

Incidentally, my better half’s suggested technique for rendering clarity to the dizzying vortex was to “unfocus my eyes”, thus (presumably) unlocking the wonders of Magic Eye snooker. It didn’t work…

It wasn’t until mid-way through last night’s captivating (and gruelling) final session that I discovered a feed of the crystal-clearest resolution over at No need to unfocus here. The eyes could do their standard, everyday focusing job, and mighty relieved they were to do it.

The only downside was commentary delivered in German: a language in which I can confidently ask but one question: Wo kann ich ein kühlschrank magnet kaufen? (Where can I buy a fridge magnet?). Sadly, there’s no particularly amusing anecdote behind why I learned the above. I was in Düsseldorf and I wanted to buy a fridge magnet. Er…that’s it.

Anyway, the rather excitable Eurosport commentator had (from the little I could understand) a couple of enjoyable idiosyncrasies. He insisted on referring to both finalists as “markselby” (all one word) and he made generous use of the (possibly non-existent) word “luftbar”. I’m no expert on the language of course, but I assume by this he meant an energy snack of some kind favoured by one (or both) of the “markselbys”. Back in the old days a fistful of beta blockers washed down with a skinful of pints was the performance enhancement regime of choice. Times change however, and sipping on a glass of iced water while munching a luftbar may now be the preferred option.

Educational as all this was I soon grew weary of it and tried to get the BBC audio and the Eurosport video to synch. Results were not satisfactory. “What a shot by John Higgins!”, Dennis Taylor would prognosticatively cry as the elder, Scottish “markselby” chalked his cue pondering that very, yet to be executed, shot.Or, possibly, thinking about a tasty interval luftbar.

The whole lagging behind/racing ahead commentary phenomenon left me conflustered, to the point where rational thought started to fail me. I was about to wonder aloud (entirely seriously) as to what might happen if the commentary in the Crucible audience’s earpieces actually skipped a few seconds ahead of the live action when I caught myself…realising the temporal impossibilities involved. One can only imagine the freaked out expressions on audience members’ faces if it did occur. Voices from a (twilight) zone more live than real life. Aaahhh!

Speaking of all things weird, the BBC’s little filler segments (during mid-session intervals) continue to be as tedious and odd as ever. Twelve months ago, you may remember, we were treated to the bemusing sight of a forlorn Graeme Dott revisiting his old secondary school. Last year’s me takes up the story:

The school was totally deserted and we got to see Graeme mooch about the empty halls and classrooms before playing basketball (by himself) in an empty gym. It was like a kind of dour, snooker-based episode of The Twilight Zone (co-written by John ‘Where’s the white going?’ Virgo and Richard Matheson) with Mr. Dott the sole survivor of a global apocalypse.

The best bit I saw this year was yesterday afternoon.

Steve Davis sits (in front of a laptop) at a hotel bedroom desk. He delivers a monologue to the camera about the unique pressures of going into the final day with a big lead (as John Higgins had). Upon finishing, he glances casually over his shoulder. The camera follows his gaze to reveal…John Parrott, lying (fully-clothed) on the room’s sole double bed.

I know the Beeb have been pushing Parrott and Davis as the (‘amusingly’ mismatched) snooker equivalent of Laurel & Hardy, but I hadn’t expected them to go to the lengths of implying they share the same bed. Hot stuff entirely.

What would “The Lovely Hazel Irvine” say?

Down where the red worms circle like sharks

A few snippets from last weekend to reinvigorate a slumbering blog.

29/04/07 – 4.18 P.M.

I’m not a fan of Sundays, particularly heavy, sticky, oppressive Sundays like this one. “Muggy”, I believe, is the mot juste, and cranky is how such days tend to make me feel. Throw in the additional factor of sitting on a bus (as I am) somewhere between Ennis and Gort (the Galway town, not the all-powerful robot) and crankiness could soon give way to morose irritability.

Happily, this has turned out to be one of those Bus Éireann journeys one might almost describe as pleasant. The radio is tuned to something other than 2fm (and playing at a discrete volume), there have been surprisingly few people yelling into mobile phones, and (best of all) the seat beside me is free of the usual ‘eccentric’ type (picking his nose, scoffing Monster Munch, sucking on Capri Sun etc).

My ultimate destination is Galway. More precisely, it’s Roisín Dubh, where the creepy-crawling, rustic (and rusty) melancholy of The Handsome Family awaits.

30/04/07 – 7.00 P.M. (½ way between Ennis and Limerick)

Well that was quite wonderful. Despite the fact that Roisín’s has lost something of its (still considerable) charm due to renovations, it proved an ideal venue to see Brett and Rennie Sparks conjure their musical daimons. We sat tight & snug up against the stage wallowing in the warm, dark meatiness of the songs. It was captivating stuff.

While the music (particularly Brett’s voice) is deliciously rich, it’s the freshness and originality of Rennie’s words that transport the songs to scary, moving and magical places. The subject matter may (superficially) share some common ground with other acts casually labelled “alt-country”, but the observations are sufficiently vibrant, incisive and (often) playfully absurd to make comparable lyricists seem a tad banal and hackneyed. Anyway, the cumulative effect is exhilarating and involving – particularly when the band is a mere four feet from where you’re sitting.

One other advantage of this close proximity was that it allowed my pal Alan (thanks Al) to pinch the set list. Here it is ephemera fans:

I’ll sign off now as I’m nearing the end of this journey’s return leg. Not only that but I’m struggling to stay awake after a day spent clearing a field of rocks (on a friend’s father’s farm) and battling to noble defeat in a fiercely contested bout of doubles snooker.

It went to the black. We choked. These defeats (like the HF’s songs) haunt me…

[tags]Handsome Family, Roisin Dubh, Galway, Snooker[/tags]