Wednesday, April 23, 2014


"Wealth - any income that is at least one hundred dollars more a year than the income of one's wife's sister's husband."

H.L. Mencken

NATIONAL LIVING TREASURE. Barry Ritholtz’s blog is such a pleasure that I really should give him credit each time I lift a quote that he has used. But, of course the real credit belongs to H.L. Mencken—so  I think I’ll leave things the way they are. I first heard about Mencken  from the late BBC broadcaster, Alistair Cook—he of LETTER FROM AMERICA fame—who quoted from him constantly (to my great entertainment). Wit enriches life

A USEFUL STATE. Barry, after all, has the advantage of still being alive—a useful state if you want to write. His blog—THE BIG PICTURE—is consistently of a high standard. Some of his financial analysis (more the stuff written by guest bloggers) can be quite heavy going; but, personally, he has a marvelous wit, and writes with great clarity—helpful  given the arcane world of finance. His blog also includes —virtually daily—a  selection of reading material which rarely fails to produce some fresh insight.

I have put him in my mental ‘National Living Treasure’ box. He comes across as a  decent man—and not a typical Wall Street money-at-any-price type. The man has empathy and compassion—attributes we should probably value a great deal more than we do.

MY ZEN PERIOD—WHICH CONTINUES. Over four years ago, I decided I wouldn’t lose my temper for a year—and stuck to it—and now it has become a habit. Saves a great deal of energy. Amuses the hell out of me. Today, I can’t get my printer to work so I’m tempted to try a little rage—but I’m far from sure my computer would be cowed into cooperation. I’m actually getting better at fixing the damn things—somewhat to my amazement—because I come from a background which was impressively lacking in practicality. My much loved grandmother, for instance, never learned to drive and used horses on her farm (which she bought for her grandchildren to enjoy, not because she wanted to farm). She liked the way the horses looked—they were massive beasts, one black and the other white—and it allowed her to employ more people. Not  a misprint. She was a high minded, socially concerned, compassionate woman—and I miss her every hour I breathe.

CHARISMATIC MANIAC. As for my mother, I don’t think she ever learned to drive either, because she was lethal behind the wheel, and the worst driver I have ever known. In fact, she once plowed through a bus queue in nearby Donnybrook (yes it really exists) though I don’t think anyone was actually killed. How she got insurance, I’ll never know, but Ireland was laid back in those days, and people were tolerant of each others’ eccentricities—at least in her social circle—though I think she pushed the envelope beyond scientific possibility. But, to be fair, she didn’t make a habit of mowing down bus queues, as such—she was quite catholic in the trail of destruction she left in her wake. She took out a sh0p front during another incident. But she was also charismatic, forceful, connected, and could be charming, so she got away with stuff that would have had anyone else locked up—or put in a padded cell. And I guess it didn’t hurt that her brother-in-law, Michael O’Reilly, was a senior policeman—a chief superintendent (roughly the equivalent of a chief of police).

SEX—AND A GREAT DEAL MORE SEX—AND, SUDDENLY, WE WERE 12. The only thing my grandmother was trained to do was be a lady—and to speak excellent French, thanks to her French governess. My mother endured the same fate—until she rebelled in her mid teens and was allowed to go to boarding school. She then fled to London and joined the WAAF—the Women’s Auxilary Air Force—not because she wanted to fight for King and Country, but because there was a war on—and then meant men in profusion. Sure the city was being bombed, and civilians were being killed in serious quantities, but mother needed men as desperately as a drowning man (or woman) needs air. And I was the result. Eleven more were to follow at a time when women of her social standing slept around—if they slept around (and of course they did)—discretely;and did not have large families. Four or five, if you were gentry, was tops.  A dozen was for the peasantry—even though mother did it with some style. We alternated boy/girl, boy/girl the whole way through. As someone said about the Japanese, we made for a neat crowd.

THE MERIT OF MISERY. Though I didn’t have a happy childhood—or even close—I now realize that I was exceedingly fortunate to have as bizarre an upbringing as I did. It was tailor made to turn me into a writer partly because I became used to the unusual and the unorthodox—and just couldn’t settle for the ordinary. Also, practically everyone we knew was creative in some way or other—and creativity is inspiring and infectious. My grandmother, for instance, was a superb poet. My mother was an author and painter.

DAMNED IF I KNOW WHY I’M HAPPY—BUT THERE IT IS. I’m hovering somewhere between pensive and whimsical today. Part of it is because I’m tired—I stayed up through the night a couple of days ago—both to work and to watch RIVERDANCE and PINK FLOYD (separate stories—special memories) and part of it is because I’m exceedingly happy, though I don’t know why. I have rarely had a tougher year—or been more challenged—and yet somehow things feel right.

I have also embarked on a couple of parallel adventures—and I’m terrified. Then again, there is terror and terror. Terror when people are trying to kill you is in a different league—especially when it looks as if they might succeed.

TERRIFIED. That is always how the best adventures start. Terrified or not, you continue—because that is just what you do.

To think, to have, to hold, to lust, to love, to risk—and to write. I love it so.


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