Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Dance that Never Was by Victor Sullivan

© 2010

The band was playing but where were the dancers?

The ballroom had been swept clean in readiness for the well advertised dance. The proprietor, Curly O'Donovan, personally carried out his final inspection, ensured that the toilets were clean, that fire extinguishers were in position and serviceable, that the rolls of admission tickets were in place and finally he drew the bag of cash from his overcoat pocket and placed it in the drawer of the  desk in the cramped ticket office. Satisfied that all was ready he sat down at the side of the empty dance-floor, unfolded his copy of the local weekly newspaper and studied the back page once more, trying to determine what opposition, if any, his planned dance might be facing. During the nineteen sixties in Ireland the back page of many local newspapers displayed entertainment and public dance announcements and there were no other dances advertised for the same night. The band he had booked was very popular. It would be a profitable night. 

The Bluebell Quartet had established a popular niche market offering a mixture of 'old fashioned' ballroom dancing with sing-along music that was well suited to a wide age-range market. Confident that its reputation would fill his hall for the well-advertised dance, Curly eagerly awaited the arrival of the band.  

At 8:30 pm he opened the door just as the band's minibus drew up outside. A quick greeting, some speculative remarks regarding the size of the crowd that could be expected and the four musicians began transferring their equipment from the minibus to the stage. At 9 o'clock the first notes of the evening were played to the empty dance-floor. Few, if any, patrons were expected to enter until after 10 pm, that was normal. Then a brave early trickle would quickly build up to a rush at the door and by 11 pm the polished floor would no longer be visible from the stage. 

The band ran through its warm-up selections for the first hour with only Curly as audience. By 11:30 there was a whiff of anxiety in the air. Where were the usual early fans? Curly approached the stage and spread out a copy of local newspaper, jabbing his finger on the generous display advertisement. There it was: Dance from 9 to 2  with music by the ever-popular Bluebell Quartet. 
Unease, puzzlement, worried glances and dismissive shrugs on the stage as the proprietor paced the bleak floorboards, eventually seeking solace in the projection room above the balcony.

The Bluebell Quartet played on, now well into the repertoire that should already have had scores of early feet on the dance-floor.
What could have happened? Had there been some major disaster that they were unaware of? Had the President died suddenly? Or the Pope? Never before had they played for an event where nobody turned up. Where were the Bluebell's devoted dancing followers? Had somebody started an unsavory rumor about the band, or about the hall? 

At midnight Curly strode out into the street, returning quickly to announce glumly from the centre of the dance-floor, "We'd better abandon the dance, lads. There's nobody coming. The street is empty. There isn't a living soul… OH!"
Four pairs of eyes stared down at him. He seemed to have been struck dumb or was about to have some sort of fit. He quickly regained his composure however.
"Pack up, lads. Pack up your gear and come to my house for a cup of tea."

Curly sat on one side of the empty hall, staring bleakly at the very clean floor like one defeated in battle while the four musicians dismantled their kit and loaded it into the minibus. Each one returned to the stage to make a final check that nothing had been forgotten and then sat beside the man who had booked them for his doomed dance.
"What's happened? Why did nobody turn up?" Edward enquired.
By way of reply Curly took out his wallet and began to count out notes.
"No!" Edward stopped him, "It's the business policy of the Bluebell Quartet never to take more than is taken at the door from a dance promoter. You took nothing tonight so that is what we charge. Nothing."
"No! Nothing!" echoed the other three, Harry, Willy and Victor as Curly waved the wad of notes towards them. 
"We'll hold you to the tea though!" added Harry, always quick to defuse an awkward situation with humor.
"But it wasn't your fault, it was all mine." declared Curly. The four pairs of eyes stared at him, silently demanding an explanation from the very embarrassed proprietor of the hall.
"I booked you for tonight but I forgot to check what night it was. Nobody would stay out late anywhere around this part of the country on this night. They're all afraid of the ghosts! It's All Souls Night. It's Halloween!"

                    © Victor Sullivan, 2010       (former Bluebell Quartet Organist)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

En Route to Congo by Bus by Gerry Mulcaire

Civil unrest and political instability on an Irish bus 
 ©  2011

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  While sitting on the bus on Merchants quay in Cork, feeling a mixture of apprehension and excitement, and wondering if this trip was worth the risk involved. After-all, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a country which is politically unstable and ravaged by war. Being one of a few white people in a mainly black population, I would stand out like a sore-thumb and with little of the local language it is not going to be easy.

 I read an article in the Examiner about Pat Falvey, the Mountaineer and adventurer from Cork, in which he spoke of his regret in spending so much time away from his family due to his adventure travels. I too have a passion for adventure travel, but also conscious of losing precious time with my kids, or even leaving them without a dad, as has happened to others. This causes conflict in me, but I am consoled by the thought that the good which will come out of this trip is worth the risk.    

 My wife called on my mobile to tell me they would be passing the bus shortly as the kid's wanted to wave at me, so I positioned myself by the window in order to catch their attention. Their eyes searched frantically for me, but they did not see me. My heart sank as I waved at them passing by. "Why did she not slow down driving past," I thought to myself. My attention turned to the other passengers on the bus, which was almost empty, and to the bus driver who had a very abrupt manner. A mother was standing outside the bus as her kids entered and the driver stopped them with an angry tone, hold it! He said. 'What's wrong with him now?', 'they have their tickets!' she shouted.

My attention then turned to the smell of alcohol and urine coming from the back of the bus. A man was lying across the back seats obviously drunk. After the driver was finished checking tickets he went to the back of the bus and tried to wake the drunken man, 'hello! Come on, wake-up! You can't sleep here!', while at the same time calling the Gardai, to have him removed. He then called his supervisor to advise him or her of the situation. Being aware of how much time was already being wasted in travelling by road and ferry to catch my flight in London to my final destination, DRC, which is situated in Central Africa,I did not need this unnecessary delay, nor expect to experience civil unrest so soon.

In the meantime the angry mother was still complaining loudly about the driver's attitude while looking for a seat in the middle of the bus as she moved from the back due to the stench, and probably not wanting to be near the driver either. It was obvious that the driver was irritable and taking it out on the passengers. As it was hard enough leaving my family for two weeks, not sure if I would even see them again, I was trying to stay positive, so not wanting to become a sounding board for her dissatisfaction with the driver and foul smell on the bus, I avoided eye contact with her.

Two Gardai arrived and managed to wake the man at the back and removed him from the bus. He looked to be in his sixties, and I tried to imagine what his story was. "Was he one of the Irish emigrants who went to London in the sixties and seventies?", and ended up alcoholic and homeless like many others. Had he come home for a visit and was now attempting to return to the UK, but had one or two too many to drink. Thinking to myself, 'There go I but for the grace of God', having been like him many years ago. 

All of this put a damper on my romantic thoughts of freedom and adventure. I missed my family already. Anyway, "No turning back now"! I thought to myself as we pulled away from the bus stop.

Things started to look up as we changed drivers in Waterford and the new driver was much friendlier and cheerful. We were not sorry to see the back of the other one. His departure triggered sighs of relief, and comments about his aggressive manner could be heard around the bus.

Eventually we arrived at Rosslare harbour and had to wait a while before we could board the ship. Some of the passengers got out for a smoke, as they had done at every opportunity on the way. Noticing a family with young children playing outside the bus, I missed my own kids already. After a while the driver informed us we would have to get off the bus with our hand-luggage to clear customs, and get back on the bus again to board the ship. Driving straight on would have been more convenient, besides being on the ferry would feel like making more progress on my journey.

As we would be travelling through the night on the ferry, I explored the decks and lounges searching for somewhere to sleep. At one stage while lying across seats in a lounge I heard the voices of the family who were playing outside the bus. The mother was complaining about a man who was being aggressive to the kids. Later, overhearing one of the kids saying that the man looked like he was going to grab one of them, and sensing there was a bit of paranoia going on, I moved to another spot in case of being a suspect, as I was travelling alone. 

Next morning as we were waiting for the deck door to open , this family were also waiting at the same door, and the mother gave me an accusing look  as she said to her daughter 'Come over here love!,' while keeping her gaze on me. Feeling offended by her look I was hoping she could see the picture of my kids on my mobile phone, which was at an angle so she could see them, and see I am a parent too. Then, another frightful thought, 'What if she thinks I am taking photos of her kids?' Later on I was regretting not saying something like" Don't worry I have enough of them at home."
Maybe I should be more understanding as I am very protective over my own children. At this stage, having enough of this paranoia I was hoping the deck doors would open.

It was good to be back on the bus making headway on my long journey. We had a few more stops before we reached London, and eventually arrived. As if there was not enough paranoia to deal with on the journey, worse was to come here. Mainly due to the terrorist threats and the Glastonbury festival which is a major event in the UK there were police with sniffer dogs checking commuter's bags. Being conscious of the fact that I would be waiting for some time, and the police being on high alert, my presence would seem suspicious to them. Loads of people were being stopped and searched, and although I had nothing to hide having two suitcases and a ruck-sack it would have been very inconvenient, besides I was tired, and impatient to start the next leg of my journey. Being so eager to get on the bus for Heathrow I jumped the queue without realising it, but on hearing a sarcastic remark from the driver, promptly apologised to the other passengers, and boarded the bus, happy to see the back of Victoria.

Finally we arrived in Heathrow, where I could begin to make faster headway to my destination. After rearranging the contents of my bags to sort out the stuff to carry in my hand-luggage and weigh the bags again, there was another long wait for check –in. With my suitcases checked in I was able to relax and felt much freer. 
Boarding was announced and I was finally on my way, feeling foolish for wasting so much time travelling by road and ferry, when I could have been here in less than 2 hours if I had taken a flight, but on second thoughts considering my budget was tight  I saved myself a lot of money.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Puzzle, by Marie Guillot

© May 2011  
What is it? 
It's a puzzle.
The pieces,
All jigsawed,
Prick the fingers.
It's a bingo.
The numbers,
All printed,
Have to match.
It's Mathematics.
No matter 
Additions or divisions,
They multiply.
It's a homework.
At home,
For home.
It's a test.
Finally, the result.
So, what IS it?