A Pint Of Plain Is Your Only Man: Addendum

To Alex,
for pooling his version of The interview,
as well as for his so-called “simple” cuisine.

I rather hoped I had Succeeded in Encapsulating the Intricacies of Flann O’Brien’s Masterwork in one succinct yet definitive post, as in the Proust sketch:

But far from it—like The third policeman, all this flummery is inevitably fated to continue ad infinitum.

I note that A Pint Of Plain Is Your Only Man [A POPIYOM? Not a poppadum, anyway—Ed.] is also a topic for dogged doggerel in At-swim-two-birds (pp.77–80):

When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night—
A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN.

By God there’s a lilt in that, said Lamont.
Very good, said Furriskey. Very nice.
I’m telling you it’s the business, said Shannahan. Listen now.

When money’s tight and is hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt—
A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN.

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say that you need a change,
A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN.
[…]
When food is scarce and your larder bare,
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare—
A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN.
[…]
If he knew nothing else, he knew how to write a pome. A pint of plain is your only man.
[…]
Excuse me for a second, interposed Shanahan in an urgent manner, I’ve got a verse in my head. Wait now.
What!
Listen, man. Listen to this before it’s lost.

When stags appear on the mountain high,
With flanks the colour of bran,
When a badger bold can say good-bye,
A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN!

Myles: a glowing paean, or The life of O’Brien

What’s all this fuss about Flann O’Brien, I hear you ask. (One perceptive tribute by Kevin McMahon is penned entirely in the form of a Mylesian pub conversation). [1] Padraig Colman, in a fine series of detailed tributes, sums him up dispassionately as “a morose drunk who led an uneventful life as a senior civil servant in Dublin”.

Well, for one thing, as fellow Flanneurs will know, he was an astute observer of “Poor suffering Hugh Manity”, that’s why. He was a dedicated chronicler of the Hugh Mann condition—a common and distressing affliction. He had a keen ear for the conversation of The Plain People of Ireland, The Brother, and insufferable bores of any Ilk, whether pretentious or just trite. He had the Cut of their Jib, whatever that is. His intolerance of cant (and doubtless Kant) has brought him a cult following [Autospell running amok?—Ed.].

Apart from The Man Who Has Read It In Manuscript, another snowclone that is constantly on the lips of the aficionado is

The Man Who Spoke Irish At A Time When It Was Neither Profitable Nor Popular.

This meretricious character inevitably takes a bow in the Myles na Gopaleen Catechism of Cliché,

a unique compendium of all that is nauseating in contemporary writing. Compiled without regard to expense or the feelings of the public.

Of what was any deceased citizen you like to mention typical?
Of all that is best in Irish life.
Correct. With what qualities did he endear himself to all who knew him?
His charm of manner and unfailing kindness.
Yes. But with what particularly did he impress all those he came in contact with?
His sterling qualities of mind, loftiness of intellect and unswerving devotion to the national cause.
What article of his was always at the disposal of the national language?
His purse.
And what more abstract assistance was readily offered to those who sought it?
The fruit of his wide reading and profound erudition.
At what time did he speak Irish?
At a time when it was neither profitable nor popular.
With what cause did he never disguise the fact that his sympathies lay?
The cause of national independence.
And at what time?
At a time when lesser men were content with the rôle of time-server and sycophant.
What was he in his declining years?
Though frail of health, indefatigable in his exertions on behalf of his less fortunate fellow men.
Whom did he marry in 1879?
A Leitrim Lady.
And at what literary work was he engaged at the time of his death?
His monumental work on The Oghams of Tipperary.
And of what nature is his loss?
Well-nigh irreparable.

Looby describes Myles as

a postmodernist at a time when it was neither profitable nor popular,

and McMahon signs off with a flourish:

When did you start reading this stuff?
At a time when it was neither profitable nor popular.

(Go, and never darken my towels again—Rufus T. Firefly)

What with our Psalm, and our Sermon, I hereby declare our impertinent sequence of Trois petites liturgies quorate.

OK, watch this, now I’m going to make a subtle transition (and Myles would have relished the voiceover to Away from it all):

Gondolas, gondolas, gondolas. Everywhere… gondolas.
But there’s more to Venice than gondolas […]
We pause to reflect that despite its cathedrals,
its palaces, its bustling markets,
and its priceless legacy of renaissance art,
the one thing that Venice truly lacks—is leprechauns.
[scene changes] But there’s no shortage of leprechauns here:
Yes, Ireland, the emerald island…

Here we are again. Normal service resumed. A critic, and a critic of critics, Flann O’Brien discussed art, music, and theatre acutely—sometimes even more acutely than this:

Literary criticism
My grasp of what he wrote and meant
Was sometimes only five or six %.
The rest was only words and sound—
My reference is to Ezra £.

He would have enjoyed my Heifetz story too.

His Keats and Chapman series is full of shameless yet often arcane puns:

“My dear girl”, he said, “You have been living in F. Huehl’s pair o’dice.”
When she was gone he turned to Chapman.
“F. Huehl and his Monet are soon parted,” he observed.

Some more from Groucho:

“Sir, you try my patience!”
“I don’t mind if I do—you must come over and try mine sometime.”

For all his withering disdain for pretension, Myles’s essays are liberally sprinkled with French, German, and what Peter Cook, in a not-unMylesian sketch, called “The Latin”:

(or for surly purists, the full authentic urtext here).

Nor is the Catechism of Cliché limited to English. It becomes increasingly unhinged (as one does):

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Mulieres eorum.

And one for the Jesuit sinologist, methinks:

Noli me quidere?
Tang.

And, for the Indologist, no trawl through the Milesian ouevre would be complete without

Ubi nemo mi lacessit (inquit Gandhi)?
In Poona.

In 2016, writing in The Irish Times (since Myles’s day, allegedly an organ otherwise less hilarious than The China Daily), Frank McNally did a rather good sequel on the elections. Indeed, it’s a fun game to play. One day, if you don’t watch your step, I may regale you with my very own Catechism of Orchestral Cliché. You have been warned. [Oh all right then, if you insist—here you are.]

On my visits to Germany I constantly giggle at Myles’s Buchhandlung service:

A visit that I paid to the house of a newly married friend the other day set me thinking. My friend is a man of great wealth and vulgarity. […] Whether he can read or not, I do not know, but some savage faculty of observation told him that most respectable and estimable people usually had a lot of books in their houses. So he bought several book-cases and paid some rascally middleman to stuff them with all manner of new books, some of them very costly volumes on the subject of French landscape painting.
I noticed on my visit that not one of them had ever been opened or touched, and remarked the fact.
“When I get settled down properly,” said the fool, “I’ll have to catch up on my reading.”
This is what set me thinking. Why would a wealthy person like this be put to the trouble of pretending to read at all? Why not [pay] a professional book-handler to go in and suitably maul his library for so-much per shelf? Such a person, if properly qualified, could make a fortune.

Tweety McTangerine take note…

And we haven’t even discussed At-swim-two-birds or The third policeman, Begob. Here one may even detect a certain affinity with Cold comfort farm. As Myles observed,

It goes without Synge that many of my writings are very fine indeed.

I can only deplore the paucity in his oeuvre of allusions to fieldwork reports on Daoist ritual. And vice versa.

He survived longer than Hašek, but drank himself to an early grave (“But it’s not even closing time yet!”, I hear him exclaim) in 1966—sadly not in time to reflect

If I had all the money I’ve spent on drink—I’d spend it on drink.

A Pint of Plain is Your Only Man

There are some nice radio and TV tributes online, like

and the only filmed interview with the Great Man, here. And even interviews with people who knew him, here.

One last time—Altogether Now:

At what time did he speak Irish?
At a time when it was neither profitable nor popular.
And of what nature is his loss?
Well-nigh irreparable.
So what capital adornment do I take off to him?
(It’s your turn.)

[1] Other discussions include https://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/the-best-of-myles-by-flann-obrien/ and Robert Looby at http://www.ricorso.net/rx/az-data/authors/o/OBrien_F/xtras/xtra5.htm. Note also the egregious Flann O’Brien society, with its weighty bibliography.

More fieldwork tips

The Police squad series builds on Airplane the way Don Giovanni builds on Le nozze di Figaro.

An idée fixe that often comes in handy during fieldwork (see also under Themes) is

In rural China the etiquette of exchanging cigarettes and lighting up for each other is an important skill for the fieldworker to acquire, confirming social bonds (my book, p.24). Generally, when two or more men meet they compete to be first to get their offer accepted. The first offer is vehemently rejected; the giver is then obliged to insist until the cigarette is reluctantly accepted. The word thankyou is never used. Some shoving may be involved. Then the two compete to be first to proffer a light; as the recipient lights up, he expresses appreciation by touching the lighter’s hand with the little finger of the hand holding the cigarette, and the man with the lighter takes care to keep the flame going as he lights his own. I learn to emulate Li Manshan’s ritual of reluctantly accepting a cigarette, his frown, his look of confusion—“What is this funny little tubular object that is being offered to me, and how should I react?”

Police squad also provides another useful idée fixe on the importance of local knowledge in fieldwork:

The Swedish subtitles inadvertently add a further Pythonesque touch. Though perhaps less so if you’re Swedish.

More fucking gondolas

Another gratuitous spinoff from the Li band’s trip to Venice (cf. Scunthorpe and Venice, and indeed Venice: daily life in a theme park):

A lesser-known gem of Monty Python is Away from it all,

with all the lovingly recreated stereotypes eventually exposed in the escalating breakdown of John Cleese’s voiceover.

Several of us recall seeing this in the cinema as a trailer before The life of Brian.

For more drôlerie on the hapless gondolier, don’t miss my Venetian greetings.