The Professor Dunne Mysteries,
Book One, ‘The Simple Matter of the Elusive Illusionist’
Sandra woke up.
‘I don’t know about anyone else,’ she said, ‘but I could really eat something.’
Chuck looked in his rear-view mirror.
‘Absolutely, Sweetheart,’ he said. ‘I was just thinking the same.’
He turned to the Professor.
‘What about you, Prof?’ he said.
Professor Dunne stiffened slightly before relaxing. It would be extremely rude to take an elderly American to task for being over-familiar while he was driving down a motorway at 120 kilometres per hour. Despite her annoyance even the Professor felt that this would be going a step too far.
‘I could eat,’ she said instead. ‘I could probably eat something.’
‘Well, good,’ smiled Chuck. ‘That’s settled then, three probable somethings coming right up.
The Horse and Jockey Hotel in Kilnoe, Co. Tipperary was completely full. Well, almost. Our three travellers followed a young girl who led them through the busy dining room. She stopped at a small table covered in piles of napkins, bottles of ketchup and pots of mustard, placed everything on the table along a shelf just above it and arranged four odd chairs around the table.
‘But there’s only three of us,’ said the dismayed Professor.
‘There is for now,’ the girl replied, ‘but you never know.’
‘I think we do,’ replied the Professor, her hackles rising.
The girl smiled and didn’t reply. She was well used to feisty pensioners getting crabby over the poor conditions in the dining room. Chuck and Sandra sat down. Chuck smiled at the girl.
‘Could we have a look at the menu, please,’ he said kindly. ‘We’re starving hungry and looking forward to something traditional.’
‘No need,’ replied the girl, putting her pad and pen back in her pocket. ‘Everything’s gone, we only have coddle left. We’ve got two coaches on their way to meet a cruise ship at Cobh and they cleared us right out of frozen fish and chicken wings.’
‘What a frightful combination,’ said the Professor.
‘Oh,’ said the girl. ‘Not together, Miss, you can’t order them together. You can only have one or the other.’
‘Or neither,’ said the Professor, ‘as we’ve been beaten to them by hordes of hungry holiday makers, haven’t we?’
The girl looked around the crowded dining room.
‘Pilgrims, Miss, not holiday makers. They’re pilgrims.’
‘Pilgrims?’ said the Professor. ‘What on earth would pilgrims want with frozen fish?’
‘It’s Friday, Miss,’ said the girl, wishing her shift would miraculously end here and now.
‘Of course it is,’ said the Professor. She looked at Chuck and Sandra. ‘I guess we’ll have to make do with three plates of coddle, please.’
Sandra looked slightly perplexed. She smiled at the girl.
‘What’s in a coddle, please.’
The girl smiled back, probably pleased that she was speaking to someone else. The Professor had really put the wind up her.
‘Coddle,’ she said as kindly as she could. ‘Not a coddle.’
‘Oh,’ said Sandra sheepishly. ‘What’s in coddle.’
The girl smiled, pleased with the small victory she managed to win.
‘Bangers and rashers and spuds and oinons and herbs.’
‘Bangers?’ said Sandra. ‘What on earth’s a banger?’
‘I believe it is another name for a pork sausage,’ replied the Professor, herself uncertain about the appropriateness of such a word on a menu. ‘It doesn’t sound very appetising, does it?’
‘That’s all we have, Miss,’ said the girl. ‘It’s that or nothing pie.’
Chuck went to say something but Sandra stopped him.
‘Three bowls of coddle, please, she said.
The girl smiled.
‘Cutlery is on the shelf above your head. You have to order drinks at the bar over there.’
Over there seemed far too far to have to travel.
The coddle quickly arrived and before anyone had time to ask for anything else three bowls of thin-looking stew with small pink lumps of sausage bobbing in a broth alongside waxy potatoes were expertly plonked down in front of them.
‘It’s a local delicacy to add ketchup to the coddle,’ said the girl as she sidled away to serve another table. ‘Enjoy!’
‘That looks tasty,’ said a voice to the Professor’s right. She looked up to see an orange-hued man with a huge silver quiff sit down opposite her. ‘I’m fond of a bit of coddle,’ said the man.
‘I’m sure you are,’ replied the Professor, her senses quickly recovered. ‘Perhaps you might take your aforementioned fondness for coddle to another table? I’m sure the coaches are leaving very shortly.’
‘They probably are,’ replied the orange man, ‘but I’m not with them. I’m on my own.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ replied the Professor. ‘You can’t just sit down next to people and start a conversation as they’re about to eat their coddle without so much as a please or thank you.’
The man pointed at the girl.
‘She said this was the only seat left in the entire dining room and because you were such a lovely old lady you really wouldn’t mind if I ate my lunch with you.’
‘Well she was wrong,’ said the Professor. ‘In fact that poor, misguided girl could not have been wronger if she had tried.’
‘Wronger,’ smiled the man. ‘Is that a real word?’
‘It is now,’ snapped the Professor.
‘Joxer Flanagan,’ said Joxer Flanagan as he shook Chuck and Sandra’s hands. ‘Lead singer of the Joxer Flanagan Star Times Showband, formed in 1967 and still going strong today.’
‘A showband?’ said Chuck politely. ‘You must have some interesting stories about life on the road?’
Joxer’s eyes lit up. The Professor’s dimmed somewhat darker.
‘Well funny you should say that,’ smiled Joxer. ‘Did I ever tell you about the time that I …’
‘I’m sure you already have,’ said the Professor. There was an edge to her voice that even seasoned members of the Professor’s inner circle would not have recognised.
‘I’m not quite sure what you mean, Mum,’ said Joxer. ‘We have never met before, have we?’
The Professor stiffened.
‘Oh, you would know if we had ever met before, you self-inflated, pompous old fool.’
‘Professor …’ protested Sandra.
Joxer waved Sandra’s protests away.
‘I’m fine here,’ he smiled. ‘Let the lady have her say.’
The lady. The lady! Professor Dunne considered tipping her bowl of coddle over the conceited singer’s head. The trouble was if she missed she might spatter her travelling companions and that would never do. She took stock of the oaf sat before her.
He was tall and even though his skin was orange-hued he was handsome. This made it even worse. Being the lead singer of a showband, he was more than used to being adored. His hair was beautifully coiffed in the sort of well-oiled quiff that would make most men jealous, not least those in their later years. Even though she would never dare to admit it to anyone, this pompous prig looked a lot like an Irish Rock Hudson. You’ll never those words issue forth from my lips, she said to him in her head.
Fortunately, the girl returned and saved everyone sitting at the table, especially the Professor, from ‘the lady’ having her ‘say.’
‘What can I get you?’ she asked Joxer.
As the Professor watched, Joxer turned slightly to one side and spoke quietly out of the side of his mouth. The Professor thought he looked perfectly ridiculous. The girl blushed slightly and almost curtsied.
‘Well, my dear,’ drawled Joxer, ‘I guess I’ll have a bowl of whatever these good folks are having.’
Joxer’s accent was somewhere clearly in the midpoint between Mullingar and Michigan. Even Chuck was taken aback by the jarring oddness of Joxer’s accent.
‘Are you one of us?’ he asked.
Joxer turned to Chuck and smiled.
‘Why most certainly, my fine fellow, whatever one of us is.’
‘I meant American,’ Chuck continued.
‘So did I,’ continued Joxer without missing a beat. ‘I have always been American in everything I do and have done, the difference being that I was born here instead of there.’
‘And where is here exactly?’ asked the Professor.
‘Dublin by way of Roscommon.’
‘So why pretend to be American?’
‘I’m not pretending, I’m simply demonstrating the full range of my stagecraft.’
All Rights Reserved Barnaby Taylor 2018
Here’s another excerpt from Terminal Transit. An elderly academic uncovers a cosmic plot engineered by the NotBeSpeak, a race of intergalactic entities who wish to destroy the world. With only a young child to help him, the two race against time to save the planet from oblivion.
In this chapter, the dread influence of the NotBeSpeak causes havoc on the streets of Dublin.
Terminal Transit, Book IV ‘The Million’
The repercussions of the liberation of the zoo shook the city for days afterwards but before anyone was able to properly settle a further cosmic tragedy took place when the now-doubled presence of the NotBeSpeak caused Glasnevin Cemetery to give back all those who had ever been buried there since its opening in 1832 and a million dead people suddenly found themselves reanimated and as the television cameras cast their digital eye on this new phenomenon so this army of shuffling, staggering, crawling, limping, ambling corpses started to make their baleful way back to find those who had buried them in the first place, flowing, as they did so, like the rot-crested froth of some awful cadaverous stream.
The first problem that presented itself regarding the Million, as the media dubbed them, notwithstanding the general existential terror created by the dead coming back to life, was the inevitable chaos that their presence caused on the streets. With the city now changed beyond all recognition and generations of people having lived (and died) in buildings and at addresses that no longer existed, vast numbers of these returned relatives were able to do nothing more than hang around in the approximate areas they knew when they were alive. Great herds of the hideous soon began to congregate as small groups of lost and dislocated corpses flowed into each other, swelling as they did so and accumulating momentum with a tomb-blasted dreadness that became one more thing to sicken this already revolted city.
For some this tide of dead people became an opportunity for fun to be found and it wasn’t long before hundreds of illegal firearms were being fired at the animated corpses from windows and passing cars. Braver people formed small crews and set upon the cadavers with sticks and gold clubs and hurls, beating already broken bodies into a further pulp. Unlike the undead in every film ever made the Million had no desire to consume the living and so made easy targets for their attackers, who stalked the edges of their crowds like cunning lions looking for stray antelopes to kill.
The second problem with the Million was the anger they brought with them from beyond the grave. These particular undead were not driven by a lust for living flesh but were rather animated by the need to confront the people who had buried them and thereby confined them to an eternity in the grave. Though he was now way past being shocked by anything that was happening Mac paled the morning he woke up to find Sibeal standing shrieking in Front Square. Her corpse seemed remarkably well preserved for someone who had been buried for forty-odd years and knowing that he had no choice Mac got dressed and went down to speak to ‘her’.
‘So there you are at last!’ Sibeal shrieked. ‘I’ve waited a long time to have this out with you.’
Mac was stunned.
‘You are dead, Sibeal,’ he said, ‘and were it not for some infernal cosmic will, you and your new kind would have stayed that way forever more.’
Sibeal’s rotten face formed a partial smirk.
‘So now the truth is out,’ she snarled. ‘You couldn’t wait to get rid of me and now I’m back you want me to go again.’
‘But that simply is not true, my dear,’ said the widower. ‘The day you left me I thought that my life would end also.’
‘But it didn’t, did it?’ she said. ‘Mine did, and that of our son, but yours didn’t. How fair is that?’
‘Fair?’ asked Mac. ‘What do you mean by fair? What’s fair about losing your wife and child in the same dreadful moment?’
‘You always were a selfish man,’ croaked Sibeal. ‘Always focused on yourself and your silly research. I bet you have never once put yourself in my shoes and wondered what it would be like to be dead, have you?’
Sibeal raised a rotten fist to Mac’s face.
‘The guilt of leaving loved ones behind pales very quickly in the face of an eternity of resentment about a life ended early.’
Sibeal began to shout.
‘All us dead are always angry. All we know is stolen time forever more.’
For every hour since the day she left him Mac had wanted Sibeal to come back to him and help rebuild his broken heart but now she was back the way she was he simply couldn’t bear her being around him and longed for her to return to the grave.
‘After all these years,’ Sibeal continued, ‘I care very little for your loss as it is nothing compared to the things that I was forced to relinquish the day I died. You still had your future even if you chose not to see things that way. Me, I lost my everything.’
Mac didn’t reply. How could he? There simply were no words to counter Sibeal’s undead anger, an anger that had festered in her rotting heart for the last forty years beneath the headstone Mac had lovingly chosen for her. But buried no more, Sibeal’s anger was now the energy that coursed through her broken veins and caused her worm-filled mouth to speak.
‘Enough,’ said Mac at last. ‘Stop your keening and your crying. The simple truth of the matter is that I have spent every lonely minute of my life from the day I lost you wishing you were back here with me; beside me at night, smiling when I come home, walking with me in the city. But now that you are here before me again I wish you had never come back. The dead are not supposed to feel angry about being dead, they are not supposed to feel anything ever again, they are simply supposed to be dead. It is only these cursed cosmic interlopers who have upset the world’s natural rhythm and caused poor lost souls like yourself to experience the very state that supposedly brings an end to all experiences.’
‘But what about the bloody bastard baby?’ shrieked Sibeal wildly. ‘The rotten fruit of your reeking loins.’
Mac reeled as he remembered how excited they both were the day Sibeal came home to tell him that she was expecting. They had been trying for ages and they were just resigning themselves to the fact that maybe one or both of them were infertile when Sibeal made her announcement.
‘This will complete us,’ said Mac as he drew Sibeal close to him. ‘This will make us whole.’
Her hair smelled amazing and the scent was something that had always stayed with him, even long after she had gone. But there was to be no completeness for either of them, nothing whole, only everything broken and empty, only nothing.
‘You had me buried with the baby, you bastard!’ Sibeal’s shrieking grew shriller. ‘A forever reminder of my life now ended as I was forced to cradle the cause of my death until it rotted to nothing in my angry arms.’
‘But that’s what I thought you would have wanted,’ said the tearful Mac. ‘It seemed …’
Mac’s voice trailed away as he realised that his justifying would simply serve to enrage the corpses of his dead wife even more. He knew that there simply be nothing he could say.
‘You thought! You thought! You thought of no one but yourself that day. I can picture you now, standing by the grave, selfish tears falling down your foolish face as the earth is dropped on my coffin. Then a hug and a handshake, a kind word here and a small drink there.’
As her anger boiled and boiled so small parts of the remaining flesh began to fall from Sibeal’s skull.
‘And all the while I just lay there, cradling my murderer for the rest of time. I bet not even one thought of how I was feeling crossed your mind.’
‘But how could it have?’ sobbed Mac. ‘You were dead and therefore not meant to feel anything any more.’
The hateful logic of Sibeal’s argument began to make him dizzy.
‘There is no sense to any of this,’ he said pitifully. ‘There is simply no sense at all.’
Sibeal began to beat her broken hands on his chest.
‘For you, maybe, but not for me,’ she shrieked. ‘I only knew the crawl of time as it pressed upon me and held me in place forever until that moment when I climbed free from the grave.’
She hit him harder.
‘I only knew the crawl of worms as my flesh fell away and I watched myself disintegrate until my eyes themselves were gone away and I could see no more only feel.’
Eventually the Million became too much even for this put-upon city and so the cull began. Like rabbits or badgers or kangaroos or any other vermin that threaten to overrun their environment, it became necessary to trap and snare and corner the corpses in order to start disposing of them. For small groups it was a simple affair for Army units with flamethrowers to set the corpses on fire and cremate them where they gathered. However, for the rest, something more drastic was required.
The city’s fire appliances were mobilised and drove slowly through the city looking for large groups of corpses to gather together. Slowly, and as if they were herding sheep, the fire engines drove these groups before them using their water cannons. Any stragglers were simply incinerated or crushed beneath the tracks of a unit of Scorpion tanks deployed to support the round up.
North of the river the corpses were herded onto the motorway and then forced towards the airport. Three of the runways had been commandeered for the cull and as the corpses were pushed onto the runways they were sprayed with aviation fuel from a line of tankers and then incinerated from a safe distance. The fires burned for a day and a half and the plumes of smoke were visible in all directions, hanging heavy in the air like mournful clouds.
South of the river the remaining parts of the Million were driven down to the quays and then along towards the docks. Helicopters hovered above the streets and the images on the television showed thousands and thousands of angry corpses shouting and berating as they headed towards their second doom like some perverted public parade. Once at the docks, the corpses were forced down a funnel made from containers, sprayed with fuel and then ignited and driven into the water.
Terminal Transit, Chapter II ‘A New Signal,’ Verse 1 [Work in Progress]
Two words that stand as a simple testament to an ignorant nation’s stupid, craven greed – that special kind of breathtakingly galling greed reserved for the self-appointed nobility of this ridiculous island; the bankers and builders and business leaders and breakers and burglars and broadsiders and backsliders and bastards and bollox and buffoons and landlords and layabouts and kiters and cutpurses and swindlers and sweat drippers and debt collectors and drubbers and tally men and tossers and sewage hounds and arse lickers and no-gooders and politicians and pie-dippers and chancers and swindlers and shitflickers and not ever once forgetting the plain and simple good old boys from back in the day.
Now, as befits maps and mythologies everywhere, this particular broken beacon of a building forespeaks, speaks for, speaks of, denotes, indicates, screams, ‘this is a broken country.’ At night the wind laps this particular folly like a poisoned tongue on a mouth of broken teeth. Follies used to be architectural indulgences, used for the flashing of wealth and the winning of bets.
Now, the same indulgences related to the winning of a different bet, one that has nothing to do with anything other than avarice. The same bets that forced a government to add a levy to all insurance policies. The same bets that allowed the country to never learn from its mistakes but just kept making them again and again and foolishly again.
But not anymore, the country has run out excuses and these mistakes will be among the last that the country and, indeed, the world will witness. For these same bets have now been collected by a brand-new bailiff.
Priory Hall stood empty now, a monument, a gravestone, a mausoleum, and a warning to the people who passed it by, not that they knew it yet, that this particular gravestone now stood as a marker as well to what was about to commence, indicating in no uncertain terms that the end was truly beginning.
In one of the many badly designed flats on the fourth floor of the building a black, shiny, unknown stone of clearly alien origin sat glowering on the bathroom floor next to a leaking toilet bowl. The flats of Priory Hall had been closed down due to fire safety issues but clearly the inspectors responsible for closing the building had not factored in alien cosmogeology as another reason for declaring the properties unfit for human occupation. A trail of liquid waste flowed out from the cracked toilet pan. All this piss and shit and spittle and drip and bodily issuance wet the shiny stone which, in turn, due to its peculiar porosity, added its own cosmic foulness to the now freely flowing stream of sewage.
Now on the move, the porous flooring and cheap bricks were no match for this unholy water and in very little time the main waste outlet system was breached and as the flow got greater so did the pressure on the already broken system and in very little time the sewage began to puddle and pool on the grass above the pipes.
Inspired, suffused, attuned, the natural world met a new stimulus with the black stone’s outflow and as the sewage seeped into the earth around it so the hated hectares of Priory Hall became the site for a total recalibration of an old burden, Fallopia japonica, more likely known as Japanese Knotweed. As this new flow continued and found other new water systems to infect so the roots and shoots and rhizomes, the small delicate flowers with petals like crystals, the broad oval leaves, and the red stems began to assemble aggressively all over the city with a vigour never experienced before.
Japanese Knotweed has always been one of the most voracious herbaceous perennials known to gardeners, posing a chronic danger to foundations and flood defenses, forming dense and deadly colonies that choke the life out of their riparian rivals for light and space. This new alien stimulus imbued the weed with a renewed compulsion, an urge to begin further accelerating, out-stretching, entwining, redoubling its unsighted efforts to bury this pathetic island beneath a vast sea of its ruby racemes.
Across the history of the planet, cities normally surrender themselves to the natural world long after their final desertion. For example, waves of sand will eventually level even the tallest towers. Other architectural edifices inevitably fall inwards towards their own cancerous centre of gravity, as if opening their own navels and ingesting themselves. All civic buildings of import and significance eventually lose these same values and become the halls of apes and other primates whose behaviour on the whole speaks of a more measured approach to city life than those of the previous occupants. Fountains fall silent, choked, strangled, barren, and unable to sing anymore.
Slowly, troublingly, desperately, inexorably, inspired by the black stone’s issuant, the weeds of Priory Hall began to exert their new cosmic choke on the now barely breathing city.
Here’s the opening chapter of Terminal Transit, a novel I have been working on for a while. Terminal Transit tells the story of an ancient race of evil gods called the NotBeSpeak who are hell-bent on destroying the world. Their evil purpose is discovered by an elderly academic called Professor Amhalgaidh Mac an Bhaird who charges a young child called Inteachán to help him try and save the planet from total and utter destruction.
Terminal Transit is set in Dublin, Ireland and the story is interwoven with Irish myth, history and religion resulting in a novel that is a compelling blend of HP Lovecraft and Tomb Raider.
I’m posting the first few chapters over the coming days with a view to generating some interest in the project. I would be particularly interested in hearing from anyone who might be interested in helping me bring Terminal Transit to publication.
Chapter I ‘The Song of the NotBeSpeak’
Professor Amhalgaidh Mac an Bhaird is elderly now, almost ancient. He is an Honorary Fellow and Professor Emeritus of Trinity College and has lived in rooms overlooking Front Square for the last forty-seven years.
Professor Mac an Bhaird has devoted his adult life to the study of what he likes to call the ‘small things that we forget to remember very quickly.’ The Professor’s work is part-chrestomathy, part-analect, and wholly singular in its peculiar ambition. When he wasn’t teaching Professor Mac an Bhaird would spend all his spare time poring over maps and manuscripts and pamphlets and postcards and timetables and booklets and brochures and tickets and notices and newsletters and invitation slips and certificates and all the other truly wonderful ephemera that accumulates when the world isn’t really paying attention.
His wife Sibeal, herself a leading authority on Teutonic textile design during the feudal period, used to joke that the most overlooked thing in all his dealings with the world was undoubtedly her.
‘I fear that one day the only way that you will know that I am still here is when you see my name included on some long-lost list you discover scribbled on a dusty envelope. Only then will you remember to look up and there I’ll be, waiting forlornly in the corner for my turn.’
She slipped her arms around his waist.
‘I love you, Mac.’
‘That will never be the case, my dear,’ said the very-certain scholar as he kissed his wife on the neck.
‘We are simply not fated to end up as forgotten entries in another person’s ledger.’
He pulled her closer.
‘We will fade beautifully towards death together like the most pulchritudinous love letters scribbled on the comeliest of Victorian Christmas cards.’
But Sibeal was taken whilst in labour at 11.03am on September the Sixteenth 1973 and it was at exactly 11.04am that Professor Mac an Bhaird retreated into the deadly safety of scholarly solitude.
That was all those years ago. Now, following a lifetime of lectures and lonely meals in Commons, he sits in his armchair all day indexing his life’s work, Mac an Bhaird’s Miscellanea: Towards the Proposing of a Taxonomy of the Not-Noticed, Oft-Forgotten and Un-Remembered.
Currently standing at over three hundred and thirty-three thousand words Mac an Bhaird’s Miscellanea is a testament to the determination of one man to catalogue, chart, outline, and unravel the seemingly innocuous connections between matters of apparently such little importance as to there being little or no connection between them in the first place. But before we consider a lifetime’s work to be simply pointless and therefore without value we mustn’t forget that generations of academic discourse have depended entirely on exactly the kind of specific pedantry demonstrated here by an elderly Professor. If nothing else this in itself would be a suitably fitting summary of one man’s contribution to the body of knowledge but Mac an Bhaird’s Miscellanea goes much further here because it also exists as a wondrously moving monument to the prodigious properties of paper.
Three hundred and thirty-three thousand words have dutifully wended their way across nearly five hundred and ninety pages and after decades of hermetic handling each page now bears the delicious hallmark of any handwritten document that has aged naturally over time. Many pages are beautifully curled at the corners, as their repeated turning over time now causes them when stacked to fold like the pulpy petals of some ancient, thought-veined bloom. Other pages are torn in places; the longer tears carefully repaired with stamp hinges, now brittle after years of determined gripping. Shorter tears have been left alone for now, borne in mind, or occasionally, overlooked entirely.
All the pages that comprise Mac an Bhaird’s Miscellanea bear the accumulated marks of a lifetime of close attention; stained in some places by the sweat of a thumb; yellowed and coffee-ringed; the sweeping smudge of the back of a hand; ink whirls; curlicues; crossings-out; pencil; ball-point; fountain; wondrous water marks and the arcane collection of proofreading marks unknown to so much of the modern world today – ][, eq #, wc/ww, lc, sp, ||, s/v, first ref., half title, ligature, and stet.
One can read the history of the man in the history of his handwriting and so the bold decisive strokes of a confident young academic gave way to the angry slashes of someone widowed far too soon which then gave way over time to the precise and rigid emphasising of a man obsessed which then give way to the eventually slowed and resigned notation of a dying gentleman battling to complete his life’s work before he passed away.
Yet across the entire length of this turbulent history, one thing had remained a steady constant, Professor Mac an Bhaird’s handwriting was terribly tiny.
September the Eighth is the feast-day of Our Lady in Dublin and Professor Patricia Dunne never missed the chance to attend the ceremony that was held in the Whitefriars Street Carmelite Church.
In case you’re wondering, the simplest way to get there is to come out of the Front Gate of Trinity College and walk straight ahead. Keep going until you reach the bottom of South Great George’s Street. Here you should turn left and walk up the hill. Carry on past the expensive restaurants of Fade Street and keep going until you reach the bottom of Aungier Street. All you need to do is cross over the road and you’ll find the Carmelite Church up ahead of you on the right-hand side.
The sun was shining and Professor Dunne was pleased that she hadn’t worn her heavy raincoat. The weather in Dublin was always so difficult to predict. You could leave your house when it was raining and find that five minutes later the sun was making you regret you had worn too many layers.
Professor Dunne lived in rooms overlooking Front square in Trinity College and the walk to the church normally took her fifteen minutes, even allowing for the throngs of tourists who flocked to Dublin all year round. Today, however, the crowds seemed bigger than normal and the pavements were full of visitors, some looking lost and consulting maps, others looking more confident that they knew where they were going. A friendly-looking elderly gentleman and his wife stopped just in front of her. Both were wearing walking shoes and matching rain jackets. The gentleman had a backpack.
‘Excuse me, ma’am,’ said the gentleman. ‘Do you come from round here?’
The gentleman’s accent said Texas. His face said content with his lot. Professor Dunne stopped and smiled.
‘Dublin born and bred,’ she said. ‘Where are you trying to get to?’
Professor Dunne’s accent was that lovely blend of gentle lilt with a slight inflection that would tell anyone who knew the city that she had been born and raised on the South Side.
The city is divided spiritually and geographically by the River Liffey that makes its magnificent way through the heart of Dublin. Those born south of the river are Southsiders, those born North come from the Northside.
If you ever find yourself wandering about and can’t decide whether you are on the South or the North, then all you need to do is look at a street sign. Postcodes south of the Liffey are even numbers, postcodes on the Northside are odd.
You will also see this on the more traditional forms of postal addresses where street names are followed by Dublin 2, Dublin 12, or Dublin 7, depending upon where the recipient resides.
‘We’re looking for the Carmelite Church, somewhere on Whitefriars Street.’
‘Why yes of course,’ Professor Dunne replied. ‘I’m headed that way myself. Why not come with me?’
‘Really,’ said the elderly man, sounding very relieved. ‘That would be great.’
‘Right so,’ said Professor Dunne. ‘We’re headed down Dame Street until we bear left and walk up the hill.’
It turned out that the elderly gentleman was retired Lieutenant Charles P. Mallory and he was on honeymoon with his new wife, Sandra.
‘We’ve only been married three weeks,’ beamed Sandra. ‘Chuck and I were childhood sweethearts who went our separate ways after High School. Four marriages and sixteen great-grandchildren later we realised we still felt the same about each other as we did when we were sixteen and so here we are.’
‘Here we are, indeed,’ said Chuck. ‘I always knew that she was the one but you know …’
Chuck sighed. Sandra squeezed his arm.
‘You great, big soppy thing, you,’ she said.
Professor Dunne smiled.
‘It’s nice to see you both so happy.’
‘What about you?’ asked Sandra. ‘Is there a someone for you?’
‘Sadly not,’ said the Professor. ‘It never happened, I’m afraid, and never will now.’
Chuck wasn’t so sure.
‘You never know,’ he said. ‘You never know.’
Oh, I think I do, Professor Dunne said to herself.
After the service, Professor Dunne gave Chuck and Sandra a brief history of the Whitefriars Black Madonna over afternoon coffee and Victoria sponge in the tearoom attached to the church.
‘I owe most of everything I know about the church and the Madonna to Dr. Daphne Desiree Charlotte Pochin Mould,’ Professor Dunne confessed.
‘What a wonderful name,’ said Chuck.
‘Yes, isn’t it?’
‘Dr. Mould was a renowned photographer, broadcaster, geologist, traveller, pilot, with a strong interest in archaeology,’ Professor Dunne continued. ‘She was also this country’s first ever female flight instructor.’
‘She sounds like a remarkable woman,’ said Sandra.
‘She was,’ said the Professor. ‘She received her doctorate from the University of Edinburgh and moved to Ireland following her conversion to Catholicism. Once here, she developed a keen interest in Celtic saints, amongst many other things.’
Professor Dunne stirred her coffee clockwise. The other way just wouldn’t do.
‘In 1964 she published her short guide to the Whitefriars Street church. According to the guide, the foundation stone for the present church was laid in 1825 and the building was finished in 1827. This is important because Catholic Emancipation didn’t take place until 1829 and though the church has undergone significant change since, fundamentally, the building still speaks to an age when new tolerances towards the worshippers were just emerging.’
‘What about the statue itself?’ asked Chuck. What does Dr. Mould have to say about that?’
“Surprisingly, Dr. Mould makes no mention herself of the statue. Other commentators have suggested that the wooden statue dates back to the Middle Ages and was once used as a trough.’
‘A trough?’ asked Sandra. ‘How bizarre.’
‘Apparently, the statue originally had a hollowed-out back which meant it could be used as a means of feeding swine.’
Professor Dunne smiled.
‘Don’t worry,’ she said,’ the incongruity of it all is never lost on me.’
Chuck and Sandra smiled too. It seemed sometimes that the reason for Professor Dunne’s solitary existence could be explained by something as simple as an innocent aside.
‘Where did Dr. Mould live?’ asked Sandra, kindly changing the subject.
‘A small village in County Cork called Aherla,’ replied the Professor, not noticing that Sandra had tried to spare her blushes.
‘Cork?’ said Chuck. ‘That’s where we’re heading next on our honeymoon.’
He looked at his wife.
‘What a coincidence.’
Professor Dunne smiled.
‘The coincidences just keep coming,’ she said. ‘I’m headed down to Aherla for the annual Daphne Mould Festival taking place in four days time. The villagers have been keeping the Doctor’s name alive ever since she passed away on April 29th 2014.’
Chuck looked at his wife. She smiled and nodded.
‘We’re driving down tomorrow morning. It would be an awful honour if you accompanied us.’
‘I would be thrilled,’ said the Professor.
With the traffic restrictions in place in and around Trinity College, Professor Dunne agreed to meet Chuck and Sandra at the Hertz Car Hire centre on South Circular Road. This was a simple journey for the Professor and she had done it hundreds of times. With a small suitcase on wheels, the Professor waited at the bus stop on Dame Street opposite the Four Angels Fountain.
Known locally as ‘The Peeing Angels,’ the fountain is part of the memorial created for the highly influential nationalist thinker Thomas Davis by renowned Irish sculptor Edward Delaney. The four angels are blowing their horns to awaken the four provinces of Ireland to the possibilities of self-rule.
September in Dublin can be fairly brisk and Professor Dunne shivered slightly as she waited for the No. 122. Though it was unbuttoned, the Professor had chosen to wear her woollen coat. The weather down south could be awfully changeable and no-one, not least the Professor, wants to be caught in Winter weather wearing only a Summer coat.
She could have caught the No. 68 but that would have meant walking to a different stop. As she waited, the Professor marvelled at the life and energy of her city. With the recently-completed extension to the LUAS line, trams, buses, taxis and people, hundreds of people, swarmed around College Green, the part of the city in front of Trinity College and Parliament House, once the seat of Irish democracy, now the building is a branch of the Bank of Ireland.
If you took away the cars, you could easily imagine what this part of the city looked like in the early 1900s. Existing documentary footage from the period shows trams and people going about their business in much the same way as today. If it wasn’t for the phones everywhere, Professor Dunne mused, you could imagine the past and the present nicely combining to create a most charming tableau of the city.
Professor Dunne didn’t own a mobile phone. She despised the very thought of it.
‘Just imagine,’ she said to her sisters Sibéal and Iseult during the most recent of their weekly lunches, ‘how much more productive the world would be if it was able to pull its foolish face away from these infernal tiny screens.’
‘I don’t know,’ Iseult always said, herself schooled in the art of mobile technology by her triplet granddaughters Aoibheann (pronounced ‘eve + een’), Dechtire (‘deck + tir + ra’), and Rionach (‘ree + in + ock’). ‘It strikes me that one actually saves time by having a mobile phone.’
‘Saves time?’ asked the Professor. ‘How so, my dear?’
‘I have recently discovered that their inherent portability is somewhat liberating.’
‘Liberating? If one of these infernal things is a symbol of contemporary freedom then it is my sworn duty to make a stand for a different kind of liberation, one that is firmly founded upon the primacy of the printed page and not the tyranny of the circuit board.’
‘Come now, Patricia,’ Iseult said. ‘Smartphones have their purpose. If nothing else, we would both be able to telephone you in advance if neither of us were available to meet you for lunch.’
Professor Dunne laughed.
‘And what would be smart about that?’ she said. ‘You’re always available to meet for lunch. We all live within a thirty-minute walk of each other. Even if you weren’t free you could always leave a note with one of the porters at Front Gate. They all know me very well.’
‘I bet they do,’ teased Iseult.
‘We could, of course,’ smiled Sibéal. ‘Or we could leave a message on your phone.’
‘Now, you’re just being smart,’ said Iseult. ‘You know Patricia would never listen to her messages, even if she had a phone.’
‘Of course, I wouldn’t,’ said the Professor. ‘I would refuse to listen to any messages left for me simply in order to rob the infernal machine of one of its most important functions, thereby rendering it at worst, incomplete, and at best, not fit for purpose.’
‘You would as well, my dear,’ smiled Iseult. ‘It would almost be worth buying you a phone just to watch you attempt to undermine its very existence.’
The No. 122 bus arrived and the Professor sat at on the left-hand side. Her preference was for one of the raised seats on the newer buses before you got right to the back. Only once in forty-seven years of using Dublin buses had she ever sat on the top deck and that was only so she could avoid a particularly truculent student and the experience was so excruciating for her -–something to do with an over-exuberant body odour and a horse that broke free from its trap whilst going down Talbot Street – that Professor Dunne swore never again would she sit upstairs on a corporation bus. Now, all these years later, Professor Dunne would rather wait for the next bus than climb up the stairs.
The bus moved slowly along Dame Street and as she sat and looked out the window the Professor was struck by the recurring thought that it was never the cars that made the city streets so treacherous but the pedestrians. Though she chose not to take part herself, it appeared to her that it was jaywalking and not Hurling that was the national sport of Ireland.
Having never learned to drive, the Professor could only rely on other people’s testimony in relation to this matter. However, she had wholeheartedly agreed with a taxi driver who once told her that having spent decades of enduring colonial rule by the British being told what to do, crossing the roads when and when one felt like it was a decidedly beautiful if somewhat dangerous act of rebellion.
The bus stopped right by the National Boxing Stadium and Professor Dunne alighted. Hertz is just past the stadium and so it wasn’t long before the Professor found Mr. and Mrs. Mallory sitting in the reception area looking extremely eager to get started.
‘Good morning,’ said the Professor cheerily. ‘How are you both this morning?’
‘Professor Dunne,’ said Sandra and smiled. ‘We were just talking about you.’
‘Really?’ said the Professor.
If anything was going to get the Professor’s goat – as they say – it was the thought of being talked about. For many people, this is one thing that they crave. For Professor Dunne, quite the opposite.
‘My affairs are my affairs,’ she would say when Sibéal and Iseult teased her about her notorious insistence on privacy.
‘But you’re a published author who has spent her entire working life standing up talking in front of strangers,’ Iseult said.
‘Precisely, my dear,’ the Professor replied. ‘My teaching career has been a fine balance between loving what I do and wishing I didn’t know how to do it.’
‘But you wouldn’t have been any happier if you were doing something else, would you?’ said Sibeal. ‘It’s very hard to find a career that doesn’t involved working with other people.’
‘Unless you became an assassin or a nun,’ laughed Iseult.
Professor Dunne frowned.
‘I’ve read far too much about the affairs of nuns in my years of study to know that a life like that would simply be far too chaotic for me.’
The Professor smiled.
‘An assassin, on the other hand, is a completely different story. I wonder how many years you have to study for to be one of those.’
‘I expect its more than study, dear,’ said Iseult.
The Professor looked horrified for a split second.
‘There is nothing more than study,’ she said emphatically. ‘You, all of people, should know that.’
‘On account of my three weeks at secretarial college followed by thirty-five years of being a full-time mother?’ Iseult said.
‘Precisely,’ said the Professor. It felt fun to be the teaser and not the teased.
‘Perhaps I’m the one in need of some highly-advanced assassination skills?’ laughed Iseult.
‘Ladies,’ said Sibeal. ‘Pack it in, the two of you.’
‘Yes, Mam,’ the ladies said and laughed as they spoke simultaneously.
‘What Sandra means,’ smiled Chuck, ‘is that we were wondering whether you would be able to recommend a scenic route for us to follow. We have plenty of time and would love you to give us a guided tour of your homeland.’
‘Within reason, of course,’ said Sandra. ‘You’re not a hired hand.’
Professor Dunne was pleased at the prospect.
‘I’d be delighted,’ she said. ‘I’m sure we can find some interesting places for you to see as we follow the road.’
‘Which road?’ asked Sandra.
‘It’s a figure of speech,’ replied the Professor. ‘The kind of non-specific phrase referring to getting to a place that has allowed centuries of Irish people to find exactly where they are going without any problems but has left generations of tourists and visitors completely lost.’
‘That sounds like some kind of road,’ laughed Chuck. ‘Still, I guess with a guide like you we should be fine.’
‘Let’s hope so,’ laughed the Professor. ‘Otherwise our gentle road trip might turn into an odyssey of classical proportions.’
Chuck chose a silver Audi A6 with automatic transmission as he said he liked the way that the Germans went about their business.
‘I’m talking now, of course,’ he felt the need to qualify.
The Professor smiled.
‘No need to qualify anything, Lieutenant Mallory,’ she said. ‘We’re all able to go about our daily business without the fear of our preferences for goods and services somehow betraying an alleged affection for totalitarianism.’
‘If you say so, Professor,’ smiled Chuck. ‘You can never be too careful in my book.’
With everything stowed in the boot and Sandra sitting in the back, Chuck pulled out onto the South Circular Road. Being after the morning rush hour the traffic was moving again and so once he was used to small variations like right-hand drive and left-hand driving, Chuck, Sandra and the Professor started out of Dublin.
‘Aherla is approximately 282 kilometres from here,’ said the Professor, ‘and our best bet is to get there via the M7 leading onto the M8.’
You need to follow the N7 road to get out of Dublin and as you do so you make your way through the most lyrical-sounding places; Inchicore, Bluebell, Ballymount, Newlands, Kingswood, Citywest, Rathcoole Broadfield Manor, Farmvale, Castlewarden, Kill, and Johnstown.
It was a lovely clear day and once he was used to cars filtering on to the road from his left, Chuck made good time. Sandra dozed in the back of the car. Professor Dunne didn’t. She sat up straight in the front seat.
‘I take it you’re not a fan of driving,’ he said.
The Professor nodded her head.
‘Having lived my entire adult life in the city I have never needed to do anything other than walk to where I want to get to. This is why I have never learned to drive.’
‘I see,’ said Chuck. ‘Dublin seems such a small city anyway that. I guess walking everywhere is a pleasure and not a chore.’
‘It most certainly is,’ she replied. ‘For longer distances there is always the bus or the train’
‘My whole life has been about big distances,’ he said. ‘The state, the country, serving overseas, moving around the world. I have sometimes wondered what it would be like to live a life of short distances.’
‘I do love big places and things far away,’ said the Professor, ‘only my big distance is a historical one. Being a historian is rather like being a time traveller and every book I have ever opened acts like a portal to transport me back to wherever my desire takes me. It may be a short distance between my eye and my hand but it doesn’t mean that the journey is a short one.’
Copyright © Barnaby Taylor 2018
The Dark and Dangerous Disco Night
A disc jockey, a painter, and a pop star set off to spend Christmas with a Prime Minister and a Prince.
The Started Series
Welcome to the Started Series. This is a series of novels that I have started but have never developed. I am going to give them away FREE of charge and let the Universe decide. If there is enough interest in one of them I will start it again.
The Dark and Dangerous Disco Night is Book Two in this series.
The Entry Word
Following a texting accident, the World summons Jodocus Meaddowcraft, a constipated alien from another dimension. Jodocus sets about punishing the World for summoning him.
Book One has just been released and is available in paperback and ebook.
Jake is twelve years old. He has always been different to other kids. Jake wakes one morning to find that the world has been destroyed by a mysterious airborne virus. Battling with his own insecurities, Jake must rise to the dangerous challenges that confront him as he sets off to find his missing mother.
Five Star Amazon Reviews
I was recommended this book by a friend, and was a little apprehensive at first as it would not be my first choice of genre.
To my own surprise I loved this book, and was such a page turner I finished it in 2 sittings. This book reads like an Odyssey, 4 kids struggling against constant challenges, in a previous life and now this. These challenges they face bring them closer together and for Jake, the main character, a closeness he has never experienced before. In his normal life his best friends were his mum and his dog, because he was “different”. Now, circumstances means he has to try keep up with his new friends, and all he wants to do is help his new friends and be liked. It’s lovely to see the bond that forms between the 4 kids, each with struggles of their own, who may not have looked twice at each if life was normal.
I loved Jake’s character and the simple way he narrates throughout the book, and we get a fascinating insight to his way of thinking, which I think we can all relate to in some form. A kid full of love and lots to give.
I loved this book, and finished it in 2 sittings, a real page turner. A range of interesting characters, young independent kids, not by choice but by design.
I absolutely loved this book. Powerful and poignant, ‘Viro’ packs a punch. Sad and haunting, ‘Viro’ is a new take on the zombie genre.The characters are dynamic and interesting, finding strength despite their horrifying circumstances. Jake is a character that will stick with you long after the final page. The action sequences are thrilling. I was on the edge of my seat! I can’t wait to read Book Two!!
Direct with a style thats postures the unusual. Page headings reflect the contents – succinct and minimal. Yesterday was fine but today something has changed – Jake, perhaps an idio savant, was always strange but this different day brought a horror to his world. He and his acquaintances – Ellis, the tomboy Peter Pan figure who recognises Jakes special need and appears to support him . . . . . . a sad dystopian world that very much reflects now.