15 December 2002

Memories are made of this...

Memory is a deeply mysterious thing, don't you think?

Take the example of how a couple of weeks back, when Diarmait was over from Dublin. After being out in Squirrels we wound up drinking tea in my room with a few of the others. Stories were swapped. 

Diarmait entertained the crowd with a story of how we'd cycled down towards the river in Palmerstown as children. His bike was a Releigh Grifter, which bore much the same relationship to a BMX as a rhino does to a horse; mine was its idiot cousin, a small blue beast with solid tyres and back-pedalling rear brakes and a regular front brake. Hurtling downhill, for Mill Lane is very steep, I pulled the front brakes for no apparent reason and was catapulted not merely over the handlebars but over an adjacent wall into the local hospital for mentally handicapped people. There I was surrounded by the patients, who were deeply fascinated by this unusual visit. A nurse charged over, scattering the crowd, and yelling at me to leave. I gladly obliged.

An entertaining tale, I'm sure you'll agree, but one which, as I pointed out to Diarmait the following day, rates at about a mere eight per cent on any authenticity index. Elements in the tale do certainly converge, however tangentially, with reality, but I'd not say more than that...

We did indeed cycle headlong down the very steep Mill Lane, and accidents nearly took place, but nothing like this. The bike as described by Diarmait is a mutant hybrid of my sister's bike, a maroon machine with back-pedalling brakes, and my own inferior specimen, a tiny thing, navy blue with solid tyres and, by the time we took to hurtling down Mill Lane, no brakes whatsoever. My braking technique consisted of putting my shoes on the ground several times in succession to slow the infernal device down, and then a final application of sole to ground. It was a braking technique that wore out many a shoe, as you can doubtless imagine. The only person I know of who was cast over the front of his handlebars was Christopher Cass, and that tale has already been narrated on this site; I certainly never suffered such an ejection; indeed my cycling accidents were usually more elaborate, less dignified, and more painful. I would rather not speak of them. And while there is indeed an enormous hospital for mentally handicapped people in Palmerstown, located to either side of Mill Lane, I'm fairly sure that there is no point at which someone could be catapulted from the road into the grounds. The wall is too high, and would surely be at an impossible angle to the road for such a feat to occur. Which is a shame, because the story, while entertaining as it stand, would be even better if true.

Diarmait believes this story. He has apparently been telling it for years. It is possible that a true story, based perhaps on simply how stupid it was for me even to attempt cycling down that hill on my ridiculous 'bike', grew with the telling, mutating in strange directions, converging with other anecdotes and speculations, eventually freezing into the form in which it was told the other day. I guess it's been told that way for so long that it's become almost 'historical'.

What's the point of this, you might ask? This site, you are probably saying, while rambling and never remotely to the point, usually has at least some tangential connection to events that happened that day. Well, true enough. I'm getting there.

I described at some length yesterday the rules and etiquette of our computer room. For the past couple of days, keys have been rarely necessary, save to provide support when you absolutely needed to claim a computer, because the door was really difficult to shut. There appeared to be nothing wrong with the lock. At some ungodly hour last night, or this morning to be chronologically accurate, I realised what was causing the door to remain so conveniently open.

Along the floor, at the base of the door, where a door jam ought to be, lies a thin metal strip, pinning the carpets in place. This strip has been loosened by the simple expedient of having partially unscrewed one of the screws. The strip is now slightly raised; more importantly the screw itself protrudes a good centimetre above the strip, creating a small, but fairly effective, doorstop.

I was impressed. Indeed, I still am.

I have no idea who did this, but that's not the point. This minor act of sabotage reminded me of an old school friend, a potential criminal mastermind who was content to waste his talents and become a mere Tom Sawyer-esque waster. God only knows where he is now.

Eoin was a great man for minor acts of sabotage. His speciality was lightbulb theft. Many's the time he'd be spotted sauntering about our school's corridors, drifting aimlessly between classes, stretching a casual arm above his head, swiftly and nonchalantly removing lightbulbs. The Lord alone knows how many lightbulbs the school was deprived of during Eoin's five year reign of mischief.

One of his finest hours took place while in our Inter Cert year, if I recall even remotely correctly. Whenever we'd have book-keeping homework in commerce class the answers would be displayed on the overhead projector the following day. One day, for some reason, no sooner had the class begun that our teacher had to leave the room; hardly had he gone, leaving us with work to do, that Eoin darted out of his seat and over to the projector. He calmly took the plug from the socket and produced a screwdriver from his pocket. It was the work of a moment to open the plug, remove the fuse, reassemble it, plug it in again, and then merrily skip back to his seat. Not a word had been said, and I think less than a couple of minutes had passed. When our teacher returned he was not in a good mood, and his temper was further aggravated by the inexplicable failure of the projector to work. Much time was wasted in that particular class that day.

A good story, I think you'll agree, and one I've been telling for years.

Lately, however, I've begun to doubt it. Could I have once been talking to him, and he merely suggested doing this? Or maybe a few of us had been talking in the canteen over whether such a thing would be possible? In either case the scenario could well have been vividly imagined and described, always preceded with the words 'Wouldn't it be brilliant if...' And at some point those opening words could have been dropped. And eventually the story would have become, to all intents and purposes, true.

In the World Fantasy Award-winning 'Midsummer Night's Dream' issue of Sandman Neil Gaiman has Dream comment to Auberon and Titania that 'Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.'

He has a point. But I wish I could be sure.

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