Sunday Tribune, June 21
Stately, plump Buck Mulligan leaned on the parapet of the Martello tower and examined the snot green sea. Filling his nostrils with salt-tang air, he picked up his shaving bowl and noticed a throng below him.
“Who,” he wondered, “are that shower of w****rs?”
And w****rs they were indeed. Some wore bruised panama hats and novelty spectacles. Others wore bowlers, blazers and deck shoes. Women wore shawls over designer dresses. All about were ad-hoc Edwardians who had half-plundered their wardrobes in an attempt to look ‘period’. A bearded gentleman in a linen suit was high-camping it on a pushbike, cooing “how’s your giblets missus?” Small groups of Japanese, Scandinavians and Americans leapt out of his path, hugging their ragged copies of Ulysses, the book in which Buck was a character.
Sighing, Buck called to a young boy passing by. “You there! What day is this?”
“Why, it’s Bloomsday sir!”
“Bloomsday? Here’s a guinea, buy that goose in the butcher’s window.”
“But sir, you’re confusing Ulysses with A Christmas Carol.”
“That’s not possible,” Buck protested, “I’ve never read Ulysses.”
“Don’t worry,” said the boy, “neither have most of these w****rs.”
And so Buck retreated, leaving the narrative to me.
I live a seven-minute walk from Joyce’s tower and every 16 June my head is done in by the pretentious gobdaws celebrating Bloomsday. Mentally, I moon at them.
My father used to celebrate Bloomsday. Like me, he had never finished Ulysses. He would plump up his cravat and grab someone’s walking cane (even if they were using it) and head off with our pleas of “Don’t! You look a twat!” ringing in his ears. I don’t know if he ever made the tower but he definitely made Fitzie’s pub.
I suppose he enjoyed himself and there’s something to be said for that. Although it’s really irritating, Bloomsday does provide some people with a respite from the prevailing Gloomsday.
What is REALLY annoying is that people confuse Bloomsday with a celebration of Dublin. It isn’t. It’s a middle-class pretence-fest. Dublin should be celebrated, but not in such an exclusive way.
Joyce celebrated the mundane aspects of the city as well as the landmarks. He drew a detailed human map of toilet smells, snot and other body fluids. He hoped that if Dublin was ever razed, it could be rebuilt using Ulysses.
Physically, this would be difficult. Joyce’s short-arsed Dublin now spreads out beyond the pale. Dedalus’s shoreline is now dominated by monolithic office blocks in Booterstown. Monto is gone and Talbot Street is now full of new lowlife.
Mundane, human Dublin is vanishing fast, too. If Joyce set Ulysses in 2004 instead of 1904 he might have walked down Moore Street recalling how Joe Murphy founded Tayto there in 1954 – the year of the inaugural Bloomsday. Fifty years on, they were still being made in the capital. In 2005, the citizens’ crisps, and jobs, were outsourced to Meath.
He might have stopped in Davy Byrne’s and asked for a Jacob’s cracker to go with his gorgonzola. Jacob’s stopped producing biscuits here last month after 156 years. The Fig Rolls we unfurled as kids are no longer made in Dublin.
He might have glugged a Guinness, unaware that two years later Diageo would talk of closing St James’s Gate.
On the way home, he might have stopped for a spice burger. Soon the latter may be gone. Tomorrow the company that invented the burger, Walsh Family Foods, goes into receivership. For more than 50 years, they’ve been made solely in Dublin and are as old as Bloomsday. Unlike Bloomsday, spice burgers are quintessentially Dub. They’re our equivalent of haggis and never caught on outside of Ireland.
Walsh’s passing cuts another tie to Dublin’s pre-boom past. The city is becoming homogenous. Internationally bland. Blow away the froth and it’s as beige as the latte underneath. In its rush to become refined it’s lost a lot of its Dublinness.
Think of the little touches that have gone: the sound of the Premier Dairies milkman rattling and whistling you awake. The shout of “c’mere ye little bollix” and the rasp of the bus conductor’s boot as you jumped off the back step without paying. Someone calling you “love” over a counter. The things we associate with Dublin are being outsourced. The dirty Dublin they represent was the one celebrated by Joyce. Tight-scrotumed Bloomsday isn’t a fitting festival for his city. It’s exclusive and snobby. If you’re going to celebrate his work, celebrate Dubliners. It’s more accessible and is actually read by Dubs.
‘Dubliners Day’ should be held on 16 June every year to commemorate its real citizens, from Joyce through Luke Kelly to Willie Bermingham. We could all dress up as Dublin characters, like Fortycoats and Bang Bang. I’ll dress up as the Faker Baker in memory of Jacob’s Fig Rolls. He’s fictional, but more real to Dubliners than Leopold Bloom.
We could fling Dublin’s false heroes into the sea (Bertie, get your Speedos on). We could throw out the pretence of Bloomsday, but keep the traditional breakfast. With one noble addition: let’s stick a spice burger on with the liver and kidneys. Stick one on for Molly too.
Malone, that is. Mrs Bloom has had her day.
June 21, 2009