Monday, 12 November 2012

Isabella's Tail.

Poor, poor Isabella. My heart goes out to the people who lost such a beloved animal especially under such cruel circumstances. Its not hard to imagine why this noble little beast was so prized, so valued as a pet and a pal to the children of the area. It is hard to imagine the dog that savaged her being held in the same regard. Mind you I do not believe that such dogs are born vicious. They have to be brought up that way. Either by intent or neglect the cruelty gene requires nurturing.  Animals are as complex as human beings when it comes to how they turn out.
What a noble beast is a donkey. They have been almost as constant a companion to humanity as dogs have but they have never come to occupy a place in our shared affections in the same way. They have proved themselves loyal, dependable and hardworking to boot with no history of ferocious attack.
  I had an uncle who used to race donkeys in donkey derbies. By that I do not mean I had an eccentric but quite fast uncle who used to run rings around donkeys.  He stabled them and trained jockeys for that. His favorite , The Brown Lad, was a legend in my ma's kitchen. The Brown Lad won races and brought home trophies. He was a good natured animal, gentle but strong. Uncle Hughie once tried to train me to be a jockey but I was much too big a fop. All that bouncing around on a donkeys back was murder on ones crown jewels and I did not half cut a peculiar sight. Shooting along a grass verge past Castleblaney Castle Hotel bobbing up and down like a Punky Hobbit who knows his time has come. I ended up in a hedge being stung by nettles. My youngest sister Bernadette became the jockey I was destined never to become. Riding The Brown Lad to victory on more than one occasion. Fetlocks blowing in the wind to quote The Divine Comedy and Father Ted from their magnificent Eurovision Entry My Beautiful Horse. 
Last year I drew a card for friends showing Oscar Wilde and his famous entrance into Jerusalem one Easter Sunday many years ago  atop a donkey that carried him into the history books. He was going to stay with the Hebrew King Herod and watch Herod's step-daughter Salome dance for their entertainment. Wild wrote a play about his visit which was banned everywhere on account of it being bonkers and dirty. Like Christine Aguilera only all biblical. Oscar Wilde could be like that.
A really catholic friend told me when they got the card. Which pleased me no end I can tell you. Its the small victories that count. Even the ones that make no sense. 
There was a wee book in our house in Etna Drive by the writer Paul Gallico called The Small Miracle. It is a very simple but moving tale skillfully crafted and deeply moving. " A BEAUTIFUL STORY ABOUT THE SIMPLE FAITH OF A BOY IN INVOKING THE HELP OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI TO CURE HIS SICK DONKEY." That is what the Glasgow Herald said about this book way back in 1952. It is not much more than a short story, just less than fifty pages long. But like all good stories it is exactly as long as it needs to be with not a word wasted. It is tempting to say that it is a story from a simpler time but I do not believe simpler times ever existed. It is perhaps just that we who lived through it saw with simpler eyes. Please seek a copy out. And make an effort to go looking for it in an actual second hand bookshop in the real world. They do exist and they really need your patronage. You never know what else you might find so it is a double-plus good situation.
There comes a point in every young man's life when he sees with absolute clarity that he will never become The Astronaut he one day dreamed of becoming. Fortunately I had filed away a fall back plan for a second choice career. I used to believe I was going to become A Rag and Bone man. Going from street to street , door to door, collecting junk and second-hand clothes, loading them onto my cart pulled by my faithful donkey Bucephalus. The Rag and Bone man was not an unfamiliar sight on the Edwardian streets of my childhood and someday I hope to make it so again. It is not an ignoble profession. Few ways of making a living are.  
Donkeys have occasionally clip clopped their way onto the broad stage of the modern zeitgeist. One of Winnie the Poohs best friends and Shrek's chum for starters. And in literature too as I have minutely demonstrated. I have a childhood memory of my sister Nuala standing in her st. Gemma's school uniform rehearsing her part in Shakespeare's A midsummer Nights Dream. In her well worn and tatty copy of the play was a full page artists impression of the donkey headed Bottom. Surely one of the most familiar visual rifts in the history of theatre. I had not a fucking clue what she was saying but I loved the rythmn of the words as she tried to give them life. I thought I was hearing magic 
words and that is what I associate Shakespeare with...
Magic Words.
Woodland magic. It makes you want to lie in a leafy glade where sunlight plays between the browning leaves of autumnal trees that fall like confetti at the wedding between the real and the weird. The last place in the world where you are likely to be abused by someone in a loose ensemble of sport casuals.
Before I stop waffling I see a light break through the shutters of a movie projectors lens throwing the untold ending of Issabella's tale on a movie-house screen. The film stock it is recorded upon is a little scratched and the quality somewhat degraded. The film is after all the product of my minds eye and like everything else about me its a bit frayed about the edges. 
Do not walk out just yet though. Please stick around to see how it ends. If for no other reason than every movie shown in this particular theatre is proceeded by the sound of the national anthem of Utopia being played on an accordian. You will not even have to get to your feet to stand in respect for it.
No-one ever does.
In the flickering light on the screen thrown on the screen we see the image of a small town square huddled beneath a dark starless December night. It is as dark as a December night can get in this part of the world. Gaudily lit store windows display their wares behind glass encrusted with mid-winter frost. The kind that comes from spray can. The people of all shape, sizes and ages who shuffle accross untrustworthy pavements can see their collective breaths in front of their faces. They make their way to an unofficial assembly point festooned in decorations dripping with win driven rain which fringe the edges of every cable and rainbow bare bulb like gray decorative lace. Droplets dangle of ruddy noses and ruby cheeks that peek from gaps in scarf wrapped heads as songs are shared and sung aloud to ward of the winter chill. They are all gathered around the statue cast in bronze of Issabella the donkey. A nicely designed memorial to a little animal that brought a lot of joy.
Its only a thought. Not a short film at all.
In the total scheme of things Issabella's tale is a small one that few people outside of the immediate area she lived in has even heard off. But its the stuff of life and the whole worlds made of that.