The High King and the Leprachaun


Once upon a time (and a very good time it was) the High King of Nearly All Ireland sat in his nine-pillared hall and called for the King of the Leprachauns.
Quite unusually the King of the Leprachauns turned up. \”Yes, sorr,\” he said, \”And phwhat can Oi be doin for ye, sorr?\”
\”You can cut that crap out for a start,\” said the High King, who seemed a little tetchy about something.
\”Er… yes boss.\”
\”What is it I hear,\” asked the High King, \”About the Great Nine-Pillared Hall of Ireland falling down?\”
The leprachaun scratched his ear and looked at the high rafters. He seemed a little blinded by the light reflected from the carbuncles and emeralds shining upon the pillars holding up the golden rafters. \”Falling down?\” he said.
\”Yes,\” said the High King. \”The filidhs and ollamhs have been singing songs about it for weeks, they\’ve made satires upon it that would raise a blister upon the face of Oengus Og himself and in point of fact, quite a few of my chieftains and warriors are in fact suffering from boils and acne.\”
\”Ah,\” said the King of the Leprachaun. He was now twiddling a finger in his ear.
\”In fact, I understand that many of the fine nine-, seven- and five-pillared halls that you\’ve been building all over the land are looking distinctly unstable, not to mention some of the eleven, thirteen and fifteen pillared ones still going up hereabouts.\”
\”Ehm,\” said the leprachaun. He appeared to be looking for an exit. There wasn\’t one. The spotty chieftains and warriors were sitting about the High King\’s fire, all with their spears and shields in their hands, and they were looking both nervous and tetchy themselves. There was also a mysterious cloaked figure by the door.
\”To be honest,\” said the High King, leaning forward menacingly, \”I don\’t really care about the other halls. I care about this one. This is the really expensive one. This is the one with pillars shining with gold and diamonds. This is the one we\’re sitting in.\”
\”Yes,\” said the King of the Leprachauns who seemed to wish he wasn’t. \”Ah, this is all very interesting,\” he ventured, \”But is no one going to challenge for the Champion\’s Portion?\”
\”The Hero of Nearly All Ireland is in fact playing at the hurley, at the moment,\” said the High King\’s Druid in a chilly tone of voice. \”He\’s busy.\”
\”I\’ve been informed,\” continued the High King, \”That what you\’ve done is used fairy gold to build all the various halls and duns throughout the land.\”
\”Possibly, possibly,\” said the Leprachaun, \”Maybe. To be sure, whare\’s the harm in that…\”
\”I told you to cut that out,\” hissed the High King,\” I\’ve been told that the kind of fairy gold you\’ve used is the kind that\’s spatio-temporally unstable.\”
The Leprachaun blinked. \”Sorr? Er… boss?\”
\”It\’s reality-challenged,\” said the Druid. \”It disappears after a bit.\”
\”Ah,\” said the King of the Leprachauns. He seemed to be starting to sweat.
\”And while I personally don\’t give a used rat\’s dropping for the peasants who got big ideas in their heads and mortgaged their fields and their herds and their children to buy themselves a hall with two more pillars than their neighbours using the very finest fairy gold,\” said the High King, \”I am concerned that you may have been foolish enough to use the same stuff as the foundations and pillars of this very hall that we\’re sitting in.\”
The King of the Leprachauns said nothing. He seemed to be worried by the mysterious blocky figure in the black cloak which was moving closer to the fire.
\”Now I\’ve been telling the filidhs and ollamhs that of course, I\’m not going to go and ask the Romans for more gold to hold up this hall,\” said the High King, \”I\’ve been telling them that ever since we agreed to join the Roman Empire on a clear basis of greater sovereignty, there is no chance whatsoever that I would go cap in hand to beg for gold from the Romans under any circumstances and in fact I haven\’t.\”
\”Ah,\” said the King of the Leprachauns, mopping his brow.
\”But recently,\” said the High King, \”I\’ve noticed the roof here slipping a bit.\”
He looked at one of the booths which was blocked off and hidden behind a screen. There wasn\’t any gold around that pillar which turned out to have been built of sawdust and had collapsed. The Hall was in fact a Hall of Eight-pillars which any fool could tell you was a bad idea and bound to be unlucky.
\”So tell me,\” said the High King, \”Upon what foundation and with what material was this hall built?\”
The King of the Leprachauns looked around at the stern-faced chieftains and warriors of all Ireland and was very grateful that the Hero was off at the hurley since he was notoriously unstable.
\”That would be gold,\” he said to the King, fronting up, \”The very finest, highest quality gold from the hills of Wicklow, the best, the shiniest gold from our own good selves, made of purest atmospheric turbulence and hydrogen dioxide and solar prismatic displays with a sprinkling of ungulate faeces, under a temporally-limited but still completely fair contract and…\”
The cloaked figure stepped forward and threw off the cloak. As everyone expected, it was a Roman Procurator in full shiny breastplate, complete with legionary eagle and feathered helmet.
\”Irrumater!\” roared the Procurator as he brought his gladius down on the head of the King of the Leprachauns, just before the rest of the pillars turned to sawdust and the roof fell in.

Why I won\’t be going to any Remembrance Day services


I managed to avoid going out until after 11 o\’clock on the 11th November – just as well, really, because my silly black labrador Holly is terrified of thunder. So when the boom sounded from the police station to signal the two minutes\’ silence, she leapt around madly, ran up the Forbidden Stairs (No Dogs Upstairs is the Law), had a confrontation with a mildly concerned cat and jumped into my son\’s bed.
I remember the two minutes\’ silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of November from my childhood and was glad when they brought the custom back officially. It reminds us of the moment when the guns fell silent at last at the end of the First World War.
So outside in the two minutes, cars were coming to a halt, shops were stopping in mid-Mammon, people were standing silently in the streets, some of them, especially ex-servicemen, at attention.
Pretty much everyone buys and wears small red paper poppies on their coats in November – the money funds the British Legion which supports ex-servicemen of any age. The poppies themselves refer to the way the wild flowers would germinate and grow where nothing else did in the blasted fields of the Flanders trenches.
Two minutes of silence is penetrating, quite eery. Even a small country town like Truro is a noisy place in the modern world. Suddenly it all stops. The two minutes seem longer than that. And then there\’s another boom from the police station and with a couple of coughs and brief smiles, everything starts again.
But I was much happier indoors calming a loony dog and an affronted cat because I really can\’t bear it. I can\’t do stiff upperlippery. The minute the boom sounds out and people stop moving, my tear ducts explode. In fact they\’re doing it again now as I write this. And despite this uncontrollable weeping happening every single November, I never ever remember to carry a hanky.
I won\’t be going to the Remembrance Day services this Sunday for the same reason. The first time, I was ambushed: my daughter\’s Brownie troop were carrying their standard on Church parade along with the Scouts and the Cadet forces. It was in the tiny village where we were living then, in its churchyard with its very large rhododendron trees, the gift of determined 19th century Cornish plant hunters in the Himalayas.
So I went to the church service which was very full and very dignified. I made it through the service, through the silent shuffle outside, through the reading of \”They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old…\” And then… And then they started to read aloud from the list of men of the village who died in World War I and World War II and a couple in the Falklands. All the names carved into the war memorial, something you can find in every British village or town, sometimes on lonely roads or on hills as well. The list was long, seemed endless, full of repeated Cornish names as entire families from the tiny fishing port had been stripped of their men by the guns, fathers, sons and grandsons. Every name was read out quietly and clearly.
I had no hanky, had nowhere to put the tears, was turning into a hideous humilating snot fountain. I had to rush away into the church hall to try and mop the mucus with loopaper, blow my nose, get a grip and come out and pretend I had an awful cold. The villagers kindly pretended to believe me.
For what it\’s worth I had exactly the same reaction to the names on the Vietnam memorial in Washington as well as to the hundreds of names carved at the entrances of most of the Oxford colleges where I trotted in and out three decades ago, variously hungover.
It\’s got worse, not better, as I\’ve got older and seen my little boys turn into strapping young men and me into the shorty of the family. And I\’m not a pacifist. Sometimes, alas, war is the least worst option – not nearly as often as we have wars, by the way, but sometimes. World War II was one of those times. World War I was not. We all know that most of the young sons whose names are carved on the memorials were wasted for a delusion, for nothing.
So the accent is always, always just on remembering. It\’s not flag-waving, despite the banners, never bombastic, patriotism is hardly mentioned. In November, the British put on paper poppies and stop and remember in quiet ceremonies, normally in the rain. I wish I could stand still and silent with them, but I can\’t. I\’m just not brave enough.

Relaunch and excuses


OK. I\’m sorry, ok. I haven\’t touched it for two months.

I\’ve been feeling guilty about it though. I\’ve been thinking: wow, I should write that for my blog. I should definitely write that and post it and…

I should do that link thing. Definitely. I\’ll get right on it.

I should tweet more. I should tweet that I\’m sitting in Costa\’s in Waterstones reading (again). I should…

Maybe tomorrow. Definitely.

The weird thing is that I normally write all the time. I\’m constantly scribbling guff in my diary and notebooks. I rant, I make rude jokes, I sound off. And it\’s not as if I lack the ego for blogging… It\’s just…

It\’s the technology. It\’s the computer thingy watsit. It might go
Computer: blart. Ptui. Error.

I\’ll do better from now on. Promise. I\’ll also try and reply to some of the great comments I\’ve been getting.