Saturday 21 September 2019

This Man's Life: Fear and loathing in New York, while Fergal falls for Elizabeth

Claire Foy and Matt Smith in The Crown
Claire Foy and Matt Smith in The Crown
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Drink is a curse. And certainly not, as George Bernard Shaw put it, the anaesthesia by which we endure the operation of life. Merely a curse.

I am sitting in a room in New York nursing an accursed hangover. The hangover is because I had a few whiskeys too many yesterday on the plane to get me over the fear of flying - ie dying - across the Atlantic.

The hangover is making me think the absolute worst and most negative thoughts imaginable about myself.

It is a classic case of the fear - but the fear is magnified, miserably, because I am in Manhattan and I miss my wife and child beyond words.

I am almost a wreck thinking I am 3,176 miles away from them, the two people I love most in the world. And as I look out the window on East 41st Street, I wish they were here with me.

I spoke to my daughter on the phone a few minutes ago. Hearing her little voice on the phone ask, "Daddy, where are you?" rather than make me feel better has the opposite effect.

Her sweet, angelic voice only serves to heighten my sense of aloneness in the Big Apple.

My burden was not lightened when I read that the hotel I was staying in, The Dylan, was thus named because Dylan Thomas had once stayed here. The Welsh poet, legend has it, died of alcoholic brain poisoning after a binge in New York in 1953. His last words were: "I've had 18 straight whiskeys."

The only positive in all this was that four whiskeys on an Aer Lingus flight yesterday made me feel positively ascetic and self-denying by comparison to Mr Thomas's immoderation.

I am going out for a walk in Central Park to clear my head now. I fear that every little child I see playing there will make me feel guilty that my own daughter is playing without her father on the other side of the world in the back garden in Ballintyre with her mother.

Our home is all about Ozark and The Crown on Netflix at the moment. When at one point in the latter, the Queen Mother tells the Queen: "You know when to keep your mouth shut, that's more important than anything," it reminded me that I should have followed that advice when I started at the Sunday Independent in 1990.

I was barely in the job a wet week when I wrote a somewhat attention-seeking piece to mark her 91st birthday where I claimed that ma'am "hasn't done one constructive thing in all of nine decades on the earth. As such, she does not deserve all the congratulatory claptrap that has been spewed by every Wapping typesetter and every Australian-owned satellite - this 90-something has never done a day's work in her life, and like Charlie Haughey, she thinks that all she has to do is wave her hand in the air in public every once in a while to create wealth, jobs and prosperity".

The reaction was, in a word, unpleasant. You couldn't see our revered editor Aengus Fanning's desk in Middle Abbey Street as it was buried under a load of mail ranging from hysterical hate to dignified and profound reproach.

Many of them were of the opinion that the editor should see fit, without trial by Lords Temporal or Spiritual, to confine me, without delay, and at editorial pleasure, in the nearest dungeon.

"I was horrified and amazed to read the scurrilous attack on a most gracious lady. It was an ill-bred, disgusting and completely untrue article, which definitely calls for an apology," went one letter. "An affront - insulting in the extreme," went another.

"In these troubled times in which we find ourselves, relationships between nations are to be fostered and encouraged, articles of this nature are not only insulting but incite bad feeling. Having met the Queen Mother, I may say she is both charming and hard-working, a very gracious lady, who by her presence at so many functions gives untold pleasure to millions."

On the subject of someone who has provided untold pleasure to millions, Fergal Keane tells me that he has fallen for Elizabeth. Or at least the Elizabethan era of the mid-16th and early 17th century. "But, ultimately," he explains, he "found the maids of Sliabh Luachra more charming".

Allow me to explain. The subject of Fergal's next book - a follow-up to Wounds: A Memoir of War and Love, his best-selling tale of the poor Irish people caught up in the bloodshed in Ireland that followed the 1916 Rising, and in the pitiless violence of civil war in north Kerry in 1922 - is, I can exclusively reveal, Mr Keane going "back to Munster for a blockbuster on the beginning of the British Empire - how a campaign of massacre, starvation and plantation launched an imperial project that would come to dominate one-quarter of the world's landmass.

"It's full of fascinating characters like the doomed Earl of Desmond, the colonist poet Edmund Spenser and the adventurer/chancer Walter Raleigh. Raleigh and his pals might have been fun to have a few pints with but you'd want to check your pockets after and double check your head was still attached to your body. The book [The Golden World] goes deep into Irish roots but also to the frontiers of the age of empire".

I asked Fergal when is it coming out. "When I finish the hoor," he laughed. "I'd say 18 months."

My Manhattan hangover should have cleared by then.

Sunday Independent

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