Saturday, 11 July 2009

More about reading


The desire to look like a reader or a person of culture without having to read or think is not a new one. Flann O'Brien had a novel take on it in the column that he wrote for the Irish Times as Myles na gCopaleen. This book, The Best of Myles, must be one of the funniest ever written. Anyway, Myles invented the Irish Writers, Actors, Artists, Musicians Association (WAAMA) which offered a Book Handling Service. If you want an impressive library that doesn't look brand-new and unread, the service provides for dog-earing and marginal annotations at various levels of sophistication. WAAMA also offered a ventriloquists' escort service:

'A lot of the letters we receive are from well-off people who have no books. Nevertheless, they want to be thought educated. Can we help them, they ask?

Of course. Let nobody think only book-owners can be smart. The Myles na gCopaleen Escort Service is the answer.

Why be a dumb dud? Do your friends shun you? Do people cross the road when they see you approaching? Do they run up the steps of strange houses, pretend they live there and force their way into the hall while you are passing by? If that is the sort of person you are, you must avail yourself today of this new service. Otherwise, you might as well be dead.'

After applying...

'You are instructed to be in attendance at the foyer of the Gate Theatre that evening, and to look out for a tall, distiguished-looking gentleman of military bearing attired in immaculate evening dress. You go. You meet him. He advances towards you smiling, ignoring all the other handsome baggages that litter the place. In an instant his moustaches are brushing your lips.
'I trust I have not kept you waiting, Lady Charlotte,' he says pleasantly. What a delightfully low, manly voice!

'Not at all, Count,' you answer, your voice being the tinkle of silver bells. 'And what a night for Ibsen. One is in the mood, somehow. Yet a translation can never be quite the same. Do you remember that night...in Stockholm...long ago?

The fact of the matter is, of course, that you have taken good care to say nothing. Your only worry throughout the evening is to shut up and keep shut up completely. The trained escort answers his own manly questions in a voice far pleasanter than your own unfeminine quack, and gives answers that will astonish the people behind for their brilliance and sparkle.'

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