I mentioned Flann O’Brien/Brian Nolan/Myles na gCopaleen in the “Get me out of debt!” thread, but I thought I’d mention him here as well. He is very famous in Ireland, but when I was first introduced to his works back in Boston, I’d never heard of him. He’s probably one of the greatest humorists of the century, and has written some of the oddest novels I’ve ever read - including The Third Policeman, which is about a one-legged man and his encounters with three metaphysical policemen in a one-dimensional police station in the Irish countryside.
At one point in the book, the policemen make the surprising revelation that, due to the theory of atomism, the more you ride a bicycle the more atoms from the bicycle are transferred into the rider’s body and vice versa, so that eventually the bicycle is riding the man. Here’s a follow-up passage:
’ The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles.’ I let go a gasp of astonishment that made a sound in the air like a bad puncture.
Are you certain about the humanity of the bicycle?’ I inquired of him. ’ Is the Atomic Theory as dangerous as you say?’ ’ It is between twice and three times as dangerous as it might be,’ he replied gloomily. ‘Early in the morning I often think it is four times, and what is more, if you lived here for a few days and gave full play to your observation and inspection, you would know how certain the sureness of certainty is.’
’ Gilhaney did not look like a bicycle" I said. ’ He had no back wheel on him and I did not think he had a front wheel either, although I did not give much attention to his front.’ The Sergeant looked at me with some commiseration.
‘You cannot expect him to grow handlebars out of his neck but I have seen him do more indescribable things than that. Did you ever notice the queer behaviour of bicycles in these parts?’
’ I am not long in this district.’ Thanks be, said Joe. ‘Then watch the bicycles if you think it is pleasant to be surprised continuously,’ he said. ‘When a man lets things go so far that he is half or more than half a bicycle, you will not see so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones. Of course there are other things connected with ladies and ladies’ bicycles that I will mention to you separately some time. But the man-charged bicycle is a phenomenon of great charm and intensity and a very dangerous article.’
At this point a man with long coat-tails spread behind him approached quickly on a bicycle, coasting benignly down the road past us from the hill ahead. I watched him with the eye of six eagles, trying to find out which was carrying the other and whether it was really a man with a bicycle on his shoulders. I did not seem to see anything, however, that was memorable or remarkable.
Very few of the people guess what is going on in this parish. ‘There are other things I would rather not say too much about. A new lady teacher was here one time with a new bicycle. She was not very long here till Gilhaney went away into the lonely country on her female bicycle. Can you appreciate the immorality of that?’ ’ I can.’
‘But worse happened. Whatever way Gilhaney’s bicycle managed it, it left itself leaning at a place where the young teacher would rush out to go away somewhere on her bicycle in a hurry. Her bicycle was gone but here was Gilhaney’s leaning there conveniently and trying to look very small and comfortable and attractive. Need I inform you what the result was or what happened?’ Indeed he need not, Joe said urgently. I have never heard of anything so shameless and abandoned. Of course the teacher was blameless, she did not take pleasure and did not know.
’ I never heard of these things before,’ I said, ’ and never knew these happenings could happen. Is it a new development or was it always an ancient fundamental?’ The Sergeant’s face clouded and he spat thoughtfully three yards ahead of him on the road.
’ I will tell you a secret,’ he said very confidentially in a low voice. ‘My great-grandfather was eighty-three when he died. For a year before his death he was a horse!’ ‘A horse?’ ’ A horse in everything but extraneous externalities. He would spend the day grazing in a field or eating hay in a stall. Usually he was lazy and quiet but now and again he would go for a smart gallop, clearing the hedges in great style. Did you ever see a man on two legs galloping?’ ’ I did not.’
‘Well, I am given to understand that it is a great sight. He always said he won the Grand National when he was a lot younger and used to annoy his family with stories about the intricate jumps and the great height of them.’
’ I suppose your great-grandfather got himself into this condition by too much horse riding?’ ‘That was the size of it. His old horse Dan was in the contrary way and gave so much trouble, coming into the house at night and interfering with young girls during the day and committing indictable offences, that they had to shoot him. The police were unsympathetic, not comprehending things rightly in these days. They said they would have to arrest the horse and charge him and have him up at the next Petty Sessions unless he was done away with. So my family shot him but if you ask me it was my great-grandfather they shot and it is the horse that is buried up in Cloncoonla Churchyard.’
Just wanted to give my man Flann a thumbs up. His newspaper articles, found in “The Best of Myles”, is some of his funniest and most accessible stuff, if anyone wants to give him a shot.