THE NICOTINE CAT AND OTHER
‘Memories aren’t true. But you can be true to them.’
The Duras Press
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The Nicotine Cat and Other People is a scrupulously truthful and wildly imaginative memoir by one of
His ‘people’ include Father Dineen of the wonderful Irish Dictionary, the philosophers Kierkegaard and David Hume, a Scottish artist called Welsh, Joab Comfort who knows everything, and Alban Perfide, a surely imaginary novelist living out his own fiction. A wise book with a low centre of levity.
from BOOK 1. THE POESIE CHRONICLE
Poème for ‘Les Jeux Floraux de Genêt d’Or’
The Games of the Golden Broom is the annual
After the rains the town begins to breathe again. A shameless wave of broom from the surrounding hill fills the air. Genêt d’or is the guardian of the vineyards. The foppish yellow blossoms only fall when the plants are thick with green promise, strong enough to stand on their own. The broom is not just for the vines. It is the
I scattered clover seeds where before there had only been a dog, and the garden is now a savannah of trèfle for horses and boys to roll in. The nodding heads of the flowers exude the honeyed smells of sun-soaked days, doing nothing with your legs in the air.
In my youth purists claimed shamrock is something different entirely from clover. The Emerald Isle may not have snakes, but it has this unique plant which sequesters under clumps of watercress at the edges of bogs. I was not fooled. The national emblem was merely clover stunted by the lack of light. Why waste good money on St Patrick’s Day to sport a spray of sham clover tied up with a green, white and yellow ribbon? Clover grown in an open meadow was good enough for me, and for horses, the best in the world because it’s what they are most happy to graze. Le bonheur est dans le pré.
The clover in my garden foams over like stout in a too-full glass, filling the cracks in the crazy paving. It is called trèfle because of the trinity of leaves, and the three colours of the nodding pods. I weed out the yellow because they remind me of dandelions, and mortality. My meadow is a gorgeous profusion of blue and ruby red. All it needs is a horse.
I must send the immortal Iris Kellet a postcard to bring her roan mare along to graze before my meadow has been colonised by the Nicotine Cat’s army of admirers. He sniffs around, waiting for the moment to disperse them and assume his favourite scrouch. In the fifties another clear round by Iris Kellet at Ballsbridge made the behatted women in the stands sigh with fulfillment as Rusty swished his tail and didn’t leave droppings, unlike the nag of Lady Jane Anne Williams who hit the triple.
When Iris Kellet arrives with her chevalier ardent, my friend Tony (who once posed as Mr Rochester before the fall on the Jane Eyre bicentenary postage stamp, second class), the clover will be consummated with a display of dressage. Meanwhile the ceremonial watering of the trèfle each evening keeps Nico off the grass. He fills the lap of Monsieur David on the veranda next door, under the rotting naphtha tree.
Welsh, my drinking companion, tells me the yellow naphtha fruit makes fuel for motorbikes in African countries. And what did Carlyle mean by ‘women in whose placid veins circulates too little naphtha fire’? Hardly the ladies of the night who plied their trade by naphtha lamplight, or his Jane (another Welsh), who on their wedding night rode thirty-three miles barebacked to escape ‘his flowery passion and wit’. But, burning to know how he was taking it, returned as fast as her mount could to catch up on reading Coeleb’s The Search for Happiness.
I stole a Femmes Fatales MCC T-shirt off a washing line in Kings Cross. It’s a nice blue and ruby red singlet, but the material is as coarse as a hair shirt. Women motorcyclists need all the protection they can get, because their male counterparts don’t like to be upstaged, preferring a little wife on the pillion in leathers colour-coordinated with the fancy fairings. The Femme Fatale keeps me warm while walking up the vines when the broom begins to bloom. The ashes of naphtha fire must permeate its fabric, I suppose. Not from the lamplights of Kings Cross, I hasten to add, but some of the Femmes must have trail bikes for the
I recite poems out loud to encourage the growth and hope to win the poet’s banana cake at the Bras de Vendres breakaway Jeux Floraux de Genêt d’Or, sponsored by Hubert Grace’s patisserie, L’Escale Gourmande. In
The Kings Cross Femmes would kill me if they knew I abused their insignia by wearing it for poetic purposes. Baudelaire could write a poem about a cracked bell that ends with dead bodies piled up and himself the deadest and deepest happy corpse. Not me. I prefer not to extrapolate to extremes.
I’d better be careful where I wear the T-shirt. For instance, going to Madame Grace to buy my banane chocolat. She was a woman biker not so long ago and keeps up with motards because they do like their gateaux and Hubert’s are gourmet. It is just possible a Kings Cross woman biker on tour might drop in, and Madame Grace, being of a mischievous disposition, would mention my T-shirt. The cat would be out of the bag and I’d be in deep clover.
Maybe I should change gender, take up biking and join the Femmes Fatales MCC bona fide. I could then buy my banane chocolat with an easy mind. Forget the poetry competition, I say to myself. You never win anything anyway.
And so I do.