Give it Socks (July ’08)

“Raise high the roof-beams, Mr Greengrocer, for like Ares comes the bumbling gringo, full of dewy wine, and just now he did bump his head on your dangerously low-hanging bananas.”

“Ah yes, Mr Ireesh, how do you do? What are you doing in this country anyway? It’s a disaster! More lettuce for the cat, you need? Ah still under the impression she’s a rabbit, eh? Very good, sir.”


De Selby once (surely) said that the importance of exactly matching socks wanes in proportion to time and distance from the family home. Not that this is a simple D/S*T affair, however. No, for there are as many variables in these mathematics as autumnal hues on a hobo’s beard.

Hence, while a young man in his own place not too far removed from the nest may have accumulated quite a considerable passage of moon-falls to his name, the gravitational force on the poor boy’s mind (the female ‘plot-driver’, or brain, being quite beyond the remit of any honest scientist) will still ripple the waves of his unconscious mind and send him into squirrel-like organising patterns so as to present matching sockèd feet for the summons to Sunday counsel in the Death Star.

For the long-departed son, Time will be the over-riding factor. The gradual accumulation of things that never cease to cry out their anti-Proudhon protests to the effect that they are ‘His’, his refuge – beam on beam and pretty layer of wallpaper over plaster – will eventually turn the scales so that the satellite spins off into its own orbit like a little star – one of those galaxy rejects like our own sun that emit relatively little light but ne’ertheless radiate enough magnetism to impress upon the dweller the need for order, harmony, matching socks.

With much greater distance and even just a short amount of time, however, the chalky duster is summoned and a new, almost mystical equation takes the board: D/Tχ². Here order does not force itself upon the mind with the sweaty palms of barely comprehensible instinct. Traces of evolution’s lessons remain, of course: some similarity in sock colour must be maintained, for instance; this is no sandal-wearing savage. Yet now even the fact that there are clean socks is a small victory; and if the colours are close enough to fool a hesitant codger at ten paces, success is declared, the fingers in one’s holy pockets declench, crack and stretch out – but not for pairing off the socks, not in preparation for some elaborate mating ritual of social engineering, but rather in the kind of well-earned tranquility one must feel at bagging a UEFA Cup spot or hoking a good bin.

Such are the joys and delectation of minor successes of daily life in wintry Mardel these days. Far from the apocalyptic scenes of the Dundrum Town Centre and their rather tongue-in-cheek ‘war’ on high petrol prices (eh, isn’t the problem excessive car ownership and a failed social model of soulless suburbs?), I was passing the laundromat (ugly, ugly word) on my way home from work when the owner began banging on the window and gesticulating fiercely, which I suppose is the only way his race have learned to communicate above the clanging of the machines. So I went back around and it turned out that Nay had left the clothes in before going to work and they would be ready this evening just before closing, that she had insisted that I pick them up or I would certainly be … insert one of the many wifey threats you’ve all heard or made over the years. All first name basis, no need for the ticket, random banter about my dear Racing’s recent dash to safety from relegation, the cat, etc. I’ve really come to appreciate these little chats and the special discounts that come with being a regular customer, without having to produce my club card as proof and have it scanned by some robot, when we all know they could just as easily scan the chip in the back of our heads. Although Argentina does have a good level of technology and broadband coverage, etc., I still like to think that we’re a few steps behind over here in the rush to sign our birthright over to the androids, or at least that over here it’s easier to tell the androids apart from the humans.

Raise high the roof-beams, Mr Greengrocer, for like Ares comes the bumbling gringo, full of dewy wine, and just now he did bump his head on your dangerously low-hanging bananas.”

Ah yes, Mr Ireesh, how do you do? What are you doing in this country anyway? It’s a disaster! More lettuce for the cat, you need? Ah still under the impression she’s a rabbit, eh? Very good, sir.”

Two friends had come to visit us in Mardel. What to do? What to do in a half decent summertown in the depths of winter? The words were not long in coming: Sea Lions! So we took the bus, and foolishly got off far too early due to a poor decision by yours truly. Nonetheless we walked around the north pier of the harbour looking at the torpedo museum and gathering up a formidable band of stray dogs. These rabid creatures will attach themselves to any moving contingent in Mar del Plata, in part due to the hope that the travelling party will lead them to food, in part seeking safety from each other between the walkers’ legs as they continually maul each other: each time the other three or four gang up on one of the others, who then joins the stronger party and dishes out revenge on one of his erstwhile oppressors, acting out some avant-garde production on 20th century political history. By the time we had completed our ridiculously long walk around to the other side of the port, we had seen the Bolsheviks overthrow the Czar several times, only to be purged every time by an endlessly reborn Stalin.

The trip finally seemed to be bearing fruit, however, as suddenly, some fifty yards from the entrance to the south pier, there appeared in the middle of the street an enormous male sea lion. The incongruousness of the scene was heightened further by the fact that there was a small puddle of water in a nearby pothole, the mere suggestion of water being enough to satisfy this land-happy beast. Apart from the rest of his tribe, he sat staring up into heaven like the Buddha beneath his Bodhi tree. Whatever the scientists among you may say about sea lion evolutionary biology and straightforward sea lion comfort – that their large heads are clearly best accommodated by keeping them in line with the rest of the body and therefore pointing upwards, besides the fact that their eyes are somewhat lateral – with me these claims hold no sway. No, clear as the onlooking fisherman’s glass eye it was that he was contemplating the heavens.. No, that’s just nonsense, of course he wasn’t – ‘the heavens’ is a far too physical, spatial idea; the sea lion was synching up with the eternal, always-and-never changing Tao. So you understand that despite the encroaching pack of rabid mutts his meditation, but a stone’s throw from nirvana, was not to be disturbed.

The five dogs formed into their lousy attack formation, surrounding our sea lion with two on each side and one roving number ten playing in the hole, all the while barking madly, however, sure signs of their continuing exile from the Tao. The lion remained unperturbed (at this point I point out for your consideration that in Spanish a sea lion is actually known as a ‘sea wolf‘ [lobo marino]). Like a scorned woman, however, the dogs were only emboldened by this rebuttal and tried to bite him. His mane swinging in the sea breeze, he sprang into action, whipping out his fore-flippers and hopping incredibly quickly around on the tarmac. He was barking, springing to and fro, batting at the dogs with his flippers and trying to bite them with his splendid set of gnashers; a more impressive sight I dare say many an old sea dog has ne’er seen on a dozen trips round the Cape.

Needless to say, the dogs were stunned. They quickly retreated and went back to their aimless barking. The sea lion had already gone back to his mystical star-gazing before the knackers came and coolly drove off the dogs by throwing stones at them.

I was struck by the massive difference between the cat and the sea lion. The cat, for example, lives in an almost constant state of fear. Any sound whatsoever and her ears prick up; she spends all her time hiding under chairs, or under the cover on the couch; anything that moves, drips, drops, wags or shakes and she goes darting over to investigate. In fact, the cat is only really happy when we’re asleep, when there’s warmth and stillness and all threats evaporate into a perfect purring peace. It is then that she becomes more adorable than ever and actually rather sea-lion-like: now that she’s a ‘mature’ year and a half old she enters into these nostalgic trances where all signs of her abundant personality disappear from her bearded little face and she begins to claw repeatedly at the quilt in memory, i’m told, of when she was a kitten clawing at her mother’s teet. It’s enough to draw a tear from Cristina Kirchner.

The day continued with a long walk down the pier, dogs still in tow, still mauling each other though not so much now, perhaps feeling chided by the earlier proof of their lowly, outcast status. We reached the end of the pier, took a few pictures, had a beer and rang a taxi cause I had to go to work. The topic of the class was already decided, of course: utopias, what kind of place it would be, a choice of four well-known people to invite – one of whom had to be a super hero – and if there would be animals, for in mine the sea lions had already booked their place.

A great time was had by all. The next day our visitors left, leaving Nay rightly ruing her silly decision to refuse to speak English even though she understood 90% of what was being said by the rest of us and myself ruing the fact, Tao or no Tao, that Ireland is ridiculously far away and thus all my friends and people in general who can understand my jokes and have a civilised conversation based around quotations from cult TV shows. The last few months have marked by frequent nostalgic attacks of this kind. On the one hand, I obviously miss (it’s been a fair bleedin while now, don’t write me off as a pansy) the old Grimleys and people and whatnot. While on the other, my fork-bearing hand, I hum away on the trivial satisfactions of the little life we’ve put together in strict ignorance of the dictats of flat-pack furniture companies. This is a drift-wood operation, situated, what’s more, in a land of besmocked cannibals posing as politicians, yet where the prey are remarkably friendly, easy-going, good-looking people.

And with a further what’s more, if you’ll allow me, i’ve managed to fuse myself in the most unexpected manner into Nay’s family. I spent most of today in the hospital with el Aru, the thirteen-year-old brother-in-law. He had broken his arm in two places while playing with his local team, Club Atlético Estrada, or CAE. The club motto is Nunca cae (we’ll never fall), however, Ariel slipped after apparently taking the ball down on his chest and laying a pass off with the outside of his left foot (not sure if he was still doped up when he told me this; he’s right-footed). The club legends are already being written: apparently he got back up and tried to play on, Beckenbauer-like, his left arm hanging off. So we were doing shifts round the clock accompanying him as his one good arm had some kind of an awkward drip in it leaving it immobile, too. Sitting there in the hospital I realised that we’d gotten past yet another of those old stereotypes of the churlish in-laws, that it was almost like having a surrogate family, for you know things are pretty cool if you can feed an armless kid meatballs without feeling awkward in the least (decent hospital food, actually).

Anyway, so the actual information: we both work six days a week; Nay nine hours a day, though, where as I have a pretty easy-going schedule. The English classes are easy enough, very informal, and the bar job is a pleasure. I live near both jobs so don’t waste any time with that dreaded First World curse, the commute. Despite this smugness, however, it still looks as if we’ll end up over in Ireland either some time later this year or next year. Obviously if we don’t actually move to Ireland this year, then we’ll have to come over on holidays. It’s all very much up in the air but in any case things, things are good. Even the ‘new’ house we had taken such a dislike to finally looks and feels like a real home – despite the lack of windows.

Thanks for the mails and see you all soon.

One thought on “Give it Socks (July ’08)”

  1. I never before understood the connection between the thrills of wearing mis-matched socks and hocking a good bin. Even if no-one else is there, you know.


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