Frankly Speaking - An Essay - Part 1
|"I like the way you've done my eyes Meeeee shell" Artwork © MDM|
I met Frank Sinnott when I was a Communion Child in 1971. I was brought across the road to be given a pound and have my dress admired. I was terrified of a parade of random hairy dogs that lay across the steps of Old Pound House like savage mats.
I was almost more frightened of the hairy lad looking out at me from under his wild hair in the hall.
He started to visit us, making wildly inappropriate suggestions to my Mother, each of whom had a soft spot for the other. We were privy to all the comings and goings across the road, from the house going up in flames to Sonny Condell ringing the bell looking for divilment at 3am after a gig. He tried to teach me the guitar but I was more fascinated by the peas in his beard and the newspapers on every inch of the room.
As I grew up I began to write, and it was Frank who gave me my first writing gig on his beloved "Boker".
This time last year I got a call to tell me that the legendary gentle scholar and poet Maurice Sinnott had passed away suddenly. It was a whore of a shock for his sibling Frank, who had spent a lifetime ostensibly at war with him, secretly they were as close as two peas in a pod in fact, a word in one ear was delivered to the other within hours. They liked to give an impression of sibling rivalry and oneupmanship, but in interviews with both men recorded over many months they spoke with nothing but affection for each other.
Although they would have denied this to the whites of their eyes. Regularly. Maurice recalled the trip to see his Mam with the "new baby" when Frank was born in Rosslare, running around the high sided bed to get a look at the pair of them, Even in their 60's the brothers were blessed to have their Mother, Marie alive and well in her 90's. They made a daily pilgrimage to her home, lighting fires, eating biscuits, squabbling about the remote, and trying to out do each other at being the pet
"Maurice is the pet by a million miles" huffed Frank as he sat at my table shouting into the dictaphone and almost setting fire to his own beard with a scented tealight.
For the buzz.
Maurice described Frank as a little teddy bear of a lad, always looking for a hug.
Frank returned the favour by describing Maurice as "Mammalian" ...... while the pair of them laughed.
"The body on him, Meee shell, he doesn't look like he came from me Ma, he looks like he came out of a wardrobe!"
Being Frank –
1. A Star is born in the East.
24th November 1951 – Mr and Mrs Sinnott of Olde Pound House , St. Peters Square, Wexford wish to announce the birth of their son Frank David , a brother for Declan, and Maurice. Mother and baby doing well.
This section is a nostalgic look back at the life of the little boy growing up in a small provincial town, and the imprint his childhood would have in later years. Series of moments and recall that are poignant yet comedic.
2. A Literary Bent
Frank becomes aware of words and falls in love with language. His rivalry for the top of the class spot - ( achieving 97% on a regular basis ) in Essay and Composition sees him and a friend - ( Tucker Walsh ) - write 50 page essays, much to the consternation of the hapless teacher Sean Byrne. He submits poetry and stories and begins to be noticed, winning competitions and cash .
("A FIVER from Jim Jenkins, Meeee shell! )
3.. Hold the front page
As a teenager Frank starts, edits, writes and lampoons his own paper “The Boker Gazette” to much hilarity amongst his peers. He begins to be obsessed with order, numbers and cricket. He spends a lot of time alone smoking in his bedroom listening to The Beatles teaching himself the guitar as Maurice had bored of it.
4. Kiss me quick
A potted history of the many many loves in Franks life and the women who surround him still, despite or maybe because of his curmudgeonly ornery self.
5. They’re coming to take me away ha ha ……………
After hurling a gas cylinder through the upstairs window of his home and almost braining a random stranger, Frank realises that he may need help with the mania he now has to face.
“It took 6 of them to hold me down”
He is sectioned and diagnosed with Schizophrenia.
6. Losing my Religion.
In the throes of his psychosis Frank drinks heavily ( – “Never more than 5 pints “) and drives the length and breadth of the County in first gear. He is involved in a car accident that traumatises him so badly as to stop him ever driving again, and being distraught as a passenger even if the driver is in his 80's and going 40mph.
7. Out, damn Spot.
A story of Frank as told by his beloved dogs – subtitled “From Betty to Alabama”
8. Frankly speaking
An exploration of the man through his writings, his legendary “View from a Bridge” column, his mimicry of locals which causes outrage and consternation ( usually by omission ) and his published works to date.
9. If I may be Frank
A snap shot of his day, from a 4am alarm call to hear the BBC Foreign Service, checking cricket and/or horses , bookies, meals, characters, the man who shaves him , the woman who massages him, the woman who cleans his flat, and the long suffering woman who cooked for him every day for a year while he thought up ever increasingly bizarre menus.
(10 fish fingers on a Friday)
This is NOT an essay about mental illness. It is not about hilarity, it is not about a man who gave Phil Lynott the price of a bus back to Crumlin, or who brought the Boomtown Rats to Maudlintown or organised Sean O’Riada to open
“The Festival of Living Music” in 1970.
( “I never even got to shake his hand but even now, 47 years later, a shiver still runs up my spine when I think of him playing The Rights of Man”)
It is not about a deeply sensitive, talented , gregarious, generous, big hearted, religious, impossible man. It is not about him being a talented author, musician, wise cracking wiseguy, and general nutball.
It is about ALL of these things.
At his brothers wake Frank appeared to be flippant, laughing and chain smoking in the porch, and greeting the mourners with his trademark boom which could be heard a number of streets away. I felt it hadn't sunk in that his sparring partner had quietly laid his hand down and walked away from the table. I put a Wispa in Maurices white fingers which startled the Priest who blessed him, making him do a double take as he splashed holy water on the coffin. He wasn't an ordinary man so it was apt that an extraordinary act be his last, leaving for burial holding his beloved chocolate. On the morning of Maurice's funeral I ran across the street as the bells chimed ten and found Frank smoking at the railings.
"Christ, will you put that out and go IN in the name of Jesus" I said.
And he turned his ravaged face to me and answered - "Me Ma just died, Meeee shell!"
"Maurice is the pet by a million miles" echoed in my mind.
He has a lip on him because I told him to stop laughing and swinging his leg to capture the shot. Photo : MDM ©
There were still 2 Sinnotts left, the baby Frank, and his brother Declan, - forever spoken of by Frank as Deccie. Frank hero worshipped Deccie, the guy who got away. The guy who made it in the harshest industry in the world where integrity and talent are rarely lauded, and a man with the soul of a bard who grew up with vinyl and folk and who travelled and had children became the stuff of myth and legend for his siblings and his peers. Frank, on a rare visit was caught giving his child a cigarette, and when remonstrated with responded - "Ah Deccie, it was only a butt!"
As the weeks and months passed Frank seemed to be taking the sudden losses in his stride, apart from in quiet moments where he sat alone on benches, taking a breather, resting from shouting at friend and foe alike, being tortured by the persistent voices and thoughts that he wore like a coat, ringing me at 4am to enquire nervously about the presence of Beelzebub and black dogs.
On a long afternoon of damp gloom and coffee cups I told him hell was a construct, designed to keep us divided and conquered. I told him the energy he was composed of , that created him, wanted only miracles for him and all of us. I told him we had been taught to forget this, but that deep inside us we remember, and that longing and angst for what we were, what we ARE is the melancholia of the human condition and the collective consciousness.
He coughed for a while and then announced that your one was half cooked, a peculiar hen and as odd as two left feet, but that she had a fine hip on her.
To distract him I asked him about living in London where he survived for a number of months pretending to sweep up in a cinema while he secretly read banned magazines and existed on egg curries and bottles of stout while he sofa surfed with lads he knew from Town.
It was the only time he ever left Wexford.
Interview Part 1.
“I don't have those kinds of relationships with people, Meeee shell, I never have" he sighs as he pats his shirt pocket for a smoke and runs his hands through his shock of Einstein hair.
We have been talking at the kitchen table, about one of the many pieces of trivia, the minutae that make up daily life, and I had described an interaction with another as “Machiavellian in its scope for pettiness and cruelty”.
He looks at me askance.
I look back askew.
“What you see is what you get” he intones sonorously
He repeats this. He repeats a lot of stuff if truth be told and memory serve.
But it does lead him to speculate, ( ditto me later ) about the nature of relationship and humanity in general.
He appears to have both no awareness, and an all consuming love affair with humans in general, co-existing, living cheek by jowl with them - but observing from the singular remoteness of his own Island - and is amused , horrified and fascinated by them to equal degrees.
An Interview - Part 2
Frank is perched at the kitchen table 5 minutes before the appointed hour. He is punctual to a fault, a legacy from his Ma he informs, and states that yesterday was his brother Maurice’s birthday, while he laughs. He is 64. We both burst into a spontaneous chorus of -
“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, chicken @ 4 am ?”
“I doubt if he even remembered it is his own birthday ........... maybe I should buy him a mars bar or something. He is the bitter end”
He loves "Wispa's I said and remarked that I had accompanied him to Mace to buy one with a fitty euro note an hour earlier.
Everybody is the bitter end with Frank.
Or a peculiar hen, an oddball, a puke, and many many other epithets. I have mentioned to him that he could get a job in Fossetts Circus back pedalling on a unicycle, as the smallest of remonstrations will bring an about turn in his pronouncing.
A complete 180.
I give you the following example –
“Your man is a complete Puke, Meee shell!”
Ah, Frank, he’s grand.
“You’re right, Meee shell, he IS grand”.
I am so used to his wild outrageous pronouncements now that I barely turn a hair.
I also know that he blows hot and cold about me, from day to day and hour by hour.
He describes me as “domineering” ( a remark with which everyone who knows me will concur ) and it is only the more salacious of his outbursts that I feel the need to rein in.
Pleading for the sanity of the neighbours/baby for example when he is shrieking at a rate of knots not often heard this side of the Tuskar .
I begin by saying how frustrating it is to be told something interesting on the one breath, and in the same sentence not to use it under pain of death.
He changes his mind, again.
”Use it all, Meee shell, use it all. Use it in a nice sensual way"
His Grandmother Sissie Hatchell gave him the nicest present he ever got in his life.
“Is this all for me?” he asked.
He is at a loss to recall where she came from.
His Grandmother, not the teddy.
“ Myshall, Kilmyshall, Ah, I dunno”
He breaks off to light yet another cigarette and I beg him to consider the antique cloth of my deceased Aunt on which he is dispensing ash with gay abandon. Ruminating and rumbling about his new neighbour whom he describes as a “head the ball” I gently poke him back to the present topic. Are we really going to go with the happiest moment of his life being a teddy-bear?
“My favourite and happiest time was when I met and was with A. It was very simple and innocent. But there were hits as well, moments you know" ............ -
he tails off and passes a hand over his face and rubs his beard -
“Deccies’ girlfriend kissed me after the Fairport Convention gig, which she said was fantastic – the gig, not the kiss. I met Lenny Henry in Mary’s Bar. It was great crack altogether. The producer said I was a natural for tv.”
He is as easily pleased as mortally offended and is childlike in his spontaneous delight or annoyance. The tiniest of things can move or upset him and he can ( and does ) spend hours on recalling the most banal of incidents and remarks at home later in a long dark teatime of the soul , as he lays on the two-seater sofa with Alabama warming his chest.
Alabama is another story entirely, and has been conducting a one-dog animal rescue all by his lonesome in Johns Gate Street.
The rescued becomes rescuer. The blind leading the blind. Alabama was my dog first.
Well actually that is a lie. He was someone else’s dog first, and was shockingly treated, and barely fed and ultimately rescued. In his new home he was diagnosed with blindness and lovingly cared for, which behaviour he returned by absconding to pastures new and being placed in the pound. Which is where I come in. Having moved I could finally get the dog I had been visualising, laying devotedly at my feet and generally goofing around with, maybe in a handbag, wearing a bandana,
( the DOG – I always wear a bandana ) and just generally being all cool and froody.
Then along comes Alabama, named for “The Blind Boys of .... whom I chose not despite his blindness but because of it .
The first day I got him, post bath, resplendent in a red bandana I managed to meet his previous owner and his new one, which frankly speaking seems to be just careless. The former collapsing into hysterical sobs and frantic garbled phone calls to the dog people/family/acquaintances and finally resorting to appeals to random passers-by and the latter who collapsed into an emotional state of complete and utter love at first sight.
“He’s beautiful,” he said stroking him, “just bee yootiful , can I have him?"
It would take a further year and a half for these entreaties to fall on anything but deaf ears.
At one juncture he suggested that we share him. 3 days and 4 days turn and turn about.
I procrastinated by saying that it would be unfair to give the craythur emphysema on top of his existing disability but the seed was sown, the die was cast, and it was never a case of “IF” Alabama and his duvet, bowls and bandanas would make the epic journey across the road, but WHEN.
He was not allowed “home” and my access was restricted to maintenance and bathing requirements. Alabama now resides in Franks’ house and heart. He is his soulmate and Anam Chara, and a warm living presence at his side.
They are co-dependant and inextricably entwined. They share their day. Waking and sleeping together, and according to at least one reliable source, transforming each others lives. On paper, this should not work, but I defy anyone to witness the love they share and not be moved.
"He's bee yootiful MEEEEE shell, can I have him?" Image © MDM
He feeds him exclusively on a diet of roast beef and cooked ham from Doyles Butchers on South Main Street despite my lengthy protestations.
Frank rings @ 8am to remind me that I am doing the church gates for him today because of the racing . Suffice to say he is not attending the races, he just does not want to stand in the churchyard - with his “aching back” - and waste valuable time that would be better spent studying form over a trio of poached eggs on toast and a pot of strong tea in his daily haunt. I have remonstrated with him over his massive weekly egg consumption, and tut tutted disapprovingly about cholesterol and blah blah blah while he sighs deeply and lights another one of his 60 a day cigarettes. I may as well save my breath to cool my porridge as he can barely catch his own. Breath, that is, not porridge. His legendary coughing outbursts leave him red-faced and gasping. These outbursts are not aided by his continuing inability to stop commenting on the food/weather/football/and/or state of the nation. In an apolexy of strangled coughing, gasping and swearing he sits shrouded in a halo of smoke surveying the damage to his new 70 euro shirt, where he has torn the breast pocket off trying to extricate a single Marlboro from the myriad he has on his person at any given moment. Due to a distinct shortage of caffeine I called him at 9am to ask him to desist from consuming said eggs and to repair to me forthwith ( if not sooner ) with a takeaway coffee. Strong. Black. Americano with a double shot of espresso, preferably. He keeps saying Cappuccino. I keep saying no. He arrives beaming with most of the coffee still in situ and shouts loud enough for the Bride St. Parishioners to hear –
"That'll put hair on your chest, MEEE shell"
He rings an hour later to ask what is for lunch.
I am dressing the cold salmon salad when he shouts -
“Mustard ??? MUSTARD?? Don’t give me mustard Meee shell for f…s sake. I overdosed on tablets when I was 4, must have taken about 40 of them and the chemist made me up a mustard thing to make me sick. I can’t take it since.”
“How or why did you take 40 tablets Frank ?”
“It must have been a suicide attempt – (laughter) Sure, I thought they were sweets or something.”
He has an ability to time travel, being in moments present in the now, and in a blink, present in 1955 as a small child sick in a shady chemists shop.
I have a vision of the little boy in short pants- a pile of virulent yellow gloop at his sandalled feet.
A walk down the streets of Wexford 50 years ago was quite a different sight from now , with its candy striped awnings and porches, barbers poles, ice-cream signs, bakeries, cinemas, butchers, and huxters shops with buckets and spades in nets waiting for John D. Sheridan on his way to Rosslare.
I laugh to think, indeed.
"Don't tell her how many eggs I had!"
© Richie Roche
Line of the day from Frank Sinnott Monday 10th June - Diary Entry
(Half an hour early !! )
Me: Christ, Frank, where are you going at this hour eh?
Frank: Just put the hood on the dish and come on, there's enough in there to feed the Bishop and ten of his horses.
Me: Give Alabama this chicken breast, the craythur.
Frank: "You are such a dictator, Mee shell . You would make a monk masturbate! "
Me: Actually - I would make him STOP!
Frank : " Lobalobalobalobalobaloba ................ * etc etc* ... loba. Laughter ( His and Mine. )Frank: (With head in hands - ) "I have nothing to say today Mee shell. How are we ever going to get this book written, time is moving on you know "
Me: "Never mind, I'll pick something out of the mess."
* singing together* ..... "he went to bed and covered his head with vinegar and brown paper".
Me: Did you see the little dog outside with the sideways face?
Frank: You could have used Wayne Rooney instead of a "monk" but he may have sued.
Me: Did you ever read Malachy McCourt's book " A monk swimming".
Frank : "Whaaaaaaaa? A MONK swimming????
Me: Yeah, when he was a child he thought the prayer with "Blessed art thou amongst women " was Blessed art thou a monk swimming" ........I know, right?
Frank: Oh for fuck sake Meeee shell.
He throws back his head to get a good run at the laugh.
Line of the day from Frank Sinnott ( 8am )
Frank: "Meeee shell, 3 things.
ONE : WHEN will you wash the dog ?
TWO: Will you write that feature TODAY ?
THREE: WHAT'S for the dinner ?
Me. Saturday. How many words. Spaghetti.
Frank : Is that the stuff like worms you have to twirl around ?
Me: You don't have to be all Lady & the Tramp about it. I am doing fusili.
Me: Those small wrinkly lads.
Frank : I know a few men with that problem. How's your Da ?
Me: Cavorting around the countryside as we speak.
Frank: Your Da is made of concrete, Meee shell, .............. and custard.
Me: Good LUCK, Frank.
He stopped letting me see the dog admitting he was terrified I would take him back. I promised this wouldn't happen. "He's a different dog entirely now" he bellowed.
He was right.
Tom and Frank having the bants Photo : © MDM
Line of the day from Frank Sinnott :
Frank: "Your one in the Dáil is a weirdo, I'd say if you rooted you'd find an item. She's half cooked. "
Me: Speaking of which here's your lunch.
Frank : I'm going to sit on the friary bench. Me back is broke.
Me: Speaking of which, how many words for the feature ?
Frank : You should write a book about yourself Mee shell, you're way more interesting than me.
Me: ( noticing that he still has the manufacturers label sewed onto the sleeve of his new suit - *Magee*)
Me: What do you call the other arm Frank , Me Arse ? "
Frank: We should write books about each other Meeee shell and launch them on the same day.
Me:Get OUT, Frank.
Lunchtime chez Michelle Dooley Mahon
Frank : Here's your Da coming down the hall.
Tom: ANOTHER new shirt, Frank ?
Me: It must be summer. Frank took off his coat.
Frank: Your Da has no coat on .
Me: Ah, but he is wearing a damart thermal vest, and a string vest under all that lot, and a jumper.
Tom: ...........and a pair of hearing aids, a pair of glasses and a tie.
Me: My Uncle Ollie was a butcher in Athy.
Frank: What's for me , Mee shell ..... Shite and Cabbage, finely mixed?
Me: It's heavy on the shite, I held the cabbage.
Frank: Me Ma died about 10 years ago. A wind blew in from Calcutta and she keeled over.
Me: Get out, Frank.
Your one is a peculiar hen - Photo John Stewart
Frank : ( staring at fridge posters - ) "Ye know yer man , the dolly llama looks like Nino Forte - What am I going to do with Maurice ? He is covering me Ma's house with chicken bones and matches and I'm getting blamed. Me trousers are killing me. I may just put up with them .
..... wha ?? Oh , I adore the tennis . Who ? Ah you know yer man, no not Bjorg, NO not Sampras, NOOOOOOOOO not Nastase, listen to me , your man in the ads, wha ? "
Me: Federer, get out Frank !
Maurice Sinnott on Rowe Street Photo : MDM
Customer to barman - "Can I back a horse in here ?"
Barman - "Well, ok . But there won't be much room for anyone else"
(Frank Sinnott – June 6th 2012 )
Line of the day
from Frank Sinnott -" Cough cough cough cough cough cough cough "
On a warm September evening I was instructing a #Mindless Class and had my phone on silent. As I walked home in a charcoal silk dress carrying golden flowers I turned it on to hear a voicemail that left me swaying in the street. On auto I crossed the road and dropped the flowers in the church yard as I began to run. A small knot of people were gathered on the step of Number 7. I was dreamwalking through treacle and could only barely make out the shapes on the hill.
"He's gone, Mee shell" his friend said, brokenly.
There were white lights around my head. I couldn't hear. Time stopped.
I thought I might faint.
I leaned against a car and heard my own voice ask for Alabama.
And then he was placed in my arms.
And it was only when I felt the warm tangled weight of him that a sob burst out of my chest like a harsh cough.
He was unrecognisable.
And I carried him to the bar Frank saw as his second home, whose owner and locals - his friends - hadn't heard from him all day, and laid him on a bench.
Frank rang everyone he knew all day, everyday.
From memory ............................as he couldn't use any facility on the phone other than the green and red to call and stop.
He died, as he had lived, alone with his dog.
His dog died 4 days later in the arms of a woman who had loved them both.
The heart is a lonely hunter Photo: © Richie Roche
Alabama hears he is moving across the road. Photo : MDM
Part One of The Story of Frank
To be continued.
Michelle Dooley Mahon Nollaig Na M'Ban 2017