Todays word - Shenanigans - is, in my humble opinion, simply wonderful.
Just utter the word Shenanigans and a multitude of scenarios spring to mind. Until now a Board Game wasn't one of them for me. I certainly don't think Santa would have put anything to do with shenanigans in my Christmas sock. Having said that the Festive Season, particularly in Ireland, is most definitely a time of shenanigans taking place willy-nilly (now there's a phrase I must look into).
So, what exactly are shenanigans?
A few years ago I had the pleasure of a drunken chat with legendary actor Alan Devlin outside The Queens Pub here in Dalkey. Poor old Alan, winner of the 1984 Olivier Award no less, had fallen off the wagon in great style. It was Halloween, he was suitably clad as a vampire, and utterly plastered. Credit where it's due Alan was very pleasant with it. Having spent his last fiver in The King's Inn across the road he courteously asked as to whether I'd be kind enough to stand him a drink. How could any decent soul refuse? 'Would you be able to fetch it from the bar too?', he asked, 'as I was barred earlier in the day for all sorts of shenanigans.'
Alan refused to expand as to what these shenanigans might have been. Suffice it to say they were bad enough to incur the wrath of the otherwise genial Bar Manager. As he sipped his Bacardi & Coke (a surprising choice) Alan confided in me that shenanigans had pretty much ruined his life. Shenanigans had cost him two marriages and he reckoned by the end of the day in question quite possibly three. Shenanigans had lost him many an acting role including the lead in a play in Dublin after which he ended up living rough near Baggot Street for a number of months. 'Ah, but it's a great word all the same,' he added with a rueful smile.
Although I'd always assumed shenanigans to be an Irish word the OED lists its origins as 'obscure'. One theory however is that it does indeed have Celtic roots, derived and anglicised from the Gaelic for 'like a fox' - sionnachuighim. The name of the river Shannon is derived from Sionna, the River Goddess so I reckon this is quite plausible. I have my doubts as to how fox-like poor old Alan Devlin's carry-on was but it makes some sort of sense that shenanigans reflect the drunken spirit of getting away with things - i.e. sneaking out for a few pints / having a sly one etc. etc.
As Alan drained his glass my wife appeared. He immediately leapt to his feet and kindly offered to dance with her despite there being no music. She graciously declined to which Alan replied with a wink in my direction, 'Probably just as well, there may have been more shenanigans...'
As Alan wandered away I called after him, 'It was a pleasure. We'll meet again', to which he replied with a mischievous grin, 'It was, but no...we won't.'
He was right.
Alan Devlin died suddenly the following May. I guess the shenanigans finally caught up with him.
Usually I go on about words here but today thought I'd share a true story. What's described happened in the small market town of Coleraine in Northern Ireland on June 12th 1973, four days after my 7th Birthday. In my mind it could be yesterday.
'Shared Troubles' was long-listed for the 2012 Irish Times Short Story Award.
“Sit down, it’s just a bomb.”
We did as we were told. Miss. Archibald turned back to the page and resumed the story. Words came out, I heard them, but they were meaningless. She may have been able to make us sit but our minds were always beyond her control. We all watched as the dust cloud rose over our wee town.
Jane Branagh started to cry.
Nigel McElfatrick joined her.
I felt I should too but didn’t, or maybe couldn’t.
Miss. Archibald turned another page.
Friday stories. Most of the kids hated them. Not me, but I never told anyone.
All our Dads worked downtown. Ballantyne's Knitwear and the Shirt Factory. All our Mums shopped downtown. Marks and Spencer, C&A, Gordons Chemists. Perm, blow-dry and gossip on a Friday afternoon then Mum would dash home under a headscarf with a few weekend treats in her shopping bag. Downtown was close. You didn’t need to drive. I once pogo-sticked all the way from our house to The Diamond. That achievement made me part of the gang. Led by Jeremy Watson, the gang was where you wanted to be. Except for now, I just wanted to go home.
I remember thinking that I never knew glass was bendy. How come I never knew that? But after the blast I had seen it warp in the window frame, buckling inwards for a split second before resuming its usual state. I wondered if anyone else had noticed.
Miss. Archibald read on.
There were no sirens and no screams. Downtown was close but not that close. There was silence, except of course for Miss. Archibald. I wished she’d shut-up now.
The cloud, dense at first, started to dissipate and lose form. It was interesting.
I looked at Miss. Archibald. I glanced at the book in her hands. It was shaking. So was her voice.
My Dad worked downtown. My Mum shopped downtown. My sister went to school downtown. Maybe hers did too.
I’d noticed things recently. It wasn’t like it used to be. Stuff I’d only seen on telly had come to visit us. Somebody set fire to the Catholic school up the road. My Dad had to close the factory because some men in balaclavas told him to. Then he was on TV – Scene around Six.
The second blast bent the glass too.
Miss. Archibald stopped reading.
More dust plumed into the air. We all ran to the window, even Miss. Archibald. The school alarm wailed.
“You all know the drill.”
Like soldiers on parade we lined up beside the smelly sinks at the back of the class. We marched out of the room and down the staircase.
We held hands.
Mojo - it's become a particularly annoying word. Frankly I blame the one-trick pony Austin Powers. Hadn't heard it used for quite a while until recently when somebody said without a trace of irony, 'I think I've just lost my mojo.' Didn't think such a thing could be instantaneous. Surely MOJO would slip away almost imperceptibly, a gradual trickle rather than a deluge?
Well, while stifling a giggle I made a mental note to do a bit of research (yes, I am that sad). Oddly enough I was led straight to John Lennon:
He roller-coaster he got early warning
He got muddy water he one MOJO filter
He say "One and one and one is three"
Got to be good-looking 'cause he's so hard to see
Come together right now over me
My fellow Beatles aficionados will know that's the final verse of Come Together from Abbey Road. It's my favourite album, ever, of all time. I even have a copy signed by George Martin (bragging here - sorry). For years I believed a MOJO was a musical instrument of some sort, something akin to an early Moog synthesizer. I had visions of John turning to Paul in the studio and with a knowing look saying, 'Hey Paul, think it's time for the MOJO filter, what d'you reckon?'
Suffice it to say if ever human beings were possessed of MOJO it was these four, filtered or not. So what the hell was Lennon on about? There's a theory each verse of the song relates to a fellow Beatle. The one in question here Paul. They weren't getting on at the time so perhaps McCartney was deemed to be filtering out Lennon's feelgood factor. Frankly that sounds like a load of twaddle to me. However, just for fun let's return to Abbey Road in 1969 once more:
John: 'Hey, Macca. Stop filtering my MOJO.'
Paul: 'Get rid of the Mrs. and I'll think about it.'
So, there you go. Banish the image of Austin Powers and maybe MOJO has a place in the world once more. If it was good enough for John Lennon it's good enough for me. Just wish it really was a piece of recording kit.