Corner People

Jones, Harri Pritchard

Corner People is a collection of thirteen stories by this doctor, translator and Welsh-language novelist, short-story and script-writer. ‘Exit’ is the reminiscence of a (rather banal) theatrical career, ‘Venturing Forth’ the account of a schoolmistress who has dedicated herself to marking and her ‘tada’ (‘dad’) — a firm chapel man: ‘With tada I could idolise him, love him body and soul, without there being any lust involved’.

‘Matinee’ is clever and intriguing; an ageing actress is called to witness her experiences with a (deceased) great poet whose biography has been commissioned. She aims to have the pleasure of ‘writing’ a bit of personal and poetic history all to suit herself and this will be her greatest performance. In fact the poet was ‘a creature set apart’, definitely not one of the gang and his relationship with the actress was not so wonderful for her. This is a short but very clever essay on reminiscence versus reality (‘falsified memory syndrome’ anybody?) but intensely sympathetic – as is ‘Venturing Forth’ to its lonely female protagonist.

‘The Vigil’ also deals with events that are off-screen but essential to the present, while ‘Freedom’s Rose’ is a little bulletin from the leftist battlegrounds of the

early 1970s in the Iberian peninsula. In a clever, emotional way it contrasts more and less radical positions, which often enough, as Pritchard implies, mean being more or less open to using violence for one’s political goals.

In ‘The Dance’ we get a short cameo of an Indian student in Dublin, living the half-life of one who knows his ‘real’ life is to be lived later in a socially and geographically distant elsewhere. It provides an interesting portrait of a pre-Celtic Tiger Dublin.

‘Fool’s Paradise’ is a fairly graphic description of a homeless girl living in a crude squat. Homeless but also somewhat retarded, this is not a very pretty picture but maybe quite realistic, including the intermittent presence of a man who comes by once a week, tidies her up and then has sex with her.

‘The Miracle’ is a very wry Christmas story set like several in this collection in Dublin where Pritchard Jones lived and studied for a time. As in ‘Fools Paradise’, this is not a story for the squeamish. ‘Under the White White Snow’ is a family saga in ultra-miniature. This is a varied and entertaining collection by a distinctive voice. RK


He was a fourth year medical student. It was over three years since he’d been home and that had been to his mother’s funeral. He worked hard at his studies, and had succeeded in each examination to date. As there was such a shortage of doctors in his country, and as he had an uncle a High Court Judge in his home state, Sing was certain to end up a respected and prosperous gure within two or three years of his return home. He’d been to college in Madras rst before coming to Dublin, studying natural sciences, and trying to master the English language. But his problem of communication with Dublin people was only compounded by his imperfect command of the English language. They had their own small talk, much of it mischievous and frivolous to his way of thinking. The men loved to frequent the pubs and talk endlessly for hours on end about religion and politics, over pints of creamy black drinks. Women were a rare sight in their company, and hardly anyone knew anything about the East. To be fair, he didn’t know all that much himself before he came to Europe. He knew about his own society, of course, its traditions, its mores and customs as regards food, and drinking and marriage, the names and attributes of the minor deities.

He’d read many a paperback about his country and people since coming to Ireland, and read a deal about European civilization as well, the gifts of Zeus, the old religion and the new humanism. To his great sorrow, people seemed dumb-struck when he broached these subjects with them. Perhaps they found it dicult to understand him. People, he knew, were loath to invite him home as communication was so dicult, and, who knows, perhaps because they didn’t want him to meet their daughters. And neither did he want to marry an Irish girl.

It would be too much of a problem to take her back home, and to teach her how to be an Indian. It wouldn’t be fair either to her or to people back there.

Anyway, what came to mind now, as he scratched his belly, was that it was Thursday. That is what had spurred him on to work so hard and so late last night: the thought of going to the Excelsior tonight and dancing passionately and forgetfully to the pulsating rhythms of Roy Clarke and his Rollers — especially that sweaty drummer who’d been a medical student himself once. Most of his compatriots frequented the Excelsior, as did the African, the English and the other foreign students. Between themselves the conversation owed fairly easily: medical and engineering students talking shop and sex, and the odd nurse or shop assistant adorning the company sometimes. They even had their own pub and their coffee bars, places where it was fairly safe to crack jokes about the Irish and their religion and their old fashioned ways, and where one could buy various prohibited goods. They had no truck with the self-denial and abstemiousness of the Irish, God help them.

By now Sing was walking across Stephen’s Green. He’d eaten a light breakfast — he was the cook for the day. How beautiful the owers in the park were, as the sun and the gentle breeze caressed them; the formal tulips and the entrancing apple blossom. May owers, and the smell of Mango swamped his mind for a second. He turned out of the park, across the busy corner, alive with trac, and down Grafton Street — like an eel slithering between the hurrying people, past girl after girl in bouncing summer frocks. How full of pretty girls Grafton Street was in the mornings, like the streets of Madras with the swish of silk saris; the girls there, like here, on their way to oces or colleges. But where did they all hide away at night? Other women took possession of the streets in the near dusk of the city. He reached College Green and, whilst waiting for the policeman to wave him across, met a couple of fellow medical students, each with his academic briefcase, and each wearing a white collar, grey trousers and a tweed jacket. Came the sign, and the company crossed the street, and a section entered through the small door in the great wooden portals, into the front square of the college.

Listening to the lecturer discussing the various types of sputum and their signicance, a ray of sunshine came through the window…  –‘The Dance’ 52–53