05 May The Future of Auntie Wah-Tah
The Future of Auntie Wah-Tah
Steve was standing up this time by sitting down at an anti-water tax protest but the police charging from without had already drawn blood with their batons.
“He has epilepsy, that’s why he’s punched you in the face, officer, and that’s the reason why he’s shaking uncontrollably on the ground in a grand mal epileptic fit. Please believe me, he’s my big brother.”
Six of us then rushed to shield him with our bodies because we were one hundred per cent determined that stand-up Steve would defiantly stand up once more.
Blood was seeping from my skull when I heard the mighty power of the bagpipe for the first time that day. The sound flew towards us from a Ryan Turbridy shaped black cloud just beyond Ballyfermot Civic Centre. I was dead or hallucinating.
But I wasn’t. Because let me tell you this straight to your gaping fish-face; you haven’t lived a single authentic second on this planet until you’ve heard Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart being played on the mighty bagpipes and machine-gun drums by a twenty strong pipe band flying towards your head at an anti-water tax peaceful protest.
Steve was still shaking quite violently on the ground. I couldn’t allow myself to be distracted. Whatever the hubbub. Anyway, it was probably a police helicopter flying low to put the fear of Jesus H Christ into us and ease the baton-wielding foot-soldiers’ path into our midst. But no, it was twenty human beings wearing twenty green kilts and twenty red jackets, brandishing twelve sets of bagpipes, five snare drums, two tenors and a full-stop bass drum in their dead centre. Thump. Thump. Thump. In the sky. A flying pipe band floating and marching in a circle, around and around, sinking lower and lower in my peripheral vision. My brother still having a fit on the ground.
There seemed to be more room now. I was able to hold his hand, wait for him to come back. It’s alright Steve. I saw the police person nearest me putting her hands on her hips and trying to do her best highland fling, dancing off away, away, away from us, baton dropped to the bloodied pavement below with a jazzified clang bebop bop clang.
Joan Burton, government minister, then came out of the Civic Centre swamped in skin-tight security like reinforced concrete. But the bagpipes and drums only seemed to wax louder and skirl sweeter in a higher register. Two octaves above. Steve was still in a fit. And then it happened. Just like when you become aware of something new and exciting in your life for the very first time and then the very next minute, almost immediately, it happens smack bang kaboom right in front of your face. And it was definitely happening smack bang kaboom boom boom right in front of my face. I would read a strange word, look up that word in the dictionary, and then not two hours later I would hear someone on the telly or in a newspaper or in my family using that very same new word. Spooky. It happens all the time. As if I’d wished it into existence, a Nietzschean will-to-power. The smack, bang, kerboom, boom, boom, boom was this; I’d watched a Joy Division documentary on BBC4 only the previous evening and it could have been Steve, my big brother, whereas in actual fact it had been Ian Curtis of Joy Division.
His former band members said that they were travelling home from a gig in the back of a van, the entire band. Steve was still jerking violently, he didn’t want me to let go of his hand. I held it tighter, even though, yes even though it felt grotesque and awful in doing so, having to look on helplessly and watch him suffer without being able to do a single thing to ameliorate it in any way, even though, yes even though. Ian Curtis, lead singer, Joy Division, stood up defiantly in the back of the van in the BBC4 documentary and grabbed a sleeping bag off someone in the band into which he wrapped himself and lay motionless for a period until snap, crack and indie-pop, he jumped up and started punching people and screaming expletives in a drum-and-bass-like torrent. The van had to be stopped and Ian needed to be carried out from the back where they had to hold him down on the side of the road to jerk and twist and splutter out his epileptic fit to its natural conclusion.
And of course, the day after watching such a documentary Steve does the same thing at an anti-water tax protest—minus the sleeping bag of course. No way, we won’t pay. No way Jose. No way, we won’t pay. No way Pedro.
The flying pipe band had landed on the concrete pavement beside us and more and more police people danced backwards out of our close proximity, dropping their bloody batons as they went. Dancing. Humming along to the bagpipes with rubber legs. It was true. They were smiling. The mighty power of the bagpipe had conjured some sort of miracle that as a result I nearly let go of Steve’s hand, but managed to grip tighter at the last moment before it could flop anywhere near the concrete.
The mighty bagpipes impelled more and more police people to dance exuberantly by themselves or gregariously together in groups around the perimeter of the jumbled up crowd of protesters all still sitting down—or trying to—but protestors who were now staring agape at fluttering green kilts and dancing riot helmets surrounding them in the wind for the ten minute duration of Love Will Tear Us Apart bagpipe cover version.
I now had more time and was able to take out a hankie from my pocket and dab the blood away seeping from Steve’s head, from my own head too. To be honest, I felt like dancing gregariously myself. But Steve needed me, or didn’t need me, still no sign of his seizure abating.
A piper from the band peered right into my head at the moment the pipes waxed dithyrambic yet sweeter still and kissed my mind better. Much better. Two police people three metres away had stopped shouting the c word at some women on the protest and had unbuttoned their jackets. They were now dancing at each other and laughing within the bagpipe penumbra quite gloriously. I smiled. Bagpipe music had tamed the savage beast and it was beginning to look and feel like a proper sit-down protest all over again.
A female police person who was struggling violently against the dance moves she’d been unwillingly bag-piped and snare-drummed into performing jerked to a stand-still when King Connie-Wonnie, Drum Sergeant of The Flying Superhero Pipe Band, for his name was written on the outside of his snare drum, dropped a drumstick.
It rolled towards her. King Connie-Wonnie, however, plucked a spare stick out from inside his white sock with green frills and continued with the tune in a steady manner. The police person, however, watched the dropped drumstick as it rolled in front of her toes and sucked it up greedily into her hand. She raised it like a Hitchcockian psycho-knife above her head and then stabbed towards Steve and my general direction in the somewhat calmed centre of the protest.
“You will never punch authority again my lads,” she said, “never, never, never.” But the head piper, the Pipe Major, Jeremy Jump, for it said so on the outside of his bagpipes, raised his fist and let out a crazed grunt. The band thus segued from Love Will Tear Us Apart into a lively hornpipe I don’t know the name of, if it bears a name. Probably too hoppy for anyone to pin down with mere words. Before she could stab her drumstick anywhere near our throats though, she was back dancing again, robotically, to this sprightly Bothy-bandy tune, when it gained the second part. She loves the bagpipe now you see. She loves the mighty power of the bagpipe. We all fucking do.
The protesters began standing up like planks one by one chanting in harmony with the dulcet bagpipe sounds and drones and moans uncontrollably. And as each individual protester stood up I urged Steve to stand up too. Because he’d done so, so many times before and would do so again. I held his hand tighter willing it.
Stand-Up number one came when Steve was six years of age and he’d broken his neck and collapsed into a coma. Hereditary. The doctors said he’d never walk or talk again. He stood up, walked and talked before he was seven. They also said he’d never live at home. He stood up, walked and talked out of that hospital and all the way home when he was eight. They said he wouldn’t live past 12, 16, 18, 21, 28 years of age, yet each time he stood up with more bounce and walked and talked on down the hall waving to his medical Cassandras with a smile and a handshake as he strolled, always talking, always walking, enthusing everybody, especially the staff. And now everyone was standing up around him. In his bad fit on the ground. A person who had to actually break his neck to get here.
The police force had danced off into the sunset around the nearest bend at this stage and the entire crowd of protesters hummed along with The Flying Superhero Pipe Band who then came to an abrupt stop. With no trailing drones or spilt stick-work. The protesters took their cue and everyone bar me and my brother stood up in silence on the concrete path outside the Civic Centre. The Pipe Major, Jeremy Jump, came over to me.
“Tell Steve that not only have The Flying Superhero Pipe Band learned how to fly but we’ve also been able to slip through a crack in the space-time continuum—we’ve seen the future. I’ve got wonderful news.”
He gulped and then out loud to everyone.
“You’re all heroes in the future folks. Can you believe that with blood on your heads here today, eh? They’ve made sculptures and statues to you in the future for doing what you’ve done for this country.”
The stand-up protesters gathered themselves up like dirty ragdolls all misty of eye and nostril, dabbing blood and pain from their weary bodies. They sat down in a comfort circle around Steve and I. The rest of the pipe band in a concentric circle hugging around us all.
“Folks, I’m Jeremy Jump of The Flying Superhero Pipe Band and I can only tell you so much of what I’ve seen in case I jinx it. But believe you me, everyone hated Ghandi when he was doing his thing and everyone hated Martin Luther King too especially when he was sneezing his anti-poverty anti-inequality same thing big time into the mouths of everyone who’d listen in the months before they shot him. But they all love him now. Even the ones that killed him. Splattered his brains. Watch them grovel at his feet. You too folks. You too!
“Ice sculptures in O’Connell Street and Grafton Street no less. Swing-top ice sculptures. The people’s ice sculptures. The people’s anti-water tax ice sculptures. Projects for asserting the new. They’ve built tunnels under the centre partings of O’Connell Street and Grafton Street and put blocks of ice in contraptions at street level.
“If you want to sculpt an anti-water tax protestor in art in the near future then all you have to do is get into the tunnel beneath it, on O’Connell Street or Grafton Street, and chisel upwards into your block of ice. When you’ve completed the bottom part of your ice sculpture—it doesn’t have to be figurative—doesn’t have to be abstract or conceptual either—it swings around and you can then chisel into the top half. It’s all bottom up artwork folks—and it’s very popular in the future. They have to ration tickets in a lottery system each week to keep up with public demand. It uses a lot of ice. All free thanks to you and so world-renowned that it actually earns the country billions in cultural cachet—and revenue of course.
“The internet and the art galleries of the future are crammed full of pictures of anti-water tax ice sculptures—and buildings too. Oh my God, I haven’t told you about the buildings yet.”
He gulped and gulped again.
“A new architecture has burgeoned in your futures: Anti-Water Tax Architecture, known as Auntie Wah-Tah. Many streets in Dublin and every other city and town and rural district in the country are dotted and cut with buildings whose facades are based on a mould of a famous anti-water tax protester—or at the very least a loving caricature. The Jobstown protest of 2014 in particular is very popular for nose and ear buildings in Dublin.”
Jeremy had to stop to draw breath which was a good thing too because each protester was finding it harder and harder to keep up with the mental pictures of their own future history as well respected world states-people without getting all clogged up and weepy—especially since not fifteen minutes ago a gang of police people were calling them the c word and raising and lowering batons to their heads. It was all too much really.
Big-eared and big-nosed buildings were cantilevering out of the protesters’ minds before him in salty tears and hot snot rivulets like El Lissitzky’s Prouns. Bittersweet. It would all apparently be worthwhile if we could just believe Jeremy whose band had just saved us from the police. This was all fine and dandy and right-on mate, yeah man, but my brother Steve was still deep within a violently exhausting seizure.
Jeremy said to me, “I’ll get the band to play another tune, the mighty power of the bagpipe can bring him out of it—it’s worked on everything else up to now, so why not Steve? Eh? More power lads. It’s just a question of which tune.”
But the portion of the future Jeremy didn’t want to reveal and illuminate to any degree was this: Steve dies. And I couldn’t let that happen. He becomes a martyr to the cause today. That was the only reason we won the future. I could feel it in my bones for this was the untold truth of The Flying Superhero Pipe Band. I couldn’t prove it, I just knew. Because when I thought it, Steve squeezed my hand and went into a deeper grand mal fit. I knew. I just knew. Off by heart. He’s leaving me right now. Dying. I had read it in school history books many, many times over. We all have. Off by heart. Backwards. We have to lose to win. Spill blood to gain our daily bread and water. And he was only thirty-three years of age. A tragedy.
I knew the tune, “Raglan Road, Jeremy. Play, Raglan Road. The Dawning of the Day, please. For Steve.”
Air pumped into their mighty bagpipes, holes were fingered, lips smacked, drum-skins tightened and two three-pace rolls ripped the day like rusty razor blades. “Rolls, one, two,” and they blasted into Raglan Road, The Dawning of the Day, a soundtrack not to five minutes ago when the police were calling the female protestors the c word and lowering batons to their heads, but to the future of Auntie Wah-Tah herself.
The police came a marching back down the street towards us, batons raised. The band had attained the second part twice through when Steve let go of my hand with a powerful fling and stood up one more time.
Camillus John was bored and braised in Dublin. He has been published in The Stinging Fly, RTE Ten and Headstuff.org. Recently he killed the Prime Minister of Ireland in fiction in the Welsh literary magazine, The Lonely Crowd, with a piece entitled, The Assassination of Enda Kenny (After Hilary Mantel). He would also like to mention that Pat’s won the FAI cup in 2014 for the first time in 53 miserable years of not winning it.