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Patrick and family


By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 2 Mar 2023



Patrick, the bookbinder, (or ‘Paddy’) was a good twenty years older than Bones and me when we first met him at the Plough in ‘77’. He was there almost every evening of the week, sipping a few pints of warm Guinness, (the only place you could get it). He most often left by eight, because he had a beautiful wife and house and children to go home to. On rare occasions he did get into his ‘cups’ and stay late, when a particularly good conversation was in progress. He might have been a denizen there a full decade before we met him. He certainly fit in, with his pint and his pipe and pure Irish accent. He had his favorite table and looked as comfortable sitting there as if it were in his own living room in his easy chair, beside his fireplace.

He was Irish to the core, grew up there, with the ‘brogue’ to prove it. His hair was already gray. He had a fine, chiselled face, reminding one of a sea captain of many years. The fact that he’d traveled the world added to this impression. He’d spent years in Africa in his twenties (the early sixties) with the ‘Peace Corps’ and had many stories to relate, always entertaining and well told. He sat at a table for four, right near the bar and was sometimes alone at it, or with one other crony talking away. I must have overheard him in the very first days we moved upstairs, because we were downstairs too, starting the evenings, before I wandered off to the Med. I asked to join his table with beer in hand one night and he quickly grew to like me because I listened to his tales and had my own store of lore, my book knowledge to contribute with interesting additions, parallels, which he’d acknowledge with a smile. He recognized this unusual book learning in me and our conversations quickly grew rich, as he was a philosopher in his own right, a deep thinker on life’s big questions.

He owned an old Victorian house fully renovated, not too far from campus and in the finished basement had a large bookbinding shop, his livelihood. He did it the old-fashioned way using horse glue and had other ancient equipment there, presses and what not, probably learning the trade as a boy from some wrinkled craftsman in Ireland.

He repaired broken spines in old books but had an even brisker business in making blank books for gift shops and bookstores. The covers of these books were unique and pretty. I have one still that he called ‘shaved cork’. It’s a fine layer of cork with an azure undercoat that shows through in many parts. The paper inside is sketching quality, thick white paper, like a little art book. The size is octavo, six by ten inches. He gave me three of these for fixing the broken heating element in his glue machine. Each Christmas he sold hundreds of them through the bookstores, as fancy gifts, priced around ten dollars.

He seemed to make a good living. The house with its location was worth a fortune. His wife was beautiful, short and petite and hippy-like, fifteen years younger than him. He had two young, beautiful children with her, a boy and a girl, four and three when we first met them.  The few times Bones and I were invited over, always to fix or upgrade something in his shop, she was smiling and happy.

He was calm and soft spoken and had a habit, when he was about to speak, of slowly taking his pipe out of his mouth and then pausing a moment as if he were putting a great deal of reflection into what he was going to say, or perhaps how best to phrase it. He was well read and rich in experience. I find this in my journals of the time, a piece of his conversation, recorded for posterity.

Thursday Jan. 26th, 1984: In a conversation with Patrick (and others) a week ago, at Kip’s’ over many pitchers of beer, I heard from him the most succinct explanation of Berkeley’s particular drawing force over other towns. “In hardly any other town in the world are there places to publicly enjoy leisure. In all mercantile cities the inhabitants teem to factories in the mornings and to their ugly dens at night. What restaurants there are, or bars, serve up food impersonally. The vulgarity of their lives is too deep to allow for much socializing. It allows for no intelligent conversation. Fears, envies, hatreds, spites, disgusts fill up their little craniums. Only old, instituted churches or moronic bowling alleys become public resorts. If there is a town park, it is filled with old, speechless dotards, and a deep sense of loneliness descends like a fog upon the unfortunate youth of talent who stays in this wasteland. There will only be more than a few stray artists in places where there are spots for the artistically inclined to lounge in and meet and communicate their enthusiasms. Of the hundreds of cities on this continent, I estimate there are perhaps ten fit for an artist to thrive in, where he will not feel like some monster.”

After seeing the world, Paddy chose Berkeley to settle in. He deserved it, and it served him well. It deserved him, a perfect fit. This extemporary speech of his, in the open air garden of a bar, adjoining the sidewalk, shows what I said before about Berkeley as being a Mecca of learning, an oasis in the dessert, where eloquence and intelligence filled the air, like an electricity that enlivened one’s mind continually. It breathed life into one, just walking the streets, and no one ever spent a week there without some gain in wisdom.

These three blank books that Paddy gave me I took home and put them on a shelf where they sat for months, not knowing what to do with them. The pages weren’t lined, so they were unfit for writing and I didn’t sketch. After a while I gave all three away to different women as presents, one to Laurel, one to Dale and the other maybe to May. I’m not sure. Then I saw one exactly like one of them in Moe’s later on and bought it, as a sort of remembrance of Paddy, a keepsake if you like. It also sat unused for months. Then I decided to use it to compose poems in, lines or no lines. On the first page I wrote this:

4–15–84: Now I proceed in this new journal, writing upon finer, more pretentious paper, hoping to write finer thoughts. The fact is, I bought this blank book from a friend who binds them, simply out of a desire to aid his business. Having let it sit idle in my closet for a while, I came upon a plan to fill it with pretty, finished poems, calligraphically laid out. I despaired of a business that might take ten years, and so demoted the notebook to serve this more common purpose.

Thus it is with the very fine things we buy, they are of no use, and give pleasure only to the abstract imagination. Thus it is with fine poems that are not didactic. On the other hand there is something attractive in the thought of great ideas and beautiful thoughts written upon sordid scraps of paper, like a genius in rags. It pleases by contrast and points to the preeminence of mind over matter. It exhibits the rich amplitude of mind deployed upon the scantiest material. There is always a connection between the two in any production, but here the proportions are just, or at least most beautiful to me. The common proportions in human endeavors are a great deal of matter with very little infusion of mind and such productions are most impressive to the ignorant. Bulk without brains.

So this is how I start out the pretty book, with very sloppy handwriting, (without lines to keep it straight). After some twenty pages of poetry attempts I gave up and switched to journalizing in it, just like all my other notebooks. But I’m glad I kept something of Paddy’s. He was a character and a fine example of a human being, fit to enhance any history.

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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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