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Barry Quinlan,
Mar 17 1999

Dear Barry Quinlan,

I don’t get many letters like yours, or, to put it another way, I’ve never had a letter quite like yours before, so thanks very much for taking the trouble to write. Of course, I would have answered sooner except that the letter has wended its wear way to Canary Wharf and back out to Wiltshire before it got to me – I don’t ever go to the office, because I don’t know where it is. I used to know where it was, but it moved. Then, before I could answer it, I had to leave it lying around for a while leaving it to mature and hoping people would read it by accident. (It worked. Four cleaning ladies have been and gone and resigned saying they wouldn’t work in a place where letters containing the F word were lying around,)

What made it even nicer was getting it from someone in Ireland, where they think of more words and language than they do here. For years I have worshipped at the shrine of Myles na Gopaleen who was as funny as they ever come. Indeed, usually the only letters I get from Irish people come after I have borrowed the device which Myles used of the cliché expert. You know the format…?

Q. Where will we carry on till?

A. We will carry on till the end.

Q. What kind of end will we carry on till?

A. The very end.

Q. I was thinking more of the flavour of the end.

A. Ah- to the bitter end!

Q. Good.

Whenever I use this format, I get furious Irish letters saying I have stolen the technique unacknowledged from Myles. Which is only partly true because HE stole it from an American called Frank Sullivan. When I tell them this, they never write back again. Of course, for all they know, I might be making up Frank Sullivan, though I’m not…

Along those lines, I had a friend at school called Alexander Cockburn (son of Claud, resident of Youghal, your neck of the woods) who used to make up weighty quotes from a historian called Kirschner, whom he has also made up, reckoning that examiners would not know this and give him the benefit of the doubt. He told me once, years later, that he discovered there really was a historian called Kirschener.

Thanks again for the letter. As Ronnie Scott used to say, you have made a happy man very old.

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