What difference would it have made to Tarry Flynn had he got himself onto a dating app? That is the question I keep turning over in my mind. Tarry is the main character of the eponymously titled Patrick Kavanagh novel that I am re-reading after twenty-five years. Published in 1948, it was banned for fourteen years before it being reissued; banned because of the risqué subject matter of Tarry’s mildly impure thoughts about women. (O Ireland!) Besides admiring how his drills of spuds are coming on or stopping to marvel at the sight of weeds growing in ditches or contemplating the shapeliness of a particular boulder his spade has hit whist digging drains in the far field, Tarry’s thoughts are almost exclusively trained on women (and sometimes poetry). Thoughts on women are shared in chats with his friend, Eusebius; thoughts on poetry are of little interest to anyone but himself. Kavanagh writes, “Ninety percent of their conversation was about girls. They were idealists and always very lonely. They were both more than twenty-seven in those enthusiastic years of nineteen hundred and thirty-five, yet neither had as much as ever kissed a girl. Not that kissing was in much favour in that district. Reading about lovers kissing, Tarry often reflected on the fact that he had never seen anyone kissing anyone, except poor old Peter Toole whom he once saw kissing a corpse in a wakehouse in the hope of getting a couple of glasses of whiskey.”
Let me leave aside love-blighted Tarry for the moment and rewind as to how I connected him to a dating app. You may remember that last November a substantial light fitting fell from my hall ceiling without warning in a dramatic crash-bang that could have raised a corpse from a wakehouse. I replaced it (eventually), and this week I posted the fallen shade on Gumtree – one of those websites where you sell or give away things locally. I had a scally around my flat to see if there was anything else I could divest myself of, found and posted a scallop-shaped light fitting that I’d once bought for an imaginary coastal cottage by the sea. Five years later, still in its box, it was time to pass it on. Hilary was in touch within the day – her cottage by the sea exists outside of her head – it is perfect, just what I’m after, she told me. No takers yet for the other fitting, but, as an old man I know is apt to say, there is Jack for every Jenny: someone out there will want it, eventually. And this little foray into online trading, uploading photographs, providing scant details as to the wares on offer, made me think about the phenomenon of posting oneself online to see if you take anyone’s fancy or vice versa. Well, is that not what it boils down to? To me, these sites feel as transactional as Gumtree, but a lot more soulless because you’re not working out how a shade or fitting will look on your ceiling or wall but how he or she might look on your arm. Eugh! And think of the rejection when no one expresses an interest; it has been hard enough having no one enquire after my tumbled vintage Habitat light fitting (what is wrong with it in all those browsers’ eyes?), but imagine it is yourself that is posted on the web to be perused and ignored?
In one scene, Tarry is getting himself ready for the closest he comes to a date. He is hoping to meet Mary on a laneway after the big crossroad on the Derry to Dublin Road and his preening reminds me of someone getting ready a selfie to upload on willyougooutwithme.com. “He was combing his hair at the mirror. First he combed it straight back in the manner of those expert dancers from the slums of Dundalk and other distant towns who were to be seen at the hall every week. Then he changed his mind and his hair style and swept it to the side. He put on a dreamy expression in his eyes. Was he good looking or does every man admire his own face?” Such introspection, self-questioning, re-combing leads me to believe that Tarry would have hated these apps, that he would prefer to sit up in the old byre of an evening with his inexhaustible imagination, dog-eared books of old poems, making up lines he’ll never use that will impress Mary or Molly or May when he meets her outside second mass. Dating apps, they’re not for me, or should I say, Tarry.