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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

A Single Headstrong Heart

Kevin Myers
Lilliput Press


From Chapter One

Look: you can find it yourself, on Google Earth: 17 Medina Road, Leicester, England. Observe the clutter of those three ugly angular roofs, and the flat one of the adjoining garage, upon which the three young Myerses once used to play. Of course, what you can't see is that there is no interior door from that garage to the kitchen just inches away - such a connection would have been logical, would it not? But there is little logic here in this house of the toofs, where almost nothing works quite as intended.

Thomas More coined the word Utopia, which literally means no place - a paradise where all is perfect. The imperial Victorians, confident there was something far worse than benign empti­ness, accordingly concocted the term Dystopia, which essentially means 'a bad place'. Allow me to introduce you to my familial version of such locational quintessence: Myetopia, namely, a hive of patronymic ineptitude. And though you can gaze at the struc-tutal remains of Myetopia, now in flats, and may study its bizarre ugliness, you cannot see the secrets within those damp-brick, wind-scalded walls, or the tales that once unfolded beneath those unkempt, blue-slated roofs.

My first memory of this hive is of my lying alongside my twin sister Maggy, she a babbling little pupa in a woollen jumpsuit. I am on my favourite little mattress, from which I will not be parted. It reeks of the intimate persimmon fragrance of urine. My urine. Delicious. It is Christmas. My mother is one month away from giving birth to my baby brother Johnny. She is holding the ladder while Dad is attaching holly to a central point in the sitting-room ceiling, his throat rumbling with a curious combi­nation of concentration and impatience that was to be as charac­teristic of him as a croak is to a bullfrog.

During the early months of 1939 when the Myers family was still very much a work in progress back in Ireland, Luftwaffe photo-reconnaissance aircraft secretly photographed every one of England's cities, and their aerial pictures of the western outskirts of Leicester clearly show the junction of Medina Road and Buckminster Road. There was no corner house there when Goering's men came a-calling, just vegetable allotments. But the owner of this blessed plot, a Jewish medical gentleman by the name of Dr Raussman, had already acquired a legally dubious planning permission to turn an angular section of that large cabbage patch into a site for a house, the construction of which was finished as darkness fell upon the world. Had Hitler, in his own characteristic way, not intervened, Leicester City Council might well in their own rather more municipal manner have obliged the developer to tear it down for his violation of the planning laws. But Adolf did intervene, it didn't, and so this tragic house survived.

However, the council planning officers wrought their revenge on Raussman (and thereby his hapless successor) by declaring that the road and entire pavement on the Buckminster Road side of this house, namely the surgery side, should indefinitely be declared 'unadopted'. In other words, it legally didn't exist: truly Myetopia. This meant that, by law, no public footpath or pavement or drainage or road gutters would or could be installed. Street sweepers would put their brooms on their shoulders and walk on by whenever they reached this house. Imagine: the only house in the entire area that was unpaved and undrained over its main frontage was the doctors.

Nine years on my father bought this legally crippled property, and typically, without a proper document search. It was only after the family moved in that some of its shortcomings proclaimed themselves, the most obvious being the appearance of a muddy lake in front of the house for much of the year, which turned into a jungle of weeds, litter and dog shit in the summer. So Dad's patients had to traverse an assault course to get to and from him: that so many did was testament to the affection in which he was held. For Dad was a good doctor; a very good doctor indeed.

However, not content with this grievous outside infirmity, 17 Medina Road was also maimed internally. Each bedroom had a fatuous bell-push connected to a bell-board in the kitchen, which identified the chamber that required the attention of the scul­lery maid, though of course she had joined the Baltic states in a common extinction the same year as the house was completed. These bedrooms formed most of the upper floor of a half-cruciform structure that had two small wings on a central core. Each wing consisted of a single bedroom with three outside, uninsulated and bitterly cold walls. Every single window frame in the house seems to have been made from a special 1939 pig iron that had rapidly rusted and warped soon after installation, thereby generously allowing endless gales to share our living space.