もちろん本気じゃありませんよ。ことば通りに受け取らないでください。でも、今がもし2020年だったら、プーチンはウクライナへ侵攻したでしょうか？ おそらくしなかったでしょう。こんな意見が月並みなのは承知しています。でもね、ロシアがウクライナへ侵攻したというニュースをはじめて読んだときには呆然としました。早朝でした、あの侵略がはじまった日の。コーヒーを淹れて、ジャン・カーソンの『The Raptures（歓喜の声）』という小説を数章読んで——すばらしい作品です——から、ここ1か月ほど毎朝の日課にしている英単語パズルゲームをやって、それからＢＢＣのサッカーのページをちょっと覗いたのです。その後でiPadで『アイリッシュ・タイムズ』を開いたら、あのニュースが目に飛びこんできました。まさかと思っていたことをプーチンがやった、と。
わたしは、2014年にロシアがクリミア半島を併合したときのように、国土の一部分を奪い取ろうとするのだろうと考えていました。列車の窓に押しつけた子どもたちの顔、別れ際に抱き合う男女、スーツケースを携えて列車に乗り込もうとするひとびと、破壊された建物、爆弾が破裂して地面に開いた穴、死者たち。第二次世界大戦のときのイメージにそっくりですが、モノクロではなくカラーで、スーツケースにはキャスターがついています。まさか、こんな光景を見慣れてしまう羽目になろうとは思いもよりませんでした！ 世界中で何百万ものひとたちが自分たちの土地を追われて、よその地に安住の場所を探さざるをえない状況に追い込まれているのは承知しています。わたしはテレビでベトナム戦争の様子を見ながら育った世代で、後には北アイルランド紛争の様子もテレビで見ていました。戦争はつねに起きていて、難民はつねに生まれている。でも今回はそれだけではない——アイルランドにはポーランド人がたくさん住んでいるし、ボーランドがウクライナの隣だからでしょうか、あるいは、アイルランドがＥＵの熱心なメンバーで、その仲間であるラトビア、エストニア、フィンランドなどがロシアと国境を接しているからでしょうか、さらにまた、アイルランドが植民地化された歴史を持っているからでしょうか、もしかして、今起きつつあることの規模と速さのせいなのか、その理不尽さゆえなのか——他国を侵略するとはいったいどういうことなのでしょうか？ 恐ろしい。なんだか他人事でない感じがするのです。
Copyright © Roddy Doyle 2022
I decided to wait before I wrote to you until after the first game of the new season, which was last night. The season actually started last weekend, but Bohemians’ match, away to Sligo Rovers, was called off because the pitch was waterlogged. Three Atlantic storms, called Storm Dudley, Storm Eunice and Storm Franklin, passed over the country in a week. Eunice was spectacular. Sligo is on the west coast, so rain of biblical proportions fell on the pitch and, for a few days, it stopped being a football pitch and became a sanctuary for ducks.
So, last night was Bohs’ first match—against Dundalk. Most of the Covid restrictions were lifted some weeks ago, so it was a full crowd, about four thousand people. It felt great to be in the middle of the singing, chanting and shouting. I’m not much of a singer or chanter and I enjoy the occasional shout. At one point, I was out of my seat, shouting at the referee. He’d made some outrageously stupid decision which, less than a day later, I can no longer remember. But I was so incensed at the injustice of it that, whatever came out of my mouth, it wasn’t English. It wasn’t a string of curses; it was just noise, a series of yelps. Literally—words had failed me. I’ve always said that football is a direct route back to childhood. In those seconds, I was a sixty-three-year-old toddler.
It was a 2–2 draw. We were better in the first half; they were better in the second half. Our goals were brilliant; theirs were soft. It was just great to be watching football. There’s no theatre to match it.
There was a great freedom to the evening. Myself and my friends were able to meet in a nearby pub, the Hut, without worrying if it would be packed. It was, but it didn’t seem to matter. Wearing masks on the bus is no longer mandatory; we’re just being advised to wear a mask if the bus is full. I can walk into a café without a mask. Most of the hand-sanitizer dispensers are empty. Some of them are even rusty. We seem to be crawling slowly back into the world.
But what an ugly world it is at the moment. I almost wish that I could turn around and crawl back into the Pandemic cocoon.
I don’t mean that literally; I don’t mean it at all. But would Putin have ordered the invasion of Ukraine any time in 2020? Probably not. It’s a facile observation, I know. But I was stunned when I read that Russia had invaded Ukraine. I read it very early, the morning of the invasion, after I’d made my coffee, after I’d read a few chapters of a novel—The Raptures, by Jan Carson; it’s excellent—after I’d done the Wordle puzzle that I’ve been doing early every morning for the last month or so, after I’d had a look at the BBC football page. I opened the Irish Times on my iPad, and there it was. Putin had done what I didn’t think he’d do.
I thought he’d try to take slivers of the country, as he had done in 2014. But I didn’t think I’d ever see the images that have quickly become familiar. The faces of children pressed to train windows, the couples hugging before they part, people with suitcases trying to get onto trains, broken buildings, hollow craters, the dead. World War Two images, except they are in colour, not black and white, and the suitcases have wheels on them.
I know, millions of people all over the world are on the move, displaced, forced to find safety somewhere else. I grew up seeing images of the Vietnamese War on television and, later, images from Northern Ireland. There have always been wars; there have always been refugees. But maybe it’s because many Polish people now live in Ireland and Poland is right beside Ukraine; or because Ireland is an enthusiastic member of the European Union and our fellow members—Latvia, Estonia, Finland and others—border Russia; maybe it’s Ireland’s colonial past; or maybe it’s the scale and speed of what is happening, and the sheer illogicality of it—what, really, is the point in invading another country? It’s dreadful. It feels so close.
Some years ago—I think it might be twenty years ago—I visited Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, in February, for a book festival. It was freezing cold, I remember, but I enjoyed it, because the cold was something I hadn’t really experienced before. But I particularly enjoyed seeing road signs that pointed east to Minsk—now the capital of Belarus—and Smolensk, in Russia. The place names made me feel that I was, somehow, witnessing Napoleon’s march on Moscow or that I was living in War and Peace. The names seemed almost charming, places in a history book.
One day, I visited a museum—the old headquarters of the KGB, the Soviet intelligence agency. It looked like an ordinary office block from the outside, very close to the street. But inside I saw rooms in which intelligence agents interrogated and tortured I don’t know who: people they didn’t like, people they felt threatened by, people who disagreed with them, people who insisted that they were Lithuanian and not Russian. I saw bullet holes in a wall, against which people had been executed. The most chilling thing, strangely, was the internal phone exchange. It looked familiar, like something I might have seen when I was a younger man. I was told that it was installed in 1977. I was nineteen that year, and worked for five months in a food-processing factory in West Germany. On the other side of the Berlin Wall, the KGB were torturing dissidents.
But I’d forgotten about the KGB museum until I heard about Putin’s invasion. I even had to remind myself that the capital of Lithuania is Vilnius, and that I’d been to Vilnius, not Riga—which is the capital of Latvia. Then it occurred to me that every city in the old Soviet Union would have had its KGB headquarters and its interrogation rooms. It’s easy to understand why the Ukrainian people are determined to remain Ukrainian.
Chelsea is no longer the property of Roman Abramovich, and the club’s immediate future is in doubt. I don’t care. I’ve been a Chelsea fan since 1967, when I watched the FA Cup final with my father and decided that they were my team. I’ll remain a Chelsea fan regardless of how far down through the divisions they drop. The club in its current form may cease to exist. It doesn’t matter. It will continue in some form; the fans will make sure of that. And if Roman Abramovich’s discomfort can add to Putin’s—good. It’s only football.
It’s only football—but, still, it’s football and it’s wonderful. It’s good to know that Kyoto Sanga FC have been promoted. Hopefully, they won’t be a yoyo team—up and down, up and down—promoted, relegated, promoted, relegated. As I write, I see that they are 10th in the table. There’s great joy in watching your team surviving the first season in the top division. Chelsea used to be that team.
I love the idea that the book prize shortlist announcement had to be made on the landline. It would be great if they’d taken it further and insisted that the winner be announced by telegram, or even carrier pigeon. In my head, the shortlisted writers are still waiting for the announcement all these years later, because the pigeon had a very poor sense of direction and hasn’t been seen since the winner’s name—your name—was attached to its leg and it flew off in the general direction of Korea.
I’ve been writing a book with a boxer, a woman called Kellie Harrington, who won a gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics last summer. We started the book in November and delivered the first half—45,000 words—on the 1st of February. We have to deliver the second half on the 1st of April—April Fool’s Day.
I don’t know if you saw the Olympics opening ceremony on TV, but the Irish team was the only team to bow. It was Kellie’s idea. An Irish Olympic official—a friend of hers—suggested that she bow when she walked out into the stadium, and Kellie encouraged the other team members to do the same. She was the one who coordinated it—‘One, two three—bow!’ She was holding the Irish flag, with a fellow boxer.
I know nothing about boxing. My ignorance is almost total. But, out of the blue, Kellie texted me a month or so after she got home to Dublin. She said that there was talk of a book, and wondered if we could meet. I was intrigued, and liked the idea that she’d contacted me, herself. So we met, chatted and, six months later, we’ve almost finished the book.
I watched Kellie winning her medal on TV, back in August. The fight was on at six in the morning here. I was up and knew it was on, so I made a cup of coffee and sat and watched it. I was delighted she won but, really, I didn’t know why she was the better boxer. I haven’t watched any of her other fights, because I told her that if the book was to be a success, we would have to rely on her words. And she is absolutely brilliant at describing what she does—the tactics, the different punches, the movement, the rhythm, the adrenaline.
Her story is a great one—how she grew up on the streets of Dublin’s north inner city; how she kept annoying the men who ran a local boxing club until they let her in, the first girl to box for the club; how she boxed for years without much success, but she kept at it. It’s been a great experience—almost a working holiday—assembling her words instead of making them up, as I do when I’m writing fiction. It’s a seven-day working week, transcribing her words and selecting and editing them for the page. I listen to recordings of her voice—and mine—for hours at a time. We seem to spend a lot of our time laughing.
I wrote a similar book eight years ago, with Roy Keane, the great Manchester United player. Roy comes from Cork, in the southwest of Ireland, and has a very strong Cork accent, even though he’s lived in England most of his life. When I was working on that book, called The Second Half, my father was in hospital. Most evenings, I’d drive to my mother’s house and take her to visit my father. One day, I was talking in the car and she asked me, ‘Are you talking with a Cork accent?’ It was true; I was—because I’d been listening so much to Roy, all day. I don’t think it will be the same experience this time, because I already have a Dublin accent and I’m not a woman. My favourite phrase of Kellie’s: when she’s feeling good, she says ‘I’m brand new.’
I’ve really enjoyed writing my letters to you, Kikuko, and—more so—reading yours. We’re so far apart in so many ways, but have much in common too. I have an app on my phone, called LiveScore; I can keep an eye on the football results. I’ve just added the J1 League to my Favourites, alongside the League of Ireland. I see that Kyoto Sanga are at home to FC Tokyo on Saturday. I’ll be looking for the result when I wake up on Saturday morning, and I’ll be thinking of you.
All the best
Copyright © Roddy Doyle 2022