- 30 Mar 20
The Stories Of David
Write about what you know, they say. For the most part, it’s good advice. It probably helps if you’ve lived a life as varied and, at times, down right odd as David Diebold’s. The man might be best known to most Irish readers as a long-serving columnist with the Evening Herald, and what he presents here are fifty-two snatches of memoir, some adapted and expanded from the original column, others unique to this collection. You could read it all in one go, as I did, locked down in the bunker, or dip into it as the mood takes you. Either way, it’s very entertaining. Hey, this could even qualify as what used to be affectionately known as a toilet book, before we all plugged in. High praise.
I was won over soon after kick-off by the opening description of the author making a holy show of his daughter in the supermarket by acting the eejit, a God-given right of any father of daughters. My youngest gets embarrassed in front of strangers, a bizarre affliction that seems to affect teenagers more than most, and I too take great delight in exploiting this for laughs down the local Aldi. “Not again," you might moan when faced with another story about his children, "this is getting a bit mushy”, but Diebold manages to have you wiping a stray tear by the end of the anecdote. He’s just making her a sandwich, or they’re just going for a meal, or, Christ, the section about keeping the child in his daughter safe from the cynicism of the world - what the hell is wrong with my eyes?
Stories turn to the rest of Diebold’s family, but when you’ve got a background like his, it’s a rich seam to mine. The couple that raised him as his Ma and Da - David’s obviously as haunted by his late ‘father’ as many of us are by our own - turn out to be his grandparents. His sister was his Ma, and his real Dad was off in America working as a movie special effects man. This is the kind of stuff that, were you to hear it in a pub, you’d clear your schedule and settle in.
Diebold describes the collection thusly, “The idea was to create an album of memory, revisiting people or situations rather like the way we, or at least I, tend to remember them - some superficially, some in the haunted, circular way we sometimes find it hard to escape from.” While this is an accurate summation, it misses out on the humour that peppers this mix. His wild and wacky adventures include working as a stripping priest, throwing shapes in the Kirov Ballet, making breakfast for Ted Kennedy, sneaking into Italy as a communist, and an encounter with a loony bar owner in the Burren called Peter who talks to his yeast which leaves his brother in the bits. All provide hearty chuckles, but none more so than the ‘Friends of the Bodhran’ yarn, which had me laughing out loud.
It's a well-lived life, but Diebold’s skill as a writer carries the day. There’s a moving tribute to the late, great George Byrne, a trip to see Nick Cave in Kilmainham – I was there – which reminds him of another fallen pal, and several descriptive flourishes that made me jealous - the Dublin pronunciation of ‘universe’, the ‘Swiss-roll of a towel’, the heat of the sun ‘having its own sound’, the wind going through a garden like ‘a dancing drunk’, a heart-felt visit to the killing fields of The Somme, and a description of a favourite bar – Captain Lou’s – that would have any booze-hound howling out for mercy given the current emergency.
I’ve never met David, but This Is How We Dance is a collection that makes me want to bring the man for several pints as soon as the opportunity presents itself. You can’t say fairer than that.