Denis Lehane: Here’s a great tip on handling critics

An east Cork farmer told me that my ram would cover 20 ewes, while a plucky west Cork farmer said he’d cover 30. So, erring on the side of caution, I kept the number at 20.

But alas, with no lamb to show, it would seem the only covering the ram did was to cover me with shame.

The lack of lead in the old boy’s pencil has make me a laughing stock, not only in the rolling hills of Kilmichael, but internationally too, I fear, on account of the reach of this paper.

But never the kind of fellow to wallow in despair, I took myself to a talk last Thursday night in Clonakilty, a lively and entertaining talk on the writer John B Keane. And as a result, I now find myself a much happier farmer.

The work of writer John B Keane is never far from my reach. He might be gone 13 years, but he still makes me laugh. The house is full of his books.

Even in my battered old Hilux, there’s a copy of his short stories stuffed under the seat. It’s there in case of emergencies.

Anyhow, John B’s son Billy, a wit and writer in his own right, was due to give a talk on his father in Clon, and as I was in a state of utter depression on account of my under-performing ram, my missus begged me to go to the talk.

Indeed, she was like your man Leo Amery, when he pleaded with Neville Chamberlain back in the days of war to leave office. “You have sat here too long for any good you are doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

So in the finish, just like Chamberlain himself, I did go. But unlike Chamberlain, I made sure to check my flock of ewes first. Just in case there might be some good news. Alas, there was no good news. My flock was as fruitless as ever.

The talk on John B, as you might expect, was delivered with great humour, and sure how could you not have a good night, listening to tales about the man who created characters like the Bull McCabe and Dicky Mick Dicky O’Connor?

And with the night coming to a close, Billy left us with one final thought, a tip on how to deal with criticism. And criticism is of course not only confined to the world of literature. We can all experience criticism in our lives, especially if you have the misfortune to possess a eunuch for a ram.

Anyway, John B himself was on the receiving end of a particularly nasty criticism of his writing, and seeing that he was upset, his wife Mary asked him would he invite that critic upstairs for dinner and a drink?

To which the famous man of words replied, “Of course not,” before going on to describe the critic in colourful terms that I need not repeat here.

“Well, why then,” she queried, “would you invite him inside your head?”

So there it was. The answer to all my woes.

I came home and, looking at my ewes before going to bed, I found that no lamb had made an appearance, yet again.

But I was worried no longer, because I now knew how to deal with the naysayers. Every animal on the farm was peaceful and happy, and I was happy too.

And who knows, the year is long, my old ram may yet prove the critics wrong.


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