A friend phoned from Dublin this morning. “How are things?”
“Chassis, a terrible state of chassis”.
He laughed – he knew the words of Sean O’Casey.
We did Sean O’Casey when I was 17.
Being 17 and living in Somerset in the 1970s, when the nearest bus stop was three miles from our village and where you considered sophisticated if you had been to London, was probably not conducive to understanding O’Casey. His Dublin was as foreign to us as if we had been reading about travels in Africa or South America.
We tried to understand the characters and I once had to look up where Rathmines was in order to see how far Captain Boyle in Juno and the Paycock would have to travel to get the job he was offered. (I could not have imagined that five years later I would be walking through Rathmines each day, sometimes wondering where was the building site where Boyle might have got a job.)
The words of Boyle that abide in my memory are familiar, sometimes they are ascribed to O’Casey, sometimes they are just ascribed to an ‘Irish character’, ‘the whole worl’s in a state o’ chassis’. Chassis is the final word of the play; it translates from slang as chaos, but chaos is such an overused word that chassis perhaps says more, a sense of the world as hostile and disordered, a sense that one cannot control or even comprehend the events controlling one’s life.
Moving house for the third time in four years, a moment from the first move came to mind. In the midst of the confusion in our house as we were moving, with packers and boxes filling every room, I found a copy of the journal Spirituality lying on the floor underneath a pile of papers to be thrown away. It seemed an expression of what it was to live in the city of O’Casey in the 21st Century, to discard the spiritual heritage of the past along with all that is not wanted.
In 2006, Captain Boyle might have looked at the Ireland of the time and thought that there was chassis. Were Boyle to be living in Ireland in 2010, with the economy collapsing, the dole queues lengthening, benefits being cut, pensions under threat, services being rolled back, Boyle might well have repeated his words, ‘That’s serious, min’ you, an’ shows the whole counthry’s in a state o’ chassis’.