I have never quite got the hang of Twitter but I have managed to make occasional connections and a conversation with author Felicity Hayes McCoy-her book House on the Irish Hillside is an absolute gem-included a tweet that painted a picture which stuck with me. We were talking of Felicity’s birthday which I noted occurs on the same date that Elvis Presley died. She tweeted…
‘I was a floor housekeeper in a London hotel that day and each room I went in to check had a howling chambermaid on an unmade bed.’
I was immediately transported through time to a hot afternoon in the city. I imagined standing in a gloomy corridor looking into a high-ceilinged room stifling in the August heat and rich with the funky smells of last night’s occupants. The sound of traffic, muffled by heavy old curtains and yellow net, leaked in and the glare from the window threw the woodchipped walls into shadow. The pillows were in disarray, pulled by the currents of the twisted and ruched sheets and tissues and condoms floated on the patterned carpet along with the spinning pages of a tabloid newspaper, washed up like so many dreams at the feet of a slumped and sobbing red-handed, thick-legged girl, who, from her half articulated sobs, hailed from the west coast of Ireland.
Growing up in Ireland we didn’t have our own big stars so figures like Elvis spoke to us of a world away, a world of youth, rebellion, freedom, beaches and sun. Elvis was huge to me. I danced, to Burning Love (hubba hubba) on the faded carpet of the front room, wrapped in blankets that represented sophisticated, sexy dresses, and when my mother brought us to Dublin to shop during a summer of bomb scares I came away clutching the album Separate Ways. I have never stopped appreciating the genius in the lyrics “I’m itching like a man on a fuzzy tree…”
The death of an icon marks our own incremental passing. It gives us pause to take stock, to say goodbye to things and times we didn’t realise we had lost, to remember our own mortality. Of course these days that everyone is dying and hardly a day has passed when someone else hasn’t reminded us of the crumbling chimera of our youth.
I heard the news of Elvis’ death from the transistor radio behind the counter of Mrs. Goodwin’s vegetable shop on the main street that sloped down to the summer sea. Despite him having reached the mind bogglingly advanced age of 42 I didn’t believe it as I stood there on the grey worn flags, the dust dancing in the sun beams. The potatoes and oranges and cabbages in their crates could barely believe it either, frozen as they were in the moment, the same before as they were after the world tilted a little on its axis. The presenter moved onto the next item of news as if people died every day.
As I ran all the way up the hill home, the plastic bag swinging, heavy with messages, hoping our radio would tell a different story, somewhere in London chambermaids sobbed, traffic rumbled and the heat shimmered and all over the world dreams of eternal youth and ever-lasting love shrivelled and died.
Follow Felicity on twitter @fhayesmccoy