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stately, pump ... unread

SO, how are you this morning?

Are you stately and plump? Have you come from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and razor lay crossed? Have you done this even though you live in a bungalow and there is no stairhead? Are you looking for a round gunrest to mount, even though you're not entirely sure what a gunrest looks like and with the passage of the years people smirk at the word "mount"? Despite this uncertainty, are you still wondering if you should have had one of these put in when you did the loft?

Permissum nos persevero. Let us continue. Is there any sea thereabouts? No sea, you say? In nominee Patris, then use your imagination! A field will do right enough. Does it look like a great sweet mother to you? Finally, are you – and forgive me for asking because matters of faith are so touchy – a fearful Jesuit?

Hopefully, the literary among you will recognise this mish-mash of the opening lines of Ulysses whose 90th anniversary is celebrated today – Bloomsday – with a day-long broadcast and discussion on Radio 4 ("But first the news headlines: President Assad of Syria is a dirty, crumpled noserag – that's the view of senior figures at the UN-").

We may not have read the book, yet our copies of it follow us around from flat to flat, house to house, surviving clear-outs. We hang on to them, vowing that one day we will get past that "Stately, plump Buck Mulligan" of the opening. Every few years a new edition is published, with a fresh Introduction. Invariably, they've gone back to the original manuscript, correcting "accidentals" of punctuation. This presents great opportunities for school students. "Thank you for your essay, Jamie. It is with the British Museum's hieroglyphics department for analysis." "Ah, I know what you're referring to, Sir. Those strange marks are 'accidentals' of punctuation. Joyce used to use them all the time, but I expect you know that."

The word Joycean entered the language some time ago and can mean his experimental, stream-of-consciousness technique, or almost any modern literary device, such as those used by Jon McGregor in his Even the Dogs which won the £80,000 IMPAC Prize in – coincidentally – Dublin this week. But some might say it just means hard-going. I'll leave it to you to decide which applies to your own scribblings. Slainte!

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