The Half-Life of Chips


There is a Golden Moment in the life of a takeaway chip. You just have to be there for it. You have to be ready.

You are handed your bag of chips over the tall tile and aluminium counter. You reach up and it comes down to you from on high. I won’t say like manna from heaven but you get the gist. You hand over your money. The exact amount, if possible, you can’t miss the Golden Moment on account of having fussed with change.

You leave the takeaway, nodding to those who are waiting, smiling sympathetically at those who are still wondering if everyone has their shout in. The door closes behind you.

Now you either climb into your car or start the walk home. Let’s explore the car option, which is my own life, my own experience. I never walk with my chips. This statement describes precisely how posh I am.

You get into your car and place the chips on the passenger seat beside you. It is time to ferry these puppies home so that your waiting family can enjoy them as hot and as fresh as is humanly possible.

But wait. Bide a wee. For now is that moment.

The Golden Moment.

Don’t drive off just yet. Poke at the chip bag with a single index finger. Feel that brown paper sturdiness. Allow a small aperture to be formed in the top, such that a single chip can be gently teased out.

This is the chip. Look at it. Just look at it.

It is still deep fat fryer hot. That vinegar, so recently sprinkled on top, has not yet had time to run off and down towards the bottom of the bag. It still clings to the surface of the chip, glistening in the streetlight.

Don’t wait any longer, eat it.

It is the simply the perfect incarnation of a chip. Any moment before this will find it too hot, too bewildered from all that shaking and salting and bagging. Any moment after and the deterioration has already begun, the cooling, the congealing.

This is the Golden Moment.

Have another. And another.

Now it’s time to drive, to get this precious cargo home. You turn your headlights on and indicate to pull out but the stream of cars is steady and nobody is of a mind to let you out. Eventually, there’s a gap. You accelerate away, keeping within all limits but yet mindful that there is a clock running here. With every second that passes, the chips are losing some minuscule part of their charm and you know from long experience that their zenith has already been passed.

You drive and drive and, all the time, you are reaching your left hand into that enlarged aperture and pulling chips out of the bag and eating them. These might not be the exact equal of that magic chip from a few moments ago but they are still fresh and hot enough to be simply wonderful.

You drive and drive and soon you are home. The chips are delivered and dispensed. You eat your own share, minus the ones you already had, and they are fine but nowhere close to those clandestine ones you stole while in the car. Not even close to being close.

This is why you are always glad to be the one who goes for the chips. It may be raining, the chipper may be packed out and sullen, but you are so amply rewarded with that golden moment, in the street or in your car, when you find yourself alone with the food. That magical time together.

And when your wife and children shake the top bag of chips and comment how there seem to be less of them every week, you only nod and smile and suggest that perhaps next week there may be more.

Seven Years


Time moves faster, the older you get.

They didn’t tell me that, when I was young. Sure, they alluded to the fact that a long life can seem to go by in the blink of an eye. They just didn’t cover the speeding up part.

I mean, come on, it’s March already. It was Christmas yesterday and last Summer was just the day before. Tomorrow is Easter and 2020 is close behind. This isn’t going to end well, is it?

It’s seven years this week since Dad died. How can that be right? It seems like…okay let’s not go overboard but it does seem more like four years than seven.

“Time passes. Listen. Time passes.”

I figured it would be nice to write a new post about Dad. Some memories and stuff like that. I’ve been thinking about it now for a couple of days. It’s evoked a strange feeling in me. It’s kind of hard to describe but let me try. 

When I was little, I somehow ended up out of my depth in a swimming pool. I wasn’t happy out of my depth because I couldn’t swim. But the edge of the pool was right there, just out of my reach. So I started kicking and splashing to get myself to that edge of the pool. I kicked and splashed and eventually I got there and clung on and climbed out and I don’t think anyone even noticed that it had ever been a thing.

The thing I remember though, about that, is not the relief of reaching the edge of the pool. It’s the eternity of time I spent before I got there. Kicking and splashing, getting nowhere, floundering.

When I started thinking about a new post to write about Dad, I started to get that feeling again. That the edge was right there in front of me but I couldn’t get to it, no matter how hard I kicked.

The edge, in this case, was my memories. My memories of Dad. They are right there, I can sort of see them through the melee and the stinging pool-water in my eyes. But I can’t grab them.

I thought it would be a breeze. Write something new? Easy. Dip in to the old memory banks, pull out a juicy titbit, write its ass down.

Not so, as it turns out.

Granted, I have written posts about Dad before and covered lots of stuff in there. But there’s more. There’s lots more. Acres more. He was always there. We were especially good mates in the years between Mum dying and him dying. Loads of things happened. Loads of moments. Loads of memories…

And those memories remain like the edge of a swimming pool that I am reaching for and can’t quite get to.

I think I thought that starting to write this post would give me the impetus to get to the edge of the pool and haul myself out onto some rough tiled floor of memory. So far, though, it’s not working.

Oh, I could tell you about that time we went out to lunch in Strandhill and… or the time we watched The Shining on telly together and… or that other time when… Not all of my memories are out of reach. Many are right there, I have them. But those ones, well… To continue the pool metaphor, none of those memories seems to provide a sufficient grip, a sufficient hand-hold to haul myself out of the fix I am in. They’re not ‘substantial’ enough.

But, now that I think about it, it suppose that’s the thing, isn’t it?

I’m trying to find a memory that will sum it all up in a neat eight hundred words. Me and Him. Him and Me. And of course such a memory never existed. The whole thing was a mosaic of tiny moments and interactions. There was never one all-consuming moment that told the entire tale.

It’s just the small memories that matter, isn’t it?

I really didn’t know that when I started typing.  

But I got there in the end.

There was that time we went for dinner and Dad was trying out some new pill which was obviously messing with his metabolism such that he was hugely and unstoppably charming and flirtatious with all the female waiting staff. I had to go around after him apologising profusely. He was 78 at the time.

Or that late evening when I dropped in to visit and we ended up watching the Shining together and it was coming to the Room 234 scene and I said to him, “Dad this is good film but that lady is about to climb out of that bath and you know that you don’t want to be sitting here with me when she does that.” So we turned over to the football.

Or that time we went together for your endoscopy and all the grown men before you were coming out shaken and teary-eyed and you came out, same as ever, quietly reporting it wasn’t terribly nice.

Seven years on and I’ve still got you in here, Dad. No worries. My memories may not be huge or earth-shattering but, whenever I bunch them all up together, I’ll easily have enough to haul myself up onto the edge.

Every time.

Tendons


I’ve been walking around the town doing a kind of a Hitler salute and people have been looking at me funny so I thought I’d better explain.

It’s a stretching exercise. I seem to have somehow damaged some tendons in both my arms at the same time and this stretching thing seems to help. I extend my arm, waist high, and raise my palm backwards as far as it will semi-comfortably go. Man, you feel that action in your tendons, trust me on that.

I’ve had this thing since roughly early December. I looked it all up on the Internet, as you do, and the general consensus is that stuff like this can take about six months to heal. So here I am, working my tendons and pissing off all those good townspeople who haven’t read this yet.

How did I do it? I hear you ask.

Okay, I don’t, it’s a literary device, deal with it.

Our clothes line broke. It’s one of those twirly-round helicopter type ones, you know what I mean, and perhaps it didn’t so much break as wear out. They do that, you know, those twirly-round helicopter type clothes lines. So, anyway, I bought a new one and I started into putting it up. And, for better or worse, I started to put it up like you would put up an umbrella. Except, of course, it was one fucking enormous umbrella. When the ‘Umbrella Technique’ failed to have the desired result, I resorted to going at the thing from the other side, stretching the arms of the line out and out in the hope that they might click into place. 

Unfortunately the spread of those metal arms was marginally more than could be managed by the natural spread of my arms or, more specifically, the spread of my arm tendons. Regardless of this, the line had to be erected so I pushed and I pushed and something tore a bit, I guess. Not just in one arm but in two, which is all I’ve got… two.

So here I am, with constantly painful and aching arms, moaning occasionally and grimacing a lot, doing my little Hitler exercises all around the town (Autocorrect keeps capitalising Hitler (see) which is annoying me a bit. Grammar or not, I don’t want to afford the prick that amount of respect). It’s not all that painful. A minor thing, really, and I’ll be okay. So don’t be worrying about me. Stupid tendons, stupid helicopter clothes line. 

I got the line up, in the end, did I tell you?

Tendons, though. They are sore. They’re sore now, as I’m typing this. They’ll be sore later and they’ll sure as shit be sore tomorrow. It’s made me think. Everything makes me think. It’s quite tiring, really. All that thinking.

It made me think that you can’t ever really have empathy.

I always like to think that I have a lot of empathy. It’s one of the very few things that I actually clap myself on the back about, from time to time. I like to think I can feel some of what you feel, experience things from your point of view.

But these overstretched old tendons of mine have told me otherwise.

For two months, a little more, I have been in some pain. Not a lot but some and almost constantly. It’s been a persistent presence in my days… and nights. It’s told me lots of things. It’s told me I’m getting older, that injury is easier to do, that recovery times are longer. More importantly, it’s told me that I’ve never felt this for anybody else. I may be a great empathetic person, here in my head, but I’ve never felt pain when somebody else has told me they were feeling it. Now that’s it’s here with me, at least for a while, I know that nobody is sharing it with me and, when it goes, as I hope it does, I won’t be sharing anyone else’s. Our pain is our own to bear.

It’s a pity. What a talent it would be to be able to take a percentage of someone’s pain for a little while. We could all chip in and give some poor person a week away from their burden. Fourteen of us, half a day each. We would be doing good and we would be getting a solid dose of real empathy. We would know how that person lives.

I also think we would live in a far better world, if we could feel a little of each other’s pain. We would be kinder to our ill and our elderly and our disabled. We would take care of them better.

I think I might stop typing now. My tendons are a bit sore.

You might think you know how that feels.

But you probably don’t.

Not. Really.