I Like the Two Seat Option on the Train

I like the two-seat option on the train. I always try to book one of those seats which just has one other seat beside it and none across a little table from it. That’ll do me, thank you very much.

I had one on the train to Dublin on Thursday morning. I was right in beside the window and I spent nearly all of the journey listening to some podcasts and watching the landscape slide past. There was lots to see. Thousands and thousands of lambs, jumping and running and suckling at their mothers, their tails going nineteen to the dozen.

The two-seat option provides a defensible space. Someone may come and sit beside you but it is only one person on one side and that can be managed. The four-seat option (with table) is probably great fun when you’re part of an actual party of four or perhaps even three. When you’re on your own, the four-seat option (with table) so often leaves you feeling like the odd one out. That or you get a nun. I used to get a nun across from me a lot and she could smile all she wanted; it was still a bit freaky.

So, yeah, two seats good, four seats bad.

On the journey home on Thursday, I was in a four-seater. At Athlone, the one quiet person who had been sitting across from me hurried off the train. Ever since I had offered her one of my Rolos she seemed to be of the impression that I was some kind of weirdo. Heavens knows why, it wasn’t like it was the last one or anything.

As she got off, a mother and her two sons got on. They took the other three seats of my foursome. I was clearly the 25% of the equation now so I buried deeper into my book and plugged my earphones in a little tighter.

The two boys were… what ages were they? Maybe twelve and eight, something like that. They were a bit loud and lively. They sat across from each other and engaged each other in various forms of banter and taunting. Mum looked like she hadn’t slept since they were born, she kept a gentle but firm maternal paw on both of them, easing them back if they went too far.

I smiled and nodded and left it at that. Again I watched the landscape as it passed. I recognised animals and other things I had seen this morning on the outward journey. They would still be there tomorrow.

I suppose I was slightly uncomfortable with the tight little family unit at my four-seat enclave although, of course, I had no right to be. I wished I’d booked my two-seater, as I thought I had.

With about half an hour left in the journey, a general lethargy sets in to the train population. The two boys had burned up various entertainment options including noughts and crosses, mobile phone video inspection, and some messy little game where you name things from a particular letter of the alphabet and write them down.

The younger of the boys was sitting diagonally across from me. I think he was a bit intrigued that I was so silent and unengaged. I think I was probably a bit surprised myself. I usually engage too much and that’s one of the reasons why I prefer the two-seaters.

I had my inevitable penny to mark the page in my book. It sat on the table between us. I pushed the penny towards the young fella and pointed towards it with my index finger. He looked at me and looked at it and then looked at me once more. Then I passed my open hand over the coin and vanished it. It’s a pretty simple manoeuvre when you know it but the effect is still a bit startling when you don’t expect it. The boy looked stunned. I put the coin back and then vanished it again. The boy gave it a try. He couldn’t do it. Then I showed him how it was done – a very basic thing.

He spent the rest of the trip trying to master the simple trick and by the time he arrived he had it pretty much perfect. I let him keep the penny.

As we got off the train, he kept looking back at me. The two boys had reminded me of my own boys, the age gap being almost the same.

We hadn’t exchanged a single word in the whole transaction, that little family and me. I had smiled after showing the trick, mostly to reassure Mum that I wasn’t a threat to anyone. She has smiled back, an entire little world of fatigue in her eyes.

Perhaps, for a while, I would be the magic man on the train for that wee fella.

I’d kind of like that.

Sometimes, the four-seat option ain’t so bad.

The Joy of Being Decried

This is fresh. It only happened the day before yesterday.

I had to leave the office for a quick visit to a place a few doors down. It was Friday afternoon and I was a bit full of the joys. On the way, I met a group of three people coming towards me. 

I knew them so I gave them a greeting. I might have been a bit over-effusive, in retrospect, but hey it was a lovely day and the weekend was fast approaching.

So I sped past these good people, my words doubtless still ringing in their ears, and I went in and did my little bit of business.

That business was transacted way quicker than I thought it might be. To my surprise, I found myself back on the path to my office within two minutes flat.

The people who I had said 'hello' to were now just ahead of me again. They must have stopped to look in a shop window or perhaps to punctuate some point in their conversation. Whatever the reason, I found myself gaining on them yet again, as I had done a few scant moments before.

But, me being me, and odd as anything sometimes, I didn’t want to overtake them again. Perhaps I felt I had used up my best conversational ploy at my first encounter. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I hung back a little behind them. The door to my office was only a few more paces along, I could slip in without them ever knowing I was there.

So there I was, keeping pace a little behind, in that pre-weekend sunshine, when I started to tune in to the conversation that was being had up in front.

One of the three was saying, “He’s really very nice.”

Another was saying, “I know that, I know. It’s just the constant brightness. I just find it so bloody tiring.”

And then I realised. They were talking about me.

I had reached my door. I opened it and went quickly inside. I certainly didn’t want to be spotted now that I realised I was the subject of conversation. I got in and closed the door behind me. They never knew I was there.

That’s the end of the story, really. Whatever comes after this is just me editorialising.

First off, I’m pretty sure they were talking about me. Two of them were sticking up for me and one was continuing the point that I am a bit of a fucking pain in the arse. That’s all good. I don’t tend to think that person is wrong. I have no gripe. I am a pain in the arse.

In truth, the only even slightly interesting thing about this tiny event is how I reacted to it after I got behind the safety of my door. I was elated, delighted, surprisingly raised up. I got such an honest-to-god buzz out of hearing someone berate me, admittedly in the most gentle of terms.

I wonder why.

I think it’s because I feel I am quite a lightweight person, really. Easy going, usually trying to be nice and do the right thing. Boring, not-a-force-to-be-reckoned with. That sort of thing. To hear someone say that I annoyed them seemed to somehow grant me a little more weight, a little more gravitas, in my own eyes. Suddenly I am a person who can annoy people. I am an annoyance. It really felt like the best news I had heard all day.

There is a possible second reason. I’ve written about it elsewhere in these pages. It's here actually. 

When I was young, maybe ten or so, I walked behind two ladies who were complaining roundly about my Dad, about how he always came around collecting the rent with such an annoyingly cheery disposition.

So, yeah, now I'm annoyingly cheery, just like my Old Man?

i think I’ll have me a piece of that.

The Newborn Identity by Twisteddoodles

It’s Mother’s Day (Happy Mother’s Day) so perhaps it’s appropriate that I am writing today about a book that has just been published by one of the best mothers I know. Apart of course from my own Mum and my lovely Wife, Mother of my Children 

(Hi Patricia, Happy Mother’s Day, you’re a star x).

‘The Newborn Identity’ is a diarised account of Maria Boyle’s first year of parenthood when, along with her inestimable husband, Colm, she became parent to two lovely twin girls and nurtured them towards toddlerhood.

I like Maria a lot. She is one of the few people in the world who I have walked up and down the Galway Promenade with, chatting all the way such that the time seemed as nothing. She also has the rather dubious claim to fame of being the only person on Twitter who I ever asked to follow me back. That was about ten years ago and I just thought that she was such fun and so clever that I wanted to be part of her dialogue rather than just a spectator. That worked out well as I’ve enjoyed her online presence ever since.

She even created an avatar/picture for my twitter account which I used with great pride for many years. I eventually had to give up because she had made me so ridiculously and incorrectly handsome that the disappointed faces of people who met me in person became too hard for me to bear. I still treasure the drawing though.

Maria and I have one other thing in common. I think it may be the tie that binds. We both have busy and demanding professional and family lives but we both also have a very real drive to be creative, to explore life through some form of art, to entertain.

That’s why this book is a particular delight to me, quite apart from the fact that it is a delight on many other levels too. Too see Maria continually succeed like this is a justified delight.

Maria started Twisteddoodles as an outlet for her iconic and savagely witty online comics. The work quickly went viral and became admired far and wide. The cartoons cast a warm and particularly Irish view on everyday life, the themes veering from tiny to huge at the drop of a hat. If there is an overriding impression of the work, for me a least, it can be summed up in a single word: Truth. I see the comics and the cartoons and I laugh and smile and I say to myself ‘God, that’s so true.’ Or else I shake my head gently and say ‘Yup, she’s done it again, that’s the truth.’ Truth seems to inform everything Maria creates. There is very little guile involved in her creative work. She will tell it to you like it is. That may be wildly funny or even a little crude but the effect of the undiluted truth is that it will strike you in your heart and in your memory and it will make you feel something. That is why Twisteddoodles is the viral sensation that it is.

So now, from this creative endeavour, comes her brand new book, ‘The Newborn Identity’. As a Facebook follower, I was lucky enough to see quite a few of the book’s diary entries appear in ‘real time’ on that social platform. They had an immediacy and a startling sense of love and crisis that hauled you along with them emotionally. You share Maria’s joy, laugh at the funny moments, and feel genuinely gutted throughout the long sleepless nights that many of us might have experienced but perhaps not with twins.

The new book arrives with all of the joy of the Twisteddoodles cartoons, coupled with Maria’s diary entries, starting with learning she was pregnant right through to when the girls are a year old.

Once again, the keyword for me is truth. The creative work has lost nothing in its amalgamation into a book. In fact, the book has very effectively corralled the work into a flowing and involving narrative which grabs you and drags you along and doesn’t let you go.

And you don’t want to be let go. The account of this year of bodily changes, childbirth and motherhood is hilarious and visceral, exhausting and fulfilling, all at the same time. And always there is the truth. You can tell that Maria is not trying to play you or make you feel one thing or another, she is simply telling it like it was and this unerring honesty makes the book doubly funny, doubly warm and doubly good.

Shining out from the book is the fact that Maria is a great person. Endlessly smart, precociously talented and filled to the brim with the love and fear that makes us human. But the subtle prize in the book is her husband, best friend, and partner. Colm is a constant presence: understated, patient and eternally supportive. But he is so much more than that. He is a blindingly funny guy and his presence in the book is one of a loving and benevolent genius who stands by with a copious supply of wit and wry humour.

I really like the book. If I didn't know Maria from Adam, I would still really like the book. Much of human life is in there, the joy and the struggles, and it’s all told by a very unique and eloquent voice.

I found my copy in the Maternity section of the bookshop. There’s a place for it there, although prospective mothers and fathers may be a little dismayed by the copious levels of poo that’s involved.

But there’s a place for it on many other shelves too. If there’s a shelf for writing true stuff about life, if there’s a shelf for making the reader coil up with silent laughter, if there’s a shelf for unique voices in literature, put it on there too.

I am utterly delighted to see Maria continue to expand her creative genius out into the world. Check her out online and here in this extremely funny, entertaining, heartfelt – and true - book.

She’s a person worth knowing.