Fearsome Codfish and Slow Slow Planets


It’s a fabulous summer over here and, although it’s not exactly passing me by, I’m not out in it very much either. 

Work requires that I keep my head down and not take random days off to hit the beach or even seize very many spare hours to bask in the sun.

This absence from the Summer seems to make me more intent on noticing it and marking it in some small way before it shuffles off again, as it soon must. 

That makes the few minutes I get to spend out in it each day seem more intense, or ‘sensual’ if you will. Not in a ‘sexy-time’ way. Just in an increased use of the senses to gather in as much of the season as I can.

Here’s two things I noticed this week, in my attempt to make the summer my own, despite being largely absent from it.

One of the local fish and chips shops have put a sign outside their establishment, to entice the summer folk inside. It’s one of those free-standing board signs. You know the ones. They sort of block the pavement. Yes, one of those.

This one declared that freshly cooked cod is available inside and invites the passer-by to come in and partake of some forthwith. All very well. But here’s what chilled me, in my short-duration and thus heightened sensory quest for summer moments. As well as telling about the lovely cod that can be had inside, the board also boasts a brightly coloured cartoon rendition of the cook who will prepare this lovely meal for you. He is smiling and upstanding and golden-hued and he sports one of those tall chef’s hat. He has a spatula in hand and is obviously ready and able to prepare some fish to your most exact specification.

So what, Ken? So what?

Well, here’s what.

He is a fish. This cheery and willing chef with the hat and the spatula is, himself, a codfish.

In a less bright and jolly season, this might have passed me by. I may well have written it off as just another symptom of the general malaise of a winter-ridden world. But, in the bright happy sunshine, that doesn’t work. As my eye seeks out some intimate detail on which I can base my summer 2018 memories, this fish-cooking fish is a highly disturbing anomaly.

I find myself thinking about him. What does he dream of as he cheerfully hauls the bodies of his brothers from the cold cabinet and submerges their corpses in the boiling hot oil? How does he get to sleep at night? The next body he cheerfully deep-fries could be his cousin. It could be his sister.

And he is so cheery in his work. Does he not know that there could be a shortage of fresh brethren to cook, some busy day, and that he could himself end up in the oil, bubbling and mutely screaming his final awareness of his crimes and his far-too-late repentance.

This is one side effect of trying to find summer in too short a space of time. Stuff assails you. It’s better if you can find a little time to do it. Better things come to you.

The other evening, I was sitting in a chair in the living room. There was some recorded Wimbledon action on the telly but I wasn’t watching it. I was looking out the window. It was fairly late in the evening but there was still some light in the sky. It stays bright late here, in the wild west of Ireland.

It was a lovely vista, out of my window. The sky was a deepening blue colour that I wish I had a fancy name for. I could see the top of the fir trees off in the distance and the… blue sky above them, all bright and summery and nice. For some reason, it reminded me of ET, when he was out in the woodland, building his phone-home thingie. I can’t say why, it just did.

As I admired the sky, a planet appeared in it. Over on the left of my field of vision, low in the sky, just above the trees. It was bright and very well defined. It was quite red so I think it was Mars but I can’t be sure. The appearance of this planet added enormous value to my view of the trees and the sky so I just sat and watched and watched as the tennis played on, ignored, in my peripheral vision.

And, as I watched, the planet moved.

There was only a limited opportunity to see it, as it sailed left to right across my… blue sky before it became blocked by some taller firs on the right. I watched it all the way. It took about fifteen minutes, all in all, and then it was gone.

I never actually saw it move, of course, it just did. Unseeable but unstoppable too.

A little like time. A little like our lives.

So that’s my Summer so far. A lot of work, one evil codfish, and a slow slow planet in my sky. Not too bad. I’ve known worse.

I'll keep you posted.

Let Me Smell Your Bum


This morning’s walk to work had a sort of a ‘Baby’ theme to it.

But only in my own head.

First off, I saw a friend in the distance who will have her first baby soon. I gave her a wave but she didn’t see me. Then I thought a bit about how people use the word ‘baby’ like it is a cutie-pie thing, particularly people in advertising, and how that seems to annoy me a bit. Then, as I was mulling over that little conundrum and crossing the car park simultaneously, I saw a woman taking her child out of her car, presumably to go to the supermarket to do some shopping. There was another older woman too and my assumption was this this was the Mum’s own Mum. The Granny, if you will.

The Mum, not the Mum’s Mum, then proceeded to do that thing that Mums effortlessly do.

I heard her say, “I just need to check her before we go in,” and, with that, she flipped the baby almost upside down and sniffed her nappy region. 

“No,” she said to the Mum’s Mum, “she’s okay,” and off they went towards the shop.

It reminded me of the first moment I saw that routine in action and how shocked and appalled I was at that time. My brother and his wife had recently had their first kid and it was a first kid for all of us. First nephew, first grandson, all of those things. I don’t know what age the baby was when I came home from London to visit but that’s when I first caught the nappy routine. My sister in law, in the middle of a regular conversation, had a noticeable nose-twitch. She grabbed the baby, flipped it a bit, and inhaled deeply of the nappy, nose buried right in there. Whatever she detected there indicated fairly clearly that a nappy change was in order. This was all horrible enough in itself, and totally alien to me, but it was made infinitely worse by her declaiming the immortal words, “Let me smell your bum,” just before she did it.

“Let me smell your bum.”

What planet was this that I had temporarily landed on? What reduction in personal liberty and self-esteem could bring a previously composed and totally together person to the point of smelling bums effortlessly in public and, more than that, loudly declaring to the world a clear intent to do so?

Of course I eventually had to learn this the hard way and learn it I did. While I don’t think I ever got to a cheerful declaration of impending arse-inhaling activity, I too became a parent (twice over) and I too discovered, soon enough, that you couldn’t go around changing expensive nappies on instinct, routine, or timing alone. There had to be the olfactory element. 

Bums had to be sniffed.

It’s a microcosm of the whole baby business, this bum sniffing thing. At least I think it is.

When we become parents, we have to learn stuff. Just when we thought we had learned all the stuff there was to know.

As parents we have to cheerfully do things we thought we could never-ever do.

As parents, we embrace… we just embrace stuff.

This doesn’t go directly to explaining why the eternal commercial sing-song pandering of the word ‘baby’ annoys my own arse. Or maybe it does a little bit. It’s late now and I’m not entirely sure of anything anymore.

What I do know – what I think I know – is that the woman I know who is about to have her first baby is not just about to have a baby. It is so much more than that. You don’t just have a baby and then go on to do something else afterward. She is starting a family and, once started, a family doesn’t ever stop.

Doesn’t ever stop.

It changes your life forever. Long after the 'baby-gro's and the soft toys and the bum sniffing have all gone.

My children are grown now. There are no more babies bums to smell. But the thing that started with those babies, well, it continues. That amazing adventure. The pride, the worry, the anxiety, the fear, the pride – did I say pride – well I’ll say it again. The pride.

That’s it, I think. You don’t just have a baby, a cute wriggly baby to have and to hold until it’s not a baby anymore. You don’t just smell its bum and then somehow move on to something else.

It’s not the beginning of something small and cute and finite, as the commercial world might have us believe.

It’s the start of something very very big.

Something that doesn’t ever stop.



Pasta: Point of No Return


I seem to have become rather awkward of late. Ungainly, even. I knock things over, drop things, break things. Don’t leave your best crystal out when I come to call. It may end poorly.

The other evening, I left work and bought some things in the supermarket on my way to the car. Some pasta, some pasta sauce, some bread, you know the kind of thing. On the way to the car, I let the pasta sauce slip. Well, I don’t exactly know if I let it slip or not. It slipped and let that be an end to it.

I park up a little street. It’s on a hill. There are a few houses. Again, you know the kind of thing. I was nearly at my car when I felt the pasta sauce jar slip. I would normally have caught it again. I’m rather good at dropping things and catching them before they land. Mostly, though, I just remember the things I fail to catch. I didn’t fail to catch the jar, per se, I never tried to catch it. My hands were too full with all the other stuff I was carrying to even try to catch the slipping-away jar. If I had, I’d have probably dropped several other things in the attempt. Where’s the joy in that?

So the jar slipped away toward the ground, in super-slow motion, as they do, and then it smashed on the concrete and spread itself in a forensic spatter all over the pavement. I looked around. My car was only a few paces away. I could be in it in a matter of seconds. Slam the door, rev up and away unbeknownst to anyone ever.

But that’s not me. No really. I make messes and then I clear them up. That’s who I am. But this wouldn't be a story if I had cleared it up. This is a story because I couldn’t clear it up. I simply did not have the tools to do so.

Instead I did what Bruce Willis did in ‘Die Hard 2’, whatever I could.

I got a plastic bag from the boot of my car and started to pick out the shards of glass from the red mess on the footpath. I don’t know about you, but I have never managed to pick up shards of glass without cutting myself. This time was no exception. It was hard to tell where the pasta sauce ended, and the blood-letting began. After a while, I had all I could get from the mess without losing a finger so I stepped back to view my handiwork. Not so good. The ground was still a turgid display and there wasn’t much else I could do about it. The windows of the houses across the street gazed blankly down on me. I couldn’t get up the nerve to go door-to-door requesting buckets of water and/or a mop. I put my glass shard ridden bag back in the boot of my car and slunk off home.

It was due to rain that night. The rain would wash the rest of the mess away. Rain is quite good for that.

The next day, it hadn’t rained and my mess was still there when I parked up. It was more congealed now, a little dehydrated even but still there. A testament to my ungainliness and my lack of civic responsibility.

The next day, it still hadn’t rained and now I noticed that there was a security camera on the wall right above where I dropped my sauce. (If you’re just starting to read here, you’ll be confused). Great. Now I know there is somebody with a PC somewhere nearby who has footage of me picking up bits of sauce-ridden glass and hopping about and swearing when the inevitable cuts ensued. I know that, in actuality, they’ll probably never look at it. That somehow makes it all seem a bit worse.

What next?

Well...

Having typed this with no idea of a resolution or a moral in mind, I’m going to wrap it up and go and fill a couple of two litre bottles with water and drive down and wash that stain away once and for all.

These things just tend to prey on my mind. I guess that's why I started writing this in the first place. Hoping for some release. But there isn't one. Not from reflection. It requires some small action. No matter how stupid an effort it takes, it is always best for me to do rather than think.

Post Script – Mission accomplished. I didn’t get there until a few minutes ago. Sunday morning. There was nobody about. I brought the stiff yard brush and two bottles of tap water but only needed to use one. Nobody saw me. I don't think the security camera is working. The stain was dried and almost gone but I got rid of the last of it and then went to the shop and bought a Sunday paper and a baguette. The girl in the shop knew me and slipped me a copy of the magazine from yesterday’s paper too. This was entirely better than sitting at home eating Cornflakes. I feel set for the day now where I didn’t before.

Post Post Script – A hundred years from now, if somebody is thumbing through these posts and casually wondering who the hell I was, I feel there may be a significant clue in this one.