Meeting Friends

On the way over I flew the plane, just like I usually do. 

Of course, I don’t mean I actually flew the plane, I just sat in my seat and paid close attention to all the workings of the flight. The angle of the wing flaps outside my window, the subtle interactions of the flight staff, the level of the clouds far below. 

I’m not a particularly nervous flyer but I often have this almost subconscious feeling that the flight somehow needs all of my attention, focus, and help in order to proceed satisfactorily.

It’s silly, I know, but it got me over.



This week, I went to London to see some old friends. 

It was the archetypal ‘flying visit’. Getting in one afternoon, gone again early the next morning. There was no particular event or anniversary. It was just a confluence of calendars and train timetables that meant some people could all land in a Soho pub at the same time and have a drink or three. It turned out to be a truly lovely evening with truly lovely people.

There are, of course, some other people I would dearly like to meet up with and someday, hopefully, we might manage it. But this particularly thing could only have happened if it was short and fast and very, very small. The alternative was that it could not happen at all. 

For some people, the oddest thing about this would not be the meeting up or even the travelling to do so. It would be that a few of us had never-ever met up in person before. For my part, I had only ever shaken hands with one person in the room. Still, I knew them all so well. They were friends, the best of friends really. For eight or nine years now, we have come to know each other across the expanse of Social Media. Not in any intense, phosphorescent way but rather in that long term slow burn that comes from stories and small happenings and music and sadness and fun.

People who don’t know any better might well say, “Ack, those are not friends at all. They are strangers and the meeting you describe was just some pathetic exercise in novelty and futility.” How wrong anyone who thought that would be.

It is true that there is some danger in jumping to conclusions on Social Media about who is a friend and who is someone who talks back to you when you speak. But time addresses most of those questions. By my own little definition (hard-worked-out) if your heart swells a little at somebody’s good news and shrinks a little at somebody’s bad, and if that feeling is in some measure reciprocated, then there is friendship there. It helps, too, if nothing more is needed from the friendship than just that. That there is never anything more to lose nor anything more to gain from the friendship than the friendship itself. 

Perhaps friendship, in the end, is a bit like a boomerang. You throw it out and if it comes back, it is probably real.

Whatever about any of that, we had a lovely evening. There were laughs and smiles and stories and gossip and, if I am anything to go by, a subtle level of fascination at how people are a little different in the flesh than they are on a computer or a telephone screen. How there are aspects to them that one would not normally see across the social ether. But because they are good friends, all those little differences only serve to make the people even better than they were before. 

There is, apparently, a drug that is released through increased levels of human interaction and eye contact and such. I don’t know much about it although Joe Hill’s book ‘The Fireman’ talks about it quite a bit (and is also very good.) It’s called Oxytocin. I think I may have overdosed a little on that drug the other evening. In these few days that followed, I have felt somewhat elevated and empowered and with a slightly better regard for myself than I would normally have. Is that crazy? It seems even more likely because, now, three days later, it finally seems to be wearing off and its absence seems to conversely help to prove its existence. 

To widen it out a bit. I think it’s a good thing to reach out and meet up and bond a little, particularly with people you regard highly. I think it’s like a small work-out for the soul. 

I think, in the tight airplane seats from which we view the world, many of us share that feeling I had. That we all have to watch everything warily all of the time to make sure that the world continues to fly okay. If we take our eyes of the bigger picture for a moment, if we stop reacting and worrying and fretting, then everything will somehow fail. 

It ain’t necessarily so. Take a moment, trust the auto pilot for the shortest of times. Have a slice of pizza or a slim glass of Prosecco or a languid stroll in a park. The world will glide along by itself for those few moments and, when you come back, you’ll be stronger and better equipped to make sure it continues to fly right. 

Thanks to the people who rendezvoused in The French House in Soho the other evening. It meant a lot to me because it meant a lot to you. It wasn’t hard to tell. 

Let’s do it again some time. 

                      * * *

On the flight back, early the next day, I read my book and listened to my old classic ipod and didn’t pay very much attention to anything else at all. The plane was okay. We got home just fine and thus a singular day trip was successfully completed. 

Bleeding Fresh

I tend to treat writing prompts in that same way that I do tips on horses. I never actively seek them out or put myself in a position where I get them but, if one should appear naturally in the wild, from some unexpected source, I sometimes find that hard to pass up.

At last Monday’s writer’s group meeting, we had a new visitor who we hope might come again. Roberta Beary is an accomplished writer and poet and she brought a welcome hue of enthusiasm and edge to the proceedings. She mentioned a writing prompt she had been given and she read a piece which had resulted from it. It was a good piece. The prompt was simply ‘My First Job’. I hadn’t intended to ‘get on that horse’ but the prompt stayed in my head and, as I suppose it’s meant to do, prompted a memory.

So here it is:


“I want you to go in and sell this one yourself.”

We stared into the boot of the car, my Dad and me. You know the scenes in 'Goodfellas' or 'Reservoir Dogs' where they stare into the trunk of their car? It was a bit like that, I think, except it happened long before those films was made.

“Really?”

“You’ll be grand. I’ll wait here.”

I had only just learned how to pick the salmon up, my index finger slid behind the gills and up along the inside of the jaw. The full thirteen pounds hoisted up straight to hang from nothing more than that single digit. I had only just learned how to do that and now I was going to sell him too. 

He was laid out in the boot of the car, on three flattened sheets of 'The Sligo Champion'. He was silver and opalescent and sleek and fine. He was mine to sell to the restaurant. I was thirteen years old. 

I wasn’t the keenest fishing person in my family, not by a long way, but I had been going through something of a renewed fishing appreciation stage. Perhaps it was something to do with ‘Jaws’ being in the Cinema. Seeing Quint up there on the big screen, in that chair of his, carefully eyeing up the gently clicking reel, it just seemed to make what my father and elder brothers did seem all the more cool and exciting. I had been driving around with Dad for a few weeks now and with my brother too whenever they had a salmon to sell. Enjoying the spin in the car from hotel to hotel and enjoying, too, the haggling over the sale of the fish they caught. These fish were prized commodities and the money we got for them was really very good for the Nineteen Seventies. 

“Try to get eight pounds a pound for him. Thomas Mahon said he got that for one earlier in the week.”

“Right.”

“Don’t go any less than seven-fifty anyway. If we can’t get that, we’ll try The Southern.”

My Father said ‘we’, and that was kind of him I guess, but there was no ‘we’, not really This was all down to me. My very first job. Get in there. Work that finger. Sell the salmon. Get the price.

The hotel kitchens all looked the same, to me at least. White tiled, clean, quiet because the evening’s business had not yet begun. The chef, all white hatted and chequered trousered. He lit up a little when he saw me coming. I think I thought that was all about the sight of a little fella like me hauling a salmon that was nearly his own length in by the gills. Looking back now, I’m sure it was only the salmon that lit him up. Wild as anything. Three hours before, it had been rushing through the brown peaty waters of Loch Gill. 

Bleeding fresh. 

“Did you catch him yourself?”

“My Dad, Eddie Armstrong.”

“I know Eddie all right. Is he sick?”

“No.”

“How much do you want for him?”

“I was thinking, ten pounds a pound.”

“Were you, thinking that?”

“Yes.”

“Let me look at him.”

The chef took the salmon from me. His finger in the other gill, lifting the fish up and off mine. The blessed relief of that. Hoping I didn’t have to take him back and carry him out again.

“We’re giving eight at the moment.”

(Yes!)

“You might go nine.” I was always my father’s son. 

“I can’t go nine. I’ll tell you what. Is this your first sale?”

“No.”

“Is it, though?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll do you eight-fifty. Seeing as how it’s you that’s in it,” He smiled.

My first sale, my first job. Dad would be pleased. 

I smiled back at him. The tall bearded chef.

“Nine,” I said.

Movies with Boats

I’d really like to go and see Dunkirk today. I haven’t been to the movies in a long time and, to be honest, I haven’t really been bothered about that either. These days, I rent my movies via a little Apple TV thingie, close the curtains and do my own cinema thing without the crunching popcorn and the incessant chatting (yes, I’m getting old and grumpy).

But Dunkirk, yes I’d like to go see this one. 

I’ve been trying to persuade Sam to come along with me but he seems to share my feelings about the cinema now. I told him how it was a Christopher Nolan film and reminded him that we’ve seen all of his since way back when. So maybe he’ll relent and tag along with me. Maybe I’ll go on my own, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

Why Dunkirk, though? Why the particular interest there?

Well, it sounds good, doesn’t it? The story of Dunkirk (for me) is one of ordinary people being completely heroic, setting off into the unknown, unprepared, in a desperate attempt to rescue their people. It looks good too, if the bits I have seen are anything to go by. There are quite a few reasons why I’d like to go see this one.

But, if I’m honest, it’s mostly the boats.

I seem to have a weakness for movies with boats in them or movies set on boats. I think I always have. Even when I was young, old flicks like ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ or ‘Captains Courageous’ always seemed to capture my imagination. 'Jaws' probably sealed the deal when I was twelve. It’s my favourite movie (I think) and I’ve written enough about it in other posts so I won’t go into it again here but it was the ‘men on a boat’ part that finally won me over I think. Last year's 'Swallows and Amazons' also won me over completely... there were boats in it. 

Why boats? Why me?

There’s two aspects to it, I think. I’ve partially forgotten that my childhood played itself out in the company of boats. We lived right beside the river and I was often to be found out there in an eighteen foot rowboat, heading for the lake and the islands or else just loitering at the edge of the bullrushes, lazily trying to nab a perch or a pike. 

I think it gets into your spirit a bit. The lapping of the water on the bow, the oars cutting through the still surface, the deep spiralling eddies the blade leaves behind. Stuff like that. Perhaps, when you’re not on the water any more, it sparks something in memory to at least see other people there, even if it's only up on a screen. Perhaps that’s it.

Of course, Dad was a man of boats too and he loved a good boat movie as well. That probably played a sizeable part in influencing me. It was said that he went to see ‘The African Queen’ every night for the seven nights it played in our local cinema. Whenever a boat movie would come on the telly, he would sit forward a little and announce to the room ‘this is a good movie.’ He let me sit up to see ‘A Night to Remember’ when I was probably too young for it. I’d watch it again right now, if it was on.

There was one boat movie he didn’t care to see and he shares this with my wife, Patricia, who cheerfully reckons it is the very worst movie we ever went to see. ‘A Perfect Storm’. I didn’t mind it so much. It had men in boats in it and that ticks enough boxes for me to generally see me through. I remember talking to Dad, saying ‘you should go and see this one’. I remember him looking surprisingly sad and saying to me, ‘no, I don’t really care for films like that’. 

That was a puzzle. I didn’t quiz him more about it but I sometimes think about it. It was a boat movie, after all, and there was fishing and drama and camaraderie before things turned bad. Why did he not care for this type of film and what type of film was that anyway?

I can only assume it was because people drowned in the film. I can only guess that this was the reason why he didn’t care to see it. But that doesn’t quite fit. When has there been a boat movie where people have not drowned? Titanic and such didn’t seem to trouble him. So why this one?

I’ve thought about it and I think I know. I think it was because we got to know the characters who drowned before it happened. Like the film or hate it, we knew the characters well before the water came to claim them. I think that’s what it was. Dad had known people who had gone to the water and never come back. Perhaps that particular movie was too close to the heart.

Anyway, I think I’ll see if somebody might bring this old sod to see Dunkirk. Maybe Patricia might take pity on me, thought she’s largely spoilt for boat movies after Clooney and Co. 

It’s not so much that I’m looking for an afternoon out or that I crave popcorn or dark enclosed spaces on this nice July day.

It’s just that, well, it’s a boat movie and you know how I’m a sucker for them.