Yellow Box

There is a car park outside of my office window.  It serves a small shopping centre.  (Careful, Ken… they’ll find you…)

As you might imagine, there are lots of places to park in this car park and, similarly, there are lots of places to not park – the footpath, the middle of the road, up the lamppost.

And then there is one place that you really shouldn’t ever park at all, ever, ever. ever.

This place, immediately to the front of the shopping centre exit, is designated by a yellow box painted on the ground with yellow criss-cross lines inside.  You know the sort of thing.

As I sit at my desk, I look out and down on this yellow box.  When I stop to think and gaze out, it’s this yellow box then I end up gazing at.

And it annoys me profoundly.  You know the reason why, don’t you?

Yes, you do.

It's because there’s nearly always somebody parked in the yellow box.

There is no ambiguity about this box.  It is evidently a clear way, a safety exit, a place which should never be blocked

Parking or, as is more often the case, stopping-and-sitting in the yellow box causes difficulty to everybody else in any number of ways.  It reduces the passing traffic to single lane so that cars coming either direction have to give way to each other while the twerp in the box sits back and enjoys the show.  It blocks the trolleys of the people coming out of the shops.  It clogs up the whole little eco-system of the car park – all for the benefit of the one loon who does it.  Did I mention that the box only has room for one?

This lack of thoughtfulness beneath my window has grown in my head to become an analogy for Man’s overall Inhumanity to Man.  I look at the various types of people who do this thing – for they are indeed legion – and I see some of the worst qualities of the Human Race reflected in their obtrusive wing mirrors.

The most common type is the ‘Bully’.  Elbow out of window, belly out of shirt, his risible taste in cassette-delivered music imposed on the people he inconveniences.  His whole demeanour tells the world, “I know what I’m doing, come and tell me about it and see what happens to you then… wimp.”

Then there is the ‘Naive Fool’.  He doesn’t know he is doing anything wrong.  He is baffled as to why the traffic is backing up all sides of him or why the old-dear just collapsed with exhaustion trying to manoeuvre her trolley around the back of his Fiat.

And, of course, the ‘Professional’.  Very busy, only there for a moment, doing everyone a favour by getting his important stuff done so quickly.  One of the worst, that.

I see all these types and many more and I know that, if they would only wake up and see the trouble they are causing for their own small comfort, and if they could only then persuade the rest of the world to wake up and do the same…, well, then things might be all right, I guess.

So there it is; ‘Man’s inhumanity to Man’, all packaged up and delivered to my doorstep, wrapped up in my local car park’s yellow box.

Have I succeeded in pinpointing the key problem with society today?  Have I opened up a possible avenue of hope and reconciliation?

… or do I just always need to have something stupid to be annoyed about?

Yeah, I know…

The Blog As Pensieve

I’ve been doing this blogging thing for a while now and, from time to time, the question arises, “Why do you blog?” My answer has changed several times in the time that I have being doing it.

At first, it was intended to promote my writing and to show the manner in which I do it. From there, the whole blogging escapade grew into an online social phenomenon wherein fellow bloggers were followed avidly, interacted with in forums, and greatly enjoyed.

Friendships were built which are still strong to this day and much was learned about the curious process of blogging itself.

It may well be true that it was Twitter that took the heat out of this high-intensity interaction, for me at least.

Twitter arose and provided more immediate and more intense interaction between bloggers and non-bloggers alike. It suited me and it drew me in. Something had to give and that something was the level of blogging interaction I previously maintained. What used to be a blog which was posted to thrice-weekly is now a weekly event and, although I regularly visit and read all of my friends blogs, I don’t comment as much as I used to. I sometimes feel at a loss for something to say even though I may have enjoyed their post very well.

But, despite this change, my blog is still a living thing and a very important part of my life. Ask me today why I blog and the reason is markedly different to the one I might have given a year – or two years ago – perhaps next year, it will be something different again.

For now though, I see the blog as a sort of jigsaw puzzle. A box where each post is a small odd shaped piece that goes to make up a picture of me.

For want of a better image, I see it as a sort of ‘Pensieve’ which, in case you don’t know, is the font/receptacle which Dumbledore had in Harry Potter to store his memories in. Whenever he wanted, he could draw one out – rather like a mucousy snot string (sorry) – and review it. But, more relevant to my point, when he himself was gone, Harry could dip into it too and learn some things about Dumbledore that he hadn’t known before. In the case of my own little pensieve, these are not necessarily huge revelations or truths. In fact, they are often just shitty little things such as my feelings on music and driving or why I think I’m a dog. Each post trivial and passing for sure but each post also with some germ of truth or personality in it to help build up a jigsaw puzzle picture, just like the one on the box.

Our parents are often largely a mystery to us. Sometimes all we know of them are the people they have become after we came along. Before that, what have we got? A photo from Butlins? A letter or two scribbled in haste.

This technology here will be dusty and defunct by the time our kids might start to seriously wonder about us, what we were really like? But there’ll probably be some way of reading it still. Some gizmo in the attic that will prise open the files that used to make up that internet thing from way back when.

Maybe, someday, someone will leaf through this stuff and know me a little better for it.

Who knows, we may be the first generation to leave a fairly solid picture of who we were by the medium of our personal blogs, our online jigsaws, our pensieves…

Next time, I shall be ranting about why gobshites drive into those yellow boxes when they can’t get out the other side.

That should help build a picture, shouldn’t it?

Old Joke - A Bit Rude

A local radio interviewer was sent out to the island to interview octogenerian Pat about his long life there.

The interviewer set his tape machine running.

"Pat," he said, "tell me, if you will, about your happiest memory of the Island."

Pat replied, "That would be the time that Carmel the Sheep went missing... all the men of the island gathered by torchlight and scoured the length and breadth of the island.  They found her stuck in a hedge and they brought her back here where they all had a few drinks and they all had sex with her."

"Interesting," said the interviewer, a tad uncomfortably, "would you also share with us your second happiest memory?"

Pat replied, "That would be the time that Margaret my wife went missing... all the men of the island gathered by torchlight and scoured the length and breadth of the island.  They found her stuck in a hedge and they brought her back here where they all had a few drinks and they all had sex with her."

"Finally Pat, would you recall your worst memory of the island."

Pat reflected for a time...

"That," he said, "would have to be the night that I went missing..."

Meet The Scars

I love that scene in ‘Jaws’ where the three guys sit on the boat and compare their scars. You can learn a little, I think, by hearing about people’s scars and how they came to have them.

Let me tell you about three of my own scars – in chronological order - and how I got them.

Eye: I have a 7mm scar just to the left of my left eye. I was fly fishing with my brother in a boat on the Garavogue River, one May evening around 1978. We used to cast dry flies pretty sweetly, my brothers and I, in those days. The trick was to sit on the still river among the bobbing 'spent mayflies' and wait for the surface to be broken by a trout sucking one down. Then you had to quickly drop your fly right on that spot and hope that the trout would take yours too. If he did, you would then ‘strike’ the hook into his mouth and hopefully play him into the boat.

It was getting late in the evening and we were thinking of heading home when my brother spotted a nice disturbance in the water out in front. He stood up and back-casted the length of line which he already had spun off the reel. Unfortunately the huge black spent mayfly ,which he was fishing with, snagged me less than half an inch from my left eye. “Don’t Strike,” I shouted to him but he had already started the forward motion of his cast, effectively striking the hook into me instead of the fish.

The hook was embedded and wasn’t coming out. We boated down the river and all the people on the bank asked us if we had caught anything. I kept my hand over my eye to hide the bushy alien impaled there and lied that we hadn’t. We pulled the boat up onto the far shore and struggled up the two fields to the hospital in our waders.

It is easy to remove a hook. You push the barb through and snip it off and then the shaft just slips out. I explained this to the doctor but either he didn’t want to hear it or (as he said) he was intent on returning my lovely Spent Mayfly to me intact. He took a scalpel and, slowly and painstakingly, he cut it out. It was more dark-red than black when he was done but I got it back plus a couple of stitches into the bargain.

Wrist: I have a small but deep scar on the back of my right wrist and various smaller scars all around that wrist. This was 1981, I think. I got a call one Sunday morning to go with my friend (who reads this stuff – Hey ‘S’) to Rosses Point to push a caravan up to a place where it could be hooked to a car and towed away. I got on the back of the caravan with his uncle and we both pushed. Sadly - for me mostly - we pushed on the caravan window. Not smart, I now know. The glass smashed and both of our arms fell through, my right and his left. He was older and wiser then me, I guess, because he left his arm in through the broken pane and took his own sweet time easing it back out. I didn’t. I instinctively pulled back and, in the process, impaled my right wrist on a long sharp shard of window-glass that was left sticking down.

Such was the extent of this little impalement that I could not remove my wrist from the glass on my own. Somebody had to take my wrist and pull it off the glass. I got some smaller cuts on the underside of my wrist from that manoeuvre.

We wrapped me up and took me to the hospital. When I was unwrapped the back side of my wrist had swollen up alarmingly like an angry black blister. The attending-person asked whether I could move my wrist. I did, up and down once, and the ‘blister’ erupted, spraying globs of dark blood on everyone in the vicinity.

Fun times.

Thigh: On my left thigh, I have a large and amazingly deep ‘dimple’ in the muscle. I got this while skiing in New Hampshire with my cousin, circa 1989. We drove up from Boston and I hadn’t been skiing for quite a few years. My cousin and his friend were regular and good skiers and I felt I had to keep up with them, as a matter of pride. High up the mountain, I skied over a little edge, flew a bit and fell, landing on my left thigh. Unfortunately I found what was possibly the only sizeable rock on the whole piste and I found it hard. This hurt like absolute buggery and I lay there in the snow wondering what to do next. I was on my own, the cousin-and-friend were probably already in the bar at the bottom.

I has ‘Salopettes’ on, so I couldn’t easily inspect the damage but the leg was swelling and tightening alarmingly and I wanted to get down the mountain as quick as possible. I had a pewter hip flask full of Jack Daniels (as you do) so I drank it all down then I skied tentatively back to base.

This happened very close to Christmas and we soon travelled on to Boulder, Colorado to spend the holiday with some other relatives who lived there. A number of these relatives were doctors. Most memorable about this scar is the level of indifference paid to it by these doctor friends/family of mine. My leg, at this stage was an utterly atrocious sight – not cut, nothing broken, but whatever bleeding had occurred on my thigh seemed to have run down under the skin and pool in my foot which was black and horrible – as was the rest of the leg.

“It’ll be fine,” the docs all shrugged as they inspected it, “Don’t worry.”

I didn’t, and it was, so I guess they were right. Twenty years later, it’s still an impressively deep scar though.

I have others – don’t we all? But that’s three for you to be going along with.

One other thing worth mentioning about these scars is that they all happened quite a long time ago (although it only feels like last year). The scars are all faded now and not at all prominent. If you were looking at me, you would hardly see them

It’s the memories that still itch sometimes.

If you have a scar story, and want to leave it in the comments – or, indeed, do a post on your own blog, I’ll pick my own favourite and post you a book of my shelf, just for fun. I’ll give you a choice of three… God knows what they’ll be.

Thanks for reading.

Short Fiction - A Little Trouble

I am sitting on the edge of the quay dropping small stones into the soupy water far below. I have a tough decision to make and these pebbles may or may not be helping.

The problem turns over and over inside my head. Do I tell her and further ruin her life or do I keep my secrets to myself and allow her life to remain only moderately ruined, as it already is?

If my stones would only produce some ever-expanding ripples in the dark water then I am sure I could draw some clever analogy between that effect and the concentric relatedness of life’s ineptitudes. But they don’t, they simply plop onto the oily black surface and then vanish without a trace. Perhaps there is a useful analogy in that too but for the moment it escapes me.

A little over nine months ago, my last grandfather entered the water from this very quay – and drowned. A subsequent inquest found this to be an accidental death and, although our family accepted this verdict with considerable relief, none of us really believed it. For forty years, you see, Granddad Noel had worked these docks, unloading timber and coal and whatever else had steered its way up the narrow channel. He knew the quay edge as well as any of us knows our hearts and he was as firmly rooted to that dock as were the huge concrete windlasses that mushroomed along the brim.

It was our family’s secret but firm belief that Granddad had deliberately thrown himself from the deepwater quay on the day before his seventy second birthday. None of us had any idea why.

Our shock at this awful event was as great as would naturally be expected. In our minds, we had all consigned both Granny and Granddad to nature’s gradual deterioration towards infirmity and eventual death. Their four daughters, including my mother, had steeled themselves for the years when the care and dedication which they had received as children would have to be at least partly repaid. The prospect that one or other of the grandparents would be left alone for a time was considered but nobody foresaw that the rift would be caused by anything other than old age and cruel nature.

As it was, the loss of her husband tore flesh and bone from my grandmother as surely as if she had fallen down a stairs or succumbed to a virulent disease. The day that Granddad’s sealed coffin was lowered into the clay marked the beginning of her own inexorable descent to join him there. A descent which still continues and which has every sign of ending soon enough.

It was nine months after the funeral and our lives had returned to relative normality. My twice-weekly visits to Granny kept Granddad in my mind but not prominently so. In my busy and insulated routine, Granny became a gentle chore for me. Her grief and deterioration was a given – it saddened but did not surprise me.

This all changed last Saturday. I had called to Granny earlier than normal because I had a lunch date with an old school friend. As she made the tea, I opened the biscuits and prepared myself for thirty minutes of gentle grilling and familiar stories from a week of threadbare routine. It was to be as it always was. Except this time, it wasn’t.

Granny arrived at the table with her stainless steel teapot. She trembled minutely and then she smashed the pot down onto the table. This was the equivalent of a Hydrogen bomb being dropped on the little terraced house. The vessel landed with such a crash as may never have been heard in this house before and the tea slopped out of the lid and drenched everything on the heavy tablecloth.

I leaped to my feet. The table top was a brown dripping mess of skewed crockery and damp lottery tickets.

“Granny,” I pleaded, “For God’s sake what’s wrong?”

She broke down then, her arms pitched tautly by her side, her face to the ceiling.

“I killed him,” she cried, “I killed your grandfather.”

A twisted image of granny came into my head. I saw her sneaking up behind him and pushing him over the edge and into the deep water. I shook it away.

“He fell in. It wasn’t your fault.”

She shook her head vehemently.

“That day he went out, I had his heart annoyed. Do this, do that. I wouldn’t let him off.”

It is true that Granny had been increasingly hard on him as the years advanced. Granddad’s greatest pleasure had always been to sit with the newspaper spread out on the kitchen table, poring over every page in the greatest of detail. This intent reading ritual has been ever-present in all the years I had known Granddad but it had become more protracted in the latter part of his life. One oddity of his avid consumption of the daily newspaper was that he would not enter into discussion about the stories he so dedicatedly scanned. Only much later in the day would he make himself available for topical discussion and opinion of any kind. It always seemed that he demanded time to digest and analyse what he had learned before passing any judgement upon it and I for one saw this as a highly commendable attribute.

Not so dear Granny. Her resentment of this time wasted over the minutia of external affairs manifested itself in manic cleaning and general irritated hovering in the general vicinity of the kitchen table. Occasionally Granddad would acknowledge her pique with a gentle, “Sod off, I’m reading,” but generally he ignored her completely.

Still and all, it was hard to see how Granny’s relatively low level aggravations could compel the old man to the very edge of his own life. It simply did not seem correct and I said as much to Granny.

But she was having none of it.

“You weren’t here. I forced him to go out in the rain when he didn’t want to and I gave him a list of things to do and each and every one of them was nothing less than poisonous to him.”

Strong words indeed. I was fascinated by what these poisonous duties might have been. She shuffled to the sideboard and produced a flaccid yellow sheet of notepaper. She pushed it across the table to me.

“That is the list I gave him. It was still in his pocket”.

I looked at the paper. Bread, Washing up liquid, Garaty, Eyes, Mass card.

“What’s a ‘Garaty’?”, I asked.

“Mr. Garaty, the television repair man,” she indicated to the incongruous large set in the corner. “He’d had it for ten days at that stage, I told Michael to go up and put a rocket under him to get it fixed. He hated pressing people”

“And mass card?” I prompted.

“For poor Mrs Dobbs in number forty two,” she sniffed, “He hated going to the priest’s house too.”

“And eyes.”

“The straw that broke the camel’s back, I’d say,” granny looked to the ceiling in anguish, “His eyes had been getting worse and worse. He’d sit and stare at the damn paper for hours and get nothing from it. The last fortnight was the worst. It was clear he needed glasses but would he go? I told him to go and get it seen-to or not to bother ever coming back… and look what happened.”

Granny was a bit calmer when I left her. I’d borrowed the little piece of flotsam notepaper. I thought it might be helpful to try to retrace Granddad’s steps on his last day. As it seemed that the question of eyesight was the most fraught one, I started with the opticians.

There was only two in town and one was a hyper modern outlet which favoured angular and compressed fashion statements over actual spectacles. I figured Granddad, if pushed, would favour the older, more traditional establishment so I went there first. In truth, I did not expect to learn that my grandfather had actually been to get his eyes tested on the day he died. I tended to agree with Granny that the option of not coming home at all had somehow presented itself as the most attractive. I was surprised therefore to find that, not only did the portly woman behind the counter entertain my unusual query, but she remembered old Granddad’s visit very well indeed.

“A lovely old gentleman. How is he?”, she asked, which frankly put me at a bit of a loss.

“He died.”

“Oh,” she said, taking that on board and brightening again, “That would explain why he never called back for his prescription.”

“So he did get his eyes tested then?”

“Oh yes, quite weak in the left, not so bad in the right, a little trouble with the Snellen but that’s not unusual in a man of his vintage.”

I wasn’t really that interested in the technical details of Granddad’s visual impairment. I was much more concerned with his demeanour so I asked after it.

“He was fine really. A little embarrassed about putting us to trouble but that’s what we’re here for isn’t it?”

Indeed it was. I left her with a polite thank you. She had one more little surprise on the way out.

“My regards to your grandmother,” She shouted after me. “She taught me in the convent school, you know.”

“Did she?”

“Yes. I only recognised her name when I was filling out your granddad’s details. I… suppose he won’t need the prescription now.”

Damn silly question but perhaps there was a subtle point to it.

“Is there an account? I could….”

She smiled. “Oh dear me no, he settled up in cash on the day, said he’d pick out frames when he came back. Sad really.”

It was sad and all rather unenlightening. I went off to find Mr. Garaty.

Ted Garaty worked out of his garden shed and I knew him quite well from a variety of radios, amplifiers and, latterly, digital satellite receivers which had gone on the blink, been deposited and eventually returned in some varied states of repair.

He looked surprised to see me as I made the extraneous bell over his garage door ring. He looked around furtively as if to identify what piece of kit he had neglected to repair for me this time.

He looked relieved when he found out that I only wanted to ask after Granddad.

“I was shocked to hear that he had practically gone straight from me to the water, so to speak, no offence intended… There was nothing out of the ordinary, his telly wasn’t ready and I told him it might be another few days before I got to it. He did seem annoyed all right but when I asked him he just said something about herself having his heart annoyed.”

This was not good news, lending credence as it did to Granny’s own theory that she had been the primary cause of his demise. I thanked Ted and made to go.

“There was one other thing,” said Ted.

I looked back. My many years of watching ‘Colombo’ had taught me that these ‘one last things’ often held the key to something or other.

“There had been a mention of him in the paper. Your granddad. Nothing much, just a little bit about the closure of the weigh-station down the quay and a reference to some of the men who used to work there. I showed it to him – it’s nice to see your name in print sometimes. I handed him the paper and asked whether he had spotted it. He took it and looked it over and then handed it back and left.”

“Didn’t he say anything?” I asked.

“Not much, something along the lines of, “They’re all the same”, then off he went.”

“”They’re all the same?” Are you sure that was it?”

Ted thought a moment.

“I think that was it all right. He seemed surprisingly annoyed that his name was in there at all.”

Then the bell went again and an angry looking lady came in so I took my leave.

The parish priest had not seen Granddad that day. This was not a surprise since no mass card had been found on him. Along with the washing up liquid and the bread it became one of three errands which were not run.

I walked reluctantly back to Granny’s house, recounting my mornings investigation. Where did it all leave me? Granddad had visited the opticians and the telly repair man and he evidently had no trouble at either… I stopped in my tracks… wait… he had had some trouble – the lady had said exactly that and I had let it pass. “Some trouble,” she had said, “some trouble with…” what?

Some trouble with what?

I ran back to the opticians shop. It was near closing time and the lady did not seem quite so pleased to see me this time. I was breathless when I arrived at her counter and could not express myself as clearly as I might have liked.

“Some trouble with what?”

This was all I could manage to say and I and feared it was sufficiently incoherent as to totally confuse the lady but it seemed she understood me well enough as she immediately launched into a profuse apology.

“I shouldn’t have said anything, I’m so sorry, I spoke out of turn.”

I didn’t care a hoot for speaking out of turn. Mostly, I wanted the word she had used. That odd word.

“Please, what was it you said that he had trouble with?”

The lady hesitated and it seemed for that long moment that she would not tell me the word I needed.


The voice came from the back of the store. I turned to find a surprisingly young man standing in the doorway. He stepped forward with his hand outstretched.

“I’m Peter, this is my fathers shop but he’s no longer able to… the eyesight would you believe?”

His gentle joke went over my head. There was only one question in my world.

“Please, what is a ‘Snellen’?” I asked.

He took my elbow and led me to the back room.

“Come on”, he said, I’ll show you.

So now here I am sitting on the edge of the quay dropping small stones into the soupy water far below. I know now why my grandfather died and it is a painful knowing. But am I a better grandson by sharing my knowledge with my grandmother or do I do better to simply hold my peace. The thick brine does not seem to know and neither do I.

Peter the optician had sat me in the chair where he tests all his patients and dimmed the lights. He indicated to the chart on the opposite wall and asked my to read the top line. I did so.

“That chart,” he said, “Is called a Snellen chart.”

Then at last I thought I knew.

“He couldn’t see it,” I said, “You had to tell my Granddad that he was going blind.”

“Quite the contrary, he had very good eyesight for a man of his years. No he could see it fine.”

“But then…”

“He couldn’t read it.”

I stared at him a moment then couldn’t help but laugh.

“Nonsense,” I said, “The man had done nothing but read for all of his life.”

In reply, Peter produced another chart from a drawer beside my chair. It showed a series of letters ‘E’ turned upside down and sideways.

“This is an alternative chart,” he explained, “We keep a number of them, for children or learning disadvantaged people… or people like your grandfather who unfortunately never learned to read.”

The truth was slow to sink in – a lifetime of deception revealed.

As I struggled with the revelation, it became clear that Peter was also very upset.

“When Nora told me that he had killed himself… I was getting ready to come and see you… I feel that I…,” he stopped, unable to continue.

“No,” I said, “It sounds like you were kind and gentle with him. It sounds like you were really great. But Nora knew my Granny from school and he must have known that. He must have known that his ‘secret’ would be revealed at last.”

There are no more stones to throw in. It is time to go home. I can’t help but mourn for my proud granddad. All his years of staring at a meaningless jumble of characters on a mocking broadsheet. All his gleaning of news from the television and pretending it came from the printed word. All of his deception. My saddest thought is if only he had spent half of this energy on learning to read, how fulfilled he could have been.

I think I might tell her after all.

I think she deserves to know.

© Ken Armstrong

The All-Important Holiday Read

I like to have something special to read over the Christmas holiday. I think it makes the insular feeling all the more tangible to have a special book to look forward to and then devour.

This year I didn’t have one.

Oh, I had some reading lined up – I always need that – but I didn’t have the book that I thought might once again help to define my Christmas for me… yes, it is sad, I know.

These seasonal reads don’t have to be festive or jolly or anything like that. Quite the opposite, in fact. A few years back, I had ‘In The Forest’ by Edna O’Brien, which may well be the bleakest book ever written. It was quite reviled in certain circles, here in Ireland, because it recounted a real-life murder and did so in great emotional and physical detail.

I liked it very much.

Then there was ‘I’m Not Scared’ by Niccolo Ammaniti. What a great Christmas treat that was! Have you read it? You really should. It’s about a boy who finds a similarly-aged boy trapped in a pit deep in the Italian countryside. I will say no more than that, lest I spoil it. There was a film too, which was good, but the book is a complete joy.

So here was I, this year, without a reserved seasonal read. I was re-reading ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and loving it all over again but that was only going to take and hour or two anyway. What to do?

Then we went round to our friend’s house on Christmas Eve, as we traditionally do, and she had four books on her table.

“I got talking to the bookshop owner,” she said, “and she recommended these.”

She suggested that I take one and read it and tell her if it was any good. It seemed like fate, perhaps it was.

They were four slim attractive volumes. I picked one, I can’t remember what the other three were, sorry.

I picked ‘Fists’ by Pietro Grossi. I had never heard of it. My reasons were selecting this one were as sophisticated as ever – I liked the look of the cover (with the horse and all) plus it reminded me of the aforementioned ‘I’m Not Scared’ because it was also Italian and the cover was brown. Like I said, sophisticated reasoning…

So, having read it, I now wish to wholeheartedly recommend my 2009 Christmas read to you. Pietro Grossi is a young writer who claims Hemingway and Salinger as influences. This is not hard to see. Maybe my perception was a little heightened by finishing ‘Old Man and the Sea’ at the same time, but Grossi writes most convincingly of the sporting challenge and the condition of being a Man. He also writes with that sparse, razor style that I admire so much in the writers who have influenced him.

The book is made up of three long short stories (too short to be classed as novellas). The first and best concerns boxing and gives one of the best accounts of a boxing match that I have ever read. The second deals with horses and the third and least convincing is about the friend of a man who believes he is a monkey.

I really enjoyed this book. The writer is confident enough to get out of his stories when he feels his work with them is done – even if we, the readers, might not fully agree. He writes like a man who knows what he is writing about – a man who has stood in the ring, a man who has healed horses. I believe him in what he writes.

So once again this year, I have had my holiday read. “Christmas 2009” will be partially defined for me by Pietro Grossi and his great little book.

Next year… who knows?

Post Script: Jim Murdoch reviewed this book some time ago. I would have read his review at the time. I must have forgotten about it... or did I? Read it here and note the Author's reply in the comments. Carries some literary weight, does 'Oor Jim'.