Remembering Liam

My current pitiful attempts at ‘running-to-get-fit’ often take me past a lovely peaceful corner down by the lakeshore.  It looks like a flower-bestowed grave – there’s even a little engraved stone – but it’s not.  It’s just a memorial to a guy.  A good guy.  A guy I knew.

Liam Durkan came into our then-workplace in 1998 to organise us all towards ISO 9001 Certification.  My first impression of him was that he was Clark Kent; suited, bespectacled, hiding inner strength beneath a mild-mannered frame… boy, was I right.

(Photo - John Mee)

Me and Liam had to shuffle a lot of paperwork together over the next few years.  There was many hours locked up in a stuffy room, thrashing things out.  I came to like him a lot.  He was cool and understated but he had a wicked sense of humour and a keen eye for a bit of fun.

We were in the pub after work one evening and I was suffering.  I had an ingrown toenail and I was being utterly miserable about it to anyone who would listen to me.  Liam was full of genuine sympathy, “There’s nothing worse than a sore toe,” he agreed as he made for the bar.

Somebody prodded me.  “What kind of a gobshite are you?” they asked, “going on at that man about your bloody toe.  Don’t you know he has cancer?”  I did know he had cancer, I knew he had it bad, but I had forgotten.  I had forgotten enough to lay my own minor twinge at his door for sympathy and he was cool enough to have plenty to spare for me.  It was easy to forget that Liam was unwell, he certainly would never remind you.

Liam suffered from his cancer for all the years I knew him.  It never defined him at all.  He was so many things to so many people, but he was never simply ‘cancer’.

I remember getting pissed with him, one night, after we finally got our ISO accreditation.  I can count the times in my life when I have been pissed  on the fingers of one hand.  For me it’s partly an exercise in trust in the company I am in.  There was no problem letting rip with Liam though, he dealt with it in the best way imaginable – he got pissed too.

I played golf with him a few times (back when I played).  There was a Different Liam.  That was the closest I ever seen to the Clark Kent guise coming off and the Man of Steel beneath showing out.  Golf was a serious business to him and he played it earnestly and well.  Conversely, he truly hated to be playing badly.  I remember a little white ball stuck in some tree at Ballinrobe and a seven iron being smashed repeatedly off a low stone wall.  “Emm… Liam, it’s only a game mate…” (said from a fair distance away).

And that memorial to Liam down by the lake is no random thing.  While others would have been laid-low and focused on their own tribulations, Liam was at the lake, physically and spiritually, fighting and working to improve the amenity, get lighting on it, tidy it up... It’s a beautiful place now, a good place to be remembered for.

Liam died in 2004.  I had to go and look that up.  It feels more like two years ago to me, that’s how time seems to go these days.

I think we live on after we die, at least in the way people remember us.  We’re a bit shy about remembering those who have died, at least out loud where everyone can hear us and remember too.

There’s no real point in this week’s post, I’m just remembering Liam.

Stand Up To The Pier

Hide, it’s ‘Experiment’ time...  Quite a few of my online friends are really funny.  I read about their lives-and-stuff on Twitter and on their blogs and I see that some of them are now even making meaningful inroads into performing their own stand-up comedy.

As a result of that, I’ve been thinking a bit about stand-up comedy.  How you don’t just stand up and do it any more than Al Pacino just stands up and says some random lines for his movies.  It all has to be written, worked out, honed.

Stand-up is a type of writing I’ve never tried and I can’t help wondering how it works.  My feeling is that it is largely about Observation – that, as a stand-up writer, you would need to observe, write about it, then cull some workable material from the glut of stuff you would end up writing.  Not all that unlike other writing perhaps.

The other day, I had an hour to spare in Dublin so I went for a walk on Dun Laoghaire Pier.  It was a beautiful morning.  “All right,” I said to myself at the start of this walk, “give yourself a little test.  On this walk on the pier, observe everything with the specific objective of writing a stand-up style blog post about it for next Sunday.

Personally, I view the following post as a failure, an attempt to be funny which largely fails.  That’s okay.  Writing is about 'trying' as much as anything else and, increasingly, I don’t mind showing the little failures as well as the little successes.  Subjectively, I think the telescope bit isn’t too bad… perhaps there’s twenty seconds in that.  The rest?  Meh…

What I've learned from the exercise is that I would have to write an awful lot of words to distill a minute of workable stand up from it.  That's a lesson worth learning, I think.

So heckle me, if you like, I can take it… for the next six hundred words, I am a virtual stand-up.



On Dun Laoghaire Pier

I had a walk on Dun Laoghaire Pier yesterday.  The ferry was coming in from Wales.  That ferry only goes out twice a day but it always seems to be coming in.  Everytime I’ve ever been there, it’s coming in.  I wave, it doesn’t wave back.  That’s Dublin for you.

And when you come from someplace like Mayo and you hit the Pier on a bright sunny morning, it’s like some kind of a ‘Colossal Assault on the Senses’.  You’ve got the wind in your hair, the sun blinding off the waves, the clink of the laynards on the sailboats, like tiny distant cowbells in the French Alps… the smell of the sea_  wait, no, there isn’t actually any smell of the sea.  How can that be?  Where has the smell of the sea gone from Dun Laoghaire Pier? It’s right there - the actual sea - but there isn’t any sea-smell off it. This is not a Colossal A-Salt on the Senses, it’s a Colossal No-Salt on the Senses.

Everybody’s Exercising out there too, it’s all a bit intimidating.  Nobody’s just walking, like I am, they’re all Exercising.  I decided I’d better Exercise too, just to blend in a bit.  I needed some kind of motivation to walk a bit faster so I spotted this girl about 200 yards up ahead… walking.  I said to myself, “I’ll catch up with her before the end of the pier.”  I gave it all I had… pushed the pace really hard… but she just pulled further away from me all the time… and she wasn’t even trying! I could see her up there chatting to people, tying her shoelace, having a quick cup of tea… Meanwhile I was having a bloody hernia, I couldn’t catch her.  Old folks were passing me, wondering why I was puffing and panting…  When I was half way out the pier, she passed me on her way back in.  I had a good look at her.  She wasn’t worth catching anyway.  I’m virtually over her at this stage.

We get fishermen on our little piers in Mayo.  But they catch things.  Regularly.  The fishermen on Dun Laoghaire pier have all the kit, everything, they’re like the James Bond of fishing tackle… but they never catch anything.  I asked them, “Lads,” I said, “do you, like, catch anything… ever.”  They told me to fuck off, which I generally take as a ‘No’.  I waved goodbye to them but they wouldn’t wave back… ‘cos that’s Dublin for you.

There’s absolutely no dog shit on the pier either, which is also quite different to Mayo.  There’s loads of dogs… dogs of every shape and size.  No shit though, ‘no shit, there’s no shit.  Now you’re probably thinking what I was thinking, the owners all pick up after their dogs.  Well, yes, except I looked and looked and there was no shit bins and I couldn’t see anyone with one of those little sacks of shit dangling off their wrist.  You know the ones- ‘like little smelly orange scrotums.  None.  There was no place on their person either that they might secrete a shit for any meaningful period of time.  So how does it all work?  Are the dogs trained to hold it while they’re out on the pier?  Do they perhaps do it over the side, into the briny sea, confident that the fishermen won’t have the skills necessary to reel any of it back in?  I have no answers.

There was this guy with binoculars, out near the end of the pier, and I could see that he were watching some cool girls in a boat.  I wished I had binoculars.  I had this vision of myself with binoculars – binocular vision.  The girls in the boat looked really nice.  Really distant to the naked eye but nice with it.  I really wanted a look.  There was this telescope, you know one of those pay telescopes like you see on piers.  I put twenty cent in to check out the boat… yeah, the boat.  The guy with the binoculars – he could see it all, he could see the tiny bead of sweat in the boat girl’s d├ęcolletage as she vigorously hoisted her jib.  Me?  I could see exactly what I could see without the telescope except reduced to the size of a 20 cent coin.  Why do public pay telescopes always have to be complete shite? And, knowing this, why do we continue to put money in them?  I waved at binocular man and asked him if I could have a go at his.  He told me to fuck off… that’s Dublin for you.

It’s a dangerous pier, Dun Laoghaire pier.  There’s two tiers on it. It’s a two tier pier.  All the best people are on the top tier.  Someday I’m going to make it up there.  I won’t give up until I do.  But there’s no railing or anything… you could fall from the top tier to the bottom pier and break something while simultaneously damaging your social standing.  It’s worse on the bottom tier.  I could quite easily fall off the bottom tier and straight into the deep odourless sea.  I would die then, out on that pier.  That clean odourless, twin tiered dog-shit-free zone of unattainable women would witness the very last scene of my life.

Perhaps, seeing my final despairing wave, those useless fishermen would at least try to fish me out.  They wouldn't succeed, of course, on account of their being bloody useless. But perhaps they'd try.

No. They wouldn't.

Cos that’s Dublin for you.

Um…

I got nothing for ya this week.

I nearly always write my blog post in the week before I post it.  I reckon it helps to keep the thing reflective of where my mind is in any given week.  Usually it’s finished well-before Sunday comes around, sometimes it’s not.  That’s not a problem.

I’m not normally stuck for something to write about either.  Well, when it’s waffle like this, how could I be?  It’s just, this morning, I got nothing.  As they say on the stage when they forget their lines, “I’m up.”

I have a wee notebook, that's always secreted on my person, where I scribble things in.  I had a look through and there’s some damn fine blog ideas tucked away in there.  Damn fine… You’re going to really enjoy them… I’m just not in the mood to write those particular ones this morning and if I’m not in the mood, they won’t flow and a blog’s gotta flow outta ya, I reckon.

So what do I do?  Faced with the proverbial Blank Page?

Do I leave it for this week and go off and watch Mayo pound Roscommon into the ground (C’mon Mayo!!).  Do I read my book (Sarah Pinborough’s up next… very excited about that) or do I just Goof Off (which I think is a great expression ‘cos we don’t use it this side of the Atlantic and thus it sounds faintly rude).

None of the above.  No.

I have to face this Blank Page down and put some words on it, cos that’s what writers do.  If we wait for it all to mature in our heads, all the nuances to work themselves out and the creative planets to align themselves in our writerly favour, then we don’t get very much done.  More importantly, the good ‘half-ideas’ that we have don’t ever amount to much more than a misquoted hill of mushy peas.

Facing down the Blank Page is an excellent thing to do.  It may start slowly (“All Work anD NO play makes KEN a dull bOy…”) but, before long, you will follow some despairing thought down a rabbit hole and you’ll be off-and-running on some completely random and bullshit escapade which might, one day, actually shape up into something good.  Then again, you might not.  At worst, you are putting yourself in the Zone where Writing can Happen.  Facing down the blank page... if you do it often enough, something will come out of it, that’s for damn sure.

(Check word count)  No, that’s not a Blog Post, you fecker, that’s an extended tweet for Chrissakes… develop the thought…

Come on… come on…

Okay…


Another good thing about the Blank Page is that it isn’t distracting.  It can actually be quite demanding.  It’s just you and me, babe, and either we can sit here and do nothing or we can ‘Get It On’.  So whaddya say, blank page, you wanna waltz with me a while?”

(That bit’s shit… ‘best rub it out)

No. No. No!

You don’t rub shit out on the Blank Page.  You keep going and going regardless.  You can ‘Save As’ later into a file called ‘Marginally Less Shite Than Before’ and feck with it all you want in there but not here.  The Blank Page must be filled up with stuff at all costs.

You can do anything you want on the Blank Page.  What you don’t ever do is print ‘publish’ on the damn thing just after you’ve written it.  That’s just stupid.  Even after you’ve “Saved As’ and tidied it all up, like a muff on a prom night.  You still have to let it breathe for some period of time, even if it’s only thirty minutes (ideally thirty days but it’s a blog, dude, not ‘War and Peace’).  In that brief hiatus (phew) you will see quite a bit of the crap you missed before.  Not all of it but enough to get by on.

It’s okay to fear the Blank Page.  It’s natural.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t step up and kick its lily-white ass from time-to-time.

“Lily-white Ass… Blank Page…” Hey! That’s not bad…

I’m glad I did this now.

My Pal ‘T’

I’ve made a new friend.

This is all rather unexpected.  At my time of life, you tend to acknowledge that you have made, more or less, all the close friends you are going to make in a lifetime.  

And, don’t get me wrong, I have great friends, lifelong friends who I would do anything for and who I feel might do anything for me.  It’s just that those friends have been blown around the world by the winds of time and so they are not prominent in my days like they once were.


I have a great friend in work too and some great friends around town.  It’s just that my life had panned out such that, when the evening comes in or the weekends come around, there is nobody who might say, “Come for a drink,” or “Let’s catch that old lads film that the ladies won’t want to see.”  I’m not complaining – my family, my scribbling and the other things I like to do have meant that I am never bored or at a loss for entertainment and diversion.  It was never really a problem, it was simply a fact.

Still, how nice and how very unusual that a new friend would show up for me this late-on.  One who would be so alike to me and yet, somehow, so profoundly different.

How odd…

And what an amazing friend my new friend has turned out to be.  We meet up practically every day and we just talk about stuff.  I feel I can tell my friend things that I simply wouldn’t bother telling anyone else.  Nothing earth-shattering or profound, just day-to-day thoughts and occurrences which would normally be too small to verbalise but which seem worth saying once they have been said.

My friend is great on current affairs and keeps me up to speed on the latest stuff that’s going on.  It’s not just passive news-chat either, this friend can get really passionate and outraged when things are clearly not right.  Sometimes that anger can even make a difference to the news that causes the anger… that’s power, man.

In the evening, we might watch some shit television and we might laugh and have a bit of fun with what we see but if something is good, we respect that and we’re not afraid to sing its praises.

It’s more than that though, this ‘new friend’ thing, more than fun and games.  If my friend is having a hard time, I feel it too and I might try to give a little moral support.  Similarly if I’m the one in the rough place, I know I can count on at least a kind word.

My friend isn’t perfect.  Sometimes, when together, we can get a bit over-excited and fixated on stuff that isn’t positive or constructive.  Sometimes I need a little time-out to clear my head of the things that my friend says.  Perhaps that’s the way it should be with friends, perhaps it’s good to be challenged.

I feel I’m a better person now that I’ve got my new friend.  I feel I am more outgoing, better informed, a little more caring even and, most importantly, I feel my friend has allowed me to show a part of myself that had become largely dormant and underused.  The ‘smart arse’ side, the ‘sharp’ side, the ‘fun’ side.  The way I’m allowed to be with this friend has enabled me to be better with my other friends too, I think.  My opening up has benefited all aspects of my life.

This friend demands quite a lot though, or is it just that I want to visit more than I should?  I have yet to completely figure that out.  When you’ve got a friend as good as this, you want to meet with them as often as possible but there’s got to be a limit too.  I’ll have to keep an eye on that.

I’m really glad that my newest friend turned up.  All in all it’s been a good thing, I think.

People often ask me what I see in Twitter.

At the moment, this is the best I can do.

Turning Up at the Funeral

I don’t really learn things very well by being told them

Generally I have to find things out for myself, the hard way, in order for them to effectively sink in.  Nobody ever told me this fact, I learned it myself, so you see what I mean.

For most of my life, I held a particular attitude to funerals.  A funeral is a stressful, emotional, tragic time for the poor people left behind.  The last thing they need is me turning up at their door in my darkest clothes to shake their hand and mumble about how very sorry I am.  What the hell good does that do anyone, to have me doing that?




(Photo courtesy of: Eddie Mallin " monosnaps")

The best thing I can  do is leave them to their grief, secure in the knowledge that I share a little in that grief and feel sad for them and am thinking of them at this terrible time.  They know all that, I don’t need to be troubling them to tell them what they already know.  So I’ll stay away and that will be for the best.  Yes… for the best…

That was how I thought.

It is a strong tradition here in Ireland that people come out to sympathise with the bereaved family.  There are often huge queues of good people waiting to express their condolences at a funeral.  I always really thought I was doing everybody a favour by not adding to this well-meaning melee.

I learned how very wrong I had been a few years ago.  Like all things it wasn’t something I could be told, I just had to find it out for myself.  The hard way.

After Mum died, I found myself standing in the top pew of the church, all dressed up, along with my family, waiting for the people to be let in to file past and shake my hand.  Although, like I said, I tended to stay away from these things, I had obviously been to enough of them to know how they worked.  The good people shake everybody’s hand along the row, they chat a bit to the family members they know and they nod to the people they don’t and then they move back down the church to await the service which will follow.

The people came.  First in a trickle, then in a steady flow.  There were people I hadn’t seen in years, there were people who I had never seen at all.  Some said lots of stuff, some shuffled uncomfortably by and said nothing.  It took a few hours for everyone to visit with us and express their condolences.

I found it was a good thing.

In fact, it changed my view on such things.  It turned me around completely.  Let me see if I can adequately express why this was.  It’s not so easy to do.

The flow of people, old faces and new, created an almost overwhelming wave of positive support.  No one person did or said anything particularly apt or consoling.  Many were perhaps a bit awkward and uneasy, as I would inevitably be in the same circumstances.  But the mere presence of each person, the simple fact of them ‘showing up’ built up, in tiny units, to become something warm and uplifting and reassuring and good.  It seemed to confirm that Mum had many friends, that she had been part of a community, that she was loved and that she would be missed.  Each person who filed in and flitted past our sad little row made a huge difference to the day.  It is difficult to overstate how big a deal it was.

Perhaps you’re not like me, perhaps you actually can be told something rather than having to find it out for yourself.  If you’re dubious about going to a funeral-removal and worry that you don’t know what to say let me reassure you on that point.  You don’t actually have to say anything.  There is nothing you can say to make a difference anyway – the person is gone and for those in the front row it is a very very sad thing.  All you have to do is be there, be a part of the weight of humanity that can count for so much on these, our hardest days.

One other little tip.  During the Mass or whatever, if you happen to know any of the prayers or responses or songs, belt them out a bit.  It’s a lonely place up in the front row and you don’t really know if there’s anyone there behind you unless you can hear them.  And hearing them is another one of those small reassuring things that can count for much.

So, anyway, these days, when someone I know dies, I try to attend and sympathise.  I have seen for myself the inestimable value of that tiny gesture.

I guess we live, and learn… and die.