Many Dishes to Wash

(After Jimmy Cliff)

Many dishes to wash.
And I don't know just when it will be over.
The Fairy liquid is lost.
So I'm having to scrub.
Them with Rover.

And this kitchen-mess won't leave me alone.
Is there no service that I can phone?
I left it too late and I don't know why
Plus there's no-one here to dry. 

(I got)

Many dishes to wash.
But just where to begin, the decision is mine
It's one of those times that I find myself
Thinkin' of resorting to cryin'

And I'd really like to go to my bed
Got a pain right there inside of my head
Can't I leave them til the mornin' comes?
When I could wash them in the sun?

(I got)

Many dishes to wash
And it's only my will that keeps me from bawlin'
Stood at this sink; washed-up for years
and I stand here alone
Only hope I don't fall in.

Finally Feeling it Again

I think I’ve only really felt it once before but now I’m finally feeling it again.

The last time it happened I was sixteen.  Before I was sixteen, I always seemed – to myself at least – to be older than my actual age.  I was always following what my older brothers did, always trying to sneak into the older person's movies, always giving back-chat beyond my years. 

When sixteen hit, that was it.  I was sixteen!  There was simply no doubt about it.

Then, after I got past sixteen, I didn’t really progress on to seventeen, not in my head, not for a while at least.  The effect lasted a while with the result that I have always, ever since, felt younger than my actual age.  When I was twenty five, I felt about nineteen.  When I was thirty two, I felt twenty five and so on.

Two weeks ago, I reckoned that I felt about thirty six years old, yes that was about right.

Today?  Today I am forty eight and I feel forty eight.  It’s finally come around again, I feel my age.

I suppose losing someone can do that to you.  It’s wearying, not having that loved-one around anymore.  The very misery of it would tend to age you, you would imagine.  Also there’s the fact that the generation above me has now fully departed and suddenly, I belong to the old one, the one most likely to die next.  There’s reason-enough to suddenly feel your age right there, I reckon.

It’s not a crisis.  Hell it’s not even a bad thing.  I’m only bloody forty eight, it’s not (necessarily) the end of the world.  I ain’t doing too bad either, I still have all my own hair and teeth, I can jump a wall, if needs be, and I can still throw in a funny line here-and-there without working too hard at it.

So it’s all good, really.

The question is, will I continue to feel my age as it changes or will this new forty eight ‘watermark’ now hold for a few years as I progress on through middle age, secure in the belief that I was only ever my real age twice in my life.

Perhaps, by following a simple mathematical progression, I will not feel my real age again until I am, let’s see (48-16=32, 48+32=80), gosh, Eighty years old.

Is that how it will be?  At 50, will I still imagine myself to be 48?  At 60, 54?  Until the big 80 comes around and gives me another of these little wake-up calls.

Damned if I know.

I’ll keep you posted.

Bluffing the Condolence Line

In Ireland, when a very popular member of your family dies, a lot of people will probably want to come along and express their condolences to you.  To accommodate them, you generally arrange yourself and your family in a line at some preordained place – usually the funeral home – then wait for all the good people to turn up.

As you may-or-may not know, my Dad passed away this week.  I’ve written about him now and again here, here and here.  He was a great man and will be sorely missed by many, not least myself.

Anyway the best way I can honour him now is by continuing to share my little stories with you here and elsewhere.  So, on that note, back to that condolence line.

Those aforementioned good people started to flow into the funeral home at about five o’clock and they were still coming at seven thirty when we had to depart for the church.  In that time, hundreds of people filed past to shake hands and say, among other things, how very sorry they were.  I had one of my brothers on one side of me and one of my sisters on the other and we backed each other up as best we could.  If I evidently didn’t know who someone was (a regular occurrence) then I might get a nudge or just a blatant name-drop from my sibling neighbour to help me along.  I was glad to do the same whenever I could.

Of course there were lapses in helpfulness.  Once, I was accosted with the line, “surely you know who this is?” as some nice lady stood before me.  I didn’t.  Another time, after introducing some great friends of mine as, literally, ‘great friends of mine’ somebody from my family said aloud, “you sure do have a lot of great friends.”  It was all good-natured stuff.

As the hours went on, and the good people continued to come, so the temptation to ‘riff’ a little on the commonly accepted condolence script increased.  This was perhaps a little cruel because offering condolences can be a hard thing to do and if the person who is receiving them is intent on talking about the decor or your shoes then that can be a tad off-putting.   Mostly, though, the good people liked my lightly off-beat approach to the condolence line and responded warmly in kind.

Near the end, a lady appeared in front of me and offered her hand in sympathy.  There had been a drought of familiar faces in the previous few minutes so I was somewhat excessively glad to see her.

“Hello!” I gushed, “I haven’t seen you in the longest time.”

The lady peered at me, she was a peerer.  “Do you know me?” she asked.

Somewhere over her right shoulder, Doubt came riding towards me on a pale Pinto, waving a red bandanna and whooping to get my attention.

“Of course I know you, how could I not?”

The lady peered some more.  Doubt drew closer and I could see now that he looked deeply concerned.

“But how do you know me?” This lady asked.

Of course, I didn’t know her.  I had mistaken her for somebody else.  In a deeply ironic analogy, I had dug a little hole for myself and climbed right in.

“Tell me, how do you know me?” she asked again.

Basil Fawlty would have been proud of me and not for the first time in my life either.  I acted without conscious thought and I like to think that what I did was just a tiny bit daring and cool.  Not knowing who she was, having no way to escape, I proudly slapped myself on the chest and grinned broadly.

“How do I know you?” I said, with revived gusto,” I’m Ken Armstrong, that’s who I am.  So go away and think about that and then you will know how I know you.”

The lady looked deeply unimpressed but she moved on up the line and I quickly turned to greet my next sympathiser.  I could still feel her quizzical stare on the back of my next until she was safely gone out of the room.

Ah, Sod Basil Fawlty, Dad Himself would have been proud of me.

RIP, Dad, I’m going to miss you more than I yet know.

On Running On

I’ve started doing a bit of running. Ah there I go again, making something small and stupid-looking sound cool and interesting.  

It’s actually too strong a word to call what I do ‘Running’. It’s much more of a ‘Flopping and gasping from Point A to Point B in the Most Ungainly Way Possible'.

It’s awful, in many ways, but still I find that I like it and, like one of those old Country and Western singers might mumble as they raise the microphone to their bearded lips,  “I wanna tell you why.”

(cue slide guitar)

I’m 48 and I’ve never run in my life, apart from the odd burst to catch a bus or to escape autograph hunters.  That’s why I think it’s worth writing a line-or-two about the accelerated shuffle which I can now achieve.  You may well be just like me.

I believed I could never run.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with me – nothing that would stop me running anyway.  It’s just that, anytime I tried to run anywhere, I would get fifty metres up the road quite fast and then would come to a destroyed halt, breathless and stunned.  No I couldn’t run. Not me.

But I needed to be doing something.  (That’s an Irish sentence-construction, I meant it).  I have a family history of heart trouble that would make a cardiologist blush, plus I’m knocking-on a bit, plus the considerable amount of walking I do never seems to quicken my pulse or knock the wind out me.  Maybe I was doing it wrong but walking, for me, was too damn easy and if I was to do enough of it to make it work, then that was taking bloody hours.

So… I needed to try running.

Here’s how I made it work for me.

First, I did it late at night, under cover of darkness, when fewer people would see me.  That’s important to me, I don’t like looking like a gobshite.  Second, I looked up some beginner-running schedules on the internet.  They’re good because you only start out by running for something like thirty seconds and then taking a break – even I could manage that.  Thirdly I followed an excellent piece of advice from Eamon Coughlan, one of Ireland’s greatest runners, which I heard on the radio.  He said, “Run for as long as you can, as slow as you can.”

With these three things in mind, I set off.

I ran for thirty seconds, I timed it on my phone, and then I stopped.  I didn’t need to stop at thirty seconds but that’s what the internet programme said, so that’s what I did.  I walked for the requisite time and then ran again – as slow as I could.

I didn’t get very far.  My heart was working and my breath was coming hard and fast.  It was awful really.

The next night, I ran for a little longer.

And the next night.

And the next.

Six months on, it’s still not pretty – matter of fact, it is decidedly unpretty but who cares?  I keep running a bit longer every time.  Sometimes I don’t manage it but most times I do.  There have been weeks where I haven’t run but I try to go out at least three times a week.  I even venture out in daylight now but I hate meeting people and I still find it embarrassing.

These days I run for about 20 minutes then walk a little bit then run again.  The odd thing is that I don’t really have to stop running after twenty minutes – my legs don’t hurt, I can still breathe and my heart is not failing on me.  It’s my mind.  My mind keeps telling me that I cannot run, it shouts it at me as I am trudging along and I have to ignore it.  I humour it by only doing a little bit more every time and that seems to be working. 

But the mind is a powerful enemy.  Every time I start to run/jog/whatever it is, I know I will have to stop after thirty seconds.  I know it.  It’s just that I don’t.  Not these days.  These days I keep going, despite what my mind tells me.

And it’s hard.  Don’t let me tell you it’s not hard.  But I needed something hard to do.

Benefits?  I think it’s mostly self-esteem, at this stage.  I’m learning how to run, something I thought I could never do.  I don’t think I’ve reached the speed or distance where major health benefits would accrue but I’m getting there and exercise is exercise.  I don’t know much about Endorphin rushes, all I know is when I’m done and showered and watered, I feel at peace.  I know that  sounds all self-aware and bullshitty but it’s true.  It’s a nice feeling, after the run/jog/whatever it is.

The reason for writing this is obvious.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.  Start slow, hide from the world, build up slow.

It’s good.

(I did it again, didn’t I?  Made it sound all cool and powerful, like a Rocky montage or something.  When I run, it’s a horrible horrible spectacle, an embarrassment, an outrage against sporting types everywhere… but I’m running, me, running… can you believe it?)

(I can’t. )