All My Friends are Home

All my friends are home
The phone has rung out twice
It’s fun to be alone
knowing
All my friends are home


All my friends are home
A little drink with ice
To set the late night tone
snowing
All my friends are home


All my friends are home
Our evening was so nice
The seeds that we have sown
growing
All my friends are home





Short Fiction – Bringing Peter Home

Having been through it myself, I now tend to think there is a responsibility on the parent of a dead child on the day of their funeral. It’s a responsibility not to add any more pain than you have to. There is enough pain already, a surfeit of pain. It gains nothing to add any more.

I broke that rule when I sang.

I hadn’t intended to sing. God knows, I wasn’t even sure if I would still be standing at the end, never mind singing. It was just, when the last of the thrown earth had trundled over the deep box, when the ceremony was over and people were all stood around aimlessly, suddenly bereft of convention to hide behind, it was then that it struck me. Putting him in the ground, covering him up with the earth, it was like putting him to bed. And every night, when I put him to bed and snuggled him up all nice, I sang to him.

Even his teddy, Junior, was there. Just like at bedtime. He was nestled beneath the temporary wooden cross that would have to suffice as grave-marker until the disturbed earth settled back in. Junior was in place, Peter was all covered up, it was just like bedtime.

So I sang.

People had been slipping away, shaking hands with each other, gently pulling back from the tableau. When I started, I could see them, in my mind’s eye at least, stopping, looking back, perhaps shaking their heads gently. They didn’t need this extra pain, there was plenty to go around already.

There were two songs that always had to be sung for the bedtime routine. Heaven knows how they had been fixed upon. There had been many different songs at first but over the all-too-few years it had boiled down to two particular oddities. The first was the theme from an old TV show that Peter was too young to have ever even seen. Remember ‘Rainbow’? I sang it slow and easy, not a bit like the way it used to be on those too-sick-for-school mornings of my own childhood. The second was a Bob Dylan song, ‘John Wesley Harding’. Peter liked how John Wesley used to ‘travel with a gun in every hand’, as if he was some kind of cowboy-octopus or something. It often made us giggly, which was not recommended as an ideal bedtime thing by the parenting manual but it worked for us. It worked real nice.

So I sang and, in doing so, I dished out more pain than I ever needed to.

I think I thought it would make me feel a little better.

Of course it didn’t.

Now Susie can’t sleep. It’s understandable, her little brother is dead. I’ve tried singing to her but it doesn’t feel right to either of us. It has never been our thing.

I go in to her room at three am and she is there, her eyes palely reflecting her tinkerbell night light.

“Can’t sleep?”

“No.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Peter’s out there, in the dark. He’s all alone.”

I don’t know what to say. How can I deny that when it’s patently true?

It’s been a week and I guess there must have been a little sleep. Of course there has to have been but it’s not been long sleep, it’s not been good sleep. It’s not been right.

And now there’s a storm coming.

I sit on her bed and she stares at the ceiling. We don’t speak, I just dent the edge of mattress slightly and wait for sleep to please, please come to her.

Outside it starts to rain. I can hear it beating the window pane so Susie can hear it too.

She sits up. “It’s raining,” she says softly.

“Yes. I know.”

“Peter’s out in the rain.”

Before I can think of anything to say, she has grasped my hand feverishly, “You can’t leave him there, Dad, it’s not fair.”

I try to explain. I try to tell her how his isn’t there really, that it’s just the little broken shell he has left behind, that he has gone onward and that it isn’t raining where he is now, that it never rains there. I try to tell her all this but she silences me with a mere tightening of her hand.

“I don’t mean ‘Peter-Peter’,” she whispers, “I know he’s in heaven with HolyGod, he told me so. I mean Peter-Bear. We left him out there and it’s just not fair, he’s not used to it.”

The bear was called Peter too. I had called him ‘Junior’ for years as a joke. I had forgotten his real name.

“We’ll talk to Mum tomorrow,” I say, “we’ll see if we might bring him home.”

But that wasn’t ever going to do.

“Dad, listen to the rain,” we listen for a moment, “it’s pouring out there. He’ll be ruined and he’ll never forgive us. Peter doesn’t need him to be out there, not anymore, he’s gone.”

I stroke her hair. “Would it help you, if I got him, would it help you to sleep?”

“It’s not about me. It’s about Peter Bear. He shouldn’t have to suffer just because Peter died.”

The rain isn’t as bad as it had sounded from in the bedroom but it is still bad enough. The car engine coughs and splutters like an old man unaccustomed to being awakened in the dead of night. The cemetery isn’t far. I don’t see a single person on the way.

They lock the gate at night. Kids like to drink cheap wine among the headstones in the Summer months. There’ll be no kids tonight. I have a beer crate in the boot that I wrenched from the garage and I have a piece of rope that I tied to it. I use the beer crate to help me up onto the stone wall then I pull it up by the rope and throw it over to help me get back out again. I’m a good planner, mostly.

There is only one sound at the grave. The steady pitter-pat of raindrops on cellophane wrapped bouquets.

Peter Bear has been gifted some limited shelter by the arrangement of wreaths around him but he is still damp to the touch as I lean across and pluck him up. The feel of him, the same feel as when I would present him at bedtime to be cuddled through the night, is almost too much for me to carry. It is one sense too many. Peter Bear smells of soil and damp pollen but they are not bad smells. Not at all.

As I turn to go, something draws me back. 

Supposing there wasn’t anything else. Supposing all that was left of Peter was here at this sad little marker. Was there any chance at all that I taking away the only comfort that was left to him?

We say things to graves, when we stand there all alone.

“Peter,” I say, “I’m taking Junior back to Susie, because she needs him to get by, I know you’ll understand. I don’t know if there’s anything of you left here but if there is, and if you can, come into Peter Bear. Come home with me now and we will mind you there.”

The box and rope arrangement gets me out again. The grumbling car gets me home.

Susie is awake, just like I knew she would be. She sits up when I come in. She sees Peter Bear and extends her arms towards him.

“He’s a bit damp,” I tell her, “we’ll dry him out nice tonight and then you can sleep with him tomorrow. Okay?”

Her arms continue to extend, wordlessly.

I give her the bear.

She flops down and turns to the wall, the bear engulfed in her tight little embrace.

And in a matter of moments, her breathing tells me that she has gone to sleep.




The Dog Companion Story

As a bit of a story teller myself, I love a good story and I particularly love it when you find one out there in the wild.

You know what I mean. These days we mostly get our stories from TV chat shows or newspaper articles or social media. It’s rare enough, for me at least, to just be out and about and to encounter a natural story teller and a good old fashioned story.

Of course a story is a special thing. It’s not like a joke, not at all. A joke has to have that thing at the end, the punchline-thing, and it almost invariably has to be at the expense of some thing or some one. A story, on the other hand, can hang precariously at the ending and, quite often, it’s only at the expense of the person who is telling it.

The one I heard last week was via Thomas, my sister’s husband’s Dad (there’s probably a simpler name for that relationship but I’m damned if I can think of it). We had been to that thing I was blogging about last week and we were back in my brother’s house afterward for a cup of tea. Thomas assumed a good position at the kitchen table and fired off a few stories about this, that, and the other. He reminded me that he is a bit of a kindred spirit to myself. Someone who likes to tell a tale, loves to raise a smile, and if the story makes him look bad then so much the better.

As with many such stories, the one I particularly liked emerged out of the telling of another, slightly lesser story. The following is an attempt to set both down in the first-person, a little like the way I heard them.

“So I took up running again. Jogging really. I go out in the mornings, a couple or three times a week. It’s great. A few week’s back, I wanted to figure out how far I could run so I told Margaret I was going to run as far out the Point Road as I could go and then I would phone her up to come and get me and she could set the ‘mileometer’ thing on the car to nought and when she got to me I would be able to see how far I had ran.

Yes, I know there are things you can put on your wrist to tell you but that’s not for me.

So I ran and I ran and I ran when I couldn’t run no more I stopped and I got on the phone and called herself up. As it turns out, she had gone asleep on the couch and didn’t hear me. I was too knackered to walk back so all I could do was sit on the wall and wait for her to turn up. She eventually did about an hour later and, guess what? She had forgot to set the ‘mileometer’ to nought.”


This, then, lead on to the following story which I enjoyed and which made me laugh.

“I went out for my jog, one morning, and who should appear on the street but the neighbour’s dog, a Spaniel. The dog decided she would come jogging with me and I thought this was great. A bit of company along the way. So, off we went. I decided to go up Cairns Hill to have a look out over the lake so up we both went. When we got to the top, I stopped to enjoy the view for a minute and the bloody dog lay down on the road and wouldn't get up again. No matter how much I cajoled her, she wouldn’t budge another inch. I ended up having to carry her all the way home. I’ll go on my own from now on.”

That’s it. Nothing earth-shattering or super-revealing. A story, that’s all. On the evening, though, it made me smile. It conjured an element of pathos and it had a nice subtext of gruff reluctant caring. The story of the dog on the ground on the hill stayed with me through the week to enjoy and laugh about again in memory.

That, for me, is a good story.

And a good story is a great show.

Catch it live wherever you can.



Some Thoughts From an Occasional Foray Into Religious Ceremonies

I’m not the regular Mass-goer that I once was.

And, yes, I once was. I was brought up in a good Irish Catholic family so I ‘got the t-shirt’ in that regard. For many years, through childhood, teens, and adulthood, I went to Mass weekly. I was an altar boy too, as a kid, so I am very well acquainted with the ceremony.  I could nearly say the Mass for you myself, if you were badly stuck.

But I don’t go so much any more. We can go into the reasons some other time if you wish, it’s not for today. Let’s just leave it that I don't. I do still go now and again, for various reasons.

One of those reasons is the Anniversary Masses.

Maybe you don’t know the score. If somebody dies, in the Irish Catholic community at least, they get a funeral mass as you might expect. But they also get anniversary masses, particularly if some surviving family member books them. Thus, every year, in or around the anniversary of their death, a person might have one of the daily masses dedicated to them.

This isn’t a big deal. The most that happens is that the name of person being remembered is evoked at the start of the ceremony and once or twice throughout. They are prayed-for a bit and the mass is often shared out between a number of people who might have died on the same day, albeit years apart.

‘Low key’, that’s what it is.

And that’s what I like about it so very much. The ‘Low Keyedness’ of it.

Last Monday was Mum’s anniversary Mass. It was held in my home town so I drove there with the guys. Friends turn up for these masses, as well as family. It’s always nice to see them, before and after, and to nod to them occasionally when you catch each other’s eye as the thing is going on. It’s also quite touching that they would come, on such a miserable wintry Monday evening, to remember Mum, now seven years gone.

This year’s was especially poignant because it was the first one where Dad was not there. He was always such a solid presence to the fore of the church, staunch in his overcoat. Always far earlier to his seat than anyone ever needed to be. His loss was felt in the room by many. The mass was made poignant too by the addition of a whole new generation to the clan, as five month old Eamon beamed out at everybody from the vantage point of his portable car seat. There was a sense of comings and goings and the inevitability of the baton of life being passed on down… and not just with me, I reckon.

I like these Masses more than any other kind of Mass because the whole thing is boiled down to its most simple version. There isn’t any pomp or circumstance, no barrier between celebrant and congregation, none of the Sunday bells and whistles that can be so terribly  alienating and boring.

At its heart it feels like a meal. No, wait, it actually feels more like a tea party.  It’s quite a small room, where this Mass gets held (‘celebrated’ is the word, I know, but I choose to use ‘held’). After the readings and short sermon are over, the priest sets to, uncovering cups and washing hands and measuring out medium-sized measures of wine and tiny tiny measures of water. Afterward he will wash and shine the cup and plate right there in front of us. It’s no ceremonial wash either, he has to leave it clean for the next meal so he’s buffing away with his cloth and shining everything up. It’s really a bit like a little meal that we’ve been invited to.

The Catholic Church gets hammered these days and rightly so in many instances. It is bogged down in denial and the clinging to outmoded prejudices. It immovably defends things that are bound to righteously anger and distance many people.  It is important though, in harbouring anger and negativity towards any institution, not to be too quick to brand the plain people within with that same iron.

The people gathered in that small circular room on that Winter’s Monday evening were not fans of institutionalised-sexual-abuse. Neither were they necessarily anti-Gay or anti-Women or any of the myriad other things the institution may be righteously reviled for.

Neither was the priest preaching dogma of hate and exclusion. At this ultra-low community level, he was speaking movingly of the people he had gone to see in his day. The infirm, the sick and the dying. He spoke of their quiet fortitude with tones of respect and awe that cannot be faked. The people listen. It is their neighbours, their friends, about whom he speaks.

I saw them there, the people and the priest. They were just people. Tired, somewhat downtrodden people, by and large. Old and lonely people in many instances. Devout people in other cases. People who seek and often find a little solace and community and companionship in this meal which is shared nightly in this circular room. People who believe that there is redemption and truth and a reason for continuing to live as best they can. People who can see these things as possible only on account of the deity who they believe guides them in life and awaits to welcome them when they die.

My point?

Try not to lose sight of them, I suppose. Those plain people who reside at the bottom of every religious hierarchy. Try not to forget that they exist. In righteously attacking the crimes and the outmoded proclamations of the larger machine, spare a thought for the people who really don’t want to hate or oppress anyone. They just want to express their own faith.

And we are sophisticated, we the people of the larger world. We reckon that they are wrong, the plain people, with their gods and their prayers and their afterlives. We reckon that we know that they are naive and stupid and that their naivety is often dangerous and bad.

Listen. We don’t know shit. Just like they don’t know shit. Nobody knows shit about what happens next. Your own belief might be so strong that you think you know - that kind of shit happens a lot on all sides. But you don’t, not really. All you’ve got, at the end of the day, is what you believe in and what you believe in is largely a choice you make as you progress through your life. No more, no less. And whatever you choose to believe, that doesn’t necessarily make you right and it doesn’t make the other guy wrong.

It’s just your thing.

So let other ordinary people have their thing too. If their thing happens to hurt people then that needs to be addressed for sure. If you believe you can kill somebody then that doesn’t make you right on any moral scale. But the people at the bottom are rarely about the hurt, are they? They generally just want something to believe in and perhaps some like-minded company while they do it.

You might read this and reckon I have an agenda, that I’m playing for one of the teams. But I’m not. As I’ve said elsewhere, I find, these days, that I don’t believe in very much of anything at all.

One thing I do believe increasingly, though, is that believing in something is not such a bad thing. A little faith can help you heal yourself, it can comfort you a bit when loved ones go away and it can increase your hope in some kind of ultimate good outcome. It can be quite enviable and quite good to work yourself up into a little faith.

But no matter how strong a thing you manage to nurture this faith of yours into, I think it’s also good to keep some spark in the back of your head that reminds you that you don’t actually ‘know’ anything for sure. You don’t actually ‘know’ shit.

That might help us to keep a little balance.




Doing It To Music

As some of you will know, the blog has a sort of 'outside track' where I occasionally post my attempts at song lyrics.  I generally post them mid-week and I bury them down the posts a bit so they're not easily found and don't hog the front page.

Many of the lyrics come from little twitter exchanges or some phrase I hear and latch onto. One or two of the lyrics have been set to music by talented friends and that has been a source of great pleasure to me. Generally though, they sit here in the murky depths of the blog and mind their own business. That's okay too.

The point is, my lyric writing invariably starts with words. I'm a word person so it's probably understandable that things would kick off there. Besides, I don't have any music to work with. All of which makes me wonder from time-to-time, could I do it to music? Supposing I had no twitter inspiration, no neat phrase to toy with. Supposing I had only a tune...

Last night I was listening to a favorite little tune of mine. 'The Death of Falstaff'  by Patrick Doyle from his lovely soundtrack to Kenneth Branagh's version of Henry V. Here it is on YouTube, in case you don't know it.



The question I posed myself was whether I could write a lyric with nothing but the tune.

I had a go. I left out the middle bit and stuck with the main theme so, when you're singing along (ha) you need to let the awkward middle bit play through before you attempt the last verse.

What I learned is that I can be mawkish. It's a slightly mawkish tune (it's a funeral for God's sake) so maybe that forgives a bit, you tell me. I also confirmed what I feared, that it is terribly easy to slip into cliches and well-trodden imagery. It's a challenge to garner some worthy thought and guide it into the music.

I'll keep trying, I think. If anyone has a spare tune... well, you know.

Here's the lyric. Try singing along to the Youtube clip.

I dare you.


You

You
Were everything to me
But still I couldn’t see
You wanted to be free
Now all alone it’s

You
Who makes the stars seem bright
Who holds me through the night
and tells me it’s all right
To be alone but

You
Made every dream seem real
You showed me how to feel
Now show me how to heal
and live away from
You.

Made every dream seem real
You showed me how to feel
Now show me how to heal
and live away from…



Those Shoes

I saw a guy on the street wearing a pair of those shoes this week.

I say I saw him, I heard him first obviously. 

He was dressed very sharpish and cool and when he ran across the road in between the cars I could tell that he had a pair of those shoes on. Well you can, can’t you? It’s hard not to.

Seeing/hearing him took me right back to when I was a boy. 

I didn’t care anything for clothes or fashion. About the only thing I craved, in that regard, was a jacket with an inside pocket. I wrote about that here if you're bothered. That inside pocket thing wasn’t even about fashion considerations anyway. It was about practical matters such as being able to reach in and pull out important documentation at key moments, like they did in the movies. It was also necessary as a place to keep my toy gun. Up until the other day, I would have said that the inside pocket was the only childhood interest I had in matters of Couture. This guy reminded me though. He reminded my of those shoes.

Those shoes… man, I craved a pair of those shoes.

All the cool guys had them when I was young and there was no doubt in my mind that the having of them made the cool guys ever cooler and thus might have made me even a little bit cool if I could only have gotten a pair. I asked if I could please-please-please have some but I was told that I couldn’t, I was far too young for that kind of thing.

You know the shoes I mean, don’t you?

Sure you do.

Those noisy shoes.

Of course, it wasn’t the shoes per se. It could have been pretty much any pair of shoes, I reckon. It was what you did to them to make them do that Thing. That Thing. To make That Noise… That’s what I craved. That clippy-cloppy noise that the cool dudes all made as they Tony Manero’ed themselves around town of a Saturday afternoon.

Just how cool were they? Precisely as cool as that guy on the street last week who reminded me of them. Every step he took was like an Assault on Planet Earth. It was like he was telling the world, “Behave and have respect, I am noisier and I am way-harder than you.”

I only discovered when I got a bit older that it wasn’t the shoes that made the noise at all, it was the attachments you put on to the underside of them. I don’t know what the world calls them now but we used to call them ‘Tips’. They were steel inserts that were beaten into the soles of your shoes. They were ostensibly employed to protect and add longevity to the footwear but, sod that, nobody believed that crap for an instant. It was all about the Cool. The glorious racket you made wherever you walked. The unbelievably toughness of you.

There was a technique too. Do you remember that? The coolest users of the tips didn’t just settle for a regular ‘clip clop’ down the thoroughfare. Hell no. Every seventh or eight step – a bit like those waves off Devil’s Island in 'Papillon' – these guys would pull off something remarkable. A scrape. Somehow they would effect to drag one or another of their tips along the hard pavement and thus intersperse their marvelous gait with a soul-destroying scratch across the surface of the universe. It was as cool as all-be-damned.

I never got to have tips on my shoes. They passed me by. I’m an adult now and can do whatever-the-hell I like so I guess I could just go out tomorrow and engage my local cobbler to equip me with a set of my very own. I could clip and clop up and down the road and not a soul could touch me for it. I could even possibly learn the scrape…

But I won’t, will I? My moment for tips has gone. I wouldn’t want to draw attention to myself on the street anymore. I really only want to slink past people and into the bakery for a bun.

I am silent and I cling to the shadows.

Noise is now for other people to do.