Reflection on a River

Wednesday afternoon saw me sitting on a rock beside a river for five minutes when I really should have been racing on to the next thing. Sitting there, looking down into the coppery water, I was reminded of something from my childhood, something I hadn’t thought of in years. 

Polaroid sunglasses. 

When we were kids, in the early seventies, Polaroid sunglasses suddenly became a huge object of desire. A quick internet search shows that they had been around for a darn sight longer than that but, for whatever reason, an advert campaign or something, they suddenly became hot to us at that time.

It must definitely have been an advert campaign that set us off on our Polaroid fixation because it wasn’t the looks or the image of the product that grabbed us. Oh no. It was one thing and one thing only… the glare reduction.

We lived beside the river, you see, and our summer’s were largely spent wading about in the river, looking for stuff. Eels under rocks, lost lures snagged in weeds, pirates’ treasure. You name it, we were looking for it down there in the brown coppery water.

And we were invariably hampered in our search by the glare on the surface. We couldn’t see through it. We had to feel around blindly beneath the awful shine and hope for the best.

Then, suddenly, there was Polaroid sunglasses and their amazing, truly amazing, ability to cut out the glare on the surface of the river and allow you to see beneath. 

They were right there too, in the local chemist’s shop, on a rotating rack. Too expensive to be owned. We used to offer to pick up prescriptions and such just so that we could stare at them and, if the shop was quiet, perhaps risk trying a pair on. Trying them on wasn’t much use, really though, because there’s wasn’t any watery glare in the shop to try them out on.

Eventually, somebody got a pair. It was one of the older boys, I can’t remember who. The clamour by all the other kids to try his Polaroids out on the river was terrifying but we all got a go. Did they work? Well, yes, they did. Perhaps not as earth-shatteringly well as they did on the telly but still the bottom of the river could be seen and that, for us, was all that mattered in the world at that time. 

That’s what I thought about when I sat down at the river on Wednesday. Polaroids. It was a good little memory that I wouldn’t have got if I hadn’t taken the few minutes to pull over and look into the water.

It had been a stressful day and I was all about racing past the river spot and getting to where I was supposed to be but the sun was shining, I could afford a few minutes, a something said ‘stop’. 

A friend of mine is looking into Mindfulness at the moment. I don’t know anything about it, really, only hearsay and Chinese whispers. If pushed, I would say it’s about being in the moment you are in, without apology and without projecting forward to where you are going or backward to where you have been.

I said I would take this riverside pause to be as ‘in the moment’ as I possibly could be. I took a self-conscious breath and looked around, as hard as I could, at where I was. There was the river, of course, fast flowing and remarkably brown, as if it had come from some iron-rich land. There were reeds, on the further bank, and the place were they entered the water created a little rivulet in the surface which expanded and recreated like a tiny pebble thrown in. There was a bird then, a tiny guy with a red hood over his head. He was busy, darting here and there in a very small region within a clump of bushes. Under the water there was clumps of grass where part of the river bank must have fallen in. The grass down there still seemed to be growing, despite the alien conditions it found itself in. 

Lastly, in a long list of inconsequential things, there was a telltale plop in the centre of the river as a small fish came up and sucked down a surface-ridden bug. It came up again and again and I watched to see if I could see the actual fish as opposed to the spoor of his movement on the surface. Alas I never did. If only I had those Polaroids then.

It was a good exercise, that five minutes out of time. For at least three minutes of it, there was no thoughts of ‘what happens’ next’ or ‘what just happened’. There was only the place and the quiet little things that were going on there.

It’s not something I would tend to do much and, here, I have to confess one element which seemed to enable me to do it was this: my phone had died. The battery had run out, a thing that I never allow to happen. Deprived of the potential for contact from the world at large, I think I felt more licensed to take a Ferris Bueller moment and just look around a bit. 

I’m glad I did. I must do it again sometime soon.

And I must remember to bring some Polaroids. 

Still Harbouring Small Ambitions

From time to time, I come across stories about people who have become successful in their writing endeavours that little bit later in life.

Sometimes these good people explain how they left it horribly late in their existence to get to where they are now. They use this lateness, quite correctly, as an example of how doggedness and tenacity can eventually pay off, even if it does take a very, very long time.

In my experience, these people, well, they’re generally about twenty seven years old.

I wonder sometimes. I just wonder, if they hadn’t cracked it at ‘generally about twenty seven’, would they have still been just as dogged and tenacious at fifty one?

Which is where I am now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of little successes and loads of fun along the road to here. I’ve had plays, audiences, stories and readers aplenty. More than many others have had. I’ve been lucky and, yes, even successful in my own way. But, in my head, I haven’t ever cracked it. Not really. 

So, what do I mean by ‘cracking it’? 

Firstly, there’s lots of things I don’t mean. You don’t get to the age of fifty one without gaining some appreciation of what may be possible and what, patently, is not. That old song from ‘High Society’, ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ could perhaps be adapted to tell the tale.

Who wants a shelf of top ten hits?
I don’t.

Who wants to be the biggest shit?
I don’t.

Who wants to be a J K Rowling Success?
A ‘Rowling Success? ‘Could not want it less.

About that last one… oh, you get the gist.

If I’m honest, really honest, here’s what would constitute ‘cracking it’ for me.

To write something that would allow me the economic time and the space to be able to write the next thing. And, in turn, for that next thing to enable me to write the next. And so on.

I know it’s a very common refrain. “I would love to write but I haven’t got the time.” I know that song but it’s not mine. I don’t have enough time but still I make time. I carve it out of someplace whenever I can. But I crave more time. And, truth be told, I’m a bit haunted by what I could do with that ‘more time’, if I had it.

Time and space to write how I want to write and an audience of some sort to partake in it. That would do very nicely, thanks. That would be ‘cracking it’.

I’m fifty one and, no, I’m not particularly dogged or tenacious. But I haven’t given up either. You do come to a gentle realisation, at this stage, that you’ll probably never truly crack it. But, still, I work on as best I can. Writing, and dreaming-up and re-writing and re-dreaming-up. I have to, really. It’s in my blood. There’s simply no choice in the matter.

These days, I reckon that I can write better than I could ever write before. Plus I’ve got a shed-load of life experience. There’s still time and energy and there’s still the will, too. 

To do what, though? 

To write something really good. That’s what. Not to get rich or famous. Not to be envied, feared or respected. 

Just to… get it written.

My first SPECTRE Lyric Attempt

Long before Skyfall appeared, I tried writing a lyric for the theme tune, just for my own entertainment. You can see that one here

This predated Adele's by quite a bit but I was pleased to see I had hit a few of the thematic points more-or-less right.

Here's my first attempt at a SPECTRE one. 

My main theorem is that you can't just call it SPECTRE.

A New Threat Arises

It’s warm in the shadow
Safe in darkened sky
But a new threat arises
And it’s time now to fly.

To stay would be everything
If only to try
But a new threat arises
And it’s time now to die

A Spectre is growing
Across troubled land
Eternity turns
In the palm of one hand.
To run would be easy
To hide in plain sight
But a new threat arises 

The horizon is calling
Through fast growing gloom
I would stay with you silent
In the dark of the moon.
But the wolves are cut loose
I am called to the fight
And a new threat arises 

Sleep until daybreak
Alone as you lie.
For a new threat arises
And it’s time now to die.

Trials of Life in The Back Garden

Our living room looks out into the back garden, which is a great thing. It means there’s no human beings walking past to look in and be looked back at. There’s only sky and fence and a couple of trees.

And the shed.

There’s a shed there too. You could call it a garage, I suppose, but there’s no room for a car in there, what with all the ‘stuff’ that’s piled up in it. I emptied it out once but the stuff all came back, over time. 

So I guess it’s just a shed now but it’s a solid one, made of concrete blocks and with a real roof on it and a window and eaves.

And there’s a hole in the eaves.

And therein lies the rub.

A pair of Blackbirds have found the hole in the eaves and squeezed their way through it and set up home inside the roof of the shed. In their comings and goings, they have made the hole bigger so now it’s pretty easy for them to get in and out. They’re like ‘Karma Chameleon’. All day long, they come and go, they come and go.

I really like to watch them. Last year it was Magpies in the tall tree. The male kept coming down and fighting with his reflection in the window, which was fun for a while but got tiresome at 6.30 in the morning. The blackbirds don’t fight with the glass but they do have a penchant for flying into it. Twice, now, they've come slamming into the window and then fluttering off again, amazingly intact. Birds in other years have killed themselves by flying hard into the glass like this but these ones seems to manage only glancing blows and then they carry on regardless.

At the moment, it’s all twigs and bits of moss being transported into the shed. I suppose that means there’s no eggs yet but I’m no David Attenborough, despite the title of the piece. I’m hopeful that, soon, there’ll be worms and grubs on the transport into the roof space and, some time after that, a fledgling’s head peeping out of the gap. There is some pleasure in the prospect of that.

But there is a cloud on the horizon.

The Crows. 

The Crows have now found the gap in the eaves too. They have pecked and worried at it and made it more their size and then they have heaved themselves inside while the Blackbirds sit on the ridge and revile them fruitlessly. 

The Crows take their own sweet time inside and, when they come out, their beaks are primed with the hard-gained material of the Blackbirds’ nest. Once or twice, a Blackbird had tried to fend them off from within but the Crows are tenacious, hanging upside-down outside the eaves gap by their claws and fighting back with effortless force. 

When they are finally gone, the residents get collecting again, rebuilding their nest with a foolish optimism that reminds me a bit of myself.

I haven’t seen the Crows visit the gap in over a day now. The hope is that they have got what they wanted and will now leave the blackbirds alone to roost in peace. But that’s rather a vain hope, I reckon. My worry is that the Crows have now marked the place as one which can provide a morbid feast in the weeks to come and that, with inherent calculation, they will return when the hard work is done and the chicks are fattened and then, alas, they may sup.

I watch and hope with fascination. I could go out and try to scare the crows away, when they return, but then don’t I risk scaring the Blackbirds off too?

I think I’ll have to let it play out and I sense the inevitability of it all. Still, life continues to prevail somehow, against considerable odds so perhaps the Blackbirds will see their Springtime endeavour out to a successful conclusion.

I live in hope. 

I'm Positive Pussy Won't Tell

When I thought about it earlier in the week, I said to myself, “You’re doing a blog post on Easter Sunday, this year, so try to think of something relevant and good to say.”

Then I thought, “Wait, you do a blog every Easter Sunday because you always blog on a Sunday and Easter Sunday always falls on a…”. You get the gist.

Seriously, though, I wanted to see if I could evoke a memory or something related to Easter Time so I dredged deep in my mind to see what I could scrape out of the mud.

What came up was a scramble of memories that I didn’t even know were down there. Not about Easter Sunday, per se, but rather about the week that followed on from it.

Feis Week.

Because you may not know, a ‘Feis’ is an Irish Festival of Culture, primarily music, dancing, singing and, um, reciting stuff. It’s pronounced ‘Fesh’ so now you can read along with impunity. Our local Feis, Feis Shligigh, or ‘Sligo Feis’ was always held in that week after Easter Sunday. Frankly, to a young kid on his holidays, it was a colossal pain in the arse. As I have covered elsewhere in these pages, I was forced and cajoled into learning to play the accordion as a nipper and now, in this post Easter Holiday, I was required to tout my non-existent talent around hotel foyers and draughty halls, where I would bang out a defiant rendition of ‘The Minstrel Boy’ and then bugger off home, quite correctly un-rewarded.

But that’s not the memory I uncovered. I remember the accordion years all too well. Way back, before I had ever strapped on the buttoned wheeze bucket, I was a regular at the Feis. In truth, I was a bit of a star. And I had forgotten this, quite forgotten it, until I went dredging.

When I was six, or seven, or something like that, I used to be brought to the Feis, not to play or dance or sing but to recite verse. Recitation.

Why? I don’t know. I don’t think any of my brothers and sisters had been a part of this particular requirement. Perhaps the nuns in my school saw some fledgling talent for room-hogging and squeaky proclamation. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I would learn my little verse, turn up at the hall and give my performance along with a myriad of other Easter-egg deprived mites.

You would think that the verse in question would be Gaelic and Feisty and such or perhaps Mist-Laden and Romantic and Wistful, as we Irish are sometimes seen to be. But no. Looking back, the verses that were chosen for us were quite English and Middle Class and slightly Affluent, lots of things that we patently were not.

Oddly, although the detail of the events are now faded and worn, the words I had to speak are not. It is no stretch at all to, right now, verbatim, recall the verse I had to recite. Although I started off, year one, with a thing about kittens losing mittens – a hateful thing where I was required to ‘miow’ and ‘purr’ like a feckin’ gobshite. In the subsequent year, I moved on reciting a verse called ‘The Secret’ by Anon. Here it is, from memory.

I’ve got such a wonderful secret
Would you like to know it as well?
I told it to Pussy this morning
And I’m positive Pussy won’t tell.

Last night I crept in to the Study
Nobody knew I was there.
I saw a magnificent teddy
Under Daddy’s armchair.

Now, Daddy’s too old for a teddy
And Baby’s only three.
I’ll be five tomorrow
And I think that teddy’s for me.

I know, ‘awwww’, right?

You see what I mean, too, about how unrelated to our West of Ireland lives this verse-reciting exercise was. Kittens with Mittens and Teddys in Studys were not the inescapable facts of our everyday lives. That was much more about duffel coats, street football, and horizontal rain.

I must have been quite good at this reciting lark for, as I recall, I invariably came second in all of these recitation competitions. The same boy always came first and I swear I cannot now remember his name. He lived up Church Street and was in the class behind me. He was good, damn good but, looking back, I think he had the better material to work with and that’s what won out in the end.

He invariably recited ‘Vespers’ by AA Milne or, as we knew it back then, ‘Christopher Robin is Saying His Prayers’. (I had to look up the Vespers part). As with so much of Milne’s writing, it is a perennial charming piece.

"Oh! Thank you, God, for a lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say?
I said "Bless Daddy," so what can it be?
Oh! Now I remember it. God bless Me."

This gentle sentiment, imbibed with Milne's unerring humour, used to slay them at the Sligo Recitation Feis. I wish I could have had a go at it, one of my years, but alas it was not to be.

Why was I up there, when my brothers and sisters were not? That is the question I am left with. I like to think that Mum saw some inkling of a desire to perform and ‘story-tell’ even at that young age. It’s a nice warm thought.

I know at the time, I would rather have been at home with the remnants of my Easter Egg, watching ‘The White Horses’. Now, though, as I think back, the dredged-up recollection reminds me how very many facets there are to our little lives and how each, even though they may be long forgotten, can go on to be a real part of who we eventually become.

Have a nice day. Get some air, if you can.