Sorry, Happy What?

It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m not sure what to say to you.

On New Year's Eve, when I was young, too young to go out and party, my Dad used to take down his twelve gauge shotgun at midnight and go out into the front garden and blaze both barrels into the night sky. Our neighbours would do the same and, for a minute, the street was filled with the clap-clap noises that shotguns make. 

This may sound like criminal, backwoods, behaviour but it wasn’t. The people on our street were fishing people. People who sometimes hunted for their dinner. They came out and made a noise and saluted each other across the gardens then went back into their homes, another year older. 

When I was bigger, and able to get out to parties and dances, those big New Year’s Eve moments were taken up with the kissing of every willing girl in the vicinity. Booming music and flashing lights and a manic scramble from  mouth to mouth. More kisses were exchanged in that ten minute period than would ever be meted out through the entire rest of the year.

These type of celebration had some things in common. They saw off the old year with a little unusual excess. Perhaps more importantly, they allowed little or no opportunity to say anything out loud. You kissed someone or you shot your gun. You didn’t have to speak. 

Perhaps this was no accident. The more the years tick along, and the more we learn, the harder it is to know exactly what one should say when the minute hand finally skids across into another year. We can say what we always say and we can get away with it. ‘Happy New Year!’ We shout it, we whisper it, we mime it across a crowded room and it seems okay. It gets us through the moment. But it doesn’t really stand up to an awful lot of scrutiny, does it?

It’s a tall order, to wish someone an entirely happy new year. It’s a sort of an unattainable goal, like wishing someone a huge lottery win or eternal life. A noble sentiment but, by the very nature of its remove from any reality, it becomes something less than a simple greeting. It becomes almost a kind of a taunt. 

If I wish you a happy new year (and I probably will), we both know, deep down, that you’re probably not going to have one. This isn’t rocket science or even excess negativity. It’s just the way it always is. None of us will have a simply happy new year. The new year, at best, will be like all the other new years. There will be moments of personal sadness and stress. The world will throw up a number of disasters and man made horrors. There will be elements of struggle and worry and fear. There will be good times too, though. Great times, we hope. But it won’t be a happy new year or, on the off chance that it is, then the one that comes after it probably won’t be and next year’s wish will just become the same taunt only slightly deferred.

But I don’t mean to be churlish or petty. Not today. I want to wish you something. I want to wish us all something.

So, can I just wish you a Year? A New Year.

Can I wish that it will be as full of happiness and good things as it possibly can be and can I wish that the bad things, when they inevitably come, are bearable and that they may a least make us a little stronger or wiser or kinder than we were before.

I wish you a year. I wish you 2018. And I wish that we may all be here so that I can wish you a 2019 too, when that finally comes around.

Hmmm… 

Sod it. 

Happy New Year! 

You know what I mean.

The Things We Break In

I don’t have anything major for you this week. 

It is Christmas Eve, after all, and we all have  bigger fish to fry than my little blog. Nothing much here then.  A word, perhaps, about how evasive Christmas has seemed, thus far, this year. An explanation for two week’s of relative radio silence from me. Oh, and a hint towards the meaning of life, right before the end. That shit always seems to go down well, around this time of year.  

Christmas, though. Is it just me or has it been pretty hard to find this year? There have been lots of trappings about, there always is, but, for me at least, very little of whatever mysterious thing actually makes Christmas real. The best practical example of this 'elusiveness despite trappings' that I can think of, is sitting down in our local town square right now. Our town square, here in Castlebar, is quite unusual for Ireland. It is very much modelled on an English village square. Green and tree-lined. A place where people in cricket whites would not seem out of place on a Summer’s evening. For the last few years, the square or The Mall, as we all call it, has been beautifully lit with cold white wintery lights which adorn every tree. This has helped to instantly evoke Christmas for me every time they finally get lit. So much so that I would venture down there last on Christmas Night, when there is not another soul out and about in the world, to luxuriate for a minute or two in the winter silence and the cold light. 

This year, they’ve put an ice-rink on The Mall.. People in scarves and mittens smiling and careening about. A nice idea but, for me, it hasn’t worked. The simple winter paleness of The Mall has been lost to something that feels commercial and slightly out-of-place. It’s probably just me and my Scrooge-like tendencies but I don’t think I’ll be venturing to The Mall tomorrow night to see the dark temporary structure and the leering eerieness of the dark Disney-ridden carnival rides. 

This year, The Mall has roared and shouted Christmas to all who pass by. It has pushed Christmas forcefully into my hands. But still it has trickled through my fingers. Christmas seems to be best found via a whisper or a tiny nudge. That’s what I think anyway. 

But this might be just me and my cold, being miserable. 

Yes, I’ve had a cold. I hesitate to say Flu but, looking back, I think it’s been damn close to come kind of Flu. I’ve kept upright, kept moving, kept working in the run up to the holiday, but there were days when I wasn’t quite sure how I did it. I seemed to move about in a sort of a fever dream, sweating clean through all my clothes and collapsing every evening in shivers, shakes and restless dozes. Perhaps that’s why Christmas has seemed so elusive. It’s been such a struggle to keep upright, perhaps there was no time for anything else.

The Flu thing is largely gone now but it has left me incredibly weakened. Like the proverbial ‘drink of water’. I can do what I need to do but it drains me and leaves me longing for a sit down and a stare at the wall in an all-encompassing way that I am thankfully not at all familiar with. 

I think it might have been Flu all right. Maybe I’ll get one of those jabs next year. It’s certainly been no joke. 

I did eventually find a little bit of Christmas. It happened the other evening when Sam had to be transported to the Church to sing a Winter Carol with his classmates as part of the annual carol service. This may sound a bit like Home Alone or something but there was a real first taste of Christmas in the air inside the church. Not, strangely enough, so much in the carols or the story telling but rather in the hectic preparation for the event. 

We arrived about 45 minutes early and I sat at the back and sweated and stared blankly and then started to enjoy the show. The kids hurrying in and then back out again. The girls in their gospel chic drapes, enjoying the attention they imagined they were getting. The younger brothers and sisters, kicking and wailing against the requirement to wait for everything from bed to carols to the arrival of Santa Claus, still interminable days away. One mother had ill-advisedly decked his little boy out with potent looking desert boots and the little tyrant aimed kicks at everyone and everything who came within his reach. I think his poor Mum must have been black and blue even before the first carol started.

Here, in this mayhem, there was a first hint of Christmas. A hint of preparation for something. A hint of excitement and expectation. Only a tiny hint but a hint nonetheless. 

It all had a sort of 'Owen Meany Nativity' feel to it. If you’ve read the book you might have an idea what I mean. A sort of edgy but good-natured messiness that may come closer to defining Christmas than anything else I can think of.

Perhaps the secret is that you have to seek out and put yourself among people who care about Christmas. Perhaps the feeling cannot be got from TV adverts and shop windows or even from old movies. You have to feel the human touch. Then perhaps the season might arrive. Not sure. I’ll keep you posted. 

So, now, Christmas is upon us. Sam is drumming down the hall and John, newly returned from Paris, is reading in his intent curled-up way in the living room. Trish is making something to hang on the door and I’m in here scribbling away at this. We are together again, a little family reunited. It feels good. 

As I finish up for today I just wanted to mention the ‘meaning of life’ thing. In the height of my fever, last week, I had what I perceived to be quite a deep thought. I was going to write a whole blog post about it last week but I was too sick to function so here’s the gist of it. Make of it what you will. 

About a month ago, I got new shoes. I only ever have one pair and I wear them for all occasions and when they fall off my feet I buy a new pair. Always Doc Marten shoes. They always require a period of ‘breaking-in’. My heels hurt and my little toes get a bit out of joint too. This time it took about two weeks to break the new pair in.

On the fourth week, my new shoes developed a hole. More of a split, really. It was most disappointing. I took them back to the shop and they immediately gave me a new pair. No trouble at all. I went home delighted except for one fairly obvious thing…

Now I would have to break the new shoes in too.

But here’s the thing. Pay attention, now, this is the thing. 

I didn’t have to.

I didn’t have to break in the new-new pair of shoes.  They were okay, they just worked.

And that’s where I had my fever-dream-deep-thought. A thought that I like to imagine nobody has ever had before. 

Here it is, succinctly. Ready?

You don’t break in your new shoes, you break in your feet. 

That’s it. Think about it. 

I think the meaning of life, or at least a clue to it, may be hidden in there. I think it is a sort of a theory of relativity for the way we should be. We don’t break things in, things break us in. 

I’m not going to elaborate, mostly because I can’t. It came from a fever and the fever is gone now and all I am left with is the tiredness and the residue. The ‘Pixie Dust’ of a notion. There’s something there though, isn’t there? 

I can feel it. Can't you?

Happy Christmas to you and yours. 

x



Instead of Sheep

It’s funny, the things that stay with you. You can hear all kinds of things in any given week. Profound things, funny things, angry-making things but it’s always hard to predict which thing will stick in the recesses of your brain and take up residence there. 

This week it was an old song that climbed in there and refused to budge. I only heard it once (well, twice if you’re being picky) and it didn’t start to play on repeat in my brain immediately. It was actually some days later when it showed up and commenced to kick the inside of my cranium. 

I mentioned it very briefly in passing last week. I went to see Castlebar Musical and Dramatic Society  do their annual musical production. This year, it was ‘White Christmas’ and very good it was too. There was the song, right there in the middle of all the proceedings. Ronan Egan is a lovely singer but, even more than that, he get ‘get across’ whatever song he is singing. He can engage you in it and he can rather convince you that he believes what he sings. In one scene, his character meets the little girl, late of an evening, and learns that she is having some trouble getting to sleep. He has some advice for her.

“When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”

Irving Berlin has always been good at writing with the ‘little drop of blood' that I’m always so keen on. So many of his songs are permeated subtly with that element of real sentiment and emotion. It’s no accident that the song ‘White Christmas’ can touch us on some subliminal level when the sentiment floating just below the surface of that tune is one of separation and longing and hope.

From reading up on it a bit, I see that Berlin visited his doctor to discuss his terrible stress and insomnia and his doctor asked him had he tried counting his blessings. From that came the song. And if you want a bit of random trivia that I picked up along the way to this post, Berlin is the only person to ever open an Academy Award envelope and read his own name out.  

When I saw the song performed on stage, the week before last, I pretty much thought it was the high point of the show. Sweet and very touchingly-done. I enjoyed it and then I moved on. Or so I thought. I didn’t expect it to stick around as it has. And, boy, it has.

You’ll expect me now to say something like how I’ve now started to count my own blessings when I’m trying to fall asleep but that’s not quite the story here. For me, the song didn’t suggest that I do something new. Rather, it reaffirmed what I have already been doing for quite a few years now. 

In bed at night, I read my book until the words start to sway and the story starts to intermingle with dreams and then I put the book down. In those potentially troublesome moments when the day’s failings or tomorrow’s stresses can start to seep back in, I always turn my brain to think about how damned lucky I am and I run through some of the myriad reasons why I am so fortunate. That pretty much ends my day. The rest is sleep.

It works too.

And you may well say, ‘Look at that jammy git, he’s got so many great things going on in his life that he’s fast asleep before he’s finished running through them and I do, I really do. But we are all given a mixed bag, aren’t we? I could just as easily start listing off all the uncertainties and concerns that line up down the lane alongside all of the blessings. But that wouldn’t get me to sleep, would it?

Oddly enough, there’s not a single word in the song's advice that applies literally to what I do. I don’t ‘count’, I just sort-of think about things. Neither do I think of them as things that somebody or something has ‘blessed’ me with. I tend to think of the good things in terms of how fortunate I am. So, yeah, I sort of ‘list my luck’ rather than ‘count my blessings’ but even Ronan couldn’t sing that one. 

So thanks to the Castlebar Crew for such a lovely and memorable musical this year. I’m still singing your song in my head and I’ll continue to take the very good advice contained in there for as long as I can. 

A Slight Embarrassment

In a few weeks, it will be ten years since I started writing on this blog. I think I might celebrate by having a crisis of confidence in the whole business. How does that sound? Good, eh?

I can see the signs. Round about now is the time of the week when I sit down and bang out my first draft of the next blog post. A thousand words or so, on something that has occupied my mind in some shape or form through the previous week. That’s the brief. Easy-peasy. There’s inevitably some block of modelling clay in my head already and I just need to throw a little shape on it. And the actual writing of it tends to do most of the heavy lifting in that regard. 

But this week, I’m looking around for excuses not to write anything. I have some good ones too. I’ve covered some miles this week and I’m tired and my eyes feel strained. I’m a bit achy too, I could just stretch out on the couch like that American guy on the adverts. Also, what the hell do I write about? 

I could write about the Castlebar Musical and Dramatic Society production of ‘White Christmas’, which was lovely, but it will be finished its run by the time this goes up, nobody will read it, and I’m bound to leave somebody out of the blog who would deserve a mention so, yeah, probably best not.

I could write about ‘Let The Right One In’, which Sam and me saw at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin last night. A fabulous production. Go and see it, if you can. I actually jumped at one point and I never jump at anything. 

So, yes, there’s things I could write about. There always is. It’s just I don’t really want to. I could do anything with my little bit of free time. I could take a walk around the lake. I could watch something stupid on Netflix. Why write another blog?

Why write yet another blog post?

Well, Ken, there are a number of good reasons. Because you enjoy it. Because you feel better after you’ve done it. Because it helps keep your ‘writing muscle’ trim and exercised. Because, damn it, it’s just a thing you do. 

So why don’t you want to do it?

When I look back over what I’ve already typed here, I think I see at least part of the answer lying half-buried in the text. ‘Nobody will read it,’ I said. That’s kind of a ‘thing’ isn’t it? The fact that nobody will read it. Go on, admit it. 

Okay, it’s kind of a ‘thing’. Nobody’s read the stuff for quite a while, several years in fact. I know this. And, just to qualify the statement a bit, I know you’re there, right now, reading it and, Lord knows I appreciate that. Thanks for stopping by. When I say ‘nobody’, I really mean to say ‘not many at all’. You are a member of an elite group that contains ‘not many at all’. I’m sorry that I don’t have a badge for you or anything.

I bleat on about it. One day, not too long ago, Social Media discovered that we would accept, almost without question, having the stuff we see filtered through to us. I’d say the powers-that-be were delighted at how easily we gave up the right to see everything and anything. Maybe we shouldn’t have lain down so easily but we did and there ain’t no going back from it. So Social Media now invariably directs our eyesight to the great and the good, to the lowest common denominator, to the loud and the colourful. In fairness, they believe these are the things we want and need to see and they are only serving us well by cutting out much of the background noise. In further fairness, if they didn’t, it would be a noisy place. If we saw every lunch photo and every lost hamster plea, we would be mired in the mundane and the everyday and we wouldn’t see the big picture, the overview, the summary, the prĂ©cis, the… truth. They mean well, these Guardians of the Social Media Galaxy or at least we must comfort ourselves that we believe they do. 

The point is, a blog post like this one, with its funny little website link and its tacit implication of built-in mundanity, is what that bad cop in Blade Runner would have called ‘Little People’. To show it around too much would be to add to the white noise that clutters the 'message', the perceived truth. Best not do it. Give it a limited release, like some wacky home made movie. Keep things tight.

This is more an elegy than a complaint. I long to see everything much more than I long for everything to see me. I wonder which of my friends has just shared some meaningful thought or experience that I will never see, just because some committee who neither of us knows, has decided that it doesn’t fit the algorithm. Back in the day, not too many days ago, when I was allowed to see everything that my friends said, I managed okay. I had my own little filter and it seemed to work just fine. I also had the comfort of knowing that the truth I was distilling from the information I received was my own truth, pure and cold and clear. Not some dubious liquid that had already been pissed through several kidneys.

So, when I write my blog post now, it is mostly for my own benefit.

I don’t need readers. I’ve proved that already. I’ve done this for years on the back of a handful of nods and smiles and I’ve enjoyed it. The problem is not a need to be seen. The problem is quite a new one, actually. I don’t think, I’ve mentioned it before. Although I know that not very many people are seeing what I do, there is always the sneaking feeling that they are actually seeing it. That everybody is seeing it and they are just looking the other way.

This brings the new feeling. The not-very-nice one. 

A growing, gnawing, sense of embarrassment. 

It’s like having a simple trick, a coin-vanishing move, and it’s great and cool the first time you do it and even the second and third time. But you keep doing it and doing it. And people smile and nod politely, ‘Yes, I’ve seen that, it’s good.’ And still you keep doing it and doing it. And now, you’re not sure, but you start to feel like people are saying, ‘Shit, here he comes again with his fucking coin trick. Where do I look? What the hell am I suppose to say to him this time?’

I can write and write for ever and I love to do it. I would actively hate it if there was anyone out there who felt they had to read what I write. It would be as bad as someone feeling they had to reply to every damn tweet I ever sent. I love the idea of someone happening past my scribblings now and again and perhaps seeing something they liked. That is my dream. I don’t dream of the ‘constant reader’. I’m not really ‘constant reader’ material because I am stylistically quite unwavering and I tend to mine the same little quarries over and over (‘quod erat…’ etc.). 

I could quit but that’s actually something I find very hard to do. I always struggle to give up on anything. I wear shoes until they fall off my feet. I use an ancient iPod and I won’t stop until it does. I don’t really ever give up. Somewhere in my mind is a loop that says to give up is to fail. 

So when I do finally stop doing this, whenever that is, fear not. It won’t be because Twitter wouldn’t share my posts or because Joe Blogs (ha, ‘Joe Blogs’) didn’t come to read my musings any more. It will be because I finally came to fully believe the subtext, the niggling voice in my head telling me its own truth. That I had far-outstayed my usefulness. That I had become a slight embarrassment.

A big embarrassment, I think I could handle. That actually sounds pretty okay to me. 

But a slight embarrassment might just be too much to bear.