Ouch


I didn’t do a blog post last week.

In fact, I’ve been away and I just got back. I spent ten idyllic days touring the windswept islands of Pain and Discomfort and, although it had its moment, I’m glad to be home again.

The weekend before last (Gosh, that sounds so long ago) was a Bank Holiday. I think my face must have known that and fancied a bit of mischief because, on Friday evening, just after everything useful had closed up for the weekend, one of my teeth started to kick off big time.

My teeth are generally very well behaved. They chew up all the dubious stuff I shove in there and they assist me greatly with the quality of my everyday smiling. But, once in a blue moon, one or another of them acts up and, when that happens, prompt action is required.

But there is no prompt action possible for a regular toothache on a Bank Holiday weekend or indeed, as it turned out, in the week after when my dentist – the best dentist in the world – is on a very well-deserved break. It’s was Friday before we finally got to meet up, my world-beating dentist and me, and even then the solution was not clear cut.

I have a thing, you see. I think a lot of people have it. I think a lot of people have a lot of my things. This particular thing is that I find it hard to accurately identify where my tooth pain is emanating from. I know it’s on the left-hand side, that much accuracy I can manage, but it gets difficult after that. Is it on the top or bottom? Back tooth or second-to-back tooth? It’s hard to be sure and, in fairness, the X-Ray machine was finding it similarly hard to be certain-sure too. So on that Friday visit we did what we could, using the fairly useless data I could provide. Some potential fixes were applied, fingers were crossed that these fixes would do the trick, and I went back to work.

Round about the time that everything closed up for the weekend, it was becoming increasing clear that the fixes were not going to do the trick. For that second weekend, I kept a diary of discomfort. By the time I got back to the world’s best dentist on Monday, my diary ran to four pages, the last page written on both sides… so that’s five pages, Ken.

I don’t want you to feel too bad for me. Hell, I really don’t want you to feel bad at all, I’m just writing here. The pain was by no means unremitting. In fact, it came in distinct waves, each of which lasted for ten minutes or so. The discomfort presented itself with a cheery initial, “Hello, here I am again,” followed by a fast increase in intensity and then a five-minute 'full on' session of hiding away somewhere with head in hands, wincing quietly, then finally a fade away and gone… until the next time two or three hours later.

Amazingly enough, even as I prepared to see the dentist again on Monday last, I still didn’t know which tooth was menacing me so. But before I went back, I made a concerted study of my mouth. Where was the pain? No, where was it really? If I could only tell TBDITW which tooth it was, then she could really help me. So I went to work and finally, after a series of grimace-inducing tooth clenches and a programme of solid taps with a biro on the suspect locations, I finally knew for sure where the errant tooth was. (It was lower left, right at the back (Wisdom Tooth) in case the lack of this knowledge might keep you up nights.)

I sashayed into the dentist’s office with my now redundant discomfort diary and the solid knowledge that I knew the where the troublesome tooth was. In 30 minutes she had me all fixed up.

I had promised myself that the world would be a fabulous place once the pain had gone. Everything would be in 70mm surround sound, 3D, with buttered popcorn. Everything would glow and shine. In actuality, I was something of a jumping twitchy hot mess for a fair few days after. Disaster seemed to lie around every corner and nothing was particularly good. I’m fine now again. I’m out the far side. Thank you for your concern.

But pain… man, pain…

I’ve written about it before elsewhere in these pages. I don’t think it’s necessarily right to simply say that people who deal with pain on an everyday basis are brave per se. We have to play the cards we are dealt if we are to stay in the game. But, here’s one thing for sure, those people who live everyday with pain and who still manage to find joy and pleasure and personal development in their lives… they are truly brave. I see a number of such wonderful people almost daily on my social media meanderings. They get more done that I ever do. They see more and treasure more than I ever do. And they are in constant pain.

Kudos, people, you know who you are.

Me in pain, on the other hand, is a rather inward-looking miserable person. Largely silent. Not really caring much about others or about the bigger picture. Just struggling to get through and wishing it was all bloody gone and secure in the knowledge that one day soon it will be. A luxury that many people do not have.

So, apart from a rather boring account of me and my fairly average toothache, perhaps this post can also be taken as a hat-tip to those of my friends and family who deal with this shit all day, every day and who do so much better than I will ever do. They minimise the amount of time they dwell on it and maximise their lives.

I’m reminded of actor Jim Kelly who played Williams in ‘Enter the Dragon’. When asked (by The Evil Han (who else?)) about the possibility of eventual defeat, he replied.


                                         *                               *                                    *

The title of this piece, ‘Ouch’, can also refer to that other pain that lingers around these days.

On Friday last, it was the shared birthday of two of my bestest friends, both alas gone too soon. Dear Una and Dear Simon, both of whom did so much better with their own trials than I did with my meagre toothache. Although they didn’t know each other, both are being remembered with joy on this their birthday weekend.

That part, at least, is as it should be.

The Ocean is a Harsh Mistress



That title makes it sound like this will be some kind of a high-falutin’ thing but I promise you it won’t be. In fact it may be the least high-falutin’ thing you read all day. How’s that for a boast?

The title is a nod to a great song. ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ by Jimmy Webb. My pal Warren Bennett put me on to the Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny version which is now a firm favourite of mine. You can click on the picture above and listen to it while you're reading if you want. The whole album is a great listen.

The title of the song is also the title of a book by Robert A Heinlein. Heinlein was the first writer I ever took out of the Adult Library after, aged twelve, I finally got my grown up ticket. There was a big monster on the cover. That did it for me.

My title may be a variation of the song and book title but it's also true. The Ocean is indeed a harsh mistress. As usual, I'm probably not telling you anything you don't already know. As Bob Dylan once sang, “You’ve known it all the time, I’m learnin’ it these days.”

Let’s get to it. It won’t take long.

This week, I had some work to do at a place down by the sea. Just for a day, well, a few hours actually. Drive down, do it, drive back again. As it turned out, the day I picked for my little mission was one of those glorious days.  Sunshine, blue skies, all that good stuff.

Knowing it was going to be lovely and knowing I’d be there a while; I stopped into a garage and bought some lunch. A two-euro tuna salad sandwich, reduced because it was right on its sell-by date, a can of 7-Up Zero and a bar of Cadbury’s Mint Crisp. This last item might be a mystery to some of you as I don’t think the Mint Crisp is available everywhere. Let me just assure you that it is a wonderful thing and you should seek it out if you can.

So, I did the thing I had to do. I kept the head down and worked pretty hard and, all the time, I had my peripheral vision on the sea. I promised myself that, when I was done, I would take my soggy sandwich and my can of pop and my Mint Crisp and I would go down to the sea and sit a while and munch and enjoy the day.

The time came. I went to the car to retrieve my vittles. The sun had played her part. The tuna was warm, the once freezing can of pop was fast losing its cool and, worst of all, the Mint Crisp was flaccid in its wrapper, melted and liquefied.

Undeterred (well, maybe a little deterred) I took myself down to the ocean’s edge. It was there that I had my idea. The day might have been warm but the Atlantic Ocean, the edge of which I now stood upon, was unfailingly cold. I could put my Mint Crisp into the Ocean, weigh it down with a rock, leave it a while, and then remove it, restored to solidity once more.

It was a good plan. I did it.

I rested the bar of chocolate in two inches of clear ocean water and put two rocks on top of it to stop it from moving around. Then I went back a few paces from the oceans’ edge, sat on a rock, and ate my warm tuna.

Here’s the thing and maybe you can guess it. It had crossed my mind as a sort of a joke but I didn’t think it could really happen.

But it did.

When I went back to the ocean’s edge to retrieve my Mint Crisp, it was nowhere to be found. It was gone.

Oh I know what you’re thinking now. The old fool lost track of where he put it in the water and he went back to another place. In fairness, there might be some truth in that but I wasn’t more than a foot or two out and I paced up and down scanning the water for my bar of chocolate and not a single square of it could I find.

When I realised what had happened, I felt foolish that such an obvious thing had passed me by but I also felt something else. I felt how quietly and quickly the effect had crept up on me.

Effect? What Effect?

You know what effect.

The tide.

The tide had eased on in as I was eating my sandwich and sipping my 7-Up. I only took a few minutes and you wouldn’t think the tide would advance so far in so short a time. But it did. I know for sure it did because I marked a coloured stone in my head as I searched for my Mint Crisp and even in the short time that I hunted for it, this coloured stone became first covered and then distant and then lost in the Ocean.

This is what had happened to my Mint Crisp. Slowly and quietly and without being noticed, the Ocean had swallowed it whole.

The Ocean is a harsh mistress. It advances on you without you ever noticing. While you look the other way, it will dampen your soles and cover your shoes and, if you dally long enough, it may even ease you away from the shore. It will drag you down if you don't keep a weather eye on it.

A bit like some other things I could mention.

Give me a Clue


People who drive have largely given up on using their indicators and it’s driving me mad.

On every street in every city there's a nobody who won't tell us about their next manoeuvre. 

I’ve learned to enunciate my swear words very clearly so that these drivers can clearly lip read my displeasure as they swing across in front of me without any prior hint of their intentions. For sure, they know a lot more about my emotional state then I know about where they intend to go next.

Even worse than the hoards of cretins who never use their indicators are those who switch on their flashing light when they are already half-way around the corner. What earthly use is that to anyone? I’ve already had to stomp on my brakes to avoid you. What’s the point of telling my you’re going to turn after you’ve already gone and done it?

It’s always been a thing but now it’s become more and more and more and more. People are buzzing all over the gaff and not giving a solitary damn about who might benefit from knowing about it.

Neither does this ill behaviour break down usefully in terms age or wealth or gender or anything else easy like that. Old and young, male and female, rich and poor, all are making their right hand turns with no regard for anyone but themselves.

Ironically enough, it’s indicative of something, this lack of indication.

We have all become increasingly self-interested and inward looking. If it doesn’t directly help us, we don’t bother doing it. Occasionally, we are guilted into some communal action by the news or by some little girl on the news. Then we flick those metaphorical flashers for a moment and feel great about how thoughtful and community-driven we all are.

Bollocks.

The unused indicator is all the indication we need. We have become a world of crude metaphorical cartoon ostriches, our heads either up our own asses or up the ass of the ostrich in front of us. We rarely think of anybody else and if we do, it’s invariably too late when it finally occurs.

The use of the indicator on your car is an outward-thinking gesture. It shows some awareness of the people who share the world around you, who are only trying to make their way safely home.

The use of the indicator doesn’t mean you have to stop and bring these people home and feed them and show them something on Netflix. None of that. It just means you care a little that they get there safely. That you are willing to do a tiny bit to make their existence a little more navigable, a little more bearable.

The use of your indicator shows that you still care a tiny bit about somebody or something other than your own ridiculous self.

So put your indicator on.

You prick.

I Like the Two Seat Option on the Train


I like the two-seat option on the train. I always try to book one of those seats which just has one other seat beside it and none across a little table from it. That’ll do me, thank you very much.

I had one on the train to Dublin on Thursday morning. I was right in beside the window and I spent nearly all of the journey listening to some podcasts and watching the landscape slide past. There was lots to see. Thousands and thousands of lambs, jumping and running and suckling at their mothers, their tails going nineteen to the dozen.

The two-seat option provides a defensible space. Someone may come and sit beside you but it is only one person on one side and that can be managed. The four-seat option (with table) is probably great fun when you’re part of an actual party of four or perhaps even three. When you’re on your own, the four-seat option (with table) so often leaves you feeling like the odd one out. That or you get a nun. I used to get a nun across from me a lot and she could smile all she wanted; it was still a bit freaky.

So, yeah, two seats good, four seats bad.

On the journey home on Thursday, I was in a four-seater. At Athlone, the one quiet person who had been sitting across from me hurried off the train. Ever since I had offered her one of my Rolos she seemed to be of the impression that I was some kind of weirdo. Heavens knows why, it wasn’t like it was the last one or anything.

As she got off, a mother and her two sons got on. They took the other three seats of my foursome. I was clearly the 25% of the equation now so I buried deeper into my book and plugged my earphones in a little tighter.

The two boys were… what ages were they? Maybe twelve and eight, something like that. They were a bit loud and lively. They sat across from each other and engaged each other in various forms of banter and taunting. Mum looked like she hadn’t slept since they were born, she kept a gentle but firm maternal paw on both of them, easing them back if they went too far.

I smiled and nodded and left it at that. Again I watched the landscape as it passed. I recognised animals and other things I had seen this morning on the outward journey. They would still be there tomorrow.

I suppose I was slightly uncomfortable with the tight little family unit at my four-seat enclave although, of course, I had no right to be. I wished I’d booked my two-seater, as I thought I had.

With about half an hour left in the journey, a general lethargy sets in to the train population. The two boys had burned up various entertainment options including noughts and crosses, mobile phone video inspection, and some messy little game where you name things from a particular letter of the alphabet and write them down.

The younger of the boys was sitting diagonally across from me. I think he was a bit intrigued that I was so silent and unengaged. I think I was probably a bit surprised myself. I usually engage too much and that’s one of the reasons why I prefer the two-seaters.

I had my inevitable penny to mark the page in my book. It sat on the table between us. I pushed the penny towards the young fella and pointed towards it with my index finger. He looked at me and looked at it and then looked at me once more. Then I passed my open hand over the coin and vanished it. It’s a pretty simple manoeuvre when you know it but the effect is still a bit startling when you don’t expect it. The boy looked stunned. I put the coin back and then vanished it again. The boy gave it a try. He couldn’t do it. Then I showed him how it was done – a very basic thing.

He spent the rest of the trip trying to master the simple trick and by the time he arrived he had it pretty much perfect. I let him keep the penny.

As we got off the train, he kept looking back at me. The two boys had reminded me of my own boys, the age gap being almost the same.

We hadn’t exchanged a single word in the whole transaction, that little family and me. I had smiled after showing the trick, mostly to reassure Mum that I wasn’t a threat to anyone. She has smiled back, an entire little world of fatigue in her eyes.

Perhaps, for a while, I would be the magic man on the train for that wee fella.

I’d kind of like that.

Sometimes, the four-seat option ain’t so bad.


The Joy of Being Decried


This is fresh. It only happened the day before yesterday.

I had to leave the office for a quick visit to a place a few doors down. It was Friday afternoon and I was a bit full of the joys. On the way, I met a group of three people coming towards me. 

I knew them so I gave them a greeting. I might have been a bit over-effusive, in retrospect, but hey it was a lovely day and the weekend was fast approaching.

So I sped past these good people, my words doubtless still ringing in their ears, and I went in and did my little bit of business.

That business was transacted way quicker than I thought it might be. To my surprise, I found myself back on the path to my office within two minutes flat.

The people who I had said 'hello' to were now just ahead of me again. They must have stopped to look in a shop window or perhaps to punctuate some point in their conversation. Whatever the reason, I found myself gaining on them yet again, as I had done a few scant moments before.

But, me being me, and odd as anything sometimes, I didn’t want to overtake them again. Perhaps I felt I had used up my best conversational ploy at my first encounter. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I hung back a little behind them. The door to my office was only a few more paces along, I could slip in without them ever knowing I was there.

So there I was, keeping pace a little behind, in that pre-weekend sunshine, when I started to tune in to the conversation that was being had up in front.

One of the three was saying, “He’s really very nice.”

Another was saying, “I know that, I know. It’s just the constant brightness. I just find it so bloody tiring.”

And then I realised. They were talking about me.

I had reached my door. I opened it and went quickly inside. I certainly didn’t want to be spotted now that I realised I was the subject of conversation. I got in and closed the door behind me. They never knew I was there.

That’s the end of the story, really. Whatever comes after this is just me editorialising.

First off, I’m pretty sure they were talking about me. Two of them were sticking up for me and one was continuing the point that I am a bit of a fucking pain in the arse. That’s all good. I don’t tend to think that person is wrong. I have no gripe. I am a pain in the arse.

In truth, the only even slightly interesting thing about this tiny event is how I reacted to it after I got behind the safety of my door. I was elated, delighted, surprisingly raised up. I got such an honest-to-god buzz out of hearing someone berate me, admittedly in the most gentle of terms.

I wonder why.

I think it’s because I feel I am quite a lightweight person, really. Easy going, usually trying to be nice and do the right thing. Boring, not-a-force-to-be-reckoned with. That sort of thing. To hear someone say that I annoyed them seemed to somehow grant me a little more weight, a little more gravitas, in my own eyes. Suddenly I am a person who can annoy people. I am an annoyance. It really felt like the best news I had heard all day.

There is a possible second reason. I’ve written about it elsewhere in these pages. It's here actually. 

When I was young, maybe ten or so, I walked behind two ladies who were complaining roundly about my Dad, about how he always came around collecting the rent with such an annoyingly cheery disposition.

So, yeah, now I'm annoyingly cheery, just like my Old Man?

i think I’ll have me a piece of that.

Bum, Belly, and Me

A tiny verse from a tweet I saw.


Going out to have some fun
And what you get is what you see
This show is going to run and run
My bum, my belly, and me.

Going out to paint the town
And if you find you don’t agree
The three of us will track you down
My bum, my belly, and me.

Life is very short and there’s no time
For belly-bum fighting my friend
I have always thought that it's a crime,
So I will tell you once again.

Going out to live it up
And what will be will tend to be
We’ll all drink deep of life’s sweet cup
My bum, my belly, and me.


The Newborn Identity by Twisteddoodles

It’s Mother’s Day (Happy Mother’s Day) so perhaps it’s appropriate that I am writing today about a book that has just been published by one of the best mothers I know. Apart of course from my own Mum and my lovely Wife, Mother of my Children 

(Hi Patricia, Happy Mother’s Day, you’re a star x).

‘The Newborn Identity’ is a diarised account of Maria Boyle’s first year of parenthood when, along with her inestimable husband, Colm, she became parent to two lovely twin girls and nurtured them towards toddlerhood.

I like Maria a lot. She is one of the few people in the world who I have walked up and down the Galway Promenade with, chatting all the way such that the time seemed as nothing. She also has the rather dubious claim to fame of being the only person on Twitter who I ever asked to follow me back. That was about ten years ago and I just thought that she was such fun and so clever that I wanted to be part of her dialogue rather than just a spectator. That worked out well as I’ve enjoyed her online presence ever since.

She even created an avatar/picture for my twitter account which I used with great pride for many years. I eventually had to give up because she had made me so ridiculously and incorrectly handsome that the disappointed faces of people who met me in person became too hard for me to bear. I still treasure the drawing though.

Maria and I have one other thing in common. I think it may be the tie that binds. We both have busy and demanding professional and family lives but we both also have a very real drive to be creative, to explore life through some form of art, to entertain.

That’s why this book is a particular delight to me, quite apart from the fact that it is a delight on many other levels too. Too see Maria continually succeed like this is a justified delight.

Maria started Twisteddoodles as an outlet for her iconic and savagely witty online comics. The work quickly went viral and became admired far and wide. The cartoons cast a warm and particularly Irish view on everyday life, the themes veering from tiny to huge at the drop of a hat. If there is an overriding impression of the work, for me a least, it can be summed up in a single word: Truth. I see the comics and the cartoons and I laugh and smile and I say to myself ‘God, that’s so true.’ Or else I shake my head gently and say ‘Yup, she’s done it again, that’s the truth.’ Truth seems to inform everything Maria creates. There is very little guile involved in her creative work. She will tell it to you like it is. That may be wildly funny or even a little crude but the effect of the undiluted truth is that it will strike you in your heart and in your memory and it will make you feel something. That is why Twisteddoodles is the viral sensation that it is.

So now, from this creative endeavour, comes her brand new book, ‘The Newborn Identity’. As a Facebook follower, I was lucky enough to see quite a few of the book’s diary entries appear in ‘real time’ on that social platform. They had an immediacy and a startling sense of love and crisis that hauled you along with them emotionally. You share Maria’s joy, laugh at the funny moments, and feel genuinely gutted throughout the long sleepless nights that many of us might have experienced but perhaps not with twins.

The new book arrives with all of the joy of the Twisteddoodles cartoons, coupled with Maria’s diary entries, starting with learning she was pregnant right through to when the girls are a year old.

Once again, the keyword for me is truth. The creative work has lost nothing in its amalgamation into a book. In fact, the book has very effectively corralled the work into a flowing and involving narrative which grabs you and drags you along and doesn’t let you go.

And you don’t want to be let go. The account of this year of bodily changes, childbirth and motherhood is hilarious and visceral, exhausting and fulfilling, all at the same time. And always there is the truth. You can tell that Maria is not trying to play you or make you feel one thing or another, she is simply telling it like it was and this unerring honesty makes the book doubly funny, doubly warm and doubly good.

Shining out from the book is the fact that Maria is a great person. Endlessly smart, precociously talented and filled to the brim with the love and fear that makes us human. But the subtle prize in the book is her husband, best friend, and partner. Colm is a constant presence: understated, patient and eternally supportive. But he is so much more than that. He is a blindingly funny guy and his presence in the book is one of a loving and benevolent genius who stands by with a copious supply of wit and wry humour.

I really like the book. If I didn't know Maria from Adam, I would still really like the book. Much of human life is in there, the joy and the struggles, and it’s all told by a very unique and eloquent voice.

I found my copy in the Maternity section of the bookshop. There’s a place for it there, although prospective mothers and fathers may be a little dismayed by the copious levels of poo that’s involved.

But there’s a place for it on many other shelves too. If there’s a shelf for writing true stuff about life, if there’s a shelf for making the reader coil up with silent laughter, if there’s a shelf for unique voices in literature, put it on there too.

I am utterly delighted to see Maria continue to expand her creative genius out into the world. Check her out online and here in this extremely funny, entertaining, heartfelt – and true - book.

She’s a person worth knowing.

Precious Lost Hours


Imagine if there had been some kind of crime committed last Tuesday evening between 7.15 pm  and 10.45 pm in Dublin. Imagine I was a suspect and they sent a police officer out to ascertain my whereabouts and to investigate my alibi.

-What did you find out about Armstrong, Officer Dibble?

-He has no alibi, Sir.

-What?

-There was nobody with him.

-For the entire three and a half hours? Where was he?

-Dunno, Sir.

-You… don’t know?

-He can’t really say, Sir. He was ‘around’. ‘Here and there’.

Last Tuesday night, there was a gig in The Olympia in Dublin and I brought Sam to see it. We met with John, his brother, my other son (get it?) and some other pals and off they went. Between 7.15pm, when they went in, and 10.45, when they came back out again, I was all alone in Dublin with nobody to see and nothing to do.

So what did I do?

It would seem obvious that I would have spent some of the time in a restaurant or a coffee shop. Lingering over a bun or a book. But no, we ate before the gig. I had a take-away coffee from a place, quite late on, but that was all.

I must have met somebody, we must have had a good old chat. Maybe we had a pint. Nope and nope and nope. I was driving home later that evening so there was no alcohol. Also I’m pretty shy about announcing that I am in Dublin and arranging to meet people. I don’t really do that.

So, by now, you may start to share some of the frustration of poor Officer Dibble who only really wanted to exclude me from the investigation because I seemed nice.

Where did I go?

What did I do for all those hours?

I wandered around. That’s what I did. I walked up one street and down another. I cut up little streets and alleys to see what was up there. I looked in shop windows and peered up at new buildings under construction.

Basically, I slowed down for a few hours.

And it was great.

Life is pretty full-on, for me at least. There’s quite a lot of coming-and-going. There’s stuff to be thought about and worried about and acted upon. But at 7.15pm on Tuesday evening, I was released from all that. I could just ‘drift’. So that’s what I did, I drifted.

I wasn’t bored. I wasn’t wishing time would move a little quicker so that the concert would be over and I could get back on the long drive home. None of that. If it had been raining, it would have been different. More awkward. But it was a lovely evening with a promise of spring in the air and I ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’, as you do sometimes. Right?

It’s not as odd as it might sound. I kept myself entertained. I watched some buskers. I chatted for quite a long time to a huge bouncer outside a bar in some alleyway somewhere. He had a degree in Economics and liked to wind up the clampers who happened by.

Here's one little thing I did which might serve as a microcosm of my evening.

At one point, somewhere down near Pearse Street, I found a pedestrian light that made a sort of fast paced ‘duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh’ noise when it was time to cross. After I realised that the ‘duh-duhs’ were in perfect time with the ones in the song ‘Don’t You Want Me, Baby?’ by The Human League, I hung around for a while, running the tune in my head and enjoying the tiny serendipity of my discovery.

Try telling that one to Officer Dibble. See where it gets you.

This kind of cutting adrift in the big city might not seem entirely safe or even entirely sane but I find it does me a little good. An occasional slipping of the gears, letting the car roll downhill gently under its own steam. No engine noise, no real purpose. It allows time for a little perspective to be recovered. It reminds me that the world is a much bigger place, with a lot more people in it, than I normally acknowledge.

It’s just good.

And the gig was super too, apparently, which was also pretty good.

The Half-Life of Chips


There is a Golden Moment in the life of a takeaway chip. You just have to be there for it. You have to be ready.

You are handed your bag of chips over the tall tile and aluminium counter. You reach up and it comes down to you from on high. I won’t say like manna from heaven but you get the gist. You hand over your money. The exact amount, if possible, you can’t miss the Golden Moment on account of having fussed with change.

You leave the takeaway, nodding to those who are waiting, smiling sympathetically at those who are still wondering if everyone has their shout in. The door closes behind you.

Now you either climb into your car or start the walk home. Let’s explore the car option, which is my own life, my own experience. I never walk with my chips. This statement describes precisely how posh I am.

You get into your car and place the chips on the passenger seat beside you. It is time to ferry these puppies home so that your waiting family can enjoy them as hot and as fresh as is humanly possible.

But wait. Bide a wee. For now is that moment.

The Golden Moment.

Don’t drive off just yet. Poke at the chip bag with a single index finger. Feel that brown paper sturdiness. Allow a small aperture to be formed in the top, such that a single chip can be gently teased out.

This is the chip. Look at it. Just look at it.

It is still deep fat fryer hot. That vinegar, so recently sprinkled on top, has not yet had time to run off and down towards the bottom of the bag. It still clings to the surface of the chip, glistening in the streetlight.

Don’t wait any longer, eat it.

It is the simply the perfect incarnation of a chip. Any moment before this will find it too hot, too bewildered from all that shaking and salting and bagging. Any moment after and the deterioration has already begun, the cooling, the congealing.

This is the Golden Moment.

Have another. And another.

Now it’s time to drive, to get this precious cargo home. You turn your headlights on and indicate to pull out but the stream of cars is steady and nobody is of a mind to let you out. Eventually, there’s a gap. You accelerate away, keeping within all limits but yet mindful that there is a clock running here. With every second that passes, the chips are losing some minuscule part of their charm and you know from long experience that their zenith has already been passed.

You drive and drive and, all the time, you are reaching your left hand into that enlarged aperture and pulling chips out of the bag and eating them. These might not be the exact equal of that magic chip from a few moments ago but they are still fresh and hot enough to be simply wonderful.

You drive and drive and soon you are home. The chips are delivered and dispensed. You eat your own share, minus the ones you already had, and they are fine but nowhere close to those clandestine ones you stole while in the car. Not even close to being close.

This is why you are always glad to be the one who goes for the chips. It may be raining, the chipper may be packed out and sullen, but you are so amply rewarded with that golden moment, in the street or in your car, when you find yourself alone with the food. That magical time together.

And when your wife and children shake the top bag of chips and comment how there seem to be less of them every week, you only nod and smile and suggest that perhaps next week there may be more.

Seven Years


Time moves faster, the older you get.

They didn’t tell me that, when I was young. Sure, they alluded to the fact that a long life can seem to go by in the blink of an eye. They just didn’t cover the speeding up part.

I mean, come on, it’s March already. It was Christmas yesterday and last Summer was just the day before. Tomorrow is Easter and 2020 is close behind. This isn’t going to end well, is it?

It’s seven years this week since Dad died. How can that be right? It seems like…okay let’s not go overboard but it does seem more like four years than seven.

“Time passes. Listen. Time passes.”

I figured it would be nice to write a new post about Dad. Some memories and stuff like that. I’ve been thinking about it now for a couple of days. It’s evoked a strange feeling in me. It’s kind of hard to describe but let me try. 

When I was little, I somehow ended up out of my depth in a swimming pool. I wasn’t happy out of my depth because I couldn’t swim. But the edge of the pool was right there, just out of my reach. So I started kicking and splashing to get myself to that edge of the pool. I kicked and splashed and eventually I got there and clung on and climbed out and I don’t think anyone even noticed that it had ever been a thing.

The thing I remember though, about that, is not the relief of reaching the edge of the pool. It’s the eternity of time I spent before I got there. Kicking and splashing, getting nowhere, floundering.

When I started thinking about a new post to write about Dad, I started to get that feeling again. That the edge was right there in front of me but I couldn’t get to it, no matter how hard I kicked.

The edge, in this case, was my memories. My memories of Dad. They are right there, I can sort of see them through the melee and the stinging pool-water in my eyes. But I can’t grab them.

I thought it would be a breeze. Write something new? Easy. Dip in to the old memory banks, pull out a juicy titbit, write its ass down.

Not so, as it turns out.

Granted, I have written posts about Dad before and covered lots of stuff in there. But there’s more. There’s lots more. Acres more. He was always there. We were especially good mates in the years between Mum dying and him dying. Loads of things happened. Loads of moments. Loads of memories…

And those memories remain like the edge of a swimming pool that I am reaching for and can’t quite get to.

I think I thought that starting to write this post would give me the impetus to get to the edge of the pool and haul myself out onto some rough tiled floor of memory. So far, though, it’s not working.

Oh, I could tell you about that time we went out to lunch in Strandhill and… or the time we watched The Shining on telly together and… or that other time when… Not all of my memories are out of reach. Many are right there, I have them. But those ones, well… To continue the pool metaphor, none of those memories seems to provide a sufficient grip, a sufficient hand-hold to haul myself out of the fix I am in. They’re not ‘substantial’ enough.

But, now that I think about it, it suppose that’s the thing, isn’t it?

I’m trying to find a memory that will sum it all up in a neat eight hundred words. Me and Him. Him and Me. And of course such a memory never existed. The whole thing was a mosaic of tiny moments and interactions. There was never one all-consuming moment that told the entire tale.

It’s just the small memories that matter, isn’t it?

I really didn’t know that when I started typing.  

But I got there in the end.

There was that time we went for dinner and Dad was trying out some new pill which was obviously messing with his metabolism such that he was hugely and unstoppably charming and flirtatious with all the female waiting staff. I had to go around after him apologising profusely. He was 78 at the time.

Or that late evening when I dropped in to visit and we ended up watching the Shining together and it was coming to the Room 234 scene and I said to him, “Dad this is good film but that lady is about to climb out of that bath and you know that you don’t want to be sitting here with me when she does that.” So we turned over to the football.

Or that time we went together for your endoscopy and all the grown men before you were coming out shaken and teary-eyed and you came out, same as ever, quietly reporting it wasn’t terribly nice.

Seven years on and I’ve still got you in here, Dad. No worries. My memories may not be huge or earth-shattering but, whenever I bunch them all up together, I’ll easily have enough to haul myself up onto the edge.

Every time.

Tendons


I’ve been walking around the town doing a kind of a Hitler salute and people have been looking at me funny so I thought I’d better explain.

It’s a stretching exercise. I seem to have somehow damaged some tendons in both my arms at the same time and this stretching thing seems to help. I extend my arm, waist high, and raise my palm backwards as far as it will semi-comfortably go. Man, you feel that action in your tendons, trust me on that.

I’ve had this thing since roughly early December. I looked it all up on the Internet, as you do, and the general consensus is that stuff like this can take about six months to heal. So here I am, working my tendons and pissing off all those good townspeople who haven’t read this yet.

How did I do it? I hear you ask.

Okay, I don’t, it’s a literary device, deal with it.

Our clothes line broke. It’s one of those twirly-round helicopter type ones, you know what I mean, and perhaps it didn’t so much break as wear out. They do that, you know, those twirly-round helicopter type clothes lines. So, anyway, I bought a new one and I started into putting it up. And, for better or worse, I started to put it up like you would put up an umbrella. Except, of course, it was one fucking enormous umbrella. When the ‘Umbrella Technique’ failed to have the desired result, I resorted to going at the thing from the other side, stretching the arms of the line out and out in the hope that they might click into place. 

Unfortunately the spread of those metal arms was marginally more than could be managed by the natural spread of my arms or, more specifically, the spread of my arm tendons. Regardless of this, the line had to be erected so I pushed and I pushed and something tore a bit, I guess. Not just in one arm but in two, which is all I’ve got… two.

So here I am, with constantly painful and aching arms, moaning occasionally and grimacing a lot, doing my little Hitler exercises all around the town (Autocorrect keeps capitalising Hitler (see) which is annoying me a bit. Grammar or not, I don’t want to afford the prick that amount of respect). It’s not all that painful. A minor thing, really, and I’ll be okay. So don’t be worrying about me. Stupid tendons, stupid helicopter clothes line. 

I got the line up, in the end, did I tell you?

Tendons, though. They are sore. They’re sore now, as I’m typing this. They’ll be sore later and they’ll sure as shit be sore tomorrow. It’s made me think. Everything makes me think. It’s quite tiring, really. All that thinking.

It made me think that you can’t ever really have empathy.

I always like to think that I have a lot of empathy. It’s one of the very few things that I actually clap myself on the back about, from time to time. I like to think I can feel some of what you feel, experience things from your point of view.

But these overstretched old tendons of mine have told me otherwise.

For two months, a little more, I have been in some pain. Not a lot but some and almost constantly. It’s been a persistent presence in my days… and nights. It’s told me lots of things. It’s told me I’m getting older, that injury is easier to do, that recovery times are longer. More importantly, it’s told me that I’ve never felt this for anybody else. I may be a great empathetic person, here in my head, but I’ve never felt pain when somebody else has told me they were feeling it. Now that’s it’s here with me, at least for a while, I know that nobody is sharing it with me and, when it goes, as I hope it does, I won’t be sharing anyone else’s. Our pain is our own to bear.

It’s a pity. What a talent it would be to be able to take a percentage of someone’s pain for a little while. We could all chip in and give some poor person a week away from their burden. Fourteen of us, half a day each. We would be doing good and we would be getting a solid dose of real empathy. We would know how that person lives.

I also think we would live in a far better world, if we could feel a little of each other’s pain. We would be kinder to our ill and our elderly and our disabled. We would take care of them better.

I think I might stop typing now. My tendons are a bit sore.

You might think you know how that feels.

But you probably don’t.

Not. Really.

Adam Ant and the Spider Woman


Whenever an old edition of Top of The Pops comes on BBC4, people fire up their Twitter and reminisce about the acts they are seeing there. Last night, Adam and the Ants must have been on. I don’t know for sure because I wasn’t watching it but good folk were tweeting about the band and I assume that was the reason why.

Upon seeing those tweets, a random memory came into my head. I tweeted about how I went to see the film ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ back in the day and ended up sitting beside Adam Ant at the show.

Since nothing much has happened to me this week, I thought I would type out that thought in a blank word document and then see where it took me as a prompt. At the time of my typing this line, I have no particular idea where that might be.

Let’s just see what happens.

In 1985, I had only been in London for a year. I went to the movies all the time - well once a week at least. I loved the fact that I had access to obscure, outrageous films that would simple never appear in my home town in Ireland. As well as the larger movie houses, I frequented places like the Lumiere in St. Martin’s Lane and the Curzons in Mayfair and Shaftesbury Avenue. I liked to see the films on the first day they appeared. Not the posh Thursday night premieres (if there was one) just the regular first showing on the Friday night. I remember ‘Subway’ and ‘Betty Blue’ and ‘Caravaggio’ and ‘The Cook, The Thief…’ and ‘Manon Des Sources’ and loads more.

Let me try to recall what I can from the ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ outing. It was that first Friday showing and it was packed. I went with D from work, who was effectively my boss. Only there wasn’t that much of a restrictive hierarchy to the place we worked in. D might have attended more important meetings that I did, he may have made some bigger decisions, but we all had tea together at the break and laughed and socialised a lot so it wasn’t that odd to catch a movie in the city, after work.

Looking back, I reckon I was pretty naive then, even though I had no idea that was the case. When I think about it now, this evening, it seems to me there were things going on then – wheels with wheels – that I had no clue about at the time. This is true of many things that happened to me in my London years. I lived through things without dwelling on them too much and it only seems that they start to have some logic and coherency now, thirty years later.

Anyway, never mind about that, we went to see ‘Spider Woman’. It was coming into town with great critical reviews and William Hurt could do no wrong in my book so it was a no-brainer to go and see. I remember, particularly, the opening titles of the film. No, not so much that. I really mean the bit before the opening titles, where the cards of the production companies are projected onto the screen. I remember there was loads and loads of production company cards to get through before the movie got going. It got so that the audience started to laugh and cheer a bit with every subsequent production card that appeared. There really seemed to be that many of them. I think it’s a more normal thing now, to have lots of production and finance companies involved in the story of how a movie gets made but back then it seemed unusual.

D was on my right, still in his fine suit from work, while the seat on my left remained empty as those production cards rolled. Then someone came in and sat down. A slight dark person, my peripheral vision told me. D, who was always hugely interested in everything around him, leaned forward slightly and inspected this fellow on my left then he nudged me. I looked at him. He mouthed something without speaking. “Sorry?” He mouthed again with a modicum of volume. “Adam Ant.” I sneaked another look and, sure enough, the profile was unmistakable. It was Stuart Goddard or Adam Ant as his fans knew him best.

That’s the end of the story. Stuart and D and me watched the movie and at least two of us enjoyed it. I didn’t ask Adam Ant what he thought of it. I didn’t interact with him at all. In truth, I forgot he was there and by the time the lights came back up, he was gone. It’s not much of a story, really.

I’ve always enjoyed random near misses with celebrities though and London was great for that kind if thing. I never felt the need to engage with them or anything like that. Not much anyway.

Patricia and Una and me went to see Howard’s End in Richmond and Richard Attenborough was in the row in front.

At the Killing Fields, Mel Smith was in the seat in front, which surprised me because it was a cheap Monday night showing.

Timothy Dalton used to live in the block of flats across the road from us and he would be in the corner shop sometimes getting milk. He was James Bond at the time.

John Hurt lived down the road and I can’t tell you where my flat mate and he used to regularly run into each other, but they did.

We met Michael Crawford one evening, as he came out of the stage door after playing the Phantom of the Opera and there was nobody there to greet him. We said hello and he said hello back.

Just last week, Patricia and I went to see Bryn Terfel in the National Concert Hall and as we walked up the street to the entrance, Bryn was going in. We wished him a good show and he thanked us.

I think I like just glancing past people, almost proving to myself that they are real and just as mired in mundane daily rubbish as the rest of us all are.

I think that’s it.

Adam Ant though. Weak story though it may be… well, it just still remains a bit special. It was a time where it seemed anything could happen and often did. That chance seating arrangement seems to sum all that up now.

It was the best of times, you see. It was the worst of times.