The Wild Finds a Way

My wife’s sister is in hospital at the moment and we went to visit her this week. It was a lovely visit, as always. Full with chat and memories and smuggled ice pops.

It gets dark early these days and just as the dusk was slowly creeping in, a movement outside the large window became noticeable, even though we were up on the first floor.

“The birds will be coming soon. Have you seen the birds?”

The hospital is a very modern facility. Everything is pristine and spotless and well-thought-out. But the room we were in looked out onto a large central courtyard which was sheltered on all four sides and which boasted some tall slender trees, bereft of leaves, it being December.

As dusk deepened, the birds came. Pied Wagtails (Motacilla Alba)

At first they all gathered on the edge of the courtyard roof, looking down at the slender trees below. They hovered around, a little nervously, venturing out into the branches of the trees and then going back again to the roof. Testing the waters. Viewing the lie of land. As full dark descended, they came out into the trees and settled there edgily. Preening and fluttering, rising and falling. Easing themselves in.

Perhaps it doesn’t sound so special. After all, Pied Wagtails are not uncommon in our world.

There were two distinct things that made them special in this particular instance. One was the sheer numbers of them. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of wagtails descended on the hospital courtyard and settled in for the night.

The other thing was the incongruity of it. This modern controlled facility, where everything was planned and projected, has become a natural home for these agents of the Wild, who know nothing of planning or order or management. Into this safe, secure, slightly sterile place, the Wild has descended and settled easily in.

If this was happening in a shopping centre or a block of apartments, the effect might be less remarkable and maybe even less welcome. But, here, in this place, it is not much of an exaggeration to say that it is like a gift bestowed from nature. Something that could not be designed or scheduled. A reminder that, though the four walls may have temporarily confined us, the wild still exists just outside of our room. Just as it still exists here in our hearts, no matter what walls may hold us in.

Perhaps the best part of the visit of the Pied Wagtails came when they were finally settled in for the night. Every little branch of every little tree had its own little soul, silently perched, plump and still, rocking gently with the motion of the wind. It was very much like the leaves had come early back to the trees. 

Like Spring had come again.

I hope the people who take care of the hospital take care of the birds too. They may be a little messier than is desirable. They may occasionally make a little more noise than is ideal. But their reliable arrival, every evening, as the darkness draws in, is a kind of medicine that cannot be dispatched through a cannula. It is a kind of tonic that cannot be poured onto a spoon.

It is the Wild.

And it is outside of our window and here, still, inside of our hearts.

Warm Memories of Aloysius

On Thursday, I met Tom on the street as I was walking home from work for a sandwich. Tom is not his real name but let’s run with that anyway.

I was glad to see him out and about and I told him as much. Tom had recently had a tumble which had put him in hospital and laid him up quite badly and it was good to see him walking confidently home from his hospital appointment. I offer to ‘shake his wrong hand’ as there was a walking stick in the right one but he adeptly switched hands without a bother and we did it the old-fashioned way.

We got to talking for a while, as we generally do when we meet and, because we are both from Sligo, the discussion soon came around to there and to the people we both might know from there.

Tom mentioned a new book that he thought I might like, where the writer evokes memories of old Sligo very well, he thought I would enjoy it. If this blog was any use at all, I would now tell you for sure what this book is and where you might get it but, alas, the substance of certain conversations can slip between the cracks in the loose paving of my memory and that’s just how it is. I’m pretty sure the book is ‘Fifty Poems’ by Michael Gorman because I’ve looked it up and that seems right. It looks lovely and I may hint about it as a possible Christmas pressie. I actually heard Michael reading the first poem from the collection on my radio a few weeks ago so I knew a little more about it than I thought. Plus, in truest Sligo fashion, I would have known some of the writer’s people, having grown up with them in seventies Sligo and having liked them very much indeed.

But that’s not the point. Or, at least, it’s only part of the point.

In talking about Sligo and its characters who are long gone, Tom was obviously reminded of one such person.

“Would you have known Aloysius?”

It was a fair question; Tom is a little bit older than I am. The gap certainly seems less every year but he still has a few seasons on me. It might just be that Aloysius was gone by the time I was out and about in Sligo. But no, I remembered Aloysius well.

And here we come to another memory problem for me. Although Aloysius is vivid in my memory, I cannot quite pin him down enough to describe him. The only thing l I can offer is more of an impressionist sketch than a description.

So here I go with that.

First of all, Aloysius was a man who was intellectually challenged. Although we would not have said so many syllables at the time. We would probably have said that he was ‘a bit simple’ and, with some awareness of how that sounds today, we would have meant absolutely no harm or even disrespect with it. It was simply the case and these were the words we had to reflect it.

Aloysius would also have had some physical challenges which meant that his body was contorted and his face presented a remarkable and amazingly open portrait. He spent the days of his life traversing the town at breakneck speed, smiling and greeting all the people he met with laughter and enormous enthusiasm.

Someone may come and correct me. They may say he was not like that at all. But that his how I remember him. His dark clothes, his jacket draped askance on his broad shoulders, his heavy eyebrows, his broad grin.

But that’s not the point either. Not really. The point is this:

When Tom mentioned Aloysius, and I remembered him as I have not done for years, I felt a great warmth inside of me. The evoked memory of the man, gone at least forty years, caused a wave of nostalgia and memory and fondness to break over my head. It caused a good feeling that stayed with me for a time, as I went on about my day.

Why is it, I wonder, that the simple people stay so fondly in our memories. For that is the case, at least with me. Do they come to stand as ambassadors for those times that were simpler in themselves, or at least seem to be?

I don’t really know.

All I know is that, when Tom asked him if I remembered Aloysius, I smiled and nodded and said with some warmth:

“Oh yes, indeed I do.”

Dawn of the Cats

This morning, I looked out my kitchen window just in time to see a black cat’s ass vanishing through a broken windowpane in my garage door. Thirty seconds later, a ginger cat turned up and searched all around, clearly wondering where the black cat had vanished to. It searched and searched but never figured it out.

I went to the garage door and opened it and explained to the cat, who was still concealed somewhere within, that it seemed like a very nice cat but, unfortunately, I wasn’t amenable to letting it set up any kind of residence in there. There was the worry – well, let’s not put too fine a point on it - of it doing some weeing in there and thus significantly reducing the already questionable amenity of the place. Plus, being unaware of the physical likelihood of this occurring, there was at least the possibility of a litter of kittens arriving at some point in the shed and all the inherent responsibility and worry which would come with that.

“So, dear black kitty, I am going to close up the hole in the glazing with a tatty combination of flattened game console box and black duct tape. Then I am going to leave the shed door open for a while so that you may affect a dignified and unpressured exit. Then I am going to close the door on your black cat’s ass and wish you all the best.

I taped up the window, all the time being sensible of the eyes of the cat being on me from the gloom and amassed tat in the garage interior. When I was done, I once more entreated the cat to come out in its own time. Then I retreated to the house where I set up a stakeout on the garage door from across the kitchen sink.

After a time, quite a long time, the little black cat came out. It peered out cautiously and seemed to sniff the air, possibly to see if there were any ginger colleagues or crazed humans still lurking about. Then it eased out and slinked on its way. I nipped out and closed the door.

The end.

I don’t think the cat was living in the shed. It was sleek and well-minded. I think the shed had very recently become a hobby for it, a stop on its daily patrol. There are probably some mice in there to stalk or a nice corner to dream in when the rain was coming down.

This episode has focused my mind once again. It had all slipped into my peripheral vision, my sub consciousness.

There are a lot of cats round my street.

An awful lot.

When I come around the corner into my street, there are often four or five cats to be seen. Sitting on walls, skulking behind hedges, eyeing each other up, eyeing me up. The next time I come around the corner, there may be four or five cats but they may be different cats.

Who owns all these felines? Who keeps them well-fed and watered, as they so evidently are? Are cats really popular in my neighbourhood or is there one main household responsible for the herd? A cat sanctuary where the little mites roam free, unhindered by any resource or contraceptive concerns.

It’s kind of spooky. It’s like the first reel of The Birds except it’s about Cats. They seem to be congregating, conspiring, laying their plans against us.

Don’t get me wrong, I like cats. They’re got shedloads of character (see what I did there?) and they don’t give a shit about anything much. That’s all commendable stuff in my booklet. I am, however, a little bit allergic to them. Nothing earth shattering: if one were to rub up again my bare arm, it would come up on an itchy rash and then shortly-after, go back down again (my arm, not the cat). I wouldn’t fall to the ground convulsing or anything. The rash, ma'am, just the rash. All this means that I usually stroke them with my index finger. That particular digit seems to be largely immune to irritation. It’s all fairly harmless stuff but it does tend to keep them at a small remove from me. And that, in turn, makes me that little bit more paranoid about them.

As I type this, there’s a cat sitting out in the front garden looking in. Does it know what I’m doing? Will it now alert its compadres and will they then commence a swift and stern action against me? Is this how it finally begins, the Feline Apocalypse?

More next week.

I hope…