The Night Called My Name

I would sit here and listen
To all of the noise
Sit here and watch
The girls and the boys
Sit here as always
Playing the game
But I’m needed outside
The night called my name.

I could stand here and argue
Pressing my view
Stand here and say
How it’s me and not you
Stand and discuss
Always the same
But I’ve got to be gone
The night called my name.

The night is a mistress
Silky and slow
When she calls to you gently
You just have to go.

You can stay and continue
But you’ll be on your own
I’ll be out in the air
Like a bird having flown
I could stay here I know
But that would be a shame
Cos the moon is out sailing
And the night called my name.

The Accordion Man – A Possible Metaphor for Tolerance

Outside the little office that I work in, there’s an accordion man who turns up with unerring regularity and sits on a box. He straps on his accordion and he plays in the hope of garnering some spare change from the people who shuffle past.

He drives me mad. For a long list of reasons. 

Firstly, he tends to play the same stuff over and over. He knows lots of different tunes but, whatever he’s in the mood for on that day, he’ll just keep playing it. 

He tends to favour variations of a series of movie themes like ‘The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly’ and ‘Mission Impossible’. His audience are all passers-by (except me) so nobody ever really notices this incessant repetition (except me). 

Then there’s the customisation job he has done on his accordion. He’s duct-taped a Melodica down the side of the keyboard and attached a pipe to the mouthpiece so he can accompany himself while accordioning. It’s completely unnerving.

Also he only tends to come on the nice days. Days when I would like to have the window open. I guess it’s hard to play the accordion in the rain. The squeezey-parts must get all soggy and_ I Don’t Care! I have to close my window whenever he turns up because I can’t hear myself think and then I have to stew in my little room and I can still hear him and… and…


Finally he stays far too long. If he came and did this for a couple of hours and then moved elsewhere, I wouldn’t mind so much. But it must be lucrative outside my window. There must be some seriously deep-pocketed types sidling past out there because he stays and stays… and stays.

I hate him.

From my distance of about 50 yards, from my first-floor-looking-down vantage point, I hate him. I hate to hear him coming and the first dreadful notes of his hashed-together crap instrument. I hate that I have to slam my window shut and turn my radio off because I can’t abide hearing two things playing at once. It’s a deep personal hatred that I feel for this man.


But here’s the thing…

At one o’clock every day, I go out of my office and I go across to the supermarket for a roll to bring back and eat at my desk. On the way, I have to walk past the Accordion Man. I always say ‘hello’ and he always stops his playing and says ‘hello’ back. I see him around town with an elderly guy who I guess is his Dad. They look like they have it tough-enough. He has a nice warm smile and a nice manner and he takes whatever abuse is ladled out at him and never seems to bother with giving any back. 

He’s all right, really. He’s okay. 

Is this just me, this split personality behaviour I exhibit? Perhaps it is but I don’t think so. I think we all operate on a very basic level with people who we encounter right up close. I think we can subliminally see the pulse in their neck and hear the blood rushing around in their veins. We can feel their very life and their very humanity and, because of this, we can appreciate them better as the fellow human beings that they are and then deal with them accordingly.

Add a little distance – a very little distance – and those subtle signs that someone is a real person become diluted and quickly lost. Even at a remove of a mere fifty yards, a person can go from being a flesh and blood lad with troubles of his own to a racket-making nuisance and an utter blight on the landscape.

Then go back up close again and, almost immediately, the fellow-human starts to reappear. 

I don’t want to turn this into a sermon or anything. It just strikes me that this is possibly why Twitter and Facebook and such places can be so very cruel sometimes. That short distance at which any subliminal apprehension of another person’s humanity is possible is far-exceeded on there. Is it any wonder, then, that we sometimes attack each other as bits of typeface on a screen rather than the breathing troubled sacks of flesh and blood that we actually are?

All we can do is try to keep sight of it. If some series of words or images are driving you mad on your computer, try to remember that the person who put them there will most likely feel the sting of the whiplash you are planning to send their way.

I’d like to say I’ve got it sussed but I don’t. If tomorrow is sunny, the Accordion Man will be there again and I’ll be cursing him again.

But I’ll try not to.

All I can do is keep trying. 

On Beezie's Island

This is one of my favourite photos. 

It’s me and my friends on Beezie’s Island, Lough Gill, County Sligo, Ireland. We were only teens then, as you can probably see. I’ve got my waders and a longbow strapped to my back. You’d nearly think I knew what I was doing with either of those things. 

As if. 

In my mind it feels as if we went out there often as teens, ‘Swallows and Amazons’ fashion, and that we grew up together there and learned great truths there. Not true, of course. The truth is that we only went there as a group a handful of times at most. They were good times, though, memorable times.

I think I felt that it was my place to show them. I was the one who knew it the best and I was the one who could sort out the boat to get us there. The others regularly showed me stuff that was theirs, this was kind-of mine.

As for me, well I went to Beezie’s Island quite a lot through the years but that was either on my own or with my family when I was a kid. Back when I was small, we would day-trip there with picnics. It was fun and there would be lots of other fishing families there too. I vividly remember getting caught there once in a lightning storm and sitting on the stony shore under an oilskin coat, watching the purple lightning fork down on the woods across at Hazelwood.

I’ve already written about an Island on Lough Gill. The most famous one; Innisfree. You can read about that by clicking here if you wish. It’s not a bad piece, even if I say so myself. W B Yeats' island is certainly the most famous island on the lake (if you can find it) but Beezie’s Island is, to my mind, far-and-away the best. 

Beezie's Island is also known as ‘Gallagher’s Island’ or, in local dialect, ‘Gollacker’s Island’. All the names come from the one remarkable lady who lived there for so long, Beezie Gallagher. You can put the name into Google and find some good information about Beezie so I won’t go all encyclopaedic on her here. Suffice to say she lived a solitary life in a tiny cottage on the island in the middle of the lake. She rowed her boat to the Riverside (where I lived) to get provisions and to collect her pension. She was famously kind, welcoming, and good with wild things and pets alike. In the great freeze of ’47, the lake iced over and she became isolated on the island for so long that it was feared she would starve. A daring rescue was made, involving a flat bottomed boat with some men in it and other men tied to it walking behind pushing it. The idea was that the men on board would rescue the walking men if they were unlucky enough to fall through the ice. They found Beezie, alive but starving. Some of her beloved animals had already died. They brought her to shore on the flat bottomed boat and, when the thaw finally came, she returned to her home. 

I never knew Beezie although my Dad, himself a great man of the lake, would have known her well. He may even have played a part in the ’47 rescue but I never got around to quizzing him about that. All that I know of Beezie is via told-stories and hearsay but I’d say the above sketch is true enough. Embellished versions would have Jumbo McCarrick whizzing fearlessly across the ice in a huge jeep to rescue Beezie in '47 but the flat boat account feels more probable to me. 

The stories I know tell me that Beezie died on her island after an accident involving a small fire. She would have been over eighty years old and had still been rowing up and down the river weekly for her pension and her provisions.
                              Beezie's Island (Photo: Tommy Weir)

Beezie’s Island is, in my opinion, the loveliest and most accessible island on the lake. It is like a ‘four seasons in one day’ island. It has everything in a few acres. Woods, wet lowlands, hills, hidden ruins, difficult to access parts. The best picnics can be had there, if you remember to bring the food.

Writing this makes me wish to go to Beezie’s Island again. To ease a rowboat into the shore, watching for the rocks which lie beneath the coppery brown water. To climb the hills that surround the perimeter and cross the reedy wetland at the centre up to the stone shell of Beezie’s house and further, into the woods, to the much older church ruins that date from God knows when. I’d suppose I’d best like to go there with my friends but that’s not going to happen. No harm in dreaming though.

I’m back in Sligo for a short while next weekend. Perhaps I’ll beg the loan of a boat from someone on the Riverside and just go. A few hours on the island might do me good. 

In truth, I know I probably won’t go. There will be lots of things for me to do in Sligo and time will be short. 

But I should. I know I should. 

Arise and go…

…and all that Jazz. 

The Profundity of the Happy-Clappy Song

I’ve written this post and I've read it over and now I’m writing this part at the end and sticking it on at the front. 

I just wanted to point out that this post might seem a little unusually negative or ‘down’. Don’t let that worry you or anything. 

Most of these five hundred-or-so posts have been written in the week before they get put up so they tend to reflect the prevalent mood of that week and moods, as we all know are highly changeable. As changeable as the weeks, really.

So next week’s post will probably be much brighter and merrier.

Anyway, here goes…


This post may sound rather contrived. As if I thought up the end of it and then built the rest of the thought process up around it but I didn't. This is actually how it went down:  I was driving along this week, with my elbow out the window, and I got to thinking as I often do when I’m driving along.

I got to thinking that life is hard.

I usually try to qualify that thought whenever I think it and this time was no exception. There are people in the world who are watching their kids dying because they can’t feed them. There are people who are being tortured and murdered, people who are having their houses taken away, people who are completely and utterly lost. In the context of these people, my life is an absolute and utter cake-walk. My life is perfect.

All of this is true.

But in the confined context of my own life, my own experiences, life is actually quite hard. In terms of what I have been accustomed to. In terms of stress and fulfillment and progress and satisfaction, things are not as good as they used to be. In fact, things are a bit bleak and rather grey. I know I’m not alone in this, many of us are in the same boat, bailing constantly with our tin cans, looking to the sky.

So I was driving along, elbow out the window, allowing myself a strictly temporary wallow in all this negativity and my mind turned to a related thought. “Where,” I asked, “is the brightness?” “Where is the light in all this gloom?”

The answer came easily, as it always does. My Family. Trish and the Boys. They are the light. In all the hurly-burly battle-fatigued greyness, they bring the fun and the warmth and the light. They effortlessly make it all worthwhile for me. I hunted around for some other things. Things which bring a bit of light. There were bits and pieces, books, movies, music… but nothing really to touch my little family. They were it, really.

Then I thought a bit about what a burden it could be, to be somebody’s main source of light. Good then, that these things happen rather effortlessly and without any great onus to provide. I thought how it’s best that family don’t always realise how important they are and how things work better that way. I ended the thought process with a little stupid gratitude and a quiet wish that this source of light would long be here for me.

Then, surprising myself a little, I thought, “These are pretty useful thoughts, I wonder is there a succinct way of setting them down, perhaps a song lyric or something?” I had a go at it in my head as the fields sped past my window. And, as I tried it, I realised with a start that the lyrics for my thoughts already existed, almost verbatim, in a song. A ‘Happy Clappy’ song from long ago. I also realised I had heard the song only a few days before on the soundtrack to a well-known film I had been watching.

It begs the question, did the song subconsciously trigger my train of thought or did the thought evoke the song? I’ll never know. It does go to show, however, that there is more profundity in the happy clappy songs than we might always give them credit for. Keep your ears open on the popular radio shows, you might just hear your life.

The film I heard the song in was ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?’ And the song? Well, it's so well-known that, even as you read them, the lyrics will probably slide across your consciousness. But slow down a moment, read them earnestly, like you mean them, and you'll see what I mean. This song was this:

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey, You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

Laddie’s Unworthy Film

I written quite a few posts about how so many specific memories of mine seem inextricably linked to the movies I saw around the same time. 

The first number of posts have worked out okay because I have naturally veered towards those moments in my life when either the memory or the film itself has been extraordinary. Films like ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ or ‘Body Heat’ seem to fit that bill.

But it hasn’t always been the case.

Like, for instance, when Laddie died. I went to the pictures on the day after Laddie died to try to cheer myself up and now the film that I saw is forever associated in my head with Laddie’s death. 

And it wasn't a good one.

So, who was Laddie?

Every Friday night, when we were small, Dad would bring home comics. When I was older, I know it was ‘Cor’ or ‘Whizzer and Chips’ but I can no longer remember what the comics were from the earlier years. All I remember was that they were brightly coloured and new and that we lay on the floor and read them for ages. I was three years old so I think I can be forgiven for being a bit vague.

On those Friday nights, Dad would come in and we would search in the pockets of his coat to find the comics. We wouldn’t let him take the coat off or anything, we’d just be straight in there trying to find the treasure.

This one evening, Dad came in and we dived for his coat. “Careful now,” he said. Careful? Why? It was only paper. This time, though, it wasn’t only paper. A wet, blunt, tiny snout pushed itself out of a coat pocket and sniffed the air. I remember it so well to this day. At last, we had a dog. 

This was Laddie. 

Laddie didn’t stay a snub nosed furry bundle for long. He soon grew into a full size German Shepherd dog. He was an exceptional animal, kind and intelligent, obedient and friendly. After he grew up, he lived in the large back garden and he never really came in the house. He had his kennel and he was walked all the time. He was a very good dog.

He also did his job incredibly well. He was, essentially, a watch dog. Our back garden presented an attractive short cut to the town and there were small boats and outboard motors and such out there so it was necessary to discourage the short-cutters. Laddie, lovely and all as he was, did that pretty darned well. Like I said he was a big German Shepherd (actually, we used ‘Alsatian’ mostly) and he knew that nobody but family was allowed in the back garden. He never hurt anybody but, to put it bluntly, he scared the shit out of quite a few.

When I arrived at a certain age, twelve perhaps, Laddie became mine. I fed him and walked him and looked after him. Although I had school friends, they mostly lived far away so Laddie became more than a pet or a charge to me. We became fairly fast friends. We would do the riverside walk pretty much every day and I like to think we both enjoyed it equally well. 

By the time Laddie became mine, Patch had also come along. Patch was a Springer Spaniel with a pedigree as long as my arm. He was also bought as a pup to be trained as a gun dog but he never took to the task, preferring rolling down hills to retrieving pheasants. He was soon retired from gun dog duties and took up a permanent position as Laddie’s wing-dog. They were a good team. All three of us were, really.

One day, in 1977, Laddie got sick. We brought him into the kitchen and laid him out on a blanket. In the evening – it was a Sunday – we called out the vet again as he seemed worse. The vet gave him an injection and said he would rest easier now. 

Later in the evening I went out to the kitchen to check on Laddie. His eyes were open and his tongue lolled. He was dead.

Dad and I buried him the next day up the back of the shed. Patch looked on. 

It was my very first experience of death and it did not bring weeping or gnashing of teeth. Instead there was a rather hollowed-out disbelieving feeling. Laddie had become a husk and we had put him under the ground. It silenced me a little.

Mum suggested I should go to the movies. This was unheard-of on a Monday school night. She knew that books and films were the things that tended to heal me. In those days, the Gaiety showed a different film or double-feature every couple of nights. On the night after Laddie died, I went by myself, as I often did, to see what was on and that film is now tied in my memory to that event. The film was ‘Are You Being Served?’.

Laddie was a big part of my life and I missed him for a long long time after he went away. I would probably serve his memory better by leaving off any mention of the film I saw that night. As a storyteller I know it kills the air of gentle reminiscence. 

But that’s sort of the point.

I think it goes to show that memories aren't always tidy and ordered for presentation to the public in easily digestible form. If I wanted to make this piece more poignant then I should probably change the film I saw. But, no, untidy memories have their own charm too, I reckon. 

You couldn’t make this stuff up.