The Great Rock and Roll Disappointment

After my eldest son got to see his two favourite bands live in concert, I made a promise to my younger son. I promised him that if his own favourite band ever toured again we would go and see them come hell or high water.

Sam was twelve at the time but he was already a keen drummer with the rhythm firmly planted in his heart.

So it was. Just as he turned fourteen, the Foo Fighters announced their tour, a massive stadium tour. All of a sudden, I had promises to keep, and I was glad to do it. More than anything, the boy deserved his day.

The Foos were coming to play here in Ireland, as Slane Castle. I’ve been there, It’s an excellent venue but I was sure that it wasn’t a good venue for me and Sam to go too. I felt that Sam was a little too young for it. The open field, the predominance of tall people, the quantity of alcohol. It wasn’t the time for Slane.

So I went mad. I got hold of two very good tickets for Wembley Stadium for Friday 19th June. Sam and I would have our pilgrimage, he to see his all-time-favourite band and me to finally return to the city I had lived in for fourteen years and hadn’t returned to in eighteen.

The plan changed as the months passed. It grew. My eldest son would be just finished his daunting final exams in the week that we were going and I sensed that he would like to go too. So I gave him my ticket. He and Sam would now go to the concert and I would travel with them and get them there and get them back. It was all good. Then Patricia was the only one left at home while we all went ‘adventuring out’ and than was no good for any of us. So she was coming too.

What started out as a ‘quick-in-quick-out’ invasion turned into a family excursion of the highest order. And all the time, sitting firmly at the centre of the plans and the scheduling, was the gleaming jewel of Sam’s Concert. Much awaited, much anticipated. Much everything. 

You probably know how this story plays out. One week before the concert was to start, the excellent brave lead singer of the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl, injured himself on stage in Sweden and broke his leg. He played on, in true Rock and Roll fashion. He enabled us to believe that the concert would go ahead. He might have to sit down on stage, he might have to change things around, but he would be there.

But it was not to be. The leg was simply too broken, the mountain simply too high to climb. On Tuesday evening, twelve hours before we were to leave for the airport for the young man’s first concert, it all fell apart. All of the concerts were cancelled. Wembley Stadium would stand dark on Friday night instead of bathed in light and sound as it should have been. 

The bags were all packed, the documents all assembled. The plane was fuelled on the runway. But the entire reason for going was suddenly gone.

It was not unexpected. I had secretly felt that the concert would be cancelled but hopes were kept high by the sheer status of Dave Grohl, his proven doggedness and bravery. 

I told Sam. 

I would have understood if he had ranted and raved, loudly denounced the fates that had conspired against him having his day, but he didn’t do any of that. A single warm tear running down his cheek was the only allowance to the disappointment and the very keen pain of a promise wrenched away at the last moment. 

It was hard to see. In a year of repeated kicks to the stomach, it was by no means the worst but it had a straw-like quality that challenged the camel’s back quite sternly.

We had nowhere to go but still we had to go. There was no cancelling flights and accommodation. We had to gather ourselves early the next morning and hit the airport.

And as for me, after eighteen long years away, I had to deal with London again.

I’ll tell you how that was. 

Next time.

Docken Docken, Cure Me

When we were children, nettles played quite a big part in our summer lives. We were outdoors a lot, you see, and we lived by the river. Things were lush and green and, in among all the lushness and greenness, there were nettles. 

“Just stay away from them,” we’d be told but it wasn’t that easy. Footballs careened into them. Right into the centre where sticks could not poke them out. 

They grew abundantly on the steps down to the water too and we always had to get to the water, even if it meant a sting or two.

And it did. It almost always did.

Mean a sting or two.

Nettle stings are very annoying. Even as I type this, forty years later on, the back of my hand is itching, on the fleshy part to the side of my thumb. I can almost feel the bulbous pink blister rise up in the middle of the widening rash. 

Whenever the nettles got you, there was a sense of resignation. A giving-up to the hours of itchiness and general discomfort which must inevitably follow. 

But all was not lost, even after the occasional full length fall into a bushy growth of nettles. There was always a measure. Not an out-and-out cure but a balm of sorts. An easing of the discomfort.

There was always the dock Leaves.

Whenever I would run to Mum with a nettle sting, she would offer her inevitable mix of sympathy and admonishment. Then she would send me back out to find some dock leaves so that she could make it ‘all better’. 

We didn’t call them ‘Dock Leaves’ or ‘Dock Weed’ or even ‘Dock’. We called them ‘Dockens’. They always seemed to grow in clumps quite close to the nettle patches. There always seemed to be a Docken when you needed one. 

The Docken leaves were a cure for the nettle sting. They were laid gently on the sting and sometimes, in extreme cases, they were rubbed a little bit there. After application of the wide green cool leaves, I would have to sit quietly for a while to let them do their work. 

As with so many things in those fast receding days, there was even a little rhyme to go with the gentle application of the Docken.

“Nettle nettle, sting me. Docken docken, cure me.”

It was applied, like the leaves themselves without irony or embarrassment. It just was what it was. A balm to the sting.

Did it work? In certain ways, I think it did. The application of the leaves, the little bit of attention from busy Mum, the short time out from the intricacies of another day by the river. These things all combined to ease the sting a little. But the actual practicality of the gentle laying on? I don’t think that did much, not in a scientific, chemical, pharmaceutical way.

Fair enough.

But there’s a little more.

Some years ago, as an adult, I managed to sting myself again in some nettles. I was measuring a field or something and there they were, on the untrimmed perimeter, by the fence. They got me. The annoyed resignation came back as if it had never been away. For the next few hours there would be stinging and inflammation and pain. 


I hunted around and, yes, sure enough, there was some Docken, as steadfastly locatable as it had ever been. I pulled off some leaves, wondered momentarily about how many passing dogs had pissed on them and then, shrugging, sat down on the grass and applied the leaves gently to my scarlet shin.

I sat and stared at them as, quite quickly, nothing happened. I thought about it, as an adult this time, not as a rhyme-reciting nipper. I applied a little logic. If there was some benefit to be had from the dock leaf, it could not be gained by simply laying the leaf on the stings. It was all too placid. I took the leaves off again and scrunched them up in my hand, digging my nails into them until small trickles of juice ran out. I then smeared this newly juiced Docken onto the stings, for they were indeed legion. Quite soon, the irritation abated. It noticeably decreased. 

Was this all in my head or was there something worthwhile in the Dock Leaves after all? An internet search quickly throws up opinions that there is indeed an analgesic quality to the juice of the Dock leaves. As with most things, it wasn’t all old-wives and witchcraft, there was also some modicum of science in there. 

Doubtless, I could have limped to the chemist shop and found some cream that would have been many times more efficacious. But the nostalgia, the remembering, and fun of healing oneself in the wild. That was so much better.

I was thinking about that this week. I don’t know why. Perhaps I saw some nettles out of the corner of my eye somewhere. Perhaps I saw some Docken. Whatever the reason, it struck my that there is perhaps a useful metaphor in the memory of the Nettles and the Docken.

In our lives, there are many clumps of nettles and we fall in to lots of them and they sting and they sting. We all have Docken of some sort. Something that eases us when we have been in the nettles. Our own Balm. It might be reading or eating something nice of chatting to a pal. Whatever it is though, it’s probably not enough to lightly rub yourself with your Balm. You have the work it hard and squeeze the best stuff out of it, in order for your Balm to be helpful and restorative.

Take me as an example. One of my Balms is writing. Not sharing it or talking about it, just sitting quietly and doing it. Somehow, iteases the sting. 

So, I have to do it more and harder rather than just brushing against it lightly. 

So that I can fully reap the benefit. 

Driving and Singing

Okay, this one might sound a bit strange. 

I still think it’s worth saying. Maybe one of you will pick up on it and try it and reap some benefit from it, as I have done. On the other hand, maybe you’ll never come by here again. 

Sometimes, when I’m driving, I sing.

There. That’s it. Leave now, if you must. I’ll understand.

I don’t mean that I do it on short journeys, like down to the school and back. That would be just silly. I also don’t mean that I sing along with the radio like the entire rest of the world does, although I do that sometimes as well. What I mean is, on long journeys, if I’m by myself, there may well come a time when I will break into song and this may then go on for quite some time.

I do the other things as well. I listen to the radio and I like a good audio book and, in the last while, some podcasts have been life savers on long repeated journeys from there to here. It’s just, sometimes, in the mid-hours of the run, it all gets a bit same-ey and uninspiring.

That’s where I might have a little song.

It’s funny. It’s never a conscious decision. I never say, “Right, let’s turn off the old radio and get a little one man choral action going in this here vehicle.” That never happens. I just suddenly sort of find myself with the radio off and in the middle of some song.

It’s worth mentioning here that I am by no means a good singer. I can hold a tune, I think, but I have a low register, rather guttural, sort of ‘man-singing’ action that nobody will want to sit and listen to for very long. I’d be one of those guys who reckons his ideal song is Lee Marvin singing ‘I Was Born Under a Wandrin’ Star’. You know what I mean. It’s not ‘An Evening With at the Royal Albert Hall’ material. 

Why do I sing? Oddly, I think it goes directly to my love of words and lyrics. I have a very good memory for the words of songs, they stay in my brain like most other things don’t. I like to run through the lyrics of my favourite songs and they just don’t sound right unless they are accompanied with at least some semblance of the tune that goes with them. 

I’m often trying to put my own arrangements on things too. Singing them in different ways. I like to sing 'Rainbow Connection' is a world-weary Tom Waits fashion that perks up a bit in the final verse. I like to try to do ‘Try to Remember’ in a speedy ‘get through it fast’ version which undermines most of the over-reverential versions which exist in the world. I like to sing 'You Left Me Just When I needed You Most' as the saddest song in the world, which it pretty much is.

But that’s just three songs and I have loads. As the old gag goes, I have a vast abattoir of songs to choose from.

So what do I sing? All kinds of everything. No, not the Dana Eurovision winner, I mean_ well, you know what I mean. I sing Tom Waits (Shiver Me Timbers, Yesterday is Here), Bob Dylan (If You See Her Say Hello, John Wesley Harding) John Prine (Please Don’t Bury Me, The Frying Pan), Leonard Cohen (Bird on the Wire, The Master Song). Being Irish I also know lots of incredibly long ballads and I like to run through some of those. Things like ‘Arthur McBride’, Lakes of Pontchartrain, and Little Musgrave. I sing 'The Rocky Road to Dublin' with some feeling. I’ve also grown to like quite a few musicals so some of those numbers slip in sometimes too. There’s ‘Younger Than Springtime’ from South Pacific, ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story and ‘Maybe This Time’ from Cabaret except sung in a more manly way. 

But it could be anything. It could be Sinatra or Presley, Beatles, Bee Gees, Led Zepplin… oh, I do ‘This Guy’s in Love with You’ in Burt Bacharach fashion but it gets a bit high for me in the middle and I have to drop down a bit. Nobody’s listening so it’s okay.

Why bother telling you this? (I’m asking a lot of questions this week). Who knows, maybe you’ll read this and try it yourself. Maybe you’ll like it. It can lighten a mood when things are tricky and, at the very least, it can help you revisit the lyrics of your favourite songs and appreciate them just a little bit more.

Go on. Kill that radio.

Sing a little song.