Girl on a Bus


What can you do? It’s hard to know.

Last night, my son was out with his pals, celebrating the end of the toughest exams we ever do in this country. In this town, for better or worse, lots of young people get on a bus to go to the next town to do most of their partying. The bus was due back in town at 3.30 am and I was there, in the centre of town, in my car, waiting to meet it.

As I waited, a bus pulled in but it wasn’t the bus I was waiting for. There are lots of buses that come and go, ferrying. Lots of people got off this bus, most of them in their late teens or early twenties. There was some chatting and hugging and removal of high heel shoes to aid walking and then everyone pretty much dispersed, to seek a taxi or cadge a lift or perhaps to begin a long weary walk home.

The girl was the last off the bus. She was alone. Late teens/early twenties, like the others, but she didn’t chat or hug or take off her shoes. She simply turned her face down the street and headed for home.

She was drunk. She was possibly as drunk as one can be while still remaining upright. She walked in jagged, robotic steps and she frequently strayed from the footpath and on to the road before correcting her trajectory. And ‘trajectory’ is the right word, she moved fast, keen to be home perhaps. Her head projected quite far in front of her torso which gave her walk the impression of someone aspiring to fall forward onto her face but never quite succeeding.

Truth? My heart went out to her. She seemed so vulnerable, so drunk, so alone. She seemed like an accident waiting to happen. If my son had arrived and got in the car, I would have driven after her and asked if we could both drop her home. There might have been some difficulty in figuring out where her house was or even some puke in the back of the car but at least she’d be safe. But the boy’s bus was still ten minutes out the road and 55-year-old men can’t be going around offering lifts to late-teen drunk girls, no matter how well-meaning that offer might be.

So it was with a feeling of helplessness that I watched her in my rear-view mirror as she careened towards her destination. I hope she got there okay. I’m sure she did. There are girls and boys like that abroad on our streets on any given weekend night. Two too many under their belt, sheets to the wind, just trying to get themselves home.

We may tend to think of our grown children as big enough to go out in the world and then make their own way back when they’re done and generally, I suppose, this is the case. But the world is a wonderful place that can turn awfully cruel from time to time and we have to look out for each other as much as we can. As much as we can without becoming part of the problem ourselves.

"I mean well."

You can carve on it my gravestone because it is an indisputable truth about me. I’m not looking to do anyone harm or make matters worse or benefit from anyone’s misfortune. I mean well. But that doesn’t mean that everything I do is right or even for the best.

One simple example. When you drive up the main road in my town, getting on to the street where I live involves making a right-hand turn across busy traffic. It's hard. The drivers who try to come out of my side street also have a horrible time getting into the unremitting stream of traffic on that main road, particularly if they're trying to turn right. I know because I am one of them on a daily basis. Sometimes, as I come up that main road, I will try to help. I will wave a car out from the side road, across the oncoming traffic. 

Yesterday, as I approached, there was a car waiting in my side road. I slowed and caught the driver’s eye and indicated that he could come out when it was clear the other way and I would wait for him. 

Great, fine. Except that’s an awful lot of intent to try to impart with one hand gesture and the driver in the side street clearly got my intentions wrong. He thought my gesture meant, “I’m letting you out now, Go, Go, Go,” and he ‘Went, Went, Went’ without looking to see if there were any cars coming the other way. There are always cars coming the other way. There was much braking and swerving and swearing and, thankfully nobody got hurt or even dented. 

Of course, the driver pulling out should have looked the other way but he didn’t. And if there had been a crash, it would have been largely my fault because it was me who waved the guy out. I assumed he would look the other way but he didn’t.

My fault. My good deed. My fault.

That story might feel like a change of subject but it’s not. Not really.

I’m glad the girl off the bus didn’t appear on the local news on Saturday morning. I’m glad she must have stumbled somehow to her front door, fumbled with a key, and landed rather heavily a couch or a bed.  If she hadn’t, I would have found it hard to forgive myself for sitting quietly and watching her as she got progressively smaller in my rear-view mirror and eventually vanished around the corner down at the priest’s house.

But what the hell could I have done that might not have made things markedly worse?

Something, perhaps.

Something?

Predicting How This Blog Will End


My criteria for coming up with a subject for my weekly blog post is very simple. I ask myself what’s been on my mind this past week and I run with the most engaging answer.

Sometimes the stars collide. Then, whatever thing is concerning me might also happen to be mildly entertaining or diverting or disturbing. Something to engage you, oh rare and welcome reader.

This week, I fear, the subject matter might not interest anyone other than me. 

This week has seen a little internal dialogue going on and, if I could think of something else to write about, I would gladly do so. But, alas, this is it; the thing that’s been on my mind this week. 

You can read on, if you want, I always appreciate it when you do, but there might not be much to amuse entertain or disgust you this week. It’s just a thing.

It’s all iTunes' fault really. iTunes is on its way out, apparently, and everyone is saying how it’s high time it was gone because it’s outmoded and old-fashioned and unwieldly. But here’s me and I’m also outmoded and old-fashioned and extremely unwieldly and I don’t really get it. I’ve been using iTunes for donkey’s years in conjunction with my lovely and much-adored iPod Classic and I have no gripe with that setup. It gives me exactly what I need in terms of music and podcasts and, now that I can plug it into my car, it is just perfect. Still, iTunes must go and I will doubtless adapt to whatever comes next and I will continue to do so until I die at which point I will stop adapting.

But that’s not the point. It’s just what led me to the point. Here’s the point.

I didn’t see the death of iTunes coming. And this week, I suddenly realised it, I won’t see the death of my own little blog coming either. Like iTunes, I will get a couple of months’ notice some fine year and then it will be gone.

This came as something of a revelation to me. You see, I always thought I knew how this blog would end. I’ve seen so very many blogs, and other online ventures, end the same way. It will simply run out of steam; it will run its course and I will stop doing it. There are only so many one thousand word articles one can write before it all grinds to a halt. That’s how it will go.

But, for once, I’ve underestimated myself. 

I should have known better, really. I don’t give up on things, I just don’t. I just keep going and going and going until something tells me to stop or makes me stop. And so it will be with this blog. I will keep writing post after post after post, year after year after year. There’s no fear of my blog running out of steam at some point in the future because it effectively ran out of steam years ago. 

The kind people who come to read these posts are a tiny cohort and it is important to me that they know they are under no obligation to turn up every week. I have never thought badly of people who didn’t drop by. There may have been a time, say ten years ago, when I wrote these things in the hope of a readership or, God help us, that something here might spark something somewhere else. But now I write for a different reason and that different reason is the hub of the problem and the very reason why this week’s train of thought has bothered me a little.

I write these things for me. I write them because it my equivalent of lifting weights. The routine keeps a muscle tight and in trim. It’s not a bicep or a pec, I don’t have any of those, it’s a writing muscle. It stretches from my wrist to my brain and back down the other arm. This exercise keeps it working and it does it rather well. And, of course, if someone drops by and kindly says, “Ken, you’re a fucking genius, so you are,” even though they may be mostly being kind, well that’s an added bonus.

But, here’s the thing, and it’s slightly embarrassing to admit this, but let’s go for it anyway. I also like to think I’m writing these things a little for posterity. I know, I know, cop on Ken but let me try to explain. Twelve years of posts, hundreds of thousands of words, and one tiny pinprick of real blood somewhere in each and every one. Like it or not, it is a ‘montage of me’ the best snapshot of who I am that there will ever be. If you stuck all the posts on a wall and stood a mile back, that would be me. And, silly old me, I think I had some kind of notion that these posts would survive in some way over decades and might be of some passing interest to some distant person who just wondered how an ordinary Joe got on back in the first quarter of the 21st century.

And this week, for maybe the first time, I see that I was naive and wrong. These posts won’t last. Here’s how I predict they will go. In a few years, my blogging platform will be shut down by Google or whoever owns it. "Nobody is blogging anymore," they will deduce, and then they will pull the plug. In a panic, I will migrate my blog to WordPress or somewhere else but that too will eventually tumble. The world is moving on and the few remaining blogs will go the way of all those fledgling websites of thirty years ago and all the wonderful newsgroups and the wonderful rows we used to have there.

The blog platform will be no more and this little blog will not be visible online. What will all these posts become then? A series of Word documents stored on a physical hard disc or perhaps filed in some cloud folder. The computer housing the hard disc will eventually die and it will then get thrown on a scrap heap. The password for the cloud directory will be lost and nobody will know it exists anyway and it too will get erased in time because nobody ever came looking for it.

All will be lost.

This is probably all pretty obvious to you but it’s come as something of a sobering thought to me. I mean, it shouldn’t. Those weights you like to lift will get thrown in a shed when you’re no longer able to lift them but, for a time, they served their purpose well. They kept that muscle trim for as long as you needed it. What else can one hope for?

In the meantime, don't mind me. I’ll shake off this sneaking suspicion that I am piddling into the wind here and I’ll keep on working the muscle and the occasional kind soul will perhaps tell me how nicely diverting I am.

And as for the writing? I guess it’s a bit like those ashes that the priest used to scrape on our foreheads on that Wednesday a few months before Easter. “Man,” he used to say, “you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

Maybe that’s just the way of the writing too.

Short Story - A Clear Hint of Autumn

(My son is sitting his Leaving Certificate exams at the moment.

In English Paper One, on Wednesday, there was an option to write a short story, suitable for publication in a collection of spy stories, in which a librarian, a photograph and a chair are central to the narrative. 

I thought that was an intriguing challenge so, for this week's blog post, I have had a go at it. I wonder what mark they would give me? 'C-Plus', maybe?)

A Clear Hint of Autumn

At the end of the Summer, after it became clear that Jessop was in parlance with the other side, a familiar chain of events quickly began to unfold.

First, they took him to a flat and stripped him and watched him while he showered himself. Jessop had been in the game long enough to know that this had nothing to do with hygiene. It was an exercise in power and debasement, pure and simple. A necessary first step towards everything bad that was to follow.

From there, it was an overnight drive to the Library, deep in the West Yorkshire countryside. Jessop had operated there himself a couple of times, was well aware of how the triple storey reading room with the spiral stairs and the pig iron balcony doubled up in its usefulness. He had seen his charges shuffle into that room and be wheeled out, feet first, some considerable time later.

He had seen too much, really.

And what he had seen, he had sold.

And therein lay the rub.

It was Rigby himself who greeted them at the front door. Impeccable as ever, tweed and loafers all without blemish. Jessop twitched in his adopted grey sweat pants and his Sorbonne university hoodie. The handshake seemed warm and largely without irony.

“I’ll take him from here.”

The two security men exchanged uncertain glances.

“I’ve signed for him, haven’t I?”

The drive back to London would take them most of the morning but at least they wouldn’t have the small guy shivering in the back, hampering their Premiership banter.

“Drink? You look like you could use one.”

The Library was as he remembered it. Impressive, well kept. Rigby stood by the drinks cabinet and belonged there utterly. The Librarian in his place.

“’Johnnie Walker all right?”

They wouldn’t waste the good stuff on him.

The whisky warmed him and sickened him all at the same time.

“It’s a shame, really," Rigby was good at understatement. 

“You did it yourself for a while.”

“I never got caught.”

“Perhaps I’ll give you up.”

“You’ll give everyone up. They won’t believe the part about me though. Nobody ever does.”

The librarian had been a makeup artist once, in a previous existence. There were subtle hints of it still around his eyes and in the sharpness of his tie knot.

Jessop looked around the room. “So, what happens next?” he asked.

“You know what happens next.”

And he did. He was basically just making conversation.

Rigby had graduated from makeup to torture with an ease which surprised no one. There were marked similarities in the jobs. He still had a toolkit, he still approached his work with care, and his clients invariably looked different when he was done with them.

The torture room was a screened-off corner of the library itself. Jessop followed Rigby into that corner without argument. He reckoned that a bunch of gorillas could be summoned with one bleat. So he tagged behind, meekly enough, stopped and looked around. He had never been in this actual corner before but he had seen videos and heard tape recordings. The place was not a surprise to him.

People who haven’t seen an operating theatre tend to imagine it in a particular way. They are often surprised to find that operating theatres are just rooms, much like any other. The torture chamber, for that is what it was, held nothing out of the ordinary in the way of décor. Sliding sash windows, a picture rail. Like the operating theatre, though, it was the equipment that set it apart from other rooms.

Aside from the trays of gleaming instruments, aside from the battery equipment, there was a chair. 

Right there in the middle of the space, there was a chair.

“When are the team coming down?”

“I requested a solo run at you.”

Jessop turned and stared at Rigby. The façade they were both maintaining could not hold much longer. He was about to be tortured to death by this man. There was a limit to even the stiffest of upper lips.

“Why would you do that?”

“You’re a traitor. A lying fucking piece of shit who has caused some of my best friends to be killed. But I’ve known you all my life. You need to be interrogated but not humiliated. I can see to that.”

“Thanks.”

“You won’t be thanking me for long, I fear.”

Jessop had seen the videos, heard the tape recordings.

“No,” he said.

Rigby walked to the window and studied the sky.

“What if there was another way?” he said.

“Another way?”

“We sit down in the kitchen together. You tell me everything. I write it down.”

“And then?”

“And then I shoot you in the head. Fast and clean.”

“How would you know I’d told you everything?”

“I already know everything. I just need to hear you say it out loud and, frankly, beyond that, I couldn’t give a fuck.”

The kitchen already smells of coffee. Rigby has a slender laptop and he types away with impressive speed while Jessop tells his tale. There are some tears, as there so often are, and even a laugh or two. The process takes two days. Rigby extracts 2 pints of blood from Jessop’s arm. His urine and excrement are saved in Tupperware containers. On day two, Rigby reminds Jessop to give him up and he does.

On the last night, sitting together on the floor of the torture room, they decorate the chair with Jessop’s bodily fluids. Rigby is a make up artist and a torturer, he knows where the spatters form and how to replicate them.

They photograph the chair from several angles with an ancient Polaroid camera. The snaps will go into the file along with his confession. It will never be read.

And in the morning, when they walk outside together into the garden, there is already a clear hint of Autumn in the air.

Two Things I Hate in My Town


Here are two things I hate in my town and, no, there won’t be any cute moral at the end of this. I’m just venting or ‘givin’ out’, as we tend to say in these here parts.

The first thing I hate happens in my local petrol station, which also frequently doubles as my emergency bread, milk, and dark-chocolate-Bounty shop. It’s a great shop and the people in it are all lovely, so no gripe there.

It’s the technology… man, it’s the technology.

When it’s my turn to pay at the till, I get my card out and, if the amount required is under the magic thirty euro, I tap. After some initial troglodyte reservations, I am now a consummate tapper. It is the way of the future… well, no, strike that, it isn’t actually. In the future we’ll think about paying and it will be paid, unless we have no credit in which case our thought will be declined. The tap is the present, though, and, yes, I embrace it.

All good so far.

But sometimes, often in fact, the money owed at the petrol station cash till is more than the tap limit. I buy fuel sometimes and then the total is well over. Now that tapping simply won’t do, I have to shove my card into the key entry machine and go about things the old-fashioned way. Here’s where it all goes wrong. As you will know, the machine has a series of prompts to get me, the customer, through the payment process. ‘Enter your card’, ‘enter your pin’ – that kind of thing.

Nothing to it.

Except for the thing.

Here’s the thing.

The person behind the counter evidently get those same prompts up on their screen. BUT THEY GET THEIR PROMPT ONE FULL SECOND BEFORE I GET MINE.

What does this mean, Ken? What does it mean?

It means that the person behind the counter thinks I am a dope who does not know what I need to do with my card. Their screen has issued the prompt that it is time for me to put my card into the machine. BUT MY SCREEN HAS NOT YET TOLD ME TO DO IT. So the good person behind the counter tells me to put my card in and, just as I might be about to tell them that the bloody machine hasn’t asked for it yet, THE MACHINE ASKS FOR IT. So, I put my card in and wait for the machine to prompt me to put my PIN in. But, one full second before the machine tells me it’s ready for my input, THE TELLER’S MACHINE SAYS IT IS READY. So the bloody teller (maybe this is where they get their name from) TELLS ME TO PUT MY PIN IN. But the machine is not ready_ oh, wait, of course, it’s ready now, just before I can explain.

This sounds trivial, I know. In the greater scheme of world troubles and strife, this little card thing seems like something of a mere bagatelle. I accept that, I do. BUT IT HAPPENS EVERY BLOODY TIME.

Every time, I pay more than thirty euro, I end up looking and feeling like a man who doesn’t know how the card machine works. “You can put your card in now.” “You can put your PIN in now.” I KNOW!!!! I’M A SMART FUCKER, I’M JUST WAITING FOR YOUR FUCKING MACHINE TO KEEP UP WITH ME.

Here’s thing number two and it’s a driving thing so… watch out.

We have a number of roundabouts in our great little town and the rules about approaching and using these roundabouts are quite clear. There are two lanes on the approach to each of these roundabouts and the rules are clear. What? I said that already, did I? Well, there’s a reason for that. IT’S BECAUSE THE RULES ARE CLEAR.

If you’re turning left or going straight on, you use the left lane. If you’re turning right or going back the way you came (and I wish some of you would) you use the right lane. If you’re going straight ahead, you don’t use the right lane. Everybody knows this, the signs are irrefutably clear on this point.

The trouble is that most people are going straight on so the queue in the left lane becomes quite long while the queue in the right lane is mostly clear.

And there’s a special breed of gobshite who race up the outside lane and then go straight on, cutting the shit out of all rule-abiding drivers who are in the left lane meekly awaiting their turn. I’m not even going to get into it about them. They are bastards and fuckwits, the spawn of the devil. They are soft dogshit on the sole of my shoe and they are not worthy of my time here this morning. A pox on all their houses.

No, let’s leave those turds alone and concentrate of these other feckers. The smart, smarmy ‘I’m better than you are’ types who invariable ruin my day.

Can you guess what they do? These smarmy types? I bet you can.

Yes. Yes. They go up the right lane, passing all of us waiting in the left lane, then they turn right on the roundabout like they’re supposed to, and then… then… they go right around the roundabout and off up the straight-ahead road.

I sit in the queue in the left lane and I watch these bastards do this all day long. They whizz past me, get a nice easy access on to the roundabout and then round they go. I can only imagine the self-satisfaction they bathe in. I can almost see the pitying glance they toss to the waiting fools in the left lane as they roll on up the road.

AND THEY ARE MAKING ME LATE.

I could be gone through the roundabout by now. I could be almost home. But I have to sit and creep forward and watch and watch while a long string of pissy prats sail up and cleverly and cunningly RUIN MY DAY.

This second thing is the worst. Mostly because I can’t help but see it as a metaphor for life. We, the Plain People of Ireland, sit and behave and wait our turn. While the Flash-Harry fast track boyos take and take and take and wave at us and smile condescendingly as they pocket what is ours and sail on by to a better life with our rights wedged in their back pockets.

It makes me mad as hell.

But, unlike the Network Guy, I guess I am going to continue to take it.

It’s why I am where I am. In the queue. Losing.

It’s why you are where you are. Breaking the rules. Sailing on by. Winning.

I do love my town though.

It’s a great place to live.