And the Turn Would Play On

I didn’t know what to write about, it being the middle of that end-of-the-year lull, but then Glenny gently asked that we remember Simon Ricketts today, on the Anniversary of his death, and so here I am.

Remembering a little thing.

I have no idea how I managed to get in with the cohort of extraordinary Twitter people that I did. Perhaps it was because I came early to the party and the gates were just sitting ajar. 

Whatever the reason, there I was, back in the glory days, exchanging warmth and bants and creativity with a wealth of wonderful folk, the like of which I could never hope to commune with in real life.

And Simon was there, and Glenny was there. And they weren’t the Kings of the Gang or anything. Nobody was. It wasn’t like that. It was just people who turned up and typed stuff into their phones and their computers. Nothing much, nothing special. Except, because each line they typed had some tiny trace of their DNA somewhere inside of it, the lines became something more than just lines. Because those scraps of themselves lurked inside every tweet, the scraps became strands and the strands became chains and, over much normal, everyday, time, the chains of DNA became people. Real life, breathing people.

Twitter memories of Simon R? He was brilliant and revered in equal measure, of course. But, when I skim my memory for the stuff that rises to the top, it is always those Saturday nights that come straight up. Simon and Glen would go to the football and then they would go to the pub – always the same pub – and there would be a ‘turn’ – a musical act of reliably dubious quality - playing there and then there would be home, where Glenny would seem to vanish a bit but Simon would have pizza and a cosy welcome home from the cat.

It doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it was, it really was. It was a tiny event shared without a care for recognition or reward or increase in fortune of any kind. Purely, simply, a life moment shared. And, just now, as I type it, I think that’s what made Twitter such a warm place for so many of us at that time. Life moments were shared… for no logical reason at all.

And where was I, when Simon and Glenny were down the pub, supping a pint, negotiating their way through the regulars, gently wincing at the ‘turn’? I was generally at home, with Patricia, enjoying my Saturday evening. A DVD and a can of beer maybe. I wasn’t glued to my phone or my computer, hanging to see what happened next. Nah. But I was never a million miles away from knowing that the boys were in the pub and that all was okay with the world.

And then, not suddenly but not too slowly either, those two single men, who attended the match and the pub and ate the pizza with unerring regularity, were not single men anymore. Gibbzer and Bernie came along and changed the shapes of their Saturday nights and it didn’t take a genius to realise that this was a change that was very much for the better. There may have been a charm to the lad’s routine, a warmth to it and a security in it. But what replaced it was better, so very much better. And if we were no longer sure where they were of a Saturday evening, we know it was a good place and they were okay.

And we know that the turn would play on regardless.

It can’t really be a year, though, can it? How times passes. Thankfully, we remember. And, of course, it’s not just an annual remembrance on some significant date like this. It is that everyday, ‘sideswipe you from no place’, ‘make you unexpectedly grin’ type of remembrance.

Simon R is still very much here.

Making me laugh unexpectedly. Making me think. Making me remember.

I’m glad he’s still around.

Thank Goodness for Christmas

For the last number of Christmas holidays I have arrived at 2nd January, put on my work face, and said to myself, “That’s it, Ken, until 23rd December. Off we go.” And that has indeed been the case for the last number of years. Granted there has been a day off here and there and even a firm plan of a holiday but, apart from that, it’s been go, go, go from January until December.

That’s the main reason I tend to say, “Thank goodness for Christmas,” these days. I get to stop.

All going well, after a few hours of tidying stuff on Monday, I can close the door of the office and be done until 2nd January. In theory, my time will be my own and I can do with it what I wish.

I say, “in theory’. 

In practice, Christmas has its own well-worn routine and there is very little deviating from it. Early on Christmas Eve, there’ll be a visit to Anthony the Butcher for turkey and ham vittles. I see Anthony in his shop several times every week and we always put the world to rights before the dealing is done. On Christmas Eve though, it’ll be too hectic for too much chit-chat. There is lots to do. Lot of meaty goodies to dispatch. A few compliments of the season will have to suffice. Last year I won my turkey in Anthony’s raffle and that was the best-tasting goddamn turkey I ever had.

Christmas Eve afternoon becomes about the ham. It has to be cooked up in cider and various other things (top secret) then glazed and baked and… you know the score, you do it too. There’s a visit to a good friend’s house as the darkness deepens and the shops all miraculously close. The return home brings the irony of a house full of food and not a clue what to eat.

Later it’s midnight mass, which is well-over by midnight. I’m not much of a mass-goer anymore but I like the late evening Christmas Eve mass for all kinds of complex reasons, not least the knowledge that I’m probably stealing a prime seat from a regular attendee.

Christmas Day is all gifts and bracing walks and cooking and over-eating and sleeping in front of Strictly and being mildly disappointed with the Christmas Special of something and then, one of my favorites, a long lonesome walk through the deserted town centre. Only the occasional passing car and the occasional similar restless soul for company. This moment is special for me as it is the zenith – the furthest away I can get from work.

Stephen’s Day is visiting and family and board games and best ham competitions and fun.

The day after is visiting and visiting and turkey pie with possibly some chips on the side… ssshhh.

My favourite borrowed moments from the holiday will be a nice easy book to read or a favourite movie revisited on telly or a new one that has been saved-up and finally enjoyed.

Christmas will be different this year and one sometimes feels it should almost not be. But we need to stop and breathe and eat a sweet and shake hands and smile whenever possible, despite everything.

So, roll on Christmas. Let’s do it together and try to make it nice in some small way for someone we meet who might be less fortunate than ourselves. I wish those reading this a happy and a warm one and only good things for the New Year, though I know that’s a bit of a tall order.

To those not reading this, my wish is exactly the same.

Sure, why wouldn’t it be?

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.”