Tattery Jack Welsh

I am become Tattery Jack Welch.

It’s an expression that my Mum used to use as she was trying to comb our hair back when we were kids. “Here he is, Tattery Jack Welch”. Sometimes, Tattery Jack would even progress from being a person to being a noun. “Your hair is all Tattery Jack Welch.”

Just in case a little clarification is needed: in Sligo, ‘Tatters’ had the peculiar usage of referring to tangles in hair. Those stick-together bits that had to be vigorously (and painfully) combed out. My sisters suffered a lot more than I did with this small affliction but I had my moments too. 

Who was he, this Jack Welch of yore, whose hair was such a darned mess? I sometimes wonder if he was a direct relative of mine. We did have some ‘Welch’s back there somewhere. More often, though, I think not. I think he was just another one of Mum’s generic name evocations that seemed to come out of nowhere but the dim past. “Here we are,” she used to say, “all together like Brown’s Cows.” Who Brown was, and why his cows formed such an iconic cohort, remains a pleasant mystery to me.

Looking it up on the Internet (it’s good, have you heard of it?) I find a traditional jig, from around the start of the last century, called Tatter Jack Welch and perhaps that, right there, is the genesis of Mum’s expression. Assuming that the tune name derives from the Irish language, then T’athair Jack Welsh translates as Father Jack Welsh (or Walsh), a priest obviously. But who was he and, more importantly, did he have tangled hair? Answers on a postcard.

Anyhow, regardless of who he was, that’s me now: Tattery Jack Welch reborn. With my good friends in Staunton’s Barbers reopening very soon, and my appointment booked, my hair is now as long as it ever has been or, most likely, ever will be. And, yes, I have tatters. I generally get them out by running my hand through my hair and tugging on them until my fingers break through but, for every one tatter I get, two more seem to appear. Shampoo, and a touch of whatever conditioner Trish leaves lying around, does the trick but it’s a temporary fix. I don’t wash my hair every day (who do you think I am, Farrah Fawcett Majors?) and so the tatters conspire and come back in force.

This ‘running fingers through hair to remove tatters’ lark means that I’ve come to look a bit like Beethoven (the composer, not the dog). Wild sticky-up hair shoots off in all directions. Sometimes I see other fellas going by and I say to myself, “The state of yer man, with that mad head of hair on him.” Then I remember I’m just the same myself, mad head on me.

I probably should have just got a set of clippers, months ago, and had a go at it myself but it’s a combination of two things; 1) I’m not brave enough and 2) I kind of like seeing how mad my hair will go. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t mind losing it and getting back to my normal ‘trim every 5 weeks routine’. But you know… look at me. I’m a wild fecker, a beast of a man, feral, untamed, unbending, feared and respected wherever he goes.

Bollocks, obviously.

I’m a middle-aged dude with a sore hand, an out-of-control head of hair, and a beard that needs considerably more attention than it’s currently getting. I look like a semi-respectable hobo and people sometimes cross the road to avoid me.

Sore hand? Oh yeah, I have this tendonitis thing going on where my thumb is constantly locking up. I think it’s to do with the funny way I grip a computer mouse. I also think the constant niggle of it is making me focus too much on myself and things I would normally ignore, like my stupid hair. I’m working on the thumb thing and it’s not too bad. But it is a reminder of how miserable it can be, to be in a little bit of pain a little bit of the time and a taste of how truly awful it must be, to be in a lot of pain a lot of the time. So, respect to those who must endure that. All the respect.

In the meantime, roll on Tuesday week, when I can get these Tattery Jack Welch’s all shorn off.

Everything will be completely back to normal after that.

Right?

Moral of the Story

For a change, let’s start with the moral of the story. Flip it all over, turn it all around. Why not? I think the moral of this story is that sometimes it’s a good thing to do something you don’t want to do.

Once upon a time, I did something I didn’t want to do, and it worked out okay. Strike that, it worked out great.

The year was 1986 and I didn’t want to go. No way, nuh huh, ‘didn’t fancy it, ‘wasn’t doing it, leave me alone.

It was Saturday and I had my weekend all planned out. I had been living in London for two years by then and I was well into my life there. Work hard all week, take it easier on the weekends whenever possible. I was never what you would call a ‘Party Animal’. (Somebody called me that at a party once and I threw them down the stairs, but that’s a tale for another day.) I liked a visit to the movies, maybe a bite to eat out somewhere. A pub visit, okay. Just, please, no parties.

There was a party that evening. Everybody was meeting in a pub down Borough High Street. ‘The George’, you might even know it. After that, there was going to be a party in a nurse’s flat right beside Guy’s Hospital.

I just wasn’t into it. I had plans; you see. I had got a free ticket from ‘Time Out’ for a free preview screening of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in Leicester Square at 10.00am on Sunday morning. That was the plan. A quiet night in, on Saturday, then up early for a nice traffic-free drive into central London. Park down at Carlton House Terrace (there always seemed to be a parking space for me down there) then a leisurely stroll over to Leicester Square for the movie. A nice morning, requiring a fairly nice early night.

So, no party for me, no way. 'Not a party animal anyway, me.

Except…

I had the car, and I didn’t really drink. There were people in my household who really wanted to go to this party. And the going wasn’t even the problem. The ‘getting home’, however, therein lay the rub. So, I was cajoled and pleaded-with, begged, bribed, and bastardised (maybe not that last one).

“Okay, Okay. I’ll go.”

I reluctantly revised my plan. I could go, suffer the party until around two, round up the tipsy lads and hit back across the city to Ealing. A couple of hours sleep, and I could still make the free movie in town.

Plan.

The George was packed. There was no comfort for me in it. I don’t like being in crowds like that. I don’t function too well. It was your typical ‘crowded room’. And, across that crowded room… there was a girl. She looked really cool. Who was she?

I don’t think we ever got talking in the pub. It was too crowded. But I was suddenly more motivated to go to the party afterward. I have a memory of walking through Guy’s A&E with a plastic bag full of cans which belonged to someone I’d never met. It was a long time ago; I don’t really know.

We got talking at the party, this girl and me. I gave her a lift home. I had a casette of 'One Trick Pony' by Paul Simon on the car stereo, and she knew all the words. The lads were in the back. She was staying in Hounslow, so I dropped her home. She was new in London and I asked if I could show her around a little some evening. She said, “How could I refuse such a kind offer?”

Thirty-five years later and she’s over there in the kitchen now, reading the Saturday paper which is spread out on the table. I’ll have to get off this computer soon as she wants to do some work on her essay. I never did get to that free preview screening of Little Shop of Horrors. Never mind, I saw it when it finally came out. She’s lovely.

I'd better wrap this up.

Perhaps that 'moral of the story' I gave you at the start wasn’t really the right one. Sometimes you have to follow the story all the way through to the end know what the real moral is. Maybe it isn’t as simple as just sometimes doing something you don’t want to do, although that still applies. I think, in this case, the moral of the story might be that we should never lose sight of the miracles that stay in our lives. The amazing things that are right there in front of us, all of the time. The things we are singularly gifted with and, without which, we would be simply adrift. I think that’s the real moral of this story.

It’s essay time, apparently.

I've got to go.

The Cat - Act III

I should have known there would have to be an Act III to the story of me and the cat. The first two acts had taken their form so neatly, it now seems only natural that there would be more to tell. And there is.

Act I was played out last spring, during the first lockdown. Basking in strange, glorious weather, I trimmed aimlessly at the rampant shrubbery in my back garden and greeted the stray cats who ambled through with gentle ribbing in a foreign language. You can read about that here.

Things turned sour in Act II, with a new breed of wild cat being belligerent and shirty to me in my garden and piddling in my car when I inadvertently left the door open overnight. That post is here if you fancy it. I was surprised how some readers found Act II to be quite sad. My cat nirvana was over, hostilities were declared. It seemed as if something good had passed.

Stick around. Act III is on the way… and it’s a bit of a doozy.

Where to begin?

The cat from Act II, the one who pissed in my car, had taken to going into my shed and hanging out there. I’d tried to secure it but there’s a flat roof next-door, up against it and an adjoining gap at the eaves so in it would come. The shed is more of a garage really, sturdy, and well-built, but I’ve filled it up with boxes and stuff from the house until it’s become just a shed.

The cat liked it in there. I would often open the side door to get some fuel for the fire and be greeted with a hostile meow from the gloom. I would shout at the cat and the cat would bugger off out through the eaves gap and that would be it, until the next time. It was encouragement to put the job on the list; hire a skip, clean out the shed, repair the eaves, stop all this nonsense. Being on the list means nothing, nothing at all.

I should say, for those of you coming straight in here at Act III, the cat is a feral one who lives around my area. Nothing to do with me, really. We keep our distance. We glare at each other. There is no love lost there.

Easter Saturday afternoon. I decide to get the peat briquettes for the stove in a little early. I go to the shed/garage and open the side door and there is the cat, perched like Lady Muck in a cardboard box on top of a mountain of other cardboard boxes. We eye each other up, the cat and me, as we often do, but he isn’t the usual poise to leave when I start shouting.

I start shouting.

“Go on, piss off you.” I suggest in my best loud voice. This is normally enough to get the cat, who is white with a black patch over one eye, on the move. Not today though. The cat holds firm and eyes me coolly.

“Hey, bugger on out of it, go on!” I clap my hands. The cat reluctantly moves. It climbs the boxes and springs up to the eaves and sits there, eyeballing me. A mewling noise emits. I haven’t heard the cat make this noise before. Is it sick? Is it injured?

You’ll probably have guessed this next bit. The new mewling is not coming from the cat in the eaves, it is coming from within the box. The box that is precariously perched on top of a mountain of cardboard garbage. A box that the bottom is rapidly falling out of.

“Oh no,” I say to myself, much softer, “oh, no.”

I fought my way to the box, the cat watching me all the time. There were two newborn kittens inside and the bottom of the box was indeed torn open. There could be more, fallen through.

The garage doors at the front of the shed don’t usually get opened. The bins sit in front of them, and the side door is adequate for access. I couldn’t help thinking of the cat when I throw them both open, and the sunlight streamed in to the normally dark and gloomy space. The cat might have thought it was in ‘Inception’ or something. “Bloody hell,” it might have thought, “what’s all this now? I give birth and now the whole house is coming apart.” She continued to watch me from the eaves as I battled my way through the boxes, extracted the box with the two kittens and went searching to see if there was any more. There was indeed one more, who had slipped through the bottom. There wasn’t a fourth. I made sure.

So, I guess the cat, who had been a ‘He’ until now, was actually a ‘She’. I figured that out myself.

It’s a different matter, having a feral cat who breezes through your garden and glares at you and pisses in your car, to having a new Mum with three tiny kittens, black withered umbilici still attached, all in need of a little help. It changes the narrative in a single moment.

I summoned Patricia from the house, and we found a better box and a small quilt that one of the boys used to use, and a hot water bottle and some newspapers for a little extra insulation, and I set it up in a tidy, defensible, corner of the garage, near the side door. I put the kittens in there, as warm, and snug as we could manage, and I closed the garage doors and the side door, and I left them alone. There was only one person who could take care of these wild little things and she was up in the eaves, doubtless completely distressed. She had to be given room to come back down. So, I left them to it.

Checking in a while later, I was greeted upon opening the door by a hostile hiss. The cat was ensconced in the box with her kittens under her. She looked okay. I drove to the supermarket and bought some of the best cat food I could find.

I didn’t know how this story would end but I knew how it needed to go from here.

Fast forward ten days. Over a week ago.

The cat gets fed twice a day. She seems to prefer the more expensive ‘Felix’ cat food. Her box remains comfy. Whenever I see her out, I check the kittens and tidy things up. They don’t seem to need the hot water bottle any more. Mum is plenty warm. Every time I open the shed door, the cat hisses at me with unbridled hostility. “Don’t you come near me, you bastard.” But I think she knows by now that I’m not here to do her much harm. As soon as I close the door she nips out and eats her dinner. Then she works hard to bury the dish, which isn’t easy on a concrete floor. She manages to cover it with bits of card and stuff. I’ve started to remove it as soon as she’s finished. I think some of the other wild cats who roam our gardens must come to visit her lair, perhaps attracted by the smell of the food. They are a belligerent bunch and I think she might have to defend her patch and her kittens from them. So, I take the food dish out and wash it until the next time. I do my bit. The kittens are well, getting bigger and stronger, obviously being well looked after by their Mum.

The plan, such as it is, is to leave the cat in-situ with the kittens until they are weaned, then try to enlist the North West SPCA in homing them, getting Mum neutered, and letting her return to her feral back garden life. She is too wild to be tamed now. I have called the NWSPCA, but they think like I do. For now, the best place for them is in the shed, getting looked after by us.

You might think this Act is over now, but it isn’t. Not by a long chalk.

Last week. I go to give the cat its morning ‘Felix’ before I go to work. The cat isn’t there.

No sweat. It goes off for a few minutes now and then, probably to do its round of friendly houses to see what treats might be on offer. I take the food away again. No good leaving it for the marauding moggies. Trish works from home on certain days, so she tries again later with the food.

But the cat has not returned. The kittens are fine.

Lunchtime.

The cat has not returned. The kittens are fine. I put a hot water bottle in with them. I look around the neighbourhood for some sign of the cat but there is none. She has vanished.

Teatime.

The cat has not returned. The kittens are okay. But it’s been a while now. It’s been ten hours, perhaps more. Perhaps the cat has been hit by a car? Perhaps it been locked up in somebody’s shed?

I call up the North West SPCA, who are just lovely. The kittens must come into the house. The Toms who breeze through the shed in search of food may harm the kittens now that Mum is gone. Besides, it’s coming to night and getting colder. We must get some kitten food and some bottles, and we have to start hand feeding them. Somebody will come to help later. The Vet’s shop has a huge tin of kitten food and all the kit. It’s fairly expensive gear. I read the tiny print, boil kettles, measure powder out. Memories of late nights twenty-plus years before.

Trish and me, we start to bottle feed the kittens. We haven’t much of a clue what we’re doing, and the kittens are loud and feisty little beggars. Not much is going in. I get an eye dropper and squeeze some milk into each of their mouths. They make faces but some milk goes down. I didn’t read this eye dropper thing anywhere so it’s probably a terrible idea so don’t do it. Ever. Okay?

Trish gets the hang of it a bit. The kittens get some milk. It’s getting on eight o’clock. I check the shed. There is no cat there. No cat at all.

We can do a night or two of this, three hourly feeds, but we can’t keep the kittens going for the remaining four weeks it might need to get them weaned. We need some help.

And we get it.

Triona arrives in her car from the North West SPCA. Her hands and arms are torn from the feral cat that she has in a cage in her boot (no, it’s not ours). She comes in to see the kittens. I expected her to be cool and detached and businesslike. Not the case. She melts at the sight of the kittens. “Oh, they’re Gorgeous, they’re the most Gorgeous things.” She helps us with the bottle feeding, showing us a trick or two. It’s going to be a long night, but a foster can be found tomorrow. So, settle in. But wait, a phone call to Triona. Magda can take them, the little mites, she is an experienced fosterer and will feed them without trouble and hand-rear them until they are of age when they will be found homes of their own. She can take them right now.

Triona takes the kittens, along with their box, their quilt, their hot water bottle, their kitten food, and their Finding Nemo soft toy which we were using to replace the bulk of the cat. We wave them off, exhausted but secure in the knowledge that we had done our best.

You think this act is over now, the crisis averted, but it isn’t.

There is one more twist in the tale.

Can you guess what it is?

The kittens are gone to their foster home with Magda. After a while, I go to the shed to tidy up a bit and reflect on what occurred there in that tatty box in the corner. I open the door in the deepening gloom.

“Hisssss.”

The cat is back. Right there, sitting in her box looking at me, her expression perhaps saying, “Okay, Nimrod, what have you done this time?”

The kittens can’t be returned and locked back in with Mum, she is wild and may reject them now that they have been bottle fed and much handled. Plus, the roaming toms are a hazard. They are better now in their foster home. They will have a life.

But it’s so very sad. The cat is in her box. I gave her some food and she eats it and looks at me. Come on, where are they?

There is one more shot. The plan was always to trap the Mum and have her neutered so that this whole scene isn’t replayed in a few months’ time. Triona comes back the next day with a cat trap. We place it close to the box, where the food normally sits, and we wait.

Teatime. No cat in the cage.

Evening. No cat in the cage.

Late night. No cat in the cage.

I get up the next morning and go in the shed. The cat is in the cage, sitting there placidly. No hiss. I cover her with sheet to keep her calm.

I bring her to Magda’s house in my car. Magda has a big soppy foster dog called Khaleesi who is smitten with the kittens. She licks them and nuzzles them and keeps watch over them. The cat is carried into the spare room where Magda looks after her fostered animals. She will leave the cat covered for a while and take things easy. She will see what happens.

The next day, I get a video on my phone. The cat is lying on her side in her basket. The three kittens are feeding from her, nestled up. They are back together again… and safe.

Yesterday, a week on, I went to visit them at their foster home. All four look sleek and healthy and very well indeed. Magda spoils them rotten though the Mum is still hissy and growly and hostile and, well, wild.

And that is it. Act III of me and the cat. When the three kittens are weaned, they will be found good homes. The cat will be neutered and returned to her domain, roaming freely though our back gardens, picking up her kindnesses wherever she can get them. We will try to trap as many of her fellow feral cats as we can and have them neutered too. She will never live in a house because she is a fully grown wild thing but, whereas before I would have had as little as possible to do with her, I won’t be able to help but keep an eye out for her from now on. Leave her a daily Felix treat. Help her out if she ever needs it. A nice lady turned up at my door yesterday asking after her wild cat pal who she feeds every day. I was pleased to be able to reassure her that everything was all right.

Stray cats don’t have names. There is nobody to put one on them. But I think, when she comes back to our gardens, I might call this one Magda, after her foster-saviour. We will doubtless glare at each other from afar, Magda and me, but maybe we’ll know each other a little better too.

Maybe we’ll have done each other a bit of good.

 

 

 

The North West SPCA is an entirely voluntary and non-profit organization and I have now seen, first hand, the wonderful things they do and the wonderful way they go about their work. You can follow the great work they do via their Facebook Page and maybe give them a little donation there too, if you can spare it. 

Slightly Better Than I Think

I got a new phone recently. Wait, rephrase. I had to get a new phone recently.

I hate changing phones. It never seems to work out easily for me. Despite all assurances, people’s numbers get lost along the way, things go missing. It’s awful. In fact, I hate the entire process so much that I hold on to my old phones far longer than I should. I hang in there until they are on their last legs. 

When I showed up in the shop last month to get my new phone, the lady in the shop was bemused.

“You could have had a lovely new phone for free two years ago.”

I channeled the guy from a Foster Grants sunglasses advert from several decades ago. You won't remember him but I do. 

“I know about that,” I said, “I know.”

So, my new phone is lovely and shiny and hi tech and everything but…

It has a defect.

I’ve been in denial about this for the last number of weeks but it’s there all right. In every call I make, at some point the person on the other end will say something like, “No, I’ve lost you, you’re gone… oh, wait, you’re back again.”

For a while I thought it was me. Perhaps I was somehow holding the phone the wrong way, covering the microphone with my finger or something. But it's gone on and on. It’s still going on now, I’m going to get it fixed soon. I went into the shop with it, but they were a model of absolute disinterest, which rather set my teeth on edge when I remembered how fawning they were when I first got the bloody thing.

“All we can do is send it off for repair and you’ll need to find a temporary replacement phone for yourself while its gone. No, we don’t have any.”

Aftercare my arse. 

I’ve found an old phone belonging to my son so I’m charging that up now and will use it while my brand spanking new one hopefully gets fixed.

But that’s not the point. None of that is the point.

Last week, while in work, I looked at my phone and I wondered how I might prove there was an actual fault with the microphone. I could call up someone in the phone shop and talk to them until the fault kicks in but what on earth would we talk about? I’m not good on football. Plus, the fault probably wouldn’t ever kick in on a call like that because that’s how my life generally works.

I had an idea. I would set the phone to record while I was working at my computer and I would play some music on my Spotify then play it back and see when and if the sound dropout happened. So that’s what I did. After five attempts, I got a lovely recording of the sound level going down by 95% and then coming back up again. So now I’m getting all dressed up to go to the shop to get it all sorted out. Good, eh?

But that’s not the point either.

Here’s the actual point.

As I was playing back those recordings, I was enjoying the music all over again. Sometimes when working I listen to a playlist called ‘Peaceful Piano – American Songbook’ and I know every note of it so well that it doesn’t distract me or anything, it just helps me flow along. Anyway, I was listening to the recording of the piano stuff when I became aware of this other strange noise in the background of the track. It was an incessant clicking and mechanical whirring, incredibly fast and non-stop. I was puzzled by it for a few seconds. Was this the fault in the phone, the making of these noises? For a moment I really wasn’t sure.

Then I realised what it was. It was me.

While letting the phone record the piano, I had kept working on my computer. I was doing a little CAD stuff, as I often do. Drawing, editing, you know the kind of thing. That noise I was hearing was me clicking on my mouse and using the little wheel in the middle of it for paging up and down and selecting stuff. It was me all along.

And, man, I sounded fast.

I couldn’t believe it. In my mind I was just easing along, doing what I do, passably good but not by any means brilliant. On that recording, though, I was even a little bit amazing to myself. I was really flying.

It got me thinking.

Is it possible that we’re all a little bit better than we think we are? I generally tend to believe that I’m quite a bit worse than I think I am. I reckon I big myself up a bit and that I’m just pretty average overall.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m actually better than I think. 

I know. Probably not.

But thanks, faulty phone, for at least raising the possibility.


Books Hit Different

It’s nothing really. A mere bagatelle in the overall scheme of things. How I read a book or don’t read a book will not stop the Earth from spinning anytime soon, it will not save the bees.

But here’s the thing.

I’m always reading a book. Like a big smoker, I can’t get by for long without having one on the go. Mostly, I read at night and I value my reading time as an important thing. But, this year, it’s been a little different.


Books are hitting me a little harder. That’s all. No more, no less. A little harder… and I wonder why.

I guess it’s a lockdown/pandemic thing. One of many. Or maybe it’s just the particular ones I’ve read. Maybe if I’d read those ones at any time, the effect would have been the same.

I don’t think so though. These times we live in, they’re almost certainly playing their part.

I suppose I have been taking a little bit more time to read. Whereas, previously, it was bedtime reading, I will now sit on the couch and read if I get the chance. As a result, I’m getting through my books a little more quickly than I normally would. But that seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? You would think I would have less reaction to the books if I were racing through them faster than usual. And, as I said, that’s simply not the case. They hit harder.

Here’s some of the books I’ve been reading and what they’ve been doing to me:

A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion. This was one of the most recent books I’ve read. It’s our current book club book and written by a person with strong Sligo connections. I thought I knew what I was going to get here, from the back cover and the word of mouth and the first chapter. I thought I was on firm ground. But the book went somewhere else, I won’t say too much about where. Suffice to say, it became a larger portrait of adrift family than I was expecting. In this case, it was the ending that hit hard. As the book progressed, I became aware that there was something I wanted to see happen. As the possibility of it happening (or not) drew nearer I became more and more involved such that the resolution moved me quite a bit. In normal times, would I have just read it and nodded sagely and moved on? I’m not sure.

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave was an earlier read this year. I didn’t think it was for me. It was all a bit bleak and dour. But a new character coming into the setting brought me along with her and I became immersed in the fervour and ambition and hatred and cruelty of it all. I came away from it having been touched by it.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. Well, I mean, who wouldn’t get hit by this one? Even in normal times, the story of Shuggie and his troubled Ma would mess anybody up a little bit; and me? Well, I was no exception.

Esther Waters by George Moore. This is when I really knew I was in trouble. Another book club selection. There is nothing like being in a good book club to keep you reading things you would never read in a blue fit and it is an immensely rewarding thing. We chose Esther Waters because we were reconnecting with a lovely book club in Boston, who like to read Irish Writers, so we chose Moore ‘cos he only lived over the road (so to speak) and the title was easy to access in our hard lockdown. In regular times, this one wouldn’t have touched me at all. There was a rough-and-ready aspect to the prose and an overall unedited quality which would have thrown me out of the story completely. Plus, the writer seemed much more interested in driving home his societal points than in keeping me, the reader, on-board engaged. Nonetheless, the trials of Esther and her roguish husband, who turned out to be all right really, caught my heart a little when normally it never-ever would have.

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy. I've just finished this one. I bought it for Patricia for Christmas after deliberately going looking for a book I've never heard of but which is much admired in online reviews. This seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I really liked this though I had a reservation or two. As a West of Ireland person, I found those parts rather suggested the experience of a writer who had visited there rather than actually lived there. It's a subtle thing. But, overall, the vision of a near-future world, where so much has been casually lost to us, was troublng and moving. 

Why is this happening: this increased involvement with the books I read? Lockdown? Old Age?

I think it’s a little bit of all those things… plus one other.

The ‘other’ bit is the book that hit particularly hard, right when I least expected something to do that.

A little background to that. I watched the TV series on the BBC when it first aired a few years ago. Then, when it was repeated over a few nights in the lockdown, I recorded it on impulse in case I fancied watching it again. Then I did indeed watch it again, by myself, and liked it even better the second time around. 

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, the story of Thomas Cromwell told with the man himself at the very centre of the tale.

When I finished the series of Wolf Hall for the second time, I still wanted more. I knew that the series had covered the first two books of the trilogy, so I got hold of the third novel and launched straight into it. Slightly cheeky, perhaps, not reading the first two first, but I just wanted to continue the narrative and to go on spending time with the enormous central character, Thomas Cromwell himself. Kudos must be given here to Mark Rylance, who brought Cromwell to life for me and stayed with me for everything that followed. 

Immediately upon starting the third book, I was fully immersed. I knew the characters very well now and had strong images of them based on the TV I had watched. It’s a big book and a heavy book. I had a bit of a hard time reading the first quarter of it in bed and elsewhere. It kept toppling over. But after the quarter mark was reached, the physical book gained a manageable equilibrium and on I went.

The experience of reading the book was... odd, and I think it’s coloured my reading since. I just became heavily involved and, when it came to the latter part of the book, a time of abandonment and betrayal, it was almost too much to bear. This is a compliment to the extraordinary writing of Hilary Mantel, who kept me front and centre in her extraordinary vision of Cromwell’s mind. But I have little doubt that the times we are living in added an extra drop of vitriol to the pot. The entire thing read like a vast metaphor for how we invest ourselves in things in our lives and how we hope for the best in doing that. We nail our colours to some mast or another and hope they don't fall in some future storm. When Cromwell came towards the end of his tale, I travelled his road with him and felt ever-so-slightly and inexplicably bereft when I closed the book for the last time.

Was it the writing, was it my fecked-up brain or was it just the times we live in? Who knows?

All I know is that I’ve gone back now to the first novel and am walking the earlier parts of Cromwell’s road again. A scheming British muscle man of the monarchy has become a bit of a friend to me. God only knows how that happened. I’ll let you know how the journey progresses, this time.

And, if you are on the lookout for a good read, most of the books I’ve mentioned above might serve you well, except possibly Esther Waters. You mightn’t thank me for that one.

Happy Easter 2021.

Must find some eggs.

Désenchanté par le Chat

This happened last weekend, but it was simply too raw to write about then. I had quite a bit of processing to do before I could even attempt to set it all down. But here I am now, so brace yourself.

It seems like only a short year ago that I was singing the praises of the garden cats here on the blog. Hell, I even recorded a video blog, sprawled on our redundant trampoline like some beached whale. 

“I speak French to them.” I purred, perhaps trying to give myself a modicum of gravitas that I never did earn, “Aren’t I feckin’ great altogether?”

Well not anymore, sunshine. As the man said, we’ve all passed a lot of water since then and those days are firmly gone. Poorly executed Gallic phrases have given way to openly hostile stares across the back garden wasteland.

The party is definitely over, pussycat.

It all started, as things so often do, with the Friday Night Takeaway. This is a bi-weekly event involving a well-established menu of fish, chips, chicken fillet burgers, garlic sauce and coleslaw. I invariably make the journey and, oddly enough, it’s one of my most favourite things. I feel like a hunter-gatherer, heading out into the woods to bag some dinner for my family, except the wilderness is ceramic-tiled and aluminium-clad and the bounty is heavily battered.

There are several traditions or routines attached to the Friday Night Takeaway, not least of which is that John opens the front door for me when I get home. This is kind of a running gag, based on the thought that nobody would open the door for me in normal circumstances but, when there’s food at stake, the door opens, and the food is hastened inside. I usually hand John the bag full of food and let him go ahead to the kitchen but this particular Friday, the one before last, was different. For some reason, I held on to the bag. I think it was how inviting the front door and the hall door looked, how clear a run I had through to the kitchen, how it would expedite the distribution of the food without any further gratuitous loss of heat in the merchandise. Whatever the reason, I dispensed with tradition and bailed straight down the hallway, leaving John to secure the front door behind me, which he did.

The food was great, the single bottle of beer that went with it was great. Everything was great.

Well… almost everything.

In altering the front door ritual, something has been lost, some small thing had been overlooked and that small thing would come back to haunt me with a vengeance.

The next morning.

It had rained all night. I had lain in bed for a while, before sleep came, and listened to it pelting down on the roof. I think I felt a bit self-satisfied that the rain couldn’t touch me here inside my house. Pride/fall etc. Where was I? Oh yes…

The next morning dawned bright and clear; well, I imagine it did. Dawn was well-over by the time I got up but it was bright and clear then so I can imagine it started out that way too. I got ready to hit the shop and get the paper and some freshly baked rolls perhaps, it being Saturday and all. I got my coat and left my house and…

And…

The passenger door of the car was open, wide open.

For a moment, I thought I’d been burgled. Then the running order of the evening before played out in my head. The change to the routine. The straight run to the kitchen. When I would normally have been closing the passenger side door, having taken the food out, I had instead broke for the kitchen, John had closed the front door behind me. The passenger door was ignored and the damage was done. Nobody’s fault but my own.

I examined the damage. The rain that I had laughed so heartily at, the night before, had been doing its work while I snickered in my bed. The floor below the passenger seat was a soggy carpet-puddle. The passenger seat was drenched. The little storage wells on the inside of the passenger door were brim-full of rainwater. As a mess, it was more than enough to have to deal with. But, of course, it wasn’t all there was to deal with. Not by a long shot.

The cat had gone in and had a piss.

Relations between this particular cat and me had been rapidly deteriorating over the past few months. A large, predominantly white Tom, he had always been predisposed to fix me with his hostile ‘who da hell are u?’ stare while occupying my garden but then he upped the ante by finding some way into my shed, across the high garden wall, and through a gap in the eaves. He had taken to hiding in there and startling me when I went in to retrieve a peat briquette or two. In return, I would loudly ask him to vacate the place, with cursory swear words thrown in for good measure. It was, at best, a tenuous relationship. And yes, he would like to mark his territory in there, converting my tatty but passable shed into a cat scented unpleasant place to have to go.

So, there we were, this cat and me, in a tense ongoing standoff where I never for a single moment felt that I had the upper hand.

“Maybe it was another cat who pissed in your car,” you might say, in defence of this cat. My response is as graphic and it is unfortunate. It was this cat and only this cat. How do I know? Alas, I know his smell.

So, I’ve worked at it. I’ve dry hoovered, wet hoovered, newspapered, towelled, Fabrezed, Fabrezed and Fabrezed some more. “Why didn’t you leave the car doors open so it could air?” you might now say. My reply, “easy, because the cat would have gone in and pissed some more.”

Now, exactly a week on, the smell has been largely expunged, the damp eradicated, normality resumes. The cat stayed away for most of last week. He knew what he had done. He was on the back doorstep yesterday when I came home from work, giving me the old stink-eye. I pointed at him.

“You know what you’ve done,” I simply said, and not in French either, and I knew that he knew what I meant from the look he gave me.

This cat will come to no harm on my watch. He is, after all, just one of God’s creatures and his instinct to piss in my car is a natural one and thus, logically, a forgivable one. Live and let live.

But I can bear a grudge just as well as this cat evidently can, and it will be some time before him and me can sit down and break bread together.

For now, it’s a standoff. A Moggyton Standoff.

And I must remember to keep that car door shut.

 

 

What Would the Pussy Cat Do?

People often say how your life flashes before your eyes right at the end. I’m beginning to develop a slightly different theory. I increasingly think that your life comes back to you, in bits and pieces, after you turn fifty-seven or so. Then, when the inevitable comes, it’s all been gradually assembled for you like a jigsaw puzzle. Okay, maybe this doesn’t apply to everyone. Maybe it just applies to me. 

I wrote a few weeks ago about dredging up a memory and having several other ones come up with it. Since then, the old memories keep on coming and coming. That’s how I’ve developed my theory. Maybe it really is just me, though. It usually is.

(As a side note, the spelling in this post is about to become quite atrocious so bear with me.)

This particular memory cul-de-sac started a few day ago when I said something to somebody that I had never said before. I said, “I’ll go out in the afternoon unless I take a figeary and go out in the morning instead.”

Sorry. What? Take a ‘what?’

This is something my Mum used to say. It is yet another thing I had forgotten until it randomly popped out of my mouth. It means something like ‘a notion’. I might take a notion/I might take a figeary. It might be Irish. I haven’t got a clue.

Now, full disclosure. I’ve editorialised a bit here. In my random blurted-out statement, I meant to say ‘figeary’ but the expression I actually used was another one that my Mum used. Another one that I had completely forgotten. In fact, it was this second one that reminded me of that first one, if this makes any sense at all.

I actually said, “I’ll go out in the afternoon unless I get a feechy faw and go in the morning.” And this was an incorrect usage.

“Feechy faw.”

As I said, my spelling here is probably atrocious. Just let me off. Think about it, I meant to say ‘figeary’ and instead I said ‘feechy faw’. The spelling of these strange, dredged-up words is a secondary consideration.

“What,” I hear you cry, “is a Feechy Faw?”

Fair Question.

Firstly, it’s not ‘a’ Feechy Faw, it’s ‘the’ Feechy Faw and it means something completely different to ‘Figeary’. The way Mum used it, it was like putting the ‘Kybosh’ on something, hexing it, making it somehow worse than it was before. A context sentence might be something like, "She put the Feechy Faw on the whole day out when she said it was going to rain."

Are we good? Good. ‘Cos we’re only getting started.

This little word-memory-thing sent me down a rabbit hole of the rhymes Mum used to say to use when we were little. You know the type. The kind of thing you might do when bouncing a baby on a knee. You are probably familiar with such gems as the riding of a cock horse to Banbury Cross or going round and round the garden like a Teddy Bear. We had those… but we had other ones too.

One of our local ones involved having baby in the lap, held by both arms, and rowing back and forth. “Row the boat to Ballymote, row the boat to Collooney.” Both these places are little towns in my home county of Sligo so I guess this one hasn’t travelled very far. Perhaps there are local variances.

But I digress slightly. The point I wanted to make about the rhymes was how sweet and lovely they seemed when they were being done to my little sister or, God help me, to me. But now, when I look at them through the lens of the aforesaid fifty-seven-year-old man, I can’t help but feel that some of them were a tiny bit strange.

Things that absolutely seemed fine then, well, as the young folk say, they tend to hit a little different now. Back in the day, if I were a bold boy, and this was not unheard of, my loving Mum would sometimes call me an ‘Antichrist’. That doesn’t seem to play too well when I type it now, but it was fine at the time. It felt gentle. Go figure.

But those rhymes…

Clap hands, Clap hands

For Daddy to Come

With Sweets in His Pocket

For Baby Alone…

…and none for Dirty Kenneth.

I know, I know. It sounds like there should be an investigation or something, but I promise you it was all as gentle and loving as can be. It just doesn’t type up all that well.

It’s this last one, though. Now that’s it’s popped unbidden back into my head, on the back of all those Figearys and Feechy Faws, I just can’t seem to shake it off. It never troubled me back in the day but, man, it’s freakin’ me out a bit now.

Here goes…

Kenneth Armstrong

He’s No Good

Chop Him Up for Firewood.

If He Doesn’t Do for That

Give Him to the Pussy Cat.

I tend to recite this in my head as a staccato declamation. A little like something the good village folk would chant to you while they held hands in a ring as you gently broiled inside The Wicker Man.

I can take the ‘chopping me up for firewood’ part. That doesn’t seem to faze me. It’s that other part. Yes, that.

In our back garden, we have some transient cats who often bide a while. One is all sweetness and light, a little paw raised to the window as if to say, ‘might I possibly come in for a little while, partake of a little milk perhaps?’ But there’s this other one one who hangs out under the trampoline and he’s quite a different proposition. He looks at me, safe behind my bedroom window, and his glare seems to say, “If you were a bird, mate, I’d get you under my paw and you’d just see what I’d do to you.”

As my mind repeats my childhood nursery rhyme, it’s not the chopping up that haunts my dreams. No. Here I am, fifty-seven years old, wondering why on earth my dear departed Mother would give me to the Pussy Cat.

And, if she did, what on earth would the Pussy Cat do with me?

 

Home Entertainment

It is important to remain entertained when one stays at home.

There are four of us in this house and there are things we all come together to watch on the telly. By necessity, those things have a ‘common denominator’ quality to them. That doesn’t mean they are bad though.

One surprising life-saver has been Jeopardy on Netflix. I watched one once, when it first appeared there, just out of curiosity, and quickly decided it wasn’t for me. Then I watched another with my elder son, John, and he seemed to like it. So, we tentatively brought the whole family unit in for a viewing of the third episode and that was it, we were hooked. 

There are some downsides. Sometimes a category of questions is very USA-centric, and we have no chance of engaging with them. But this is surprisingly rare. Generally, it is a gentle entertaining watch, with the late Alex Trebek an eternally genial host and quizmaster. Because the winning player returns, it is easy to build up a relationship with a repeat winner and feel under threat whenever they are under threat and cheers their successes. Sometime a player is just too loud, and we enjoy making fun of that. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is. It’s something to enjoy and that’s invaluable. 

There is also the knowledge that Alex Trebek passed away recently and that he knew something of his fate as he recorded the episodes we currently watch. On one college episode he announced that he had ' a tear in his eye' the day before when the contestants had all done really well. You don't fake that. 

We like Gogglebox too and we’re glad it came back on Friday, though we haven’t sat down with the newest one at time of writing. We’re all adults now, the youngest being twenty, but we still fast forward through the naughtier bits. Life’s too short.

Monday night is Quiz Night, with Only Connect and University Challenge both getting a watch. Gosh, this sounds very highbrow, but it isn’t really. We don’t have a high hit-rate on the questions, and they are getting harder and harder these days as the end of both series approaches and the semi-finals and finals kick in. But, again, you get to know the returning teams a little and Jeremy is nicely unpredictable. We watched one from ten years ago on YouTube one evening and it’s amazing how Jeremy’s pace of questioning has slowed over the years. None of us are getting any younger, I guess.

My own personal treat is to watch a film. Late at night, when everyone else has gone to bed or at least to some other room, I’ll see what I can dig up on Netflix or Prime or recorded off the telly. I usually can’t manage the whole film in one sitting ‘cos I’d never get up in the morning and I’d just fall asleep anyway, but I can usually get a flick in over three sessions and that’s not too bad. Most recently, I watched ‘The Trial of the Chicago Seven’ and found it to be very entertaining. Before that, it was ‘The Rental’, which was okay and ‘Sputnik’, which I also enjoyed. Next up might be ‘The Dig’. I’d like to see the original version of ‘Rams’ so I’ve booked that in too.

I read too. Mostly at night but I’ve rediscovered the joy of sitting on the couch and getting some pages in. Recently, I became quite immersed in ‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel. I surprised myself by how involved I got into it all. Lockdown, I guess. I also enjoyed ‘The Mercies’, though I’ve been advised that enjoyed is not the word to use. ‘Shadowplay’ was also very involving. At the moment, I’m reading some George Moore for Castlebar Library Book Club and learning some stuff as I go.

I got a nice pair of Bluetooth headphones for Christmas, so I use those for music and a podcast or two while I’m cooking. I’m a long-time listener of Kermode and Mayo and they are like old pals who help to see me through.

I had pretty much given up on going to the Cinema before the current trouble arrived. I wonder, will I go back a little more afterward? I don’t feel a particular drive to do so but there is a feeling that one should celebrate our eventual emergence from this cloud by seeking out groups of people and places where we will once again be able to congregate. I’ll wing it, I think.

As with everything else this year, I do these things, but I feel I should be doing more. I read but should be reading more. I walk but should be walking more. I garden… no, wait, I don’t garden but definitely should be gardening more.

How much of an effect has the last year had on me? It’s hard to know. Not much, perhaps, but really quite a lot. I feel older than the year that has passed. I’m like a stone, on the ground, and the pandemic is like a constant drop of water, drip drip dripping down onto me. Any effect is hardly perceptible but, over time, there will be some kind of a dent in me. A hollow. It will hold water when it rains. Maybe small birds will come and drink there, maybe an insect will drown…

Ack. Don't think too much. Entertain yourself. Here’s to home entertainment and minding ourselves and taking care of each other.

Oh, I write a blog too. I nearly forgot about that. Thinking about it and doing it and sharing it has been an important part of my home entertainment programme.

Thank you for dropping by.

You Dredge One Up and Another One Comes with It

This just might be moderately strange, so buckle in.

In my memory, I was my Granny’s favourite grandchild. We went to the movies together on Saturdays, she bought me stuff on excursions. Her and me, all by ourselves, we were a team. But the oddity of memory is mostly what this post will be about. 

Yes, memory, that will be the thing.

Although, in my memory, I was my Granny’s favourite, that’s probably not the entire truth of it. Sure, she loved me and sure we got on but, putting a little cool logic on it, her Saturday excursions with me were probably derived more a matter of practicality than from any particular need she had to be in my company on the weekend. Let’s do some sums. 'Butch and Sundance' came out in 1969 and Granny and me went to see it in the movies. I was six years old, maybe seven, so my younger sister was one maybe two. It’s obvious, isn’t it? Mum just needed a break from me. Can somebody get this unruly kid out of my hair for a couple of hours? Please? Thank you very much. So Granny and I went to the flicks quite a bit, we went to the shops.

On one such excursion, we went to the newsagent and Granny said I could have a comic to read. Cool. I picked one out. Granny looked at it. “Are you sure you want this one?” she asked. I nodded vehemently. It was a comic full of single pane cartoons. A simple drawing, a single punchline beneath. Many of the cartoons were set in offices, or hotel rooms, or tiny desert islands with only one coconut tree in the middle. I wanted it. Granny bought it.

Back at home, I stretched out on the living room floor and read my comic. Remember I was six, maybe seven. I didn’t get too many of the jokes. I remember the jokes came in collections, each of which had its own title. One of the titles was ‘Motel No Tell’. It’s funny the things you can remember when you try.

I was vaguely aware of a conversation that was going on out in the kitchen.

“What did you get him that for?”

“He said he wanted it.”

“We’ll take it of him later. He’ll forget about it. Jesus.”

You’ve guessed it, right? This comic book that I wanted, and got, was filled with cartoons of naked people. Naked people in offices, naked people in motels, lots of naked people in tiny desert islands. I’ve done some Googling to try and find an example of this sort of comic book, where all the people were naked, but I couldn’t find the exact one. I think the one in that image up top is quite close but not quite right. In truth, I had to stop looking because that kind of Internet search is the kind of minefield that can take an unsuspecting researcher into some downright strange places. I don’t recommend you try it. The comic, as I recall, had a sort of innocence about it, a bit like those seaside postcards you used to see. It seemed old-fashioned even then. Oh, and I remember that the men all had saggy bottoms for some reason. I think all the cartoons might have been drawn by the same person and perhaps that was their sort of trademark.

What happened with me and my nudey book? I can’t honestly say. It was, after all, over fifty years ago. I imagine the book was quietly removed when I was sleeping, and I never thought about it again…

Until two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago, I wanted to post something about my Mum so I went dredging around in my memory for something I could write about. The thing that I came up with is there, two posts back. It’s about Mum giving the man next door his dinner every day. It’s fine, I’m glad I found it in my head.

But going dredging in your memories is a funny old business. It’s a bit like being in a fishing boat, with a fishing net, and you throw it out the back of the boat and you let it scrape along the bottom as you row along. When you pull the net back in, you may have the gleaming little fish you were hoping for but you’ll sure as hell have some other stuff too. Muddy stuff. Stuff perhaps left sunken and lost.

This nudey book story is true. I know that. The two details that make it true, for me, are the title ‘Motel No Tell’ and the cartoon men’s saggy bottoms. This thing happened for sure.

But memory is strange.

How much of this can I actually remember and how much of the narrative am I simply filling in, using my knowledge as an adult and my hindsight and, let’s face it, my ability to create false memory?

I think dreams and memories are closely related. You hear people recounting their dreams. They did this and then they did that, then they went there and this happened and this and this and then they woke up. But, really, wasn’t it possibly a lot more abstract that that? A burst of images, an emotion. In the moment when we wake up, in the space before we remember a dream and we impose a narrative on it, don’t we know that the narrative wasn’t really in the dream at all? We naturally and adeptly applied it afterward.

Isn’t it that way with our memories?

Dissect the memory I just told you. If, as I believe, I wanted the comic book in a way that was completely innocent of the nudity being a thing, then Mum and Granny’s consternation is not something I could have expected to have known. I’ve probably put that on afterward, to make a narrative out of the few things I recall. Similarly, with my feeling that the cartoons were largely innocent. This is not something the six-year-old me would be likely to consider. I have again editorialised the memory, to make it more complete.

What’s the point of this? I’m really not sure. Perhaps we should tread a little carefully with our memories. We tend to tidy them up or mess then up to suit the way we retell them to ourselves. We can’t help but embellish and edit and change them a little as we go.

Perhaps that’s why the future may be that much more important than the past.

Because we can’t rewrite it.

The Thirteenth Going on the Fourteenth

In 1981, the Thirteenth of February fell on a Friday. It’s a day I don't forget. I was seventeen and in the middle of my first year in Third Level Education in Dublin. I was enjoying the course and all my new friends, and I was a little bit lost in practically every other respect.

Every Friday since September, I had scurried home to Sligo on the bus and rolled back again on Sunday evening. Although I was getting-by okay, I felt that five days was as much as I wanted to do. This Friday the Thirteenth, this fateful day, was to be the start of the first weekend I hadn’t ever come home.

There was to be a party, a Valentines Party, in our college. I was going. Although my college was Bolton Street, we had our own little annex on the other side of the city, just off South Great Georges Street. Longford House was a three storey ex-knicker factory and we loved it there. We had our own dedicated studios, one for each year, and our own little canteen in the basement. It was becoming a home-away-from-home. It was time to try a weekend there.

The afternoon of Friday the Thirteenth was not auspicious. We were practicing our chain-and-tape survey techniques out of doors in Kings Inn Park and it was bloody cold. A man on a bicycle cycled right through our measuring tape and tore it in half. He didn’t stop. Yes, it was Friday the Thirteenth all right. 

I went home and got ready for the party. I set out early because it was quite a long walk from Phibsboro to the ‘Knicker-Factory’. I walked almost everywhere. On the way out the door, my Landlady gave me a brightly coloured envelope. “Post that down the town, will ye?” It was a Valentine’s Card for the young fella in the room next to me, “I don’t think he has much chance of getting’ one.” She never posted one for me, though I didn’t get one either. Anyway, I posted it, it arrived. That part all worked out.

I had arranged a survival technique for the party. I had volunteered to do the bar all night. I had worked behind the bar in Sligo for all my teen summers and it was a place I felt comfortable and defended.

I don’t remember much about the party. It was fun, the bartender thing worked well for me. I sneaked out and danced a bit from time to time. Madser, who was profoundly deaf, impressed us all by dancing with a great sense of rhythm. He explained how he would ‘feel’ the music through the concrete floor. Mr. Lauder, one of our younger lecturers, promised that he was close friends with Freddie White and that he would get Freddie to drop by and play a short set at the party. That sounded great but Freddie never showed, and Mr. Lauder was affectionately known as ‘Freddie’ by everybody for the remaining years I spent there.

I don’t remember how I got home. I probably walked. As I said earlier, I walked everywhere. If I did, I have no impressions of that walk. I could make something up, I suppose, blue lights flashing in the night, sirens howling but, no, I’ve got nothing. I got home somehow and tumbled into bed and didn’t get up until noon the next day.

On the Thirteenth, going on the Fourteenth, I didn’t know anything about anything.

The first I knew was coming into the kitchen, in search of Corn Flakes, and Maggie telling me how I’d probably be wise to phone home. I listened to the radio and watched the television in shock for a little while and then decided she was probably right.

There was no phone in Maggie’s house. There was no phone in our house in Sligo either. The procedure was to walk to the phone booth down near the shopping centre and wait your turn and drop in your coins and press button A and talk to our neighbour from four doors down.

Mrs. Hopper answered.

“Hello, it’s Ken.”

Mrs. Hopper sobbed. I had never heard that before.

“Thank God,” she said, “thank God you’re alive.”

I think about the Stardust Fire on every February Thirteenth going on Fourteenth and I think more about it on the years that the thirteenth falls on a Friday, like it did then, and we all tiptoe around for fear that something terrible might happen.

I’m thinking hard about it this year too, even though the days are not in sync. It’s forty years ago today since I walked to that phone booth to let them know I was okay. The horror of the lives lost on that night does not go away. The quest for truth and justice, by the surviving relatives of the 48 people who died, never seems to end.

This morning, the Fourteenth of February, as the wind whips the house and the rain pounds my window, my mind goes to them. The good people who scribbled their cards and walked out into the cold night and, braved the party and danced…

… and didn’t come home.

A particularly hard gust of wind hits the side of the house. Happy Valentine’s Day. Hug the ones you love, if you’re able to. If not, maybe say something nice to somebody.

Make this hard old world a little better.