The Cat – Full Circle

Friday Evening, quite late. The sun has gone down but there’s still some brightness in the deep blue sky. The earlier thunderstorm has taken some of the heat out of the outside air though the house is still a little too hot.

So, I take a walk up the street to the corner garden. The cat is there, sitting on a garden wall. There are two other cats over on the far side of the street, and they are all eying each other up in Mexican standoff fashion.

As I come close to the cat, she makes to jump down from the wall and away into the depths of the garden within.


The cat stops, mid-pounce, and stares back at me.

“It’s only me. You don’t have to race off.”

The cat settles back on top of the wall and watches me. Her eyes seem to say, “Okay, just don’t come too close, that’s all.”

I lean on the wall, a little way down. I know better than to try to move nearer to her, even after all we’ve been through. The other two cats watch us warily from across the way.

Our eyes meet, the cat and me.

“So, young lady,” I say, “any idea what time we might see you home tonight?”

                              *                            *                            *                            *

After three months or more, Magda the cat is back home again. The wild cat from the neighbourhood who had kittens in my shed, went missing, had her kittens removed, came back, was reunited with the kittens in a safe place, raised them in that safe place, was neutered, healed, and recovered (It sounds a bit like a Creed, doesn’t it?) and is now back in the neighbourhood, where I have promised to keep on eye on her and feed her whenever she needs it.

Last weekend, I went to pick her up from Magda (the Person), who has been looking after her and her kittens, who are now weaned and off doing their own thing. I’ve named the cat after Magda, just to confuse everybody, though I don’t think the name will stick. Wild things are wild things.

She may remain ‘The Cat’.

When I arrived at her house to collect her, Magda (the cat) was not in her transport container and Magda (the person) was bleeding profusely from her finger and thumb. After many months of enjoying her hospitality, the cat had no compunction about inflicting a little damage when she was encouraged to go in the carrier. We decided to leave the move home for another day. Put some food in the carrier and let her go in and get it of her own accord. That worked.

Back home, a day later, I put Magda (the cat) (I’ll stop doing that now) into a large purpose-made cage in the same shed where she had her kittens. The idea was to give her a little time to reacclimatise and refamiliarise herself with the sights and smells of her home place before releasing her. The recommendation was to do a few days of this, but it was very warm and, even with the shed door open and the cat looking out onto her domain, it didn’t seem fair. So, a week ago today, I put a nice bowl of food outside the cage door, opened it up, stepped back and hoped for the best. Magda sidled out after a few minutes and nonchalantly devoured the food. Then she poked around the back garden for a bit and meowed copiously. I call it ‘giving out’.

After a time, the cat headed out toward the front of the house, looked left and right up the street, then vanished up through the line of front gardens. Was that it? Would we ever see her again? We didn’t quite know.

Thirty long minutes later, the cat was back. She found a shady place under a bush and settled down. Later in the afternoon, she sat under Patricia’s chair rather proprietorially while she sunned herself in the garden. It was all rather lovely to see.

A week later and it remains lovely… but different. The nice lady up the road, who looked out for the cat long before we did, is delighted to see her back in the neighbourhood. The cat wasted no time in calling around to say ‘hello’ to her. That first thirty-minute excursion turned out to be straight to her house.

It’s not exactly as I imagined it might be but then what ever is? I had set up a corner of the shed in a rather nice way, with a chair with a cushion on it and a nice crate will pillows in it, but the cat doesn’t want to know about it. I guess the shed holds too many awkward memories for her to want to be in it anymore.

Similarly, now that she has found her feet, she is no longer a constant feature in our garden. She seems to prefer the houses at the other end of the street. I guess she gets well-fed there and maybe she scores a little attention too. I must get used to the fact that I might not see her for 48 hours on end and then she will turn up, sitting on the window cill or on the garden chair. I offer her a meal and she gives it only cursory attention, leaving two thirds of it uneaten. She is being catered-for elsewhere and that is fine with me. If the supply ever runs out, I’ll be here.

                              *                            *                            *                            *

It’s getting darker now so I’d probably best head back home. Patricia will wonder where I’ve wandered off to and my neighbour will be wondering why I’m loitering under the lamplight outside his garden wall, evidently parlaying with one of the stray cats.

“Call around some time,” I say, “I’ve got some nice Felix in.”

But, as I suggested in the very post I wrote about Magda and me, the cat doesn’t care and will never care. We've come full circle, the cat and me. Polite strangers again, passing in the night.

That’s cool. That’s how it should be. I’ll hit for bed, though it’ll probably be too warm to sleep.

The cat is fine.

I think I did okay.

FOOTNOTE - This probably ends this short series of posts about the cat and me but who knows? If you'd like to read the four posts in order, you can click to the first one here and follow on from there. 

Bloody Cartoons

In 1981, when it was time to go back to college for the second year, I once again had nowhere to live. Maggie, my lovely landlady of that first year, had died over the Summer and her house now stood empty and awaiting probate. I went back to the B&B I had briefly stayed in at the start of my first year and scoured the evening paper every day for a lead on a room… any room, really.

In the spirit of ‘Any old port in a storm’, I ended up in one of those old Georgian houses on Lower Sherrard Street. They are prettier now than they were then. It was a rather peculiar set-up. The run-down house was populated entirely with men who worked the building sites of Dublin as labourers. There might have been 12 or 15 of them at any time and the turnover of people was often fast. Every Monday to Thursday, two ladies came into the basement kitchen and prepared an evening dinner for the residents. The weekends were a free-for-all, taken up primarily with drinking and sleeping.

At just turned eighteen, I was far-and-away the youngest resident of the Lower Sherrard Street establishment, and, in retrospect, I really shouldn’t have been there at all. I was a skinny little dude in among all these giant bull-workers of men. Still, I had my little room at the very top of the house which had a bed and… well… it had a bed. So what if I had to pass through another man’s bedroom to get to mine and so what if that man was a huge Viking red moustached guy who never got out of his bed because he didn’t have the money to pay his rent and who feared, if they caught him with his feet on the floor, he would get chucked out.

So what? I had a place to stay, a roof over my head. That was something.

In the weekday evenings, when drinking was never done, the men would mostly gather in the basement room and watch the little telly here. Nobody really spoke to me much at first. One evening I tried to break the ice with Frank, who was a cool-looking Northern Irish man who looked like a rough cross between George Peppard and Lee Van Cleef. Frank was evidently struggling with the crossword in the paper, and this was the first tiny sign of something I might be able to help with. I was sitting on a chair beside him when he groaned for the fourteenth time and scribbled a word out.

“What’s the problem?” I asked, smiling all the time.

He looked at me.

“There’s no problem,” he said as he turned away and went back to his puzzle.

They were fine men, just tough and circumspect in their relationships. The vast majority were from Northern Ireland, and they retained the natural caution that growing up there in the sixties and seventies would unavoidably instil.

There was no magic bullet. Over time, as I stayed and settled in, I became a trusted (if odd) member of the cohort. I did my own thing and minded my own business, and the men came to accept me, probably for holding my own with them. I was so different to everyone else there. I was the only one under twenty, the only student, almost the only Southern Irish person. I was naïve and possibly a bit timid, but I was funny too and, after I learned how far I could go with a joke or a quip, I think I gained a little respect for that.

People just get to know people too, don’t they? One Friday evening, in the quiet time before the pubs let out, I was watching the film of ‘Woodstock’ on the telly. I got a bit lost in an extended song by someone or other, eyes closed, going with the flow of it. When it ended, I opened my eyes and Crossword Puzzle Frank was grinning over at me.

“You were really enjoying that,” he said, with some hint of amazement in his voice.

“I was, yeah,” I replied, and, in these tiny ways, friendships can be started.

I generally went home for the weekends because the level of debauchery and drunkenness in the basement room often reached epic levels then. In weekends where I had to stay because I had work to do, I would camp out in my top room, sitting on the edge my bed with my drawing board and tee square balanced on my knees and a gang pack of fig rolls by my side. I would go to a movie on Saturday night and have a McDonalds but, otherwise, the fig rolls were my primary fare until Monday evening’s dinner.

Weeknights, there were often epic games of 25 around the basement table and I became quite good at it. Mostly because you didn’t want to play the wrong trump at the wrong time to this crowd.

But mostly it was the telly.

One evening, a sizable bunch of us were watching ‘Death Wish’ on the telly when, suddenly, the basement window exploded inward in a shocking hail of shattered glass. I sat in my chair and looked around.

“What the hell was that?” I asked the room.

But the room was empty, apart from two guys behind the couch. Everybody else had vacated the space with blinding speed. The Northern Ireland reflexes were much more finely tuned than my own.

The ‘explosion’ had been caused by a drunk passer-by on the street finishing his bottle of beer and discarding the empty through our basement window. His failings were eloquently pointed out to him by some of my housemates. The less said on that, the better, I think.

There was one other resident of the house who was not a building construction labourer. A sullen middle-aged man, he wore a dark grey suit at all times and came and went from his dinner without much to say. He never had anything to say to me.

Until, one day, he did.

It was late on a quite a Monday in the basement TV room. There was only a handful of us in the room and I was the only one bothered with the telly. I was watching ‘Film ’81’ with Barry Norman and Barry was busy reviewing the latest Disney animation ‘The Fox and the Hound’.

This man came into the room and stood there.

“Is anybody watching this?” he asked, pointing towards the television with his chin.

Nobody spoke, until I did. I had been there a little while at this point and felt I was a member of the household.

“I’m kind of watching it,” I said.

He glared at me, seethed a while, then erupted.

“Fuckin’ cartoons. Fuckin’ cartoons. I don’t work all day to come in here and have to watch children’s fuckin’ cartoons on a Monday night.”

“It’s Film ’81, this bit will be over in a minute.”

“Fucking cartoons_”

I figured it was time to go to bed. Sometimes the temperature rose in the TV room, and it was best to get out of it. I got up and left the room.

But the guy came after me. He caught up with me on the stairs. He spun me around and grabbed me by where my lapels would have been if my jumper had lapels.

“Fuckin' Car-Toons.”

He had quite a bit of age, height, and weight on me. I couldn’t do much more than let him run down his rant and hope it didn’t get too bad. Eventually he stopped and stormed back towards the TV room, most likely to change the channel.

Word got about the house that I had been accosted. When the ladies who made the dinners let me know that the guy had been warned about his behaviour, I didn’t have much faith in that. But when Frank asked me my opinion on five-down and quietly told me that the guy would not trouble me anymore, I figured I was okay… and I was. The guy moved out shortly afterward and I, for one, was not all that sorry to see him go.

Frank was philosophical about the little interaction.

“Men in his line of work sometimes get like that at his age. You have to watch out for them.”

It turned out that he was a schoolteacher.

This second-year accommodation of mine was no place for a young student. I should have started looking for a different place at first opportunity, but I stayed all year. Then, for third year, I went back again.

It wasn’t ideal, far from it.

But I learned some stuff there that has served me well over the years, I think.

Michael and Me by Eddie Armstrong

My eldest brother, Michael, sadly passed away this week.

I was honoured to give a eulogy for him at his funeral mass. 

But I thought my elder brother, Eddie, grasped hold of an elusive thing in his own eulogy at our final (for now) farewell. 

I asked him if I could record it here and he kindly agreed.




Michael (obscured) with Eddie (centre) on Lough Gill with Dad, in his Boat

Michael and Me

This short story, which I call ‘Michael and Me’, is me explaining to you what I mean when I say to Michael, ‘I’ll see you on White Shore’. If I fall apart in the telling, bear with me and we’ll make it through it together.

The last verse of the poem by Máirtín Ó Direáin ‘An tEarrach Thiar’ /’The Western Spring’:

Toll-bhuillí fanna

Ag maidí rámha

Currach lán éisc

Ag teacht chun cladaigh

Ar ór-mhuir mhall

I ndeireadh lae;

San Earrach thiar.

Gentle lapping of oars

As a currach full of fish

Comes towards the shore

On a calm golden sea

At eventide

In the Western Spring.

Michael and me spent many of our years fishing. On the river, in short trousers, we’d be up at ‘the Slip’, that was where the boats went into the river, up opposite the Jail road. Fishing for eels, we’d dig up the worms and put them in a jam jar full of clay, but Michael wouldn’t put the worms on the hook, that was my job.

On Lough Gill. We’d be up early in the morning getting ready to ‘head up the lake’, Mam would be making the sandwiches while we’d be grabbing the breakfast and ‘getting the boats ready.

“I’ll bring up the oars and the engine while you bail out the boat”.

‘Up’ was up to the ‘Steps’ - the gaps in the wall where the boats sat in the river.

As the years went on, we got our own boats and engines, Michael had a white 8 HP Honda 4-stroke engine that didn’t burn oil, unlike my 1½ HP 2-stroke Seagull that did. I loved the smell it left in its wake, Michael was already more environmentally conscious, even way back when I didn’t know what that meant.

‘Where’ll I meet ye for tea?’ was a common conversation.

‘I’ll see ya on White Shore,’ was all that was needed. White Shore is at the top of the lake, a long way up. That was enough.

We’d head when we were ready, up the river, through the Narrows and out onto the lake. I might head up the back of Beezie’s island, around by Goat island into Benowna bay, then cut across the Sandy ridge at Church island, out past the Cormorant rocks and up Corwillick. Michael might head up the Shellhouse, hit out to Perr Rock from the Castle Point and up through the Rookeries.

If I was in first, I’d be gathering the sticks. He’d come in and start lighting the fire. Smokey tea from the black kettle, boiled on the fire, and Mam’s sandwiches. Hanging out with your big brother, doing what we loved. That was the life.

When we’d be pushing out the boats after the tea, we’d part with, ‘I’ll see you when we get down’. ‘Down’ was back home off the lake.

Back at the steps in the evening it’d be, ‘I’ll bring down the engines and oars while you tie up the boats.’

                        *                       *                       *                       *

A friend – someone who may or may not be there when you don’t need them but is always there when you do. That was Michael and me.

I have two oak trees in my back garden that commemorate Mam and Dad’s passing. Mam’s one is over 15ft tall and Dad’s is about 10ft. Michael grew them from acorns.

I have a chestnut tree in my front garden. The conversation went, ‘Ah sure take it, or it’ll die. It’s a native species, not like those two red oaks you have at your gates’. He could talk ya into anything. So there’s a chestnut tree in my front garden. It’s been struggling since it went in but I suspect it’ll thrive from now on. Now, suddenly, it’s my commemoration for him.

                        *                       *                       *                       *

Michael and me loved our music, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan were high on the list. We loved fantasy and science fiction, the Lord of the Rings was high on that list. Ken and me picked three songs, one from Cohen, one from Dylan and one from the Lord of the Rings.

Cohen’s ‘Alexandra Leaving’ depicts the Lord of Love hoisting his friend up on his shoulders, to carry her home. I liken his depiction to what’s happening here today:

Michael hoisted on his shoulders

They slip between the sentries of the heart

Michael and me did the ‘Plans of the House’ for Carrie and me. Who else? We knew what we wanted, he helped us build our dream home and helped make our dreams come true.

Dylan describes Michael and me eloquently:

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true

Nothing that I wouldn't do

Go to the ends of the Earth for you

To make you feel my love

The last song ‘Into the West’, from the closing scene of the Lord of the Rings, covers the last thing I’ll say today for Michael and me. Annie Lennox will do it justice, I’ll leave you with a few of the more poignant lines:

Lay down

Your sweet and weary head

night is falling

You have come to journey's end

Sleep now

And dream of the ones who came before

They are calling

From across the distant shore


A pale moon rises

The ships have come to carry you home


Don't say

We have come now to the end

White shores are calling

You and I will meet again