What Would You Do?

In the queue for the counter in my little local shop, the nice girl at the till had it all sorted. She quickly and efficiently rang up the items belonging to the younger queue members and sent them on their way, back into their busy and fulfilling lives. For the older members of the queue, the nice girl reserved a kind word and/or a chatty retort. The old guy in front of me was deaf, so the nice girl had to repeat her sweetly customised platitude three times, each time at a considerably higher volume than the last, until the old geezer finally pretended to get it.

Then it was my turn.

I wondered where I would feature in the cohort. Would I be one of the young and restless, who only require a quick transaction so that their vivacious existence could continued unabated. Or would I be viewed as part of the geriatric crew, who patently required a little friendly banter to help them struggle on through until sundown.

I laid my milk and bananas on the counter.

“How are you? How are things with you today?”

I am old.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I am, after all, a mere notch off being sixty. My beard, this morning, was un-mowed and tatty. My eyebrows windswept and pillow ridden. My eyes glazed over from an abundance of Friday night slumber. Of course I was going to be chatted-to. Of course I was going to be old.

I confirmed that I was indeed as well as could be expected for a person in my condition and asked for a lottery ticket. A Quick pick (with the plus). I have a curious relationship with the lottery. Years ago, I cultivated six favourite numbers that I played every week. They were good numbers. Once, a full five of them came up and I collected a low four figure sum in cash at the post office, thank you very much. But the recurring six figures became just another small burden to lug around with me on my slow journey to the tomb so I gave them up. Instead, I started avoiding all lottery results in case, by abandoning my numerical travelling companions, I inadvertently discovered that I had made one of the worst mistakes of my life.

So now I just play once a week, with randomly chosen numbers picked by the machine behind the counter, which I ask for when I get my Saturday morning breakfast groceries at the local shop. Just another old gentleman in the queue, seeking fortune and some easily digestible fruit.

“Can I get a Quick pick, please. Six Euro with the Plus.”

The girl went to work on her machine.

“If you win,” she announced, “I’m coming with you.”

This shook me a tiny bit. I could just about bear the ‘old man’ categorisation, but I had no idea I had suddenly grown so very non-threatening. I wasn’t sure what to reply.

“Thanks,” I said, which, in retrospect, sounded quite wrong.

She handed me my ticket, having ascertained that last week’s ticket was, as usual, a complete dud. She looked at me rather intently as I filed the new ticket away in my back pocket.

“What would you do?” she asked.

“Sorry?”

“If you won. What would you do?”

The queue behind me shuffled. Either they were young and needed to rapidly restart their glamourous lives or else they were old, like me, and just shuffled naturally.

I thought about the question. Somehow it seemed more than one of those random old person banter-bytes. What would I do?

“I’d quit work,” I volunteered, “yes, I’d quit work.

“Oh, they all say that,” she replied and I figured she meant all the old folk she interviewed, because she clearly didn’t poll the young go-getting folk, “they all say they’d give up work…”

She leaned over the counter a little more. Her blue eyes were rather piercing. Perhaps she did intend to run away with me after all, if I ever assembled sufficient money.

“What would you really do?”

I am very rarely at a loss for a couple of words but, this time, I was at a loss. I really was. What would I do? Would I even want to give up work. I'm often restless after as little as a week off. 

The girl quickly saw that she had pressed the old geezer too hard. She had confused him and caused him to drift away in his mind, probably to memories of the Great War or Cowboy Times. She threw in a couple of suggestions, to try to kickstart my poor old brain.

“Would you go on a holiday, maybe? Buy a new car?”

I snapped out of it. I had to. There was a rising mutinous aura coming from the queue.

“Yes, yes,” I doddered, "I’d go on holiday and buy a car.”

She smiled.

“Good plan,” she said.

Then I gathered up my things and left, feeling twenty years older than when I came in.

As I walked to the car, I could feel the effect wearing off. I became young again. My steps got stronger and a dog, who was clearly thinking of messing with me, instead turned tail and slunk away. I was restored.

But the question lingered. It lingers still. What would I do? Give up work, take a holiday, buy a car. Yes, yes, yes… But what would I really do?

The only conclusion I have come to, as I sit and type this, is that I really don’t know what I’d do… but I’d sure as hell like to find out.

So watch this space. This week’s numbers look strangely promising.

All may yet be revealed.


Watching


This is something I practically never do. I never write about the same thing that everyone else is writing about. If there’s a massive thunderstorm and the whole world is talking about it, I’ll most likely be here prattling on about my ingrown toenail or why the cat isn’t currently talking to me.

That’s the norm, that’s the general rule-of-thumb.

But this old blog of mine has the loosest agenda in history, and it’s one of the reasons that it’s still chundering on, fourteen long years down the line. In my weekly bit I write about something that’s in my head in the particular week I’m writing. I don’t write them in advance, I don’t save them up. Whatever’s in my head goes on the screen. Unless it some current affair. Like I said already, I try to avoid that because everybody else will be doing it.

But this week... well, what can I tell you? It’s same thing in my head as seems to be in most everybody else’s so I figure I’d best jot something down about it, though heaven knows what that will turn out to be.

Yes, it’s about the queue. Actually, no, wait, it’s not actually about the queue. It’s about the end of the queue, the lying in state, the public file past. All the people, all the hours, all the days.

It’s like in that old song, ‘Uptown Up-Tempo Woman’ (no, I’m not trying to be funny, why would you think that?). The song says‘It started out in innocence, the way that most things do.’ And that's just what happened. I saw somewhere that the lying in state, all five days of it, was going to be live streamed on the Red Button on the BBC. A small techie voice in my head wondered if that would be available in Ireland so I went to the Red Button channel to see. We don’t get a Red Button per se over here any more but you can tune the channel in via the ‘add extra channels’ facility, if you know the frequency information (that’s enough tech stuff now, techie voice, just shut up). So, anyway, I went on the Red Button and there it was, a compelling setting to behold. A wondrous ancient room, a coffin draped in finery on a tall pedestal which doubtless has its own special name, and a collective of various guardsmen manning every corner of the sad centrepiece. Poised yet somehow in repose, all at the same time.

And then there was the people. Down the stairs they came, divided towards each side of the space, and then guided slowly, steadily, past the casket to perform their respectful obeisance of choice and then onward and back out of the room. A steady stream of people. Hours and days of them, on and on and on.

And, yeah, I got a bit caught up in it.

So, over the last four days, or whatever it’s been, I’ve watched quite a lot of the people filing-past on the Red Button channel. I’ve got pretty good at predicting who will salute, who will bow and who will stay a second-or-two longer than the norm, to make the moment last. I’ve got know the rhythm of the guards boots as they are called down the steps and up to the podium to replace their comrades. The dry pounding of the metal staff calling them, sending them back, and alerting them to come to attention. I’ve grown accustomed to the coughs, baby-cries, and shuffles as the people move past. I’m not a great royal person and neither am I any great fan of funerals, yet here I am, sprawled on the couch, watching the people go by. The intervals of guard changes run into each other and the time ticks away.

But why?

Why am I here, what on earth am I doing?

I don’t think it’s anything too sinister or anything to be concerned about. I’ve always liked slow TV and I’ve always liked live TV. There’s a ‘window on the world’ feeling to it and, even though the pictures are clearly on a two-minute delay (the guards start their change at two minutes past the hour on my telly) there’s still the clear impression that you are looking in on something that is happening right now.

Mostly, though, it’s the people that draw me. I just like looking at people, I guess. Old, young, rigid, loose, the grieved and the curious. On they come, the stream occasionally pausing but never really stopping. So many people. It’s hard not to look at them.

And I wonder why they have all come and, deep down, like the rest of us, I know, really, why it is. It’s a lot of different things for a lot of different people. It’s to pay respect and to say thanks, it’s to honour their own lost loved ones, it’s to be part of a vast and undeniable public acknowledgement of a lifetime of constancy. But, perhaps most of all, it’s history.

Most of us would like to be remembered but the fact of the matter is, we won’t be. My relatives of a hundred years ago are just elusive shadows now. I may know that Johnny was a pioneer electrician or that Edward went to War, but it is hard for us to leave an indelible mark behind. Love it or loath it, the upcoming funeral and, by extension, this queue will leave some mark on history. I think there is a drive in many of us to touch history, to become even the smallest part of it and, in doing so, become a piece of history itself.

Here's a silly example. Whenever Live Aid comes on the telly, I tell people that I was there. I don’t fool myself that it will go down very far in history but it is a moment that has proven to have some longevity and to have been there seems to put me in the world in some strange and intangible way.

The reasons to queue are many and personal and entirely valid in every case. We do what we do and the current fashion to sit back and berate people for being who they wish to be, just because it’s not being who we wish to be… well, I have to time for it. I might not ever be in the queue but I respect your drive to be there, whoever and whyever you are.

And I see you there, on my telly, with your green/black/blue scarf and your grey/blue/black jacket, doing your thing. And I salute you. And now that my salute is over, I can hear my wife’s footsteps coming slowly up the hall. I rise from my couch. It is time to change the guard.

I think I’ll have some tea.

Absolute F****** Idiot

I drove back to work after lunch yesterday. I usually walk, so there’s something different for you already. There's always a surprise or two waiting around here for the travelling reader. I drove down to the junction with the main road and, although that main road is always busy, the junction is not. So I toddled down at my own pace, in no particular rush. I was, after all, going back to work.

Right near the junction, a dude walks right out in front of me. He had big headphones on and his nose was deep in his phone. He didn’t look up to see if I was coming at him, which I was, he just kept on crossing the road, impervious to any danger to his wellbeing. And, in fairness, there wasn’t any danger to his wellbeing because it was me who was driving and I was looking out for him and giving him space to cross the road in safety, even if he couldn’t bother his arse to look up and see if anybody was there.

I stopped the car and watched him mooch over. Not a clue had he that I was there. When he got across, I drove up to the junction he had just crossed and then, and only then, did he notice me. He did more than just notice me too. He stopped in his tracks, walked a couple of paces back, stooped and looked into the car at me and obviously mistook me for somebody else. He walked towards the car and suddenly realised that I wasn’t the droid he was looking for. So he stopped and waved me on.

Let me run that last sentence past you one more time. He waved me on.

‘You A**h**e,’ I said, ‘You P****, you F******g S***t. Who are you to wave me on, you D**kh**d, you G**sh**e, you absolute F*c***g Fl**e? Watch where you're B****** going, never mind waving me on!' Of course I didn’t say any of this to him, I just muttered it under my breath was I watched him amble on, safely back in his own personal oblivion.

I’ve written about it before. Hell, after fourteen years of this blogging lark, I’ve written about everything before. I complain a lot while driving in my car. I mean a lot. And I sometimes do so in the most extreme and unsanitary of language but only when I’m on my own. If somebody’s with me (Patricia) I will restrict my commentary style to a sarcasm-laden but family friendly-one. ‘Pick it up there, Sadie, we’ve all got places we need to be.’ Or ‘that’s right, Martin, don’t bother with that old indicator, I’m completely psychic back here.’ I always give my targets a name, just to maximise the bitter and condescending quality of my commentary. 

That may seem bad enough but, when I’m on my own, anything goes.

‘What are you playing at you ridiculous C******* Wa**e*?’

‘Go back and read the Rules of the Road, you daft F******. Go on, you B******, I’ll mind your car while you’re doing it.’

Summertime is more challenging because I often drive around town with the window open and I forget about it and let rip at some unsuspecting citizen. I got a standing ovation from a small crowd outside the courthouse last year for one of my little diatribes.

Being in a small town is also something of a hazard. You can be halfway through a soliloquy before you realise that it’s a friend’s dad or a relative’s grandmother you’re going off on.

The trouble is, I enjoy it too much to stop. I’m not really all that mad, I just like dropping the old Bon Mot on the inane pedestrians and super-inane motorists I see every day. Plus, on a slightly deeper level, I really wish they would all do better. Care more about their safety and the safety of others. I mean, I’m not the best driver or anything and Lord knows I’ve made my own mistakes out there. Perhaps it’s that I’ve learned something from my own experiences. I think that’s probably it. Your brief moments of inattention, carelessness, selfishness, and general A********** can come with a huge and terrible price if they come at the very wrong place and the very wrong time.

So, let’s do better out there, eh? Take a little pressure of an Old Man’s swear box. It doesn’t take much. Just wake up and look around you. Have a think about how that thing you’re about to do might impact on that other person who is right there in front of you.

If you can’t do that, well, rest assured, I’ll be out there somewhere, swearing at you and throwing one-liners at you from behind the tenuous and debatable safety of my windscreen. And I won’t be pulling any punches either, you sorry excuse for a F****** miserable P****.

Have a good day, whatever you get up to.

Stay dry.

One Reason Why I Might Dislike Joss Sticks


There are lots of sticks I like. I like Pooh Sticks, Chop Sticks, Walking Sticks. In fact, generally speaking, when it comes to sticks, you name it, I like it. Except for Joss Sticks. I have a bit of a problem there. I would say, ‘let’s unpack it’ but I have a bit of a problem with that expression too. So let’s just carry on.

Every day, when I walk through the town, I pass this little shop. You know the type, portraits of steely-blue-eyed wolves in the window, tarot cards, posted flyers for clairvoyants and healers and whatever-you’re-having-yourself. I don’t ever go in but it’s a welcome addition to the streetscape. It’s quirky and fun and it’s something different from the norm.

But they burn joss sticks in there. I know they do because the aroma leaks out onto the street as I pass. It doesn’t travel very far; it’s just sort of localised to the pavement immediately in front of the shop so it’s not really bothering anyone or doing any harm.

Except I don’t like the smell, I really don’t.

I didn’t always not like the smell, not as far as I remember anyway. It was something I was largely ambivalent about. 'Take it or leave it Ken', that was me when it came to the smell of a burning Joss Stick. But, somewhere along the line, something changed my mind and now the smell actively repels me.

I started to wonder why that might be. Have my olfactory preferences altered as I’ve crept inexorably toward the Big Six Oh? Have I just become weird? I came up with a theory as I lay in bed one night, waiting for sleep to slink in. For whatever it's worth, here it is.

When Mum was alive, our house at the Riverside was a constant melee of smells, all of them good. There was cooking and cleaning and an open fire in the grate. There was freshly laundered sheets and freshly caught fish and there was apple tart. Man, oh man, there was apple tart. I loved Mum’s apple tart. If I was coming home from college in Dublin on a Friday evening, as I so often was, whenever I arrived in the door after the (then) four-and-a-half-hour journey, there would be apple tart and hot tea waiting for me. I wondered why I loved that tart so much and I got a hint as to one of the reasons when I saw one being made once. There was a serious amount of sugar in there.

So the house smelled of everything good. It smelled of home.

Then, after Mum died and Dad was alone in the house, the smells weren’t so abundant anymore. Don’t get me wrong, Dad kept an immaculate house with everything ship-shape and in good order. He kept as happy a house as possible too, with his good friends dropping in of an evening to share his Sky Sports football and consume copious amounts of biscuits and tea. But bless him, he wasn’t baking apple tarts of making aromatic stews and roasts that filled every corner. Instead, he bought a packet of joss sticks in the Two Euro shop and took to planting one at the base of the Sacred Heart picture, beside the red lightbulb, and lighting it up.

I reckon that’s where my issue with the little burning sticks comes from. My home of lovely smells and lovely tarts became a place of aromatic burning which lingered long after the burning was done. I don’t think I was angry or disappointed about this turn of events. I don’t think so. I still loved coming to the house to see Dad, I still loved being there. I think I just missed my Mum, gone far too young at 72, and the burning smell was a physical reminder of all that.

That's what grief does, in my sadly increasing experience, it creeps around the alleyways of your mind and finds strange and quirky ways to keep itself quietly constant. Just yesterday, I was looking at a writer promote his science fiction book on Twitter and I decided that this would be a nice book to buy and post up to my eldest brother Michael in Sligo. He always enjoys a good science fiction tome, particularly if it’s part of a trilogy, as this one was. I was some way down the tracks with this train of thought when I remembered that, of course, Michael isn’t in his house in Sligo anymore. He left there, and us, last year.

The point, I guess, is that if you ever see me walking past your funky little shop and I seem to turn my nose up at it, don’t be too put out or annoyed. It isn’t you, it’s that harmless little thing you’re clearly burning in there. I’ve got a thing about them, you see, but it isn’t you, it’s me.

So, please, as I said at the start, carry on.

Black Butterfly

I was down around the side of the garage the other evening, most likely pursuing something cat-related, when I came upon a butterfly. I think it was a Red Admiral and there are two reasons why I think that. Firstly, it looked like a Red Admiral. Secondly, it’s the only Butterfly name I know.

It can be a bit dull and damp on the ground down the side of the garage, even at this time of the year. No place for a Red Admiral, or whatever the hell it was, no place at all. On closer examination, the butterfly was clearly in a bad way. There was black on its wing tips and, on one of the wings, the black was extending downward towards the body. The Butterfly perched on the ground and did not seem inclined to move at all. I reckoned the cat would have it if I left it there, so I resolved to move it. But where could I put it?

I picked it up gently by the black wing tips. It twitched a little but that was all. There are some plants at the front door, and it’s fairly sheltered from the breeze there, so I choose a nice white flower and placed the butterfly gently on it. For a few minutes, I rather naively thought it might find some sustenance in the depths of the flower, but I quickly realised that was probably an ignorant rubbish notion on my part. I hit the kitchen and mixed up some water with a lot of sugar and put some drops of that concoction on the flower beside the butterfly, who didn’t look at all well.

That was it. There was little else that I thought I could do. I had a brief and silly image of me sitting in the vet’s waiting room, in among all the dogs and cats and birds, all of them hungrily eyeing-up the little blackened insect perched morosely on my knee. A quick headshake. No, that wasn’t ever going to happen.

I had done my bit. I moved on.

The next morning, the butterfly hadn’t moved. The blackness had spread over a much larger area of both its wings. It sat on the flower, in the same position as I had left it, the sugar water seemingly untouched. It was clearly dead. I lifted it off and took it away in case the cat found it, even there, and toyed with its blackened remains.

That’s it. That’s the story.

I’m not an exceptionally good person or an easy touch of a softie or a fool, at least I don’t think I am. But if I happen upon a situation where I can think I can conceivably do something to make things a tiny bit better, I will generally try to do it. I don’t seek those situations out. In fact, I increasingly seek to avoid them. And the things I do may sound nice in a little anecdote like this one and it may make people think that I’m some kind of bloody saint or something. But I’m not. Trust me, I’m definitely not. I’m just a regular Joe and, in a lot of cases, my paltry efforts prove to be completely ineffectual. Most exercises in kindness or attempts at repair seems ultimately pointless. Just a waste of time.

Except they’re not. They’re never really a waste of time. I’ve written something like this before in these pages, perhaps more than once. It’s a theme I tend to return to in my head, now and again.

That butterfly was close to dying when I found it down at the side of the garage, and it was just as close to dying on the flower when I put it there. The sugar-water thing was far too little too late, and it was probably completely the wrong approach anyway. I did no good for that butterfly.

But I did do some good. I did some good for myself.

By taking a little action with the butterfly, I reminded myself that I’m a person who cares about little things, someone who will take a little time to help, if I can. I reminded myself that, despite some occasional evidence to the contrary, I’m not such a bad person really. I’m okay. I came away from the whole ‘butterfly thing’ feeling a tiny bit better about myself.

Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? Anyone who does the occasional ‘good deed’ knows the dark secret just as well as I do. It isn’t simply about the tiny bit of good you do or fail to do. It’s about the benefits you reap for yourself by stepping in and doing it.

You can actually feel pretty good about your kindness, even when the object of your kindness doesn't make it.

The Strange, Strange Gift of Talking Pictures TV

Some of you will know about Talking Pictures TV and some of you will not. I do. So I will tell those of you who don’t know a little something about it. How does that sound for starters?

If you have Sky and you go to TCM on Channel 315 or TCM+1 on Channel 316 and then start flicking upwards, you will pass through a strange little selection of movie channels. There’s the 'Horror Channel' and there's 'Great Movies' and one that seems to show Steven Seagal flicks every other night and one that alternates between showing Christmas movies in August and showing silly romantic films that seem to have been made last week and that all look and sound exactly the same. Then, right at the end of the movie channel lineup, you come to Talking Pictures TV. It’s Channel 328 on Sky, apparently, I just looked it up. So, you can forget all that flicking I mentioned earlier… unless you fancy some Steven Seagal some evening.

I’ve just decided that I'm not going to give you a history of 'Talking Pictures TV' after all. What am I? Wikipedia? Go and look it up yourself, if you’re bothered. It’s been there for some years, and it shows very old movies and very old TV shows and what else can I tell you? That’s about all I know. Except for the strange, strange gift it gives to me. Except for that.

Let me explain. Sit back down. Come on. I’m only getting warmed up here.

I started going to the cinema when I was quite young. In our town we had the Gaiety and the Savoy. The Gaiety was the posher option, but more fun was often had in the Savoy, which had a sort of a Wild West vibe about it. As I used to queue to go into the Saturday matinees every week, I used to study the posters that littered every wall. Those wonderful UK Quads that promised all the great cinematic things to come in the subsequent weeks and months.

These posters, for me, were all-too-often a taunting display of the completely unattainable. The vast majority of the films they promised were too ‘grown up’ for ten-year-old me to be allowed to see and they would never turn up in a matinee anyway. They were therefore an unfulfilled promise that made me hunger and thirst for fulfilment. Not so much to see things I shouldn’t see. More to be able to see all of the movies in the world, for I loved them even then.

Many of those memorable posters went on to become favourite films of mine when I became an adult and finally got to see them on video or TV or in retrospective cinema places in London. Films like, ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’, 'Klute' (I couldn’t ever begin to guess what a ‘Klute’ was), or 'Chinatown'. It is a source of much pride to me that I now own the beautiful original Chinatown poster that hung in the Gaiety Cinema when I was eleven years old. And I don’t mean I own one that looks like it. I have the actual poster that was displayed there. It’s a story for another day.

These were the posters for films that went on to be famous, lasting, and great.

But there was a whole other section of posters. The films that came and got shown and then vanished without a trace. The films I never got to see but the posters of which still continued to haunt my dreams for years afterward.

This, then, is the strange, strange gift of Talking Pictures TV up on Sky Channel 328. Regularly, often, and inordinately late at night, the channel resurrects the films that were foyer posters from my 1973-1976 matinee-going days and shows them in all their glory. On this wonderful channel, I have now filled in many of these gaps in my movie life with wonders such as ‘Frogs,’ ‘House of Whipcord,’ and ‘To the Devil, a Daughter’. I have also reminded myself of gems such as ‘Burnt Offerings’ (‘loved that book), ‘Juggernaut, ‘Hennessy’ and ‘Squirm’ which I did manage to see, back in the day, but never thought I would see again.

All very well, Ken. In fact, it’s quite lovely in its own peculiar way. But ‘strange,’ really? How strange is it, the simple re-running of old movies and, even if it is a bit strange, does it really justify the use of the word twice? Strange, strange? I think it does. It is strange and, more than that, it is strange in two different ways. Hence the doubling up.

The first reason it is strange is this; of all the movies that I now see on Talking Pictures TV, the ones that I burned to see as a child… well… some of them are actually pretty bad. I suppose this is not surprising. The best of the films that I couldn’t see naturally have lived on and are now seen regularly here and there. The vanished ones have often vanished for a reason. There is an undeniable ‘archival’ quality to the reappearance of these old movies, but they sometimes aren’t all that great. Having said that, There are great movies to be had on this channel and you should certainly go there for a look-around.

And the second, contradictory, reason is this; it doesn’t really matter one little bit if some of movies I burned to see have turned out to be a little bit poor, slightly low budget, somewhat badly acted or occasionally woefully dated. They are still all quite wonderful to behold. This is going to sound cheesy, I know, but it’s the best way I can describe the feeling and perhaps it is apt if I use a somewhat contentious film to do it.

You see, it’s like the end of Titanic. When one of those old, crap movie films from the posters of my youth comes to life on Talking Pictures TV, it’s really just like that.

It’s as if the long dark halls of those boyhood movie parlours of my youth spring to life once again, all bright and renewed. The original Gaiety may now be lost as part of a shopping centre, and The Savoy may still sit at the top of High Street as a rotting old husk, but it really doesn’t matter. When one of those old poster-movies plays, no matter how poor it is, it’s like the ticket-man draws the curtained door open for me and nods me inside. And I get to stand once again in that carpeted foyer and smell the chocolate and the popcorn. And, finally, at long last, I get to enter into the darkness beyond to sit with the forbidden movies themselves and the infinite mysteries they are about to unfold.

Strange. Strange.

But true.

Chunky, My Ass

I had a Yorkie bar this week. It’s been a while since I had one. This week’s blog post will therefore be a loosely-strung-together series of memories and musings on the subject of Yorkie bars, all wrapped up in some kind of as-yet-undecided conclusion about how it all impacts on me and my current existence.

So, yeah, the usual fare.

Yorkies came on the scene when I was but a young teenager. They were heralded by a TV advert wherein a manly-man of a truck driver made it through his rigorous truck-drivin’ day by munching on his Yorkie bar and leering at women drivers.

All right, full disclosure. Although people were quite annoyed at the hungry look our fearless driver gave to the lady in the convertible, as he waved her through the road works, I never really found too much to worry about in it. In an age where the likes of Benny Hill and ‘Are You Being Served’ ran rampant through my young sensibilities, often at 1.5 times the normal speed, our driver’s 'see ya later luv' grin seemed lightweight enough. Shoot me, if you must. They were different times.

But something else did annoy about him and it did annoy me most sincerely. It was his Yorkie bar.

Enough messing around. Let’s get right down to it.

I liked the Yorkie ad. In highly technical Don Draper style advertising-speak, it worked on me. I saved my pocket money and went out and bought myself a Yorkie bar. My eyes lit up like little Charlie Bucket as I unwrapped it on the way home, even though there was zero chance of uncovering a golden ticket. So what did I like so much about it? Why did it work so well on me?  I know the answer to this. It’s patently evident really, and it’s also the reason that I became so annoyed at the truck driver.

But we’re nowhere near a thousand words yet, so let’s stretch it out a bit. Tell you what. I’ll say something like, ‘Could it have been that…?’ or even a simple, ‘Was it because…?’ as a prelude to suggesting some possible alternative reasons why I grew to hate the Yorkie truck driver. Then I’ll confirm that, no, it wasn’t that. Okay? It’ll fill some white page. You’ll like it. Well… maybe not.

Either way, here's the advert, as a primer, before we go any further.

So… why did I like the advert?

Could it have been that there was something different about the music? At face value it was a fairly standard Country and Western riff with a hint of Convoy or Smokey and the Bandit influence. (‘East bound and down, we’ve all got our Yorkie’). It also had some unusual lyrics in it like, “so when I still that good ol’ mill…”. I mean, who calls their truck a ‘good ol’ mill’ or am I mishearing the darned thing after all these years? Finally for this ‘could it be’, it seemed to me that most adverts in those days ended up by saying the name of the product, just to punch the message home. It also seemed to me that Yorkie should be doing that and that the song should finish up, ‘…and when I still that good ol’ mill, there’s plenty more in store from me from that chunky bar of… Yorkie.’ That’s how I felt it had to go, it was a complete no-brainer. So, when he actually went and sang, ‘from that chunky bar of mine,’ it was a bit of a surprise and, let’s be honest here, a shock. Maybe that sold me on it.

Or, on a more human level, was it because the product was so blatantly aimed at a male demographic and, as a weedy teen, I aspired to join the ranks of men? Was that why I took to Yorkie bars as I did?

Enough of this. No and no. These are not the reasons. The reason, as I said, is bloody obvious. It’s in the last line of the song ‘there’s plenty more in store for me’ and it’s even in the title of this piece ‘chunky’.

The reason that I leaned towards the Yorkie bar back then was the same reason that I now lean towards the giant Fruit and Nut in Tesco or the huge Toblerone in the Duty Free. Yorkie bars were meant to be big. Chunky, brick-like. Mere females couldn’t physically cope with them, they were so vast. That’s why I wanted them. That’s why I bought them. I was, and still very much am, a person with a very high regard for chocolate. And that’s putting it mildly. I will buy a big bar and I will eat it. There won’t be any of that ‘saving some up for tomorrow’ rubbish, it will be consumed. And so it always has been.

So when this Yorkie bar came along, here was this grinning fool of a driver and he would open his Yorkie at some road works, when it was safe to do so, and he would break two squares off and do a bit of light leering out the window and then, then, it would be evening and he'd be all about stillin' his good ol’ mill and doubtless heading to the boozer to meet the lady in the convertible for some good old ninteen-seventies sex. But, never mind all that, check the top pocket of his shirt. He’s just tucked at least half of his Yorkie in there, saved for later, in case all the ridin’ he’s going to be doin' lowers his blood sugar a bit.

That’s a whole lot of chocolate, right there.

And that’s why I needed a Yorkie… because I needed a whole lot of chocolate.

I remember the first one I bought. I stood on the bridge in Sligo and watched the guys fishing in the river below and I unwrapped it, because it had a manly paper wrapping back then. I figured I would eat my first square there and maybe try for another late in the afternoon, if I could possible find room for it. Then I could stow the rest in my top pocket and eat it through the week whenever the desire arose in me. If a manly man like that truck driver could make his Yorkie last deep beyond chucking-out time then surely it would be the same for me?

Yeah. Right.

I ate the whole thing on that bridge, watching those fishermen. What? Wait. Was that it? I searched in the wrapper, there was no more. I had been swindled or else the Yorkie man was on some kind of intense diet that he neglected to mention in his good ol’ song. Thinking back, he did have a tomato visible in his lunchbox on the dashboard, that should have been some kind of warning to me.

In good moments, I felt like a bit of a manly-man myself. How I could toss back an entire Yorkie bar in one session while ‘Bucko-My-Lad’ in the truck had to conduct an entire illicit affair before he could finally work his way through his. But, mostly, I just felt a bit cheated. That driver obviously has a multi-pack of Yorkies or something and clever editing had made it look like he was munching the same one all day.

So I had a Yorkie the other day, as I mentioned back there at the start. It seemed a lot smaller then it did back in the day, when it had first seemed too small.

‘Chunky, my ass’, I muttered to myself, as I dispatched the last square. Then, catching sight of myself in a shop window, I realised that this statement had become true on a number of different levels.

Maybe I should try a tomato.

Three Minutes with David Sedaris

I got a really nice Christmas present from my boys last year. They gave me two tickets to go and see David Sedaris at the National Concert Hall. The show was on last Wednesday night and Patricia and I had a day out in Dublin and went. It was a great night. I brought along a copy of his new book and he kindly signed it for me in a lovely three minute interaction.

I wouldn’t normally line up for a book signing but David Sedaris is different. He is different in several different ways. Here’s three of them to be going on with. First, he is brilliant. Funny, intelligent, sharp, honest, crude, occasionally perhaps a bit mean, and lovely. That’s only the first reason. Second, I feel he continues a lovely kind of writing that I discovered when I was surprisingly young. James Thurber meant a lot to me as a young reader. He was cool and funny and clever and engaging and I very much wanted to be like him when I grew up… but I never did so I never was.

And third (I’ve given this one its own paragraph because I think it deserves it) I had heard that David is really, really good at signing books and is worth meeting as part of that interaction. So I brought along my copy of his ‘Happy-Go-Lucky’ book and both Patricia and I resolved to join the signing queue after the show, even though we had a three-hour drive home.

We arrived at the National Concert Hall at about 6.45pm for the 7.30pm show, resolving to watch the people come in over a Diet Coke. There was a line of about thirty people in the centre of the foyer and a sign at the end asking people not to photograph or record. What a result, David was signing before his show as well as after. We passed up on the Cokes and the people-watching and hopped in at the end of the line. Two girls got in behind us and we chatted about the man and the books as we advanced up the line to the man at the desk at the end.

We advanced… slowly.

I had heard that David was a signer who was generous with his time and interested in fun and interaction but the amount of time he took over each person was astonishing. On his desk beside him he had a vast array of coloured Pentel markers spread out and, as he chatted, he painstakingly drew and coloured-in little illustrations on each and every book title page. That’s my one up the top. I got red and green balloons, which are the Mayo Colours so that’s cool.

Let me very briefly dial back one hour in the evening. Back to the moment when the server asked me if I’d like a coffee and I said yes, please, an Americano then, tapping her on the shoulder (‘cos I was sitting at the counter and she was, like, just, right there) I asked if I could change that to an Espresso.

Fast forward again and Trish and me are advancing in the queue, just ever-so-slowly and it’s 7.20pm and David Sedaris is due on stage in ten minutes. The PA system is announcing that the doors are closing and late comers will not be admitted. And still David doodles and signs and chats at his own smiling pace.

That espresso has kicked in and my heart is beating quite a bit faster than usual. Apart from the obvious caffeine one, there are two reasons for this, both not unrelated, and neither of them is excitement at meeting this writer who I admire a lot. The first one is that I feel sure that we will now get to within one person of having our little book signed and David’s minder will drop an arm and say, “Sorry, that’s it for now. Come back after the show.” Because I’ve seen how slow the line is and I know I can’t come back after the show and take a couple of hours and then drive another three hours home. It wouldn’t be fair on Trish and it wouldn’t be too nice for me either. So, this is it. It’s now or never and, although getting the book signed and meeting the man is not a critical thing for me, the dropping of that arm will set a tone for the rest of the evening and I’m anxious that this is about to happen. 

Plus, the coffee.

Again, I’m giving the second reason its own paragraph because I think it deserves it. It’s nearly the same as the first reason except it’s about the two lovely girls behind us in the queue. Suppose I get to have my book signed and to say hello. It will be 7.35pm by then. The likelihood must then be great that the minder's arm will drop and the ladies behind will not get their books signed, and they are very keen. This, for me, is a far worse scenario than the one set out in reason one above.

We reach the top of the queue. Bumpity-bumpity-bump goes my espresso-ed heart. I try my best winning-smile at the minder, which probably makes me look like an axe-murderer. Don’t’ drop that arm, Mister, just don’t.

And then we’re at the desk and there’s David. It’s a rather extraordinary thing. He looks up and seems to ‘see’ us, Trish and Me. One can almost see his mind working. How do I approach this next interaction? What do I give? How can somebody give so much of his energy to every single person in the book signing line? He famously signs for hours, chatting, drawing and exchanging jokes which he then recounts in his readings.

I won’t go though the entire exchange that we had with him. It was lovely. I was pleased to be in the same space for a few moments with someone whose work I admire so much. We chatted about some things, including Ulysses, but that’s for another day.

But here’s a sense of the first part of our interaction (not verbatim)

Ken – (caffeined-up to the eyeballs) – Do one thing for me, David.

David – What’s that?

Ken – Don’t go without signing for the ladies behind me in the queue.

David – Really? Why not?

Ken – Because… they’re just... lovely!

David –  (Conspiratorially) Oh, they're lovely, are they?

Ken – Yes, lovely.

Patricia – With his wife standing beside him.

David – Perhaps he means ‘lovely in spirit.’

Ken – That’s what I mean, ‘lovely in spirit.’

David – Okay then.

We went on to other things from there but I'll hold on to them for myself, if that's okay.

As we left the show, the book signing queue was already enormous. People snaking out the front doors of the National Concert Hall and across the front area, all with their books expectantly in hand. I don’t know what time David finished signing at but I’d say we were almost back across the Shannon before he finally packed up his Pentels.

So thanks to my boys for a lovely Christmas present and a lovely day out in Dublin with Patricia. And thanks to David for being his warm, funny, touching self, both on stage and in person.

It was a good day.


Live an Hour...

Here we go again…

All the blog posts, this last while, seem to have been overly reflective and maybe even a bit sombre. This one may well turn out to be no exception. Sorry about that, I promise I’ll do one soon where I recount something stupid I did. Normal service will be resumed.

Meantime, I’ll try not to go too heavy on you this week.

Patricia said something the other evening and it got me thinking. I think Love Island was on the telly. I can’t say we were watching Love Island cos I tend to slink away whenever it comes on and Trish only seems to watch in on 80% fast forward anyway. But in the brief moment when we were both in the room and it was on, and not being fast-forwarded, one of the Ladies on in said something like, “I want to live every day as if it were my last.” It’s the type of cliché-ridden hyper-speak they tend to deal in at that sunny villa (in my admittedly limited experience). Anyway, that’s what she said, and Trish said something funny in reply.

She said, “How tiring would that be?”

Well, exactly. How bloody tiring – exhausting - would it be?

It’s the type of sentiment that trots easily off the tongue, perhaps after you’ve finished telling people how you really like travel and meeting people. But think about it. Live every day as if it were your last? Jesus.

Imagine the level of tension, for a start. All your affairs would have to be put in order and solemn adieus would have to be said. There’d be sadness and regret and you probably wouldn’t manage any dinner. Who on earth would want that? Nobody, that’s who. It’s just something stupid you say when you disengage your brain and let your mouth run downhill for a while.

But wait.

Nobody would want to live every day as if it were their last. You’d be a silly bugger if you did.

But what if you occasionally decided to take a single day and live it as if it might be your last? Or, if that’s too much to countenance, perhaps consider taking an hour. Why not take one single hour and look at your world as if you would never be able to look at it ever again? That might be do-able. It might also be an interesting exercise to take on.

I remember Dennis Potter. I remember him for lots of reasons but, at this moment, I am thinking specifically of his last interview, given to Melvyn Bragg in 1994. Perhaps you remember it. I know many people who do. It was quite remarkable. Sipping occasionally from a hip flask that reportedly contained a cocktail of morphine and champagne, he spoke about many things. I remember him speaking about how he perceived things now that his time on Earth was clearly drawing to a close. How everything was heightened and hyper-clear. The flowers in the garden, the birds, the insects. All were vivid and precious to him and he appreciated them in a way he never had before, simply because soon he would not be able to.

So, yeah, take an hour. Look around like you’re on your way out. What would that be like?

There’s an irony to this piece and here it is. I’m too busy right now to do this. Funny, eh? It’s true but it’s silly and contrary-to-all-logic too. If a person can’t take an hour for something, what the hell is wrong with them anyway? Perhaps it’s still useful to have a statement of intent, an acknowledgement that some stopping and looking around would be useful sometime. I’ll tell myself that anyway. It’s at least something by way of an excuse.

So I didn’t have an hour to pretend I was on my way out but I did do something.

I did five minutes.

I went out in the back garden/back yard/whatever you want to call it. I’m nobody’s idea of a gardener so it’s not the most inviting of spaces. The old trampoline is now overgrown with creepers and the colourful weeds grow up boldly between the cracks in the paving. But the bees like the yellow flowers and the cat likes to lie up on the trampoline and stalk birds and she makes it a little more pretty by being on it. So it may not be material for a Friday night BBC2 gardening show but it’s a peaceful corner and I like it.

I took five minutes in my slightly overgrown back yard and imagined I wouldn’t ever get to see any of it again.

And what happened?

Well, I have nothing tangible to report. The world did not reveal itself to me in any strange and novel ways. Nothing earth-shattering. But I can confirm something you doubtless already know. It is possible to just appreciate what you have a little bit more by stopping and immersing yourself in it. You can come to be reminded that, though there may be a list of things I don’t have or, most likely, will never have, still the list of things I have is so much longer and so much better and so much more essential.

In the back yard there was some sunshine and the sound of neighbour-kids hooting in the distance. I filled the little terracotta dish with cold water and placed it on the upturned flowerpot and the swifts came and splashed around violently in it. The weeds may be overgrown but they are attractive all the same. The tiny, grassed area is not really grass anymore. It’s a combination of moss and dock leaves and lord-knows-what. But it’s greener than green and it waves a tiny bit in the breeze.

It was just a nice five minutes. That’s all I got.

And good luck to that lady on Love Island who will now live every day as if it were her last. She will doubtless be bombarded with sensual input and tiny gifts from the natural world.

And, hopefully, she doesn’t get mugged off by too many of the boys.

Learning Something about Anniversaries


 It’s my birthday tomorrow. Yes, thank you. I appreciate it.

To be honest, birthdays don’t tend to put me up or down too much these days. It’s nice to have it remembered and to be greeted. I pretty much have everything I want so I’m never hanging to have some great wish or desire fulfilled. So, yeah, happy birthday to me, for when it comes. Fifty-nine, though. How on earth did that happen?

The purpose of this post is not to mull over birthdays. It’s to try to set down a thought or two about those other kind of anniversaries. The less welcome ones.

On Wednesday, it was a year since my elder brother, Michael, died. In that year I have missed him very much. You possibly know how that goes. There seem to be waves of loss. Sometimes it is a dull thing that drains some colour from the world. Sometimes it is a vibrant thing that colours everything. And sometimes you forget that he has gone and you think to phone him up and see how his solar panels are performing or how the birds in the back garden are. Those last ones are almost the worst.

Then along came the anniversary.

There have been anniversaries before. Mum and Dad, Una and Penelope, my wife’s beloved sisters, and I felt I had some measure of them and how they go. They are sad days, tempered by perhaps meeting other members of the bereaved cohort for a small ceremony and maybe a cup of tea. Days when we remember a little more keenly and hug each other a little tighter, in the memory of the beloved person who has gone before us.

So I had known what to expect from this anniversary. Hugs, tea, memories shared. Or should I say, I thought I knew. None of these things that I thought I knew prepared me for what it actually turned out to be.

I loved Mum, Dad, Penelope, and Una dearly and I miss them always and hold them close in my heart. Their anniversaries are sad, special days. But Michael’s anniversary came in differently for me. How was it, really? It was like a storm, on the horizon. A storm of loss, bewilderment, anger, and sadness. And it loomed in the days before the anniversary and it became a little bit consuming.

Michael was my brother. He was always there, ever since I was a stupid baby, right up to when I was a nearly fifty-eight-year-old husband and father. He was one of the very few solid foundations I felt I had in my life. No argument could shake him. No challenge could make him less steadfast. He was a guide wire and a safety net. If I should ever fall, he would catch me and pull me back up before I hit the ground.

And here’s what I learned. The days around the time he died were somehow strangely anesthetised by shock and horror and the need to make arrangements and do things and say things and turn up at places and talk and sympathise and accept sympathy. A year later, there was none of that. There was only the awful loss, writ large in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t throw myself to the floor or offer any histrionics to the world; I carried on as always. I was just so damned sad and lonely. I hadn’t expected any of that. I hadn’t invited it in. It was just there waiting for me.

The day itself was not so bad. The lovely, tiny ceremony in the summer drizzle at the beautiful place by the lake. The seeing of people who shared the loss. The tea in the back garden. All these little things made the day better and somehow easier to bear. It was those days before, in the lead up to the anniversary of the loss, it was those that hit surprisingly hard.

And, in learning this, I learn a little empathy, or at least I hope I do. When Una and Penelope’s anniversaries come around again, I will know a little more about what it is to mourn a sibling that is departed. I hope I will be a little more aware of just what is going on and a little more supportive as we go through it together.

Fifty-nine tomorrow and every day is still very much a school day.

And not all of the lessons are easily learned.

Getting to the Bottom of the Squeak

I had hardly noticed. 

I do that sometimes. I noodle along, not quite seeing or hearing what is right there under my nose. But there was a car journey looming and Trish drew my attention to it.

“I’m sorry but I can’t go on this drive in… that, with ‘that’...”

I got the first that. The first that was the car. She can’t go in the car. Okay. But what was the second ‘that’? The one in the inverted commas. What on earth was ‘that’? I asked her, it seemed the best way.

“What is ‘that’?”

“The awful squeak in the car.”

“Oh, that.”

I had heard it, I guess, but it was just another of the grunts and squeaks that go to make up my everyday thought processes. I took the car for a drive. Now that I had been made aware of it, the squeak was dreadful, all-consuming, horrific. There was no way we could embark on a long drive with that hellish intermittent noise as an accompaniment. I had to get to the bottom of it.

It’s hard to go looking for a squeak that only happens when you’re driving but I gave it my best shot. The squeak was clearly coming from the passenger-side door. It had a ‘rubber on rubber’ quality that meant it was probably the gasket on the side window, or the wing mirror, or the rubber seal around the bonnet, which did look suspiciously askew. I set to work. I pulled and tweaked and oiled and WD40’ed every blessed thing in sight and, after every series of interventions, I drove the car again and still it squeaked. And it was right there. I could practically see this darned squeak. I could practically smell it.

(Did I mention that there will be a moral to this little story? No? Sorry about that. I did intend to forewarn you because I hate it when a moral turns up, unbidden, right at the end. So, moral coming, right at the end, you have been warned.)

The long and the short of it is that I couldn’t stop the squeak. Worse still, I couldn’t even identify where it was coming from exactly. I mean, as I’ve already said, and I apologise for repeating myself, but it was right there.

Suddenly, it was Thursday and the drive was on Sunday. Five hours of Trish and me in the car with the squeak. Untenable. I gave in and rang Dave. Dave fixes my car and keeps it right and roadworthy. He competes in Iron Man competitions all over the place and is the sweetest guy I ever met who could kill me instantly with one slap. It wasn’t that I minded phoning up Dave. It was just that this was a puny, obviously-superficial squeak and my spray can of WD40 and I should have been man enough to sort it out all by ourselves, without having to seek professional help.

Dave was busy so I got Mike on the phone. Mike explained how they were fully booked out for the remainder of that week but would look at it next week. I would normally - always - accept that but I was in some trouble here. I explained the circumstances of the upcoming long drive. I also explained that it was the most obvious, superficial, of squeaks and that real men like Mike and Dave would find and solve it in mere seconds, whereas an imposter fool like myself seemed incapable of doing so. I finally explained that, if Dave couldn’t help me with this, he could perhaps help me with trying to find a new wife as the current one would possibly give up completely after the upcoming vehicular incarceration with both the squeak and me.

Mike said he would have a look.

Mike and Dave found the squeak and they fixed it. Thank you, Mike and Dave, Dave and Mike (I don’t want to risk annoying anyone with my naming-order).

But here’s the thing.

It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t superficial. It wasn’t something that yours truly could ever have hoped to fix.

It was something called a Bushing, deep in the heart of the machinery around the wheel. I thought Bushing was something you did as a teenager with a bottle of scrumpy but it is also this, apparently. For all the good I was doing, I might as well have been piddling on my wing mirror as spraying it with copious dollops of WD40.

We completed our drive in squeak-free bliss and it was glorious and fine and terribly-terribly sad, all at the same time. For such is the nature of these drives, of which there seem to more and more every year.

And so to the moral of the piece. The one I warned you about earlier. Now that I’ve come to it, I’m not entirely sure what it is. I just know it’s there and it’s worth considering. Let me give it a go.

I think the squeak can be seen as a kind of a metaphor for ourselves and our general wellness. It’s certainly something I’m guilty of. Knowing, in my heart, that the glitch I feel, in my heart or in my head, is a silly superficial thing. Spray something on it and move on. But sometimes, just sometimes, you have to acknowledge that the source of the squeak lies just a little further in, a little deeper down.

Unlike the car squeak, though, it doesn’t always need someone to come and put you up on a hydraulic lift and take you apart, in order to repair you.

Sometimes you just need to know that the hurt lies little deeper than your wing mirror and adjust accordingly.

Sometimes, just knowing that can be adjustment enough.

Falling for All the Cats


Sometimes, if I’m being a bit fanciful, I like to think there are little bits of genuine magic here and there in the world. I’m not a witch or a believer in much of anything, it’s not anything like that. It’s just, sometimes, something will seem so unworldly or amazing that one can at least dream that it might be supernatural.

Cats.

Cats are one such thing.

For a solid fifty-seven years of my life, cats meant not a jot to me. They sidled around the periphery of my consciousness, tails raised in the air, and I didn’t trouble them and they didn’t trouble me. Don’t’ get me wrong, I had a couple of run-ins, good and bad, which are recorded elsewhere in these pages. But mostly, by-and-large, our paths didn’t cross and that was fine with both of us.

Until that darned cat had its babies in my garage. That story is well-documented in the aforementioned pages and I’m not going to rehash it now. The point is that the darned cat became a solid part of our lives and, although she now lives in comparative luxury in the garage, and gets fed many times a day, she does not wish to be in the house and she eschews all attempts at petting (unless it’s from Patricia, who has built a remarkable bond with her).

The darned cat, who is called ‘Puddy,’ is the one who has worked this charm, this debatable piece of real magic in the world. Here’s what she’s managed to do. She had made me interested in her but, more than that, she has made me interested in all of the cats everywhere. After nigh on fifty-seven years as a committed dog person, I seem to have veered wildly over to the cat side. What can this be, if not a little cat magic?

I think it’s been going on a while but it really came into my consciousness when I was on holiday in Spain a few weeks ago. Every time an inevitable moggy came lurking around a dinner table, I was all, ‘Oh, look at him! Isn’t he marvellous?’ and getting hissed-at and threatened at every doomed approach I made to them.

Back home and I now see how all the cats of my town engage me similarly, as do all the cats on Facebook and Twitter. A cat from an adjoining neighbourhood has recently wandered off, according to social media updates, and I scour the hedges and peer over the garden walls in the hope of finding him and bringing him safely home.

I mean, who the fuck am I?

Reading back, I find that I’m being just a little bit disingenuous. I’m painting a picture of how I’m simply fascinated with the wide world of cats and that is the beginning and the end of it. But it’s not. Although it is true that the cat universe seems to have sucked me deep inside, there is another aspect to it all.

I am not just fascinated by all the cats; I am fascinated by our own cat.

Like I said, our own adopted neighbourhood cat, who is also adopted by at least two other families in the neighbourhood, won’t let me pet her or even touch her. But, like a teasing first date, she does everything else. She follows me up the road when I walk home from work, she rolls all over my feet and purrs when I’m seating outside. She even inveigles herself in between my shins while I’m trying to fill her bowl with breakfast. She dozes in the sunshine on the front doorstep and perches on the windowsill and watches telly with us. She plays boldly with all her toys, plainly trying to assassinate each and every one, and she skitters away into the hedge whenever the toys do something unexpected or something deemed to be excessive.

And I love having her around. She has brought me out into my back yard as I have never been before, as we sit and watch the deepening gloom together. I love the ‘cattiness’ of her. The unsolvable mixture of endless guile and incredible stupidity. Every ‘catty’ move she makes or behaviour she exhibits warrants a dash to the Internet to see what it means and whether it is ‘Cat Canon’. And, every time, it is. I can confirm, with delight, that our cat is a ‘catty-cat’ with all the catty attributes one could hope for. She yawns, she arches her back, she turns into a zombie when she gets a couple of birds in her sights, she ‘loafs’, she ‘makes biscuits’ in her daytime bed. All of these things are new and endearing to an old dog-person like me.

I still like dogs, sure I do. It’s just that… well… I don’t know.

What is it about cats? A cat is a model of poise and elegance of movement and a cat that is lucky enough to live her life well presents an enviable balance of sloth, found comfort, and limited adventure. More, though, even if a cat doesn’t share human emotions, it has a great talent for presenting as very sad when it is in sad circumstances, very pissed-off when we feel it has reason to be so, and, crucially, very happy when it is in an apparently happy place. The struggle to keep one’s cat in a constant happy place perhaps reflects our own failed struggle to keep ourselves in that same happy place. If we can’t always manage it for ourselves, we can at least try hard to do it for the cat.

And so, though the cat is clearly self-centred and evidently manipulative, we can take pleasure from giving pussy the quality of life we cannot give to ourselves and thus live a little vicariously through her.

I have to go. One of the neighbours who also feeds our cat is gone away for the weekend so a little extra kibble is required by our beautiful outside lodger. I don’t want to keep her waiting by the bowl. Why should I?

If she’s happy, I’m a little happier myself.