Chocolate Santy

It isn’t very often that Christmas Day lands on a Sunday which, as everybody knows, is blog post day. I thought it might be seemly to do a post for Christmas Day, even though I rather hope you are all too busy to even know that it is here. If that’s the case, that will suit me fine. But, if you’re here on Christmas Day, welcome. You’re not alone, I’m here too.

I should just probably say, up front, that this may be a slightly sad little post. So if you feel you’re all stocked-up on sad for today, maybe leave it for another day… or never. It’s all good. Whatever gets you through.

Here goes:

My eldest brother, Michael, would always buy us Chocolate Santys for Christmas. One for each of us. Patricia didn’t have much time for Chocolate Santys for I got hers too. Double win.

I don’t mean when we were kids either. I mean as adults. We would call up to Michael and Liz’s house on Stephen’s Day and there would be a care package of Chocolate Kimberley’s and, inevitably, Chocolate Santys. As we drove home, on the evening of Stephen’s Day, I would feel so god-damned special to be individually gifted with such personalised care and attention. My very own Chocolate Santy.

It was only at Michael’s funeral that I found out the facts of the matter. Every Christmas, Michael would buy boxes and boxes of Chocolate Santys and give one to everyone he knew. Kids, Adults, Nieces Nephews, Neighbours, Blokes on the Street. Everyone got a Santy from Michael at Christmas.

Do I feel less special now, knowing that it wasn’t just me and my family? Know that I was actually one of a Multitude of people who received a Chocolate Santy from my Brother at Christmas? Do I heck. It’s actually the exact opposite. I feel as proud as punch. Michael had wisdom and wit and love and care and kindness and generosity and a quiet gentle way. Like the Chocolate Santy I got every year, I am just glad to have been one of the lucky ones who was a part of all the gifts he brought with him on his way through the world. It would be churlish of me to wish it all for myself. I’m just glad it all got shared around and doubly glad that I was in on the deal.  

From my current vantage point of ‘Knocking on Sixty’, it seems to me that, the older we get, the more Christmas comes around to being about absent family and absent friends. The candles seem to mean more, the toys seem to mean less. The dinner table may no longer be set for them but they’re there all the same, nestling in our minds and gently nudging us in our hearts, should we be too slow to pass the gravy.

So, if you happen to be reading this and your heart and mind is rather full of those who are gone or those who aren’t there, or perhaps both, then my heart goes out to you this morning. Have yourself a nice Christmas, insomuch as you can and, if it’s a tricky day, know that less tricky and considerably brighter ones are now very close at hand.

From me to you. Christmas Morning, 2022. x

The Smell of a Dublin Pub

On Thursday, Patricia and I drove to Dublin (and back) to see younger son Sam perform in his choir, which is in Trinity College, no less. It was a truly lovely concert and a lovely evening and it was very well worth the slightly long, cold, icy, foggy, round trip.

Due to traffic, we arrived in Dublin quite late in the day and so we only had time for a brief stroll up Grafton St. to buy some cheese and other nice Christmas things, before meeting both sons (and David) for pre-show burgers. Sam devoured his burger and rushed off to make ready for the concert, so the four of us had an hour to spare.

“Let’s go to a pub.”

Good idea. I went to college in Dublin myself, many moons ago, and the idea of a warm Dublin pub around Christmas time was both attractive and enticing.

We went to O’Neill’s, no not that one, the other one, and found it incredibly busy. It was, after all, a key pre-Christmas office party night and lots of people were out, in jolly sweaters and reindeer horns, toasting the season. We debated whether we should stay in O’Neill’s, despite the crush, and we decided against it. It was just too busy and, besides, it smelled a bit funky.

We went on to Doyle’s. Yes, that one. Again it was mobbed with happy jolly people. Too many for comfort. Plus, yes you’ve guessed it… it just smelled slightly strange.

Off round the corner to Chaplin’s and this was a bit more like it. Benevolent work-partiers donated a few stools and we found a corner and got some drinks in. It was all very nice… really nice… except…

“I kind of miss when you could smoke in pubs,” I announced to the group, “even though I’ve never smoked myself. Yes it was awful and, yes, your clothes reeked of cigarettes when you went home but there were fringe benefits.”

“The smoke", I explained, getting into my stride on the subject, “it masked other less pleasant smells. Like the whiff of  farts that pints of Guinness tend to evoke. After the smoking ban, those things became so much more pronounced.”

I had, in truth, a bit of a bee in my bonnet by this stage. I had been in three fine Dublin pubs, hoping for a warm and convivial time, and in each one I had been assailed by the same strange nose wrinkling smell.

I was getting a bit loud on the subject, a bit animated, when Patricia tugged gently on my sleeve for a quiet word.

“It’s the cheese.”


Patricia dropped her eyes to the shopping bag at the foot of my stool.

“It’s the cheese.”

Suddenly an awful light dawned. What was previous unclear, in a moment, became all too clear. It was me all along. I had mentally berated every pub I went into. Marked them down for their olfactory failings. And all the time it was me. The smelly thing was me. Me and my Grafton Street cheese. (See paragraph two).

I extended my face over the bag on the floor and, even three feet up, I could get the tangy ludicrousness of the cheese inside. Perfectly nice when you knew what it was, not so nice when you mistakenly blamed the pub you’re in.

I folded the bag over and over at the top and quietly sealed all the murky goodness inside. I don’t really blush but if I did I would have.

I kept a weather eye on my bag all through the concert and I think I got away with it, although the companion dog in the aisle in front keep eying me in a meaningful way.

Moral of the story? I guess it’s something like, if you’re going to blame to world for everything that is wrong, just make sure you’re not part of the problem first.

Happy Christmas.

Mr. Pronunciation

I’m one of those people you might hear about from time to time. One of those people who learned a lot of stuff from books, before being told about or taught about that stuff in person. These people sometimes pronounce things incorrectly or even think things incorrectly (which, in fairness, is harder to spot).

I started reading when I was young but, more to the point, I started reading fairly substantial things when I was young. Not so much serious literary content. More serious adult-oriented content. I don’t mean rumpy-pumpy stuff, calm down. I mean adult stories with adult themes and adult language and adult… stuff. 

My parents did their best to oversee the films and TV that I had access to as a kid, regularly packing me off to bed whenever unsuitable stuff came on. But they never seemed to make the connection that books and comics could have adult stuff in them too. So I got a pretty free run there. In the period 1974-1975, when I was eleven, I was reading things like ‘Papillion’ and ‘Jaws’. I was sick in bed when Spike Milligan’s second volume of war memoirs came out and I asked Mum to go and buy it for me, which she did. After I finished it, she found a copy of ‘The Dice Man’ and gave me that to devour. As soon as I was well-enough, I took a spade and buried that one in the back garden round the side of the garden shed.

All of this ‘older-reading’ has served me pretty well, I think. I’m fairly good with words, if only in a slightly common and unintelligent way. But I often wonder about how my perception of the world has been tinged by all the things I read and perhaps didn’t fully understand. I remember reading ‘Jaws’ and not knowing what a lesbian was but sort-of figuring it out from the context of the dialogue. “Were there lesbians in Jaws?” I hear you ask, never guessing you would have posed that question today. To which I reply, “Yes there were.” I also remember being surprised that the three characters on the boat used such colourful and inventive combination words as ‘Co**su*cker’ and ‘Mo*therfu**ker’ and I justified to it myself by remembering that they were, after all, being menaced by a colossal man-eating shark and perhaps a little profanity was excusable.

Before all that adult reading, at ages 9 and 10, there was a lot of Enid Blytons and, quickly getting bored there, a lot of Agatha Christies too. There was comics too, when I could get them, and it was in these early reads that my literary misunderstandings first arose.

For instance:

I had no real idea of what a scowl looked like so, whenever Uncle Quentin scowled (which, as I recall, he did quite a lot), I would imagine him saying the word ‘scowl’ silently to himself and it was that palsied ‘lion-roar’ effect that Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog saw whenever they pissed him off. This was obviously not a thing that I had ever seen anyone do in real life but, I reasoned, Uncle Quentin lived in England, which was a long way off, and they probably did things quite differently over there.

Similarly, the type of laughing they did in the comics was not something I had any real-life experience of. I just tended to laugh, if the opportunity ever arose, but these characters chortled and sniggered, among other things. I assigned a sort of an onomatopoeic interpretation to these types of words, such that a chortle sounded just like it did written down on the page and the same went for a snigger. To tell you the truth, I still have no real concept of what these types of laughs sound like.

In Poirot books and also in the Poe stories I was reading at the time, men’s names were often assigned as ‘M. Poirot’ or ‘M. Hastings’ and this was a complete mystery to me. I just figured that’s what people called them – ‘M’ this and ‘M’ that. Sometimes, in things like Frankenstein or Dracula somebody might spend the night in the village of M_______. And, whereas I know now that this was a device to preserve the anonymity of the place, at the time I just thought it was a bloody strange name for a town and how did the poor postman manage?

My little misunderstandings do keep coming. I read nearly all of Harry Potter aloud to my kids and, in those early days before there were any movies, I really thought that Hermione should be pronounced ‘Her-mee-own-ey.’ Even after I learned the truth, I continued with this pronunciation, somewhat to the consternation of my kids but they soon learned to go with the flow.

These days we tend to delight in our little mispronunciations in our house. We even make up some to keep us on our toes. Prosecco will always be ‘Prosecute-oh’ in our parish even though we rarely see any of it.

This kind of verbal messing preserves an air of innocence while also perhaps injecting a hint of rebellion. It’s nostalgic too. It makes me think of those simpler times like that time in my first job in a posh restaurant when I asked two diners whether they might consider having some ‘Whores Doo-Vrez.’  You think I’m making that up but I’m not.

Keep reading!

Holding Post

This is a holding post.

Don’t worry too much if you don’t know what that is, I think I just made it up. It’s a cross between a place holder in a seat at the Oscars, who sits in when the attendee has gone to the toilet, and a holding pattern that a flight might be in over an airport.

It’s flagging a place so you know where to come back to. It’s filling an unsightly gap. It’s marking time.

Because these are the dangerous Sunday mornings. The ones where you have to tread a little carefully, make sure you don’t slip up. Make sure that something doesn’t end, just like that, without the proverbial bang or whimper.

Don’t worry. It’s no big deal. Not to you, anyway. Maybe to me. It’s hard to be sure.

For these are the dangerous Sundays. But not dangerous for health or well-being or world security or important things like that. Just dangerous for this little blog, that’s all. Like I said, no big deal.

What on earth are you on about, Ken? It’s nothing, really, it’s just this. I woke up today, Sunday morning, without a blog post to put up. That’s unusual but obviously not unheard-of. I’ll sit down here and dig into my tiny brain and prise something out. Something from the past week which touched or amused or confounded me. Easy.

But this is one of those other Sundays. One of the Sundays where the brain is not up for being co-operative. “You’ve got nothing this week,” the old brain says, “give it a rest. Give your poor readers a rest.” And it’s not that I don’t have anything. I’ve got this and this and this. But, as I tick each one of them off on my mental fingers, my brain is closing its eyes and shaking its head and going, “nah, nah, nah.” None of it’s any good and none of it is worth doing.

It that was all this dramatic introduction stuff is all about, Ken? Your silly little blog? Well, yes, but it wasn’t all that dramatic, really, was it? And it’s important to me. So I have to do what I can. I have to keep trying.

I met a good writer in Tesco yesterday and he asked me how my own writing was going. They had moved all the produce in the store around the week before, and we were both weary from looking for where the bread had gone. So we needed a moment to chat and to gather ourselves.

So, how’s your own writing going, Ken?

I told him how work was hard and was taking up a lot of time and energy and that it was hard to get into it, hard to get it done. I saw how he looked at me. He couldn’t help it. It’s the way I often look at people when they give me this self-same spiel. It’s a combination of empathy and understanding but with a pinch of something else too. A hint of pity. Because this is what separates the writers from the would-be-writers. The sitting-the-fuck down and the getting-it-done. And in my head I may not be a writer, but I'm certainly not a would-be-writer. 

And the blog is a kind of a weathervane of that. Of how the writing is going. It’s like all of the other writing. It’s very important to me that I continue to get it done. It’s very important that I don’t just stop.

And these are the dangerous Sunday mornings. The kind of Sunday mornings where you just end up writing nothing. But not just that. It’s the kind of Sunday morning where you could feel you had nothing to write that was worth the effort. That you had nothing to write that anybody would ever want to see.

I said earlier how I have to keep trying with the blog. Keep getting it done. It rather begs a question. Why? Why bother? I could be writing something else as the week draws to a close. I could be tidying up some other piece of text early on a Sunday morning. I could be watching telly. I could be reading a book. I could be in bed.

I think those last three ‘Could Be’s are at least a part of the reason why I keep producing these largely irrelevant weekly thousand-word bursts. It’s me doing something. Something other than work or sleep. It’s like a person who might be knitting a scarf that nobody will ever wear. A tiny corner of the world is being filled up by the thing I am making. Something that wasn’t there before I started will be there now, because of me. Maybe nobody will wear the scarf today or tomorrow but it will be there, in a drawer somewhere and, if somebody ever needs it or even just stumbles upon it and tries it on for size, well that would be nice.

Don’t heed this old post too much. It’s just a place holder, a holding pattern. A post holder. I think I’ll do better next week.

I think I’ll have to now.


A song came on the radio on Friday afternoon and started a short train of thought. Just two carriages and an engine, no buffet car.  Let’s not beat around the bush here, the song was Downtown by Petula Clarke.

“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go…”

You know the one.

We were in the office and we had switched off our regular radio station as a protest against their penchant for playing Christmas tunes far too early. Every time one came on, we penalised them by switching away for at least thirty minutes. Their revenue streams will doubtless reflect this early in the new year. That’ll teach ‘em.

We wouldn’t normally hear ‘Downtown’ in our working day though, in fairness, Ronan Collins would probably roll it out from time to time and we always switch to him between twelve and one, though not as any form of protest.

In my mind, ‘Downtown’ is one the first songs I ever became aware of. I was born in ’63 and it came out in ’64 and I guess it was on regular heavy radio playlist rotation for quite a few subsequent years. Mum would sing it in the house, just like she sang everything else.

I possibly also have an thing with the song because I am recently returned from my first visit to New York City. Did I mention I was in New York? (Yes, you did, Ken). When I did a bit of Wikipedia reading before typing this, I learned that the writer of the song, Tony Hatch, was in Midtown New York and thought he was in Downtown and wrote the song with that misconception in his head. I had something similar going on when I was there. Did I tell you I was there? (Yes, yes, I did.) I didn’t really think I was Downtown. I just didn’t really know what Downtown was. I do now, so don’t feel obliged to tell me. Also, as a small aside, Kojak used to always bring his arrestees Downtown in the big car with the strap-on emergency light. I remember that. Him and Crocker. 

All this rather extraneous information is simply intended to show you that the song, the place, and the word ‘Downtown’ was lurking in my head even before Petula came on the radio and belted it out last Friday afternoon. I enjoyed it, as I always do. It’s got a sort of a Burt Bacharach vibe which I always welcome and it’s upbeat like Friday afternoons should be and so rarely are.

Last Friday, though, something else happened as it played. It sparked a distant memory from all the ways back in the Sixties when the song was brand new and when Mum was humming it in the Scullery.

It’s nothing, really, a mere bagatelle.

When I was small, I thought that Petula was singing about going Downtown in the town that I lived in. I thought that, whenever Petula had worries, she would go and seek out all the noise and the hurry of Downtown Sligo Town. And, in my young mind, I was a bit baffled by this. Quite simply because there wasn’t all that much to actually do in Downtown Sligo Town. I mean, you could go and see Clive and Henny in the Butcher’s shop and maybe get a bag of bones for the dog. Or, if you really wanted to push the boat out, you could go to the Bakery on Bridge Street and get a selection of fairy cakes in a white box tied up with string. Petula liked a movie-show whenever things were getting her down, but I’m not sure she would have felt right at home in the Savoy up on Market Street. Perhaps she tended to go large and head up to the Balcony.

Whenever I went Downtown, holding Mum’s hand, I would wonder just what attracted Petula to head down there so regularly and with such great enthusiasm. Perhaps she went in for a pint in Hargadon’s with all the old fellas who dotted the bar in the early afternoons. Perhaps she went into Woods and perused the clothes rail. She could buy something and, if she asked nicely, they might put it in their book and let her pay a bit off it every week.

I’ve been to New York now and I’ve been to fabulous Downtowns all over the world but I’ve never quite freed myself of this childhood notion that, whenever Petula is alone and life is making her lonely, she heads for the bright lights of O’Connell Street and Teeling Street and perhaps, on a particularly adventurous day, Wine Street Car Park.

It’s rather a warming thought, that there is such solace to be found by Global Superstars in your own little town.

One Worry to the Next

I had a worry recently. 

Is that an all right way to say it? Perhaps ‘I was worried about something recently’ might read better? ‘I was recently worried about something’? Who cares? You know what I mean. This worry was a fairly substantial one, enough to occupy one’s mind (well… my mind, to be specific). It wasn’t just a trivial thing, to my mind at least.

What was this worry, Ken? Well, never you mind. This is a blog we’re running here, not a feckin’ confessional. Imagine a fairly substantial worry of your own and apply it here. The effect will be much the same.

This worry was of a particular nature where a moment of reckoning would inevitably come. A precise moment where, once it came and went, the worry would either have blown up into a fully formed difficulty or else it would have completely gone away in an instant, evaporating into the ether. The build up to this zero-moment was understandably twitchy. Would things be all right or would they not? Tick tock, tick tock. The moment came, it held for a long, long moment… and then it passed. There was no worry anymore. Everything in the garden was immediately rosy. All was well.

Phew. Time to celebrate. Time to jump around a bit.

Well, you would think so, wouldn’t you? You would expect that there would be a blissful lifting of pressure and worry and random scenario-running and all that kind of stuff. But that wasn’t really how it went.

What actually happened was that my mind kind of said, “Right, that’s all over and done with now. What shall I worry about next?” And a whole list of lesser things immediately presented themselves to be worried about. The funny this is, if the big worry moment had gone the other way, I wouldn’t have been giving any of these other things a second thought. But there they were nonetheless, in the queue, waiting patiently to be worried-about by me.

What’s that all about?

It wasn’t always the case, at least I don’t think it was. There was a time where I could celebrate if a cause for worry was suddenly lifted from me. I don’t necessarily mean I would fall around the place hugging grannies and weeping for unmitigated joy. I just mean there would be some tangible sense of relief or ease. In this case, the overriding sensation was one of… nothing. The thing that had occupied most of my waking moments – and quite a few of my sleeping ones – had vanished and yet I felt no better off than I was before.

That’s this week’s post, in a nutshell. I usually have some kind of a conclusion or, at least, a tidy little round up on which to close the thing out. Not this time. At least, as I type this word… no, I don’t know what the tidy conclusion might be. I’ll stop typing for a moment and think about it. I’ll see if anything occurs…

… …

Nope. Not really.

Reading back, it sounds like I’m in some sort of crisis or something but nothing could be further from the truth. The worry was small enough, in retrospect at least. The relief when the worry finally went away was just surprisingly non-existent. That’s all. Perhaps it’s just an age thing. Perhaps, the older we get, the fewer peaks and troughs we ride. Maybe things just level out. Except that last trough seemed ‘trough-ey’ enough. It’s the peaks that don’t quite peak like they should.

And then there’s another thought. Maybe I’m just imagining it all. Don’t I feel a lot better now than I did at the zenith of the worry. I believe I do. More relaxed, more at ease. So fucking what if I didn’t throw a thanksgiving parade just because my stupid little worry went away? Looking back, it probably didn’t even warrant a big reaction. Things are grand again, isn’t that all that matters?

That’s it. This navel-gazing has been brought to you by me. Have a lovely day.

And, if you should find that a worry of yours suddenly goes away from you, try to have an even nicer one.


What? You really didn’t realise I’d try to knock one more post out of New York? Silly old you.

There’s a bit in Crocodile Dundee when Mick arrives in The Big Apple and chats casually from his limousine window to a busy businessperson on the street.

“G’day, Mick Dundee from Australia. How are ya?”

“I’m fine. Thank you.”

“Good. Down for a couple ’days, probably see you round.”

And off he goes, as the businessperson stares after him in patent disbelief.

I’m a very chatty type. I chat. Also I acknowledge people on the street that I don’t really know. This is partially out of habit and partially out of fear that I do actually know some of them and have failed to recognise them. I knew I would be bringing this facility to New York, in the same way that I have brought it everywhere else I’ve been in the last fifty-eight years. (I’m not counting my first year because I didn’t speak much then.)

As a small child, I remember people stopping me and my Mum and asking me what my name was. I didn’t know why at the time but I later learned it was because I always answered with my full name and address and people knew this and liked to hear me do it. Chatty child, chatty man. Chatty.

And I was mildly concerned about bringing this habit to New York. Not worried, nothing like that. Just a little niggle that I would be like Mick Dundee, causing consternation with my friendly disposition and my unsolicited proferring of unrequired information. And I do present a pretty friendly face to the world, at least 85% of the time. An open, rather gormless smile and a pre-disposition to aimlessly converse. What on Earth would the big city make of me?

Looking back, I needn’t have worried. New Yorkers like to talk; at least, in my unarguably limited experience, they do. Every conversational ball I kicked was returned to me with enthusiastic interest and most of the gormless grins were warmly grinned back. On several occasions, random New Yorkers stopped on the Subway platform or on the street as we consulted our apps to see which way was best to go next. “Can I help you find somewhere?” One lady, in a UPS uniform and a string of nice pearls, went out of her way to lead us to a junction and point us in the right direction. It spoke to a sense of pride in their city and a small gratitude that we had come to visit. Silly, I know, to read so much into it, but there you are.

Even looking again at that bit from Crocodile Dundee, that ‘Busy Businessperson’ is not in any way hostile to Mick’s friendly advance. His response is civil if distant. He doesn’t get mad or anything. So I guess I needn’t have worried.

Surprised as I was that my little conversational excursions were positively met, I was even more chuffed to find that people were frequently offering me little chatty-chats of their own. Leaving the hotel in the morning, I practiced my old-fashioned habit of holding the door for whoever was coming behind. The door attendant was a tall African American guy.

“Man, you’re stealing my job.”

“I could do this job. I could do it better than you.”

“Hah, be my guest!”

If this rings a distant bell, there was indeed a partial worry on my part that I would quickly turn into Larry David if I stayed in New York for too long. I got into an actual thing with another hotel person about making change of ten dollars with him so I could fix him up with his gratuity. Pretty good. Pretty… pretty good.

On the Subway, I had lots of chats. On a crowded downtown train, I encouraged the guy on the platform to squeeze on in, years of Piccadilly Line crushing giving me the confidence to assert this. We had a grateful chat as the train rattled along. In another crushed standing journey, the wildly tattooed guy next to me was trying to carve a small pumpkin for Halloween with a rather lethal-looking tool. I complimented him on his technique and on the emerging deaths head in the vegetable. He and his equally inked pal seemed quite pleased with the feedback.

Inspired by my forthrightness in the public domain, Patricia also tried her hand at random stranger conversations. In a diner for breakfast she interrupted a rather heated business meeting that was taking place at an adjoining table to inform one of the four participants that his smoked salmon bagel looked very nice and that she might just try that herself. This was braver than I ever would have been and it brought us as close to that stunned Crocodile Dundee reaction as we ever got during our entire visit. The guy rallied well, though, and confirmed that his breakfast was indeed very tasty.

Some random conversations were not what they seemed. Outside of Grand Central Station, quite early, a tall man with glasses looked straight into my eyes and earnestly asked me, ‘How much will the shipping be on that?” I had to admit the truth to him. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t know.” Of course, he was on his mobile phone, speaking hands free. I realised that quite soon after I spoke and I hurried on soon after that.

You'll have to excuse me, I’m only in town for a couple of days...

I’ll probably see you around.

NYC, Baby, At Long Last

Autumn is in full swing in New York City. The leaves are all rapidly turning Russet and Golden Brown. This is most in evidence on the escalator of the 34th Street-Hudson Yards subway station where a small man is toting a medium-sized oak tree down to the platform As we roll up, he rolls down. One man and his tree, both leaning backwards against the descent of the long moving stair.

This is New York, baby. I’m finally here.

I’ve wanted to see New York all of my life. It’s been a dream, an aspiration, a bucket-list thing. And I’ve been close a few times. The city streets of Boston seemed to provide an estimation of what the Big Apple might offer. Likewise the hills of San Francisco and the endless suburbs of Los Angeles gave me ample insight into the ways of the American City. But, still, I longed for New York.

And then Paul and Jerry made their wedding plans. New York, baby. I had hoped to go when I was 60 next year but to hell with that. I can be 60 now if I want to be. We booked our hotel; we booked out tickets. A New York wedding of two of the finest people we know, what could be finer? Paul is Patricia’s nephew and he’s my nephew too because I’m married to Patricia and I’m claiming him. Jerry and Paul have been a great solid romantic item for many years now so, sod it, Jerry is my nephew too. I want them both in my squad. We knew the wedding would be eye-popping and loving and romantic and it was all of those things and more. A wonderful time was had by all. But I’m not here to dish on the wedding. Perhaps another day. Today is for New York City, baby, and finally, finally getting there. Although, before moving away from the wedding, I will say that there will be loads of great memories but the community singing of ‘Suddenly Seymour’ by Paul and Jerry’s friends, as they gathered around the piano man late in the evening, is one that will surely remain with me.

We’re staying in Midtown Manhattan and I get up early and walk the blocks in the area, riding the time difference for all it’s worth. I love the streets and avenues, how they stretch endless in each direction, how the sun moves from one to the next, setting it alight. The buildings are not as breath-takingly tall here as I imagined they might be. The Chrysler and the Empire State are high but not quite as high as my mind painted them. Still, they are beautiful and there are other buildings elsewhere in the city that will be astonishingly, earth-shatteringly tall, much higher than my tiny mind could conjure. Besides, tall isn't everything. One early morning wander me takes up 3rd Avenue and into Grand Central Station and the scale of it, the iconic nature of it, makes me sway on my heels.

In between the many wedding gatherings and activities, we have some time to ourselves to wander and look. Macy’s is a time machine that takes you back and back as you ride the escalators up and up, each one more ancient than the last. Christmas has come to the ninth floor early and it’s a world replete with oversized nutcracker soldiers and silver Santa Clauses. We buy one Christmas decoration for the tree, as we do wherever we go.

A good friend who lived here for a time has pointed us in some directions we would never have found by ourselves. A subway to the 59th St Bridge (yes, there is a song) and the transit system cable car over to Roosevelt Island, which is bright and calm on a Sunday morning and where the views of Manhattan are cool. A ride on the East River ferry down below the Brooklyn Bridge and a walk up into Wall Street. A stoic march past ‘that’ person’s building and up past the Stock Exchange. The streets are tightly packed together here and the effect is that of a canyon. The Trade Centre memorial is thoughtful and sad, though people clamour with selfies and coffee. There isn’t much to be done except perhaps pick out one name from the thousands carved there and wonder about that and hope that their curtailed life was good.

Our friend also sent us to the Frick Collection and this is my recommendation to you, for when you next visit New York. I had expected a nice private collection of paintings to wander aimlessly through but was quite unprepared by the quality and impact of the works contained therein. Although the security staff were clearly thinking of soup and glue, there was still a laid-back accessibility about the artwork and the ability to stand in such proximity, without protective glass, to works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck, Turner, Constable and so many others was quite something.

On the street, very early, there is a homeless man with his trolley of early possessions. His pants are down at his ankles as he bends to some unknowable task on the pavement. His rear gleams in the sunlight that leaks up the avenue. He is ignored and passed-by. If he needs some help, it is not forthcoming.

Outside the impressive wedding hotel, in The Bowery, late, there is a melee for taxies among people recently discharged from nearby bars. One sporty young man takes exception to a yellow cab ignoring his fare. He clings to the rear door handle and roars his objections as the cab pulls out and speeds up the street and towards us. The young man clings on still, achieving a velocity that lifts his two feet off the ground. Then he loses his grip and falls and rolls and tumbles multiple times on the tarmac before arriving close to our feet. He springs up without missing a beat and grins broadly at us, “Hey, where you guys from?”

The streets smell faintly of pot and the sirens are always going and the cars are always blaring their horns at each other. When the white light man says ‘Walk’ on the traffic signal, a car can still turn and drive over the pedestrian walkway if their way is clear. That’s why Dustin Hoffman shouts, ‘I’m walkin’ here,’ at the yellow cab. I reckon he was in the right.

That’s at least a little of what New York is. It’s 20th Century history and iconography. History doesn’t have to be old to be great, it just has to be great. New York soaked in the 20th Century like perhaps no other place ever did, and its image is burned clearly on its retina still.

I always wanted to see New York and now I have. I feel like the Jigsaw puzzle that is my mind had been missing an important piece and now it has been slotted into place. And not just a blue sky/cloud piece either. No, it’s a dense colourful piece that makes all the other pieces around it fit a little tighter and a little easier.

If I finally made it there… who knows what could happen next?

Castlebar and Sligo – Three Notable Differences

Last Sunday, I was asked to speak as part of John Healy's very popular 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' event which traditionally closes the Wild Atlantic Words Festival. The following is the little talk I gave, just for the record. Thanks, John, for allowing me to share the stage with such esteemed company. I had a lovely time. 

                                            Photo by John Mee

Good morning. I am delighted to be welcomed into such lovely company this Sunday morning. John and I thought it might be nice if I talked about some of the differences I see between my current home place, which is very much here in Castlebar, and my original home place.

Because I come from a distant and an exotic land. A place far far away where, if you ever intend to journey to it, you had better pack your ‘samages’. Yes, folks, as John said in his introduction. I come from Sligo Town.

And I’m going to undermine myself from the start. There aren’t really very many differences between the two towns. We are all proud West of Ireland, Connaught folk, hardy and true, and you’d best not mess with us, if you value your trousers.

There aren’t many differences. But there are a few.

I’ve decided to restrict myself to three differences. Two reasons. Firstly it gives me a little frame to hang my contribution on, a little form, a little template. Secondly, it gives you an idea of when, ‘In ainm Dé’ is he ever going to be finished?

I should also qualify these observations by saying that I left Sligo as a young man, and I haven’t been back much, and I came here as an older man, and I haven’t left much. So just bear that in mind.

Difference Number One, The Mall.

We have The Mall in Castlebar and we have The Mall in Sligo. The Mall in Sligo is pretty good. It’s really just a street but it has the beautiful Carly Parish, Church of Ireland Church, it has the Model Arts Centre and it has the Hospital, which is always very handy at a pinch.

The Sligo Mall is pretty good. But, lads, it cannot hold a candle to the Castlebar Mall.

Castlebar Mall played a crucial part in convincing me to come to Castlebar to live. I’ll tell you why. Back in 1996, Patricia and I decided to come back after fifteen good years in London. There were two reasons. The first was that we had our first son, John. At the time, we didn’t know he was our first son, he was just our son. But setting that aside, we decided us that it was time to come home. Trish is from Galway and I’m_ well you know where I’m from - so Castlebar seemed like a good median point, even though neither of us had ever been here. Then when Tom Carr Architects took out an advert in the British Architect’s Journal, looking for people like me. It seemed like an even better idea.

I drove to Castlebar from Sligo on one of those non-days that fall between Christmas and New Year. I parked up by the old Post Office and I walked down to Burleigh House, just at the traffic lights. You know it. You do. I met with Tom in his little office on the top floor and he was charming and kind, as he always was, and it all seemed to go pretty well.

Except for one thing.

The whole top floor, every room, was full of people. People who were, if you will pardon the expression, working their arses off.

Remember this was the time between Christmas and New Year and I had never in my life worked between Christmas and New Year. The thought of coming home to some Brave New Ireland that didn’t even allow the poor buggers a day or two off for the Christmas. Well, it struck fear in my mortal soul.

Now, as it turned out, that the was the only year that Tom and his team ever worked over the Christmas. That year was just a wild busy year. An aberration. But aberration or not, it threw me off. I came out of Burleigh House, pretty darned sure I didn’t want to give up my happy existence in England to come and live in a town that didn’t even celebrate Christmas.

My mind was made up.

And I came out of Burleigh House, and I crossed the road up at Moran’s Auctioneers and I walked round the corner and onto the Mall… and I changed my mind.

At the time, we had a little house in Twickenham, just off Twickenham Green. And I loved that village green. And I’d never seen an Irish town with its own village green and yet here it was, in all its winter glory. It was almost as if the town was telling me, ‘Come on home, Son. Anything you have in Twickenham; you can have here.’

And we came, Valentine’s Day 1997 and we didn’t know anyone. And we were welcomed, in various places, in various ways. But the Mall – the Castlebar Mall – has always remained very dear to me. I cross it four times every working day, walking from home to work and back up and down again at lunch time. On Summer’s evenings, I’ll often circle round it a few times close to midnight, maybe listening out for a fox. And every Christmas Night, while the Strictly Come Dancing special is on, you’ll find me down there, soaking up the silence and the cold.

The Castlebar Mall is my first difference between Sligo and Here... and it’s one I really love.

Difference Number Two

Honestly, I’m not looking to rub any salt in any wounds here. But there is no getting away from it. If you want to talk about differences between Sligo Town and Castlebar, then at some point, you have to talk about the GAA.

There is a long tradition of GAA football in the County of Sligo. There are wonderful clubs and wonderful players. Their fans would follow the Sligo Team to the ends of the earth, or the county border at least.


In the part of Sligo Town where I grew up. We did not know what the GAA was. Markievicz Park was just a big place up beside the Old Cemetery where a mysterious traffic jam happened once or twice every year. For us townies, or at least us Riversideys, Gaelic Football simply did not exist. How did we fill our days? You might ask. Who did we weep for?

The answer, as you probably know, was Sligo Rovers. Every second Sunday, as a boy, I would walk out to the Showgrounds with my dad and I would alternately freeze and shout at great men like Fagan and Stenson. When Dad was old and I was a bit older too, we would reconvene there on some Friday nights and they were some of the best nights. After he died, Rovers held a minute’s silence for him before the match. He was that kind of supporter.

But although, I don’t come from GAA stock, I have come to have a huge respect for it. And particularly the Castlebar variety.

Here, it is everything. And as a person who often tends to come second in things, I tend to think of it all as a huge win. And the huge win I see, as a bit of an outsider, is the joy it brings to people here. And yes, of course, there is pain as well.

In the film ‘Shadowlands’, Joy Davidman says: “The Pain now is part of the Happiness then. That's the deal.”

I was lucky enough to get an unusual view of that happiness just last year.

September 11th, 2021, I happened to be driving back from Dublin to Castlebar after an overnight stay. What I saw on that trip stays with me. I wrote about it, the day after, and I called the piece ‘Driving the Wrong Way Down the Road to the All-Ireland final’, which is fairly self-explanatory. Here’s a little bit.

“When you’re in Castlebar in the weeks before the big match, you may see little flags attached to a car. You may see a licence plate illicitly changed out for a red and green ‘Mayo4Sam’ sentiment.

But when practically every car going the other way is decked out in the Red and Green, when every car is packed with families and friends, it’s an entirely different effect. Every petrol station along the way was replete with fans and flag-ridden cars. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh they went past me. I couldn’t help but wave and occasionally toot my horn at people I really didn’t know. I glanced in my rear-view mirror and decided that the person behind me thought I was a feckin’ lunatic.

Mayo fans never give up. Never will. It is a key part of what defines them. Every year that they can, they will ride in that parade, filled with pride and hope and expectation. All the arid years that have gone before only adding further to the love and the respect that the place has for its mighty team.

Castlebar is different to Sligo when it comes to GAA and, to my mind, it is a really brilliant difference.

Difference Number Three

The third and final difference, well it hardly qualifies as a difference at all. It’s something that anyone who has ever moved from their childhood place to another place will probably know quite well.

And it is simply… the faces.

Whenever I venture back to Sligo and, sadly, that’s often for a funeral, I see faces of people I have known. If I walk around the town, the faces of the people who pass me by are imprinted on me like a tiny bird might have its mother’s face imprinted on its brain. And it goes further than that. I see teenagers and children and young men and women and I just know who their parents are from their faces, from the imprints that the faces of the people of my hometown have made on me.

And I said this was hardly a difference at all and the reason is this: It’s happening all over again.

After twenty five years of being here with you in Castlebar. I am becoming imprinted anew. I see your faces and I feel them embed themselves into my tiny brain.

I’m nearly at the end. Just one final thing.

Back near the start, I said that Trish and I came home for two reasons, but I only told you one of them. The second reason relates to a film I saw on the King’s Road in 1987. It was called Roxanne. Steve Martin played a modern day Cyrano De Bergerac character, with a big, long nose. In the film Steve Martin lived in a small town, and he knew everybody and everybody knew him. I came out of that film and I said to Trish. Someday, not now, but someday, I would like for us to live in a town like that. A place where people know who we are and where we know who they are. And Patricia agreed.

And it’s happened, right here in Castlebar. These days, I am always late for work after lunch because on my way home and back I meet so many people who I know and we smile and chat. Perhaps it’ll never be quite as embedded as the childhood imprints of a Sligo upbringing. But bonds have been forged here in Castlebar and firm friendships have been made.

And the first thing I said, when I stood up, was how delighted I am to be welcomed into such lovely company. It turns out that wasn’t just a simple platitude. That was the truth. The differences between my Sligo home and my Castlebar home, day by day, year by year become fewer and fewer.

Such that, here today, with you, at Sunday Morning Coming Down, I feel very much… at home. So, thank you.

Wild Atlantic Words - Story Cube Sessions 2022

(This story was devised in a Story Cubes Workshop with the Third Class of the Educate Together National School, Castlebar, for the 2022 Wild Atlantic Words Festival in Castlebar. The writers were Alanna, Caitlin, Lilly, Aoife, Arya, Ryan, Kaz, Alex, Joseph, Noah, Dawid, Orin and Ken.

 Special Thanks to the Teachers Liam and Linda who were great.

The nine Story Cubes that were thrown were: a Sleepy Donkey, a Sheep, a Book, a Pyramid, a Parachute, Planet Earth, a Directional Arrow, a Beatle, and a Tent. The elements we ended up using in the story have been underlined above.)

 The Enlightenment of Beetroot and Cherry

Beetroot was a sleepy donkey who lived in a hilly field all by himself. To the south he could see the far away mountains and to the north he could see the small lake shining in the sun. Every day, at noon, Farmer Loftus brought him his hay and his beets, and he ate them all in one go then usually went to sleep again. Life was a bit slow and, although he wasn’t always sure, Beetroot reckoned he was at least a little bit unhappy.

His only companion lived in the next field, separated from him by a post-and-barbed-wire fence. Cherry was a sheep and she too lived all on her own. She had got her name from the Farmer’s youngest daughter who had been eating cherry ice-cream at the time she arrived.

Because there wasn’t much else to do, Beetroot hated Cherry and Cherry hated Beetroot right back. Every day they spent at least an hour swapping insults with each other over the fence.

“You are fat and woolly.”

“You are ugly, and you smell.”

The level of insult was never remarkably high because neither Cherry not Beetroot had ever been anywhere except in their field. It often got a bit boring but still they kept at it, day in and day out.

“You are woolly and fat.”

“You smell and you are ugly.”

The days passed slowly.

One day, Farmer Loftus cleared out his attic and drove half the stuff to the recycling centre in his jeep and his trailer. It was a very windy day and a particularly strong gust caught something in the trailer and sent it fluttering out over the fence between Cherry’s field and Beetroot’s field. It landed right on the fence and stuck there. Beetroot and Cherry rushed over to investigate. The thing was half on one side and half on the other and they each nosed their own side and wondered what it was.”

“What is it, Smelly?”

“I don’t know, Woolly, but I know that I’m going to eat it.”

Beetroot started to eat his side of the thing on the fence and Cherry, not to be outdone, started to eat her side of the thing with equal speed. Soon it was all gone.

Beetroot gave a little burp.

“That was most edifying,” he said.

Cherry burped too.

“Quite palatable,” she agreed.

They looked at each other. Neither had any clue what the other just said.

The fact of the matter was that the thing on the fence had been a Dictionary and Beetroot had eaten the A to M section and Cherry had polished off the N to Z part.

“Are you indisposed?” Beetroot asked.

“I am unwitting of your phraseology,” replied Cherry.

And neither had a clue.

The next day the farmer drove the second half of his stuff to the recycling centre and an Atlas flew off and landed on the fence. Beetroot and Cherry quickly ate their respective halves.

“Oh, “ said Cherry, ”how I would love to parachute into Egypt, which is over in that direction, and view the ancient Pyramids.”

“I know nothing of that, “ replied Beetroot, “but the Giant’s Causeway certainly seems nice.”

Beetroot looked at Cherry and Cherry looked back.

“You know things,” he said, “you know things that I don’t know.”

Cherry nodded.

“I could tell you about the things that I know,” she said.”

“And I could you tell you about mine.”

And so, from that day onward, Cherry and Beetroot sat by the fence and told each other of strange words and strange places they had known. And from then on, the mountains did not seem quite so far away, and the lake did not seem quite so small.

And the world was an altogether nicer place.

(This story was devised in a Story Cubes Workshop with 3rd Class, Castlebar Primary School, for the 2022 Wild Atlantic Words Festival in Castlebar. The writers were Andrea, Casey, Charlie, Darragh, Dmytro, Emma, Eric, Fatiha, Godsent, Isobel, John, Kyrylo, Lilianna, Linden, Lucy , Maja, Matej, Nathan, Nevil, Patryk, Santiago, Shahed, Sofia and Ken. 

Special Thanks to Teachers Siobhan and Helen, who were great.

The nine Story Cubes that were thrown were: a Radio, a Letter, a Beatle, a Sleeping Person, a Book, the Planet Earth, a Key, A Keyhole, and a Lock. The elements used in the story are underlined above.)

Love Me Do Plus Two 

“Ssshhh! It’s coming on.”

Every day, brother and sister Aoife and Kaz tuned in the kitchen radio at exactly five minutes past five. They shushed everybody else in the house, the Dog, the Cat, and Mum, and they listened intently.

“It’s time once again for the Greatest Beatles Competition of All Time.”

Aoife and Kaz held their breath tightly. All they wanted in the world was to win the mystery prize in Greatest Beatles Competition of All Time. They had entered one gazillion and forty times and some day their name would be called out and they would have their chance.

“And today’s lucky callers are…”

Aoife listened, Kaz listened, Mum listened, the Dog listened. The Cat didn’t listen. It just licked its belly.

“Today’s lucky callers are… Aoife and Kaz.”


“Mum, where’s the phone, where’s the phone, where’s the phone, they’re going to call in a minute, where’s the phone?”

Nobody knew where the phone was. Everybody used their mobiles, and the phone handset was never in demand. A frantic search began, cushions were overturned, mats were shaken, cupboards were peered-into. The cat got up in disgust and the phone was on the chair where she had been sitting. Aoife dived on it, just as it started to ring. She pressed the button to answer the call.

“We love the Beatles, and we love Radio Nine Point Two FM.”

That was the phrase that pays. If you didn’t say it before you said hello, you didn’t get to play in The Greatest Beatles Competition of All Time. You were toast.

Aoife and Kaz had to answer one tough Beatles question to win the prize. The competition had been running for weeks because the people who got to play only knew about Beyonce and Dermot Kennedy. The Beatles were ancient history.

Not to Kaz and Aoife though. When their Dad got ill, he left them all of his Beatles records and they played them every day after school. While the records were spinning it was often like Dad was in the next room and about to shout through about how the next track was a great one. It was nice.

So Aoife and Kaz had high hopes for the question. As did their Mum and the Dog and the Cat… well, no, the Cat didn’t care.

“What was John Lennon’s original middle name?”

It wasn’t fair. Any question about any song on any album and they would have been just fine. But who could know the singer’s middle name? Not Mum, not Aoife, not Kaz.

The Cat looked up from its licking.

“Winston,” it said.

Aoife and Kaz shouted it down the phone, both at the same time. “WINSTONNNNNN.” And that was it. They had won the mystery prize in the Greatest Beatles Competition of All Time. Almost immediately, there was a noise in the front hall. A Golden Envelope had been slipped under the door. Inside was a key and a note. ‘GO TO THE TREE THAT LOOKS LIKE A GUITAR.’

Kaz and Aoife knew the tree that looked like a guitar. It was in the woods up the back and they often ran there-and-back when it rained. There was a brown door in the tree that they had never noticed before. On the brown door was a green apple, just like the one in the middle of the Beatles records.

They opened the door and went inside.

It was smoky and dark and there were lots of people. Kaz and Aoife were at the back. Down the front, there was a small stage with four young men up on it. The one with the absolute nicest smile waved to Aoife and Kaz.

“They’re here now,” he told the crowd, “let’s have a big hand for Aoife and Kaz.”

Aoife and Kaz sang backing vocals for Love Me Do with The Beatles in the Cavern Club in 1962. When they finished, they fell asleep on the stage and woke up back in their own beds in 2022. Fearing it had all been a dream, they ran to the sitting room and put the old record on the turntable.

And there they were. Right there inside the vinyl.

John, Paul, George, Ringo, Aoife and Kaz.

Dad would have been really proud.