See You for Two out of Three

Meat Loaf sadly died this week. This won’t be an attempt at an obituary, I wouldn’t be equipped for that. But it’s worth a couple of words. That’s for sure. So here they are.

I realise it sounds more like a Jackson Browne song, but in ’77 I was fourteen and the music was everywhere. Punk and New Wave hadn’t yet crashed over our heads and, in that year after its release, the charts were full with songs from the likes of Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Barry Manilow had his place in the chart, as did Engelbert Humperdinck and ABBA. Things were getting ready to change but they hadn’t changed yet.

Then the ‘it’ I referred to in the paragraph before landed in our consciousness and took firm root there. ‘Bat out of Hell’ did not seem to grab us off the back of radio airplay or stuff on television, not to my memory anyway, it just leaked into our awareness. A sort of a, ‘Have you heard this?’ thing.

In more recent years, the way the production of the record was approached was quite the revelation to me. Apparently, the main creative forces of Steinman and Meat Loaf had come out of a musical theatre background and the album was born out of these influences as well as many others. A documentary I saw about the birth of the album gave it a sort of ‘Glee’ or ‘High School Musical’ type of preppy vibe.

We, the fourteen or fifteen-year-olds, didn’t get that vibe at all. For us, Bat out of Hell, seemed excessive and rude and out-there in a way that we must have craved but didn’t really know it. The young people in the songs were crashing motorbikes and getting off with each other down on the hot sands of a midnight beach. Our bikes were push-powered, and our beaches were the very antithesis of hot at any time of the day but still the songs connected in the way they openly talked of lust and need and general youthful over-the-top-ness.

Bat out of Hell wasn’t the only thing that year but it was certainly a big thing. The music of our day seemed washed out and for another generation. The music of yesterday drew us more, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, all connected to us and spoke to us but they belonged to other, slightly older people. When it landed, Bat of Hell might have been a bit tacky and a bit OTT but, dammit, it was ours and nobody else’s and we grabbed it.

We knew all the words, and there were lots of words. I’d say I still know every one and, with the lightest of kick starts, I could bale through them faster than any boy has ever gone. The words spoke of things we knew nothing about - varsity tackles, cracker jack boxes and such - but it spoke of things we knew and felt too and that peculiar juxtaposition of the strange and the familiar made for a momentarily heady brew that has never since fallen out of our affections.

My best memory of Bat Out of Hell comes from Valentino’s, the night club I tried and tried to get into way back then. The nightclub I failed and failed to get into until, one night, I didn’t and, from then on, I got in every week. I’ve covered that story in another post here.

The point is, there was a girl, and she was a friend of a friend, and I didn’t really know her very well and she didn’t know me. It is a sad truth that I can’t even recall her name at this point. She was nice but she had no interest in me and the feeling was fully reciprocated on my part. We both had our eyes elsewhere, on places where we probably wasting our time. Such was the nature of those evenings.

But we developed a thing, a very little thing, in Valentino’s. Every week, Tommy Higgins would play ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ as part of one of his slow sets. This girl and me must have had a slow dance to it one night and, though I’m filling-in here, I imagine we both knew all the words and sang them aloud as we swayed around and laughed. It must have been fun because, every week, she would say to me, “Come find me for ‘Two out of Three’,” and I would, and we would sway around and sing and laugh together and maybe stick around for the rest of the set and then simply be gone.

You’ll probably read this and think, “Silly Ken, this was some unrequited attraction that his dumb fifteen-year-old self couldn’t even recognise.” But, no, I don’t think that’s right. For my part, I never really did terribly well at dances and such: I was scruffy, and my hair was too long in all the wrong places and my complexion wasn’t all that great. Thinking about it now, I was like one of those two guys on the periphery of ‘Gregory’s Girl’ who watch romance unfold all around them and who make plans and scheme schemes but who never really get anywhere much.

When ‘Two Out of Three’ played, somebody wanted me, if only for the briefest of interludes. Somebody sought me out or required me to seek them out. That’s what the album was like too. Somebody had made something just for us. It might not have been perfect, and it might have been a little bit off-kilter in places, but it was just ours.

Perhaps, in meeting up on the beer-soaked floor, and whirling around it one more time, we were both subconsciously reflecting that. I don’t think so though. Not really.

Like the album itself, it was just our little moment.

Faeries, Birthing and other Misapprehensions

Were you ever told stuff when you were very young that sort-of messed you up for a while? Some of the things that were told to me were imparted with the best will in the world, but they still set me off out into the world with some curious misapprehensions.

Let’s do two of these. Let's not get too serious, though, it’s only a bit of fun.

In Ireland, the last Sunday of July has always been something of a big deal. I don’t know if that’s true everywhere or not. Here in Mayo, it’s ‘Reek Sunday’ and people come and climb up our local Holy Mountain, Croagh Patrick, in their hoards. Some do it barefoot. Some wear things on their feet; boots and shoes and such. Some, like me, don’t do it at all. Come on, it’s hard.

In Sligo, where I spent my formative years (i.e. lived) it was called ‘Garland Sunday’, and everybody went to the Holy Well where there were food stalls and boat trips and… other things. (I dunno, it was a long time ago.)

I have this memory of one Garland Sunday at the Holy Well and I’ll tell you a something about it. But we have to tread carefully here. If I’m honest (and I do try to be) this memory is little more than a series of dreamlike impressions. It was over fifty years ago, for God’s sake. So, as I try to make a little narrative paragraph about it, there is inevitably a significant quantity of ‘colouring-in’ being done. For instance, when, in a minute, I come to describe my Dad lying back on a tartan blanket eating a ham sandwich, am I remembering that or am I filling-in something I subsequently glimpsed in an old photograph somewhere. I really don’t know.

It doesn’t matter anyway. Just keep in mind that what follows is probably 85% fabrication, which is a bit higher than my usual average.

So, anyway…

There we were, on Garland Sunday, up around the Holy Well (it all sounds impressively Irish, doesn’t it?) and we were having sandwiches and tea from a flask and I, being about six years old and a bit bored, set off exploring to the woods up the back. At the edge of the woods, there was a huge black hole that led in among the deep dark trees, and I paused on the edge of this hole and wondered if I should go in or not. Gradually, as I waited there, I became aware of an air of music emanating from the depth of the woods. I stood and let it ease over me for a little while and then I concluded I definitely wasn’t going in there. I ran back to my family and perched on the edge of the tartan blanket. Dad must have sensed that some little thing was amiss, so he asked me what was up. I told him about the music that was coming from inside of the woods.

“Ay yes,” he said, working on getting his pipe lit, “that will be the Faeries. Best not go in there.”

My memory is this: even at the ripe old age of six, I quickly discounted that the music was actually coming from Faeries. That was Dad being mischievous, as he often tended to be. Most likely there were some houses up the back of the woods, which seemed infinite but probably were not. The music was coming from a house back there or maybe even from some kids in the woods with a cassette player.

I worked all that out for myself. Here’s the thing though. I worked it out on a rational conscious level. But, somewhere in some much deeper subliminal level, the idea of there being Faeries in those woods inserted itself into my psyche and lodged there.

It is still there.

If I drive ever drive past those woods, I can’t help but glance up there and mutter in my head that I heard music there once. And even as I mutter it, some deeper quieter voice from another place in my brain will still always intone that some old refrain.

“It was Faeries.”

My second-of-two misapprehensions in this little collection is an altogether more practical one. After my second sister was born, I would have been about ten years old. One day, I asked my mother how my sister had got out of her. For the longest while I had been aware of Mum’s tum and that there was a sibling in there waiting for me. Then, rather suddenly, she was there. I knew where she had been, I knew where she had come from, but how did she get out? Mum sat me down and explained her experience of birthing to me. How my sister had come into the world and my other sister and my two brothers and me. How we had all done it.

“It was easy,” she said, “there was a sort of an opening in the side of my tummy and she came right out, just like you all did.”

Mum was being straight with me, as I subsequently learned. All five of us were born by Caesarian Section. I’m glad she told it like it was, but it did set me off on a temporary misapprehension that all babies came into the world in this particular way. Days at the beach were spent, as a child, peering at bikini-clad ladies, not in any morbid pre-pubescent sexual fascination. Quite the opposite really, I was looking for that discreet exit that all the babies came out of.

I bet we all have little things like this. Things we get over easily but still never quite fully give up.

I’m pretty okay with birthing matters these days and with Faeries too.

If one thing still troubles me a little it is only that I sometimes wonder why, instead of ethereal melodies, the Little People in the woods were listening to ‘Sugar Sugar’ by the Archies.

Making Sure That Puddy is in Her Bed

I have a new part to my nighttime routine, and I thought I’d best share it with you. Every evening, sometime before it’s time to turn in, I put on my shoes and venture out into the back garden. It’s dark out there so I need the torch on my phone. I’ve got good at switching it on though, at first, I kept turning on Airplane Mode and other monstrous things. It’s not a big mission I’m on, in fact it’s the simplest of things.

I just want to see if Puddy is in her bed for the night.

I shine the phone light in the garage window and that usually does it, but sometimes it’s a little opaqued with condensation on the inside. When that happens, I have to peep my head through the side door that is now permanently slightly ajar and shine my light in.

Nine times out of ten, Puddy is in her bed. Sometimes she looks up to see what this light-thing is all about and what this idiot-of-a-human wants this time. The best times, though, are when she is sound to the world, curled up in tight little ball in the straw, with no clue that I am there.

Regular readers of the blog will know Puddy as the semi-feral cat who gave birth to kittens in a precarious position in my garage last spring and who thus instituted a series of events which has led to this moment, where she sleeps in her house in the shed, suffers regular name changes, and gets fed whenever she wants it (and many times when she doesn’t). You can catch that story via this link, if you ever care to.

As Autumn set in, Patricia and I resolved to provide some form of comfy base for Puddy in the garage. We went to the pet store and came among a small kennel which was assembled on the shop floor. I begged the girl to let me buy the already assembled version, but she wouldn’t do it, so we had to bring home an Ikea-style cat house in a box. Although I set to it with some dread, it was actually an easy self-assembly and it wasn’t too long before the little ‘housheen’ was sitting comfortably in a defensible corner of the garage. Once it was quarter filled with fresh straw, it was quite an inviting little place and the cat, normally highly suspicious of every damned thing, took to it with surprising enthusiasm. Trish added in a microwavable heating pad which she got online and which I thought was a tad over the top but which I still heat up and place under the straw every evening. The cat goes in every evening, sometime after dark, when the neighbourhood patrols have become quiet and uneventful. She forms a cosy half-egg-shaped nest in the straw and settles in for the night. In the morning she emerges, yawning, stretching and musically proposing breakfast.

Things have progressed quite a bit since my last report. The cat has gone from being called ‘The Cat’, through being called ‘Magda’ after her foster-carer who minded her while the kittens were being weaned and while she was off getting neutered. We also tried the name ‘Blanche’ for a while – because she is largely white and has always relied on the kindness of strangers. None of these seemed to fit and the cat patently didn’t give a toss either way. Trish suggested we might call her what I had been subconsciously calling her for some time now. So ‘Puddy’ it is. Like I said, she doesn’t mind, and I call her that anyway.

We feed her twice (and sometimes three times) a day. Sometimes she eats it up and, just as often, she licks off the gravy and leaves me to tidy up the rest because she’s had a better offer down the road. We can provide for her all we want but she is still a neighbourhood cat, and she knows it. Offers of food seem to come from a number of sources. I met a neighbour before Christmas who was off to one of those European supermarkets because he reckoned that he got the best value there when buying chickens for the neighbourhood cats. It’s little wonder my Tesco own-brand white fish can’t always compete. Whatever the source, the cat is now sleek and well-nourished, and she stalks our block with a keen eye and a ton of attitude.

But the biggest change has been tactile. The cat had always been completely hostile to the idea of being touched in any way. Any such advance would evoke hissing and hand batting and, if you didn’t quickly get the message, a lightning-bolt scratch across the back of your hand. But Patricia is patient where I am not and, over months of interaction and fun in the wilds of our back garden, after hours of quiet time together, and a fair quantity of antiseptic cream, the seemingly impossible has happened. Every evening, the cat, upon seeing Patricia come home from work, trots to her ‘petting-point’ on the paved part of the back garden. There, she permits Trish to stroke her and scratch behind her ears to both of their heart’s content. A bond has been built where such a thing did not seem possible, and both seem to benefit from it as there is audible purring on both sides.

As for me, I don’t push it. I feed and replenish the straw and microwave the thing. I’m a surly uncouth lump and I don’t want to undo any of the marvelous work that Trish has done in gaining Puddy’s trust. I think I shall remain the ‘hired help’ and enjoy those two getting on with it from a safe distance.

Will there be more developments? Will Puddy advance ever further into our lives as I know cats can tend to do. I can’t say. I have a little allergy which might prevent many further advancements but who can tell? I’ll keep you posted. You know I will.

But why do I do it?

Why do I go down the garden, hail, rain, or snow, every evening, before my bedtime, to see if the cat is in her place? I don’t know. I find it relaxing and reassuring in a funny sort of a way. I think it’s something about having been able to do something good and to see evidence of it, yet again, before the long day closes. To have helped another little soul in some tiny way – it’s as good a way as any of rounding off a hard day.

I don’t need Puddy to be in her bed. She is still at least partly a wild thing, and she must come and go as she pleases. If there are nighttime assignations to be honoured, down the road or in some adjoining back garden, so be it. But it is somehow very pleasing to know that she knows she has a base that she can return to whenever she wishes, out of the rain, the wind, and the cold.

I don’t need her to be there.

But it’s always nicer when she is.