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.