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?