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.