Year Out, Year In

Ghosts come out at Christmas.

Less so when you’re young. Perhaps there might be a ghost of a well-loved cat or a lost teddy bear. Not much more, if you’re a lucky child. As you get older, though, your ghosts tend to accumulate. I don’t mean the ‘hide around corners and shout ‘boo’’ type of ghosts. It’s mostly just the benevolent spirits evoked by memories of those who have gone on ahead of you. They don’t rattle chains or huff cold breath on your neck. They just sit in a corner with an eggnog and smile at you though the reflected fairy lights of the tree.

These days, I try to hold on to Christmas for a while. After having such an interminable build-up, it seems a shame to let it go in one day. My Mum used to do that. At about three o’clock on Christmas Day, she would let out a little sigh and say, “well that’s it for another year.’ It was almost as if Christmas hadn’t been there at all. A magic trick with a massive introduction and a lengthy round of applause at the end but with no actual trick in between.

So, yes, I try to hold on to it.

But it’s six days out now and even a stalwart like me has to admit that the spirit has largely flown for another year. The songs have dropped from the radio playlists like a stone and the television has become much more about the year that was, rather than the insular forced goodwill of the season. Christmas may have gone but it has served its purpose. There is now a slight lengthening of the light available at the end of every day. An equinox has been successfully passed. A storm ridden out, beneath an eiderdown made up of spicy meats and sugary delights and, of course, family.

The magic of Christmas is family, As you get older, this magic of Christmas can often be at its strongest when everyone else is asleep.

You awake in the dead of night. It is 3.15am. You listen. Somewhere, out on the street, a bird is caroling incongruously to a streetlight. But, other than that, the house is silent. But there are five lives under this same roof, breathing quietly. Ensconced under an extra blanket for weight and a jacketed hot water bottle for an excess of heat. A dad, a mum, two sons and a stray cat in the hall, all dreaming their way towards morning. Magical.

But now that magic is slipping away again, as it must. The drizzle outside is no longer imbued with romance and possibility. It is, once again, only drizzle.

The parts of the brain where work matters reside start to stretch and groan and click their joints. The things on the desk that would be fine in the New Year will not now be fine. Not by themselves, at least. They will need attention and care and sorting-out. The gears start to grind again. The stomach starts to turn over as the harder things make themselves known once more. A new year is about to begin. We’re going to do it all again. Same stuff with a different number.

Christmas is slipping out the door and, as it leaves, many of the ghosts will slip away too. But one will remain. The ghost that haunts you most throughout the season is here to stay now. It has moved in and will not be easily removed. This ghost is you.

We are not just getting older. We are turning into ghosts. Sail past sixty and you can feel it if you hold your finger up in the wind for long enough. We are fading, becoming less. Our powers are fewer, our challenges ever greater. We are already part ghost. Spending time in the ether world where an ever-increasing list of our friends and family members now reside. We have a finite number of Christmases left. This is, of course, true of all of us. But some are more finite than others.

One year is going out. Another one is coming in. All that really matters is that we do something worthwhile with this coming year. Can we love the people we need to love? Can we stand up for what is right, knowing we may end up being stoned for it? Can we create something good? Can we unearth a little joy?

Can we even make it through another year and, if not, can we be remembered for something other than the indentation we may leave on the sofa?

I believe we can. On all counts. And it’s nearly time to get on with it.

Happy New Year.


I really like Christmas. Always have. The best part of Christmas is… Christmas. The worst part is how it starts far too early. All of this is largely written in stone by now. What is relatively new is the preparation for Christmas and, more specifically, how much I’ve come to embrace and enjoy it.

Oh, I don’t mean the November hype that lands the exact moment that Halloween ends. I don’t like that at all. A whisper of a Christmas song an inch before December can give me profound shivers. I neither like nor want any of that.

But these days, the ten days or so before Christmas, I’ve come to embrace them as an integral part of the season and, yes, almost one of the best parts. Anticipation, expectation, even a little nervousness. Let the planes fly on time, let the nasty bugs keep at bay, at least until January. Getting there can be half the fun.

I think this valuing of the pre-Christmas melee has only really come along since the guys started to live elsewhere. One in Dublin, one in London now. It seemed to sneak up and become a real thing without ever fully announcing itself. I think their absence and the promise of their arriving back at the wreath-bedecked door makes the promise of the holiday almost as good as the fact.

You have to get the stuff out of the attic some days before you do anything with it. Otherwise, the coloured lights tend to suffer some kind of electronic heart attack and refuse to work. Until this year, I really thought that the annual deterioration of the box that contains the fake second Christmas tree was a feature particular to me. But, this year, I see memes and online pictures that confirms that the tatty, over taped, box is a largely universal thing. There is comfort in this. I’m not as slack as I thought or at least only as slack as many more of you.

The main tree is a real one. The man who sells the Christmas tree gives me my annual personal five-euro discount and recounts to whoever else is in the vicinity that I am indeed the ‘Man Who Gave His Christmas Tree Away’ (his capitals, not mine). It was nothing much. The tree man had just presented me with the most beautiful tree I had ever seen when a Mother and Child came into the shop and looked wistfully at it. She actually shed a tear when she saw my tree. “It would look so lovely in my window,’ she said. Call me foolish but I saw something deeper underlying her wish for the tree. Some unspoken grief perhaps... who knows? In any event, I gave her the tree and took another, slightly lesser one. I told her that the tree was too darned big for my front room anyway. It was nothing, really, it was a decade ago. But, every year, the tree man recounts the story with something close to awe and slips me a fiver back. This year, a friend, Coleman, was buying his tree and lining up to carry it the couple of streets to his house. I carried it with him. We chatted along the way, from pointy end of tree to butt end of tree, and it was pleasant and seasonal. The trees all seem a little light on top this year but it’s nothing that a couple of sets of pre-warmed-up lights can’t fix.

The word is out. The Baileys is on offer in Supervalu. Get down there and get a few bottles in.

The Christmas Radio Times is very expensive at over eight euro but the shopkeeper and me both agree it has to be done. The Irish version, the RTE Guide, is great but I love my RT too much to switch now. Bring it home and shake all the advert sections out. Put it under the tree but not before noting that the Christmas University Challenges have already started, and I’ve missed two already. Get a series link on the others. Only Connect too.

Put on Sky Cinema and cancel it again the day after so you have it for just the month. Catch up on all the movies you missed through the year. I’ve already really enjoyed The Fabelmans. What were you thinking of, not liking it?

Carols singers gather in the shopping arcade. Nobody has any money for them. We’re all tapping our cards and our phones these days. It’s a crisis in wassailing.

Work. Everybody wants everything by Christmas even though they won’t do anything with it until the New Year. Keep a cool head and a dry trouser. Holidays are coming.

Buy lots of books. Books are great. They are so easy to wrap up too. The corners of the sheet fold in at the ends so nicely.

This week, despite a spate of panics, the last day of work will surely come. I will be alone in the office as I shut it down and I will play Thomas Hampson singing 'O Tannenbaum', just as I always do. Then I will lock the door and it will be Christmas for real.

Enjoy it when it comes and enjoy the coming of it too.



Parenthood – A Sort of a Film Review

It’s funny how old movies pop up sometimes. They seem to do it in several places all at once. There’s probably a good logical reason for that but I'm damned if I know what it is.

I was driving to Dublin early the other morning and I had Marty Whelan on the radio, as I often do when I’m early morning driving. Marty goes around the houses a bit and he tells truly awful jokes but, man, he knows and loves his music and he always plays a gentle but eclectic mix. So, as the show's new running gag goes, mine is a Marty car.

The other morning, Marty announced he would play something from Randy Newman that he hadn’t heard before. It was the closing theme song from the 1989 film 'Parenthood'. The song was called, ‘I Love to See You Smile’. Marty played it and was far too polite to point out that it is, for all intents and purposes, an early version of ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ from Toy Story. For the later film, Randy seems to have just swapped in some new lyrics and got on with it. Fair enough. If it works, it works.

This got me thinking about the movie ‘Parenthood’ as I drove along. I’m pretty good at remembering when, where, and with who I saw a movie and I knew, straight off, that I had seen this one with Patricia as part of a Double Feature in an arty little cinema in St Kilda, Melbourne, which only ever showed double features. That’s good rememberin’ but it bugged me that I couldn’t remember what the other half of the double feature was. Maybe we didn’t stay for the other part. We did that once for ‘Days of Heaven’ and ‘The Milagro Beanfield War. We only stayed for Days of Heaven because I very much wanted Patricia to see it. But I digress. I think the other half of the Parenthood feature might have been ‘Heathers’. Not entirely sure though.

So, anyway, that was Parenthood, on the radio. The end, right?

Well, no.

Friday evening, late, and I’m flicking around some channels and, golly-gosh, there it is, on RTE2. Parenthood. Maybe it’s not pure serendipity. Maybe Marty’s people spotted it in the TV schedule and hauled out the music for it. I reckon that’s probably it. Nothing fateful, nothing magical. But, still, you know… there it was, on my TV.

I watched what was left of it, which was quite a chunk. It kept me up later than I had intended but, sod it, it’s the weekend.

It’s funny how old movies pop up sometimes. But it’s also funny how old movies interweave themselves into your life in such intricate and inextricable ways.

On the most obvious level, Parenthood is a fairly run-of-the mill, pretty schmaltzy, late Eighties entertainment, which allows Steve Martin to work through some of his better known physical and facial talents. It has a strong cast and it is almost unbearably saccharine at times. But, at other times, it is quite spectacularly rude, in a funny way. In among all the ‘importance of Family’ business, there are a number of gags which seems to have fallen in from a much more adult entertainment. Recall, if you will, the blow*ob and the vi*brator gags, both very funny. It has a sort of a 'Richard Curtis' feeling, where warmth and cosiness can migrate to outrageous cringe at any moment and at the drop of a hat.

Watching one of these scenes reminded me that I had actually seen Parenthood twice before.

 The second time was a couple of days after my Granny had died. I was home from London for the funeral and my Aunt was home from Boston and we were all in my parent’s house on one of those stunned, dull, evenings that you tend to get after you’d bit farewell to a loved one. My Aunt suggested that I go and rent a video for the grieving cohort to watch, just to take our mind off things and, although it had been a couple of years since I saw it, I had remembered it was a warm family film with a good quality Granny figure in it.

The screening was not a success. The more edgy scenes went down like a lead balloon, and were made considerably worse by my Boston Aunt guffawing her way loudly through them. The parents trooped off to bed stony-faced afterward and my Aunt, still guffawing at the vib*ator scene, reassured me that I had tried my best.

Reflecting on this in the kitchen yesterday, I momentarily wondered if my Mum and Dad still cringed over this episode as I apparently do. That was the briefest of brief moments. In the next moment, I remembered, of course, that both Mum and Dad are long gone from us now and any concerns they might have had over the screening of a slightly-unsuitable video has long ago become completely irrelevant.

Therein lies a sneaking sense of how movies manage to intertwine with our lives. That point seemed more emphasized by my second rewatch of Parenthood on Friday evening. The film is all about Life and Family and so it perhaps not surprising that it can bring altered resonances with it, when viewed again, 33 years later.

When I first saw it, I wasn’t married and I didn’t have any inkling of ever having children of my own. My parents were alive and well, my Granny was also kicking around. All of these things were natural and true.

Decades later, that entire older generation has long gone and the sons which didn’t even exist back then are grown men and are gone from the homestead.

In the movie there is a young kid with some issues. A clear-faced cool kid. There is also a gangly teen, swigging soda from the fridge door and angling his body to help make his points. These two actors are, respectively, Joaquin Phoenix and Keanu Reeves. River, brother and friend, was still around, forging his own stellar career. The decades between then and now seem to have somehow shaped the film to fit the revised facts of our lives without ever changing a single frame. It is our world which has changed.

Jason Roberts, as the elder male, had some of the best lines. At a kid's baseball game he tells his son how a father is, always and forever, a father, no matter how grown the sons and daughters become, “There is no end zone. You never cross the goal line, spike the ball and do your touchdown dance. Never.” That meant little or nothing to me, back in 1990 in Melbourne, Australia. Now, I guess I know a little more.

I stayed up to see the end titles of the film and to hear the Randy Newman song again, just to see if it really was just Toy Story with different words. Well, maybe not just for that reason.

I should have known better. RTE2 doesn’t bother with end titles. It just plasters up an unforgiving ‘The End’ sign and packs you off to bed. Not to be outdone, I called up the end credits on YouTube on my phone, held it up towards the TV and watched it that way.

Toy Story? Yes, definitely. If you had asked me, I would have practically sworn that the end titles also featured some outtakes from the film, but that was not actually the case.

Memory, eh?

Sailing Into the Evening

Back when I was very small, I used to imagine that my house was a ship.

People seem to remember their childhood Summers as being warm and filled with endless sunny days. Not me. My memories of being little, over the Summer holidays, are largely of rain and wind-swept mornings with nothing to do. Of course, there were lovely days, they were just in a considerable minority.

So, I would sit at the front window, looking out at the squall pounding the glass. And there, partly concealed behind the partly drawn curtain, I would lift up the bottom handle that secured the window, swing it outward and, using it as a sort of lever controller, I would sail my house outward into the storm.

Silly, I know, but I was only a tiny lad with a slightly oversized imagination. Plus, there was a river right across the road from our house, so my little sailing illusion was solidly reinforced.

The very best part of my ‘sailing the house’ game was not the fighting of the storm or the returning back to dock safely. Oh no. It was the time before setting off. Always the time before setting off. The house/ship was bobbing gently at the dock, provisions were being loaded up along the gangway, and the journey lay ahead. Almost time to go, but not yet, not yet.

Coming home from work the other evening, I surprised myself a little by realising that I haven’t entirely let this game go. Or, if I had, it has gently resurfaced in my head at some unknown time. It’s still there. This subtle feeling that my house is a ship, and I am sailing it to… somewhere.

Don’t send the Paddy Wagon. Don’t run away. This is subtle, tricky stuff we’re into here. It isn’t some obsessive, all-overpowering compulsion to sail my house away like the Dude in ‘Up’ floats his home away on multi-coloured balloons. It’s just a hue, a leftover from a damp childhood, a feeling that I live on a ship that is sailing to some destination.

And that’s not even quite right. Because it isn’t about a ship that is sailing anywhere. Actually, it’s not that at all. As I’ve been typing this, I’ve come to realise this, so sorry if it’s all a bit disjointed.

It’s not about sailing, it’s about getting ready to sail.

Just as it was when I was small and the world was rainy, the best part of my imagining is not about the going or the getting there. No. It is about the ‘getting ready to set off’, the preparation for the voyage.

I come home from work, and I have things to do. The dinner has to be made, the fire has to be set, the dishwasher emptied and partly filled up again. The cat has to be fed and allowed in for a snooze if so desired, the errant other cat in the shed has to be shooed away (they fight). It’s a busy time after a busy day. But, often, as the things get done and it comes near time for Patricia to come home from work, the feeling of preparation for a voyage gently persists. Sometimes, if it’s not raining, I’ll take a minute or two and stand in the back yard and talk to the cat and smell the air and feel which way the wind is blowing. A first mate on a deck, mentally plotting a course.

Upon further reflection (writing is good for that) this feeling has largely returned since the boys have become men and moved elsewhere with their lives. Since it’s just Patricia and me. Perhaps there is more time to reflect, to play old childish games in my head.

Whatever it is, it’s not an unpleasant feeling. The ashes are taken out of the grate and the tinder is set for the new fire, the radio plays some half-recognised classic, and the house bobs gently below me on the dock, ready to depart as soon as Trish arrives.

It’s all quite nice.

And where are we going? Once the chores are done and the maps laid out and the sails trimmed, what point on the compass will we turn our bow towards?

Into the evening, of course. Wherever else would you want to go? We will sail into the evening together and neither wind nor rain will daunt us. And that's it, that's all.

Is it a dumb story? Is it a metaphor? Is it the very first sign of senility creeping in? That’s for you to say, not me.

Me, I have things to do. There are provisions to be laid down, gaps to be caulked, and the deck is crying out to be swabbed. For, very soon now, we set sail again.

“Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning.”


Gold Dust Memories

Blogging. I think about it from time to time. I ask myself little questions. Why am I still doing it? Is it in any way worthwhile? What on Earth is it?

One thing’s for sure. It’s an outdated thing, these days. A curious habit of the past, like snuff or that Nimble Bread advert with the balloon. It’s almost a byword for obsolescence and irrelevance, a taunt to throw at someone, the worst kind of folly. A white elephant, an albatross around the neck, the laughable ego-trip of the fool who has failed to move with the times. You get the picture.

Granted. Granted. Yet, here I am, year in and year out, setting down my words in my blog, eating my Nimble, staring at my snuff box.

Truth to tell, it’s a moot point, a zero-sum game. I’ve made peace with it all ages ago. The outdatedness, the irrelevance – who cares? Certainly not me. For me, it’s a wall to spray paint on. A chalkboard to scribble on, an Etch a Sketch that I can shake up every Saturday and scratch something different (but not too different) on. Sometimes I play a game with myself, imagining that I’m writing my little pieces for some corner of a fall-out tabloid section of some national newspaper. My public awaits and my deadline looms. But, of course, in reality, there is no deadline except the one I impose on myself, and my public is a handful of loyal supportive friends who drop by much more often than they really should.

Again, and not to sound heartless, I don’t care all that much. Not anymore anyway. If I did care once, it was all pointless caring anyway. I have lots of analogies for the blog. Some days it’s like a stamp collection. I enjoy finding tiny things to press between its pages, but I don’t need to be waving it around for the world to see. Also, a percentage of my pleasure in it is occasionally looking back over the pages I’ve amassed and the little stamps of memory and experience I have garnered in there. It’s become a more inward-looking thing than the outward-reaching thing it may have started out wishing to be. It’s all good.

In moments of heightened reverie, I might envisage some errant grand nephew finding the pages on some barely working device in some dusty attic and, rather like an uncovered View Master toy, he might peer into it and marvel at the odd 3D effect that such an ancient thing could achieve. Maybe said errant grand nephew might be marginally pleased to see such a fleshed-out record of the musings of long dead grand-uncle Ken, who was clearly a bit of a gobshite. Maybe he will know a little more about me than the carved lines in the gravestone up in the new cemetery. Yes, folks, in happier times, I can think like that. Go shoot me.

Regular readers will know that there’s often a specific point at the end of these weekly musings. Some event from the week gone by that sparked the current diatribe. This week is no exception. Something happened. Well, two things happened in fact, and they seem connected. Here’s the first.

Karin, one of the kind regular visitors to the online page, found some value in last week's post, going so far as to say it might be her favourite. This pleased me and surprised me in equal measure. It was just another post, wasn’t it? Therein lay a small realisation. The 'connection'. That was the thing. Something I had dredged up from my own week and from my own feelings had actually connected with somebody in another place, in another set of experiences. To make a connection like that with one’s rather aimless scribblings, with one’s Nimble, with one’s snuff… well, that’s quite something isn’t it?

The second thing that’s happened is that my Brother-in-Law, John, has recently started to set down in writing some memories from his childhood and, generously, he has been sharing these with his family. I have been lucky enough to see these. Coming as he does from an extremely close-knit family, who lost both their parents at a very young age, and who saw each other through their childhoods and teenage years as siblings, these new recorded memories are really something very special indeed. 

The memories that John has set down to date are neither earth-shattering nor spectacular. Regardless of that, they are, in my view, complete and utter gold dust. A long-departed parent, previously confined to a glass-framed photo on a mantle, springs out in Technicolor from John's pages, as the loving, nurturing Mother of John’s memory. For me, at least, Maeve O’Reilly seems to come up out of these writings and the familiar photographs of her seem somehow more rounded and three dimensional as a result. Remarkably, there is no huge level of detail within these new writings to help achieve this. It is simply the evoking of her, in a true memory, in words, that seems to breathe new life into her story, into who she really was.

The value I see in John’s act of setting his memories down has made me think about what I do here myself every week. My own stuff may not have the same importance but am I too adding at least a little depth to things that would otherwise be flatter? The fact that Karin found something to relate  to in last week’s post, coupled with my own reaction to John’s writing, leads me to think that perhaps that there is some value here, in these many hundreds of thousands of simple words.

So that's it. Both these little events seem to have re-affirmed that there is some value in what I do within the walls of this blog every week. Firstly, there are those rare and wonderful connections, through common feelings and experience, that it can very occasionally evoke. That is a gemstone of a thing and something to be cherished. 

Secondly, to see someone else evoke their memories and emotions, as I try to do, and to feel the effect their work has had on me. Do I manage to do that too, from time to time? Do I spark a ’something’ in others like John’s writing has sparked a ‘something’ in me? I’m not sure. But I think that, sometimes, maybe I do.

So that’s reason enough, isn’t it? To keep sitting here and wondering at how the words appear magically on the screen when I don’t really know where any of the keys on the keyboard are. Old habits, I guess.

An old, unfashionable, outdated habit… but maybe one worth holding on to for a while longer.

Faint Chatting up the Hall

Happiness. I think about it from time to time. What is it? How often do we achieve it? I continue to think that we are far better at assessing our own happiness in retrospect and particularly when we are no longer happy. We look back at a particular time, from some present time when things may not be particularly great and we say to ourselves, “Man, I was happy back then.”

It’s just that when we’re in these happy places, it can be quite hard to recognize them or acknowledge them to yourself. For me at least, when I’m in a patently happy place, I tend to look at it the wrong way round. I think of it as a place containing remarkably small levels of unhappiness.

It’s a worthwhile challenge, I reckon. To be aware of when we are happy and not just save it up for wistful reminiscing after the shit hits the fan.

So, I try. Just now and again, not all the time. I’m not constantly running around with some kind of virtual happy-meter on a lanyard around my neck, clicking at things like Mr. Spock on some strange happy-ambiguous planet. Not me. Just sometimes, there might be a little stop-and-audit. Am I happy now? If so, do I know it?

I’m generally a happy guy though I’m never quite sure where the boundary is between being ‘happy’ and ‘everything going along really well. When I look back at those ‘everything going along really well’ times I invariably view them as some of the happiest times of my life, so I think they are happy times. It’s just like I said further back the page, happy is quite hard to call when you’re smack-bang in the middle of it. Like Jim Kelly in ‘Enter the Dragon’ “we’re all just too busy lookin’ good.”

What’s the point, Ken?

Ah, yes, okay.

I was lying in bed, one evening last week, having just finished my nightly read and in the midst of those muddy moments before sleep lands. Perhaps thoughts of happiness flitted through my mind on account of the last month having been a bit of a grind, flu-wise. I was feeling far better, and I think that ‘far-better’ feeling had got me wondering about whether ‘far better’ is the equivalent of ‘happy’. These kinds of thoughts are the reason why I generally read a few extra pages before attempting sleep. Better to fall asleep and have the book fall on my head than to get into some internal existential debate that might shoo sleep away.

As I lay in bed, I realised that I could hear noises up the hallway, right at the end, near the front door, where the living room is. The voices were chatting animatedly and laughing gently from time to time. The sound of this interaction wafted down the hall and into my bedroom.

Nothing weird or Halloween spooky here. Our two sons are home together briefly, one from Dublin and one from London. Grown up and adult, they still gravitate towards each other as they did as children and teens, particularly in the late evening when we older folk have shuffled off to bed and the house starts quietly ticking down towards morning. Their stays at home are brief, their simultaneous stays at home increasingly rare.

I lay in my bed and listened to the murmurs of my sons in the front room, the effortless way they talked to each other. I felt the warmth of my wife’s hip at my side.

And just before sleep, for once unequivocally, I concluded that, yes indeed, this moment was a happy one.

Helping Young People with Theatre Writing

There hasn’t been a blog post in a few weeks. I won’t beat myself up over it. I do the best I can. I thought it was all down to my touch of flu and the post viral fatigue that seemed to waylay me in the weeks between having it and shedding it. To be honest, today is the first day I’ve felt completely myself in a month or more. It’s nice to be back.

Over the past few weeks, when it came to Saturday evening and first draft blog post time, I put my lack of motivation for it down to the lurgy and hit the couch and, in truth, I’d say that was 80% of the story. The other 20%, I recently realised, was down to how I’ve been spending my Saturday mornings and early afternoons, and how much energy I’ve needed to carry that through.

So, what have you been doing then, on these Saturdays, Ken? Rather grumpily, I suggest that you RTFT or Read the Title (expletive dropped). We’ve been running this workshop/thing that we’ve also done in previous years, under the gentle overseeing eye of the lovely Paul Soye. It’s an opportunity for teenagers to come and learn a little about writing for theatre and then go off and write a play of their own which is then presented by professional actors and directed by a professional director before an audience in a full theatre setting. I could say I wish I'd had such a wonderful opportunity myself when I was a teen but that would be nothing less than churlish. If such an opportunity had existed, I would never have taken it. I was far too strange to step up for anything like that.  

Over the years, I've discovered that I love to engage with young people via the activity of writing, and particularly theatre writing. I don’t present as a know-it-all or a guru – far from it – but I know a bit and I’ve done it a few times and, most importantly, I care. I care that the writing gets done as well as it can be done and that the young writers see their visions distilled into a fine spirit and realised before them on the stage. That’s a seed planted right there. A tiny seed in rich soil. It might not grow but, by golly, it might. It just might.

I’m grateful to Marja and Tim and Richard in Independent Radio Drama Productions for being the first to suggest that I might have something helpful to say and do with writers and their writing. I’m equally grateful to The Linenhall Arts Centre for encouraging me to develop this part of my life, as well as several other parts, and I’m grateful to Fighting Words for letting me be a part of their wonderful encouragement machine, through which so many talented young people have passed. I am doubly grateful to Donna Ruane, who took on so many of my teen plays and introduced me to the phenomenon that is the Teen Actor. The Teen Actors I have got to know in this way are grown now. I meet them in pubs and in graduation gowns and we smile and remember the days when we jumped on and off theatre stages with such fearlessness and joy. We never lose it.

I've been coming out of these most-recent writing sessions a little dizzy and a little light-headed. As I said, that's been 80% flu but it’s the other 20% that is more interesting. There is an energy required in helping young people to write and create and perform. It takes it out of you. 

So, yes, where was I? I think the absence of a blog post over the last few weeks has been at least partly due to the amount of energy I expended in merely keeping up with the current cohort of teen writers. There is a level of invention and purity to the work they do that makes the gentle corralling of it an intricate and challenging job. One is reminded of Harry Chapin’s old song where ‘Flowers are Red and Green Leaves are Green’. It would be so easy and so terrible to extract the strange and quirky manoeuvres of the teenage mind from the writing work they do. “This doesn’t work” and “this isn’t how it’s done.” But what a tragedy that would be. The trick is to constantly walk the tightrope line between what works and what is beautifully and wonderfully parsed from a burgeoning and vibrant imagination. It’s no wonder I might feel giddy in the butcher’s shop afterwards.

On Sunday 5th November, in my beloved Linenhall Theatre, the new plays by the new writers will be performed, after an intense weekend with the actors and the directors. I saw this done last year and it was remarkable. I have no doubt this year will be the same. Come along if you’re nearby. It’s free but you have to book. It will heighten your faith in our young people; in how unendingly brilliant they are, no matter whether they pursue football, or writing or meeting their friends in the park on a Saturday afternoon. It will remind you of how great it is to be young, with the world at your feet and with the surety that every dream can still come true.

I’m not the best theatre-writing-helper-outer in the world. I tend to get a little over-invested and perhaps push a little too hard. I tend to tire myself out.

But I’m glad, so glad, that I get to do it, and I feel lucky, so lucky, as I arrange the tables and chairs in the lovely theatre space and the young people come in with their scripts and their dreams.

The Value of Certain Property Versus Time

Back from a week’s holiday in the sun. Last week’s post covered that a bit. Some people seem to think I invented the German Lady with the Rubber Duck. I am here to tell you that I did not.

We went to Lanzarote. A place we’ve been to a couple of times before. We like it and ease of access is a key consideration in choosing to go back there. We can be in the airport in 30 minutes, The airport is small and easy to get through, the plane is generally timely, and we’re home again shortly after we land. The place is nice too. It suits us.

I didn’t say where I was in last week’s post. I’ve thought about the reasoning behind this decision and it’s mostly because I didn’t want you to know where I was. For many years I had one holiday a year and that was Christmas at home (my delight). Lately, I’ve tried to take one additional week, and, in that week, I find I crave a level of isolation and escape from the norm. Whatever book I am in the middle of reading, I don’t want to continue reading in that week. Whoever I have been talking to, I don’t want to continue talking to. Just me and the Lovely Patricia, on our own, in a different sort of a week. I needed it to be that kind of something different and it was.

In this week, I spent a little time contemplating the real estate around the swimming pool. What do we like to call them? I tend to call them ‘Li-lows’ but that doesn’t work in Google very well. I think a more correct phrase is ‘Sun Lounger’ though I’ve never said that before, to the best of my knowledge. Anyway, I reckon you know what I mean. I’m talking about the equipment around the pool that you lie on to catch the sun.

Lest you be in any doubt, can I say that they are the things that people put towels on in the early morning to claim their space for later when the sun come up more. Now you definitely know what I mean.

And, indeed, therein lies the rub, and I’m not referring to suntan lotion.

The poolside real estate of the sun lounger is a game that many people engage in during their holidays, and it is one I prefer to avoid if at all possible. I can be boringly territorial if I allow myself license to be that way, so I try very hard not to.

You know the game. People get up at silly o’clock to stumble out and get their towels on the best sun loungers, then they stumble back to bed, secure in the knowledge that their own little bit of poolside real estate is secured for the day. The sloths and unambitious fools who arrive after breakfast hoping for a poolside resting place can go and whistle Dixie for it. The towel is down and, in a more recent development of which I was not aware, it is clipped to the sun lounger with large multi-coloured clothes pegs which seem to add even more authority to the staked claim on the bed, even though the claim holder is still firmly abed scratching their arse.

If you sense a certain irritation at this practice, then you may not be completely wrong. The sight of two prime ‘Li-Lows’ broiling empty through an entire day while tamer mortals perch in the shadow of the lift shaft is something that could evoke feelings if I let it. But I try not to let it. This, after all, is my week away from the world and the petty politics of poolside real estate is something I am happier staying out of. I find a sun lounger somewhere, as I’m generally early anyway, and when I go somewhere I bring my towel with me and I find another one when I come back (though, generally the original one is still there). I avoid the messiness.

Though I do rather enjoy watching it sometimes. The immense English Lady with the Gold Lamé one-piece who arrives like a cloud and breast strokes in a highly passive-aggressive fashion up and down the pool, puffing and blowing, and glaring at the empty be-toweled loungers as if they were the vehicles through which her entire family has been kidnapped. A part of me asks myself what she expected, arriving down at 10.30am with her tepid hangover and her sun-drenched Jeffrey Archer. Another part of me feels her pain. I rather wish she would storm over, remove the circus clothes pegs and launch the offending towel into the centre of the pool before planting herself firmly on the reclaimed territory. But she doesn’t. She retires to a chair in the corner and complains to anyone who will listen to her.

The day passes. I don’t spend much time on the sun loungers by the pool. I tend to burn easily and it’s not a sensation I enjoy. I watch the ebb and flow of people from a safe distance, from behind my sunglasses, from under my sun-umbrella, and from around my book. I steer clear and am the happier for it.

By five o’clock in the afternoon, the pool is vacated.

This mystifies me a bit. For me it’s the very best part of the day. There is still plenty of warmth and sunshine all around, but a part of the sting has been removed from the solar rays. The pool is nice and roomy, and one can take the sun lounger of one’s choice as nobody else gives a toss about them.

It makes me think something but it’s not something I’ve managed to reach any great moral or logical  conclusion about. It’s just simply how something like the common ‘Li-Low’ can be so prized and fought over and contested in one hour and be completely unwanted and disregarded in the next.

It speaks to me of life and the things in our lives. The things that are so all-consuming and great and terrible and wonderful and scary and unavoidable and massive and… and… you know… big. Yet tomorrow, or next month or next year, they will all be as naught.

I walk among the sun loungers when everyone else has gone. I go up on the roof deck and look out over the town. People are on to the next thing, preparing for their holiday evening. Tomorrow, it will all kick off again.

I think…

A drink, perhaps.

Yes. Just a small one. Before dinner.

Rubber Duck Experimentation

It’s eight o’clock in the morning and the sun is barely up in the sky. We’ve made our way to the beach, which has been ploughed and tended and is ready for another busy day of sun cream and lying about.

But that won’t happen for a few hours yet, and we’ll be long gone by then. For this hour, the beach and the waterline belongs to the walkers and the joggers. Not to the swimmers, though. Not yet at least. There is no sign of the swimmers.

Which is a bit of a shame because we had our hearts set on a daily eight a.m. swim in the sea before breakfast on this long-anticipated week’s holiday of ours. Nothing is stopping us from doing that, of course, nothing at all. Except…

Well, it’s a silly thing, really. It’s just in all the mile or two stretch of pristine beach and calm grey water, there is no one in the sea. Not one single solitary soul. Quite a few people, like I said, walking and jogging, some walking backwards. But nobody is swimming.

There is a disturbing sense that the world knows something that we don’t. That our early morning swim would be a very, very, bad idea indeed. Who knows why? Your guess is as good as mine. Pre-breakfast sharks? Killer jelly fish? Aliens from the depths. Something must be amiss. Nobody is in the water.

An elderly lady in front of us is walking along in our direction. She is going pretty slowly but that is almost understandable as she is walking backwards. She’s got a big billowing caftan on, and she looks a bit like a sailboat, albeit a pretty slow one. We watch her go. We want to walk backwards too, just to see what it feels like, but it might seem rude or mocking in some way.

The end of the beach is nigh. A stone-built rampart marks the termination, and a modern 4-star hotel rises above it. The walking-backwards lady gets to the wall as we contemplate the empty sea, and she proceeds to so some wall-pressing and wall-face-planting exercises that are a little reminiscent of the final scene of the original Blair Witch Project movie.

Why is nobody in the sea. What do they know that we do not?

The Blair Witch Walking Backward Lady has now been joined by another lady of similar vintage. She leads the first lady in a series of gentle movements which seem neither Yoga-like nor all that coherent. Then the newest lady breaks away and comes over the beach to us. She is brandishing something and as she draws closer, we can see what it is. It’s a tiny yellow rubber duck with a complicated tubular scientific device secured to its underside.

“Good morning,” she says in a way that somehow tells us that she is German.

“Good morning,” we reply as we eye up the duck device warily. Will some form of insertion be required?

“I need to know the temperature of the sea,” the German lady continues, “for my friend. She won’t go in if she fears it will be cold.”

We are sympathetic if a little unsure about what is required of us. She presents the duck, ceremoniously. “Could you help?”

All is suddenly clear. The tubular undercarriage is now clearly a thermometer. To paraphrase Robert Shaw, “Duck goes in the water… thermometer in the water… farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies…”

We must have looked as if we were readying ourselves to go in the water, despite nobody else on God’s Earth being in there. We must have looked brave. I take the duck and smile.

“No problem,“ I say.

The water is lovely. Cold at first but then just grand. There are lots of little blue fishies who swim around in the sand that our feet kicks up. Patricia goes out and swims strongly parallel to the shoreline while the duck and I continue to dick around in the shallows.

The German lady returns to Our Lady of the Wall, having first ascertained Patricia’s first name. (“My daughter’s name is also Patricia,” she says, and is there a note of sadness in there, or is that just writerly license? 'Not sure). I bring her the duck and she inspects it, confirming to the lady that the water is indeed 23 degrees. The lady does not nod, perhaps out of fear of scratching her chin on the wall, perhaps not.

As we leave to walk back to our holiday place for our first breakfast, there are swimmers in the water. Did Patricia show them all that it is okay to do it, or did it just become okay right after the three of us (Me, Trish, and The Duck) ventured in? It’s hard to know.

All I know is that we’ll be back tomorrow, when the 7.45 alarm sounds. We’ll walk the beach and then we’ll have our dip regardless of whether anybody else is in there or not.

Sometimes it’s okay to be the first to do something. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing if nobody else is already doing it. In fact, sometimes it’s a very good thing that they're not.

I have this on good authority from one very small duck.

That, and the water temperature. 

Fancy New Dryer, Mrs. Roberts, and Paul Auster Thoughts

Our old tumble dryer broke and, after being several months without one, and with rainy Winter comin’ in fast, we decided to go to the big shop and get ourselves a new one. All we wanted was a run-of-the-mill machine. Throw the clothes in, when the washing line is not an option and when clothes are needed, turn the dial, and let it do its thing.

Imagine our consternation (stop… just imagine it) when we found there weren’t any run-of-the-mill drying machines in the big shop. Nary a one. But wait, there in the back, skulking beneath a microwave over, one solitary regular tumble dryer.

A salesman approached. He was wearing a high-vis jacket. I guess it was to avoid being run over by a shopping trolley, I’m not sure. Anyway, I accosted him (which sounds far worse than it is). I buttonholed him. I cornered him. Okay, okay, I asked him a question. “Why are you wearing a high vis jacket?” I asked. No, of course I didn’t. “Where are all the tumble dryers?” I asked him.

He waved loosely (no sleeves in a high vis jacket) at a wall, along which there was an array of large grey super-computers. “There they are,” he said, with the authority of a man who knew.

These machines were a different breed. Hulking and clearly intelligent, they sat awaiting your command, not yet ready to take over the Earth.

“It’s the Global Warming,” the high vis man was busy explaining, “your old-fashioned dryer is out the window now. Too much energy used in ‘em, you see. These new ones will dry your clothes for a fraction of the price in five seconds and will earn their money back within three days of buying one.”

All right, I may be exaggerating the claims made for effect but I’m not all that far off the mark. The clear subtext was that this new installation would instantly change our lives for the better in several different ways.

We ended up buying one of these fancy-ass new dryers. There were several reasons. We needed a dryer and the last old one on the shelf suddenly looked sinister and dangerous, a threat to our very existence as a race. Also we had some vouchers to help allay the frankly outrageous cost of the device.

The delivery men came a few days later, and they were most helpful. They wouldn’t unpack the machine, they wouldn’t lift the old machine down off the washing machine (“I could injure my back with that, sir.”) (I lifted it down myself) and they wouldn’t take away the packaging either. Really helpful guys. I hope they deliver my next thing too; they were that good.

For what it’s worth, the machine is brilliant. We won’t be using it much. We favour the clothesline and running in and out to the yard to get clothes dry between the showers. But, sometimes, you’re just stuck, and you need to dry a sock or three. This machine does it, but it converts the dampness in the sock into water in a little tank that you empty out afterward. No steam, no condensation. I’m not trying to sell you one but (pulls on a high vis) it will change your life, Missus, it really will.

All of which made me think of Mrs. Roberts.

Before we got married, and for quite a while after we got married, we lived together in Mrs. Roberts’ house in Acton. It was your average two-storey terraced house, and we lived in the one-bedroom flat on the first floor and Mrs. Roberts lived in the ground floor flat. She owned the house. She was a getting-on elderly widowed lady who had come from Poland to wed her beloved Mr. Roberts who had passed away, leaving her alone in her house. So, she made the conversion, got a small kitchen in upstairs and advertised the space. Along came us and we moved in. There was no separation between the ground and first floor flats. Mrs. Roberts could have walked up the stairs to us at any time and we could have walked in on her just the same. But we never did. We imagined a separating wall and a door, and we lived accordingly. She was a lovely lady. Stern and quiet mostly but she enjoyed the company in the house, I think, and we had a lovely little corner to commence our married life in.

The reason the dryer reminded me of Mrs. Roberts is that, once, our washing machine broke irreparably in the flat and Mrs. Roberts got us a new one. This was remarkable as being practically the only time that Mrs. Roberts broke the imaginary partition wall and door that lay between our residences. On the day that the washing machine was installed, and as soon as the (wonderful) delivery men were gone, she brought up a small three-legged stool and a washing basket with some of her clothes in and she did the first wash in the machine. She set it running, then sat on the stool in front of the little round window and watched every rotation the drum took until the wash was finally finished. Trish and I still refer to this as ‘doing a Mrs. Roberts’, although we’ve never done it ourselves.

Eventually we bought our own place and we moved on and we lost touch with Mrs. Roberts. I’m sure she had lots of subsequent tenants in, and I hope they all got on as swimmingly together as we did.

One final thing for today and it’s a slightly odd thing. When we moved back here to Ireland in 1997, I almost immediately spotted a youngish lady who worked in McDonalds. She was Polish and rather stern faced and I immediately came to the whimsical conclusion that this was Mrs. Roberts, re-invented and rejuvenated and come to live in our new town with us. No logical reason for this, I just thought it, that’s all.

But it stuck.

I still see this lady around town. It’s now (counts several times on fingers) 26 years later and she’s not so young anymore. She’s still stern faced and quite self-contained and I’ve never said a single word to her in my entire life, except conceivably ‘a Big Mac please’ sometime back in the late nineties. As each year passes, she looks more and more like Mrs. Roberts used to look. I’ve never quite shaken the notion that it’s her, relocated to keep an eye on us.

It's a sort of a Paul Auster thought, I think. The kind of weird thing he might tell us about in one of his novels.

Perhaps, some day soon, I will answer a ring on the front doorbell and, opening it, I will find the new Mrs. Roberts standing there, three-legged stool in hand, come to inspect the cycle of our fancy new dryer machine.

Saturday Evening

It’s Saturday evening and I usually have this thing written and edited by now. Then I usually get up early on Sunday morning and give it a last minute tweak. Then I post it so that the handful-or-two of kind and supportive regulars can ease by and look it over through the morning.

But it’s now (checks the clock) nine sixteen in the evening and I haven’t written a goddamned thing beyond the words ‘goddamn thing.’ Even worse, I don’t really know what to write about. I have several things in mind but that’s always my worst case scenario. Have one thing or have nothing, both of these options seem to work okay for me. But don’t put alternatives in my head. I never know where to start with that stuff.

I sense this week’s post will just be one of those occasional stream of consciousness ones (I always find it hard to spell consciousness, do you?). I reckon you should bail out now and cut your losses. You’re not going to learn anything new or exciting with this week’s post. You’re not going to laugh or cry. You may fart but that’s nobody’s business but your own and will certainly be no fault of mine. You’re on your own with that.

I bought a bottle of Fever Tree Soda and Mexican Lime in Tesco early, and some lemons, and I figured I would tip that stuff and some of the Absolute Vodka that a kind soul (Steve) gave me for my birthday, into a wine glass and, you know, chuck in some ice and swirl it around and see how I might get on with that. So, yeah… this is how I’m getting on with that.

Although I couldn’t ever tell you where half the letter keys are located on my keyboard, my fingers sail over them and almost unerringly pick out the words. I don’t know how I do that, it’s one of life’s little mysteries, like bad fortune and obsolescence.

Patricia is watching the US Open Women’s Tennis Final on the telly in the front room. We added on Sky Sports to our package solely to see it and you have to give them a month’s notice to cancel it again. So I phoned today to do that, knowing that nothing in the world would possibly divert me from cancelling. But they are shut on Saturdays so that pretty much diverted me. Monday morning though… their ass will be mine.

Trish loves tennis and I like it too. I’ve been watching it most of my life and I can get pretty well involved in a match on the telly. I can’t warm to Sabalenka though, who is playing Gauff in the final. When she smiles off court, that kind of wins me over a little. She seems real then. But, on court, and I know this is awful, she reminds me of the (edited on Sunday morning). Can I say that? Can I really say that? This fever tree is nice, though.

The cat was sitting in the rectangular flower pot at the front door this morning. She fairly filled it up and overflowed out the sides. It turned out there was a tiny field mouse hiding under the pot and Puddy was carrying out a none-too-subtle stakeout on it. Trish distracted the cat with a bag of Tuna Dreamies while I lifted the pot up and encouraged one rather shellshocked rodent to take a swift hike.

After that I walked to the library and found that book by Tarantino where he talks about old movies and stuff. I’ll have me a bit of that later on.

In more general terms, I find myself generally distracted and troubled by how life has the potential to turn to complete shit from any given moment to the next. My life is lovely and has been for a long time and hopefully will be for a long time more but, fuck me, life in general really can turn on a dime when it takes a mind to. I saw that happen recently to some particularly good people who I’m very fond of and I don’t mind telling you it knocked me back a ways. Life can jump up and headbutt you when you least expect it. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. There’s no answer to it and it’s no good worrying too much over it. You’ve just got to reap the most you can from the good times and hope that your little harvest provides some kind of a cushion for when the rotten times land.

I wonder if there’s any of that fever tree left.

I hear cheers from the telly so Coco and (edited on Sunday morning) must be going fairly hard at it. I think I’ll retire up there and see how they’re getting on.

It’s Saturday evening, and the windows are open and the dishes are done and the cat is down the back garden staring at a bush and wondering where the hell that fucking mouse went. I’ll bid you a good Saturday evening, rather like the one I’m having myself. Although I guess it’s Sunday morning when you’re reading this so you’ll just have to save my good wishes up and apply them next week when they will doubtless become appropriate again.

Chocolate. I wonder if there’s any chocolate in this house. I bet there is.

I wonder where.

Stories for Hatstands

The little story that follows is real. It’s not really mine to tell but it’s true and it illustrates a fairly obvious point. So I’m borrowing it and altering it a tiny bit and adorning it a little, just to (hopefully) get away with it.

Here follows the story in question.

A person I know was recently moving into their new office, which was on the first floor of the building. They were bringing their stuff into the office bit-by-bit. No lift in this premises so everything was being person-handled up the two flights of stairs. The person would leave some of the stuff outside the front door while some more of the stuff was being carried up. A one-person job which begged a couple more persons to do it easier.

One of the items left on the walkway outside the front door, during one of these trips up the stairs, was a hatstand. Quite a nice hatstand, modern and sleek. A little metal, a little wood. You know the type. If you don’t, picture it. It’ll come to you.

The hatstand stood outside the front door, minding its own business. All good. Except, in the really short time it took the person to carry a big box up, drop it in their new office and then come back down again, the hatstand was gone.

A story, yes, but not a great story. If it turns out that the hatstand was stolen, that’s a little bit better but still not great. If the town-cleaner brigade came by and swept it away, in the brief period of time it stood there, well, that’s fine but still not great. But the hatstand was not stolen nor was it taken away as rubbish.

It was sold.

Next door to the building containing the person’s new office, the lies a Charity Shop. A very good Charity Shop. Sometimes they place particular bargains outside of their shop. A little something to catch the eye of the passing public. No harm, no foul.

Except, in the brief moments that the person was up and down the stairs, somebody spotted the hatstand, mistook it very a potential nice bargain, carried it into the Charity Shop, asked ‘How much for this?’ paid up and left. By the time the new office person got back to street level, the hatstand was already long gone.

Now, maybe you don’t agree, but I think that’s a great little story. Hence my reaction.

When the person was telling it to me, within moments of it having happened, I simply could not conceal my delight at how the story concluded. Whatever little internal antennae I have for tales and narratives, must have been twitching excitedly. When the person, who was a bit put-out, finished telling me their story, I all but punched the air.

“That’s great,” I said, “isn’t that just great?”

The person, who doesn’t know me very well, looked at me in a somewhat bemused fashion.

“Well,” they replied, in a measured tone, “I’m not sure I’d call it exactly ‘great’…”

I tried to explain, as I will try to explain here now, but I don’t think they fully understood and I’m not sure you will either.

It’s simply this. I would sacrifice my hatstand for a good story any day of the week.

I do it all the time, if only metaphorically. This here blog is littered with stories where I have lost out. It might not always be something material, like a hatstand. It might just be a loss of my pride or my composure or my… anything really. If I lose (and I regularly do) and I get a little story to tell out of my defeat, then I can’t help but feel that’s I’ve really won.

It's a little comfort to me to realise that. I may not always be comfortable defining myself as a writer, having never quite gotten as far along that road as I thought I might. I may not be able to say I’m a theatre writer or a screen writer or a short story writer though I’ve done a fair measure of all of them. I may not always be able to sell that ‘Writer’ definition to myself in my own head.

But, by golly, I’m a storyteller. Put that on my gravestone or little marble plaque or whatever I end up behind or beneath.

Ken Armstrong – Storyteller

“Willing to Swap Hatstand for Story Any Day.”

Patricia’s Good Year

On Sunday evening last, my wife Patricia was due to receive a prize for tennis. I’ll tell you about it in a minute. Alas, through a couple of circumstances that were really nobody’s fault, the prize-giving was over when we got there. Patricia got her prize and got her photo taken for the paper, and that was all good. However, there was an escapable feeling that a small moment has been lost. Just a small one but still a moment.

You see, Patricia had secretly been planning to say a few words after she was presented with her prize. Not a speech or anything. Just a line or two to her friends.

Because that didn’t happen, through no fault of anyone, I thought I would try and create a moment here on the blog where those few lines could be set down. Not to fix anything or, heaven forbid, to punish anyone but just simply because the lines are worth setting down and worth hearing. I don’t even know exactly what Patricia might have said but, knowing her as I do, I imagine a line or two like this would have been in there.

“Some years ago, I had major surgery. At the time, the surgeon couldn't guarantee that  I would ever be able to play tennis again. And you all know how much I love my tennis. I would say to you, no matter what you get told, keep trying. Always keep trying.”

When Patricia’s eldest sister Una got breast cancer and then her next eldest sister,
Penelope also got breast cancer, just as their Mother, Maevie, had got it before them, it became clear that the cause was a genetic one. Una, Penelope, and Maevie all gave Patricia a gift. A gift of foreknowledge, where she could take some action against an oncoming train. It also left her with a decision to make. Not an easy one.

On the morning that Patricia was going in for her surgery, she was due to be taken down to the theatre at eight in the morning. I was driving to Galway at seven when I got a call from her to say she was being brought down early so we would have to catch up afterwards. Patrica had a bi-lateral mastectomy and, at the same time, she had the muscles called the latissimus dorsi taken from her back on both sides for a breast reconstruction. This was judged to be the best way to do things, implants tending to be a bit troublesome after a certain age. The operation took over fourteen hours.

My abiding memory will be of Patricia asking if she could walk into theatre under her own steam rather than being wheeled in. The staff obliged. It is hard to walk into a room full of people who are waiting to go to work on you when there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. It takes a bravery beyond my understanding. A profound will to live.

On the day before the surgery we walked on the beach, had some cake, and carried a feeling that this day was the end of something and the beginning of something else. In the hospital that evening, ensconced in a bed that she could have got up and walked away from, a nurse with a chart tutted at Patricia’s smiling face and, a little judgementally, said, “this is a major procedure… a very big procedure.”

And it was.

The recovery was slow. We walked the corridors of the hospital, drain tubes and murky maroon collecting bags slung in every direction like handbags. One of the back wounds was desperately slow to heal.

But it did heal. It healed well.

The prize that Patricia won in the tennis club was in the ladder competition. You play the person above you and, if you win, you ascend. Patricia ascended more than anybody else in the whole thing. She climbed eight rungs of the ladder. She played and beat men half her age along the way. Ironically, the latissimus dorsi muscles that they took from her back are the very ones you would normally use to climb a ladder, to pull yourself up. You have to use something else when they are no longer there. I’m not sure what that is but it is something strong.

Patricia is having a good year. The things she set out to do are being done in great style. She swam a mile, she won the tennis prize, she excels in other aspects of her life that I can't really talk about here. She is rocking 2023.

And it feels like Una, Penelope, and Maevie too, all dearly departed from us, are encouraging her on to be the best she can be. Having given her the gift of a longer life, through the hardest of lessons, Patricia acknowledges their strength and love by continuing to live the best life that she can.

And we both count our blessings to be here still. We don’t feel as if we have dodged a bullet; rather we have slowed it down. It’s the same for all of us, really; the bullets are coming for us all at some point. That's life. We can only avoid so many. But we keep ducking and diving and doing the best we can and we remember the people who have gone on ahead who, in doing so, have given us a better chance to carry on a while longer.

Onwards with your great year, my Patricia. It’s only August. 

Anything could happen yet.