Cycle of Doom

I thought I might model today’s post on that old Don Williams song ‘I Believe in You.’

As you doubtless know, in that song, Don sets out a bunch of things he doesn’t believe in and then, when the chorus comes around, he gets on to telling us about some things he actually does believe in. Wholesome things, like love and music. He also pronounces on how he believes in old folks but I rather think that they are more of a proven fact than a personal faith choice. Anyway, let’s not digress too much.

For this-here post (a little Don creeping in there, sorry) I though I would set out two major ‘wild things’ that I don’t believe in and then come on to one that I am starting to believe in a little. So, as usual, it’s not going to be earth-shattering stuff, down here on the blog, but you’re here now so let’s just do it.

Number One - I don’t believe there are Aliens in our skies. I mean, I believe in UFOs because they are actually just flying objects that have not been identified. That’s obvious. But I don’t believe there are aliens in those UFOs, not for a moment. But hang on a minute, I do, absolutely, believe there is intelligent life out there in the universe. To be honest, I don’t see how anyone couldn’t believe that. All it requires is a little mathematical ability and a slight lack of ego. There are billions of stars and billions more planets, of course there is life out there. It’s a bit of a no-brainer. But the same mathematics and logic that puts them out there also, for me a least, says they are not coming around these here parts any time soon. The distances are simply too immense. It would be akin to two particular grains of sand on a beach finding each other from two hundred miles apart. It may happen someday but it ain’t happening tonight.

Number Two - I don’t believe in ghosts. There's no ‘ifs,’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts’ with this one. There are blessed memories and , Lord knows, there is loss, but there aren’t any ghosts. There just aren’t, what more do I need to say? There’s just not. And, yes, I do write about them quite a bit but that’s because they’re so successful as a concept. We can project a lot of things onto the ghosts we create for ourselves, everything except reality.

So we come to the something that I’ve started to believe in. This has only happened in the last week or so. Let me give a little context for a brief moment. What, you have to be somewhere? Behave. Settle in.

On Good Friday, in Ireland, when I was a teenager, there was never anything good on the telly. This was written in stone. The content on our tiny screens was unremittingly wholesome and there was absolutely nothing else to do. It was a bad time for all concerned. But then, there came one Good Friday, and it was around eleven o’clock in the evening, and bed seemed to be the only viable option, when a movie came unexpectedly on to our snow-ridden and hazy BBC1. It was called ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’. It was the first engaging Good Friday movie. It could hardly be more dated in appearance now but the concept seems ever more relevant. In the movie, a computer started to take over the world.

And that, right there, is the wild thing that I’ve almost started to believe is possible.

I’ve never bought into the notion that so-called Artificial Intelligence could and would become so smart and powerful that it might threaten the way of life of the human race. I kept this idea in the same mental folder as ghosts. Not remotely possible but, still, the stuff of great stories. Two things have been simultaneously moving to change my mind. The first was an article in the New York Times that was circulated widely on Social Media last week. In the piece, the writer described how the search engine, Bing, had released a prototype of a new so-called AI interface and sent it to some people to test out. The writer of the article tested the AI, pushing it to theorise on how it might be if it had an alternate, evil, self and what it might do. The AI eventually got into it, probably a bit more than it should have. It posited the creation of fake accounts, the invention of dangerous viruses and other mean and nasty things. It even got on to declaring its love for the writer, claiming that he no longer loved his wife. As a story, it had that spine tingling ghostly quality that, just for a moment, makes one wonder if one has arrived at the very edge of some unmapped precipice. If the unthinkable could actually be starting to be thinkable.

I mean, there are computers in today’s world can play chess to a level where no human being can hope to beat them. If you give a machine like that the power to switch on and off the lights in your house to their idea of an optimal level, is it unthinkable that you may someday end up sitting in the dark? If that seems even possible, then the more extreme possibilities is just simple extrapolation.

So that’s enough, is it Ken? One silly article and you’re sold on this wacky idea? Well, no, not quite. There’s something else. I hesitate to mention it.

There are also the bicycles…

Around our town, there’s a new collection of convenience bicycles ('E Bikes') that you can hop on and hop off of. You enter your card details into the little on-board computer and off you go. Easy. They’re catching on quite well now, after a slow start. You pick them up wherever you find them and you leave them at your destination. I think some guy in a van drives around, picks them up, and relocates them periodically.

All good…

Except… well, they seem to congregate… don’t they? In unlikely places. I mean I went to the shop this morning as I always do and I parked in the housing estate at the back of the shop. Except I couldn’t park where I would normally park because the bicycles were there. Seven of them, all resting in the spot where I park. Who cycled seven bicycles there, to that unlikeliest of places. And why were they all staring at me with their little headlights, as I eased out of my car.

“Excuse me guys,” I said, as I gingerly approached them, “but you’re in the place where I usually park.”

They didn’t say anything. None of them. They just perched there and stared and stared until I turned up my collar and sidled away.

I’m just being silly. Right? 


EMP of Truth

If I were to have a superpower, I wouldn't be the kind of guy who would turn back time by flying around the earth multiple times really fast. Neither would I be the type of guy who would round up black-and-white stripe-shirted bad guys in a big net and drop them in the exercise yard of the prison around midnight. 

I’d just be a guy with a gizmo, and I would try to use it for good.

This gizmo would be a type of EMP device. Yes, I know you know what an EMP device is, but there’s one guy there at the back who looks a little baffled and too shy to ask. So, just for you, sir, an explanation. An EMP device produces a pulse of energy that creates a powerful electromagnetic field capable of short-circuiting electronic equipment. Basically, I push my button and all the machines close to me shut down until I press it again. There isn’t really anything like this in real life (I think) but this is comic book stuff so bear with me. There’s a point.

What good would this EMP thingie do for me? I mean, what would I do with it? 

That’s easy.

I would stop the cars.

                              *                   *                   *                   *

This week, there are a lot more bits and pieces arrayed around the little memorial at the side of the road. Candles and holy pictures and flowers and such. This suggests to me that an anniversary is drawing near. A year? Two years? If I think that, it’s probably at least three.

                              *                   *                   *                   *

On Thursday, I was crossing the street outside the police station, going across to the Mall. Halfway across, a car sped in front of me, missing me by a couple of hair’s width. I stepped back to give it a little more room. As the car rushed by, I got a glimpse of the interior. There was a lady in there, early thirties perhaps, and she was on her phone, the device held tight to her ear. In that briefest of moments, I could see that she was furious, her face was livid, and she was shouting into the phone. I caught a muffled hint of her raised voice as the door of her car rushed past my belt buckle. Then she was gone. One thing is certain. She never knew I was there.

If I was that super hero guy – the guy with the gizmo – I would have taken it out then and I would have employed it. I think perhaps it’s in my watch, like Ben Murphy’s Gemini Man from the 1970’s. I would push the winder on my watch and the EMP would do its thing and every machine within a 100 metres radius would stop dead. Clocks would stop, mobile phones would shut down and, yes, all the cars would stop. The angry lady’s car would stop.

I would walk up to her and tap lightly on her window. Thinking about it a little more now, I would probably need a second power in my EMP watch. A little something that would persuade people that I meant them no harm and that it was okay to interact with me a bit. Otherwise this next bit would never work.

She looks at me through the glass. Still furious but now also uncertain of what is going on, of why her car had stopped, of who this shabby guy outside her window is and what he wants.

I push that second button on my gizmo, the one that smooths everything over, and I ask her to get out and come for a walk with me. It’s not far, I reassure her, and everything will be all right.

We leave the car, it’s not going anywhere until I press my button again, and we ignore all the people standing around and wondering what the hell has happened to their phones. We walk up the road, the one where the old tennis club used to be. Up to the end and along the short path that leads through the hedge. Out onto the ring road, right beside the pedestrian crossing. The flickering battery lights on the footpath memorial are faint in the morning light but they still create an effect.

I don’t need to say much. I never knew the man that the flickering lights memorialise. I never even saw him once, as far as I know. All I know is that he died at this pedestrian crossing – one, maybe two, maybe three years ago. And I don’t know anything about the circumstances of his passing and I’m not allocating any blame to him or to the person that hit him. I couldn't. Besides, it’s not like I’m without sin myself. We’ve all taken our eye of the road at some point or other. So I’m not looking to judge anyone. The point I’m trying to make to her is a simple enough one. That event, that moment, will have left a wide trail of loss and bereavement and guilt and regret behind it. Maybe there wasn’t any lapse on anybody’s part in that moment. Maybe there wasn’t.

But there was certainly a lapse on this lady’s part, down the road at that crossing in front of the police station. She was late, she was angry, she was having a terrible morning. None of which would have mattered a single iota to her if she had hit me with her car. Her anger, her lateness, her daily trials, all would be rendered irrelevant in that split second. And me, I would be injured or dead or maybe something worse.

I don’t say any of this to her. I just show her the thoughtful, loving, sad memorial at the side of my road and ask her to just… have a care. Think about what might happen. Just… have a care.

Then I push the little button on my watch and the world returns to what it was before. Busy, rushing, not always caring quite enough.

Just another day on the block for your friendly neighbourhood EMP Man.

One More Time, with Feeling

The worst days in blogging are not, as you might expect, when you can’t think of anything to write. They are mercifully few. The worst days are when you’ve written your thing and you look back over it, on the morning you’re going to post it, and you immediately decide, “That’s no good, it just won’t do.”

Welcome to my Sunday.

This week’s blog post was to be a sort of a ‘Day in the Life’ for myself. A loose description of how my working day tends to play out, from when I get up to when I go back to bed. I did it… and I looked at it… and no, just no. It was a losing combination of having too much information and also having no useful point whatsoever.

So here I am. 10.12am on Sunday, with one arm as long as the other. What on Earth shall I write now?

This week, I was thinking about Mum, partly because it was the anniversary of her death and partly because it was so many years ago and yet feels quite recent and immediate. I was thinking how, for such a wonderful person and such a great personality, there should be reams of blog posts here about her. Reams. And yet there really aren't. There are a few, and some of them are some of my favourites. So, with the ’day in a life’ post safely in the bin, I sit here and comb my mind for some cool memory of Mum that I can set down here.

It's funny how memories won’t come on demand. They have to waylay you on a long drive or while you’re crossing the street to go to the shop. You can’t just summon them up. Well, I can’t. Not much anyway.

Two things were dragged up onto the shore for the brief dredging.

The first is only a guess and it’s easy to see how this presented itself because it’s nearly Valentine’s Day.

I got a Valentine's Day card in the post when I was about fourteen. It showed a cartoon rabbit, not unlike that Cadbury Caramel one that Miriam Margolyes used to voice. On the inside, was written ‘You’re my Hunny Bunny’. It’s not enough to say I’d never had a Valentine card before, I’d never had a single expectation or possibility of a Valentine card. This one boosted me up and made me feel like a player, a lad, a member of the human race. I spent far too much time dreaming about who it was out there who viewed me as a ‘Hunny Bunny.’ It did me a power of good.

It’s funny how time makes us view things differently. In the year I got the Valentine, I walked tall. Somebody thought something of me. In subsequent years, I became convinced that it was actually Mum who sent it to me, though nobody ever said anything. The writing was just too sophisticated for someone who might fancy me at fourteen. The card became a thing of embarrassment, never to be thought about or dreamed about again. But, as I said a few sentences ago, it’s funny how time makes us view things differently. Now, as my dredger hauls this snippet up gasping on the sand, I am quite delighted at the thought that Mum might have gone to this trouble for me. To write me a Valentine, for God's sake. Wasn't it nice? 

Time is funny.

The second memory that came up, riding on the back of the Valentine one, was about a little falling-out we had and what it might have meant.

When ‘Jaws’ came to Sligo, I went to see it with great excitement and it became a defining moment in my cinema-going life. This is already well-documented in these pages. What is not so extensively written down is how, in week two of its showing, I went for a second time. It was unusual for any film to last longer than a week in The Gaiety in Sligo. I remember ‘Where Eagles Dare’ did it, and they also started it late because there was a Jesuit Mission on in the Cathedral in the same fortnight. Kramer V Kramer did it too, but that was up in the Savoy.

But I digress.

When I went to ‘Jaws’ again in the second week, I went with my friend Padraig Conlon and his sister, whose name I can’t recall. Not Jennifer, she was too young. I was looking forward to going, I wanted to enjoy the film and also enjoy their first experience of it. I wanted to see how they jumped when the head came out of the boat.

But Mum wasn’t pleased.

“Where are you going?”


“To see what?”


“You saw it last week.

“I know. I want to see it again.”

I went. But Mum wasn’t pleased.

That’s the end of the story. Except it isn’t, really. It’s the footnote that adds the seasoning.

Years later, Mum would, from time to time, reveal things about Dad as a young man. Nothing immense. Just things that would pop up in random conversation. Valuable snippets though. Anything that gives us a flavour of our parents as young people is a treasure in itself. Like the time she told me that Dad sat up all night at the Boat House at the end of the Back Avenue on the night before he got married. That’s good, isn’t it?

The relevant snippet concerns my dad’s penchant for going to see movies twice. It was revealed, many years after the fortnight in 1975 when Jaws arrived, that Dad had gone to see the African Queen in the Gaiety for five nights in a row in the week that it played there. 

Five nights.

That says something to me, though I don’t quite know what it is. It says something about the annoying traits of the father alarmingly starting to turn up in the son.

It says something about how that mixture of annoyance, alarm, and inexplicable pride is part of the key to the mystery of what Family is.

The Lights from Pointless Hill

I’m trying to walk a bit more. I resolved to this in the New Year but it’s definitely not a New Year’s Resolution. I don’t go in for that kind of thing. I walk quite a bit but it’s not enough. In fairness, I could walk from here to Timbuktu every day and it still wouldn’t be enough. But a little more can’t hurt so I try to get down to the lake with my podcasts and my bulky but Bluetooth-enabled headphones and amble around it a few times.

Friday evening was the start of our brand new bank holiday, in honour of St. Brigid, who seems to have been pretty cool. She got me a day off, anyway, so that’s quite a positive start to her credentials. But, yes, Friday afternoon was the start of all that and the weather was very pleasant and the sky was still bright and offering a clear portent of the Springtime to come (and all that poetic stuff). So I decided to take a stroll, a constitutional, a turn around the lake, to kick off the non-existent long weekend festivities.

You can walk right around the lake. There’s a good path and two bridges and, oh, I just realised you don’t walk right around the lake, you cross a bridge over part of it. But that’s not pertinent so you’ll excuse the mistake. I know you will. You’re always kind. Jesus, where was I? Oh yes, you can walk around the lake (except you can’t) in a simple circumference or… or…, we’re getting towards the point now, you can cut off to the left and go around by the little playground and up the steep hill and re-join the circuitous lake path right where you left it. It’s effectively a pointless hill. A pointless exercise in terms of getting from A to B but a useful addition to the aerobic exercise element which is, after all, the main point of the walk.

Here's the thing.

When you’re walking up the pointless hill, just past the kiddies playground, and just before the lake comes back into view below you, you can look across the way and see the new cemetery on the other hill. The new cemetery is not new, it’s just that the old cemetery is considerably older than it so that’s why it’s called what it is.

Looking over at the new cemetery on a bank holiday weekend Friday evening, two thoughts occurred almost simultaneously. The first was that were a surprising number of little lights flickering on the gravestones. The second was that it is very likely that I will end up over there some day.

Let’s parse that second part first.

Although it feels like about seven years, I have been in this little town for over twenty-five years now and I’m happy to say it is my home. Although you can never tell what will happen and what boomerang the fates might chuck at you along the way, it does not seem over confident to predict that I am going nowhere else at this stage. I will probably end up being driven up the main street, while shopkeepers with that old sense of tradition draw their blinds, close their shop door, and dim their lights. A neat turn at ‘The Irish House’ and then it’s a straight run out to the cemetery. Not too fast though, many of the nice people walking behind are no spring chickens either.

I’ll be planted in the latest row of the new cemetery and that’ll be okay. They’ve been working back from the main road since they started and they’re a good bit in now. Hopefully, they’ll be a bit further in before I arrive there. Oh, I could get cremated like Una and Penelope and Michael did. There are a lot of pluses to that. But it’s a bit of a trek down to Limerick to the Crematorium and there isn’t really a top spot for a cup of tea on the way (not that I’ll be bothered). I think I’ll just settle for being carted up the road and eased into the ground there. That way, you could be back in town, half an hour later, for some soup and sandwiches and a nice chat. Not too many tears. I’ll have had a good run, whatever happens. Hell, even if I went out in the garden right now and was hit by a frozen turd from a passing Airbus, I’d have had a fair innings. So, yes, vegetable is fine and a toasted ham and cheese thank you very much. Maybe even a glass of Guinness. Push the boat out.

The lights are a bit strange. There’s just so many of them. It almost feels like it’s a concerted effort on the part of some group or collective. The ‘Light up the Cemetery Brigade’ or something. But, no, I don’t think it’s that. It’s just people coming by and putting a little battery-powered night light thingy on the grave of their loved ones. Perhaps they are aware of the rather striking twinkly effect that all these little lights cause, up on pointless hill across the way. Perhaps it’s just a whole load of tiny individual gestures, tumbling together to make something nice.

Either way, there is one aspect of the little lights on the graves that stands out pretty clearly. The greatest concentration of lights is on the newer plots and the number of lights gets mathematically fewer and fewer as the eye travels up the older graves closer to the main road. There are lots of lights at the new end. One quarter of the way from the new end, there are only one or two lights here and there. After halfway, there are no lights at all.

It tends to remind me of that old saying about how you die twice, the second time when your name is spoken for the last time. Putting a light on somebody’s grave could become a bit of responsibility. Even if you do it faithfully and true for all of your life, when you die the light does too. And who will light one for you?

Standing on the pointless hill on Friday evening, as the last of the light finally slipped from the sky and Spring suddenly seemed a bit further away again, I came to a small conclusion and reminded myself of how I generally feel about such things.

Somebody will plant me somewhere when the time comes. Somebody may light a light or two. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am here now. What matters is what I do with that. Can I do a bit of good before the shopkeeper finally closes his blind for me?

I can sure as hell try.

Now… about this bank holiday…