Shuffle Punched

With Patricia away in America for this last week, I entertained myself by picking one or two corners of the house and ‘Marie-Kondo’ing the shit out of them. One such haven of joyless things was a basket that ostensibly held shoes but which had become a repository of newspapers and expensive supermarket bags.

Near the bottom of clearing it out, I came upon a blue coloured rewritable CD in one of those clear plastic jewel cases. Loath to throw it away, I left it on my desk, resolving to stick it in the laptop when I was next sitting there, just to see what was on it. I imagined it would turn out to be the soundtrack to one of the teen plays I did over the years. It would be fun to play through the needle drops I had set up so many years before. A little blast from the past.

Fast forward a week later and it’s today and I’m doing some stuff around the house again. These enthusiasms are rare so I have to try to capitalise on them when they land. Passing the desk, I saw the blue coloured CD sitting there and decided to slip it into the drive and see how it might entertain me.

It went in. The computer asked me what software I would like to use to play it. It had been a while since the machine had seen a disk like this and needed to be reminded of what to do with it. I chose Windows Media Player – better the devil you know – and let it do its thing as I went back into the kitchen to continue whatever the hell it was that I had been doing before.

A song wafted through from the other room. It wasn’t from one of my plays after all but it was from an event all right, an event that had happened eleven years and three months ago. The song is probably one you won’t know. It’s called ‘The Old Rustic Bridge by the Mill’ as sung by the late Irish Tenor Frank Patterson. It was one of Dad’s favourite tunes from years gone by and, after some discussion, it was the one we decided to play as we carried him out of the church back in March 2012.

I walked back into the study and stared at the computer. It gave nothing away, remained stoically po-faced, and just kept playing the tune. Two things occurred. The first, a fleeting thought, was just how long had that shoe basket needed sorting-out. The other thing was more complex and more all-consuming. An almost total transportation to that day. To the journey from the top of the church aisle to the bottom. The litany of sad familiar faces on either side. The feel of the cool varnished wood against my left cheek. The weight. The weight. The weight.

I delivered the eulogy that day and I think I did okay. I felt I had been given a strong mandate when, after Mum had died, years before, I told Dad that I didn’t feel like I should do the talking and he looked at me and said, “Well who the hell else will do it?” So I did it. And I felt it was okay that I did it for him too. That he would be okay with it.

The last thing I said, in the eulogy, was that the song that would play, as we carried him out, was one of his favourites. I gently exhorted those assembled, if ever they should hear this song, to think of my Dad.

I guess I must have included myself in that request.

Today, I kept my promise. I heard it, and I remembered.

I’ve put it away again now, with other CDs that don’t really get played all that much anymore. Maybe I’ll pull it out again, in another ten years’ time, and stare at it again and wonder again which play it might have been from. A sad little play, perhaps, a very sad one.

Maybe I’ll put it in a drive and play it again and remember all over again…


Heart Goes Out to Wiggy

Regular readers will already be fully aware of Puddy, the semi-feral neighbourhood cat who has inveigled her way into our lives, our home and, yes all right dammit, our hearts. You may know about Puddy but there are other cats in the neighbourhood too, and I feel you should hear a little bit about one of them.

Wiggy is a semi-feral neighbourhood tom. His white-with-black-patches colouring and markings are very similar to Puddy’s, so I imagine he is a brother of hers or possibly she is a ‘sistah from another littah.’ Something like that. Wiggy is just the name I have given him. I don’t think it’s likely that he has a name from anyone else.

Wiggy is a true stray, flitting from back yard to back yard, scoring whatever he can, wherever he can and whenever he can. Wiggy is a great name for him, even if I say so myself. You’d have to see him to fully appreciate it. He’s got a big black patch on top of his otherwise white head and it looks exactly like a low hanging fringe on the front. It is, for all intents and purposes, a poorly placed hair piece. Did you ever see Mo from the Three Stooges? Well, that’s the exact effect.

Wiggy is an un-neutered tom and, as such, he is quite the feckin’ nuisance around the place. He bullies the other cats, including Puddy, and likes to mark his territory very pungently and very often. Unfortunately, he views our front door as a key corner of his domain and his butt is often to be seen spraying itself liberally around that area.

I chase him off verbally whenever I spot him rolling up to have a butt-squirt. I have to, really. He gets fed regularly up at a neighbour’s house, who buys all kinds of treats (like entire Lidl chickens) to keep a few cats around because they ‘keep the mice down.’ Wiggy does okay, I think. He and I maintain a semi-feudal relationship as he continues to squirt my place and bully my cat and I continue to call him by an unfashionable name and berate him and his errant butt away from my front door.

But my heart has started to go out a bit to poor old Wiggy. He is, without question, the ugliest cat I have ever seen. His front legs are bowed slightly which gives him the effect of being a manspreaded body builder. He is always scowling. His wig is a thundering disgrace and his manner is always considerably less than the minimum of what might be hoped for.

Oh, but his stomach is pulled so tight up into his body. Yes, he’s getting fed but is it enough? If I feed him, he will become an even more prominent bullying, spraying feature of my yard and neither Puddy nor I can really tolerate that. I just wish he had a better life, that’s all. Our neighbourhood is kindly and not really dangerous at all but it rains and gets cold, just like everywhere else, and things can be hard sometimes if you’re an ugly tomcat without a home.

Sometimes, when the sun shines, Wiggy regularly occupies a warm place in the grass in my front garden, under a spreading something bush. He sleeps there so peacefully. At those times, I can’t bring myself to call him names or pretend to chase after him. I’ll just let him rest for a while there in the sun. I’ll just… let him be. I just wish he wouldn’t wake up and stink up the entire house with his buttski but you can’t have everything.

I’ll continue to keep an eye on him, as best I can. I think he’s okay, really, but I’ll try to make sure nothing untoward happens to him. I know I can’t be the saviour of all cats.

It’s just, the older I get, the more I feel I should be.

Gorilla Love

Okay, first off, this post will contain a certain level of coarse language. Although the overall tone of the piece will be fairly tender and positive. Therefore, if you happen to have a child on your shoulder while you are reading this, and you suspect that the child may have a more advanced reading age than anyone has given them credit for… well… tread carefully is all I’m saying.

One thing that I have had no personal life experience of is In-Law Parents. Although I’ve been married to the lovely Patricia for nigh on 32 years, her parents, alas, had long-long departed before we ever met. Therefore those nervous moments of meeting your gal’s Mum and Dad and trying to impress upon them that you are an okay sort of a bloke to be dating their kid, well they never happened.

Except, of course, they did.

Patricia had a tidy selection of siblings and the family was as tight as ever I had seen. If I wanted to pursue this fair damsel, then I would have to make the right impressions on the cohort of brothers and sisters. No question.

I like to think I won dear Una and Penelope over fairly easy. This is not me bragging. In fact, it was a fairly obvious thing. Both her sisters would have had nothing but Patricia’s best interest at heart but, you see, I only had her best interest at heart too so it was not a huge surprise that we all got on mightily right from the start. Both sisters are sadly departed now, and we miss them daily and with unfading love.

Then there were the boys. Enda is smart and easy-going. I think I did all right there. Me and Enda got on well and still do. Hell, I get on well with them all. This is just a funny memory. There’s nothing earth-shattering to come.

Kieran is Patricia’s eldest brother and, although he would never enforce it, he always seemed to in possession of an understated patriarchal quality. A lovely man, he was still one to get over if I wanted to win the hand of the fair Patricia. We came home from London and stayed with Kieran and Ann and their lovely young family and all went swimmingly except for my natural penchant to make a joke wherever I see the opportunity arise. This is a trait that seems to have waned in me a little over the last couple of decades but, back in my twenties, I could never resist an opportunity to crack a joke. What can I say? Kieran tossed one up and I smacked it. It was only natural.

Kieran had just got himself a new camcorder and, bear in mind, this was circa 1987 so it was a big and a boxy baby. It took a little bit of setting-up and a little bit of hoisting onto the shoulder.

At one point over our weekend stay Kieran remarked that ‘Armstrong’ wasn’t a typical West of Ireland name and I explained, very casually, that my Grandad had changed his religion to gain the hand of his bride. Different times.

Kieran spotted an opportunity for documentary filmmaking. He hopped up and started the Mission Control procedures required to get his camera ready to record footage.

“That’s a great little story,” he said, not without some glee, “Very romantic. We’ll have to film it for posterity.”

I was arranged in front of a kitchen wall, pointed at with the huge device and requested to repeat my little tale.


“My Grandad changed his religion on his deathbed because he reckoned it was better one of them bastards died than one of us.”

It was an old joke. Slightly edgy but no malice intended. Kieran didn’t take any malice. He was just profoundly disappointed, that’s all.

“Ah, that’s no good at all. We’ll have to work out how to delete that.”

Kieran has been a great friend and ally and brother-in-law over all the years. But the video thing disappointed him a bit, I reckon.

Then there was John. John, the scientist, the movie buff, the music fan. John was probably the easiest win of all three brothers. We had lots in common and always got on like a house on fire. We still do, all these years later.

Our first evening with John and Marian on our sub-conscious 'Win the Family Over to Ken’ tour went just fine. Except for one part. And, again, it was my unmanageable sense of humour that let me down.

After a nice dinner, at John and Marian’s house, we sat down to watch a video. John was, and still is, always ahead on the technology. Whatever you’re watching, you can be sure that the sound will be good, the vision will be first rate. Some things don’t change, they just update.

That evening, we watched a video of ‘The Man with Two Brains’ with Steve Martin and Kathleen Turner. I hadn’t seen it. I was enjoying the zaniness and general off-beat foolishness of the whole thing and was, I felt, behaving myself admirably. Until, about half way through, a joke came along and I laughed really hard at it and everyone looked at me.

I’m not a hard-laughing person, as a rule. I snort a bit and smile and am generally amused but I am not one for belly-rippling guffaws or side-splitting roars. Perhaps it was the stakes of the entire tour, where I really wanted to make a good first impression on Patricia’s wonderful warm close family members.

I don’t know. I just know I laughed a lot.

In the scene, the ever-excellent David Warner is giving Steve Martin some options for the brain he has fallen in love with. He could have his own brain removed and placed in the tank with hers (hardly ideal) or, wait, David Warner could transplant the brain into the body of a gorilla. Steve Martin gives this some serious thought and then dismisses it with the immortal line, “I couldn’t fuck a gorilla,” and I started laughing. I didn’t laugh for a long time; I didn’t fall about the place. I just laughed loud and hard and, critically, nobody else laughed at all. Truth to tell, I was still laughing at it just now when I checked the clip on YouTube. I think it was the unexpectedness of it that got me.

All went well, apart from that, and I wasn’t judged harshly on my errant laughter or ill-timed gags. Patricia’s family is as much a part of my family now as my own family is, and their children and grandchildren add love and value to the world.

But still, across the ever-widening years, through all the joys and, yes, the sorrows, the memories live on. Often small and silly, like the ones described here, but defining none the less.

Who would have thought, of all the things that have happened since, that the gorilla would lodge in my head?