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.