Fear and choking on gummy bears…

My relationship with death is one coloured by memory and tainted by experience. I kissed my first dead relative as a small boy in a funeral parlour surrounded by adults who all seemed unaware of my horror. To me it was terrifying. My paternal grandmother’s passing was all too much for me to understand properly as I was just a boy, but the imagery of the day is ingrained in my memory. I suspect my recollection has become misshapen by the trauma of the day.

Because I was only a small boy when my grandmother passed away, losing my first dog Rex had a far greater impact on me. I was too young to understand death when my father’s mother died. When my canine companion died I was a teenager and more susceptible to the effects of grief. That was very painful and my first encounter with genuine grief. I cried big boy tears for our beloved pet who had been part of my life ever since I was a baby. My poor Granny suffered from dementia and as a small boy, my ability to sympathise was limited.  In many ways, my Nana was a hard woman.  My memories of her included her strict adherence to the ‘no dessert if you don’t finish your dinner’ rules.  When she stayed with us, she got to watch her programmes on TV over ours, so that fact combined with the inconvenience that she inevitably took my bed on sleepovers, meant I was sad but less affected by her loss emotionally as that tiny undercooked tadpole, than I was as a teenager losing his best friend.


I witnessed others in my family pass and as I grew up, their loss had much more significance.  We even got through another full dog lifecycle and Scamp’s demise was equally traumatic. But then my father developed cancer and I discovered a whole new world of sadness.  His was a slow and difficult decline.  I watched the man my brother and cousin used to jokingly slag off as a ‘Fat Da,’ shrink away as his health declined through months of debilitating treatment.  I watched my mother suffer beside him and it was cruel.

I was with him when he passed away.  I saw the suffering up close and it was not a pleasant thing. Perhaps the struggle of his death stayed with me, for it has plagued my mind ever since.  There is the kindness of words such as, he died in his sleep or, it was a quick death, but neither applied to my Dad.  I watched him suffer as he fought the grim reaper to his very last breath.  Once more I was horrified but worse was to come.

My dear mother died suddenly.  She had an aneurism in her brain which she survived following an emergency operation and recovered well despite having a heart attack in recovery.  That was in March of that year and by October at Halloween in fact, she had come back to herself enough to go out for a night with her sisters. She dropped dead singing, holding her sister’s hand and I never saw her again.  That broke my heart. She vanished that night and despite the fact that I was the one who eventually waited with her to give a formal identification to the young policeman and woman who came to me with such discomfort, the woman I waited with was not my mother.  That she was gone, that I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye became and enormous weight that almost crushed me in the years that followed.

In the intervening years my brother died at the young age of fifty three, my sister lost her son during labour and my maternal Grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins have departed this world.  Aging it seems increases the volume of funerals you attend. It never gets easier.

 

I used to wonder if I would become obsessed with my own mortality once I got to a certain age. I managed to cheat it already and have been haunted by visits from my dark shadow man ever since. Those of you that read my blog regularly will be familiar with Mr. Squiggles. But oddly enough despite my worrisome stalker, I don’t give my own mortality too much thought.  I remember how it felt the first time and what stuck with me more than anything else was that I wasn’t afraid in the heat of it all. I guess I figure if I wasn’t afraid when death actually came knocking then I don’t see the point in wasting time worrying about it for the next God knows how many minutes, days, months, or years I have left.  Joanna’s Mam lives with us and she is ninety two years young.  What happens if I get to live that long?

Will my position change? Will I be counting days or counting blessings?  I expect the later.  Certainly it is what I hope I do should I live that long. Living life is what is important. So far I have done my best and always looked as much as I can to the brighter side. Some people stay the same throughout their life or at least think they have. Me? I’ve changed. Even if someone were to know me for twenty years and think “God you haven’t changed a bit” they’d be wrong. I change a little every day.  I suspect we all do.  What was it Mae West said in her ever so subtle way? “I used to be Snow White…but then I drifted.”

Age has changed me. Hurt has altered how I see the world, loss has scarred me and love has raised me up. I’m not the kind of person who could have ever have been satisfied with being born into a place and staying there as one generation passed into the next. I couldn’t watch everything change around me while I sat and watched it move about me.

Some people live all of their lives in one place, familiarity being a comfort and there is nothing at all wrong with that. In generations past, not so long ago, moving beyond the parish was an extraordinary thing. I was never made that way so I take neither credit nor blame for the part of me that has wings.


Risk has always been there in my life.  I have always made choices with a leaning towards the new.  It can be a precarious way to live at times but perhaps that is one of the things I cannot change about myself.  We all have some bits at our core that fundamentally make us who we are, but if you can’t change or adapt at least to some degree, you will miss out on so much.

Perhaps the key thing is fear. Fear keeps you a prisoner and clips your wings.  To overcome fear you have to take a step.  All of my books have love at their heart I have always said that, but the other ingredient, perhaps the more important one is fear.  It is the response to fear that I enjoy developing and it is a wonderful device whatever the genre that one writes in. My Darkly Wood books exude it of course and bad Blood and Larry Flynn are thrillers which always use fear, but even Little Big Boy is filled with fear.  I doubt I will ever write a book so filled with both love and fear as the book I still hold dear to my heart.

It is something that we all face, to fight, despair of or overcome.  I prescribe the latter. We are dying from the moment we are born so it’s hardly a surprise.  Why waste time worrying about your inevitable demise it is far better to get busy living.  What was it Woody Allen said?… “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” 

The only thing I know is how I’d like to go.. choking on gummy bears. That way when people asked what happened to me, you can say “He was killed by bears.” 

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Land-locked kites and flying free…

Land-locked kites and flying free…

There was a young-one who lived near me when I was a chiddler, who was very fond of flashing her knickers. Now for the non-Irish reader the term young- one (pronounced youngwan) simply refers to a girl.  Boys were youngflets (young fellows).  Now as happens all over the world at some point the youngflets get interested in the youngwans and everything changes but I’m talking about a younger stage in life, where girls were primarily a nuisance to us boys and we were dirty and stupid to the girls.

Imelda (not her real name to protect her virtue) regularly flashed her kecks at us and to be honest it was annoying at the time.  I’m no psychologist but had you asked me when I was eight to explain her behaviour, I would probably have told you she did it because she knew it annoyed us. In truth, despite her knicker flashing antics or perhaps because of it, I had little interest in Imelda. In common with my friends, I had little interest in girls back then, full stop.

gls

I played boy games with boys until puberty came along and messed with my attentions. It was so much easier when girls were no more than an irritant. In my childhood the world had a very different gender focus than it has today of course.  Mixed schools? You must be joking.  The Priests, nuns and Christian brothers spent most of their time keeping us apart.

Even in Infants and junior infants, the first two years of schooling for us from the ages four to five, we didn’t mix.  The only difference was that in our parish, the youngest boys were managed in a section of the girls’ schools by the nuns, until they handed us over to the Christian brothers for first class around the age of six – and good God that was a culture shock. 

In the convent school, there was even a fence between the girls section of the school yard and the boys. In a time where large families were the norm, most of us had sisters so girls weren’t a surprise, but the nuns in their wisdom under the direction of the priests, made sure that even at four or five we didn’t mix under their watch. Who knows how corrupted we might have been by such an experience?

We walked everywhere from a very young age and didn’t need our parents to accompany us after junior infants year or what we called ‘high babies.’  No self-respecting seven year old needed his Mammy’s hand to escort him to school and this inevitably presented a problem for me.

You see that world of isolation among the pack animals that we were; left us open to all sorts or rumour and conjecture.   It only took one little confident fecker to say that something was true, for everyone to believe it.  One slightly older boy told us that girls got pregnant if you rubbed your little finger in your ear and then poked it in their belly button.  I didn’t believe him, but I had to listen to the arguments for and against before I made up my mind.

Boy’s talk, meant that there were some dangers created in your mind that became larger than life.  Reputations were created around myths of terrible brutality inflicted by certain individuals and they were easy to believe.  Every day, we were ritually brutalised by teachers, sometimes by parents and school yard fights were common place.  In a world where there was a lot to be afraid of, we became very suggestable. 

I had a relatively safe route home from school, but on occasion I had to visit a friend’s house on a road where a family with such a fearsome reputation resided. There were five boys in the one family ranging from late teens. to about nine or ten and they were all as rough as could be.   I was a kindly little boy but that being said, I could walk the walk and talk the talk so while I lived in fear of encountering such dangerous boys – I never let on. But by reputation alone, I knew they ruled the road and if you passed their door as a stranger-boy on the road, chances were they would beat you up. I didn’t want to meet them.

As it happened, I had two ways to get to my friend’s house.  From where I lived, the distance to that particular road was the same whether I chose to enter the road from either end so I could in theory at least, avoid the danger zone.  Of course there was always the risk that I might pass them on the way, but there was less of a chance if I entered from one end rather than the other.

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That being said, life was never that simple especially in a world of rumour and conjecture, where false legends flourished with abandon.  If I chose to avoid their end of the road, I had to pass a particularly vicious dog.  In those days, leashes were unnecessary. Dogs walked themselves basically by roaming the streets.  This particular dog, liked to hang around at the front of a house that I had to pass.  If distracted, you could be ok, but if all was quiet and he was bored, chances were, he’d come after you like a crazed beast from hell.

Again, I had many of the tools required to handle such a threat. I grew up with dogs and wasn’t afraid of most of them.  Unfortunately this one was an Alsatian or ‘Aller’ as we called them and he didn’t care about rules. The choice was simple, walk via a very real and likely threat with big teeth, albeit one I had handled before but still feared, or travel the uncertain path where only rumour existed about a family of violent boys who would pulverise a trespasser like me just for the fun of it.

It’s funny how a little boy’s brain works especially one conditioned to danger.  Such was life.  The very act of travelling to school was one that put your safety at risk.  There was always someone bigger than you willing to pick on you if you looked crooked at them, but that bit I could handle.  I once had a knife held to me and I responded by brushing it aside with a ‘pishaw.’ Well, it wasn’t exactly that term, as saying pishaw in itself, would have resulted in a beating.  There may have been an expletive used. Either way, that was walking the walk.  It didn’t mean you weren’t on edge.  You had to be.

Inside the school yard the danger stepped up a notch.  There were always gangs, fights, hot squares to avoid and lurking Christian brothers who could randomly cuff you for misbehaving.  The classroom was worse still and fraught with danger. Make a noise, laugh at another boy farting, get caught with a note flicked onto your desk, spell a work wrong, a change in the wind it seemed could get you skelped.

th3wh9ysrm.

In hindsight, I lived in a world where childhood stress was ever present.  Even at home there were rules that if broken left you with the horrible words ‘wait for your father to get home.’ Lack of money was a stress, keeping warm, wearing hand-me-downs, and worrying constantly about what lay in the next day. It should not have been for us but it was.  My parents did their best but times were indeed different and sometimes even in small things like the threat from a dog or the potential of running into the local Kray twins, made it feel like my very life was in danger on a regular basis.

But somehow I skated through it with a sense of humour and I gave the world the impression that I wasn’t scared.   Most of the year belonged to school, winters and rain.  So when summer came, once we were free from the shackles of authority to some degree, we made the most of it. Summer holidays were months of being street urchins, never wanting to come in, playing on the road, chasing each other through fields like land-locked kites.  I would stay out until I was dragged in. Everything was an adventure, for in adventure lay escape from the stresses all around us.  Little boys should never have to feel that way and yet it was our normal.

My hair grew past my ears and I wore short trousers, short socks and I was always someone else or somewhere else.  In those days the seeds to my writing days were sewn.   I learned to imagine and imagination was beautiful.  I smile when I look back at my tinier self.  I remember the worst of it but mostly I remember the best of it.

Even though I had yet to discover the joy of girls, and while they angered me with their insistence on playing far less interesting games than I wanted to play, I was always still somewhat fascinated by their bare-kneed skipping, the swish of their ponytails and the screams they screamed when one of the boys produced a spider.  I put up with the occasional knicker-flash or sometimes succumbed to playing street-chalk games like beds (a secret favourite of mine), Queenie-eye-oh or listening to them play with a ball and sing ‘plainey-a package-o’rinso,’ because in those moments I was free….

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A dark date with destiny…

A dark date with destiny…

For a man who doesn’t scare easily I woke up quite afraid this morning.  I had a dream you see, not a nightmare but a dream and it frightened the livin’ Bejesus out of me for a number of reasons. I warn you now; you should only stay with me, if you are not of a nervous disposition.

Now usually, dreams are odd and at the best of times they can be hard to remember. Some people say they rarely dream or they just don’t remember them.  I remember them all. Perhaps it’s because I’m a light sleeper.  I’ve always remembered my dreams and they have always been vivid and filled with colour.  Nightmares haunted me as a child but I learned to wake myself from the worst of them. These days I rarely have nightmares.

My mother was a dreamer too.   I loved my Ma but she frightened the lights out of me sometimes when she got all serious over her dreams.   She used to tell me that she knew which ones were real and which ones were not.  When I was small I didn’t fully understand what she meant, but over time she used to tell me the details of her dreams and when they were truly portentous, it was scary.  She believed in telling someone when she thought they might be some kind of premonition as if she wanted a witness to her truth.  I keep most of my dreams to myself, but this one…

Being one of life’s great sceptics, I find it challenging to offer up what I am about to say but I offer it up nonetheless. Over the years much like my mother, I have had dreams that have quite literally come true. I cannot explain it and without going into detail, there should have been absolutely no way I could have predicted what I dreamed about in advance of the actual occurrences. Yet I remain sceptical, presuming without any evidence that there has to be some scientific explanation for my precognition. I have yet to explain it to my own satisfaction.

There are other things too, things I really cannot explain.  I frequently sing the next line to songs that my darling Jo is singing in her head.  I finish a thought she is having out loud not related to anything in the moment, entirely unpredictable.  It can be a sentence or an idea.  She will frequently say to me “are you in my head again?”

Now of course you might say that we are so close, that of course I can predict her next line or word, but it is far more intricate than that.  Still the sceptic in me says, there is some logical explanation for that too, one that I simply haven’t been able to work out. Yet I know what comes into my head, I feel the thoughts of another person sometimes and I have no understanding of how it happens nor control of when it happens. I am no clairvoyant. Whatever the explanation, there must be one.

DRE

Last night was different.  I can feel it still that dream. Like most dreams there was some initial confusion, a mixed blur of a vacation in Vietnam for some reason, but then it all changed and I went to visit my brother Brian in Chicago where he had spent most of his adult life.  It is seven years since my brother passed. He died way too young, the same age as I am at now as it happens. In my dream he welcomed me in and oddly there was another presence, someone I haven’t seen in many years.  My companion on the journey was my childhood friend and next door neighbour Martin.  I haven’t seen him in thirty years.  He was background noise only however but I remember it was quite disconcerting.

I was in the yard of a house and Brian kept coming in and out telling me to join him. He seemed anxious.  I stayed outside, half distracted by a phone call and I kept telling him I’d come in in a minute.  Martin was trying to hurry me along to leave.  Again the dream took on that bizarre stage where things blend and mix up.  Although I was standing only a few feet away from my brother, the conversation we were having was taking place on two levels. I was both standing close to him yet on the phone to him and still back in Ireland, all at the same time.  I could see deep concern on his face and he looked ill again as he had done the last time I saw him.  He seemed to be asking me to come visit him in Chicago.

He kept repeating that I should come with him and I began to realise that he wanted me to join him in another place.  He was no longer of this world and he wanted me to come with him to a darker place to help him, to be with him and I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. But then he did something that chilled me to my very core. There was a moment, just a tiny moment where one minute we were talking by phone, but quite suddenly he was standing at my shoulder in the yard of that strange house. He leaned in and whispered in my ear. I cannot let go of the secret he imparted. That exchange was speeded up.  The world accelerated for a moment, right to the point where he spoke to me and then everything slowed long enough for him to tell me something that is stuck in my head.

In that moment I woke up and I lay on my side with my eyes closed.  Whenever I have such a dream, not a normal dream but a dream that feels like the ones my mother spoke of, a dream like the ones I’ve had before,  I replay them in my head in my wakened state so I can remember the detail in the morning.

As I lay there another thought struck me and I thought, no it is not possible. I opened my eyes and reached in the darkness for the button that illuminates the time on my alarm clock.  For a second I hesitated.  I didn’t want it to read the time that might be there. Ever since my heart attack, ever since I faded on the surgeons table only to come back again, my witching hour has haunted me. I pressed the button and it read 04.35 precisely.

From the corner of my eye, the shadow man who haunts my night, slipped out of our bedroom window.  He is a slither, a creeping menace that sits and waits and at that precise moment, the time of morning when all that is darkest comes to haunt me, he is a mocking creature, too cowardly to strike, like a hyena in the darkness beyond my eye line, waiting for me to be weak again.

I reached across once more and pressed the button on my clock and darkness filled the room.  My shadow man had been lurking, my Mr. Squiggles as I have daubed him back in my hospital bed is always there in such moments. He waits for my demise and it feels as though he comes to check on me from time to time.  I am on his list and I felt as though he now knew the secret that my brother had shared with me, and that was the most frightening thing of all. I already knew the time that he would eventually come for me, my brother only confirmed it but there was more. As I lay awake in the darkness of my room, I remembered the rest of the secret that he had imparted.  Brian had given me something no one wants to have. He had whispered the worst secret imaginable. He had given me a date …

 

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Keeping a thought for my sorrow pocket…

Keeping a thought for my sorrow pocket…

They say the Devil is in the detail and they might well be right, but I’m not completely convinced.  When I was a teenager, full of angst and testosterone, I wrote a poem as young men who write tend to do and it opened like this; I’ve lost my church but not my faith, people stare and wonder what’s gone wrong with me.  They seem to think it’s God I hate, but I’ve lost my church, not my faith.

Of course to put this in context I was growing up and out of, a very traditional Irish Catholic upbringing.  The simple act of not attending mass on Sunday, required special dispensation from my mother and even at that you needed a pretty good reason not to go.  As small children we went to mass with my parents.  As we entered our teenage years we were given the limited religious freedom to choose our own mass time.  Back then in our parish, there were so many options from 7 a.m. on the hour until one o’ clock and two evening masses.

There were specialised masses like the 10 O’clock folk mass where the ‘trendy priest’ would pick up a guitar and be accompanied by teenagers on more guitars singing folky, holy songs.  We later discovered that our particular ‘cool’ priest was using his musical interactions with local teens, to groom them for his own deviant aspirations.  But of course in hindsight we learned that the excessive power that priests were given in our particular society meant they were free to commit many abuses with impunity.  That particular priest ended up in prison along with many of his cloaked brethren and with them went a respect for any decent men who remained in the priesthood. I tended to choose the mass that would be over the quickest.

When I wrote those words in my poem, none of us except those affected by the abuse were aware of what was going on. My anti-church position was more the expression of a teenager demanding his freedom, declaring my adulthood, rather than anti-church sentiment.  I was telling the world something even though if I am truthful, I wasn’t quite sure what that was at the time. The words I wrote can appear to have a different meaning when contextualised. Does the Devil lie in the context rather than in the detail perhaps?

I was an angsty little shit. It’s funny how right wing I am now compared to my left wing teenage self.  I’m hardly Margaret Thatcher but ageing does set you off complaining about things you once held precious. I’m less forgiving perhaps, rather that more right wing. I’m no weekend Socialist, my belief and desire for a fairer society are strong and I have my conscience, but I guess my political leanings depend on which side of the pond or equator you live. My American friends are inclined to see the left in much of what my Irish and European friends see as the right.  What is European liberal is virtually American communist.  The legacy of McCarthyism still lives in the U.S. Psyche I think. On the other hand, my affluence or lack thereof is relative to the Geopolitical world. To a hungry child with no water, I am truly wealthy. Maybe this is the sort of detail in which the Devil lurks?

giphy

The darkness that I harbor in my soul for fear of letting it show on my face, found me wanting one day and has never let me go.  I doubt there is a soul alive that hasn’t faced down their own demons.  All around me I see people fighting with their own challenges, internal strife and worry. For the most part people never share their internal dilemmas and the deeper the well the darker it gets.

Most keep their deepest fears secret and in that place the light is dimmer. Secrecy comes from many sources. People hide their darkest fears and anxieties because of fear, shame, and embarrassment, a desire for privacy, to protect themselves or others, there are so many reasons.  The truth is that darkness finds us all and while for some it is transient, it will find us all at different times in our lives and for most it is manageable.  For others it sometimes feels overwhelming.

I know only of my own shadow companion and I can only speak from my heart of darkness.  I am a contented man in many ways having found my joy through the love of my family and friends, but having spent my life trying to analyse my darker self, I guess at the very least I know from whence it comes.

The boy I was is the man I have become.  The lessons I have learned have helped me forge a path through the darkness and it is in this I find most consolation.  I see no point in sharing the detail only the path.  Sometimes the detail has no value. My hollow is no more or less than anyone else’s.  Unable to banish my demons, I have learned to live with them.IMG_0706

I wrote Darkly Wood not as a parable but in some ways it reflects my struggle. Sometimes in that twisting tale, when all hope seems lost, I simply take it away when the reader wants to believe in hope.  My dark shadow man, my Mr. Squiggles as those who follow my blog will be familiar with, has thought me to know hope cannot be relied upon to nurture the soul.  How awful that sounds even as I write it.  But I know from experience that when he sits on my window ledge, watching me at 3.35 in the morning, hope will not save me.

The path I share is not one of hope but one of choice and endeavor. I look to the future knowing good times will come as will bad.  I have seen them all before but despair is not for me. I choose to carry on.  I endeavor to take each new step every morning especially when he comes to visit.  I despise his nonchalant pose, as he sits there, leg dangling, examining his shadow nails in the half-light expecting me to succumb to his desolation.

So I close my eyes knowing sleep will not come but in closing him out, I take back my power if only for a while.  Everyone has their own darkness.  For the darkest souls, I cannot give advice; I can only share what I have learned.  There is a path through the forest and no matter how difficult it gets, there is joy along the way. It is elevating and wonderful this life of ours, but even sunny days will cloud over. It is so nice to walk with the sun on your face but sometimes we walk in the rain and it needs to be embraced as part of the journey of life.

I am glad I walk the path I do. It has shaped me. I know it will get muddy sometimes and I will fall by the wayside occasionally but the longer I have lived, the more I have come to appreciate the beauty of the journey. It has to be embraced.  My journey is precisely that, a journey.  It is no more or less and every journey offers not hope, but the prospect of joy and as long as I am open to it, some new adventure.  I wouldn’t give up that opportunity for the world.

When hope feels like it is an insufficient ally, one has to find a friend in resilience or just plain stubborn spite against the thing that wants to drag you down.  My path is not to let it.  There is always a way through the darkness, not giving up is winning and it is a victory more glorious as the darkness grows smaller in the rear view mirror. Find it where you can, there is no formula. I find it my own way as I thinks we all must do.

Day follows night and there are twinkles in store for me no matter the menace of my shadow man. I endeavor to walk the path one step at a time. I choose to have faith in the good that has yet to befall me and because of that it always does.  Sometimes I have to be patient that’s all.  There is more in store for me and I will keep that thought in my sorrow pocket for when I may need it and the rest is just inconvenient detail… and the Devil in there –  he can go to hell…

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You can find details about Max Power’s books here : –
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Universal book links
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood-II
http://getbook.at/Little-Big-Boy
http://getbook.at/Larry-Flynn
http://getbook.at/Bad-Blood

 

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Just a shadow in a stranger’s eye… More than a feeling…

Just a shadow in a stranger’s eye… More than a feeling…

Very little creeps me out.  I’m good at writing stories to creep others out so maybe my imagination has already gone there.  Either way if a book or movie gives me the heebie-jeebies then it has to be good. People I meet can sometimes creep me out of course. On more than one occasion, I have been uncomfortable with the actions or comments of another, certainly enough to warrant me saying that they had creeped me out.  For the most part it was a small thing but on one occasion…

 A total stranger spoke to me as I disembarked from a train journey in Dublin.  I was on crutches at the time and while the man had been staring at me while I was on the train, I simply assumed it was because of my cast.  People on trains have a habit of staring I have found.  He came up to my shoulder, leaned in a little too close to be comfortable and said,

“I feel the cold of it.”

I was in the process of swinging my hobbled leg off the train in a busy station and I hadn’t expected anyone to talk to me.  It seemed such an odd thing to say in the middle of summer, that it caught me off guard and for a moment I thought I had misheard.  But my focus was on getting both crutches and one good leg, off the train and onto the relative security of the platform.  Once I secured myself, I shifted on my crutches so I could look at him.  He was a tall thin man dressed mostly in black with a long overcoat and unusually he wore a brown fedora.  There was nothing really wrong but something was just not right about him.  His face wore the life he had lived and I knew it had been hard, but he was clean and fresh looking, this was no vagrant tapping me up for money and his shoes shone like a sergeant major’s.

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“I know you’ve seen him.”

He almost whispered the words and touched my elbow very gently. The accent I thought was Irish, but there was something else in there too. I looked up at his face and beneath his disheveled beard; I could see his pock-marked skin.  He removed his hand when I looked at it, expressing my displeasure without words.  I don’t like strangers touching me.  People walked around us as though we weren’t there.  We were like a little invisible island in a sea of rush-hour bodies on that narrow crowded platform.

He straightened and looked beyond me, a dark shadow crossing his face as though he had seen something terrible or perhaps someone he was frightened of in the distance.  The strange, tall man even took a half step backwards, before leaning in once more.  It was most unlike me to entertain such an invasion of my privacy.  I can be a curt man when approached by strangers but I stood there and I didn’t move despite the closeness of his face to mine.  I detected the scent of oranges.

“Look at me.”  I knew he meant for me to look into his eyes and I began to feel rather strange. In that moment, I could feel ‘the cold of it’ too.  I shifted on my crutches.

“You feel it?”

I didn’t want to admit to this crazy stranger that I knew what he was talking about.  He held me with his eyes and for a moment, I saw a shadow man there.  It was nothing, an illusion, a trick of the light, but for a moment there was something … and then he straightened once more before repeating,

“I know you’ve seen him.”

… And then he was gone. He simply strode away and a chill overwhelmed me, ‘the cold of it’ for sure.  I looked back in the direction of the place I had seen him looking and for the briefest of moments, I thought I saw him there too, but that was impossible.

The crowd seemed to come to life again, as though all had been silent throughout our brief interaction, as though time had stood still and the noise of the station erupted in my ears with the sound of a diesel engine on the next platform.  The stranger had disappeared and I was suddenly in everyone’s way again. I was a cripple blocking their path, an inconvenience and an irritation, so I shuffled towards the side-lines to get out of the rush of people.

I never saw him again but I have felt ‘the chill of it.’  Time and life have swirled about me and for a long time I never knew what he meant.  But in recent times I have begun to understand what he meant.  He knew that I had ‘seen him’ or so he told me but I hadn’t of course.  I had no idea what he meant at the time.

But I remember his face and in particular his eyes.  I recall what I saw there and perhaps he was offering a portent of the future, for I have indeed ‘seen him.’ The shadow man of that stranger’s eye has been to visit with me on more than one occasion and the darkness of that encounter, the thing that creeped me out that day, came to be given depth by subsequent events in my life.

That thing for you…That thing that places you on edge, chills your spine or gives you the willies… Is it just the shadow in the corner of your eye in the dark of your room at night?  Is it the creak on the stair that keeps you listening and straining to hear it again, afraid to relax in case it really is more than just the wood expanding on the floor?  Is it the thought of a hand reaching out from beneath your bed to grab your dangling naked foot, or is it something more tangible, something perhaps real?  Could it be more than just a feeling?…

You can find details about Max Power’s books here : –
http://www.amazon.com/author/maxpower
https://maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com
http://facebook.com/maxpowerbooks
twitter @maxpowerbooks1
Universal book links
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood-II
http://getbook.at/Little-Big-Boy
http://getbook.at/Larry-Flynn
http://getbook.at/Bad-Blood

 

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Nothin’ to worry about

Nothin’ to worry about

If I manage to frinkle my way through a few more decades and find myself sitting in a ‘comfortable chair alongside my darling Jo, I know we’ll still have our cheeky little moments.  There will be some accidental double entendre and one of us will reference it, finished with something like “You know what I’m saying?”   That’ll probably be me.  I’m sure it’ll be suggestive of something we might do together as a couple but be incapable of at that stage, because I’m talkin’ old old here.  What I know is that her answer will be along the lines of “I know ‘zactly what you’re sayin’”and we’ll exchange a nose twitch or a little wink to affirm that we would if we could.

Now I know that everyone has some romantic notion of what life will be like when they get older and the truth for you all I hope is along the best lines of what you hope for.   I know from my point of view what I want in my twilight years and I doubt things will ultimately work out that way for life has a way of getting in the way…but I hope it doesn’t.

If that sounds pessimistic, it’s not meant to be.  All I mean is that I have learned through life that all the things I imagined, when I dared imagine into the future are never quite exactly like that picture I had in my head.  Sometimes, most times, that’s a good thing for I am quite the pragmatist.  I’m a demon for over analysing and challenging any overly optimistic version of what lies ahead.  Maybe it’s because I’m a worrier I don’t really know.

I remember thinking twenty was old and I recall the first time a kid called me mister.  Lord I felt old. I think I was twenty two. I kinda wanted to be a mister because I always looked about twelve until I was thirty, but having a kid call me mister was not what I was thinking.  I wanted a waiter in a restaurant or an older person to use the term to validate my manliness.  The kid wrecked it for me. 

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Age is such a weird thing.  In my youth I occasionally struggled with my appearance.  I was 53 kg until I was about twenty five, that’s eight and a half stone in old money.  I wasn’t altogether unattractive and had my fair share of attention.. oh yes but I was no ladies’ man.  The weight thing combined with the good fortune of a good complexion meant I looked about fifteen and this was an issue when it came to getting served in pubs.  I was still being checked for my age at twenty five.  I always wanted to look older back then – at least until the first day things went in reverse. It was no coincidence that I spent my days cycling, running, playing basketball and working so there was inevitably more meat on a tinker’s stick back then.  It’s a politically incorrect term these days but like I say I’m aging fast and it is a reference to day’s of yore.

I remember the day it all changed well.  I was twenty nine (so technically still in my twenties) and I had become used to looking younger than my years.  The barmen had stopped asking for ID so things were on the up – or so I thought.  A casual conversation in a workplace canteen meant I quite simply came undone.  Someone was referring to their age and turned to me and asked what age I was. Foolishly I said,

“Have a guess.”  I was waiting for 25 or 26 when to my horror and for the first time in my life someone guessed the other way.

“I’d say about thirty four – thirty five.”

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Now it wasn’t simple vanity that caused the shock, it was that for the first time in my life I was confronted with the notion that I was actually aging.  Up to that point, I was the lucky Bas***d who never aged.  I was Peter Pan and suddenly I had become Methusela.  It’s been downhill ever since.

Now in fairness, apart from the increasing list of creaks and ailments, nose hair and inclination to complain about ‘young people’ and feeling nostalgic for a time before even an 8 track was the height of technology, (google it young people)  getting older has brought some consolation benefits. Caring less about the opinion of those that matter little in my life and appreciating those that do matter more would be one of them. I’ve never been a conformist in the sense that I’ve always been ballsy in what I wear or to a large extent, in what I do or say, but age frees you up even more in these departments.

It is a struggle to keep the middle of my body in check, as it likes to expand with little encouragement and it is more determined than ever to avoid going back to its once, svelte like state. Although I still tell my grandniece that the colour off my hair is indeed still blonde, it is – shall we just say – less so  and leave it at that.  She calls it grey but what do kids these days know eh?

I have a dodgy ticker, a wrecked back, a pair of knees that are functional at best, ankles that click as I walk, and stiff fingers. I wear glasses more often and I have begun (Begun! my darling will say) to strain to hear things a little more often.  Basically random bits of me hurt at inconvenient moments and for no apparent reason.  I get face pains, arm pains and arse pains although to be fair – over the years I have had a pain in my arse on more than one occassion, usually though as a result of the action or inaction of others.

But I digress. I’m still a way off being put out to pasture – well a bit of a way off – and yet I suspect when I get to that point where I should accept that I’m an auld lad at last, that I will be calling younger men and women than I – auldwans and auldfellas.

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“Look at the state of that old lad” I’ll say, as I zimmer frame my way past annoying young people hovering outside a shopping mall with their terrible loud music.  Nah… Only joking.  I will most probably refer to the old lad, but I’ll be more likely to shimmy my wrinkly old arse to the beat of whatever new shite the next generation will be playing too loudly, on whatever device they will be playing it on – only I’ll have to ask them to turn it up because I’ll be a deaf old dude.

That’s the plan anyway.  Being alone when I get – if I get – to that stage of life would be a challenge for a soul like mine, but having my darling Joanna with me will make all the difference.  It is not a romantic notion of my future, more the pragmatic one I mentioned earlier.  I don’t need anything extra or special you see.  As long as I have her tiny hand resting on the small of my back, making sure I’m not going to fall.  As long as I can still smell her perfume and make her giggle like a girl occasionally.  As long as she sets a dimple in my cheek as I smile when she tells me she still thinks I’m handsome – even though I’ll be an auld wreck of a yoke.  As long as I can hear her soft voice, hold her gentle hand and feel her kind heart without even a word passing between us.  As long as I still want to impress her, to make her smile and at least start to try and have a little jive before I realise my back’s not really up to it and I can’t remember the steps anyway, then life will be good and age… well… it’ll still be just a thing I don’t yet have to worry about…

You can find details about Max Power’s books here : –
http://www.amazon.com/author/maxpower
https://maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com
http://facebook.com/maxpowerbooks
twitter @maxpowerbooks1

Universal book links
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood-II
http://getbook.at/Little-Big-Boy
http://getbook.at/Larry-Flynn
http://getbook.at/Bad-Blood

Skinny little short-arsed pirate

Skinny little short-arsed pirate

Is it just me or have people gone nuts on being overprotective with their kids? I can’t imagine most kids today doing ten percent of the things we did when I wore short trousers. What I can remember is my mother knocking on the kitchen window and wagging her ginger at me and my friend for jumping off our garden shed. I held my hands out, palms up and lifted my shoulders in a “what’s the problem” type of “I’m innocent, I didn’t do anything wrong” type of gesture. She raised her finger in front of her face, which she tilted as she raised her eyebrows in a “are you questioning me?” type of response.

I knew what it meant. I sat on the edge of the shed and instead of jumping from a standing position to the ground, jumped from a sitting position to the ground. It was a concession and defiance as if to say “see it’s safe.” The shed roof was ten feet off the ground and I was a skinny little, short-arsed eight year old boy playing cowboys. Didn’t she ever see the magnificent seven? I was in the bell tower with a Winchester at that moment and she was ruining it. If I was coming down from that shed, it should have at least included being winged and ending with a fall and multi-role on the ground afterwards. Sitting and jumping with a “see it’s not dangerous” expression on my face, was pushing my luck.

The cheekiness could have got me in trouble and I knew that the minute she came out the back door. She scolded me but I argued the toss and I explained just how safe it was. I brought her around to the back of the stone out building and demonstrated that I had been sensible. There was an old wooden crate that worked as a step to the wall attached to the side of the shed. I could step up onto the crate, then the wall and then easily and safely ascend to the top of the shed. My mother was a pragmatist and knew if I wasn’t up on the shed where she could see me, I’d be up a drainpipe somewhere beyond her gaze. We did a deal. As long as I used the same route to descend from the shed’s flat roof as I used to climb up there, I could sit on the roof of the shed. But no running, jumping or standing near the edge.

Yeah, like that lasted ten minutes. My next door neighbour and I, had competitions to see who could run across the top of the shed and jump the furthest! It was only one example of the devilment we used to get up to and the danger to which we readily exposed ourselves in the interest of learning our boundaries.

In general we were very much left to our own devices and while I’m not saying it was perfect, it is sad to see the level of control and surveillance on young kids today. Leave aside the stranger danger issue, of course we have to protect our children, I’m talking about the preciousness that stops the adventure of climbing a tree or walking a tightrope.

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I’m telling you now, when I saw Burt Lancaster in the Crimson Pirate, the first thing I did was dig out a rope from my Da’s shed and tie it from my friends tree to the fence so we could walk along it. By day two, we were both balancing on it fencing with sticks, with me doing my best Burt Lancaster laugh impression “HA HA HA” one hand on me hip!

Smoking out bees, battling through fields of nettles in shorts, firing stones at each other with gats, mother of divine, when I think of it! Did we get hurt? Of course we did. Did we break windows? Of course we did? Did we get punished? Not if I could blame Martin Dredge.

School was just as bad. It was a cesspool of disease and infection. We were crammed into classes of 40 plus and at some point, someone in our working class 1970’s school classroom had one infection or other. We didn’t get driven to school, we walked. We got rained on, snowed on and slid on ice until our little arses were sore from falling down.

There always seemed to be at least one kid with a snotty nose and usually one with a permanent stream of green ooze being sucked back up, licked with a tongue or wiped on a sleeve. ‘Snotzer’ was the name given to such permanently afflicted children and there were quite a few Snotzers in our school. At some point we all got whatever was going around. We didn’t have classrooms with ensuite bathrooms or gentle alcohol free, hypo allergenic wet wipes. We had sleeves on our jumpers and usually one or more of us had a nice crusty one from wiping their nose in it.

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I’m not saying that’s how it should be. It is great to see smaller classrooms and better conditions, but what I am saying is that a little bit of crustiness does no harm. If your kid hasn’t at least held a slug, worm or earwig and contemplated licking it to see what it tastes like, you are holding on to the reins waaaaay too tight.

I hated earwigs yet we all had to see what it felt like to have one grasp you with its pinchers so you could imagine just how much damage he would do after he crawled inside your ear and burrowed his way into your brain as we all surely knew they would.

Catching bees in jars was a summer given and access to my auld fella’s shed to use his tools was no problem so long as we put them back when we finished with them. How else were we to learn what our limitations were or understand the sheer greatness of our potential? I thought myself how to ride a bike and I learned to swim out of shear dogged determination all by my lonesome. I was afraid of everything and I took everything on to overcome the fear. What a lucky boy.

But I was only able to do so by having the freedom to do so. A couple of months back; I had the opportunity to go canyoning in the mountains of Spain. I hadn’t even heard of the activity before and when I got there I was drawn immediately back to my childhood.

They told me to put on a wet suit and waterproof shoes, handed me a harness and a helmet and then said let’s go. I had little idea what was in store for me. It was a combination of rugged beauty and calm mixed with blind terror and white water adventure. We made our way on foot several miles along a deep canyon. We began by wading through shallow water on very uneven slippery rocks in the blazing sun, followed by abseiling, jumping twenty feet off rocks into rockier pools below and white-water rafting without a boat.

I haven’t had so much of that type of reckless fun since I was a kid. Of course I realised that a lot had changed since then. When I was eight, I would have raced to the highest point and cannonballed into the water. This time I found myself carefully peering down and calculating the percentage chances of hitting one of the rocks on the descent, before I eventually jumped. But of course I jumped. How could I not? I jumped, swam and dived, I slip-slided, floated and clambered my way through the whole thing with a sense of adventure that I had almost forgotten.

It was the first time that I tested my old ticker properly since the unmentionable scare eighteen months previously and that more than anything, had me on edge. The old man in me came out as I considered the response time of the Spanish paramedics should anything go wrong in the remote canyon in the mountains.

But I let it go. My darling Jo made a very apt comment when I showed her photos of her less than handsome old man in a wet suit on my return. She knows me better than anyone and she smiled looking at the pictures of her auld lad clambering through the canyon. Her comment hit the mark.

“Look at you smiling,” she said, “you look like a big kid.”

I guess inside at least, I always will be… Gotta’ love my beautiful girl, she gets me…

You can find details about Max Power’s books here : –
http://www.amazon.com/author/maxpower
https://maxpowerbooks.wordpress.com
http://facebook.com/maxpowerbooks
twitter @maxpowerbooks1

Universal book links
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood
http://getbook.at/Darkly-Wood-II
http://getbook.at/Little-Big-Boy
http://getbook.at/Larry-Flynn
http://getbook.at/Bad-Blood

 

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