A little Sparkler…

A little Sparkler…

I have a shameful secret and I can’t hold it in any longer. It goes back quite a while so I need to put it in context.  When I was a nipper, we weren’t exactly sent up chimneys to clean them, but unlike today, the labour laws in Ireland were much more third world than they are today.  As a result, I literally cannot remember a summer where I didn’t do one kind of work or another.

The year was 1977 and I was working in a well-known national newspaper, delivering papers across Dublin as a ‘helper’ on a van. I hated the job but the money was amazing for a young lad, not that I saw much of it as my mother made sure I wasn’t allowed to live  the rock star life on my earnings.   She wisely saved it for me, giving me an allowance from it which I mostly spent on going to the pictures – always alone –  as I was a shy teenager who despite discovering all the natural yearnings a boy that age has, I had yet to figure out what to do with them.  Girls were scary back then.

I’d go to the Adelphi, the Savoy or the Carlton cinema in Dublin city centre and gorge myself on a half-pound box of Milk Tray, a bottle of coke and a pack of popcorn. I worked next door to the cinema during the day and my uncle was the boss of the department so I got the handy numbers. At least once a week, I’d get to deliver the freebies to the newspaper’s neighbours to keep them placated for when our vans blocked up the street.  In return, I generally got free tickets to the new releases.  I told my mother I had to pay for them so she didn’t question my ridiculous spend on chocolate.  I often felt quite sick on the bus home, but never once questioned if it was worth it.

Despite my lack of success with the ladies, largely due to the fact that I was a skinny little thirteen year old boy with absolutely no clue how not to panic when I met a pretty one, I still fancied myself a bit and as I was starting to smell myself, I always made sure to look my best on the bus to town… alone … on a Saturday night.  Flared, faded, blue Levi Jeans from O’Connors in  Abbey Street, cool as Bejaysus I was,  tan or black desert boots, maybe a blue and white check, cheesecloth shirt, with a nice big collar and a Levi denim jacket to top it off. Oooooo yeah… I was the business.  Somewhere inside I was a little sparkler.  I knew my mother saw it but I just wished real girls would too.

My hair was longer then than it is now,  just gone-off blonde, turning fair, flicking past my ears, touching my shoulders, all Leif Garret and David Soul like. Yep I certainly was the business. I’d sit there on the bus, trying to catch the eye of a pretty young girl, then when I did, panicking like a 1970’s version of Dougal from father Ted, not knowing where to look, turning a bright shade of red, desperately trying to compose myself and remain cool, but ultimately knowing I’d blown my cover, looking everywhere but back at her.

I’d get off the bus, walk up O’ Connell Street at the centre of Dublin, pop down to the Adelphi and stand in the queue listening to the psycho busker doing a shit impression of Elvis and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, but enjoying it nonetheless. There were always buskers, mostly the ones who attended the cinema queue had no musical ability and were basically pan handlers with a guitar, but it was great.

I looked about ten years old and would have never even got into a PG movie back then, if it weren’t for the fact that the guys on the door knew me from work.  I always felt particularly grown up getting into a 15’s movie. Even on the queue, my hormones would have me scoping for a pretty girl but my cowardice took over the minute one of them smiled at me.   Inside the cinema I’d escape into the movie.  It was pure magic, sitting there, engulfed in surround sound when I was used to a 19 inch black and white mono television with only one channel at home.

Back outside, afterwards I’d have forgotten my pre-cinema inhibitions. My mind would still be on the movie fresh in my head and I’d be ten again for real not just in appearance, almost skipping to the bus stop, imagining in my quaffed head that I was in the movie I had just watched.  Sometimes there would be a more sinister element to my trip home as rougher boys, spoiling for a fight, would clamber on board the bus.  But I was always able to dodge that bullet.  I grew up surrounded by such danger and while I feared many, they never knew it and for the most part they left me alone.  When they didn’t, I generally understood that I only had to make them believe I was tough enough to take them on for them to leave me alone and I was good at that.

bus

Off the bus I’d go and home I’d skip, another Saturday night movie behind me. There would be time for girls yet.  I didn’t know that of course, I thought I would be forever afraid to ask one out.  Funnily enough in a normal relaxed setting, I was quite the star with the girls.  It was only when I fancied one that I’d freak.  Somewhere in my head I had it sussed.

If I was ever to kiss a girl, I would have to follow what was clearly the only way to go. First spot one I liked, then work out a plan to be in her generally vicinity as often as possible.  Look at her a lot until she looked at me, then panic and look away.  Repeat often enough until I built up the confidence not to look away and then chance a smile in her direction.  At that stage in my life that was a s far as the plan got.  I was still two stages behind the final one here, so I didn’t see the point in trying to evolve the plan any further for fear that my mountain would be too high to climb.

But here I am waffling on and I never told you my filthy secret. Well you see, I have eclectic musical taste.  I love all sorts of music, mostly pretty good if I do say so myself.  My dirty secret?  Well those jeans, desert boots cheesecloth shirts and jackets…  Pure David Gates and Bread and my David Soul reference earlier, oh yes… “Come on silver lady take my word, I won’t run out on you again believe me….” Don’t know it? Ask Doctor Google. Better still, let sleeping dogs lie; it was all a long, long time ago and ashamed as I am, we should all be allowed one bad life choice…

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My bonding lunch with George Clooney and Steve Buscemi

My bonding lunch with George Clooney and Steve Buscemi

There is a trickle of a tear in my twinkle and there is usually a twinkle in my eye, but not always. Sometimes I’m not squinting through the smile, rather blinking back a tear and it is in that part of my nature that I sometimes find comfort and sometimes, most distress.

My mother used to give me hugs and they were often much needed. She has been gone a long time now, but the memory of that caress is imprinted on me.  More fool me for allowing that in I sometimes think, for I became dependant on something I should have known I would inevitably lose.

The challenge in my day is often to twinkle over the cracks. I’ve become very good at that over the years. Whenever I am complimented for my writing, it is usually because of how I tell the story and connect emotionally with my readers.  That does not come from my imagination.  That comes from my heart. I guess as I have grown older, I have understood my melancholy better.  It is always there, hiding behind me.  I often think of Peter Pan’s shadow, only I’m not sure who the real me is, Peter or his dark malfunctioning reflection.

I was told today that I looked like George Clooney. This was the kindest, most inaccurate compliment I have ever received.  It came from a woman in her seventies wearing thick glasses, but I’ll take it nonetheless, it’s better than the Steve Buscemi lookalike ‘compliment’ that I received (No offense Steve.)  I took it with the ease of a man full of vanity, wallowing in my own high opinion of myself.  I am pretty sure that’s how it might have been seen from the outside anyway.  I tend not to fend off such niceties.  My shell is brash and confident, sometimes charming, always flirtatious, occasionally reticent, but mostly I give the impression of a man filled with confidence and self-assurance, that  tricks my audience into thinking they know me.  They don’t want to know the real me so I give them a performance.

But of course it’s all a charade. George, Steve and I, have one thing in common. Most people don’t know a thing about us though they are quite likely to make assumptions about us that we happily indulge.  We should have lunch together the three of us. I’m sure it would be fun unless they are both vegan and insist on going to a restaurant that only serves food I can’t chew…then I might struggle.   We could exchange stories about how people have assumed all the wrong things about us for all the right reasons.

Very few people get to peek beneath my skin. Even those that do, have little idea of tha dark demons that slather at the droplets of my soul, rising up like molten evil to pull me down to where happiness hides in the shadows, for fear of being taken away and banished for good.   I exorcise them in my writing. Darkly Wood is an expression of my inner turmoil; Darkly Wood II goes beyond psychoanalysis and unleashes the worst of my demons onto the page.

Many people assume Little Big Boy was autobiographical and while I stole some gems from my childhood it is certainly not my story.  However, I dug deep in crying it onto the page, plundering the resources of my despair to evoke the anguish and suffering, that is ever present and real to me.  Perhaps that is why I struggled so much with its completion.

My thrillers Bad Blood and Larry Flynn, were more fun to write, but still I stole from my soul a little, I can’t help myself. As I read the sequel to Darkly Wood, now in its last days of editing, I am somewhat afraid I may have gone too far.  My twisted demons are creatures of my own very personal struggle. There are some demons in here that should not see the light of day and I wonder if others will understand the transmogrification of my broken spirit when it appears on the page.

I guess they will just misunderstand me some more. I’ll have to accept my fate.  Maybe I’ll give George and Steve a call.  We can have lunch again at a steak house in New York for a change, talk about our striking good looks and try and figure out why everyone mixes us up all the time. I’m looking forward to it. Cheers boys!

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Only in the ha’penny place…

Only in the ha’penny place…

Never trust girls. Honestly, that’s one of the top tips my older self would give to my younger self and it turns out to be just one of a string of very important lessons I learned during my formative years, but I’ll get back to that one later.

If I were to give young lads of today any advice it would be slightly problematic, as much of the advice I could give is probably quite specific to my personal life circumstances. Nonetheless I will offer it up for what it’s worth and ladies, maybe you can learn from this too.

First up, never tell Martin Creighton to F**k off, when he tries to take away the magnet you brought to school to show your best friend Michael. He is way bigger than you and will knock you on your arse.  Importantly, don’t get straight back up and kick him in the nuts, then run away.  He will hunt you down and you will probably have to get your big brother involved. Trust me it gets messy.

Don’t ever answer the question “you don’t still believe in Santa do you?” with “of course not” if either of your parents asks it. You really need to swing the bejesus out of that one for as long as you possibly can, to get the best value. I’m telling you these may sound like simple things, but buried in here are some serious life lessons if you can read between the lines and translate them to your life.

Contraband of any kind, e.g. stolen cooking chocolate from your mother’s secret stash or sugar on bread, is best eaten in the dark, underneath the stairs or in some such hidey hole. If you get caught and that includes with the wrapper in your hand and chocolate on your face, the only thing to do is …deny, deny, deny.  “Didn’t do it, it wasn’t me, that wrapper was already in here, that’s dirt on my face”… I’m telling you don’t get fooled by the old “If you tell the truth you won’t be in trouble” malarkey…oh no… in the long run deny and take the beating…or do they still do that these days.

who m

Peeing in the local swimming pool is ok, but make sure you are alone to enjoy the temporary warmth, then get the hell outta Dodge before someone realises it’s you. Oh yes and never ever, swallow swimming pool water because you’re not alone in the warm water thing.

If you are playing in a location you have been strictly been forbidden to play in and you get a fish hook caught in the back of your short trousers, and your mother subsequently gets it stuck in her finger trying to see what’s sticking in your arse and then has to get stitches as a result.. Remember that deny thing I mentioned earlier? Yeah well double that.  You don’t know how the hook could have got there; you were only playing in the front garden.

Make sure to find a food you don’t want to eat even if you do and persuade your mother that you need something different. That way, everyone else gets pork chops but you get your own lamb chop and you feel ‘special’.  It reinforces your position as ‘special’ in the family and gives you a general sense of wellbeing.  Importantly, if you are the youngest in the family, make sure you establish several such ‘special’ requirements before you get usurped by a new baby.   If you don’t, they get all the attention and glory and you have no way of accessing that ‘special’ status,when you need a little boost.

Tantrums don’t work – you get a smacked arse for that one. Eat all your vegetables when you are in your Granny’s, she seriously won’t give you jelly and ice cream if you don’t… seriously she doesn’t bluff.  And while I’m on the subject of Grannies, they have their uses, but they pack a mean back hand or schelp to the arse, so don’t cross the wrong line.

Now to get back to the girl thing I mentioned. They can’t be trusted. Play with the other boys, stick to that and you’ll be alright.  Some girls, sometimes, can be alright to play with.  They can be OK even to play some boy games and a few are good at climbing trees and football, but that’s all very well and good, until something goes wrong.

I guarantee you, no matter how much you think it’s OK, the second a ball goes through a window, or that swirling noise maker on a string takes out a lamp shade, you are a dead man walking. Not only do they never confess, not that you’d blame them on that one – (remember my deny, deny, deny, thing from earlier?) but they’ll hang you quicker than you can catch a breath.

snip

Even if they are caught bang to rights they will simply turn everything on its head by bursting into tears and sobbing that  “H…h…he made me d…d…do it…whaaaa “. You get into double trouble for that one. At least if you break something with another lad, you both shut your mouth, look at the floor, then look up with the saddest eyes possible and both of you hope to get away with the minimum punishment for the crime. But girls! You get hammered for the crime and then your sentence is taken up a notch because the judge is taking the victim’s (your sister for example) impact statement i.e. “He made me do it.” into account.

Take heed; mark my words, listen up and all that malarkey. Girls are trouble boys.  They look good and smell nice and sometimes, they are fun to play with.  But watch your back, when it comes to thinking and conniving, you’re only in the ha’penny place.  You’re standing there with an old colt 45 in your hand thinking you are in control, but they’re packin’ an assault rifle and chances are, their best friend is lying prone on a roof somewhere pointing a sniper rifle at your head.   Play nice boys, buy ’em flowers, say they are pretty, but don’t go into battle with them. Face it – they are the stronger sex.

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Killing rabbits with a spanner and reluctant, salty tears.

Killing rabbits with a spanner and reluctant, salty tears.

Holding a damaged sparrow down in bucket of cold water, while he struggled against me to survive, is one on the more traumatising memories of my rather eventful youth. There is a cruel savagery in the memory that haunted my childhood, only exorcized some years later, by killing rabbits with a spanner.

I was about six years old and we lived in a working class estate in Dublin. They were more innocent times, but children were more exposed to harsh realities than they are today.  Now we protect our children often to their and our detriment, from any harshness that life has to offer. Children are meant to learn from mistakes, from losing and from falls.  If we protect them too much then they never learn.  But sometimes, I could have done with a little more protecting and sometimes, it would have been nicer to learn certain things in a gentler fashion.

The sparrow in question was caught by our pet dog in the back garden of our house on a beautiful sunny summer’s day. It wasn’t the dog’s fault.  He reacted quickly to the carelessness of the bird, who decided to take a drink from his bowl without checking first.  Rex hadn’t a clue. He snapped, but when he caught the bird he almost instantly released it, uncertain of what to do.  I nearly freaked out.  The bird was badly damaged and spinning on the ground.  When our neighbour’s son peered over the wall, he offered the comfort of an older person who should know what to do.

He told me not to worry, that he’d sort it. Philip was in his late teens, old to me, so in effect an adult.  We did what adults told us back then, so when he told me to pick the bird up and climb the wall into his garden, I didn’t hesitate.  When I got there, he had filled a bucket with water and he told me that I would have to drown the bird to save it from suffering.  I was six years old.  I wanted to puke. I wanted to run away and cry.

When I refused, he said the bird would die in horrible agony unless I did what he told me and that it was my fault that the bird was injured,because it was my dog that had attacked it. He said little boys could go to hell for such cruelty and the only way to put it right, was to drown the bird.  It seemed I had no choice.

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I remember the bird calmed in my hands and I began to cry. It wasn’t a loud tempestuous cry.  Instead, reluctant, salty tears, slowly and silently made their way down my uncertain cheeks, as I knelt down to do as I was told.  I closed my eyes and plunged both hands into the bucket.  There was no expectation from me; I truly didn’t know what would happen next.  When the bird fought back, I was horrified. What started as a hopeful act of mercy, became a cold, callous attempt at murder and my whole being reacted in revulsion.  I couldn’t do it and I pulled my hands back out.

To my horror, Philip roared at me, insisting I kill the bird. But I simply couldn’t do it.  I placed it gently on the grass and ran away, scurrying up onto the wall to escape. I know Philip kept shouting at me, but I can’t recall what he said.  In fear I ran inside and upstairs to my bedroom where I exploded into a frenzy of tears.  I never knew, but only presumed what Philip did with that bird and I never spoke to him again.  I never told my parents or siblings and I choked on the guilt for years. I couldn’t figure out which was worse, what I had done, or what I had failed to do.

But when I was thirteen, salvation came to me in the strangest and most savage way. I was camping with two friends on farmland belonging to my friend’s uncle, when we were invited to help cut the hay. It was 1970’s Ireland and the tractor he used was an old, open top Massey Fergusson with no roll bars and a row of cutting blades extending out on one side of the tractor.  We didn’t know what we were supposed to do until the first rabbit appeared.

hay

The field was in fact infested with rabbits and every now and then, they would freeze in the face of the oncoming onslaught of snapping blades. When they did, the most common result was that they would lose a leg or two and it was then that we were told, it was our job to catch them and put them out of their misery.  But this was not my cruel neighbour issuing the instruction.  This was a man of the land who genuinely did not want the creatures to suffer.  We were three city boys who hadn’t a clue, so he demonstrated what was needed. When he clipped the first rabbit, he produced a big, thick spanner and caught the slow moving rabbit with ease.  The poor creature had only bloody stumps for legs.  He showed us the damage to make the point that we couldn’t let it suffer and then proceeded to grip its head in a way that left the back of the skull exposed.  With a single sharp swift blow, he released the creature from its pain.

We were all horrified but he needed us to help he said, as he couldn’t drive the tractor and watch out for rabbits at the same time.  To a rural boy it would no doubt be nothing, but we were gobsmacked.  His intention was not obvious at the time, but he shocked us into seeing the importance of clearing the rabbits from his path and we knew we didn’t want to have to kill another rabbit.  We tried to clear them from his path and were mostly successful until eventually one poor little bunny, ran across the blades and  his rear legs were sliced off. We were all instantly culpable by our failure to clear him out of the path of the tractor.  He was easy to catch, but neither of my friends could even touch it.  I picked it up and gripped his neck the way I had been shown.  The memory of the sparrow filled my mind.  I couldn’t face the same trauma again.  With a swift determined blow, the rabbit was dispatched and I knew that in that moment, in those circumstances, I had done the right thing.

rabbir

That day I put more than one rabbit to its final sleep. We saved many from the blades, but I knew whenever I had to do the thing I most dreaded, that I was the best person for the job.  I knew this because I only wanted to free the creatures from pain and my motivation was pure.  I remembered my uncertainty with the sparrow and I knew I was the only one who understood the importance of the task. Each time, my stomach churned, each time I said a small prayer that the rabbit might go to heaven and each time, I prayed it would be my last time.

When that day ended, I was sadder than I could remember. I understood the necessity of my actions, knew that despite the killing, I had been pure of heart and for the first time came to terms with what had happened to that sparrow nine years earlier.  I recognised the difference between necessity and cruelty, I understood there was a darkness in the world that I did not belong to and never wanted to understand and while sorrow filled my heart, my soul was set free.

REMEMBER TO EXPLORE THE WORLD OF MAX POWER ALL AVAILABLE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED SEE LINKS BELOW

Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Larry Flynn Bad Blood and Little Big Boy

You can find more details about Max Power’s books here : –

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