Max Power is an indie author living in Maynooth Co. Kildare in Ireland.
His books can be found on Amazon. Titles include;
Darkly Wood - available on Amazon
Larry Flynn - available on Amazon
Bad Blood - available on Amazon
Little Big Boy - available on Amazon
Oh, to be Mr. fabulous. You know the type, lives under the illusion that they are just gorrrrrgeous regardless of the state of them. That is one of my favourite Irish expressions, “The state of ye.” It is a great Irish leveller, so when Mr. Gorrrgeous comes into a room with his flowing locks, white shoes and the auld baby blue jumper trun over his shoulders, some woman in the room will quickly say, “would ya look at the state of yer man.” I love it and forgive me the odd phonetic spelling or two above, I was in the zone.
Of course, some might think I’m jealous…oh no! Not me. Many’s the lady has had occasion to say, “would you look at the state of yer man” in reference to me, I can tell ya. I am not one for standing back to step forward, if you know what I mean. I like clothes and suspect I have multiple fetishes, from shoes to hats and watches, and particularly jackets. I literally struggle to not try on a jacket every time I visit a clothes shop. There are jackets in my wardrobe that never see the light of day…yes, I have a problem.
But you see, my internal Mr. fabulous is a construct. Despite what I suspect most people believe about me, I am rather shy by nature and don’t actually have a very high opinion of myself. My counter to that, is to outwardly pretend I do and then try to have fun with it. It’s all one big cover up. I suspect there are many just like me, but of course none exactly like me .. sure, aren’t I uniquely fabulous. Even if I’m getting a little creaky.
Getting older doesn’t help. At my age, I have already become invisible to the fairer sex. Not that I want to attract anyone, I am happily and blissfully in love with my darling Jo, but the odd glance to reassure me that I still have ‘it’ wouldn’t be a bad thing. I have to satisfy myself with the knowledge that octogenarian ladies do occasionally think I’m fit for an auld lad, and strangely enough, a lot of Indian women give me the head to toe once over. I don’t think it’s out of admiration, more in the way of a ‘where do I know him from’ thing. I’ll take what I can get and pretend it’s because I’m irresistible. Lord knows I’m Irish through to the bone, but there are some sordid rumours about my great grandfather and great grandmother who spent time in India. I was once told by waiter in an Indian restaurant, that I looked like a former Indian prime minister! I googled the bejesus out of that one but couldn’t make sense of it. Mind you he fancied my daughter, so maybe it was his way of trying to impress me.
Now when I was younger, I experimented with my hair as many young men do. It was flung about with abandon whenever it was long and I went through multiple hair phases. For example there was my Leif Garret phase, my “Don’t give up on us baby” David Soul phase and so on. Of course both examples were icons to the girls in my neighbourhood, they fancied the arse of those lads, so I tried to capitalise and failed with my own iconic versions of their hairstyles.
The hair of course, eventually got shorn and for pretty much the last twenty or thirty years, short has been best for me. From a practical stand point, I have a shower, shake my head and it’s dry. No styling required. Ah men, we are lazy baxtards aren’t we?
But Covid-19 has changed all that. They closed the barbers for months! My usual barber only opened last Monday. It’s by appointment only and now it’s done with all the PPE and shielding, social distancing etc, so there is potential for queuing outside. I’ve never been one for queuing. Now I will let you in on a writing/editing secret here. I originally wrote I’ve never been a queuer, but it looked wrong. Coincidentally, a queuer is also a braid of hair usually worn hanging at the back of the head – how apt. Where was I – yes, I don’t so queues, so I decided to leave it for a couple of weeks until the rush dies down.
Now here’s the problem. My longer hair is back. I won’t say I’m quite the aging hippie just yet, but it’s a lot longer than I am used to. It actually blows in the wind when I walk the dogs…You are picturing it aren’t you… me in my fabulousness … think prince charming from Shrek… got it… now add a few decades, a few pounds and a lot more grey and wrinkles and you are heading in the right direction.
It’s very odd. My hair has been so short for so long, that I forgot just how flicky it gets as it grows. I was even eyeing up Joanna’s straighteners the other day, I swear. She thinks it’s great or perhaps funny, one of those, I’ll stick with great. Jo keeps urging me to keep it and grow it until I have to go back to working from the office in October. Jebus can you imagine? It’s bad enough now! She loves me, but I suspect she might be having a little secret laugh at my expense here. What’s the expression…taking the… something?
The beard was bad enough. That got so long it was annoying me and I’ve gone through three versions of beardyness since this whole pandemic began. My hair on the other hand, has lost the run of itself completely. I think it has become a conscious, sentient, independent thing. I may write a horror story based on it. It has a sense of itself, it’s becoming arrogant though not yet overbearing, if you get me.
I wake up every morning, wondering what will greet me in the mirror. It can be quite a fright some days. Styling is possible, but only if I apply tonnes of product and aim for a look akin to A Flock of Seagulls or maybe even Albert Einstein crossed with Christopher Lloyd. I can eventually sort it out to look somewhat normal, but I never know if I’m heading for an old version of David Cassidy or a current Willie Nelson. I’m telling you, this thing has a life of its own. As I write this I was just thinking – anybody under the age of eleventy-seven will have no idea who these people are. I’ll throw in Chris Hemsworth for the young folk… What? Can’t I exaggerate a little? Leave a man his fantasies!
The easy thing would be to get it cut, but like I say, I don’t like queues or if the truth be told, maybe there is a piece of me, just a little piece mind you, that secretly wants to know where this goes. Who knows what possibilities lie ahead for an aging piece of fabulousness like myself – if I just wait that little bit longer… Maybe I’ll just cut it.. Maybe.. Maybe tomorrow… Maybe…
My mother died 26 years ago. She was sixty. To be honest it was a devastating loss. We lost our father two years earlier through a long battle with cancer but Mam? Well she simply disappeared one night, or at least that’s how it felt. She had come through a brief enough medical battle which in itself was life threatening. She was on the way back out of that battle all seemed well. Mam went out with her sisters for the first time since her battle began as if to celebrate her return. She dropped dead holding on to her sister’s hand, singing.
Today is her birthday. She would be eighty five. I saw her two days before she died and I never saw her again. I was called to the hospital at two in the morning, but the body that lay on that hospital bed wasn’t Mam. She was gone and it truly broke my heart. Some people have a big influence on your life, some fade in and out without registering a mark. My mother’s love, left an indelible softness in my heart that has shaped all that may be good about me.
When I wrote Little Big Boy, it was Mam that sculpted my tale. Many think the book autobiographical which of course it is not, but there are elements and stories from my life that I called upon, to evoke the emotion needed to make this book something special for me. At the heart of the book is Little Big Boy’s love for his mother and her love for him. It was my mother that I called upon when I needed to find the words to portray the deepest joy and sorrow and as such Little Big Boy was actually a very painful book to write.
People say things like they poured their heart and soul into something. I did something quite different with what has become my readers’ favourite Max Power book. I gave of my pain. I shared a hurt I could never fully describe and I offered a taste of what love means to me. It was neither my heart nor my soul; it was the space in the break of my heart, the gap that had been forged through loss, an unfulfilled lonely pain that no one but you can know in your own terrible darkness when you lose someone you love. Little Big boy is not my story yet it carries the weight of my pain and the lightness of my joy. Perhaps that is why it is so special to me and why so many readers connect with it. I lost my brother nine years ago. Where once we were six now we are three and in writing Little Big Boy, I came close to following Dad, Mam and Brian through my own dice with death which is well documented in my blogs of the time. I miss them all, but today is her birthday so today I think of Mam.
I miss her every day in truth but in a very subjective way. I miss her by her absence, which may sound an obvious thing to say but I mean more than just the obvious in this. In her not being there I have no one to scold me, no one to tell me I’m being foolish or selfish or unkind. I miss her ability to read me like a book and offer direction even when I disagree with her. Her absence left me rudderless. My north star clouded over as I sailed in the dark alone and despairing, wondering if I could ever find my way without her guiding hand.
To be brutally honest, it took me many years to recover the loss, far longer than I either realised or imagined. Now I am a changed man. Perhaps I am just a man. She is not there to take my hand and guide me as I cross new roads in life. I have to make choices without that critical eye watching me with love. There is no doubt I have found love in other places. My heart is filled with my true love’s blessings every day but that is something very different. Now my darling Jo holds my hand and we cross roads together she and I. Over time I have learned not to be afraid of life’s traffic. I have found my own way at last and I can cross most roads safely. But sometimes, I miss her standing at the door watching me as I look left and right. I want to look back to see her smiling at me and then giving me a stern look, telling me to look where I’m going, urging me to walk and not to run.
Looking back is too painful so I look forward and up to stop me feeling down. Mam is with me always anyway. She is in my eyes and in the sallowness of my skin. She is in the words I say, the thoughts I think and most of all in the softness of my heart. But sometimes, just sometimes specially on days like today her birthday, I turn my head to look over my shoulder, to see her smiling back at me. I still seek her approval even in her absence. She never got to see my children grow. She never got to see me grow to finally become a man, whatever that means. I am a man I guess, the one she made, the one she never got to see…
There are two days in the year when we cannot do anything. Yesterday and tomorrow. Forgive me for plagiarising Mahatma Gandhi, but those words are appropriate in these times. It is impossible to ignore the recent events in America. It is unsurprising that George Floyd died in the manner that he did. It is of course shocking, horrible and disgusting that any man, let alone a policeman, could do this to another person. Anyone who saw the video of Mr. Floyd pleading for his life as it ebbed away under the knee of another, cannot be unmoved by the horror of his death. But like I say it is unsurprising, for nothing surprises me now when it comes to a country that has fallen so far from a place to envy, to a place to pity.
Once there were men who spoke up and they spoke up even in dark times, with voices that was reasoned and calm. It is calm that is required now. To quote Martin Luther king “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” But it would appear that the brave men and women of America, are hiding in the shadows these days. There is a deficiency of debate in the United States of America right now and it hasn’t occurred over night. While Donald Trump is all that is not presidential, the rot had set in long before the walls had started to crumble just enough to allow a man like him become president.
That Americans have long denied their vulnerability, that they have become deafened to the truth of what is happening in their own country by soundbite after soundbite, is something every American needs to confront. Cosseted in the illusion that they were the greatest nation on earth, misled by decades of falsehood that the world looked to them as a beacon of democracy, America has in recent years become the butt of a global joke, a contemptable bully and a nation not to be trusted, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Donald Trump calls Catholic priests leftist and Democrats Liberals. Give him five minutes in Europe and he would realise how far right both of these organisations actually are.
Debate in America has become a shouting match of rhetoric. I don’t think I have ever heard as much talk of ‘the left’ as I have in recent days in the American media, yet there is no left in American politics. The American ‘left’ is a fallacy. Used like the unseen monster in M Knight Shyamalan’s The Village, it is nothing more than a device to preserve the status quo for the political elite. That universal health care seems anathema to so many, because it has been depicted as virtually a communist construct in the collective mind of America, is astounding. But it has been a propaganda success for the rich and the power-hungry tycoons who inevitably got one of their own into the Whitehouse. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. That is not the American dream.
There is a place for social democracy in America, but the word social sounds like socialism and socialism sounds like communism, and we all know the history America has in that regard. The fear generated by words has held people back. The polarisation of a 2 party state, limits the opportunity for real, positive change. Provision for social needs in politics, should be a fundamental staple of any government. When a president is more concerned about stock market performance than his people, then he is not a servant of the people as he should be. A president should serve the needs of the people, not dictate to serve his own desires.
In America right now, there is a man at the top thinking only of himself, revelling in photo opportunities like a later day Joseph Stalin, seemingly pleased not to have to answer for his failure to save over 100,000 American lives, lost to the pandemic. One black man murdered by the cops leading to anarchy. It was an easy price for him to pay when it took Covid-19 off the front pages. He is a man of singular focus and that is his personal gratification. Donald trump is the mistake that America is starting to pay for and the debt is huge. Look up the definition of the word Fascism. I am not calling him a fascist but if you look it up, you might be surprised how closely aligned Donald trump’s methods and actions are to the very definition of that ideology.
If you are deficient in debate, you never hear the truth, only the loudest voice. Donald trump has a big mouth. He shouts through his tweets and unfortunately there are enough ears still listening. During the recent riots, I’ve seen posts from white Americans saying they were armed and ready to kill should ‘they’ come to their door. I’ve even seen a police chief say the same in a press conference. We all know the ‘they’ that is referred to are people of colour. There is a whiff of sulphur in the air, the smell of someone lighting a burning cross not so far away, as some are beginning to remember the ‘good ol’ days of lynching and mob rule. It is not a universal bigotry but it’s not unfair to call it out. I have no doubt many Americans would be appalled by such a suggestion, but everyone knows what lurks in the shadows.
In the chaos, whose flames are fanned by the president of the country, that there are criminals and thugs exploiting that chaos, even encouraging it, is not in doubt. That is the nature of mass protest. Sometimes it gets out of hand. When you have been at the wrong end of life, all your life, it isn’t hard to step outside the rule of law and take what you can. A hungry man steals bread; an angry, hungry man steals bread and burns down the bakery afterwards.
But again, as easy as it is for one to say that this is all Donald Trump’s fault, you have to remember, enough people voted for him under the American electoral system. He was no surprise. That he is a racist, a bigot, that he is only interested in self-promotion and growing his own power and wealth above all else, was something a blind, deaf man could have figured out long before a single vote was cast. So why is America surprised. Why did it take this long to wake up to his tricks?
Dictatorship requires complicity and has there ever been a more compliant congress? It requires conspiracy and most of all it requires anarchy. In of the fires of discontent, seeds of malignancy are sown and it is not inconceivable that the man who won’t concede, might corrupt the rule of law to stay in power at all costs. It is a familiar pattern.
So perhaps is this a test. Bring in the troops, or at least make it look like you will and watch to see if anyone tries to stop you. There is no one stopping this man, not yet. He knows now that if he loses the election, he can stir up civil strife quite easily. He can call it a ‘stolen election’ and if needed roll out the troops unopposed. Where there is opposition. It appears the head of the joint chiefs of staff is on board already. The choices are stark, but were he to lose the election, particularly if it is close, is he really going to concede? This is not a man who concedes.
If this were happening in 1970’s central America, no one would be surprised and everyone would be calling it what it looks like, a coup to insert a dictator using the country’s military. Does that sound over the top? Perhaps for the moment, but overthrowing the government is not beyond this man should he lose the next election. Now I suspect, he will hold off a little. Like any good dictator, you always test your enemy’s weakness first.
And what next? It isn’t good enough to say this too shall pass. Doing nothing is a recipe for further unrest. What America needs to see is solidarity. Peaceful, hand in hand, overwhelming protest. It could come in November at the ballot box where it belongs, but it may be too late then.
This man has outsmarted the brightest and bullied the rest. Where is America’s voice? Who can step forward and lead protests tens of thousands strong, to the door of the man who would be king if he is not stopped? It seemed for a while that the voices that matter had all fallen silent. It is good to finally hear some dissent in the last few days. Now I read there will be a mass protest on Saturday. Perhaps we will hear the real voice of America on that day. But how will he respond and what will his cronies do, abandon him or dig in.
Donald Trump has divided his enemies. The disparate groups protesting are unorganised and as yet, nothing more than an ineffectual rabble of annoyance to a man willing to put an army on the streets to quieten his own people. Like a colossus he looms above all those within his circle as they cower beneath his cloak, afraid to come out now for it is already too late for them. Having supported his crazy this long, there is simply no way to step away and try to deny that they weren’t complicit. There is no doubt America has experienced a democratic decline. Again, I must quote a man of peace “civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state has become lawless or corrupt. And a citizen who barters with such a state, shares in its corruption and lawlessness.”
The wake up call has arrived and it truly is time for the American people to wake up. It is time for men and women of sense, to stand up and stand together. This is not about one black man’s death. This is about inequality, poverty, lack of opportunity, racism, corruption and a deliberate division of society to further the self interest of men like Donald Trump. We are starting to see the response to his abuse of power, the question is, what will happen next?
Americans need to look within themselves and question the throw away phrases that have begun to mean less and less, because they have gone unquestioned. What is country? What is patriotism? I have never known a people so obsessed with the notion of duty and patriotism and allegiance to things that don’t matter. A flag? A president?
Country is a word that defines the boundaries of a nation, but most importantly, its people. A patriot is a person who vigorously defends their country. Patriotism is a falsehood if it isn’t defined by what the culture of a country is, and what it means to belong to that country. A patriot needs to believe in what he or she is defending. A patriot needs to stand for all their fellow countrymen, not just the few. America needs to open the debate again. What does it mean to be American and how can one feel proud to be patriotic unless that patriotism is embedded in the soul of the people?
Does being American mean that racism should prevail? Does being American mean you look out for no-one but yourself? Does being American mean that you should have 2 or 3 or 4 or more classes of Americans? Should being American mean you are a lesser or greater version of the rest of your fellow Americans depending on the colour of your skin, the party that you vote for, how rich or poor you are, or the church you go to? It seems from the outside that one man has come in and hijacked all that most Americans hold dear. Where are the so called checks and balances? When congress abdicates its power to the president, it is up to the people to take a stand.
Most Americans are familiar with the words on the plaque inside the Statue of Liberty. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Where is that America now? Perhaps being American means something else now? Maybe the plaque should be removed? Perhaps being American now means you build a wall to keep out the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Who knows? When a country divides it stands for nothing. U.S.A. The ‘United’ States of America. It is time to take that union back to the heart of the debate. In unity there is strength.
The fate of America lies in the hands of its people, whether through their actions or inaction. This is perhaps a defining moment in American history and those who choose to look away, may long regret their carelessness. Tomorrow may be too late to change things. Change comes through actively engaging those who would corrupt your society and by challenging corruption. Recent generations have become lazy. Most people have been waiting for someone else to step up, only no one is coming.
The man who has been at the heart of everything that has gone spiralling out of control, grows stronger by the day, testing how far he can push it. When the press is daubed the enemy of the state and all dissenting voices are declared fake news, when a president can say the stupidest of things and deny that he ever said them without breaking a sweat, when almost the entire ruling party cower in their place, afraid to speak up for their constituents for fear of falling out of favour, then it is time to man the barricades.
I hold out hope that good people will prevail, that the genuine heart and soul of America, the people, have finally been stirred, but a question remains. Will they ultimately raise their voices and remould their society into one where division is a stain on the past and community is all that matters? Donald Trump uses triumphalist, silly, egotistical phrases like Make America Great Again. MAGA. It is an insult to the people of America, a cheap trick. I would remind him greatness is never taken, it can only be bestowed and it is only bestowed on the deserving.
This is the time for America to shine, to show the world that it is still a democracy, to shout loud that its people have prevailed in the darkest of circumstances. Now is the time to demonstrate their strength, their unity and their love and compassion for one another. Americans have been separated during the pandemic but they should not be divided by their malignant leader. I believe they will have the next word… and so I leave you with this;
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Jo’s mother has lived with us for the last 5 years. Today she turns 95. What an age. It is something we would normally have celebrated but in the current crises we cannot really mark the day with a gathering of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren as would be approximately. Joan was born in 1925, 8 years after the Spanish flu pandemic and right in the middle of the roaring twenties. Maybe there’s hope for a repeat and we might roar again in the 2020’s.
Some people refer to reaching such an age as an achievement. It is still unimaginable in some parts of the world while in some counties, such longevity is more common place. I still think it is a landmark to be celebrated. I lost both my parents 26 and 28 years ago, both died at the relatively young age of 60.
The coronavirus has been tough on Joan. She is still relatively mobile, although not as much as she used to be, nonetheless, her weekly visits to some of her other daughters, and the odd trip to the supermarket or post office, broke up her days and weeks to some extent. Now she is ‘cocooning’ unable to leave the grounds of our house and meet people or visit family, go to the supermarket etc. In theory she could go for a walk, but it would be a challenge to keep her from interacting or getting too close to people so she has been pretty much a prisoner of our house and garden.
There was a time when she would spend all day pottering around the garden with a spade, clippers or rake, but those days are gone. Luckily, we have had an unusually warm and sunny spring so she can spend much of the day outdoors basking in the sun, snoozing or looking at her flowers and counting the pears developing on her pear trees, that will come in the autumn.
She loves the 3 dogs and they her. For some reason all dogs love Joan or Jomammy as many call her, a name generated from the struggle one of her grandchildren had deciphering the fact that she was Joan and also her Mammy’s Mammy – Jomammy. It stuck of course and many people still call her Jomammy. To me she has always been Joan. Daisy used to be her favourite, a little fluffster always available to jump on her lap, but of late our best boy Hokee has wheedled his way into her affections.
Our Hokee is a special, empathic creature, with an uncanny ability to sense pain, sadness or mood in general. Unlike the other two little barkers, he is the strong silent type. If he barks, he means business and as I have mentioned here many times before, he actually saved my life. Now he watches over Joan more and more. He sits by her side as she has her tea in the morning and then jumps up beside her for a few minutes. She brushes him and she has noticed how gentle and attentive he is. When she sits in the sun, he is never far away, and he watches her even as she sleeps.
Of course being 95 has its challenges. Joan’s hearing is impaired and her relatively new hearing aids need repeated re-adjustment, something we cant get to the audiologist to do because of the lockdown. They help with her tinnitus more than anything else. Luckily the walls in our house are solid brick as she listens to the TV at full blast with the text on as well.
Unfortunately with no where to go, when the weather turns, she is restricted to occupying herself with TV and crosswords. She used to always finish them but not anymore. Every Sunday I walk to the local shop to buy her favourite newspaper, which unfortunately is a tabloid full of hyped up stories about Covid-19. Joan had a series of mini strokes a few years ago and while she did recover, her ability to retain new information is impaired and it can sometimes take weeks of repetition to get a notion ingrained. She will remember who she loaned her bike to in 1939, trust me I’ve heard that one, but can’t quite remember what day it is today.
The weekly Sunday newspaper reminder of Covid, makes her uneasy and it sparks off a series of questions. They go on all day, repeated to both Jo and I and we answer her same way each time. She asks “what is this thing …the corona?” She asks, “how do you get it? Is it in the air?” Joan tells us that she never remembers anything like it and wants to know if she can go out. We calmly explain, that it’s a bit like the flu but it is more dangerous for people over 70, so it’s best to stay away from people and shops. Mentioning age, she proudly asks, “do you know how old I am” and then she tells us as if we didn’t know. I tell her it’s only for a few more weeks and that she is safe and she moves on, for a while at least.
But there is only so much TV one can watch. She has tired of her usual favourites, Murdoch Mysteries, Ms. Marple, Blue Bloods, Death in Paradise. We look for movies that she likes, Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, old B movies, she loves detectives, murder mysteries, that’s what she tells me every day. She loves horror, the gorier or cheesier the better. Joan is a big Sharknado and Chucky fan. But it has been nearly three months now and we have even started diversifying her tastes to Scandi drama.
Caring for Joan daily is my darling Jo. As I lock myself away in my home office all day, she is calmly, patiently answering the same questions, looking after her physical needs, making sure she takes her medication and making meals of her choice, not to mention some of the more difficult aspects of caring for someone who is not perhaps as completely capable as she once was. That has become a burden that leaves me in awe of the girl I love. Normally, she gets some break, perhaps only short pauses if you will, when Joan visits her daughters, but in their absence, Joan has become increasingly focussed on my sweetheart. I know she is a little anxious about the corona as she calls it, and now she pretty much follows Jo about the house and garden until the sun sets, and she settles in to watch some schlock horror on Netflix.
It’s the small things and I see it every day, the little details and although they pile up and cause her much distress, my darling Jo is unceasingly patient and kind. Joan comes looking for tea, always saying, “I think I’ll make a cup of tea.” This is code for, will you make me a cup of tea and when I say, I’ll make you a cuppa Joan, she reminds me, “one and a half sugars” which is of course two, or she’ll be back in to add the bit you left out.
How she likes her food, what her favourites are, trying to create a varied menu for a woman who has pretty much fixed tastes, are challenges in themselves and Joanna always rises to them. It is the big things, the doctor visits, the chiropodist, bathing, worrying, it is a huge list. Like I say I am in awe.
Joan is my cover girl for Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes and the photo in fact inspired the title. It was taken in 1946 when she was just a slip of a girl aged 21. Now, 74 years on she celebrates her 95th birthday, cocooned away from the world to keep her safe from the coronavirus. It is not the 95th birthday we envisaged at the turn of the year but… 95… The sun is shining, we will have a couple of socially distant visits from her daughters and daughter in law in our garden which is luckily a perfect, safe environment for her. There’ll be cake and sure later on, she can have a glass of bitter lemon, a couple of ginger snaps and I’ll slap on Sharknado V. That’s how you rock a 95th in lockdown… Happy Birthday Jomammy…
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Icelandic craic, culchies and driving it like you stole it…
I was descending the Atlas mountains, driving a pick up with three passengers, the vehicle only just managing to stay on the dusty track as I steered along the edge of a precarious drop off, on what was for me the wrong side of the road, while my co-pilot blasted out a hideous Irish country and western trucker song, called Hit the Diff. To say it was nerve-racking would be an understatement. It was a redneck dream and a nightmare for an urbanite like me.
Three of us were Irish with a lone Icelander in the back, nervously smiling at our cruel sense of national humour and perhaps cringing like me, at Hit the Diff. To him I’m sure we sounded like we were arguing but of course we weren’t. We Irish are quite self-deprecating and along with that comes the outward expression of the same, which we call slagging among our friends.
I was the only Dub (from Dublin) in the car and my other 2 compatriots were Culchies (from the country). My Icelandic friend was a city boy from Reykjavik. I’d spent the previous day with 3 ultra religious Israelis and a couple of Russians, one of whom modelled himself as a young Vladimir Putin, so all things considered, day 2 was still looking like more fun.
Now if you’ve ever been to Ireland you will know that everyone outside of the pale is a Culchie and while each of the 32 counties in Ireland have huge local rivalries, especially when it comes to sport, 31 of them band together in their abuse of people like me from the capital of the Republic, Dublin. It is all good fun, but in a car careening along a cliff edge dirt track, with country and western music blaring, the last thing our poor Icelandic colleague needed, was us abusing each other over the sound of slide guitars.
Mowing, lifting, sowing, bailing, drawing, hauling and buckraking. Being a man of eclectic musical taste, I still struggled with the guitar twangs and the lyrical torture that my 2 Culchie cousins were subjecting me to, and I wasn’t behind about coming forward.
“Turn that shite off, I’m beginning to hope there’s some Jihadi sniper out here somewhere that will put me out of my misery!”
I should have known better. It only encouraged them to hire it up. I hated apple air play in that moment. Unfortunately the road was so precarious, that I needed both hands on the wheel at all times or I would have taken control of the audio. The best I could do was lower it down from the steering wheel, but that just started a childish game of hi-low.
“You Jackeens don’t know good music.” my front passenger laughed and the two of them sang along to the chorus. “Drive her like ya stole her…”
“O hit the diff and pray, that she goes all the way…
‘Kill me now’ I thought. But then I had a better idea. Like I stole her eh?… I stepped on the accelerator, edged my right wheels as close to the terrifying cliff as I could, and my countrymen on the right hand side of the pick up, nearly soiled themselves. The drop was horrifying and there was nothing but a couple of inches of gravel and sand keeping us from tumbling down to our death.
My co-pilot leaned away from the door and grabbed the handle above his head with both hands. Not so funny now I thought.
“I can’t concentrate with that shite blasting in my ear.”
He lowered it down and having been defeated he had to change tack. He criticised my driving.
“Have you never driven a left-hand drive before? The gap to the edge is tighter than a duck’s arse…and that’s water tight!”
“I have” says I, but I’ve never driven one this big on such a narrow track along a cliff edge while being tortured” I emphasised the last word, “TORTURED by bog man music. Did the 80’s even come to Tipperary?”
On and on we went, slagging the bejesus out of each other until we came to our rest spot. The legs that got out of that car were nervous ones. We were all a little bit shaky, me less so, because at least I had been ‘in control’ at the wheel.
That Moroccan trip was hugely enlightening and while it was at times a bit scary, our Icelandic colleague had a great time, which he put down to the fun he had with a bunch of strangers who welcomed him as one of our own. He joined our group as a lone outsider and we made him comfortable, by treating him like he was one of us. No special treatment or allowances. By the end of the day he was jumping in, slagging the rest of us like a native.
Everywhere I have travelled, the locals have their own way about them. Things about which they are proud and somethings they like to complain about. The arrival of Covid-19 has hit us in Ireland in a way that was unexpected. We are very social animals. We are renowned for our love of gatherings in the pub, sing-songs, telling stories, partying whenever we get a sniff of a chance, and our weddings and funerals are a thing to behold.
Being forced to isolate, has been a wound to our national psyche. An Irish wake is perhaps one of the most important rituals we have. I’ve never laughed so much as I have at Irish funerals. Now, people pass quietly, alone, and we are not able to comfort those who mourn their loved ones.
There is no house full of people in the days leading up to the funeral, people coming to the funeral home or house the night before to comfort, pray with, and chat to those who have lost someone. There is no proper funeral Mass, no church filled with sympathy, the crush of the gathering outside where everyone jostles to make their presence known. There is no crowd around the grave as prayers are said, and sometimes there might even be a song. There is no going to a venue afterwards for soup and ‘sangwiches’ as they say. No party atmosphere as everyone shares stories about the dear departed, quite often retelling stories like the one I just told, only with some exaggeration and slagging the loved and lost. All done with a twinkle in the eye and a nod to how much craic the person was, so that the chief mourners could get to see how much others, shared their love for those who had died. Pints are not drunk, nor glasses raised and worst of all, at the end of the day, there is no one to call around to comfort in the saddest days after the funeral is over. Death brings loneliness at the best of times…but now…
It is a cruel virus no doubt and it has impacted us all in ways we never even contemplated when all this began. Here in Ireland, we begin the first phase of withdrawal from full lockdown on 18th May. By then it will be 80 days of this and it’s been tough. But that date is just for a few. For others it will be June July and even August or September before we get out of these restrictions, all things going well.
Victory will be strange in the circumstances, for what will we have won other than that which we surrendered in the first place. But then, will it be even that. Victory for me, will be that we learn from this and that the world and everyone in it, will move on to a better level. It is wishful thinking and probably unlikely, for despite our best intentions, it is human nature to fall back on that which is easiest. We are a lazy species. But I will be positive and hopeful. By staying apart, by not being ‘Vectors’ transmitting the virus, we have started to shut this down in Ireland and hopefully soon across the world. The remaining message is simple, stay safe, stay at home for now at least, and let’s be Victors not Vectors.
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I’ve always been a bit of a consequence. That’s what they used to say when I was small. I don’t think it’s an expression used outside of Ireland and it has a range of meanings, but for the most part it is used affectionately when you are a bit of a cheeky fecker. Maybe I was that, but as far as I knew, I was always just me.
I never really knew who I was, until I did. By then, it was too late to do much about it. The nature vs nurture argument will probably always be just that, an argument. No one can prove it without someone else disagreeing and presenting their evidence to the contrary. But I won’t get into that. I’m too much of a consequence to be getting that serious today… and you know what that means, I’m about to contradict myself… I’m such a consequence.
As it turns out, underneath my rough exterior, (fab but rough) there is a rather soft heart which carries its own consequences. If you’re familiar with my blog, you will well know there is a little cloud that long ago, decided to rest above my heart. In my head I visualise it like a raincloud atop a mountain, just sitting there, dampening everything it touches.
Of course, I discovered that a little sprinkle of sunshine tends to heat the air and rise the cloud to let the light in, so I have always tried to shine. You can’t be waiting for someone else to fix things now can you? That’s a crude analogy but it’s probably true. When I was a sad little boy, I tried to make people laugh. That was me, trying to shine the cloud away. I remember I’d do impressions of James Mason and Peter Laurie for my aunties and they’d all laugh. In truth, my impressions were probably not all that good, but they laughed anyway. I didn’t know I was trying to fix my own sadness, but I was.
These days, I have hardened myself to who and what I am. I still try to sprinkle some light and I see the thing that wants me, coming long before it arrives. That helps. Most people never see any of it and no one sees all of it. But I am fortunate. I can take care of myself, mostly anyway. I’ve been lucky in life, I have people who love me and what else do you need. They are my brightest sprinkles of sunlight.
I did my back in recently, just at the beginning of lockdown. Then I got sick from all the drugs I was taking on top of all the drugs I already take for my heart. I’ve had weeks of pain, some of it so bad, I couldn’t sit, stand or lie down without a struggle. On top of everything, I am working from home, something I refused to stop doing through my sickness. It is only in the last few days that I have started to feel better. I’m a martyr… “God love me” as my mother would say. It isn’t only Jihadists that can be Martyrs you know. People forget that. A fella like me, working away, crippled I was, in the middle of a pandemic, the sun shining, and me stuck indoors, not a decent drop of Sangiovese to be had in the shops and they only had the cheap tonic to go in my gin…a martyr I tell you!
So, what do I do? The minute I can move again, I get out the power hose, and clean the gutters and the paths all the way round our house. My old back is struggling again, but now it’s a more familiar back pain that I have grown used to, so it’s not as bad. Still, I’m an asshole for not resting. That was Monday. Yesterday morning I took a short break from work at my desk to stretch my legs, and I ended up cutting back some plants that have been wrecking my head for weeks. Now I say a few, but there was a hedge cutter, a shears, a couple of clippers, a hoe and an extendible lopper that I call my Zombie slayer 2000 involved. (Let them come, my shed is an anti-zombie arsenal.) I had to stop because I realised, I was overdoing it.
That’s my new cloud. Having to stop. When I power-washed the gutters and then the paths on one side of the house, I was done for, knackered, kaput. So, I started fooling myself. I would target a line in the distance and convince myself that I’d stop when I got to it. Every time I’d go a little beyond and then tell myself, sure, I’ll just do the next bit. By the end of the day I had done the lot, including my car which had been splashed with dirt from the path. It was a bank holiday, a day off for me and I spent it in the sun, wearing a rain coat to keep dry, power-washing anything that wasn’t tied down. Did I mention I was a martyr?
Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with me. There were multiple times when I had to stop. I was in so much pain, but I knew if I stopped, I’d be defeated, my little heart-cloud might darken, and the rain would begin to fall. So, I pushed on through like I was a twenty-year-old, pretending to be fine. But of course, I wasn’t. I’m still feeling it today, I can tell you. But that didn’t stop me taking a break from work yesterday to…work in the garden… I need help and by help I don’t mean the physical kind, (although actually I do) I mean a psychiatrist!
I went back to my desk, finished off some work, did a little research, then took a break (to walk the dogs) I have no one to blame but myself. By five pm I was shagged, so instead of resting, I started doing this. I should be sipping on a nice glass of red but no I’m a gobsheen.
I only have Joanna and her mother to be consequential to now, since we’ve been under the spell of the lockdown, so I think that’s taking its toll on me as well. I mean I can’t annoy the woman I love or her mother now can I…well…
I’ve managed a few trips to the local shop, but that only gets me into arguments. There are some idiots around let me tell you, and I’ve taken to not letting anyone put me in danger, so they get told very quickly to step the feck off when it comes to my personal space. God I’m turning into a narky auld hoor. (If you’re not Irish, it has the same meaning as it sounds like it should, but spelled differently)
See, like I told you I can be a bit of a consequence. Speaking of consequences and on an altogether different topic, I read the newspapers this morning and the headlines brought me back to another time. Not in a nostalgic…ah the good old days… kind of way, more the …Holy Fup! Not again… kind of way.
A South American president capturing a former U.S. special forces soldier as part of an attempted coup, three Russian doctors mysteriously ‘falling’ out of hospital windows after they spoke out about problems in the medical system during the pandemic, shots exchanged between North and South Korean soldiers, oh dear!
I lived through a chunk of the first cold war and I remember as a child actually expecting a big red button to be pushed at some point. Back then Europe was divided quite physically and there were massive troop and tank numbers either side of the divide. The whole world seemed to have a side. It was quite scary. The world was a very dangerous place and most of us never know the extent of how close we came on many occasions to the launch of nuclear missiles.
The more people like Putin, Trump, Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un get their knickers in a twist, the closer we edge to the bad old days. There is nothing like picking a fight, when you want to distract from trouble in your homeland. The language of war is already in the air. First, Donald Trump tried to pin the blame for his woes on China. Now he has started to use the term ‘under attack’ when speaking about Covid-19. That’s no coincidence. Today I read he is comparing it to Pearl harbour and 9-11. It doesn’t seem to be sticking. Maybe Iran might be a target next or maybe things could get worse. War might be his only saviour if the polls don’t fall his way.
Vladimir Putin is no less focussed on maintaining his own power at pretty much any cost. I could go on, those two gobshites are not alone in their behaviour. The combination of political leaders with such a very narrow focus, the human and subsequent economic tragedy that is unfolding before our very eyes every day, may yet prove to be just the beginning of something stupid. Why did I ever mention consequences?… Where was I? What the hell was I talking about?… I tell you I was a consequence when I was a nipper, but if the old-timers starts kicking in, I’ll be a consequence on a mission.. Look after each other folks and above all…Stay safe…
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In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.
There are many stages of a pandemic and apparently one of these is called the divisive stage. I sense it coming already in Li’l old Ireland. Patience is wearing thin and the understandable frustrations are bubbling close to the surface, as it looks like we are about to get our lockdown extended. It is 2 months now to the day, since our first diagnosed case here and over 1100 people have sadly died.
This is a small country and we have done reasonably well, to have kept an overwhelming surge to our health system at bay. Maybe the problem to some extent, is that people can be quite selfish and they just see numbers, not the close family members who have passed without a proper send off. 1100 seems small when compared to global numbers. Sadly in a country this size it is not. Only 3,600 people died in the 30 years of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. I apologise for the only, but over 1,100 have died in 2 months. Still the majority of us are keeping the ship sailing and doing our best to follow the rules for the sake of our whole community.
More worrying is what’s happening across the water in a country that while it is relatively young as a nation state, is starting to sound older by the day. I know many Americans have a difficulty with liberalism, which they identify as basically socialism if not almost communism for some on the extreme right, and that still remains a word that evokes a cultural, visceral response.
It is largely due to the cold war antics of both sides creating fear and waging global puppet wars especially post WW2. What is odd therefore, is how America seems to be afraid to speak about the Stalinist utterances from their own president. The press being the enemy of the people is straight out of Stalin’s playbook, suppression of truth and dissemination of state sponsored spin on a daily basis, are all reminiscent of the former Soviet Union. I’m surprised there aren’t giant pictures of Trump in every major city like there were in other dictatorships. I know I exaggerate but leave me some licence and forgive me for my sins.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. As a multi genre writer, I have yet to dip my toe into Dystopia but I wonder if the Dystopian novel might not be in trouble. Look around? Like I say it’s not my traditional genre but when the world is in the state it’s in now, how bad can things get? Maybe I’ll have a go at it, only, and apologies to my family and friends in America, I have to pick on a setting and at the minute it’s just the obvious choice. Let’s fast forward a few months.
We enter the world of U.S. elections in November 2020 and Sleepy Joe has apparently become the favourite given the rest of the country are in their bedrooms as well. The Covid-19 pandemic has resurged in the Autumn (or should I say Fall – oh the trouble we International writer’s have) and desperate to gain in the polls, Don has tried and failed to improve his polling, resulting in increasingly crazy conspiracy theories being spun from the Whitehouse. The elections take place and lo and behold, Joe wipes the floor with Donald with a greater than imagined majority, as more and more Americans just want rid of the increasingly despotic and erratic leader.
But a man so obsessed with power, simply can’t’ imagine conceding such a massive loss. It is unimaginable for him to say he was wrong, or that he has lost to anyone, let alone a man that over the months he characterised more and more as a loser. The only solution is to declare that it’s a fake result. The election has been stolen from him through a number of conspiracies and he insists on something he cannot have, a re-run. In the run up to Joe’s inauguration in January, Don invigorates his still strong base of supporters, the do or die type, and calls for them to liberate their states. Gangs of armed militia, repeatedly protest in states still believing every word from the man they cannot believe is ever wrong. Sound familiar? Is this too soon?
Alright, I’m not writing a novel here but you get the idea, a beaten man, unable to hand over power generates momentum for a break-up of the Union. It is nothing short of civil war. Now don’t get me wrong this might sound familiar if you’ve read Margaret Atwood’s splendid The Handmaid’s Tale, but I can’t help it that Margaret thinks like me. Perhaps we are all plagiarists. There was a time when such a notion would have been unimaginable, but as extreme as it seems, is such a thing really that unimaginable now?
It is weird how a young country has gone from strength to strength in just a couple of centuries and from a once envied state, it has now and very quickly descended into the country most pitied. All the while, there is a man at the helm shouting “Lets make America great again.” A man with such a narcissistic approach to everything, a person incapable of yielding the floor and capable of telling one bare faced lie after another to achieve his goal, is not now, nor never was suited for high office.
That America has been seen to try to assert pressure by what looks to the rest of the world like ugly bullying and threats, simply isolates the country from other nations that once allied themselves to an America they trusted in the past. To lie, bully and renege on promises, to insult those world leaders who once respected the office of the American President, was never a good idea. To feign friendship with enemies of the state, only to go back to hating them at the drop of a hat, then to try and pretend to be friends again when it suits, is adolescent at best.
The lack of maturity embodied in the President of a country that styled itself successfully at one time as leader of the free world, has diminished all things American to the rest of the world, and it should not reflect on the good people of America upon whom he has unleashed his nonsensical polices daily. Unfortunately, it does.
My politics carry no bias in this matter. I am not American and who the leader of that country is only impacts on me in terms of business and economy. The problem for America at the moment is that the man in charge is so vain, that he can only live in a world where he is always right and can never admit to a mistake. I can say for certain our government in Ireland, have made a bucket load of mistakes and will continue to do so. But what government or leader hasn’t? You can’t think of any leaders like that? Here’s a few hints for you, Kim Jong-Un, Hitler, Stalin. Now don’t get me wrong, he’s no Hitler, as far as I know, Hitler had a plan.
There is a hole in the old door of St Patrick’s cathedral in Dublin, with an interesting story. In 1492 two feuding families, the Butlers and the Fitzgeralds, ended up fighting over who should become Lord Deputy. The Butlers took refuge in the Cathedral and when Gerald Fitzgerald cut a whole in the church door then subsequently put his hand through to offer it in friendship, he risked getting it cut off with a sword. Instead, the symbolism was recognised and they shook hands to end the dispute. This is where the term ‘chancing your arm’ comes from.
When this is all over the United States of America’s light will be at best, an ember in the fire of the pandemic, but largely because the man in charge of the fire was too busy on twitter to keep the fire lighting. Bringing their country back is not simply a matter of rebuilding the economy. It is about finding a leader who respects their constituents and looks outward to re-join the world of diplomacy and proper commerce. It will depend on social solutions never contemplated, much as it will here in Ireland.
We have to change our ways, but we are a country that has learned from being on its knees. I know that here in Ireland, we will find our way back to normal, perhaps a new normal, but that’s part of the secret, being able to adapt. Perhaps I should share the secret. Remember my story about the Butlers and the Fitzgeralds? Hold out your hand not your sword and you will be helped to get back on your feet. Let’s hope when this is all over, we have survived with a new understanding of what community means in a global sense. I fear worse may yet be to come for many. May you all stay safe wherever you are, and my dystopian tale be nothing more than that…
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I can see it start to become too much. It’s like a bad pair of underpants. Once you become aware of the discomfort, it just never leaves you for the rest of the day. People quickly become used to a situation no matter how difficult and they become weary of it. I’m like that with the aforementioned undergarment.
Men and women are so very different in all sorts of ways, but I venture to suggest that the under-cracker department, is one area of significant divergence. I can really only speak from personal experience, but it is a subject in an odd way that’s important to all of us, and one that we generally take for granted.
It’s no secret that I was far from wealthy when I was a little chiseller and living in Ireland it rains a lot, so the ‘drying’ isn’t great. That combination of factors once placed me in a dreadful predicament. For those of you unfamiliar with the Irish phrase and small-talk opener, “great drying today” it is a reference to a warm, perhaps breezy day, when you can actually hang the washing out on the line to dry, without it getting re soaked before you have time to run out and take it back in again.
If you live in a Mediterranean climate, (Lucky Baxtard) you will of course have no true experience of having your mother scream at everyone to get the washing in, with a shriek of “The rain!” It’s not funny how many times you have to rehang washing out to dry in a single afternoon. If my Ma left you alone in the house and it rained while the washing was out, you might as well slap your own arse if you forgot to bring the washing in before she got home.
Anyway back to the point at hand which I was making in relation to being a working-class child in Dublin, back before we had tumble driers or radiators in the house. Bad drying meant a shortage of dry clothes, which when you’re short of a few quid to have extra, or spare clean clothes is an issue. It certainly became one for me specifically when I was eight years old, and was obliged to go commando or wear my older sisters kecks to school, as there were none of mine dry. Little boys back then wore little shorts, so commando wasn’t an option as my dangly bits would eventually flash one of the Christian brothers who thought us, and I didn’t need that sort of attention believe me.
Now to be fair, no one was going to see them or ever know about it, (until now) but the trouble was that I knew. I swear I nearly had a fit. I threw a little eight-year-old wobbler. But having a conniption wasn’t the same back then. If I pushed my luck, I’d not only have to wear the offending lady jocks, I’d get a clip around the ear and a reddened arse for my trouble so in the heal of the hunt, I went to school wearing my sisters keckers. It was the first and last time I tell you.
But as I was saying, men and women have very different pant challenges. I say pant as in the singular of pants, which for some bizarre reason Americans call trousers, but everyone knows pants are your smalls right? I can’t speak to the lady issues and quite frankly it might get either disturbing or creepy if I did, so I’ll stick to what I know, which with the one exception when I was eight, are men’s Jockeys.
Of course, over the years through lack of choice, accident, design or just plain fashion, I have had the pleasure and sometimes discomfort, of trying many different variations of this particular form of packaging. When I was a kid my Ma insisted on y-fronts. Lord knows why it was her preference, but I hated them. Structurally they are such a poor design and make that, which they are supposedly designed for…impossible. That little y shaped hole at the front, I mean seriously, even my eight year old little tiddler couldn’t be winkled out of there through the fly of any normal pair of trousers.
I hate y-fronts as they led to the pee-pee in the zipper incident of 1971. I’m still traumatised. That my mother, decided to invite the mothers from the two houses either side of us in to assist with the winkle extraction, is something that I will carry with me to my dying day. Zippers and chonklers have a long and murky history that most of us men would care to forget.
But like I say I moved on and over the years, I went through the tightey-whitey phase, the loose boxer phase, the tight legged boxer phase, high wasters and the loose crotch fit, all with their own distinct disadvantages. These days, I’ve sort of found a grove and stuck to it, but there is never a perfect fit when you are carrying a man bag that has a life of its own, when it comes to dressing to the left or right. Don’t mention the trouser fit, because unless they are tailored, dressing to either side is not necessarily something one has control over. The tight jean trend of the 70’s and 80’s really did us no favours. Which leads me on to the adjustment factor.
Oh yes, whether you’re a man or a woman, you’re familiar with the jiggler and to a lesser or greater extent, every man is guilty of a jiggle now and then. Sometimes it’s an adjustment jiggle, but other times it might just be a casual jiggle. We do have a fondness for a subconscious if not unconscious fondle every now and then.
If you have an adjustment emergency and they can happen, it’s best to find a discreet location to just get everything back into some level of control. But of course there are times when you get caught short and you have to play pocket billiards, while drawing as little attention to the offending issue as you can. If one is in a small group, let’s say in a business setting, especially if there are non scrotum carrying attendees present, and the need presents itself, then the discomfort can be quite distracting. It’s like an itch for the uninitiated. Not that it actually itches, I’d see a doctor if that’s occurring, but like an itch, it grows in your mind if you can’t actually attend to it.
There are also those moments where it’s ok. A group of male friends chatting in shorts by the Barbeque for example, won’t think twice about pocketing a hand for a not too subtle adjustment while swigging a beer with the other. At home on the sofa watching Netflix, or standing in the garden admiring your rose bushes, all perfectly acceptable self-fiddling opportunities, although you may find your wife disagrees. But you have to be careful.
If you get too relaxed or become accustomed to a little private rattle to make yourself more comfortable, such as in times of pandemic where no one can see you at home, that habit may come back to bite you when you return to civilisation. Remember lads, when it comes to property it’s location, location, location. When it comes to tweaking or correction of the nugget satchel, its discretion, discretion, discretion. Don’t relax the kacks too much just because you’re working from home for a while. Its OK to grow a beard, you’ll remember to shave again when this is all over, that’s like riding a bike. Bad habits are harder to shake…maybe shake was a bad choice of words in this instance but you get me… remember stay in, stay safe and stay discreet…
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I haven’t decided what kind of man I’m going to be, and I’ve been around a long time. You see it’s not really up to me and that’s the mistake people make when trying to work out who they are. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who you are, everyone else has that pretty much worked out for themselves, not that what they think really matters anyway. It’s a paradox.
Who you want to be is something entirely different? Adolescence is when we become most aware of it and that can be a cruel learning curve. If we only knew then what we know now eh? When I was very little, the choice was simple. I was more certain of what I wanted to be than at anytime in my entire life. I wanted to be a cowboy. Not just any cowboy either. Technically, I didn’t get the whole notion that being a cowboy involved actual working with cattle. In my head I wanted to be the Virginian or Manolito from the High Chaparral. I wanted to be the Sundance Kid, or Chris from the magnificent seven. It was easy.
That I lived in a council estate in working class Dublin seemed irrelevant. What was relevant was perhaps that it wasn’t so much the cowboys that I admired, but their character. To me, when I grew up, I wanted to be the kind of man who would stand up for the little guy and protect his gal. When push came to shove, I wanted to be Clint Eastwood lighting a cigarillo in the face of 10 heavily armed bandits and telling THEM, that they might need more men.
Perhaps it sounds foolish, and maybe more foolish to any women reading who don’t get the pressure on young men to measure up. I remember being afraid when I was very young, for many different reasons and all of that fear was real and presented itself in very tangible physical threats. Figuring out how to bridge the gap between wanting to run away or hide, or indeed stand tall and face up to the threat, was a thing bigger than many people can even imagine.
I remember taking a beating for not backing down to four guys when I was 10 years old. I should have run away that day, I could easily have outrun them, but I knew that I’d come across them again so I had to make a decision. I’d love to say I go them back one by one, but that was the real world and they moved on as did I. There was no retribution. But I did learn from it. Sometimes you have to jump from the moving train, even when you know it might kill you.
In my teens it got worse because the fear manifested itself in a far more dangerous way. Where I grew up you never left your friends to face trouble alone and I recall with frightening clarity, the time when my then girlfriend’s brother challenged a group of guys threatening his neighbour. It was a very brave thing to do on his part. Me? I was sticking to the rules of the street nothing more. When I saw the iron bar in the first guys hand, I realised what it was to be afraid. But I stood by his side keeping a close eye on the pick axe handle that one of the guys was holding by his side, while Thomas reasoned with a gang of very unreasonable assholes.
For whatever reason, they walked away that day and I got to feel how terrible fear can be when it grabs you in the pit of your stomach so tight, that you literally feel sick. I also learned how to walk a walk I hadn’t walked with such confidence before and it stood me in good stead for the rest of my life. I won’t go into detail about how that same fecker of an in-law, challenged an entire biker gang in Melbourne for interrupting a show we were watching in a club, with me once again as his only back up. All chains, tattoos, muscles and knuckle dusters they were, and that was just the women.
But I grew up and got out of that life. I moved on in life. I travelled and felt the touch of success. I married had a family, divorced and found love again and through every second of that life, my life, I learned something new. My parents taught me something valuable. If you don’t know or understand something, look it up. Find out what it is. Don’t talk about things you don’t understand, but don’t avoid them either. Go learn what they mean, then you can talk about them with understanding the next time. Be true to yourself and don’t be so stubborn. I never really fully learned the stubborn lesson but I listened to the rest.
Every book I write is about love. That’s what I always say. The power of it, the absence of it, the desire for it or what people will do for it and in writing about love the way I do, many people miss it entirely. They read Darkly Wood and feel the fear and terror for example, but all of it, and I mean all of it, even the despicable Mr. Wormhold, gain their power to instil fear through their relationship with love.
I haven’t decided what kind of man I’m going to be. That’s how I started this piece. Of course, I haven’t. It isn’t me that gets to decide and while it may take some people a lifetime to realise that, it’s true. I know some of the things that go into making me whatever kind of man I am. I know that I will take action, make decisions and act, and I know in having these traits as part of my makeup, that I am sometimes wrong. People like to say that when your moment comes you have to take it. I know I certainly do and that’s definitely a part of me. I’m a thinker, I’m opinionated and I am often too quick to criticise. I can be many things that I dislike. I am indeed an imperfect, flawed and sometimes difficult man.
But all of these things are just traits. How they combine to make me whatever kind of man I end up being, is most likely something I have yet to discover, and perhaps I never will. We all like to see ourselves in our best light. I have had the misfortune of coming face to face with the grim reaper and I think if it changed me in any one way, it was to realise that it not only doesn’t matter what other people think about me, it really doesn’t matter what I think about me.
All that matters is what I do. How I live my life. What good if any, I can conjure up and how I can avoid doing as little damage along the way as I can. I haven’t decided what kind of man I am going to be, perhaps because I long since abandoned the fantasy, that I can be any more or any less than the sum of my actions words and thoughts.
Today I am a grumpy old man with a bad back. That is not my destiny I hope, so I work to be more than that. Maybe I’ll fail today, but you know what, I might do better tomorrow. Remember, do or do not, there is no try. Now I’m going to pour myself a nice glass of Sangiovese and maybe I’ll work on what sort of man I’m going to be again tomorrow. Stay inside my friends and stay safe…whoever you turn out to be…
Post Touching Covid Disorder and don’t be talkin’ Bollix...
If I wasn’t for my tablet box, I wouldn’t know which day of the flippin’ week it is. Seriously, since I started working from home, the whole weekday thing is gone a bit sketchy. It’s not that I’m taking it easy. To be quite honest, I’ve been flat out since I took the office home. Sometimes it feels like half the country has had to stop working, so I’m taking up the slack!
It is a little weird though. I’m lucky because I have my own home study for writing anyway, so the dedicated space makes it easier than working from the kitchen table. That and the fact that I have no small children going…Dad…Dad…Dad…Dad…Dad until my head explodes.
We do of course have 3 dogs and one of them is my personal guardian angel, so he won’t leave me alone, and because he comes into the study the second boy has to follow. Our girl doesn’t do needy. She stays where the food is. Clever girl – but as Father Ted might say…”Aren’t you all clever girls.” Please don’t correct me on that one, I know he said something about lovely bottoms, but I’m using licence here.
There is a lot of noise about boredom in the home at the minute and while I won’t deny it can be a challenge, this period of difficulty really is going to end, so it can be exaggerated. I am not denying that some people, those who are alone in particular, may find this very tough, but leaving aside the vulnerable in our society, for the most part sitting at home watching Netflix, eating too much chocolate and discovering our inner alcoholic, shouldn’t be an impossible challenge for us to cope with. Or is that just me?
For the most part, when I’m not working, I’m pretty much doing nothing and waiting for the Bollix. Now in case you are confused, I am not talking about a person here. The Bollix in question is not a person. I am using the noun Bollix as in “He was talking Bollix.” You know it, I know it. When this is all over, we’re all going to have to listen to some colossal amount of shite.
It’s like a guy coming home from a warzone shiteing on about how heroic he was, while at the same time insisting, he doesn’t want to talk about it, despite the fact he never left his job dishing up food in the officers’ mess 100Km from any danger. Yep, that’s what we’ve got to look forward to.
Just you wait, there’ll be some bloke who normally never left his room except to work his shift in the local Londis, telling us all how he risked life and limb on the frontline. There’ll be stories about how; “There was this time right, I swear I was on my knees after working 2 hours straight without a break, down to my last pair of gloves, hands dry from sanitising…bleeding actually … they were bleeding yeah… and I still have a scar from the face mask… you can’t really see it now…it’s faded, but you can see it in the sun… but to be fair I have to avoid direct sunlight now… my body has had to adjust to the trauma of always being inside, protecting and serving cold hams and coleslaw… anyway.. there I was in the soft drinks aisle and this guy…crazy he was… you could see it in his eyes, you know the sort, lethal, a virtual assassin…he was on me before I knew it and he… he came within 2 metres of me.. It was…I…I…I can’t talk about it… I have PTCD… Post Touching Covid Disorder.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate everyone who has to work through this and there is a risk, but I’m not talking about the silent heroes, just the noisy feckers whose shite we’ll have to listen to afterwards. There are the true heroes on the medical front line in particular, and we all need to appreciate those who care for us in our society. I have already come to respect, admire and thank those in the medical profession, for they have saved my life in the past and without them, I wouldn’t be typing this piece. This crisis has really highlighted just how special they are and let us all say it now and more importantly remember them after this is all over…Thank you. That I mean, from the bottom of my heart.
I know there is a lot of worry and stress out there at the moment, but we do need to keep it in perspective. Ultimately, we can all be or own hero. We can all be heroes for each other. I am reminded of a fellow Irishman, far more talented a writer than I should ever hope to be. From Easter, 1916 by William Butler Yeats…
I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
…And later in the same poem, perhaps something we can all connect with;
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
A century later but in a different context, this seems oddly appropriate. Stay safe everyone and remember, don’t be talkin’ Bollix when this is all over…