26 years ago today my Mam passed away. It was sudden and the event blighted my life for almost a decade. I wasn’t unexperienced in matters of loss, but that loss and the manner in which it struck, completely blindsided me. Looking back, I was completely unaware of all the ways my life changed. I couldn’t see beyond my grief and I didn’t pass through mourning until I dealt with my ghosts many years later.
Now I am a very different man. The chocking hand of grief no longer controls my ability to move through the world and there is a lightness about such freedom. That being said, today I am sad. It has been a long year for all of us and the natural sense of sadness that decends on such a memorial day, has been underlined by the challenge of these past months.
My daily me, the waking, walking, talking, happy me, has always hidden my natural melancholy state. When I watched death beckon to me 5 years ago, it was not the events of my life that passed before my eyes. All I felt was an enormous sadness for those I was leaving behind. It was overwhelming I have to say and It puts me in mind of my struggles with the loss of my mother, all those years ago.
I am but a little boy in her eyes. But today is a reminder that she is gone from me. Mam is somewhere beyond the life that I live, no longer there to chide me and point me to the right path. I miss her. I remember how my hand felt in her hand, I remember the smell of her skin cream, the colour of her hair, and the warmth of her love. When we lose someone, we fear that we will forget them. I remember thinking that I couldn’t remember her face, but it is all an illusion. The fear itself is what tricks our memory and love never truly fades.
Halloween has never been quite right for me since that night. Today, all the weight of her loss has for some reason, perhaps the ones I have already mentioned or maybe for some other undiscovered reason, caught hold of my soul again.
Souls are delicate things. The world has touched me in ways that have made me far from delicate, but the soft centre that rests within, leaves me vulnerable on some occasions. On days like this. So yes, I miss my Mam today. It sometimes feels like I have found the key to lock that sadness away, only to lose it again and my sorrow return. I will always miss her, that much I know. A forever boy in some ways, knowing that in being unprepared for her loss, perhaps never the man I want to be for her, and theirin lies the rub.
I know what she would say to me, and even writing those words has brought a tear to my eye. Tomorrow will be different. It has been a few years since her loss has hit me this way, but the memory of her is still more than a memory within me. Her name was Mary but people called her May. May would kill me for starting a sentence with ‘she’ for as Mam always reminded me “She is the cat’s mother.” Nonetheless I always liked to tease her so here goes. She lives within me. I am only who I am, because she held my little boy hand in hers, and taught me what she knew. I am only who I am because she loved me. I wrote this following piece 26 years ago and it is still relevant today…
If you’ve ever been to Ireland and somehow wound your way to the beautiful part of Ireland that is county Kerry, you may have wandered into the lovely little town of Dingle. If you did, then you will of course be familiar with Fungie. For the unfamiliar, Fungie is a dolphin that has been swimming around the waters of Dingle for the past thirty odd years and a whole tourist industry has, in typical rural Ireland fashion, been developed around him. He has it would appear, long outlived your average bottlenose dolphin.
You can go out in any number of boats to photograph Fungie as he swims alongside, or indeed if you are so inclined and lucky enough, you can get a chance to swim with him. This week, as if tourism isn’t already on its knees due to Covid-19, Fungie has disappeared! So important is he to the local economy, that I think the locals might be considering a stand-in.
Now as a writer I can’t help but be reminded of Douglas Adams. ‘So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish’ the fourth book of his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy and yes in case you are confused, it’s a trilogy in 5 parts. The title is the message left by the dolphins when they departed Planet Earth, just before it was demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Now our beloved Fungie has disappeared. Given the year we’ve had…I can’t help but wonder if we should be worried?
As I write this, I can confirm that this little island of ours, has today gone into full lockdown for the second time. Now I’ve never been overly careful about the rules that are placed on me in life, but in the case of Covid-19, I have been pretty much a stickler. I’ve listened to people bit*h and moan about not being able to go to a restaurant or pub, as though it were the end of the world and frankly, it’s nothing short of pathetic. The government here, like those in every other country affected, are trying to prevent things from getting worse. So, they’ll get it wrong, at least they try. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t territory. I’m no apologist for government but I don’t care who you put in charge, no one is going to get this right. Don’t get me started on anti-maskers.
But I take comfort in typical Irish fashion, in knowing we’re not the worst. We don’t win a lot of big international contests, so knowing “well at least we weren’t the worst” allows us a chance to celebrate, even when we lose. “Hooray we were 9th, but we beat Burkina Faso at sailing… let’s party!” (look it up, we’re an island – they are landlocked). The Irish celebvrate better than most, especially when we lose. Celebrating the fact that less of us died here than in some other place, is hardly reassuring. It’s just not funny is it.
That being said, I only have look at the mess America has made of it and look at how badly Boris Johnson and friends have Fupped things up in the UK, to realise we could have done a whole lot worse. Unfortunately, the biggest lesson we’ve learned, is that it doesn’t matter how bad others are doing. We have learned the sad, uncomfortable truth about ourselves, that community is nothing more than a word for a large percentage of the population.
In the beginning we watched Italy being overwhelmed and struggle as people died in previously unimaginable numbers. Fear brought us to accept whatever we were asked to do. We stayed at home, washed our hands and did the right thing to quash the virus. We clapped ourselves on the back for the wonderful ‘community’ spirit that we all showed. Sure, aren’t we great. Let’s sing a song from a balcony. But that was then. That was fear.
Turns out, ‘community’ spirit fades after a bit. It becomes “well it’s not going to affect me” or “sure most people are grand with it – it’s only the old or sick that get killed.” Community it appears, the sense of caring for society as a whole is fine, so long as we don’t have to do very much, or at least not have to do it for very long. Community implies a shared social responsibility, but not just when it suits you.
Personally, I’m climbing the walls. The pair of us have barely got out alone together since the beginning of the year. We are tied to the house for a number of reasons. We haven’t as much as shopped together, nor will we for some time by the look of it. Nonetheless I will stick with it. Why? Well some might say I am looking at this from my own personal, selfish perspective. I do of course belong to a high risk category, but that’s not the reason I stick by the rules. We live with Jo’s 95-year-old mother and she is our chief concern. Perhaps I am my Darling Jo’s concern also, but really, we wouldn’t want to risk bringing Covid-19 in to our house with her mother straight in the firing line due to her age. But that’s not the whole reason either. I see beyond my front gate. I know it’s not just about me and I believe it extends beyond my hall door. Unfortunately for many people, that seems to be where it stops.
Is that as far as community should stretch? Should it be up to just a few people who care. Should old people, vulnerable or sick people and those caring for them, or those living alone perhaps, simply lock themselves away while the rest of the world goes about their business? Maybe those at most risk, should extend their isolation to perhaps another 12 months, in order that the majority of people can go about their business. But how hard is the odd 6 weeks? What if you were in that group of vulnerable people? Or should we just open up and decide such people are an acceptable collateral damage?
It would seem so. Old people are clearly expendable. People with serious long term conditions are expendable. What if this were a virus that just killed children under 5? Would those without children or those with older children act as irresponsibly as people currently in less risky categories are behaving in relation to those who are vulnerable now? Community that once stretched across the land in every direction as far as the eye could see, has been annexed by self-interest and a dispassionate, ‘couldn’t give a fup about others attitude.’ I only have to mask up and cross the threshold to see that all around me.
It is not without sacrifice and some have sacrificed more than others for sure. But there is a price to pay for true community. It is not easy. For those in the eye of the storm with unemployment, domestic violence or loneliness, we need to understand that they are victims too and address the needs of these victims in all walks of life. It is in this too that we need to rekindle true community.
Community means something. It is important. But now, its demise is clear. We have been most devastatingly found out for what we really are. It may sound cynical to say that people are basically selfish baxtards, but it ain’t cynical if it’s true. They say the truth will out and it truly is out. We lie to ourselves and anyone who will listen, a fake nod to someone else’s problem. I am not absolved of the crime either. No buts. We all need to step up in this time of need.
I listen to it and hear the excuses, watch the blatant hypocrisy of people pretending that they do all the right things – except when they actually don’t – but justify the trip or visit, dinner, party or socialising with scant regard for others. I no longer see people sanitise their hands as they enter a store and I suspect their handwashing regime has loosened at home if it’s like this in public. Social distance is apparently back to people apologising when they bump into you and sure the first chance people get, they’ll be down the local sculling pints again.
Not that there is anything wrong with any of the things we used to do, it’s just that we have all been asked to do something different, something relatively simple in the grand scheme of things, for a relatively short period of time. Of course we miss all those things that we once took for granted. We all want to get back to normal, but the fatigue factor has overtaken the desire to be truly community spirited. People have got tired of being community spirited. It shows few were really community spirited in the first place. It was all just lip service, a façade so we could look good in church or wherever we saw the eyes of the world waiting to judge.
I get it I really do. I’m pi**ed off too, but if this is what we are being asked to do, for others in most cases, as the majority of people have been untouched by the disease directly, then we either do it, or stop pretending to be a caring, compassionate member of the community in which you live. I believe that we must maintain our responsibility to our community. Not just to our family but to our neighbours, to the people we say hello to when we pass them on the street, and to strangers who depend on us to do the right thing.
I do have faith in many, but were once I believed that most people were kind and thoughtful, compassionate and caring, with just a small minority of naysayers, I now see that so many just pretend when someone is looking and as soon as they think they can get away with it, the mask is off if you pardon the analogy.
If I were to be unlucky enough to be struck down by this disease during this new lockdown, only 25 people could come to my funeral. 25. In fairness I don’t think I know 25 people who haven’t broke the rules or who care enough about me or people like me to take this seriously. So maybe that would save them the embarrassment of turning up with a big guilty head on them, offering platitudes when all they may have done, is add to the chances of me contracting the virus in the first place. I think I’d have the following on my headstone. ‘So long and thanks for all the insincerity.’ Too harsh? Maybe I’m just a grumpy old man after all. Have I just lost hope in humanity? Is it just me?… Stay safe everybody…
I remember reading that if someone smells burning toast when there is no toast present, it is a possible sign of stroke. I always thought that was a pretty specific suggestion. It’s not like they said; one of the signs of stroke was a person smelling things that weren’t there. It specified burning toast. That tidbit, is courtesy of a small storage centre in my brain that hangs on to oddities. They get dragged out occasionally and the I use them for more nefarious purposes, than whatever they were stored for originally. Underneath my stoic, reserved exterior, I have a wicked side and I’ll get back to the toast later.
I bring this up because it is related to a few minutes of nonsense that occurred as my darling Jo and I, prepared to go to bed the other night. We were reminiscing and I was reminded of some of the flatulence related gags, I had pulled on the kids when they were smaller, and I honestly haven’t laughed as much in quite a while, thinking back on what a terrible father I must have been.
Now farts are a favourite source of humour for small children, of this there is no doubt. One day, long, long ago, I casually wondered aloud if it might not be possible to catch, and freeze a fart. The kids were instantly hooked and were keen that I might expand on the idea. So, I simply mused aloud on the notion and asked them to consider how it might be done, if indeed it could be done at all. You see, I explained, catching ones wafted exuberance, sounded like quite a challenge. It might not even be possible I suggested. That was the hook to their childish curiosity.
It led to a discussion the nature of which can only occur in a serious fashion, between small children and an idiot father. We debated the pros and cons, the challenges involved, such as what container one might use, and whether or not it would require more than one person to capture the elusive stank. While they generally agreed it would be harder for one person alone to do this, when I suggested we give it a try, there were no volunteers. None of them wanted to be down wind of my arse when the hooter was sounded.
Looking back it was quite hilarious how matter of fact I managed to be in hosting this discussion, all the while keeping a straight face. Finally, it was decided that I should go out into the hallway (alone) and attempt to fill a plastic Tupperware container with the aforementioned stinky pongaloochy. Now before you think I can crack one off on demand, I assure I cannot. In fairness I am one of the least flatulent people I have ever come across. It just so happened that on that particular day, I was suffering the after effects of a hefty feed of Guinness the night before. That and a spicy chicken curry will do it. I was brewing something that to my mind at least, meant I should really have my innards cleaned out with a damp cloth.
To cut to the chase, I returned triumphant to the kitchen, carrying the little sealed plastic box before me with both hands, almost as if it contained some precious, fragile object. I even walked very slowly, to make it look like I wouldn’t dare drop it. The kids went into hysterics laughing and backed off, as though I was carrying a vial of nitroglycerin.
“Behold… the mighty fart has been captured.”
I’m not sure what they thought they’d see. They were very young, but they were fascinated at the apparently empty plastic box that I held in my hands. They could see nothing. If I had indeed managed to trap a new fragrance, (L’odeur de parp) they had no visual guide. Maybe they had expected a green fog, I don’t know. What I do know is that while on the one hand they were doubters, because even at a young age they knew me and my shenanigans all too well, on the other hand, they really kind of, sort of wanted to believe in this mystical possibility. Oooh the tension. But then I asked the most important question.
“Who wants to smell it, to see if it worked?”
The suggestion created pandemonium, especially when I offered it to them. They couldn’t get away from the little box quick enough. Now I know what you want to know. There are a couple of key questions to be answered here. Firstly, which kid stepped up, peeled the lid back and sniffed deeply – those were the instructions that I gave the child? – yes, I am a baxtard – and had I truly managed to capture the elusive stankernel?
When we laughing our heads off remembering this the other night, we decided to message the two (now adult) kids, to see if they could in fact remember the events of that faithful day. They both cracked up when we reminded them and they remembered the whole thing, except for one odd detail. Not one of them recalled which one took the plunge and sniffed the potentially poisonous potion. On hearing this, I told them that of course, I could remember, but as they couldn’t, that I’d take that secret to my death bed. I can’t help it, I am a cruel father.
The other two questions are; did I manage to capture my blustery perfume in the little plastic box at all and if I did, what did it smell like. Well let me answer that in reverse order, the second part has to be answered hypothetically as in answering it factually, it could prove or disprove the first part, if you follow.
To answer the ‘what did it smell like’ part, I will refer to a follow on piece of chat that we had the other night, for as surely as night follows day, I can’t tell one story, without it reminding me of another. My second tale was met with equal hilarity, if indeed not more so from my darling Jo, who hadn’t heard of the story I was about to tell her before. I’ll share it with you. Don’t worry it’s short.
When I was a teenager, I had a favourite fart trick. Please feel free to use this one, it’s not patented. On the occasion of one letting slip an S.B.D. (silent but deadly) there is always a moment between where you know what you’ve done and just how bad it smells, and the rest of the room being enlightened as to it’s presence and potency. In that moment you ask the person or persons there present, to do something that they simply cannot resist doing.
You tell them a simple fact and then ask them a follow up question that makes them do the one thing they should never do in the presence of an S.B.D. You say;
“I can smell burned toast! Can you smell toast?”
No one can resist answering that call. Works every time I swear. Everyone inhales deeply, trying to smell the toast that they believe you are smelling. I’m sorry but that cracked me up as a teenager. And so, the answer to the what did it smell like (hypothetically) is…definitely not toast.
As to the answer to the question, “did I manage to trap the beast in the first place,” that my friends, is something you’ll have to try for yourselves to find out… Enjoy the weekend.
I like the broken bits of me, including the pieces that aren’t all there. My missing pieces are the unconnected things, that make me stare at my life and wonder if I could have done better. The cracks in my psyche and the folds in my skin are akin to lifelines. They keep me grounded and without my history, the so-called wisdom I have gained with age, those flaws I have collected and display daily, I would be far less a man than the one who sits here today.
I could say perhaps that these days, the mirror is less kind to me than it once was. But to be fair, what I could choose to see as the cruelty of time as I am being slowly ravaged by each the tick of the clock, is nothing more than a reflection of a life lived. There is beauty in the worst of me.
These days, Covid-19 has put paid to any ideas I might have had about seeing more of the world, for a while at least. Instead I must live this life within the constraints that bind me to my home for the most part, but so be it.
My crinkles, as my daughter used to call the lines on my face when she was small, have got crinkles of their own, my hair is less fulsome and sometimes the stress of life takes its toll on the windows to my soul. Tiredness shows on my face as does pain, perhaps more than anyone I know. My darling Jo knows exactly when I am struggling with pain, simply by looking at my eyes. She’s not the only one. I try to hide it when things get bad, but my give-away eyes hang me.
Sometimes I look in the mirror and I don’t recognize the auld fella looking back at me. I’ve changed so much and life has left its mark. Some days he looks so tired, other days he looks positively sprightly. Lord knows what my insides look like. I come to this on the back of my latest medical checkup. I was contacted by cardiology last week, cancelling my appointment for Wednesday last, due to Coronavirus. Instead they told me I would have a virtual consultation. That was yesterday.
I’ve never virtually consulted with a cardiologist before and I was rather curious. Normally I go through a barrage of tests which I can’t undergo online, so I wondered how they would assess me over the phone. It seemed likely we could both be wasting our time.
I hate talking to consultants. I always feel like they think I’m lying if I tell them the full story. Better to tell them 50% of the problem, it sounds more believable that way. I swear that’s just what I’m like. If I lost my arm in some terrible chain saw accident right before the consultation, I’d probably play that down as well.
“So tell me Mr. P, is there something wrong with your arm as well?” To which I would reply looking at the shredded, bloody stump hanging from my shoulder, “This? It’s just a scratch. Probably a 3 – or maybe a 4 out of 10 pain wise. It’ll stick right back on.”
When the phone rang yesterday, I sighed. ‘Here we go’ is all I could think, a waste of 5 minutes of my life. The voice at the other end of the line was surprisingly rather pleasant. She sounded young and competent. The voice introduced herself and told me her name was Jess. She explained what I already knew, which was that due to Covid-19, they wanted to do some assessment over the phone. That much I expected.
What I didn’t expect was the thoroughness of her enquiry. She asked all the right questions and elicited replies from me that I am normally reticent to give, specifically… the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In hindsight, I was so impressed with the skill of the doctor that spoke with me. She wasn’t my consultant, she was a S.H.O., junior to her consultant. My experience with S.H.O.’s in Irish hospitals has not been good. Generally, they are over worked and ill prepared for each person who walks into the consulting room. They usually look at test results from whatever barrage of tests I had just gone through, pretty much tell me nothing and are reluctant to do anything other than send a report to their consultant at the end of the day. I always feel short changed and none the wiser. Yesterday, I found someone willing to look at my profile, dig deeper and ask the right questions. She was clear, precise and was up to speed on my current condition. Maybe it was precisely because she didn’t have the usual tools of test results at her finger tips, that she had to draw on a different skill set.
When I came out of the CCU unit 5 years ago, my cardiologist came visiting with a gaggle of students in his wake. He had saved my life, quite literally. While it wasn’t he, that straddled my chest and squeezed fluids into me, and it wasn’t he that had provided CPR mid operation, he was the man who asked one more question, and that led him to sending me for my first heart scan and that ultimately saved my life.
I recall that he told the students about how he first met me and that based on my tests, I was quite a healthy man. He told them that my blood pressure was normal, I had passed my fitness test with flying colours, my diet was good, I was not over weight, I didn’t smoke, there was nothing unusual on my E.C.G and the only significant factors were a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol. In most circumstances, he told them, he would have prescribed medication for my cholesterol and told me to get a recheck in 6 months.
What he then did and I recall it so well, is that he asked them to think about that, given I was recovering in a hospital bed only a few weeks after he had met me for the first time. He told them I could quite possibly have dropped dead on the street had he not done one simple thing. They looked at him blankly as he asked them if they knew what that was. Like the suck-up kid in class who knows the answer, I nearly put my hand up. Luckily, I realized that he wasn’t asking me. They all looked at their feet or at their note pads, hoping not to be chosen to provide an answer they didn’t have.
When no one answered, he simply explained that his decision to look a little deeper came from 2 things. One was experience but more importantly, because experience takes time to acquire and patients don’t have that time to play with, the driving factor was that he had listened to me very carefully and took in all the little details that I had revealed. He had a niggle and that niggle led him to go backwards, to re-question for a little more information on my family history, and ultimately, he made a decision based on suspicion born from a thorough interrogation of the facts. He told them not to aimlessly take notes to pass on responsibility to someone else, but to listen and be present in a consultation and to be a courageous advocate for their patient in deciding what to do. The one thing he had done, he said, was he had listened.
Yesterday, young Jess did all that over the phone. She was monstrously impressive compared to all that came before her. I couldn’t help wonder if she had been one of those students at the foot of my bed 5 years ago. Perhaps she had learned something.
Unfortunately, it means I seem likely to go back into hospital in the near future something that doesn’t sit well with me. The plan begins in exactly the same fashion as it did 5 years ago, only this time I know what went wrong the first time around. I was unafraid the first time until my heart stopped and I ended up in a critical care unit, once I had done a U-turn from the light.
I try to be unafraid always and I think for the most part, little frightens me. But going back to a place where I vividly remember my life passing and all that came with that, no matter how unlikely it is that I could be so unlucky the second time around, is somewhat disconcerting. I have been given no timeline due to Covid-19 restrictions, so I have a wait ahead and I would much rather face the unpleasantness as soon as I can. I write books with stories that play on anticipation to generate fear. I am all to familiar with that notion.
But really, it’s no biggy. I am fine, will be fine and the world will tick its tock regardless. In the meantime, it’s the waiting that could get to me. A time worm, burrowing into my thoughts, poisoning my courage, diluting my self-confidence. If I’m not careful, I will turn up in hospital in a couple of months, with a big fat worry worm resting where my courage once sat. Isn’t it funny, how despite your best efforts and regardless of how much common sense and logic you think you possess, there is always a nemetic thought to unravel your best laid plans…
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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