Saturday, 27 July 2013

Stephen My Brother

Some people are blessed with perfect families. I was just blessed.

I want to tell you a little about my brother. He was born just over a year after I arrived. For the first three day's of his life everything was perfect. On day three my world changed. A tiny virus so small it can't be seen wrecked everything. Stephen was only day's old when he got meningitis. The worst kind of nightmare illness. I was only a baby myself so knew nothing of the horror that was unfolding in my family. This tiny invisible thing wrecked havoc on my parents and my brother.

For days Stephen fought for his life. The doctors and nurses worked, my parents were devastated, I was oblivious while most important my brother refused to give even an inch to this monster. An adult may come through such a thing once in a dozen cases, a three day old baby, one in a million. That is my brother for you, one in a million.

When you live so closely with another person you are not aware of differences. That is how it is with us. To others he had problems. They could see them but not me. He was always my brother, nothing more. The virus caused his head to swell as a baby, it was half again as big as mine. I just called him big head. He had trouble balancing. I climbed, he did not. He struggled in learning, so what. I was oblivious to any differences.

That changed one sunny day when I was in first class. Stephen was in senior infants. I came out for big break and found him crying in the yard. He would not tell me what was wrong, he just cried and tried to hide away from everyone. My best friends brother told me a boy in Stephens class called Niall Reddington had been bullying him, calling him names and pushing him around. I can still feel the rage I felt that day.

I cried hysterically with fury. Not little tears but huge sobs from deep in my chest. I never knew hate but that changed. I wanted to kill that boy, really kill him. I went after him but Thomas and a few others physically held me down. Pinned me to the ground while I cried and fought to be free. In the end it was Stephen that stopped me from hurting Reddington. He  came up to me and asked what was wrong, was I ok. He did not understand that it was his tears that had triggered my melt down. To him  I came first, my pain superseded his. To this day I have never forgiven Reddington for bullying my brother and never will. I don't know what Stephen thinks because he never mentioned it again.

This was the first time but not the last time for such horrible incidents. Each one galvanising a rage in me I would otherwise be incapable of. I am sorry to say I have dealt out punishments with a vengeance that scared me. Sometimes I felt outside myself, it was terrifying. I wish I could say that the bullies were always so easy to deal with. I cant. Of all the shitty things I have done in my life there is only one I would go back and change at any cost. It's is a simple game of fort.

I was about 8 and Stephen 7. We were living in the haunted house in Galway. Dad had just begun adding on a bathroom. He had a land drain and a septic tank sunk into the field out the back of the house. It was summer and the neighbours kids had come over to play. The clay had dried into lumps that exploded with puffs when thrown. The clouds of dust were just like hand grenades to an eight year old mind. We had formed two army's and took up defensive positions on either side of  the open tank. Thomas commanding one battalion and me the other. Stephen wanted to play. To my shame I did not want him on my team. I shoved him and made him leave,  not letting him play with us. Even now typing these words the shame of this simple betrayal makes my skin crawl. He left in tears. Stephen nearly never cried. He walked away quietly. Even then not wanting to make a big scene.  As we played that day I knew in my eight year old brain my sole was tainted forever. His look of disappointment is burned into my mind and I will never forgive my self for causing it.

We both went to the same primary school but after that I went to the Tec and he went to a different school. At least we were on the same bus. Stephen always sat beside the bus driver. Some times I did as well but others times I sat at the back with the other boys. I can't ever remember anyone being mean to Stephen or the others from his school on the bus. Mostly because Joe the bus driver was a scary dude and would have ripped you a new arsehole if you were.

After finishing secondary school I went to college in Dublin, Stephen stayed home. He kept some birds and worked in a local pottery centre. He loved both of these things. He never smoked, never drank or chased women. These were my pursuits. I never noticed how he had changed but looking at photos now it easy to see his health was waning. About a year into my college life I got a call to say that Stephen was sick and to come home.

He had a tumour in his spine. It was causing him to have pins and needles as well as making his balance worse. The doctors wanted to operate but it was not straight forward. This tumour was actually attached to his spine. He went in on a Friday for the operation and that was the last time I saw him standing by himself.

When he woke from the anaesthetic he began to spasm with pain. Not an ache. Spasms of pain so intense his whole body would arch in agony. Only his head and heels remaining in contact with the bed. Slowly it would abate only to happen again minutes later. Again and again it would happen until between the drugs and exhaustion he would collapse into sleep. I slept in a chair by his side during these nights. The rest of the family stayed with him during the days. The hospital did not ask us to leave or even respect visiting hours. They gave us coffee and sympathy. Between the spasms if you asked Stephen how he was doing. He looked at you with those innocent eyes and said "I'm fine," only to be bowed with agony a moment later.

That is the most wonderful thing about Stephen. He never once felt sorry for himself. If I was in his shoes I would have raged against the world. Not him. He was always fine, never gave out, never once complained or was even in a bad humour. That has been said about a lot of people. When I say never, I mean never with capital letters.

What ever my brothers illness took from him it also gave him gifts. He never knew what it was to tell a lie. (Not that his truths were easy to take). A contrary old neighbour once said to Stephen in front of my mother "Your such a good boy, would you not come and live with me."
To which Stephen replied "I would rather sleep in the ditch"
"Stephen!!" my mother scolded  but he just looked perplexed and said "What? it's the truth". Even my mother had to admit he had a point.
He had no greed in him and was granted patience and good nature enough for a nation.

For years his condition worsened. His mobility slowly decreased. He began using a stick, then a walker until at last he ended up needing a wheelchair. His spine began to twist, his hearing became weak. He was loosing feeling in his legs by the day. At last he was called to the specialist office with Dad.

"Stephen" he said " we can do something about the curve in your spine but it will mean that you will never walk again."
Stephen just said with all his normal candour " I cant walk now, what difference will that make" another life changing decision made simple.
He never let his difficulties stop him doing anything. He still cared for his birds, went to work, cooked his own meals. He directed his life on his terms. Once the operation to fix the curve in his spine went ahead, the pace of his problems increased. With the lack of movement came pressure sores and infections. In the beginning they were once and a while. But soon became more frequent.

I don't want to go into the years of hell that he endured, hundreds of painful procedures, dozens of infections, countless hours of probing and humiliation all taken without one word of complaint. Not one word ever!

Stephen was 33 when I got a call to say he was back in Hospital and it was not good this time. He had kidney infection and was not fending it off. They rushed him to Dublin where they did everything they could but by now none of the drugs were working. A week later they sent him home to our local hospital were he could be near his family for the end. He died in the ambulance on the way back but Stephen would not be told what or when to do anything. It was on his terms or none at all.   He died, but refuse to leave. Back he came.

A hour turned into four and then a night. Stephen was still with us but his body was running on pure will. The infection spread to his lung. Slowly the fluid began to build As he lay in his bed he began to drown. The doctors increased his medication to make him comfortable. Day and night one of us were by his side. I was alone with him when a miracle happened.

It was a little after four am when his movements changed. His breathing became less laboured and he opened his eyes. I stood and leaned over his face. His eyes were looking around and seemed to be taking in the room for the first time since his medication was increased. I smiled and he looked directly at me. I held up my thumbs and shouted " IS EVERYTHING OK" what a stupid thing to say.
I saw his mind registering who I was and putting together what I was trying to say to him. That was when he said the words that broke my heart and still break my heart now.

"I'm fine".

Having endured more than any other person I have ever known he said I'm fine. Then he faded back into sleep. He never woke again. He fought and fought for another five days but his body could not take it any more. I sat in the room with mam, dad and my sister when he took in his last breath before slowly leaving it all the way out. Never to take another. Hours earlier I had silently pleaded with whatever god was out there to take him and not make us suffer like this.

When his chest did not rise again I was relieved. I want to say that I was relieved for him but it was for me. I don't think I could cope anymore with such agony. Selfish, selfish, SELFISH!!! Another moment I will hate myself for eternally. Tears dribbled into my shirt as I mourned the passing of the bravest man I will ever know. Not for the way he left this world but how he had spend every hour since he had been born 33 years earlier.

I love you Stephen and your always with me.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Profile Porkies

I spent some time today on facebook. I like having a nose through the lives of my friends without them knowing. But after an hour I was getting a bit depressed and convinced I was doing something wrong in my life.

Everywhere I looked there were smiling photos at gigs, concerts, clubs, parties and other random days out. People were constantly signing in at fancy restaurants, city breaks or far flung shores. I was getting distressed at the exciting lives everyone was having. I seemed to be left out of the loop on all this frivolity.

It got even more confusing when I came across a post from Liam Daly which said "Having a Fab night at the new Superman Movie with  XXX and YYY" (Names are hidden to protect the innocent).

Liam is the most miserable sod I have ever come across and that is saying something. If there was a world championships of misery Ireland would be unbeatable. I only ever seen Liam smile when he thought of something to gripe about. The locals in the bar have taken to calling him "Les" behind his back. As in "Les Miserables" . In my minds eye I could see him sitting in the cinema complaining about the cost of the popcorn. Droning on about how this new movie was not a patch on the original blah blah blah. Poor X and Y.

It must be a lie. If he was having such a fab time at the movie what the hell was he doing on his phone. If that is a lie, what about everything else. Is it all a lie, the whole flipping thing is just one humungous sham? Facebook my arse.

Why do we really go on to these websites. Is it to catch up with friends and loved ones? The more I think about it the more I am  not sure. Looking at my own time line with a cynical point of view I realised I was putting up things that would reflect well on me. Not always necessarily the unvarnished truth. How may of us think first thing in the morning "I must post a photo of this on my time line". Hair sticking wildly in all directions. Half a beard, mouth feeling like a canary has been nesting there. Peeing blindly in the general direction  of the bowl while snapping away with the old i-phone. I don't think the world is ready for that sight yet.

Just as rarely will you read "Feeling cranky as hell right now & my boss is an Enormous Prick!!!" on status updates.

Such moments are part of life, the majority of it perhaps. We don't roll from one amazing experience to another. Highlights are punctuation points in sentences of mild drudgery. I am starting to think the facebook's of the world are just masks people wear. Wanting us to think that they are living life to the full. Posting pictures in the company of the fabulous people extends beauty to ourselves. Likewise with fame. All this is the search for the grail of popularity.

I am proud to say I have never know a perfect person. If I did, I doubt i'd like them. I love my friends in spite of their faults or even because of them. They must be a forgiving bunch to be friends with me. I have far more faults that I care to admit. Some day's I honestly don't even like myself. Why should others. I think real friends remember your good points even when you have forgotten them yourself. They don't need status updates to remind them that, even though your are being an "Enormous Prick" right now most of the time your fairly sound. My friends are my diamonds, rare and beyond value.

To anyone out there feeling a little less than wonderful today. Take some solace in the knowledge everyone looks crap in the morning and has more down times than good. Take a chance and let someone into your life as a friend. Expect them to let you down a little and be less than perfect. You wont be disappointed.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Blind Date

I just had to share this little story with you all. With my hand on my heart, every word I’m about to tell you is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Last Friday night, I had a country music band booked for a dance. I'm aware that a lot of people reading this are living across the pond in good old US of A. I want you to put from your minds any thoughts of, Brad Paisley, or Rascal Flats; rocking stadiums full of ecstatic twenty something’s. Country music here tends to attract a more mature audience. Older couples lazily circling the floor in a shuffling three step and last Friday night was shaping up to be no different.

As I got the back bar ready for opening, the band were setting up. Bursts of drum- machine blared out occasionally. Guitars were coaxed into some form of tune. The band was called, Country Kings, but their gear had seen better days. Everything supported a myriad of chips and scratches. No two pieces matched. Cables were held together with miles of Duct-tape.

However bad the equipment was, the two boys using it were in far worse condition. They wheezed as they dragged flight cases out of the back of a battered transit. I was sure that one of them would expire long before the first song played. Their massive beer guts suggested the only exercise either of these guys got started and finished at the elbow.

Like Noah's ark, the customers came in, two by two. Aging couples taking up their regular tables around the small dance floor. Cups of tea, a few soft drinks, and the odd pint was all I could hope to sell to this crowd.

At quarter to ten, the musicians waddled toward the stage with pints filling every available hand. I was glad they had gone from their perch near the bar. One of them had constantly farted, not caring about the nostrils of those around him. I would have said something but I couldn’t figure out which one of them was doing it. With a burst of feedback, they launched into the first song of the night.

As the evening progressed, I saw an older couple who looked at home in this crowd in the company of a younger couple, which I took to be son and daughter, sitting at a table away from the dance floor. What made them stand out was that they were very well dressed for a night at a pub dance. Eventually, the older man came to the bar for a round of drinks.

"Grand evening," I said as I poured his order.

"Sure it is, thank God. Mind you, we could do with a bit of rain soon." Right away I knew he was a farmer. Only a farmer would look for rain during the only sunny day we've had for years. He tone was harsh; you could tell this man was his own boss.

"True enough," I agreed. Being a bar man, I would agree with just about anyone, at least until the cash hit the till.

"Are you on a family night out?" I asked, nodding towards the three still sitting at the table.

"In a way," he said, not looking at all pleased with the fact. "That's our daughter. The lad is her…friend."

The hesitation was hard to miss. I took a look at the uncomfortable looking young lad, he seemed alright to me.

"He seems alright to me," I offered, calling a spade a spade. The old man leaned closer over the bar in a conspiratorial way.

"They meet on the internet. His name is Simon."

"That's nothing strange these days. I hear a lot of people are doing this internet dating. I was nearly going to give it a go myself," I say, trying to make the old man feel a little better about things. "How long have they been together?" I asked.

"They only just meet."

"This week?"

"No, tonight," he said, without a hint of a humour.

 I was stunned. I put his pint on the counter and had to check. "So they are on a date, here, tonight? Their first date?"

"Yea," the man said, taking a sip from his pint and throwing the young lad a sideways glance. "Me and the missus like to know who is taking our Sharon out. Anyway, this Internet thing is full of weirdo’s," he mused walking away with his four drinks.

I couldn't take my eyes off them for the rest of the night. The hard way the older couple were watching the young man across the table. The young girl somehow seemed less young. She acted like a shy teenager, but her eyes looked downtrodden. She seemed dwarfed by the looming personalities of her parents. The young man looked okay, I'm fairly good at spotting a wrong one. He sat ramrod straight in his chair, you could feel the stress radiating off him. In the end, the young man took the girl for a dance. Her parents never let them out of their sight. At one stage the father actually stood up to watch.

I saw the shame in the girl’s face, but also the resignation that comes with years of dominance. I wouldn't have bet even a bent penny that Simon would brave a second date. Deep down I hoped he would, for the girl’s sake. The romantic in me wanted him to whisk her away to some type of freedom.

Like I said, I wouldn't bet a bent penny.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

With Sox

Summer time in Ireland is normally exactly like the winter, except the rain warms up. This year has been a fantastic departure from the norm, with nearly three weeks of unbroken sunshine so far and the promise of even more to come.

I think that the good weather brings out the best in nearly all women. They swish by in flowing dresses, lots of sun kissed skin, long bronzed legs and miniskirts. It makes driving a car near impossible. Well done girls! I know what you'r going to say, they can't all look like that. True, true, but girls are more in touch what brings out their best side, it's a skill that should be applauded. We've all seen the mistakes, laughed behind cupped hands, wearing that dress from five years ago but it seemed to have shrunk, or bedraggled cardigans over dresses made of discarded nuns' habits.  These examples only help to prove the rule. 

With that said, the Irish men of summer are a different breed. Mother of divine heaven, what happened to the men? At the first glimpse of sunshine, any guy who thinks he's got a half decent body whip's off the top, parading about with his t-shirt draped over a shoulder, or tied around his waist. I wish I could tell them how huge a mistake this is. Firstly, that skin hasn't seen ten minutes of sunshine in its entire time on the planet, it's whiter than the arctic snow. The sight of this, topped off with tufts of bum-fluff-chest-hair, will not make a woman go weak at the knees, or at least not with desire.

Another thing. What's with the walk? Yesterday all these lads could manage make it down the road like normal people. Today the council are out widening footpaths to make room for the swinging shoulders, puffed out chests and held in tummies. A beer belly is a beer belly whether you hold it in or not. Take a hint from the fairer sex on this one. Less is more.

Grand, get a bit of sun on that alabaster skin, but do it in your own backyard or at the beach. I must admit I've fallen victim to this in younger days but I hope I've learned from my mistakes. When you see a beautiful woman in a flowing skirt and crisp linen shirt, you have a fair idea what is underneath. Like in a good book, the hint of something lets the imagination take hold. A wistful picture more alluring than reality can achieve.

This brings me to my next bone of contention. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WEARING!!!! On a particularly warm evening my bar looked like a team of blind drag queens had gone riot in TK Max. Mad colours, bold patterns, nothing matching. Every pair of shorts look like they were made for someone either two feet taller or in some cases two stone lighter. One abomination had surpassed himself, he was kitted out from head to knee like Michael Jordan's midget albino cousin, then to finish it off he was wearing black leather shoes, and SOX! I wanted to poke my eyes out with a sharp stick.

Don't generalise, Squid, I hear you say. Guilty I'm afraid. There are some very stylish men out there and I am super jealous of them. They have the eye, and confidence, to know what looks good. They brave the jibes of the ignorant of multi-coloured buffoons. Sadly I don't live in their camp either. I've had my fashion disasters, time to hang my head. 

So, who am I to give advice? No one, but it seems everyone has an opinion these days, I like to stay with the crowd. In general I'd say I'm a tad dull. My resolution is to watch the best dressers and take a few hints, to learn from my betters and I encourage the bare chested out there to do the same. In the end its all a bit of fun. People should be happy in their skin, or clothes, whatever guise they take, but draw a line at the sox, for the love of God.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Mix Tape

A girl came into my pub today, not this one, but the photo reminds me of her. We got chatting at the bar, while she had a cup of coffee. She was charming, funny, intelligent, and not so difficult to look at. We discussed books, movies, and music. I asked her what the first record she ever bought was? She looked at me like I had two heads.

"Do you mean CD?" she asked, genuinely

At that stage I realised two things. I actually did mean record, the shiny black disks I loved and stored in orange cases, during my youth. The second, was that this girl was a completely new generation to me. Both, were sad realisations.

As you do, when talking to beautiful young ladies, I covered up my gaff as best I could.

"Sure, CD, or even Download," I bluffed, and we went on from there. The conversation was vibrant, her smile flavoured her voice with cinnamon kisses. Her eyes laughed, and hinted at nights of abandon, not for me sadly, but some other lucky man, more like her. When the time came for her to leave, I felt real sorrow.

When she was gone, the bar was quiet and while I cleaned around the tables I thought again about the CD-record blunder, and the gulf that it represented between her generation and mine. For her, it will be all about download speeds, on line share sites, play lists, I-tunes and headphones. I don't get the emotional attachment that's possible with a download file.

I still remember my first record, I won't tell you what it was, because I would be embarrassed. But that record was my treasure, my precious. I played it eternally on a portable record player, which happened to be red. I only ever touch the edges, with stiff, careful, fingers. I would blow any dust from the groves, hold it to the light inspecting for new scratches, before laying a needle to the delicate vinyl. Each new scratch I found, hurt me as if it had appeared on my heart, rather than the vinyl. I had gathered an extensive record collection, until I had to leave home for college. The was the one down side of leaving home, moving all that with me, was just not an option. You went to the mountain, even if you were Mohammad.

During my college years, records were soon replaced by tapes. Much more transportable, thanks to the, "Walkman". Even still, I only had twelve tapes to keep me company as I moved from Dorm, to Digs. The intimate knowledge of making a mix-tape will mark you as a child of the 80's.

I loved mix tapes. I’m sure everyone did, in some form. I think this love was directly proportional to the time we had to put in to make them. The feelings in our heart directed each song to be picked. Always with the intended recipient at the front of our minds. Waiting by the radio, with fingers hovering over the record button, waiting for the damn DJ to shut up and stop talking over the intro. I’m sure they were doing it on purpose, to frustrate the legions of hormone-infested teenagers, putting angst into musical form.

We made mix-tapes for girls we fancied. Picking each song to give her subtle hints that screamed, " I THINK YOUR HOT!!!" As if giving someone a mix-tape wasn’t hint enough. We made tapes for making out, we made tapes to bring to parties, (only cool songs on these even if you hated them). But mostly we made tapes to ease a broken heart. Songs were picked, like music for a funeral mass. Once the tape was finished, it would play into the night, sending me too sleep with dreams of missed love.

These tapes the were perfect balm to spread on the wounds of romance, some of the scars still remain today. "Brass in Pocket," is my all-time favourite, and most used, breakup song.

My thoughts followed the girl from the bar and I wonder about her life. I wonder what things will be remembered as precious in her future. To be sure, they will be different than mine, but I imagine the building blocks will be the same. Each failed romance having an anthem, just the DJ's will be less of a nuisance. I smile to myself. I envy the one she might make a play-list for…but you will never beat a mix-tape!

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Haunted House

When I was six and a half, we moved to Connemara. For those of you that don't know Ireland well, this is the most westerly scrap of land in a part of Ireland called Connaught. It was said, the next stop on any journey through Connemara was America. It’s a wild and windswept place, fantastic cliffs and bays, cut by the constant pounding of Atlantic waves.

It may be pretty but you can't eat a nice view. The grey, limestone-bedrock lies under the thin skin of this county, like the ribs of a starving dog. So poor is the soil here that when the English's invaded, they occupied everything east of the River Shannon, while famously telling the displaced Irish rabble, "To Connaught or Hell".

Surviving on this barren headland was no easy task hundreds of years ago. The hardy men of the west managed as well they could. They fished from boats made of cow hide, sealed with tar. They gathered seaweed to spread on the meagre soil, fertilising it. Back breaking work done with a donkey if you were rich, or by hand if you were not. Many a back was flayed in this endeavour, rope cutting into flesh, dripping sea water and blood.

Galway is the main city in this area and is rightly called, "The city of the Tribes". People from all over Ireland flowed across the River Shannon, to make a new life. With no food, little work, or prospect of survival, mass emigration was the only choice. Coffin ships left port constantly. Tightly packed with eager but starving people, on this side of the ocean. Arriving near empty in the new world, leaving a trail of floating corpses in its wake. Millions fled in a time where journeys were measured in weeks and months. Such migrations are beyond our imagining today.

My family's move to the west took place late in the 1970's. The country was in recession and we had to follow the work where Dad could get it. He had finished his apprenticeship in Cork and worked for a number of years in the Ford Factory, before he was laid off.

"Sorry Tony," the foreman said. " Just the way things go."

Like that our little family was on its uppers. By now, Tony and Nancy had another boy and a little girl. I was the big brother and had to look out for them. I might not have under stood everything that was going on but I knew that something was wrong. I heard Mam crying in the night and thought she was having scary dreams. They were cross with each other sometimes, and Dad came home all wobbly and smelling funny once or twice.

In the end, we were all loaded into a beat-up Morris Minor, and followed the promise of a job in Galway city. The only down side to moving in my mind, was that I had to leave my school in Cork. Telling the truth, I didn't care one bit for the school, but Miss O'Brien was another matter. She was so tall and nice. She was always smiling and we played fun games every day. Even the lessons were fun. I think she liked me best, because she always put her hand on my shoulder when she taught me my ABC's. When mom said we were leaving, it broke my heart. I was inconsolable. I cried like I’d never cried before, or since. No matter what she told me, I knew I would never find another teacher like her.

I sulked while we loaded the car, and cried as we pulled away from our old house, but soon enough the excitement of the journey won through the tears. When we arrived in Galway, Mom shook me awake too look at the lights as they twinkled off the water in the bay. The big white truck with all our things in it, was behind us all the way from Cork. I thought truck drivers must be so clever to know exactly where we were going. I thought I might even be one, when I grew up.

The first days in Galway were a whizz of new places, new people, new everything. My brain wasn’t big enough to take it all in. We stayed with Aunt Molly, one of Dad's aunties. Dad said she was his auntie and that made her my auntie as well. I didn’t like her so much; she smoked all the time and spit in the fire. The house was small, so we all slept in one room. I couldn't figure out why we left Cork, there we had three rooms, grown-ups are silly sometimes. In the end, I didn't mind, because it was a great adventure. One morning, my dad started his new job, in the timber yard. He didn't go every day, but some days. It wasn’t long before it was time to move again. This time, we only went a few miles, out into the country to our very first house.

The first day Dad took us to see the new house, I thought we were lost because he took us down a tiny road with grass growing in the middle. There was only fields and hedges for miles, and from the back window you could see the ocean away in the distance. The grass around the house was so high, it was over my head. There was no running water, or bathroom, so we did our pee-pee in the field, out back. In the middle of the house was a big kitchen. Off each side of that, was a bedroom. Along with the house we had a few acres of land. I thought we were big farmers, but Dad said the only thing you would grow in those fields were rocks.

What I remember most about the first house, was how cold it was. Outside, it was a lovely sunny day, but inside it was so cold, the goose pimples came up on my arms. Another thing I remember was my sister, Katie, she wasn't happy at all. She cried so hard the first time she went into the house, my ears hurt. In the end, Mam took her outside where she stopped bawling, after a bit.

Moving day came, and the truck man that knew everything, came back. We loaded the house things from Cork, back into the truck. I thought we were like the snails in the garden, dragging our house around behind us. I thought we should live in the truck, and save all the moving. Dad said, I was a clever-clogs. I don't know what clogs are, but clever was good, so I smiled when he said it. Soon, we had all the boxes piled up in middle of the kitchen floor, of the new house. We were all tired after unloading the truck. Mam lit a fire in the range, and made bean's on toast, with the red sauce. Then Dad pulled the big double mattress in front of the fire, and we all slept there for the night, like camping. It was the best night ever. I didn't even mind the funny smell that came in the middle of the night.

One thing about Galway people, is they're very friendly. Soon, every neighbour for miles had come to say, welcome. They brought gifts, mostly cakes, breads and jams, made in their own kitchens. Eggs and milk, came from sheds, not the shop. Water was gathered in a tank from the roof. We never had this many people visit us in Cork.

A few weeks after we moved in, Mam had us working on the grass in the front garden. She was cutting it down with a thing called a slash hook. We all had to stand well back when she was swinging it. My job was to gather the cut grass into piles. One minute we were all alone, the next, an old man was leaning over the stone wall looking at us.

My Mam got a big fright, and said a bad word. I went over and stood beside her. When Dad wasn’t home, I was the man of the house. He said and had to look after Mam and the kids. So, I was watching this fella to see if he was a bad one, or not.

"Good day Missus" he said, doffing his dirty flat cap.

"Hello" said Mam, still red in the face. "You put the heart cross-ways in me."

"Sorry about that, I didn't know anyone had moved in," he said. "How is the old place for yea?"

"Hard work," Mam said, rubbing the sweat from her forehead. "I'm sure it will be fine in the end.".

He looked down at me, and said. "Who is this fine young man?" I think he knew I was keeping an eye on him. Mam rubbed my head, even though she knows I don't like it, she's always doing it!

"This is Squid. That’s Stephen and Kate over there, and my name is Nancy McFinnigan," she said, holding out her hand to the old man. When they shook, I saw his skin was dirty, with big cracks and ugly nails. I was a bit nervous because, only bad ones had such ugly hands.

"Squid is it?" he chuckled. "That's a quare name for a young-fella." He dipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a roll of sweets. He broke them in half, and offered some to me. I didn't know what to do so, I held on to Mam's leg, even though I knew, I was the one that should have been looking after her.

"It's okay," she said. "They're Silvermints."

I held out my hand, and took the half packet of sweets. They looked like white bits of chalk, but bigger. When I sucked one, they made my mouth tingle and tasted oh so good.

"So, what’s your name?" Mam asked.

The man said, "Willy Barrett, Missus. From the next parish over, but I’ve a few fields down this way." I made my mind up then and there, Willy Barrett must be one of the good ones, because only good ones would have Silvermints. I left them talking, and went to share the sweets with Stephen and Kate.

"Squid!! don't give Kate any, she is too small," Mam shouted, when she saw what I was doing.

I didn't listen to much of what Mam and Willy Barrett were talking about, but I did hear him say, "This old place has been empty a long time. People come and go from it. Don't remember anyone staying too long." Soon he was on his way down the road. I hoped he would come again and bring more Silvermints.

We didn't sleep in the kitchen any more, like we had that first night. Mam, Dad and Kate, slept in one room, me and Stephen, had bunk beds, in the other room. Because I was the oldest, I got the top one. Kate still didn't like the new house, and sometimes cried in the night. She said she didn't like the old man, he was ugly. Mam said it was only bad dreams. I knew she was wrong, because sometime Kate cried in the day as well, and you can't have bad dreams in the daytime. The funny smell that had come the first night, came back sometimes. Now, even Mam could smell it. She pulled the kitchen apart looking for what was causing it, but she never found it.

One night, she was sitting in the kitchen plucking the feathers off an old hen that she had killed for dinner, when the smell came. Dad was home.

"There it is now," she said, sniffing the air. Dad took big sniffs as well, so did I, but only for show, because knew the smell already. It was like turf fire and hedges.

"That is strange," said Dad, at last. "It's pipe tobacco." The smell would stay a while, and then just go again. It happened so often while we lived there, that Mam would say, "He's here again." Like there was someone at the door. I don't think Mam or Dad ever minded the smelly pipe smell, but Kate hated it, and was never happy in the new house.

Later in the year, the winter was coming, and we were on our holidays from school. It was Halloween time, so we were getting dressed up to go to the neighbour’s house; trick or treating. There was only one neighbour, but we were excited anyway. Stephen was dressed in an old jacket, wellies, and had a fork. He was going to be Willy Barrett. Since the day Willy scared my Mam, we became great friends. He always had Silvermints for me, and I would help him working in his field, or feeding the calf's when they were born. Tonight, I was going to be a fisher man. I was dressed in all my Dads fishing clothes, but Mom took the hooks off before she let me put them on. That was a pity, how can you be a fisherman with no hooks to feed the fish?

She had me standing on the table, rolling up my pants, so my feet would stick out bottom. I was looking out the window, across the field at the back of the house. I couldn't see the ocean today; it was very strange weather. The ground was covered in thick white clouds, so you couldn't see your feet. Mom said it was a sea mist, rolling in from the ocean. The evening was still, and the mist was sitting low on the ground. The cows in the field looked funny, they looked like they had no legs, and were floating on the mist. Every now and again, they ducked their heads into it, and when they came back up again, they were munching on grass.

I was watching the cows, when the scariest thing ever happened. A huge bang! The back door flew open, slamming into the wall a few times. Cupboard doors flew open and banged. A glass smashed on the ground, all the pictures on the wall flapped and clattered. Then the front door flew open, and all the noise stopped.

I had let out a big scream, but so had everyone else. Katie and Stephen were crying, I didn't, but I was scared…lots. Mam got an even bigger fright than the day Willy Barrett looked over the wall, she was shaking all over. Things had fallen out of the presses and all the pictures were facing the walls. Mam cuddled us all at the same time and said, "Sush, it's okay, lads. Sush, it’s only a bit of wind."

When I was a little less scared, I went and looked out the window. When I did, I knew that Mam was wrong. The cows were all still floating on the clouds outside. The wind should have made a mess if it had been blowing.

After that day, things were never as good in the new house. Kate saw the old man more and more. She had lots of scary dreams, in the day, and the night. One of our cows was hit with lightening, right in the field where it stood. Dad lost the job at the timber yard, and even the car stopped working. In the end, we had to sell the house and move back to Galway. 

The truck came again, and again, we loaded all our things. We had no car this time, so a friend of Dads, came to give us a lift back into Galway. I looking back at the house as we drove away. Just before we got out of sight, the curtain on the kitchen window billowed as if the wind caught it. A dark shape inside the house was watching us go. It made my tummy jump and feel sick. I looked away as quick as I could and decided not to tell anyone about what I had seen. Let me tell you, I was very glad we weren't going to live in the smelly house any more.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Happiness V Fulfilment

Happiness or fulfilment. I think I have been getting them confused lately. I thought, if my life was fulfilled then I would be happy. I was thinking about this while I walked my dog's in the wood today and realised they are two very different things. I believe they are both vital but in very different ways.

"So what is the difference?" the crowd enquired. 

I think, fulfilment is an ambition for the future, a goal that we set ourselves. This goal gives us something to strive towards and organise our efforts around. I know from my own experience that steps on the way to achieving many goal's are often hard, tedious and sometimes downright unpleasant. It is the end result which holds the promise of fulfilment. We are industrious little animals, us humans. We need some aim in our lives no matter what it is. I think our mind's need this focus.

Did I not mention happiness? I am fully convinced that these two, seemingly identical emotions, exist on completely different plains. Happiness, true happiness can only exist in the moment. The now. This is where I feel I have let myself down. I have been failing to fully enjoy the moments as they happen, the small one and the big ones. To make best use of them I think I need to abandon the past and the future. Exist only in the moment and take all it has to offer.

Which delivers me to the crux of the issue, balance. If they are both important, which is more so? Where should the balance lie? Okay, the answer is easy, I haven't a notion.

The old saying "to much of anything is bad for you" is very true. I seriously doubt that running around hugging trees or cooing at butterflies, like some demented hippy will lead to a lasting happiness. However, taking a few moments each day to enjoy what the world is showing us can do a lot of good. Without a plan we  are in danger of letting the days slip by with nothing to show for them.

We can't all fly to the moon or climb Mount Everest. No goal is more important than another. What matters is how important the goal is to you. Time is fleeting and I have no idea how much of it I have left in the tank. My goals are set, and journey has begun and believe it or not, if you're reading this, your coming along for the ride. Hold on, it might get bumpy.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

The new normal

The question, what is normal. Did you ever have the feeling you just don't fit in. I have had it all my life. Yesterday was driving along in the car it was a fantastic day. Sunny but not too hot. The radio was tuned to a talk show with a very interesting guest.

He was talking about social interaction. How things that are unacceptable become acceptable once the perceived majority are taking part. Germany for example in the late 30's. People now wonder how the normal citizens back then allowed the terrible acts that took place each and every day. The answer seems to be that the perceived majority appeared to be involved in these acts (even if they were in fact a small minority) so it became the norm and the citizens feeling of guilt and unease were therefore abnormal.

What this radio guest said next got me thinking about all this. He said that the fifth addition of listed medical mental conditions is due to be published and it is now massive. It is expected that 50% of the entire population of the world could be classified under one or more of the listed conditions. This begs the question, which half will end up the norm. This guest also had a very good explanation for this dramatic rise in mental conditions.

He puts forward that when people existing in a "bubble" or a closed in sphere of either mental attention or human interactions they start to make decisions that become more and more introspective. Such as people researching mental issues. They spend days and days looking for brain problems. Low and behold they find one, that leads to finding another then another and another. Somewhere in this daisy chain they have crossed over the universal line of the normal but are unaware of it. I think this same thing has been happening with Health and safety legislation and the legal profession for years.

Driving along in my car I jumped back a few decades in my mind and wondered what people would have thought of all this. Back then if you were a little different you were a character. If you were a lot different you were "Some character".

Do the powers that be want us to give up all creative and individual impulses. Were we all to become a huge heard of sheep. Anaesthetising ourselves with massive amounts of TV, on line gaming and fast food. I think we have lost sight of what is important in life. We are too tied up in tat and possessions to live a life that is fulfilling. Even though i am putting this out in a blog I feel the Internet is also being taken over with mindless rubbish. It is sucking the hours out of our days leaving us isolated and eventually alone.

In my humble opinion we should embrace the non normal ideas, let them free to see where they take us. I would bet that the vast majority would find this liberating and actually good for there mental health. There will be a few that go to far and there always have been. We should not stifle the many for fear of the few. So go on, you know you have your own quirks. I bet you have them hidden away in a safe place deep in your mind. Why not let them out for a little bit, take them for a walk in the sunshine and let them breath. Why not it's official now, no one is normal.  

Friday, 12 July 2013

What Love looks like

The first time I knew love was a moment I shall never forget. It was one of the most important moments of my life and the two people involved never even saw me. Thinking back, I am not exactly sure that they did me any favours, perhaps I had better explain a little bit more.

I was twelve or thirteen years old and travelling to England from Ireland on the ferry. Excited by the prospect of adventure and a tiny bit sea sick I went wandering the deck during the middle of the night. As the ship ploughed through rolling waves, I lurched around the dim and deserted boat, trying as best I could to look like I belonged. The sting of salt spray on my face was uncomfortable and exhilarating at once. The dim running lights of the ship held no power over the all-encompassing gloom of a mid ocean night. The waves rose higher, causing me to wonder if being on deck was all that wise, but wisdom and youth rarely sit well together. I wandered on, swaying side to side, hands firmly driven into my coat pockets, far too cool to use the hand rail. After walking around for a time I found myself on the top deck, looking into a near deserted lounge through a sea spray speckled window. That was when I saw them.

So young, but older than me. They seemed to shine in the way no light could in the dark of a mid ocean crossing. They had an exotic hue to their skin, far too tanned to be Irish, perhaps Spanish or French. She had long dark hair past her shoulders and was very beautiful. She wore a short green jacket with a wool jumper underneath and jeans, comfortable but stylish in the way a movie star must in dress the hours before a scene is shot. The man was just as dashing, his chin coloured with stubble, and unruly brown hair fell to the shoulders of a leather jacket. Their beauty was undeniable but that was not the quality that changed my heart forever. It was the way they were together and alone at once that struck me dumb.

The Girl sat on a bench with a book in her hand, the man slumbered, his head nestled in her lap. In that perfect moment I fell in love, not with her or him but them.  It was the intimacy that they shared which captured me so completely. Even in that public place it radiated off them like heat from the sun. As she read, her fingers teased and rolled the locks of his hair. Slow languid movements. As he slept she cared for him, watched over him and protected him. To each other they gave themselves, willingly and completely. Such an innocent movement of her hand was far more tender than any poem I had ever read. I don't even know if she knew she was doing it. In truth I hope she didn’t.

I stood outside that window and watched. The ocean spray carried on the wind, glistened like tiny diamonds as it landed on my clothes. I was mesmerised, I couldn’t take my eyes from that couple. I wanted what they had. The connection to another so strong, so close that you aren’t even aware of it, until it’s broken, like having a limb taken from you. In the end I found my family asleep and unaware that I had been changed. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was feeling. I felt happy excited and a little sad at the same time. Right then I wasn’t even aware how big an impact these people had on me. But that image has never left my mind. Over the years it come now and again reminding me what I found that day on a windswept deck in the middle of a dark a dismal squall. Love, pure and simple.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Whats in a name

My Mom call's me Squid, my Dad call's me Squid, none of my friends even know that I’ve another name, but I was christened Harold Anthony McFinnigan. All-in-all I much prefer to be called Squid. Who wouldn't?

Nancy Begley, Mom to me, was a lovely Irish girl of eighteen years when she was swept clean off her feet by a dashing teddy-boy called, Tony McFinnigan, or Dad. They first saw each other across the crowded dance floor in a parish hall way back in nineteen sixty-seven. Dances in Ireland were a tea total affair back then. The girls would arrive early, sitting around the edge of the floor in their best dresses, waiting eagerly to be asked to take a turn on the dance floor. And where there were girls, there were boys, lots of boys.

The air was thick with smoke, hair lacquer and body heat. So heady was the atmosphere you could nearly see it ripple with the beat of whatever band happened to be playing. One thing you were never short of back then was a crowd. These days, with so much to do, it's hard to imagine how special those dance nights were. Young people had one chance to go wild and it was at the Saturday night dance. It wasn't strange for people to walk ten, or fifteen miles, to get to a dance. Not surprising really, women weren't even allowed in the pubs in those days. A snug perhaps, but never the pub.

Dance nights were an oasis of excitement provided by, Mike Dell, Joe Dolan, Dicky Rock, and the like. Young people jived, flirted, fell in love, and made life-long commitments all in the space of a few hours.

We think our days are different…don't fool yourself. Even back then there were girls you wouldn't be seen dancing with, but you'd still meet them in the shadow of the handball alley for a cuddle. Then there were the boys, the ones a girl's father wouldn't let inside the garden gate, and my Dad happened to be one of these.

Even after a dance started, Tony and his friends would be propping up the counter in a local drinking hole, sinking pints, or even a few shorts if they were flush. They'd make fun of the country boys, in their mass suits, supping lemonade and dreaming of a wife.
Tony was broke most of the time, but he dressed like he was loaded. Trousers so tight, he got pin's-and-needles if he sat too long. A long grey jacket, with velvet lapels, a skinny tie and winkle picker shoes. It was the teddy-boy uniform. He looked sharp and he knew it. His hair gleamed like it had been painted with gloss paint, a little sneer on his lips and eyes twinkling with good humour.

The dance would be going an hour when the cool crowd would turn up. The boys would swagger down the street like John Wayne, talking loudly, and laughing louder. Men they passed threw them dirty looks, while the girls just looked. Bad boys are the same the world over. Rule breaking is just so sexy. The teddy-boys, my Dad included, would gather on the balcony, looking down on the heaving throng of dancers. They’d laugh, whistle, and call, to the spinning girls as they whipped around the floor.

Mom said she knew Dad was different because he never whistled, but for all the dances he went to, Tony McFinnigan never once graced the floor. Another thing not in short supply in the good old days were lads not liking their girls being whistled at. A fight was constantly in the offing. Waiting for the right combination of sly remarks and hurt feelings to flare into spectacular life. As the temperature rose in the room; pulses raced, comments were made and heard, looks were thrown, and in the end, voices grew threatening. With tension at fever-pitch, they would charge in to the car-park. Two tides of testosterone crashing against each other. Fists flying, oiled hair whipping and boots a swinging. Sure, it was all part of a good night out.

On one particular night, James O'Brien, Dad's friend, had an eye on wild-looking red-head making circuits of the floor. Every time she came under the balcony, she’d make cow eyes up at him over the shoulder of the guy she was dancing with. She came closer and staying longer under the balcony with each turn around the dancefloor.

"Jesus Tony, will you get a load of the strawberry number with that big bullock chaser," James shouted into my Dad's ear over the drum of the music.

"Where about's?" he asked, scanning the floor.

"Here she comes now, past the tea table," he said kind of pointing with his elbow because being interested enough to take your hand out of your pocket was not cool.

"She is a fine thing right enough," said Dad, watching the bobbing mop of deep red curls like sunset on a summer’s night. "I think yr man she's with has you spotted and he's not looking happy about you grinning at his bird."

This time, as the couple came around the floor, it was the dead eyes of the massive farm labourer that searched the balcony, and not in a friendly way. The red-headed girl was looking away but clearly quiet pleased that the young bulls were squaring up over her.

"What you looking at, you greaser?" the farmer roared up at the balcony.

James leaned far out over the rail before shouting at the top of his voice, "A fine thing and a GOBSHITE, can you figure out which one you are!" The balcony erupted with shouts and cheers. Fingers were pointed and feet stamped as the man mountain below stood rooted to the floor, his face as red as a beetroot. The girl slipped away into the mill of dancers, giggling into her hand.

When the shouting died down the big lug eventually thought of something to say and shouted back. "If you had any balls, you'd say that to my face and not be hiding behind the skirts of the fancy-boys up there!"  Questioning anyone's balls did two things. First, it made sure blood would spill, and soon. Second, it caused the parish priest to jump out of his chair and start yelling.

"Less of the language you guttersnipes." Funny thing about the priest, he was not at all fussy about the number of teeth knocked out in the car park, but one semi-bad word and you were going straight to hell.

"That fucker has it coming," said James, as he pushed through the crowd toward the stairs. The thing about James is, he talked a good game and was brave enough, but he couldn't hit a barn door with a Massey Ferguson. Dad pushed through the crowd after him. After all, someone had to save him if things went bad. By the time Dad got to the dance floor things were already bad, and heading straight for disaster. James was toe to toe with the fella, who had looked big from the balcony, but was enormous from down here. He was too far away to hear what was being said but James was the one doing all the talking right up to the point a hay maker lifted him clear off the ground.

It only took a second for war to break out. Bodies were flying in from all directions; some picking sides, others just hitting anything that stood in front of them. In the middle of all this the band kept playing and some couples danced through the melee. Dad was trying to reach the stretched-out James when a sly little fucker snuck up behind him and levelled him. When his head cleared, he was looking up from ankle-level at the most smashing girl he’d ever laid eyes on.

"Are you finished down their Mister?" she said, but made attempt to move away. Tony had the smallest glimpse of two shapely legs disappearing into the darkness before he gathered himself enough to sit up. As the fight raged round them, my Mom and Dad fell in love.

He walked her home that night but she wouldn't let him hold her hand. As far as Nancy was concerned, if he wanted an easy girl he could stay running around after the townies; with make-up applied by the trowel-load, and skirts up to the crack of their arse. For her, he would have to put in some leg work. It was five miles to her house and when they got there, they sat on the wall talking until the hills popped out against a brightening sky. I don't know what they talked about that night, and I am not so sure I want to.

They became a regular sight at the dances and even though, like I said earlier, they never actually danced together, everyone knew they were a couple. Nancy would whirl the night away with other girls, never accepting a dance from any of the men that asked. They would spend the night stealing looks at each other. In the end, they would meet at the tea table just before the dance was over. The fights still happened but Tony wasn't interested in taking part any more. He went for a few drinks with the boys, but stopped hanging out in the balcony. Every weekend for well over a year, he would walk Nancy home and they would talk until dawn. Ok, ok, in my mind they were talking, use your imagination.

About a year and a half later, Tony got a job as an apprentice-fitter in the Ford factory in Cork City. Realistically, he didn't know what a fitter did, but he knew it was the key to a good future. Four years it would take before he was qualified, and then he could work anywhere in the country he liked, but for now it was Cork or nothing. Four years seemed like a heck of a long time. He kept the news to himself, trying to work out what to do. It all revolved around Nancy. If he took the job, he'd be gone for months at a time. Would she wait for him? Like hell she would! She was gorgeous, and every guy in town was gagging for them to break up. Anyway, she'd probably think he was running around with every floozy this side of the river Lee. How could they survive that?

What if he didn't take the job? What was there around here for him? Building, labouring, farm work or he could try for a job with the council? He was fairly sure his years of swaggering around town with the tough crowd would put the knobbler on anything but the worst of jobs. Would she want to be with a looser like that either? He didn't think so. He spent so long time trying to work out what to do, but he still hadn't a clue and it was a week before he was due to leave.

That Saturday night after the dance finished, he walked Nancy home as normal. He'd been skittish as a wild cat all week, never knowing what to do with himself or what to say. He knew he was making Nancy worry. That night, they walked the whole long five miles without a word passing between them and even so, to him, it seemed like they got to her wall in seconds. He couldn’t put off his decision any longer. The killer was, he still had no idea what he was going to say.

"What's wrong with you tonight?" she asked as they sat.

He sighed, "I have a bit of news."

She looked nervous and Tony thought he spotted a tear hanging in the corner of her eye. "Go on," she said looking up at the stars. "You better tell me so."

He gritted his teeth and went for it. "I've landed a job down in Cork. It starts next week. Tis a good job but the pay is cat. I won’t be able to travel up and down all the time."

Now he was sure he saw the tear. She looked at her hands resting in her lap and said, "Are you breaking up with me?"

"NO! No," he said, not really knowing what else to say, but the next few words came out all by themselves. To this day he's sure his brain had no hand in it. "I was thinking you might come with me?"

"Jesus me Da would love that," she said in a mocking half laugh.

"He won't have a say in it if we’re married." Now this statement came as a surprise to Nancy and an even bigger one to Tony. Yet again, his brain wasn't in charge, his heart was driving this bus now.

In the silence that followed Tony knew there had never a better idea in the history of the world. It must have been infectious because Nancy dived from the wall in a flood of tears and wrapped her hands around his neck like she was drowning.

"You’re not messing, you wouldn't do that to me would you, say you’re not messing?" she mumbled into his neck. He laughed as he stroked her hair and whispered something secret in her ear that neither one has ever told another person. Five days later she left on the bus for Cork and two weeks after that they were married.

At last we get to where I come into the story. They had a little flat over a shop in Bishops Quay. It was dark, a bit damp and tiny but they were in love and as far as they were concerned it was a haven. The wedding had the sum total of seven people at it. Afterwards, they all went to the Royal Hotel for drinks and a couple of plates of ham sandwiches. If it had been a banquet in Buckingham Palace, Tony and Nancy couldn't have been happier. Tony was working his job three weeks by then. I won’t go too much into the factory at the moment except to say the best friend he ever made in Cork, he made on the first day at work. To my misfortune the man's name happened to be Harold Boyle. Dad insisted I be named after him, seeing as he stood for me at my christening. As easy as that, I was given the worst name in the history of names.

But where did Squid come from? This is a much better story.

A few months after the wedding Nancy came down with a bug and couldn't even hold down a cup of tea. She mentioned as much to the old woman who ran the shop down stairs one morning.

"I don't know why your shocked, Misses, with all the new cracks in the ceiling. The banging and carrying on of yea. I was sure your name was, Rabbit, not McFinnigan. There'll be three upstairs before next Easter, or my name not Peggy Sacks," she told my mom while Nancy was buying a batch loaf. Sure enough, she was right. My Ma was up the duff.

From the get go I was a great little mover. One night, after hours of me kicking and twitching, my mam turned to Tony with a hand on her stomach and said, "I am telling you Tony I am not sure this is a baby at all. I'm sure it’s a squid or something." Tony laughed and laughed.

A few days before, they’d been walking along the jetty in Cobh when they came across a young lad trying to get a “Thing” off his fishing line. It was white and slimy and wriggling all over the place.

"Look at that," said Nancy pointing. "What kind of yoke is that?"

Being a country lad, Tony had never seen anything like it either. "What you got there?" he asked the boy.

Just then the thing plopped off the fishing line and went skittering across the concrete. The lad tried his best to grab it but it kept slipping out of his fingers. It went sailing over the edge and into the water.

"Me fucking squid," wailed the boy, grabbing his head. To Tony and Nancy this seemed like the funniest thing anyone ever said. All that day for no reason Tony would turn to Nancy and imitate the lad making them both howl with laughter all over again.

So, from the moment my Mam made her joke, in a small little flat on Bishop's Quay above an ancient grocers’ shop, I was squid then and ever more.