Saturday, 27 July 2013
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 To him I came first, my pain superseded his.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.
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
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
I just had to share this little story with you all. With my hand on my heart every word I am 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 my little posts are living across the pond in good old US of A. I want you to put from your minds all 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, is the order of the day. Last Friday night was shaping up to be no different.
As I got the back bar ready for opening, the band were setting up on stage. Shots 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 lifetime of chips and scratches. Nothing matched. Cables were held together with miles of gaffer 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 they came in two by two. The 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. Any drinkers that came to the dances wouldn't arrive for an hour yet. In short the night started exactly as I had expected.
At quarter to ten, the musicians waddled toward the stage with a pints filling every available hand. I was glad they had gone from their perch near the bar. One of them was constantly farting not caring about the nostrils of those around him. I would have said something but I could not 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 lots of people are doing this internet dating. I was nearly going to give it a go myself," trying to make the old man feel a little better about things. "How long have they been together?" I asked.
"They only just meet."
"No, tonight," he said without a hint of a humour.
I stammered for a moment, I put up 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 was hard to miss. How I was watching, young girl seemed less young. She acted like a shy teenager but her face jaded. 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 sight. At one stage the father actually stood up to watch. I saw the shame in her 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 girls 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
I think that the good weather brings out the best in nearly all women. They swish by in flowing colourful sun dresses. Lots of sun kissed skin, long bronzed legs and miniskirts 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 their best side It's a skill that should be applauded. We have all seen the mistakes. Laughed behind cupped hands. The Size 16 stuffed into size 10 miniskirt and boob tube. Ten years of McDonald's hanging over the waistband. The entire outfit shifting dangerously as she moves. Or the girl with bedraggled cardigans in dull brown over shapeless dresses made of discarded nuns habits. These examples only help to prove the rule. With that said we come to the Irish men of summer.
Mother of divine heaven what happened to the men. At the first glimpse of sunshine any guy that thinks he has a half decent body whip's off the top. Parading about with it draped over a shoulder or tied around his waist. Let me tell you guys that this is a major mistake even in the eyes of another man. Firstly, that skin has seen about 10 minutes of sunshine in its entire time on the planet. Whiter than the snow's of the arctic. Pasty Irish men with little tufts of bum fluff chest hair will not make the women go weak at the knees. At least not with pleasure.
Another thing. What's with the walk. Yesterday all these fellas could make it down the road like normal everyday 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 the beach. I must admit I have fell victim to this fopa myself in younger days but I hope I have learned a little 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 make up the rest. A wistful picture more alluring than any reality can live up to.
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 matched. Every pair of shorts looking like they were made for someone either two feet taller or in some cases two stone lighter. Even I could have lived with that. It was one hot night in ten years. However being kitted out from head to knee like Michael Jordan's midget albino cousin and wearing black suit sox and some random pair of shoes left me wanting to poke my eyes out with a sharp stick.
Don't generalise Squid I hear you say. Guilty sadly. 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. I would not put myself in either camp. I have had my days of fashion disaster as well as days that drew complements. In general I would say I was a tad dull. My resolution is to watch the best dressers and take a few hints. Learn from my betters and I encourage the bare chested out there to do the same.
There you have it, my opinion for what it's worth. What makes me sad is not the hideous outfits but the fact we seem not to want to get better. People should be happy in there skin and their clothes. For some nothing says happiness like a pair of yellow boardies and black leather shoes, but never WITH SOX.
Tuesday, 16 July 2013
"Do you mean CD?" she asked, genuinely
At that stage I realised two things. I actually did mean record, the shinny 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 or so tapes at the most, as I moved from Dorm to Digs. The intimate knowledge of making a tape recording will mark a person as a child of the 80's, and more specifically, the mix tape. I loved mix tapes. I am 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 dictated each song we picked for the person the tape was intended for. 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 am 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, " I THINK YOUR HOT!!!". As if giving someone a mix tape, was not hint enough. We made tapes for making out, we made tapes to bring to party's, (only cool songs on these even if you hated them). But mostly, in my case, I made mix tapes when my heart was breaking. These were for me. Songs were picked, like music for a funeral mass. Once the tape was finished, they would play into the night, sending me too dream of the one I wished were with me. Rooms filled with gloom, lit by hanky covered lamp shades. These tapes, 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 on her journey, and I wondered what connection will she have with music, romance, and life, when she looks back on her youth. 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. Its just taht the selection of tunes is now greater, and DJ's less of a nuisances. I smiled to myself, and envied the one she was making play list's for, but they would never beat a mix tape!!
Monday, 15 July 2013
It may be pretty but you can't eat a nice view. The gray limestone bedrock lies under the thin skin of this county like the rib's 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 donkey if you were rich, or man if you were not. Many a back was flayed where ropes cut deep running red with blood and sea water.
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 hart. I was inconsolable. I cried like I have 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 loading the car, and cried a bit 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 of the city that 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 all a whizz of new places, new people, new everything. My brain was not 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 did not 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, where 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 was not 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 a few acres of land. I though 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 time, 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 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 though 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 neighbor for miles had came to say, welcome. They brought gifts, mostly cakes, breads and jams, made in their own kitchens. Eggs and milk, came from chicken sheds, not the shop. Water was gathered in a tank from the roof. I don't think that we had as many people visit us in Cork in all my life, as came that first week in the new house.
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 big 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 in the middle of the garden. 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 was not 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 is Stephen and Kate over there, and my name is Nancy McFinnigan," she said, holding our her had to the old man. When they shook hands, 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 only 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 is your name?" Mam asked. The man said, "Willy Barrett, Missus, from the next parish over, but I have a few fields down this way".
I made my mind up then and there, that 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 neighbors house, trick or treating. There was only one neighbor, but we were excited anyway. Stephen was dressed in a 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 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 there 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 every one 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 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, its 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
Saturday, 13 July 2013
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
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
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 ninteen 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.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 ribble 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 is hard to imagine how special the dance nights were. Young people had one chance to go wild and that was at the Saturday night dance. It wasn't strange for people to walk ten or fifteen miles to get to a dance, then back again. Not surprising really when women weren't even allowed in the pub, a snug perhaps but never the pub. Dance nights were oasis of excitement provided by Mike Dell, Joe Dolan, Dicky Rock and the like. Young people danced, flirted, fell in love and made life long commitments all in the space of a few hours.
We all think things were different in our parents day, don't fool yourself they were just the same. Even back then there were the girls you wouldn't be seen dancing with but would meet outside in the handball alley. Then there were the boys a girl's father wouldn't let inside the garden gate. My dad was one of these.
While the dance was beginning, Tony and his friends would still be in the local, sinking pints or even a few shorts if they were flush. They'd laugh and make fun of the country boys in their mass suits having an lemonade or a single pint before tearing off to the hall, eager to find a partner. 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 for too long. A long grey jacket with the velvet lapels, narrow tie and shinny winkle picker shoes were his uniform. He looked sharp and he knew it. His hair gleamed like it had been painted with a tin of gloss black paint, not a strand out of place. Always a little sneer on his lips but his eyes gave lie to this as they just could not help twinkling with good humor. About an hour after the dance began the cool crowd would turn up.The boys swaggered down the street like John Wayne, talking loud and laughing louder.Lads they passed threw dirty looks while the girls just threw looks. Bad boys are the same all over the world. Breaking the rules is just so sexy.
The Teddy boys gathered on the balcony, looking down into the heaving throng of dancers, laughing, whistling and calling out to the spinning girls as they whipped around the floor. In the middle of them all leaned Tony. Mom said she knew he was different because he never whistled. Mom also told me that in all the times that they went to the dances she never once saw him on the floor and he never danced with her.
Another thing not in short supply in the good old days, was lads not liking their girls being whistled at. A fight was constantly waiting in the wings for the right combination of sly remarks, and hurt feelings to flare into spectacular life. The temperature rose, pulses raced, dig's were made and heard, looks were thrown and in the end voices grew threatening. Out they would charge, like two tides of testosterone. Fists flying, oiled hair whipped into greasy waves and boots a swinging for anywhere that might hurt. Most of the time it was god manners to take it outside not that there was always time. Sure it was all part of a good night out.
On this particular night James O'Brien had his eye on wild looking red head. Every time she came around under the balcony she gave him the eye over the shoulder of the guy she was dancing with, coming closer and staying longer under the balcony each time they passed.
"Jesus Tony, will you get a load of the strawberry number with that big bullock chaser," James shouted into my dads ear over the drum of the music.
"Where about's?" he asked scanning the floor.
"Here she comes now, past the tea table," James said kind of pointing with his elbow because being interested enough to take your hand out of your pocket was just not cool.
"She is a fine thing right enough," said dad spotting the bobbing mop of deep red curls like sunset on a summers night. "I think yr man she's with has you spotted and is 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 quiet pleased with the way the young bulls were squaring up over her.
"What you staring at you greaser?" he roared up at the balcony as he passed underneath.
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 a a beetroot. The girl slipped away in 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 would say that to my face and not be hiding behind the skirts of all your fancy boys up there!" Questioning anyone's balls did two things. First it made sure that 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 pries,t he was not at all fussy about the amount 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 pushing through the crowd for the stairs. The thing about James is he talked a good game and was brave enough but could not hit a barn door with a Massey Ferguson. Tony pushed through the crowd after him. Someone had to save him if things went bad.
By the time Tony 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 and enormous from down here. He was to far away to hear what was being said but James was the one doing all the talking. James was doing 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, 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 even tried dancing through the melee. Tony was trying to reach the stretched form of James when a sly little fucker snuck up behind him and leveled him, sending Tony crashing to the wall.When his head cleared he was lying on his back looking up between the ankles of the most smashing girl he had ever laid eyes on.
"Are you finished down their Mister?" she said but made move to pull her legs away. Tony had the smallest glimpse of two shapely legs disappearing up 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 with a trowel 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 Nancy's house. When they got there they sat on the wall down the road talking until you could pick out the hills against the 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 dance 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 any more. He went for a few drinks with the boys each week 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.
It was about a year and a half later that Tony got a spot 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. Even so four years was a long time. Tony kept the news to himself, trying to work out what to do. It all revolved around Nancy. If he took the job he would 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 would probably think he was running around with every floozy this side of the Lee. How could they survive that?
What if he didn't take the job? What else was there around here for him. Building, Labouring, farm work or he could try for a job with the council. He was fairly sure swaggering around town with the tough crowd for years had 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 trying to work out what to do he still had not told her the week before he was due to leave.
One Saturday night after the dance finished, he walked Nancy home as normal but was very quite. He had been skittish as a wild cat all week infact. Nancy thought he was going to break up with her and was only just holding herself together that whole long five miles home. Even so, to Tony, it seemed like they got to their wall in record time and he could put off his decision no longer. The killer was Tony still had no idea what he was going to say.
"What's wrong with you tonight?" she said at last.
He sighed, "I have a bit of news."
She looked nervous and Tony thought that 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."
Tony gritted his teeth and went for it. "I have landed a job down in Cork. I starts next week. Tis a good job but the pay is cat. I wont be able to travel up and down all the time."
This time Tony 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 never had a hand in it. "I was thinking you might come with me?"
"Jesus my Da would love that," she said in a mocking half laugh.
"He won't have any say if you marry me." Now this was as much a surprise to Tony as it was to Nancy. 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.
"Your not messing, you wouldn't do that to me would you, say your 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 were 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 sandwich's. 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 wont 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 up stairs before next Easter or my name not Peggy Sacks," she told my mom while Nancy was buying a batch loaf for Tony's sandwich's. Sure enough she was right. My Ma was up the duff.
From the get go I was a great little mover. One night, after a hours of kicking and twitching my mam turned to Tony with a hand on her stomach and said with a straight face. "I am telling you Tony I am not sure this is a baby at all. I'm sure its a squid or something." Tony laughed and laughed.
A few days before they had 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 is 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.