Saturday, April 29, 2006

Bee fur and cat food

Our black cat, who is an Einstein among felines when it comes to everything else, is completely daw-brained when it comes to bees. He knows they have stingers, because he sat with one paw held up like a cartoon sore-thumb all evening last summer after getting stung. But there's something about a buzzing, randomly flying bundle of stripy black and yellow fur that just can't be resisted by him. As soon as he sees one, he bounces off down the garden, swatting wildly at the air.

Last night, as I was juggling plates and dishes of cat food and carrying a box of cat biscuits between my teeth, I opened the cats' shed door to discover that inside was a large bumblebee flying about in a holding pattern awaiting landing instructions. It was obviously confused (as we all are) by the red Axminster carpet hanging on the gable wall, because it was hovering within an inch or two of it looking for nectar in the flowery pattern. Not finding any, it turned towards the light to leave the shed, only to find its path blocked by a pane of window glass. So, it zig-zagged about pondering how to find its way home from this lost position.

The cats were dancing about impatiently at my feet. It just wasn't the routine that I pile dishes high with delicious duck feet and fishguts in jelly, only to stand still for five minutes. They wanted grub and they wanted it now!

I held the door open as wide as it would go and propped it with a bamboo cane, hoping the visitor would take the hint and leave. It works for the Parish Priest, after all.

The bee buzzed about a bit, then managed a kind of insect-like shrug and dropped down to the level of the cats' bedding.

"Oh no!" I said, as the little bugger nipped in neatly through the open doorway in the side of the great big cardboard box into which the cats retire at night. I had a mental picture of the weary flier finding a nice comfortable fold of blanket and settling down for a snooze. And another picture of two sore, fat-lipped cats in the morning.

I reached for another cane and started beating about the box. This was not what the cats had signed up for so they scarpered smartly. No sign of the squatter.


I slammed the door and left things for a half hour. The cats were not impressed.

Finally, I went back to see if yer man was out of the scratcher yet and sure enough, there he was on final approach again.

"Oi! Goggles! Over here!"

You'd swear the little fecker heard me, because this time he did a 180-degree turn and flew half way out the door, tasted the air, and went back into the shed. I waited with bated breath while he did it a second time. As soon as he was anyway clear of its swing, I slammed the door shut again. He buzzed off over the rooftop and was gone.

"Bloody hell. The things I do for these feckin' cats!"

They looked at me with an "About time" expression and slipped inside.

With my luck, someone probably stood on that bee five minutes after I released it.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Flathead syndrome carriers unite!

Carmel Smith announced:

"I'm a flathead!"

As Carmel's head is as round as a pea, this came as something of a revelation over the tea-cups in the staff restaurant. We are refraining from calling it the canteen, by the way.

Carmel had agreed to help Joyce's hair-cutting class by attending a session as a subject-cum-guinea-pig and the instructor had nonchalantly stabbed her in the back of the neck with a scissors after announcing that she was a flathead and that certain haircuts complimented her head shape. Carmel got mileage out of that one, especially the stabbing! And that was that for several weeks.

Last night as we lay in bed, Herself was plagued with a most peculiar headache that would give no relief whether carried lying down or sitting up or walking about the house. She held the top of her head down with one hand as if it was about to fly off.

"I wonder am I having a stroke?" she said. I considered it unlikely and pulled the bedcovers back to my side. An opportunity to steal back the stolen comes but seldom. And that was that for the night.

This morning, I was startled to see Joyce sitting with her hand holding the top of her head as if it was about to fly off, and Mary holding her head in the same pose. It was kind of Monty Python-esque -- a salute for all flatheads everywhere, perhaps. Or the Secret Society of Flatheads. They both reported savage headaches in the night. Something viral must be doing the rounds.

Now I don't know whether I'm a carrier of the syndrome who wafts flatheadishness about in an invisible aura or whether Carmel Smith is shedding flatheadedness at random. The headaches haven't come yet. But if you see me with one hand in a top-of-the-cranium salute, you'll know what happened.

Edit: Since writing the above, I've discovered that several visitors have been finding the piece by searching for a genuine medical condition known as "Flathead Syndrome." Please visit this link to read more about the condition.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Diurse Alarums

It was the most perfect Spring day last week and I’d even managed to get off work relatively early to enjoy the sunshine. I had a vague notion of sitting in the back garden with cats for company and the trills of the resident blackbird washing away a day’s worth of work bullshit.

Stepping off the bus, I walked ten yards into the housing estate to hear a wailing:


Even the fucking burglar alarms are afraid in this estate.

I think it’s either loneliness from being left companionless all day, or else the designers of the damned things are subliminally building into them their own paranoia about people rifling through their CD collections.

What kind of burglar alarm goes “Oh-no-oh-no-oh-no-oh-no” for fuck’s sake?

I heard it again today, when home on the mythical flexi-day (ironically, introduced to give the worker a rest from working; instead I mow grass and stick tiles onto walls for hours and hours) and I stepped outside the back door for a moment to fetch something. I can image one of those Disney-animated teapots shrieking in terror, its four-fingered hands held over its mouth in horror: “Oh-no-oh-no-oh-no-oh-no-oh-no!”

The wind was gusting, so the alarm obviously thought there was a break-in. The trouble is that the person who owns the alarm suffers from a number of deficits in relation to their trusty alarm system. 1. The alarm goes off with a gust of wind. 2. It would be a laughable alarm if it wasn’t for… 3. It doesn’t switch off until the owner comes home from work at whatever time in the evening.

We’ve had troubles with our own alarm system recently, but at worst the outdoor siren switches off after a relatively short period, leaving the indoor siren giving it socks. We also went to the trouble of having the alarms people come out and fix the problems as soon as could be managed. But this resident either hasn’t figured out why his neighbours aren’t talking to him, or (like me), finds nothing unusual in the fact the neighbours don’t talk to him.

Do you phone the Gardai whenever you hear a burglar alarm? Me neither.

If he got a recording of a blackbird and played this through the alarm box I could listen to it all day without complaint. I’d even enjoy the confusion of the local bird trying to find his new enemy.

If the wind comes around much this Summer, it’s going to be a long one.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Why I'm standing in the kitchen with a cup of tea in my hand

I didn't saw the new kitchen counter-top too crooked and anyway a bit of glue and pattern-matching laminate tape does wonders. Around noon on Saturday I was struggling under the unit to fix stabilising brackets to give the nod to health and safety and watching the clock as Herself was due home soon. We've had the B&Q kitchen cupboards for about a year and a half now with only a temporary length of quarter-inch plywood as a worktop. Yesterday I finally bought a "real" work surface from the store and hauled it home for fitting.

I nonchalantly piled the old heaps of leaflets, pill bottles, biros, post-its and the rest onto the "Stone Rose" style counter in its pristine glory and put the tools away. Herself arrived in from work and asked how I'd done fetching the worktop.

"Oh it's finished!" she said, catching site of the new addition. "It's lovely!"

She ran her hands over the smooth surface and stepped back to take in the new-look part of the kitchen. We talked about choices of cabinet doors and lighting, but all eyes were on the new worktop.

"No-one is to cut anything on it," she declared.

"No, Dear."

She grabbed the leaflets and pills and all and stuffed them into drawers.

"And no-one is to put anything hot onto it."

"No, Dear."

Later, there was one pot-plant on its saucer in the middle of the worktop and nothing else.

"Er... You know that the surface is to put things on?" I asked.

"Yes," she answered, flicking at an imaginary mote of dust.

I've not been able to increase the population of items on the worktop since. A couple of coins I found on the kitchen floor disappeared almost as soon as I dropped them onto the surface. A fast-food menu turned invisible on contact. And that's why I'm standing in the kitchen beside a half-acre of shiny new worktop with a cup of tea slowly burning the knuckles of my hand.

"A coaster, maybe...? I asked plaintively.

I got a look, so I think I'll go into the other room to have my tea.

There are low crooning noises coming from the kitchen...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Deformed by a €10 mirror

When the cat stopped to look at herself in it, I should have known something was wrong with that mirror. Herself thought a long, narrow mirror would look well on the wall of the living room. "You'll only be looking at yourself in it all the time when you're trying to watch telly", I warned. To no avail. Dunnes Stores provided one long, narrow mirror this evening in a smart wooden frame.

It was a long day and I didn't get time to make our supper until nearly 8.00pm. Then the thought of hanging the bloody mirror loomed large when all I wanted to do was drink a beer and watch the Heineken adverts. I could find picture hooks, but none of the accompanying small nails. My first whack of the hammer the plaster gave way and left a dent under the picture hook. The frame was knotty and the screwdriver was too big.

Despite all the real and imagined difficulties, I hung it. Then the trouble started.

"It's making the curtains look wavy."


"Oh! I look strange!"

I stepped in front of it. My beer belly was intact on the left side, but had drooped down to somewhere under my knee on the right. I reached down, involuntarily to check I was alright. My arm was five feet long.

I stepped back a bit. Herself was kind of s-shaped.

Then the giggling started.

I said: "I'm charging people to come in and take a look in that."

The mirror, I'm told, is going back to the shop tomorrow. Meanwhile, I can hear Herself laughing in the other room.

"I just stood up and half my face is missing!"

Is deformity covered in the Consumer Protection Acts? I'm going to lobby tonight to keep it as a curiosity. My own modest fun house is beginning to look more like the real thing...

Monday, April 17, 2006

The chocolate holiday being over, I shall now count my teeth

What a confusing Easter it has been this year. Not only did my mind go blank when buying Easter eggs at three-for-nine-Euro rates in Dunnes Stores such that I sat into a taxi with the words:

"Thirty Euro for chocolate! Did you ever think you'd see the day?"

But I also ended up with more chocolate eggs than I know people, with the result that the house is standing-room only and the floors occupied with neatly knotted 15c plastic bags containing homeless confectionary. One cannot have a breakfast without accidentally kicking a chocolate egg lurking beneath the table. I am surrounded on three sides in the sitting room by presentations of Easter delights. It has got to the stage where the subliminal message of the overcrowding has made me reactivate the building of kitchen cupboards that had been placed on the longest, E.T.-like finger.

This evening, as I read the "Warning: This should only be assembled by a competent person" message inside the packaging of my flat-packed wall unit, I pondered my recent luck with sweet things. My boss, in his kindness, offered me a chewy sweet last week which pulled out another lump from my back teeth. I sat there, feeling the empty space with my tongue and looking at the piece of tooth in the palm of my hand. There could be no doubt but it was after five o'clock, for no good deed goes unpunished in my workplace and if the bosses couldn't think of anything else to do to me for staying on after quitting time in an attempt to keep abreast of all the paperwork, why not resort to tooth-pulling?

I tossed the half-chewed sweet and the tooth fragment into the bin where they probably caused the cleaner to faint when she looked in later that evening. As I said, no good deed unpunished.

This afternoon between rain showers I managed to paint three-quarters of our garden gate, that piece of tissue paper between the car thieves and our only means of transport to and from work. When it rained, I withdrew to the house and sampled another piece of chocolate eggshell. I've not turned blue or lost the power in my shins yet, but I'm sure it will set in by morning. What has happened on this windy, cold April day is that the black Hammerite paint turned aerial and rained down droplets onto the driveway, my boots, my hands, my jeans. I shall return to work on Wednesday like someone covered in candle smuts.

The filling in that half tooth is standing upright like a sea stack in a saliva sea. I shall have to avoid speaking words with the letter "L" in them for a while or cut myself speaking. Many would say it's about time.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter messages come from unexpected places

They put items at the end of aisles in supermarkets and in stores to catch the "impulse shopper". I've often been the willing participant in this little marketing ploy when pushing the trolley around and something that I know I don't really need but can probably afford anyway catches my eye and gets added to the pile.

Yesterday we were buying some necessities in B&Q for the never-ending kitchen renovation project when Herself spotted a box of those solar recharging garden lamps. Several of the neighbours have them and they look cute after dark among the flowers. Of course, as we don't have any flowers, we thought they might look nice among the unkempt patches of lawn.

There were ten of them, so I put some along the path in parallel rows, then dotted them over to the right curving about by the shed.

"Put one by my mother's plant."

The last one I stuck into the ground by the budding shrub. Then the waiting game began. They wouldn't light until after the sun had gone in. They would spend the day charging up their batteries using a tiny solar panel in the top of the lamp. It was a semi-overcast kind of day.

"Don't be disappointed if they don't all light," I said. "They might need a good stretch of sunshine to charge up properly."

As the afternoon wore on, we took turns in looking out. Then around 7.00pm, one small glimmer began, a tiny star starting to shine.

In an hour, the whole lot were glimmering. As the light cleared out of the sky, they shone brighter, until the garden was aglow with ten bright candles of light. As we looked and wondered, I noticed I'd laid them out quite by accident in one big question-mark shape, its "dot" the single lamp below the budding plant.

A fitting image for Easter this year: Small lights in the darkness bringing happiness and joy. And one big question mark.

Maybe tonight I'll arrange them into a big smiley face...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Presumably on Saturday the Apostles went on the beer

Lots of posts in blogs this Friday about the oddness of the Irish in closing pubs and stopping beer sales on Good Friday. Nothing about the places being open again on Saturday though. Makes sense, if you think about it with an Irish brain. On Friday JC was killed, which was enough to put anyone off the pint. By Saturday, though, with him lying in the tomb, there was nothing else to do really except have a few scoops and talk about the last few years and the Sermon on the Mount, and "Remember those five loaves and fishes, lads?" Good times. Must have added to the confusion on Sunday morning when the women came in shouting about him not being in the tomb and the mother of all hangovers pounding through eleven brains.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Island mentality forever.

A man in the queue in the staff restaurant yesterday pointed at the plaice in breadcrumbs and grumbled:

"That would mean fish two days in a row."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

No need to beat yourself up?

First published at the Metal Music & Lifestyle Forum

"Keith Terry is a percussionist/rhythm dancer whose work encompasses a number of allied performance disciplines — music, dance, theater, performance art — which he brings together to create an artistic vision that defies easy categorization. As a self-defined "body musician," Terry uses the oldest musical instrument in the world — the human body (his own) — as the basis for exploring, blending and bending traditional and contemporary rhythmic, percussive and movement possibilities.

"Trained as a percussionist, Keith was the drummer for the original Jazz Tap Ensemble when he found his drum patterns becoming hand claps and foot steps. Soon percussion became dance, his body his instrument, and his own style of body music emerged. Keith's influences range from Japanese Taiko and Balinese Gamelan to North American rhythm tap and Ethiopian armpit music. "

Okay. Ethiopian armpit music??

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Reggie Perrin where are you?

Can't really call the boss an idiot when you're self-employed without the doctor taking an interest in the conversation and writing worried notes on your chart. So after two and a half years as a wage slave, I've had a day of days when I should very much like to say something to the boss about his/her policies and the way they're mishandled, and (more to the point) how my colleagues... and worse... me!... get to be on the receiving end of bastard members of the public venting off about the boss's policies and how they're mishandled. It ain't fair. Sniff! Sniff!

Yes, I had a bad day today and if I had been on a public counter instead of a telephone, I would have cheerfully hospitalised the sarcastic little bollix that I had to deal with on a call this morning. But such is the pact I've made with the devil that I must stay in a completely unrewarding job, defending policies in which I don't believe.

No, I won't be sending back the pay cheques in protest. And that irritates me too.

On the positive side, the too-big-for-the-washing-machine duvet got a hand-washed pounding tonight. But I'm still mad as hell.

Welcome to the world, Willie. Personal loans to repay. Direct Debits to service each month.

I watched an episode of "The fall and rise of Reginald Perrin" a couple of weeks ago. I'd forgotten how completely anarchic it was. I also hadn't been inside that corporate world the character of Reggie Perrin inhabits when I watched it as a youngster the first time around and when he sporadically tells people they're bastards and gets away with it and fantasises about what bastards they are, it really strikes a chord. What fun.

And the funniest is that as the story progresses his honesty in calling all the twits out means that they begin to think he has some secret to middle-management that they don't, that he is really a guru whose ideas should be followed. Ultimately, he does the famous strip on the shingle beach and swims as far out to sea as possible, only to be washed up unknown in another part of the country where he begins to rebuild his life. Then he rises again, becoming the boss of his own business empire with all his former antagonists now working for him and which sells absolutely useless objects (for example the bottomless ashtray, or the rungless ladder) and which makes a fortune.

The program pokes fun at the whole British business world of the 1970s, the time in which it was made, and is full of lovely sterotypes: the fierce but dim managing director; the ditzy secretary; the ass-kissing middle-management staff. But the character of Reggie is just wonderful.

As soon as my debts are re-paid, I plan a less extreme Reginald Perrin exit from the job that I'm in now. I've had the arse chewed off me by one irate customer too many. The bosses can go fuck themselves and their policies. I want to be a customer again and be the one to do the biting.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

He marks the fall of a sparrow

First published on the Dublin South-West Forum

So it was a glorious sunny end of a day re-decorating when the bird started singing inside the wall. Herself & I looked at each other. There were holes in the front of the house that used to hold anchor bolts for a long-removed television antenna. Every year something small nested in there. The bloody bird must have fallen down the cavity in the wall all the way from near the roof!

"We can't just leave it there to die!"

I was doubtful. I mean, what was I supposed to do? Apparently it was inside a cavity block behind a coat of plaster, behind wallpaper, behind a bookcase, sundry piles of books, a couple of half-empty plastic Coca-cola bottles, videotapes...

"I suppose I could cut one of the floorboards on the offchance it got into the floor space..."

The poor little birdy whistled sweetly from behind the wall, singing a joyful little tune despite the hopelessness surrounding it. There was nothing for it.

D**n it! I had just put away the toolbox. Herself started shifting books while I considered the best way to break into the floor without having to make too many repairs afterwards.

Then the bird started singing from the other side of the room...

"What the f....!"

I crawled through the miscellaneous tools, extension cords, books, videos to the place from which the "birdsong" was sweetly coming. I poked a plastic Coke bottle suspiciously. It squeaked and went on whistling.

The bottle had been heated in the "glorious sunshine" and as its lid was only partially on the escaping gas that bubbled out made a sweet, sweet song....

I started putting tools back in the box while She moved the books. That plastic bottle went in the bin. The hard way.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

365 reasons to take the Prozac

I nearly snatched the prescription out of the doc's hand.

"You've been through a lot lately," he said. "Would you like something to relax?"

So let's see... Diabetic father, recovering from colon cancer and prostate about to give up. Mother beating lumps out of me while I'm changing her nappy/ hospitalised/ dying / dead / cremated / lodged in a wall. Cat poorly. Going to rain later.

"Just give me the fucking tablets."

They said in a report a couple of years ago that fifty percent of tablets have absolutely no effect on fifty percent of people due to differences in body chemistry, genetic makeup, and so on. But these motherfuckers did the business for me. A few milligrams of Fluoxetine hydrochloride promised to iron out the wrinkles in the road for a while.

Naturally, being such an Internet animal, I read about the side-effects before I took any:

"More common side effects may include: Abnormal dreams, abnormal ejaculation, abnormal vision, anxiety, diminished sex drive, dizziness, dry mouth, flu-like symptoms, flushing, gas, headache, impotence, insomnia, itching, loss of appetite, nausea, nervousness, rash, sinusitis, sleepiness, sore throat, sweating, tremors, upset stomach, vomiting, weakness, yawning

Let's see. I already dream a Stephen King plot nightly. "Abnormal ejaculation" sounds interesting. Heh. I'm already blind and anxious: witness the spectacles. Sex drive is in "Park." I get dizzy when I play ring-a-rosy, so I'll cut that out. Dry mouth.. plenty of beer in the fridge. I get flu-like symptoms once a year. Flush when I talk about sex drive. Gas, headache, insomnia, itching, loss of appetite and nausea means its Sunday morning. Nervousness... that's what the Prozac is for, right? Rash: I always was too rash for my own good. Sinusitus, sleepiness, sore throat means it's Winter. Sweating accounts for the heating system. Tremors, the wooden floor. Upset stomach, means curry night. Vomiting, weakness and yawning means I'm sick and tired of reading these side-effects.

So I horsed them. The way they work (if I understand things properly) is to "encourage" the retention of the happy chamical occuring in the brain, namely serotonin. Basically the drug interferes with the bod's ability to reabsorb the serotonin, so when enough happy chemicals are made they stick around longer. Groovy.

I was one of the fifty percent the drugs companies love. Reckon I stayed on the 'Zac about a year, then decided that things were okay and started weaning off it.

When I was on it, those little bumpy bits were really smoothed over. It's a tough one to describe, but that kind of early morning feeling when you wake up worrying that something bad is going to happen, well it still was there, but I had a kind of mental switch which allowed me to figure out that probably things weren't going to be as elephantine troublesome as the mind's eye was making them. A sense of proportion was gradually learned.

For me, the best thing was going off them and finding that the effect lasted for the best part of a year afterwards. And after that, the memory of the effect was still there. Although it takes a little effort to do so sometimes, I can still switch that little "So What?" switch on in a stressful situation in my life and gain the benefits of chilling out without the prescription.

If you're head-wrecked, don't put off talking to someone about it. And don't rule out entirely the option of the prescription happy pills. There are more options available these days than there were. And, if you're in the drugs companies happy 50%, you can benefit.

Or you could walk a couple of miles each day. Or hit a punchbag. Whatever does it.

Monday, April 03, 2006


First published on the Internet 1999

White peaks glaring under blue skies, sugar frosted by the Summer sun, a pert breeze plucked the topmost sand-dunes, whipping and whirling about tufts of squat salt grass. In paths worn by bare feet descending, billows and hollows zig-zagged excitedly, joined the muddled multitude of the beach.

On their way tracks skipped across stones, steadied by a boulder at the head of the strand, tip-toed by a belt of blackened weeds drying in the heat, slipped through a pool, and darting to the edge of the water paused where glitterdusted beach-head softened of a sudden to shrilling, shrishing surf.

The morning, glorious, filled with the sounds of sky and sand and sea. Gulls wheeled and dived, following the fishing boats, squabbling, calling, crying, brilliant white blurs dipping, diving into water snapping at scraps, rising again to hover on wings, a lazy, elongated M-shape casting about, sharp eyes alert, alive, alight.

A low wind whistle-wrapped the headland, sliding sideways, meeting its fellow by the dunes, plunging down to water's edge where motes collided, dropped, mingled with the lapping waves casting, cast again, some making landfall, others sailing quietly out to sea in mud-brown clouds. The water, green-blue electric, lace-trim brimming, elegantly bowed, spread arms in a broad sweep, lapped, slapped, wink-twinkled, retired, and bowed again.

Caché of brine and salt-sea rising, heat released as sea-breeze silenced gathered in shimmering, shore-side sheets, air dancing, grass-skirts waving, spirals scribing, climbing, shifting sands, baked land... grand.