Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Counting Blessings through the interference

The bus was one of those double deckers from a few years ago, the ones I think of as new, even though they're not new. But they're one of the best on our shoddily-provided bus route. They are shiny with pale plastic and lots and lots of chrome handholds, but they have a major flaw: when the engine idles in traffic, noise resonates through the rear of the bus and echoes from the back seats off the shiny plastic walls and off the metallic handholds and gets into your ears as if swirling water was pouring from a jug or basin over your head. There is a rumble from the engine and the air vibrates and then you hear "Shrrshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" and every second or third syllable in any conversation is masked by a strange, white-noise-like, Doppler effect.

"I was in The Square and we_ oo_ eh_curt_es_an_as_eh_dy_..."

It only happens when the bus has stopped in traffic. Once the revs increase, the sound returns to normal.

I often think it can't be good for you.

How is it a health inspector has never condemned these buses as a hazard?

Half-way up the bus I was sitting feeling sorry for myself and feeling depressed over what a lousy job I had to work at. In the back seat a mobile phone rang and a young, well-spoken man answered it and chatted unabashed. I gazed out at the buildings going by, half listening, tuning out when the bus halted and the shrilling, swishing noise buzzed about the cabin.

"...There's no problem at all. I just decided that living in the house with the lads would put me back into a place I didn't want to be again. So I'm on the bus now and I'm on the way over to...."

"...and I'll sleep in the car."

"....was taking 40 mils of Methadone and gone off it. I'm doing okay. There was one day I was sick but it's okay now.."

" day just blow yourself away with a needle, so I thought it would be better if I got out of there..."

"'re right, you're right. Your man asked me to mind something for him and to have some for myself if I wanted. So, of course, I fucked myself up and my mother saw me and said she'd seen your man's car and if she saw it again on the road she'd call the police.

"So I told him and he said he didn't want any trouble with police and I told him I couldn't look after his goods any more..."

"....course is a year. A whole year. They retrain you. I have the literature there. But she said I knew as well as she did I'd never do the day course. She said, the best thing you can do is hang on for the house and get away from everyone. You do better on your own. She told me a lot about myself, more than any other counsellor ever did..."

The bus moved by the playing fields in Old Bawn, half-a-dozen gangly youths clad in T-shirts and shorts kicking a football back and forth on a football field. The sun shone brightly through the right hand panes of the window glass, making those passengers in the offside seats squint and sweat.

"The best thing you ever did was tell me to get out."

"...I'll have to knock on the door, though, and ask for a blanket..."

"No, no. There's nothing you can do...."

"I had three pillows on the bed. Can you get them for me...?"

"Oh, no bother. No bother...."

I stepped down from the bus and shuffled home. The young man was still speaking away on the mobile phone as the bus pulled out from the kerb going off down the road to who knows where.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Friday, April 11, 2008

Laugh? Nearly cried.

Thursday was a day in which the more I heard the less I understood.

"Will you be sick?" I asked the cat. She sat there impassively, the breakfast of cows hooves and sheep guts labelled "Whiskas" gurgling inside her.

"You'd better not be sick! I'm fed up changing the covers on that bed!"

The cat looked disdainfully at me a moment through half lidded eyes. Then she noticed a sunbeam and danced across the bed and over the chest of drawers, her tail disappearing behind the net curtain.

There was a ding dong at the doorbell and:

"Ve haf come to fit doors..."

Two serious Eastern European gentlemen stood on the step, one proffering a bundle of invoices that indeed included me as a customer expecting a delivery and installation of internal doors on this very date. They looked at me silently, the sides of their mouths turned down. I inspected the papers with the methological precision of a border guard.

"Do you have any vegetables, fruits or livestock?" I asked.

They shook their heads.

"No contraband or anything to declare?"

"Ve haf nothing to declare."

"You'd better come in then."

They set to with a will, unloading a van full of shiny new timber and absolutely beautiful three-quarter glazed doors. I'd picked them from a catalogue, sight unseen. They were far better than I expected.

I watched as the doorframes were pulled out. Pulled out very carefully, I saw. And any cables or wires knocking around were saved to be hidden again in the new doorframes like expertly installed listening devices.

Each of the men had a tiny pencil, little more than a lead stub that emerged from some orifice from time to time and made arcane runes on the bare wood. When one made a mark, he disappeared outdoors and a sawing or plaing machine would start briefly, shriek through some unnameable torture, then whizz to a halt. The other would then take a measurement, cluck to himself, then disappear into the garden, passed on the way by the first, carrying the newly cut timber and slotting it magically into place. I was rapt.

I sat there, slowly turning to grey under a film of plaster dust as the men removed timbers and replaced timbers and slid their hands over the smooth grain and checked and double-checked that everything was running well. At 12.00 noon precisely, they withdrew two Tupperware containers of pasta and stew from the van's glove compartment, slid them into our microwave and made lunch.

"Kettle?" I asked.

"Tea. Please."

I filled some mugs and looked about. They had both retreated to the van and were smoking cigarettes. The took the tray from me in the garden. Ten minutes later, the saws and planes were going again.

There was another ding-dong. I struggled out of the mound of volcanic ash that seemed to cover everything and found my African neighbour on the doorstep. He looked a little agitated and my ear, tuned to Eastern Europe all day, couldn't quite make out what he was saying. It sounded like:

"Balumba umba umba....this wurk, 'ere."


I tuned my earlobe a little and made out:

"...und I wawshed my car..."

I looked at his car. Nice car. Kept very well, usually. Wonder where all the dust came from that's covering it...?

"Aw, crap..." I thought. I should have considered earlier asking him to move the car out onto the road and upwind of the work. The two chippies were working furiously on a door's edge and a piece of architrave, respectively, in the drive the one with the better English looking daggers from time to time.

I offered to pay for a car wash. My neighbour looked at me as if I called him a son of a crocodile.

"Or," I said, "I could clean it myself...? I'll do that. When the men are finished working, I'll get a bucket and cloth and give it a wash, okay?"

He drew himself up.

"We ah gud neighbaws. We ah close!" he said, cocking his nose. "We do not fawl owt abawt such things. If you say sorry, I will be happy."

I said I was indeed sorry and that I was upset that he was upset. I should have been more thoughtful and spoken with him earlier. I would still arrange to clean the car if he wished...

He made a dismissive chopping motion with his hand.

"It is fo'gawtten."

And he was gone.

"Dust? Dust? Pah!" the lead carpenter said back inside the house. "I say iz impossible not find dust anywhere! He could park car anywhere and get dust! He crazy man. Crazy man!"

"No," I said. "He was right. We could have done more to save his car from getting so dusty."

I was a little deflated with it all. The doors were still lovely, but after the unexpected complaint a bit of the good had been taken from them. I now felt the coldness of the unheated house with the door permanently open as the chippies came and went. I saw the wood chippings in the carpet and the white dust on the stacked furniture. There seemed no end to the chaos.

Next door, my neighbour took his car out. About an hour later it was back in the driveway with a clean look about it. Back in the driveway. In the same place as before. With my two chippies working away with their saws and drills and planers right beside it...

"Ah, for feck's sake!"

I walked up his driveway and rang the bell.

"Er, you know these men will be working for maybe an hour... or more... yet?"

"I thawt they were nearly finished."

"Could you oblige me... please.... and move the car out onto the road...? Pretty please?"

When he moved the car, I noticed half his driveway was covered in wood chips. I groaned. No wonder he was making a fuss! I grabbed a brush and started sweeping.

There was a mountain of sawdust and chippings in my own drive. I laboured away for half an hour until everything was bagged and tied and tidy.

It was eight o'clock before the men were satisfied that everything that could be done had been done. It was a fabulous job and I was overwhelmed with the quality of the work and of the doors.

"Everytink is gut?"


"If you get doors for upstairs, you call me. I get cheaper."

"Nice one," I said, taking down his telephone number, signing his docket, handing them a tip which went into the same place as the butty pencils, which is to say somewhere unknown.

I looked at the chaos of the house and sighed. It would take a day off work to put everything to right again.

After a while, I thought of the neighbour's car out on the road. Mybe someone would run into it. Or scrape it. Or steal it.

"I bet I'll be blamed if it does!"

I nipped upstairs to the bedroom, tugged back the net curtain and leaned on the windowsill to look out to see if the car was okay. My hand squelched in a pool of cat vomit...

"Bad cat!" I said.

The cat opened one eye briefly, brupped pleasantly and went back to sleep.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


"Arrrgh!" I say.
"What wrong with you? " Herself asks.
"My feckin' sciatica is playing up."
I clutch at the right cheek of my arse and hobble about. The pain shoots down to my ankle and back up again.
"I think my uterus is pressing into my sciatic nerve. I read that on Wikipedia."
Herself would normally laugh at this, but her knee is giving her trouble today.
"Are we still on for lunch at Captain America's?" I say.
"Oh yes. It's our anniversary, after all."
Sixteen years. We've been together sixteen years for about the past five years, because we lost count and have to keep asking Herself's daughter what year she moved out so we can count it up again. This year in 2008 we're absolutely certain we're together sixteen years, although that leaves the age of the cat a little doubtful. She's been sixteen for about the past five years as well, we think.
We get in the car with many moans and groans and head up to The Square, park up and then head across the new civic plaza (still under construction) to Captain America's.
Herself limps along with her wonky knee. I stick my beer belly out and try to lean backwards without having to grab a piece of my buttock.
"You know something?" I say.
"People will think we're real mountainy people walking like this. Each with one leg shorter than the other for walking across hills."
Captain A's was good, but the tables were smaller than I remember. We ate and limped back to the car with our various bits draggling along behind us.