Friday, November 20, 2009

O! Grandmother's Clock! I salute thee!

When my grandmother's mantlepiece clock was repaired, the nice man who fixed it was a clock enthusiast, who was able to tell me a lot of the history of clocks and of the way in which this one had likely come into the family from its origins in Germany.

It's great to hear the busy ticking of the clock again after all this time and its tuneful striking on the hour and half hour.

In honour of its repair, I thought one should mark the special occasion of its hourly and half-hourly labours by a little ritual. Not something that involves shining up the silver tea service (were we to have one), or anything involving a seventeen-syllable poem. Just a little flicker of recognition.... like raising one foot off the ground, perhaps.

So, on the first afternoon after the clock was returned to us as I was sitting watching the start of the News, the clock struck one and I politely raised my left foot.

As the weather girl was pointing at her isobars at 1.30, the clock bonged proudly and I lifted my right foot while sticking my lunch plate into the rack of the dishwasher.

And so it went on, each hour and half hour quietly marked in its dignified way.

One Saturday at two Herself and I sat at the dining room table with the builder, telling him our plans and listening to his estimates for our new extension. I lifted my left foot unseen beneath the table, and twisted my right ear-lobe without comment.

The builder paused and looked at me. Then he went on more slowly with his facts and figures.

At half-two, as we were looking at the drawings and deciding where to put plug sockets, I stamped my right foot loudly on the wooden floorboards without a pause in my conversation.

The builder looked nervously at Herself, then back to me.

"Everything okay?" he asked.

"Oh yes, " I said.

We parted around a quarter to three and he went off muttering.

While having a coffee at the top of the hour I lifted my left foot, tugged my earlobe and winked my eye. A female pedestrian passing outside did a double take through the livingroom window then huffily power-walked up the road, the leads of her iPod swinging angrily left and right.

At three-thirty, Herself being on the phone to Herself's Second Daughter, I lifted my left foot for a moment while settling on the loo.

Just before four, the builder phoned me with some prices. As the clock chimed out merrily, I stood on one leg for a moment, twisted my earlobe, winked one eye and shouted "Bucket of Fish!"

He hung up. Quite abruptly, I thought, too.

At five, Herself put a plate of steak, onions and potatoes in front of me, then whipped it back up as I stood to attention, lifted one foot, twisted an earlobe, winked an eye, shouted "Bucket of Fish", then turned three times around. It was a lovely meal. The steak was just cooked, in that rare kind of way I've learned to enjoy over the past year or so.

The five-thirty news was punctuated by one loud, sharp "Harrrumph!"

As the Angelus bell rang out a half-hour later, Herself and I formed a very fore-shortened conga line that "Hey!"-ed three times in and three times out of the dining room.

My evening cup of tea paused mid-way to my lips as I snapped off a quick "Harrrumph! Bucket of Fish! Garbalbaggle!"

At seven, as Emerdale's theme tune was drowned out by the melodic bongs from above the fireplace, I stamped my left foot and my right, winked at the neighbour, "Harrumph!"-ed, tugged an earlobe suggestively, shouted "Bucket of Fish!", and slapped myself once on the back of the head.

Corrie was welcomed by one slam of the door. It usually is.

"You never watch Corrie with me!" was the plaintive refrain from the living room.... Mostly, I would rather pull my own eyes out than watch that claustrophobic, studio-bound old-fashioned soap opera... I retreated to my little oasis of Internet in the box room.

Anyhow... At eight, in case, by now, I was taking things too far, I stayed upstairs looking through the Facebook staus updates of my electronic friends. Although I was aware of the possibility of getting too hung up on this old clock, I nevertheless quietly:

Politely raised my left foot...
Lifted my right foot...
Twisted my right ear lobe...
Winked one eye...
Very quietly whispered: "Bucket of fish..."
Turned three times around on my swivel chair...
Made a coughing sound somewhat like "Harrrumph!"...
Expressed the word "Garbalbaggle!"...

At eight-thirty I checked Facebook and slapped the monitor once for luck.

We are lucky to have a digital box for the television, which means we can pause live telly and play it back later, because otherwise we wouldn't have heard the news headlines in the tumult of....

Stamping feet...
Lobe tugging..
Comments about fish...
Extraction of a stray eyelash that had come loose from all the winking and blinking...
Head slapping...
Standing up...
Hopping awkwardly...
Sitting down...

Nine-thirty was my evening tea ritual, accompanied by a discreet rattle of the cup on its saucer.

At ten, as I cleared up in the kitchen and loaded up the dishwasher, I rattled one dinner plate, one side plate, one saucer, one soup spoon, one dessert spoon, one teaspoon, one teacup, one fork and one knife in the tray.

At ten-thirty, I found the mug I had missed in the living room on the little side table. It went "Whack!" on the tabletop.

At eleven, I took off my left boot, my right boot, my left sock, my right sock, my trousers, my jumper, my shirt, my gold ring, my other gold ring, my hair bobbin and clicked off the bedroom light.

"Did the builder call you back?" Herself asked in the darkness.

"No," I said. "But I got an email from him saying he would call around tomorrow."

"What time?"

"He said he'd be here around twelve..."



"Do you think I should ask him to make it half-past... or maybe one?"

"It might be for the best..."

"I'll do that then. Good night."

"Good night."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Okay, I'm up... I'm up!

Mornings on the bus again. The other day must have been exam time in the Tech, cos the upper deck was packed out with satchel carrying scarecrows of the type I used to be before I mysteriously found a briefcase in my hand.

"Audrey doesn't like me."

"Yeah, man... Two goals in two minutes. I have Spurs in the Fantasy Football...."


"Ya bollocks."

Only DintsDintsDints can't hear Ya bollocks, because DintsDintsDints has one of those mobile phones cum music players plugged into his two side orifices, going DintsDintsDints all along the bus route.

Ya bollocks is a non-descript looking chap whose outbursts come at random moments and to no-one in particular.

Downstairs, a man in his twenties who I take to be on his way to some kind of training workshop, is hanging into the driver's compartment.

"Do you... do you... do you.... do you... do you... follow soccer?"

Audrey doesn't like me waffles on in the Champion Shallow Stakes.

I resist the urge to lick the condensation on the window pane and die.

"Ya bollocks."


"Ya bollocks."

Ya bollocks.

In the Square, I meet the training workshop chappie walking backwards by the cinemas. He's almost in rapture at the sight of a photo in the sports pages of a tabloid he's just bought. He grabs a random stranger and pushes the paper and its picture into his face:

"Isn't he just a big cry BABY...?"

I pass on by and go to work.

Ya bollocks.

Me Ma would be proud.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Okay, Vodafone...

I know I don't use my phone much, except for texting replies to Herself asking if the meeting I'm in the middle of is over yet, or if I'm having a nice day when I'm having a horribly bad one... I know you'd probably not be pleased that I haven't bought a fone with shiny new things on it from you in quite a while. BUT... sending me a text advert at six in the morning -- especially a morning after I'd had a particularly restless and broken night's sleep -- is NOT the way to win me over. Nor Herself, either, you twits. (She got one too.)

I mean it isn't even like I have any notion whatsoever now what it said.

Okay, then. Just piss off.



Thursday, September 10, 2009

How Herself lost the toe of her sock

Grandchildren... You love 'em... Both the ones who made slippers of the cat... Or the ones who parachuted from the shed... Or the ones with the waggily tails...

"Time to get up," Herself says from the side of the bed. I grumble my eyes open and stare at the ceiling for a moment wondering what planet I'm on.

It's been a tough last half week, getting up a bit of energy to go back to the day job. But I reckon I may be up to it. We'll see this morning if I can ease into it quietly. Peaceful like. Without any fuss or bother. That's the plan I intend sticking to.

So, as Herself is wrestling a foot into a pop sock, I tumble out my side of the bed and innocently switch on the radio.

It wasn't my fault Morning Ireland was turned up to Maximum on the dial.

HUGE waves of bad news ROARED out of the speakers as I stood there blinking, my brain only half awake and totally unaware of why my hair was flapping backwards like the ears of a basset hound puppy dropping down a well.

Over on the other side, Herself's foot rocketed through the pop sock, through the slats of the wardrobe door, through the stud wall and kicked the teddy bear on the spare room bed neatly in the arse.

I tottered to the volume control and blindly turned the damn thing down.

"Grandaughter toddled into here yesterday, by any chance?" I asked.



At least I now knew how my day was likely to go. And it did.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Blog and more blog

"But you're very young in that picture," Herself says, looking askance at the new Avatar image I've posted.
"So?" I ask.
"What about the one I took of you in the garden? That's a better picture."
"Yes, but I have that as my Social Networking avatar at the moment."
"Why can't you have it on your blog as well?"
"Because someone might visit here and recognise themselves in the story of the Smelly So-and-So on the bus and give me a slap the next time they see me."

She's not convinced.

Anyway, I went and started another Blog, called Our Daily Junk Mail which is going to have nothing except unsolicited items from our letterbox in it. I started with a Clothing Collection Label. In some years time I am sure it will appear quaint and interesting. There's an inexhaustable supply coming in our letterbox, so it will have more material if you check back later.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Writing it down

Health, death, mental health.... probably everyone is sick of me writing about these now, but here I go again anyway.

I was thinking of my father a lot when I was lying around in hospital and resisting the urge to count the ceiling tiles, or the number of reflectors in the light fitting, or any number of other things to pass the time. In particular, I wondered how he managed to keep his cool, for he had a temper, when told he had to stay in hospital for a couple of weeks at a time. I was not a good patient by Day Three and the notion of staying any longer just wasn't winning any favours from me at all. Lucky then they managed to get the results and reports they wanted in time to send me packing that very day. They didn't have to: I was already packed!

To make up for getting out of hospital, I dreamed about it every night for the first week home. I would dream I was lying on my hospital bed and that I was staring at those hospital roof tiles and I would half awaken and see my own old ceiling and my own curtains and wonder what the hell had gone wrong and why were my familiar things in the Unit and why was Herself beside me? And finally I'd wake a little more and shake it off and try to sleep a deeper sleep.

When I did, I'd drift off into dreams of snow, or great hills of newly ploughed earth. There were buses to catch that drove along the Tymon North Road near my father's house. Generally they took me places I didn't wish to go and I'd spend the rest of my dream returning on foot, not lost, but out of place, inconvenienced rather than panicked.

In one dream, my father and I were walking together somewhere on the Northside in a baked summer housing estate, on our way home through unfamiliar territory. We stopped to join a house party after a funeral and soon were separated inside a house that became a pub, whose garden became a car park in the strange way of dreams.

In another, I crossed Tymon Park alone in winter, a wet winter with exaggerated hills and hummocks. Machines were working in the rain to construct banks by the lakes and people were coming and going in little knots on unknown errands.

I remember back in the real world, away from dreams, how my father had been told he had a tumour in his bowel and how he'd undergone surgery to remove that tumour, how he'd asked that I be informed of the outcome so I could explain it to him slowly and in terms he could understand. I told him all that has been told to me: how the surgeons had opened him up, taken out the tumour, been satisfied that they had caught it in time before it spread to his lymph nodes, and how they had taken some nodes away to test to ensure he hadn't any other problems.

He listened carefully and asked me to repeat everything to him so he could let the realisation sink in that he was going to survive. He was discharged from hospital, attended to by the district nurse for a number of weeks, then reported dutifully to the oncology unit of St James Hospital each appointment for chemotherapy.

One day he said to me: "Did I have cancer?"

I was taken aback. It transpired that no-one, myself included, had mentioned the word at all until he had seen the Professor and the Professor mentioned it in passing. Cancer, to my father's generation, meant a one-way ticket and he was aghast that the word had come up.

I was shaving the other morning and recalled him asking: "Did I have cancer?" I remembered my own doctor, a couple of weeks ago, looking at me and saying: "You were a very sick man."

I can sit and write the details of my infected salivary gland and how it swelled up and ultimately started pressing my tongue into my airway. I can relate how in another hour or two I reckoned I would have choked to death without medical attention. But somehow I'm still like my father, hooked up to his chemotherapy drips week after week (or fortnight after fortnight, I now no longer recall accurately the intervals involved in his case) wondering, after all that he'd gone through, if he had had cancer. It must be some kind of mechanism we humans have to get through a tough time, to see the creature leaping towards our jugular and still find a way to duck, roll, run away and at the end think: "Was that what I think it was?"

How strange.

Early this morning I dreamed my father was in a similar ward to the one I'd been in and as I was passing I called into him. I realised his only trouble was that his diabetes medication was acting up and that a little sugar would help him avoid a crisis. I wandered corridors looking for a sugar bowl and when I found it I was again on the Tymon North Road on my way to him. He was waiting near the bus stop, 100 yards away. As I walked towards him I awoke, an old feeling of worry about him heavy on me. I decided to get up and start my day rather than return to the dream.

Tonight I'm trying to stay up longer to maybe tire myself into a deeper sleep. But I think by morning I'll be visiting with him again, worrying for him.

It's strange -- I never dream of him dead, lying on the cold floor of his kitchen. You'd think I would but I don't.

Ah, sure...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Mitsy in the sky...

My Aunt Kay's toy poodle is galloping across the sky this evening, scut tail and all.

It's a good day for pictures in the sky. We saw a bunny rabbit with big floppy ears, a man in a periwig, and Jabba the Hut wearing sun glasses.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sick Room Boredom: Where're me Comics, then?

I'm facing into my third week of being a temporary invalid due to my wee troubles, and the boredom factor is affecting me. Well, boredom isn't quite the thing -- there's plenty of Internet to look at and television and cat antics -- it's more frustration, I suppose, at having no stamina to get anything done.

There's a back garden could do with some attention, but I'm tired out on about the fifth or sixth clip of the secateurs. As for wheeling in sand to do a bit more of the patio, forget it. I couldn't lift the shovel if I tried. We have a mosaic or three to put together for the garden walls, but I'm short on materials (most especially mosaic mesh) and in no position to go hunt some down.

So, it's mostly sitting at the window looking at the world go by. I'm lucky in that there is a large green with another part of the housing estate beyond that, then the sudden uplift of green hills (we call them mountains, but my American friends think that's hugely funny) before a huge and interesting sky.

When I was a kid, the Kearns boys would drag a trolley of vegetables up from their mother's roadside shop at the bottom of Edmondstown, delivering cabbage or turnip, potatoes and pot herbs for my mother's kitchen. The trolley would be an old crate married to some pram wheels. In the bottom would be a big pile of second hand comics (there were several boys and girls in their family) and I'd swap whatever I had to hand, a number of Warlords, the Dandy, or Beano, for ones I didn't usually get otherwise. I usually got the better deal, at least in my mind, because the sheer quantity they'd hand over would keep me amused for weeks. Mrs Kearns got rid of a heap of waste paper and the boys got some free issues they'd not seen. They were a Godsend when I was laid up with some childhood ailment...

Anyhow, while musing on comics, the doctor interrupted by phoning me and upsetting me over the lack of Potassium in my latest blood sample. It was as low as "one point something" while I was in hospital. They gave me five days worth of pills to boost it and instructions to eat bananas and potato chips like there's no tomorrow (and there might indeed be no tomorrow if the levels don't rise, as it aids in muscle ativity, not least of which includes the ticker). My GP added orange juice to the equation, saying in his phone call that the result was now at the "two point someting" mark. It should be between "three point something and five" to be in the safe range, as far as I understand things.

I'm ascribing the loss to my blood pressure medicine. I'm beginning to swing from light fittings from the amount of bananas I'm taking. I'm eating chicken, beef, salmon, downing packets of crisps, gulping orange juice, the while increasing my body weight, which leads to higher blood pressure, which the blood pressure medication counteracts, which depletes my potassium... I wonder am I in trouble here, or will it swing around to e better level?

Next blood samples in nine or ten days.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Through the glass

"I've got you!"
"No, I've got you!"
"I have your ear!"
"I have your leg!"
"I'll pin you down!"
"I'll spring over you!"
"I'll stand on you!"
"I'll stand on you first!"
"I'll run!"
"I'll catch you!"
"I'll jump up!"
"I'll jump higher!"
"I'll roll over on you!"
"I'll grab your leg again!"
"I'm ignoring my owner now!"
"So am I!"
"It's good to be a dog, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's great...!"
"I've got you!"
"No, I've got you!"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Laying patio slabs, DIY style

We've been engaged in a new project, this time to turn the garden into the little oasis of peace and calm you see in the picture.

The original garden was typical Irish suburban, much like the builders left it 30-odd years ago. A grass lawn, some overgrowth of shrubs (and briars), and a tumbledown shed.

At first the plan was to remove the old shed, perhaps simply pave the area as a barrier against the re-emergence of briars, then replace the structure with another shed. But once we'd taken out the rotten timber, shrubs and weeds, the area was such a natural sun trap that it seemed a pity to give it over to another hostel for unwanted junk. So the idea of a patio was born.

A growth of ivy was taken off the boundary wall and the ground thoroughly dug to eliminate any root systems of this or the troublesome briars. The ground was then roughly levelled to give a firm footing for the structure that would eventually go on top. As the site sloped towards the house, any digging at this end would mean that there would be less as one worked out of the corner (provided, of course, the ground remained firm underfoot, which it did in this case).

Despite the precaution of digging up roots and weeds, these can grow back over time, so to inhibit these a membrane is laid, leaving enough overlap all around. Membranes can be bought by the roll in most DIY or Garden centres and they are pinned to the soil to stop slippage using plastic pegs that can be bought seperately. The membrane is water permeable, so the underlying ground won't dry out, useful if you plan on having plants coming up through it, for example. The roll is about four to five feet in width, so it's necessary to overlap sections and (as in this image) seal the overlaps with gaffer tape.

I proposed enclosing the supporting sand base to the slabs in a ring of concrete blocks. The blocks were laid on a bed of mortar made from sand and cement laid directly onto the membrane. There is no additional digging as I'm relying on the ring of blocks not to move on the already dug and stable ground. I suppose time will test that theory. The membrane is then covered in medium washed sand obtained from a builders' providers.

To fill the first "cell" took about two tonnes of sand. The sand is then screeded with a straight timber so that it can be levelled off. Once any imperfections have been filled or planed with the shovel as necessary, the surface is ready for the slabs to be laid out.

Naturally the cats had to try walking on the surface first to see if it was up to standard.

We bought Indian Quartz slabs from Roadstone and as they came in three different sizes, they were first laid out to test the pattern. The desired effect was a rough surface, and these slabs come with a naturally uneven one. The slabs would ultimately be mortared securely into place, but for now the laying out was simply done dry.

A little water, however, shows you the true colour of the slab.

The slabs were laid with about a two-inch gap between the outer edge and the boundary walls. This eliminated cutting and was the best solution in that the back wall and side walls were not at 90 degrees to one another, so keeping back a bit was best. The gap was filled later using some sand and a topping of beach cobbles for a decorative and pleasing effect. The slabs were also laid with about an inch and a half overhang over the concrete blocks. This produces an image of the patio "hanging" in mid air.

The first cell having been laid out, I decided to press on and add the next piece, which was to make the patio a kind of inverted "L" shape. Again, the soil was dug back to a reasonable level, and blocks laid on membrane to form edges for the cell. This took nearly three tonnes of sand to fill up, being a larger area.

Finally, the slabs were laid in their final positions -- checked by use of a line and, of course, a spirit level -- with a good bed of mortar underneath. There are few shortcuts here: each slab has to be bedded thoroughly, no "five blobs" work will do!

The slabs in the first cell were grouted using a barely-moist mix of sand and cement. I wasn't pleased with the outcome, but felt better when the grout lines were emphasised by dragging a pointed stone along them while still not quite gone off. This caused a more pleasing profile (you'll see a "Before" and "After" photo from the other section later).

With the first cell all but completed, we hung some sheets of water reed on the back wall and along the side. This was attached to the wall on wires strung between eye bolts fixed to the wall with rawlplugs. It hovers about an inch above ground level so that water can run off it.

Patio containers were starting to make their appearance at this stage, as the garden centres were being browsed for bargains... In the foreground are some lavendar plants which had been planted into the soil before we thought of doing the patio. Not wishing to disturb these, I resolved to build around them.

With the slabs laid and the grouting just about finished in the second cell, the grout lines were tidied up by scraping with my trusty pointed stone. The waste was brushed off lightly with a broom to give a satisfactory finish...

The next stage of the job involved tackling the area off the patio. I envisaged this area being gravelled, so we chose some pebble which would complement the colour of the patio.

The first job was the removal of the sod from the area to be gravelled, or pebbled, if you prefer. This took place over the course of a week when it never stopped raining and I didn't expect any work to get done. There was quite a bit of slipping and sliding involved, but it was otherwise straightforward. An old kerbing put in around the lavendar was taken out.

The pebbles arrived when it was raining, but I persevered, quite late in the day, quickly laid out some membrane (cutting slits in it for the existing lavendar plants) and threw down some barrows of stones "just to see"...

This high pink colour of the pebbles was caused by pink sand stuck to it which washed off nicely over the coming days. The pebble is a lighter pink, with some occasional white and black stones.

Looking back towards the house, you can see where I corralled the pebbles in another line of concrete blocks, this time set on edge and in a shallow foundation of sand and cement. Some of the smaller flags made stepping stones through the pebble, and a fountain (the electric pump's cable fed through a conduit under the pebble to prevent wear as the stones move underfoot) added a nice feature whose trickling water adds a restful atmosphere when one is sitting out.

That concludes the work two-thirds of the width of the garden. The other side having a dilapidated wooden fence and hedge it was necessary to have these pulled out and a new garden wall constructed before continuing with the rest of the paving work. I'll post more information on that later project when I can.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My kingdom for...

Gooseberry jam sounded nice, so I had some on my bread and butter (now bread and jam, of course). It tasted somewhat like plum jam and no doubt I shall think up a reason to have more tomorrow.

Then I felt the wee pip wedged in the gap between my left upper canine and the next tooth along whose official name I've not been formally introduced to. We had some cocktail sticks in the kitchen drawer last time I checked, so I went to pressgang one into service as a toothpick.

The first thing I found was a seamstress's measuring tape wrapped around a horse's hoof. Behind the horse's hoof was a ratchet screwdriver and a packet of dried mealy worms. There was a tube containing a springy-out comedy snake. A clown's shoe. Two packets of thumbtacks without the pointy tack bit. A number ten staple gun with a box of number 16 staples. A spray on dressing for burns. A yoke for lifting fried eggs out of frying pans which Herself calls a spatula and I call an egg lifter. A packet of balloons printed with "Happy 1953!". A small yogi, one eye opened irritably as I disturbed his meditations. A chorus of wind chimes that randomly played the theme from a Looney Tunes cartoon when first picked up. A bottle of hair removal lotion. A bottle of hair restoring lotion. A kitchen knife without a blade or a handle. A doorway to a wonderous land filled with fashion-conscious flying snakes. A tyre iron suitable for a JCB excavator. A bottle of nail-polish remover with a false nail stuck to its lid. A single pop sock.

But do you think I could find the cocktail sticks?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Recipe for Saving Willie's Life

Take one letter from the GP, signed with a discouraging comment: "God love you, now."

Select one large dose of panic as the swelling of the tongue is beginning to obstruct the roof of the mouth and will eventually cut off the airway. Set aside and do not inform Herself just yet of exactly how bad things are.

Proceed at 50 miles per hour to the Accident & Emergency Department walking calmly into the hospital as Herself parks the car.

Patiently explain your change of address details to the clerk at the desk for the official record as the seconds tick by. Repeat the details she can't quite make out. Ignore her complaints of hard to read doctor's handwriting.

Rest quietly, adding the coldest water you can find.

Greet Triage Nurse and explain problem. Return to resting quietly. Add more cold water.

Shake hands with A&E doctor. Explain problem. Understand the Ear Nose & Throat specialist on duty is based at another hospital and has to travel. Worry for 15 minutes.

Shake hands with ENT doctor. Agree with absolutely no reluctance that he should begin using a sharp blade to incise a foothold for a probe in the bottom of your open mouth. Weep slightly from right eye as syringe begins extracting fluid from behind the blockage.

Feel relief while A&E doctor asks if anaesthetic was used. (It wasn't). Grin wanly as A&E doctor looks into open mouth and says "You're a brave man."

Spend three days and two nights in hospital, spitting out stones through your unblocked salivary gland duct as antibiotic drips steadily through a tube into your arm.

Argue with pharmacist that yes, this strength antibiotic tablet *is* appropriate.

Return home.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Now there's a thing...

... on Wednesday a woman got onto the bus at the bus stop, carrying a red fold-up bicycle.
This morning, a man got off the bus in Tallaght carrying a grey, fold-up bicycle, which he proceeded to unfold at the bus stop.
Parked outside my house today is a car with a bicycle rack on the back. Several mornings a week a woman parks here, unloads a bike and cycles off down the road.
Are we a nation of Undecideds....?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Winding up

When we were growing up in the 60s and 70s we didn't have the proverbial hill of beans when it came to cash.

This morning I was preoccupied with money from my late parents.

At 8.45 I'm rummaging through the remnant of my mother's (who died in 2001) purse for the correct change for the bus. She lived long enough to see the Euro coming in, but not to remember the meaning of coins. I silently thank her each day for the copper plunder that makes up that elusive five cent for the busman. The hoard is growing thin and I know one morning I'll zip back the cheap nylon zipper and find only the two hair clips and the nail file that lie there in their own little sections.

My sister concluded her duties as executress yesterday when she handed me the last quarter of the proceeds from the sale of our father's house. She worked tirelessly to conclude all the practical and legal work involved. I'm very proud of her as I don't think I would have been able for it.

So I started my day with my mother's few pence, or cent, or whatever we're calling it these days in my fist on the way to the bus, and a bankers draft for tens of thousands wrapped up tightly in a ball in the back of my wallet in my trouser pocket. It reminded me of shopping expeditions from the house at Doyle's Farm after school, when Ma would put a bundle of coins wrapped in a shopping list written in pencil on a piece of copybook paper into my hand and order me to hold on tight as I went to Ballyboden's supermarket and bought up some bread or ham or maybe a few pork chops for the father's tea.

It's far from pork chops he is now. Or shoppng lists either. Or she either.

Dropping the lodgement envelope into the machine in the bank felt like the last nail in their collective coffins. The deed is done. The task is over. We can move on to whatever come next.

What comes next, then?

Somehow, though, it all feels like a very big relieving sigh.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fathers' Day

So, what shall we do today, Old Man?

We could dig worms from the bank and put them in a jam jar and hold old half-broken fishing rods by the deep pools of the river. I could tell stories of how I used to catch fish by hand as a young fella, and how one day an eel caught me by the finger instead.

And what if it's too cold for standing by a river?

We could lift hay bales and feel the coarse, hard twine before it snaps at the touch of a sharp knife. I could throw the hay into the feeder and you could loosen it for the curious muzzles of the bullocks, nosing through the feed with their snaking tongues. I could tramp through the mud of the yard and grumble about landlords, kick the worst of the muck off at the lone tree. We could peer into the hollow in its side together at the robin's nest, empty now, but not long ago filled with hungry beaks that opened like inside-out umbrellas begging for food.

And what if the lone tree has fallen?

We could tug and pull at the cross-cut saw, sweating in flurries of sawdust. You could push too hard and bend the blade and I could worry and swear and we could go to the lane where the coal is left loosely. I'll shovel and you'll drop the bag or hold it open the wrong way looking at birds instead of concentrating.

And what if there's coal and timber enough in the house?

We could sit by the hearth and watch red-hot horsemen dance through the soot of the fireback, twist wire coat hangers into toasting forks and hang bread in front of the cinders. You'll scrape off the worst of the black where it's burned and I'll reach down the jam pot from the cupboard.

And what if the house has fallen?

You'll help me dig rows for potatoes in my new garden and pick colours for the walls of the new house. We'll plant a hedge and hang an iron gate and railings and paint a house number on a plaque and do a thousand other things.

And what if you tire of the new house?

We'll sit on bar stools and drink beers and speak in low voices about things between us. You'll look at me and notice the laughter lines and the roguish glint in my eye and we'll wonder where the time has all gone.

And what if the time has all gone?

You'll look at children and cats and dogs and green hills and purple mountains and all the things seen from your window and you'll remember how I loved them. And in the evening, you'll listen to the birds singing until nightime comes on and you're called to close the door.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hello, HSD.

They changed my bus route to work so they could avoid as many passengers as possible, I think. But it now goes over a couple of the steepest speed ramps in Ireland.

The commuters on the upper deck throw their hands up into the air and shout: "Wha-hey!" every time it goes over one. Anyone caught unawares has to suddenly grab the handhold on the seat in front and try to keep their breakfast down.

The bus also now goes parallel to the road on which Herself's Second Daughter and family have their house.

"Hello, HSD!" I shouted on the first day, head stuck through the letterbox size window, as the 49 rolled on by.
"What are you up to?" the chap in the seat behind me asked.
"Over that wall," I explained, "Is where Herself's Second Daughter and family live."
He peered over the wall, examining all the gardens that usually rested in quiet privacy, unmolested by passing double-decker busses of morning commuters.
"I think we could do better than that!" he said. "Check with me in the morning."

Next day he had a rolled up banner on two short poles. As the 49 lurched through the lights at the top of the road he unfurled it, telling me to grab one of the poles. It read:

"49 says HI to HSDAF!"

We stretched it out across the glass until the bus turned for The Square.

The following day he had a friend with him and a pantomime horse.

"Are you sure you can take the weight?" I asked, climbing up on the front seat and throwing my leg over.

"No problem" the muffled reply came from the back end. "I carry sacks of cement for a living."

"Yee-ha!" I shouted, as the bus passed HSDAF's house. We trotted up and down the bus, ignored by people reading freebie Metro newspapers.

"It's a bit stuffy, though," they said, when they unzipped the horse's belly and got out. "Maybe we should try something less enclosed next time."

On Wednesday, seven people brought fezes and sombreros and one had a pair of maracas. We made a conga line and "Hey-ed!" up and down until we were out of sight.

Thursday, fifteen members of a marching band and 25 baton twirlers crammed into the top deck, playing and twirling to a spirited rendition of T-Rex's, "Metal Guru."

Yesterday, I texted HSD and asked her if she'd been amused by us, sailing by on a double-decker 49 bus at a quarter to nine of a weekday morning.


Ah, crap.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Saulte to you Googlers

Saint Patrick's Day, a mild, sunny one. My hit counter is as imperfect as they come, but it does give a general idea of what is drawing traffic to the blog, WIDFIPOTP.

On sunny days, people want to put up gazebos.

On St Patrick's Day, people appear to wish to know what time the beer can be sold in the Offo, and what time in the pub.

So, let's raise a glass in the gazebo today for a 323% increase in visitor traffic, searching for "gazebo instructions" or "opening hours Saint Patrick's Day."

I write about other things too. No, really. I do.

Hope you had as fine a day as I had.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Liam and the family

Another typical afternoon on the bus ride home. Two girls, each about 15 years old, punching each other affectionately in the back seat. A mobile phone rings between them.
"Liam, you're drunk!"
Her friend in the pink pajamas and trainers shouts:
"Ha! Ha!"
into the phone.
"Mary Gillick texted me and said 'Ure kid is plain in the road'."
Liam says something...
"I don't care. Why are you drinking?"
There a reply of some kind...
"Oh *you* get depressed, do you? Well *I* get depressed too, but I don't spend all my money on drink in the middle of the day!"
He says something more...
"We're walking around The Square. We'll be home in an hour."
They're on a bus leaving The Square, but Liam isn't to know.
"What were you doing phoning my mother for money last week and telling her the baby needed rusks? I *know* that's a lie, because I bought her rusks. And me Ma knew it was a lie, cos I told her I bought rusks."
The conversation waltzes about in wide-spinning circles with her ear-bashing him about his drinking, his friends, his money, his dole. Occasionally, the friend shrieks something meaningful in the direction of the phone.
I drift away into my own thoughts for a while.
Almost home and a bunch of other 14 and 15 year olds get on the bus.
"Jesus! Look at you!"
"I know. Jesus! Three months is ages!"
Bringing up the rear is a black kid in a baseball cap. He is to gangle what blizzard is to snowflake.
"No, I'm in court on Thursday. I'll call you after....", he says. "I just have something to do in court. Yeah. Bye."
The three-monther turns to the friend:
"What do you have on?"
"Are you serious? What do you have under them?"
"Skin, mostly."
They start chatting to the black kid and I trudge downstairs, wondering what's in the cupboard for dinner.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sign of the Times

Today, I am standing in a frill-free, foreign-owned supermarket, peering at the Schnitzeblibil herself has found at a bargain price.

"What is a Schnitzeblibl?" I ask, innocently. It's been a long week.

Herself looks down her nose at the foreign label on the plastic bottle.

"It's either a shampoo... or a salad dressing. I'm not sure."


I lift up a green net bag.

"And the Defergaumin?"

"Six for the price of four," she says.

"Do you think," I ask. "Do you think the Defergaumin could be served with the Schnitzeblibl?"

"Don't be silly," she says. "Look, give me that trolley and go and look at the Man stuff."

I examine the rotary motor mower; poke briefly at the energy-saving L.E.D. work lamp; try on then put back the protective chainsaw boots. I meet Herself in the next aisle, where she is wrestling another woman to the ground, growling menacingly.

"MY....! I said MY Liebenhaffabudenschtiffel!"

In the car park, a man is tentatively cutting off a shopping trolley wheel with a brand new plasma rig.

"Only nine-ninty nine in the third aisle," he says, grinning.

I pack the groceries into the car and we drive away.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Revolution Now!

A third-level student gentleman on the bus this morning was overheard to say that he thought the bus must be leaving town earlier because it reached his stop earlier this morning.

I wondered if he'd noticed the lower-level schools were on a mid-term break, which meant less traffic, which meant he had to run for his bus. Nope. Don't think it registered.

His third-level lady companion said she thought there was a strike on next week. He said he thought there was one on Saturday. And one next Thursday. And there could be more after that (wait for it):

"...depending on whatever the hell they're striking about."

Take an F grade in Cause and Effect, young man.

I think I'll stop my Union sub now.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Saint Valentine's Day

Translation, (but the original French is much better, I think) courtesy of this site:

The blue sky can collapse on us
And the earth fall to ruins,
I don't care, as long as you love me.
I don't care a damn about the world.
As long as love lights my mornings
As long as my body trembles under your hands
I care little about problems
My love since you love me.
I would go to the end of the world

I would have my hair died blonde
If you asked me.
I would go and unhook the moon
I would go and steal a fortune
If you asked me.
I would reject my country
I would reject all my friends if you asked me.
People can laugh at me
I would do anything
If you asked me.

If one day life tears you away from me
If you die whilst away from me I
don't care as long as you love me
Because I will die too
We will have eternity all to us
In the blue all immensity
In heaven no more problems,
My love, do you believe we love each other
As God reunites those that love one another.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Three years old and 43

This aul' blog got to wear an "I am 3" badge on February 6th, 2009 (I accidentally notice).

(As I write this, Herself tells me Leonard Cohen is very loud for next door. There's Leonard Cohen irony in there somewhere, I bet. "He was blogging, but poor Leonard, he had to go down, down, down....")

Anyway, as I turn off Leonard, here's a Happy Birthday to you, aul' blog!

Me, I get to be 43 on 20th February, a considerable achievement in the life of... well, an-almost 43 year old.
My sister happened upon a photo of the Big Snow of 1982 while clearing out the very last items of my father's house, which shows what "real snow" looks like in Ireland (as distinct from the shallow stuff, comparitively speaking, that we've had over the past couple of weeks.... or was it days? I can't remember, really.) Left to right is Spider O'Toole, Whacker, and me. The calendar would make me about 16 or thereabouts, and zooming in on the blurred image of us (we were standing quite far from the camera as the shot was more to do with the snow than with us), it's hard to believe that in that year Spider and I started being served beer in pubs. Small wonder it only took two pints to put me on my ear.
Night, night.