Category Archives: Dublin

Little Old Wine Drinker

I checked my watch and saw that it just after five o’clock. Time to go, I thought, and scooped up my jacket from the back of the chair. The rest of the guys in the office were doing the same, except David, who was tapping keys and staring at his computer screen. ‘Are you coming, or what?’ I said ‘because I’m off. Now.’
David looked up. ‘Sorry, Chris, be with you in a mo.’ He made a silly face. ‘I just got lost somewhere in cyberspace and forgot the time. Ok?’
‘Come on Spock, or we’ll be late.’

Shelbourne Hotel

Shelbourne Hotel

We walked through the rush-hour pedestrian traffic along Baggot Street and Merrion Row to the Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green. The pavements were colourful and busy in the warm air, the sun still high and bright on this late June evening. Summer had most certainly arrived, and the happy looks on peoples’ faces said wonders for ‘taking the sun’. It was one of those ‘good to be alive’ days and the city seemed to hum to an easy rhythm.
‘Well, what’s it going to be like Chris?’ David asked, a sheen of sweat glinting above his top lip.
I stopped, and he did the same. ‘I told you already, it’s a wine tasting night and it will be fun. What more can I say?’
David was uncertain and he fiddled with the top button of his shirt. ‘Will there be many at this thing?’ he asked a little nervously. He put his finger down the top of his shirt and pulled it a little looser.
I could see that he was uncomfortable but what was I to say. ‘Yes, there’ll be plenty of wine lovers here and, more importantly, there will be lots of good wine to taste. And, sometimes they have lovely cheese. You like cheese don’t you?’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘Then you’re going to love it.’
‘Sure…..except that.’
‘Except what?’
He looked me straight in the eye, licked his lips before saying ‘I never drank much wine before and …’
I smiled. ‘Don’t worry, nobody’s going to poison you, if that’s what you are thinking. It’ll be ok.’ I leaned closer. ‘And there are always plenty of nice girls at these things.’ I winked, it was the best I could do, and he seemed to relax – a little anyway.

The lobby of the hotel bustled with life. Everywhere people moved about, greeting one another and their laughter reflected the glorious weather outside. If it was atmosphere you were after then we were in the right place, and a good evening lay ahead. It was, after all, the culmination of the wine tasting course that I had been attending for the previous six months, and I was really looking forward to the event. Barbara, one of my classmates, told me that the Last Night was not to be missed, and she had been to three of them. Sadly, my fiancé who was meant to attend, too, had twisted her ankle playing tennis a few days before, and that is how David was here.
I spotted the sign ‘Wine Tasting’ and we headed down a corridor and came to a large room where tables were set out with glasses and baskets of bread. I signed in for myself and David and we pinned our badges to our lapels and mingled with the noisy crowd. Considering that no wine had yet been consumed the rumble of conversation was palpable. Anticipation is a great thing, I thought, and we moved to the table where Barbara and Liz, the fourth ‘member of our team’ were chatting. I introduced David as a work colleague who was ‘new’ to the wine game. They both smiled and said that he would have a great night. ‘Your first time?’ asked Liz wickedly.
David flushed immediately. ‘Yes, my first time,’ was his awkward reply before he took off his jacket and let a low whistle.
‘Liz, you’re terrible,’ I said.
‘First time for everything, eh,’ she quipped and fixed the front of her low-cut dress.
David flushed even more and I thought that he was going to have a heart attack. ‘You ok?’
‘Fine, just fine,’ he said, lying through his dry lips. ‘I’ll be fine, just watch me.’ He nodded, and I nodded back.

Cheers!

Cheers!

The noisy conversation was broken by the sound of someone tinkling a glass. A hush descended on the room and the course director, Hugh Clarke, welcomed everyone and told us that we would be tasting some fine wines tonight. He gave a few hints of what was to come but not enough for us to guess exactly what that might be. ‘He’s such a tease,’ said Liz and I saw David’s face redden.
‘So if you are all ready, we’ll start,’ said Hugh as bottles of wine wrapped in dark paper were brought to each table. I picked up the bottle and poured wine into the girls’ glasses and then into both mine and David’s. I held my glass out in front of me and swirled the wine about. ‘Nice colour,’ I said and the girls mumbled agreement.
Liz held her glass up to her nose and sniffed deeply. She released a throaty moan of sheer pleasure that had David reddening even more. ‘Smells like ripe berries and…..succulent peaches,’ she cooed and breathed in another nose full of the wonderful aroma.
Barbara took a sip and noisily washed the liquid around her mouth. She leaned slightly back and then swallowed the golden liquid and smacked her lips loudly. ‘That was great,’ she said ‘and a fine way to start the show.’
I also swilled a mouthful of wine and agreed that it was wonderful. ‘Sauvignon Blanc,’ I said ‘and it’s one of the best I’ve ever tasted.’
Both girls nodded agreement while David downed the whole glass in one go, and reached for more. ‘Yeah, that was great,’ he said ‘want some more?’
The girls declined and I told him that he should really take his time and try to enjoy the flavour. He drank the second glass in the same fashion as the first while I ate some bread and looked about the room. A few people waved over and one guy, Dermot, gave me the thumbs up sign. Was he grinning at the excellent wine he’d just taken or did he envy my good fortune in spending time with Barbara and Liz? I held up my glass and pointed to it. Dermot shook his head in response and burst out laughing, spilling wine on one of his table mates.

Grape Expectation

Grape Expectation

Hugh Clarke told us to try bottle number two and I again did the honours. The deep red colour was like the purple in Caesar’s toga and the aroma had all the imperial qualities too. I held my glass up to the light and watched the colour change as I swirled it about, giving the wine a chance to breathe. Barbara did the same and dipped her nose into her glass. ‘Hmmm,’ she said ‘I’m getting something spicy, like…..plums, maybe’
I sniffed also and agreed. ‘Yes, definitely plummy alright. And with a hint of……vanilla.’ I took another sip.
Liz loudly washed the wine about in her mouth before spitting it into the spittoon beside her. She licked her lips deliciously. ‘Merlot?’ she said, raising an eyebrow.
Barbara replied. ‘Yes, and wasn’t it so velvety?’
I spat out and said that it certainly was a fine wine and that Hugh was spoiling us. ‘I told you that it would be good,’ said Barbara breaking another piece of bread.
Beside me David was pouring and drinking his second glass of the purple pleasure. For a guy who, although not the most talkative man of I’ve ever met, he was almost struck dumb and adding hardly anything to the evening. ‘You ok?’ I asked quietly and his reddening eyes showed more than mild embarrassment. He loosened his tie some more and lowered another mouthful of wine. ‘You’re meant to sip it,’ I said.
‘Yeash,’ he replied, the first hint of a slur slipping into his voice.
The next hour passed pleasantly as Hugh Clarke provided us with some of the finest wines any of us ever tasted. Barbara was really delighted with a Pinot Noir from Burgundy while Liz and I were thrilled with a magnificent Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia. The flavour of rich chocolate and fruits was sensational, and my star turn of the night. When Liz said in a very sultry voice that it tasted just so on her tongue David vomited his mouthful of wine over my shirt such was his surprise at her choice of words. He excused himself immediately and went off to the bathroom, his embarrassment more acute than ever.
‘Is he always like this?’ asked Barbara.
I shrugged. ‘I don’t really know, but he’s usually got something to say for himself at work.’
‘Maybe I’ve upset him or something, offered Liz. ‘I mean he’s hardly said a word to either of us all night, has he?’ Her comment was still hanging in the air when David walked unsteadily back to the table.

Bubbly - ab fab!

Bubbly – ab fab!

Hugh Clarke again tapped his glass and the room went quiet. ‘And now for our final bottle of the evening. This will be champagne, and it’s one of my favourites, so I’m sure that you’ll all enjoy it.’ With that the waiters moved about filling glasses and we all enjoyed the bubbly stuff. I had often found champagne gave me heartburn but this stuff that I was drinking was in a league of its own such was the quality. The bubbly was ‘doing the business’ as the din of conversation in the room rose like the bubbles in my glass. Everyone was smiling, apart from David, who had plopped down heavily onto his chair and said loud ‘I’m pissed.’ He then fell off the chair and hit the floor with dull thud.
I put my glass down and with the help of a guy from the table beside us we got David back into his seat. He rocked back and forth before putting his head on the table and passing out. His arms hung down loosely and he looked like a broken puppet.
Liz shook her head. ‘You know the old saying ‘In vino veritas’ – in wine there is truth.’
I nodded. But as I looked at David snoring I realised that Liz was, well, almost right. ‘I think that should be ‘In vino very smashed,’ I said and reached down and shook my drunken friend awake. The girls were still laughing when I put my arm under David’s shoulder and led him away from his first, and last, wine tasting. It was an experience that I didn’t forget and, thankfully, one that David couldn’t remember.
Cheers!

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Filed under Dublin, Humour, Ireland, shelbourne hotel, short stories

High Point

 

Church in Clonskeagh

Church in Clonskeagh

The recent news that Big Ben would be silent for the next few years, as the famous Great Westminster Clock Tower and bells underwent refurbishment, brought back a fond memory. Being there had been a high point, but only one among many such ‘high points’ that I have experienced.

Since I first climbed the steep, iron ladder in my local church in Clonskeagh many years ago I have been fascinated with the views from such tall buildings and the perspective each offered. At the end of that maiden ascent, my first ‘high,’ I was filled with nervous excitement as I looked out over the Dublin Mountains; all the way into the city and across the blue waters of the bay to Howth. It was better than I had expected, and I have never lost that sense of anticipation of what it was like ‘going to the top’.

Over the years I have had the good fortune to visit many places and always tried to make time and climb to the top of local towers and steeples.

Torre di Lamberti

Torre di Lamberti

From the top of the Torre di Lamberti in Verona the red-tiled roofs stretched below me like the cover on a great jigsaw box. The skyline of New York was stunning in the early, morning light from the top of the Empire State Building, and the Golden Gate Bridge was a tiny speck in the distance from the observation platform of the Campanile at Berkeley. However, a nighttime climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe where a cold, whipping wind brought some unease, the lights of Paris sparkling in their pre-Christmas splendour made it worthwhile.

Sometime later when I worked in Westminster, I used to walk past and invariably looked up at its most iconic landmark, the Great Westminster Clock Tower . Being part of the Palace of Westminster there is a high level of security but my boss, thankfully, arranged for me to join a group of sightseers. I was excited and, on the appointed day, strained my neck looking up at the famous tower as it lay against a clear, blue sky. High above, the north clock face sparkled as the hubbub of anticipation spread among the group.

Our guide led us into a small entrance where he told us about the history of the tower and its impressive statistics. It stands 315 feet high and the four clock faces were the largest of their kind in the world when erected. Each is twenty-three feet across and is made of over three hundred pieces of opal glass. The minute hand alone is fourteen feet long, and looked every inch of it when I passed by and looked down through the gap in the face and imagined Richard Hannay hanging from it in the climax of film The Thirty Nine Steps. Higher still, and onto the last of the 334 limestone steps, we came into the small belfry where five bells silently waited. There are four small bells that ring on the quarter hour and the Great Bell, better known as Big Ben, which strikes on the hour.

Great Westminster Clock Tower

Great Westminster Clock Tower

‘Right, ladies and gentlemen,’ said our guide ‘it’s almost noon, so please get ready for a lot of noise. It’s pretty loud.’ He grinned, placed his hands on his ears and some of the group copied him. I was standing about four feet from Big Ben, with only a wire mesh preventing me from reaching over and tapping it. It’s huge, weighing over thirteen tons and is over seven feet tall. Up close it’s truly impressive but the sound, when it came, was awesome.

First came the quarter bell and some people cheered, their eyes lighting up excitedly. A woman beside said something but I couldn’t hear her, while all around people were giggling. Then there was a slight pause before the hammer struck Big Ben for the first of its twelve rings. The noise was deafening and I felt my chest and head almost explode with the din. After seven or eight rings I started to laugh, and couldn’t stop. The woman tapped me on the arm and shouted ‘What is it?’

‘I was wondering where Trevor McDonald was,’ I cried, wiping tears away. The sound was incredible but the bell’s purity of tone left only a fond memory. I still enjoy going ‘to the top’ but the experience of visiting Big Ben will live long, and loud, in my memory. Ding dong indeed!

Verona, from above

Verona, from above

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Filed under Dublin, Ireland, short stories, Verona, westminster

In Living Colour

We take it for granted nowadays, but there was a time when watching colour television was a real treat. It was like having a cinema in your front room, and an invitation to come and watch the World Cup Final was definitely one not to be missed.

Azteca Stadium, Mexico City

Azteca Stadium, Mexico City

This was the lucky position that I found myself in, in the summer of 1970, as Brazil were preparing to play Italy in the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Both teams had played great football, particularly Brazil, to get to the final, and the experts were predicting a feast of skilful action. They certainly got that right with Pele, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto and the other Boys from Brazil becoming household names for their brilliant, exciting play. It was an unforgettable moment, and seeing them in glorious colour left a mark that has never faded.

My friend Caro, whose brothers played football with me and my friends, invited us to watch the game on her family’s new, colour television. During the days leading up to the game it was, I remember, the only topic of conversation as we discussed what might happen. It was an exciting time and the tension increased as Sunday approached and bold forecasts about scores and scorers were made. Most of us went for Brazil and Brendan, a good friend and a more than useful centre-half, even suggested that Brazil would win 4-1.

‘Yeah, sure,’ I said ‘in your dreams!’

Mid-summer’s Night was warm and bright as I headed up to Caro’s house and entered a maelstrom of excitement. There was noise and activity everywhere as boys arrived and her Mum and some neighbours made popcorn in the crowded kitchen. In the front room a large television dominated a corner, and the game was the only subject on everybody’s lips. Most of the boys were there when I arrived and I sat on a sofa with Eddie and Paul. Others were seated on chairs, pouffes and cushions while Brendan had parked himself on a beautiful Chippendale chair a few feet from the television.

Italy & Brazil - colourful greats

Italy & Brazil – colourful greats

We were glued to the television as the transmission from Mexico ‘went live’ and we were transfixed – and momentarily rendered silent.

The bright, yellow jerseys of the Brazilian players contrasted with the blue of the Italians and the luscious green of the pitch. I had never seen anything like it and couldn’t help but smile at my good fortune. A chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ went up as the commentator named the teams while the camera panned about the packed stadium. It was brilliant and, unable to contain our excitement, we started cheering. We shouted and nudged each other in anticipation, with Brendan’s grin as broad as Dublin Bay. He raised four fingers on one hand and one on the other. ‘Remember, boys, 4-1.’

The game started and we were enthralled by the wonderful play, and cut and thrust of the exchanges. Brazil, with their fantastic technique, probed the Italian defence constantly in what was a meeting of giants. The game flowed back and forth before Pele broke the deadlock and scored the first goal with a decisive header. We leapt about like salmon, as the room was suddenly a cauldron of noisy hysteria. The television picture was so real and the noise in the room so loud, that for a moment, I thought I was actually at the match. It was a fantastic atmosphere.

Popcorn - vital sustenance

Popcorn – vital sustenance

But it was too good to be true and the Italians equalised a few minutes before half time. A morgue-like silence hung in the room and smiles were replaced by deep frowns. This was not meant to happen, and only Brendan seemed happy with the score. We sat back at half-time and talked excitedly about what we had seen. It was infectious and we grabbed handfuls of warm popcorn when the bowls made their way around. Just past the hour, Brazil scored again, 2-1. The room was like a madhouse with popcorn falling like snow before we settled down and willed the inevitable Brazilian victory. A third goal soon followed and it was Samba-time in the noisy room – at least that’s what Caro’s mum called it!

In the dying minutes Brazil began a move that went the length of the pitch before their captain, Carlos Alberto, crashed in a fourth goal. We all jumped up again but Brendan fell backwards on his chair and a horrible, cracking sound split the air. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence he stood up and found that the back of the expensive chair had snapped off like a dried twig and now lay flat on the floor. He was mortified but Caro’s mum shrugged and told him not to worry about it.

Game from a throne

Game from a throne

In the days and weeks that followed we played football and imagined being our heroes. We argued over being Pele, Rivelino or Carlos Alberto but Brendan never had any trouble about who he was. And now, whenever I see replays of that famous fourth goal I often wonder where I might find The Chairman.

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Filed under Dublin, short stories, Sport

Ireland – November Reign

A joyous moment ne’er before seen 

With the underdogs oh so keen

They cut no slack

For the men in Black

As the stadium rocked for the Boys in Green.

 

Congratulations Ireland on a magnificent performance and unforgettable win!

 

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Filed under Dublin, Ireland, Rugby, Sport

Time Heals

On the day Joseph left Dublin the sky was cold and grey, reflecting his mood. He had to leave, he knew that, to get away and forget about the last eighteen months. After all the good times they had shared the surprise and pain of rejection was just too much to bear. Now, as the plane raced down the runway and lifted into the air he felt a weight slipping from his shoulders. He closed his eyes and determined to put everything behind him and embrace the future. ‘It’s over,’ he whispered ‘that’s it.’ A new beginning, a new life with all its endless and exciting possibilities awaited, and he was going to grab it with both hands.

Empire State

Empire State

New York was everything Joseph had dreamed it would be and the pace of life was both exciting and exhausting. It was so full of life that he often laughed about its non-stop energy – when he got a chance! So, with a few contacts in his notebook he managed to organise some interviews, and less than after arriving he had landed a job with a small magazine. The Pip was a weekly issue that covered entertainment, sports and all the cultural events going on in the ‘city that never sleeps’. He was kept busy and soon forgot the pain that had brought him here. ‘Time heals all wounds,’ as his mother had said at the airport, and he was beginning to believe her.

His apartment was a world away from what he had been used to at home. His old bedroom was almost as big as his entire apartment on the fourth floor of a large, brownstone building on the Upper West Side. It wasn’t cheap – nowhere in Manhattan was – but it was only a ten minute walk to Central Park, the centre of the universe for those who lived there. There were plenty of bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs that only began to liven up when the sun went down. It was invigorating and he couldn’t get enough of it. The Big Apple was his lifesaver and he bit into it as hard as he could.

Over the years there were plenty of trips back to Dublin for holidays and family events. The Celtic Tiger was gorging all around him and the city had changed completely. Gone was the innocence, he noted, and he was happy not to be a part of it. The old ‘Land of Saints and Scholars’ had gone and it was now replaced by something much less caring. As a caustic radio commentator observed Ireland had now become the ‘Land of Taints and Dollars’.

Back in New York, Joseph was promoted and that allowed him to move into a larger apartment, and one with a better view. From here he could see a piece of Central Park and, beyond, the towering elegance of the Empire State Building. In the early days he would often sit by the window and enjoy looking at the magnificent view. He watched as the night silently closed in, the day replaced by the sparkle and glitter of a thousand lights.

Life was good for Joseph and got even better when he met Lisa at a book launch. She was the photographer commissioned to take pictures of the author and guests attending the cocktail party. David Cortez, the author, was a friend from his earliest days in the city, and Lisa took quite a few pictures of them as they chatted and joked with other members of the New York literary scene. Joseph noticed her dark hair, brown eyes and the shape of her mouth that laughed at the edges, all reminding him of someone from Dublin – someone from a previous life. It was a surprise, and although it stirred a few memories, both good and bad, he was intrigued.
‘You seem lost,’ said David.
‘Yes, the photographer reminds me of someone.’
‘You’re grinning, you know that?’
Joseph nodded. ‘Yeah, I know. It’s just that I feel some old memories stirring.’
‘That’s good, right?’
‘The best I can say is ‘Yes…and No’ if you know what I mean.’
‘Only too well, my friend. Only too well.’

Lisa moved in with Joseph about three months later and it was the happiest time of his life. He was working at a job he loved, in the most exciting city in the world, and he had Lisa by his side. They were very happy and loved being together; walking in the park, snuggling on the settee and watching television or eating in their own favourite, Italian restaurant nearby. They talked so much and Lisa made him laugh more than anybody had ever done. He was hooked, absolutely and completely, and knew he was the luckiest man in New York City.

All that changed however, on a cold, snowy day in early February. Lisa had an assignment on Coney Island and on her way home a drunk driver crashed into her car killing her outright. Joseph was devastated and not sure how to carry on. There were many nights he cried myself to sleep and his circle of caring friends watched him, and slowly, one day at a time, he emerged from the pain and darkness. He was tired, beaten and in need of a break, so after sorting things out with his boss he went home to Dublin.

It was cold when he arrived but a hug from his mother soon warmed him up. She was looking well, as usual, but Joseph noticed that her memory wasn’t quite as sharp as before. He said nothing and was delighted to be at home, listening to her voice again and tucking into her cooking. The portions weren’t as big as those in New York but they tasted better. Less was definitely more, he thought, as he licked his spoon clean.

East Pier

East Pier

One day his friend Ted called in and they went for a stroll on the East Pier like they had done many times before. Sometimes they went to Sandymount Strand, but as they both wanted ice creams they headed to Dun Laoghaire.  It was quiet and they only had the cawing, diving seagulls for company. Across the bay in Howth windows sparkled and winked in the sunshine, and the salty air was enticing. ‘Nothing like this in the Big Apple,’ Joseph said as the wind tossed his hair.
‘Yeah, it’s nice here today,’ Ted said as a yacht sailed by. ‘I prefer it like this when we almost have the place to ourselves,’ he added, taking in the bay and the antics of a brave windsurfer.

Joseph always loved being here and it was the memory of this place that he would conjure up when stuck on the subway in New York. It made those crowded moments bearable. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you could bottle it?’ he often asked himself. Fresh Sea Air – who wouldn’t want some of that? It was a cracking idea and he smiled at the thought of seeing travellers on the sweat subway sniffing the fresh air of Dublin Bay. Flann O’Brien would, no doubt, have something pithy to say about ‘such an invention’ but then people were now buying and carrying around bottles of water. That was a surprise, and maybe another was coming. One day, perhaps.
‘Never guess who I bumped into the other day?’ Ted said when they sat down at the end of the pier.
Joseph shrugged. ‘No, who was it? Bono?’
Ted laughed. ‘Would you stop for God’s sake.’ He coughed and put his hand to his mouth. ‘I met Catherine, your old flame.’
Joseph’s heart missed a beat. ‘Oh, yeah.’
Ted leaned close. ‘She’s looking well…and she said to say ‘Hello’.’
Joseph slapped Ted on the shoulder. ‘You’re messing, I know you.’
Ted laughed. ‘I’m not, honest.’ He turned to Joseph. ‘I’m not making this up, I wouldn’t do that. Come on, man!’
They had been friends for over twenty years and Joseph knew that Ted wasn’t joking. It was good to hear about Catherine but what did it matter.
They watched in silence as a tanker headed for Dublin Port, and the colourful sails of a yacht filled as it cut across the water. He saw it all but he was soon lost in thought. He was back on that day. He couldn’t stop it and like a film director watching a story unfold, it all came rushing back.
‘Why?’ he said.
Catherine sniffled and wiped an eye with the back of her hand. ‘I’m sorry, really, really sorry.’ Another sniffle. ‘It’s my fault, it’s got nothing to do with you…you are the nicest guy that I know…the nicest that I’ve ever met!’
Joseph felt numb.
‘It’s just that…oh, I don’t know how to say what I’m thinking…. I’m confused!’
He didn’t hear much more, at least he couldn’t remember what she had said, as he was too upset by the icy words. The world around him was quiet but he was mind was spinning.
Joseph turned and realised that Ted was speaking. ‘Sorry, what did you say?’
‘I said, I’ve met her a few times in the last year or so, and she always asks for you.’
‘That’s nice to know, but…… isn’t she happily married?’
‘Well, from what I learned she’s now happily divorced. Apparently the marriage went pear-shaped after a few years and her husband turned out to be a nasty piece of work.’ He gave a little shrug. ‘You never know, do you?’
‘No you don’t…and aren’t you full of surprises, eh?’
Ted leaned back against the granite wall. ‘Hey, I just thought I’d pass it on.’
They sat in silence and watched more yachts heading out to sea, their sails filling in the stiffening breeze. It was a beautiful scene and another one for Joseph to recall deep beneath the streets of New York.

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand

The following summer Joseph realised that his mother was not as strong as he always hoped she would be and he decided to return to Dublin. He had been away a long time, but with the opportunity of setting up a branch of the business in his home town, he decided to go home. He had done well in New York and now he was looking forward to going home and the new challenge that lay ahead.
‘You’re always welcome here, you know that,’ said Paul, The Pip’s boss, when they shook hands for the last time. ‘You’ll be fine,’ he added, with a wink.
Joseph smiled and knew that he would miss him.

The first few months back in Dublin were hectic. He set up an office, made contacts and got to know the ground rules. His background in New York opened a lot of doors and before long the business was running nicely. It was never going to make a fortune but the folks in New York were happy and that was what mattered. He was happy too, happier than he thought he would be. He enjoyed linking up with old friends and keeping an eye on his mother. He liked being home, and walks and talks on the East Pier and Sandymount Strand helped confirm his decision.

Summer gave way to autumn and the leaves changed from green to gold. It was a lovely time of the year, the colours radiant and giving their all before the winter set in. It was on one such day that he crossed Merrion Square and ducked into the familiar surroundings of Greene’s Bookshop on Clare Street. It was a place where he had spent many a happy hour, lost among the crammed shelves and tables of books. It was his Aladdin’s Cave and the place where he discovered so many great writers and their stories. He loved the old shop, its unique atmosphere and character so different to the new, bright chain stores. Greene’s may have been a dinosaur, but it was his favourite one.

Greene's Bookshop

Greene’s Bookshop

He browsed the shelves, picked out a book and began reading. This was a real treat, and as he thumbed the pages he became aware of someone close by. They were invading his space, and in such a small shop it was not what he expected. To his left he could hear a customer talking with a shop assistant and he heard the cash register open and close.
Joseph had just flicked another page when he heard the person next to him say ‘Hello’.
Time stood still and Joseph heard the air rush from his nostrils. He closed his eyes for a moment, all thoughts of his book now gone, as he realised he knew who was beside him. It was quite a surprise and he took a deep breath before turning his head and looking at Catherine.
‘Hello,’ he said and awkwardly dropped the book. They both bent to pick it up and banged their heads together. It was like a scene from a comedy sketch and they laughed and rubbed their heads.
‘Two heads are better than one,’ said Catherine.
He loved that sound and the way her eyes smiled. She was his ‘brown-eyed girl’ just like the one Van Morrison sang about. Looking at Catherine it was easy to understand why Van the Man had been so captivated.
‘I suppose so,’ he said, replacing the book on a shelf.
‘I heard you were home, Joseph,’ Catherine added. ‘And may I say that you’re looking well.’
‘Thanks, and you’re not looking too bad either.’
She frowned, eyes narrowing, taking everything in.
‘It’s just that I didn’t realise that Ted was such a liar. I’ll have to have words with him when I see him again,’ he continued watching her eyes.
‘Why, what did he say?’
Joseph paused wanting to make sure that the words came out correctly. ‘Well, he told me that he met you and that you were…looking good.’
‘And…?’ an eyebrow rose.
‘Well, from where I’m standing I think you’re… looking great.’
She pursed her lips but didn’t reply.
‘How long has it been?’ he asked.
She took a long time to reply as all around them people moved about. She stepped closer to let a man with a briefcase and a bag of books pass, and he could smell her perfume, a fragrance he recognised. ‘A while…a long while.’
He couldn’t stop the smile coming, and didn’t try. ‘In that case I suppose I should get the coffees. Still white and one, is it?’
Catherine smiled and then they made their way down the creaky stairs and into the autumnal sunshine. The coffee smelt great, and in that moment Joseph remembered his mother’s words ‘Time heals all wounds,’ and he wondered if she was right. She usually was, and he didn’t see any reason to start doubting her now. After all, mums know best!

Two's company...

Two’s company…

 

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The canvas can do miracles

Art for art's sake

Art for art’s sake

‘Mmm, I like this,’ said the voice behind me.
I turned and saw a woman who was taking a close interest in one of my paintings. She glanced at me briefly before turning her gaze back to the painting that was hanging from the railings on Merrion Square. It was a Sunday morning in early May and the place was busy with tourists taking in the colourful canvases. I had recently managed to get a pitch at the city’s most popular outdoor art market and I liked the friendly atmosphere. It was proving to be fruitful for me and I had met some interesting people.
‘Good,’ I said, following the woman’s look to a seascape I had painted a few months earlier. On a breezy day in September, I remembered, when the wind was fresh and clouds scudded across a blue sky. ‘Do you recognise the scene?’
She stepped closer to the painting, her eyes roaming over the canvas. ‘No, but I like the energy. And I think that you’ve captured the moment beautifully.’
I raised an eyebrow in response and looked at the painting that I had called Sea-scape. It was one that I had painted quickly, the idea for it coming almost fully formed at the moment of conception.
That did not happen often, and I was immensely satisfied with the result. And so, it appeared, was someone else.
‘Where is it?’ she asked, looking at me.
‘It’s from the end of the West Pier in Dun Laoghaire, looking across Dublin Bay to Howth. There was a yacht race on that day but I was only interested in the small boat just beyond the harbour entrance.’ I pointed to red brushstrokes that showed the boat with a white sail flapping in the wind. It was being lifted by an incoming wave and the two sailors, in their yellow lifejackets, were holding on to the side rails. In the middle of the bay yachts were racing; and beyond them the sun glinted off windows on sea-facing houses in Howth.‘The single boat is eye-catching,’ she said.

The Beacon, Baltimore

The Beacon, Baltimore

‘Do you sail?’
‘Not now, but I did once upon a time. I lived in Baltimore, in west Cork, and I’m familiar with scenes like this. They were always exciting, and that’s what I remember best.’
The woman was, I suspect, in her mid-thirties and she had short, dark hair that just reached the collar of her cream-coloured blouse. The handles of a leather bag hung on a shoulder and she twirled sunglasses in her hand.
‘But since I moved away, and that’s a long time ago, I’ve no family there anymore…this painting brings back memories.’
‘Happy ones, I hope.’
She grinned. ‘Yes, very happy ones.’

It was nice hearing such positive words, something that I never expected when I finished my first painting. I was in my late teens and liked visiting galleries with my mother and listening to her talk about her favourite artists. So, after a few false starts, I began painting, something that I kept secret for as long as I worked on it. A month or so later I nervously removed the old cloth and revealed my maiden effort.
‘Very good,’ Mum said ‘and remember how good it makes you feel because others will feel it too. And that’s a wonderful thing.’ She gave me a hug, and told me again that she loved what I had done.
She had always dabbled in art, but began to take it seriously after my father died.
He had been killed in a car crash and I remember the sound of her cries as she rocked herself to sleep. Losing the man she loved was painful, beyond words, and it was her love of painting that saved her, and me. I didn’t understand that at the time, but looking back I see how strong she was, and that her search for peace was something that she had to do to give her life meaning.
Over the years she sold many paintings at local fetes and Arts & Craft fairs. That was a great source of pride, but there was more to it, a deeper feeling that I could not see, but knew was there.
‘It’s all about finding peace of mind,’ she told me as we sat in the studio one day ‘and the clarity it brings.’ Then she pointed to different features in a painting and how they worked together to make a coherent, pleasing story. ‘One day you’ll understand,’ she said, squeezing my shoulder.
I nodded, but it took many years before I finally understood what her words meant.

‘And I really like the rhythm,’ the woman said, as my artist friend on the next pitch gave a thumbs-up sign.
‘And what rhythm is that?’ I asked, as another person stopped to look at my wall of paintings. I had discovered that talking with a potential customer was good as it attracted others, and I had a quick word with my latest visitor.
‘The rhythm of life,’ replied the woman turning to the painting. ‘The little boat has left the safety of the marina and is struggling in the waves as it heads into the bay where the water is calmer. And then there is the far-off land, past the big yachts, that the little boat may one day reach.’
I nodded.
‘It’s like a metaphor for life,’ she added and crossed her arms.
‘And do you interpret dreams too?’ I asked, and that got a laugh.
She shook her head. ‘No, but I have been dreaming about finding a painting like this, and I’d like to buy it. So, how much is it?’ she asked, before turning again to the canvas that might just be on its way to a new home.
I checked the price on the back and she said ‘I’ll take it.’ We shook hands and I asked her if she painted.
‘I don’t, but I’m a musician and I love paintings even though I can barely paint a garden fence.’
It was my turn to laugh.
‘And I hope that you have a good place for it,’ I said, as I began wrapping the painting.
‘I have a blank wall in a room where I like to read and listen to music, so it will suit perfectly. It’s a lovely room but it’s been waiting for something like this to complete it. And I’m delighted to have found it.’ She was happy and so was I, as I knew my painting was going to be appreciated.
‘So, what more can you tell me about it?’ she asked, stepping back to let a couple walk by.

I spent a decade living in London where any number of attractions demanded and got my attention and painting wasn’t one of them. I went to plenty of art galleries and exhibitions but I didn’t lift a paintbrush until I returned to Dublin.
My mother had passed away years before and I often walked on the West Pier in Dun Laoghaire as I reacquainted myself with the place. The tangy smell of the sea air and the breeze, sometimes gentle and sometimes strong, were always a draw and I loved it. And with my mother’s old brushes by my side I made quite a few paintings of scenes from the pier, many of which I had, thankfully, sold.
And it was with great anticipation that I accepted my friend Sheila’s invitation to go sailing from the yacht club. ‘Just do as I say,’ she said as we sat in her boat before setting-off.
She was an experienced sailor who was enjoying her new boat, and on a sunny day in early July we were ready to sail. Having often stood on the West pier as boats made their way into the bay I was delighted to be finally enjoying the experience.

Dun Laoghaire marina...to the sea

Dun Laoghaire marina…to the sea

‘You ok?’ Sheila asked.
‘Aye, aye, Captain,’ I said, grinning from ear to ear.
Past the lighthouses and into the bay the water began to get choppy.
I grabbed the hand-rail and rocked up and down and back and forth as we bounced about like a cork. I was a little nervous but not afraid, especially as I was with Sheila who knew what she was doing.
No, it was more like I was thinking about something else, but I couldn’t quite work out what that was.
Sheila pulled ropes, shouted instructions to me and used the tiller to guide us to calmer waters. It was demanding, and I had no time to think of anything other than what I was told to do.
After four or five minutes in the bubbling water Sheila shouted something and I managed to do what she wanted and the sails filled. The boat lurched forward and I was suddenly lifted into the air, before plopping back down. It had all happened in a heartbeat but I felt as though I had been flying. I knew it was crazy but I couldn’t deny that something was different.
Then a wave then hit the boat and completely drenched me. Sheila looked over, a look of concern on her face.
‘Are you alright, this is a bit rougher than I had expected,’ she said.
I didn’t remember my reply but Sheila said that she was surprised when I began to laugh, and embrace the choppy waters like an old sea dog.
Back in the yacht club Sheila asked me what had happened. She thought that I must have banged my head, and if I did it was only to knock some sense into me.
Sailing about later that afternoon I thought about my ‘flying’ incident.
When I was lifted into the air all sense of fear disappeared and I experienced an unexpected calmness. It was quiet, and I felt and understood everything around me. I had been released, that was the only word that made sense to me, and I had found my happy place. And the thing was that I could ‘feel it’ just like my mother had said all those years ago.
The sun was a big, orange ball falling into the sea as Sheila and I talked about our trip and I told her about my epiphany.
‘Oh to be beside the sea, is that it?’ she said with a knowing look, and I happily accepted her offer of another trip into Dublin Bay. The sea had given me something special, and I tried to capture it in my paintings. It was difficult, but sometimes I got close and for that I was thankful.

‘And that’s why I called it Sea-scape?’ I said, ‘because it was at sea that I escaped into a new freedom.’
The woman smiled. ‘I understand, and thank you for telling me that. Now, whenever I look at the painting I will be able to see you being bounced around before finding your happy place. It’s a wonderful story.’
I nodded. ‘And I hope that you find yours.’
She put the painting under her arm, slipped on her sunglasses and was about to leave when she turned to me. ‘I have, and it’s called Sea-scape.’

The canvas can do miracles

The canvas can do miracles

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Open wide!

It all started out so good – just like a good starter should do. My cousin and her husband who were visiting Dublin had invited me to dinner and, going on previous experiences, a night out with these folks and some other relationships was always worthwhile. Plenty of chat, food, drinks and no end of rib tickling stories would ensure all had a great time. It was all good fun until something got stuck in my throat, and it didn’t want to budge. I did as much as I could to help the offending morsel on its way south, but all to no avail. I was stuck, just like the little blighter that ruined my evening. Later, after an uncomfortable few hours in bed, wondering if something really serious had happened to me, I finally collapsed into the arms of Morpheus, exhausted.

A&E - safe at last

A&E – safe at last

In the morning when I tried to have a bowl of cereal I realised that my situation was unchanged. I was nervous and felt my heart beat a little faster. As I sat at the table I began to think about something other than my discomfort hoping that a muscle might relax and rid me of the blockage. It was useless, and soon I was unable to swallow water. I was desperate, and knew that I had to visit the local hospital.
The Accident & Emergency area in the hospital was busy when I arrived and took a seat at the back of the room. People of all ages and sizes sat close together expressing their varying degrees of pain in sounds that grew all too familiar. It was not a happy place but definitely better than where they were before. Groans, coughs and the trilling of mobile phones filled the room while the crowd shifted as patients were called. Unfortunately, due to a full room and two motor accident victims being brought in, I waited all night before being seen. It was a real drag, but when I compared my situation with others about me, I exhaled slowly and turned the page of the book that I was reading.

Finally I was examined by a doctor who looked about as tired as I felt. After an x-ray indicated that I indeed did have a foreign body within he scheduled a full test for later in the day. I thanked him and snuggled down in a corner chair and grabbed a few hours of needy sleep.

Just before midday the doctor returned and told me what was going to happen.
I managed a painful gulp but still nothing moved.

The doctor said that I was about to have an endoscopic investigation, and stories from friends who had had a similar examination came flooding back. They had all disliked the experience, and I went anxiously with the porter along white corridors to my appointment. He made some small talk as we walked, doing his best to ease my worried mind.

There were at least six people waiting or preparing equipment when I entered the theatre, and took off my jacket.
‘Just lie down here, please,’ the doctor said, indicating the bed around which the others, who were dressed in green garb, moved with purpose. I noted flashing lights on a tall machine from which a long, black cable that seemed to go on forever, spiralled. Jeez, he’s not planning to stick that thing into my mouth, I thought, a quiver of apprehension running up my spine. It was another uncomfortable moment, but there was no going back.

Now that's what I call a foreign body

Wow, now that’s what I call a foreign body

This was my first time ever to visit a hospital as a patient and the quiet reassurance of those green-garbed professionals was a big help. They explained the procedure and after a few deep breaths the doctor got the show on the road. With my teeth biting into a hard circular ring the doctor said those fateful words that are usually heard in a dentist’s surgery.
‘Open wide,’ he said and there followed the first tickling at the back of my throat. It felt horrible as he probed about and I didn’t help matters by gagging noisily in response. Finally after a couple of attempts the black tube slipped past my tongue and descended into the bowels of my inner self. I thought that I was in Alien and expecting a monster to burst from my stomach at any moment. I could feel something moving about inside me before my breathing levelled out to something manageable.
‘You’re doing fine,’ a voice said gently as a tear was wiped from my eye.
The doctor probed away and assessed his work on the attached monitor. He jiggled the tube up and down before the image on screen drew a sharp breath. ‘Wow, now that’s what I call a foreign body,’ he exclaimed as others leaned closer for a better look.
‘What’s that?’ asked someone.
‘A piece of stir fry beef, I believe,’ said the doctor holding his hand steady and clicking a photograph of the obstruction.
One wag’s quip ‘More like won’t-stir fry,’ brought a fit of laughter to the room. I appreciated the sharp comment and gagged a response. I must remember that, I thought, just before I was given an injection and passed out almost immediately.

I woke hours later in a strange bed but thankfully rid of a certain, unwanted morsel. I stayed in bed overnight, before being released with a clean bill of health. And a photo of the dark, beefy obstruction. The doctor told me in no uncertain terms to steer clear of that type of food. ‘It’s not good for you.’
‘Steer or stir?’ I asked, and this time I was able to share the laugh.

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