Category Archives: Dublin

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…

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Dublin, Ireland, Sandymount Strans

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, short stories

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dublin, hospital

‘It’s for You…’

Crisp and clear

Crisp and clear

A chilly, breeze blew across the cobblestones and the wedding group shivered, again. The photographer waved his hands wanting us to get closer and, when all was ready, he looked through the eyepiece and said out loud ‘Cheese.’
We grinned, smiled or whatever as the flash went off, briefly lighting the grey afternoon.
‘Don’t move,’ cried the photographer ‘another one, please.’ When he was finished we broke into small groups and stood about chatting about the ceremony while older weddinggoers, more familiar with such events, headed for the comfort and warmth of a car, and onto the hotel. It was a few weeks before Christmas and the day was crisp and clear, with the sun only a temporary, but welcome, presence.

We climbed into Tony’s car and we drove along the Coast Road, past Clontarf and a windswept and empty Dollymount Strand where the  last vestiges of the setting sun were reflected in the windows of the houses that looked upon Dublin Bay. And just beyond the beach, in the dark waters, the white horses were galloping ever closer.
At the hotel in Howth I stood in front of a big fire and warmed my hands. ‘Don’t hog it,’ cried Kate as she discreetly eased past me and bathed in the warm glow. She couldn’t hide her delight and cooed with pleasure. ‘I would love a hot whiskey, darling,’ she said and kissed me on the cheek.
‘You and the rest of them,’ I said and went to the bar.
I also bought drinks for Tony and Claire and went back and re-joined Kate who had now recovered and was ‘warm all over.’ That was great as I once again stood in front of the blazing coals. It was invigorating and soon I stepped away and let some other freezing souls enjoy the fire of Howth.

Fire of Howth

Fire of Howth

Bill, the groom, was my best friend and we had met on our first day in school. Growing up we played football for the same club; robbed orchards; mostly liked the same music; learned to drive within a few months of one another and later chased girls. It was the best of times, and I now wished him the best of luck in the new phase of his life that was just beginning. He and Caroline met at a barbecue two years ago, and he was now happily wearing a new wedding ring. And a smile wider than Dublin Bay.
I was delighted for the new couple and accepted a drink when Tony came back from the bar. It was early and the noise level was already beginning to rise. What would the night bring, I thought, and deep down an idea began to form? I tried to grab it but it was too quick for me, so I let it go and downed a mouthful of a creamy Guinness. ‘Cheers,’ I said to the other three, and ‘here’s to a great night.’

The conversation around the dining table was lively, as the eight of us had plenty of fun ribbing one another, something that we had done for years. That night it was particularly entertaining and helped along by mucho vino. They say that it loosens the tongue and Dave was on fine form telling jokes. ‘You dirty old man,’ laughed Kate when Dave told a particularly rude one. The time passed quickly and, with the speeches over, the dancing started. The DJ turned the music up and soon the floor was packed with giddy dancers.
Over the next hour or so I met and talked with friends and Bill’s cousin, Alex, who I had not seen for a long time. He had moved to Los Angeles and was doing very nicely in the music business and living near the beach. He invited me to ‘drop in’ anytime and I carefully put his business card away. And it was just after he joined the dancers that the idea came back, and this time I got a hold of it. I grinned, lost in thought, and then went off to find Kate, Tony and Claire. It was going to be a team effort but I knew that I would be singled out as the ringleader. I didn’t care, and for Bill, who had played pranks on me before, it was ‘pay-back time’.

I gathered the merry pranksters together and I laid out the plan.
‘You’re mad, he’ll never fall for it,’ said Kate, shaking her head.
But Claire loved it. ‘That’s a great idea, Joe, and crazy enough to work,’ she said and looked at Tony who was grinning his face off.
We spent another ten minutes going over the plan until we were happy. ‘Well, Claire, are you ready?’ I asked.
She took a last sip of wine, smacked her lips and nodded. ‘Let’s do it,’ she said and took up her position beside the public telephone at the end of the bar.
I spotted Bill dancing with an aunt, and I nodded for the game to begin.

Claire picked up the phone, dialled the front desk and asked for Bill. ‘I’m calling from California. Can you get him quickly, please, as this is costing me a fortune.’ She kept a straight face and her American accent was acceptable, especially as it was dulled in all the background noise.
Tony and I watched as a staff member came up the stairs and was pointed over to Bill. He leaned close to hear what she was saying and then he was off down the stairs two at a time. We let him get to the bottom before we made our way to the small landing, and waited.
Behind us, Claire now playing the part of Bill’s old, Californian flame, Debbie, waited as the receptionist handed over the phone.
‘Hello,’ he said and Claire answered with a big, friendly ‘Hi, there, Bill, what a surprise, eh?’
I could see him hold the phone close to his ear, concentrating on the words coming ‘all the way from America’. He was relaxed and crossed one foot over the other and talked with ‘Debbie’. Tony tapped me on the back and whispered, ‘He’s going to kill you.’ I nodded as Bill kept talking. I could just hear him say ‘…how did you find out?’ when Claire put the phone down. She was laughing hard and had to wipe the tears from her eyes.
‘Hello, hello, hello…’said Bill as the line went dead. He shook his head, handed the phone back and turned around. Then he stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked up. It was like a scene from a movie when he saw us and we couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
‘I’ll kill ya, Joe,’ he cried and scampered up the stairs.
He didn’t, thankfully, and The Night of the Caller has not been forgotten. And as time moves on I am very much aware that somebody out there has my number, and is just waiting to ‘make that call’.

'It's for You...'

‘It’s for You…’

Leave a comment

Filed under Dublin, Humour, Ireland, short stories

Joyce and Stream of Consciousness – kind of!

 

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand

Arguing with the guy you know who can beat you – I had never thought of it like that before but it makes sense, especially now as I am walking on Sandymount Strand with nobody within two hundred yards, and I can hear words go back and forth inside my head as the argument carries on. And I am nervous because I feel that I might just lose. How crazy is that? Very, I thought, and I wondered which one of those arguing had responded. I stopped, looked around making sure that I was still out of earshot of any beach walkers, and said ‘What’s going?’ There was a long silence and I heard nothing as both voices seemed to have, well, lost their…you know. It was a weird moment and I remembered that James Joyce, a keen stroller and habitué of the strand where I now stood, was fond of using stream of consciousness in his writing, a literary device that awakened the world to its subtleties in his most famous work Ulysses, a book that is considered a difficult read by many who pick it up and one of the greatest ever written by countless others. That such a difference of opinion should exist is partially a response to Joyce’s idiosyncratic style with his referencing of mythological and historical characters; differing chapter layouts where various rhythms reflect the story being told at that point and his use of the stream of consciousness technique that permitted the reader to be ‘inside the character’s head’ and in the story like never before. This was a new and radical approach that did not win favour at first, except with a small number who saw the liberating aspect that he had revealed. Being ‘inside the character’s head’ was not only interesting and revelatory but, as many readers found out to their surprise, an uncomfortable place to be, as much for its unexpectedness as its lack of familiarity, and the not-knowingness of what was coming a step too close to a reality they thought they had left behind, if only for a little while.

Joyce's magnum opus

Ulysses – book for thought

Yes, Jimmy, my man, you have managed deliberately, of course, to ‘get under the skin’ and show normal life in all its simple and twisted moments; a life that happens more surprisingly that we ever imagined; where what we see is not always what we think it is and where the opposite is equally true, and where stream of consciousness, although a wonderful addition to the writer’s quiver of literary techniques is above all, to put it simply and something that I suspect Jimmy recognised because he was such a sharp observer, about thinking people thinking as they move through the day, as they have since the dawn of time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, Ireland, James Joyce, Sandymount Strand

Ballybrack Dolmen – Ancient Link

Ancient stones

Ancient stones

It’s often the case that when you have something ‘on your doorstep’ that it’s ignored for another time. And that was certainly the case, for me, when I decided to check out the Dolmen near Ballybrack village. I knew about it for a long time but had put my visit on the long finger until a few days ago. It was warm and sunny when I arrived and the old stones looked bright and sharp in the middle of the green that is almost surrounded by modern houses. (It is on a green in Cromlech Fields, and it’s no surprise that cromlech is another word often used to describe such ancient structures.) What was it like here on the day the last stone was put in place, I wondered, and walked to the group of heavy stones.

Back in time

Back in time

I read that the large, roof stone weighs about twelve tons and that must have taken some effort to set it in place. Thinking about that and the commitment of those who first decided and then erected the structure it must have been important to them, and it’s a statement of the focus and skill that it is still standing after, possibly, more than four millennia.  A small, stone beside the dolmen says that it is a Dolmen, Portal Tomb, circa 2,500 BC – a timeframe that is impossible to understand. Since that time, getting on for nearly five thousand years, almost all of recorded history has come and gone and the dolmen is still standing and awaiting the next sunrise. There are many dolmens around the country, but having one so close to home and easy to visit it was a real treat to see it, and think about druids in flowing robes carrying out mystical rituals by firelight back in the mists of time.

Ballybrack Dolmen - link to ancient times

Ballybrack Dolmen – link to ancient times

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Dublin, History

Teacher Hooked

Hook you like...

Hook you like…

It was a bitterly cold day shortly before Christmas and the class was restless. The room was packed as we prepared for English, which was always one of the most enjoyable classes. The teacher, Mr. Stores, or Dick as he was commonly known, was considered to be one of the best in the school and, although not a pushover, we could get on pretty well with him. This was important as most of the other teachers were much older than Dick and we had little or nothing in common with them. He was like an older brother, and we felt an affinity that was to our mutual benefit.
That was until one fateful day.
On that particularly sharp and windy morning Dick came into the class, took off his coat and cast his eyes about for a spare hook. When he could not find one he proceeded to remove coats from a hook near the lectern and let them fall to the floor. Then he placed his coat on the now free hook and, tapping its pockets to ensure that nothing was left in them, started the class by asking ‘Well, class, what do we think of Shakespeare’s use of irony?’

The class was distracted and barely paid attention to his question after this unbelievably, crass act. It was a bad moment, and to use one of his pet phrases ‘a Rubicon had been crossed’. Furtive glances were exchanged and heads were shaken in disbelief as thoughts of revenge silently grew. We soon focussed on the lesson, while conjuring up all sorts of cruel punishments for Dick’s despicable behaviour.
Over the next few days many suggestions were offered ranging from the diabolic to the downright inventive, all generating much mirth. It was no surprise that the most colourful suggestions were thought up by someone who has since become a leading politician. A talent for deception and the ability to laugh at another’s misfortune is an essential for such a career, and Kelly had it in spades. When I think about it now I’m sure that he was must have been emotionally damaged at an early age, or maybe he was just nasty git. The best suggestions came from those in the back row, always a source of nefarious thinking, and, appropriately, the winning idea came from one of the boys whose coat Dick had dropped onto the floor. And, like all great endeavours it was deceptively simple, but it needed careful preparation.

And above all, timing.

Gummed up

Gummed up

The plan called for a nice, shiny new hook to be made available to Dick at the start of our next English class. Unbeknownst to him we had removed the screws from a hook and substituted them with a large blob of wet, sticky chewing gum. This mouth-watering work of adhesive genius took five of us an entire lunch-hour to prepare and our jaws were sore from all the chewing. Mine were numb and I thought that I had had a rough time at the dentist. My face as red as a cardinals hat when I finished and offered my blob to one of the ‘engineers’. Murphy’s job was to join all the blobs and have a trial run. He did it with great commitment as coats were hung and the resistance factor calculated. After stringent testing he decided that more gum was needed and Connolly was sent to the local shop for supplies.
When the final solution was prepared and tested, under the watchful eyes of the entire class, the shiny hook was pressed into position and fingers were crossed in anticipation. ‘Well done, Murph,’ someone shouted and we all cheered. The engineer smiled, took a bow and slipped casually into his desk.
There had been many pranks played on teachers over the years and our magnum opus would definitely to be remembered. The story would go around the school like wildfire, and with everything in place we waited in scholarly silence for the coat tosser to get his comeuppance.

Ring-a-ding-ding

Ring-a-ding-ding

Shortly after the school bell rang we heard the sound of Dick’s steel-tipped shoes coming down the corridor, and the tension in the classroom rose a notch. ‘All things come to those who wait,’ whispered Doyle conspiratorially into my ear as he leaned over from the desk behind. I grinned and followed the other thirty pair of eyes as the door opened and the lamb walked easily to a silent, sticky slaughter.
Dick put his case down and, as usual, looked about for a spare hook. His eyes moved along the line of coats before landing on the shining beacon that almost cried out for his attention. ‘I’m free,’ it seemed to say and he grinned in surprise at his good fortune. He walked across the front of the class, took off his coat and, as the moment of truth was reached, carefully placed it on the hook. It held, thank God, and we collectively breathed a sigh of relief.

The class started with a discussion on the merits of the sonnet form but our attention was elsewhere. It was difficult not to keep an eye on Dick’s coat but nothing happened for the first ten minutes or so. As time passed without incident we begrudgingly cursed Murphy for his obvious brilliance as an engineer. Dick moved about the room, as was his style, asking questions and developing an argument that was informative and lively. I made a contribution and sat back, as the first movement of the Dick’s coat was spotted.
All eyes darted to and from the hook as its adhesive support began to stretch like only quality gum can. It moved slowly, like a river of pink lava against the wooden panelled wall. I looked at Dick and wondered about his possible reaction when he realised what had happened. ‘It might turn nasty,’ had been the general opinion, and we were about to find out.
Dick continued to walk about as his overcoat continued its inexorable, downward slide. It was a wonderful sight and it killed off all the idle chatter in the room. The quiet was bordering on the religious as the thick, pink line began to unravel and fray.
‘There she goes,’ Doyle sniggered under his breath.
Dick turned abruptly and asked. ‘Well, Doyle, have you got something to share with us?’ He raised his brow waiting for an answer, but none came.
There was total silence in the room as the gum, having performed beyond all expectations, its elasticity stretched to the maximum, finally and gloriously broke.
We all turned to see Dick’s coat lying on the floor below the thin strip of glistening, pink gum that was about three feet long.
Dick was furious, and he snatched his coat up and roughly brushed it before tossing it over the back of his chair. Breathing hard and staring at us with fire in his eyes we braced ourselves for the inevitable explosion. To our surprise, though, he put his hands up in a gesture of surrender and uttered just one word. ‘Sorry.’ It was a comment that earned him a round of applause and cemented our new, mutual understanding.

Scene of the crime

Scene of the crime

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, short stories