Automatic for my people

What a difference a week makes; book-ended as it was by songs that evoke emotions so heavy they don’t bear hearing more than once in a year. O Holy Night cracks its whip on the heart, startling it to bolt upright and take off around the track of emotion. Past memories, some magical, others painful; disturbing the earth surrounding dormant feelings as it gallops onward through the bend of hopeful anticipation before hitting the straight. Then chasing Now along the final furlong to cross the line in a perfect photo-finish. A week later Auld Lang Syne will not be able resist pulling at the stray thread dangling from the soul; it won’t be satisfied until it unravels it completely before abandoning it in an untidy heap for its owner to disentangle and rewind.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved the Eve of Christmas and loathed that of New Year with equal measure. Nothing new or unique in that, says you. This doesn’t go unnoticed. All the New Year greetings are filed long before the credits roll on the spent one. Few, it seems, are alone in longing to keep the head down and let it wash over them. Possibly in a similar haze of miniature snack denial that sees the desperate diner through a sustained period with their considered size. Honey, you shrunk the hot dogs. It’s OK, Dear, there’s another 45 of them in the oven. The relief in the room palpable.

Under pressure to respond, I get most of my replies texted by 10pm. It used to be that no-one could be arsed going out on New Year’s Eve anymore. In recent years, I mistook the flurry of early evening messages for a preventative measure against an echo of Millennium hysteria that caused ordinarily laid-back folk to fear telecommunication failure at midnight. Now I know it’s a cure against other people phoning them to detonate the ring tone equivalent of Auld Lang Syne, and the risk of letting the wrong person in.

Unlike Christmas Eve, with its camaraderie, the promise of impending bonhomie and threat of reciprocated love among one’s own tribe, NYE sits in judgement in the confessional box of life, waiting for you to enter alone to square up to yourself. Bless me New Year’s Eve, for I have sinned. It has been one year since my last confession and here are my sins…

Like the death-knell signalling the near-end of school holidays, you know the party is coming to an end. The determination to ring the best out of the remaining days is your two fingered salute to the army of Mondays advancing.

I phone the one friend I can speak to on a night like this. Throwing scorn on the notion of resolution, we resolve to go gentler on ourselves and to meet soon. I ask her what she’s doing. She is loath to write a list but is in the middle of compiling two: one with the things from the past year she wishes to let go; the other with wishes for the coming year. Both will go up in flames in her tiny hearth in the hope that the former will be extinguished, and the latter just put out there. To the universe. She read about it somewhere. I hope the right list attaches itself to the stars, I say. She forgives my outburst of cheese before we bid our goodbyes.

An hour later, safely ensconced in our mini-snack stupor, we risk crossing the threshold of another January to the dulcet tones of Liam Neeson lamenting his firmer bowels. A quick flick to Jools striking up the band. Ten..nine..eight..

Like the classic seasonal ending to a dodgy soap where the credits roll over the scene, my mind’s eye involuntarily pans those chief characters of my life in tonight’s episode. I see my mate with her knees tucked under her chin watching the flames go up; my parents dragging their grandchildren to their feet; my brother waiting to pick up a fare; my State-side friend with a few hours to go; another kicking back in the sun by way of good riddance; and even the odd blogger whose faces I wouldn’t recognise but who I’ve become immensely fond of nonetheless. The powerful round-ups of their year reverberate.

Then the morning comes. Just like that the storm is over. Souls are re-wound with renewed determination into slightly different shapes than before. And a new year of fleeting speckled pieces of happiness beckons. We’ll do alright.

Happy New Year


In the unlikeliest of places

She puffed up the pillow for the umpteenth time while somewhere on the periphery of her vision the clock blinked 03:30. A week had drained by since she buried her Mother but the fitfulness had taken root long before then. She tried to lay her head down on what had become a punch-bag for every disjointed thought stalking her imagination. Try as she might she couldn’t knock them unconscious.

Uncertain whether it was just the wind or an engine, she held her breath as a car slowed and rolled up over the kerb. One… two slammed doors. No click of a heel. No car-locks clicked shut. The groan from the nudge she gave her husband coincided with the ring of the bell.

“What the fuck?”


And other profane one-worded queries ushered them downstairs to the hall where they panicked themselves into fumbling for the front-door keys.

Two uniformed Gardaí.

“Are you the owner of a black Toyota Corolla registration number zero nine….?”

“Yes”, she shakily responded, her heart somewhere it wasn’t designed to be.

“And who are you, Sir?”

“My husband”, she cut in.

“What’s this about?”, her husband demanded to know, his characteristic affection for law enforcement officers waking up before the rest of him.

“Were either of you driving the vehicle this evening?”

“No”, they replied in unison, “why?”

“It was involved in an incident earlier. Can you tell us when you last saw it?”

That fucker, she mused accusingly. She was back behind the wheel of her imagination breaking the speed limit. The fucker being the mechanic she had left her car with days previously. A man she had never met before that week. Try as she might she couldn’t escape the mental leap from one heinous crime to another. Not a burglary surely. God, no. Oh no, Jesus, please let it not be a sexual assault. Or worse.

“What is it?”, they pleaded.

“I’m afraid we can’t disclose any more details at the moment. Tell us the name and number of the man you believe has the car”

They only knew him by his first name. Reluctantly, her husband scrolled through his phonebook, accidentally dialling the number as he went to read it out, the ringing tone invading the tension.

“Please. Just read the number out”


“Thank you. If you call the Garda Station tomorrow, they will explain what happened”.

The clock blinked 04:05. Both of them punched the living day lights out of their pillows until worry got the better of them. At 10:00, she lifted the phone.

“OK. Thank you for letting me know”, she signed off, as her husband hovered over her having given up mouthing a string of “wells?” she batted away with her one available hand.

Days later, they parked up on the kerb. Fresh flowers for her mother’s grave in hand. A cigarette ready to be lit in his. To the left of her mother’s resting place, synthetic grass lay across another freshly dug grave signalling someone’s barely born but silent grief. Tufts of lime green adorned with wreaths left by folk with whom she would form an unavoidable remaining-lifetime bond. She had already struck up a companionable silence with the mother of the teenage girl laid to rest on the right. Sudden Adult Death Syndrome. The last time she spent time in this woman’s company was in the primary school yard of their girlhood.

“Oh my God. Look”, her husband shouted inspecting the neighbouring grave closer. “It’s him”.

Rest In Peace.

A child of the ’80s. Date of death the same as the night she was awakened from her sleeplessness. He had chosen somewhere remote to put an end to the unbearable hurt he was under.

They stood silent for a few minutes; keeping their private thoughts just that before strolling back to the car.

“It’s awful”

“Yeah. Tis”

“You know they thought it was you that night. They were coming to break the news to me”

“I’m here though, aren’t I?”, he wrapped his arm around her.

“Just as well. Mum would’ve twirled in her grave if she thought she’d have to lie beside you for eternity”


Based on events that happened to a friend over Christmas. 


An bhfuil cuntas agat?

The answer, dot comrades, depends on how you interpret the question.

Some of you will have gone into emotional spasm on recognising those cupla focail from your Irish class. For that, I apologise. But fair play for lucking out in the scramble for a gaelscoil place for little Sceithiminimaithu. The path of least integration with the rest of the local riff-raff. Phew. Count yourselves lucky you don’t live in the North where interaction with the upwardly mobile gaelgoiri would increase the likelihood of your child’s best friend being the progeny of Sinn Fein supporters by a staggering 73 per cent. Are you recoiling in horror? Great. Sorry, I’m a bit of a cuntas that way. Morag, the smelling salts please for the offended lady at the back. I think the billard room is open if you want to carry her in there.

Gratuitous pops at our native language enthusiasts aside, I am referring to polite requests for account information on the laptop here at the Mothership. Such is the lack of sanctuary  from my Da’s attempts at revival of Irish, he has managed to change the language settings. Not bad for a man who approaches microwave tasks with a three-minute head-scratch before delegating to the nearest available member of any of the three generations behind him.

Revival. A word that at one time denoted a sharp intensive time-specific process involved in bringing something back to life. In Irish language terms, the concept is merely in its infancy after fifty odd years. In the way that midnight mass will eventually start at 3pm on Christmas Eve, and the happy hour in our ailing local will stretch from 5 – 7:30pm to the entire month of November.

I’ve no idea where this post is going either. I only came on here to have a gander at the emails no-one has bothered to send me. But here I am; thinking about cuntas and figuring  we’ve all veered dangerously close to behaving like one in the last few days. Fleeting though the welcome harmony can only ever be, it’s probably time to retreat back to where we came before our good will account with the bank of family slips into the red. And where there’s an unopened box of Heroes.

It’s been fun. As that initial frenzied buying on payday always is. When caution is thrown to the wind, and coasting on the high of frivolous spend goes unthreatened until the gnawing feeling creeps in. Just before the end of the first week when you begin to fear you’ve over-estimated the balance. You’re too scared to look. And it’s a whole four weeks till pay day. Prudent spending from here in then.

We’ve all splashed out enough emotions on bunker bonhomie. The tipping point of tolerance is rounding the corner. So it’s goodbye to TG4 in one room roaring at RTE in another through opened doors; the unsynchronised snoring of the family I never gave myself permission to draw on the etch-a-sketch of my imagination lying in the same bedroom in years gone by; and the no-man’s land of the bathroom where truces are worked out with my younger self sure to gatecrash the party at some point. All with a backward glance of gratitude and hopes for re-admission next year.

An bhfuil cuntas agat?

If I’m lucky.

Many occasionally happy returns

Hit by the whiff of a half-cooked feast as I bound through the back door on the eve of it.

Back from childhood border crossings with my Da to pick a last minute gift for my Ma in exotic high street shops, in a city without a high street. Stopping off for chips doused in silence in the Strand Road Café before navigating friendly torch-lit interrogations on the way back through.  Cockneyed requests for  “drivers license please, Sir” followed further on by native demands to know if we’d “any goods to declare?”. Back from the yearly sore arse cultivated from sitting on bottles of Black Tower and Blue Nun. The height of sophistication for the discerning diner’s table. A table always cleared before dessert and the occasional arm-wrestling tournament. We lived in a developing county; the concentration distracted us from the central heating my Dad was is fond of rationing.

Back after swearing blind I’d never go back. From the Dublin bus after the first semester on the brink of dropping out. Dropping down for a drink to the pub to re-unite with old classmates to commandeer our corner of it. Spotting yer man out of the corner of my eye; the later lighting-up together as good as being told to get your coat.

Back in the small hours and being woken up not long after by Bart Simpson ordering me to “Get up and get outta bed”; my Mother pissing herself laughing at the effect her present of a talking alarm clock was having on me. Inadvertently getting her back by accidentally leaving the sacred sprouts I’d been sent out for behind in the pub.

The Bart Simpson Alarm Clock. HiLARious.

Back all grown up but reverting to our bickering ways in the year 19…20..oh take your pick. Back to slammed doors and exploited windows of opportunity our parents threatened to put us out for even if we were in our 30s 20s. Maintaining a ceasefire for the duration of Top of the Pops before scrambling for the remote to prevent Mrs. Windsor from addressing the room.

Back-to-back films and phone-calls from far away relatives my parents hoped each other would answer. Reading back over wish lists of goals composed for the year ahead with cross-legged concentration alongside my best mate in my bedroom. Listing the qualities of our respective future partners through wild guesses of the other. Paring those down to a bare-boned gender preference by the age of 30

Back to the website booking page after being struck by a gnawing feeling as I smiled my way down Waterloo en route to the airport. The airport I had mistakenly booked to fly into instead of out from. Back eventually with relief to a livelier looking tree replacing the vague question mark the old single set of lights used to aptly resemble.

Putting back the cards my parents gave one another on the mantelpiece after reading. Hand-writing getting smaller, much like their frames. Closing over another card written to a wife, unable to reconcile herself to her new title.

Back for fewer days with each passing year. Escaping the resurrection of barren shelves and the unbearably empty nest feeling pervading the house on the day the decorations come down. Avoiding total recall of all those quiet tears my Mother struggled to hide after waving her boys back to college with a foiled turkey leg tucked in each bag. Reminding her to hang in till January 6th and the night we’ll have. On Women’s Christmas. Little Christmas. Nollaig na Mban. When she and I would traditionally leave the remaining fir to fend for themselves and trot out for dinner in smug satisfaction.

We’ll raise a glass of diluted orange juice again this Women’s Christmas. To celebrate our wee one’s birthday. A new memory on the horizon.


Bottoms up

I’ll say this for the office party: it’s great for bringing out the year’s pent-up frustration and hostility. I spent mine suffering altered-state-of-mind envy as I mentally paced the side-line of wanton inebriation. Being the getaway driver will do that to you. Not that it prevented a steady decline into incoherence. My final act of conscientious efficiency was to bite my lip at the more preposterous remarks for as long as possible before joining in with an endless supply of my own. Just another regular work meeting then; with added flashing earrings and paper crowns in various undignified states of lop-sidedness. Neither of which lent credibility to the litany of Any Other Items folk were determined to swashbuckle their knives over.

If Doreen thought I was blithely playing a game of hypocrisy by giving our daughter her Da’s surname while keeping my own, then she should’ve known better than to start eating before everyone was served. She just undermined her own argument, even if the soup was gloopy. Yes, two can play at applying arbitrary levels of judgement and respectability. Or six women who rarely meet outside the meeting room, in this case, leaving a gender imbalance to be excessively polite to the waiting staff. It should’ve been an all-sorts of 15 but various car-part fatalities, emergency excursions to the lobotomist, and mysterious illnesses, intervened at the last minute to reduce numbers. The lucky fuckers.

Every cloud has a few glasses of wine going spare, so by the time dessert came round Nora and Doreen had substituted one of the crackers with The Church. One of those crackers too cheap to be pulled it had to be tug o’ war’ed with for ten minutes before both sides surrendered; each vowing to agree to disagree before disagreeing with themselves and resurrecting it again.

Bonhomie recovery was swift once Denise found some mutual colleagues to bitch about. By the time Shakin’ Stevens had done his third encore, the talk had entered the ostensibly safe realm of children. Doreen’s crown was nailed to the floor with her own heel so I was certain Nora was going to offer hers on hearing she had six children no less. Nora thought she was doing well with five. Neither would change a thing. All they knew was they wanted more than one. Denise beamed congratulations at them both as she traded overlaps with her own three. And I smiled, willing one of them to embarrassingly start stacking plates just so I could even up the score.

What to give the special blogger in your life this Christmas

It’s that time of year again when I recycle another blog post three of the five of you have read before. I wonder how many blog posts have started with that opening line. It is that time of year again so I’m fucked if I’m going to deviate from tradition on this one. That’s right. When you get to spend quantity time with extended family before retreating from the trauma to cocoon yourself from the dispirited this Christmas. Time to kick back and tuck into a box-set without fear of the suggestion of watching just one more episode being rejected on the grounds of having to rise for work in the morning. When you can recline and adjust the volume levels to ensure compatibility with the symphony of your snacking; occasionally glancing at your couch companion with deep resentment as he pops open a tube of Pringles. Vital dialogue has been missed, subtle plot lines overlooked, and many a murderous thought hatched to the pneumatic chomp of them. You’ve only yourself to blame for the tortilla nights.

But you dare not complain. Apart from giving off more than a mild whiff of unreasonableness, you’ve already demonstrated your own patience-defying feats with insistence you’ll be there in just a minute. That was half an hour ago but you are up to your delete button finishing a vital blog post. Sure, aren’t they all? “Yeah. I’m coming. Just a sec”. Ah the common refrain of the blogger, Mexican waving its way through the corridors of their domestic domains with mild irritation and an implied plea for flexibility for the writer (!) at work. Between on-the-spot responses to divine inspiration, and quick reads of others, the equivalent time of one episode has already been squandered  elapsed.

So, top of the list of the must-haves for the blogger this Christmas…

1. A Gift Voucher

The sneered at, but secretly loved, gift that demonstrates an attempt at effort. Might I suggest a custom made one for weekday night blogging curfew until 9pm. The perfect way to introduce some passive aggressive discipline to the influence the blogger has on your life. This way they’ll be finished by 9:30pm, if you’re lucky. Enough time to catch a few requisite episodes of nightly entertainment spanning political espionage/child abduction/drug underworld violence/serial killing sprees/killer vegetables etc. (delete as appropriate) before bed. Valid for 12 months.

gift card

This voucher cannot be exchanged for sex. 

2. Inspiration

A blogger is always poised to pillage your mishaps, forage your funny ways, and sell your soul. So be a good partner, and inspire them. Make it one of your New Year resolutions to apply yourself better to this task; mindful to always stay just on the right side of endearingly OCD, clumsy, forgetful, charming, irritated, psychotic etc. (delete as appropriate).

3. Mind-reading and silence

“Did I tell you my head went septic earlier and I nearly lost an arm?” If the answer from the blogger to your attempts at initiating conversation is “Sorry?”, that’s just code for “Look I’m in the middle of a really important thought, please be quiet for at least ten minutes”. And if you have to ask the blogger if they’d like a drink and/or some tortilla chips then you really don’t know him/her at all. Periodic snacks and a variation of warm and cold drinks are mandatory.

4. Encouragement

This might seem counter-intuitive if your ultimate aim is to contain this infectious disease and curb the influence of it on your partner’s duty of care to you/themselves/the family/the household etc.; but like all bloggers, they need validation. *Bruce Forsythe voice* And what does validation equal? Fuck knows. I haven’t thought about it till now. How about.. a need for even more validation? Either way, it won’t kill you. Don’t overdo it either with excessively flattering lines about converting their writing into something more lucrative and pointing out the bottomless pit of their talent. They’ll only believe you and blame you when it never happens. And eventually cotton-on to the intensity of your delusion being consistent with your lack of interest in going out for a night. “Don’t delay, Darling. Get to work on that novel. And fetch me some Pringles on your way through”. Hmmm.

5. Cold turkey

No. We don’t mean another round of sandwiches from the interminable seasonal bird. No, I’m not talking about Julie Andrews either. If the blogger is exhibiting signs of disinterest in the chocolate you leave by the keyboard, and unkempt hair, then it may be time to stage an intervention. Either lock the blogger or the computer up, so long as you keep them separate. The first three days are known to be the worst. A straight jacket is advisable here. Much thrashing about and ranting about stats will likely ensue. This is the mind re-adjusting. Lock all doors and windows to prevent the blogger from running away to an internet cafe, and remove their phone.

6. Your own blog

Alternatively, you could just join in. That way you can arrange the forthcoming week’s parenting/shopping/snack schedule through your respective comments sections.