To answer Arlene’s call

Have you read the new Harry Potter? says she. Harry Potter and the Invisible Border.

Sounds good, says I. What’s it about?

Well, says she, sitting down in her throne overlooking the serene waters of Lough Erne, it’s about these delusional people who speak a strange Celtic language and claim that evil overlords use brute force to intimidate them around the border between their land and land that was once theirs.

Is it kind of like Trump and his wall?

Well you know, says she, reaching for another battenberg slice that the lady’s club baked this morning, there is no wall, there never was and there is no border, there never was, so I guess they are the same, yes.

So are these Celtic people like the Mexicans?

No, Mexicans speak a language that I recognise. Spanish is not used to oppress people. Speakers of Gaelic use it as a weapon of mass destruction.

Gaelic, isn’t that the one that uses the Módh Cionniollach?

Exactly! They condemn the use of tear gas, but resort to torture like the Módh Cionniollach and the notorious Tuiseal Ginideach. These people are morally bankrupt.

So, there is tear gas used in the story, is there?

Well, hypothetically, if there were to be a border… that is to say, if one was to materialise… as in, the book refers to there having been a border that disappeared, so let’s say it were to reappear, although we both know that such a border never existed, well then in that case, I would imagine that there could be tear gas employed by the forces of the crown should they deem it necessary to use it in the face of the Celtic linguists. Do you follow?

Eh…So there is a border in the book?

Well of course there’s a border. There has to be a border. How else are they to protect themselves? Her lips frothed at the sides. Had she had any battenberg left, she may have thrown it at me at that point.

Do you believe in Santa? says I.

There is no Santa. There has never been a Santa. I believe in Santa. The Torys know my stance on Santa. I am fully supportive of the deployment of Santa across the Union.

I could smell kindling burning, as though a campfire were being started. The scorched smell was accompanied with a crackling that built up to a loud hiss when her eyes popped from her head revealing a mass of burning tangleweed inside. Her nose caught fire and burned in an instant, reducing to a splatter, not unlike duck pâte, that dripped down her chin and onto her navy Hobbs’ two piece.

I admired the view on the way out. Across on Lough Erne, a lonesome boatman made his way across the peaceful waters: a dove sat calmly on the mast.

 

 

 

 

The Rocky Road from Limerick

A mile the far side of Johnstown, they slowed down to pass a spillage. The rainbow colours of an oil slick spread across the dual carriageway: an arc of colour to welcome the visitors. The paths along Dame Street would say goodbye in all shades of kebab come teatime.  The inbound traffic was a stream of green as fathers and sons and sons of sons all packed hopeful into cars made the last leg of their journey. Skodas and Saabs and Nissan Qashqais ferried Limerick people towards the capital. They had waited 45 years for the day. They were rightfully, high as kites.

Pajo Hayes sat in the front of his daughter’s Avensis and sang Where the River Shannon flows for the third time. He’d sang it on loop since the far side of Newbridge and still managed to hold every note. His son sat behind him, his knee hopping in tune, willing away all traces of a hangover and cursing the black pudding that was repeating. The whole of Limerick had been in Nancy’s till all hours. It was like a Heineken Cup Final. And sure why wouldn’t they? 45 years is a fair bit of thirst.

‘Anyone got any Rennies?’ Pa Junior asked.

‘Sure a pint’ll set you right soon,’ came the father’s wisdom. He was never one for the tablets himself.

‘It’s the black stuff has me this way’.

‘It is aye,’ quipped his father ‘that pudding on your breakfast roll.’

The three laughed then hired up an interview with Eamonn Rea on the radio. A car hooted, they hooted back. It looked like the Clancys from Dooradoyle. Rea spoke of the last time they’d hoisted Liam McCarthy and of the fond memories he had of that day. He told of how that win was one of the most treasured memories in his family. Pajo nodded regularly at everything he said. Pa Junior suppressed a belch and felt tears well up in his eyes. His sister drove on, hairs standing on her arms, afraid to say out loud that today could be the day.

It didn’t matter that the Mater Hospital car park charged an arm and a leg for the parking, that was the closest they’d get to Croke Park and with Pajo’s hip the way it was, Mary was happy to pay the premium. In with them to The Big Tree for a few. Then a few more. Then one or two for the road. And it may have been the Guinness, or it may have been the wait, but that walk up Jones’s Road was something else. Big occasions are big occasions, but whatever was in the air, Pa Junior felt it right to link his father from they turned at Gills till they got to the turnstile. Pajo looked up to the tangle of bars that reach into the sky from the stadium and the pride glowed on his face. He nodded and his son nodded and they smiled with tears in their eyes.

‘We’re going to do it,’ they said in unison.

‘We are,’ said Mary, who was a step behind them.

And into Croke Park they went, and the rest is history.

 

 

Gymnauseum

I caught his eyes from across the packed gym and my heart skipped a beat. Or maybe two. I was on a treadmill at the time, with incline set to max and as it was the first week in January, I was wearing my Christmas excess. Breath stopped. Sweat poured. If there was anyone I didn’t want to see today, it was the good looking guy from the gym. I didn’t mind the juice heads or the Asian students taking selfies of themselves on machines. I wouldn’t have minded the posers and posturers, the guys with curly wurly arms. But the good looking guy was the one I didn’t want to see.

Amid the normal landscape of a university gym, there’s the healthy ratio of fit girls, fat girls, fab and flab. There’s the proportionate number of Kerry to Mayo jerseys and there’s always that one guy who refuses to wear anything other than his 1999 Utd kit. (Yes, the full strip.) Corporates and scholars train side by side in a smelly mix of plankers and bankers, climbers and rhymers. There are the down to earthers who prefer to do floor exercises above all else and the international students who stare at you until you’re forced to get up and give them your machine.

I hopped into the gym that day with the noblest of new rear resolutions. Squats were my promise to myself. All the squats. That all changed when, already breathless, I laid eyes on the only one who could take my breath away. He was walking shoulders back in the direction of an Arc, wearing a navy Under Armour t-shirt and blue Nike shorts. His runners had only manifested over Christmas. They glowed in unworn whiteness. His round face looked fuller than the last time I’d seen him, but just as distracting. I could still recognise the mix of Stenson and Eriksen that I loved and I struggled even more to breathe.

I tried to push the STOP button on the treadmill, instead hit SPEED and found myself channelling my inner Zola Budd. So much so, that my stomach whipped itself into a trembling mousse. My face smouldered. I couldn’t keep up with my feet and all I could think was ‘He’s watching!’. When I eventually managed to tug the emergency cord, my legs wound themselves around each other and I folded to a panting catastrophe on the canvas. I was struggling to hold down my breakfast, when over appears the ride.

‘Jaysus, that was some workout’ he says, ‘are you ok?’

I couldn’t fight it anymore. Breakfast was served.

 

 

 

Joe Bloggs and Scanda Jackets

What ever happened to Joe Bloggs jeans? I thought they were here to stay. I was happy to ditch the X Works ones I’d worn for my confirmation in lieu of my first pair of Bloggs: red denims. They were the business. The trademark strip of light coloured material with Bloggs stitching that ran down the thigh of one leg was my passport to what I perceived as haute-couture. My second pair were green. I was in my element. I had wanted them for months. 

As was usual in the case of fashion during my childhood, I was a year or so behind the curve. In the case of Nike runners, it wasn’t until I was about 15 that I had my first pair.  And even at that, mine were Cross Trainers not Air Max, my first pair of Air Max came along at age 30. We got out first video player around ’95 when I was 14. Bear in mind that VHS had been out since the 70’s. Now you see what I mean. For the record, we still don’t have wifi at home.

Another trophy first was my Umbro jumper. You know the one – grey with a half-zip and navy Umbro lettering on the front. I became a proud owner in or around second year of secondary school and it meant I was catching up on the cool gang. Growing up in Tallaght I watched on while we came through the age of Soothers (necklace pendants: the more you wore the cooler you were with some people walking around doubled up under the weight of dozens of plastic dummies), Scrunchies (the aim was to go large: have the pony dead centre on the top of your head with about eleven velour scrunchies casting it skywards to antennae lengths), Soverigns (people took an ambidextrous approach and wore gold sovereign rings on multiple fingers on both hands – moderation was not in vogue) and Scanda jackets. I may reflect on Soothers, Scrunchies and Soverigns with the vague care of someone who has just missed a bus but is aware that it wasn’t the one they actually wanted, but when Scandas are involved, I have to say that was my bus. I hopped on board the Scanda movement.

My investment took the form of a purple one, with a lime green net lining in the body and the hood and a cerise pink trim. Mine was the only purple one at school. For context, there was an unwritten code that if someone in your class got one in a certain colour, you could not duplicate. The twins had yellow and red, Angie had turquoise, Eileen had a green one. The trick was to hop on this trend as soon as you could. There are only so many colours in the spectrum and nobody likes plagiarism. I withdrew all my post office savings and made the biggest purchase of my life yet. It cost £110, which was astronomical for me. But it is an investment that has paid off.  

A full twenty five years after taking the plunge, I am still wearing it and I still love it. Let’s face it, it’s a coat for hiking. In Tallaght in 1993, I didn’t do a whole lot of hill-walking, save for the odd ramble up to the bridge in Séan Walsh Park on my way to or from The Square. I’ve since brought it up Carrauntoohil, Slieve Donard, Ben Nevis and it knows the slope of Croagh Patrick as well as myself at this stage. It could find the summit on its own. It’s a purple coat built for all ages apparently. It was with me in youth, will remain with me through middle years and who knows, I may still cling to it when the time comes and my limbs are too weary to carry me any longer. I do wish I’d held onto my Joe Bloggs though. There was something about those jeans. scandagrainnedaly.com

Booking off to Mayo

New Year’s Eve is normally an evening I enjoy. I like to spend it in pyjamas, setting goals for the coming year, recounting the success of the outgoing one and lamenting the cock ups that have inevitably happened. It’s a selfish night. Last year, I’d set my goals, called a pal in Cork for an aul chinwag, then watched a re-run of the Dublin Mayo 2017 All Ireland final. Watching the win again in the depths of a Winter night was just as good as it had been from the Hogan Stand in bright September. It was an evening to celebrate the year and welcome in the potential of the new one. However, this year my family decided, for one reason or another, to stay at home (and cramp my style) so while they partied like nuts downstairs, I had an early night. Is there such thing as a Grinch of New Year?

Waking up fresh as a daisy on the 1st of January was a joy. Checking Expedia and finding a great deal at the Mulranny Park Hotel in Mayo was even more joyous. I was already booked to stay for a few nights from 2nd January, courtesy of a gift voucher Mam had given me for Christmas, but heading a day earlier meant an extra night in beautiful  Mulranny. I loaded the boot, brought ten books and the laptop and off with me across the Shannon to one of the loveliest hotels with its impossibly gorgeous views. So far, so good in 2019.

Orchestrated to the tune of morning walks and edits, sauna/steam room breaks and a dip in the hot tub before bedtime, so ensued the first week of January. I was given room 110 which is truly a big, spacious, beaut of a space. It boasts an enormous bed and a bay window area that soaks up the view across Clew Bay to the bulk of Croagh Patrick. On the first evening in my bay window enclave, I got through a Paris Review and Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. By the second evening I was tearing through David Park’s The Healing and had blitzed a few chapters from Declan Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland. The reading splurge went on while edits spooled around in the back of my mind. I sat at the manuscript and shifted bits around, but in truth, more than writing, I read and read and read.

One of the days, I took myself off to Achill for what I’d consider to be my ultimate last supper meal – fish and chips from Gielty’s. I fall in love with the pub every time I visit. There’s always a blazing fire, the heartiest of welcomes, the view of Clare Island, the milkiest of pints and the most outrageously generous portions of fresh cod you will get in Ireland, or anywhere for that matter. It’s also the most westerly pub in Europe, but seeing as I’m not an American tourist, that fact doesn’t hold much sway with me. Following my fish feed, I ran up the side of Slievemore and took in the view from the top. Blacksod Bay looked well behaved below but the wind lacing up from it was angry, so I stayed up top for no more than ten or so photos before zigzagging back down towards the Deserted Village. The only souls I met on my travels were sheep. It was gloriously peaceful and a healthy way to purge the few hundred calories I’d debited in Gielty’s. 

Another Sally Rooney and a sports book later and I found myself writing again. Partly inspired by the beauty of the place, partly fuelled by guilt at not having written as much as I had hoped over the course of my stay. It’s a story about the day Ireland played Italy in Croke Park in 2009. Watch this space… And so my stay in the west ticked to an end in the most laid back and relaxed of ways. Armed with lists of targets and plans for the year, a handful of savoured books and a bag of washing I left Mayo to tackle the New Year as refreshed as I can be. There is no such thing as a Grinch of New Year. 

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