Thursday, October 30, 2014

Secret chord

They're on their way to Sweden as I type, my father and my uncle, to make the arrangements.

Their younger brother, The Musician, died early on Tuesday morning.

Back in early 2011 the three of us travelled over to see him, to catch some of his life and to celebrate his 60th birthday in the city of Stockholm where he'd spent most of his adult life.

The most gentle soul that I've ever met, we often mistook his solitude over there for loneliness but we've learned very different things since he got sick earlier this year. So many people cared for him, cared about him, so many friends who looked over him as the badness took hold of his body.

He slipped off quickly, in his sleep, like my grandfather.

Last night we talked about him, toasted him, storied him, and I asked my dad if I could post something about him here as a tribute. I'd never presume, but he wanted it, and opened his luggage to show me four printed copies of this piece I'd written three and a half years ago.

For my uncle Kieran, The Musician, we miss you...

...

February 2011

He greeted us at the central bus station in Stockholm, this man that none of us had seen in fourteen years. My father's younger brother, my uncle, The Musician. Rounder of belly than before and still with that beard and long and greying hair, he didn't look the sixty years he would become at midnight.

It was a spartan hotel, with no lift to our third floor room. Two single beds and one that pulled out from a couch, my second uncle was waiting for us when we returned with a few cans. The four of us supped Swedish beer and chatted but the hour was late, I'd been ill and people were tired. We agreed to meet The Musician the following morning at 10.30 and he'd show us his Stockholm.

So it passed. We walked for what seemed like miles as he pointed out the school where he'd worked, the places he'd played, the people he knew, the landmarks we'd read about. We took an early pint and some lunch before heading back to his flat in the centre of the city, not far from our hotel.

Whiskey poured, he told us stories of his days in Paris and Stockholm. Meeting Sean Connery and Claudia Cardinale, George Best and his other footballing heroes. Walking empty streets on his 40th birthday, twenty years ago to the day. Fending off Arab youths who had tried to steal his guitar. Missing a trial with Arsenal. Strumming and picking and drinking and smoking.

He showed a phenomenal memory for a man who'd met with such trouble, a singer who treated every bit of tumult with remarkable serenity. He could tell me in great detail about the time he sang for me and my sister in the back bedroom, when we were tiny and bold.

I really took to him, all over again. This disappeared uncle who, through all the reminiscing, matched me factoid for factoid on the transfer window lunacy.

The next day, I let them off on their own.

They took a ferry; I read my book; they visited a museum; I went for a walk; they took a jar; I sat with a coffee watching a different city going past; they came back, and we headed back out for the last night of catching up before a 4am start and the trip back to Dublin, back to her grasp, back to the impression that I may have dreamt the whole thing up.

Leaving him behind was tougher than I could have imagined, but it won't be left another fourteen years.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

10 years of Radgery

It's ten years today since I started this blog with a Wagamama recipe and barely a clue that it'd take beyond a couple of posts.

There used to be a narrative, a way for me to remember nights out and days spent boozing, different templates, a blogspot in the title, naming, shaming and guff that only those known to me might get.

She came to me this morning with a novel, a card and a collection of collated blog posts from in or around the 13th of August...

Today, lemon and cracked black pepper mini-fillets from Marks and Spencer and, if the urge takes me, maybe a spot of dogging. I'll report back. (August 13, 2010)

Oh my.

My legendary irascibility aside, would I sound too like the internet's Darragh Doyle were I to ask how you're all doing? (August 8, 2012)

Titter.

...and more of that kind of thing in the stapled pages of different jobs, homes, acquaintances and other things long forgotten.

Ten years. 758 posts. Forgive me a little bit of self backslappery before I ease that coffee plunger down and go again.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams

He made us do the desk thing.

There must have been 25 of us, each 12 or 13 years of age, our first English class in secondary school.

Gerry.

A strange thing to be let call a teacher by his first name but that’s how he introduced himself to us, him in his black cloak staring down from those big glasses and a belly full of good old living.

He said it was time for us to start looking at the world from a different perspective, inviting our idiot minds to circle the top of the class, look at the room from the top of his desk and see everything fresh.

He was no John Keating, was Gerry – the Leaving Cert points system saw to that, for a start – but you had to admire such an unjaded introduction to that glorious teenage misery.

Anyway, just a snapshot, something I got thinking about shortly after midnight when I’d heard Robin Williams was gone.

Died by suicide. Asphyxia. Took his own life. Struggled with addiction. Twitter discovering for the first time that comedians are often hiding a deeper, dark truth and falling over itself to be sadder than the previous 127, 128, 129 characters.

I wasn’t immune. ‘Fuck it.’ That’s all I wrote, and felt bad for wondering whether or not I’d get a retweet. Jesus. Gerry wouldn’t have liked that, rest him.

I went downstairs, poured a bowl of cereal and switched on The War Channel. The same stock footage of Williams japing around on the red carpet, acting the maggot, performing to a crowd of soldiers and wearing a beard in the best way possible played on a loop over some celebrity’s neighbour talking about the syndrome of the sad clown.

It gave me a headache. I went back to bed.

I couldn’t sleep for thinking of the most perfect piece of screen acting I’ve ever seen, one that hasn’t dulled for me in 16 years. Just last week I watched it and reversed it and watched it again. That scene in the park, looking at the ducks, Williams’ soliloquy to a silent Will Hunting and those looks that channelled both warmth and contempt at exactly the same time. Perfectly written, perfectly played, the devastating quiet of it.

Christ. Will I be able to watch it again?

That’s that, then, I suppose. Twitter handles will wear a red nose in tribute and there will be lots of talk about how to listen, how to talk, how to thrive. 

There will be talk of some good coming from such a sad loss, such wasted talent, still young at 63, etc. There will be Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, Jumanji before the week is out. There will, and have already been, glib catchphrases and celebrity keening. There will be talk of giving the family privacy, while offering anything but, and ultimately there will be...

Friday, August 08, 2014

Hugs

They congregate here, the beards and those big glasses.

The professionally unwashed and their chequered shirts, ample parking for pushbikes outside the door, inside a haven for laptops and quinoa salads, avocado relishes and eggs so otherworldly that they take on the name of the establishment itself.

I hate eggs. Always did.

The decor isn't there, the conformity coming from the fact that no two items of furniture can match the table next to it. That's 2014 for you, with a blackboard and something about sorrows being less with bread. Chalked large.

It's the bonhomie that gets to me, the affection, the easy way between the staff that makes it look like a paying crowd has accidentally happened to their summer of love. Trying too hard to look like they're not trying at all, like the beards at large themselves, with a Charlie Mingus soundtrack succouring the pulled pork ciabattae.

They know all the customers' names, but they'll never learn mine. My glasses come in slender, my shirts unchequered, my way unsociable, my demeanour that of a man who only walks into the premises seeking a way away from it. I'll take the coffee, sadly the best in the city, on the way out the door and it's all because of the hugs.

Those fucking hugs.

They're a tactile bunch and if you happen into it, you'll be lucky to come out of it unembraced. The owners, the staff, the customers, the part-time actors and musicians, the men everyone calls 'hey, man,' the beat crowd, they love to just stand there and hug. And here's another hug for extra measure. And how do you like them eggs, anyway, dude?

Get the...

I'll take that coffee, sadly the best in this city, on the way out the door and it's all because of the hugs.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

24 years

It was a Euro '88 sticker album that did it. Sucked me in. Tore me up. Gave me the fear for the next 26 years and counting, counting, counting.

I'd pretended an interest in football up to that point. Tried to bluff my way through primary school with 'Liverpool' as the answer just as long as there were absolutely no follow up questions.

Eight, maybe nine years of not one single clue about who starred in certain colours, what a Glenn Hoddle was, who Maradona played for, how to spell Ardiles...

...and then the sticker album.

There's a collector in every child and it only gets beaten out of them by drink, women, bounding, that kind of thing by 13 or 14.

I took to it straight away. I remember names like Vasily Rats, Pierre Littbarski with the spiky head, Morten Olsen and Lars, all scowl and pink striped jersey. They'd adhere to the page as I waited for Stuttgart, Gelsenkirchen, the opportunity to see what Gary Stevens looked like in real life.

Ray Houghton's goal. Jack hitting his head. Mick McCarthy's perfect throw-in interrupted by a flying Ronnie Whelan. Wim Kieft. Bastard.

Hooked.

The 1988/1989 season, the First Division Panini album this time, all the names, the bad moustaches and the Les Brileys. The swaps. Cascarino and Sheringham. Norwich as a force. Elton Welsby on a Saturday. The pink paper.

Liverpool, though. It was always going to be Liverpool, and I was straight in. It helped that they had the four Irish lads in the team at the time - Houghton, Staunton, Whelan, Aldridge - and the lads supported them too.

I was the child whose entire week's focal point was the match on a Saturday on RTE, or on UTV on a Sunday. The green armchair in my granny's sitting room is the only place I remember watching football, and she'd keep an ear out for the scores if the game wasn't televised. She was good like that, knew they were my version of her Kerry, McMahon and Barnes and Beardsley in lieu of O'Shea, Liston, Spillane.

Finghín, my grandfather, had no real interest. He'd read the paper from the front.

On it went. They lost the league to Arsenal that year and I was broken. They won it the following year and I was... I don't remember how I was. Cocky, probably, and pleased. Cocky, though, because they were Liverpool and they were the best and they'd win it forever and ever and ever...

And that was 1990. And that was the last time.

It's the hope that kills you, but it was the hope that kept me going until other things took over and football became something to drink to, to talk about in the pub, a little more abstract and a little bit less of the everything.

Now, though, I feel like I'm nine again. I could be 10 again. Six games to go and the sense that it's happening, but you don't want to mock it, and even though they're a bunch of overpaid millionaires kicking a ball around a field I want to visit harm upon anyone who might make it small for me. Not that anyone dares.

Not that anyone dares, because it's brought me back to Fairfield Road and my granny telling me something Des Cahill told her on the radio about yer man, "what's his name? What's his name Finghín? Molby is it? He's injured for Saturday."

She'd enjoy this, the sense there was a point to this 24 years, and even if it doesn't work out she'd have just said that there's always next year, they'd get there in the end.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Windy Arbour

There's a line in the notes on my phone that reads, 'It must be the most unchanged place in Dublin.'

I wrote it in the middle of the night last Wednesday, when I got in from work long after 11pm and I was trying not to wake herself.

I remember being half asleep and wishing the phone had buttons, like they all used to, because I couldn't see or risk feeling around in the dark for my glasses in case I might wake her.

I'm a noted dropper.

I think, mostly, I wanted to talk. One of those nights where you might switch the office for the bed far too quickly and you're left with some strange comedown. Like the immediate aftermath of a gig in front of thousands with the remembrance of a dirty soup bowl, left on the desk, in place of the teenage hysteria.

"Fuck."

I think, instead, I was just thinking about talking. I was set upon that room in Windy Arbour and the last time I walked in through the door, pretending to be casual, knowing I was on the clock and wondering how long it had been now?

This was August. Last August. That was January, early January, the first new year after the operation so it must have been 2003. Ten and a half years.

"Has it been that long?"

In the middle of it all I took a break for three years and, when I went back, the room was the same but her hair was different.

Steel.

No, grey, not steel, but I remember thinking it was steel and it suited her. Somehow made her warmer. Her face had stayed the same though, all kindness, concern, empathy in all the right places.

I could never put an age on her but I was always bad at that.

The chairs. The stones in the corner. The lamps, those lamps, and the Kleenex. Even the soap she and her colleagues kept in the bathroom was still the same lavender and there was the hoover in the corner. A Henry.

I never once got out of line, went full Matt Damon on her, made her upset for the money I'd awkwardly leave on the table come the end of every session. I worried that I bored her, and then thought to cop myself on, "she's probably glad of the relief." Nothing wrung out.

August.

Christ, it's gone too long, but the walk, and that room, will remain the most unchanged in Dublin for the simple fact that there's the Luas, there's the Costcutter, there's the room above the bookies and there's the buzzer.

Nothing else is seen.