Oh, for the luxury of a scooch



I’ve had a lifetime of bad posture. Long, weak limbs combined with horrendously low self-esteem resulted in years of tightly curling myself up into as little space as possible. 

To sleep, I always lay on my right side in the foetal position. HImself often urged me to sleep on my back like he did, to which I’d pretend to listen while biting back comments on his propensity to snore when in that position. And an article saying sleeping on your right side was best for the body further bolstered my enthusiasm for the position. 

But then, when the news came that open heart surgery was necessary, my world went flat. Because the health problem runs in my family and I’d seen many relatives go through this,  I knew the surgery would also involve cutting open the sternum and rib cage, which would need a lot of lying flat on my back to recover. I was dreading going into hospital, convinced I wouldn’t sleep a wink if I couldn’t twist and turn. 

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The Land of Saints and Scholars


One week ago, the Irish author Emma Hannigan died from cancer. She was only 45, but had been previously diagnosed with cancer ten times. She also wrote 14 books since her first diagnosis in 2007, mostly fiction with several best-sellers.

It was the middle of February when Emma’s doctors told her they could do no more for her. Her latest book, called “Letters from my Daughters”, was on release, but she had obviously been unable to do any publicity for it. So when Emma announced to her fans and the literary world that she had to say goodbye, her fellow Irish writers decided to promote the book for her. Names like Marion Keyes and Patricia Scanlon got involved, and some authors abandoned promoting their own novels to push Emma’s. The novel got to the top of the Irish fiction charts, with over twice the sales of the runner-up.

I wasn’t surprised that this was how the Irish author community and readers reacted. We are a nation that respects writers, storytellers, artists. Anybody that demonstrates their skills is accepted as such. Accent, addresses, education levels no longer matter if you can spin a tale or play a tune.

I remember having just returned to Ireland for a spell when Seamus Heaney died. When the news broke, it seemed the whole country stopped to pay tribute. Taxi drivers told about their brief encounters with the man, while office workers, shop attendants and the unemployed spoke about how they still remembered his poem they’d learned at age 10 or 11. He was the poet of the people, not just the academics and the privileged few. No wonder, in a land were ordinary folk speak of the everyday in the metre of a bard.

We are now fortunate that the censor board has been infused with common sense, and future Nobel prize winners will no longer feel obliged to emigrate to be able to produce their best. While other nations ban, jail or silence their talent, and their people don’t know of their own artists that are household names in “enemy” countries, we will continue to give our storytellers pride of place in our Kindles and in our hearts.

And may Emma’s family gain solace from knowing how much pleasure she had spread to other through her works.



Everybody Knows


Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ says it all. It’s a seductively bitter ballad to those who despair of the world’s unfairness, with his bass-heavy tones seeming to commiserate with you and absolve you of all responsibilities for doing anything about it. What’s the point, when everybody knows?

Everybody knows we now have a leader of the free world who openly censors journalists at his press conferences.

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In or Out?


Every Sunday afternoon, the goths reclaimed their territory. They gathered from all directions to feed off each other’s rebellion and gather strength for the week’s battle to resist normality. Here, they were normal. They did not have to maintain face against the sniggering of the masses or fight off attacks from the socialite gang leaders and their cronies. Even adults feared to challenge them at their weekly convocation.

They refused to be part of the crowd, to fit into a box. They embraced their inner freak and put it out there on show for everyone to see. If it repulsed people, then even better – the depths of the darkness within probably would have broken any puny little minds that didn’t belong there.

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The wags


I drove the car in the front gate, brought it to a halt in its customary place beside the house and turned off the engine. But I continued to sit there in the car; my hands braced against the wheel, my head tilted back against the headrest, my eyes closed. Every limb on my body felt heavy with exhaustion and my jaws were still locked. I could feel a headache coming on.

It had been another horrendous day in work. As the downsizing escalated, the atmosphere was becoming more and more poisonous. Everybody feared that they would be next for the chop, so they tried to highlight the weaknesses of the people around them in the hope that doing so would deflect attention away from them. Not that people in there ever needed much reason to make life miserable for their colleagues.

Finally, I pulled myself together and got out of the car. I took my laptop from the backseat and walked though the spitting rain and wind to the back door.

As soon as I opened the door, my dog’s head and ears jerked up and his tail began to pound the couch where he was curled up. But not for long, because he had hurled himself off and scampered over to my feet before I had managed to close the door behind me. His nails thundered on the wooden floor and his entire body wriggled as he did his welcome dance.

He jumped up and put his two front paws on my legs. He could only reach to just above my knees, but it meant I could pat him on the head without bending down. “Hello, hello, hello!” I said to him, and he whined in excitement in reply.

I put down my laptop bag and hunkered down to a fairer height for him. He squirmed against my legs as I tousled the hair on his back. Then he slid downwards until he was lying on his back, his four paws in the air. He twisted and turned from side to side when I rubbed his stomach.

I saw a pair of human legs standing beside us and looked up to see my partner, Colm, watching us bemused. “The kettle has boiled,” he said. “I heard your car drive in so I switched it on. Tea or coffee?” “Tea, please,” I replied.

I stood up to go and hang up my coat. My dog was upright again in a flash and trotted out to the coatrack ahead of me. He had calmed down slightly, but his tail was still wagging hard.

Back in the kitchen, I sat down at the table and watched as Colm filled the teapot and placed it on the hob.

“So, how was your day?” he asked, still with his back to me. My dog arrived back at my feet, his teddy in his mouth. He dropped it on my feet and stepped back to watch expectantly, panting slightly.

“Ahhhh,” I said, “fuck it. It’s over for another day. Let’s concentrate on happier things.”

And I threw the teddy for my dog. 



Beyond the Pale


I was born beyond the Pale. I am a fierce Celtic barbarian with passions that flame as wildly as my streaming red hair. Bog water flows through my veins. I lived in a thatched mud shack, surviving on potatoes and wild salmon. I spent my weekends drowning myself in poitín and dancing crazy jigs at moonlit crossroads until my feet bled, spurred on by the devil’s music pouring from the fiddle of a blind man.

But I left it all behind to enter the Pale. I climbed over the barrier and landed in the middle of the gentry, horrifying them with my tangled locks, my bare feet, my dirt-smeared face. So I learned to blend in. I bathed and cleansed myself, covered my limbs in cotton and linen and my feet in the cured skins of dead cows. No more did the gentlemen and ladies wrinkle their noses in disgust when they encountered me. I adopted their accent and removed all the rhythms and cadences of my people from my speech.

I also educated myself. I devoured the respected books, immersed myself in their favourite music and followed the affairs of the important politicians and society figures.

I also learned how to hide my past and my ignorance. When a topic was mentioned that I knew little of, I retreated to the shadows of the conversation until I had informed myself from other people’s utterings. I pounced on new vocabulary as if it were jewels for my hair. 

And I ensured I always learned the true meaning of an idiom before using it, so that I did not expose my barbarian roots by using a phrase, like “beyond the pale”, inappropriately. 


Inspired by: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/daily-prompt-new-2/

The Truth


The day the confessional was removed from the church, Patrick went to watch. He hadn’t set foot inside a church for twenty years, maybe more. Time slid past so quickly.

When he walked in, the workmen were already there, with the parish priest, Father Jim as he liked to be called, chatting with them and giving the odd instruction. They hadn’t started on the box yet, but had moved back a few of the pews out of the way and so they wouldn’t get damaged. Patrick wondered if anyone was making church pews anymore, if there was a market for it at all now. He took a seat at the back of the church, in the shadows under the balcony. Father Jim saw him take his seat and nodded at him, continuing to talk with the men.

Finally, all the prep was done and the dismantling was about to begin. It started quietly enough as the door to the confessor’s section was taken off its hinges. But that alone was enough to bring a flood of memories rushing back to Patrick.

He could remember the smell of the box, the lingering scent of pine and the stronger smell of Pledge furniture polish. He remembered what it felt like to sit inside there with the door closed, in the semi-darkness, waiting for his turn to confess. He would hear the murmurings of the confessor on the far side of the box, then louder mumbling as the priest gave them their penance and blessed them. Then he would hear the priest would slide shut the grill to the far box and he readied himself for when his own grille would slide open, allowing a shaft of golden light into the box as if the grace of God itself was now present there.

As an eight-year-old boy, he never really had that many sins to confess. He used to ask his older brother for inspiration on what to tell the priest. “Tell him you cursed twice, didn’t say your prayers every night and you lied three times.” Patrick would rehearse his list over and over on the way to confessions. Sometimes he wondered if he should confess to making up things to confess to.

The last time Patrick went to confession, he was on his own. His mother had told him to go on the way home from school. He didn’t really want to but, as Christmas was in a few weeks, he thought it might help his case with Santa if his soul was officially cleansed of sin.

There weren’t many people there; just a few old women and himself. The women were all kneeling and clicking their rosary beads through their fingers as they muttered the prayers. Patrick didn’t have a rosary beads, but he thought he’d better kneel like the rest of them. He enlaced his fingers as if he was praying and drifted off into daydreams.

After a while, Canon Fogarty emerged from the confessional box and started walking towards the entrance of the church. “Don’t worry,” he said with a grin, “I’ll be back for you two.” Patrick looked around and saw there was only himself and one of the women left waiting. On his way back into the box, the canon put his hand on Patrick’s shoulder and whispered: ”How about you let Mrs Grogan go first? The cold in here isn’t good for her and she never has too many sins so she won’t keep you waiting too long.” Patrick looked up at the priest, grinned and nodded.

And indeed, less than 15 minutes later, Patrick was inside the confessional and hearing the grille to his side slide back.

“Dear Father, it is three weeks since my last confession.”

Patrick went through his prepared list of sins, rattling them off like an expert. He made sure to include the sins that would be expected of a boy but not have the same list he’d cited at his last confession. When he’d finished, he leaned back and waited for the canon to speak.

“Is that all?” the canon asked.

“Yes, Father.”

“Are you lying to me?”

Patrick looked up, wary at the canon’s tone. “No, Father, that’s all my sins.”

“You little brat. I’ll teach you to lie to a priest in the confession box.”

The canon burst out of his cubicle and swung open the door to Patrick’s section. He loomed over him for a few seconds, a black figure framed against the light. Then he pounced, hitting Patrick around the head. Patrick yelled in fright. He put up his hands to defend himself and tears flowed from his eyes. He didn’t understand what he had done to anger the canon like this. The canon whirled Patrick around and pushed him face downwards across the stool. When he felt his trousers being pulled off, Patrick began to struggle even harder but the canon’s weight held him down. He could feel the canon’s thick fingers clamped across his face, sealing his mouth shut and digging into his left cheek. He could hardly breathe. He also felt the canon’s paunch on his back, and the liquid from the canon’s pint at lunchtime slosh around inside as the canon’s body lurched up and down.

Then there was most excruciating pain Patrick had ever felt in his short life. He thought he was being split in two. He screamed in agony and begged the canon to stop but he seemed as if in another world. Patrick heard roaring in his ears and lights danced in front of his eyes, and then everything went black.

When he woke up, he was lying in his own bed. His whole body felt battered and bruised. He saw his mother sitting beside the bed, smiling down at him. “Canon Fogarty said you fainted in the church. Did you not eat your lunch today?” Patrick began to cry again. His mother jumped out of her chair and took him in her arms. “It’s ok, Patrick, you’re home now,” she crooned. “He did something to me, Mammy…”

Patrick dragged himself back to the present world when Father Jim sat down beside him. Together they watched as the confessional box was torn out of its niche in the wall. “The times they are a-changing,” declared Father Jim, drily. 

Then Patrick heard the unmistakable sound of a champagne cork popping.  He looked down to see Father Jim trying to muffle the sound of the champagne bubbling out of the bottle. “I thought you might like a drink to mark the occasion,’ he said to Patrick, giving him a wink. He indicated to a black canvas bag at his feet. “Will you get the mugs out of there? I’m afraid we have to slum it – I had no crystal flutes in the cupboard.”

Patrick pulled out two mugs and held them while Father Jim filled them both to the brim. The priest glanced furtively at the workmen a few times as he did so, but they were paying no heed. The two men sat back in the bench and sipped their champagne.

“I’m sorry that man never saw the inside of a prison cell for what he did to you,” Father Jim said quietly. “You were a little boy telling the truth and everybody knew back then you were telling the truth. They just didn’t want to hear it. Fogarty will burn in hell for his sins.”

Patrick stared into his mug of champagne, the lump in his throat feeling as if it was going to choke him.

“You’re welcome in this church any day,” Father Jim added. He put down his mug and strode up to the workmen, rubbing his hands. “That’s a grand job you’ve done there, lads,” he cried.

Patrick walked slowly from the cool darkness of the church into the sunlight with the smell of sawdust in his nostrils and laughter ringing in his ears. He took a deep breath, feeling whole again for the first time in years.