Another Birthday Post

One of the things that I missed most when I gave up blogging was the birthday posts, writing about my three super children and telling the world just how much I love them.

Tinson2 is twenty-two today. Tonight we are planning to have a cake, and to light candles and sing Happy Birthday, and then to get him to blow them out.

The blowing out will be a joint, inter-continental operation, in that he will blow and I will put out the candles, because this will all be done via Skype.

Tinson2 is in Whistler in Canada at the moment. He is on a two-year student visa, and has been there now for almost eleven months. Whistler is a ski-resort in the Rockies (former host of the Winter Olympics) and this has been a typical day over the past five months:

He took off with three friends last June, and they share what looks like a lovely house there with an English girl, a Scottish girl and a guy from Hawaii. They all have low-paid service industry jobs, they are all, in his words “super poor”, and they are having the time of their lives.

Tinson2 works in a place called The Old Spaghetti Factory, where he charms customers with his Irish accent and by telling them, quite inaccurately, that he has never seen snow before.

While it’s his birthday here it’s not yet his birthday there, because he’s eight hours behind us. Many other people would rise early on their birthday, but not our boy, who Tinson1 once described as The Indestructible Sleeper, so it will be this evening before we get to talk to him. He will appear on Skype, we will see the happiness that has been on his face every time we’ve spoken to him since he left, and we will know that he has done the right thing by heading off into this terrific adventure.

He’s still the same sweet guy he’s always been, laid-back, kind and thoughtful.

So Happy Birthday, wonderful son. We love you and are proud of you, as always.

 

How The West Was Won

The Irish police force are facing controversy at the moment over the fact that over a five year period they recorded 937,000 breathalyser drink-driving tests that did not in fact take place, and the fact that during the same period 14,700 people were wrongly convicted over traffic violations.

Maybe it’s always been this way….

**************************************************************************

It was late evening in Tombstone. From the street came the whinny of tethered horses, and the occasional oozy splat as horse-poo hit street-mud. From the saloon came the teeth-grating sound of a honky-tonk piano, and an occasional tinkle of glass as a whisky bottle, slid along the counter by the barman, was missed by a customer.

In the Sheriff’s Office, Marshal Wyatt Earp set down the ledger, rubbed his weary eyes, and sighed. He looked up at the clock, and saw that it was time.

The front door opened, and Sheriff Doc Holliday walked in.

“You wanted to see me?” asked Doc.

“Yes,” said Wyatt. “Sit down.”

Doc sat. Wyatt stared at him for a long moment, wondering how to begin. “Quiet tonight,” he said, eventually.

Doc nodded. “Too quiet,” he said.

Wyatt’s attempt at calm evaporated. “What does that even mean?” he snapped. “It can never be too quiet. Quiet is good. And quiet, as it happens, is what’s been happening every night since I’ve been here. And every day.”

Doc shrugged. “Trouble comes in spells,” he said. “Sometimes we get quiet times.”

“Really?” said Wyatt. “Because I was sent here because you never get quiet times. I was sent here because you have more recorded crimes than any other town in the country. I was told to bring my two brothers as back-up, because the job I’d be taking on was so dangerous.”

“Maybe folks are behaving,” said Doc, because you and your brothers are here.” He looked at the ledger in front of Wyatt. “You’ve seen the records,” he said. “They were pretty un-law-abidin’ before that.”

“Yes,” agreed Wyatt. “I have seen the records. They don’t make pretty reading.”

“Sorry about that,” said Doc. “It’s my doctor’s handwriting”. (History seems to think that Doc Holliday was a doctor, which is odd, because the same History does not seem to think that Sheriff Bat Masterson was a bat).  

“It’s not the handwriting,” said Wyatt. “It’s what’s written. I’ve had a look at some of the entries, and I’ve talked to some of the, well, let’s call them perpetrators.”

“Oh,” said Doc, looking worried for the first time.

“For example,” said Wyatt, “Jethro Watts. Arrested for Money Laundering. He says he was washing his pants and forget to take his money out.”

“That’s true,” said Doc, “but strictly speaking -”

“Next, Joe Bob Peters,” continued Wyatt. “Arson?”

“He has no job,” said Doc. “He just sits outside the hardware store all day.”

“Setting fire to stuff?”

“No,” said Doc. “He’s just Arsin’ Around.”

“That’s Vagrancy,” said Wyatt.

“Crap,” said Doc. “Never thought of that.”

“And Miss Amelia Trent, the school-teacher,” went on Wyatt. “Holding up a stagecoach.”

“Yes,” said Doc. “She stepped out in front of it and put her hand up.”

“That’s how you get on a stagecoach,” said Wyatt. “It’s called a bus stop.” He looked down at the ledger again. “Then there’s Caleb Hoskins,” he went on, “Forgery. I haven’t actually talked to him yet, but I’m guessing he’s the blacksmith.”

Doc nodded, then stared down at the floor silently. “Why?” asked Wyatt, softly.

Doc Holliday looked up, defiance suddenly blazing in his eyes. “Have you any idea what it’s like to be Sheriff in a sleepy little back-water like this? All I do is rescue cats from trees and help little old ladies across the street. Well, that’s not why I went to law-enforcement classes. That’s not why I shot off a toe trying to practice a quick draw. That’s not why I accidently invented the pierced nipple when trying to pin on my badge. I want to be remembered. When folk recall the heroes who made this country I want to be right up there with Pat Garrett, and all he ever did was shoot Billy the Kid -”

“In fairness,” began Wyatt, “that was pretty -”

“- and eat him,” continued Doc.

“What?” said Wyatt. “With fava beans and a nice Chianti?”

“Er, no,” said Doc. “With chilli beans and grits. That’s how you eat goat.”

“Billy the Kid was a goat?”

Doc rolled his eyes. “The clue’s in the name,” he said simply. “But Garrett spread the rumour that he had killed an outlaw, and now he’s a legend. Well, I want to be like him. I want the Sheriff of Tombstone -”

“I’ve been meaning to mention that,” said Wyatt. “Apparently the town’s called Norville. You got it changed two years ago.”

“Yes, well, no-one would remember the Sheriff of Norville,” said Doc. “I got the idea from Sheriff Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke.”

“Um, I don’t think the name of his town -”

“Who cares? That’s how he’s known now. And I wanted to be remembered as the man who kept peace in the meanest town in the West, so I made up a few things. But I must have gone too far, because they sent you.”

“It was the car thefts,” said Wyatt. “There’s no such thing as a car.”

“Well,” said Doc, “now that you’re here, what are you going to do about it? You can turn me in, or you can stay here with me and we can help make history, by making up history.”

Just then the door burst open, and Virgil and Morgan Earp rushed into the office.

“The Clanton gang are up at the OK Corral,” said Virgil. “They’re drunk, and they’re causing trouble.”

“Just leave them,” said Doc. “They’ll sleep it off, and be fine tomorrow.”

“They snatched Virgil’s hat,” said Morgan.

Doc and Wyatt looked at one another, then both stood and began to buckle on their holsters.

“Stealing a policeman’s hat?” said Wyatt. “Not in Tombstone.”

-oOo-

An hour later the four of them were back, flushed and exhilarated. “Well,” said Virgil, “we showed them.

“Sure did,” said Morgan. “They won’t be causing trouble around here no more.”

Wyatt sat down in front of the ledger. “Better record it, ” he said. He took up his pen and began ‘tonight there was a fist-fight at the OK Corral’, then stopped and looked at Doc Holliday. They looked into each other eyes, into each others souls, for a long time.

He changed the word ‘fist-fight’ to ‘gun-fight’.

 

 

What To My Wondering Eyes Should Appear

‘Twas the night before Easter.

Mamma and I were just settling our brains for a long Spring nap, she in her kerchief and I in my cap. This was because it was, as I’ve said, Spring, when Mamma refuses to put the central heating on, despite the fact that Spring in Ireland is just Winter with longer evenings.

Then, from out on the lawn, there arose a clatter. I got out of bed, opened the front door and looked out, but could see nothing. But as I drew in my head (I’m an architect, and was thinking about a project I was working on) and was turning around, down the chimney came a rabbit, not with a bound, but with part of a pizza box stuck to his fur.

“What sort of gobshite,” he said, “leaves his bins in the dark at the side of his house?”

I stared at him. He was a normal sized rabbit, and between his front paws he carried three Easter eggs, the middle one pinned between the other two, making it look as if he was playing a chocolate accordion.

“You’re … the Easter Bunny?” I stammered.

He nodded, and smiled slightly.

“I thought there was no such thing,” I said, before I could stop myself.

The smile died. “I see,” he said, icily. “And where did you think your kids’ Easter eggs came from?”

“I never really thought about it,” I said. “I just wake up on Easter Sunday and they’re there. I always assumed Mamma had bought them and left them out.” (I later discovered that Mamma thought that I’d been doing it).

The Easter Bunny’s eyes narrowed. “Your wife’s name is Mamma?” he said.

I blushed. “Her name’s Mia,” I said, “and she loves Abba.”

It’s hard to describe how small you feel when a rabbit gives you a look of scorn. He dumped the eggs onto the hearth and turned back towards the chimney.

“Look,” I said, “I’m sorry I didn’t believe in you before.”

He turned back quickly.

“No,” he snapped, “but you believe in him, don’t you?”

“Him?” I asked.

“You know who I mean,” said the Easter Bunny. “Everyone believes in him. Everyone thinks he’s great.”

“Well, he is,” I said. “He delivers toys to all the children, all in one night.”

“Indeed he does,” said the Easter Bunny. “On his magic sleigh, pulled by reindeer. I deliver eggs to all the children, also all in one night, but on foot.”

“How do you manage that?” I asked, impressed.

“I’m a very fast runner,” he said. “That’s what we’re famous for, us rabbits.”

“I thought that was hares,” I said.

“Oh, our slowcoach cousins,” he said witheringly. “Tell me, have you ever heard the tale of the rabbit being beaten by the tortoise?”

“Er, no,” I replied.

“Exactly,” he said.

“Do you have elves like him, working all year to make all the eggs?”

“The wife and kids help me,” he said. “We started last Tuesday.”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s incredible.”

“Not really,” he said. “I have forty-two thousand three hundred and ninety-two kids.” I stared at him. “That’s the other thing we’re famous for,” he admitted.

“So you get the whole thing done in a week?”

“Yes” he said. “And yet I get no recognition for it. No-one writes songs about me coming to town. No-one leaves out a glass of sherry and a lettuce leaf for me. No-one writes me letters, telling me what they want for Easter.”

“Not much point,” I said. “They’d all just say “Eggs”.”

“True,” he admitted. He sighed, long and deep, the sigh of someone who has been toiling for a very, very long time. I felt sorry for him.

“If it makes you feel any better,” I said, “I think you’re doing a great job.”

He gave a small smile, then turned towards the hearth. Yet again, though, he paused, and turned. He held another Easter Egg in his paw. I have no idea where it came from, and have resolved never to think too deeply about it. He handed it to me.

“Here,” he said. “This one is for you.”

“Thanks,” I said, touched.

He laid a paw alongside his nose and, giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

“Happy Easter to all,” I said softly, “and to all a Good Night.”

His head appeared back into view, upside down.

“Ho, ho, bloody ho,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit

Tom sat, rocking slowly in his chair, staring gloomily out of the window of the home.

Retirement sucks, he thought.

He and Jerry had thought it would last for ever – the fame, the wealth, the girls (Tom wasn’t called a Tom for nothing, and for a few brief seconds a smile whispered across his whiskers).

How he missed those glorious, wonderful, slapstick days. People had thought they’d had scripts but no, they’d made it up as they went along, each trying to catch the other by surprise with an upturned rake, or a waist-high ironing board, or the sudden chance to swallow a bowling-ball dropped from a great height.

He could still feel the twinges, like an ex-rugby player whose knee stiffens up in cold weather – the ache of fingers that had been jammed in power-sockets, the numbness of a tail caught in countless mousetraps, the ringing in his ears from a thousand frying-pans full in the face.

For most of the injuries had been suffered by Tom, and that was fine with him, because he was the straight man, the Ernie to Jerry’s Eric, both knowing that it was a partnership in which each was as vital as the other.

Then, at the very height of their fame, along had come Fred and Wilma.

Tom and Jerry had laughed out loud, though not in a good way, at the early episodes of the Flintstones, refusing to believe that the public would warm to a man who wore a tie but no trousers and had a catchphrase that sounded like an infant Tarzan.

Like the silent-movie stars watching The Jazz Singer they had all mocked – Tom and Jerry, Mickey and Minnie, Bugs Bunny, not comprehending that they were watching the end of their way of life, forgetting that most fundamental of all truths.

Length matters.

The Flintstones was thirty minutes long, and this was its great selling point with exhausted parents who wanted the TV to baby-sit for them. Soon a whole station, Cartoon Network, was born, with a desperate need for longer cartoons to fill its 24-hour appetite. Johnny Bravo, the Powerpuff Girls, Dexter and his bloody Laboratory took over, not funny, not for a second, but triumphs of quantity over quality. Then others sold out, Batman giving up his real-life TV show with its visible sound-effects and its leather-clad Catwoman to feature in a cartoon series in which the principle features were permanent night-time and a voice that sounded like a motorbike on gravel.

Some of their friends made the transition – Top Cat, the Pink Panther, but Tom and Jerry’s own brand of high-speed hecticness could never have survived half-an-hour.

For a while they survived on stations like RTE, stuck into the gap between Jean Byrne’s weather front and Mary Kennedy’s Nationwide, but in time these gaps between shows became filled instead with adverts for more shows. Tom and Jerry were shown the door.

And that had hurt most of all. They hadn’t even been given the boot, a chance to leave in one last funny act. It would have been nice, thought Tom, to have departed the studio at speed and an angle of 45 degrees, leaving two Tom and Jerry-shaped holes in the walls, arms and legs spread like a starfish.   

 

Off The Rails

A ghost-train driver’s job is not an exciting one.

He gets in to the front of what is essentially a dodgem-car daisy-chain, and waits while children climb into the cars behind him. He sighs and picks candy-floss off the back of his head, then he pushes the start button. The train moves forward at the speed of an ice-age, though a black curtain, and into a tunnel. 

What follows makes golf seem exciting. Lights flash. A skeleton drops and jiggles. The train passes through cob-webs, some man-made, increasingly over time some not. There are loud shrieks, though not from the children who, having grown up with Call of Duty 7, are made of sterner stuff. The shrieks come from rusting old wheels rolling over rusting old rails. The journey ends with one last dive-by by a cloth bat, then a lurch out through another curtain into comparative sunlight and a collective sigh of soul-deadening disappointment.

A ghost-train driver’s job is not an exciting one.

A ghost train-driver’s job, though, is different. A ghost train-driver starts his train with a loud , scalding blast of steam, for such a driver will not be driving the Dart, or the Rosslare Eurostar. His train will have a furnace, into which a demon boiler-man will hurl shovelful after shovelful of coal. It will have pistons to drag its wheels into motion. It will have a whistle that emits a long, piercing scream, like a bagpipes caught in the zip of its fly.  

The journey of a ghost train-driver is not a lonely one. He has a rich collection of companions – spurned lovers who hurled themselves from dining-carriages, distressed damsels who had been tied to the rails by moustachioed villains, careless country ramblers who had caught the 4.15 from Limerick Junction in the small of the back.

Together they travel the country on a final journey, shrieking through long-abandoned stations, speeding inches above long-rusted railway lines, vanishing into long-bricked-up tunnels, crossing narrow wooden bridges over narrow deep ravines until they reach one where they don’t, because the bridge is down, and train roars into the abyss, wheels still spinning furiously like Wile E Coyote trying to run in mid-air. 

The following night the ghost train-driver gets to do it again. It is thrilling, spirit-lifting, exhilarating. It fills his senses, stirs his heart, makes him feel truly alive.

It’s the best job on earth, or at least slightly beyond it.  

Tinman’s Guide to Brexit

Hello, Tinman. I’m a UK citizen with a few questions, and I’ve heard that you know a lot about politics, so can I ask you?

I think you’re mixing me up with Paxman, but sure go ahead anyway.

Ok. I’ve heard that we triggered Article 50 last week. What does that mean?

It means you’re leaving the EU.

I thought we did that last summer.

No, last summer you told your politicians that you wanted to leave.

Then why has it taken so long?

Politicians act very, very, slowly. For example, have you ever asked your local councillors for a pedestrian crossing in your village?

I get your point. I’ve heard we have to pay £50 billion to get out. What’s that about?

It’s like the Departure Tax that you pay at airports, only for a whole country.

Speaking of airports, will I still be able to bring 800 fags back from Ibiza?

No, though you will be able to drink duty-free on the plane.

What about getting European stuff here? Will I be still be able to buy French Fries?

Why would you want to? Buy chips!

What about Mars Bars?

Mars is not actually a member of the EU, so there’ll be no change.

Is it true that I can get an Irish passport?

Depends. Are you any good at soccer?

Isn’t it going to be awkward, having Ireland still in the EU, but further away then us?

I believe they’re thinking about a kind of house-swap, where we’ll move to Britain and you’ll move here. We’ll get the London Eye, and Stonehenge, and Glastonbury, and you’ll get, well, rain mostly. And Termonfeckin.

But I like where I live now, though I admit I’d like it more if they’d put in the bloody pedestrian crossing we asked for ten years ago. The idea sounds nuts. Our Foreign Secretary would never agree to anything so daft.

And your Foreign Secretary is?

It’s Boris – oh.

Indeed.  

Will Brexit affect us in the Eurovision Song Contest?

No, you still won’t win.

I’ve heard that there will be a lot less red tape. Is that true?

In the beginning, perhaps, but it is likely that some British company will spot that there is now a shortage of red tape, and will rush to fill the gap. 

So this will be good for British manufacturing?

Of red tape, certainly.

I’m an Arsenal fan. Will Arsene Wenger have to quit as manager?

No.

Damn. Ok, one last question.

Go ahead.

What do Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May’s legs have to do with any of this?

God knows.

Idle Chatter

For each of the six months that she’d been a member, Susan had managed to find a reason not to host the next monthly meeting of the Seaview Drive Residents’ Book Club. But at the end of last month’s meeting Fiona had said “who’s house next month?” and Harriet had said firmly “Susan’s. She hasn’t hosted one yet, ” and that was that. Harriet was the unspoken leader of the group, and having her tell you that they were using your house was rather like the FBI telling you that they were commandeering your vehicle. You didn’t get to say no.

So they were all here, all four of them, and so far all was going well. The wine had been poured and the ladies had complimented Susan on her lovely home. Now all they had to do was discuss the book briefly before starting into the real business of the evening, which was to finish the wine, bitch about their lives, husbands and children, and gossip about their neighbours, the ones not fortunate enough to be invited into this circle.

This month’s choice was The Book Thief. Harriet said that the book did a wonderful job of describing the beauty and destruction of life in Germany during World War II (she hasn’t read it, thought Susan, that’s just taken from the first sentence in Wikipedia).

Fiona said that having death as the narrator had been a great idea (uh-huh, thought Susan, also taken from the same sentence).

And then, to Susan’s horror, from beneath the cloth that covered the cage in the corner she heard stirrings, as Joey the parrot began to wake up. Please, she thought, please behave.

“Mickey,” said Joey.

-oOo-

At first it had been funny.

Susan had been in the pet-shop with her three-year old twin boys. They had been trying to decide between a gerbil that looked like a brillo-pad and a gecko that looked like, well, Gordon Gecko, when from a cage in the corner they had all heard the squawked word “fa-a-r-r-rttt”, rising in pitch as if in enquiry.

The boys had giggled helplessly, then begged for the parrot. The shop-owner had promised her that fart was the parrot’s only swear-word, the boys’ entreaties had become pleadingly tearful and then bordered on tantrum, and she had given in, on the basis of anything for a quiet life.

A quiet life was not what had followed.

The twins had set out to teach the parrot more naughty words, which in fairness she had seen coming, but luckily the scatological vocabulary of a three-year old is fairly limited, so all that happened was that the words “poo”, “bum” and “pee” were added to “fart”, making Joey, whenever he was excited, sound like an explosion in a fireworks factory, or as if he was trying to sing a Bjork song.

But three-year olds become four-year olds and start going to school, where they come into contact with ruder, longer boys who know ruder, longer words.

Such as “Mickey”.

-oOo-

At the sound, the book club all turned to look at Susan, who went and took the cover from the cage.

“It’s our parrot,” she said. “His name’s Mickey.”

She was fairly positive that Joey glared at her, but the women relaxed. It was Maura’s turn to speak next about the book. She said that she couldn’t add anything to what the others had said (wow, thought Susan, hasn’t even googled it) and then Joey spoke again, as if commenting on Maura’s comment.

“Willy,” he said.

“It’s his name,” said Susan quickly. Harriet opened her mouth, but Susan carried on. “Mickey Willy is his full name,” she said. “After my grandfather.”

“I see,” said Harriet slowly. “Anyway, we haven’t heard what you thought of the book yet.”

They all turned to Susan. She wanted to say that she thought it was the most wonderful book she’d ever read, that she’d cried during it and then cried because it was over, and that if she ever had another child she would name it Liesel, even if it was a boy, but she’d learnt over the months that the group grew uncomfortable whenever she revealed her true passion for the books they’d been allocated, so now she no longer bothered, hiding her love of reading behind self-deprecating humour.

“Didn’t get to read it,” she said. “A book thief stole it.”

They all laughed at this, and the atmosphere grew more relaxed. Then Joey spoke again.

“Boobs”, he said.

It was unfortunate that Fiona had just taken a mouthful of wine as Joey said this. After they had all finished thumping her on the back she stared in shock at Susan and said “did he just say -”

“Books,” said Susan firmly. “He’s very astute.”

“Books?” sneered Harriet.

“In a Dublin accent,” said Susan.

Harriet stared hard at her. Susan stared calmly back. Then Maura, the appeaser of the group, stood and walked over to the cage.

“He’s a cute little guy, isn’t he?” she said. “Ask him if he wants a cracker.”

Joey regarded her, head on one side, for a long moment.

“Axe me bollix”, he said.

-oOo-

They had gone.

Into the stunned silence that had greeted Joey’s last remark Harriet had said “gosh, is that the time, I must be off” without even looking at her watch. The others had stood too.

“What about next month’s -” began Maura.

“We’ll organise it nearer the time,” Harriet had said quickly, and Susan knew that, when the organising came, her name would not be featuring among the invitees.

Having waved brightly at them from the door, she had turned back, and sighed.

And noticed that, because of the abrupt ending to the meeting, there was still a lot of wine left. She set about remedying that.

And as she sat, glass in hand, she realised how relieved she was. She’d joined their book club when she’d moved onto the road and was keen to meet her neighbours, but she admitted to herself now that they were snobs, and that their “book club” was as pretentious and superficial as they were, something that they had heard sophisticated people did and so had pretended to do themselves. Besides, she’d met a lot of the other neighbours now, mostly through having to drag the twins out of their flower-beds, and had realised that they were much nicer people.

She was better off without the book club.

“F’kawff!” yelled Joey suddenly. Susan raised her glass to him.

“Well said, Joey,” she said. “They can f’kawff indeed.”

*****************************************************

(I’ve started going back to the Inksplinters Writing Group in the Irish Writers Centre on Tuesday, and this is built on what I wrote for a recent prompt, which was “a foul-mouthed parrot”.