Monthly Archives: October 2020

Well Wisher

Like black-smiths, thatchers and public hangmen, water diviners have been largely driven out of existence by modern life. It’s been many years since Michael hung up his stick, or at least took to throwing it for his dog.

But the change to remote working has re-invigorated the occupation, as IT professionals give up expensive apartments in Dublin to move to what they will imagine will be idyllic bliss far out in the countryside. They have not factored in field-mice, gale-force winds or the four-mile walk to the pub, but they have at least considered that they will need water, and Michael is getting more and more calls from those keen to find a well on their land.

For this he has had to find a new dowsing rod. Although all of the ability is innate to Michael, handed down through generations of genes, he still needs a good stick. Just as a golfer has a favourite driver or a snooker-player a favourite cue, water-diviners have favourites too, a piece of wood they feel at one with, through which they channel their power and confidence. And these have to be broken in.

Which is why we find Michael up to his thighs in water. He has his hat on, because heaven-forbid he might get wet, and is training his new stick. He is starting with easy stuff, the Atlantic Ocean, and will move on to rivers, then small puddles, then slow drip of a leaking tap until eventually his stick and he will be able to twitch out the trickle of an underground stream from two miles above.

Though it’s only the first day, he is excited about his choice, thrilled by its frantic twitching and its headlong dive into the sea. He feels this might be a good one.

It’s the moisture equivalent of a Ouija board.


The image is from Simon’s Scrappy But Happy 8 Collection, the 8th edition of Dublin Simon Community’s showcase of artworks and creative writing pieces by some of those who access its homeless and housing services

Faster, Higher, Cyber

Russia is alleged to have planned a major cyber-attack on the Tokyo Olympics (Irish Times 24/10/20)…


Sport has moved on from the old pre-tech days, when races were won by the first person to break through a tape, diving medals were basically awarded to whoever made the smallest splash, and entrants in the walking were monitored by a man, well, walking beside them, making one question the whole concept of an Olympic qualifying pace.

Still, when the Olympic Council heard that Russia, irritated at being picked on because their drug-taking was less covert than that of other countries, where planning a cyber attack on the Games themselves, they weren’t too concerned. After all, the race would still go to the one most speedy, the boxing to the one least punched, and that gymnastics with the ribbon to, um, whoever. There was little tech to be attacked.

How wrong they were.

At the Opening Ceremony, the Prime Minister’s words “I declare open the games of Tokyo, the thirty-second Olympiad of the modern era” were translated by his microphone into Latin, and concluded with Woody Woodpecker’s laugh. In the symbolic CGI release of doves, the birds were replaced by buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The hour-long artistic display made absolutely no sense, though in fairness this had nothing to do with the Russians.

The Flame, when lit, licked out a fifty-foot arrow of fire that incinerated the Olympic Flag, then stopped. It then flickered the five notes from Close Encounters in Morse code before settling into a ghostly green flame, in which you could see the face of Grover Cleveland.

And that was just day one.

The next two weeks were no better. As the Men’s 100 metres, the race the whole world watches, was about to start, every camera in the stadium suddenly switched to the Fencing. The Women’s 800 metres medallists, according to the computer, were Marie Curie, Eleanor Rigby and the Lady of Shalott. The final-lap bell for the Women’s 5,000 metres rang four laps early, meaning that the winner broke the world record by almost five minutes. The starting gun for the Men’s 400 metres also fired early, leaving the favourite to hop around the track with one foot trapped in his tracksuit leg. A Finnish weight-lifter received her medal to the sound of the Uruguayan National Anthem, while an canoeist from Belize, after winning his country’s first ever Olympic medal, had to stand to attention to Dolly Parton’s Jolene. A flip of the city’s traffic lights meant that the marathon was run through early- morning commuter gridlock. A Ukrainian’s javelin was shot down in mid-flight by a TV camera drone.

The golf was unaffected, though no-one was watching it anyway.

It wasn’t all bad, though. For the Water Polo final the pool switched to jacuzzi mode, and the resulting mayhem looked much fun that clubs have opened all over the world, and the sport is going to be included in the 2024 Games.



Sea Of Tranquillity

Nokia have signed a deal with NASA to set up a mobile phone network on the moon…


“HELLO!? …. yeah … I’m on the moon… yeah, I’m in the shuttle bus from the base to our hut…so, any craic? … nah, me neither, there’s no atmosphere here, ha, ha…………… no news?….nah, me neither… no, wait, listen, Sarah’s breaking up with Dave…yeah, Sarah from PrePay and Dave from Sim-free, yeah, apparently Dave’s been doing the dirt with Kate from Lying About What Counts As Unlimited Data…. no, nobody knows that yet… what, yeah, there are, but they’re not listening, all staring at their phones like morons… so, anyway – oh wait, I’m gonna lose signal…………………………….. HELLO!?… yeah, we went round the dark side of the moon….. you’re right, it’s mad, they can put a man on the moon, you’d think they could organize decent phone reception, like, they’re sending out signals trying to contact aliens, and they’re, like, miles away, I mean, what are they going to think of us when we keep breaking up and there’s an echo all through the call? They’ll block us, that’s what they’ll do….anyway, I’m at my stop now, so I’ll let you go… yep, home in a minute, love, put the kettle on… yeah, bye, byebyebyebyebye…bye.

Help Desk

Carlo Acutis, the first millennial beatified by the church, is already being hailed as “the patron saint of the internet”  (Irish Times 17.10.20) …


Heaven doesn’t have corners, yet somehow St Carlo was sitting in one.

He sat cross-legged, elbows resting on his knees, a can of Coke between his fingers. He stared out into nothing.

The older saints noticed, chatted briefly among themselves, and one of them came over. It was the saintly thing to do.

“Mind if I sit here?” he asked.

Carlo shrugged. “Whatever,” he said.

“Whatever what?”


“Never mind,” said the older saint. He lowered himself to the floor beside Carlo, a process that took up quite a large amount of eternity. Eventually he settled.

“I believe that was called ‘getting down with the kids’,” he said. “I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re eight hundred years old. I’m Francis of Assisi,” he added.

“Carlo,” said Carlo.

The two sat for a while, backs against a celestial wall. Eventually Francis spoke.

“Tough day?” he said.

Carlo sighed deeply. “I thought it would be easy,” he said. “I thought it would just be people praying to remember their password.”

“That doesn’t sound easy.”

“Actually it is. It’s usually 1234, unless they’re English, in which case it’s 1966.” He saw his companion frown. “The year they won the World Cup,” he explained. “If they ever win it a second time the whole country will have locked themselves out of Netflix within six months.”

“But your day was more than that?”

“Lots more,” said Carlo. “Mostly people moaning about wi-fi. Even if they’re down a well that’s inside a cave that’s under a glacier and they don’t have a phone with them, they’re moaning about wi-fi.

“And so much more. Cat lovers, looking for more cat videos. Dog lovers, looking for fewer cat videos. Influencers, looking for free stuff.

“Then there were people actually asking how to illegally stream TV shows. Like, hello? Do they not notice the word ‘saint’ in the phrase ‘patron saint’?

“And there were the impossible questions. What does Error 404 mean? Why do I have to keep ticking traffic lights? Why does Microsoft suddenly close all my stuff and run updates? I mean, I have no idea. I’m not God.”

“God doesn’t know either,” said Francis. “Trust me on this.”

“And there were trolls,” said Carlo.

“Seriously?” said Francis.

“Yep, they’d comment on people’s prayers, call them deluded and pathetic. I told one of them to show some compassion and he called me a virtue signaller.”

He sighed again. “I mean, I have the whole internet to cover. It’s just so hard, there’s so much of it.”

“I look after animals,” said Francis quietly. “All of them.”

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t say they do a lot of praying,” said Carlo. “Apart from the praying mantis.”

“Lol,” said Francis. Carlo glared at him.

“Well, it’s true that they don’t pray very often,” said Francis, “but when they do it tends to be quite urgent and in large numbers. For example, when a whole flock of sheep sees an approaching wolf the sound is like being trapped inside a deflating bagpipes. And two thousand lemmings all squeaking ‘oh shit’ in your head is not something that’s easily forgotten when you’re lying awake at night.”

“I suppose not,” muttered Carlo.

“It is very hard,” said Francis, “when they pray and you can’t help them.” He turned and looked into Carlo’s eyes. “That’s what’s really bothering you, isn’t it?” he said softly.

Carlo nodded glumly. “It’s the ‘like’s,” he said. “They all want them, so desperately – on their memes, on their opinions, on their avo photos. And I can’t give them to them.”

“They’re human,” said Francis. “They need to feel loved.”

“But they are loved,” said Carlo. “They have friends in the real world.”

“Making them see that is the challenge,” said Francis. “And you care enough about them to be upset. That’s a start.”






Writers Tears

Seen in the Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin

Writers Tears is an Irish whiskey. It says so on the bottle. Having established that, you may be thinking that there was no need to further point out that it is a product of Ireland. If you are thinking that then you’ve never asked yourself where Mars Bars come from.

It is aged in American and French oaks, however, which is baffling. We have trees of our own.

The name is probably fiction, judging from the size of the bottle, unless they used a lot of writers, or just one writer on a very bad day. Since we are meant to be a melancholy bunch do not rule out the latter.

Whiskey drinkers describe it as smooth. Do not be fooled. Whiskey drinkers describe all whiskies as “smooth”, in the same way that winter swimmers describe all water as “lovely”. In reality the tiniest sip of whiskey feels as if you’ve been waterboarded with paraffin, and then force-fed a firework. One wonders have whiskey drinkers ever tasted, say, smoothies.

Writers Tears is bitter. That very sentence, with its clash of singular and plural, sounds like the best of Irish writing itself. Writers Tears is fiery. It can be bring tears to your yes, wrench your stomach, and stays with you long after it is gone. It can lead to confusion, exhaustion, and headwreck.

It is basically bottled Ulysses.

Sea Change

The Government is considering a plan to allow fishermen to shoot seals with high-powered rifles (Irish Times 03/10/20)…


There had been a covenant.

For generations seals and mankind had lived in harmony. The seals would work at our SeaWorlds, enlivening an attraction which would otherwise consist merely of a water-slide, a gift-shop and an aquarium containing a tiny Nemo lookalike. They would leap from the water, through a blazing hoop and down into the heart of a stupendous splash. In return the humans would throw them fish. The seals would clap – sarcastically, as it happens, since they can catch their own fish – and schools of small children would go home contented.

At sea they would pop up beside whale-spotting trips, providing small consolation to cold, gloomy tourists who had spent an hour staring vainly at a cold, gloomy surface.

That was all now at an end.

Fish numbers were falling. This was due to over-fishing, a consequence that seemed to have come as a surprise to the humans.  Anyway, there weren’t enough for both seal and man, so rather than leave what there was to the group that could eat nothing else, the one that had access to fruit, quinoa and the Big Mac had decided it needed the fish too.

And then they wonder why species become extinct.

And so it was that Clyde, swimming slowly home one evening, was surprised to see small spurts of water breaking the surface around him, as if he was being spat at by a shoal of mermaids. He looked around and noticed that along the side of a distant fishing-boat stood a number of men with rifles.

He was being shot at.

They didn’t hit him, of course, fisherman are no more adept with a rifle than an elephant-hunter would be with a fishing-rod, but the whip-crack of each bullet stung, to his very soul.

His blood boiled. Mammals can do that.

He slipped beneath the waves, like a submarine dodging a torpedo, and down to a small cave. There, lying untouched for decades, was a World War II mine. He slid carefully beneath its virus-like shape and began to push it gently towards the surface.

Balanced on his nose.