Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Sugar Baby

"Your breakfast is ready." She's been up for over an hour now.

"I didn't ask you to make me breakfast."

I am that much of an asshole in the morning. I groan and roll over, without a note of thanks. She tries to rouse me a couple more times before I gradually start to sit up, the implication that I'm doing her some kind of favour in undertaking this strenuous task writ large all over my face. I grunt a little and frown at her. She brings breakfast to me.


Everything changes now. Pop Tarts are the kind of breakfast that should always be followed by exclamation marks. We never had them for breakfast in my home when they first came out about sixteen or seventeen years ago, being far too sensible (or "poor", as I understood it) to spend that kind of money on breakfast. They are awesome. I recline back in the bed and start munching, crumbs going all over my chest and onto her sheets. "These are awesome," I say, continuing my morning policy of saying exactly what comes into my head. "I had a conversation with my second year class yesterday about how awesome they are. They're awesome."

I leap up and head to the bathroom for my morning tinkle and beauty regime. My hair needs a little fixing - last night's attempt at a white man 'fro has left a few odd kinks in it. I come back and give her a long, slow kiss. Unfathomably, she lets me do this. "Ready to rock now?" I ask chirpily, putting on my shoes swiftly in the full knowledge that she's been ready to leave for about fifteen minutes now. But even she is shocked by the speed of this transformation.

I decide to sing her one of the few songs I know all the lyrics to as we walk along. I imagine she's pleased, though her face betrays nothing right now. We get to her bus-stop and I do my annoying clingy thing. My morning lethargy has made me miss my first lecture of the day and may very well see her slightly late to work.

She gives me a hug and grins. "I need to find a way of getting sugar into you before you wake up."

Sunday, March 29, 2009


But to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear

Home in Wicklow for a little while earlier I decided that I could no longer tolerate my own level of mankiness and went for a shower. I looked in the mirror and marvelled at how wild and unkempt my wild and unkempt beard has become. Then I picked up a hairbrush (I don't own one) and slicked back my ever-growing hair. I resisted the temptation to ape Ron Burgundy's famous cry of "Hey everyone, come see how good my hair looks!" and wandered out into the hallway in some grotty boxers, in search of clean socks and, perhaps, a muffin.

"You look like Porno-Rasputin," laughed my brother.

Which hurt a lot, as I'd been aiming for Porno-David Koresh.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


How strange it is to be anything at all

I'm sitting at the lobby area of the adventure centre, realising how chronically addicted to the Internet I am when a cute-faced blonde girl in her early 20s wanders in, carrying a backpack. She says 'hi' breezily, as though we've greeted each other many times before, and heads into the reception office. She comes back out a minute later and sits down beside me.

"Do you know where the Sleepzone hostel is?" she asks.
"Um, I've never been there but if you go right out the gate and walk for about 30 metres there's a sign that says it's..."
"...a kilometre down the road on the left hand side." She's seen it, she knows. She continues unprompted, "I'm from Germany, I'm just here for a little while. I came over to see my boyfriend. Well, he was my boyfriend, we broke up."
"Oh, I'm sorry, are you OK?" Her outpouring doesn't seem to perturb me, probably because she sounds so very calm, in that way that Germans do.
"I'm fine, this is a good place to be alone and think."
She's right, Killary Harbour is a very fine place to be alone and think. But she doesn't really want to be alone at this moment in time.
"Do you smoke?" she asks, while rolling a cigarette.
"Yeah, but not this week. I'm here to supervise a group of students, I'm a teacher. I never smoke around the kids." I sound more resentful than I ought to, and she hands me the rolling papers and tobacco anyway.
"No, really." At that moment the resident sick kid approaches me and I quickly pass the contraband back to my new buddy. He's paler than a sheet and suffering from acid reflux. He needs to go home, and I need to accompany him at least as far as the train station in Westport. He hands me his phone, where his mother greets me at the other end. "Yes, hello Mrs. Bell...yes, I'll make sure he gets there in plenty of time for the train...yes, I've already called for a taxi..."

The German girl stands up, gives me the faintest of waves and walks out, on her way to Sleepzone, if not sleep. I wasn't the feckless, philosophical backpacker/up-for-anything outdoor pursuits instructor she wanted to talk to.

Though it's an easy mistake to make, to be fair.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I'll get me coat

Google Reader tells me that I only post here an average of 2.6 times a week (what are you, Google reader, my mother?). Yet I don't think I've ever gone more than 3 or 4 days since I started up this nonsense without posting. Would you all worry about me terribly if I was absent for any longer than that? I'd like to think so.

So, lest you start fretting that I may have fallen in with a crowd of no-goodniks who don't appreciate frittering time away on the interweb, or that I've lost my typing arm to a fleet of angry termites, I'm just letting everyone know I'll be incommunicado until next weekend, trapped somewhere in the desolate prettiness of Mayo supervising a load of teenagers on an outdoor pursuits trip.

Worse still, my only adult company for the week will be a 40 something lady PE teacher who only likes to talk about Pilates and, I dunno, chemical warfare or something.

There may not be enough poitín and Malaysian soft porn mags in the world to get me through this.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Sedentary sediment

Today I missed the deadline for the Fish one page story prize that I had fully intended to enter.

I could blame it on the essay I was struggling to finish for college (submitted sweatily a full six minutes before the deadline this evening), I could blame it on the fact that the girlfriend submitted something much better than I could possibly come up with, I could blame it on my cripping Football Manager addiction. Mostly, though, I think the problem was that I never actually wrote a story of any kind.I wrote nothing. Nothing at all. Not even a germ of an idea. Long have I harboured thoughts of making a living of some description out of writing. But, by my reckoning, in the last seven years I have written maybe four or five things that could in any way count as a story. Not quite Stephen King, then. It might be because I get horribly embarrassed by committing awful things to page or screen, even if I'm the only one who ever reads them. I'm generally the only one who ever reads them.

I have certain standards when it comes to blogging, but I do tend to be far less pernickety as, even if I think I've posted the greatest load of offal this side of Offaly, I can still be persuaded by one or two encouraging comments left by kind people that what I've done is fine. It often isn't, but I'm slowly learning that that's really not all that important. When I do write something I'm pleased with, usually on paper first, I sit and jiggle my legs around uncontrollably and swiftly develop a hazy cloud of smug around my head. It is, quite possibly, far more excruciating in retrospect than when I just have to suck up the unpleasantness of reading over something so monumentally awful it makes me want to burn all the paper in the world.

So, without further ramblings, and with only the slightest of leg-jigglings, I'm now publishing something I wrote specifically for the Homepages book, published last December. Plenty of you will have bought copies of the book already and may have read it, but some of you won't have. Thanks to the work of Catherine many of us who aspire to be published authors have managed to be just that, at least once.


He's small and he's beautiful and he's bright as a button. He's curious about my white skin and my oddly straight hair so he clambers onto my lap, where I happily receive him. "Huyu ni nani?", I ask, hoping my rather blunt Swahili for "Who are you?" sounds friendly rather than interrogative. "Ema", he replies quickly, whilst exploring the theory he'd heard about white people being perfectly agreeable to small thumbs being placed in their eyes. he launches into a long stream of consciousness which I don't understand, but which i take to be indicative of great wisdom on his part. "You're so wise Baxter, you're like a mini-Buddha" I say, quoting Ron Burgundy's heartfelt tribute to his dog without even realising I'd done it. 'Baxter' sticks from then on, at least for me and any other volunteers whose sense of humour causes them no qualms about nicknaming a small Tanzanian child after a fictional dog.

"How old is he?" I ask a passing mama, off to do some real work. "Emanuel?" She thinks for a moment. "He is maybe two and a half or three. The people in the village, they found him in a bush so we do not know where he was born. the think his parents died from the sickness." The Sickness rarely gets its proper name in these parts, many people will even look away in distaste if you use its local name, Ukimwi. "Is he sick, too?" I ask nervously, clutching this glowingly healthy-looking child a little closer. "No, we do not think so.It is good because then it is allowed for him to share cups and bowls with the other children.

Small crumbs, Baxter, small crumbs.

It transpires that Baxter has an incredible head for names, and can tell you who any one of the 50-odd other orphans is. His roguish good looks and affectionate nature mean I'm far from the only one to fall for his charms. We bicker, with tongues far less firmly planted in our cheeks than they ought to be, over who he likes best. Baxter and I are having our daily chinwag one morning when another child wanders over, craving some attention. Baxter swats a small hand at him and scolds "Mzungu wangu!", wrapping his arms around my leg. I double over with laughter and kiss his little shaved head. "What does that mean?" asks another mzungu.
I grin smugly. "My white guy" I say, pleased as punch at the one-upmanship this allows me, pleased that I understood, pleased that he's used the word 'wangu', which I understand to be the more intimate form of 'my', often reserved for family. Whether or not Baxter is aware of these linguistic subtleties is an entirely moot point, in my view.

It is suggested to me that I look into adopting him. Insanely, this doesn't seem like an insane idea. So I do so, tentatively. It's a non-runner. The Irish government has a very select list of countries you are allowed to adopt from, and Tanzania is not on it. Even if it was, these orphans are not registered for adoption, as it's seen as leaving children open to be adopted for servitude or paedophilia. in the days leading up to our exodus from Tanzania Baxter can sense that there is something up. He cries and gets clingier. On my final day I take him in my arms for a chat. "Baxter", I say "How did anyone leave someone so handsome as you in a bush?" He gurgles some profound pearls. "It's alright though, they found they found Moses in a bunch of reeds and he turned out OK. Ninakupenda wewe, kwaheri."
He looks at me and agitates slightly.

"Chakula", he says.

Yes Baxter, you go get some food.

I leave him, smiling contentedly with face covered in snot and sticky rice, and crumple my long way home.

Friday, March 13, 2009


I'm Eoin McLove, I can have you killed

I wanted to regale you all you all with the tale of a man with a thick Louth accent explaining the plot of the movie Falling Down to his friend as they meandered down Grafton Street just behind me and at exactly the same pace on Wednesday.

But there is no method I know of to transcribe convincingly the truly magnificent mangling of vowels and phonemes that people from that part of the country are capable of. I know of no combination of written letters that could do it justice. It seems easy enough to do it for Dublin and Belfast, but impossible for that bit of land that lies smack bang equidistant between them. And my story would be bland and unremarkable without it.

Do let me know if any of you have figured out how to do that, as I'd love to tell you all about it.

Or just have yourselves a nice weekend. That'll do.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


If it wasn't for the words of others

As I sat in work this morning whiling away some time on Internet nothingness I overheard some of the cleaners animatedly discussing their plight. They've just had their hours cut by one hour each day. Doesn't sound like a lot, but it works out at something like 200 hours a year. which roughly translates to a €2000 pay cut. Pretty significant when you don't make that much anyway.

I felt for them, as they bickered over what to do next, with my heavily pregnant friend Marta ending up in tears. And then I thought of something I read yesterday:

"Once basic needs have been translated by society into demands for scientifically produced commodities, poverty is defined by standards which the technocrats can change at will. Poverty then refers to those who have fallen behind an advertised ideal of consumption in some important respect." (Ivan Illich)

People in Ireland are unlikely to be left destitute, not in comparison to the way people live in so many other countries. They are just simply not going to be able to afford all the things they are told they need. This is not empty left-wing rhetoric, this is the truth.

If this sounds unsympathetic, let me set you straight. I sympathise, and I empathise. My own situation is highly precarious: I am an unpaid student teacher about to step into a job market rendered increasingly cut-throat by some savage slashing from those we've appointed to know best. I am likely to have to put up with patchy, miniscule teaching hours and long periods out of work. I may have to move abroad to find a more fixed job. It's not looking great right now. But I like to dwell on the words of Pat Ingoldsby, whose hand I finally shook yesterday, when he refers on the back of one of his books to "the unshakeable belief that we'll always land on something."

Monday, March 9, 2009


Hard Rock Hallelujah

A couple of years ago I had my legs publicly waxed for charity. This morning, standing briefly in front of the mirror in all my glory after a shower, I notice that the outer sides of each leg are still rather bald. The hair on those parts of my legs will, presumably, never grow back properly. This upset and then amused me.

During my first class of the day a student tells me a story that greatly amused and then upset me.

Later, not being in the mood for college, I skive off and go to see Anvil: The Story of Anvil with a mate instead. A movie that both upset and amused me.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Mean thoughts I had about a girl I thought looked mean

You might very well be attractive
but your hair
and your skin
look like the same mandarin

You might still be a lovely person,
but the look on your face says otherwise
I think you trample on butterflies

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


"You can read minds?"

During my irregular weekly visit home yesterday my mother noticed my half-finished dinner and sat down to have a chat with me, gently probing as to whether I'm upset about anything. Even, perhaps, trying to ascertain whether her 15 stone son might somehow be masking an eating disorder of some kind.

I had to carefully explain to her my occasional practice of what I like to call 'second lunch', which had yesterday included five slices of Vienna roll and a ready-made pancake. There may be things wrong, here and there, but her little boy's appetite is going nowhere. I had a Snickers later, too.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Trudging slowly over wet sand

"What time is it?" I ask her, with my customary grunt and disgusting throat clear.


Terrific, I've managed to sleep long enough to shake off the hangover I've fully earned through copious pints of Guinness consumed in the horrendously busy Doheny & Nesbitt's whilst watching Ireland thrash England 14-13. The poor love has gone off and done whatever it is she does when she can't sleep any more, while I've farted and dozed my way to comfort.

Snuggles later, I arise, consume a chunk of Toblerone and drive us to Dún Laoghaire. We have the greatest of breakfasts: Eggs Benedict (yeah, I'd never quite known what that was before either, this one was sexy smoked salmon and gorgeously runny poached egg on a bagel) and mascarpone and mixed berries on French toast so heavenly she threatens to leave me for it.

Our scheduled walk is abandoned after a nasty sleet shower catches us off-guard and leaves us dripping and grinning, with one of us smelling a lot like a wet dog. So we do the shopping, with me skittering around the place as annoyingly as ever, suggesting we purchase a Pirates of the Caribbean boom box as she picks up the sensible things, like mushrooms and pro-biotic yoghurt. To amuse me, she leaves me in the biscuit aisle and tells me she'll come back for me in a few minutes, and I can only pick one packet. My quest for the perfect uberbiscuit (shortbread with layers of caramel, marshmallow and chocolate chips with a Jaffa Cake topping) fails, so I insist on four packets. I get my way, she's nice like that.

Back at hers, we while away the rest of the afternoon making stew and watching episodes of The Wire, her head resting on my hip. Snuggles later, we eat the stew and find it to be truly fucking delicious. Glasses of gifted Rioja don't hurt either.

Now she sits watching Lost as I type this (my simpleness and impatience mean I never made it past season 2). We left The Wire at such a critical point that we'll probably have to watch one more episode before hitting the hay, though that will still be early enough. She'll be asleep before me, and she'll deserve to be.

"Every day is like Sunday, every day is silent and grey," Morrissey once sang.

Stephen, you've never met my girlfriend.