And Thank You

“Giving second chances
I don’t need all the answers
Feeling good in my skin
I just keep on dancin’
And if we’re here long enough
We’ll see it’s all for us
And we’ll belong”

  • Juber/Bhasker/Styles ‘Treat People With Kindness’

This week , for the first time in ages, we had to start doing volunteer deliveries for local pharmacies again due to the lockdown and local outbreaks. Last year doing these deliveries, in the good weather, everyone seemed to be in good spirits, and were smiling as we called, and we all had the impression that we were just being cautious but that we’d be OK. This time everyone seems genuinely scared. Doors are opened reluctantly, if they are opened at all, sometimes we just get a shout to leave it on the doorstep. But, always, always, as we turn back to our cars we hear another shout “ And thank you !”. And that makes all of the difference.

Last night , it was bitterly cold, we’d got a few late calls to do some deliveries. I arrived at the first house, there was a light on in the sitting room, the tv was on. I hopped out of the car and knocked on the door. No answer. There was a porch with a locked sliding door, the front door with the bell was the other side of it. I knocked again. No answer. I knocked on the window of the sitting room. No answer. Minutes pass with intermittent knocking of doors and windows. No answer.

I rang the pharmacy to get a phone number for the person whose house I was standing at. The lady who answered in the pharmacy was concerned about giving me the phone number due to GDPR considerations.
“It’s -2 degrees, it’s dark, it’s 6pm, I have 5 more deliveries to do tonight FOR YOU , and you have GDPR concerns ?!?!”
I don’t say that.
I say “OK, yes I understand. Perhaps you could call them for me then…oh wait, never mind , I see someone now. ”

There’s a lady at the sitting room window, looking scared. This puzzles me for a moment until I realise that she’s looking out into the dark and all she can see is a stranger wearing a mask and a rather fetching beanie. I hold up the pharmacy bag, she relaxes and nods. She makes her way to the front door and opens it , standing well back and trying to put on a mask. She motions to me to put the parcel on the floor of the hall , just inside the door, which I do and then I step back.

“I thought you’d never get here !” she says.

“I’ve been here a while, there was no answer.”

“What ?” she says.

“I’ve been here a while, there was no answer.” I say again.

“What ?” she says.

“I’ve been here for 15 minutes, knocking on your doors and windows, in the cold , it’s -2 degrees, it’s dark, it’s 6pm, I have 5 more deliveries to do tonight.”

“What ?” she says.

“ I’m sorry I was late.”

“It’s OK, I’m sure you’re busy, I won’t complain to your boss, don’t worry.” She says.

“Are you kidding me ??? I’m a volunteer ! It’s -2 degrees, it’s dark, it’s 6pm, I have 5 more deliveries to do !” I snort through my mask.

“What ?” she says.

“That’s very kind of you I say.”

“Don’t mention it.” She says, she nods and closes the door.

I am fucking LIVID ! The snow and ice is melting beneath my feet I am that incandescent with frustration.

“And thank you !” she shouts from behind the closed front door.

And all is right with the world again.

When the kids were younger my Soulmate would often send them into town with me to make sure I only bought what I’d been sent in for, and in case I came back with a bag of magic beans. One day Robyn asked why did everyone smile, nod , or say hello to me. How did I know them all , or was I famous.
And I told her that they were all smiling, nodding or saying hello, because I’d smiled, nodded or said hello to them first.
“Why ?“ she asked.
Because someone might smile, nod, or say hello back.
At times when I’ve been at my lowest, had the world on my shoulders, consumed by worries, real and imaginary, a random smile, nod or hello saved me from myself.
On the off chance that a smile, nod or hello from me could ever have that effect on anyone else I’ve always done it.
Always will.
So to the many people that have smiled, nodded or said hello to me and thought nothing of it I’d like to say that you may have saved me that day.
And thank you.

P.S. This is Harry Style’s “Treat People With Kindness ” 

P.P.S. And as this is David Bowie’s birthday it’s my annual excuse to share the story of the time I met him on the bus to Galway 

Bowie On The Bus

In 1989 the only way for a madly besotted boy without a car, or horse, to get to Galway was by the CIE bus. The journey took between 3 and 4 hours depending on whether you got the Express or the regular service and whether the cattle mart  was taking place in Granard. The bus, even the express, stopped in Cavan, Longford and Athlone on the way for periods of 10 to 20 minutes each time , waiting for connecting services. It was a long journey.

My Soulmate was working in Galway in the cutting edge Ken Wakefield Hair Emporium and as often as I could I’d travel by bus to see her for the weekend. The only thing worse than the bus journey there was the broken hearted journey home on the Sunday night, which seemed to take even longer.

I am also a notoriously bad traveller. Even today if we’re travelling anywhere I have to drive, I can get motion sickness on an escalator. This meant that reading was not an option on the bus so to pass the time I’d borrow my brother’s Sony Walkman and listen to compilation tapes the whole way over.

The Maxell C60 cassette was the tape of choice. It wouldn’t spool out too often, it was the right length, the C90 had a habit of draining the batteries on the Walkman which made Lou Reed sound even more mournful than normal, and the cover could be used to write out your track list.

This compilation was 60 minutes exactly :
The Blades – Downmarket
The  Pogues – A Pair Of Brown Eyes
David Bowie – Scary Monsters & Super Creeps
Lou Reed – Perfect Day
Everything But The Girl – I don’t want to talk about it
New Order – Thieves Like Us
Sinead O’Connor – Troy
The Pixies – Monkey Gone To Heaven
David Bowie – China Girl
Stiff Little Fingers – Alternative Ulster
Van Morrison – Coney Island
David Bowie & Queen – Under Pressure
The Waterboys – Trumpets
Simple Minds – Let It All Come Down
The Police – Can’t Stand Losing You

On this particular occasion, it was around HallowE’en ’89 I was on the bus sitting over a wheel arch , against the window , looking out at the belting rain as we meandered out of Cavan.  I was listening to the Walkman on my headphones with my rucksack and the cassette box  in the empty seat beside me.

We must have hit a pothole , as I woke with a jolt to discover that someone was sitting next to me with my rucksack on their knee and had taken the inlay card out of the cassette box and was looking through the listing with a red pen in his hand and laughing quietly to himself.

I grabbed the bag and looked at him indignantly. He smiled a crooked smile and said “Sorry mate, I didn’t want to wake you and then I couldn’t help myself. Did you put this together yourself ?”

“Yes I did “ I snapped, waiting for some snarky comment, but he simply  said “Cool” in an English accent.

He was wearing a long black tweed coat with the collar up, a flat black peaked cap, he had a decent beard and most noticeably he had a patch over his left eye. His right eye was a startling other-worldly blue. He held out his hand , “David Jones, friends call me Patch, pleased to meet you.”

“My name’s Paul, pleased to meet you too, Patch.”

“That’s some eclectic mix you have there Paul.”

He seemed old to me, not just in the way that everyone over 30 seems ‘old’ to everyone under 30, but maybe because of the coat, hat and eye patch, so I assumed that he wouldn’t have heard of most of the bands.

“Do you know any of them ?”

He smiled and said “I know all of them”.
“Really ? Even ‘The Blades ‘ ?” The Blades were fading from view here and I wasn’t sure if they’d ever released any singles in England ,and  I couldn’t for a second imagine my Dad knowing who they were.

“Yes, but I don’t think they were ever the same after Pat Larkin left.”

I was impressed.  “Which do you like the best ?” I asked .

“Lou Reed, The Pixies, The Pogues and Sinead.”

“I thought you’d have picked Van Morrison.”

“Because I’m old?” he replied mock indignantly.

“No, I meant……..well…yes.”

“Never judge a book by it’s cover, my young man. And in any case how can you really listen to anyone that’s recorded with Cliff Richard ? “

He put his hand inside his coat and took out a packet of Marlboro’ and offered me one. “You’re not allowed to smoke on the buses anymore. They changed the law last year.”

“Live a little” he smiled ”If anyone says anything  we’ll say we’re tourists……in German.”
I laughed as I took one.

“Have you seen any of these bands live ?” he asked.

“Yes, I’ve seen them all , except Lou Reed, Stiff Little Fingers and David Bowie.”

“That’s very impressive. Why haven’t you seen those three ?”

“Well, Lou Reed isn’t touring and hasn’t toured since I was 7, so I haven’t had the chance and  Stiff Little Fingers, I’d be afraid of getting my head handed to me.”

“And David Bowie, you’ve three of his songs on this tape ? How come you haven’t seen him ?”

“I don’t want to actually see him, ever.”

“Why ??”

“Well, some people say that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, that they will never measure up, that they couldn’t possibly match the ideal that you have created around them. I don’t want to burst that bubble. Have you seen any of them live?

“I’ve seen them all except Sinead O’Connor, but I will see her soon. I know what you mean, but then sometimes they could be even greater than you could have wished.”

“Wow. Who did you see that was even greater then you could have hoped ?”

“John Lennon, genius.”

“When did you see The Beatles ?”

“I didn’t , just him in 1975 in New York. One of a kind.”

“Were you close to the stage ?”

“I didn’t actually see him in concert, I met him, person to person, same as you and me….just not on a bus….in……where are we now ?”

“Athlone. Get out of town ! You met John Lennon ??”

“Why not ? You will live a long time, travel far and meet and help people throughout your life without even realising it . Everyone does.”

“ Wow, John Lennon ? What did you talk about ?”

“Music , just like us. In fact we ended up writing a song, but it didn’t get very far.”

I looked at him again. It was that bright blue eye, the crooked teeth. It couldn’t be ? Could it ? David Bowie wrote “Fame” with John Lennon in the Seventies.
I was about to ask him when he said “So , my young friend where are we off to ?”

“Galway, to see my girlfriend.”

“Serious ?”


“Lucky guy. If that’s true, cherish it. Not everyone gets that chance. I’ll be getting off at the next stop, can I ask you one more thing ?”

Sure, what ?

“You have three Bowie songs on there, he’s your hero. So what did you think of Tin Machine ?”

“ I only liked two of their songs ‘Working Class Hero” and “If There Is Something”

“They’re both cover versions ! One’s by Lennon, the other’s Roxy Music.”

“Exactly !”

He seemed a little disgruntled, but only for a moment. He smiled again and said

 “ If you were here with your hero right now what would you love to ask him ?”

“I’d ask him if there a whole story in his head about “The Wild Eyed Boy From Free Cloud” ? And if I wrote a whole story about it would he write another song for it ?”

“ That’s a good question. I’m sure he’d say yes.”

He turned and lifted up his patch and winked with his large brown eye.

The bus hit another pothole and I woke to find the bus pulling into Galway station. The seat beside me was empty except for my rucksack and the cassette box sitting on top with the inlay card poking out of it. I lazily picked it up and saw that someone had ‘corrected’ my track listing in red pen ! There were approving ticks beside all of the tracks, except Alternative Ulster, Coney Island and Can’t Stand Losing you, which all had an  ‘x’ beside them. The Van Morrison track also had ‘Loser’ written beside it. And in capitals at the bottom was this :


Sweet dreams, Starman.

Author: paul

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