I Held Your Hand

“And when you ran to me
Your cheeks flushed with the night
We walked on frosted fields
of juniper and lamplight
I held your hand”

  • Paul Simon

“That’s the first time.” My Soulmate said.

“What is ?” I asked.

“That’s the first time we’ve ever driven through Tang without you telling me about the Battle of Tang Church.” And before I answered, she continued, “You’re worried about Thursday. We’ll get through anything.” And then she reached for my hand and held it … until she had to change gear to overtake a tractor!

We were on our way back from Galway, after a flying visit to see Jake, and yes, Thursday was on my mind. On Thursday I was due to meet my consultant to see what the next steps will be after the Chemolympics.

 I thought about the first time I’d met my consultant, back in the heady days of March, and she asked if I’d ever had surgery before.

“I had a vasectomy 17 years ago.”

“I meant major surgery.” She replied.

“It was pretty major to me!”

But this time my Soulmate would be with me…

I am, it’s fair to say, a big fat scaredy cat,

Things that terrify me, not in order, are :

Horror movies – Ever since Fr.Martin showed us the movie ‘Black Christmas’, by accident, when I was 13, in second year in St.Macartan’s College, I cannot watch horror movies. Fr.Martin started the film and then went outside for a smoke and a snooze. I sat there transfixed as the college girls in a house were picked off one by one by a killer…who was inside the house ! Later in life, when I thought that this was simply a childhood fear, I watched The Exorcist…it did not end well.

Bats – my Granny, who everyone called Nanny, told us stories of bats getting caught in your hair and having to be cut out. Bats have terrified me since. Especially the one that made it’s way into our house when Jake was four. He came into our bedroom in the middle of the night saying that there was something in his room. I took him by the hand back to bed, put on the light to show him there was nothing there, and waited until he settled back to sleep. Then when I left his room I was dive bombed by a bat in the hall. I fell to the floor and remained there for several minutes until my Soulmate came and rescued me / told me to get up and get rid of the bat. Took me a terrifying hour, and a large towel to catch it.

Dentists – obviously!

The Leaving Cert’. – This is a state exam that everyone in Ireland does at the end of secondary school, and the results of which determine what college course you can do. It’s like the A-Levels in the UK, only harder! I still remember the morning of the first exam, which is still English -Paper 1, sitting at my allotted desk in the study hall, checking and rechecking that all 5 of my pens actually worked, and praying as we waited to turn over the paper…

The yellow sauce Mam used to put on smoked cod on a Friday.

Quicksand – Thanks to Tarzan and Westerns, I was convinced that quicksand was everywhere, and waiting to consume me, and that I had no chance of survival, as I didn’t own a monkey to throw me a vine, or have Champion The Wonder Horse to pull me out with the reins!

Rollercoasters – Not just rollerercoasters, all fairground rides. When I first went out with my Soulmate, Cullens Funfair visited Monaghan and we went. I happily bought her candyfloss, went on the bumping cars, and without a moment’s hesitation, said ‘Yes, I will go with you on this giant metal wheel thing with egg shaped cages that we sit in together.’ We sat in the egg shaped thing together, and while it was still level with the ground, the nice man who had, only moments before, settled us into it , making sure that the rusty bar jammed against our thighs was secure, spun it , sending it and us head over heels. My glasses fell off, and all of the change fell out of my pockets, and was now intermittently hitting us like shrapnel, on each revolution. And that was before the giant wheel started to move. This now meant that when your cage got to the top it started to spin backwards. I screamed. She held my hand…and caught my glasses. She was a keeper!

Buying lingerie – When a relationship starts , or at any point during it, the simple, fun, romantic and non-threatening gifts of choice are flowers, chocolates and……well, flowers and chocolates basically. But at another point the seemingly ‘natural’ progression is that the male buys the female lingerie for St. Valentine’s Day. This is a relatively easy process these days with even Lidl getting in on the act, selling delightful lacy teddies for €8.99 beside their frozen whole lobster (€9.99 ) and their ‘I can’t believe it’s not Kellogs’ Quornflakes (€1.99). Today buying lingerie is a relatively anonymous affair.

This was not the case in Monaghan, or anywhere else in Ireland , in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I distinctly remember St.Valentine’s Day in 1994, the year Gossard launched the push up Wonderbra and you could not, and didn’t want to, avoid  the famous ‘Hello Boys’ adverts featuring  Eva Herzigova. These ads were so ubiquitous that they even made the front window of Charlie McNally’s shop in The Diamond, Monaghan.

This was a cruel twist of fate. The thought of buying lingerie, in Monaghan, was intimidating enough but the fact that the lingerie department in Charlie McNally’s was ‘policed’ by Mrs.McNally herself, who played golf with your mother……and your future mother-in-law…. made it doubly so.

Charlie McNallys was not an option.

Thankfully Dublin and anonymity were only a £5 return ticket away on Pat Joe McConnon’s bus. The bus pulled up on O’Connell St. beside The Gresham at 10.15am on a Saturday and the first stop was always Burger King. Up until 1996 there were two Burger Kings and three McDonalds in the whole island of Ireland and they were all in Dublin.

So, fed and watered by the good people of Burger King I steeled myself for the journey ahead, to the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre and Ireland’s one and only Knickerbox. I’d heard of Knickerbox from my friends, the two Fintans ( Hamill and O’Donnell ) who were always more worldly, and allegedly, wise  than I was.

And so I trudged past Clery’s department store with a whole window of Eva and her push ups, over the bridge, round Trinity and past Switzers and Brown Thomas department stores, both with heart shaped windows and , not only WonderBra’s, but whole ranges of corsets , bodices and what looked like bridles…but I couldn’t be sure ….on I soldiered to the top of Grafton St and the Green.

I was in such a hurry that I actually walked past the entrance to Knickerbox and had to double back. I stood, agog, staring at a forest of pink, shiny and flowery things. I needed another coffee. I had two more coffees.

I walked into the shop and blushed immediately. There were three girls working in the shop and one other customer, a brazen lady who was holding various accoutrements against herself as she swayed gently in front of the mirror. I was transfixed.

“Can I help you at all ?” a voice behind me asked.

I nearly fainted, I went an even brighter shade of pink and stammered “Just looking….” to which she smiled and nodding in the direction of the lady in front of the mirror replied “I can see that”. She went back to the counter and obviously motioned something hilarious to her co-workers as they both laughed out loud. I was tempted to turn and flee and spend my money in an honest to god regular shop like Golden Discs…….but I was on a holy mission, a noble quest , a rite of passage….

I continued to roam around the shop , looking at my feet, not touching anything, and avoiding the lady in front of the mirror and all the staff.

Eventually I must have hovered in front of a particular rail long enough for the same member of staff to approach again and offer assistance. “ I’d like this set please “ I said with a certain degree of conviction motioning towards , what I thought was a lovely , flowery, shiny bra and knicker combo. “Seriously ?” she replied “ are you buying these for your girlfriend or your sister ?”

“I don’t have a sister”

“Obviously.” she smiled “These would be a suitable present for an old aunty or perhaps if there’s a nun in the family. I’d recommend these instead.” She motioned to a set of plain black silky set of what I later found out to be French knickers and bra. “Don’t they come in other colours ?”

“Yes, but you, and more importantly the poor girl, don’t want any other colour.”

“OK, I’ll take them” I said. We now faced the next horrific hurdle.

“What size is she ?”

I started to make the international mime for “ I’m a tiger” and she recoiled in horror saying “Whoa there Casanova ! You can just tell me if she’s bigger or smaller than I am.”

“Smaller” I whispered.

We made our way to the till. “Would like them gift wrapped ?”  she asked, “Yes please” I replied hurriedly in a whisper. My will had been crushed by this experience and I just wanted to go home.

She proceeded to wrap the dainty little things, which laid flat and neatly folded would fit in a standard envelope, in  enough pink tissue paper  to make even a Kardashian say “That’s excessive”, and then place the whole thing in a box big enough to contain a child’s three wheeled bike. This , in turn was placed in a tent shaped bag emblazoned with ‘Knickerbox’ in foot high silver script.

The lady handed me the bag, took my money and , through teeth she had to clench to avoid laughing in my face, she mumbled ‘Good Luck ‘ . I took the bag and as I turned to leave I’m sure I heard her say “ God help her”.

In my hurry to complete my mission I hadn’t factored in what I was going to do now with this enormous parcel for the rest of the day. It was now noon and McConnon’s first bus back didn’t leave from Parnell Square until 5.15 pm. I decided to go for lunch in Murphy Doodles , bought a copy of The Phoenix magazine and made my lasagne last for a good hour before making my way back out into the rain. I got back across the bridge and went into Eason’s to get a card. They were all spectacularly hideous. I bought a packet of blank cards and a packet of markers and decided to make my own.

It was now teeming rain and I was concerned of the effect it would have on my large , flimsy cardboard box and the Kardashian quantity of pink tissue paper inside. I headed up to Parnell Square on the off chance that the bus would be there early. It was.  The driver was asleep inside , I knocked on the door and he opened it, the box would just about fit in. Safe at last!

I sat the parcel safely beside me, taking up a whole seat on its own, and I threw my anorak over it, both to protect it and more importantly , hide it. I diligently set to work with my markers making a card. I was so engrossed in this that I hardly noticed the bus fill up. Eventually all the seats were filled , but I hadn’t had to move my parcel. And then , just as the bus was about to pull off, she climbed aboard…..Mrs.McNally. She made her way down the bus , smiling and nodding to people she knew…she knew everyone….before stopping in the aisle beside me and the only seat not occupied by a person. “Hello Paul” she said smiling.”Mrs.McNally” I replied as I went to slide over, lifting the parcel on to my knee so that she had room to sit down. The anorak slipped. She stopped for a half second, half in the aisle, half sitting, staring at my giant “KNICKERBOX” bag.

She sat down and I hurriedly covered up the parcel again.

She smiled “Did you get yourself anything nice ?”.

“Yes, they had a special offer on socks….I bought the lot.”

She laughed.

We eventually made it home and I somehow managed to get the present and card to my Soulmate without any further interference.

On Valentines’ night we went for dinner in Andy’s Restaurant and by the time the main course was finished there had been no mention of the ‘present’. I couldn’t wait any longer. “What did you think of your present ?”

She leaned across the table took my hand in hers , held my gaze lovingly  and said “I absolutely love the card.”

“And what about…..”

 She squeezed my hand a little too hard “ I absolutely loved the CARD.”

“So you’re not actually wear…….” I yelped as she crushed my hand.

“Loved the CARD.”

The attic door –  see horror movies above.

First Confession – You make your first confession before your first holy communion in the Catholic church. This occurs when you’re around 7 years old. You are ‘prepared’ for it at school by your teacher. My teacher in the CBS Dundalk was Mr.Power. Our preparation for confession involved him lighting a candle on his desk and offering us 50p, a King’s ransom in 1974 when a packet of crisps was 3p, if we could hold our open palm a few inches above the flame for a minute. Three boys tried, lasting 10 or so seconds each, allowing Mr.Power to pontificate “If you can’t stand the candle flame for a minute , how will you face an eternity in hell ? Tell the truth in your confession !!!” Mr.Power was not a fan of Vatican II.

And so we were trooped over to St.Patrick’s Cathedral and waited in pews to take our turn entering the wooden box , then kneeling down and facing the metal grill, the other side of which sat a faceless priest , ready to hear your sins.

As we were 7 we didn’t really have any sins worth mentioning, but Mr.Power had helpfully given us a few suggestions, ‘evil thoughts’ figuring highly.

The wooden divider behind the metal grill slid back suddenly and a Sweet Afton flavoured breath whispered , “Your confession ?”

This caught me completely by surprise and I immediately forgot everything Mr.Power had taught us.

“Have you any sins to confess ?” Sweet Afton asked again, a little less gently this time.

I wracked my brain trying to think of anything to say…and latched onto the Ten Commandments…I couldn’t actually remember any of them, but I knew there were 10, so I stammered out “I broke the ninth commandment !”

There was a muffled laugh/snort from Sweet Afton and he asked “You coveted your neighbour’s wife  ?”

“Yes Father.”

“Do you know what ‘covet’ means ?”

“No Father.”

“Who’s your neighbour’s wife ?”

“Mrs Ryan, Father.”

“God Bless her. Say three Hail Mary’s for your penance, and never tell anyone about this confession…and thank you, best confession of the night !”

Thursday came. My Soulmate and I sat in front of Ms.Little as she outlined what would happen during the operation , best and worst case scenarios. Major surgery could possibly be major major surgery. I stole a glance at my Soulmate, she was looking at me, not Ms.Little.

She reached over and held my hand.

Nearly there.



Author: paul

1 thought on “I Held Your Hand

  1. Paul,
    I’m laughing out loud at your wonderful story telling as I lie here way past getting up time. My sister Clare sent a link on the family chat this morning so you may well get a flurry of McCoy & associates signing up to enjoy your regaling and ongoing experiences.
    I was one of the crew that Eileen met up with in Clogherhead the other night. It was lovely and those raspberry brownies were the biz especially with a large glug of cream.
    Wishing you the best on this journey. It’s very tough but it opens you up to a whole new perspective on life that you otherwise may have missed out on. Probably one you’d readily sacrifice to be back in normal mode but trust you’ll be back there minus some body parts before too long. There’s plenty of us sending positive healing vibes your way especially now we’re signed up for this blog!! It’s too good to end!
    I wish you the very best and thank you for sharing your stories.
    Mairead (McCoy) Syed

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