It Must Be Love, Or Something

“I left my soul there
Down by the sea
I lost control here
( Morcheeba /The Sea )

 By the time you read this I may be more. My Soul Mate has asked if , for her birthday, we can go for a dawn swim…in October…in Ireland !

I can’t deny her anything, especially on her birthday. I just may not survive a dawn dip in Hollywood Lake, Scotstown , Monaghan, in Ireland…in October.

Initially the plan was to go to Giles Quay, Clogherhead, or Rossnowlagh and I’m not entirely sure why , but the thought of running into the sea was slightly more appealing than jumping into Hollywood Lake…in October. Jumping into Hollywood Lake is terrifying in June. It is an Irish lake , and like all Irish inland waterways defies all normal physical properties of water and is numbingly cold in summer and numbinglier cold in winter.

A few years ago , again at the behest of my Soulmate, we , as a family treat , embarked on a new family Christmas Eve tradition , and took part in a swim for charity in Hollywood. There was frost on the ground and the organisers, wrapped up in coats and drinking coffee , directed that you weren’t allowed wear a wetsuit. We shivered together at the edge of the lake, sharing body heat while we waited for Rory, The Northern Standard photographer to arrive. Eventually we were allowed to swim. Everyone else jumped in straight away, my Soul Mate first among them, and swam the short 25 metres to the jetty to get out. Everyone , except Robyn , our daughter ,and I.

“The sooner you just jump in the sooner it’ll be over.” I said.

“After you.” She said.

“I just want to make sure you’re OK. You first.” I said

“I’m grand. Off you go.” She said.

“Come on , on a count of three, together,” I said.

“Alright, alright.” She said.

“OK. 1. 2.” I said, looking at her to make sure she was going to jump “..3!”

“You didn’t jump !” She said.

“Because you didn’t jump !” I said.

At this point practically everyone else was now out of the water and heading back to get dressed.

“Let’s just do it !” She said.

“OK. 1. 2….” She jumped. “Bugger !” I said and I jumped after her.

I can still remember screaming in terror under the water. I somehow surfaced and then got a new shock , I couldn’t breathe. Some basic survival instinct kicked in and I seemed to be swimming , or thrashing about in the direction of the jetty steps. I then thought I was floating above the lake , looking down on some idiot who was violently fighting with the water, and losing. He looked blue. Wait, that’s me I’m looking at ! Is this an out of body experience ? Does that mean I’m dead ? God I hope I’m dead, it would be warmer. And then I was at the jetty steps waiting for the girl in front to climb out. I was so cold that I could hear a cracking noise and quickly realised that it was water freezing…in my ear !

“Hu-hu-r-r-r-r-y …up !” I stuttered.

She looked back and snapped “I’m going as fast as I can Dad !”

Why’s she calling me Dad ? I was so cold that I had no family, I was no longer human, I was a blue blobby thing with shrinking appendages.
I grabbed the steps. “Sweet Divine JESUS!” how in the name of Jehovah is it possible for something to be colder than me at this point. My hand seemed to be sticking to the steps.

I think I started to pray, but I’d forgotten how. There was a volunteer on the jetty who I think offered to help. He told me later that I barked at him “Don’t touch me !” And then kept saying what he thought was ‘frog’ over and over again. It began with ‘f’, but it wasn’t frog. Interestingly when I was only 2 or three years old Mam took me shopping in Dearey’s on Clanbrassil St., in Dundalk and I spotted some Ladybird pyjamas that had frogs on them and loudly pointed them out to Mam, shouting excitedly “Mam, look, fuck, fuck, fuck !”. Mam still goes red with embarrassment when she tells this story. We never shopped in Dearey’s again.

Now I was out of the water and on the jetty. I cried. I was in such pain from the cold, and I still don’t believe that it is physically possible but I was now colder than I had been in the damn lake.  I hobbled back to my clothes. A small group of people who later transpired to be my family smiled and said ‘Well done’ as I passed. “I died in that lake.” I said. A beautiful lady that it later transpired was my Soul Mate , laughed and said it wasn’t that bad. I told her it was rude to argue with the recently deceased and could she please untie my swimming shorts as my fingers had fused together and become an ice claw.

I slowly got dressed. I couldn’t feel my toes…or anything else. I was like the numbness you get after visiting the dentist…except it was sore…but you didn’t know what ‘it’ was, and ‘it’ was everywhere.

On our way home in the car my Soul Mate was buzzing with excitement and said “Let’s do that every year !”.

“If I live to be 100 I am never, never, never, never, ever going in that lake again. EVER!”

And here we are.

It must be love or something.

In preparation for my demise tomorrow I asked my Soulmate where my wetsuit was.

“Are you wearing your wetsuit ?”

“You’re not wearing yours ?” I asked.

“No.” She said proudly.

“Well then I’m wearing yours and mine.”

She laughed.

It’s no laughing matter.

I died in that lake…or at least my dignity did.

Pray to your gods for me.


P.S. This is ‘Wetsuit’ by The Vaccines

P.P.S. This is the third chapter of the book.

Monaghan,Wednesday, June 25th , 1889
“May I sit down ?” Jake said quietly. He was in shock, completely  dumbfounded.
“Of course, this is your office.” The lady said, smiling. ”Or at least , it will be, one day, I hope.” She laughed. Jake did not. He simply stared at her blankly. After a moment or two he became conscious of the fact that his mouth was open. He coughed and shook his head.
“What is going on ? Is this a dream ? It’s a dream, isn’t it ? Of course it is ! Boy, this one is a doozy, even for me.” He was smiling now, comforted that he wasn’t mad.
“Quite.” The lady said as she rose from her chair and circled the desk to stand in front of Jake, offering her hand. “ Francesca de Vismes Kane, please call me Frankie.”
Jake Shook her hand “ I’m…”
“You are Jacob McKenna, of the Sally McKennas, and I will call you Jake.” She smiled again.
McKenna was a very old Monaghan family name and there were many McKenna families. On certain roads every farm was owned by a McKenna family , so in order to differentiate them locally they each had a nickname, Jake’s family were the Sally McKenna’s and often the McKenna part of the name was not referred to at all.
“This isn’t a dream is it ?” Jake asked.
“How very perceptive you are.” She chided.” There may be some hope for us after all. Look I appreciate that this is all rather strange, but time is pressing. I will explain more later, but there are thin places in this world where many realms can intersect. Sometimes people sense them, at  other times the thin places seek out a particular person. Your hallway is one such place. It sought you out.”
“But why ?” Jake asked.
“Again we’ll explain better later. For now I want you to concentrate on something for me, it is very, very important.”
Jake nodded.
“On your mantlepiece there was a terracotta Sphinx. Where did you get it ?”
“I honestly don’t remember, a second hand shop, or a car boot sale, I think.”
“No, that’s not correct. Think.” She was staring intently at him.
“I really can’t recall.” And even as he said it , it started to come back to him, he felt a wave of sadness crash over him. “ The last day.” He said, so quietly she had to lean closer to hear him.
“The last day ?” she asked.
“The last day I spent with my Granda, Frank. That’s the day I got the Sphinx. I don’t like to talk about it.”
“I know.” She held his hand. “ But it is important, crucially important, that you tell me everything you can about that day.”
He nodded.
It was 1973, we were walking along Park St., here, in Monaghan.
“Frank ! Frank Sally !” the ragged man behind the dirty window was waving frantically at Granda as he hurried past , dragging me by the hand after him. Granda ignored him and we continued up Park Street past Rocks’ book shop and darted quickly into McCague’s Bar.
Granda and I were on one of our regular Saturday visits to Monaghan to see the old farm and his old friends. We lived in Dundalk, thirty miles away, where both Granda and my father worked for Clarkes, the green box shoe company. I was six years old and his eldest grandchild.
I asked innocently, “ Who was that dirty man, Granda?”.
“Never mind ,Jake, never mind. Would you like something to drink ?”
“Coke please, Granda.”
The bar was empty except for the barman, he nodded at Granda, “What can I get you Frank ?”. “Stout and a Powers, and a Coke for my grandson.” Granda replied cheerfully.
“Sorry Frank, we don’t have any minerals, we don’t get much call for it.” McCagues was a no nonsense public house, seven day license, pints of Guinness, bottles of Harp and ten types of whiskey.
Granda looked back at me, turned to the barman , “What do you serve the women ?”.
“White wine.”
“Give him a small one of those in a shot glass.”
Granda took the drinks to our table, “No Coke.”  He handed me the wine. It looked like petrol. Granda looked at me expectantly. He’d already had a sip of his Power’s, waiting for his stout to settle. I raised the glass to my lips, it smelt funny. I took a sip and spat it out over the formica table top. The barman laughed and came over with a wet rag to wipe the table and a consolation packet of King Pub crisps for me. Granda smiled and sipped his stout.
“Who was the man in the dirty window, Granda ?”, for a six year old , I was persistent, and confident as his first grandchild that he wouldn’t be too angry and would always answer, eventually.
The barman heard me.  “Hughie the Buck ? Did you not take him in Frank ? He’s always great for card tricks for the kids.”
“You’ll have this bar back to yourself in a minute, until then you’d do well to mind your manners.” Granda snapped. The barman shuffled hurriedly back to his side of the counter and busied himself reading the paper. Granda turned to me and smiled.
“Now Jake, the man in the window is a strange chap , full of mad strange stories and everyone thinks that he is a harmless old fool, much like myself. But he cheated my brother Owen and stole from us and I will never talk to him, ever.”
“He stole your money ?”  I asked. Granda leaned in closer to me, I could smell the earthy Power’s .
“Many years before you were born my brother Owen and I opened a bicycle shop here on this street, just next door to where you’re sitting. Owen worked in the shop and I worked in Clarkes. Everything was going well and then one day I got a letter from Owen , it had an English stamp on it. Owen had lost the shop to Hughie The Buck. He rambled on in the letter about how sorry he was , that he couldn’t face me, it was all gone, Hughie took it.”
Granda had a wistful far away look in his eye and no longer seemed to be telling the tale for my benefit. He continued.
“I drove here as soon as I got the letter and confronted Hughie. He asked me what Owen had said, I told him and he said that he had, in fact, ‘helped’ Owen, but wouldn’t say how. I told him I’d get even with him, that Owen had left the country and wouldn’t come home. He told me some cock and bull story that he’d saved Owen from himself and that when I met Owen again that all I had to do was ask Owen what happened and that he was always a friend to the Sallys. He said that Owen was in with a bad sort , gambling , closing the shop earlier and earlier every day. He said that he’d saved him from himself.
I stormed out sooner than do something I’d be arrested for, Hughie was forever talking in riddles and rhymes, the fool. And I’ve never spoken to him since.” Granda took a gulp of his stout and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He looked a little tired, but seemed to be aware of my presence again.
“Granda, who’s Owen, and who are the Sally’s?” I asked wide eyed.
“My God , doesn’t your mother tell you anything? Owen was my brother, your grand uncle, you never met him, he passed away the August after you were born. He was killed in a hit and run accident in London. And we are the Sallys.”
But I thought you were McKenna’s?
“ Because there were so many McKenna families all around the farm they were given nicknames. We had the Fats, Red Barneys, Roes and Pat Andys as neighbours, all McKennas.
All of this went over my head.
“Granda, can we go to Catherine and Lizzies now? “
Catherine and Lizzie were two widowed sisters and cousins of Granda’s. They were lovely old ladies and fussed over me like I was a new puppy and fed me like it was going out of fashion. I loved going to their house. Their farm was about a mile from Dernasell, Granda’s farm.
“OK, Jake. We just have to stop at the farm to check something first.” He threw down the last of the stout.
We left the bar, returning to Granda’s car, a pointy Ford Anglia, on the opposite side of street. I sneaked a peak over at the dirty window of Hughie the Buck’s shop and saw him smile back and wave.
We drove out the Ballinode Road to Mullaghamore crossroads and then turned right at the ‘Two Trees’ , passed Cornagilta School, where Granda had gone whene was my age, before eventually turning onto an even narrower road that led the last mile to Dernasell.
Dernasell was a small farm near Scotstown village at the foot of the Bragan mountains, and it had been in Granda’s family for longer than he could remember. It was only 35 acres, but walking it as a small boy, and coming from my terraced house in Market Street in Dundalk with no garden , front or back, it was bigger than Texas.
Up the lane was the farmhouse. No one lived there now, there was hardly any furniture. The farmhouse was a small single story building consisting of three rooms, a small bedroom immediately across from the front door, a larger kitchen /parlour to the left with a door out the back to the farmyard, and another room the other side of the middle room that had been partitioned with a wooden wall to make a fourth room,  another bedroom. This room was dominated by a large ornate wooden mantel piece frame that seemed to have hundreds of little mirrors in it. This is the house that Granda grew up in.
Behind this house there was a long narrow whitewashed building now used as a cow shed, but it had once been two houses where Granda’s  own grandfather had lived.
Whenever we came to the farm on our Saturday visit we usually strolled around the farm, checking gates and fences, sometimes there were some cattle , 10 or 12 , that Granda would buy as calves and fatten up over the summer  and sell in the Autumn.
Today we just went into the farmhouse , Granda checked all of the windows and doors, he went into the parlour and opened the old press beside the range. All I could see were bundles and rolls of musty smelling old newspapers. Granda took a small bundle to the table and slowly unwrapped the yellowing newspapers to reveal a small terracotta Sphinx. He handed it to me gently and I took it carefully , felt how smooth it’s back was. It fely very old and very powerful. I handed it back to Granda. “It’s yours now. We’ll keep it here, our secret.” He rewrapped it in the newspapers and placed it back on the shelf, closed the doors, smiled down at me and said :
“C’mon, let’s go see the girls.”
We drove excitedly to Lizzie and Catherine’s house. They fussed over Granda as much as they fussed over me. We had tea, lemonade, cake, scones, and biscuits out of a tin. They brought out the best china for us. We were kings and we were never in a hurry to leave.
Usually at some point in our visit to ‘the girls’ I’d help Lizzie feed the calves out the back in one of the sheds. I’d carry the bucket for Lizzie , it took both hands , and I probably spilt more than I carried , but while helping Lizzie would call me her ‘wee man’ and I felt ten feet tall. The calves were all in a pen and rushed to the grate at the front when they heard Lizzie’s voice. My eyes were about level with the calves’ as I helped feed them and they were only inches away, deepest pools of brown.
                                                   After we fed the calves we walked up to one of the back fields to check on some trees that they had planted to repair a gap in a hedge. I held hands with Lizzie as we walked and we each held a stick in our free hands to whip the heads of nettles, thistles and anything else that got in our way.
“What did you do today ‘wee man’ before here?”.
“We went to Dernasell, we were in a pub and we did messages in the town.”
“Did anything strange or wonderful happen ?” Lizzie joked.
“Yes, the magic man that stole Owen from Granda waved at us but Granda wouldn’t speak to him.”
Lizzie froze, she dropped my hand and the stick.
I knew I’d done something wrong. “Lizzie, Lizzie, I’m sorry.” I picked up her stick and tried to hand it back to her. She stared blankly at me for a moment before coming too.
“It’s ok ‘wee man’, you didn’t do anything, I just got a shock. I haven’t heard Owen’s name since….. in such a long time. Such a long , long time.” She smiled sadly.” Your Granda has a funny way of putting things sometimes. C’mon let’s see the new trees.”
We carried on as if nothing had happened and returned to cropping the heads of all flora and fauna that dared cross our paths. We checked the new trees, made sure that the rabbits and cows couldn’t get at them and then headed back to the house.
Granda had a small glass of whiskey in front of him when we got back and Catherine was in the kitchen making our tea, fried potatoes and rashers.  Lizzie asked me to go and get the bucket from the calf shed and she sat down with Granda.
On my way back to the kitchen I could hear Granda and Lizzie talking loudly, they weren’t shouting, but were certainly more animated with each other than I was used too. I stopped outside , I was afraid to go in.
“Frank, you can’t go round saying that Hughie had anything to do with what happened to Owen.  God knows it was bad enough without dragging Hughie into it.” It was Lizzie talking, “ Owen got himself into trouble, and you know damn well that if Hughie hadn’t intervened Owen wouldn’t have lived long enough to get to Castleblayney, let alone London.” She sounded exasperated.
“Owen told me that Hughie took everything from him….”
Lizzie cut him short.
“Owen wrote you a letter in the depths of despair trying to excuse losing the shop and would have blamed anyone. He couldn’t face you or the truth.”
Granda raised his voice, “ You will not speak to me about Owen again. I will not trouble you a moment longer.”  I saw the back door open. Granda stormed out, grabbed me by the hand and marched towards the car. Lizzie and Catherine raced after us. “Frank, please, come back. Frank!”
Granda furiously grappled with the door of the car. “Frank, stop. Lizzie is sorry.” Catherine had his attention. “C’mon Frank, for the boy, come back in and have your tea. Lizzie ?” She looked at Lizzie.
“I’m sorry Frank, I had no right. Come back……..for the boy.”
I was staring wide eyed from face to face at all of these lovely people that had only ever talked so kindly to each other. I had never seen Granda upset before, and this now made twice in as many hours.
“OK Catherine. OK Lizzie, I’m sorry too………”
And that was it .
We went back into the house, we had our tea, they talked about everything and anything, neighbours, relatives, none of whom I knew. They laughed and joked just like always. At  seven o’clock Granda stood up and said that we’d better be leaving, that I’d be asleep before we got home.
I remember waving to the girls as we drove away and chatting to Granda about the farm and then as we passed the turn at the Two Trees……”
Jakes voice trailed off. He said nothing for a moment.” As we passed the turn at the Two Trees there was an accident. Something, a lorry I think, crashed into us. I don’t remember, I was told later when I woke up in hospital, that someone had crashed into us and driven away. Granda was… Granda was dead. A lady on a motorbike came upon the scene and took me to the hospital and once they knew I wasn’t in any danger she left, we never found out who it was, never got a chance to say Thank you.”
“You’re welcome Jake.” Frankie said.

Author: paul

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