Most Peculiar, Mama

“Fairytales do not tell children that dragons exist.

 Children already know that dragons exist.

Fairytales tell children that dragons can be killed.”

  • G.K.Chesterton

Strange days indeed. It’s only a week since the schools closed and we all started working from home. Day by day here in Monaghan , the true centre of the Universe, cafes, bars, restaurants and shops have closed. In the shops that are still open plexiglass screens are appearing to shield counter staff, cash is being refused, 2 metre marks are appearing on the floors to keep us apart while queueing. The roads are quiet. It’s surreal.

Friends who have closed their businesses are volunteering to deliver prescriptions for pharmacies, other friends are offering each other money to tide things over.
We are probably now washing our hands as regularly as we should have been all the time.
After an initial bizarre mad dash for toilet roll there are no queues in any shops here.
Surreal is the new normal, it’s most peculiar , Mama.

My course continues online and through it I’ve had the most wonderful good fortune to meet, virtually, Finbarr Bradley, our lecturer for this part of our course. He preaches the gospel of authenticity, design and place. With our class he is preaching to the choir.

He appears to be the jigsaw piece we didn’t realise we were missing.

Since we started this course I’ve grown to realise that I am indeed a storyteller. To be honest I’d never considered that to really be a proper ‘thing’ before. I do appreciate it now. Bits of it were always there. I wrote this story before , in the week that Bowie passed away and every so often I still bump into someone who says “ Wow ! That story , it’s true isn’t it ? No, don’t tell me. I want it to be true.”

Here it is again, you judge for yourself :

Bowie On The Bus

I’m still surprised at how much the passing of David Bowie has coloured my week. I remember arguing with my school friend , Milo Murray, way back in 1982, on the merits of Bowies latest album, Scary Monsters & Super Creeps, Milo was going through his ‘Eagles’ phase at the time (he’s still stuck there)  and it was a challenge to get him to listen to anything later that 1975. I remember buying two compilation albums , Changes One Bowie, and ….you guessed it, Changes Two Bowie for £5 from Cyril Boylan, smoker of John Player Black and class ‘Dude’. And I remember wearing out the ‘Lets Dance’ album and two sets of needles on the record player.

And I especially remember a bus journey to Galway in 1989…….

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.” I told him.

“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 stood up from his seat , waved and headed down the bus. Three seats away , 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, a packet of Marlboro,  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.


Be careful, be creative, be safe.


P.S. This is Nobody Told Me by John Lennon 

Author: paul

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