Once Upon A Story

“Is it the time, is it the time to be okay?
‘Cause I’m thinking that it should be the time
Is it the time to be okay?

James Vincent McMorrow

Not everyone gets to tell their story.

Not everyone wants to tell their story.

I do.

I’m very fortunate in storytelling terms in many ways. I was encouraged at school by Brother McCabe, and later by Mr.Lee whenever we wrote essays. And I have this wonderful medium every Friday where you , yes you , let me write whatever I want and you take the time to read it and sometimes you reply , or I bump into you somewhere and you tell me that you laughed, or cried, or told someone else about what I’d written and I walk around ten feet tall for the rest of the day.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, I am also afforded the wonderful opportunity every so often by Paul Doran at Ten X 9 in Belfast to tell a wee story to the most gorgeous, welcoming, forgiving and all embracing crowd ever in the Blackbox theatre in Belfast on the last Wednesday of every month.

If you ever felt that you wanted to tell a story Ten X 9 is the place to go. Paul sets a theme each month and there is an open invitation to anyone to come along and tell their story for 10 minutes knowing that the crowd are predisposed to like you and your story before you say anything. Paul selects 9 people each month, and helps them with the length and pace of their story in advance.

It is storytelling heaven.

The other great thing about Ten X 9 is that you get to stay with Richard and Joan, have a great dinner and many , many glasses of wine. Unfortunately , although Richard and Joan are two of the most generous souls that anyone would ever be fortunate enough to meet, this generosity extends to me and my Soulmate, not to everyone who speaks at Ten X 9.

One of the best things about becoming friends with Richard was that we got to become friends with Joan. And the next best thing was that they introduced me to Ten X9 and now it’s a treat to go there, tell a story and spend a wonderful evening with my treasured friends…and Richard!

This week’s Ten X9 was the usual mix of first timers and some regulars, nine people all telling a 10 minute true story on the theme “Bad”, neatly broken up in batches of three so you can get to the bar. This week’s stories ranged from the 1958 All Ireland Final, corporal punishment, the best worst wedding band experiences, a lesbian’s gaze at a male model in an art class, love lost, found and buried again, Gaeltacht shame, losing loved ones, dark secrets and bellyaching laughter.

The next morning we woke up in Bangor and my Soulmate, a regular dipper, having been told by me, that Richard and Joan swam in the sea every morning, insisted that we put on our swim gear andgo for a dip with them before breakfast. We went down to the kitchen in our bathing suits to discover a fully clad Richard and Joan making our breakfast and showing no signs of joining us for a dip.

“We only do that in the summer.” Richard said.

“And the tides out, you’d need to walk halfway across the bay to Carrickfergus to get your knees wet.” Joan added.

But the togs were on and we were getting wet, even if we had to roll in the shallows. We waddled towards the sea. Richard and Joan, clad in their Rab Microlight Alpine Down Insulated Jackets accompanied us to their gate.

Richard stood at the gate, dressed in his Rab Microlight Alpine Down Insulated Jacket, and because I was wearing gloves and bootees, said I was one of those softy swimmers. He’s funny like that.

My Soulmate went ahead of me, gliding effortlessly through the shoals, while I trudged, listening to Richard’s encouragement…”Hurry up ! I’m getting cold !”.

We went out further, she smiled at me , held my hand, and counted down from three as we lowered ourselves into the water. The sensation of the cold water clears the mind, the senses, dulls any pain, there’s only her , holding my hand and smiling at me, and I feel connected to everything through her… “Are ye going to be much longer ? It’s bloody cold !” the Rab Microlight Alpine Down Insulated Jacketed Richard shouts from the shore.

We head back in, we change into warm clothes and have breakfast together and discuss again all of the stories we heard the night before and marvel at the wonder of it all.

You should try it some time.



P.S This is the story I told

Not Too Bad

The elderly lady was behind me at the checkout in Flemings, the SuperValu in the True Centre Of The Universe, also referred to as Monaghan. I recognised her, she was one of my Mum’s old friends, but due to three years of Covid , I hadn’t seen her in a while.

“Hello Mrs. Golden.”

She looked at me quizzically for a moment and then smiled. “You’re one of the Bonds !”.


“Were you the one with…” she looked from side to side and then whispered “…cancer.”


“You’re looking very well. How are you now ?”

“Grand !”

I laughed a little when I got back to the car. The last time I’d had a similar conversation was when we moved back to Monaghan from Belfast many moons ago. I bumped into somone in the village whom I hadn’t seen in ages.

“Paul ! Are you home for the weekend ?”

No, we moved back a wee while ago.

“Whereabouts ?”

“Just out past Murray’s fireplaces.”

“Are you near that nice ….” He lowered his voice “ protestant family, that moved from Belfast ?”

“Where ?”

“Beside Rosaleen McMahon’s ?”

“That’s us !”

“Are youse ….protestants now ??”

“Not officially , no.”

We got our parish envelopes through the letter box the next day.

I mentioned this to my Soulmate when I got home and she said that a friend’s mother had recently bumped into her and talking about an old school friend said “Do you remember Jacinta ?” My Soulmate replied that she did. “Did you know she’s….a lesbian now ??? Married and all….to another lesbian !!!”

Of these hushed topics, ‘Cancer’, ‘Protestantism’, and ‘Lesbianism’, it may surprise you to know that ‘cancer’ is the only one I can speak about with any authority…despite a lot of research in the other two fields.

My cancer arrived as a bit of a surprise, but nothing to be overly concerned about, until after my initial operation in the Bons Secours in Dublin to remove a small tumour from my bladder. It turned out to be larger than they had thought and in fact was something to worry about. That day was indeed a bad day. Or rather the bit where I walked from my consultant’s office to our car and told my Soulmate that they were going to have to remove my bladder, and the next wee bit where we hugged and cried a little wasn’t great, but after that , and a stop at Applegreen for a Burger King Chicken Royal , we rationalised that we were in good hands, soon to be in better hands, and there’s no point worrying…too much.

My new consultant , Dilly Little, met us in Beaumont and booked me in the following week for a thorough examination and overnight stay. I checked in at 7.00 am  a few days later, was knocked out and they did whatever they felt necessary, and I assume legal, to me to determine the next cause of action The ward I ended up in contained four beds, and two other occupants. The gentleman across from me was polite and kind, but moaned about absolutely everything. The pain was bad, the painkillers were bad, the food was bad, the sleeping was bad. We all got regular attention, there hardly seemed to be 10 minutes passed , day or night without a nurse, doctor or care assistant, checking in on one of us. This wasn’t enough for my neighbour. No sooner had a nurse left him than he’d be on the buzzer looking for something else, which was invariably a stronger painkiller.

On their rounds the nurses would always ask each of us “On a scale of 1 -10 how is your pain at the moment, 1 is not too bad, 10 is very bad.” I answered, not even 1 really, I’m grand.” My neighbour always answered “11 !”. When the nurses would finish their rounds my neighbour would call out “Paul, how are you ?” , and I’d say ‘Grand’, and he would immediately ask, “They’re gone, how are you really ?”, and he would look disappointed when I’d say “Grand, grand.”

My consultant , MissLittle, came around and said that she wanted me to stay an extra nighy or tow as she wanted me to have a nephrostomy , which is a little tube into your kidney, to alleviate pressure. She asked how I was with that idea, and I said ‘Grand’. My only concern was having to listen to my neighbour complain to everyone, but he was now excited at the prospect of me undergoing surgery and experiencing some of his torment.

I was wheeled down early the next morning for what turned out to be a relatively straightforward procedure which took place under a local anesthetic and also accompanied by the only time in medical treatment history that they were playing decent music in the background, ‘Sweet Jane’ from The Velvet Underground’s ‘Loaded’ album. I was wheeled back up an hour or two later and my neighbour was giddy with excitement and could hardly wait for the nurse to ask me “On a scale..”

“One” I answered.

When they left, he hobbled over to me. “How are you really ? Two proceedures in two days, tough ?”

“I’m grand”

He scowled and his left eye started to blink….


But I was, and I am.

I had sixteen weeks of chemotherapy after that, and then had my left kidney, bladder and prostate removed. Throughout it all I was constantly in awe, and quite overwhelmed by all of the care , love and attention I received from every single person I met.

At each chemo trip up to Beaumont I brought some cream buns from Dinkins for the staff on the ward. And on one occasion a doctor had asked me about the book I was reading, which was ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’, so I sent him one via Amazon. A month later he sought me out to ask why I’d done that. I said because I could. He thanked me profusely and I started to cry. Here were these people doing everything they could to save me and I bought them a few buns, and one book, and I was being thanked ???  I cried again in the car when I tried to tell my Soulmate about it.

Before I went in for my major operation I treated myself to come Radiohead pyjamas and it gave me a huge lift in my weakened state after the operation , when I was struggling to walk the length of the very small corridor, when ever a doctor or nurse would say “Cool pyjamas !”.

I have to admit that after that operation I did answer differently when they asked “On a scale of 1-10…” for the pain. I might have said 7 or 8 on one or two occasions….even when I was on a morphine drip. But whenever I was asked how I was , I always answered ‘Grand’. I was terrified when they came to remove the morphine trip, thinking I wouldn’t cope with the pain, and wondering if I’d judged my former neighbour too harshly, but when they went to remove it they discovered that it had actually snagged in something 10 hours previously and had been merrily leaking into one of my pillows.

There was only one day, when I’d been in hospital for the seventh or eighth day after the operation, couldn’t really eat very much, and more importantly hadn’t had the magic post-op poo that they were all asking about, when a couple of nurses asked “How are you today ?” And I answered “Not too bad ”. She looked at me in alarm. Checked my temperature, blood pressure , and pulse and asked the other nurse to call for a doctor. Now I was alarmed and asked what’s wrong ?

“You’re the Grand fella, you never say ‘not too bad’, so it must be something serious.”

I explained that I was embarrassed to say that it was only my frustration at the lack of a ‘motion’ that was annoying me. And yes I did whisper ‘motion’.

She went away and came back with a carton of prune juice. “Don’t drink it all at once.”

I got home on day nine.

They insisted on taking me out to the car in a wheelchair, but I didn’t want my Soulmate to see me in it, so when I spotted her car I asked if I could stand.

“Are you sure you’ll be OK ?” he asked.

“Yes”, I replied, and seeing her run towards me , added “I’ll be grand.”

Author: paul

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