Slightly Blemished

“Such delights wait under your pillows
Soft-sung hymns from under your pillows
A slate wiped clean, a white loss of feeling
If you’re ready and willing

Part of the sting, part of the giving
As the lightbulbs are humming
You just allow it all to sink in
And give yourself, give yourself, freely”


When I was in second year in St.Macartan’s College I suddenly became popular. This was not due to any sporting prowess, nor any rebel stand against the administration, and certainly not for being cool. My popularity was directly attributable to the fact that Dad’s shoe factory, Mullan Mills, was making Levi’s footwear for Clarkes. And when I say Dad’s shoe factory, I mean the one he worked in, he didn’t own it. Anyway, in the skilled art of shoemaking mistakes are inevitably made. Often these are tiny mistakes, blemishes really, but may mean that the shoes are rejected on final examination, and are not delivered to shops for sale.

They are then, sometimes, made available to staff for purchase at a discount.

This is where my popularity derived from. I had access to cheap Levi’s.

Unlikely as it may seem now, this in turn led directly to me joining the Holy Ghost Fathers after I finished school.

One of my most eager customers for the Levis was an older chap, Paul Skinnader, who had long hair, a dirty beard, wore cool t-shirts, and …well there was just something about him. We didn’t become friends, but I was always aware, and in awe, of him after that, and when it became known that he was joining the Holy Ghosts, everyone in Monaghan knew about it.

Back in those days bands of missionary priest from various orders roamed the secondary schools of Ireland looking for new recruits, like Dementors, conducting retreats. When I was in my final year two priests from the Holy Ghosts arrived at the school to conduct a retreat, and as I’d already been thinking of becoming a priest, I paid particular attention to what they said. I also noticed that Fr.Casey wore a pair of slightly blemished Levi’s shoes.

I expressed an interest in joining and was invited up to Dublin for a weekend to visit the orders HQ in Kimmage. My friend Milo came with me, as he was also thinking of becoming a priest. I think we were the youngest in the bunch that weekend. Everyone else seemed to be smoking , so Milo and I, wise men that we were , decided we better buy some smokes. So we wandered out of the ground to the K.C.R garage and bought two packets of cigarettes based solely on the packets we liked. Milo bought a silver pack of Lambert & Butler, and I bought Gold Bond. We ended up puffing on half a cigarette each and then gave them away.

After that weekend Milo opted for the diocesan pretend priesthood, whilst I bravely soldiered on and went back to the Holy Ghosts a month or so later for another ‘come and see’ weekend. This time we were taken to Spiritan House, on the North Circular Road, in Dublin, where the second and third year Holy Ghost student priests lived. They were all studying philosophy, and had that air that they ‘knew’. They were all hippies, smoked, and more than one or two wore slightly blemished Levis. Paul was there and looked even more like Jesus than when he’d been at school.. Two of the other guys that were staying for the weekend were from Belfast. Jack was seriously considering becoming a missionary priest, but his friend Peter just came for a weekend in Dublin. They were both volunteers in the Order of Malta and spent most weekends providing basic medical cover at any events, or simply on night patrol for anyone in difficulty. They told me the story of one of their regular clients, Bendy Jemmy.

They described Bendy as an old ‘hood’ , this was a colloquialism for hoodlum or petty crimainal. And thinking of it now, to us, back then in our teens, ‘old’ meant the age I am now. Belfast was in the height of the Troubles then, the 1980’s. The police, the R.U.C then, were not welcome in many Republican areas, so local crimes were reported to paramilitaries who dealt with the perpetrators of vandalism, burglary, locally, by means of threats, intimidation, violence, and in extreme cases, kneecapping. Kneecapping involved shooting someone from the back of leg through the kneecap. It wouldn’t kill you, but it would certainly make you think twice about life choices in future. The tradition was that after you’d been kneecapped you’d be thrown two 5 pence coins to make a phone call from a payphone for help. Emergency calls to 999 were free, but usually someone in that situation didn’t want anyone in authority asking questions, so they would call a friend, or The Order of Malta.

Bendy Jemmy was a career hood, and had been kneecapped more than once or twice. He was so familiar with the process that after he’d been shot he would hobble to the nearest corner shop , use the two 5p pieces to buy a single cigarette , “Give me a Benson there Sonny. Thanks. Got a light ? Thanks. Call the order of Malta there for me and tell them I’ve been shot. I’ll be outside on the kerb.“

And Beny Jemmy would sit outside on the kerb, smoking his cigarette , and wait for Jack and Peter to arrive.

“Why did they call him Bendy ?”

The two boys laughed. “Because he’d been shot so many time he had plastic kneecaps and walked around as if he was on stilts.”

Another thing I remember about that weekend was the little masses we had each day. The house was a big old Georgian thing and they’d turned one of the reception rooms into an oratory and that’s where we had the mass. There were only 10 of us, so the communion wine was passed around to everyone. I was sitting opposite Peter, and when it came his turn on the first day to sip the wine, he clearly found it delicious, he looked up quickly, and seeing that everyone else had their heads bowed in prayer, he took another swig. After the mass he asked where you could buy the wine as it was delicious.

I hadn’t thought of that weekend, Bendy Jemmy, Paul, Levis shoes, in ages. Last night I was Dublin to see The Smile with my great friend Baz and he was telling me a story about a small shop in Macroom that sold single cigarettes…and it all came flooding back.

Those events were forty years ago. When my Dad was making those Levi’s shoes he was 10 years younger than I am now.

I find that weird and wonderful.

Baz and I still go to gigs.

He messaged me yesterday.

“Are we seated or standing tonight ?”

“Men of our age ? Seated !”


Going to gigs at our age is weird and wonderful too.

This week I finally finished typing out some stories written by Mary McCleary and assembling them into a draft for a book for her. Mary and I met a year ago at a writing course facilitated by Crocus, our local cancer support charity. Mary is a force of nature. Old age frustrates her sometimes, but conversely , raging against that frustration brings colour to her cheeks, and devilment to her stories.

I called to Mary’s house handed her the printed draft of her stories and received a hug.

When I grow up I want to be like Mary.

I’m writing a story at the moment which I’m enjoying. I’m enjoying it because I’m writing it in my head , rather than on paper, so it’s wonderfully fluid, and full of possibilities. And it’s also mine, and mine alone now. As soon as it’s on a page, actual or digital, there’s a danger that someone else will see it…and won’t love it.

It’s a chance we all take.

Mary took a chance.

I’ll take a chance.

Embrace the blemishes, slight, and magnificent.



P.S. A story I did commit to the page this week is a Drumlin Giants story about Thoth The Thinker

Thoth The Thinker

People think that the Drumlin Giants don’t move. And most of the time people are correct. But to a fly , people look as if they hardly move, and if they do, to a fly it seems to be in slow motion. So the Giants do move, but so slowly to our eyes that it seems as if they don’t.

Except Thoth.

In his younger millenia , Thoth roamed the Earth, learning all he could about absolutely everything. He was particularly interested in engineering and on his travels helped tiny humans build some pointy buildings in the desert, which they called Pyramids, a tiny wall in China…well it was tiny to Thoth, but the Chinese seemed to be pleased with it. He flattened the top of a mountain in South America which the Inca’s built a citadel on, and then he came home to Rossmore and lay down by the river Muireann and fell into a deep sleep.

Like all incredibly clever people he sleeps with his mouth open , and he dreams great dreams of the past and the future.

Three hundred years ago, not too far from Rossmore, in Derrylusk, a boy called Richard was in a very bad mood. On his fathers farm he’d felt sorry for Sorcha, their milk maid getting up at dawn in the cold to milk the cows and came up with the idea of warming up the cows udders before the milkmaid had to touch them. The previous day he’d gathered up some water mint leaves, some beeswax, some goosefat ,vinegar, baking soda, and some pepper, put it all in a bucket and heated it up until it had all blended together. He let it cool down and then rubbed some on his arm, it felt warm immediately. Success ! It did smell icky though , so he added some honey for good measure.

The next morning he got up before the milkmaid , heated his bucket filled with his concoction on the kitchen stove, let it cool down, had a sniff, and as it was still a bit icky, he added yet more honey, and then went out to the milking parlour and rubbed his concoction on the udders of their three cows. The cows mooed and hopped about, giddy with the new sensation. Richard was thrilled. He hid in the corner of the parlour and waited to see how the milkmaid would react to his brilliant idea.

Sorcha arrived in the milking parlour a few moments later, wiping her eyes and yawning with tiredness, said hello to the cows , pulled up her bucket and milking stool, and reached under to grab the udders. “What the…” she started to exclaim, as her hands stuck to the cows udders. What Richard had invented was a rather crude glue, especially as it cooled down. As Sorcha tried to remove her hands from the cows udders, the cow got very annoyed at having her udders wrenched about and started to kick out. This scared the other two cows, who then also kicked out, broke down the door of the milking parlour and made their escape. All three cows ran through the yard, dragging Sorcha who was still attached to the udders. At the end of the yard their was a low gate which the first two cows cleared with ease, and the third cow with Sorcha attached…. Well lets say that the farm needed a new gate….and a new milkmaid.

Richard had watched all of this unfold in silent terror.

His father opened his bedroom window to see what all of the commotion was and quickly deduced that his day dreamimg son must be responsible, “RICHARD POCKRICH ! COME OUT HERE AT ONCE !!!”

Richard slowly shuffled out into the yard and eventually plucked up the courage to look up to his father’s window.

“When I get down to you my boy you’ll wish…..” That is all Richard heard his father say. He knew he was in for a beating, so he ran. He ran down the lane, he ran across the fields, he ran and ran, and ran. He came to a small river and followed it until he came to what he thought was a stone hut, went in sat down and fell asleep.

Richard had actually fallen asleep in the open mouth of Thoth, who was also sleeping. Their dreams mingled together and Thoth introduced himself.

“Hail Tiny Hooman, I am Thoth, thinker of things, great and small, thigs that have been, things that are, and things that will be.”

“Hello Master Thoth, I am Richard Pockrich, inventor of potions, scalder of udders and destroyer of milkmaids.”

“Well, well, well.” Thoth laughed. “In all my travels I’ve never met one of those. I shall simply call you Richard, and you may call me Thoth. Welcome to my Dreamworld.”

Richard looked around , there were Pyramids on tops of mountains in the distance, there were lights without candles, there were horseless carriages, moving pictures, people living in incredibly tall buildings, giant metal ships sailing the seas, large buildings where sick people went in and healthy people came out, metal birds…with people in them, there was an explosion and they were now looking at the Earth disappearing into the distance…

Workmen that were building the castle on the hill nearby found him while they were taking water from the river to make mortar. He was fast asleep. They couldn’t wake him. One of the workmen was Sorcha’s brother and he recognised him. “He’s Master Pockrich’s boy, from Derrylusk. I’ll take him home.”

Richard’s father’s temper had been replaced by fear, as he had been missing for two whole days. He was overcome with joy when his son was returned. Richard was unaware of all of this, he was still asleep.

He woke a week later to see Sorcha sitting by his bed smiling at him.

“Are you an angel ?”

“No , I’m Sorcha, you silly Billy.”

“I thought I’d killed you.”

“Just a bump on the head and itchy hands. It’s good to see you, you gave us all such a fright going off like that, your father was worried sick, I’ll get him now, he’ll be so relieved.”

She left the room, and Richard prepared himself for a loud telling off and a beating. His father burst into the room a moment later , rushed to his bed, and hugged him for a very long time.

“I missed you so much, my boy, and your mad inventions. Everything was much too quiet when you weren’t here.”

“But I was only gone for the morning…”

“You were gone for two whole days, and been asleep for at least a week. What happened ?”

“I met Thoth and we were in Egypt, Machu Pichu, the Orient, the Moon ! It was wonderful ! We travelled on horseless carriages, metal ships, in airy planes, on rockets, everyone lived for a very, very long time, and….”

“That’s enough Richard…you must have a fever…calm yourself.”

Richard Pockrich grew up to be an odd sort of chap. At least that’s what most people thought of him. He owned a brewery in Dublin, a goose farm in Wicklow, he proposed a canal system that connected the Shannon and the Liffey. He also came up with the idea for blood transfusions. He thought that if he could get regular transfusions of a younger person’s blood that it would keep him young. And he invented the glass harmonium.

No one liked any of his ideas, but they loved the glass harmonium. Thoth had helped him develop it in their dreams together. He toured Ireland , England and Europe playing his glass harmonium for kings and queens. Mozart composed a piece for it , Adagio for Glass Harmonica K.617a, Benjamin Franklin played it.

But Richard wanted someone to share his ideas, to take advantage of the future, now !

In the year 1751 the British Empire had taken control of the eastern seaboard of North America, a lot of Caribbean islands, some African countries and was starting to get involved in India. It’s navy was very powerful and becoming more and more important, but they were all wooden sailing ships, with a horrendous record of loss, and sinking. Pockrich was convinced that here at last someone would embrace his vision of the future and welcome the idea of metal ships.

And so he presented himself to John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich and  First Lord of the Admiralty  in 1751 at the Ripley Building in London.

The Royal Navy was the largest in the world and the Admiralty controlled it tightly.

By all accounts Montagu thought this Irish ‘inventor’ was quite mad. He couldn’t fathom how a metal ship wouldn’t rust, let alone float. And as for the idea of lifeboats, what was the point of ‘saving’ sailors? They had usually become sailors to avoid the hangman’s noose or gaol, so the thought of spending good money on saving them if they’d been incompetent enough to sink one of His Majesty’s  magnificent vessels was abhorrent to him. They deserved to be flogged , not saved.

“But perhaps, My Lord, the officers would deserve redemption ? “ Pockrich bravely interrupted the Earl’s tirade on the calibre and pedigree of sailors. “ One lifeboat could save the lives of all of the officers and the captain ?”

“ THE CAPTAIN ??? “ the Earl spat “ The captain goes down with his ship ! It spares the bugger the humiliation of explaining to me how he buggered up the simple task of floating our boat from A to B. Save the captain indeed, the very idea….” He calmed down a little and seeing how forlorn the Irish chap was, rang the bell summoning his butler. The butler appeared within seconds, the Earl was not one to be kept waiting. “ Tea and meat for two , now!”. The butler bowed and went out to fetch the tea.

While they waited a thought occurred to the Earl “ But surely ,Captain Poekrich , as a naval man yourself you would know this protocol ?”

“Ah yes, well ,My Lord, I’m not actually a captain in the naval sense. Captain is my…emm.. Christian name ….emm…after St.Captain of…emm..Antioch, the patron saint of….soft furnishing.” Pockrich was grasping at straws and was delighted to see the butler come back with a tray of tea and two plates of meat. The butler  poured the tea and left the room. The Earl immediately picked up a slice of beef and a leg of chicken and ate them greedily. He then bemoaned the fact that his fingers were greasy wiping them on his britches.

“If I may, My Lord” Pockrich reached down to his satchel and took out a paper package which he placed on the Earl’s desk before unwrapping it to reveal two slices of bread with some ham in between. He hadn’t known how long he would be kept waiting to see one of the most powerful men in the realm and had packed a lunch. He produced a knife , cut the bread ensemble in two and lifted one half, took a bite and then picked up a piece of paper from the Earls desk with his fingers before showing it to the Earl to demonstrate that there were no greasy fingerprints.

The Earl looked at the paper, Pockrich, the bread and back to Pockrich before asking “May I ?” nodding down to the other half of the bread, Pockrich nodded enthusiastically. The Earl picked up the meat filled bread slices, took a bite and chewed as the smile on his face widened. He looked at his fingers , marvelling at their non-greasy state, and then  took a slurp of tea before speaking “ Brilliant ! Marvellous ! You Sir are a genius ! What is this magnificent creation called ?”

“We call it a Leslie, Sir” Pockrich replied “ It’s a common diet staple in Monaghan and we named it after Bishop Leslie, the fighting bishop of Glaslough “

“A Leslie ??? I can’t ask for a round of Leslies ? How could I maintain control of His Majesty’s Royal Navy if word got out the First Lord of The Admiralty was very partial to a Leslie ? No, that won’t do” he rose as he spoke standing at the large window behind his grand desk “ We need a name that is grander, regal almost, something  as magnificent as this meal itself.”

“Why don’t we call it a…Sandwich ?” Pockrich proffered hesitantly.

“My dear boy” the Earl grinned as he replied “ from the very moment you walked in here I said to myself ‘ This man has the bearing of a genius’ and by God Sir, I was right ! By God I was Sir! A Sandwich shall yet again sustain His Majesty’s kingdom”

Pockrich decided now was the time to press his luck “ And the lifeboat My Lord ? Would there be merit in it “

“Absolutely not” the Earl snapped “ that’s nearly as ridiculous as your metal ship idea. No, Master Poekrich, your future lies in the ‘Sandwich’ business, unless you have some other wonder in that satchel of yours ?”

Pockrich sadly shook his head. He did indeed have sketches in his bag for engines that would power ships, batteries that could power horseless carriages, tubes that would sustain his youth, something that Thoth tried in vain to explain to him…electricity, he thought it was called. But he knew he was wasting his time.

For the next few years he continued to travel, playing his glass harmonica, but with less and less enthusiasm. And then in 1759 , there was a freak fire in London which consumed only his lodging room and nothing else, Pockrich was no more.

All of his ideas eventually became reality.

But he got no credit for any of them.

And yet , there were rumours…..

A gentleman called Puckeridge invested in James Watt’s steam company, in Isambarrd Kingdon Brunel’s steamship company, and in Edison’s electric company.

Another man called Richpock was an early investor in Thomas Brothers, Gaudet, and Boeing, the first airplane manufacturers.

 And a man called Thothrick was one of the first investors in Intel, Apple, Microsoft, and IBM.

Those men would be incredibly wealthy.

But maybe it’s one man…a man who discovered a blood transfusion that led to a very, very long life.

And maybe he’s here now, writing stories…or teaching in a school in Rackwallace, surrounded by future inventors ?


Author: paul

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