Thanks For Taking The Time

“Just turn on with me, and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on and be not alone
Gimme your hands, ’cause you’re wonderful
Gimme your hands, ’cause you’re wonderful
Oh, gimme your hands”

David Bowie

The closest I have come to death was this day exactly one year ago today. And it had nothing to do with cancer.

It’s Elliott’s birthday today. And coincidentally it was Elliott’s birthday on this very same day last year, when he turned 18. In all of Elliott’s secondary school career he’d never asked to have some friends over, so we were delighted when he asked if he could have some friends back after school to celebrate his birthday…and could there be beer!

Because I was undergoing chemo at the time I was at home all day and decided to spend a little time getting the house ready for the boys. My Soulmate had already tidied up, bought the obligatory Colin The Caterpillar chocolate cake, beer , and pizzas. I’d already made him a card. It’s a lovely tradition we have here , we make each other birthday cards. It only takes a few moments but can mean so much.

I decided to make a special effort for Elliott’s birthday, and thought ‘What would he love more than printing off old photos of him down through the years on large A3 sheets and taping them to all of the windows in all of the rooms upstairs and downstairs at the front of the house ?’. I was thoroughly enjoying myself selecting the photos and deciding which ones worked best upstairs or downstairs…and in hindsight may have lost the run of myself. I ended up printing off 34 x A3 sized photos and our house looked like Elliottville from the road. Because I’d taped up all of the windows I couldn’t actually see outside to say with any certainty that people stopped and stared, but I certainly heard tractors slow to a crawl as they went by!

Then I started on balloons. I limited myself to three packets…obviously saving two from each packet to fill with water and throw at the boys when they arrived. This was all coming together nicely ! I also filled three sports water bottles, with the squirty nozzles, and placed them at three different slightly ajar upstairs windows…beside the water filled balloons.

I went downstairs and locked the front and backdoors, and then I waited.

After what seemed like an eternity, my Soulmate’s car rolled to a stop in the yard. The car door opened and I could hear Elliott’s friends laughter as they saw the photos and Elliott , with obvious delight and joy say, “Oh that’s my Dad for you.”….No, wait, “FOR FUCK’S SAKE !” was what he roared.

He roared it again when he discovered that I’d locked the front door, and then again when I started throwing the water balloons and squirting the water bottles at them. ( Incidentally, if you do ever find yourself in a waterfight, may I heartily endorse the Ballygowan 500 ml bottle with the sports nozzle, which, I can attest, can reach from my upstairs bedroom window and reach the far side of my Soulmates parked car and squirt three laughing teenagers in the head ).

This was turning out to be the best birthday ever…to me.

My Soulmate had breached my defenses and got in the back door, in my giddiness I’d forgotten to leave the key in the backdoor after I’d locked it, so she was able to get in and let the boys in the front door. The house now shook with the thuds of Elliott stomping up the stairs. He strode towards me , fists balled, and I blurted out, holding my tummy, “Remember…I’m not well.” He stopped , snapped out of his rage and said , lovingly, “For fuck’s sake !” .

I went downstairs after him to meet his friends and say hello. Elliott only calmed down after one of them said “I wish someone had taken the time to do this for my birthday.”

Maybe he’ll appreciate it at a  much later date.

Last Saturday my friend Ray and I volunteered at Ireland’s most beautiful, and friendliest Parkrun , in the True Centre Of The Universe for the 100th time. We got called out at the start and made a bit of a fuss of, which we LOVED. Our Parkrun’s glorious leader, AnnaMarie , bought us a delicious chocolate cake, and a fellow regular volunteer , Dominic, brought me a freezing cold bottle of Jägermeister.

A few Saturdays earlier while having coffee after parkrun,  Dominic and I had chatted about shots and cocktails that we’d regretted over the years and Jägermeister was common to both our tales. So it was a tongue in cheek present, but only to Dominic and I, and not to the 85 runners who completed last Saturday’s Parkrun, who all spotted it at my feet as I registered their times…in Rossmore Park at 10.00am.  

Gifts don’t have to be deliciously edible, or alcoholic.

This week our eldest Monkee, Jake, introduced me to Haley Blais, a Canadian singer of EXTRAORDINARY genius, and who’s album, Below The Salt, has been playing on repeat all week, and who’s song, ‘Coolest Fucking Bitch in Town’ , is a new favourite. Jake and Sarah met Haley at her show in Whelan’s in Dublin this week…and I’m only slightly miffed that they told me about it after the fact…BUT that doesn’t detract from the fact that Haley will now undoubtedly feature on my end of year favourite tracks on Spotify.

I had an appointment with my favourite ‘Ologist, Ann, and as usual we seemed to spend more time talking than actual ‘ology-ing. Ann knows that I am ever so slightly sceptical about some ologys , but still tolerates me. I find our sessions a wonderful oasis of calm  in the midst of the everyday. She ologied and I was ologised. Afterwards as I was leaving Ann was explaining what she felt the session had revealed and then she stopped herself and poked me on the shoulder “ Here I am explaining everything and you don’t believe a word of it !”

True, but I don’t believe it a little less than I did an hour ago.

She smiled and allowed me to make another appointment.

There is a wonderful place in Monaghan called Crocus, which looks after people that have cancer. Crocus provides support services, counselling, advice, therapies, transport and delicious scones to cancer warriors and their families. It’s a locally funded and free to use. I’d resisted joining for ages, not sure why, but maybe, in my head, I’d felt that it was for ill people, and I only had cancer. I joined in the end because I felt I was letting the wonderful Martin Maguire down if I didn’t. Martin knows the value of talking and sharing and encourages men to join the group.

Now that I have joined I’ve gone to a couple of wonderful talks, had several dreamlike reflexology sessions with Edel, and this week joined a creative writing class they started.

We spent a life enhancing and revelatory two hours in the upstairs room in the Crocus centre on Tuesday morning, guided by Elizabeth McPhillips, who has already demonstrated saintlike levels of patience and more patience. There are 13 of us in the group and we were all afforded the chance to say who we were, where we were on our journey and what we’d like to write over the next few weeks. I’d never met most of the group before, but by the end of our first session , felt safe enough in their company that I could tell them anything. It was a very honest and uplifting experience. And it was only our first session ! We’ll all be Tolkiens in a month’s time.

I write and sometimes people read what I’ve written. Sometimes someone will say something about it, but mostly they don’t, and so you can think that no one reads it at all. This week a chap messaged me asking about something I’d written previously about why Corracrin Church is sited where it is. He asked if I’d actually written about it or had he imagined it. I had to go and look it up myself. It turned out that I’d written the article he referred to in 2016…and no one had commented on it at the time.

And again this week someone asked for a copy of a story I’d written some time ago about the discovery of a book in the old St.Macartan’s library, called ‘In The Margins’ , ( which I’ll post below). I’d written it , again, in 2016, and it received a grand total of no comments whatsoever at the time, but someone obviously read it and remembered it. So don’t give up.

Monday was a bank holiday here , so we got up late, pottered about and then decided to walk over to Mum & Dad’s for a cup of tea and a chat. Mam’s old schoolfriends Ann and Geraldine had arrived from Cork and Dundalk for a visit, so we sat and drank in the old stories, and new, and ate several of Dad’s prized almond fingers. On the walk home we held hands and said nothing, happy to be in each other’s company. Sometimes when we’re simply sitting at home watching a movie, my Soulmate will hold out her hand and I will hold it. And I am complete.

Thank you for taking the time to buy the cake, to freeze the Jägermeister, to run with me, to tell me about that song, to help me, to make me welcome, for holding my hand, allowing me to tell a story, and for reading the story.

“Gimme your hands, ’cause you’re wonderful”



P.S. In The Margins

He was rushing around making sure all of the machines were switched off in the school’s Computer Science room at the end of another Coder Dojo session. Most of the kids had left already and he was looking forward to redeeming a part of this Saturday to himself and getting out to Rossmore Park for a run when Joe popped his head around the corner , “The old bishop is here asking if anyone has a key to the old part of the school ?”. John was a former pupil here in St.Macartan’s College and was trusted with a set of keys in order to host the bi-weekly Coder sessions. “I’m not sure if they open the old locks, I’ll be out to him in a minute.”

He switched off the last computer and the lights before locking the door and went to the front hall in search of the bishop. He found him peering into a display case in the front hall where an old registry of students from 1848 was opened. Despite the glorious weather the bishop was dressed in a heavy black wool Crombie coat and carrying a black hat and a large parcel wrapped in brown wax paper and tied with string. As he raised his hand to greet the bishop he had a momentary panic attack as he’d forgotten how he should address him, “Your Excellency” sounded ridiculous in his head so he went with….”Good Afternoon ,Your Grace, how can I help ?”.

The old bishop smiled, as he manoeuvred the parcel under his hat carrying left arm to free his hand to shake John’s. “Yes, yes, simply glorious day. Are you a teacher here, do you have a key to let me in to the Library ?” This threw John a little, he stood to one side to show the bishop that the library was already open across the hall. The bishop understood his confusion. “I’m sorry,  I should have explained myself correctly. Do you have a key to the Clogher Historical Society Library in the old school ? It was known as the Big Dorm , or St.Macartan’s Dormitory in your day I imagine “. The school had indeed had a few remaining hungry boarders when John had attended in the Eighties.

“ Let’s go see”John offered. The bishop grabbed his arm gently and held the parcel out to him “If it’s alright with you, I’ll let you put this back for me. I don’t enjoy the three flights of stairs as much as I used to. Silly place to put a library if you ask me, but nobody does any more.” He smiled at John, nodded and left. Everyone else had left too, so he locked the front door of the ‘new school’ and made his way into the old, original building. The first door into the hallway beside the old study hall and the chapel opened with his key. He walked past the old reception rooms and down the long corridor to the wooden staircase and stood for a moment remembering the tuck shop and ‘The Grade’ classroom that at one brief time had been the centre of his life. He made his way up the stairs past the old TV room , the sick bay and the water tower room to the library on the third floor. Again the door yielded to his key.

The sun shone through the many windows on three sides of the enormous room revealing  row upon row of bookshelves full of leather bound old books and spirals of dust dancing in the sunbeams. He was unsure where the bishop had intended to place the parcel so he simply set it down on the nearest desk and wandered through the rows of bookcases marvelling at the ornate and beautiful old book bindings and covers. He’d always had a passing interest in history and simply loved old books .The typefaces, bindings, paper, etchings and the musty smell all added to his fascination and now here he was his senses overloaded and assailed from all sides. Heaven.

He stopped in front of a column of shelves  between two large windows at the very back of the room which held what seemed to be a collection or series of books all bound in the same yellowing tan leather with a small rectangle of purple brocade on the top of each book spine. There was a different Roman numeral on each piece of brocade , sown in a dull gold thread. They all stood to attention on the shelf,   He thought it odd that although the books looked the same, appeared to be a single edition or collection and were all placed together, they weren’t in numerical order. He was drawn to the third book on the third shelf simply because it’s number had faded away and it looked slightly less loved than the others.  He gently edged it out of its place , rocking it from side to side until it was free of the shelf. He turned it over to reveal a completely plain cover with no markings or writing at all and as he opened it a sheet of paper came loose and wafted to the floor. “Crap !” he muttered to himself. “I’m only here two minutes and I’ve mutilated a priceless collection.” He knelt on the floor and placed the book carefully flat so that he caused no further damage. The loose sheet had come to rest on the floor in a pool of sunlight. As he went to pick it up he thought there was the shimmer of an image in the text. He gently picked it up. It looked battered and bruised and even had the appearance of being burnt around the frayed edges . The text looked to be hand drawn but he couldn’t determine what the language was , but it was ancient. There was no image though. He assumed it was a trick of the light.

He opened the book beside him on the floor and sighed with relief when he realised that the paper and text in the book was different to the loose sheaf, so he hadn’t damaged the book itself, someone had placed this loose page there for safekeeping, he assumed. He quickly determined to place the sheet back in the book again and return it to the shelf and head out for his run. Again when he picked up the loose page it caught in a sunbeam and this time he was sure he saw something change on the page. He stood up holding the delicate page between both hands. The image was gone again. He went to the window and placed the page flat against the glass. There seemed to be something faint written in the margin. As he leaned in closer to look the clouds broke and the full glare of the sun hit the window lighting up the page “It’s…..” he was smiling widely “…… a……” he was giddy “…. MAP !”. In the top right hand corner there was the now a clear fingerprint of a thumb. He felt an irresistible desire to place his own thumb on the page’s thumbprint . Everything went a painful screaming white, there was a deafening noise then….there wasn’t.

“My money was on the bishop” he heard a voice in the distance.

 “No, never. He was gradually giving up. I’d always thought when that Lovelace girl couldn’t get it, no one would”  the second  voice said.It was different, a bit closer perhaps.

“What do you think this one will do ?” the first voice said again. It seemed closer now too.

“I’m not sure . Maybe when he stops pretending to be asleep he’ll tell us.” the second voice started to laugh.

He opened his eyes slowly, rubbing his temple which still throbbed.

He was sitting on the floor , his back propped up against the bookcase , facing two very old and bizarrely dressed people.The room was shockingly bright and he closed his eyes again. The old man spoke first “ Welcome young man, there is nothing to fear, the pain will soon pass. I’m dying to know how you worked out where it was. Did the bishop tell you ? Did he find the Book of Drumsnat ? How did he find out where Para Glas hid the reliquary ? “

“Enough, Aodh !” the old lady interrupted, she sounded older . “Give him a moment. We have all the time we need now.It has been a longer wait than we could have guessed, but there has been so, so much turmoil perhaps it was for the best. To think that after all these years the world will finally know.” She sighed happily. He opened his eyes again, she was kneeling beside him, her hand resting on his shoulder. “How did you work it out ?” she asked gently.

“Who…who are you ?” John stuttered.

“Brigit and Aodh ! Who else would it be ??” The old man answered, laughing.

“Who ?” he asked again.

The old couple looked at each other, puzzled, then returned their gaze to him.

“Maybe you bumped your head and are a little dizzy. You do know how you …”

“Wait , Aodh !” she interrupted the old man again, although more gently this time, placing her hand on his arm.” Something is not right. He looks a little frightened and bewildered, not the attributes one would expect in someone who has just fulfilled a lifelong quest.”

She looked concerned as she spoke directly to him “What is the last thing you remember before you woke up here ?”

He sat a little straighter “I found a sheet of paper in an old book and I thought I saw something faded in the margin so I help it up to the light against the window and saw a map and a thumbprint and when I touched the thumbprint everything exploded white and then…….I started to hear you talking.”

“Oh no !” she put her hand up to her mouth “It’s not supposed to be him. He’s here by chance.”

“That can’t be, Brigit, he brought it. Look !” The old man motioned towards the desk near the door where John had left the brown paper bundle.

Brigit looked to the desk and then turned back to John saying quietly but hurriedly “ What is in the parcel ?”.

John blinked again opened his mouth to answer, closed it, blinked again and said “I’ve no idea, the old bishop asked me to leave it here.”

She stood up and grabbed Aodh by both arms trying to hold his gaze as he shook his head from side to side “ This can’t be right , the natural oil from his hand matched the thumbprint, and however he brought it here, it is here.”

“Aodh ! Aodh !” she shouted to get his attention and then in a gentler tone continued “ We do not have time now to work out why, but he is not meant to be here, he said he saw ‘a map’ , if he really knew  , he would have said ‘THE map’. We have to send him back before it’s too late. He is not who we are waiting for.”

They looked down and smiled sadly at John. He was dumbstruck.

Aodh lowered himself to one knee beside him and said quietly “ Well young man, in a moment you will be back in the library on your own. You then have a choice.  This can be a dream blamed on a migraine attack and you can simply leave . But if , when you wake, you unwrap that parcel……..Well, things will never be the same again. Understood ?”

John nodded and Aodh placed his hands gently on each cheek. Everything screamed white again.

He opened his eyes. He was sitting at the desk nearest the door, alone. He looked at the parcel.

He tugged the string.

Author: paul

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