“If you talk ’bout the weather, you talk ’bout your shoes
You’re longing forever to tell her the truth

So don’t wait oh, go tell her now
Don’t wait around
Or you may never know
You may never know how she’s feeling
Know how she’s feeling”

  • Jonny Lattimer / Tom Odell  ( Go Tell Her Now )

There are several stories that I have started to write and never finished. A story I started 10 years ago was well received by the few people I shared it with, and oddly this, rather than encouraging me to continue with it, meant I stopped. The praise and encouragement I received seemed to tick a mental box for me, and I left it there.

I’ve written other stories in the meantime, all mercifully short, and all with a definite ending, and some people seem to have enjoyed them, and told me so, which gives me a buzz.

But I keep coming back to that original story.

It nags at me ,,  in a way that I find unusual, as normally leaving things unfinished doesn’t bother me at all.

When my Soulmate and I bought our first home, in Clane, we decided that we would have wooden floors downstairs. The wooden floor people said to tell the builder not to put on the skirting boards as they would only have to remove them when putting in their wooden floor. I mentioned this to Lar, our builder and he said he’d leave uncut skirting boards in the house for the wooden floor people to put on when they installed the wooden floors.

When the house was ready the wooden floor people duly arrived and moved the uncut skirting boards out the back while they installed their beautiful wooden floors. A few days later I called out to see the house and admired the wooden floors, and then noticed that the wooden floor people had left the uncut skirting boards out the back.

“Not to worry” I said reassuringly to my Soulmate, “I’ll stick them on when we move in.”

Three months after we moved in my Soulmate asked when I was going to install the skirting borads.

“Very soon.” I replied.

The lack of skirting boards didn’t bother me in the slightest.

The lack of skirting boards bothered my Soulmate a lot.

Six months after we moved in I decided that while my Soulmate was at work I would indeed install the skirting boards. I went down to our local hardware store and bought a small saw, a measuring tape, a hammer, and three boxes of little tack nails.

When I brought the uncut skirting boards into the house I noticed that some of them were warped, but determined that a few extra nails would sort that out.

I spent the rest of the day measuring , sawing , and nailing the skirting boards into place. Corners were tricky, and I sometimes had to saw little extra bits to fill in wee gaps where I’d measured it a little short. I also underestimated how bendy the skirting boards had become , having been lovingly ignored out in the elements for the past six months. I had to go back to the hardware store and buy 5 more boxes of the tack nails, opting this time for slightly longer ones. The nice chap in the hardware store remembered me from earlier and asked if I’d lost the first few boxes of nails, and when I answered ‘No’ , he asked how many houses I was putting skirting boards into. He did his best not to laugh when I said one.

I went at the rest of the downstairs skirting boards with gusto, and was making great progress until I arrived at the fireplace. This required lots of sawing, cursing, tacking, and then more cursing. I used a whole box of nails on the fireplace skirting boards.

Eventually I was finished and sat down to admire my handiwork. Some of the early skirting boards seemed to have popped out the smaller tack nails, so I went round the whole of the downstairs skirting boards adding extra new longer nails just to be sure.

I decided not to sweep up the sawdust so that my Soulmate would know immediately on arriving home what a lucky girl she was , and what a practical manly man I was.

I collected her from work and let her go into the house first on her own. I thought I’d give her a moment or two to admire my handiwork before I arrived in to receive a mad , passionate kiss, with a promise of chips for tea.

I arrived in to see her on her hands and knees at the fireplace, making what, if I didn’t know better, was a sobbing sound. She turned and looked up at me. “I take it that you did this all on your own ?”

“Yes !” I answered , beaming proudly.

She smiled weakly. “You know that we have Barry and Karen coming over for dinner tonight ?”

“Yes. Looking forward to it.”

“I’ll light candles, don’t switch on the lights. Barry will have a field day if he notices these.”

I was shocked and a little hurt. I thought that she was judging my carpentry skills rather harshly.

Barry was in the house two minutes when he exclaimed “Who the fuck did that to your skirting boards ? Was it a blind, one armed man ?”

Everyone laughed. Except me.

I thought that they’d look alright once they were painted. A few weeks later my Soulmate asked when was I going to paint the skirting boards.

“Very soon.” I replied.

A few weeks after that our builder called round. I’d promised him a pair of Caterpillar boots for all his help with the house. They were still building more houses on the estate. I offered him a cup of coffee.

He sat on the sofa opposite the fireplace. He kept looking at the skirting boards, and eventually said “Did those wooden floor people do that ?”

Technically I didn’t say anything. I sort of nodded my head and made a ‘UMHUM’ sound into my coffee mug.

“The bastards ! I’ll send one of our lads around later to strip them off and put on new ones.”

And he did.

I never got round to painting them.

A few years ago I delayed mowing our lawn for a number of weeks. Initially it was too wet, then I said it was a bee sanctuary…and eventually my Soulmate threatened divorce, so Elliott and I spent two days with two strimmers getting it back in check.

These are just two illustrations of my lack of concern about things being left unfinished.

And yet, this old story nags at me.

I dug it out today for the first time in 5 years.

I wrote a new chapter.

I may start finishing things.

If you’re reading this in the weekly email, or on the blog, the first three chapters follow in the postscript. And if not , why haven’t you signed up yet ???



P.S. This is a story…..

Chapter 1

Saturday 12th May 1973 – Park St , Monaghan, Ireland

“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 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 ,Paul, 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, home to Bona Fides, 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 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 . 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 be as 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 Paul, the man in the window is 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.

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.

“Granda, who’s Owen, and who are the Sally’s?” I asked wide eyed.

“Doesn’t your mother tell you anything? Owen was my brother, your grand uncle, you have 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, Paul. We just have to stop at the farm to check something first.” He wolfed 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 when he 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 Bragan mountain, 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 vast.

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 house 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 looked at them, didn’t touch anything, 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 in such a long time. Such a long , long time.” She smiled.” 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 went to Monaghan with Granda many , many times after that. But we never did any messages on Park street and I heard no mention of Owen or Hughie The Buck until I was nine and I visited Dernasell with Granda for the last time before he passed away.

Chapter 2

Friday June  25th 1900 – Cave 16, Dunhuang , China

Xin Zháng woke with a start. He had dreamt of his father. He had not thought of his father for a long time. Xin came from a long line of Taosit priests. His family had lived in and cared for the Valley of The Thousand Buddha’s for generations. It had once been a busy crossroads on the Silk Road and a prominent centre for learning, but had become as dusty and lonely as the Silk Road itself since Xin’s great grandfathers time. When Xin’s father passed away he took on the mantle of caretaker. His father , Xin felt, had been a man who always seemed to labour under a great burden. He was not unkind, he was in fact a loving man, but there always seemed to be something that preoccupied him, as if he was always looking over his shoulder. He always viewed strangers warily, especially westerners, those in particular  he avoided, and if he did have to have any dealings with them he always acted as if he had a much more menial position than he actually held, being second only to the Elders, and feigned ignorance of any questions they asked.

This had always puzzled Xin , as his father had a voracious appetite for knowledge, any knowledge. Mathematics, astrology, physics, religion, all religions and above all history, myth and legend. Second only to his love of attaining knowledge was his love of sharing it with anyone and everyone. Xin had looked on in awe as over many , many years  he had seen his father hold court with both the student monks and the Elders in the monastery  telling them story after story of the origins of China, Da Yu tamer of the great Yellow river, the Emperor Qin, Confucius, Buddha, Abraham,  Jesus, Mohammed, Prestor John,the countries that surrounded us and the adventures of Admiral  Zheng He and his discovery of America and countless other tales.

But at home, when it was just Xin and his mother to hear, he always told fantastic stories of fire people from the far west ocean with who had been brought to China by Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of the West. He had names for many of these travellers and placed them in almost every story and legend alongside the heroes and emperors that Xin was more familiar with from his friends and school. His mother would chastise his father for filling Xin’s head with nonsense and she would make Xin promise not to make mention of fire people to anyone else.

It was fitting that today, as he and his great friend and brother monk Wang Yanlau were due to break the seal on the new cave they had discovered yesterday, that his father had entered his thoughts. His father who had laboured tirelessly to preserve and restore the holy sites and religious libraries that surrounded Dunhuang  would have been giddy with excitement at the prospect of what awaited them behind the sealed door at the back of Cave

Xin could not get back to sleep it was 5.00 am and  the sun was already peeking around the edges of the window cover , he got up quietly trying  not to disturb his wife. He failed miserably.

“Xin, what are you doing getting up ?” she murmured. “ You’ve hardly slept all night and you kept me awake, talking in your sleep.”

“Sorry my love, it’s this new cave and what waits behind the door. I can hardly wait.”he answered.

“Your father would be so proud of you today,Xin.”

“I know. Go back to sleep. I will tell you all about it when I come home tonight.”

“Ok”, she was drifting back to sleep,” And who are the fire people ?”

Xin froze. Had he heard correctly ? The last time he had heard mention of the fire people was when his father was on his deathbed, feverishly whispering to Xin that he must keep the secret. But there had been no secret, they had only been characters in his father’s stories when he was a child. He had assured his father that he would do as he wished, his father had smiled and breathed his last. He had never mentioned any of this to anyone.

“What did you say ?” he asked his wife gently.

She lazily half opened one eye and sighed “ You kept saying ‘fire people’ in your sleep….”

“It was just a dream, go back to sleep.” Her eyes were already closed.

                                                        He went downstairs and boiled some water to make his black tea and sat looking out the window at the sunrise over Mogao valley as he ate his baozi. He remembered the day Wang  Yanlau had convinced him that it was their duty as the most senior Elders to properly catalogue each and every cave and restore Dunhuang to its rightful place as a centre for religious learning. From the first day they had met in the monastery as young novices Xin had always been swept along by Wang’s zeal and enthusiasm. Xin had always been destined to be a priest and as his father had been the caretaker of the Valley it was accepted by everyone that he would one day fill the same role. Wang always seemed destined for a higher station. Throughout their time as novices Wang had excelled at study, was apprenticed to the most senior monks and was so gracious to everyone he met that they always went away smiling and charmed.

As the years progressed they had risen in seniority and authority together, with Wang leading the way and Xin his trusted second in command.  They had spent their lives together here in the valley, they had even married sisters and their children were best friends.

Over the years they had discovered numerous transcripts and paintings, small ornaments, some old, some Buddhist, some Nestorian, some religious, some historical, but today they both felt would be a momentous day.  When they had cleared away the debris from the back of Cave 16 the previous evening and saw the door for the first time they both knew the contents would be staggering. The back of the cave had been carefully plastered to make it look like the surrounding hollowed out cave walls. The disguise was a work of art in itself and had only revealed itself due to it’s old age and the accidental knocking over of a large wooden cabinet that had fractured the plaster revealing the top corner of an ancient door. It was late and they had agreed that they would tackle it properly the following day.

Xin tidied away his breakfast dishes and headed out to Wang’s house. As he approached he saw that the window covers in the kitchen were open and the front door was ajar, Wang came out to meet him. “Couldn’t sleep old friend ?” Wang smiled, “ The tea is ready, we will have a cup before we enter history.”

They sat across from each other at the kitchen table, sipping their tea, saying nothing and beaming at each other. Wang’s wife came into the kitchen wiping sleep from her eyes, she smiled at Xin.

“Look at you both, smiling like a pair of lucky cats. I suppose my sister got no sleep either Xin ?”.

“Not as much as usual” Xin replied.

“Be off with you both and maybe we can all get some sleep tonight”  she chided. Xin got up , bowed and waited outside for Wang to make his goodbye’s. He came out and they walked up the valley to Cave 16. No one else had arrived. The temple inside had been their pride and joy, it had been a dusty storeroom until they had started to clear it several years ago. The interior was now returned to its proper state as a beautiful Buddhist temple with ornate wall drawings and a carved ceiling. It was at the very back of this temple , to the right of the altar that the exposed doorway now stood.

There was a large table in front of the altar on  which stood their oil lamps and some tools to scrape away the last of the plaster that now sealed the door to its frame. They diligently got to work , not waiting for their novices to arrive. An hour later they were covered in dust , working away and humming old hymns together. They took a break when their novices finally arrived but still sat in the cave staring at the door.

At lunchtime Wang’s wife sent a large pot of noodles and a pot of black tea for them. They shared it with their novices. They were nearly ready to open the door and they were savouring every moment.

At two o’clock , with the lock dismantled and the door a simple hard tug on the ropes away from being opened , they paused. Xin, Wang and the two novices knelt , holding  hands in front of the door and said a prayer  of thanks. Then they stood and pulled hard on the ropes, the door gave way after a few moments, there was a puff of stale air and the remaining plaster work fell away.

They blinked and waited for everything to settle. Xin and Wang looked at each other. Wang broke the silence, as he grasped Xin by the hand “ Together , dear friend.” They turned back to the novices and each took a lit lamp in their free hand and turned to face the cave. The doorway was wide enough for them to enter together. As they crossed the threshold the light from their lamps lit up the room. It was as large as the temple that they had entered from and the yellow light danced over pile after pile of rolled manuscript, ornate box ,upon ornate box. The manuscripts and boxes were piled to the ceiling and looked to be three of four feet deep. There were passageways through the manuscripts and boxes. They looked at each other , laughed, and turned in different directions to greedily start opening the rolls to see what they contained.

“This one is Sanskrit, it must be 500 years old !” Xin exclaimed. He walked around the corner of his passageway…………

“ Mine is Tangut , I think, it’s ancient……this one is Sogdian !” Wang replied.” I’m opening a box here, Xin, it’s velvet lined….there are silk paintings….IT’S THE SHAN-CH’ING….The Three Pure ones….Xian !, Xian ! Come see this it is incredible !”

His friend did not answer. When he went to look for Xin he found him towards the back of the cave, he came upon him suddenly around a corner.

“Xin ! Are you ok ? You scared me.”

Xin did not answer, he pointed straight in front of him.  In the yellow flickering light Wang saw a statue. It was on a pedestal at the back. It was only three feet tall but it was impressive, it was an army general in full Song Dynasty ceremonial uniform  brandishing a sword that was studded with rubies, but it was the head that commanded both their attention. Staring at them was the head of a middle aged man with a flaming red beard and bright red hair. He was unlike anyone that Wang had ever seen .

Xin finally spoke – “Fire people. “

Chapter 3

Dernasell, Saturday 11th July 1976

It was a stunningly beautiful day.

 Our family had moved to Monaghan at the start of the summer, Dad had left Clark’s shoe factory in Dundalk to take up the post of production manager in Mullan Mills , a boot manufacturer in Emyvale and we’d upped sticks and left all of our friends and big town amenities to move to Ballinode, or Bellanode as the Ordnance Survey maps insisted in calling it.

Although we had lived close to Granny and Granda in Dundalk we seemed to see more of him now that we lived in Monaghan. He stayed over with us regularly. I didn’t spend as much time with him on my own as I had in the past, when we had travelled from Dundalk to Monaghan  every few days when I was younger we had that time together in the car on the way up and down the road that were at once magical and interminable to a 6 year old. I had listened to him tell so many tales, with so many weird and wonderful names that I couldn’t possibly retain them at all. The hours had flown past on a rainbow of wonder.

Almost all of Granda’s stories involved The Good Folk , as he called them, others called them Na Daoine Sidhe, gaelic for the ‘People of The Hills’, others called them Faeries. In Granda’s stories the Good Folk lived in the hills in a parallel world to ours. They were immortal, they had always been, they would always be. They were beautiful and kind, but could be ruthless if threatened. In their great halls they lived in splendour and one day in their world was like a year in ours. They could change shape and were intrigued by us.

They could come and go from our world at their leisure but we could only enter theirs on certain days of the year, May day and HallowE’en in particular.

Granda  told story after story featuring the Good Folk, in times long past before there was a history. My favourite was the one about a Good Folk prince called Aodh who loved to meet travellers from far away lands and would listen to their tales of adventure and wonders that they had seen.  One day in Galway he met an Iberian sailor who told him that he had met yellow men from far , far away and that they had given him a picture of the most beautiful woman that ever lived. She was called Xi Wangmu , the yellow men called her “Queen Mother Of The West”. The sailor showed the little picture to Aodh and immediately he fell in love with her. Her hair was as black as a raven’s, her skin like snow and her lips were redder than hawthorne berries.  Aodh begged the sailor to take him to where he met the yellow men, he knew he could never find peace until he met Xi Wangmu. The sailor demanded a high price,a room full of gold which Aodh agreed to, promising to return the next day with enough gold to make the sailor a very wealthy man.

They duly set sail the next day and so began Aodh’s adventure to China with many twists and turns. Granda told of their journey through the Mediterranean, across land through Egypt, following the source of the Nile and again crossing land to Somalia and meeting up with the Emperor’s treasure fleets and journeying to China. Eventually he arrived at Tortoise Mountain where Xi Wangmu was shocked to find another like herself from far, far away who also lived in parallel place. She too fell in love with him as soon as they met. 

We woke as usual that Saturday morning, John, Stephen and I, three brothers excited to be up and about, no school to go to , adults asleep, grabbing bowls of cereal and switching on the tv, hoping that BBC’s Open University programmes had finished and that ‘our’ programmes were starting. Sometime after 7 the yellow Open University logo would disappear and we’d be treated to either ‘Champion , The Wonder Horse’ or an amazingly , wonderfully terribly dubbed series called ‘The Flashing Blade’ which featured a seemingly never ending siege in a sunny place far away…..or  that really dreadful ‘Down By The River’ programme that featured rats, mice , hamsters and gerbils , that even at the age of 9 , I knew had to be electrocuted into position for their ‘performance’ and storyline.

This Saturday was different.

When we got up, Granda was already sitting on the sofa, bright eyed and bushy tailed , a tray on his lap with a big mug of tea and a pile of toast and at least three poached eggs. He was watching *.

“Morning boys !” he beamed. “Paul, get dressed , we have a few wee jobs to do.”

‘Can we come too Granda?’ John and Stephen chimed.

“Not today boys, but I will have a special job for you next week. Today it’s just Paul and me.”

“I have football training at 10 Granda “ I said .

“There’ll be lots of days for football, Paul, they’ll not miss you today. Get dressed, and don’t wake your Ma.”

A few minutes later Granda and I were in the Ford , freewheeling away from the house so as not to wake Mum and Dad.  We drove straight to Dernasell. It was a glorious morning ,the sun was splitting the rocks. We stopped at the gate into the farm, I hopped out and opened it , giving it a push and hopping on for the ride as it opened. Granda dove the car up to the house, I closed the gate and ran after the car up to the old house.

Granda clambered out of the car and held out his arms as I ran up. I jumped into him and he swung me around.

“What a great day!” he said.

He could be moody at times. Even I knew that, aged 9, but he was on top form today. We walked all around the farm, checking on ditches, cattle, water, fences, the sloe trees, the sheds, the hay, everything. The furthest point from the old house was the ‘back field’ that touched the bottom of Slieve Beagh mountain. The Blackwater river traversed the border of the farm to the mountain, and this point was fenced in so that any cattle on the farm could drink from the river but couldn’t wander down stream or upstream, or up the opposite bank.

That’s where we stopped on our walk that day.

When I said ‘river’ earlier, it was really only the trickle of a stream, and especially in summer, you could literally walk across it and not dampen your socks . On all of the many time we’d been to the farm together we’d never crossed the river. From ‘our side’ we’d taken our shoes off on a sunny day and cooled our feet, Granda had tried to show me how to tickle a trout on numerous occasions, they’d all fallen asleep for him and we’d dined on delicious brown bread, butter and fried trout back at the house, he’d shown me the river frozen in winter and full of frog spawn in the eddy pools in late Spring….but we’d never crossed the river.

We did today.

As soon as we got up the other bank Granda stopped, looked around, and then sat down, motioning me to do the same.

“Paul, this will sound silly for a minute or two, but I want you to just sit here for a minute and close your eyes, count quietly to yourself to 50 and then open your eyes and tell me what you see.”

Now ?

“No, just wait a minute until I tell you. There’s nothing to be afraid of, I used to come here with my granddad and he’d ask the same of me, and all of my brothers. It’s just to see if you can see or hear anything different.”


“You know sometimes at night when you close your eyes or go to sleep that you have dreams? Well , some people , in a special place , can do that at in the daytime and this might be one of those places. Do you want to try and see ?”


I’m here beside you , we’re beside Dernasell, so just close your eyes and count slowly to 50 and see what you can see………..

I got as far as 17…….

I saw people come towards us through the trees ,from the hill. They were beautiful, tall , immaculately dressed and almost seemed to glow.. They were warm ,inviting, friendly , they motioned silently to Granda and I to go with them , we both stood up and in a moment we were inside the hill.

It was beautiful, bright, welcoming and seemed infinitely larger than my impression of Sliabh Beagh from the outside. It was like a small town, but with no roads or streets . There were beautiful people everywhere.

Granda and I were holding hands and just gawking at everyone and everything.

Someone approached.

“Welcome ,at last,Frank Sally” It was a tall lovely man that spoke.

Granda was crying.

“It’s all true. Everything…….it’s all true. It’s all been for a reason.”

I’m sorry that it wasn’t you, Frank. We simply could not reach out until we knew it was safe. You have carried the weight for so long, without question, and we could not risk showing you and placing all you held dear in danger. This , and the dangers are real.

Granda gasped.

“Will the boy be safe ?”

Nothing is certain, these are incredibly dangerous times……….but it is his time. It cannot be postponed, but we will be with him.

“Frank! Frank!” someone was shouting and making a commotion to get through the crowd that was gathering around us. The crowd gently parted and a man, who looked like a younger version of Granda came forward beaming and crying.

Granda fell to his knees in shock “Owen ?”

Owen knelt down to face him “Yes Frank, it’s me, I’ve missed you.” Granda grabbed Owen and hugged him and bawled. “I thought you were……”.

Owen hugged him right back, “I know Frank. I was in trouble, Hughie saved me.”

Granda looked up and saw Hughie The Buck staring back down at him smiling. He looked different to me from the time I’d seen him on Park Street. He still had his mad red beard, but his clothes were as fine as every one else’s and his beard and hair looked fiery. He smiled at Granda:

“I tried to tell you Frank.”

The tall lovely man that had first greeted us took me by the hand “ Paul, my name is Culann, I’m a friend, let us leave your Granda to get reacquainted with his brother. We have much to explain.

Author: paul

1 thought on “Unfinishe…

  1. Paul
    I have read one book ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ in the last five years, at the insistence of my brother Eugene and under pressure because he wanted me to pass on his borrowed copy to our sister Clare when I had finished. I enjoyed it but unfortunately it didn’t kick start my enjoyment of reading again. Before that I was in a book club and read a fair amount.
    I enjoyed these three chapters very much and hope you’ll get round to letting us know how the story goes. I reckon there’d be a great series starring Hughie the Buck!
    Hope your recovery is going well.

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