Tuna, our cat, and I , watching television


“Watchin’ the waves come in at night
From my back porch stoop porch swing
Swingin’ on its own
See it’s just an inhabitant of some holy ghost”

  • Kurt Vile

I am exhausted , but I cannot sleep.

I am ravenous , but I cannot eat.

The last time I felt like this was 1984.

I’d finished my Leaving Cert’ exams and went on the Pilgrimage to Lough Derg with my classmates Milo and Seamus with the hope that , in return, we’d get good exam results.

The three day pilgrimage to St.Patrick’s Purgatory involved fasting and maintaining a vigil. They also threw in being barefoot and all of Ireland’s midges…and holy people. The only thing worse than being bitten by midges at 5.00am when you haven’t slept or eaten in days, is a sincere holy person.

The Vigil is the 24 hours after Night Prayer on the first night and lasts until Night Prayer on the second night, although as you’ve been awake since the morning of your arrival, by the time it finishes you’ve been awake for 36 hours or more. There are prayer services through the night to keep you going, several masses,  and confession to look forward to !

During our vigil, we’d stumbled around the basilica countless times, mumbling our prayers and trying to stay awake. At one point Seamus knelt down to pray and within seconds his head was resting on the back of the seat in front and he was out cold. A ‘holy person’ took it upon herself to tap him on the shoulder “Now, now, God wouldn’t want you letting him down like that now, would He ?”

Seamus snapped awake, mortified.

But he now had a purpose.

Revenge !

True, it wasn’t perhaps the best of motivations to have in your heart while doing a pilgrimage, but it worked for Seamus. And he became so enthused by it that he converted Milo and I.

We would follow the Holy Woman until she herself nodded off and then….then Seamus would be waiting and he would be sincere and he would be sanctimonious, and he would attain the glory of glories of pilgrimage….being holier than thou !

We operated as a tag team, only one of us took time out to pray at any one time, we maintained close contact.

If she knelt to pray, we knelt either side of her to pray.

If she lit candles, we lit candles either side of her.

If she went out to the lake we went out to the lake.

If she walked barefoot over the penitential beds, we observed her from a respectful distance.

I hated when she went outside, because that meant I had to go outside and follow her, and this meant that I would be eaten alive by the midges. If midges were on the verge of extinction , and the last one had only one bite left in him, the little bastard would find me. I can go on holiday to parts of the world where there’s never ever been a case of midges, and be bitten by a midge. The Holy Woman , of course, was not bitten by midges, she wore a headscarf…and, if Seamus was to be believed, had vinegar in her veins.

It was almost dawn when it happened.

The Holy Woman sat down in a pew.

Milo sat to her left , I to her right. Seamus took his place in the pew behind.

The Holy Woman knelt down to pray. Millo knelt down to pray to her left, I knelt to her right. Seamus knelt right behind her.

We could here her prayer mumbles get softer… there were pauses. We glanced at her and back at Seamus.

The sun was starting to come up, the feet of St.Patrick were starting to glow in the large stained glass window behind the altar…was it just me , or could we hear the distant rumble of Carmina Burana in the distance..

Her head bobbed a little, we caught our breath, this was it.

St.Patrick’s shins were bright.

Carmina Burana was getting louder.

Her head bobbed again…lower this time.

St.Patrick’s knees were shining.

The choir were joined by the strings in the Carmina Burana.

Her head lowered to the back of the seat in front.

St.Patrick’s hips were radiant !

The kettle drums were being walloped in the Carmina Burana.

Seamus leaned forward, and poked the Holy Woman between her shoulder blades.

She snapped to attention, ram rod straight.

Seamus whispered, loud enough for Milo and I to hear, “Now, now, God wouldn’t want you letting him down like that now, would He ?”.

She went bright red. She didn’t turn around. She knew. She glanced at Milo, then me. We smiled and nodded. We didn’t speak, but she knew “Yeah we see you. Letting down God, Holy Woman.”

We all went outside.

We went to confession.

And then we went for our ‘simple meal’ , which consisted of tea or coffee, no milk or sugar, and dry white toast, no butter.

It was divine. Especially as Milo’s girlfriend, now wife, was working in the kitchen, so we got the toast as soon as it popped out of the giant Holy toasters, when it was soft and delicious.

I’ve never been back to Lough Derg.

My memories are of Milo and Seamus, that Vigil, laughs, a soft bunk for a few hours on the second night, a couple of meaningful conversations, toast, and a bottle of Erne Mineral Water Co.’s ‘American Ice Cream Soda’ on the way home.

After my operation last week I had another vigil.

This time , instead of Milo and Seamus, for company, I had this thing protruding from me , which I called Nigel. Nigel was a combination of something that you might find under your sink ,leading away from a water softener unit, and a visiting character on The Clangers.

Because I’m writing this, I’ve just looked up the Clangers, and I’m very disappointed to report that they’ve remade them !

I loved the Clangers. I saw a documentary about Oliver Postgate , the guy who wrote and narrated the stories, and he had a script written for all the parts where we just hear the Clangers whistle. They were swearing their little heads off !

Before I went in for my operation , I’d had great plans , I had two audio books ready, ‘The Time Traveller’s Guide To Restoration Britain’ by Ian Mortimer, and Catherine Nixey’s ‘The Darkening Age’, dressing gown, Allbirds soft shoes/slippers, a Muji spiral bound notebook, for new chapters in my book, two Muji 0.5 black gel pens, a mechanical pencil, my tartan Fat Face pyjama bottoms, my new Nick Cave ‘This Morning Is Awesome And So Are You’ tee shirt, phone charger, headphones.

Even after I’d been checked in, gowned up, CT scanned again, and waiting in my room for the actual operation, I had great plans. I was handed my menu for tomorrow’s meals.

But I’ll be leaving after breakfast. I said to the nice lady.

“Ach, sure, just fill it in anyway and at least we know what you’d like for lunch, in case they’re late discharging you.” The nice lady said. She was right…two days in a row.

I was served 5 meals and numerous ‘wee trays’ of tea and toast. All I ended up eating was  a bowl of Rice Krispies, two spoonfuls of Irish Stew, a quarter triangle of a chicken sandwich, and all of the jelly and ice cream.

It’s amazing how many time the chef Rick Stein seems to be on daytime TV, when you can’t eat.

I didn’t listen to the audio books. I did play one halfway through, but at the point of a gun , I couldn’t tell you a single bit of it.

I wrote nothing.

I didn’t sleep, but I have memories of dreams.

I felt something.

It was fuzziness of fatigue, dread, hunger, and appreciation.

I didn’t make any bargains with myself.

I didn’t say, if you remove this, I’ll do that.

I didn’t offer ‘If you let me have this, I’ll give that in return.

In the fuzziness I did think of all the people and abilities I’m fortunate to have. And even if they didn’t come back, or I didn’t come back to that exactly, I did appreciate the time I did have them.

This may seem overly dramatic.

It is overly dramatic.

I’m overly dramatic.

But when you’ve never needed any assistance going for a shower, and it takes two people to get you ready for one, I’ll be as dramatic as I like.

I’m recovering from the operation.


I’m being spoilt.

I watched The Beatles ‘Get Back’ again, but watched it until the end this time. I didn’t want to watch the last hour before, because I didn’t ever want it finish. I LOVED it. I did cry at the credits. PC Ray Dagg and PC Ray Shayler now have bit parts in my book.

I listened to both audio books.

I watched the second season of ‘What We Do In The Shadows’, with Tuna

I have filled half the notebook.

And following a prompt from my friend Geraldine, I have dined on Lucozade and grapes. Lucozade has never tasted the same since they stopped wrapping the large glass bottles in that orangey /yellow cellophane.

My abiding memories from this recent vigil are filled with the staff that looked after me.

How do they do it ?

I got every single one of their names wrong , repeatedly.

Every single person I dealt with was more helpful, open, honest, and empathetic that the last.

They saw the worst of me and I was fortunate to see the best of them.



P.S. As you read this I am dancing in my kitchen to Hong Kong Garden, as I poach eggs for my breakfast.

Author: paul

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *