My Prose

I originally wrote all prose pieces on these pages.

August 2021

Battleground

The harsh glare of the afternoon sunlight was a problem, it should have been behind them, but when the opportunity presented itself, they had no choice but to grasp it. Jarosek lay still, surveying the scene ahead, his elite soldiers fanned out around him in crescent Formation. This was supposed to have been a routine deep-cover infiltration mission behind enemy lines. The mission had two objectives: to gather information on enemy movements and also a logistical mapping exercise of this strange jagged world which had been his area of operations for the past five weeks.

He was uneasy; he had not become the leader of this elite forward unit by chance; his tactical awareness, battle-hardened experience, and ability to command respect from his men had been gained over many field campaigns. Something nagged quietly at his brain as he surveyed the terrain ahead and below. Quarrious 1 was at the outer edges of his world’s domain; it was a harsh world of jagged peaks, deep ravines, and ever-shifting sands. Little vegetation grew on this landscape; lack of water and searing midday temperatures ensured what did was gnarled, scorched, and twisted by harsh winds. This was not a pretty world but was still coveted by many for the valuable mineral deposits that could be mined from beneath its unforgiving terrain.

He allowed himself a brief moment to dwell on the four other members of his unit. Out to his left and fifty metres in front was Scout Jackson. Ok, ok, he thought to himself, and smiled ruefully, ten out of ten for originality there, but damn, that was the guy’s job. He was small and tough and wiry as the stunted bushes that were the only plant life clinging to the slopes of the escarpment above which they were now hidden. Scout was the loner; he was happiest when out in front, crawling through thickets or silently drifting between sparse cover constantly on the lookout, his keenly aware eyes and hearing sifting the various sights and noises borne to him even on the faintest of breezes. Thad Lewis, also on his left, but maybe only 20 metres ahead, was the unit’s brawn. Tall and broad-shouldered, he had a look of quiet confidence in his physical abilities that meant opponents started at a disadvantage purely in seeing this confidence. When it came to the rough stuff, Ty Jarosek was glad Thad Lewis was by his side. 

To his immediate right and 15 metres ahead was Danny Rice, his second in command and the guy he always ran his decisions by. Danny was tall and lean, his face seared brown by the relentless sun and burning winds of Quarrious 1. This was accentuated by the shock of sun-bleached blonde hair that fell almost to his shoulders, not exactly regulation length Jarosek mused, but hell, in the field, ability and trust came long before what length a soldier’s hair was. Jarosek knew that without this guy at his side, the task of leading deep cover units would be a much more difficult task.

Out on far-right point duty, some 40 metres in front, was Frankie Marcella. Garrulous and argumentative, his behaviour was excused because invariably, his arguments were always delivered with a smile. Still, more to the point, in many previous engagements, he had proved himself a damn fine fighter and team player. This, then, was the team he had decided to put in danger by engaging a small enemy unit in battle deep behind enemy lines and with a less than favourable attack line. These were good guys, his guys, and the command decision he had made might have dire consequences for all of them. All four lay prone and stock still, awaiting a signal from him. With long-practiced hand signals, he ordered them back off the edge of the escarpment, and once below the skyline and concealed from below, they came together in a huddle to hear their unit commander outline his plan of action. Scout, within a few feet of the leading group but hearing what was being said, kept a wary eye on the proceedings below.

It was Scout, as usual, who had first spotted the three enemy supply troops moving equipment into the small command centre deep in the ravines recesses. They were not front-line battle troops, more grunts, detailed to carry out logistical works. The fact that they were well within their territorial borders and were toiling in high heat meant that they had been lulled into a torpor that had made them lazy and oblivious to the chance of attack. Overpowering this smaller unit had never been the problem. Once Jarosek had reconnoitered the situation himself, his decision had been made, and his mind now wrestled with the only two issues he could perceive. How could they attack and overpower the enemy without raising any alarm, and how to quickly spirit their captives away from this danger zone and to a place of relative security?

On outlining his plan, a dissident raising of an eyebrow by Danny Rice immediately alerted Jarosek to his next in commands doubts. “You got a problem with this, Danny, “Jarosek queried. As usual, Rice paused and thought before answering in his customary, you are the boss, and I ain’t questioning you, but…. Voice, “are you sure we ain’t landing ourselves in a whole mess of trouble here,” commander? “Look, Danny, we have been taking shit from these bastards for far too long; these Barcadians practically believe they own Quarrious1 now.” “I am tired of backing off, taking hits, and not being given a chance to strike back.” “Remember what they did to Carl”? They all quietly thought about the unit’s former scout, Carl Kerbowski, who had been jumped two missions ago. Only the Barcadian delight in the slow torture of their captives allowed the rest of the team to rescue Carl before too much pain had been caused. However, the psychological damage had been deep, and Carl had been dropped from active duty, and to his fellow unit members had seemed to drift into a silent locked world they feared he might not come out of. Big Thad Lewis spoke first, “count me in, the boss; I owe ’em one for Carl.” “Yeah, fuck them shits,” Frankie Marcello added in his slightly falsetto voice, “let’s go kick us some Barcadian ass.”

Mentioning Carl had stirred them; with a last quizzical look at Jarosek, Danny Rice nodded his assent, and the matter was settled. Jarosek knew that these guys would put their all into the mission once they had made up their minds. He also knew that their belief in him was strong enough to cast out any doubts they might have harboured about the validity of the plan he had just explained, doubts he himself could not entirely smother.  Quickly Jarosek issued orders. He told Jackson and Rice to do a broad sweep to the left, keeping below the skyline to come up close to the command centre but to its rear. He, Lewis, and Marcello would repeat the same exercise to the left. Once behind the command centre, they would use the better plant cover on the ravine floor to close on the enemy before springing into a surprise attack and overpowering them. Use of weapons, except perhaps for stun guns at close quarters, was forbidden for fear of attracting other enemy units that could be in the area. Silently they moved off.

Fifteen minutes later, without arousing any suspicion or wariness in the Barcadian supply troops, all five were in position less than ten metres from the supply transporters that the Barcadians were unloading. Jarosek, eyes fixed on the scene before him, was motionless. Squatting behind some boulders, he held three fingers in the air, knowing his troops were looking and waiting for the signal. Slowly, one finger came down, then a second, and finally, with a sharp chopping motion, all five of the unit rose as one and attacked.

The 3 Barcadians, while not attack troops, were big and beefy as befitted their labouring duties. The ensuing struggle was not as clean or as rapid as had been anticipated and was developing into something of a melee. So intense was the battle that no one noticed the almost silent approach of a command vehicle across the ravine floor. Its blue, white, and red battle colours shimmered in the heat, and it was only when it closed to within mere metres from the battle scene that it announced its presence with a shrill klaxon-like siren did the protagonists finally notice it. Shocked into petrified silence, they watched as a side hatch opened and a colossal figure emerged and approached.

The figure surveyed the scene and finally, in a booming resonance, proclaimed. “Goddamn, how many times have I told you, boys, not to play your silly gang games in this here quarry.” Officer Larry French of Denby County Sheriff’s Office surveyed the sweaty, dusty gaggle of 11 to 13-year-old boys in front of him and suppressed a smile. Hell, he had played these exact games himself as a kid. But the old Tin mine in the quarry was collapsing and was dangerous. A report from a local hill climber about boys in the quarry had fetched him from his slumber behind his air-conditioned desk and out into the festering heat of mid-afternoon.

 “Ty Jarosek, I will see your daddy tonight at the card game, and I reckon he is going to take a strap to your hide; as for you, Thad Lewis,” until recently a brawny infighter, but now a softly plump 12-year-old boy who was ready to blubber, your mamma’s going to keep you fence painting for the rest of your summer. Now all of you get to hell outta this quarry, and if I see or hear of any of you in here again, I think I will ask Judge Martin to set you boys to some good community works for the rest of your summer.” “Now beat it, pronto.” The suitably chastened and forlorn gaggle of boys trooped out of the ravine of Quarrious 1 and back to their crushingly boring summer holidays in a small Kentucky backwoods town. 

September 2021              

The Tinker Boy

A Morning Walk

The Reverend Reginald Alcock was in a peaceful, warm and relaxed attitude toward life as he opened the rectory’s front door. His small Jack Russell terrier, who had been his constant companion on his morning constitutional for the past seven years, bounded yappily past him out onto the gravel driveway in a frenzy of good morning world. Then he blurred around the corner and was gone. Reg paused for a moment before closing the weather-beaten great hall door. He took in the warm apple-flowered, scented April morning air. And bade Joyce, his darling wife, good morning and strode out to greet the day. He had marched less than three metres when the dog’s low but insistent growls began the slow descent into madness that was to destroy forever the sepia-toned start to the morning he had so purposely strode into.

Concerned but in no way frightened, he turned his feet and his mind in the direction of the dogs demanding attention. Rounding the corner, which only seconds before, the self-same dog had disappeared; he came on the entirely unexpected scene of Saddam (the dog’s name being a paean to his left of centre sense of humour) his terrier, ragging the dirty end of a young boy’s trousers. The boy, no more than eleven or twelve years of age, was dragging himself and the insistently dogged dog away from the east window of the rectory while damning the dog and all his forebears with a stream of invectively guttural curses that the mild-mannered rector found quite offensive.

Hurrying towards the intent, but unintended, wild tango of boy and dog, Reginald was having difficulty working out his priorities, for guiltily, and without Joyce’s knowledge, he had sometimes vicariously enjoyed Saddam’s instinct for the scent of blood and the kill. On the other hand, the obviously plaintive cry for help clearly heard behind the fecund language of the boy awakened his inherent humanistic tendencies toward the need of a fellow human being in distress. But also, somewhere in the well-educated, if experientially narrow, confines of his intellect, a warning bell slipped into shrill, if unattended life.

Two or three minutes later, after a wild, un-choreographed dance of toing’s and froing’s, the now sweaty man of God held a still game and heartily alive to the hunt terrier securely in his arms. Reg watched as the terrified but still loudly offensive young boy ran down through the grass-floored orchard of Bramley’s and Cox Orange Pippins. He disappeared through a gap in the carefully tended Whitethorn hedge that formed the boundary between the rectory and the country lane that led into the sleepy village of Cluanfertigh.

“Well, my goodness, what was all that about, eh Saddam,” This said to a terrier who was somewhat caught between pride in having seen the enemy off and raging frustration at not at least having tasted blood. A final series of sharp yaps and an attempted lunge by the terrier to break free convinced Reggie that any attempt at a peaceful morning’s ramble through the fertile fields surrounding the rectory was useless. With a final bewildered shake of his head, he turned, and with still a growling bundle of tormented dog clasped tightly to him, he headed back up the driveway and re-entered the rectory, closing the hall door firmly behind him before finally letting go of the pint-sized storm trooper and called out to Joyce to alert her on his early return to the household.

Reginald Ian Alcock had been born nearby some forty-seven years beforehand. In many ways, the house had not changed much in those forty-seven years. The boundaries were still lined by the whitethorn hedge through which the tinker boy had so recently flung himself, heedless of the vicious thorns hidden behind the fresh, newly sprung green leaves and abundant white flowers that made it a joy to behold each early April. His father, the Reverend Jerome Alcock, had planted the hedge in the autumn immediately after his posting to the Church of Ireland Parish of Cluanfertigh and Clongearalt in nineteen fifty-nine. It stood one metre seventy-five tall and a metre thick, a perfect testament to his hard work all those years ago, except for a couple of small gaps, worn over the years by tiresome local boys who pilfered apples from the orchard each autumn.

A narrow driveway, ungated but with a cattle grid necessary in a country parish, brought you two hundred metres up a small incline to a sweep of gravel large enough to turn a car or small van around on. The house itself, while solid, was not large enough to be considered imposing. Built of squared granite blocks hewn from a local quarry in the late eighteen century, it resembled any purpose-built late Georgian rectory. The roof was also of local cut slate, with all planes of the roof leading to a squat rectangular chimney stack. A sweeping set of three granite steps led one up to the stout front door built of solid oak adorned only by a large brass knocker, letterbox, and doorknob. The four downstairs and five upstairs windows, still in their original form, were now, of course, double-glazed mock Georgian aluminum, which helped keep some heat in the large high-ceilinged rooms inside. That was quite a feat in the sometimes harsh winters the parish experienced. Built outside the village and standing on its own, the rectory did not have the benefit of latent heat from adjacent houses.

Reggie felt he had always been destined to follow in his father’s footsteps and be ordained as a minister in the Church of Ireland. So it came as little surprise to his parents when he packed himself off to the seminary at eighteen years of age to study for the ministry and even less of a surprise when, a few years after being ordained, he married his childhood sweetheart, Joyce Deacon. Upon his ordination, he was appointed to his present ministry and had been there ever since. The parish, a sizeable rural one, was not much of a challenge ecclesiastically wise as his flock of farmers and merchants were a basically conservative congregation and not in any way prone to questioning their mild-mannered minister’s utterances. This suited the good Reverend who, although a devoted servant of God, was no intellectual heavyweight.

Joyce bore her husband two children, a son called David and a daughter named Alice. Now in their early twenties, both children were living away from home, studying at a university in Dublin. David and Alice, like their father, were not overly burdened with brainpower and had wisely chosen to pursue general arts degrees. Not too taxing on the mind but still respectable enough to bring home to a conservative rural parish. Neither was ever going to set the academic world alight but would not disgrace it either. All was as it should be with life until that morning and the incident between Saddam and the tinker boy.

Reverend Alcock did not know the boy; he was not a member of his congregation or a local boy. So Reggie assumed he must be from one of the new families recently moved into the local itinerant encampment. The encampment, a small one comprising of seven families, had been there as long as he could remember. Apart from the odd bit of opportunistic petty theft, they caused little trouble and were pretty much left to their own devices by the settled community. That same community was about to find out that these new families were a completely different breed entirely. Saddam was now happily ensconced on his favourite rug by the heart of the big open fire that dominated the living room. The occasional twitch and yip indicated that he was dreaming, most likely about his encounter with the boy that morning. The Reverend sat down at the living room table, took out his copy of the Irish Times, and started to read. A few minutes later, his reading was interrupted by a fresh burst of frenzied barking from a now wide-awake and very agitated Saddam.

He got up from the table and went to the large window that looked out onto the driveway that led to the rectory. He immediately understood what was causing the dog’s consternation. The little boy that Saddam had tangled with earlier that morning was striding purposely up the driveway, flanked by two large and very menacing-looking men. Joyce had gone to the village grocery shopping and was not expected back for a while yet, so he was alone in the house. Leaving Saddam safely behind closed doors in the living room, he went to the front door to meet and greet his visitors. On opening the door, one of the men got right down to business, with no introductions or niceties of any kind. Just “we have come for the dog Reverend.” Saddam was by now watching all of this from the front window, and on spying him, asked the boy, is that him? Is that the one? “Yes, that’s him.” Came the reply from a very subdued boy. “He’s not for sale” was the only thing Reggie could think to reply. “I didn’t say we’ve come to buy him; I said we’ve come for him,” was the man’s curt reply. “Well, you can say what you want, but he is going nowhere with you.” Was Reggie’s polite, firm reply, and now, if you will excuse me, I have urgent parish matters to attend to, and he turned on his heel, shut the door, and went to calm Saddam. After standing puzzled for a minute, the trio of visitors turned away from the house and started slowly back down the driveway and away from the rectory.

When Joyce returned from her shopping trip, Reggie mentioned nothing about his recent visitors to her as he did not want her worrying unnecessarily. Joyce was concerned about everything, from global warming to the reserves of the world’s oil supplies. She, at forty-three, was four years Reggie’s junior. And at five feet three inches tall was dwarfed by his six feet one. She could be best described as plain. Reggie loved her and had been a devoted husband to her throughout their twenty-four years of marriage. It was not a marriage marked by huge swings of mood or passion by either party. But more like a slow-burning wax candle. Reggie settled back to his paper reading whilst Joyce busied herself with her daily household chores.

He spent the afternoon in the parish church doing odd jobs and talking to many parishioners, who, on seeing his car parked outside, dropped in for a quick chat or some advice on a minor religious matter. Reggie Alcock really enjoyed this part of his job, and he immersed himself in it for the rest of the afternoon and forgot all about his earlier visitors to the rectory. He made it home just in time for supper which Joyce insisted on serving promptly at six pm each evening. This evening’s meal was Spaghetti Bolognese, one of his favourite dishes. They both tucked into it immediately and, without any conversation, ate their meal. Once consumed, Joyce cleared the table and started to wash the dishes while Reggie turned on the television to catch the main evening news.

Once the news was over, Reggie turned off the television, and they both sat back down at the table. For the next hour or so, Reggie read his bible while Joyce read the newspaper. She noted that there had been an outbreak of petty thefts in the area that was concerning local gardai. With little other information other than that, she quickly moved on and forgot about it. They sat like this in companionable silence until nine pm when Reggie got up to let Saddam out for his nightly ablutions. This ritual occurred simultaneously every night, and both man and dog were well accustomed to it. Saddam would take care of his toilet needs and then head off for a ramble around the rectory grounds. Reggie would wait in the living room with Joyce knowing Saddam would scrabble at the back door when he was ready to come back in.

After twenty minutes, Reggie began to fret, as Saddam never took this long on his nightly ramble. After half an hour, they both knew something was wrong. Reggie left a distraught Joyce behind him and went in search of the missing dog. After half an hour of fruitless searching and calling out Saddam’s name, he returned to the rectory to inform his wife and, at last, tell her about his trio of visitors that afternoon. Joyce immediately insisted they both go straight to the itinerant encampment and ask about the dog. Reggie was not in favour of this course of action, but Joyce would not be dissuaded. The intrepid pair set off on their mission with high hopes but were only met with fierce indignation and indifference to their plight. The little boy and the two men who had visited the rectory that afternoon were nowhere to be seen, and one of the newly arrived caravans were also now missing. With nothing more to be gained from hanging around the encampment, the downbeat couple trudged slowly home, hoping forlornly that Saddam had returned. But alas, he was nowhere to be found. Extensive searches the next morning not only confirmed the dog was still missing but also that the Church of Ireland church had been broken into and a sum of money had been stolen.

Unfortunately, Saddam was neither seen nor heard of again, and this despite Reggie offering indemnity from prosecution and a reward for any information leading to his safe return. Eventually, both he and Joyce came to regretfully accept they had lost their beloved little dog forever. Reggie’s daily walks were much the lesser for it. And Joyce sorely missed him scampering about her feet as she went about her daily household chores. After six months of grieving about his loss, Reggie felt it was time to move on and arrived home and presented Joyce with an eight-week-old Jack Russell puppy with much the same markings as Saddam had.   

October 2021

This Gender Idiocy

Men are from Mars, big boys don’t cry, man up, real men don’t eat quiche, and I could go on forever. On the opposite side, I will mention women are from Venus, girly girls, retail therapy, weepy movies, and so on. Conformist lunacy that says we are forever enslaved to our gender, backed up by a powerful lobby of multinational corporations, governments, and media that targets us based on the narrowest definition of ourselves as human beings, whether we are male or female.

I am no apologist for either side, and while this piece is written by a male and primarily about men, it seeks in no way to insult the great works of the very talented feminists, sociologists, and psychologists who have advanced our understanding and awareness of the human condition and gender inequality. It is not an attempt to debunk any theory, idea, or stance, but rather, an attempt to ask us all to sit back and think on something of greater significance than our gender, the one thing that binds us to each other, our humanity.

It is not meant to be divisive or polemic but simply pose some questions that men and women, as humans, might genuinely ask of themselves and each other. Simple but real questions that do not seek to champion one gender or attack another. This piece is about human beings and our common ground as males and females. I make no apologies for the fact that I will ask men hard questions of themselves, not because we have failed to live up to the female, or feminist theory, on who or what we are, but because I believe, as men, we are failing ourselves miserably, we are the lesser of ourselves.

We have allowed ourselves to become caricatures of what we were meant to be. This is not just a male problem, for I believe women today are equally lost. Neither gender is truly capable of listening to its own soul. They are totally dependent on sound bytes of up-to-the-minute what’s hot and not to determine their reactions and motivations in a world full of thirty-something teenagers obsessed with “the moment” with no thinking or vision of what is real, meaningful, and of value that may allow them to grow as human beings.

At the onset, I will apologise immediately to the many millions of amazing young men and women who are standing tall and proud and living their lives based on thought, awareness, education, and honest endeavour to truly partake in a society that moves frighteningly fast and, while being more connected than ever, is increasingly becoming a fragmented and very lonely place for all of us. Lastly, it is not a learned or studied piece; it is just my honest ideas on how we might better serve ourselves, think on some of the reactionary and polemic gluts of sexist garbage we are being fed, and start to treat each other decently as human beings.

If one more woman tells me, “you are very in touch with your feminine side,” I will scream. It utterly insults me as a male to be told I am such a good guy because I am portraying natural human traits they perceive to be owned by females alone. What qualities did I show that elicited this lazy thinking again and again throughout my life? I am male, very male, love my sports, enjoy my beers, and am totally at home in men-only company. But I do happen to be a man who refuses to believe being a man automatically denies me feeling and enjoying so many pleasures and feelings and ideas that have been mistakenly assigned to one gender, females.

Am I in touch with my emotions, yes, all of them? I fear, I love, I get jealous, I get angry, I cry, I laugh, I love, I feel insecure. I can be kind, caring, gentle, distant, cold, and childish. I dream and wish and hope, and I defend and fight and lie. Is there anything in this incomplete list that can be attributed solely to males or females? Not one, for as humans, we hold common emotive responses to everything. The absolute truth is that while accepting the natural anthropological basis of our roles, society has conditioned us to react very differently to many different situations. Males and females are very different, delightfully so, but we share far more commonality than difference. Gender-wise, our difference is something to be celebrated and respected. I was borne by a woman, raised by a mother and sisters, and have loved women my whole life. Honestly, at over 60 years of age, I am saddened by the growing disrespect we hold each other in on both sides.

It seems as if we are heading down a road of mutual misunderstanding of each other yet absolutely assured of our own ideas about how to play each other to gain advantage or manipulate to serve our own greedy but narrowly defined wishes. How often do you hear the following snippets of conversation or “perceived wisdom” when listening to friends, family, workmates, or social contacts?

Guys, out for beers, in a group, will always talk about:

“Ok, guys, going home to do the family stuff; keep her happy if I am going to have a chance of a home run later.” He leaves to cheers of go get it, man, while immediately after he leaves, he is talked about as pussy whipped! “Hey, look at the rack on her; now I could do bad things to her” Yet he has not had sex with his woman in a few weeks, except, of course, for pathetic sex when he is horny and just needs to hump something wet and warm apart from his own hand.

“Hey, I get it whenever I want, man,” In retort to another male, but meaning I don’t give a damn, I do the necessary, get her drunk, buy a takeaway, tell her she is hot, give it all a quick feel and hey, five minutes later I’m happy and sleeping. I could go on, but why bother, and women? No better, just as insulting, demeaning, and unthinking. Women out together are even more vicious. They demean and insult their men as kids, unfortunately, true in a lot of cases. They giggle about hilariously pathetic sex situations, especially if it demeans men. They discuss males as meat just as males discuss them in that very same vein. But more than that, they watch, especially their female friends, but also every man in the situation they are in, be it work, socialising, or shopping, always alive to the moment.

What has happened to respect, privacy, and liking each other? Why do we all seem to have the need to control or dominate or put down the other? Where is the idea gone that we actually complement each other and are naturally disposed to help each other grow? I am not laying blame; I am asking questions, not questions I need answers to. Questions we need to be asking ourselves. Why do I not need answers? Long ago, I learned to be quiet and think; I learned to listen. I learned to question what was being put in front of me and ask something deeper. I am no old fogey fearing change, no Luddite or flat earth flag bearer. I have no religious leanings or beliefs.

I simply look at human beings, men and women, and wonder about our future and our ability to forge deep and meaningful lasting relationships that will deeply sustain all of us. I am not a male who would go back to older ideas of love, marriage, or relationships, not a man who craves the supposedly more secure simplicity of yesteryear’s ideas. I am forward-thinking, intellectually and emotionally secure, and I love the ever-changing nature of our interactions.

But in discussing elementary and defined areas of our interactions, I would hope I might put forward a broad vision of where we were, supposedly, where we are now, generally, and where we might go together in marrying the old with the now and incorporating the future possibilities. I believe men and women can be glorious together, support and help define each other in their separateness and togetherness. In finding each other as developed and thinking human beings, there is an opportunity to sense all of ourselves, learn our frailties, and grow in our understanding of, firstly, ourselves, then each other, and ultimately, our journey together.

I write this from a deep sense of my own failings, I am human, intrinsically incomplete, but I have never stopped striving. I am guilty of everything I now put forward as issues. Yet, I want to see ways forward for us. I am a child in my sixties, learning and growing. I am lucky; people have always fascinated me, and now I have questions to ask and proposals to put forward. Agreeing or disagreeing is your choice.

Ladies and gentlemen, an old misused and abused term. Where are the ladies and gentlemen of today? Or was there ever a code of conduct between us? I believe there were good codes, but men were just as abusive in a male-controlled and dominated world. Today men will walk over, straight through, and past women without a thought, no gentleness, no manners, and no sense of simple respect or courtesy. They march along the street, spitting, checking hoes out openly. Yes, men look; women want them looking, but where did discreet respect go?

Where do you see a young male stand back and allow a woman to go first now, open a door, stand up and offer his seat? Yes, it does happen, but far too rarely, and young women are insultingly dismissive of these gestures at times. This fear of doing naturally positive and good things is compounded by young women’s reactions today. Equality is a true and real ideal but let’s not be stupid; there are simple human courtesies to be respected while allowing for real equality to develop.

Courtesy is courtesy, I am in my sixties, and I will still watch ahead, see where I can be courteous, open a door, allow someone a pathway, offer a helping hand, and allow others with respect to go through their day. I am aware of my maleness and proper allowance of every woman I meet not to fear that, for make no mistake, our aggression and dominant attitude have made women deeply question even our best intentions. Far too often, men have used positive interaction to turn it into something far nastier and more threatening. We have done it, and we, men, all pay the price for it. We are no longer self-regulating; that guy who acts out of place is no longer sanctioned by his peers. We turn away embarrassed, ignore the behaviour, walk away from the company, and do anything but say. “Hey, that is not acceptable; let the person know this behaviour will not be tolerated. We take the easy route and, in doing so, make all our roads more tortured.

Again, I have to say young women have joined the prevailing culture. Instead of standing as sisters and saying they will not accept this brutish and low behaviour, they have simply developed base skills to cope with and defend against this. As women, we will knock men, belittle them, and give them the finger and the vicious steel of our cutting tongues. We will knock their sexual prowess and their earning ability. Women now doing to men what we did to them for two thousand years. Sadly, no one is a winner.

Do I blame anyone? No, I cannot blame males or females, parents or children. More than ever before, we are controlled in our thinking. Our societies and educational systems are designed subtly. Newsfeeds and social forums, our governments are all a conglomerate that softly tells us how to think, how to behave, and what to believe in.

All lies. It is about keeping us sated so we don’t notice that we are just tools while those inside know they are becoming more powerful, more impregnable, and studying very cleverly their way out when it all comes tumbling down. Countries, States, banks, and companies are printing money at a furious rate simply to uphold their own ability to prepare for a future that only includes themselves. Have your takeaway, your widescreen TV, and weekend breaks in Prague. We are being told to be unthinking, uncaring, impolite, and selfish. Why have we stopped thinking? Why have we become so unquestioning of the status quo? Why do we seem so abjectly consigned to lousy behaviour, impoliteness, and aggression against the old, weak, young, and female? Do we feel powerless to argue against inadequate services, faulty goods, or companies with terms and conditions in contracts that make it impossible for us to complain yet allow them to get away with far less than promised?

We seem to be sinking into a morass of helplessness in both genders, taking far longer to grow up and behave in an adult way, act responsibly, and take on serious decision-making in almost every aspect of our lives. Young men, even in their twenties and thirties, seem caught up in a hidden world of online gaming, pornography, binge drinking, and laddish (Read loutish) behaviour. Dating seems dated, and even in company now, both sexes spend most of their time texting, sexting, and checking their Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts. Young women are outstripping their male counterparts in binge drinking, loud and abusive behaviour, and seem entirely immersed in how many tags they receive online. Both sexes, I feel, believe themselves to be far more interesting and sexier online than in reality.

The herd mentality is taking over. Previously, while still teenagers and in school, it was extremely important to fit in, not be different, not to stand out, and perhaps be isolated or bullied. Very quickly, though, on leaving school, people branched out, became more of themselves, and chose friends and lifestyles to suit their own beliefs and convictions, ideas, desires, and needs. Now, however, it looks like everyone continues in that teenage school mode, guys in groups of guys, girls in groups of girls, each acting the same, looking the same, dressing the same, talking the same, and obsessed with being in the in-crowd.

The guys seem incapable of sitting down and talking or behaving in a mannerly and thoughtful way around women, and the girls have become drunken, loud, and abusive towards males. In this, I am not knocking young women, I believe it to be an unthought-out defense strategy that seems to say, “We expect you to be abusive, aggressive and nasty, and dominating, so we get our revenge first.”

In all of this, we both lose. Both sexes accept the Mars and Venus divide without ever thinking about the fact that we have far more humanistic traits in common than our gender differences, and in perhaps thinking about what joins us, what compels us to interact with each other gives us a chance to pull back from the cliff we both seem to be running towards.

So, are we going to trust ourselves, look inward, within ourselves, and honestly ask ourselves, what is this really about? Do I love myself? Do I deserve to be loved for who I am rather than the looks, body, job, or wealth I possess? We need to ask ourselves, who am I, and what do I really desire for myself? And more importantly, if I can ask what I desire, surely then I have to ask If I deserve to be treated with respect for my needs; it is then beholden on me to think about how I might treat others to accord them the same respect of existing and desiring to live their own lives.

We are human, bad, mad, and yes, kind and caring all within one person. As humans, we are imperfect and incomplete. In today’s world, youth is in the ascendency. We no longer have to wait and toil and learn and grow. Why should you listen to your crotchety old grandparents when you have all the wealth and gadgets by age thirty? They have nothing to teach you; it’s not as if they did a lot with their lives now, is it?

I guess the one thing they have to teach you is your humanity and how time will teach you that you are not Olympus or any of the other gods. But a simple yet amazingly complex human being. Full of faults and failings, dichotomies, and many seeming paradoxes. Our young years are a glorious time in our lives. Full of learning and new ideas, unfortunately, it is also when we gain all our values and all our prejudices. This occurs informally through interaction with our peers and, more formally, through schooling. This is when we formulate our narrow gender-based thinking. We all then spend the rest of our lives trying to deconstruct so that we might finally be able to see each other in a much broader and more humanistic way.

Once upon a time, the elders of both genders in the community were looked up to for their acquired knowledge and experience, but our society has become more and more youth-centric. Older people have been pushed more and more to the margins of our communities. Both genders are deemed surplus to requirements. We go on to repeat the very same mistakes with our ageist thinking as we did with our narrow gender-based ideas. Instead of embracing that knowledge and experience and using it to enhance our understanding of our own lives, we shove them aside in our rush to get ahead.

Despite the overall negative tone of this piece, I am not fearful for the future of humanity. Because of the significant advances in science and medicine, I do believe there is more to look forward to than to fear. Especially if we are all willing to try to understand each other in a humanistic rather than a gender-based way. I am very aware of the fact that in the article, I have only discussed ideas from a highly narrow heterosexual point of view. Still, I believe all of the ideas discussed here are equally pertinent to people with an LGBTQ or Non-Binary point of view. Respect is respect, no matter what your chosen preference is.    

November 2021

That Bastard Neil Young

Neil Young is a bastard; oh, don’t go all self-righteous; I’m not casting aspersions on his birthright. Perhaps I should have started with Neil Young is a wanker. See, now I am in even worse trouble. Ok, let’s start again; Neil Young was responsible; I don’t care how many people have got issues with that lead-in; it’s a fact, for me, a factually untrue fact, psychologically unsound, and even downright blasphemous, yeah, you guessed, now the bible thumpers got me securely by the balls, (not that bible thumpers would ever admit to grabbing testicles). Side note to Neil Young, walk away now, it gets worse, a lot worse.

When you are an intellectual culchie, things are tough. An intellectual culchie is one of two things, either too big for their boots (wellingtons naturally), with ideas beyond their means, or, worse still, an arrogant bastard or bitch. Why worse, you ask yourself? Well, we all know the dreamers, don’t we? God love them; they are harmless. They actually believe there is more out there, one meal in a proper restaurant, a holiday that doesn’t involve the word Costa and they believe they have found the key. They are deluded children.

Now, intelligent culchies are a whole different kettle of damn clichés, so I shall say water. Intelligent culchies are the ones who think they truly are better because they are clever. Why are they more dangerous? Simply because the poor dears actually do believe it. Your “average” intelligent culchie is the one who first moans about being stifled by the small-town atmosphere, meaning tea instead of a latte, the chipper instead of La Bella Ristorante (Italian for chipper), and Mary’s Boutique Summer Collection versus Vera Moda Summer Collection, (same clothes, different price). Of course, they make a better class of local drunk; it’s always a better class of local drunkenness when you drink twelve-year-old single malt rather than Vodka WKD.

Anyway, after digressing into cliché ridden verbosity, we return to the matter in hand (oh God, isn’t discussing masturbation so passé, as we delve straight back in) It’s tough being an intellectual culchie simply because trying to be an original in a world full of, well, let’s face it, rehashed originality, is a damn tiresome journey. Now, what if this so-called intellectual culchie is a Gemini, a left-handed male, and a former altar boy? Transport this to Ready, Steady, Cook, and the ingredients make for a giant paella!!!!!

Well, what has this got to do with Neil Young’s parentage, you ask incredulously, hah! I knew it would be too tangled for your simplistic mind to follow, don’t you remember? I told Neil to walk away. Typically, being a straightforward boy of good farming stock, he took me at my word and walked. Hey farm boy, cosy up; I ain’t finished with you yet, not by a country mile. Country miles?  Oh yes, we were discussing culchies, the ones who spend most of their time lamenting their birthright didn’t include an address in Killiney, Sorrento even, let’s not discuss La Bella Ristorante again, and the rest of their time pathetically trying to write a John McGahern novel of deep understanding of the birthright they supposedly despise.

What does being an intellectual culchie really mean? It’s a broad landscape, really. Sorry, how rural of me; it’s more a kaleidoscopic stellar experience, one that doesn’t include winks and knowing giggles at the mention of “black holes” But is probably best appreciated under the influence of the second half of the aforementioned single malt. Of course, there is a time equation to be involved; I refer to culchies of a particular vintage, pre-cultural, religious, emotional, sexual, intellectual, and financial deregulation, italics intentional. Today, your average culchie (we will get back to the intellectual culchies via the M1 road to nowhere.) is connected to the worldwide waste, sorry, web!

Neil, now sitting comfortably by the campfire, with guitar in hand, probably at Cairnsore Point, first entered my consciousness “Like a Hurricane.” This was at a time when crazy horses didn’t gallop around urban architectural landscapes in Finglas and long, so long before social services didn’t twist itself through the Karma Sutra in an attempt to teach the young outriders the simple fundamental fact that you are an out of control idiot. Hmmm, I lost the plot; sorry, they tried to teach the basics of how to look after your Knackers pony in an architecturally designed modern urban landscape while completely ignoring the fact you were failing miserably to do anything worthwhile except continue to scab off the state.

Yes, my intellectual culchie arrogance shines proudly through that last piece. But I am not selective; my vitriol extends to urban idiots as well; I am all-inclusive, except where Costa and latte are involved. Naturally, as an intellectual culchie, I prefer the rugged realism of The White Villages of Andalusia and their patent distaste of The Costa tourism and a real bloody coffee, ala double espresso (notice the entwined multi-linguistics) Mind you, long before its importation into trendy roadside cafés across Europe espresso was the rugged wake-up drink of the toiling classes, so perhaps my real “culchism” is sneakily reclaiming my stone washed, (as distinct from whitewashed) soul. 

Ok, this rambling preamble has to have a point, I vaguely seem to remember it has something to do with being a culchie of rarefied intelligence and insight, but something huge lurks in the background. Ah yes, what else could it be but “the Church” Yes, of course, it’s the church, no, not the church of pathetic, pent-up male misogynists, but rather that type of 1970s happy-clappy sing-along collarless, short-sleeved, Fr David type church who introduced John Denver and The Carpenters into youth renewal weekends. Talk about Rust Never Sleeps, the rust had set in on this quicker than you can say, Alice Cooper, and no, I didn’t live next door to him.

As an intellectual culchie who was happier thinking of John Lennon’s happiness with his gun and more interested in naked, heavy-breasted young German ladies who wanted to vigorously discuss Nuclear disarmament on freezing nights in small dope-filled tents (dopes of all kinds) in Cairnsore Point, this type of Vatican two church was too breezily sugar-coated to be of any meaning. Decamping to Dublin and the wonders of Mein Kamp, Jung, the pupil, Freud, master, hey, it’s my ramble, ok, dichotomies and discussion of the existence of true altruism meant that all the weak-kneed kowtowing of Sunday in Bally wherever was discarded, now known for being beneath your superior perspective.

And then that bastard Neil Young rang the doorbell. At 8 pm on a Wednesday evening, you would have never answered it, but no, you’re smart-assed educated, godless son strolls in and says, “for you, dad” You ask who it is, and you get a shrug, and a muttered “dunno.” Now here is the crux, you are tired, hey, it’s Wednesday, almost 40 hours worked this week so far, but that pathetic politeness instilled by those culchies who raised you forces you off your comfy seat and out to be confronted by yeah, you guessed it, no, not the bloody Samaritans, their night is Monday when you are crankiest. It’s good ol’ farmer boy himself, and before you can throw on the false show of bonhomie, this long-haired Jesus freak starts into “When God Made Me.”

In seconds, years of damn hard work of stripping yourself of all the “old shite” is destroyed. Images of Jung and heavy-breasted naked German girls, thoughts of espressos and Paninis are gone, and all you are left with is a thought, “When God Made Me.”

Quod erat demonstrandum?   

December 2021

The Watcher

Summer city night crowded pavements thrummed with feet and expectancy. Nine pm and the soft glow of the setting sun bathed expectant faces gently, catching freshly painted masks and bared summer flesh kindly. Excited female voices mingled with the clatter of high heels and traffic, and all were watched by hungry male eyes. It was one of the few fine calm nights of that summer, perfect for wearing the most daring of flimsy outfits without the fear of all being revealed by sudden gusts of wind or shown erotically through rain-soaked silks and satins. Then again, in the masses, there were probably a number of libidinous young souls who would have preferred that scenario of accidental exhibitionism.

He had seen it all before, too many times. Every attempt to relax and enjoy it was constantly quelled by the all too familiar knowledge of how these beautiful city nights end. The eyeliner that focused his attention on their beautiful young eyes would stream and run. Their heels, provocatively thrusting their hips, would become painful and handheld, and confident feminine struts would become ungainly drunken struggles to taxis and oblivion. That’s if, of course, there were no slips in the pools of their own or someone else’s vomit, mental or physical abuse from strangers or their own troubled minds, or ending up with the wrong guy and a baby, or worse still the target of one of the earlier watchers, one of the dangerous ones.

He stood in line at the cash point machine with his female partner of the night and a male friend and, for once, was not irked by the slow pace of the queue that gave him time to peruse the hedonistic visions of youth bent on enjoyment surrounding him. It was somewhat marred by an ability to look forward and see how these young “Davids” and “Helens of Troy” would become tomorrow’s middle-aged Daves and Helens. They would age, become fatter, lose hair and vitality and bury their dreams in constant worry about and management of jobs, pensions, mortgages, homes, families, and children. But for tonight, they were gods and goddesses, and their belief that they were different and would avoid all the traps had managed to bury their doubts and fears, and needs. Finally, at the machine, he paused, and in a quick moment of decision surrounding the whole night, he changed his withdrawal upwards by fifty percent. They were right, live in the moment, but at heart, he knew it was really a decision that if all else was worthless, getting blind drunk would be a good alternative.

All three companions moved away from the cashpoint and nonchalantly strolled across the street, heading towards their rendezvous with the known unknown. The bar was one of the oldest establishments in the city but was now ripped apart and redesigned to fit the image of its new, younger, affluent, and party-loving clientele. It was probably a bit young for the three, but they were still presentable, young at heart, and meeting up with a set of like-minded and similar-aged acquaintances, safety in numbers sprang to his mind immediately.

The bar was open plan, with lots of little alcoves at the edges; the décor was functional and lit with cool blues and soft whites. The first-floor surrounding balcony provided tables and chairs for the would-be watchers, those who enjoyed social voyeurism. Above that, a rooftop bar provided space for smokers to comply with the latest big brother regulations on public health. The government collects its taxes on legal drugs and then tries to tell you they are unhealthy sweet irony. The bar staff, all young fresh androgyny, utterly untrained, and all bluster and self-importance, rushed around ineffectually. At least the bar wasn’t too crowded, making ordering a drink over the too-loud music and actually getting it only a slight irritant. After buying a round of drinks, he excused himself, and on the pretext of a visit to the toilets, he did his customary checking out of the premises; why? Knowledge is power.

Getting back to his companions, he started to notice a few of their fellow travellers that night. The same faces who attended all of these nights, the helpless fools who believed they still might excite some real interest in themselves. The greedy, the liars, the users, the used, the abused and amused, all were there and as yet not one new face that might excite or intrigue. Polite re-introductions and greetings were the order of the day for the next hour or so. He put his hail-fellow-well-met face on and delivered the usual bullshit lines that sociability decreed, all the time sinking deeper into auto mode and allowing himself to float above it. His partner and friend were engaged in idle chatter, and he couldn’t help but think some unkind thoughts of them. New faces slowly emerged, and he had them placed in their own little foxholes within minutes of meeting them. At least, with the numbers swelling, though boringly, they could confidently call it a group social night out. Yes, the night he had initially mooted would at least not be ridiculed by nonattendance.

Why had he initiated such an event? Boredom, probably, allied to a devilish little enjoyment of watching people embarrass themselves as they strove to live up to their online identities. Words, so many brave words spoken, now be them, live them, be as interesting as you write yourself. A meeting of online chat friends is always a good exercise in “oh my god,” “you cannot be…….” Watch for a while, and you absolutely know, oh yes, this is you all right; your words own you.

Impossible tedium was relieved by the arrival of another group of three, this time, two females and one male. He hadn’t noticed their arrival, but his attention being sought by his partner and friend, he found himself confronted by them. His initial guess was right on two of them, “the couple”. He had to struggle through the introductions to them as his mind was already burning on fire. The watcher struggled; impartial, uninvolved thought was dissolved in an instant, overpowered by deep hunger. Thrown, he politely was introduced or introduced himself; who cares. The contact, however fleeting and only in his mind, he cautioned himself, had been made.

Drive incompatibility malfunction, warning, danger; his mind flipped rapidly between intellectual and emotional. This does not compute; please try another path, uploading a new file path. That path led straight to the bar and the time-loaded occupation of trying to order, get and pay for a drink from one of the useless, pretty young staff. What the fuck? his mind raced; where did that come from? rather, where was she? was she with someone? who was she? images flashed, and words ran by. Be calm; where the fuck was the watcher gone? Gone, no doubt, replaced by what?

The ability of a good mind is to hold many things, but the intellect is just one part; the emotions are the tag team partner. Tag team partners actually work well together, understanding each other’s moves and game plans. Mostly what the intellect and emotions do is ignore each other. It’s called the emotional/intellectual divide, or so the learned tell you. To the watcher, it was simply the fuck up zone. The plan was torn into shreds. “The Plan,” oh, that was simple, go there, be cool, separated, uninvolved, accepted socially, and enjoy the mind fuck. Feel it all intellectually, work it out with the great mind you possess and then call it experiential learning.

But then she has to have those eyes, yes, the all fuck up eyes. The eyes that say I know it all. I am just as quick and aware, as fucked and fucked up, oh, and yes, better able to play it than you. He watched her in the periphery, trying to be intellectual, watching, as a watcher does, but knowing and feeling things that were not part or were supposed to be part of the night.

What does her skin smell like? Why do you think she knows she owns a cunt? How far would she let you in? Deeply intelligent, what makes you think that? Sensitive, yeah, you know she is; you have shaken her hand and said hi, and here you are, totally attuned to her sensual sensitivity. You asshole, you know nothing. He sees her move, listens to her voice, watches her body, and becomes horny, oh so alive intellectually, sensually, horny. He wants to taste her, touch her, sensually and dirtily. He wants to kiss her, feel her soft, warm, wet tongue trace his own sensual need.

Beautiful, yes, no, yes-no, fuck it, look, see what you see, not what you want to see. She is beautiful, sadly sensually beautiful. She is alive with all her needs and wants and love and lust. She is neither a child nor a blonde bimbo, but I see her child and intelligence and her beautiful big sensuous body that promises delights we men have never learned to fully appreciate. She is a goddess and woman incarnate and sexually and sensually vibrant, and I want to touch all of her. She moved, always moving, chatting, smiling, giggling her delightfully playful self; her eyes glittered, played. No one got too much, just enough to titillate and intrigue and leave a lingering sense of “I want more” She displayed bits of her funnily, emotionally, sensually, and erotically and people wanted the bits. Consummate in her ability to play the games, she flitted, always a smile.

Watchers watch, watching watchers watch. She came into his company of her own choosing and his moving to be in her company, and he knew she watched as closely as he did and knew the things he did. A cigarette break forced them both to where they wanted the chance to be, alone. Alone to see, see what was thought. Mutual respect, yes, but something indefinably intricate moved between them, an acceptance? a need? The play was an easy, gentle, and soft touch. They kissed, and the kiss was unexpectedly soft and warm and sensual and said come know me, and the first kiss should not feel like this. It shocked him. No, not her kiss, their kiss, for it was mutual. In the end, it was not an awkward or “oh damn” big mistake. Its ending was a beginning of, oh, I know you, and on that night, there it ended.

The rest of the night was unlatching, feeling, and aware. She was gentle, caring, fun, kind, and laughing, but hidden. He watched, quietly absorbed, and ruined his night, for instead of being with his partner of the night, he was further inside and wondering. She left, mindful of social needs, minding those she was with, unlike him. He had left after meeting her, and all that remained was false. She left him confused and happy and angry and sad. Lost and alone, he went back into the night, saw the pain and trouble, the need and the disease, and something in him wanted to hurt and abuse and use because anything was better than knowing and not having. How dare she make him feel and need the things he knew he never had.

He watches and sees, The Fool on The Hill.

Out on the town

January 2022

The Battle

They stood worlds apart and opposed. Two young gods, Ra, god of the sun, and Anqet, a water goddess, eyed each other with open contempt and sullen indifference. Childishly matching their wits against each other, both used the world below to act out their games of dominance and superiority. They fenced, battled, and strategically allowed each other to take dominion in one spot while they claimed another. in pursuit of who would eventually reign over the largest amount of their planetary battleground. The fight, stretching back through the millennia, never failed to ignite their burning desire to hold sway over the other, and planet after planet lay wasted, burned dry by Ra, or left a frozen cold wasteland by Anqet.

After eight weeks in which Ra had been in the ascendancy over a vast area of forest and grass plains, the sun had shone unmercifully, slowly sucking the very life from the trees, undergrowth, and the deep rich humus of the forest floor. The grass on the plains was tinder dry and poor feed for the many cloven-footed beasts and foragers that depended on the succulent grasses of the plain for their survival. His power increased daily as the heat from the sun-baked earth radiated outwards and upwards, creating a hot air bubble that Anqet could not pierce. His smiling mockery infuriated her, and she had turned her back on him in seeming defeat and acceptance of his rule.

The mighty Oaks had fared well; their roots, travelling deep into the forest soil, had been best able to withstand the drought, unlike the shallow-rooted Beech and Birch, whose leaves had become shrunken and slightly curled in a poor attempt to conserve the ever-diminishing available supply of water from the light spring rains over four months ago. Only the stately pines seemed unaffected. Regally tall, their straight trunks sending them high above even the great Oaks, they had seen it all before, and there was almost a knowing in their seeming imperviousness.

Vines of Honeysuckle and Ivy had hung limply from the trees, the undergrowth holly and yew were dusty and dull-leaved, the forest floor had become dangerously dry, and a careless fire would have caused irreparable damage. Woodland birds, Pigeon, Blackbird, Wren, and Robin, had been quiet for weeks; rearing their young was over for the season, and they were now saving their energy for simple survival. Badger, rabbit, and fox found it even harder to find the snails and worms they lived off as these creatures burrowed ever further away from the dry baking heat.

But Anqet was not defeated or demoralised. She had cast her spell on the faraway oceans and, with her siren call, bade them help their mistress in this her time of greatest need. For a week now, the air had been getting heavier, the hot, scorching breeze had stopped, and stillness had descended. The sun had begun to shine through a light haze, and as limp as the forest had been before, it now seemed to almost melt in the long, cruel hot days. The nights brought no relief as the heat absorbed during the day rose up cruelly from the earth, keeping temperatures in the high twenties. A slow build-up of cloud, at first light and fluffy, had begun. With each day, the banks of clouds rolling slowly in from the great sea to the west grew fuller and darker. Low growling far, off thunder, heralded the oncoming rainstorm. The banks of clouds massed up higher and higher, cooling, becoming saturated with the water vapour they gathered as they crossed the thousands of kilometres of open sea before hitting land. The days were still stiflingly hot but were now coloured not by bright sunshine but a dull eerie grey as, at last, the cloud banks blotted out Ra’s all-powerful weapon, the sun.

Ever more swiftly now, the clouds, pushed by an increasingly stronger offshore westerly, raced over the land and, on hitting landfall, were forced higher by the scorching heat of the terrain. Inside the clouds, the constant tumult and spinning had started a major thunder and lightning storm. From the ground, the dark mass of clouds was lit from within, greys, purples, blues, and reds as the storm began in earnest. The thunderclaps occurred more frequently and grew in sonorous strength.

Within the forest, time seemed suspended, deadly quiet, almost in awe of the developing battle between Anqet and Ra. Foxes, badgers, and rabbits, unable to suffer any longer from the stifling heat and fleas of their underground burrows, flopped panting overground. Flies and other winged creatures had ceased their constant buzz, and birds roosted in the daytime, stupefied by the all-embracing stagnant air.

Then the battle commenced in earnest. Ra, made entirely powerless by the five-mile-high bank of clouds that obliterated the sun, stood helpless as Anqet took his kingdom and bathe it in her soaking embrace. At first, it was just a few drops, huge heavy single droplets that exploded in contact with the forest canopy. Slowly the tat, tat of water droplets on leaves grew heavier, more constant until far below, on the forest floor, the first droplets touched the ground, sat like tiny quivering silver baubles for a moment, and disappeared.

The clouds, completely saturated and heavily pregnant with water, finally unleashed their overbearing load on the earth below. The cooling effect was as sudden as it was shocking. The forest heat, pushed by the winds driving the storm clouds and pierced by the icy rain falling from many miles high, vanished and was replaced by a rain-saturated coolness that soaked the forest floor within hours.

Almost in retribution for the sun’s weeks of harsh rule, the clouds poured their water cannon in a punishing blanket of victory over the land. For one full day, it rained in tumult. In twenty-four hours a week’s heavy Autumnal rain was unleashed, and Ra’s reign was ended. After the first day’s rainstorm, the rain grew lighter and fell gently on the sodden forest. The pent-up heat of the now saturated forest floor rose steamily and bathed the sodden trees in a cool white mist. A much-weakened Ra, in attempting to pierce the cloud with his sun, only succeeded in helping the mist build until such time as only the tops of the tallest pines and Oaks were visible. All else was shrouded, enveloped by a healing mantle of cool moisture. Bird song could once again be heard at dawn, clear and sharp, beautifully undisturbed in the still air. The sharp snap of a wood pigeon take-off flight could be heard from a distance, and the quick yelp of a fox cub heralded the return of forest life.

By the third morning, the rain had stopped. Anqet surveyed her work and was pleased. She still commanded the realm through her blanket of clouds even though the rains no longer fell. Water, healing, cooling, and cleansing water held dominion, and the newly awakened forest paid homage. Leaves engorged with water unfurled, honeysuckle had quickly revived and, in three days, had managed to blossom. Moss, which only three days ago was crisp and brown, was now forming mats of plump, vividly green softness. The river at the edge of the plain ran full and deep, and mammals and birds sated their thirst and washed the dust from their coats. The great grass plain, so recently a brown desert now sprang freshly green, and the plains herds moved slowly over it, filling their emaciated stomachs to bursting.

Anqet, overjoyed with her newfound kingdom, was temporarily sated. Her work, of course, was only just begun. She had wrested this swathe of land from Ra, but now she must ensure his dominion would never return. The cloud cover would deepen, the heat would be sucked from the land, growing cooler and colder, and in time the ice would appear and inexorably claim the land with its nerve-chilling tentacles.

As with all immature gods, she was not sated by her work and needed to gloat, to flaunt her power before the so-called might Ra. Mischievously parting the cloud cover in a few spots, she allowed Ra and his vanquished sun a moment to survey their loss. Ra, sensing an opportunity he had not foreseen, bade the sun direct its rays through the gaps in the clouds.

Who may know the minds of the gods? Surely not us mortals, but may we surmise on the next moments and wonder. The piercing rays of sunshine lit up a vista of surreal beauty far below. The hues of forest green, mountain blue, and the silver glint of rivers vividly sparkled in the incandescent light.

All was quiet; Ra and Anqet both surveyed their work. Some knowledge within them broke through the millennia-long antagonism they shared, and as one, they turned and faced each other. No words were spoken, but their eyes, in meeting, spoke truth to each other; across the ages and space, they reached for each other’s hands and together left this place, left it to the one who, for those long millennia, had trailed them forlornly watching their destructive journey, Gaia.

Let us start trying to heal mother earth. She is all we have got.

February 2022

The Book Launch

Boredom

Linda hated these events, or at least she hated most of the fools who populated them, social workers, minor politicos, well-heeled socialites, students, young “trendies,” and, of course, the small, select, acceptable group of victims who would no doubt benefit from the wonderful intellectual insights provided by the book. She found herself at yet another boring launch of some pseudo-social worker’s report on inner-city problems. “Inner-city problems could best be solved by a cluster of grenades,” she thought gleefully as she slowly slipped her glass of cheap Chardonnay.

Her eyes traversed the room, picking out the different groups and their reasons for being there. Through her husband’s work, she had been to quite a few of these events and had gotten to know the “usual crowd.” There was the bunch that turned up at the opening of a zipper if free bites and drinks were served. Then, of course, you had the well-meaning charitable bunch who offset the guilt of their affluent excess by paying fleeting attention and a few unmissed thousands to something they were sure would help those poor people. “Educate them to help themselves,” her head screamed, but immediately she thought, what the fuck, who really cares.

There were the well-meaning university students, left-wing, of course, the guys, all Che Guevara types with fiercely burning eyes and passionate body language as they captivated their fawning female fellow students with their “power to the people” rhetoric. The girls, of course, wanted to open their minds to the cause of social justice but would more than likely just end up opening their legs in some grotty little apartment to calm the explosive anger burning in the hearts and minds of their young male compatriots. Cynically, she thought, the fires burning in their loins probably burned far more strongly than any true revolutionary zeal burning in their bellies.

As usual, you had the three or four “acceptable” inner-city types who, having dossed through their youth and young adulthood, had now turned to the saving grace of educating their fellow inmates of the ghettos against the sins they had so vehemently indulged in themselves. Her eyes fell on a couple talking quietly near the front of the room. Her heart skipped a couple of beats and then rushed a few more. Her chest involuntarily ached and felt as if it were being squeezed in a vice, making breathing difficult. She became aware that her grip on the vase of the wineglass was likely to make it splinter and, for a moment or two, concentrated on relaxing that grip.

She guessed the woman, author of the new book, “Inner City Life, “A New Perspective,” was probably early to mid-thirties, curvaceously built in a very appealing way that said, I am a woman, and I am all soft and warm and satisfying. Her hair was a mass of loose, tangled brunette curls that was faux natural but took a lot of money to create. Linda watched her; she watched the easy way she openly stood, saying I am open to your words and company, the idle way she ran her index finger around the rim of her wine glass, or the way she continued eye contact even as she slowly, sensually drank from it, or the occasional twirling of a stray strand of hair or the deep intensity of her look or nodding in agreement.

 Linda had seen it all before, and no matter how many times she saw it, no matter how she tried to rationalize her feelings and responses, she could not stop the rise of the heated fury from the base of her stomach. It always started with fear, helpless abject fear, moved rapidly through disgust, on to anger, and finally, silently, to a cold, vicious fury. Fleetingly, before she managed to turn away, but with a frightening intensity, she had imagined the fear in the woman’s eyes as Linda gouged the sycophantic bitches face with her nails. Turning quickly, desperately trying to focus on anything to stop the terrifying buildup of fury, she grabbed for her third glass of wine, not quite seeing but assuredly sensing the shock on the young wine waitress’s face who had the misfortune to be passing by at that moment……………….

 An hour later, being driven home by her husband, she was outwardly calmer and quiet; she watched car lights flicker by monotonously and wondered how her two kids would be tonight while staying at a friend’s house. She thought of asking him to drive by their friends and pick them up with a lame excuse that Sarah had been running a temperature, but she knew it was silly. No, not silly, frantic, that’s what it was, a frantic last grasp at anything to stop the inevitable. Silently she accepted the futility of her excuses and returned her thoughts to her rage.

Their conversation was mostly of meaningless small talk, but there was a well-known if uncommunicated tension crackling between them. He talked of the subject matter in the book and how insightful and well thought out it was and of his regard for the intense honesty of the author. “I bet her cunts intense too,” came Linda’s furiously screamed reply before she could stop herself. There, she had said it, it was out, and he fucking knew what he had done wrong. Now he would pay the price for demeaning her love for him. Silence descended; he did not even bother to reply. The rest of the journey played out in grim silence, served only to increase the cold, white-heated fury of Linda’s jealousy, gloriously, if maddeningly heightened for her, by an almost unbroken sequence of red traffic signals.

Home, the car parked and locked; they closed the front and hallway doors behind them and entered the warmth of their living room. She strode in ahead of him, and barely five steps into it, she turned and knocked him backward with the force of an openhanded slap she delivered with all her might to his unsuspecting cheek. He stood, gingerly feeling his cheek, and stared at her, with a resigned, knowing look in his eye.

“You fucking cheap bastard,” she screamed, “all it takes is a few eye flutters, and you are ready to sniff around her cunt for her. Calmly, her mind thought, “oh no, not again,” but she knew it was too late. “I bet you can’t wait to lap at it like the fucking stray mongrel you are,” she threw at him. He sat back on the settee, quietly looking at her. His silence sent her to new heights of fury.

Abruptly Linda ripped the delicate fabric of the beautiful French blouse she wore, exposing the sheer black lace bra underneath; she tore off the wrap-around calf-length skirt she wore and strode directly to stand in front of him, her crotch inches from his quiet yet fearful looking face. Her mind, filled with a raw, red-blooded violent fury, sought out the words and phrases that would convey the blind anger swirling in her head and ripping at her gut.

“This is what you want, you pathetic bastard, isn’t it? You want her hot wet little cunt in your face, don’t you”? Quickly Linda pulled her panties aside and grabbed him by the back of the neck, forced him to kneel for her, and shoved his face into her mons. She ground her pussy against his face and talked while she did it. “This is what you want, you cunt hungry bastard; you want to eat it for her; tell her how fantastic her cunt is, don’t you”? “Well fucking eat this, try and tell me that cheap whore, is going to give it any better or taste any sweeter, and you better do it good; I want to know exactly how good you thought doing her would be.”

Never releasing the pressure, she forced him onto her for the next 15 minutes. She challenged him to eat it better, suck it and lick and lap like a dog at it, all the time screaming at him,” “is that how much you want her.”, Paradoxically, her goading him to perform was producing a strong response which she could not help. “Jesus, that is sooooooo good, “God, you bastard, you must have wanted it bad from the little slut.” Using both her hands, she forced his face onto her and, with spasmodic urgency, came rapidly.   Releasing his face and walking disdainfully away, she ordered him to undress and go to the bedroom.

The hours of sex that followed were all-consuming, taking every imaginable last drop of energy from both of them. Nothing existed for her except the center of her mental and physical, passionate rage. She insulted him, goaded him, slapped him, and tore bleeding gashes on his torso and legs with her fingernails and teeth. She forced him to new heights to show her how badly he needed to fuck and serve his little slut from the inner city. Hers was the only voice and the only direction; silently, he obeyed, or rather was given no choice but to obey. His mind was of no consequence; only his ability to serve her bitch mattered. And serve he did, as she knew he would.

He served her bitch and her goddess, her rage and her anger, her dominance and control. The only sounds emanating from him were the grunts of physical effort, the sharply indrawn breaths, and sometimes cries of pain brought on by her all-consuming use of him to sate her need to hurt, dominate and own. She raped him anally with a dildo, hit him so hard she feared damage, bound him, forced his submission, fucked him, tortured him with exquisite use of her nails on his cock and balls, and all through it, she threw insults on top of filthy insult at him as she reached heights of ecstasy, rarely achieved before, time and time again…………………………

When finally finished her use of him, she coldly tossed him aside and ordered him to the spare room to sleep. For a second, he hesitated before quietly rising from the bed and leaving the room without a sound.

Sated, deep sleep took her quickly and fully, and if she dreamed, her dreams were deep and silently unmoving. Late on Saturday morning, she awoke with a start to find him lying awake beside her. His eyes were silently watching her from a passive unreadable face. She could see marks left by her slaps and thin angry-looking scratches on his cheeks where she had scratched him. From experience, she knew that elsewhere on his body; the damage would be much more pronounced and visible. Her mind raced to remember the detail of their night, and her stomach lurched as she remembered the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse she had heaped upon him.

Fearing to speak, not knowing whether to defend with well-chosen scorn or to start the process of forgiveness through pleading, she silently watched back. Slowly he leaned over and touched her under her chin with gentle fingers; he kissed her long and lovingly on her lips. The kiss was neither passionate nor probing but gentle, full-lipped, and sensuous. He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her eyes, nose, cheeks, and neck. Gently kissing her ears and, with a voice full of passion, love, and need, he whispered, “I love you so much, I adore you, Linda”, I want you forever and ever.” She could sense his urgent need as she opened her legs to allow her beautiful, adored husband to mount her and begin the morning’s lovemaking, all her totally unfounded fears of the last night, now completely forgotten, or at least submerged deeply until……… but she let that thought slide as her own mounting passion began to take hold.

About a woman’s needs, desires, and jealousies

March 2022

The Pursuit of Love

I hate that hesitancy surrounds me as I live with those who fear to love. Real love is denied by pathetic self-need. There is a constant search for me to the detriment of us. True love brings individual growth and change and, in fact, demands it. Great love is borne of great need, want, and willingness to give. Love is kind and forgiving & it should be joyous, but it harbours powerful lusts & great jealousies. It seeks to give but can be demanding, and its demands may not always be fair, right, or equal. But should allow those things in equal measure. It seeks to grow and be impassioned. It is a constant child needing approval. Knowing, but trying to learn new ways or revisit old ways in a different form.

It should be safe but laced with a cordite whiff of danger; it should never become just comfortable. In fighting, it will be explosive, angry, and possessing a killer punch of hurt. Love should protect; it should always protect. Above all, it needs truth, real honesty, and a constant striving to be revisited, re-learned, and overhauled. When you no longer can see or feel the urgency of the need you first felt, you have allowed your love to become static, stunted in growth, and not recognize the continual growth of the person. It takes real joy out of simplicity.

It speaks in the touch of a hand and the entwining of fingers. It is so gloriously shown and shared in a warm summer’s early morning of quietly impassioned physical lust, but just as plain to see in the putting of the groceries bought in the fridge or the moving of a deadweight child to their own bed. It smells of heady wines and feels of favourite clothes, the musk of womanhood, and the acridity of male lust. It looks of familiarity and a deep knowing. It surges with pride and want and shrivels with formality. Love is silliness and giggles, and oddball characteristics you first loved. If it needs space, that space must be given while accepting the right of love to be allowed as before.

April 2022

Bell Toll

The single bell tolls, each peal filling the brittle winter air with soul-felt sadness. It fades through the bare branches of old Beech tree stands, motionless in the crisp winter brightness framing the bell tower. The bell presides as the cortege shuffles slowly into the churchyard, and the mourners fall silent under its dominant solemnity. The hum of the idling engine ceases as the hearse halts before three simply garbed priests who wait with poker-faced. experienced inevitability. The shuffling of feet dies away, and quiet coughs are muffled.

Bell toll dominates, a sharp reminder of unalterable goodbye. The physical reality of the coffin staves off that dreadful moment of final loss. Silent respect is held as practiced hands remove dying flowers. Finally, a simple, unvarnished oak coffin, harsh reality, through the gleaming glass of the hearse is left. A slight grating accompanies its removal; the family, awkwardly finding place and space, hoist the coffin shoulder high and carry a father to the altar.

At the church door, blessing and anointing with holy water are administered as the bell becomes silent, and the coffin and mourners are swallowed by the cool shade of the church. Priests and rituals hold sway. Show quiet grief, but hold your heart burst, everything gauged within a community’s ability to allow its own feelings. We have all been here, do the right thing and hold up, cold and unfeeling, or embarrassingly immersed in grief? Once we keened, now we show quiet dignity!

Transactions paid for; hopefully, the master of ceremonies remembers the family names, gets the meaningless stories right in context, and all the time you hold, hold your tears, hold your gut, hold your spine-tingling nerve endings, hold your dignity? A bright shaft of sunlight pierces the stained-glass roof window, sending dispersed prismatic light, aura-like, around the altar; maybe there is a God, a resurrection? Lies, all lies, the coffin is still; the pain numbingly settled, the journey to earth in its final moments. Incense and incantation cloud the air and my head, “remember man that thou are dust.”

Performance time approaches the time to put the show on the road, the road to rest. Walking behind the hearse is freedom, movement a blessing; small blessings are counted in footsteps towards a freshly dug grave. Deadland is reached, but duty still pushes the buttons. Carry him; he carried you, lay him so gently in the ground, as gently as he placed you in your cot. The ritual continues, and finally, you walk away to the living, leaving him to the dead. And I cry, I cry for me, my loneliness, my need, and my fear.

In memory of my dad.

May 2022

That Bar

Slight echoes off the wooden floor followed her as she walked to the lady’s toilets. She had many thoughts on her mind. That last gin, the one she knew she should not have but also the one that let loose the myriad thoughts now swirling in her head, had done the trick. The bar, long and narrow, was a natural catwalk of display, and almost naturally, she displayed. Almost, “damn,” she thought, “why can’t I just enjoy this” and her other mind, the intellectual one, thought, enjoy what? What are you enjoying here?

It was 5.30 pm on a Friday evening; the city was winding down to another two days of selfish licentiousness. The public, deferential, cow-towing mask of economic servitude was being stowed; the self-orientated want and greed were being unmasked. The night felt of renewed hopes and beginnings and a slightly queasy awareness that on Sunday night, as the loosed animal was again chained to the needs of the economic and societal cartwheel, nothing would have changed. Monday would arrive, and life, interminably boring life, would seep coldly and boringly back in through the haze of colourful and swirling, alcohol-fueled possibilities of the weekend. 

But for now, it was Friday night; Monday could be happily pushed into the slow backwaters and meander through Saturday before picking up speed through Sunday, where, by bedtime, it would once again hit the raging current of frontal consciousness maddeningly cascading down the waterfall of tangled thoughts that lead unerringly to a six o clock alarm call and awakening to real life.

Men, of course, were always watching; they did not need the sound of her heeled Italian stilettos on the bare wooden floors of the bar to be aware of her journey down the length of the bar to the toilets. “Keep your head up, don’t glance down,” she scolded herself; don’t let the stares and their often-ribald comment get to you. Safely ensconced in a cubicle in the toilets, she released the built-up tensions, physically through the loosing of her bladder and mentally by the acknowledgment of her excitement. Finished her toiletry, hands slowly washed and dried; she went to the mirror and started to touch up her make-up. With mechanical, long-practiced movement, her lipstick was freshened, eyeliner touched up, and perfume subtly reapplied. This, while a necessary and permanent ritual of visiting the toilets, also gave her the time to think through her decision. She was unsure of when the decision had been made, but without question, it now had been, and the months of prevarication and doubt had faded as quickly as early morning mist in the burning sunshine of high summer. This left her mind as clear and bright as that sunshine, crisp and full of the heady thoughts of long summer days of abandonment to pleasure. She checked her hair, straightened her blouse, smoothed her skirt over her hips, and with a firm final acceptance of her choice, undid that extra button on her blouse. All preparation finished, she turned from the mirror, leaving behind all thoughts of her husband and children, and strode purposefully towards the door back to the bar and the exquisite young work colleague who was now to be seduced and become her lover. 

June 2022

Soul Keeper

He rose slowly, dragging tired limbs into his slow awakening. His head was filled with old thoughts and happenings. He stumbled with a hesitant certainty to coffee and ordering of his dream thoughts. The first cigarette brought on a fit of coughing, interspersed with large gulps of the strong hot coffee. His dreams had been wind-tossed fragments. Rambling through old valleys with distant memories of loves, hurts, and dark unknown hauntings. Random names, idea’s and feelings ran like static on an old transistor radio. He was working the dial of fade-in and fade-out thoughts. Trying to find that crystal-clear reality that would allow him to focus on the one place where he could start to understand his own disquiet.

Age had added too many layers. Each morning the fog of uncertainty seemed denser, and the reasoning’s more difficult to find. The coffee and cigarettes began to work. Some of the old muscle and bone aches began to ease. But the melancholy of his soul stayed heavy and deeply weighed him. Quietly he searched his mind and soul, looking for the place that would kick-start his joy again. Could he continue? Names, thoughts, and ideas flicked in monochrome across his thoughts. So many souls, so many hurts, too many losses. Beauty rotting in the crushing reality of humanity’s unquestionable ability to and lust for hurting and destroying.

No more, no. His old heart and soul cried cease. He could not, and as the tears started to well, he consciously spoke for the first time that day. His voice, loud in the solitude of his surroundings, seemed from far away as he sobbed, I cannot. I could not give anymore, and he cried quietly, deeply, and mostly, without fear. Heaven, Hell, what utterly ignorant manifestations he saw people cling to. God is good, but Allah is great, and The Dark Lord is omnipotent. What rubbish cluttered the societal dumps of those minds. Fill children’s dreams with ghosts, fairies, and threats. Give them fear and hesitancy, rejection, and guilt. Hide the beauty of their own unique souls from them and watch as their life light dies before it ever truly catches fire.

No more broken children, no emptier souls, no more defeats at the hands of parents, priests, teachers, and commercial purveyors of instant gratification. He knew he was alone, tired, and aching. It was time to fade, to quietly contemplate his own soul and his neglect in nurturing its own truth. This last soul had been a catalyst. The journey that told him his age and dwindling strength. Coming out of the sunlight, he had failed to see her coming. She had caught him unaware, but if she had caught him unaware, he had still felt her soul. She did not walk to him but through him. In her passing through, she had laid her soul on the table of his mind. His acceptance was without pain, anger, or even sadness. It was in itself an automatic response to the fleeting touch of her aura. He had lifted the load, looked into the deep well of her eyes, and prayed that he was not too broken to hold that which she sought. It was not her love that would belong to gods. It was a terrible gift of duty to know, hold and cherish her soul, help it grow, and allow her to become.

The pause was short; she kept walking, going further into her life and away from his moment’s truth. Yet, she stayed with him, his duty, heavy chains of responsibility dragging him lower, and his silent scream was a wish that in her touching of his soul, she would carry its truth on her own resolute journey down the pathways and lost trails of her own being. We are forgotten dreamers, holders of lost wisdom and truth.

Father, brother, teacher, soul keeper? His mind reeled with the words and meanings, but nothing sufficed. Woman, desire, sex, hunger, need? These things were of great but no importance. For they only helped complete a knowledge of the naturalness of all she was. But in no way salved the desire within his soul. His vision dimmed, too tired to see the wholeness. Gaia had moved, leaving him struggling in his own human incompleteness to contemplate her.

Gaia; mother, earth, fertility, goddess, ancient, siren. The words streamed effortlessly. A cascading fountain of thought searches that would allow him to make sense of the old things lurking in the darkness. Tears welled again. He now knew how hurt his soul was and begged forgiveness of himself for the self-inflicted damage that had been incurred. He railed quietly, intensely, yet all the while knowing he forgave himself his own sins, sins of young ignorance in not understanding his own simple beauty.

Gaia walked past on her journey; in doing so, she allowed him to see a moment’s quiet grace, and, in that place, he learned the terror of never having known himself. She had shown him completeness, and all he could comprehend was his own fallibility. Heaven? Hell? Such childish things. True hell is to age and to understand the misuse of your beautiful gift of humanity. Heaven? To realise that your humanity could not even allow you to know that beautiful spirit until you had paid your dues in hell. Time is a subtle thief of youth and a teacher of humble awareness.

July 2022

Ten Wisps of Smoke

  1. The Tendril
  • The Blobby
  • Ms. Conception
  • Mr. Long
  • A Teardrop
  • Sir Bubbles
  • Long Train a Coming
  • Arrowhead Ned
  • The Carbuncle
  1. Round Ten

Hazy Thoughts

Life is so very short, The Tendril lamented.
Uncertain too, commented Arrowhead Ned.
But you have direction, replied The Tendril.
Cheer up negative Nancy’s said Sir Bubbles.
And so, it carried on for some three minutes.
The Tendril and Arrowhead Ned depressed,
as Sir Bubbles attempted cheering them up.
The Tendril; now disinterested drifted away,
allowing Arrowhead and Bubbles continue.
And they did with gusto evermore heatedly.
A true pessimist argues with a true optimist.
Neither view could submit to the other side.
Following some more barbs they too parted.
Arrowhead Ned, muttering, drifted into trees.
Bubbles seeking company was lost in grass,
neither of them was seen or heard of again.

August 2022

First Rains

We waited. For months now, we had waited, and our village had held its collective breath. No one dared to speak aloud the one thing we all silently craved and prayed for. We were a village of farmers and peasants who had little understanding of the wider forces involved in making “mother” betray us, which was how we perceived our present dilemma. Rosario, our village was high in the hills but in the shadows of the Rainbow mountains of Peru, but we were off the tourist routes and had to rely on subsistence farming to survive. We were less than nine hundred souls, and our village was dying as our youth sought easier lives in the cities and coastal towns. We raised sheep for their wool and meat. Everyone kept a few chickens for eggs and meat. We herded Llama also for wool and meat. We had nothing but wanted for nothing, either.  “Mother” had always provided for us, and in return, we had cared for and worshipped her. In our years of plenty, we gladly paid the tithe, and in years when our crops struggled, we never complained. We held nothing back for ourselves, just trusted “Mother” would always come through and protect us, her servants.

  Our present situation was now beyond our collective ancestral understanding of the natural order of things. Gaia, our “mother,” was not keeping her end of the bargain. Sacrifice had been made; we had observed all of the festivals and rituals in honour of her. We had prayed to and then beseeched her and then prayed some more and harder, but it was all to no avail. Our village “shaman,” Emilio, had eventually gone higher in the mountains to be alone and meditate on these events. After some months up there, he returned to our village, skinnier and a lot older but still with no answers for us. Our youngest children were the first ones to perish. Their mothers being no longer able to nourish them with their milk because of their own malnutrition. With summer nearly upon us, we were now entering the natural dry season, but that was after experiencing the second year of almost no spring rains. Our village wells were almost dry, and the crops in the terraced fields were being dried out from lack of irrigation. Normally, we had been able to rely on runoff from the mountain glaciers to keep our wells replenished and the crops irrigated. But the recent droughts had meant this runoff water was being reabsorbed by parched soils long before it could reach and be of use for Rosario.

My wife, Ana, was my rock. Mother to our children and my standing stone.  She had borne me two fine sons and a daughter. All of whom were now making their own way in the world and settled in Lima. Leon was the eldest, aged twenty-four, then there was Geraldo, aged twenty, and lastly came Angelica, our little girl, who was eighteen. Unusually all three of them were still unmarried and childless. I say unusually because rural-born Peruvians are known for marrying young and almost immediately starting their own families. Because of the distance to Lima and the cost of travel, we now only see them a few times every year, mainly for birthdays and other family celebrations. We worried about all three of them constantly. We worried about their health, their personal safety, and their ability to survive economically. Leon, as the eldest, was quite naturally the leader of the three, but his sister could play him any way she wanted. When our sons really thought about it, they had to concede it was, in fact, their baby sister who was the de facto leader of the group. Angelica, at five feet seven, was tall for a Peruvian female. This was a trait she had inherited from her mother. She stood out in a crowd, not only because of her height but also because of her dark, vivacious looks, something else which came from her mother’s side of the family. I, Petro Gonzales, had married a very desirable woman and her daughter was the living testament to that fact. It wasn’t only her height and good looks which made Angelica stand out. She was funny, smart, personable, and outgoing. She was never going to be content in being a pretty accessory on some guy’s arm. If, in fact, it was a guy she eventually settled down with. In the time Before she left home, there had been a glaring lack of male suitors beating a path to our door to ask her out on dates. But there were plenty of female friends looking for her to join them on girls-only nights out. Geraldo, our youngest son, had always been a quiet and introspective child, a deep thinker. He remained so as an adult. He was the glue that held our three children together and tempered his sibling’s more outlandish plans. He never looked to lead, but on the occasions when he did, Leon and Angelica respected his counsel and wishes. Now, as I already told you, they were very distant and inoculated from Rosario’s and their parent’s immediate problems.

Both Ana and I knew the village of our ancestors was dying. The immediate problem of an increasing lack of rainfall in our region was merely hastening the inevitable death of Rosario. But another longer-term but more deadly scenario was the continual loss of our youth, and so, our village’s future to the coastal cities and towns. Not only did we both know these things, but we also felt powerless in the face of them. Our government and provincial authorities seemed to be similarly paralysed in their lack of ability to combat these threats.

Now, to get back to more local problems and specifically Rosario’s acute lack of water. We held many public meetings, and we drew up diverse and sometimes off-the-wall plans. Led by Emilio, our shaman, and the other elders on the village Council we brought in “so-called experts” to help us find solutions to our issues. More often than not, they took the meagre money we could offer them, attended a community meeting or two, and after suggesting a few “same old” resolutions, they disappeared. After disappearing, the village Council eventually found chasing them was useless as these experts hid behind the corporate shields of anonymity and legal budgets far beyond our village’s means.

What did we eventually do? We belatedly came to a place where we understood our and the village’s future lay in our own determination to survive. We went inside ourselves and listened to our forebear’s knowledge and wisdom, and we became quiet. But we also became re-invigorated. We formed groups, with each group having its own area of responsibility. We also formed a central body to which all the various groups reported back to on a monthly basis. No, we didn’t reinvent democracy; we only brought it down to its most local and effective form, villagers working for and with each other for the common good. We formed ten groups of twenty people each. This ensured a good range of skills in each group. Emilio assigned tasks and a start date for each group. The central body, consisting of those who were too old or infirm, the youngest children, heavily pregnant women, and others unable to partake fully in the groups, oversaw everything. They kept tabs on all the ongoing work and fed everyone on-site as they worked. They were also the cheerleaders, offering support and empathy when and wherever they felt it was needed. Groups one, two, and three began working on digging the village’s three freshwater wells deeper. This, we believed, would allow us to access the deeper-lying ground waters beneath the well’s present bottoms. This work also involved the shoring up of the walls of the well as the men dug deeper. This was done with clay and silica bricks, made locally and baked for months beneath the scorching summer sun until they dried rock hard. These were the ways and skills of our forebears, and we invoked them in our daily work through our labour and our prayers and incantations.

Four other groups were put to work on reinstating the ancient water-holding troughs in the caves at the entrance to the village. In better times, we had negligently allowed these water troughs to become dry and fouled. When properly cleaned, filled, and maintained, they held one week’s supply of fresh water for crop irrigation and animal needs. The work also involved replacing and refitting the badly damaged wooden doors at the entrance to each cave. These doors, when restored and properly refitted, prevented all manner of vermin from getting in and spoiling these reserves. This had no importance for crop irrigation but had major implications for animal health and food safety.   

The last three groups went to work on repairing and reinstating the ancient water courses we had historically used to guide excess rainfall to the water caves and household roof tanks. The work was instrumental in bringing all the different strands of the community endeavours together. This was how our dry season passed in Rosario that year. We continued our restorative works and community rebuilding as the rain clouds gathered and piled higher above the ice fields in the mountains.

When the first raindrops fell, we exalted.

September 2022

Swept Away.

I generally don’t like being made a big fuss of. I prefer to remain in the background and watch while others make fools of themselves. On this occasion, I was prepared to make an exception, or rather, I was not being given any choice on the matter, My thirtieth birthday was a week away, and a group of my closest friends was busy organising my birthday celebrations for me. I had done everything I could to dissuade them, but nothing worked, so I was left with no choice but to direct them as best I could to go in directions I could live with. We all lived in a village in West Cork in the Republic of Ireland. An area of the country renowned for its many restaurants and the use of locally grown or freshly caught menu delicacies. Seafood was everywhere You could dine out on lobster and many other kinds of freshly caught seafood at a quayside pub where the fish had been landed mere hours beforehand. The five of us friends had known each other since attending the same childcare facilities and primary schools together. Tom Garvey and Patrick Tomlinson were the two main and self-elected organisers; they were always the leaders in all our escapades. Though on this occasion, they were very ably assisted by John Cahill and Harry Rahilly. As John told me four days before the big event, “don’t you worry one little bit, Jimmy, my friend, this is going to be your best birthday ever. All you have to do is show up and enjoy the show”.  

That one statement alone set off a cacophony of alarm bells in my head. I started fretting about the social catastrophe my well-meaning friends might be about to involve me in. It was time for me to get to work and set a few cast-iron ground rules to guide my friends. Hookers, strippers, and illegal drugs were absolutely out of the question for me. Call me a killjoy if you must, but it was to be my party, so my ground rules applied. That did not leave my party organisers with much room for manoeuvre, which suited me just fine. But that was only if they could be trusted not to stray from the permitted and approved options. My own preferred option, indeed, my only option, was for the five of us guys with assorted partners in tow to start the evening off with a few drinks in my favourite watering hole and then to go to a restaurant of my choice for my birthday meal. I am very old school and proud of it. I was decidedly single at the time and happy in being so after a series of disastrous relationships. I, Jimmy Conroy, was a content man in being a lone voyager as I sailed into my thirties. Using a mixture of threats, entreaties, and lastly, but most successfully, some downright whinging, I managed to get my friends to agree to my agenda for the night. The biggest source of discord was my choice of restaurant for the night. Secondly, none of the guys wanted to include their partners in the pint-drinking start to the night in the pub. I could live with that, but I knew I would have to stay alert to the entrance of any scantily dressed young strangers who might suddenly and magically appear in our company. Don’t get me wrong; I am not a prude, quite the opposite. But I don’t find the idea of a complete stranger dressed publicly in lingerie pretending to whip me while iterating some inane faux sexual birthday wishes anything but acutely embarrassing.

But the first and main obstacle of the night was my choice of restaurant for my birthday meal. It was a fusion eatery, a Spanish/Irish restaurant which in itself, was not a problem. My friends and I prided ourselves in having more educated pallets who necessarily didn’t think of ourselves firstly as Irish but more as young and progressive Europeans. A part of a much larger culinary tradition than just our own local County Cork and Irish traditions. It is necessary to briefly explain the whole County Cork angle to those readers who are not familiar with its traditions or the place County Cork holds within the twenty-six county hierarchy. Cork people, in general, are immensely proud of their county and those from west Cork are even more so. They believe, and with good cause, that West Cork is the culinary capital of the country. My choice of restaurant for my birthday was named Tighin Bia Sean/Maria José. Which in English means The Little Food House of John and Maria José. It was one of the smaller and less well-known eateries in the locality, which suited me fine as I always preferred a more intimate dining experience when eating out. It was small and seated only thirty diners at a time. The menu was not extensive but more than adequate. There was a fair choice between traditional Irish seafood served with lots of freshly baked and locally made oatmeal bread and rich mushroom and other sauces. Then there was a selection of traditional homemade Spanish Tapa’s served with thick slices of traditionally slow-cured hams and other meats. This food could be enjoyed with a small but well-balanced choice of red and white Spanish wines or craft Irish beers and stouts. The reason for the discord among my friends on the choice of Tighin Bia Sean/Maria José had all to do with the low ratings it was attaining on social media sites where overall it only merited an average rating though this score stemmed from only a half a dozen reviews the newest of which was over three months old. But the die was cast, and a table for eight was booked for nine pm on the Saturday night after my birthday, which had unfortunately landed in midweek for my thirtieth.

At six p.m. on the chosen Saturday evening, we five friends, freshly showered, manicured, and suitably dressed, piled into a taxi for the short journey to my favourite pub, Moriarty’s, to begin the festivities. We were to be joined at the restaurant by Trish, Andrea, and Ann, who were married to Tom, John, and Harry, respectfully. Myself and Patrick were to be the lone sailors on this voyage which, as I mentioned earlier, suited me fine. I wasn’t so sure about Patrick, though, who was not long divorced and after losing a protracted and bitter losing custody battle with his ex-wife, June, over their three-year-old daughter Hazel. I felt he needed watching over as his gaiety could suddenly turn morose and bitter. I had been warned by my friend’s wives’ to ensure we guys arrived at the restaurant in good time and in good spirits for our meal. So as well as being the guest of honour, I had to ride shotgun on my friend’s behaviour and punctuality.

The pints started to flow. Moriarty’s was a small, family-owned and run traditional Irish pub. There was no staff except family members. Sons and daughters were behind the bar pulling creamy pints of porter while mum and dad, Sean and Helen, policed the floor keeping the peace and making ham and cheese sandwiches for punters, who had taken a wee drop too much, for no extra charge. We five young guys were in a place in our lives where we felt immortal. We were never going to turn into those old men in the bar who sat alone, staring into their pints of stout and muttering darkly to themselves. We stood at the bar right beside the beer taps and regaled each other with highly exaggerated retellings of past escapades. Now that we were imbibing delicious, fresh, and creamy pints of porter with no spouses present to keep us in check, the retellings grew even more outlandish. But then, that is what a good drinking session is all about, isn’t it? Old traditional Irish pubs are all about talking. Conversation is everything, and television is normally only turned on for the main evening news bulletin, important sports events, or major international happenings.

My night had started well, and even Patrick seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself thus far. I was keeping a keen eye on people entering or leaving the bar. I was trying to spot anyone who didn’t belong, but so far, so good, and all was as it should be. Our time in Moriarty’s seemed to fly by as it tends to do when socialising with your best friends. All too soon, it was time to get our taxi for the short journey to the restaurant. This, though, was a good thing as the pints of stout were starting to have an effect on our empty stomachs. We all agreed a meal and some wine were the next order of the day. So it was five very happy, slightly drunk, and famished young men who managed to present themselves at An Tighin without mishap, presentable and in good spirits.                                      

Trish, Andrea, and Ann had arrived just before we strolled into the waiting area, and the Maître De was busy getting the three ladies seated at our table. The dining room was sparingly but tastefully decorated in warm pastel colours. Each table had its own muted and discreet lighting, which gave the room that intimate feel I loved. While the ladies were being seated, we took the opportunity to peruse that night’s food menu and the wine and beer list. In the background, a soft Irish ballad was playing, and when it ended, it was immediately followed by some classic Spanish guitar music. This set the tone for the night, a complimentary mix of Irish ballads and Spanish guitar played at a volume that allowed for comfortable conversation at each table without overhearing adjacent diner’s private talk. We joined our female companions at the table, and as the guest of honour I was placed at the head of the table. Patrick was to my immediate right; I was still riding shotgun on him; next to Patrick, I had deliberately seated Harry, a trusted ally in my Patrick watch scheme next to him was his wife Trish, Tom was on my left, seated beside his wife Ann and the table was completed by John and his wife, Andrea. John and Andrea were furthest away from me because Andrea got on my nerves with her banal observations on everything. John was welcome to his life with her as long as I didn’t have to endure her company for any extended periods. With the eight of us seated, we turned our attention to choosing our starters, mains, and desserts. Once the food was ordered, we began ordering our drinks. That was when our waitress for the night came to the table to take our order. She was obviously Spanish by birth, with a dark complexion and sloe eyes. She took our order with a minimum of fuss, but she also took my soul away. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, and the moment she spoke, I was hooked. Maria, though Spanish-born, had been in Ireland and around Irish people, and more pointedly around West Cork natives, to have picked up some of the local intonations and lilt. I couldn’t have resisted her even if I tried. The remainder of the night was a blur for me. For the rest of my life, I was regularly reminded of how I had made a complete “eegit” out of myself on the night I first met my future soulmate and wife.

Apart from all that, the food and service were first-rate. Or was it because of Maria?  

John had promised me my best birthday ever. He was right, but not for his expected reasons.   

October 2022

The Website

Ever since I had been a young child I had shied away from confrontation and arguments. I aways preferred finding a common ground and points of similarity rather than going down the route of conflict. It wasn’t the usual situation of me being the much storied ninety six pound, seven stone weakling too scared to stand up for himself. I was tall, well built, and at my parents insistence, I had become involved in mixed martial arts from a very young age. I, Nick Horton was well capable of looking after myself in a fight if it came to that. No, it was not any lack of courage on my part. I just hadn’t a combative bone in my body. Now, aged twenty two, I was facing the sternest external challenge yet to my avowed hatred of physical violence yet. I had always worn my pacifism lightly. I relied on my outrageous sense of humour and quick brain to extricate myself from sticky situations or better still to avoid them altogether. I was the type of guy who found fun in everything life threw at me. In my neighbourhood I went by the nickname “The Giant Goofball.” This name I took in my stride and usual laid-back way. Was I laid-back, yeah so much so I was almost horizontal, my three good friends would say about me when asked? Locally we were known collectively as “The Four Horsemen of the never-ending stand-up routine.” Which was always shortened to “The Four Horsemen” or “The Four.” The locals who had come up with the nickname “The Four Horsemen” had done so as a joke as none of us had ever been on a horse in our entire lives. I was the eldest, but there was less than two years between the four of us. Jon Deacon was next in age to me and then James and Noel Rafferty were twins and had recently celebrated their twenty first birthdays.

Months later the twins parents still hadn’t forgiven the four of us for rocking up blind drunk at the twins jointly planned twenty first birthday party. Blind drunk because we had thought it a great idea to start the celebrations early by giving it a lash and having a drink in every bar in town before heading to the party. There didn’t seem much harm in it as there were only thirteen other pubs in the town. At Christmas we would do the full pub tour as least twice. What we hadn’t reckoned with was people in those pubs wanting to buy us extra drinks in celebration of the momentous occasion. God only knows how many tipples we had but some of the party guests were not amused. Not only were we drunk, but we were also quite late. Chief among those with the biggest beef against us were the twins family and relatives teetotaller’s the whole damn lot of em. Teetotal and with no sense of humour judging by the way they all recoiled from the twins much repeated though very drunken declarations of familial love. I think the fact that Noel threw up all over one of his aunts had something to do with it. But when James half ran but more stumbled across the dancefloor to “whisper” loudly and drunkenly to his mother that he would never, as long as he drew breath, never love another woman like he loved her that sealed the deal. While all of this was going down myself and Jon Deacon had retreated to the relative free safety of the hotel bar. We were drunkenly pestering a group of local girls into joining us for the night in the room we had pre-booked at the hotel. We hadn’t a hope but you gotta try and it kept our thoughts off the meltdown that was happening in the hotel function room down the hallway. None of us four horsemen have any real recollection of the nights actual events. Though that did not matter as it allowed us to indulge in our fantasy versions. In these versions we killed dragons/relatives and won the hands of fair maidens. The group of local girls at the hotel bar who had, in reality, walked out on us after becoming fed up our drunken and increasingly lecherous attempts to get them to bed.

But enough about that less than glorious episode in our lives. Let me go back to the really important stuff like why I was about to disavow my lifelong adherence to non-physical means of settling differences. We had recently become aware of an on-line website named “The Four Horsemen” that in itself was no big deal. What mattered was that it named myself and my three friends as the owners of the site. And what made it into something I would forgo my lifelong passivism for was what this site was peddling. The site, first of all, was pathetic, it looked as if it had been put together by a child, and not a very coherent one at that. Once you had gotten over that fact you were then assaulted by a slew of pages inviting the viewer to partake in the on-line demolishing of local women’s reputations in the most childish and sexist manner possible. That, we could not let slide by. It was time for “The Four” to act in unison. I have done my friends an injustice up to this point, it was not just me, all four of us could not stand the rampant sexism we encountered in our daily lives. We hated how media of all kinds was reporting women’s viewpoints and how the world at large viewed women in general. Everyday Sexism pervades our cultures and is so imbedded it slips by unnoticed a lot of the time. We four could not allow this to sully our good, if drunken, reputations.

It was time to do some research and ferret out these on-line bullies. Time to try to regain our status as four easy-going if drunken young guys. Guys who would never hurt the afore-mentioned ferret. Much like horses, we knew next to nothing about ferrets. In fact we knew little about anything except having a laugh and getting drunk. But after a couple of weeks of erratic and piecemeal attempts to find the real culprits; those people behind website we decided on a more coherent plan. We agreed to contact the Gardai and let them do the legwork involved in shutting down this website. After all law and order was their professional remit. A week after contacting the Gardai I received a phone call from a detective Jerry O’Shea. He wanted to see all four of us horsemen in the local Garda station at nine a.m. on the following morning. He intended to update us on their initial findings in the matter of the website. I told him we would be there, ended the call and went in search of my fellow horsemen. It was not a difficult nor a lengthy task. It just involved a quick checking of a few of our favourite pubs before I had snared all of them. It being a Tuesday evening there were only a couple of pubs where they might be. We had a well observed rota system for frequenting all the local bars. This was because we were trying to support each of towns drinking establishments and not spending all our dosh in one or two places. We felt we were very noble in this pursuit. After telling the lads about my conversation with detective O’Shea we decided we had a couple more celebratory pints. We then decided to make an early night of it and went home. It’s always pints during weekday nights. Shots and hard liquor are reserved for weekends.

Dutifully, we horsemen, the legitimate ones, arrived, suitably dressed at the Garda station the next morning. Just as with ferrets and horses we had precious little knowledge of Garda stations and how we should behave in them. Our best approach, I felt, was to stay quiet until asked a direct question and base our replies on the truth as we knew it. The first thing Detective O’Shea did was ask us how our parents were. The Irish police can be like that in the smaller towns villages, its known as keeping their fingers on the pulse of the place. With the pleasantries out of the way he went on to thank us for bringing the matter to the attention of the authorities. He told us that, as distasteful as the website was, unfortunately, there was very little they could do about it. As far as the police were concerned the only crime the website owners were committing was to falsely claim to be us. Detective O’Shea was quick to reassure us that the Gardai knew we had nothing to do with the site. He continued on to tell us, due to privacy laws, he was not at liberty to disclose the names of the site owners to us. All he could do was give them a week to change the name of the website. Also to issue an on-line apology to the four of us by individual name, stating clearly we had nothing to do with it and removing our names entirely from its pages. If these changes were not done completely to our satisfaction in the week he told us we could pursue a libel case against the site owners in which instance he would be legally obliged to tell us who they were.

November 2022

Timing is Everything

It was five a.m. on a wet December morning in Dublin Ireland. I was waiting for the airport shuttle bus. The bus was past due, but I could still make it to the airport in time for my flight. As usual, I had left everything to the last minute. I hadn’t earned the sobriquet “last gasp Anthony” during my twenty eight years of life for nothing. To ease my nerves I checked my pockets and luggage again to be certain I had all the items I needed. Cell phone and charger, check. Travellers cheques, check. Dress suit and fancy shoes, check and the list went on. I was so immersed in my checklist I almost missed the buses arrival and had to scramble to get my stuff together again and board the bus.

Once on the bus, I leaned back, let out a sigh of relief and tried to relax. I was going to make it to my sister’s wedding in New York after all. Nothing could stop me now. Nothing, except those flashing blue lights and emergency sirens that brought our bus to a shuddering stop eight kilometres from the airport. Within seconds the traffic had backed up behind us making it impossible for our driver to turn around and find another route. Emergency personnel informed us a traffic accident had completely blocked the road. We were cautioned to remain on the bus and there was heavy lifting gear on its way to clear the blockage.  

Panic set in again. I sat there miserable, constantly checking my phone and my watch. Just when I had given up hope the fates intervened on my behalf. An update from Aer Lingus about my flight stated it was delayed for at least two hours. Now I really knew, timing is everything.