Thursday, April 30, 2009
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Friday, April 24, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Friday, April 17, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
He was born when I was five. I can remember he was a sick child with weak lungs and a mop of curly hair. I don’t remember much from my early childhood but I can remember everything from David’s childhood. I can remember his continual bouts with whooping cough, the cough sounding too harsh, too elderly for someone so small. I can still see my mother steaming up the bathroom with Vicks Vapo Rub to relieve the phlegm from his congested lungs. The entire house stank like a hospital. My clothes stank medicinally. My schoolbag stank of illness. My meals masticated menthol in my mouth. We all wandered around the house in a dizzying high, sinuses painfully clear, our eyes watering like an onion chopper’s union. The older children on the estate we lived in called me “Losenge.” I didn’t really care, I could play football, run fast, make jokes and quite liked having a nickname.
But I worried about David. We all worried about David alot.
Dad often returned home with a collection of cures from local faith healers. Candles were lit. Holy medals were slept with. Blessed bottles of milk were drank and burped back up. Holy water was crossed on foreheads. Prayers were said.
Once Dad arrived with a bag of, supposedly, magical buns. Mam tried feeding them to David but he was toothless and the desertly dry desserts just stuck in his throat. Not liking to see waste my Dad and I ate them in the vaporub haze watching Soccer Saturday that afternoon.
I can report that neither of us ever developed whooping cough.
As he grew up David’s lungs started solving their own problems as did his curly hair which miraculously turned straight after his first haircut.
We moved from our terraced house in Dundalk in August. We were moving to Cavan. It was a hot day, the hottest of the year. The concrete and pebbledash of the estate shone white and could blind you on those days. I was 9 and David was 4. We were not given an option. I protested about leaving my friends. I hatched a proposal with my next door neighbour Thomas Grimes to move in with him. His parents did not like the plan, my parents were too busy packing to hear it.
Dad arranged for the Fyffe’s Banana lorry that delivered fruit to his shop to ferry our furniture and belongings west. When I saw the enormous yellow vehicle reverse onto our street I was immediately swept up by the glamour of it all. Everyone from the street came out to watch us load the lorry, some helped. I started spinning a web of deceit to my friends about the kind of life I had to look forward to.
“Schools are really easy in Cavan, they don’t have to do maths at all….. I’ve already found out I’ll be captain of the football team when I get there…. My new house is going to be as big three of our houses put together…. The food is better there too!”
Packed, we said our goodbyes. Mam cried and hugged Valerie, Thomas’ mother. The day before Mam had dug up a plant that had been in the front garden since we moved in. It had waxy leaves and deep pink flowers. She didn’t trust the new tenants to look after it. She gave it to Valerie. They exumed it and replanted it together in Valerie’s garden.
Dad was tired and impatient. He told people he would see them soon.
David liked drives and had been waiting in the car for over an hour. The hot car had clearly made him sleepy and he was struggling to stay awake despite the excitement.
As we pulled away I waved regally to my friends. I registered the resignation on their faces. They wished they could move too. The lump in my throat choked me. I wanted to stay. The old estate was a wonderland of concrete and tarmac, grazed knees and puddles, overpopulation and friends. We would not be back much and I’d miss it.
We moved into a strange red wooden bungalow built by the Italians that owned the local bandage factory. It was about a mile outside of town. The house was surrounded by more countryside than we had ever seen. Fields, farms, cattle, horses, ditches, wooden fences, electric fences, hills, a continual rumble of farm machinery and an unending supply of chestnut trees and conkers. The house itself offered us a larger bedroom, mechanical window shutters that could block out the light in a room completely and a huge freezing cold basement that we could play football in if it rained. Mam and Dad bought us a set of bunkbeds and a 6 by 3 foot snooker table for the basement. David and I were left to decorate ourselves.
When the 256th liverpool poster was securely bluetacked to the wall we both agreed I should have the top bunk. It seemed we would be happy.
Dad had been working in the supermarket for a year before we moved to Cavan. He used to commute from Dundalk some days and stay in a Bed & Breakfast on other days. He had made friends locally and he arranged for some of the local kids to call over.
The Carraghers arrived and announced themselves to my mother.
“Hey there missus, do Percy and David French live here?”
“Is dis where the French kisses live?” I heard snorts of laughter from my room and gulped.
“Will you tell them the Carraghers are over to play football. Mr French sent us.”
Three boys: Jim, Declan and Paddy. They all looked the same. Brown hair, brown eyes, button noses, sallow skin, tall and slim. Jim aged 12, Declan 10 and Paddy 8. They were noisey, cheeky and constantly fighting with each other. They all wore different Tottenham Hotspur jerseys. I had never met Tottenham Hotspur supporters before, all my old friends either supported Liverpool or United. Tottenham Hotspur never won anything.
They stayed and played football for a while. They were funny but frightning, good footballers especially Declan. They invited us up to their house the following day.
There were 12 children in the Carragher family. Paddy was the youngest but the oldest Tina was 30. As old as my Mam, I couldn’t believe it. There were 7 boys and 5 girls. And their Dad, Jim Senior. The Carragher’s mother had died of cancer when Paddy was 3. I had never met anyone without their Mam.
It made me think a lot about what I would do if my Mam died. I was more worried about having to rely on my Dad. My Mam always answered the non-football related questions. I was always very careful about mentioning my Mam around any of the Carraghers. I didn’t want to rake up bad memories for the lads.
Jim Senior was great. He smoked like a chimney and had a deep voice that sounded like he was always trying to hold in a burp. He worked in the bandage factory and always wore his blue work jacket even when he was mowing the lawn. I never heard him speak a sentence that didn’t contain a swear word.
“Fuckin’ hell lads, are ye playing football on my good grass. I’ll bate yis, play out on the fuckin’ road ya bollixes!” He loved his lawn.
David fell in love with Jim senior and used to follow him around. Jim Senior treated David like his mascot. He took him to GAA matches and fed him sweets. Jim Senior always let David sit in the front seat beside him. As a result David started to swear a lot.
“I’m not eating those fuckin carrots!” he’d often proclaim.
Everyone thought it was adorable except my Mam.
Jane Whelan was the Carragher’s neighbour and cousin. I met her for the first time on that first day I called to Carragher’s.
We were setting out our jumpers as goalposts on Jim Senior’s lawn when her and her brother John hopped the wall.
“Can we play too?” she said.
I had to hold in a laugh. The boy kicking around was fine, but a girl playing football with the lads? It never would have happened on the old estate and I couldn’t imagine it would happen here. It wasn’t my place to say so, I glanced from Jim to Declan to Paddy to see who would break it to her.
“Sure, these lads is the French’s,” said Declan.
I nearly choked on my own exasperation.
“The teams are Carraghers against the rest,” said Jim.
Insult to injury. I considered mounting some kind of protest. Bad enough she was allowed to play, but then I had to be on her team, with my asthmatic younger brother and, with her brother who I had never even seen play. I wanted to just go home. I could feel myself going red. I hated to lose.
“Right, we’ll tip off then,” said Jane. “Gimme the ball.”
Declan passed it to her and she started to juggle the ball. Right foot, right foot, left foot, knee, left foot, right foot, knee, head, knee. Then she caught it. She turned around to me.
“So are you any good then?”
“I’m alright,” I squeezed out. “David’s a good keeper too.”
I would need to be at my best. I couldn’t be upstaged by a girl.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
September sunlight screamed through both my bedroom windows. The venetian blinds irrelevant. Serrated shadows made the empty room busier. My things had not yet arrived. Was having an east facing bedroom a good thing? If it meant going gradually blind every morning then I would rather face west. West was behind me. Ireland was west.
It was the first day of my fresh start, my new job, my new life. London.
I have never had the ability to sleep the night before any large event in my life. First day at school, Christmas day, job interviews, hospital appointments, examinations. I pass these nights awake, running to the bathroom, squeezing out unneeded trickles of piss. I lie in bed restlessly troubleshooting scenarios in my head. Last night I should have been preparing answers to questions, mapping alleys of conversation, rehearsing half truths, exagerations. Lies.
A lot of nights have been like that. Maybe smoking so much was not such a good idea. Then again it improved on the alternative. It forced me to be natural, to improvise.
I groaned out of bed and lay on the floor. The room was already warm and my skin felt oily. My armpits smelled ripe. I started doing sit-up excercises with my feet wedged under the the frame of the bed. My toenails looked like weapons, long and sharp. The floorboards squeaked beneath me like the deck of an old ship. Thinking of my Japanese housemates below I felt stupid and ridiculous. I gave up. I had completed 8 sit-ups.
“Tomorrow.” I said. There’s always tomorrow.
I dressed fully. I feared meeting someone in the hall. I grabbed my towel, shower gel, toothpaste and toothbrush. I descended the stairs to the bathroom.
The bathroom was locked.
One bathroom between seven people. It had not presented itself as a hindrance when Paul and I had viewed the house. Then again we had viewed the house drunk.
“We’re reinforcing Irish stereotyping abroad. It’s what they expect. Actually it’s what they want, pissed paddys.” Paul could be persausive after a pint.
“Your round then.” I could be easily persuaded.
I badly needed to piss by the time we reached Finsbury Park tube station. We had alighted a stop too soon. Finsbury Park itself was already closed. By the time we had walked around it and down the hill at Manor House we both were close to exploding. By the time we had solved the maze of houses and found the three story house we could barely speak or walk.
We knocked the door and were shown in by Kazu, the Japanese landlord. Everybody was Japanese, except for the Polish guy. Japanese landlord, Japanese housemates and the Polish guy. Two Japanese guys, three stunning Japanese girls, and the Polish guy.
We were shown around.
Three floors, three fridges, three Japanese girls.
Two empty bedrooms, two drunk Irish, two sofas, two Japanese guys.
One Polish guy, one bathroom, and one Japanese landlord.
We accepted without hesitation. We shook hands, paid our deposits, signed our lease and relaxed. We looked around and agreed we had done the right thing.
“Can I use your bathroom?” Paul and I harmonised.
“No problem. It’s your bathroom now.” Kazu the landlord laughed. Paul laughed. I laughed. The Japanese laughed. The Polish guy didn’t laugh.
I went to the bathroom after Paul. I pissed for all of London. My eyes rolled, I shivered, ecstacy. My kidneys gave a standing ovation.
While I waited to use the bathroom I went downstairs to make my lunch. The bathroom door had three small perfectly round holes at the bottom. I stole a glance to my left on my way downstairs. I saw hairy feet on the gritty red plastic floor covering. Hairy feet conspiring to make me late for my first day.
I would be eating packed lunches for the foreseeable future. It was another part of the fresh start. I bought pitta breads because I enjoyed them. Mostly I bought them because they were more interesting than normal bread. I had also ensured that they were fashionably wholemeal. The same could be said for the organic hummus, cherry tomatoes and salad pack. Butter and cheese would be out in the cold with normal bread.
My new regime. 8 sit-ups a day, wholemeal pittas and organic hummus. I am an idiot sometimes. I would probably last a week, a week and a half at most.
I stuffed the pittas, wrapped them in cling film and put them in my blue lunchbox with a red apple. The lunchbox then joined my discman, CD wallet and a book I was reading in my bag. I looked at the book. It was by John Pilger. 879 pages of war correspondence spanning two decades of western foreign policy and media collusion. By my bookmark I was as halfway through it as I had been when I stopped reading it.
It is a good book, well written and well reasearched. I had become too apathetic. I was sick of politics, reality, the human race and what we do to each other. For gods, for country, for good, for bad, for territory, for revenge, for lust, for blood, for oil, for each other. None of it matters. We think alone. We do alone. We fear alone. We agonise alone. We suffer alone. We live with it alone. We overcome it alone. We die alone. It will be bearable if we are lucky.
I turned the book over in my hands and looked at the cover. A Cambodian lady in anguish over the bodies of her sons.
At least the book would look good on my knee on the Tube. I would look informed, empathetic. I reminded myself to buy some fiction at the nearest opportunity. I am pathetic.
And some people are just born lucky.
I raced back up the stairs and looked to my right. I had missed my chance. Black painted toenails on gorgeous feet clashed with the gritty red floor covering. I continued to my room, gathered my towel and toothbrush. I lit a cigarette and perched on the stairs.
Exhale. I was going to be late for my first day. I coughed and nauseous black butterflies fluttered around the flowerless brambles in my stomach. I was nervous.
I did not have time to dwell on the blood on my toothbrush. The blood was not going anywhere and would be there tomorrow. I put on my jacket, roughly shaped my wet hair and opened the front door. It was warm, the sun bright, the sky blue. I could see four aeroplanes from the step, the only blemishes in a perfect sky. People going places.
I wondered if any of the passengers were looking in my direction. Could any of them see me? What could they see? A dot? A person? An outline of a person? Or maybe they could just see the houses. Maybe they were thinking about their own journey.
I waved just in case.
“Percy, hold on I’ll come with you,” Paul was noisily descending the stairs. “I’m in college for ten.”
“Alright,” I said.
I stepped out onto the porch and lit another cigarette. I could smell the row of bins outside our gate. The street was quiet. I examined the clock on my phone, coughed and spat. I had 25 minutes to get to work. With a helicopter and parachute I would still be late. I sat on the low redbrick wall outside. Paul appeared. I stood up again.
The next door opened loudly and our neighbour walked out. It was a woman dressed in full black muslim dress. Only her eyes were visible, deep chocolate brown eyes. I had not seen any neighbours since moving in. I had never seen any muslim women in full headdress until that point. Burning effigies and Osama Bin Laden jumped into my head. I felt guilty, blushed and looked at the ground.
“Morning,” Paul said. He was always the more comfortable in these situations.
“Morning,” the eyes said.
“How’s it going?” I eventually managed, but she was gone. I watched her move quickly in the direction of Seven Sisters Road.
We started to walk in the opposite direction towards Manor House tube station. I set the pace, we walked fast.
“She must be warm this morning,” I said.
“Black attracting the sun and all.”
“Yeah. She looks sort of like a ninja in that thing,” Paul said.
“The Japanese won’t like that.”
“It’d be a decent scrap. There’s as many ninja muslims in that house as there are Japanese in ours.”
“She had lovely eyes. She could be gorgeous and you wouldn’t know.”
“She could be ugly either I guess.”
I took off my jacket. I was nervous and starting to sweat.
I needed cigarettes and change. I went into the shop at the top of our road. The shop was run by a Turkish family. They seemed nice and I promised to make myself a regular. The shop was smaller than my bedroom and thousand times as colourful. One wall was floor to ceiling booze, the other adorned with canned goods and non-perishables. Vegetables and fruits filled the back wall. Tomatoes, chillis, giant onions, apples, lettuce, courgettes, mangoes, fennel, carrots, mushrooms and oranges. The confined space smelled fantastic. You felt nourished by merely standing there and breathing.
“You should get an oyster card for the Tube,” Paul said. “I got one yesterday. It’s handy, you just touch in and it’s cheaper.”
“I think I’ll just get a ticket this morning, I don’t really have the time.”
“It’ll only take two minutes. I’ll wait with you.”
“I’ll get it later.”
I was at the counter and Paul was distracting me. The Turkish man behind the counter smiled. I saw two gold teeth and four black ones.
“Oyster Card. Very good, very cheap.” He narrowed his eyes. He meant it.
“Yeah, I’ll get one. Could I get 10 Mayfair please,” I handed him a tenner. “And some change.”
I saw him and Paul exchange a look. I almost screamed but I was running too late.
I didn’t speak to Paul until we were on the southbound platform at the station. I had waited and gotten an Oyster Card by way of apology. The platform was packed. People in suits scowled the entire length of the yellow line. A train screechingly came to a halt and the scramble ensued. I looked at the train. People were squashed against windows. Every seat was taken. It looked unsafe. Everyone looked miserable. Yet, more people fought their way aboard. I had been in London for 10 days but had not experienced rush hour. I looked at the information board. It was three minutes until the next train. I turned to Paul.
“Look, will we just wait for the next one. I’m late anyway and I’d prefer to be comfortable and a couple of minutes later.”
“Yeah, fuck it. We’ll get the next one.”
The platform filled back up as quickly as it had emptied.
“Maybe we should go up the other end of the platform and stand on the yellow line,” Paul said. “One of the lads in college said if you stand on the dirty bits of the yellow line that’s where the doors usually are.”
It seemed logical. We weaved a path quickly to the opposite end of the paltform and stood on the dirty bit of the yellow line. The train immediately arrived. It looked just as full, and the people just as downtrodden as the previous train. I looked quickly at the information board. Seven minutes until the next train. It would make me an hour late for work.
The doors beeped open. Paul elbowed his way aboard. I could not move.
“Percy, come on quick.” Paul looked bemused.
I tried but my legs would not move.
“Stand back doors about to close.”
The people around the door all looked at me. Paul started to laugh. I stood back. The doors closed. I watched Paul shake his head all the way into the pitch black tunnel. I watched the Train disappear. I sat on an uncomfortable glossy blue bench and put on my headphones. I tried to calm down. I looked at the billboards on the opposite side of the platform. They advertised Oyster Cards and holidays. The two dimensional people in them smiled.
Seven minutes later I got on a deserted train and found a seat. Rush hour was over. I remembered something my mother said to me when I broke up with Sinead.
“If it’s meant for you it won’t go past you.”
In Ireland I always walked to work.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Monday, April 6, 2009
No earlobes. It could not be true. Jane Whelan. Of all the things she could have picked that I don’t have she had to pick earlobes. I wasn’t even sure I knew what earlobes are. I thought they are just the fleshy bit at the bottom of your ear, of no discernable use to anyone but piercers and angry teachers.
“They are the fleshy bit, but they have to be unattached to count as earlobes.” She stood in front of her garden gate, a yellow cap over her brown hair. She had a habit of stopping in the middle of sentences and smiling; satisfied, measured. I looked forward to those smiles.
“What does that mean, unattached?” I reached for my ear.
I had been finding myself strangely interested in what she thought of me lately. She had lived up the road for the last four years. We were in the same class at school. She was funny and clever. She always excelled.
“It just means you have no earlobes Percy,” she rolled her eyes. Green eyes. “See you at the bonfire tomorrow.”
Then she was gone. Red wellies, blue coat, brown hair, green eyes, yellow hat. A rainbow, gone. Path traversed, front door closed, another day over for Jane Whelan. I had more questions than answers. I should have traversed the path, knocked the front door, gotten the truth and punched her.
I squeaked her garden gate closed and started to walk home. The sun was going down. It was cold and I had no jacket.
No earlobes. Who cares?
I approached my mother later that evening at dinner. She seemed stressed, simultaneously striving to feed Dervla and Roisin, my infant twin sisters. Their lack of cooperation implied neither was particularly hungry. Their food had made it to the floor, the table, and all over my mother. Their baby-grows and bibs remained pristine.
“Mam, do I have Earlobes?”
“Eat your dinner!”
Dervla laughed and Roisin gooed. I looked down, murky brown stew with spuds and stringy beef. I wasn’t very hungry either.
My dad managed the local supermarket. He usually ate his dinner on a cushion in front of the television. I was on Halloween holidays from school and there was football on. I always watched it with him.
Football matches are never a good time to quiz my father about anything non-football. His answer to all other questions is always the same.
An unengaged and pacifying, “Very good.”
An unwavering answer that presumed his children were telling him something fantastic but ultimately irrelevant that had occurred over the course of their day. My brother David and I exploited it down the years for our own amusement.
“Dad, I didn’t do my homework.”
“Dad, I like eating my snots.”
“Dad, if you aren’t listening just say ‘very good’.”
“Very good.” Always the same nonplussed sidestep of pride and disinterest. But as soon as he heard a match related sentence he could start analysing and reaming off articulate opinion. A student of the game, a brilliant man.
Unfortunately I needed more than a chest thumping lecture on whether Roy Keane was the best midfielder in the world. I needed paternal guidance.
“Dad, do I have earlobes?”
I had been expecting this. I waited until half-time and tried again.
“Dad, do I have earlobes?”
Was whatever John Giles was complaining about more important than the pressing needs of his oldest son? Frustrated I leaped in front of the television. My dad kept chewing his dinner but looked confused, hurt and angry all at once.
“Dad do I have earlobes?”
“What?” he was craning his neck around my skinny frame and trying to balance his dinner. I was losing him.
“Earlobes Dad, do I have them?”
“Jesus Percy get out of the way or I’ll show you earlobes.”
“Okay, but do I have earlobes?”
I went to bed.
The next morning I had calmed down. I woke late and just lay on my bunk, legs raised under my Liverpool duvet cover.
Jane Whelan. I imagined a clutch of situations to impress her.
I imagined Ireland invaded by a Nazi style army and Cavan overrun. I evaded capture and became a resistance guerrilla leader. I rescued her, her entire family and the rest of the town from our school. It had become a makeshift detention facility during the occupation. Sandbags and barbed wire surrounded it. We killed all the Nazis and told everyone to go into hiding. Jane was swooningly grateful and ran her fingers through my new beard.
“Percy you look changed, older. How will anyone here ever be able to thank you?”
“How about when all this is over you just agree to go to the cinema with me?”
“Oh Percy, I never knew.” And then she kissed me, on the beard.
I envisioned saving her from drowning in the town lake.
I was spinning for Pike on a jetty on the shore. I had already caught two 10lb fish and saw her waving to me from her boat. I waved back and then started to cast my line again. Her boat suddenly overturned and the current caught her. I threw my rod aside, dived straight in and swam to her. I struggled tirelessly against the current and reached Jane just as she was going under. I guided her back to her boat and we both rowed ashore. She thanked me but I was just happy she was alive.
I made a mental note to learn how to swim.
I was deep in a fantasy about the apocalypse. Jane and I were the only people left. The earth was blackened the skies were dark and clouded, but we survived.
My brother David exploded into the room. He was wheezing, hands on knees with watery eyes. I kicked off my duvet and jumped down.
“Percy, the bonfire…..” he sucked deeply on his ventilin inhaler.
He didn’t even need to say it. I already knew.
“Percy, the bonfire…. It’s wrecked…. Someone robbed all the tyres and knocked everything.” He coughed.
I started to get dressed.
“Does Jane know?”
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Brief and submision details
"Synth Eastwood is back with a new brief... HomeMade.
As usual all forms of work are welcome. Photography,
typography, film work, illustration, audio loops,
installations, performance... anything at all.
The deadline for submitting all work is midnight Monday
May 4th. The show itself will take place Friday 15th May
in Temple Bar, Dublin."