Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot …? (A Little Light Reading)

This post was written as part of the Great Cake Experiment (A Writing Project for the Unmotivated.)

Lots of writers contribute to a common theme on a weekly basis. Do pop over for a look!
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Well, should it?

Depends on what you mean by “acquaintance”, I suppose. Time has this habit of flying by, bringing with it small chunks of your memory. Someone should have told Time that these memories can be useful to hang onto, thank you very much. There are at least two types of acquaintance-forgetting scenarios I think we’ve all played a part in at some stage.

Firstly, you have the Forgotten Face situation. Ever bump someone you’d actually completely forgotten ever existed?

Awkward, that.

Picture this. They instantly recognise you. They’re delighted to see you. They even greet you by *name*. They remember what you studied in uni, and they ask after your dog. Also by name. You, on the other hand, are panicking. You’re mentally treading water. Although in the dim recesses of your mind you have a vague recollection of this person’s face, you have no memory whatsoever of where they feature in your past. Flailing, rewinding at the speed of light over your school, college and working life, desperately seeking clues in the conversation (although they’re giving nothing away), and conspicuously avoiding addressing them by their name – because you haven’t a notion what it is – it finally clicks and – oh, blessed relief! – you remember.

Simultaneously wondering what on earth it is they include in their diet that helps them to remember such a tenuous acquaintance in so much detail, and trying not to make it obvious that you have only this second remembered where it is you ever met them in the first place, you struggle through the last excruciating moments of the conversation until someone makes an excuse to leave. (Usually them, because you feel too guilty about forgetting their very existence to also lie to their face about being late for something.) You wave them off, exchanging lovely-to-see-you-agains and we-must-meet-for-coffees. You breathe a sigh of relief for getting away with it. You still haven’t a bull’s notion what their name is.

Yep, awkward.

Then, you have the opposite of the situation outlined above. You are the Dog-Name-Rememberer, and yours is the Forgotten Face.

You run into them by chance, in the middle of a car park in some god-forsaken part of the midlands. (Yes, I may be recalling a incident from personal experience here. If you’re reading, I’m glad I made a stronger impression second time round.)You haven’t seen them since college days, and memories of days locked up in libraries and reading rooms frantically piecing together project work come flooding back. You had all the craic back then. You really bonded. Such a shame you lost touch, you were *such* good friends – isn’t it great to see each other? Two minutes in, your ego’s reeling from that punch of non-recognition. You know by the panic in their eyes and the whiff of desperation that they actually don’t know you from Adam. In fact, you have a sneaking suspicion that only this minute have they remembered you ever existed. Stunned – how could they possibly forget YOU?!

Immediately, you switch the conversation mode to ‘Vague’. They don’t remember you? Well, you’ll give them no clues, and watch them squirm. Ask after their mother. And – the killer punch – the dog. By name. You haven’t forgotten, oh no. Then, you see the relief wash over them, as they wipe the sweat from their brow and you know they’ve placed you. Or at least remembered where they last saw you, but you know they still haven’t a clue what your name is. Trying to salvage some dignity, you excuse yourself. You’ve somewhere important to be. You ARE important, despite what they clearly think. You call them by their name at least twice as you say your farewells, and swagger off with as much dignity as your wounded pride will allow.

Yep, even more awkward.

There’s a further scenario, where you run into someone you know you recognise, and you know they recognise you. You’ve been acquainted in the past, but neither of you have the foggiest notion how, or when, or where. But the low level of emotional investment there means the awkwardness remains minimal, and crucially, you both have the good sense to mumble a perfunctory greeting and Just Keep Walking.

There are certain other acquaintances I’ve made in the past that I’d bloody love to be able to forget, but that’s a ramble for another day. I’ve even had a couple of occasions to think that Clem and Joel, as inspired by Alexander Pope had the right idea, and that erasing memories of acquaintances past wouldn’t half be a bad plan, but grudgingly I always come around to the realisation that those memories are part of me, as much as my skin, hair and eyes are, and to lose them, and forget what I had and shared, would be to lose a part of me.

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;

One small tip, though. No matter how forgetful you become, always remember the dog.

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Money Talks…

It’s that time of year again. The Great Cake Experiment has kicked off for a second round.

As usual,  I have, at the very last minute, managed to submit this week’s entry.

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Money talks, but, as the words of a famous song attest, it can’t sing or dance, and it don’t walk. (Note: “Famous”, naturally, does not equate to  “decent”, or “credible” or even “listenable”.  But I’ll try not to digress, before I even get past the first paragraph. And Neil did have a point, before the chorus descended into farce).

Residing in Ireland these days is no great picnic, at least not according to the media. As a country, we are flat broke, and have sold our sovereignty/souls to the Germans/Devil, (delete as appropriate). Our houses are worth negative money – the bricks and mortar equivalent of celery (yes, if you eat nothing but celery, all the time, you’ll have a negative calorie intake. Crash dieters, take note.)

And oh, how we love talking about this. In outraged tones, we condemn the FF-‘led government of the time for mismanaging us into this pit of destitution. We blame the banks for lending us the cash to buy what we did not need. We scorn the broadsheets for force-feeding us swollen property magazine supplements we did not want (but feasted on). We decry the economists who gleefully discussed  the best and safest ways of investing in property abroad. How we revile the car dealers who persuaded us that a five year payment plan for the BMW X5 – for on-road activity, natch -was a no-brainer. Lacking, however in this blame game, is the more uncomfortable notion of personal responsibility.

Today, in Ireland, to be blunt we have a society that, to its shame, has collectively failed itself. Our most vulnerable are now at risk. There is every indication that tomorrow’s Budget will signal bad news for children in disadvantaged families as child benefit allowances are cut. Class sizes will, in all probability be increased. Already, the number of Special Needs Assistants for children with learning difficulties has been slashed. Nursing homes are closing, resulting in traumatic moves for elderly patients who, for many years have known no other home. Proposed funding for mental health facilities is now no longer guaranteed. Note that those most affected here are the ones with very little power to defend themselves.

Take a bow, Ireland. To say “we all partied” is wrong and unfair, but frankly, there is no denying that many of us did. Plenty of us sit in debt, because we lived beyond our means when times were good. Nobody ever told us we had to buy that car, or take out that mortgage, but we went ahead and did it anyway because everyone else was doing it and we didn’t want to be left behind. Now, in our grim fiscal situation, all we can do is talk about it, and continue to place money at the centre of our lives, and forgetting that the loveliest things we own cost nothing. (The irony is, that despite the fact that €120 billion is held in this country’s banks in hard currency and cash deposits, we collectively cry poverty, but of course, I’m digressing again.)

Times are hard. For many, they’re immeasurably shit, and they have my sympathy, they really do. But for many of us, they’re not as bad as we’d like to pretend.

I can’t understand why we continue to talk ourselves into this negative, defeatist frame of mind. Think of the happiest memory you have. The person you love the most. The things you treasure most dearly. What you would cry hardest over losing. I’m willing to bet that the things that matter most to you don’t didn’t originate in your wallet. Why not place them at the centre of your world, and while you’re at it, make a difference to the people around you by doing something small, something almost immeasurably tiny, in fact, like sharing a smile, holding a door, or just telling someone how much they mean to you? Why not devote your time and energy to what feeds the heart and soul, and worry a little less about what you can’t bring with you where you’re going?

Money talks, but no-one ever said we had to listen.

While the music lasts…

Like pretty much most people I know, my existence to date has been accompanied by a vast and varied soundtrack.

For each memory, a musical cue, for every tear, a tune. For every heartbursting moment of happiness, a matching chariots-of-fire-esque musical crescendo. Every song, every guitar riff or piano intro capable of transporting me back instantly to a defining – or utterly mundane – moment from my past. I imagine I’m not alone in this.

Recently, I met someone in a social capacity (ahem) who, over a couple of pints announced that he wasn’t “into music”. Astounded, I queried him further. Did he not like certain types of music? Did he not go to gigs? No, he said. He just didn’t like music. He’d never even bought a CD. Ever. In his lifetime. In 34 years. (Sport is his “thing”, apparently.) He switches off the radio when he hears music, because he doesn’t like the noise. He prefers to listen to debates, sports commentary, even the death notices! Anything but music. He’s never been to a gig, nor does he intend to. He couldn’t imagine anything worse, he said.

I was flabbergasted. I don’t mean to be judgemental. Everyone to their own, right? But I’ve met people who claim they’re not into music, but you generally will hear them at some stage humming along to some naff tune on the radio. Or you might meet people who don’t actively seek out music, or don’t have any particular preferences, or just “like the stuff that’s in the charts” (shudder), but this guy was a completely new and different animal. I’d never before met anyone who actively dislikes music, and  I was shocked.

Now this guy seemed like a decent guy, and in other circumstances, I’m sure we would have gotten on well. We’d traded GAA stories around the table – a sure-fire way to get me to like you – and he was quite a wit. But the minute he dropped this bombshell, I instantly stopped trusting him. I just could not comprehend how any living, hearing human being could knowingly dislike music. I still can’t, and to my mind, they are simply not normal. I’m sorry, but that’s just how I feel.

Music is so engrained in everything we do that I wonder how anyone who doesn’t like it can endure life without losing their mind. I mentioned how it holds over me the power to instantly transport me back in time, to a moment where I was utterly consumed in grief, worry, or unadulterated happiness. It can alter my mood in a nanosecond. I hear this song on the radio (not often enough, I might add) and it makes me cry. This reminds me of my formative years when I was just starting to find my tentative way in the world – when hormones ruled and the headiness of newfound freedom had just opened up a world of possibilities. This reminds me of the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. And one day, I hope to again listen to this song without feeling the searing pain in my heart it triggers now. Like a puppet on a string, I am at the mercy of the notes, the air, the melody. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My new acquaintance will never experience the sheer beauty of smiling to himself as he hears “their song”, nor will he drive cross country with the window down, singing at the top of his lungs and terrifying the roadside sheep and/or passing cyclists.  He’ll almost certainly never sing his children a lullaby. I feel dreadfully sad for him.

Music may leave us at its mercy, but while there is music, there is life, and heart and soul. While the music lasts, let us dance. Let us listen and sing and celebrate and squeeze the very life out of our existence before the needle lifts and the silence prevails.

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Fond Friends Forever…. or a friend indeed

Another post written for the group writing competition, The Great Cake Experiment.

Do check it out – there are just two weeks left in this round.
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Once, a long time ago, when Kylie loved Jason, I loved Kylie, Snickers bars were called Marathons and everyone’s biggest ambition was to own a Walkman, I made a friend. We sat beside each other in the back row of first class, feet in white ankle socks swinging a few inches above the ground, sharing confidences. I learned that her dog got sick in the kitchen last night, and her dad shouted at her mum. She learned that at the grand old age of eight, I still sucked my thumb to get to sleep. We were best friends. She had pigtails. I, with my boy’s cropped locks, was jealous and begged to plait her hair, like my dolls. We made each other cards daily – middle pages torn from copybooks, adorned with pink marker pen, tin foil flowers, crayoned hearts and declarations of everlasting devotion. Together, hand in hand, we skipped around the playground, hopscotched and built dens under tree branches, where no-one was permitted to enter. We would be friends for ever and ever.

A rather frail child, I was susceptible to asthma attacks and chest infections. One such bout ensured I was housebound for a week. At lunchtime, between bouts of painful coughing, I could hear the screams and laughter of my friends as they ran and skipped and chased in the playground, from my home just metres from school. The week felt like seven rolled into one. Eventually, I healed and was deemed fit to return to the classroom.

On entering the room, I was met with a state of disarray. Chairs facing the wrong way, teacher’s desk stood at the side of the room instead of the front and there were new pictures I didn’t recognise on the wall, and – oh! there she was! – my dearest friend, my soulmate, deep in conversation at a new desk with someone else. I tapped her on the shoulder, excitedly anticipating a rapturous welcome.

“Oh, you’re back”, she said. “Teacher moved the classroom around. You’re sitting over there. I sit here now. Beside my best friend.”

I froze. The world stood still. Hot tears stung my eyes. With a flourish of her pigtails, she swung away from me, and resumed her conversation. On the desk, I could see the telltale glint of a tin foil heart, a declaration of friendship forever, scripted lovingly pink marker pen.

A friend, indeed.

Town and Country

As is usually the case, this post was written as part of The Great Cake Experiment. 15 other writers pit their wit and pens against each other, every week on a single topic. Why not have a read?
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When I was 16, the gap in my mind between town and country was at its greatest. Living in the country, in what felt like hundreds of miles from “civilisation” (in reality, just 4.1) with the only means of available transport the passenger seat of an unwilling parent, or the rickety wheels of an ancient pushbike, “town” was the holy grail.

Having a bunch of townie friends didn’t help. My best friend and I, living within a mile of each other in “the sticks”, envied them the freedom having a base in Town bestowed on them. They could come and go as they pleased – they even had their OWN KEYS. Our parents didn’t see the need for such liberties. There was no sneaking out late at night for us, and lack of gainful employment meant a heavy dependence on those parental taxi trips (and consequently, necessitated good behaviour, for fear of such favours being withdrawn), with curfews imposed. They even collected us in town at ungodly hours after nights out. (Sometimes we were grateful.)

We did, however have the freedom to hop on those  bikes, and cycle to our hearts content in the sun, hair messed in the wind, exploring the nooks and crannies of our country playground. In this, we felt we had a significant advantage over our town-based peers, even if they didn’t profess much jealousy. We country girls even formed our own gaelic football team. How we bonded – us against the townies. Mercifully, no official records exist of our first competitive scoreline, but it is seared on my mind forever. Our crushing defeats were soothed over pints of lemonade and Tayto, bringing giggling chaos to our one-room local and disturbing the tranquility of the regular clientele at the bar. Our team may have sucked, but our friendships endured.

Fast forward a couple of years, to university. Sharing a house with four townie schoolmates meant that country/town divisions were soon forgotten. Hailing from the same area bonded us in solidarity against the city folk (or the other country folk). The quiet peace of the countryside was scorned and forgotten, as partying became a priority, and city life pulsed in our veins. You could say, without being wide of the mark, that Galway city isn’t much more than a country town, but it was a change of pace, and we relished it. And so it went, for many a year.

Years later, I impulsively booked a flight, and departed to sunnier climes on a personal adventure. It was a trip that served to demonstrate to me how closely the Irish tend to stick together. Country, town, county and provincial divisions are forgotten, as Irish abroad unite simply in their shared nationality. It occurred to me that we as a nation rely heavily on solidarity. We feel a need to have something in common with our companions, to possess and generate shared memories and experiences, and all too often, this connection stems from our shared Irish roots and shared sense of humour.  We adore the ‘6 degrees of separation’ phenomenon, and the fact that no matter where you roam, you will always meet an Irish person who knows another Irish person that you yourself know.

Sometimes, on my solo expedition, it puzzled me. All those miles away from home, but doing very little differently than they would back at base – albeit while adding freckles to the complexion. I felt my own experience was enriched by spending time in the company of other nationalities and I felt the groups of Irish hanging out in PJs and the like in Sydney every Saturday night, drunkenly singing Olé Olé as the nostalgia-laced dizzyhighlights of Italia ’90 were replayed on giant screens, missed out just a little. But each to their own.

Now, years later as I languish in corporate limbo in the capital, I find myself looking for an escape route. The city streets which once held so much intrigue, and pulsed with energy now tire me a little. Not physically, but mentally. My visits home, and my solitary walks by the wild Atlantic  have become more frequent. I relish the relaxed pace, the peace of the wide open spaces, the warmth of knowing your neighbours and find I need to tear myself away when the weekends draw to a close. I’m not unhappy where I am, though. I’ve carved out a wonderful “Dublin family” for myself here, and I’ve realised that it consists mostly of “country” folk.  The irony. I find, when I socialise, that I tend towards places that remind me of home, and where I know I’ll meet people I know and understand.

It always amuses me that even within such a small country, there are such social factions. There’s a distinct vibe within my little group, and it smells of the Atlantic. Without even meaning to, I’ve sought out that sense of solidarity myself. 15 years later, and it seems I’ve come full circle. You can take the girl out of the country, but…….

Wake Up

Once again, this post was written as part of The Great Cake Experiment.

I look forward to the day I can write a weekly without prompting. In the meantime, why not have a read, and marvel at the talent of my fellow writers there?
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Looking for some inspiration for this week’s topic, and not trying too hard to think outside the box, I took the obvious route and googled the phrase “Wake Up” (including Boolean operators – do people still use those?).

That course of action resulted in this song circulating in my head for a few hours afterwards, which I didn’t much mind. I found this, which amused me greatly (but then there’s no accounting for my sense of humour). I also found this (Oh, the hilarity.) What struck me the most, though, was the proliferation of sites offering advice on “How To Wake Up Early”, “How To Wake up On Time” and “How To Wake Up Feeling Alert!” (“Alert” in my book = “Annoyingly Sprightly”.) All of which got me pondering why it is that so many people need assistance in awakening in the mornings. It appears I’m not so unusual after all.

I can only speak for myself, but waking up in the morning requires supreme effort on my part. It’s not that I’m lazy (Okay, maybe it’s that I’m lazy). I never sleep as much as I should. In fact, I’m almost permanently sleep deprived, and sometimes spend entire days in a state of dazed tiredness. But here’s the thing. I have no-one to blame but me. It’s entirely my own fault, because, well, I hate going to sleep.

This is a confession that few understand, and most greet with incredulous horror. Admitting such a thing usually elicits the same reaction as the one I garner when I’m spotted adding hot water to the milk in my Rice Krispies (I’m sick of having to explain why I do this, so I’m not explaining it here). Or, the response I received when I once admitted I’d never seen the Shawshank Redemption, a crime which, judging by the reaction I received to the admission is clearly on a par with eating one’s first-born child. The majority of folk are sensible, and enjoy winding down for the evening and curling up or cuddling up in bed at what my folks would call “a decent hour”. My genes took a wrong turn somewhere along the way, because my mum rarely stays up past 10pm. She, like most sane-minded people values a good night’s sleep.

Me … I’m different. I love the night. As the day wears on and most people fade, I slowly come to life. When others are fading, I’m starting to shine. It’s for this reason that I start work late and finish late. I’m at my most productive when most folk are comatose. It’s a pattern that’s continued throughout my life – school, university (cramming is king) and unfortunately, my work life. I sometimes wonder if I’m a distant cousin, twice removed of the old Count D.

I’m not sure why I dislike succumbing to sleep so much. Every night is a battle to stay awake, rather than go to sleep. Regrettably, when I really need to sleep, I never can. Oh, the irony! Recently, when I have had occasion to want to sleep, in order to not think any more, I find it eludes me – a shadow, escaping around the next corner, leaving only a trace of its presence as I chase. Ordinarily though, I love the solitude that comes with being awake whilst the world sleeps around me. I love the quietness in the country, and I adore the city at night. I feed off the energy; the lights, and the characters that only emerge after dark, the fellow nocturnal animals. Sometimes I take the car and drive high up the mountains when everyone I live with sleeps, and sit and gaze over the vista I have all to myself.

Oddly, I also adore greeting the sunrise… but only if I’m still awake. There’s nothing I relish more after a night of debauchery than wandering around the garden, preferably in my bare feet in the dewy grass, at 6am on a sunny summer’s morning, listening to the birdsong.  Oddly enough, I never partake of this simple pleasure if I have to set an alarm and wake up to avail of it.

Not sleeping has its drawbacks. Tiredness, I am told results in lower productivity and motivation levels, impairment of ability, and hormone imbalances that can lead to weight gain/loss, amongst others. Personally, I find that if I don’t dream enough, I feel stressed – I think dreaming is the brain’s way of processing and organising the things that happen us during waking hours (even if my dreams do so in the oddest way possible, but I digress). Lack of sleep can also contribute to poor skin, slower healing, and an overall sense of malaise.

So, no matter how much I love the night and reject sleep’s courting, as I get older, and need all the help I can get to stay healthy and sane(ish), I feel it’s probably in my best interests to stop viewing sleep as the enemy, take it by the hand into a quiet corner and get to know it a little better. My health of mind and body will thank me more, and the day will come… one day… when waking up will actually become a pleasure.

Home….

This post was written for Week 6 of the writing project The Great Cake* Experiment Topic was ‘Home’. Why not take a look?
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Home is … still where your parents’ house is, because you haven’t yet managed to decide where you want your own bricks and mortar, and nowhere will ever be completely ‘home’ until you can arrive home with a chair you found in a skip without it being binned as soon as you let it out of your sight and you have complete authority over deciding what colour to paint the ceiling.

Home is … arriving after a long, exhausting drive late on a Friday night to the warmth of a wonderful welcome … the dog. Who couldn’t feel loved?

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Home is … tea with every meal, and at least one cup in between.

Home is … regressing to a teenage state of mind, but suppressing the urge to scream at your parents “you don’t understand me!” whilst simultaneously slamming the nearest door.

Home is … long chats with your mum, late into the night… realising how much she does understand you, marvelling at her quiet wisdom and wishing you could be there more often.

Home is … a somewhere you can lock yourself into your room and hide beneath the covers and cry until you can’t possibly cry any more, and not worry about anyone seeing you and trying to make you feel better. Then, when you emerge, there will be tea.

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Home is …. marvelling at the full sky of stars you only ever really see when lying wrapped in a duvet, lying on the trampoline in the back garden.

Home is … being woken by the birds in the soft, damp, grey morning.

Home is … wearing pyjamas until 6pm.

Home is… a short drive from the sea… the warm, wild and wonderful sea… miles of open space and angry waves… where cold rain stings your face and mats your curls, your lungs feel clean and you feel exhilarated and alive….

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Home is … truly, unashamedly letting your own self all hang out. No game face necessary.

Home is … laced with memories… that tree down the road you had a “house” in…the imaginary friends of childhood… the school up the road where you learned to read and write and grow a thick skin… the seashell necklaces… the long cycles on summer afternoons to climb the stone stairs in the derelict castle by the river… the teenage confidences shyly shared… the pain of unrequited teenage love… the agony of requited love… the blossoming of minds and missions.

Home is … no doorbell necessary… an open house. Where you know your neighbours’ names, as well as their dogs’ names.

Home is … is blissful, dark silence in the night … sheer, ink-black peace.

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Home is… the one-fingered salute from the driver of every car you meet on “your road”. Whether they know you or not. In this context, “one-fingered salute” does not refer to an obscene gesture, rather a friendly acknowledgement that you exist, and are sharing the same space, and deserve to be acknowledged.

Home is … in you always …