What do I want for Christmas? What does a man need?
Years ago I worked with male teenage Travellers alongside a man who taught them (and me) about how to become the human we wanted to be.
“Self knowledge is completely useless, Charlie,” he explained, “...unless you do something about it.”
Last Spring I realised that I was exhausted, and actually changed my behaviour patterns. In the past I’d feel beholden to pummel on regardless, until I became ill or depressed or both.
Instead, learning a little bit from my past, I tried to cut myself some slack and ease up on the pressure. Any self-employed person will tell you how difficult it is to do that, but I did it.
Then I started buying myself things. Not frivolous nonsense of the kind irritatingly advertised on the radio as gone when it’s gone... No, I invested in myself and feel all the better for it.
I bought a pair of good boots. With a couple of skewed discs and a dodgy knee carrying an unnaturally large body weight, my plates of meat take a battering, so good boots are essential.
In the past I’ve bought the same boots every year, which last just under a year. This time I went out and bought good boots, handmade by a small company in Yorkshire.
Admittedly there was some woe in the tale, as the first pair of good boots I bought were handmade by a company in Germany.
According to online reviews posted by ex-squaddies, these boots were the best boots a man could buy. I felt ex-squaddies would be good judges, but hadn’t reckoned on my feeble middle-class body. Blisters the size of Cyprus left me limping and stumbling until I had to relent and took the boots back.
Upon seeing the state of my plates, the woman in the shop was overcome with sympathy and agreed to exchange them for me, even though they were now beyond resale.
These boots I love. They hold me up and allow me to follow Lady Dog through flooded bog and bohreen.
I’ve a good chair. It’s a proper size for one such as me and I ordered it with the hardest arse cushion they had available. Then I ordered a spare arse cushion for it, knowing how much of a beating this chair will take.
Admittedly the first chair I bought was not a success. I’d never bought a lounge chair for myself before and unknowingly purchased a feeble nursing home number, just because it felt wonderful on my back.
It did not last well. Worn out and dejected, it now sits in a corner of the living room, under a pile of Snapper stuff.
I’ve a good coat. Each year I go out to TK Maxx and then on to Ó’Máille’s, where I buy a wax cotton jacket for around 70 quid.
After I mentioned to the Snapper that I was about to live out this annual ritual, she suggested that instead I go straight to Ó’Máille’s and talk to the wonderful Ger and Anne about a tweed coat.
She pointed out that if I spend 70 quid every year it might be better to spend more for a good coat that’d last a decade. Then she reminded me that when we met I used to have a full length tweed coat and I then explained to her how that coat was something of a miracle.
I’d had a full length tweed coat when I lived in Bradford. There was nothing better to battle the blizzards that raked across the Pennines, as I walked home in the early hours from working bars.
Within a week of arriving in Galway I’d found an identical coat in a charity shop and after parting with only 20 quid, myself and that coat became one.
An asset to Galway for generations, Ó’Máille’s on High Street represents Irish culture, tradition and craftsmanship in action. With his shop packed with delighted and excited American shoppers, Ger measured my chest and within a couple weeks a full length Magee 1866 arrived in the shop.
After some adjustimication of the sleeve length I walked out of Ó’Máille’s wearing that coat and ever since it has become my second skin. It weighs a ton and attracts infinitely more compliments than my natural good looks, but I’ll not be jealous of a coat.
Out in the freezing darkness, wind and rain, following Lady Dog as she circles and twists in her Walk of Pooh, my wellies rise above the coat's hem, the upturned collar ties up across with a buttoned strip and I’m oblivious.
So I’m a lucky man with my good boots, my good coat and my good chair, but to know me is to know that far beyond basic yet vital material goods, I prize nothing more than the humans in my life.
I’m lucky to be living with my wife and dog, both of whom I love and am loved by, in different ways I’m delighted to say.
I’m lucky to play my part in my small and nurturing family, who are all taking to each other, loving and supporting each other: praise be.
I have friends in England, America and Australia, a large group of whom I’ve known since I was 13. We have shared each others’ lives throughout: an inestimable gift.
Also there is a precious crew I still consider my ‘new’ friends, those Irish lads and lasses I met when I arrived here in 1992, who offer me the feeling of family here, while I live away from my own.
What do I want for Christmas?
What does a man need to make him happy?
A wise person once said to me:
"If you sleep in a warm bed with a full belly, safe in the knowledge that nobody you love will be taken in the night, then you have no worries."
I’m a lucky person. So are you.
Happy Christmas, patient colyoomistas.