Thursday 30 September 2010

I might not know what day it is, but I'm sure my wife's not in hospital!

Good day bad day terrible day good day. This is the strangest depression I’ve ever had. The good day comes along and I allow myself to believe that at last the dark shroud is gone from me, only to be followed by a night of either emotional or physical nightmares filled with pure terror.

Waking the next morning I feel shredded. Intellectually I know that they (these particular nightmares tend to travel in threes) are only dreams. I know that my father is not going to collapse into my arms having a stroke. I know that Martin is alive and preposterously well. I know that the woman being hurled along the pavement on her back by an entity unseen does not even exist. She is a figment of my addled old brainbox. 

But it makes no difference. Unlike yer average nightmares, these babies affect me for the rest of the day. My mate Angel, himself PTSD, reckons I’ve got a touch of his affliction. 

Who knows?
I don’t. That’s for sure. 

The bad days come in various tastes and colours. Sometimes I get those familiar senses of detachment and alienation. Driving along the Headford Road, I am suddenly unsure of the reality I inhabit. Am I really driving? Does any of it really matter? Am I coming or going?

Who cares?

Sometimes I feel a little better and wander into town, intent on trying to behave as I normally do. A coffee in Neactain’s, a Jamie in The Quays and then back home to work some more. 

But I’m not up to chatting, shooting the shit, however wonderful the people that I bump into might be.

It’s all very familiar. Each weary evening that has me dozing helpless at 9.30pm; each early dawn morning that is greeted by the thought that I don’t want to get out of bed; but then, I find I do, and oh look, it’s a good day.

No, I’ve never plucked this particular peculiar variety from the Depression Jamboree Pick‘n’Mix bag before. But then, I’ve never had this set of problems before. 

If you go along with the idea that depression is split into two types - endogenous and reactive - then I’m a member of the former group. My dark shroud was woven from the cloth of my DNA. My depression is not concerned whether I’m happy or sad. I can be feeling joyous as a mackerel chasing a sprat, swimming through the ocean of life with narry a care about me, when BAM, turns out the sprat had a hook on it, and the darkness starts to reel me in.

Nothing in nature is set fast and perfect. Nobody, I suspect, is purely either reactive or endogenous. So given the amount of pretty shitty things that have been happening to me recently, there’s a good chance that I’ve been affected by outside circumstances and events. 

Self pity is anathema to me. If I hear myself whinging three times about the same thing, I either shut up or do something about it. I’m not looking to be a victim or feel sorry for myself, yet sometimes the chaos of the universe delivers a series of heavy blows that I just didn’t see coming.

I wasn’t expecting the financiers of my book to move the goal posts and I wasn't expecting to upset and fall out with a good friend and colleague. Most of all, when the pain in my knee warranted a visit to the doctor, I didn’t expect to hear that there was nothing he could do. For the first time in my life I was told by my doctor that this was me getting old, so tough luck. Osteo-arthritis, which is going to get worse and soon include the other knee. The pain seemed to come on very quickly and is almost ever-present, sometimes gripping the whole lower leg and foot.

To be honest, in itself, no biggie. I can deal with pain, but it’s pretty hard coming to terms with the idea of being in pain for the rest of my life. There’s physiotherapy and Cortisone injections and all manner of ways to manage the condition, but that’s the word: manage. It ain’t going away.

As I said, being a resilient bugger, the idea of pain itself would not have tipped me over the edge. But there was a final blow; one which I am still struggling to get my head around.

For nearly 20 years I’ve cured my head and heart by stomping up the Salthill Prom. When I lived in Yorkshire I hiked the moors and the dales. When I lived in Connemara I strolled the fuschia-clad bohreens. When I lived in Killala I walked the magnificent empty beaches. When I lived in San Francisco I walked through Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean. 

Now not only does walking hurt, but unless the surface gives underfoot, it’s actually doing me harm. I’m allowed to cycle or swim, but the Prom is out. 

In no small way my walking makes life worth living. I clear my head, absorb the beauty of the universe, sweat buckets of crap out of me and come home feeling vibrant and ready for anything. Some days now I can barely wobble up Quay Street without pain and a limp. Even if others might not see it, I feel the effort of trying to walk as I used to. 

The journey I have to make is to acceptance, coupled with doing my physio exercises and taking the injections when it gets too bad to bear. I haven't lost all sense of perspective, and am well aware that there are many wonderful things to live for. I’ve got the best people any human could hope for, offering me love and support in as many differing ways as our species can construct. I’m living in the right place and there are an unknown horde of fellow humans who are suffering much worse than I am.

Yeh, hmm, that last one never really hits me hard enough. The relativism of pain and suffering just doesn’t appeal as a concept. But giving thanks is important and so I do, even when I’m lost to the others, listening to them but feeling distanced, as if they’re on DVD and I’ve lost the remote control.

The one thing I do know for sure is that it will pass. I’m trying to come up with an answer to a question that has none, so as well as seeking counselling I’ll work on acceptance. Therein lies strength and hope for the future. 

In the meantime I’m just getting through each day. Today is a good day. Thankfully last Friday was a good day too. Had it been a bad day I’m not sure I’d have been able to cope with the scene at the hospital.

As the kind older nurse taking some of my blood turned around to talk to her colleague, I felt the needle twist inside my arm. My yelp of pain procured a ticking off from the nurse.

“Ah now, come on widja. It’s not that bad, sure it isn’t. You’ve got terrible jiggly veins, so you have.”

I said nothing, but today as I sit here my arm sports a thundercloud-and-jaundice bruise four inches long, two inches wide, six days after my jiggly veins got in the way of her needle.
A little later, after inspecting the form I’d passed on to her from the Snapper’s doctor, she declared it hadn’t been correctly filled out.

“What’s you wife’s name again?”
I told her.
She rattled a few keys on her computer keyboard.
“Well I’ll just go and have a word with her and check a few details.”
“You will? How?”
“Well, I’ll pop down the ward and see her.”
“But she isn’t on any ward. She came in two days ago for a procedure, waited around all day and then was sent home without it being done. She’s at home.”

And then a wonderful depression-defying, reality-altering question came forth from her indignant wrinkled lips.

“Are you sure?”

As you know, it’s quite incredible how much can go through your brain in a couple of seconds. Given that I had on previous recent days lost touch with reality, I mentally trembled for a trice, wondering if I’d got it all wrong and - but no. 

No no no no no. 

However bad my depression may be, the Irish Health Service as run by the HSE, is worse. Most of the people who work in it are fabulous, but whether it’s the heinous financial cuts or the brainless bureaucratic system, the service itself runs like a derailed train on treacle. You never know where it’s going, yet inevitably it takes an enormous effort to get there.

Was I sure? I was not sure who the person in that bed was, nor how they might feel about being on hospital records as being the Snapper. I was not sure even if there was a person in that bed. But was I sure, absolutely sure, that the Snapper was not in hospital.

Yes, of that at least I was sure. 
Thank you thank you thank you for asking me such an absurd question. At last I am sure of something.

“Yes, I am sure. I am sure that my wife is not in hospital. I am sure that my wife is at home, asleep, in bed.”


“Yes, oh.”

“Well, there’s no need to be like that about it.”

“Sorry. I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather.”

Monday 20 September 2010

Forget Arthur’s Day - Celebrate Barfer’s Day!

Oh spare us and save us from Arthur’s Day. I love a pint of Guinness or three but I’ve never woken up thinking ‘Thanks be to you, Arthur Guinness, for allowing me to pay you for my beer!”

30 years ago I was a marketing whiz-kid. Now there lingers within me a begrudging admiration for good old-fashioned subversive marketing techniques. 

But when it comes in the form of mass crass manipulation, it turns my stomach.
Guinness want us to thank them for their product?

Sitting at the bar of a country pub with a 3-fill pint of Guinness chased by a couple of Jameson’s is a heavenly experience, laden with poetry and sustenance for body and soul. But it’s one I worked for, to be able to pay for. I’m well aware there’s a profit margin involved.

Who knows the damage that Guinness has done to the Irish? One of the most successful brands in the world, Guinness singularly defines the Irish nation to the international community, but how good is that, especially when your Taoiseach/Prime Minister gives drunken interviews while the country goes down the pan?

Oh sure it’s all a bit of a larf ‘cos ye lads love a good drink, but unlike America, where my alcoholic friends were identified simply by the fact that they never drank alcohol, here in Ireland all my alcoholic friends live in the constant agony of being either ‘On the drink’ or ‘Off the drink’.

In truth it’s a pretty harmless auld affair, this Arthur’s Day, with free gigs and no doubt a token charitable donation to the Orphaned Children of Illiterate Mountain Gorillas needing Cataract Operations Fund, so no harm there.

But please, don’t be led out there into the packed streets. Don’t be a brainless consumer, led by the nose to donate your hard-earned green folding to the Corporate Gods. Don’t hold aloft your pint of Guinness at the prescribed time. Don’t let them see how easy it is to make us perform like monkeys with money. Don’t shout and roar and cheer for something you don’t give a damn about. Keep your shouting, roaring and cheering for precious personal moments.

Yes I love Guinness, but I couldn’t care about Arthur’s birthday. 
I love eating eggs, but I eat chickens. 
I drive a car, but it never occurred to me to give thanks to Messrs. Daimler, Benz and Ford.
Why would I give thanks to the inventor of the production line?
Come to that, why would I give thanks to the inventor of a beer?

When I was a barman at the University of Bradford, West Yorkshire, I had to serve pints of Guinness and blackcurrant to thumb-sucking 1st year Engineering students. In the mornings I worked as a cleaner in the student Halls of Residence, where I’d find the very same vile purple pints I'd served the night before, vomited by those same students into their washbasins.

I served it; they drank it; I cleaned up their purple barf.
Hardly 'Veni Vidi Vici' is it?

Aha! So at 17:59 on September 23rd, instead of raising a glass of your lost hard-earned wages in the form of a pint of Guinness to toast a long-dead industrialist, just empty the contents of your stomach and raise some toast for Barfer’s Day.

Saturday 18 September 2010

A little bit of what you fancy does you good!

Saturday night, fire blazing in the grate. 

Channel 4, 9 p.m. Continuity announcer:

“The following programme contains strong language and violence throughout, with scenes of a strongly sexual nature and drug taking from the start.”

I turn to the Snapper.

“Excellent! That’s what we like to hear, innit girl!”

Friday 10 September 2010

One ‘No’ too many - it's not easy being teen!

Last Wednesday night I was walking down the pub to meet my mate for a pint. 
Towering dark shower clouds were speeding across the blue sky above Galway Bay, the low Autumn sun dazzling my eyes. People of all shapes, sizes and speeds were striding along the Prom.

For a moment all was right with my world.

Deciding to cut across the park I chose a diagonal path next to a flat sweep of lush Irish lawn. Passing a signpost I found myself swinging my head back to see what it said.

No Littering. 
No Camping. 
No Ball Sports.

Aye and triple aye to the first ‘No’. Can’t stand the way ye lads litter up your own country. To an alien like this Englishman it seems sometimes you’re not proud enough of what you fought so long to own.

As for the second ‘No’, well, yeh, I suppose it wouldn’t be right for random hosteleros to pitch camp willy nilly. Wouldn’t worry me, to be honest, but I can see that causing trouble with some types.

But ‘No’ as in ‘No Ball Sports?’
My heart, so freshly risen and daring to feel joy instantly dropped and felt damaged.

Yes yes I know that there are nearby roads and balls might run out into those roads and people might get killed and cars might have pile ups.
And yes I know that the grass is there for everyone not just young people and it might end up getting a bit muddy if people played ball sports on it after rain.

But in truth, there aren’t that many cars near this beautiful flat stretch of deep green grass.
And mud is not a rare commodity  in Ireland.

And sad to say, there aren’t any people in the park to be upset about anything. It’s as empty as a politician’s promise.

There are no raggle taggle teams of teenagers here kicking a football around. No pairs of brothers holding hurleys banging a ball. 
No clash of ash. 
No sliding tackles. 
No laughs. 

Nothing. Nobody.

It’s not easy being teen. 
If you stay at home playing Xbox all day you’re told you’re useless and need to go out a get a life. 
If you go out you need money and if you have money you’ll buy a bottle of Buckie which you’ll drink in the park when nobody’s looking. Then you’ll get drunk and throw up or get into a fight and then you’ll be told that you were useless and that you need to go home and get a life.

It’s confusing. And being a teen is confusing enough without authority figures being confusing on top of it all.

What we used to do when we were teens was get a ball and go down the park for a bit of a kick about. 
If it was just me and my mate we’d play penalties.
If there was 3 of us we played 3-and-In, where you’re in goal ‘til one of the other lads scores three goals, and then he’s in goal.
4 lads meant 2-a-side, game on, we’d got ourselves a match. 
Any more than 4 was pure heaven, which could only be improved upon if the older lads turned up , when we played out of our skins to try and impress them.

Now there are no teens playing football in the park. 
One ‘No’ too many.
Teens hear a lot of ‘No’s.
Bit of a kick about with a ball?
Crying bloody shame.

Thursday 9 September 2010

My death penalty is more morally defensible than yours!

This colyoom’s heart goes out to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman who has been sentenced to death by stoning.

However I find bile rising in my throat as I read more and more stories of outraged American politicians joining the international campaign to reduce her sentence and save her life. 

Countries that don’t just aspire but truly belong to the civilised world have long outlawed public execution. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt echoed their attitudes perfectly when he said

“We are against the death penalty in all cases, but stoning is a specifically vile form of the death penalty.”

That it is, but what on earth constitutes a less vile and more just form of death penalty? 

According to, a total of 59 people were killed in American State executions last year. 

Only 1% of the Chief District Attorneys in death penalty states are black, while separate studies in North Carolina and California found that those who killed whites were over 3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks and over 4 times more likely than those who killed Latinos.

Over 75% of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution were white, even though nationally only 50% of murder victims generally are white.

Now really, does that sound like a just, free and civilised society?

Of course it is morally indefensible to stone to death a woman for adultery, or for appearing bare-haired in a photograph, or for any reason at all. But while we in the democratic world still allow our ‘allies’ to run barefacedly prejudiced and immoral legal systems, we have no right to shout ‘Bigot’ or point our fingers and yell ‘Murderer!’ at others. 

Once we rid our own Western houses of hypocrisy we might be justified in attacking somebody else’s. 

Ooooh, plain makes my blood boil, missis, so it does. Still, at least this presents me with a good opportunity to reproduce one of my favourite quotations.

When asked what he thought of Western Civilisation, Mahatma Gandhi replied
“What do I think of Western civilisation? I think it would be a very good idea.”

Saturday 4 September 2010

I’m not Irish and you’re not Irish - But oh boy, we're so Irish!

Fantastic madness in the world of International Relations and International Football today. There I was, sat at the bar in the Quays with The Body, watching the Ireland v Armenia game. Admittedly I was shouting for the Boys In Green when an 50something American tourist beckoned me to go over to her and her husband.

“Does the game have much longer to run?” she asked, in a perfectly-clipped Minnesota accent.

“About 10 minutes.” I replied.

“And how are we doing?”

I knew what she meant and could see no reason to waste good time bothering to explain to her that I was in fact English, while she was clearly American, and that there was no ‘Us’ about any of it, at all at all. Neither of us was Irish, but we both wanted the Irish to win, so ... did that make us ‘We’?

“We’re one goal up!” I heard myself reply.

“Well I think we’re going to win!” she cried, eager to bond with me over her green roots, at which point she offered me her raised clenched wrist, into which it would have been churlish of me not to bang my own, at which she quickly withdrew her arm, lifting it into the air crying

“Go Ireland!”

Retuning to my barstool, I wasted some time wondering how strange it was that ‘You’ had become ‘I’ and that ‘We’ were not Irish at all. Then I spent the rest of the match looking forward to watching the England game later on. 

In an uncertain world, I could be pretty bloomin’ sure that not too many Irish or Americans would be cheering on my boys, but nothing would stop me.