Originally published in The Irish Examiner 1st June 2020
I’m all set to text my son about my adventures when he trumps me with a message about being woken up at 5am by a starling falling down the chimney, writes Terry Prone
At 3.30 am, the unmistakeable sound of breaking glass bolts me upright in the bed. I am icily calm. I shout. “You can get out now before I do you damage. Because I will do you damage. I have a weapon. And the guards are on their way. I have a right to defend myself.”
The two cats on the windowsill, who, like me, were woken by the breaking glass, absorb all this and then go back to sleep. The house is silent.
Of course the gardaí are not on their way, since I haven’t summoned them. Plus, the nearest thing I have to a weapon is a nearly full two-litre bottle of diet cola. Because my aim is not good, I figure hitting the intruders with it wouldn’t be that effective, so, instead, I shake it up and down on the basis that when I’m face to face with the miscreants, I can blind them with a sustained squirt.
I creep out of bed, shake the bottle some more and head downstairs, barefoot so they don’t hear me coming. This works. They don’t hear me coming, although that’s maybe because, on the ground floor, intruders are there none. I am quietly proud of myself for scaring them off, although I can’t find the broken window they would have come through, which is puzzling.
I decide I will address the broken glass issue tomorrow, congratulate myself on not wasting garda time, return upstairs and am about to get back into bed when it strikes me that I am a little thirsty and (you’re way ahead of me, aren’t you) get blinded, deafened and half-drowned by two explosive litres of the stuff I have earlier agitated into a low calorie frenzy.
When I turn the weapon away from my face, it’s the two cats who get fizzy-sluiced in their turn.
I cannot believe two litres of liquid could go so far. I am sodden. The cats are sodden. The bed is sodden.
I pull the clothes off it before the mattress can drink in the liquid and consider making it up afresh before deciding that fighting fitted sheets is bad enough in the daytime, but would be worse in the middle of the night.
Besides, it’s only half an hour away from official waking-up time. To hell with sleep, I say aloud as I get into the shower.
Later, I discover that the glass breaking happened because the protective iron bracket around an outside light lost its grip consequent upon advanced oxidation (rust to you) and crashed down outside an open window. No burglars were involved at all.
I am all set to text my son about my nocturnal adventures when he trumps me with a message about being woken at 5am by a starling falling down the chimney in the bedroom.
The bird was safely exited, he adds, sharing a picture of its little head poking out of his big hand. I delete my draft text. A rusty bracket cannot compete with a one-man starling rescue at dawn.
The pharmacist rings. Could he just check one thing in the order I emailed? Go for it, I say.
He says I’ve ordered forty volume peroxide. He says he’s never encountered anything but 20 volume and nobody else working in the pharmacy has, either.
I explain I’ve purchased it in America, but not to worry, I’ll make do with 20 volume. He tentatively asks if he may inquire what it’s for.
Grout, I say. Grout? He’s not overtly incredulous, but there’s just a frisson in his tone that suggests what I really want to use it for is to cook up crystal meth in the hot press.
The thing is I have all this dye I no longer use that bleaches your hair so stunningly white, you look like Mount Everest in Bank holiday sunshine. I figure it will do the same for grout. So waste not, want not, and all that stuff.
The pharmacist clearly wants to ask what the hell I do to my grout to make it that bad and I want to tell him it’s nothing compared to what I can do to my bedroom using an agitated bottle of diet cola.
Today, I shocked myself by burning a book. Not the novel (Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth) I was reading about Australia in the middle of the nineteenth century. Stunning.
It reminded me of another book about Australia, A Sporting Squatter by Nat Gould, by which I had been enthralled when I was about thirteen: the first novel I’d come across which described drug addiction in tattoo-your-soul detail.
I found the old hardback with its thick age-spotted, unevenly-cut pages, and read it again, only to discover that it also contains the nastiest caricature of a Jew to be found outside The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Normally, unwanted books go to my car boot sale friend. But that would simply pass on the infection. So I put it in the wood-burning stove. With some satisfaction. It burned at Fahrenheit 451, according to Ray Bradbury.
Being alone and being lonely are not necessarily the same thing.
A tap on the window, mid-day. A firm, authoritative tap. More like a palm-smack, actually. I glance up, glance out. Nobody there. I turn away and as I do, another smack happens at the window. I whirl around, but again, nobody’s there.
Wary of over-reacting to putative pillagers, I nonetheless decide to catch it by lying in wait for it, and find that the perp is an inflated neon green plastic alligator, about half my height, sporadically blown against the window by the wind. I get gloves on, go outside and, having captured it, walk it down to the sea wall where I try to figure out which family is most likely to have lost an alligator.
As I do, one woman looks up and prods a child, who comes running up the boat slip to retrieve his floater. For the rest of the day, I listen out for the Search and Rescue helicopter, fearful the little lad has floated out to sea on his reptile and that it will be my fault.
“High wages nearly always have a vicious effect on the worst portion of those who are the recipients. Men of a reckless disposition and of irregular habits seem to take an inexplicable delight in embarrassing their employer; they love to make their independence disagreeably felt.”
The language is different, because it was written by a parliamentarian about a hundred and eighty years ago.
The sentiment, however, is not that far from Pat McDonagh’s about those dangerously overpaid folk receiving €350 a week because of the lockdown.
You know Godwin’s Law warning against likening anything to Nazis?
How about McDonagh’s Law, warning against likening welfare recipients to Lotto winners?
I walk it down to the sea wall and I try to figure out which family is most likely to have lost an alligator