This may not bother you, not least because it happened a good while ago, but, encountering a reference to Second World War refugees leaving Paris with mattresses strapped to the roof of their cars “in the mistaken belief that it would lessen the impact of a bomb”, I text my son asking why this would be. My son is a fount of explanations on abstruse matters, and for the most part puts those explanations in simple terms, in deference to my diminishing braincell count.
He does not fail me on the roof mattresses, either. Within 30 seconds, back bounces the answer: “Cannonballs go bonk. Bombs go boom. Bonk can be lessened. Boom not so much.” It’s answers like that which make me sob over being a university dropout.
Paul McCartney being in the news because of his new album reminds me of when the Beatles came to Dublin and the hysteria in my class in the Holy Faith was off the Richter scale. One of the ways it manifested itself was tattoos on the back of the left hand, this location selected because it was the easiest for self-tattooing, which involved either blades or pen nibs and India ink. I was not involved, partly because in our house, Gilbert and Sullivan were the dominant musical force, thanks to my father. Also we had no telly. So I missed out on a lot of formative experiences in the sixties.
When I told my mother about the amateur self-embellishment, she said my classmates would be lucky if they didn’t give themselves blood poisoning, which is what sepsis was called at the time.
Also, she said, coming back into the kitchen where I was doing my homework, how foolish were they going to feel in years to come when they had a career and had to keep concealing their left hand for fear people saw RINGO on it, tattoos being permanent. In fairness, I did point out that the tattoos mostly said JOHN and PAUL, rather than RINGO, but she’d lost interest. None of those tattooists was ever going to amount to anything, anyway, she concluded.
Wrongly, as it turned out. One of them became a formidable and reasonably famous professor. She’s on Linked In and all. No mention of the PAUL tattoo, though. I can’t help but wonder if, today, she wears extra long cuffs on her shirts.
Obeying the rules and shopping local into the bargain, I stand, masked, in the Jones Garden Centre farm shop near where I live, so dumbstruck and still that an assistant asks me kindly if I’m OK. I laugh lightly and tell him I’m just thinking. Which is true. I’m just thinking, looking at a long green spike thing, that I’m old enough to be a special case for vaccine yet never knew — until right now — how Brussels sprouts grew.
Like the classic city dweller who thinks milk grows in Tetra packs, I thought Brussels sprouts maybe grew in bunches, like grapes. For them to look like hernias on a green version of the Dublin city centre Spire is astonishing. I am sprout-shamed.
Jessica Radcliffe is going to marry Dale McLaughlin. It’s just been announced. Because we’re only a couple of days away from Christmas, I will not be judgmental about her plighting her troth with (to?) the non-swimming headbanger who rode a jet ski for more than four hours to reach the Isle of Man, where she lives, in order to propose to her before getting arrested for breaking the Manx Covid rules.
Not that he was the first. In a weird coincidence, the book I’m reading this week, about Northern Ireland boxer Eamonn Magee, says that when on his way to the gym one day, trying to think up a way to raise money for a pet charity, he came up with the wizard wheeze of jet-skiing across the Irish Sea from Scotland to Northern Ireland with four pals.
“It didn’t seem too bad as they cast off from Stranraer on Scotland’s west coast,” author Paul D Gibson writes. “The day was clear, the sea appeared calm and it was around sixty miles as the crow flies to reach their destination in Belfast. Eamon had been sure to pack provisions, twenty Regal Kingsize and four tins of Magners cider, so what could possibly go wrong?
“From the moment they left Lough Ryan and moved out into open waters, it was evident that the sea was not as tranquil as it had appeared when they were still within touching distance of Scottish soil. And by the time they had made it about halfway across, ten-foot swells were sweeping the jet-skis up and releasing them to hurtle down the other side at a rate of knots none of the group was particularly comfortable with. Each man was tossed from his vehicle more than once and the salty water that clung to their clothes and skin served to exacerbate the wind chill and make life even more miserable.”
Not so long afterwards, Magee’s vehicle, if you could call it that, dumped him overboard with such efficiency that the ignition key came off his wrist tether and began to sink into the depths. Magee immediately tried to dive to retrieve it, but his life jacket wouldn’t let him submerge, because that’s what life jackets are supposed to do.
According to Gibson, “The key disappeared into the depths, and Eamonn was left alone in the water as his four mates disappeared into the distance. It was a full ten minutes before they realized that five had become four and the flotilla turned back in search of the missing seaman. They found him, shivering on his drifting jet-ski, fag in his mouth and a half-drunk can of cider in his hand.
‘Where the fuck have you been?’ he managed to yell through rattling teeth.’” It’s stories like that which make one feel positive about self-isolating.
Every newspaper, for Christmas Eve, looks for the “Aaah” story. The one that does away with cynicism and brings us all back to the simple truths while delivering the lump in the throat. This year, this paper wins the competition, hands down, with its front-page account, on Christmas Eve, of a six-year-old who was paying attention to the news about the vaccine.
This little boy came home from school one afternoon in early November wanting to write a letter to Pfizer to ask it to make sure to send a few doses to Lapland for Santa and the elves. Callum Thornhill from Glanmire completed his letter and sent it off. Fair dues.
But even fairer dues to whatever bright spark in Pfizer had the wit and generosity to take the letter seriously and respond to its sender, not just with a gift, but with a note confirming that Santa would be good to go, come Christmas Eve.
And he was…