Some Friday nights you find yourself sleeping alone in a Medieval Tower and you wonder how on Earth you got there. This Friday was one such night.
The Curfew Tower in Cushendall has been there for much longer than most things in Cushendall. From the top floor you can see the ocean from one window and the Glens of Antrim from the other. For some reason, yet to be explained particularly well to me, Bill Drummond of the KLF, (he of setting a million pounds on fire fame), bought the tower just before the millennium ran out. He was concerned, so the story goes, that books were becoming obsolete, (perhaps he’d had a prophetic vision of those damn Kindles). The Tower was to become a temporary residence for visual artists who would stay there rent free, create art and leave something permanent and wonderful in the giant art book which lives in the dungeon.
As of 2014 the Curfew Tower also accepts writers. Not only was I the first of a slew of mostly poets allowed to stay there I also had the intimidating pleasure of christening a brand new giant book with a short story. (Turns out I’m a little out of practice writing 2,000 words by hand. It took almost 2 and a half hours and left me with the most ungodly hand cramp. I hope Bill Drummond appreciates the effort). I also managed to fend the loneliness off by ploughing through Colm Toibin, Gunter Grass and Somerset Maugham, wrote 7,000 words of the novel, slept the welcome sleep of the righteous and ate like the long-lost fifth member of the Famous Five, (bread, cheese, milk, eggs and shiny red apples eaten off white, enamel plates). I met the locals- Zippy who holds the Tower keys and keeps the butchers ticking over, the elderly couple in the shoe shop next door who were hanging off a Supersare heater and anxious to assure me that there were no ghosts in the Tower, and the chip shop lady who greeted me at the counter with, “who are you then?” Perhaps I was the first non-local ever to order a fish supper and a can of coke. On Friday a delegation of fine young poets surprised me at the door. They were the first humans I’d heard in 24 hours aside from my own reading voice. They coerced me into the snug at the Bushmills Inn for red wine and literary debate. It was a welcome break.
The Tower itself is tall and square with a room on each floor, arranged as follows. Kitchen, then ice cold bathroom with no shower only one of those rubber hosepipes we clipped on to the bathtaps and used to wash our hair in the first house I ever lived in. A living room with an open fire and a stack of turf that would put the Folk and Transport museum to shame. A cold bedroom and at the top of the tower, sound-tracked by the chirruping pigeons who roost in the eaves, a warm room in which I slept. On the first night, when the lights went out, I discovered all four white walls were decorated with glow in the dark skulls and skeletons. I was glad then I’d met the shoe shop people and could rest easy knowing there were no ghosts in this medieval tower.