January 1st 2015 – Portballintrae Harbour
Every New Years at midday we meet at the harbour and cast our ghosted bodies into the sea. We are no longer seventeen and, over the years, have progressed from last night’s underwear to trunks and t-shirts and finally, oil sleek wetsuits, straining to contain our spreading guts. We are, like soldiers returning from the Front, fewer with each passing year. This morning we are two and a handful of bemused children sheltering beneath their anorak hoods.
Afterwards, shivering, we say, “same time, next year?” and mean, as our fathers must once have meant, “all good things come to an end, even the sea.”
January 1st 2015 – East Belfast
This Christmas I gave you seventy six metaphors for the common potato.
“No need for the romance,” you said. “It’s not poetry I’m writing. It’s a Guide to Contemporary Farming Techniques in Mid Ulster.”
But I persisted with my, “tight white fists,” and my “soil teeth,” and all those drills of “pebbled roots,” like, “poor buried children curling beneath the muck.” And I reminded myself that despite current limitations you were still a writer.
January 2nd 2015 – Holy Lands, Belfast
After several years of wearing their reading glasses perched atop their heads, many of these people developed the ability to look upwards as if seeing with a second set of eyes. At first they were delighted to have finally gained perspective, albeit somewhat late in life. Later, distracted by the heavens above, they began to lose interest in the ordinary world settling and unsettling around them. The worst affected took to wearing their hands across their eyes, like drawn blinds or curtains, as they pictured the unfolding places above.
January 3rd 2015 – Kells, Ballymena
After the candles there was cake and after the cake, presents: socks, liquorice, grandchildren in silver-plated frames, the usual kind of items presented to ninety year old men on the occasion of their ninetieths. And, after the presents some wise guy at the back of the room suggested charades and we laughed at the thought of them raising their spindling arms aloft to mime other peoples’ names- Napoleon, Churchill, Lady Gaga- when they could barely remember their own. And after the presents there were cards, a more sensible option by far, though the names were still problematic.
January 4th 2015 – Botanic Avenue, Belfast
In the year 1974, 4% of the American population applied for tickets to attend Bob Dylan’s comeback tour. Things were different in 1974. With online booking services as yet unavailable, eager concert goers lined outside record stores and venues, or sent cheques and postal orders in the mail, hoping they wouldn’t boomerang back, un-cashed. In the year 1974, twelve million Americans politely asked, in writing, and eleven and a half million were disappointed. Elsewhere, in America: Watergate, Ted Bundy, the Cold War and other more pressing disappointments.
January 5th 2015 – Holywood
Each year the surgeon grew quicker, defter, less-inclined to drop a stitch in theatre. His colleagues watched from the sidelines, scrubbed and breath-masked, wholly astounded.
“This,” they whispered, “from a man with heels for hands, with fingers like rolled cigars.”
The surgeon smiled behind his mask and took his needles home at night, practicing in darkened rooms, with small eyes until his stitches grew neat as typewritten words.
The surgeon’s wife, discovering knots sewn into the sheets, the curtains, the tiny hairs at the base of her neck, counted them love letters and could not bring herself to unpick a single stitch.
January 6th 2015 – Belfast
David and Amy Titmus
I am reading a biography based upon the life and work of the musician, David Bowie. It is both utterly compelling and the dullest book I’ve read in at least a year. Every so often I recount anecdotes from the life of David Bowie to my officemates. I pronounce Bowie to rhyme with Zoe as I was brought up to do. One officemate says Bowie like he’s the back end of a boat and the other solicits no opinion either way. I am reminded of a certain Belfast bar where I was once offered Merlot, (with a hard T), or Rioja, (with a soft J), or Shiraz, which I felt compelled to order, though it is by far my least favourite red.
January 7th 2015 – Belfast
Esther Haller-Clarke and Garret O’Fachtna
Though it was neither practical nor particularly comfortable, a dinner party for ten was once held inside the wooden bowels of the Royal Albert’s Pipe Organ.
“Surely,” said the Victorian wives of Victorian gentlemen, as they swept their heavy brocades past all nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine pipes, “the fact that this is the world’s largest pipe organ should suffice.”
But the Englishman has always liked to prove his superiority with knives and feasting and well-dressed women, crushing in the dark.