May 21st 2015 – Drogheda
Seven things which could be effectively substituted for the hold music commonly piped down telephones whilst customers wait to speak with a customer services representative:
- Babies smiling or thinking about smiling.
- All two hundred and two episodes of the X Files in brief, synoptic format.
- The voice of God, (New Testament version).
- Wine, (any version).
- “The Sound of Silence,” a popular song by the musical outfit, Simon and Garfunkel.
- The sound of silence.
- Alan Rickman expressing the sentiment that everything will ultimately be alright, using his own words and his own, peculiar speaking voice.
May 22nd 2015 – Sea Park, Belfast
It was not blue and then all of a sudden it was. On the far side of the Lough, the power station chimneys were like old-fashioned sweets striping against the sky. It was a day for breathing in and out; our lungs clutching the spring wind, as, after the winter, carpets will come out to air themselves on the line.
“Look at the boat,” you said, “off to Scotland or the Isle of Man.”
We all looked at the boat. We were still staring when the rush of its wake made good with the tide and all that frothy water came galloping up the Lough to swallow the beach in one foamy gulp. I grabbed the smallest child and you, the second smallest and, in a trenched panic, we ran, thinking only of our dry ankles and the lawn grass beyond. Afterwards we laughed. Our lungs were large caves and this was the first deep breath of the spring.
May 23rd 2015 – East Belfast
There were twenty odd people in the living room eating cheese and things that tasted of cheese. All but two had come in fancy dress, picking the Eurovision country they wished to support and adjusting their outfits accordingly. Of the two demurely dressed individuals, the first had misread the invitation and was mortified in her blue jeans and going-out top. She sat all night with a cushion cradled in front of her middle as if pregnant and trying to disguise the fact. The second could not have given less of damn. He was there for the drink and the nibbling things on sticks. “I’m for Australia,” he said, which went some ways to excusing his shorts and the beer cans, balanced like weights in either hand, and would not have worked as an excuse on any other Eurovision year.
May 24th 2015 – Bangor
There are twenty three swan-shaped pedaloes moored against the edge of the boating lake at Pickie Pool. Twenty two are white and one is yellow which must surely cause self-esteem issues each time this swan catches sight of itself in the pure, blue water. After all, even swan-shaped pedaloes are aware of the ugly duckling from an early age and know the difference between beauty and the edge.
In Bangor, which is rarely mistaken for a ballet, or even a fairy tale, the ugly duckling does not always blossom into a swan; occasionally carries its black feathers into adulthood; sometimes finds itself working the tills at Lidl, longterm. The twenty third swan-shaped pedalo knows all about this. She stays last in line for customers and children, hoping this will help to hold their rejection at a safe distance.
May 25th 2015 – Ballymena
By the end of the working week it is often hard to muster up the emotional wherewithal necessary to navigate one’s way through the weekend. I find it easier to freeze my emotions in advance of the week, ideally on a Sunday afternoon or evening. I pop each of my most frequently visited emotions -enthusiasm, disbelief, love and lust, to name but a few- into a separate compartment of an ice cube tray and store them, for ease of access, in the freezer section of my kitchen fridge. Then, when an old lover appears unannounced at dinner, or the cat dies, or ludicrous things are said over Friday night cocktails, I can simply slip a pre-frozen emotion into my drink, swirl it round the glass and wait for it to dissolve. Often I down the whole marvelous concoction in one, like a paracetamol tablet or a soluble aspirin. In this way I can appear normal without expending any particular effort.
May 26th 2015 – Drain’s Bay
There are shells on the beach at Drain’s Bay no bigger than the head of a pin. They are pale, opalescent cream and peach and ice cream pink and coil into themselves like the inner workings of a child’s ear. There are also slightly larger seashells and these can be crushed between finger and thumb to make spools and coral twists which are shinier on the inside than the outside.
“Tiny staircases for sea creatures,” you tell her, arranging the smaller shells on the upturned lid of a Flora margarine tub in ascending order; smallest to largest.
“An American artist does this with leaves,” you tell her but she is four years old and too young to understand the deep breath calm which comes with placing things in their proper order.
May 27th 2015 – East Belfast
The Wilsons could not afford more than one baby. Neither did they believe in only children.
“It’s cruel,” said Mrs. Wilson, “bringing a child up without another child for company.”
When their baby was old enough to sit up they placed him in a small room, mirrored on all four sides.
“Look at all the mirror babies,” they said, “so many friends to play with.”
They took great comfort in the way their baby talked to his reflection as if the children in the mirror were real. Later, when he was sixteen or seventeen, and the mirror room had been demolished to make way for a home office, the boy had vague memories of siblings. He presumed them, all but himself, dead and did not ask but there was a sadness inside him like a two-sided mirror.