The Travel

and breathe out

So, first the M50, and out of west Dublin.

Then: Kildare, Meath, Westmeath, Longford, Roscommon, and Leitrim.

The dual carriageway turns into a single carriageway, and that into a narrower one, with no hard shoulder, on which the white line suddenly ends. That becomes a lane barely the width of a car, and grows a grassy spine.


Keep going. You'll be there. It's like this:


No food since Longford. Eat the bread, butter and some eggs they leave for you. No jam? Eat a sugar sandwich, in desperation. Sleep well. Next day, the air is perfectly clear. 


The land is spongy and reedy, with the occasional glimmering black lake. The fields are strung with cobwebs laced with dew;  you see dragonflies dart over the tea-coloured ditch water, and wrens picking blackberries for breakfast. Black caterpillars race across the lanes.  It's so quiet you can hear the neighbour sneeze from miles away and so dark you can see the stars at night. Time passes. Your muscles unknot.

On the long way back to Dublin, visit Sligo, Yeats' county. It's worth the extra miles to see Benbulbin, no  less:



Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

Then reverse the county order, and home again, but now with an expanded horizon in your mind. 
I'll be expecting you. 

Madrid and a letter

I have decided that it suits me better to write less more often. When too much time passes, my news items seem both far too many and far too dull, like climbing a featureless mountain. Far better the short and frequent blow by blow, perhaps. A more quotidian approach might be less daunting for both reader and writer. I hope.
We'll see.

Quick drawing of Goya in Central Madrid

  •  ┬íMadrid! was satisfyingly foreign for so short a flight: a bright, lively place, in an aftershavey, self-confident way. My friend and colleague Maria lives in a crooked triangle of narrow streets between broader tree-lined avenues. Lovely fruit and vegetable shops. Tapas bars. Comic shops. Open squares. All Very Nice. I even managed to dust off to some degree the now spidery, dessicated part of my memory labelled Spanish Vocab and Grammar. It is surprising what comes back through the gloom when the pressure is on:
    Una lata di Coca, por favor, and Dos paginas di carta adesiva. And you know that obnoxious, mock-patient way teens have of saying: Hellloooooo? That translates precisely to Holaaaa, te estoy hablandoooo. (Maria has a nine year old son. On the whole being with the two of them at close quarters for the week in that warm apartment made me appreciate my life enormously. They are utterly charming, but it is No Joke being a single parent with no support from the other parent, financial or otherwise.)

  • Back in the dear ould durty town, we've been doing some adoption stuff. We did our medicals, always an Interesting Experience. (The JB was asked for dating advice by the doctor at his. Doctors are human too, it seems. He advised joining the walking club that facilitated our meeting. Apparently he and a friend googled Meet women and it, the walking club, you understand, came up. It is fortunate he did not Get Led Astray with this method.) Nearly all our dossier documents are thusly prepared, save the letter to birth mother which is proving to be something of a stumbling block for me. Our agency has quite bluntly advised us to fill it with photos of us looking young and having fun with our happy, healthy extended family. It is deely unsurprising that I feel weird about this, I suppose, (the person who has caused hilarity recently by saying: Well, I'm going upstairs to read my introvert book*.) I understand why it must be so - of course the birth mother would want to see us - but am so uncomfortable with the idea of showing us in a flattering light. Bleargh. Must rethink. I have promised I will look at some samples today. (Advice welcome.)

I will return next week with further bulletins from the edge of the fair city.
Till then, hasta luego, so to speak.


 *Quiet by Susan Cain. Highly recommended for introverts such as me. Made me feel normal!
YAY, normal.


Leeds from Dublin by train and ferry. Yes. I am this far from getting a notebook and jotting down the train reg numbers. (I am holding my hand up; my thumb and forefinger are two millimetres apart.) I admit it, I love trains.

Leeds: a diverting, positive experience. Everyone was sweet, the hotel bed was feathery, the breakfast abundant and the comicon was anthropologically and culturally fascinating. I was alone, which felt like a novelty rather than a challenge. And I do love train travel: the chance to eavesdrop on people's ordinary commutes, goings-home and nights-out. The chit-chat! The regional accents! I love travel for its insight into other ways of being, and brotherhood-of-mannish as I am - the similarities between cultures are so much greater than the differences - I take delight in observing those, all the same. 

Of course, as the shameless self-promoter that I am (not), I handed out one of my business cards. Wait! No. I meant to say NOT one. Gah. How I loathe all that. I need an agent or something. Or tranquillisers. I wonder if there's a name for What I Have and if I can be Helped.  In the meantime, I have signed myself up for a stall in a Christmas market at which I intend to sell some cartoons and picture frames. One might be fooled into thinking this sounds like fun, but is in reality a sort of extreme aversion therapy for me to have to sit there behind my own drawings and take money for them (one hopes). Oh! Pretzel-cringe.

This week has been packed to the gills with choir activity, with all its attendant love triangles, betrayals and drama.Choir is a hive of passion! It's a hotbed! I better not go on.The internet might go up in flames.

Other than that, I have not been Out Much. This is the problem with working by yourself, I find. Your boss is yourself, your employer is yourself, even (as at present) your source of inspiration is yourself. As you can imagine, this can get intensely boring, though I am certainly enjoying writing my comic. This week, for instance, I have to write/draw a sex scene. I want it to be real, encompassing accidental hair-catching and elbow-poking, but at the same time, sweet. Sweet but realistic. Hrmm. More on this later.

I must dash off and meet a friend and meander around the nearby, famous graveyard, (appears in Ulysses!) final resting place of many patriots and famous figures of yesteryear. We have fallen into this habit of late, on a Saturday.

Hmm. That's not weird or anything, I wonder?

I better go now, before I have time to regret disclosing myself as a middle-aged goth and trainspotter.
Till soon, friends.


barrier still in place

A quick update before I scramble to get ready for a exceedingly lengthy trip over a fairly short distance. Ah, the Irish train system! HOW FUN.

The day of  torture drama went as expected. Our mentor, a man, the first I've met with a moustache waxed into points, arranged all us candidates all around a big square of paper taped to the floor. Then he knelt and placed in front of him a tin of Golden Syrup, which sat there, onimously, as he told us a story about his Granny. Then he rose and poured the stuff all over the floor from a height. Which was good. I liked that bit, especially when we were waiting for the slow loop of syrup to hit. (Mmmm.)

Then there was an awkward bit where we had to tell our story about our food item, and then chuck it on the paper, or crumble it and chuck it around in whatever way we thought fit. People had all sort of stuff: a potato, some sardines, some Mikado biscuits, coffee, crisps and so on. I brought a Cadbury's Snack Bar, the same as I had every lunchtime for 12 years of schooling. I told them all about this modest gift of love my mother packed for me day after day, and how I could make a house now using that amount of bars (3,000, give or take). Am not at all sure if this was "good" or "right", and indeed that was the odd thing about the day. Allegedly there was n right or wrong, but there really was. I mean, there we were in an apparently "therapeutic" setting, but actually we were all 12 of us competing for only three jobs, vying away and trying to show ourselves as the most bubbly, inspiring and yet soulful and kind. Pfft.

Twangy does not bubble.

Then, after a rather pleasant day apres Golden Syrup lollygagging around town, meeting people for lunch and so on, I was interviewed. By then I was rather weary and fed up with the whole gig, which I didn't by now even think suited me, but I sort of vaguely tried to pretend I was, and answered the questions and escaped finally at 6pm.

And now, I just find out I didn't get it and am feeling that uncomfortable mix of relief and pique that you feel when you don't get offered something you don't want. Ha.

Hrmm, I bet Mikados got it, you know.

So that was that.

Thanks for the encouraging replies to my last post, which I took to mean that yes, I should keep posting, and it doesn't matter what form it takes. You know what this is, don't you? This is licence to do what I like!

You might have created a monster.


(Yikes, 13.44pm, must dash.)

work and rest

A round-up is called for, I think.

We were in Kerry, last weekend. It is majestic, as you can see even from these poor quality phone camera shots, taken in the rain.



The sheer scale! The vistas go on and on!


You must come and see it for yourselves. I insist upon it.


But bring your wet gear.

We had to come home a day early because Someone made a mistake and thought his flight was on the Wednesday. In fact it was on the Tuesday, as suspected by Someone Else, being me.

When he left for his ill-fated conference (it was to be held in New Orleans, but Hurricane Isaac had other plans, and he washed up in Boston with his sibling, the non-trembling one), I felt the usual five minute painful wrench of separation, after which I cheered myself up by listing all the things that make being alone beneficial:

  • Sleeping in the middle of the bed like a starfish
  • Watching whatever I want, including soothing (to me) programmes about restoring houses, the ones that give you the illusion of the satisfaction of a job well done, but without the actual hard labour
  • And other soppy rubbish some of which I have seen before but still want to watch
  • Things being found where I left them
  • Absence of puddles of milk on countertop/cornflakes scattered on the floor
  • No need to step over Someone doing his sit-ups in the middle of the floor

It's a paltry list, of course, compared to things like laughter, affection and company, but life has at least a veneer of novelty when he's away, as long as I know he is returning soon.  I heard recently on the radio that social isolation is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  So working at home on one's own-ee-oo, especially when also living along, presumably, is actually physically harmful? How unfair! And, wait a minute, what harm does working in a job do to you, then, I'd like to know? True, you avoid isolation, but as we have noted, the work is not quite the 24 hour party either.

I conclude that life is an impossible balancing act, as on many previous occasions.

(Aside: I do wonder if I am actually a Martian. Things that other people find totally acceptable and normal, I stumble over and spend an age trying to come to terms with. Whoa! I say. A 40 hour work week? MADNESS. I never agreed to that.)

Work itself, though, will never cease to fascinate me. The compromises people make, the status they derive from it, the very concept of going to this other place every day to make yourself useful? And more that that, the allegiances, the politics, the power, the cast of characters? All very interesting, rich pickings, indeed, for a writer.

 Speaking of writing, did I mention The Experiment? I am devoting these months until Christmas to writing comics. I can't tell you how much fun this is. I even have a system. I devote the first three hours of the day to the comics - a complete revelation. It's manageable, more measured, allows a steady progress - rather than the frustrating headlong rush at the Big Deadline. Then in the afternoon, I can do commercial jobs, or (more likely) (let's be honest, here) lollygag around the locality in various coffee shops.

The spectre of Hard Cash: the need to make thereof is looming in the distance, but can be kept at bay till the new year, at least, when the headless chicken act will recommence.

How about you? I hope your heads are firmly attached.


[If anyone would like to follow me on my work blog, you'd be most welcome. It's a no-commenting type place, so there is no danger of anyone other than you (who already know all about me, and my innards, Heaven help you.) following you back here. If you see what I mean. And you needn't tell me who you are. Have I confused you enough with that? I think I have.]



I am in a stellar mood today. I even like my wrinkles.


We had some fun in NYC. We got all around and I even added another scalp internet friend to my real world collection - the lovely Bionic family. Just as nice in the flesh. This is always the case, you know, if my sample of four is anything to go by. When the internet people come out of the computer, they are not in fact druglords in moleskin trousers (to quote May), but exactly who they say they are.

And so now we are at home. It is quiet after midtown Manhattan - the sheer noise of which I had conveniently edited out of my memory. It's warm and humid today - the cat is doing the flat out sleeping pose that indicates temperatures of over 25 degrees. Countries are finally opening again to Ireland (I speak of adoption matters, for those who don't know). Things seem hopeful, at last. I am looking forward and feeling I can take things on.

Ah. There is one thing. One little fly in the ointment. The JB, the lazy devil the academic has 10 weeks off - a fact he takes great delight in repeating these days. 10 weeks, folks. He wakes up at the exact moment I do and is! instantly! awake! And up for a chat!

Sigh. I do wish this wasn't painting me in the acidic light of a begrudging shrew, but really, if he doesn't dial down the morning cheer, and not be All There All The Time, I will throttle him.

So. How to handle the fact I am married to a manic seven year old in a 38 year old man's body? Your thoughts please. Maybe I should see this as good practice for parenting?

Hrmm. I do wonder how I'd take to parenting.


whistle stop

It's odd to be back.  I'd forgotten how this city actually literally hums all day, and how intense it all is, the extraordinary diversity, the feeling of compression and energy, the wide pavements, the bright sun, the optimism, the anonymity. Irish people are not accustomed to that. What? I am not going to run into someone whose cousin went to primary school with me? What? New York doesn't know us?

But it feels like one of those dreams where you discover a door in the wall, and you think: All this is here! How could I not have noticed? That feeling of marvel, of discovery. I lived here for 4 years about 10 years ago - I am having that sense of mismatched familiarity that you do when you revisit a place. It's both altered and the same. I am both altered and the same.

I still love it, though. I have been drawing and walking. I've been in the Guggenheim, and the Eyebeam, the High Line, the public library (love) and restaurants too numerous to mention. I have had exchanges with locals, of which more later. Travelling shakes you out of your normal ways, it splits you in two. This place feels ghostly to me, it haunts me, it's the road not travelled.

Ah,  Mr Flah-tiron! How I missed you.

But you know me, I am capable of being haunted by a sandwich. The lunch not eaten! The book not read! Heh. The life-altering bus journey, the job, the house not taken! (Anyone know what I am on about here, feel free to jump in, eh.)

I have so much to say I don't know where to start.  But for now the JB is waiting. It's time to go out. 

More later.



And so it comes to be that the term has finally finally finally concluded in an avalanche of paperwork, and released for a few days from the trantran of normal life, find myself as if thrown off a whirligig into Boston for the wedding of the Brother-in-law, he of non-trembling fame.

It's been a last minute affair, to say the least. The night before we left I worked until 9pm (Shudder. Unpleasant flashback.) and then we left with not even a minute to post to ask my beloved readers who reside round these parts if they might be around at any point next week, so I might buy him (or more likely) her a drink, for I will be in my favourite city in the world, and that is NEW YORK CITY, for a whole week.
This is thrilling!
Let me know.  

Guess where I've been




Clue: I met up with my by now lovely friend of some years (!), Valery for a hot chocolate, (thank you, inventor of the internet, for my internet friends) and made the bonus meeting of her DP, who was very kind to us. It was excellent fun. I walked around the town with my mother, and went to see the Rembrandts and the markets, and drank mint tea in hotel foyers.

The morning we had to leave, Valery's DP made us a very good coffee, on which I got a bit drunk, we ate chocolate sprinkles and biscuits in their lovely kitchen, and then we walked through the charming streets to Centraal Station and we were back in Dublin and the resumption of normal life just. like. that.

I would be afflicted with anti-climax, but it happened so fast, it all seems like a series of brightly lit snapshots in my head. City breaks, folks. Love the compressed quality thereof.

Normal life resumes, as it does. I did some sock-sorting last night, for instance, and I almost managed to throw away the single ones who have been waiting for their partners to show up lo these many months. Tune in soon for more of this thrill-a-minute stuff.


cat people

Ah, at last, a little bit of calm. We spent last weekend as planned in the South West to visit KDiddy. He was feeling fairly mouldy, poor man, staring at the ceiling, absorbing IV antibiotics drip by drip.  I hope our standing over him and plying him with drinks and papers helped, and maybe it did, because over the week he got a lot better, and regained his appetite -  a Good Sign, don't you think? Always a sobering experience, visiting a Medical Ward, all those poor old men, but we had a couple of tragicomic moments:

KDiddy: GO! And.. [lengthy pause]
JB: ..yes? Where are we to go?
KDiddy: I don't KNOW where! Get me..
[Further dramatic pause.]
KDiddy:  TWO..
JB and TPtheEG: ...
KDiddy: Heineken!

Bear in mind that KDiddy has been all but teetotal all his life, but if his attitude that day was anything to go by, is regretting the lack of drink in his life up to now. Such a sweet man. You couldn't mind when he curses extravagantly, he's that dotey and totally without guile.

So! On with the show, or Part The First thereof, the Setting of the Scene. It came down to a choice of rough and ready, or not at all, so I went with at-least-I-did-it. I also gave up the idea of editing it down to a page. That is not going to happen. Not with PSYCHOKitty - (rumble of thunder):