Our lives

House painting

I hate painting. I hate it with a passion normally reserved for Brussels sprouts and Enya albums. I hate it more than listening to Brian Lally commentating on a GAA match. I hate it more than I hate the Late Late Show. More than I hate bad hip-hop. More than I hate having an itchy scalp on a hot sweaty day.

More than boils. More than piles. More than fake smiles.

That’s how much I hate painting the house and yet I still do it.

Why? Because I’m stupid. That’s why. Because every time I decide to paint the house, I’ve forgotten what an absolute shit I made of it the last time.

House painting

I am the world’s worst painter and I know it well. I’m terrible. Police should come and arrest me if I’m seen with a roller in my hand. Militia should taser me. Snipers should terminate me with extreme prejudice.

As a painter, I’m a disgrace. I bring shame to the world of incompetent painters. Bad painters point at me and say, Well, I can’t be worse than him.

I’m shit.

I can’t work the paint into the little woodwork details. I can’t cut in the colours between the ceiling and the wall. I can’t decorate anything without leaving a slather of paint across the walls, the floors, the furniture and any hapless animal that wanders past.

I can’t paint anything without painting everything else around it as well.

I’m the world’s worst painter, and yet here I am, failing once again to learn from experience.

Will I ever learn?

Our lives Stupidity

Paying €60 for a short plank in Dunnes Stores

As the economy goes up, our collective IQ seems to go down in a bizarre see-saw way that might well explain the utter madness of the property bubble. And what better metaphor for the return to collective stupidity than the small piece of timber Dunnes Stores are selling for €60?

Dunnes Stores Paul Costello plank

A small plank. About 20mm thick and maybe 450mm long by 150mm wide. Or as we used to say, three-quarters of an inch thick and 18 inches long by six inches wide.

A very small and light board, but a board with a difference. This little board, you see, has been designed by a designer. A proper designer. Paul I-worked-in-Paris Costelloe, to be precise.

And Paul Costelloe designed this little board to be simple, yet refined as Dunnes say in their blurb.

You can almost smell the simplicity and refinement as you congratulate yourself on the purchase of this minimalist, uncompromising artifact. Imagine how impressed your friends will be when you serve them cheeses, charcuterie and antipasti on this elegant little, eh, plank.

This thing? Oh, it was only €60, you know. It would hardly pay for an hour of Sneachtfra’s Montessori.

The great design maestro himself, Paul Costelloe, got a free plug on Ray D’Arcy’s show this afternoon.

What’s all this about a plank for €60? asked Ray. (Or words to that effect).

Well, it’s oak, said Paul. Do you realise I worked in Paris?

Oak! Paul intoned the word like he was telling Ray the board was carved from the living roots of Yggdrasil.

Oak? That would be the stuff of which I have a half dozen planks in the workshop. Proper planks and not the effete 3/4-inch fly-swatters Dunnes are selling.

Could you make them at home? asked Ray.

Oh well, you could try, said Paul Costelloe. Because, as everyone knows, sanding a small piece of wood is perhaps the hardest thing anyone has ever tried. And if I heard correctly, he also seemed to mention that the wood was treated with something, which is not really what you want in a board you’re going to use for serving cheeses, charcuterie and antipasti. Oak does just fine with no preservatives, which is why generations of shipwrights have used it to build ocean-going vessels but of course Paul Costelloe would have known that from his years working in Paris.

Obviously I must have misheard him.

I was probably distracted by the intense purity of the 90-degree corners and the clean smooth lines he designed.



Our lives

Dog Attacks

My dog is no saint. I know this. That’s why I call it the Hound of Satan.

My dog has a tendency to bark and growl at other dogs, which is why I don’t let my dog out to wander the streets. I keep my dog under control. But at the same time, my dog is fearless and has saved our home from burglary at least twice. On one occasion I found three rough-looking lads standing on the garden wall with my little satanic protector snarling up at them.

Will he bite us, Boss?

He’ll tear the arse off you. What are you doing in my house?

One of my neighbours has a similar dog. I don’t know who that neighbour is, but their dog is not kept in. Their dog is allowed to wander and for some odd reason, he lurks for hours at my front wall waiting to ambush my dog. This is a foolish plan, because anyone ambushing my dog can expect severe consequences and yet my neighbour’s dog has tried this twice.

Both times, my dog has staggered home covered in blood, most of which came from somewhere else, but that’s not the point. I don’t like seeing my dog chewed up by some bastard mutt that should be locked up in case he attacks a child.

It’s no consolation to me that my dog probably inflicted worse damage on the aggressor. I don’t like hearing the vet telling me that the attacking dog somehow bit my dog’s leg right to the bone and managed to inflict a fracture on it. I don’t like having to pay the vet a large amount of money because somebody else can’t be bothered keeping their aggressive animal behind walls.

It’s a pity other people wouldn’t take the same precautions.

I’m issuing a clear warning now. If I see that neighbour’s dog hanging around my house again, I won’t hesitate. I’ll say Shoo! Clear off!

Our lives

Goodbye Auntie

My poor old Auntie departed from us in recent weeks, leaving all who knew her bereft and distraught.

We loved our Auntie and with good reason, since she was a kind and a decent woman who cared for everyone else before once giving a thought for herself, and such people are the ones who made us who we are. Such are the ones who gave us our decency, if we are lucky enough to have it.

People such as my old Auntie made me who I am today and I owe such people an enormous debt of gratitude for their kindness, their erudition and their generosity of spirit. I owe these people everything that made me who I am.

This kind Auntie sat with me when I was not yet three years of age and taught me to read and to write. This good and decent person was not an old Auntie in those days, but a bright and elegant young woman who took the time to share the gift of reading with a little child and I have lived my entire life in debt to that generous lady for making the effort.

Thanks to my kind young aunt, I entered primary school well able to read a newspaper, and for that achievement I can claim no credit. My wonderful Auntie was living testament to the power of thoughtful education.

Times pass, people decline and in the end I found myself sitting with my Auntie not just occasionally but almost every day. I found myself writing down the first-hand stories of the old days and I found myself engaging directly with a lady who came from a time I used to think of as the dark ages except that those days were the same as our days, just as our days right now will eventually be like those of our grandchildren, since in the end we’re all the same.

Auntie gave me many stories and in time to come, I’ll write about the Wire Man and about Wild Bill and about the beautiful French cat who loved to roll in the wrappers from the scented soap, but I won’t do it today. Instead, I’ll just tell you that I spent the last year or so getting to know my old Auntie, keeping her entertained and listening to her wisdom. I should have done it a lot more but I didn’t.

We spent much of that twelve months looking at old photos, driving around the wild countryside or sharing insane stories of the old days, but every now and then we shared a more intimate moment. I discovered that my Auntie had a love of the kind of food that I like to cook, and so I found myself bringing exotic offerings of whatever I thought she might enjoy, including curries fierce enough to burn through the door of a bank vault. All my old Auntie ever said was Perfect.

She came from a generation of Limerick ladies who were strangers to drinking and to coarse language. My old Auntie never raised her voice. She never set foot inside a pub and she never swore, because that was not the way of those ladies. The only time my Auntie’s lips encountered alcohol was once a year when a bottle of sherry was ordered in for visitors and then she might have indulged in a quiet sip, but no more than that.

In later years, my Auntie loved a curly bun from the Market on a Saturday morning, so I brought two. One for Auntie and one for me.


Sadly, I won’t be bringing any more curly buns, but in the days when we shared those quiet hours, I must confess that I occasionally transgressed. Now and then I brought a hip flask with a little shot of sherry for both of us.

Regrettably, my aunt’s language deteriorated a shade as a result of my visits, but maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Maybe, for all I know, that was a sign of increased mental activity.

Not too long ago, after the discovery of gravitational waves, she buttonholed me with a question: What did they find out in space?

Well, I explained, it seems they found out there are ripples in time.

Did they? said my elderly aunt. I could have told them that.

We buried my elderly, charming, endlessly erudite Auntie last week and of course I had to give a eulogy, so I decided to keep it simple.

It was this.

I got the better of the deal.

My Auntie taught me to read and write when I was very young.

Many years later, I taught her to drink and curse.

Our lives

Heedy Mortal moves on

Given the choice between a good man and a saint, I’ll take the good man any day of the week, and I’m sorry to tell you we lost a very good man this week. He used to comment here as Heedy Mortal, an anagram of his name that fooled me so well, it took a full year before I realised he was somebody I knew in the real world.

He was no saint, our Heedy Mortal, but he was all the better for that. He was a man of decency, of dark irreverence and of immense dignity disguised by a filthy  sense of humour and a self-deprecating wit found only among those who know exactly who they are, and who feel comfortable in their own skin.

I can’t remember ever being in the company of Heedy Mortal without laughing myself sick. I can’t ever remember telling him a problem without receiving kind and thoughtful advice.  I never heard him tell a story where he was the winner — the mark of a true champion.

He had many faults, I’m quite sure, because he was no saint. But who wants saints when you can have a good man like Heedy Mortal? A very good man indeed.

As his flight across the stratosphere began to descend towards earth, I visited him now and then in Milford Hospice and I have to tell you honestly that I never left the place without my face being soaked in tears, but in case you get the wrong impression, they weren’t tears of sorrow.

It was just that, as always, our beloved Heedy Mortal had me bent double laughing even while he counted down his days. That was the measure of the man I’m proud to call a friend.

He’s gone from us now, but he isn’t gone from our hearts, and he won’t be gone as long as any of us live to remember him.

A fine man. A good man. And best of all, no saint.

Goodbye, Heedy Mortal



Our lives

Hound of Satan chewing my letters

Since the Hound of Satan is no longer able to chew the postman, he’s settled for chewing the post instead.

All of it.

I’ve tried everything to stop him but nothing works. I tried coating letters with a devastating mixture of hot chilli powder and wasabi paste but he just licked them until his eyes went red. I tried hiding small fireworks in a package operated by a cunning pressure device, but he disabled it with a deft flick of a screwdriver before tearing the box to pieces and spitting gunpowder all over the floor.

I even tried sitting him down and reasoning  with him.   Look, Satan, this will have to stop. You ripped up that speeding summons (which, admittedly, might be no bad thing). You tore my bag of unmarked thousand-euro notes to flitters. You put little toothy puncture marks all  over my new passport and now I can’t flee to Argentina.

He just sat there gnawing on the forearm of a Jehovah’s Witness and snarling at me in ancient Greek.

Why couldn’t you be a normal dog? I said. Chasing cats and barking at nothing?

Snarl, he replied.

That was when I noticed the unchewed envelope.

Gimme that, I said.

Grrrr, said the dog.

Give me that fucking envelope.


Look! A postman!

While he was gone I gently lifted the envelope from his basket and drew out the letter it contained.

Dear Satan, it read, I enclose a bank draft for four billion dollars. Many thinks for your help setting up the business. Your friend, Mark Zuckerberg.

I hardly noticed the soft padding or the clickety-clack of his nails on the floor as Satan re-entered the room. When I turned around, he was dressed in an old anorak and holding a can of Dutch Gold.

He regarded me for a moment or two and a faint sneer played across his lips. So, human. It seems you have discovered my secret. Well, at least the charade is over.  No more chasing cars and eating whatever foul slops you put in front of me.

Where is it? I demanded. What did you do with the money?

Money? What money?

The money in the fucking envelope, I screamed. The four billion dollars.

I found no money in the envelope, said the dog, puffing on a spliff. All I found was a piece of paper. A receipt or something.

That’s it, I said. The piece of paper. Where is it?

Where do you think it is? he replied. I ate it. I’m a fucking dog.

I hate that animal.


All Hound of Satan posts


Our lives

Back on the mainland

Keen-eyed readers will perhaps have noticed that there’s been little enough activity on this site for the last few weeks and some will be bitterly disappointed to notice that I’m back.

Little enough time for arguing with deranged people on the internet when there are things to be done.

Inis Mor Aran Islands

Inis Mor Aran Islands

Inis Mor Aran Islands

Jesus, it’s been a long month on an island at the edge of the Atlantic.  A long month but worthwhile, punctuated by moments of absurdity. Electric cars, Dexter bulls and rubber roofs. Hard labour and long hours. Quick raids to Offaly and Galway, in and out on the ferry. Beer.  Sergeant Joe, a man who truly deserves his own page here.  Submerged piers, mackerel with sunglasses and mad Conamara comedians.

A little land of lunatics.

I love it.

Once I regain my equilibrium, I’ll get right back to annoying  you.

Cobblestone Joe's Nancys Our lives

Fathers’ Day relaxation

There’s something very rejuvenating about Fathers’ Day — an affirmation that we old lads aren’t completely bad after all, not entirely without our decent points.  And truthfully, you wouldn’t have it any other way.  We raise our children and we set them free.  We don’t place obligations on them to observe ritual or custom.  We just hope they get it, and when they do, it makes us that much richer: so much the better if they come back of their own volition and say, right, Dad, let’s go for a couple of pints.

Gold couldn’t buy you that.

And so it came about that, after a long hard day slogging away at the garden, chopping down bushes and power-hosing patios, I found myself in Nancy Blake’s wonderful establishment, enjoying music played by good friends including one I haven’t seen in quite a while since he moved to Dubai.  Thank God for Ramadan, that time of year when Irish people flee the gulf en masse to visit and entertain their friends back home.  I hope we’ll catch up again before he goes back, though I expect to be travelling myself fairly soon, so who knows?

Of course, these days no trip to town would be complete without a visit to Cobblestone Joe’s where they now serve the best pizza this side of New York City, thanks to their snappy new pizza bar and even snappier new chef.

What precisely could be wrong with this? A pint, a delicious thin-base pizza and a live shit-kickin’ band in the company of those you love most in the world?

Well, two things, I suppose.

Firstly, we were thoroughly hockeyed by Tipperary in the Munster semi-final, with the result that the town was full of people in Limerick and Tipp shirts.  Never a good look.  The men of Tipperary proved me right when I said having six fingers is an advantage and the tinfoil industry got a huge boost.

Secondly, being without a camera and taking a truly bad picture on a phone, of people jiving in terrible hurling shirts and worse.

cobblestone joes limerick

For this, I apologise sincerely and promise it won’t happen again.

For all the rest, let us celebrate Fathers’ Day and give thanks to the universe for our good fortune.

Our lives

Springtime Blues

…, the mower broke down and the yard run away with me
I’ve taken to sittin’ and watchin’ it grow
And the rabbits are eatin’ like kings in the driveway
And I’ve just about found me no place to go
You’ve got to live and let live …

                         —–  Guy Clark


The older I grow, the closer I get to becoming Guy Clark.  It’s true I’ll never have his immense talent or his genial charisma, but in the important things, from his nerve-screeching Instant Coffee Blues to his languid  Shade of All Greens, my life seems to have parallelled his fine observation of the tiny defeats we endure as part of the human condition, whatever that is.

The mower broke down last year some time, mainly due to my own negligent stupidity and I didn’t bother to get it fixed, due to apathy.  As a result, the garden, or yard as Guy might call it, started to run away with me  but since it was the back-end of the year, it wasn’t all that noticeable at first.  Just a general scruffiness about everything.  Little weeds peeping out between the patio bricks.  Moss.  Plants I don’t remember putting there.  Plants I definitely did not put there.  Garden seats leaning dangerously sideways.  Wind-blown plastic flower-pots and the sad remains of a gazebo destroyed in the last storm.

That sort of thing.

Wild Garlic

I became a sort of Wordsworth of the Alliums as the wild garlic slowly, inexorably took over what I laughingly refer to as my lawn, so that eventually, today, I wandered lonely as a cloud in the bright Spring sunshine and surveyed the desolate landscape that is my garden.

I gritted my teeth like an action hero. It was just as well I hadn’t shaved for a few days and so it was that, as a trickle of sweat carved its way down my knotted brow, I hissed at the wild garlic It stops right here!  Enough, you host of tiny white pungent daffodil-impersonators.  This is where I make my final stand.

Was it for this that a thousand parties ran on into the small hours?  Was it for this that countless musicians stayed up all night drinking beer and singing songs around the glowing coal braziers?  Was it for this that crowds of a hundred and more swarmed to my home for significant life-events?

It was not! I replied with a scowl, as stirring martial music seemed to swell and I could almost hear the throbbing of chopper-blades just below the horizon.

Enough!  No more.  This garden shall return to its former glory.

Or to put it another way, I’ll cut the grass and pull most of the weeds.


Our lives Stories

Craft Fair

Billy’s on his high horse, the only kind he’s able to ride these days.  His jodhpurs are grubby and his comb-over stands high in the wind.  He’s been struggling to set up his display for more than an hour and now he’s standing over me, enraged.  I feel as if I’m guilty of something.

Some fucker took my knife and my string.

He waits for an answer but I’m not paying attention.

Billy, you’ve lost me.

Give me a cigarette, he says.

Why don’t you buy some?

Oh God, no! he says.  Filthy disgusting things.

All I want to do is finish the crossword.

I left them beside my stand, Billy says, and when I came back, they were gone.

I fill in another clue and when I look up again, he’s gone.  What’s he talking about?

I go around to his stand.

Listen, Billy, I saw something a bit odd about half an hour ago.  A car drove past with a ball of string on the roof.

Billy’s comb-over is back in place.  There’s half a cigarette behind his ear.

What? he says.

I repeat myself.

Why didn’t you tell me?

Sorry.  It just didn’t register with me.

Billy studies me hard.

So, he says. What was the driver’s name?