A Room of One’s Own.

 

A fountain pen near cursive writing on white stationeryhttps://unsplash.com/photos/hjwKMkehBco

 

I’ve been visiting a lot of real estate agents lately, trying to find a half decent garret. I’ve decided to start taking my life as a writer seriously. A lot of people tell me the first step towards being a writer is to start calling myself a writer. But I’m not quite there yet. Before I can look in the mirror and say “There’s a writer,” there are a few conditions I need to put in place.

I now realise that I’ve been wasting a lot of my time. I’ve gotten into a habit of rising early and writing until lunchtime. After lunch I don’t do any creative work, but I spend a lot of time trying to educate myself about how to write better, how and where to publish, how to build a platform. Too many writers fall down that particular rabbit hole; it can be very seductive. But that’s just writing; it’s not being a writer.

Since I was very young I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to live that lifestyle. I can’t say I’ve ever had any love of the act of writing. I’m naturally lazy and can cope very well with the bum on seat aspect of the job. But what I do when I have my bum on that seat is not writing. It is something far more creative than that. Over the course of my lifetime I have accumulated a huge amount of hours sitting around, envisioning the writer’s life that I felt was my due.

I’m quite ascetic by nature and drawn towards the more monastic side of the writer lifestyle. I’ve always loved a good garret and I’ve finally decided that it’s time to buy or rent one to starve in.

Just yesterday I had an appointment with an enthusiastic young estate agent. She brought me to see custom-built writers’ garrets down in the docklands area of Dublin. I was excited about the prospect of having all of the atmosphere laid on for me; I didn’t want to have to spend too much time putting my mark on the place. We mounted the two flights of stairs in great excitement.

As soon as she let me in to the garret my face and my spirits dropped in unison. To counteract the downward trajectory of my physiognomy and mood she raised her eyebrows and put a little upward inflection into the question she now asked me:

“Is everything okay? You look a bit…”

She couldn’t finish her sentence. Her naturally optimistic mindset knew no words to describe how I looked or how I might be feeling.

I was, by now, looking around the room and blowing out air quite forcefully. I was pointing at a place about eighteen inches in front of my mouth. I felt this gesture would be self-explanatory. But her puzzled expression led me to believe that no explanation was reaching any self.

“I can’t see my own breath.” I gave her one of those expressions we use when we’re forced to state the bleeding obvious.

“And?”

I found it hard to believe she was in need of elaboration, but I gave in to her implied request.

“How can I be a writer in a garret where I can’t even see my own breath. The temperature is all wrong in here. Totally unwriterly.” I pulled my hands from the pockets of my heavy overcoat. I was wearing standard issue writers’ gloves, the fingerless ones. I removed them, put them in the coat pockets and then removed the coat itself. Sweat had started to form on my furrowed writerly brow.

“It’s far too warm in here. The atmosphere is far too comfortable to support any sort of bohemian hardship.”

The penny dropped and her facial features obligingly arranged themselves to convey that fact to me. She beckoned me over to a very high-tech piece of equipment on the wall, beneath the window.

“What’s that? Some kind of heater?” You wouldn’t believe the amount of scorn I managed to pour into the word “heater”. In those two short syllables I let her know I would rather die than have to remove my writer’s gloves and coat.

She smiled mysteriously and nodded towards a large dial on top of the machine? At a glance I noticed a few words: Dickensian; Joycean; Hemingway. There were too many to take in with a glance. I raised an eyebrow and nodded towards the dial.

“It’s not a heater. It’s… It’s a…” So much was she looking forward to delivering the end of that sentence that it caused a log jam somewhere between her brain and her mouth. She had to pause, fill her lungs and push through the obstacle.

“It’s a Bohemiatron!”

“Is it ?” I have grown comfortable with not knowing what young people are talking about most of the time. So I did what I usually do. I disguised my ignorance as down-with-the kids knowingness. “A Bohemiatron. The very man.”

So excited was she about this major USB of the garret that she couldn’t wait to fill me in on some of its key features.

“Look what happens when I turn it to Hemingway!”

She turned the dial and the atmosphere of the room changed almost instantly. The sounds of a Parisian café from circa 1920 flooded the room. I don’t know where the speakers were hidden but the sound effects were convincing without being obtrusive. From air vents in the skirting boards smells began to emerge: of garlic and cats, of pommes a l’huille, of absenthe. The temperature changed subtly. Now, rather than the bland 22 degrees of modern central heating we began to experience the welcoming warm fug of a café during a cold Paris winter.

“Can I try Dickensian?” I tried to disguise the excitement in my voice as world-weary nothing-can-impress-me boredom.

She turned the dial again and, almost instantly, I was forced to put the overcoat and fingerless gloves back on. “This is more like it,” I thought, marvelling at the beauty of my own breath curling up into the damp-stained ceiling.

I started doing some quick mental calculations. I knew I could afford the rent. My public service pension was enough to keep me in the sort of soft focus squalor I craved. But paying the rent by monthly standing orders seemed wrong; it seemed unwriterly.

“Could I pay you in hand-written poems?” I tried to sound confident as I put this proposal to her. But my voice cracked a bit, my Adam’s Apple bobbled uneasily and I just knew my cheeks were becoming slightly flushed.

“Sorry. We don’t accept hand-written poems any more. Even if they’re written on beer mats from McDaid’s. We could take a signed first edition of your breakthrough novel as a down payment though. Depending on its sales we might even be able to count it as several months’ rent.”

I felt myself starting to dislike this young woman. Her view of what a writer does was far too narrow for my liking. I don’t have any breakthrough novels yet. I don’t, truth be told, have any finished manuscripts. Now that I think of it, I don’t have any started novels either. I am not that sort of writer. I’m more writerly than that. I live and breath the writer’s life all day long, which doesn’t leave me much time or energy for writing.

I shrugged my shoulders. “How much did you say it was per month?”

 

 

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Gimme Shelter.

Augsburg Puppet Theatre Rolling Stones Dyi

https://pixabay.com/en/augsburg-puppet-theatre-rolling-stones-d-1175877/

 

“Ev’rywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
Cause summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy.”

            Jagger, Richards – Street Fighting Man.

On the 17th of May 2018 I did what every lost pensioner must do sooner or later; I took myself off to see the Rolling Stones in Concert. I felt a need to reconnect nostalgically with something I was never really connected with in the first place. I have some vague false memory of being present at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in Northern California on December 6th1969. On a truly factual basis (a basis which is becoming increasingly irrelevant to my life these days) I couldn’t have been there. For a start, I was too young at the time; I was just entering my teens. Secondly, I lived in the wrong part of the planet. In Dublin in the late sixties the sixties hadn’t really arrived yet. Back then everything that came from America took ten years to arrive. The sixties didn’t get to Ireland until the late seventies. The fifties suited our conservative Celtic soul so well that we wallowed in them for an extra ten years.

I knew nothing about the whole Altamont thing until the early eighties, when I got to see the documentary Gimme Shelter, directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin. At the time I was a very buttoned-down school teacher but, as I sat and watched the film, I became a member of that Californian audience. I got into fights with the Hell’s Angels who policed the festival, I helped pass naked girls over our heads, I was standing right beside Meredith Hunter when he was stabbed to death, I witnessed two fatal drug overdoses. The events seeped from the screen into every cell of my memory and became a part of my past.

So, when I saw that the Stones were coming to Dublin this year I felt a gravitational pull towards Croke Park. I was further encouraged to go there by an unsettling event which I’d recently witnessed in County Carlow. Read it here. I now live about ten minutes’ drive away from Altamont Gardens and have long been fascinated by the co-incidence of its name and my long-held false memory.

In preparation for the event, I checked out what our top music journalists had to say about it. Being at the top of their game our top music journalists were able to inform me that the Stones were old and, therefore, couldn’t be at the top of their game.

As it turned out, the Stones were at the top of their game. As I watched them perform I was pretty sure they were but had to wait to read the reviews the next day to have our top music journalists confirm my ignorant opinion.

But I’m not here to comment on the quality of the music. I’ll leave that task in the safe hands of the quality music press. What I want to talk about here is my disappointment with the event as a counter-cultural shot in the arm for aging rebels.

I have had to spend too much time, in recent years, visiting aged love ones in nursing homes. I have been lucky regarding the quality of the care received by those I visited. The caring, loving atmosphere created by the staff was beyond reproach. Likewise the medical care. But there are certain cultural assumptions made about old people by the management of these institutions that, frankly scare me.

I am resigned to the fact that I may end my days in a nursing home. I don’t want to place an unreasonable burden on my kids; I don’t expect either of them to become my full-time carer. In many ways I am already in training for my time in the nursing home. I have abandoned all interest in personal hygiene and have started to take an interest in daytime T.V. But what scares me is the assumption that my musical tastes, my political views, my social values and my taste in clothes must automatically become blandly conservative as I begin my descent into senility.

Musically, for instance, I will be force-fed a diet of Irish Country music which has been carefully designed not to jolt anybody out of their lifelong complacency. Politically and socially, it is assumed that I must not be exposed to any form of liberal opinion which might raise my poor old heart rate. Sartorially, my aging mind will start to take comfort in beige cardigans.

As I’ve walked around nursing homes, in recent years, I’ve had to pinch myself and remind myself that many of the people I was looking at were of the Altamont generation. Maybe they never got to California, but they were there in spirit. And now I shudder as I see them being dressed in their beige cardigans and wheeled down to the dining room where they’ll be entertained by a forty-something singer who knows what sort of bland shite old people like to listen to.

When I got to Croke Park I hoped I might see some people of my own age or a bit older. This could be our last chance to behave disgracefully.

And I did see plenty of people who were the same age as, or older than, the band members. In fact, a good-sized platform had been erected in the middle of the field to cater for any concert-goers who were dependent on wheelchairs or otherwise not too strong on their pins. I saw quite a few fans there who must have been well over seventy, and the over eighties were represented quite well. They looked relieved to be set free for the evening, to relive some of their youth instead of fitting in with some pre-determined notion of what their old age should look like.

I was comforted to see so many old people at the show, and glad that I am still strong enough to make my way through the crowd unassisted.

Trying to find any evidence of the Altamont spirit I was pleased to notice the security staff. Many of them looked reassuringly like Hell’s Angels. I hoped that, if things kicked off, these guys would know how to escalate the violence rather than calm things down.

I looked around to see if any of the naked girls from the sixties were ready to go crowd-surfing again. I did notice a few women in their seventies looking like they might like to give it a go. But as soon as they took a good look at the atrophied biceps of the men in the audience they decided that discretion is the best part of valour.

When the Stones finally broke into Gimme Shelter, I hoped that maybe the moment had come. I tried to lock eyes with one particularly fierce looking security man. I wanted to goad him into action. But his eyes never engaged with mine. They were too busy boring into somebody about fifty yards behind me. I couldn’t see who they were, but I feared for their safety. His solid build, his calmly folded arms, his ruthless stare all combined to suggest that some serious violence was imminent.

And then it happened. Like a panther who has grown tired of stalking his prey, the bouncer suddenly started to move quickly towards his. He jumped over the barrier which separated him from the crowd, with alarming agility. A path instantly opened in front of him as he hastily pushed forward. My eyes followed him, transfixed by his air of menace. It took him only seconds to close in on his prey. Now, with the crowd parted, I had a clear view of them. They were a couple who must have been at least in their late seventies. I feared for their lives as the leather clad, hairy enforcer reached them.

You can imagine my disappointment when no violence ensued. Instead, the security man placed a protective arm around the woman. She seemed on the verge of collapse and very cold. Her husband, who was not much warmer than she was and no less likely to collapse, helped the bouncer to steer her safely to a tent which had been set up for such eventualities. I saw them disappear inside the tent where, I can only assume, they were given shelter.

 

 

Altamont Strut.

Peacock Bird Feather Close Color Iridescen
“How come it can’t fly no better than a chicken?’ Milkman asked.

Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can’t nobody fly with all that [stuff]. Wanna fly, you got to give up the [stuff] that weighs you down.’

As Agnes and I walked through Altamont gardens, in County Carlow, we met a couple who seemed incompatible. They were a peacock and peahen. Possibly they were not a couple. But judging by the behaviour of the cock, coupling was a consummation devoutly to be wished.
He stood proudly with his feathers on display. There are few displays, in nature or art to match that of an amorous peacock. And this guy was pulling out all the stops. He walked like Mick Jagger. His feathers shot up to reveal colours and patterns which, if they’ve ever been eclipsed it was by a fireworks display.
She, in her own way, looked quite spectacular; spectacularly bored and unimpressed. So impressive was her boredom that you just knew some serious effort was going into it. She was better at looking bored than any sullen teenager has ever managed to be. Although her attention was, no doubt, full to overflowing by Jagger, she used every trick in the book to convey an impression of gum-chewing vacantness. Her intention seemed to be wistfully set on some faraway hills owned by The Other Man of greener grass fame.
In my mind it seemed that Agnes somehow communicated a desire to me for some peacock related facts. I obliged:
“You know, peafowl are a member of the pheasant family.”
I didn’t look directly at Agnes while I shared this interesting tidbit with her. I aimed my face in the direction of Jagger while watching from the corner of my eyes for any sign that I had landed a blow on Agnes’s attention. No sign whatsoever.
Jagger, meanwhile was ramping up the showmanship. He was now shuddering his shoulders, sending shimmers along the length of his feathers, thus introducing movement into the tableau. Sound matched vision as his feathers made a noise like prairie grasses being shook by the wind. His target, still managing to look impressively unimpressed, did the peahen equivalent of looking distractedly at her nail varnish.
I thought I should ramp up my display a bit:
“They come from Asia. They’re an endangered species, apparently.” Bam, Bam. A perfectly delivered combination of punches. But Agnes didn’t even take one step backwards. A passing stranger might have believed she found my facts boring. She actually did manage to examine her nail varnish quite thoroughly.
Jagger was now turning his body slowly from side to side, no doubt trying to suggest that if she wasn’t interested there were plenty more exotic birds in Carlow who deserved to examine the goods.
I began to lose confidence in my ability to impress Agnes with my knowledge. I changed tack. I stood staring at the peafowl in wonder. I assumed an expression which was meant to express the notion that, while my fund of knowledge was a small but wonderful island, my true magnificence lay in my infinite fund of ignorance. I stood, as if on the shore of my knowledge, staring out in awe at the broad, majestic ocean of my ignorance.  Now, if that doesn’t impress her, what will?

Sex Toys and Rural Broadband.

 

 

I’ve been buffering a lot lately. It started with my laptop, then spread to my phone, to other devices around the house, and finally to my brain. I don’t know which I’m more upset about.

 

Living, as I do, in a rural area I have come to expect a very poor service from broadband suppliers. I can almost understand it. To connect me up properly would mean dragging cables across fields and generally disrupting my neighbours. So I shrug off the inconvenience my poor connection causes me and try to appreciate the advantages bestowed on me by buffering.

 

Buffering affords me opportunities for reflection, for appreciation of life’s finer things, for spiritual development.

 

These days I live in a place called High Dudgeon. I take high dosages of Umbrage several times a day and like to join in the worldwide cyber-grumpiness which has been a source of such comfort for many of us old codgers these days. It’s not unusual to find me hunched over my laptop, with smoke rising from the keyboard, as I dash off another carelessly unhoned glop of invective. I find I can enjoy my breakfast better if I my spleen has had a good venting before the dew has dried.

 

And this is where buffering can come to my rescue. Just as I am about to express an opinion which is likely to have me hauled in front of the cyber-court of popular tut-tuttery, my guardian angel will come to my rescue. He will insert a brief hiatus into the smooth running of Twitterface, just long enough for me to have a bit of a breathe, a bit of a think, a bit of trip to the toilet.

 

By the time I’ve returned Agnes, also having been tipped off by my guardian angel, will be standing over the laptop shaking her head in disbelief.

 

“You…”

 

“Can’t say that? Yeah, fair enough. Stick on the coffee machine.”

 

And I will have been saved from ending up in a John Ronson book. The Universe, through the agency of buffering, will have protected me yet again. Agnes and I will not discuss what I have written over breakfast. There will be no need. The brief interlude between one sentence and the next will have afforded my conscience a chance to catch up with my indignation. After breakfast I will delete the racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-culchie, hate-filled drivel which spilled out of some dark little corner of my soul. I will have been reminded, yet again, of the wisdom chiselled into my grandmother’s grave stone:

 

Never Tweet on an empty stomach or a full bladder.

 

My appreciation of music has also been greatly enhanced by the wisdom of buffering. Although my inner boy scout is strongly attracted to the current trend for vinyl records, I simply can’t afford them. There is nothing I would enjoy more than faffing about with cleaning fluff from a stylus or concentrating extra hard on the music behind the hiss and crackle. A man needs to do things the hard way sometimes, just to feel manly. Hence the barbecue, the classic car or the jeans with studs instead of a zip. But with vinyl costing more, gram per gram, than unicorn tears, I’m dependent on Spotify. There’s nothing I like better than to put on my huge, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh headphones and escape to a world of magical vibration. But, I have to say, knowing that at any stage during a piece of music you may be visited by the buffer fairies, sharpens your appreciation. Knowing that any note might be the last one for several minutes makes you treasure that note.

 

You have to abandon the notion of melody when you listen to music this way. Each note becomes a zen opportunity for living in the moment. You forget the notes which have gone before, you waste no time on looking forward to the next note. Each note just is. It does not need to be set into the context of a phrase to acquire value.

 

Which is where aesthetic appreciation spills over into the world of spiritual development. Buffering, more than any other meditation technique, provides you with an opportunity to anchor yourself in the present moment. It reminds you to pause, breathe, and generally reconnect with your soul while you wait for the next episode of The Killing to download.

But lately, for some reason, poor rural broadband has started to infect my mind. I buffer a lot these days. Just the other day I came out of a brain-buffer and found myself standing in front of the sex toys in Dealz, staring at vibrators. I’m not going to tell you that a crowd had gathered around me, but I was being watched. I just know I was.

 

If we ever get decent fibre-optic down here, will it help me with my brain buffering problem? And what would I do with a thousand megs. Who needs to think that fast? Knowing me, I’d find myself uploading opinions into the world of decent people who want to get on with their lives, free from the inappropriate comments of old codgers.

 

There’s a wrong time and place to ask: “How can they make a vibrator for that price?” And I just know that, in a post buffering Ireland, I would find it.

 

Arse Twittering.

I was recently informed by my son that I have been building up a small online presence. Apparently, I’ve been blogging, Tweeting and Facebooking without any knowledge of having done so. My son, gentleman that he is, offered no opinion as to the literary merit of my posts, but something about his tone of voice suggested that I might want to have a word with the boys in the quality control department.

 

I took out my phone and discovered that he was, in fact, right. I had set up several social media accounts and had filled them up with writing which, when examined seemed to express some form of loosely joined up thinking. But, on closer examination, I couldn’t make sense of any of it.

 

It took us a while to figure out what had happened. But when we checked the dates of my online activity against recent changes in my pocketing habits, a pattern began to emerge.

 

For most of my life I’ve observed a Steve-Job’s-like discipline of pocket management. I know lots of people who waste huge amounts of time on trying to find their keys or their phone or their money. But I’ve never had that problem. By always keeping my phone in my left front pocket, my keys and wallet in my right front pocket, and shopping receipts in the back right pocket, I never have to waste a second on finding things. All the time I save by using this simple system, I can then invest in staring blankly into the middle distance, where I can just about see my dreams disappearing over the horizon.

 

But, now that I am only months away from retirement, I find myself thinking that maybe I should reappraise my pocket technique. Retirement is something I see as an adventure I am about to embark on. And I embark upon it with a light of hope and excitement in my eyes, not unlike the light seen in the eyes of the passengers who embarked on the Titanic for its maiden voyage.

 

To prepare myself for this great adventure I have decided to organise a mini-adventure for myself. I spent a whole week with my pocket contents secreted about my trousers in new and thrilling locations. My phone, just to give you an idea of how far I took things, was in my back left pocket. I imagine this is how it must feel to be remarried.

 

Unfortunately, with my phone located in my back pocket, I accidently engaged in arse dialling on an industrial scale. I managed to set up two separate blogs, and accounts on Facebook and Twitter. I even managed to post a few comments and even what seem to be long articles. Grammar, punctuation and syntax have, by and large, taken care of themselves quite adequately. One could easily interpret these accidental marks on the blank pages of cyberspace as having some meaning. But they don’t. They are pure drivel and should not be parsed for meaning.

 

My arse has, in a small way, proved the old thought experiment about monkeys with typewriters accidently producing the complete works of Shakespeare.

 

My son, however, is a bit of a conspiracy theorist and fancies he can see the work of Russian hackers in every word I accidently write. He believes that Vladimir Putin, having tired of talking through his own arse, chose mine as a more western-sounding alternative.

 

Agnes is of the opinion that, by moving my phone to a more weight bearing location I may have squeezed some eternal wisdom out of what had hitherto been a fairly unremarkable, unopinionated Huawei.

 

I genuinely don’t know what has happened. But I feel it’s only fair that I should issues the following warnings:

 

  • Do not engage in any form of online communication with my arse.
  • Do not follow it on Twitter at @des.keane.
  • Do not friend it on Facebook.
  • Do not visit a blog called lostpensioner on tumblr.
  • Do not visit a blog called pensionerregained on WordPress.com.
  • Do not send my arse friend requests.
  • Do not retweet any of its utterings.

 

I am not even tempted to go down the cheap-shot route of satire. I will not mention Donald Trump or hazard a guess as to where he keeps his phone. I’m bigger than that.