Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Allow Me

Last week, Mater and her chum N patronised a little, local eatery, and each scoffed a small mushroom quiche, chips, a half-stuffed egg, and a salad with red onion, tomato, corn and dressing. I'm not entirely sure what a half-stuffed egg consists of; perhaps the chef gave up in the middle and decided to fashion the salad instead.
In any case, Mater deemed it supremely delicious food when all was said and done, and she was happy to pay for her portion and N's along with it.
"No," said N with emphasis; "I'm paying."
"I'm paying," said Mater, "and that's an end to it."
"Let me pay," N waved a fork-laden hand. "It was my idea to come here."
"And I agreed," Mater added, laying a defensive, ready hand on her own utensil, "so I should pay for us."
To save time, we can jaunt merrily along to the end of that line of chatter, because it was rather lengthy: the sun set, the cafe emptied of diners, the staff began to stack chairs on top of chairs and tables on top of lampshades, or near enough to it, I'd wager.
The pair did at last reach the happy compromise that Mater could pay- this once.
The winner fist-pumped the air. N sighed an ever so slight soliloquy.
Off they trotted, up the street into the cool of the December evening.
After a spell, N, inwardly sensing that something was afoot, abruptly stopped walking.
"You did-" She turned to Mater with a deepening frown. "You did pay, didn't you? After all that?"
After a gasp of horror, Mater was gone, beating a path back to the cafe, leaving behind her a cloud of dust so thick that N, whose house was a mere few doors down the street, was unable to get her bearings.
She's ensconced in that cloud still, as far as anybody knows, but the hearty quiche and half-stuffed egg should sustain her until the rescue party come out to look for her.
Winning the argument is not enough: the victor really ought to do something with the prize.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Happy Sixty-Two-Pence Birthdays To Tom Waits And My Mother

Talk about coining a phrase.
Near her birthday
My mother muttered
'I'm almost sixty-two-pence.'
Imagine it.
Almost sixty-two-pence.

Somebody should mint a coin in honour,
A sixty-two-pence birthday coin
With my mother's laughing head on one side,
Tom Waits, hours older, on piano on the other:
I'd like such a coin.
Heads I win. Tails I win.

Boy Dandy: Birthday Poem For Mater

She says I'm her Boy Dandy.
She lets me lick her head.
It took months of wide-eyed pleading,
But now we share the bed.

She's got her grievances with me,
She lists them almost nightly;
I only take her slipper
To keep her fit and sprightly.

She races after me with
One foot slippered, one foot not.
I hide the shoe in some dark place
that Time, and I, forgot.

My beard's too long and shaggy
I suspect she wants to shave it.
Sometimes I don't eat dinner,
I bury it and save it.

I might tuck it underneath her coat
And nobody I'd tell
And nobody's the wiser
Until it starts to smell.

I'm partial to an orange
So I borrow some of hers
If she peels and pips it first for me;
We're both fruit connoisseurs.

She says I chew the blanket
In my sleep, but just a corner:
I've never seen me do it
So I could hardly warn her.

She understands my naughty streak
For she was once as young,
Like me she didn't always know
Just when to hold her tongue:

She has to hush me sometimes
When I think it's right to bark.
She was brazen as a girl, she tried
To read books after dark-

No, the candle wasn't quite the thing
To hide under the sheet
But I'll always find the positive:
I'll bet that hole was neat.

So perhaps I tear around the house
Like a tiny jet-fuelled rocket;
And it could be that I eat money,
And tissues from her pocket,

And maybe I chew the fireside logs
And eat the splinters- maybe.
But her heart remembers how she once
Ate hailstones as a baby:

She scooped them up and ate them whole
The way some folks eat jam,
Reached out a chubby girl-fist
When they landed in her pram.

She must have thought they tumbled
From the sky for her delight:
The difference between us, now you see,
Is minuscule and slight.

She forgives me all that I do wrong
And loves the rest.
Her birthday's coming so I've got
To try and look my best.

I've never seen her birthday,
This is one I cannot miss.
I'll bring to her my playful eye
And a great big wet-beard kiss.

She says I'm her Boy Dandy.
She knew me when we met.
It took almost sixty-two whole years
But at last, I am her pet.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

24 Legs On My Ceiling

This is a story about enormous spiders, medium-sized dogs and tiny flies; and it's a story about how what ought to have been a straightforward finale to an evening in the old homestead in Ireland turned into a veritable ten-ring circus.
Spouse and I were beginning to yawn in our chairs beside the fading embers of the fireplace.
Mike and Mater were far ahead of us and had been yawning for a good long while as the hour drew close to midnight.
Sibling K was nudging T and suggesting that they both should hit the road and get home before it got much darker, although, all things considered, it was at that peculiar time of night when it is so dark it can't possibly get any darker: but when Sibling K said it was time to go, well, it was time to go.
But not yet. I had a task for T before she could go home.
"T," I said, "I have a task for you."
T was interested, and inquired about the monthly salary.
"None," I said quickly, "but there are three spiders on the ceiling in the corner above my bed. They're black and they're hairy and I will not sleep a wink with them above me."
"Oh," said Mater with a visible shudder, "that's horrible. I hope they're gone by the time you go to bed. I know a few ways to get rid of them."
"Right-ho," said T. "Let me at them."
"Myself, I'd just plug in the vacuum cleaner and suck them up," said Mater, thoughtfully, to nobody in particular.
T murmured, "I wonder what names I'll give them? Tom, Dick and Harry, perhaps."
T, you must understand, gets along very well with spiders, and she was the perfect woman for such a job. In she went to the bedroom, and she jiggled the spiders about a bit until they tumbled down and into the sleeve of her thick winter coat.
"Lovely," I said, pushing her away very gently with one finger. "Thanks a million for doing that."
T thought she'd chat with me a while inside the bedroom, but I edged her out of there bit by bit. No sense in her dropping the trio of spiders out of her sleeve and onto the bed, after all.
Away she went after Sibling K, who was already packed up and ready to leave, and I made certain she didn't leave a trail.
Mike, Spouse and I stood at the gate and watched Sibling K and T off into the night, while Mater waved them off at the roadside.
Then a small fly, or a midge as some of us call them, went up my nose; it was a problem exacerbated by the fact that the winged fellow paused halfway, for goodness knows what reason, but he was neither up nor down, neither in nor out, and immeasurably annoying.
I could feel every twitchy movement. My agitation caused Dandy the dog to start barking, which promptly turned into howling, and while Mater was saying cheerio to her son, I ran into the bathroom and threw water on my face, attempting to get it up my nose.
I blew up, I blew down, but nothing seemed to work.
The determined midge fellow was still hopping in there.
"Help," I cried, "the midge won't come out."
Mike made suggestions, as did Spouse. Dandy barked.
In stamped Mater out of the frosty, moonlit night, and took one look at me, my hand to my face, unease and desperation my new expression.
"Look," sighed my dear mother, still thinking of spiders, wanting so much in her innocence to help me, and gliding to the cupboard before anyone could stop her, "I told you. I know the best way. I'll get the vacuum cleaner."
I made a hasty escape, and shortly thereafter I was bent double on the couch with my head buried in a cushion, tears streaming down my face, howling much like Dandy does- who, it must be said, jumped up beside me and licked my face furiously and with great concern for my well-being.
What with all the crying I did, in the end the midge left me for pastures less hysterical.
Over and above my wails I heard Mike explaining to a befuddled Mater that the issue was no longer one of spiders, but one of my having got a midget up my nose in the meantime, and that Mater had missed a significant portion of the story while she was out saying farewell to Sibling K and to T- and, one would presume, Tom, Dick and Harry along with them.
It was Spouse who calmly pointed out that Mike really ought to have mentioned that it was a midge, and not a midget, and off we all went again with new visions of midgets trapped in my nose, and it all culminated in my mother getting flustered and Dandy laughing at us through his teeth until Mater, wishing only to hush the barking dog, put a hand on Spouse's shoulder and commanded: "Sit! Sit! Good boy."
Oh, was that ever the wrong shoulder.
I stumbled to bed- mercifully a spider-free zone- before they could bring out the dancing sea lions or the juggling elephants or the performing midgets, and before Mater could even contemplate approaching my nose with a household appliance.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Mulchmen Cometh

Gnarly Tree Company was offering deliveries of free garden mulch, and Spouse and I were in need of mulch, so we filled in a form and requested a delivery, and we waited.
Weeks upon weeks later, we got an early morning phone call to say that the Gnarly men were in the neighbourhood and would be unloading mulch in our garden within the hour.
Lovely, we thought, jumping with unfettered glee; we'd have a decent amount of mulch with which to make our garden grow. I thought of lemons, Spouse of tomatoes.
It was a frosty morning, the first proper day of Winter, and we stood shivering in the gloom at the cusp of our property waiting for the GnarlMobile to appear.
Up the road it motored at last and we indicated with a stiff wave of frostbitten fingers and hands where the men ought to unload the bucket of mulch.
Now, it's a fact that some buckets tend to be bigger than others, but I'll come back to that in a bit.
I was more concerned with the fact that, of the two fellows who turned up, one of them was muttering and exclaiming wildly from the front of the truck. His protests seemed to be centered around the fact that he was unable to operate the machinery, the handbrake, the gears, the levers, the back doors, the buttons or any truck-related gadgetry whatsoever.
He was also, rather alarmingly, the driver.
Spouse and I inched back ever further from the truck while the driver made effort after effort to find the device to tip the mulch container so that the material would spill into our garden. When he found the correct lever, he could not, however, control the bucket sufficiently to propel the mulch out, and it all sat there damply while his assistant stood nearby and wondered what to do. Meanwhile, Spouse and I slowly froze with the chill.
At last the assistant fetched a shovel, clambered into the deepest crevices of the truck and began manually flinging the mulch out and onto the grass. It seemed to be working smoothly; he was a speedy enough fellow with a shovel, and good for him for realising that often, hands can do a job faster than a machine.
Curiously enough, the driver chose that moment of all moments to learn how to fully tip the back of the truck; and he did so, violently, sending much mulch- and the stunned assistant- tumbling heavily downwards.
The assistant, fingers and feet unable to find any sort of grip as the machinery drastically altered angles, found himself one with the mulch pile.
Unhurt, buried up to his waist in miscellaneous wood chippings, he laughed the matter off, albeit a tad hysterically. Spouse and I were thunderstruck, and didn't know at all where to look.
"Where should we look?" I whispered to Spouse, examining my shoes for lack of anything better.
"I don't know," he replied, squinting at a dried icicle leaf beside his own shoe. "But whatever you do, I suggest you do not look at the approximately three thousand gallons of mulch that they've just deposited in our back garden."
"I won't," I nodded. "I'll never look."
That was all weeks ago, and I still haven't.
We're sort of hoping it will just go away; that one morning we'll look out the window and we'll have our garden back; that the Mulchmen were nothing but a dream of the most surreal and chaotic kind.
If all else fails, and Mulch Mountain turns out to be the stuff of reality- well, on the off chance that it snows some day, we will become trained ski instructors and charge people a fortune to come in and use our slope for the afternoon, with the provision, of course, that they'd have to bring their own sleds and skis and whatnot, and with the handy advance warning that there may still be a Mulchman underneath it all, waiting to reach out a gnarly hand and grab their ankles, because, come to think of it, I don't exactly remember seeing him climb back into the truck. I just assumed.
Then again, don't mind me: I was probably out in the cold for too long.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dancing '82

It came back to me last evening: the first song I ever paid attention to.
I couldn't have been more than three when my brother put a towel on his head to denote the long locks of that particular eighties crooner.
More than the song, I remember my brother's giddy song-and-dance performance. In any case, I recalled it just yesterday, but it came in flickers.
Something about dancing; he wanted to dance; and something about a baby.
The melody was faint and slightly off-kilter, but it worked its way towards me. I was patient; it would arrive eventually. Memories such as those never entirely fade away, and it was in there, I was certain.
And then Bernie Nolan started to sing at me.
"I'm in the moooood for dancing," she veritably warbled, with a whole-body spin and a disco grin.
What on earth? "Get out of here," I hissed at her. "I'm trying to think of something."
One trouble was that now I could only think of The Nolan Sisters chirping "I'm In the Mood For Dancing."
The other trouble was that she didn't get out, and she instead got louder and louder and more insistent.
My fellow. I had to focus on my fellow. He wanted to dance. That was something to start with.
Wait just one moment, now: was that Ireland's very own Daniel O' Donnell jiving next to Bernie Nolan? It was, and he was straining to be louder than her.
"I just wanna dance with you," he swished.
Bernie's face was like thunder on account of the intrusion- I knew how she felt- but it made her only the louder.
"No, no," I pleaded with the pair of them. "Neither of you are what I was looking for. You're singing about dancing, but it's not the right one. Go away, please."
Daniel tossed his microphone back and forth from one hand to the other, hoping, I presumed, to win me over, but I was getting agitated.
"Hang on," shrieked Bernie, "is that Whitney Houston in the corner?"
We all looked, and sure enough, Whitney came skating into the room belting out "I Wanna Dance With Somebody."
To my surprise, she hushed for a moment, smirked at me.
"What was it you were looking for?"
I sighed, doubtful she could or would assist me.
"I was trying to think of a song I used to know. Something about... about... something beginning with D, anyway."
My voice trickled away. I knew I was beaten.
"Diva?" suggested Whitney.
"Donegal," offered Daniel. "My own homeland."
"She means Denise, the other Nolan sister," said Bernie, shaking her head at the pair of them. Donegal, indeed."
"Forget it," I said. "Forget the lot of you. You're mean and you're trying to trick me."
Then, lo and behold, there was my brother on the scene, younger than he'd been lately, complete with fluffy towel on his head.
He sang, then, and Bernie, Daniel and Whitney mercifully melted away. I slapped my forehead.
"I got it wrong," I moaned. "I could have spared myself the trouble of listening to those three."
My brother kept dancing.
"You could have," he nodded and bopped. "If you'd only known."
See, Eddy Grant, back in 1982, didn't actually want to dance at all. That was the whole point of his tune, that he simply didn't want to dance with his baby no more. Still, it's good I remembered it.
Isn't it?

Friday, November 18, 2011


Elbows on the table, leaning forward, I wanted to know why Spouse's nose was sore.
Oh, he said, he and his friend had shared a joke together. A particularly witty joke, he reflected with fondness.
But the nose? Where did the nose come into the tale?
He'd been drinking Japanese tea at the time, he explained, and at the precise moment of punchline, the tea changed trajectory at great speed and poured forth from his nose.
That makes sense, I said, nodding. It makes sense.
There was a long silence then, and what I imagined would have been a perfectly suitable opportunity for Spouse to repeat the scene, minus the Japanese tea; but, oddly enough, he did not take it.
Tell me, I said at length, what was so funny about it.
Spouse took another moment to chuckle absently, his eyes misting up, then snapped back to himself again.
Oh, he said, I can't. I'm sorry. It was all in Sanskrit. I wouldn't be able to translate it.
I'll just have to take his word for it that it was full of hilarity, but I can't quite recover from the enormity of the letdown and the absence of a punchline.
Sometimes, I suppose, there is no straight, clear line to explain a thing.
It just Is, that's all. But if we decide to go looking for it, we'd better not be drinking tea at the time.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Madman of Munster

I can see it now. He's probably already gone down in local folklore as the crazed, waving fellow of the most southwesterly point of Ireland, notorious for his wild gesticulations and random bits of commentary muttered from the confines of his battered motorcar.
Really, it only happened the one time, but we all know how passers-by can be: they witness a curious, utterly out of the ordinary occurrence, and the next thing that happens, they're whispering through their teeth that they saw him at it last week too, it's a regular thing with him. Never mind that Mike only passes quietly through the coastal village twice a year or so, and that Mater's motorcar is shiny without a bit of batter about it- Mater's a most judicious driver.
So there we were, Spouse and myself in the back squinting at crumpled road maps, and poor Mike in the front passenger seat while Mater dashed in to get a pint of milk or the like from the tiny shop. Mike was familiar enough with the history and landscape of the area, I suppose, to want to explain to us the landmarks and whatnot.
"Now, do you see those big jagged cliffs over there where I'm pointing... there's a strange, eerie legend about them."
"And right over There, now, that's where That Thing happened."
"Those clouds, aren't they grand? I should take a photograph. There we are. Yes, grand photo, that one."
"Oh, that's a nice view of the sea. Don't you two think so?"
I'm almost completely certain that we would have thought so, because I always enjoy a good view of the sea, but Spouse and myself had long since vacated the back seat and were helping Mater to examine the milk in the shop.
We didn't hear a scrap of what Mike told us, didn't observe his enthusiastic gestures or his finger pointing or, indeed, his look of astonishment when he noted, at long last, that we'd both slipped out of the car along with Mater and that he was, in fact, chattering away to an empty vehicle.
We didn't know he didn't know, but now he'll have a reputation and it's all our fault.
It might be good for local business, though.
"Now, do you see that corner there, by that old, windswept shop, yes, they say that's where the Madman of Munster materialises every October about lunchtime and mumbles away to himself before vanishing into the vague County Kerry mist. Nobody knows why he appears, but he's been showing up for centuries."
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