Christmas is here, it’s here since Halloween, the hard sell does not scare me though thanks to my mother and father and the magic they made happen around our house back then. Since I was a little boy, I have been bought and sold on the idea of goodwill to all men and unmitigated joy.
This is a picture from my Christmas book, of me and my brother lying in bed, trying to be good, being good isn’t easy as you can see from the expressions on our faces.
My brother is on the left as you look at the picture. See how he is looking up to me, to his big brother, big mistake. I was as good as I could be then and I’m as good as I can be now. Aren’t we all?
That’s the attitude, that’s the Christian take on things, be kind to yourself and you can have Christmas every day.
Like sobriety Christmas keeps its promises and once you keep faith with the present you will in spite of the paradox keep your toys by giving them away and this is what I try to do these days, with my Jeremiah’s Journal.
Below: A picture of Santa fantastic from the same book created by my good self called “A Christmas Conundrum” The leap of faith comes naturally to children, children are courageous and understand what life is, that life is a game of chance. They know they are chancing their arms when they go to the trouble of hanging stockings by the fireside where Father Christmas hopefully cannot miss them when he picks himself up, dusts himself down and first glances round the room. They are rubbing their hands hard together to get the night to spark. They know when they’re not dancing in the dark but being danced.
Still, You Knew In Your Heart of Hearts
Still, you knew in your heart of hearts and
So you told your father, all jokes apart.
It was him, it was, it must have been though
His sleigh for stardust, you had not seen.
So no matter what your friends may say at school,
Would your father not feel like a terrible fool,
If he had put out pudding and poured good beer,
For a man who was, as they say, not really there.
And mother naturally knows what’s best, and
Father will take care of the rest, so trust us son,
Heed what I say, until tomorrow becomes today.
No matter what you do, do what you will, know
That Santa is Santa Claus because he still believes
In you and with his elves will help small boys, to
Help them help themselves to toys, to make
The Make Believe come true, and I will fix it, so it
Looks like new, the fantastic Fort Apache.
Five days left at work, if we’re lucky, maybe a half day Friday, Friday’s always heaven but it’s even better than that at the best time of the year, coming into the week before Christmas, Christmas portrayed so cleverly foreshortened by all the failed artists doing brilliant and important advertisements on behalf of the chambers of commerce and the merchant classes.
Foreshortening is a technique used in perspective to create the illusion of an object (the object being in this case, this Christmas) receding strongly into the distance or background. Foreshortening is a particularly effective artistic device used to give the impression of three dimensional volume and create drama in a picture.
Look…I am like everybody else, I love it…I love it and I can’t wait but wait I must for we’re not there yet…
Back at work though Christmas or no Christmas the elves like ourselves have their hands full convincing the client, Santa Claus, of their competent status, in spite of due diligence to date, after cutting the wrong underground service into ribbons with the blades of their ice skates, resulting in an inadvertent release of hazardous energy and of fear. This is why we can’t be thinking of running out of here at the first sound of sleigh bells or sight of reindeer.
Working without trust is like working in the rain, rain turning to sleet today will no doubt freeze where there is no adequate cover overnight.
Below: This is a lecture addressed to myself on 22 December 2017.
So Jerry, my advice to you though you did not ask for it is
– if you’re thinking it’s all up to you to bail out the boat so the boat can be kept afloat well you had better think again and bail yourself out because the hole is not in the boat but in your bucket.
Down here is the hell of interpreting unintelligible stats and compiling data for management psychopaths who in order to confuse us will move our cheese on purpose, for what cannot be measured can’t be managed or improved. Down here in hell, I’m telling you, there will always be haters – once there are key performance indicators.
In the boardroom they’re too busy for Christmas with balancing budgets. The maze for rats to run round and round in may well be surplus to requirements and for rats there’s no redundancy, neither voluntary nor compulsory, and for rats there’s no early retirement.
So I’m stuck here still writing a ridiculous report, deciding on terms of reference and procedure, describing how the crew heard your alarms but did not heed your warning to evacuate all floors.
Whether you’re in the town downing the pints already or Prosecco and Petit Fours or like me popping puns for fun and mixing your metaphors it’s getting harder and harder for us rats to make a decent living. We’re second guessing ourselves like little children. We’re afraid of our own shadows never mind freedom. There’s work to do before we can put out the cat.
Preparations are underway for the hard weather forecast. Talk of black ice, you can see how ice you can’t see would be unforgiving from a health and safety perspective.
Traffic management is key if we are to fully or partially close roads in order to carry out our crane works.
Pedestrian diversions will have to be planned well with hard barriers and relevant signs erected.
Are you bored yet?
Well here is a little picture from the book I am beginning to put together bit by bit to redress the spiritual balance because that’s what poetry does, poetry can help to cheer you up and I want to cheer myself up while we’re at it, is it not my journal after all.
The scaffold platforms will be salted tonight. The last thing we want Christmas week is a fall from height.
The elves are full of the joys of winding down and by way of saying thanks for an accident, if not incident nearly free year, site management have asked us small men of good cheer to try to focus on what we are doing in the now and here and not what time we are heading into town. And once the token gestures are made and the free Breakfast Vouchers are handed out to the trades then we’ll know we’re more or less done with the charades and what’s not done can wait till the New Year comes around.
We’re singing the praises of short days and long johns and asking one another whether we’re all sorted. Let’s keep it going till it’s gone it’s worth it, by wishing one another one uncommonly happy Christmas, happy for now with our contractor’s lot, we’ve got the turkey out of the project that’s what we’ve got, with a couple of months to come back to after the first when they’ll break us back in all over again, over by teatime at twenty to ten. What are we like, we are like we were never away and no matter what the most recent peasantry cause is, the client will be full of hail fellow well met, barring accidents, incidents and or penalty clauses but we peasants, we’ve never starved a winter yet.
Now when I say almost, I mean almost but it almost makes me wish I was working in Cavan or north of the border or at least further, much further away than I am these days from my doorstep so that that legendary road home would become metaphor again and not mere Tarmacadam for isn’t that just like life, life needs a little sour to make the sweet sweeter and you could be turning up the heater in the car to full till you reach the toll when you’re finally warmed up and can feel your toes again and turning on the radio and tuning in the radio till you come across a local channel so suddenly loud and near that clearly, that’s the universe right there sounding in your own two ears. Better by far than any planned wish list is the happy accident or the half chance of hearing in the dark the DJ ghost of Christmases past playing Driving Home For Christmas while driving home for Christmas.
Back in the recession after nearly four months out of work I answered the call from a London based recruiting agency to go to Virginia in Cavan for three days. There was a windmill that had driven a farmer to distraction on the mountain. The job was not going to pay the bills and wasn’t going to do anything in fact but help me to keep my hand in. You see I’d forgotten how to act, forgotten almost how to talk the talk we talk at work and I knew that if that enforced idleness I was battling in vain were to continue to distract me from myself, the self that is that I had become some time ago in order to pay the mortgage then I could say hello to the beginning of the end of my career, as my career in health and safety is one which like any religion requires the practitioner, in order to succeed in convincing himself, to keep up his strength by feeding himself first, and then before he can fuck with their heads, to feed his flock, for the hungry will not dream of listening to the prayers of the priest till his housekeeper has made them breakfast at least.
In Cavan I had arranged to meet a man from Copenhagen and a man from Coolock who was driving the massive, truck mounted mobile elevated work platform we were to use to access the height required, in order to carry out some remedial work if possible on one, which one we could not as yet say for certain, of the problematic fifty meter windmill blades within the confines of which the man from Copenhagen did strongly suspect dwelt an anomaly.
After a couple of hours of going up and coming down and going up and coming down again in the snow covered mountains north of the town of Virginia the maker’s man decided that at least for now nothing more could be done than what we had been doing all morning long to no avail in the inclement weather we had fallen foul of.
Postponing the job till the spring or summer when putting the windmill out of commission and preparations for carrying out running repairs could be begun under safer conditions seemed to us eminently sensible. Being less qualified and having in fact decided to place our trust in Hans Christian Anderson’s judgement our freezing thoughts as thoughts ought to, turned to lunch. I had nothing with me but was tied to the other two by the risk assessment I had written for the job which stipulated three men at least, two to talk about the other with the two doing the talking being interchangeable and absolutely under no circumstances no lone working in the mountains. So a little embarrassed by my lack of foresight in a man’s world I watched through the window of my car where I had gone to keep warm while the other two conjured up a scene worthy of Charles Dickens with a box of six all butter Marks and Spencer’s Mince Pies and a kettle powered by a petrol generator.
Snow now was soundlessly falling in slow motion on the hardstand and on the great blade of the giant windmill now immobilised that had all winter driven a farmer to distraction, listening as he had, for he had to listen to it once he first heard it rolling and rattling and rattling as it rolled up and down the length of that blade, that small ball of glue, hardened by the three years that had passed since the wind farm’s installation. A ball of glue, the meagre dimensions of which would be expressed as no more than an inch in length, and an inch in breadth and an inch in depth, in three dimensional space according to the man from Copenhagen’s best guess, who was kindly beckoning me to join in their impromptu Christmas celebration.
After lunch I followed them back to Virginia to look for a place to stay for the night. Booking they told me would not be a problem. The town was deserted. I thought to myself they were right, this is definitely not Bethlehem. Though I could see my breath before me like a speech bubble there were no words for the cold. Where the main street of town starts as it means to go on, on the left, after the car park, handy for the shopping there was a sign for deer crossing.
I couldn’t believe the Town Councillors. You can’t bullshit a bullshit merchant like me. I wouldn’t have argued with a sign telling us to beware of the bull. Who would vote for a sign for deer crossing in Downtown Virginia Central? Terrible, I thought, how we feel we have to play up to the tourists, to embellish the bloody story. Will we ever be done telling lies? I blame the eight hundred years of oppression. I had no doubt that that poor dolphin in Kerry was doped up to his eyeballs too and thoroughly disorientated. Fair play for the Virginians I decided, you have to make the most of what you have and you have. When I rounded the corner the road was full of deer. There were no traffic lights and no need of them.
There in the presence of beauty, I was deeply shamed. I slammed on the brakes but really and truly what I was stopped by was their brown eyes, the colour of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night.
All my worries for the future thawed. I saw raw nature and knew I was no better or worse than the least of God’s creatures.
Back at the hotel stretched on the bed, there was no fear of me, belly full, head full of fallow deer, letting sleep come on tippy toes along the corridor like room service for the man who is simply trying to put the day down and while trying to put the day down, owning his limitations. While waiting, for nothing, for once, while saying the Serenity Prayer, praying for the wisdom to know the difference, in order simply to try to stay sober, my phone rang, rang angry and loud and insistent like destiny was on the other end of the line.
Good…I have a job for you.
Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Intel…
Where are they?
What do they do?
They make chips…
The crew call it the biggest chipper in the country, we’ve tendered for a massive demolition package. There’s six months to a year’s work there…
Kildare…Kildare is Dublin isn’t it…
The hourly rate is good…this is the only show in town… There are inductions tomorrow…Can you come up from Cork for half past eight…
I’m in Cavan…
What the fuck are you doing in Cavan?
Trying to prove to myself that I still have a day’s work in me…
Cavan is around the corner from where you’re going, you’re haunted…
The job went on for three years, three turkeys I got out of it. Life in the B & B was terrible but it was better by far than any of the arrangements proposed by the bank.
I thought I would never be able to pay my bills again.
The thought of that was as exciting as it was frightening.
I had been granted a glimpse of freedom, that freedom that comes when you fail at a profound level. If it was just about me I’d have walked away, I’d have thrown the keys of the house in the letterbox of the bank door but it wasn’t just about me, it was about us, just us, the holy family, my holy family. Things have always turned around for me at Christmas, Christmas is a time for miracles.
I chanced my arm. First I filled in the hole the hens had started and the dog had finished and then acting in faith beyond facts, beyond the instructions on the back of the packet I threw some seed on the ground and now I have grass growing in December.
And again here on our kitchen window sill, resulting in fresh Dill and a flower I do not know the name of yet, at just the worst time of the year…
Journey of the Magi
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly…
This is a wonderfully evocative Christmas poem by T.S. Eliot. There’s more of it, look it up for yourself, for me this is what the internet is for, not for telling the world and his wife what your New Year resolutions are or were…two minutes ago…
There was a time when all of the knowledge of good and evil, beyond “evil” being “live” spelt backwards or of “dog” being “god”, a time when all of nature’s higher and lower power, the pull back, push and shove, the chemistry of love, the tricks of physics, beyond the physics of tricks with skateboards, the secrets of science before household appliances, all of the best and most distressing attempts at definitions of beauty, all the truth we crave and hate and as lovers will embrace too late, there was a time when all of the happy ending, sad ending, never ending, everlasting stories, the lifeblood of the master spirits of our age was stained brilliantly for safe keeping on the page and kept secure between the hardback covers, in the library of the house of the landlord, in the mansion on the hill, while out yonder the poor man would look up from time to time from his labouring in the fields with scythe and spade and wonder what the fuck your man sat at the window was doing with his head stuck in a book all day…
I was under orders this year to build a new crib, new it would have to be because the old crib would not go with the new furniture. For a start it was black and black was the wrong colour.
This is the pressure buying brand new things will bring into a man’s life. We watch our guests for fear they’ll break something. Visiting children and animals are a nightmare.
Now there’s something to protect, like the good floor from spilled drinks and the fancy couch and the fancy cushions on the fancy couch from that dog that is far from fancy, thank God.
He’s not thinking about Christmas, unless Christmas is a cornered cat…
We have become attached to all of our things, things to hang things from, things to stick things into, things to hold things, things to store things in, things to clean and cook with, things to use to eat your food and drink your drink with, things to tell what day it is, what time it is, things to talk to other things, things to do your thinking for you, things to count with, things to help you to remember, things to help you to forget.
We’re spoilt for choice, because of the range of colours, shapes and sizes everything appears peculiarly devoid of purpose. They have become something other than that which they are, for which they were created, reduced to statement, mere expressions of our more creative selves.
The first world’s folly is to usurp the intended purpose of the made thing by taking its essential components and turning them into the raw materials for the manufacture of new uselessness such as furniture from pallets or water features from plant pots, so Please, Please Pinterest Fuck Off Please for if we hadn’t seen it posted on some screen somewhere, we may well, blissfully ignorant of the world, for once, have imagined ourselves to have been capable of at least one, just one original thought, for one, just one, maybe two minutes at the most…
I think this is nostalgia for the past when necessity was truly the mother of invention and poverty was the midwife of ideas, ideas nobody who could afford the real thing wanted to be associated with. This is why there is no edge to the artisan’s ingenuity and why I have lost interest in crafts and arts and the cottage industry.
The real reason I know this is because I have pallet fences all around my garden and I know that at the time I built that fence that was all I had to hand I didn’t have to pay for.
The Feast of the Epiphany.
So having indeed named names and fully identified with the world of form, am I not in my mind who I say I am?
I am my job, I am my mortgage, I am the pension I don’t have, I am my apology for me, I am my face, shaved, I am my five o clock shadow. I am my published work. I am my deleted history. I am my Hyundai i30 two thousand and eleven. I am my income level. I am my toothless smile, I am my crown. I am my Cork City to Crazy Town via Carr’s Hill commute. I am my small dog of indeterminate breed and ill repute. I am my name. I am my enthusiasms. I am my failed attempt at unsubscribing. I am my website. I am my windswept pier head. I am what I read. I am what I say I read. I am my tumbleweed. I am my sobriety. I am my bearded dragon. I am my address on the south side. I am my rude, good health. I am my two budgerigars. I am my two hens that lay and I am my two hens that don’t. I am my stinking thinking. I am my gratitude. I am my pen and paper. I am my blessings counted. I am my dry drunk. I am my son’s dad, I am my wife’s husband, I am my sister’s brother, I am my brother’s brother, I am my cousin’s cousin and my mother’s son. I am my best foot forward. I am anybody’s guess. I am a two up, two down, recently refurbished, town house, suffering in silence, afraid of subsidence, rocketing in value, I hope, unless…
The materials I used to construct the old crib were properly recycled for reuse. I used a saw to saw with and hammer to hammer with and they did what they said they would do or what their names suggested they would do, in my hands, which is more than I have done on many an occasion but look I am doing it now and liking it. I’m bringing my body into my work. When I didn’t want to go to meetings even though the meetings were keeping me sober I was told to bring the body and the mind would follow and it did. A balance between body and mind is best, between the analog and the digital.
I used a pair of long nosed pliers to pull the nails from the timbers, straightening them out before hammering them home again.
Nearly there, not there yet though still not happy, not easy to please me, the shed is built and painted, and the ground around dressed with straw from last year and dried bark from a tree that had fallen in Innishannon, in a storm.
The figures are arranged around the holy family in the way I would like them to be with the beasts of the field closest to the baby Jesus and the three kings last in, makes sense to me and isn’t that what matters, after all, would not the cow and the donkey’s warm breath on a cold night be worth more than all the gold, frankincense and myrhh in the world.
The staples I had used when fastening the cardboard sheet to the back with the hole cut out for the battery powered stars I used again once I levered them up one by one with the blade of my pen knife.
This is mindfulness gone mad. Why not take a day to do what you could have done in two hours.
The shed is all timber now and tidier and won’t fall apart in your hands when you lift it from its corner of the attic though it has a disused look which I like, like it has been abandoned to the homeless poets, sniffing glue, stuck for words.
Well as far as Christmas is concerned with all of our usual cribs about commercialism and excess, etcetera, etcetera, I have to say that at the end of the day and a long, long day it was, looking at it now, in spite of all of the modifications, my new crib is the same as my old crib.
Autistic Savant Budgie, Rain Budgie…two thousand, three hundred and twenty seven pellets.
Night before Christmas, all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even…
Look at these two little mice, how lucky were they, left on the shelf since last year…
From a shoe box on the floor of the wardrobe, notes for “A Christmas Conundrum”, none of which were used.
“Christmas Eve and would you believe me if I said, by seven, the boys were in their beds. Heaven was the smell of baked ham from the oven, our Dad loves and Mam stuck cloves in…”
“Joy is the trap that Santa sets, sets to spring when a certain weight’s applied for to make the mule buck or the Jack to fly from the box to tie the hands of the clock and to break the back of surprise…”
“With the house to ourselves, the world is deaf, dumb and blind and in a house as quiet as this house is quiet you could hear a mouse changing its mind…”
I found lines I like now again, when I wrote them first they did not appeal to me, either that, at the time of writing, or it was not in keeping with what I was trying to do, today is the feast of the Epiphany, this Christmas is over, over and done with, Christmas’s goose is cooked and I am here looking at lines I might make use of from two Christmases ago. Christmas is Christmas and you would be a fool not to throw a party at the darkest time of the year but what is not illusion is contrivance and what is not contrivance is illusion. I do not live in chronological time and even if I do, if I must sometimes immerse myself in the day to day confusion between invention and convention, I find I still come alive only in the moment.
Below: I am so sorry Santa, for a health and safety guy, I really have no excuses, who could blame you if you had expected better of me. Every year I promise myself and you, you have been promised too, after all, it’s you who have had to struggle through another year, another nine or ten months in your workshop, working away with your right arm hanging by your side, definitely broken, probably dislocated, no wonder you are looking a little pained and discombobulated. Look I swear, I promise I will make an honest effort and not pack you away in your box and send your box off to the North Pole of the attic of my uninsulated house without first tenderly applying to the affected area, a little glue, super glue for a super guy who brought everybody everything they wanted again… Which was what? Which was, though we didn’t know it perhaps, perhaps we did, was for all of the toys and food and booze, like the God bit, and the dog’s birthday and whatever you’re having yourselves, to be glorious excuses for everybody to be sat at the same table and everybody to get together with everybody else.
I was back to work on the Wednesday, the third of January, everybody else I know was back the day before. Strange not being sick and being off when nobody else is especially when I could have gone back if I wanted to and got paid while pretending to do paperwork or something. Work Jerry had a real struggle with the concept of choosing to do nothing and not getting paid and choosing to do nothing and getting paid but then there’s no accounting for real Jerry’s moods. The strange feeling is my conditioning kicking in, years and years of doing the right thing. I’m a good boy I am.
Back at the desk now, conscious that that fucker two doors down has been watching how long I’m hanging around in the office and how long I am at the work face. I’ve nothing to do right now so I am not even going to bother logging on, I’m going to keep walking in a direction away from him, not because I’m afraid of him though you would do right to be afraid around middle management morons like him but because this is the best way to give him nothing to say and to manage perceptions, that’s what I mean when I say I would rather lay blocks for a living. A block layer can point, no pun intended, at block lovingly or not, laid upon block laid upon block and so on till the wall is built.
Work Jerry here Jerry. Just dropping you a couple of lines for your journal, hope you are well. You were badly missed in the Permit Office. What’s your password?
Work Jerry is as good as back now. Work Jerry always refers to himself in the third person, third person narrative comes naturally to him, after all it is somebody else telling his story for him, isn’t it, it’s not, he thinks, but thought has made a fool of him so many times before, he’s not sure but do you know why that is really, that’s because Work Jerry is so concerned with what the job thinks of him, the job being everybody from the site director to the canteen ladies, the canteen ladies sing their song, do they, do they, they do. He is concerned with how he is being seen to be doing what he is doing. Today he told me he was de-briefed like the astronauts used to be, he did have to admit to being a little bit spaced out though since the holidays. He said he even managed to sleep in a couple of mornings in a row. You see the hens will stay asleep and refrain from singing in the mornings once it’s dark and it is dark these days, dark in the goings and in the comings. At least we have the back of the week broken now I told him. Are we killing time or is time killing us, he asked me, he’s like a child, now I think I know the answer to that, that’s another wedge for me in our Trivial Pursuit. It is Wednesday today and tomorrow is Thursday and the day after that is Friday and Friday is heaven so…we’ll see the new you in the new year then and if the new you is anything like the new me then we’ll have no problem recognizing one another and no problem wishing one another a peaceful, prosperous and happy new year…