Bits of this and that


Messing about near Easkey

Mist began to close in and I felt the call of the sea. I propped my bike up against a post and threw off all my wet clothes,

A Fox in the Snow

I watch nature devastate itself with another layer of cruel nature; a sweet sense of desolation wells up within me as I survey the wasteland, and just before my sudden sadness tips me into despondency ...
Gold cherry

A Night in the Cells.

"In the company of strangers, in the quiet of the railway station running scared"


The fog lifts

Assembling a cot in French

The girl came from Cote d’Ivoire (which I didn’t think was that dangerous - obviously it must be) and she spoke impeccable French,

Big Pink Scarecrow.

So I re-joined, I swan, I showered, I dressed and then presented myself at reception to pick up my nice new, shiny, fluorescent pink membership card.

Birthday on a train.

It was my birthday. I woke up twenty years old and hungry. Everyone around me was still asleep, lulled and comforted by the gentle rhythm of the train to Delhi ...

Blue Moroccan Morning

Wakening into an early morning in the desert

Brindisi under rain.

Rebellious, subversive, sloshing our feet around in the grey, soapy water deepening on the floor, finding and unclogging the plughole choked with generations of travellers’ gunge,

Cats too can blush.

... but that was one very embarrassed looking cat, believe me, and so she should have.

Clouds are to be preferred.

I hate Bank Holiday Mondays, but not when they fall at the beginning of a cold, wet week and we’ve just had one of those in Belfast.

Conceiving Jono.

My boy Jono was conceived in a small, leaky tent pitched behind a clump of rocks on a remote beach on the west coast of Ireland, maybe county Mayo if I remember rightly which I possibly don’t.

Daughters are difficult.

My daughter went to her first night club last week: she’s fourteen, but before you castigate me as an unfit father just hear me out.

Death on the streets

The family stood sobbing and hugging each other, recalling the good times and cursing the British Army. They found it difficult to tear themselves away from the sad scene, but

Morning has broken

I've woken into a Sunday morning dripping with dew and quietness and all wrapped up in mist.
Gold cherry

Sleepless night under a searching sky.

I just switched the light off a few minutes ago to try to get some sleep but I've had to power up my iPhone to tell you all about the magnificent night that's pouring in through the window onto me.

Dropping in on life.

So being delivered into the cold drizzle of Africa was perhaps a bit like having to go through the process of childbirth all over again;

Jono 6 - Jono dans le metro.

I brought Maggi and Jono back from the hospital in a taxi and told the driver not to drive too fast and held my baby like he was eggs, but before we left the hospital Maggi got friendly with Magda in

Jono 7 - last bit I think.

I woke later that night in a sweat because in my dream I couldn’t remember what the French word for .....

Jono arrives - bit 4.

Maggi had things to do, questions to ask and answer, baby outfits to try on Jono, blood pressure to be taken. I didn't have a role,

Jono gets in the way - number 5.

By the end of Jono’s first week in this world I was convinced that Maggi had lost all interest in bottoms and willies but maybe I was being unreasonable

Jono part 3 - on his way.

Maggi came back to the bedroom and kneeled on the bottom of the mattress. She looked at us drinking cold beer as if to remind us that she couldn’t drink any such thing and

Kissing for a pair of shoes.

I used to work in a shoe shop: no I didn’t. Can you imagine me working in a shoe shop?

Leaving part 5: Night of Uncertainty

When the jeans were at my knees Mark said over to me in an apologetic voice, “Oh I should have warned you ...”

The dangers of sleeping in company.

... when I woke my eight year old head knew something was wrong. My brain was all fogged over, I had a strange taste in my mouth ...


A man discovers that nature is not just for observing but for participating in.

Leaving part 1: Goodbye to Belfast.

I was going to..... well I didn’t have an actual plan or any particular destination in mind, I was just going.

Leaving part 2: Sneaking into Scotland.

We all knew that frustration and humiliation were all part of the price of a ticket out of Ireland ...

Leaving part 3: Shovelling shit in Norwich.

Twelve straight hours of shovelling shit on my own left me aching with loneliness and smelling worse

Leaving part 4: Finally to France.

..... with no sign of malevolent, luggage-emptying, body-searching officialdom.

Leaving part 6: A Desolate Dawn in Paris

I didn’t want to get any wetter, but even more than that I didn’t want to draw the attention of any suspicion-ridden gendarmes .....

Leaving part 7: Paris, Oranges and Philomene

Could this be my first foray of any serious consequence into love?

Leaving part 8: Rainy Night in Paris

Philomène was recently arrived from Chad, I grew up far to the south in Malawi; we talked a lot about Africa and it seemed I missed it more than she did

Leaving part last: Philomene to Perpignan.

“Tell Philo I called,” I blurted as I made for the door.

Getting married in prison.

The guests at most weddings are usually anxious to get to see the bride as she makes her entrance, but at this wedding ...

Honestly, I'm not lonely.

...if I was a woman I would go into every clothes shop in town and try on lots of clothes then lots of shoes then lots more just to get out of the rain...
Gold cherry

Mozambique trip: ducking rebels, muggers and malaria.

We relaxed when the train jolted into life and headed back into the darkness, away from the noise and the fires of the rebel camp

Kicking some serious ass in the classroom.

I hauled the stunned, plaster-coated teenager off the floor as a flabbergasted Mademoiselle something or other watched on horrified

Greek Cafe

Igoumenitsa was a miserable affair. It was sheltered from the wind from lying at the head of a small inlet where boats from Italy called on their way down to Corinth

Jazz as Therapy

Jazz draws in through the open window from a bar across the narrow street as the day’s light begins to disappear: it slices cleanly through the dense, fume-filled, end-of-summer atmosphere

Delhi: my inevitable destination.

although the Americans still didn’t know where (or what) Afghanistan was, the Soviets did, and while I was waiting in Moscow for a connecting flight to Kabul their tanks rumbled ...

Trust The Wind

The mountains were the watershed between the stony Algerian desert and the coastal plain, the watershed between village life and the bright lights

Hangin about naked in the desert.

Exhausted and spent, Rask lay back on the earth and let his eyes fall shut, absorbing the last warm rays of the passing presence that had started to fade

The scent of evil

Uninvited, the man opened the case on the table and brought from it a selection of small, crudely-blown glass bottles with all the panache of a well-rehearsed conjurer pulling a rabbit from a hat.

Frozen moments of a sad and happy life.

The man in the apartment opposite comes home every night and irons shirts. Lots of shirts, and then he holds them up as if admiring them and then chooses one,

Stranded outside Sarajevo

The truck driver who gave me a ride had stopped for a while at the out-of-the-way bar in the middle of the afternoon, about an hour short of Sarajevo;

Delhi and Dostoyevsky (sequel to Birthday on a Train)

He wondered aloud about how much my underwear had cost but soon took the hint that it wasn’t for sale ...

Murder at the Quacking Duck.

Bit by bit reality sunk in, pieces of a jigsaw started coming together turning chaos very gradually into order, but many pieces were missing or in the wrong place

Sleeping rough, sleeping well.

... the night I spent shivering and hungry in a forest outside Sarajevo on a freezing January night, soaked through in the heavy, relentless snow, hiding from the Yugoslav police ...

Sharmet came from Algeria

By some strange quirk of geography snow never falls on the town, only on the village. That tiny little stream marks the snow line in winter ...


.. an intense, almost palpable sadness that flowed from him, making it seem unlikely that the sun would ever rise again over Genoa

Happy World Toilet Day!

Now I don’t know how far a buffalo’s tongue can reach, but I wasn’t risking lowering my butt onto that seat.


... the beauty of the sun that had started to shine in a clear, duck-egg blue sky recently washed with gentle, Irish rain.

New Year's Day, Belfast

... inside Michael’s the air was warm and coffee-laden and breathing it was like breathing espresso shots and I remembered I had company and turned back to Hemingway

Just another cafe in Paris?

Mathilde arrives and I rise from the comfort of my chair, thrilled at the sight of the beautiful woman who had left me after breakfast to spend my money,
Story of the week

That Naughty Portrait.

So off came the clothes and I strode manfully out from behind the screen dressed in nothing more than the scrutinising appraisal of the artist’s gaze.

Let the day begin.

There was only one person younger than myself in the pool, a fit, sleek young fish slicing his way through the water, notching up an incredible number of lengths ...
Gold cherry

Sleeping in doorways.

In the late 1970s I was quite the expert on shop doorways, doorways of all sorts in fact. I had a keen eye for cardboard boxes too,

The problem with holidays.

... for all my travelling in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America, I am one of the very few people in Belfast who has never been to Spain.

Gap Year - a timely rant.

You see government and civil society can’t cope with activity that they don’t have a category for, and when they come across such activities they act like European colonial explorers who .....


In my parents’ day handwriting was an essential art taught vigorously with a cane, leather strap and no mercy whatsoever.

Goa - not so picturesque at night.

I forced myself to lie down again, using reason but still checking that no mutilated serpent was lying on the sand beside me. Somehow I slept.
Gold cherry

The Reluctant Traveller.

Forty one years ago today (if you are reading this today) a British Airways VC10 shattered the clean night skies the length of Africa to drag me shouting and kicking to Belfast.

Interrupted Chocolate

The friend drains his coffee cup and puts it on the table with an air of finality, tidying up crumbs and putting them on his saucer as an indication that the session is now at an end.

My excellent new habit.

Peeing into a morning as beautiful as this straightens things out for me in my head.

Wearing sunshine, wearing snow.

I felt ridiculous standing naked on what had suddenly become a winter beach; it wasn’t the voluntary shedding of clothes that made me feel naked, it was ...

Out by Raghly.

It's still early, only 9.30, but I've already been in the sea out by Raghly this morning. I left the house quietly just when the dawn light was...

Promises, promises.

It’s wet today in Ireland, dank, cold and a bit misty as well, just as it usually is. Yesterday's Indian summer is no more than a pleasant memory...

The moon shines down.

In Paris the moon sends soft, cold rays of crystal light to shine through an open, uncurtained, attic window and fall silently on the heated, naked...


Picture him as you will, but when I first met him Paul was maybe twenty three years old, certainly no more. He was wearing a long, black, travel-...

Not quite Smyrna

I stood on the deck leaning against the rail and watched. The dock was heaving with life, people arriving or departing or just there to look for some...

Death's grandfather sat on the toilet.

Death's grandfather sat on the toilet, surrounded by midnight and frost, he spent the afternoon dreaming of battles Napoleon lost; the future, he...


There's a boat lying wrecked near Manila, there's some treasure hid under a stone; there's a bird calling out in the morning to the girl on a cruel...

Moon Bus.

I got on a bus in December 1979. Light was already draining from the late, wet afternoon sky. The seats were wooden with no padding and I just knew...

Death versus Alice.

Death sat gaunt and uninvited at the piano in Alice's drawing room. His coattails fell almost to the floor behind him. The light of candles threw...

A night like tonight

Can there be anything more decadent and innocent than the cruel grace of a night sky wiped clean of clouds and vanity and held tight in frost? Such a...

Old Vienna

It was an old café with polished tables and high-back, leather chairs. It was an old part of Vienna. The customers were old too, not necessarily in...

Living in a song perhaps.

I saw a man today who looked like a character torn from of a Leonard Cohen song. The way he smoked his cigarette made smoking look like hard work,...

Salvo had a pretty sister.

Naples, 1978 or thereabouts. On the pavement outside a café two men were drinking coffee at a rickety table; I was one of them. The train that...

Rome the first time.

It was through eyes heavy with fever that I first saw Rome. It was winter, a particularly hard winter, and the overnight train down from Geneva had...

Too much Proust

Under the influence of too much Proust I became sluggish of mind and bowel. I was just nineteen. I spent most mornings in bed, unable to bring myself...

Forgetful remembering.

Tonight, from a cluttered little graveyard of regret and remorse, I exhume a melancholy memory inlaid with semi-precious stones. When the dirt it has...

The Sifter of Dreams.

No-one that I know of has ever spent an afternoon in that mysterious region where the mountains meet the sky. Not if you leave aside the likes of...

Graveyard Flasher.

Billy dug graves and they were dug to perfection: smooth, straight sides that never collapsed, always just wide enough but never much more, and no...

Stranger at a funeral.

Okay, so I can’t help writing about funerals. I’ve already told you about my mad uncle who insisted on the full works for his amputated leg which he...

That's not where garlic goes.

Picture it. It’s 1937 and you’re sitting in a bar in the outskirts of Rome waiting for a war. The buses don’t run out that far after dark and it’s...

How long will it last?

“I’m sure we could make anywhere work for us, it wouldn’t really matter where. Anywhere. We can go anywhere”. Silence. “I’ll give English lessons you...

Why can’t she understand?

“You said this would be fine”. I got defensive. “You said nothing about living in a hovel”. I felt small. And a bit guilty because what she was...

Two Toms in one coffin.

Uncle Tommy died in Australia fifteen years or so ago. His ashes were posted (first class of course) here to Ireland to be buried in his parents’...

Melancholic pigeons from Berlin.

Chords are played on a piano in Berlin. They are played with a slow, melancholic touch, late on a cold night. The apartment is quiet and the sounds...


There's an old log on the shore at Lissadell, right where the shingle meets the fields. It's lain there for as long as I've been holidaying in County...

Sail away with me to Crete.

Come up on deck. Lie back on this roll of wet tarpaulin with me and watch the stars. Count them and name them. Feel the swell of the sea under your...


It was 588 or so years ago, 23rd October 1430, that Joan of Arc dumped me, and I’ve never quite recovered. There have been a few princesses and...

Wet, and with admirers.

She took my picture in the shower when I was twenty one. She showed it in a gallery. Her friends admired me on the wall till I was twenty five. Then...