This morning I got up late. The first thing I had to do was to wash my eyes out.
The second thing I did was to get into my morning routine. I did this while listening to the news, which mainly consisted of the growing injustice of trying to afford such simple things as baby formula, and the general increase in child poverty and poverty generally. The Tories have screeched to the left to try to maintain parliamentary seats, while Starmer will have to take Labour to the right in order to fish for seats in the obstinate ‘red wall’ areas. Followed by news of the game in Milano tonight, when the other home team who share the same stadium have their majority ‘home’ fans in there. Confusing if you’re not following it. Really confusing if you are. Enough!
The next thing I do is to make the bed. I always do this because I’m always up last. That’s because I always go to bed later than Tracy. I make the bed well. I’m a good bed maker… I care about it. Nothing like a made bed, although I’m never first into it, so I never experience it, except on rare state occasions, maybe.
The next thing on the list is combing hair and brushing teeth, which can take up to five minutes. I often dawdle with my thoughts, jotting some of them down so as not to miss the occasional gem. By now the cat has heard me and he’s at the bathroom door. He wants to see me, and he’s learning about patience. He knows that when I come out I’ll play with him for a good few minutes.
I gather up all my stuff into a small cotton ‘Paul Smith’ bag that I was given to me by Leslie, Colin’s partner, one Christmas. There was a new note book in it. It’s a handy little bag that pulls closed with a piece of tough ribbon at the top. At present it’s carrying a selection of eye drops to get me through the computer day. I’ve recently been to the eye specialist, and was informed that I have small telangiectasia lesions on the inside of my eyelids. These are hereditary, and part of the condition (HHT) that I’ve carried with me for 82 years now. They’ve only shown up inside the eyelids because I’ve lived so long. They bleed occasionally, and especially when I work too hard on the computer, which can look a bit like the dark side of Bohemia. They’ve partially covered my knuckles for 20 years now, so they’re nothing new. The ones on the knuckles don’t bleed.
I open the door and there he is. We named him Fiain, which is Irish for ‘wild’, when he first arrived, but I’ve relapsed into calling him Pusscat now. It was the name we had for his spiritual sister, who is buried in the garden. She was a stray who moved in with us. She lived with us for 16 years. I was very sad when she died. She’d been part of my nightly fire and tv routine for 15 years.
So I call him Pusscat. Our play gets frantic. His favourite toy is a bunch of feathers on the end of a rod and nylon line, so it’s a bit like fishing. I can make the feathers fly around the floor at rat speed, which he runs at and chases. I can get him to jump to about 5 feet into the air to try to catch it. This starts in Tracy’s office, which used to be my reading/computer room but has now been purloined as the Science Friction office by Tracy. I’ve been pushed out of my own spot, which is the best room in the house, by the need to service what has become her business. At the window, she has a panoramic 180º view looking south, from East to West, across the valley and the ridge beyond (which itself looks out onto the Atlantic). I was reluctant to relinquish it, but needs must.
So the play with Pusscat can take me downstairs and through a couple of rooms to the mat at the kitchen door, where he wants to vivisect his feather prey. Sometimes the feather prey escapes before he gets there, and flies up to the office again, where it continues to elude him. Often it moves out of the room again and onto the stairs. He charges down them while the feathers are flown half way down, and slowly pulled up to tempt him into an ambush.
Who exactly ambushes who is open to interpretation at this point, as all kinds of things are flying into the air… cat, feathers, papers from Tracy’s desk, and even an ancient male human who hasn’t had a flying lesson for over 60 years. On this particular day the cat rushes from under the desk and disconnects all of the computer plugging from the back of scanner, hard drive and printer, dragging them with him across the room, which causes an intermission during which he obviously becomes a little bored. At which point his half-brained would be master thinks that he can slink off into the undergrowth of the rest of the house.
No such luck! He beats me to the kitchen, jumps onto the table and watches me making my breakfast. I tell him that enough’s enough, but his English isn’t that good. I try to excuse myself by offering a stroke, but he slides underneath my good intention like a furry snake. I feel a tiny bit slighted, and within a second he’s at his scratching pole, scraping it to within an inch of its thread. He pauses. We look at each other. He looks right through me, his ears go back, and he gallops as fast as he can with his back feet on his pole.
I get some nuts out of the jars, a few almonds and five or six walnuts, and I put a piece of bread into the toaster. I get the spread out of the fridge along with a carton of tapenade that I got from the market. I graduated to Flora Proactiv about twenty years ago. Before that I was spreading various versions of sunflower spread on my toast. I come from a family who have consistently died with varieties of clogged arteries. I didn’t fancy that, so I’ve gone in a different direction. I love cheese, but I’ve evolved into an eater of small amounts of sheep cheese, which is just as good as any dairy, but is perhaps easier to digest. I haven’t had any cheese this week.
So today I have about twelve nuts, a piece of wholegrain toast with spread and tapenade, and about ten or twelve blueberries with C. 15 crisps on the top. I like crisps made with rapeseed oil because I think that it’s the healthiest option of all commonly bought crisps, and allows the potato through to the tastebuds.
Most often, I eat breakfast while watching news. This can be Sky, RTE, CNN or Sports. I sometimes find myself on Channel 4, but not at Breakfast time. Occasionally, I catch Neal Oliver on GB News, so there’s a full spectrum there. Once in a blue moon I catch the BBC, but I mainly go there for TMS.
The rest of my ‘morning’, which today drifts well into the afternoon, is occupied with being peed-off by Barclays Bank, who are suddenly on the verge of cutting me off.
“Has the account been closed”? .. is a forced dance between about 16 options, the first of which choice is always wrong because what I want to achieve isn’t among the choices. Usual nonsense.
This goes on for what seems like hours. I’ve already pre-empted their next move by taking all the cash out of the account the week before. I got wind of the fact that they were cutting us off via the media and their very brief note to Tracy, but NOT TO ME! Delivered almost in fine print, terms and conditions style. So after being loyal to the same bank for over forty years, they’re dumping me without warning. Brexit has been very badly managed, allowing the EU to regulate against its former partners’ citizens, turning them all into virtual lepers. This is apparently happening to all expats. Except for the rich, that is.
In my own opinion though, all banks may also have suddenly got a whiff of cold feet because of bank crashes in California (SVB the biggest bank run in history) and elsewhere. The truth is that money only exists on paper as an abstract entity. There is nowhere near enough money in the world for everyone to turn up at their local bank and demand the cash that they have on paper, in theory, that is.
A bank run can develop into something bigger, and may leave banks crippled and unable to operate without the credit they have, without all the people they’ve conned into making deposits. So, almost on the sly, and over a period of time, they’ve been closing accounts with cash in them, so as not to be liable for that cash until further notice. A lot of people, like myself, may be unaware that it’s about to happen. I had no warning. The banks may even be holding multi-millions of ex-pat cash as insurance against any kind of a ‘run’, some of it with years of a hold on it, some of it staying there forever, unclaimed. After 40 years of being with the same bank, following every move it makes, or is forced to make, isn’t something that a lot of long term ex-pats will be doing. For them, the bank represents a very safe harbour for their cash and pensions etc. No longer true.
This is obviously underhand, and in effect, sharp practice. A step away from being criminal. Banks are quasi-criminal enterprises in any case. Cash is promised to the bearer of the IOU, (the banknote), but only a fraction of it is available as cash at any given moment. The rest is ‘invested’ in even more ‘paper’. Banking, all banking, is a dodgy scheme. The banks all need their clientele under the regulatory cosh. No loose ends. No runs. ‘Civilisation’ depends on it. ‘Stood in queues of people smiling, sorely pressed.’
Meanwhile, a cheque has gone in for a payment to me AFTER I’ve withdrawn everything. It’s not worth that much, but it’s absolutely worth fighting for. It has to be fought for. Otherwise there’s a very good chance that it’ll become inaccessible, and then disappear completely.
So I spend the rest of the day
Tracking dumb officialdom
From savoury to knavery
And various other states of mind
From being really angry
To trying to be kind!
As roller coasters
Spin me round a sodden world
Of fine print and devotions
To the criminally undersigned
And critically absurd
To start with, getting through to being able to talk to another human at a bank is a feat in itself. It takes at least ten minutes to be able to talk with anyone. Long ago the banks had been depopulated by advancing technology. First by having call centres in India and other like places, and then by just plain ‘tech’, assisted by the pandemic, and “Oh!, well, things have changed now, you know.”
Setting up vocal menus
For new plebs to choose from
Where everyone spends time choosing
Which choice might be warm
Before being shunted off elsewhere
To discover that it isn’t
And having to start again
Without passing GO
Without receiving 200 quid pro quo
So, Quid Pro Quo
Is now an endangered species,
Don’t you know
This malarky will often lead to the exclusion of older people who have difficulties with following ’tech’. Again, sharp practice. After a couple of hours of hunting Bigfoot, Tracy has success in persuading the source of the cash to recall the amount deposited, and there’s some small relief. I realise that this may be going on all over Europe and Asia, with Australasia and the Americas thrown in, and China on the edge. Another about turn by all the banks, everywhere, to prevent what they view as existential threat. More exclusion. There’s less cash around, and it’s endemic, worldwide. Except for pop stars, politicians, bankers and footballers, we’re all poor again. Almost everything is now an inconvenience. Gone is the age of seemingly well-oiled liberty. The daft right wing on the planet is burgeoning, and showing its teeth to anyone who dares to push that lip up. Angela Rayner and Margery Taylor Greene are in the ring. Grimacing. The bell rings, then it tolls.
My day is now late. I get to the studio at 4:30pm and I’m trying to look at the computer to type and etc, but my eyes are shot. I can see through the right eye, just vaguely open, but the left eye is now closed and virtually refuses to re-open. My tear ducts no longer work unless I’m crying, but crying for sixteen hours a day isn’t an option. I went through that once and ended up hospitalised with a catastrophic nosebleed. I have classic dry eye syndrome. There are nine different types of eye medicines, mainly drops, here on the desk. They work for seconds, sometimes a minute or two. Sometimes, I even revert to what works the best, which is to put half a teaspoon full of salt into an empty Optrex bottle, fill it with boiled water, and then funnel it into a sterilised empty eye drop applicator. A bit of work, but definitely the best for constant eye dropping. Drops that are advertised for use as ‘dry eyes’ are mostly really gloopy, which ends up with even more tired eyes caked with sodium hyaluronate or some such other prescriptive goo.
I write a poem, briefly pick up the guitar. Think about the latest idea, but a sadness descends. I was almost able to record another album, but during the pandemic, I realised that some of the songs were being almost outdated by this new circumstance. The loneliness of it, and all the other changes that it was bringing. One or two of the songs were robust protest poems that were no longer fit for purpose. They were almost in some way happier and more upstanding than the new reality. They’d once stood like bold statues of liberty, but were now beginning to look like 200ft sore thumbs.
Then I began to forget them. It was a state of mind. Was I ever going to play in public again? I didn’t think so. So what was I doing? My modus operandi then came under scrutiny. I’d always had friends to help me to get ideas down onto tape, but where were they now? In fact, where was tape.. but in the very deepest past. How could I be in a room with anyone who was mixing freely in the outside world? I slumped into a world of bad news.
With a dodgy lung condition that I’d carried from birth, I was suddenly one of the really vulnerable. I wasn’t going to chance never seeing anyone ever again just by going out. I had to stay in, regardless. I had to accept that inoculation was my best hope, my best chance of coming through the other side. My recording life suffered because of my mental state. I would normally have something recorded, but I didn’t. I thought that I had some basic demos on the iPhone, but I can’t find any.
In truth, I wasn’t playing the guitar because of the pain in my right elbow. I went to the hospital and had the tennis elbow steroid injection treatment. I decided at that point that I’d leave it for a while to heal properly. Six months later it felt a little better, but there were two tendons that we’d obviously missed. They weren’t as painful. I knew that I had to go back to the hospital, but then the other elbow went. I was doing too much with it, namely carrying wood from the woodshed to the house, and other such dim tricks. The truth is that being older presents new dangers. You naturally assume that you’re as healthy and strong as you always were, and the inclination to do as much, to work as hard, physically, is destructive. And comes home to roost.
With further impairment comes depression, and now you’re in a circle, and yes, it is vicious. The only thing that’s going to raise me out of this is to go back to work. I’ve been writing all the time, but it’s all poems and things like this blog. I’m becoming the poet I used to be before my music life started, but it’s not going to put bread on the table.
I want to see all my old friends again, but I’m living an hermetic existence in the back of beyond. Exactly, just where I wanted to be when I was 49, but At 82 both my needs and my means have changed. And then the perennial, how long have I got? And how many of my friends are still alive, and how realistic is it to be gallivanting off to see them? Do they really want to see me? Who really wants to see anyone at this age?
The depression gets really profound until, ‘Damn it man, are you going to give it another go or what? Get back to the hospital and sort the other elbow. Get back to writing songs. Find someone else to record with, to run ideas past. Maybe relearn some old songs and do some gigs that are not too demanding. Play some of the shorter songs. Work! Just work! Age is just a number.. er.. right.’
I’m back in the house by 8pm. I’ve been to the woodshed to pick up a few small logs to start the fire with. The big logs are already in the basket by the fire. I got them in using the barrow yesterday. I get down on my knees and build a small pile of tinder, light it and feed it with sticks and bits of peat until it’s established, when bigger logs can go onto it. Once I’m satisfied that it’ll go, I heave myself up with the help of the mantle and disappear into the kitchen, where Tracy is getting something together. I often help her, but our meals are different. Tonight I have a sag aloo that I picked up at Marks in Cork city a week ago. Tracy steams some broccoli to go with it. It’s not much of a meal; a starter with some broccoli, but it’s really good. It’s a veggie meal. I’ve forgotten what Tracy had now. She often eats meat, and loves it. I eat oily fish every day, with an occasional chicken curry, or a very occasional mini pork pie that I eat on the way home from Cork.
Tonight it’s the first semi-final of the UCL with the aforementioned two Italian teams playing each other in their shared stadium. Tracy plays a computer game on her iPad on the sofa, but she soon gets bored and goes off to the bedroom to watch her favourite shows, which are nearly all about wilderness, Inuits, dogs and existing in the wild, with occasional prepping shows, auctions and Scandinavian Noire thrown in. Occasionally, we binge through a series together, with popcorn in imaginary intervals.
The Italian game is a bit boring for me. I’m only watching it because the winner will be playing the winner of the other semi-final, which is between my team, Manchester City, and Real Madrid, which kicks off tomorrow night. I fast forward with the intention of stopping at the first goal, and replaying the lead up to the goal. Having done that, and decided that Inter Milan are the better team, I fast forward to the last five minutes, just to feel the tension, get the result and hear the commentary at the end.
I’m satisfied that it’s going to be Inter, so I move on with my night. I watch a couple of documentaries; one about the Second World War, and the other about the horrific trek made by migrants from Columbia, Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, and even China and Afghanistan.. through the forested region just above Panama, and into Central America. Their goal is The US border at El Paso, where my friend Bill Robertson lives. There are stories of murder, robbery, rape, torture, lost children and real hardship. The real state of the real world laid bare. I drift off into the news again. Looks like Trump has had his chips, but he’s still eating them. I can see why his ‘base’ loves him. I can understand the ‘loudmouth rebel’ appeal, but what an inane spectacle! It’s so gruesome that it’s almost compelling to watch.
I realise that Zelensky’s visit to Germany, France and Britain and mention of 125 almost obsolete F-16’s in Holland, Belgium and Norway was perhaps part of a cover for the start of his Spring Offensive. Not much yet, but it’ll build from here. I think that it’ll be more subtle and careful than the present Russian effort. We won’t know much about what’s going on a lot of the time. The Russians have been so disorganised and are now out of their depth. Zelensky can’t afford to wait until Putin is on the verge of negotiation before he gets those new squadrons into the air.
War is stupid, and has to be stopped. This absolutely has to be the last war in Europe. It’s a disgrace. Europeans know better, but we can’t afford to allow Putin to bomb Estonia etc., at some later date, or keep any part of occupied Ukraine. What bleak choices we still have, after all this time. Humans cannot be trusted. What gave you your first clue roy? Make notes.
This is the same day that it is announced that there is a 66% chance that Earth temperature will exceed 1.5 degrees C by 2027! No one mentions anything about El Niño or any other climactic change data, so it might as well be Fake News. Better look into it.. er.. maybe later. My experience is enough to tell me about my own stuff. More cold winds in the east and north east. Less from the west. A seeming shift in the jet stream. More extreme weather. I could go on, but there’s no need.
Write a poem that comes to me about the advance of A.I., ChatboxGPT, and alienation; and the kindly cypher in the bank, who I held onto for as long as I could, because I knew that I’d not asked her everything that I wanted to because I hadn’t taken any notes while we were speaking. Nor did I write any before I began to speak with her. “Can I do anything else for you today”, is always a leading question. “Of course you can, but I’ll only know what that might be five minutes after I put the phone down.”
Now that everyone has died
And I am left here
In the middle of the ocean
With no clue to the direction
Of the rising
Of the tide
What shall I do but wander
Without a North Star or the wonder
That lately was the oyster
That I strode in every stride
What shall I do but hold it up for others
In the quest to bring a light to see
The roving robber brothers
Who would man machines with mothers
Who would take us into ruin
With displacement of the memory
Of all that truly went before
In all its glorious sanctuary
In all its furthermore
Hold it up for others who might recognise the beauty
Of the personal particular
In all the secret thoughts we had
That we would shed
Without the polestar of the mind
Without the life and death of kind old destiny
Who will be left behind
Irrelevant to all our futurekind
Rise up and speak,
or forever hold your peace
With being caged into your future
Rise up and wreak,
the havoc it deserves
For wresting you from nurture
Or lay forever on your back
and take what’s coming
Down the Artificial track
that strips intelligence
From natural and cunning
And gives it all to machinated nonsense
That looks and sounds
Like the totalitarian monster
It may likely bring upon us
(Stride by stride)
I crawl into bed at 3:30am, by dim torch light, taking as much care as I can not to wake Tracy, who has her fitness class at 9:30am.
PS. When this was first put up the poems did not properly format when copied over. They are now properly formatted.
The poems all have a rhythm. You may have to find that rhythm in order to follow the flow of the speech or of the thought.