“What’s meant for you won’t pass you by”

Last week, I talked about the reality of the first six months in the real world. That post was a humour piece, nothing more than a joke, a quick jab at the 9 to 5 lifestyle I’ve become used to. This is slightly more serious, a whole foot further down the rabbit hole. I can’t decide which of the two posts matters more. I know the first was easier. It was a much simpler story to tell. But it makes me wonder.

Which is the story worth listening to?

Anyway, if you read between the lines the last time, you’d have seen it wasn’t all smiles and sarcasm. There’s no doubt about it: life’s tough out here in the borderlands.

We all have our own ways of coping-tea, exercise, music, maybe even a drink or two. When flustered, a lot of people also turn to words, quick little one-liners (like philosophical Xanax) that ground them in something palpable again. Perhaps one of the most well-known (at least in Ireland) goes a little something like this:

What’s meant for you won’t pass you by

It mightn’t seem like much, a bare seven or eight words thrown together, but small sentiments like this have a way of resonating with people, of lasting. A phrase like that simply endures. And yet, of all the soft hopes held dear, this is the one belief I’ve yet to subscribe to.

A part of me thinks the reason reflects the bigger picture, the questions like “Why are we here?” or “What happens to us at the end?”. Spirituality, whether in the form of organised religion or not, requires a great deal of faith. Personally, it’s something I’ve always struggled with. The saddest change of heart I ever knew was realising that one day I didn’t truly believe anymore. I just wanted to. And in my eyes, the above phrase is filled with the same sort of uncertainty. I definitely want it to be real, but that’s an empty argument for someone who founds themselves on logic and gears. It’s as if the sentiment isn’t physical enough, like I’d agree in a heartbeat if I could just reach out and touch it.

Maybe the biggest issue I have with this phrase is that the evidence just isn’t there for it. From where I’ve been standing the last twenty-three years, it sure seems like a lot of things passed me by. Whether they were meant for me or not I don’t know, but I’d like to think that they weren’t. How do I know that? Like I said, I don’t, but I’ve lived by the attitude that if you want something bad enough, you’d better just go out and take it. Life isn’t equal, and it’s certainly not fair. Your aspirations aren’t just gonna pull over, roll down the window and tell you to hop in. Nope. If you’re going to be passive, holding your thumb out and expecting a ride, those dreams are gonna put the foot down and leave you behind, choking on a cloud of dust as they roar down the highway. Of course, if you take the active role in this situation, those dreams won’t get far. Yes, you’re going to have to chase them, running like your life depended on it. You’re probably going to trip a half dozen times and bloody something, maybe even consider giving up and laying down in the shade. But there’ll be a moment when you climb over the last hill, see lights in the city below. There’s every chance that moment will be worth it.

And of course, the above probably sounds awfully negative, but I’d wager the opposite is true. I can’t imagine anything worse than sitting in the back seat of the car, watching fields ghost by, waiting for the journey to be over so you can claim a prize already yours. That’s what happens when life is in charge, when things are meant for you, when years simply pass you by.

But perhaps you’re like me. You’d much rather take the hard road and risk never reaching the end of it. You’d suffer years of stumbling and falling, rising quickly to dust yourself off again, all in a world where we’ll only know a single breath, where we run the road of a mortal life. With time against us, it’s no wonder people want there to be some sort of guarantee. But destiny is a beautiful lie, a cushion for the wary and the unenthused. On the contrary, what was it Robin Williams said: “Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary.” Somehow having the responsibility in your hands feels a lot more reassuring.

And yet phrases like “What’s meant for you won’t pass you by” aren’t said as a statement of fact, more like a mantra or prayer. They’re spoken as if to quell the great unknown, put order to the chaos of life and reinforce the fact that in some ways it’s all been already decided. And I don’t blame them. It’s tough accepting the reality that every day you might pass your dream job on your way to work, maybe close the door of a coffee shop five seconds before your true love opens it. But all those maybe-moments are down to chance, and the mathematics are rarely if ever with you. There are just too many variables for you to ever ride off into the sunset with the wind in your hair. Odds-wise, it’s more likely you’ll just fall into a job you don’t hate, pay your bills and some taxes, find someone you love and work hard enough to make it stick. Every day won’t be perfect. In fact, more than most won’t be memorable at all. But somewhere years from now, you’ll realise you needed all that background noise-all that adversity and that grey. After all, the lights over the hill wouldn’t shine half so bright had you not hit a few bumps in the road.

So yes, what’s meant for you may pass you by; I’m almost sure that it will do.

But so what?

Look at all the things that weren’t meant for you, but that you learned from all the same. Things that were never wanted, just needed somewhere on the road. Things that made you curse, tear at your hair, cry in a dark room at 2 a.m. Things that made those few steps a journey. Things that made an imperfect life.

And when it’s all said and done, when you have nothing left but a small audience inside the warmth of a fire, isn’t that the story worth listening to?

Galway Girl: How Ed Sheeran Wrote the Most Laughable Irish Song Ever

Before I begin, I should inform you that I don’t actually mind Ed Sheeran’s music. And as far as I can see, he seems like a nice guy too. I mean, just look at this tweet. Try telling me this man doesn’t deserve a hair tussle and a goodie bag.

ed sheer

But I take issue with one of the songs on his new album. So much so that I’ve decided to write a whole blog about it.

Now *cracks knuckles*, let’s see how much I can Divide your opinion on “Galway Girl”.

[Verse 1]
I met her on Grafton street right outside of the bar
She shared a cigarette with me while her brother played the guitar

Five seconds in, Ed invents a brother and a guitar. Because rhyming. Then, perhaps knowing that literally nobody outside Ireland can name a single street in the country, he drops this imaginary bar onto Grafton Street, home to venues as wild as the Disney Store. To be fair, I could be wrong here. He might be using the 5 minutes or so Captain America’s spend cooking their food to share a cheeky cigarette on their doorstep. Better rush back upstairs you guys. Woo Woo’s on me.

capt

She asked me what does it mean, the Gaelic ink on your arm?
Said it was one of my friend’s songs, do you want to drink on?

Right, so one of two things occurs here. Either this woman is a fraud. Not from Ireland. Not Galway. Fake Cailín, okay.

Or, Ed wants the American audience to recognise the mythical language of the leprechauns. Either way, I hate it. Anyway, here’s Balla Iontach.

She took Jamie as a chaser, Jack for the fun
She got Arthur on the table with Johnny riding a shotgun
Chatted some more, one more drink at the bar
Then put Van on the jukebox, got up to dance

See these are all in fact drinks, not men, and nothing is as Irish as lashing back a pint of Guiness and washing it down with some hard whiskey (????). Especially after destroying a dirty Chicken Burger and a fudge sundae at Captain America’s.  Grrrr. Give me the bill and that fucking plate of Murray Mints, I demand Brown-Eyed Girl!!

You know she beat me at darts and then she beat me at pool
And then she kissed me like there was nobody else in the room

Irish women are raised in pubs. She beat him at rings too but he was too ashamed to admit it. Nobody else in the room? Well, they’ve obviously left Captain America’s, site of Ireland’s last workhouse and highest population density.

As last orders were called was when she stood on the stool
After dancing to céilidh singing to trad tunes

“Finish up there please” *lights flicking* “Time to go home there”

Ed, nobody in Ireland requests “The Siege of Ennis ” on a night out. You could have just been honest and told us she was fist-pumping to Maniac 2000 like a good Irish catholic.

And why are you trying to tick off so many Irishisms anyway? I’m half expecting the next verse to revolve around the two of you drinking tea in the Burren while an Irish Mammy complains about the immersion.

siege

I never heard Carrickfergus ever sung so sweet

Agreed. You’ve never heard it at all *pictures Ed frantically googling Irish music the night before his album is due*.

Acapella in the bar using her feet for a beat
Oh, I could have that voice playing on repeat for a week
And in this packed out room swear she was singing to me

Ed, if you want the words “Cause I’m drunk today and I’m seldom sober” sang to your for a week, we may have to steer this blog towards an intervention.

You know, she played the fiddle in an Irish band
But she fell in love with an English man
Kissed her on the neck and then I took her by the hand
Said, “Baby, I just want to dance”

Oh Sheery boy, you’re on thin ice here. You’re John Smith and she’s Pocahontus, is it? Also, we all know you settled for fiddle. You originally wrote harp, didn’t ya. Didn’t ya?

And c’mere, you can’t just kiss ’em on the neck. There’s an established protocol

  1. Stare at them for five minutes. Eventually make eye contact
  2. Freeze, get sweaty and go buy a jaegerbomb
  3. Stand and dance like near them, not with them. Just near.
  4. Give up, go home and slap yourself in front of the mirror.
  5. Rinse and repeat weekly

My pretty little Galway Girl

#RipOff #RiseUp #JusticeForSteveEarle #VivaSharonShannon

And now we’ve outstayed our welcome and it’s closing time

Preach.

I was holding her hand, her hand was holding mine

I predict a hand war.

Our coats both smell of smoke, whisky and wine
As we fill up our lungs with the cold air of the night

If this was a real Irish night out they wouldn’t be your coats, they’d be whatever you found stuffed down the back of the chairs people were shifting on.

I walked her home then she took me inside
To finish some Doritos and another bottle of wine

Hang on. You arrive home. You break out a bottle of wine (why are you so intent on making this woman vomit?) and then you go for the Doritos (?!?!?!) Short of busting out a bag of Mighty Munch or that weird paste glue you tried not to eat as a four-year-old, could you make your hands any messier right now? I’m curious, what flavour Doritos?

I swear I’m gonna put you in a song…..
….about…………………… a perfect night

Ah, okay. They were Chilli Heatwave.

Bonus “Castle on the Hill” round

Ehh, isn’t it really weird how Ed Sheeran basically insults all his friends in this song? Take a closer look.

One had two kids but lives alone
One’s already on his second wife
One’s just barely getting by

Hmm. Imagine what it will be like when he does arrive home.

“Oh look, all the old gang came out to see me. Made a little welcome party. Wonder why they’re all holding bats.”

mob

These Fields of France

May 15th, 1916

London, Phillips Dance Hall

“My father always said a man should never drink cider on a night this warm.”

Slumped into a chair, George heard the voice but didn’t acknowledge it, kept his eyes on the bottle in front of him. The label was already coming loose, peeling off the amber glass like it had somewhere better to be. Anywhere but where it was stuck. George grimaced and rolled it into his hand, took a swig and prayed the woman standing over him would take a hint. Instead, before he could stop her, she eased herself into the seat alongside him.

“Alice,” she sang, extending her hand out in front of her so fast that it almost sent his drink from the table. She rushed an apology, laughed at him as he felt a smile tug the corners of his mouth. Her hair, Irish-wild, framed pale skin, the curly locks pinned into place as was the fashion. At least the officers called it a fashion, though George wasn’t so sure the women had much of a say in the matter. Well. That was one thing they had in common.

He forced a smile, wiped his hand on his trousers, and taking hers, planted a kiss on it like he’d seen once in a play. Drunk on whatever they were dishing out to the girls at the bar, she giggled and he felt his cheeks flush red. Fool. Maybe they’d find the gesture less amusing when he got to France.

“George,” he added, realising he hadn’t even offered his name.

Alice’s green-glass eyes danced; a tendril of hair stole from behind her ear and leapt free. Casually, she reached out and slipped the bottle of cider into her grasp, pressed it to her lips and drank. George decided it was rude to watch.

“Well are we going to dance?” she breathed, setting the drink back on the table.

He swallowed. On the floor in front of them, a few dozen couples stepped to an old tune, looking as though they’d only learned to walk moments before. Most of the girls worked in the post-office, the army offices, the hotel next door. They’d been rounded up and herded in there after “the men had finished dinner”. Now they took the trembling hands of boys and guided them to the dancefloor, showed them a one-two step they’d be sober enough to remember. This was their send-off, after all, one last night before they shipped off to the front. As far as most of them were concerned, tomorrow they became men. George watched a few couples push closer, whisper in each other’s’ ears, realised not all of them were happy to wait that long.

“We can’t dance,” he said, lowering his gaze back to the table.

“I can show-”

“It’s not that I don’t know how to,” he interrupted, pressing his forehead to one hand and balancing on his elbow.

Nearby, he felt Alice soften. She moved in front of him as if to cut them off, leave them in a world with only two souls. And this time, when her hand wandered, it didn’t find the half-empty bottle, but his own which lay lifeless next to it.

“It’s not a last dance,” she said crouching, smoothing her blue dress with a sweep, squeezing his palm heartbeat-quick.

He sighed, wondered was the cider turning his stomach. “I’m one of the last to leave, you know. All of my friends signed up two years ago. They went willingly to France, to the Mediterranean; they made their parents proud. My father won’t be there to wave me off tomorrow. He said now that we’re being forced to go, there’s no sacrifice to it.” His chest heaved. “My own family won’t be there to say goodbye.” His face collapsed back into his hands.

A few seconds later, Alice tapped him on the head. Before he could protest, she dragged him to his feet, held a finger to his lips and then walked him out of the room, ignored the new tune playing behind them.

Outside London was heavy, or drunk, like somebody had pressed a warm blanket to it, perhaps left it too close to a fire. The sun had disappeared behind the buildings yawning up in front them and shadows streaked down the streets. But even with the last light of day lingering, the lamps were already lit, casting pale light, illuminating nothing. Under one of them, Alice embraced him.

“I’m going to be here when you come home,” she said, her voice muffled against his uniform. “And no matter where they send you, promise me that you’ll come back here. Promise me we’ll have that dance.”

There was a long pause, a few minutes that passed between them as though they were years.

“France,” he whispered. “I’ll be sent to France.”

George didn’t know how long they stood there, or when he felt the first of his tears, or when his feet dragged underneath him and holding Alice he started to dance.


Hundreds of brown uniforms crowded the platform, some of them hugging loved ones goodbye, almost all of them smiling. Many, like George, had scarcely twenty years to their name, hardly a shadow across their face where a beard would normally take hold. Behind him, he felt the train coming alive, making panes of glass in its windows shudder. Something burned deep down inside it, eager to drive it, to carry their faces away so fast they’d all blur together.

“Thank you for being here,” George said, hauling in a breath, drawing Alice closer to him. His chest felt a little lighter with her face pushed against it, like she was bleeding weight off it, turning the place where his heart was dizzy.

“Write to me,” she said, her lips almost at his neck, her hand sliding something crumpled into his pocket. Those around them were too caught up in their own affairs to notice, or to care. Quickly again she was off him.

“Will I send you poems?” he teased, shuffling the bag on his back, suddenly aware how heavy it had grown since he’d first began packing it.

Alice smiled, rolled those field-green eyes for him and stole him from the moment long-dreaded.

“Tell me exactly how you feel,” she said. “That’s all poetry really is anyway.”

George opened his mouth to speak. Behind, there was a sharp whistle, a blast that made the few men still left on the platform jump.

“You’d best be off. Wouldn’t want to be late on your first day,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. Her dress, mourning-black, swayed in the soft London breeze.

He shook his head and grinned. “I’m sure they’ll wait. They need every man they can get.”

But Alice was right. The train lurched on the track, made an awful noise as its wheels screamed against the rails underneath. A few puffs of steam drifted down the platform.

“George, the whistle!” Alice shouted. Seconds later, the conductor blew harder again and the train struggled forward, the hands of men flailing out the windows, the engine roaring as though it’d explode.

A couple of cars had passed George by the time he had gathered himself. Turning one last time to say farewell, he saw Alice afraid.

She thinks that I’ll miss the train.

And so he ran, charged blind into the white smoke towards the thunder sound and the train snaking away from him, steam hissing sharp in his ears.

And he disappeared.


Blue = letters from Alice, a seamstress living in London

Red = letters from George, a British soldier at the Somme

Purple = voice of General Chambers

Green = voice of Jack, an Irish messenger in the trenches

 

These fields of blood, these fields of France,

such hero’s words that feign romance.

But no knights here of spear or lance,

no nights at all ‘ere we advance.

 

All day long machine guns chatter,

lick up mud, make carrion crows scatter.

And shells that scream leave us their fire,

leave us their smoke to choke barbed wire. 

 

We’ve dug in now to hold our ground,

our target but a far-off mound,

where Kaiser’s men hear brave words call,

of English tides against their wall. 

 

The letters now find their way home,

many marked a place named Somme,

and tell of boys who too soon fell,

whose lay to rest will hear no bell.

 

I fear that I’ll  too read those words,

find morning comes where there’s no bird,

to fill empty air with song and pity, 

for lives left behind, the half-dead city. 

 

I see you still as you catch that train,

and wonder was it all in vain,

to pray you’d never truly leave

for war at dawn, no peace by eve. 

 

Rain and wind turned fire and ash,

guns thunder-roar, guns lightning-flash,

shaking boots wet where mud splash’d

as nails to skin fan flame-red rash.

 

A leg blown off or a foot turned rot,

a peach-bruised arm, a wound seared hot,

a trench sick-wet for what men we’ve got,

a hell last seen by the men we’ve not.

 

Is Verdun nice this time of year?

The world’s gone black; few men know cheer.

But I hold on for your heart held dear,

for your small hand, should dark skies clear.

 

Oh, George, you make these tired eyes glisten,

‘gave father your voice; my sweet, he listened. 

They say not long ’til boats roll waves,

bring brave men home for far-off graves. 

 

To stand beneath the English sun,

and feel your kiss as two ‘comes one.

To lie beneath the fields of stars,

trace fingers pale across your scars.

 

A quiet dance on London streets,

a drink where two strangers still meet,

and dream a world of ever-spring,

of family, church and home and King. 

 

November brings the winter chill,

the frost biting for blood not spill’d.

And now they talk of one last push,

a thousand winds for one great rush.

 

Who knows what strength the Germans gather,

against a storm, can guns still matter?

The land out there has long bled-dry, 

the breeze above whispers a sigh.

 

And now the words of wealthy men,

command me stall my aching pen,

and fix knives long as morning shadow.

Goodbye, my love, ’til I next-

 

These fields of France, so bald of thistle,

George, stand up lad, mark the whistle!

Rifle high summit that trench,

Leave little left to feed those French.

 

[Watching from the English position]

Their guns applaud across the line,

a music sweet as well-kept wine.

But that’s no hymn men, that’s a dirge,

a funeral sound against our courage.

 

Press on chaps, they will yet yield;

we’ll leave the French an empty field,

where ghosts still speak of English pride,

on memory stones to those who’ve died.

 

[Rain on the Somme]

At last our charge their bullets meet,

our trudge to doom hacked at its feet,

as mowing fast they cut men down,

a valour fit for King and Crown.

 

Call them back, we’ve lost the day;

they’ve bullets still they’ve not yet sprayed.

Find us when there’s far less sorrow,

I want what’s left for more tomorrow.

 

[Report arriving from the battle]

Four from five, Sir, lost or slain,

that small gray hill, Sir, yet to gain.

And weather norm the Irish bain,

now swiftly thorns as English pain. 

 

Bury the thousands dead in the inch we’ve crept, 

hold back your tears, enough clouds wept.

Bogged down our surge in heaving muck,

I’ll keep my job if I’ve still luck. 

 

Draw up the names of those you find,

the letters, boy, I’ll let you sign.

 

[A month later, at the close of the Somme]

A letter, Sir, for one who’s dead.

Well come now, boy, give what it said.

But, Sir, words tender, hearts at home.

A general, boy, I’ll have you know. 

 

“I dreamt last night of those fields in France,

of silent screams, of prayers unans’ed

But if these words reach you, by luck-by chance,

know I dreamt too of our last dance.”

Mist Rock-Chapter 1-At Summer’s End (Excerpt #2)

Marke shuffled through the dark streets of Mist Rock, ducking into alleys as city patrols wandered past. There weren’t many guards stationed on the path he’d decided to take to the gatehouse, but those who were would happily elect to stop him, try bleed a minute out of the long shift ahead of them. And if they saw who he was, they could open the whole night up at the neck.

In the lower quarters of the city, the rows of thatched houses bunched together, nestled one another as they slept. It wasn’t quite yet midnight, but almost all of their lights were extinguished, a single candle in a corner of Winden Street the only one left standing guard. In Marke’s own house, he knew his father would be doing the same, sitting on the third step of their stairs with his gaze fixed on the door. That was always how Marke found him. He’d been there when Uncle Derek died, when Nadia fell from Dawnbreaker and when his son came home late after kissing Lynia Duler at the summer festival. That last time, he’d winked, risen without a word and gone off to bed with a smile on his face. In some ways, Marke felt he’d always be on those stairs, watching, waiting for something that never seemed to come.

A couple of dimmed figures moved on the wall overhead, but they didn’t glance down at Marke as he passed beneath the shadow of the gatehouse. He pulled back his hood, wiped some of the trail dust from his clothes, and pushed hard on the oak door into Sir Ritchenn’s accommodations.

***

Inside the fire had sunk down to a few flames, waving lazy side to side, beckoning him into the small office. Marke saw immediately that he was alone, spied another closed door opposite him and wondered was Sir Ritchenn within. The air, heavy with the smell of smoke and charred meat, made his eyes water. He tried and failed not to cough. Listening for a reply, he heard nothing and decided to study the room.

A solitary shelf stretched across one wall, cramped with jars, scrolls and a bag of what once might have been food. A wooden chest sat underneath it, decorated with the marks of the Aelia, though much of the paint had been scratched off. On the wall opposite woven tapestries hung, their sewn images marginally more clear, one of them depicting the Great Northern Storm where the King had fought the rebellious Nareland lords. In the centre, a couple of worm-eaten chairs had been placed around a large table. Marke frowned down at the contents: a few plates of old meals and a cracked mug. Hardly fitting for the captain of the gatehouse, he thought.

Then, as he considered whether he should be there at all, he heard commotion in the room next door, noise like a barrel rolling from a ship. The door smacked open before Marke could escape, rattling its hinges and then the single largest man he’d ever seen stooped into the room.

“Luken, I believe?” he said cheerily.

Marke opened his mouth to answer, but came up with nothing, heard only the crackles in the fireplace. The knight took a step closer, looming up over him, his grin almost child-like.

“No, you can’t be Luken. He passed in yesterday. I presume you are here about the academy though?”

Marke nodded his head, watched the giant of a man turn and poke through his shelf.

“You know I have this list somewhere. I’m sure I can find some ink if you give me-“

“My name is Marke. I want to sign up. I want to be a guard of the realm and pledge my life to the sword.”

He winced. The words had spilled out before he could stop them.

The knight paused in his search, half-turning to look at him, “Yes. Marke. You’re the tailor’s boy. Yes, I do know your father.”

Marke’s heart quivered. Very few people knew his father, not in the friendly sense anyway. And Dad never mentioned Sir Ritchenn, he thought. Suddenly he felt naked, exposed against a man in full armour.

Sir Ritchenn sank into the battered chair, unrolled the long sheet on the table. He looked to weigh it down with a mug, saw it was wet and reconsidered. Casually, he passed Marke the ink and quill.

“Just sign your name and we’re out of here. Well, you are at least,” the knight said, looking around his office with obvious disappointment.

Marke cleared his throat. “On this day-“

“Give the formalities a rest, boy. Especially if you don’t mean them,” he added interrupting.

Marke gave a weak smile and nodded, unsure whether Sir Ritchenn was teasing him. His hands were covered in sweat. Wiping them on his cloak, he uncorked the ink, dipped the quill fast into the black pool and drew it out again before he changed his mind. Only then did he look at the list.

As expected, it was packed with names, none of which Marke could put a face to. He saw second names that were memorable enough: Helm, Dracus, Fletchen, Erden. He knew that a Drimmer served on the council, so it was interesting to see that signature scrawled down there too. He found space at the bottom and added his own, then raised his head to Sir Ritchenn. The knight was busy lighting a candle and kept his eyes on the task. But when he spoke, his voice was soft, almost honey-warm, taking Marke by surprise. “Well, go on. boy. Give your mist to it.”

Marke dropped the quill and knelt at the table. He pulled the list down in front of him and sighed, wondering had his dad been as nervous when he’d signed up. If there was a time to go running to the tailor life-to any other life-this was his final chance.

And then, quick and quiet, the single breath came, a small puff over his signature. It was done.

His hands trembled as he passed the page back to Sir Ritchenn. The knight ran his eyes down the scroll, grinned and gave him a thumb of approval. Marke bowed his head and turned, felt the knight slouch heavy into his seat behind.

“Boy,” he called out before Marke reached the door. “Hold your head up. If you let them think you’re ashamed, you should be”.

Marke paused, considering the advice as behind, Sir Ritchenn fiddled with his pages. Hastily, he made a gesture for him to wait.

“Your family name, does your old man really spell it like that? Always thought he wrote that with a K,” he said.

Marke smiled. In that moment, for whatever reason, he knew he had made the right choice. “As it is written, Sir,” he said, turning so the knight could see the light cross his face. “I am Marke Calin, son of Thyron Calin. It would be an honour to serve here when I finish”.

Sir Ritchenn stacked the pages neatly, measured Marke with his eyes and laughed. “The honour would be mine. Mr. Calin. Now, enough of the formalities. Go! Tell your father!”

***

Marke shivered as he met the night air, but decided not to pull his cloak any closer. Tonight, there would be no hooded disguise.

High above the city, the stars were stirring.

Clicks (or how flowers fought for life in the graveyard)

I’ve decided to write a follow-up piece to How journalism lost the battle, how journalism lost the war, a blog post I made recently about the current state of journalism in this alternative-fact, clickbait era. In the post, I argued the evolution of journalism can be compared to the landmarks moments of 20th-century military history. Today, inspired by a number of polls I ran on twitter about my own writing, I want to show you the graveyard those wars have left us.

flowers4

Perhaps the most liberating thing about writing in the 21st-century is that we have a platform to do it from. The most restrictive thing, on the other hand, is that we’re all struggling to share it. The metrics of running a blog are views, visitors, followers, numbers reached across social media platforms etc. The eyes of the reader become a sort of currency, a few gold coins that we’ll draw swords and pour blood over if needs be. I wouldn’t go so far as to say blogging is cut-throat, but there’s no room in the graveyard for names easily forgotten, no space in its garden for flowers afraid to bloom. It’s a bit Shawshank in that respect.

Get busy living or get busy dying

You might consider that quote a bit of a paradox. After all, a cemetery is home to a great many dead things. Even so, there’s life in these worn headstones, breath in these knotted grasses. A graveyard is a place where people are remembered, not forgotten, and nothing remembered can ever truly die. Writing, as a craft, is broadly similar.

Much of the day in, day out blogging you see from your smartphones is an homage to the words of those gone before us, a silent prayer to the greats buried deep. Their work has fed ours, as sure as soil feeds a garden, and we slender flowers rise to guard their final resting place. If that joyous sentiment was all there was to it, then blogging would be ever-spring. The problem, however, is that we’re not the only ones here in the grasses.

flowers3

Part of running a blog is acknowledging its limitations, the cap the world places on its growth. The first flower rising is often cut by the wind. Many blogs bring a new concept to the world only to see those behind, watching and learning from their mistakes, shoot past them and reap summer glory. It’s the risk that comes with innovation, with trying to punch through the frost.

Many more blogs, latching onto the light, fall into the trap of the seasons, the belief in the eternity of the high-shining sun. But reader taste is as fickle as the hand that flicks the pages of summer, and if ill-equipped come the whisper of autumn, even the most beautiful blogs are laid to rest with a shrug of the shoulders. Often, a few words are read at their graveside about the nature of fads.

Life in the garden also means growing under the shadow of trees, those blogs so dizzyingly tall that they must dare to scrape at the sky. In Ireland, these branched giants ply their trade in areas such as fashion, makeup artistry, activism, and tech. They are the “influencers”, the writers whose words seemingly matter so much that those visiting the graveyard will stake claims on their survival. And whether or not us flowers beneath them think their evergreen coats impressive, these aged trees are affecting us, tunneling their roots deep into the earth of society, determining the extent of our growth.

The battleground at the surface is so pock-marked and close-quarter that at first, we do not notice the weeds.

flowers-5

The greatest threat life faces in the graveyard is the economics of life itself. Food, water, sunlight. Perhaps a scrap of land to call home. That’s all anything really needs here to take root among the crumbling stones. But while flowers juggle these requirements with great difficulty, weeds have mastered the art of it. Their aim is not to flourish, of course, just to grow. But in life, growth is enough. These are the blogs, facebook pages etc that know traffic is what counts (if your entire revenue is ads especially), and are only too happy to sacrifice quality on the altar they’ve fashioned from a headstone. These blogs add nothing to the conversation, to the diversity of life in the garden. They simply want a click, to draw you to their page as a spider does a fly to its web. People rarely leave these sites satisfied with what they’ve read, but unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to pull the weeds up once they’ve gripped firm. LadBible, Benchwarmers, TheLiberal.ie. There are many species of weeds, their tactics all roughly the same.

I, like many other bloggers, hope they’re a flower in the garden, though that is no easy task. It means the hard road to summer, and oftentimes the sure hand of death in the winter. It means contending with the swift-choking weeds and the long-reaching trees, even if only to one day feel the light slip through the branches, warm our face for only a moment.

But it’s honest. It’s head-down, hone-your-craft honest. It’s giving readers what they deserve, not what a clickbait headline sells them.

flowers2

Above all, it’s honouring those in the garden. We flowers are the watchfires, the timid little things that shiver against the onrushing night. But instead of dying, we continue to burn, to stand guard, to remember. We continue to live among the fallen.

And if the names faded from these gravestones could whisper, perhaps that’s what they’d ask for.

flowers

Candles

candles

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. To put it into perspective, my last post was titled “The words I spoke to Autumn”, and today marked the first day of Spring. That’s not to say I haven’t kept busy on the writing front, but so much of what I’ve been working on is in private, under wraps, sheltered away while I stubbornly polish it. Safe to say it’s a story for another day.

I decided to write this post, “Candles”, in response to all the noise out there in the world at the moment. There’s been a lot of news coverage around the fallout of the U.S. presidential election, the Brexit vote, the conflicts in the Middle East and our own troubles closer to home. Regardless of your interest in politics, it’s becoming quickly impossible to ignore. Drowning airwaves, plastering TVs and seeping into social media newsfeeds-these events are perhaps the great hysteria of our decade, maybe even the landmark moment of our generation if certain commentators are to be believed. And yet, by and large, that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

It’s hard to keep a finger on the pulse in this rapidly changing world, that same little flutter at the neck now starting to move and crop up elsewhere. Even so, I’ve managed to pin down one thing. One sober, irrevocable truth.

Confidence is almost extinct.

Acquaintance

A few months ago, I was chatting over coffee with someone I knew reasonably well. To this day, I can’t remember who it was, though for the sake of the argument it doesn’t really matter. At some point during our exchanges, the blurred face turned to me.

I didn’t know your parents had such normal jobs. It’s nice.

I can recall being taken aback at the time, sort of vaguely uncomfortable, like I’d just caught my name in conversation or blinked to find a light on my face. For a few months, I didn’t know whether to read the remark as a compliment or an insult, though I’ve now settled on the fact it was unintentionally the latter. And recently, it gave me pause, made me think about why they said it in the first place. My only conclusion is that the person assumed my parents were extremely well-off, and as a result, I must come across as the son of that, which in layman’s terms can equate to pretentious.

I think part of growing involves trying to see yourself in the eyes of others, attempting to become “self-aware”. It’s by no means an easy task, opening yourself up to the one person who knows you best. All the same, the above story is an example of what I call a minute-mirror, a quick snapshot of who you might be. And as with most photos, very few of us ever like how they turn out. Perhaps the silver lining here is that we can learn a lot from these polaroids, shaping ourselves in time for the next flash. What we can’t do, however, is change how the camera sees us.

The generation I was born into is the most over-labelled and over-scrutinized of all time. Scarce thirty years to our name, we’re already to blame for the deterioration of human nature, the collapse of what people considered good values. All the same, one of the only constants between us, Generation X et al is what I’d actually consider one of the more damning aspects of society we’ve allowed to continue.

Modesty.

Ronaldo

Saturday, 18th of June. A summer evening in the depths of Cork City, where alone I watch Portugal fight it out in a group game with Austria at the European Championships. The match is tied but the Iberian side have just earned a penalty. To nobody’s surprise, captain Ronaldo steps up to take it. Approaching slowly, perhaps waiting for the Austrian keeper to move first, he drives the ball into the post, watches it bounce helplessly away to safety. I’m on the edge of my seat and I sigh in disbelief. On the screen, the Real Madrid forward does roughly the same. And then, as if to rock my house to rubble, the RTE commentator explodes through the speakers.

“THE SHEER ARROGANCE OF THE MAN”, the man-child shouts, lambasting the Portuguese forward for literally kicking a ball wrong. He fails to mention the same player has been on fire all game, dancing in and out of the Austrian defence to shoot close on a number of occasions. And as Ronaldo’s side stutter even more, the man behind the mic pours on the grief.

I’ve often found the case of Cristiano Ronaldo rather unsettling. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most witch-hunted men in sport. Engaged in a never-ending battle with Barcelona maestro Lionel Messi, Ronaldo has become a pantomime villain of football, an easy target for budding sports journalists and that lad in the pub. All because he is confident.

I don’t believe Ronaldo is arrogant. I truly don’t. We see on a number of occasions in plain sight his genuine interaction with fans, his play-acting with team mates and his willingness to engage with the wider community. Yet all that is nullified in the eyes of the press when he complains on the pitch, takes off his top or celebrates because he’s on the scoresheet again.

Just so we’re all clear, we’re talking about a man who unknown to the world only a decade ago, has gone on to win three premier league titles, an FA Cup, three Champions League medals, a European Championship, four Ballon d’Ors, a rake of other individual awards, has more goals in the Champions League than anybody else, has more hattricks in La Liga than anybody else and has scored more goals for Real Madrid (arguably the greatest club in the world) than any other player. I’m sorry, but if a man who accomplishes that much in ten years wants to take off his top and be happy about a goal, fucking leave him off.

On the other hand, we have Lionel Messi. The Argentinian, likely to go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time (and rightly so), has become the people’s champion of football. The tricky forward, known for his solo runs, turn of pace and amazing vision, does not celebrate with as much vigour as Ronaldo, nor engage in as much sponsorship or modeling. As a result, people have elected him a sort of demi-god, a humble master of football who couldn’t harm a fly if it accused him of tax fraud. Though to be clear, Messi was not born yesterday. The Barcelona legend is not under some impression that he’s only “kinda okay” at football. Every time he’s interviewed he’s pointing at his team mates as though that goal where he slithered through six defenders on his own was “all down to the team”. It’s an attitude that endears him to thousands, makes it seem as though the poor crator hasn’t even come to grips with the fact that his legacy will endure forever.

The dichotomy of Ronaldo and Messi typifies the great issue we have with confidence. Messi is “one of us”, a shake-your-hand, smile-for-the-camera, aren’t-we-all-friends-kinda guy. It’s the same tactic politicians use to garner your vote. First, they are among you, then they are you, and suddenly you’re ticking a box with their name next to it. While being humble is applauded, confidence is viewed as some sort of disease, a blight likely to leave us starving if we tolerate too much of it. And yet confidence, so easily skewed into arrogance if your job is to make headlines, is undoubtedly the default position of human nature. The modesty we see in the world today is for the most part false, a cloak-and-dagger show put on by people who’ve learned a thing or two about Narcissistic Supply. Open up even one of your social media newsfeeds and tell me it doesn’t read so. Generally, the not-so-humble entries range from “I’m terrible at life”-25 year old with a car, a steady job, a long term relationship and solid family support to the more obvious “I can’t believe I went to the gym and forgot it was closed.” And of course, the point that I’m making is that those engaging in this behaviour are actually the victims. They are in all respects blameless, forced to reduce their self-worth to zero by a society that values meekness and obedience. A society that values shadows.

Stars

The interesting thing about human nature is that it differs from the individual to the collective. Alone, we’re somehow starting to have far greater company than with others.

Modesty is a social construct, akin to eating with cutlery or using politically correct terms. But while the latter two are virtually harmless, modesty can become so deeply rooted in the collective expectations of a people that to not conform makes you a pariah. We start to dwindle, quash our passions and accept that perhaps we’re not destined for anything at all. The only successes we share are those deemed suitable by whatever background generation we’re part of. Ten years ago the concept of posting “food plans” or “gym pics” to social media would have had you laughed out of any room in the country. Now, those are accepted in culture, woven into the fabric of the very small tapestry we allow the world see. Gym goals, car purchases, engagements. Throw in the common house cat and that’s about all you can share with the world without being labelled an egomaniac. And so we plod along, internalising all the pride we want to show others, belittling ourselves so that we can click “add to cart” on popularity.

Perhaps the only well-defined group of people who don’t engage in any of this finger-to-lips behaviour is celebrities. The culture we’ve built around them, as a result, is essentially escapism, a brief look at the sort of lives we’ve been denied. People wonder how hours are spent in front of reality TV shows, failing to understand we ogle these stars because they’re the uncaged birds, the liberated few, the candles brave enough to keep burning.

But even in the celebrity world, the weeds of a forced modesty are taking hold. Now even those privileged few who’ve come unshackled have to watch for the signs, knowing even the slightest slip would have the daggers of collective humbleness down on them. It’s not uncommon for an idle tweet to turn into character assassination.

“Et tu, Buzzfeed?” they cry, as the knives of social media plunge into them.

Storm

And of course, while reading this you may be rolling your eyes, thinking to yourself “Well yes, but I am truly modest, not modest because I am made so.” If so, I hope you know you are the humble-esque equivalent of those who say “Well I just don’t see colour” when confronted with the idea of racial prejudice.

And what harm, you say, if the world insists on a quiet voice here or stifled celebration there? Isn’t it nice just to keep hush, to play a ghost, to pretend we’re smaller than we truly are. Well, if Ronaldo didn’t take his top off tomorrow, the world wouldn’t fall down around us (probably). That being said, the pursuit of a pseudo-modest society has far-reaching consequences. Firstly, it impacts on us, the small wavy flames, the ever-candles who light the darkness. While it’s perfectly natural to have a lack of confidence, to tremble on a wick as you sit there, it’s artificial to make a wax out of modesty. If we you were to wake up to an empty world tomorrow, your default setting would not be modest. You would grow certain, sure of yourself against the things that life threw at you. As a candle, it might make sense to burn slowly, not waste oxygen or risk snuffing out. And yet, that attitude begs the shadows to come closer, draws the night on you before its due. Something similar was once said in Coach Carter

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us

And while modesty as a social construct lives at large in the world, it makes its home here in Ireland. This is the land where to be “a slob” or “a dote” is desired while “to have notions”, “to be brazen” and “to fuss” is almost a flogging. We’re a head-down, one-fist-pump-then-back-to-the-half-back-line society that values meekness over metal, silence over fury and death stares over well, anything resembling a solution. It’s a small wonder our elected Taoiseach will crawl over to Trump in March, holding shamrock as though it were a sacrifice. What was it Edward Burke said about the Irish-“All it takes for evil to flourish is for your man to say era be grand.”

And of course, those polarized across the political spectrum are relying on this modesty. It’s how religions rose, kings ruled and governments held us to ransom. They are trusting that we won’t come close to the fire, afraid we’ll only get burned, forgetting it’s cold out here in the wilderness.

And so here at last, I am asking you to turn your back on modesty, abandon a system as dangerous to mental health as it is human progress. Understand, this is not a world where to be not-humble makes you arrogant. You forget, Goldilocks found three bowls at the table, one of which, warm with confidence, was just right.

Vigil

The world does not benefit from you burning low, little ever-candle. Remember, there are forces out there in the darkness at work, people who would have you waver, flicker, go out without as much as a hiss. They’re counting on you being a meagre light, a pale flame, only a whisper of fire. But in times such as this, you can’t afford to play small. Because soon the wind will whip hard, and the stars will drop out of the sky and the moon will go black and all that’ll be left will be you: the soft, modest candle.

And seeing the gloom yawn up over you, watching it swallow all the other teardrop lights, you may realise something.

Perhaps it is time you burned brighter.

Springsteen and Us

I’m gonna take a different approach today with my blog. I say different, because in truth, it’s more than just me getting the words out. For the first time ever, I’m having a guest blogger (yes, I feel obliged to say Ladies and Gentleman can you welcome to the show..). I decided to let someone else get involved on this one as a) never done that before ,b) I wanted to, c) they wanted to and most importantly d) I needed their help. So, my first guest blogger is none other than esteemed pharmacy student Eimear Murphy. Yes, she is my girlfriend, before anybody decides it is worth pointing out. Subject matter really is her expertise here. We have decided to create a short question and answer (oh did I say short, HA) on our mid-summer trips to see two Springsteen shows. Yes, she is the major fan; I am the learner. Both takes are worth looking at. First, a little look at what our views in general were towards our act in waiting.

Kyle

I can’t say I’ve always been a Springsteen fan. Well, that needs qualification. I’ve known a lot of his main songs for years. Even a soppy one direction fan licking the posters on their wall could make some vague facial expression when names like “born to run” or “born in the USA” are mentioned, or prick up their ears when the soul moving harmonica intro to The River sweeps out of an old cassette their dad is playing with. Yes, their dad. Most Bruce fans are probably all grown up now. That being said, when I got to know his music, I realised how timeless it all really was. But despite my base level knowledge, I really was in strange territory when my short statured girlfriend announced to me that the musician was, in fact, her favourite. Suddenly, I was hearing about E street bands and Wrecking Balls. Come Christmas time, I had the chance to buy her tickets for one of the dates the band had booked in Ireland. A Thursday morning on my laptop, a Thursday afternoon in the Boole, and a Thursday evening trying to get my girlfriend to notice the awkwardly placed receipt was all it took to get the ball rolling. Not the wrecking ball, not yet anyway. Two concerts later and I’m well and truly converted

Eimear

Think back to the summer of your Leaving Cert. I can guarantee you that you remember the song that played on the radio every day more vividly than which experiment appeared on the Chemistry paper. Music is the soundtrack not just to movies, but our lives – no wonder it is played at all major events. For me, my musical landscape would be desolate without the blue-jeaned troubadour from New Jersey, and his heart-stopping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking E Street Band. I’ll try to avoid voicing my sentiments that Bruce Springsteen should be a poet on the Leaving Cert course (oops, just did) but it’s hard to deny his mastery of both songwriting and storytelling. It’s hilarious how many people will look at the title of this blog, then look at the name of the guest contributor, and then run away. Quite literally, run out of their houses. If Kyle was writing this alone, people might be interested, and think “ok, a fresh take on some old guy I barely have heard of” but well… I think anyone who knows me, knows how obsessed I am with a certain Irish-Italian-American 63-year-old with a Dutch name. To anyone who follows me on Twitter, I am sorry for the endless retweets of people and lyrics and sentiments that you care nothing for. But this is who I am. A Springsteen-obsessed pharmacy student, reads my Twitter bio. And Twitter bios don’t lie.

This is the man I looked forward to seeing after every major exam year in my life. (2009 after the Junior Cert, and ’12 after the Leaving). This is a man I wrote about in 3/7 of my actual Leaving Cert subjects (Both of my oral examiners told me, in different languages… “you’re a bit… odd aren’t you?”) The only reason I didn’t write about him in the other 4 subjects is cos it’s hard to bring him into something like Maths – although with the shambles that is Project Maths, I would probably get extra marks just for writing down something/anything on the page. I don’t think I could have successfully referenced him in any of my three sciences anyway. Sample Biology Question: Explain the benefits of a double circulatory system. Eimear’s Answer: “Two hearts are better than one! Two hearts can get the job done!”

Sample Chemistry Question: Explain what combustion is, with the use of a balanced equation. Eimear’s Answer: “Cos when we kisssss, giiiiirl…. FIRE!”

I’m not even gonna attempt making a Physics one cos this is a man who defies gravity daily by jumping off pianos, crowd-surfing, and sliding across the stage on his knees. So I’m obsessed. What of it. While fellow teenagers of my generation fawn over Twilight and drool over One Direction, I think that being a part of the E Street Nation is something a little bit more. Something I won’t cringe at in ten years. It’s not something you’re a FAN of, it’s something you’re a PART of. As Bruce says, of bandmembers sadly gone to the “Land of Hope & Dreams” – as long as you’re here, and we’re here… They’re here. So, without further adieu (one, two, three, FAW!)

1.Which concert was your favourite; Cork or Limerick?

Kyle

It’s not easy answering which concert was better. For those in the dark, the concerts were in Thomond Park on July 16th and pairc Ui Caoimh on the 18th. Realistically it would like be like asking me: “which do I like better; cake or ice-cream?” Of course, I like them both….together…..in Coke. That’s not to say I’m planting my Bruce concerts in a fizzy drink anytime soon, but you get the point. I would say they were different. Limerick was my first ever concert. Limerick was the first leg of Bruce’s 2013 Irish tour. The whole package showed up, the whole package delivered. From the first minute when Bruce kicked off with “This little light of mine” to the last of the encore when the band performed a pumped up version of “Shout”, it was brilliant. It had the entire Born to run album; each song back to back. But Cork was when the tour was underway, and as a result it felt less like the band were aiming to impress, and more like it was about entertainment. The whole show was crowd orientated and full of party numbers that carried on for minutes on end. Both had extensive coverage of Bruce’s back catalogue including an obvious and great selection from his most recent album; the eponymous wrecking ball, from which the tour takes its name.  Overall both shows deserve full merit. Perhaps in time I will remember Limerick as the real eye opener, and look back on Cork as more of a verification of the fact that the quality was in the music.

Eimear

Best Overall Concert. Feels like I’m presenting awards at the VMAs or some such rubbish. People keep asking me, and after an initial reaction of “GUYYYSS!” this is my usual answer: Limerick was full of emotional, stunning, and powerful performances. As the sun was setting, Bruce began to narrate a story of his youth in New Jersey. Of those endless summers, the ones full of possibilities. A guy near me turned to his friend and says simply: “He’s gonna do Born To Run”. And I knew that by this, he did not mean, play that one anthem that’s probably the only rock song in history to feature a glockenspiel. No. He meant THE ALBUM. THE FULL ALBUM. AS IN MY FAVOURITE ALBUM OF ALL TIME – the best album ever written – IN ITS ENTIRETY. I was scared to believe it. I was actually shaking and on the verge of tears. I’m even getting chills writing this, because unless you truly, truly love a band and their music the way I do, you simply won’t get it. And then Bruce finished his spiel with “And I’m gonna play you the album that I wrote” I nearly lost it. I couldn’t believe that one of my dreams was coming true. I knew what was to come. I knew Backstreets was coming, I knew Jungleland was coming, but most of all, I knew the opening number was coming, and as I heard those first notes to Thunder Road on the harmonica I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. Bearing in mind we were dead centre, and four rows from the very front, I reckon Limerick was a highlight of my life, not just of my concert experiences.

But to say Cork paled in comparison would be laughable. Cork was a PARTY. We ended up standing with ONE PERSON between me and my hero. OH YEAH DID I MENTION THAT I TOUCHED HIM? Twice.

2. Which five songs did you like most overall as performances?

Kyle

Asking for a top five is tougher than it seems. Although I still have some room to manoeuvre, the honest answer is I’m cringing as I have to cut out a large section of good performances. However, being stuck for five would be a far worse sign, and so I happily continue. My fifth favourite song of the tour was the very Celtic sounding “Death to my hometown”. It might just be because I’m Irish, and the concert was just revving into gear, but the band’s rendition of the song in Limerick was memorable to say the least. The number is always a crowd pleaser, coming from the latest album and demanding the crowd to get involved. This was a new Springsteen in full swing; a harsh taunt to the modern state of affairs with a gritty, drumming soundtrack to accompany the impressive streak of images The Boss opens with. By the end, everyone had got their singing voice out and the stage was set for an enjoyable night.

At four, I’d have to go back to Limerick and applaud the Born to run album in full. The whole thing was immense, but nestled in with the chart hits was Backstreets; a well written song that appeals to a nostalgic mind set. I seemed to be in just that place when the chorus rippled into the ranks of the Bruce faithful, because the message hit home that it was one to idolize from the show. The sun was just beginning its drift back behind the horizon, and the lights of Thomond were washing over us, and the whole scene really captured everyone. Bruce may not testify to such a good performance of it himself, but from where I was standing (or jumping); it sounded pretty good.

My third favourite of the tour brings me back to my hometown (to the Bruce enthusiasts, excuse the pun). In Limerick my girlfriend Eimear had brought a sign, black and red, which simply stated “Prove it ’78”. In cork, she got her wish. Pairc Ui Caoimh was under the band’s spell at this stage, each song getting greater applause and bringing more of the semi-interested into the fray. How could they continue it? Half way through, Bruce must have sensed that sentiment, and decided to bring the house down. Taking up a trusty electric guitar, he casually waited for the Prove it all night intro to fade in, before launching into a five minute guitar solo. The whole stage was drowning in coloured neon and shaking from the reverberating notes. The message reverberated better; “I raised the game.” By the time the real song started, most people were too excited to even sing along, all just frozen in a state of utter admiration for the 60 odd year olds visible will to push the limits of human appreciation.

Number two was a personal favourite. Back in April, The Rising was played to me as a sample of the various sounds the band could offer. I quickly got sucked in by how easy the band slid the lasting message under the backdrop of a world class anthem. In July, the boss gave me a nice birthday present in Limerick when he slowly approached the microphone and softly let the first few words carry out to the far reaches of the stadium. The echo of “can’t see nothing in front of me” quickly diminished, but in seconds everybody knew they weren’t going anywhere. It was dusk, and the crowd was eager to let something powerful access their emotion. Most of us did our best to follow the words; others just sat back and smiled. If not for a very interesting number 1, this would have dominated the ranks, having been played at both concerts.

Number 1 has to go to an unknown entrant. It is unknown in the sense that I hadn’t heard the song before it was played. Perhaps that made it all the better. The song; 41 shots, was requested and played as a tribute to the late Trayvon Martin, who was tragically killed in America. For 10 minutes Thomond Park swelled with sadness, as Springsteen belted out “You get killed just for living” for minutes at a time. As the Boss let the crowd take over, a low murmur of “41 shots” lifted into the air and expanded. Soon it was hard to hear the guitar kick up behind the adamant crowd, and tingles were flying up spines everywhere.

Eimear

5- Pay Me My Money Down/Shackled and Drawn (CORK) Literally if you had a barn dance in an Irish bar with the people in steerage from the Titanic Movie, this would be the result. I have never had so much fun dancing. Delightfully showcased his Irish influences to the crowd who didn’t even know that his last album was full of Gaelic vibes.

4- Real World (CORK) – twice! Played at both the pre-show (we few, we lucky few, we band of brothers) and the main set, I have fallen head over heels for the acoustic version of this gorgeous song. For the love of god, why is he so talented at everything?

3- Thunder Road (LIMERICK) What can I say. My favourite song. One that I would have forever regretted if I never saw it live. And it was beautiful. Thats all.

2- Drive All Night (LIMERICK) I think my reaction to this was measured by seeing a girl in the front row, shown on the big screen, visibly breaking down when she heard the first few notes to this. I defy you to find me a more romantic song than this. Go on. Try. Link it to me when you find it. This song, could not be more simple. There are no fancy highfalutin’ lyrics. Just a man who would drive all night for his girl. This is rarely played live, so to hear was a treat for everyone attending.

1- Prove it All Night ’78 (CORK) There I was. Standing in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Grand job. Oh there’s Bruce up there. Grand job. Oh there’s Roy Bittan there. What’s he doing? Oh lauching into an ol’ song there is he? Lovely stuff Roy. Start away. Wait…. Wait… WHAT?! When the first few notes to this were played and my neurons realised EIMEAR THIS IS IT, my head fell into my hands. Speechless, shocked, unable to deal with what was happening, that was me. People around me seeing my reaction said nothing but “Is this your song?” I could only nod with an open mouth and tears in my eyes. This, ladies and gentlemen, is such a rarity that I genuinely never thought I’d ever hear it live. EVER. Its a song I have to watch grainy black and white youtube videos of because its so rare. Bruce said in a 2010 interview: “If you’d like to hear it again, that’ll probably never occur, my friend. But it was good while it lasted.” It was resurrected in Barcelona last year after a 30 year absence so the hope began to grow in me. But that was Barcelona. Home of the die-hards. He’d hardly play it in Ireland? Nevertheless, I painted my sign dutifully.

And he played it.

He motherfu*king played it.

Imagine for you soccer fans out there hearing – Messi wants a kickaround there. Something you think will NEVER HAPPEN. Well, it HAPPENED.

3.What was your favourite moment in the pit queue?

Kyle

It could have well over 10 hours altogether queuing to get up close at both concerts. We met a lot of unique characters as we all sat fenced up by the stadium gates. One memory that sticks out well was lying irritated in the summer sun in Cork’s hottest field. Perched under one umbrella, Eimear and I squashed in to maximise out use of the shade. An onlooker remarked, “Body heat will get to ye in a while.” Frustrated, we ignored the advice. Ten minutes later, we were roasting alive and quickly sacrificing the minimal shadow we had to escape the furnace we had willingly set up. The man had all the right to laugh, and informed us of “Basic physics guys.”

Eimear

Malone already has the surreal experience of the people doing their workouts in Thomand Park Gym taking their equipment outside and doing it to blaring Bruce tunes among a crowd of a hundred people from all over the world. For me, a little highlight whic showcases the camaraderie between the people in Bruce pit queues was when this couple in their thirties kept trying to offer us wine because it was Kyle’s birthday (and also because they wanted to get rid of it, but mostly because we were class.)

4. What were some of your favourite, or more memorable moments overall?

Kyle

My top five favourite moments of the concert is another tricky question. Rather than spend hours searching my mind for the exact best, I’ll allow myself a nice answer by listing good parts as I remember. Fifth was the tribute to the sax player Clarence Clemmons. A video played in the background, as his nephew (Jake Clemmons) took up his mantle and played his old uncle’s parts perfectly. It was fitting for all to respect the old and the new, and remember the man who had added his own touches to a series of legendary songs.

Another nice moment of the tour was the pre-shows that Bruce performed on both occasions. At both venues, the spectacle that was came out early to play two or three songs on an acoustic guitar. Of course at that stage, only about four hundred were there to look on. The boss didn’t seem to mind, and played a nice set of compositions that otherwise might have never surfaced at the concerts.

A nice moment for all was seeing the children next to us go up to dance with the musician in Cork. They got pushed on stage during “waiting on a sunny day”, where Springsteen normally invites such young fans up, and sang the chorus. Later, they were gifted with the man’s guitar pick. Although the family were in general pushy, annoying, relentless and overly engaged in the show, it was nice to see two young fans get rewarded by the showman.

Second favourite moment of the tours was our first arrival at the pit queue. Landing into Limerick, and rushing over in a hopeful bid to get a position up near the stage, we found ourselves looking on as a group of gym members worked out to some of the bands greatest hits. The whole thing took place a day before the main lights flickered on, and probably never even surfaced as a nice piece in a local newspaper. Still, for those few who saw, it was a fun twenty minutes and a great curtain opener on the whole experience.

Perhaps my favourite moment of the tour, and I stress all these just jumped to mind, was seeing what it meant to those attending. I can’t put a count on how many times a song brought a couple inches closer, or how many times friends clasped arms and sang along with one of the obscure set list choices. You can’t put a price on a good all round mood, which most of the fans were happy to supply. The small things made the concert, both on and off the stage.

Eimear

Seeing the band walk off in Limerick and realising – I don’t have to wait a year, or three years to see him live again, I’m seeing him the day after tomorrow!

Realising that even if I never do see him live again, the last song I ever heard from him was a haunting version of Thunder Road. Just him, his guitar, in the darkness, with thousands of people in the palm of his hand, singing along to every word.

5.What was your favourite crowd interaction?

Kyle

The Boss spent a good chunk of his stage time stomping his feet within reach of the flailing-armed masses. A real showman knows how to control his fans. Springsteen made friends with them, and so stood so much higher as an entertainer. Plenty of fans got the chance to go on stage, with a loyal Spanish trio even receiving guitars to air-play with the man himself. It’s not that difficult for a musician to make somebody’s night with that kind of generosity and kindness. But Bruce kept up the slapstick antics too. A well celebrated and impressive interaction was his chugging of a full lager as he veered off to the right of the stage. Taking the beer from the offering fan, he thanked the man and then proceeded to swallow it to the encouragement of his faithful. Afterwards he managed to make a couple light hearted jokes…oh and he played a full concert too.

Eimear

Bruce addressing Limerick’s win in the Munster Hurling Final by sayin “we have no idea what the fuck that is, but congratulations!

6. Who, outside of Bruce, is your favourite member of the E-street Band?

Kyle

My favourite member outside of Bruce was undoubtedly drummer Max Weinberg. The camera came focusing in on the grey haired, glasses wearing musician whenever the focus of the song careered his way. Every time, he was clearly at his happiest. For sheer enthusiasm, I’d have to name him my favourite. That doesn’t even begin to give credit to his undeniable talent, which at times kept the audience right where the band needed them to be, or on other occasions just served to pump up the crowd into action again. All in all, his work on the instrument seemed effortless; most likely stemming from his passion alone.

Eimear

Fave Non Bruce Member – The scarf-wearing, sax-playing, tweet-favouriting, one and only Jake Clemons. That rendition of Jungleland was once in a lifetime.

Any final thoughts on it Eimear?

I really don’t need anymore words or time to convince you of his greatness. He’s great whether you believe it not. He’s the greatest perfomer on the planet whether you believe it or not.

Ben Stiller once stopped midway through a speech where he was supposed to be honoring Robert De Niro, because he spotted Bruce in the crowd: “Bruce, when I was 16, I saw you play like nine hours straight at Nassau Colloseum, literally changed my life, you’re a god! Back to Bob, sorry!”

Fun facts. There is a video of Bruce Springsteen covering “Sexy and I Know It”. It’s one of the best things ever made. Stevie Van Zandt, the guitarist in the E Street Band, was in the Sopranos. Prize for whoever finds the hidden Springsteen reference in one of his scenes. (Ok its not hidden, they blatantly quote the lyrics to Born To Run). “Because the Night”, by Cascada? Thats a Bruce song. Sorry to ruin your childhoods.

And how better to close off this blog, than to quote the most powerful man in the world? “The only reason I’m running for President is because I can’t be Bruce Springsteen”. – Barrack Obama, 2008.

See you further on up the road.

P.S this is Kyle and I touched both Bruce’s leg and Bruce’s guitar. ImageImage

How the west was won

So recently I took a break from this, mostly because i spent four days down in west cork. The second trip was new. I landed into rosscarberry at ten in the morning. Everyone on the bus was giving me dodgy glances, they can smell a city boiiyy a mile off. So on I went over to Eimear’s house, turning heads everywhere I went like the town’s most famous visitor. To be honest, for all I knew, I was. At twelve we set out on a road trip that was planned to take us to Killarney and back. Down in west cork, and in any country setting really, going spinning actually has value. In the city, you drive from one part to another, and never really accomplish anything except shouting something remotely funny to a woman on the footpath.In the country you actually have to get to point B. If you haven’t been to a country setting before, go watch the lord of the rings. Now imagine every actor has a really thick accent, like a man whose love of chewing gravel knows no bounds. Now sprinkle in a couple of americans, because after all what is any beautiful landscape without some americans coming to shout all over it. Give yourself a really hard punch, so that everything gets greener by a factor of fifty. Take one city road and leave it to be unused for several centuries. Scatter its remains around your location in a fashion that corresponds to no modern principles of transportation. Throw in mountains, MANY MOUNTAINS. Signpost every square foot with a name. In west cork, everything gets a name; the townlands, the farms and the rocks. Call every second man John and every third girl Mary. You now have a working model of west cork. You havn’t drove until you’ve run your car down one of these roads. Driving the back roads of Leap is how they train SAS tank squadrons. Road builders in west cork don’t avoid gradient changes, oh no, they fucking love them. Why build around the hills when you can climb them. It is said that the term bóithrín was coined by an irish man who stood over west cork and was asked to make a sound. Hills aren’t enough for road builders here. The history channel should be filming reality shows about the stuff going on down here. Page 1 in the council handbook, If your road isn’t going over a hill, put a million consecutive bends in until it does. And if it does in the first place…put them in anyway. These roads are a thing of beauty. You can go flat out and there isn’t a speed camera for miles. There aren’t other cars for miles either, mind you. If you can sit in a car seat and gaze out into a valley, slashed with rivers and riddled with forests, all nestled under a mountain that has warded off housing for miles, then maybe the americans aren’t freaks for coming here after all. You don’t often get to say “wow Ireland is class”. If i could list a couples of places I’d throw in Priest’s leap, the gap of dunloe and the lakes and waterfall in killarney. It’s nice to take a car journey that rarely brings you into a place filled with more than a hundred people. It makes it feel like an ACTUAL journey. Priest’s Leap isn’t in the middle of nowhere, it’s on the top of nowhere. Driving up a mountain pass covered in mist with a three hundred foot drop baying for you only a couple of steps to your left isn’t exactly easy. It gets frightening when you make the trip at around fifty kilometres an hour. There’s a lot of one wheel on the road driving, alot of praying and a fuck load of bumps. And when you hear the driver say “But sure it’s normal to burn oil” in response to the toxic aroma seeping from the engine, you really know you’re in west cork.

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