Thursday, May 10, 2007

Some sad stuff and a Runyonesque greyhound

As my regular readers will know, it's not my intention to make this a grim account my death. Yet, there is terrible pain happening here. My wife of almost 20 years is trying to make sense of the prospect of a life without me. I look at my little boy and feel crushed at what he's going to have to face.
My dad died in 2001 when he was 79. He had a number of strokes and was in a nursing home. It's hard to know how aware he was of his circumstances but he was still able to give my hand a squeeze. I was sitting beside him when his breathing appeared to gently stop. I called for the nurses, who checked him, found his heart had stopped and asked if I wanted him resucitated? My mum, brother and I had discussed this and, although my brother had been a bit unclear, both mum and I felt that trying to revive him just to put him through more pain was cruel. So I told them no and they left me alone with him. Dad didn't believe in God, heaven or hell. Yet, the conviction I got in that room with him, that his suffering was finished, is one of the factors in my own attitude to my death.
He was a real character, from a Belfast working-class community that was full of characters. During the war, his brother joined the Navy but dad, as an aircraft fitter, was seen as a vital trade. He loved greyhounds and walking and, at times when he didn't own his own animal, he would volunteer to walk others dogs for them.
So, one night he is met by an an old crony of his, a bit of an Arthur Daly character, who buys and sells racing greyhounds. Here, Billy, this character says to him, I've somebody coming from England to watch this dog race tonight. Will you walk him up to the stadium? My da is surprised and tells the owner why, the dog has never won anything in its life. The owner takes something out of his pocket which, he says, he bought from an RAF pilot who uses it to keep alert on night missions. It's speed, which he slips to the dog. What about the race stewards? the da asks. Don't worry, it'll have walked it off before the race starts, his mate tells him.
So, my dad starts walking the dog towards the stadium. It starts off okay but soon the greyhound starts to behave a little strangely. It starts to stagger, to stand still in strange three-legged postures, make weird musical keening sounds, stop and stare fixedly at unremarkable objects. Dad panics, the stewards can't miss this. However, by the time they reach the stadium, the dog seems fine, except for a strange look about the eyes.
The race comes around and the thing comes flying out of the trap. The buyer can't wait to own the thing. Strangely, this performance is never repeated on its move to England and my dad's friend is always very wary of bumping into his customer on a return visit to Belfast some time.
Is it any wonder that my dad loved Damon Runyon ?



Blogger MattM76 said...

I have nothing remarkable to add. I just wanted you to know that I'm checking in each day and reading your prose.

Father and son relationships always spark my interest. I have had a turbulent relationship with my own father (who is still alive and well). My long term partner and I are poised on the brink of starting a family of our own and I wonder if I'll make the same mistakes or end up in the same routine.

I think it's easy to idealise the type of parent you'll become. Sleepness nights, crying babies and constant nappy changing can wear down even the most patient man. I guess once the learned civilities are worn down all that's left is the beast inside you've been repressing since you were two. I think that's what scares me the most.

May 11, 2007 at 6:16 AM  
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May 17, 2007 at 8:29 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Hi Brian,
I jouk in here most days and hope that your not having posted for a week means that you're out enjoying the Donegal sunshine with Terry and Matthew.

My last day at AVB will be June 15th. Hope to see y'all again sometime soon,


May 17, 2007 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Hi Brian -

I'm a Belfast man of 54 and have 2 young kids aged nearly 6 & nearly 2. It scares the cr*p out of me that I might not be around to see them grow up. (I have grown-up kids too, but they've got independence and each other.) So if I got the news that you got about cancer, I'd probably fall to pieces.

Like you, I can't swallow the loving god myth. So like you I make THIS life count, instead of preparing for the (mythical) next. And of course, that makes THIS life that much more important.

So I'd just like you to know that I'm thinking about you, and if good wishes could make you better, you'd be on the mend already.

If we'd met in better circumstances we could've had some quare craic.

Best wishes


May 23, 2007 at 6:12 PM  
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