Sunday, February 27, 2022


I CAN’T exactly remember what year it was. I think sometime in 2001. It was cold, then. You told me sometime before- ‘Look me up when you get to Dublin- I’m the only Toibin in the phone book’- So we did- we looked you up from a phone box. You sounded a trifle uncertain on the phone- Did you remember me and our roughly planned visit? Was it terrible timing? Had you started The Master? At any rate we set off to Upper Pembroke Street We had with us a drink of some sort And maybe some cake or biscuits, to be hospitable. I can’t remember what it was like opening the gate And knocking on the door. I think I found it momentous Which it probably was- and ballsy- what did we have to offer? We sat inside at an old wooden table A mountain of books on top- I remember one of them was about Rouault. We spoke of many things and you Gave us some advice about travelling in Ireland Seemingly dismissive of your own places Enniscorthy, Tuskar Rock, Cush Gap Keating’s Hotel, Curracloe, Friary Street, Nora Webster, Eamon, Blackwater And wanting us to explore the ancient- The Aran Islands Inishmore, Inishmaan, Inisheer An authentic escape from the modern world. But we never did get there- we travelled A conservative path instead We had a lovely time at Colm Toibin’s But I look at the occasion now With a few small regrets. We have no photos commemorating our trip. I was too shy to ask if I could see his study And his fabulous books and maybe even a manuscript or two I wish we talked about his childhood stuttering And each of his books that I have devoured over the years And how it felt to write a book like ‘The Heather Blazing’. Instead the afternoon wore on too quickly And Colm took on my suggestion that we had better get along now And stood up and answered a mobile call in the shadows of another room. Now, if I ever visit Joni Mitchell Or Van Morrison or Paul McCartney Hopefully I will be much better prepared.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021


ISN’T IT A PITY ‘Isn't it a pity Now, isn't it a shame How we break each other's hearts And cause each other pain How we take each other's love Without thinking anymore Forgetting to give back Isn't it a pity Some things take so long But how do I explain When not too many people Can see we're all the same And because of all their tears Their eyes can't hope to see The beauty that surrounds them Isn't it a pity Isn't it a pity Isn't is a shame How we break each other's hearts And cause each other pain How we take each other's love Without thinking anymore Forgetting to give back Isn't it a pity.’ JUST finished watching Part 1 of the new Beatles documentary, ‘Get Back’, by Peter Jackson- the hugely extended version of the 1969 film ‘Let It Be’, preparing for that album in Twickenham Studios in London. Except it’s much more than that. It has been edited with archival footage from old concerts and film excerpts and news articles that provided inspiration for new songs. A really telling piece occurs when the band is jamming- they do a lot of jamming- Chuck Berry’s ‘Rock & Roll Music’. They are currently playing it in the film with some gusto, however, you can see fractures in the band. It doesn’t quite seem right, there are small tensions everywhere and you can just feel it throughout- at any rate, for this section, Jackson has spliced in old footage of the band playing it live on stage in their heyday- flashing back and forwards between the two performances synchronized at the same time. It creates a magical yet sad effect- gone is the tightness and happiness of the first performance on stage- a lot of smiles and the sheer pleasure of performing- and the current one, Twickenham Studios, 1969, where there is more of a ragged and tired look, and Ringo in particular on drums looks bored, George Harrison going through the motions. An even more powerful moment takes place at the end of Part 1. Paul and John are rehearsing an old song from very early on in their repertoire- ‘Two Of Us’, that would appear on the album. An old song, and very basic, from the early 60’s period, and not much of a song really, more of a filler. I think the problem was that John Lennon hadn’t written very many new songs and there was the pressure to complete this new album. The camera flashes between John and Paul in the jamming of their intimate song about friendship, and it’s just like old days- a potentially heart-warming moment, trying to capture the glory days, having a lot of fun- except occasionally you get close-ups of George, looking completely left out, not a part of the ‘Two of Us’- it looks like there are tears in his eyes. Perhaps he feels unwanted, or superfluous. It seems they didn’t really value his song writing contributions, until ‘Something’, at least. Anyway, George looks fed up and discarded and irrelevant, and suddenly he announces he is leaving the band- ‘see you ‘round the clubs.’ This occurs moments before the ending of Part 1. Apparently, they meet up days later to try and talk him around (which they evidently do). But the three play on merrily for the next couple of days- John even says casually that he might bring in Eric Clapton if George doesn’t come back. He makes George sound so disposable. Ironically Eric was George’s best friend. Then we have the credits, and the poignant lyrics of ‘Isn’t It A Pity’ playing over it. It wasn’t the first time George tried to introduce the song into the band’s repertoire- it occurred way back in ’66 for Revolver. Evidently, he tried it again for ‘Let It Be’. And why not? It is a beautiful song that captures the feeling of being shunted, made to feel an outsider, dispensable, an adjunct. ‘Forgetting to give back. Isn’t It A Pity.’

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Bookshop of my Dreams

WHAT’S the opposite to a nightmare? I had one the other night. I dreamt I was filthy rich and I owned an incredible bookshop in some unknown location. My bookshop had three floors. There was a grand entrance, wonderfully lit at night in neon blue. There were posters of my favourite authors in the window. The ground level was vast, like the upper two levels, with rows of merchandise either side which consisted entirely of paper-back books and book-related mugs and calendars. Friends worked for me on this floor. Seasoned ones I have known forever who share my love for reading. This floor was all fiction, rows and rows of it, on polished floorboards with a long narrow pathway down the centre leading to a grand marble staircase for access to the next two floors. There was also a highly esteemed coffee lounge in the back corner for casual reading and shelves of current newspapers, sans Murdoch, from around the world. This was a happy, chatty floor, enticing the typical book purchaser, many of which would not be bothered climbing the next two floors. The second level was manned strictly by family. Here were hardback books of many genres, generally newish editions of many breeds, such as Thames & Hudson art books, Taschen books of various interests, travel books, new hardback fiction, new hardback poetry such as Faber & Faber, and many, many books of exclusive modern publishers with fabulous designs. The walls were mirrored and standing behind a lavish, large glass table and a cash register were my two brothers and my sister, eagerly serving the hungry hordes of contemporary hardback books of many colours. At the very back of level 2 was a roped off area for customers wishing to attend book talks and meetings with established book authors. Authors from the art world and the travel world as well as modern international writers such as Colm Toibin, Kazuo Ishiguro and Hilary Mantel. Nearby there was a posted sign in ornate black lettering: ‘Notice: the third floor by appointment only.’ Thank goodness I didn’t suddenly shift in my bed and awaken suddenly, before I found myself in my astral projection going to the top floor of my wondrous bookstore. Here I found simply me- dressed in a black formal waistcoat, a top hat and white gloves and sporting a trim beard. Here I was, standing behind a wide marble table eagerly administering to a customer who was in the midst of purchasing a five-figure book. On closer inspection, it was in fact none other than the first edition deluxe first binding autographed copy of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’. Fortunately, my dreamy vision enabled me a panoramic view of the whole of the third floor and I could see that I was the sole proprietor on this level, dwarfed by an enormous mahogany bookcase filled with hardback antiquarian literature. The rest of the level was spartan, as though me and the purchasing desk, and the enormous bookcase, were its sole features. Looking into the bookcase, I could see there were rows of old books in mint condition organized into sections such as authors and poets- Shakespeare, Browning, Hopkins, Yeats, Plath for example for poets, and D H Lawrence, Hardy, Woolf, Joyce, Nabakov and Fitzgerald for example, for authors. Thus, the brilliant blue of ‘The Great Gatsby’ cover shone brightly, as did the deep, serious green of ‘Ulysses’, and the intense, romantic cover of ‘The Rainbow’. There was even a row for publishers’ works huddled together, such as the Nonesuch Press and the Black Sun Press. It was a joy to behold. The whole thing reminded me of the British Library. I could see now that, strictly by appointment, customers would come one at a time and by accessing a little electronic catalogue, request a particular volume for scrutiny. The whole thing brought such comfort to me in my dream that I woke myself up smiling, my wife enquiring about which particular carnal pleasure I had been transported to.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The New Boy

I GO walking a lot these days. It’s one of these fringe benefits of lockdown, I guess. Pounding the streets, up and down, up and down. I always take the boy with me for company. His name is Pablo. He’s one of those Cavoodle pups. A toy one. He is what they call ‘brindle.’ His colour, I mean. A lot of black, some white, and this lovely coffee colour around the edges. He loves lockdown. He gets to have us with him a lot of the day, especially with remote learning. And we love having him around. So it’s an all ‘round benefit for me, my wife, the girls, and as I said this new wonderful boy we have had for a few months. The other day we left early one morning, just the two of us. It was one of those wonderful crisp mornings where the sun is coming out, weakly spreading its rays across everything. I say weakly, and that’s true, but pretty and somehow comforting all the same. The boy and I left early as I said and there were a few birds out, but otherwise just the two of us and these lovely chirping sounds and the distant hum of cars along Bell Street. We were walking in the vicinity of Robinson Reserve and I started talking to my woolly friend. marvelling about how woolly he was getting. It had been a while since he had been trimmed because of lockdown, and now he had this impressive grey beard, a bit like a little Schnauzer. Anyway, as I said I had starting talking to him as I did out of habit, marvelling at his little grey beard, when the most amazing thing happened. He suddenly started talking back to me. ‘Well thanks, dad. Dogs don’t get a lot of compliments, you know.’ He spoke back, just like that. ‘Well’, I thought, ‘this is new. This is really something else. Of all the things to happen in lockdown, which is supposed to be depressing and sad, my little boy talks back to me!’ Naturally I was majorly taken aback. But it’s funny, when things completely out of the ordinary happen sometimes, it can be surprising how quickly we can suddenly get used to it. Pablo, my new little talking dog. ‘Well, this is a surprise. How long have you been able to talk like this?’, I asked him. ‘Let’s just say I have been watching, observing.’ And then he let out a little chuckle. A sort of doggy little chuckle. And then I found myself wanting to ask him a million questions, all at once. We were on the other side of Robinson’s Reserve now, and normally he wanted to get off the lead and chase the Jack Russell, or the Spoodle or the Labrador. But suddenly this seemed all probably beneath him. I mean, my little boy could talk. He was superior to all of these. ‘So, these other dogs you see, can they talk too?’ He looked a bit annoyed at this question. He glanced up at me with a surly expression. He was still on the lead. Somehow it seemed suddenly wrong to have him on the lead. ‘Come on, dad, of course they can talk. I don’t know about everyone speaking English, some of the smarter ones I guess. But we have a language too, you know. We don’t just say ‘bow wow wow’ in meaningless drivel. We are communicating, you know. Sometimes quite sophisticated stuff.’ ‘Really?’, I said to him. ‘Really and truly? Sophisticated? Give me an example.’ ‘Well, ok’, he said. He was just starting to warm up, I could tell. This was his big moment. Time for little Pablo to impress dad. One day, when I have some more time, I will tell you exactly what he said.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

I SIT outside in our small backyard as I type. It is exactly 5:43 AM. I have been getting up around 5:00 AM for several days now. Not usually for as long as this, admittedly- about half an hour- discovering all these unexpected pleasures. Even if you do not have a particular reason for waking so early and venturing outside, in these balmy summer mornings I strongly recommend that you do. Just over half an hour ago I sat on this old grey chair, mesmerised by the sky. I thought of a scene in the novel ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’ where Vermeer asks his model/sitter what colour she thinks the Delft sky through the window is. She offers a simplistic, untrained response, acknowledging, I think, only one particular dominant colour. Half an hour ago the sky was mostly blue. Dawn was about to burst. It was so beautiful. But I thought about it further, like Vermeer instructs, and I could also see white and yellow amidst this strangely beautiful milky blue. A little further on, this soft yellow emerged further and started to spread the blue more thinly. Dawning is the day. Suddenly streaks of cloud appeared and shapes became clearer. Then unexpectedly the dominant colour in the sky was pink. Now, at 5:53 AM it is virtually daylight, increasingly so as the minutes slip past. I feel so awake and everything appears now as a typical cool morning, everyday life, a normal working morning if you like. No longer that haunting, hypnotic blue of earlier. Earlier everything was so quiet and still. Now there are sounds of birds everywhere and every now and then some slightly discordant sound of something industrial. We have this new ‘sky rail’ train system operating in our zone. The Moody Blues released a song called ‘Dawn Is A Feeling’ in 1967, on the album that ends with ‘Night In White Satin.’ ‘Dawn is a feeling, a beautiful ceiling, The smell of grass just makes you pass into a dream. You're here today, no future fears, This day will last a thousand years. If you want it to. You look around you, things they astound you, So breathe in deep, you're not asleep open your mind. You're here today, no future fears, This day will last a thousand years, If you want it to.’ I am thinking of this ‘beautiful ceiling’, real and natural and more compelling in its own way than the famous man-made ceiling at the Vatican. How many of these beautiful, natural ceilings have I missed over the years? If this morning is anything to go by, I want to see more and more. Time has passed. It has just gone 6:00 AM. Nothing is quite as magical now. I might go back to bed. Dawn. Dawn. Dawn is a feeling. Dawn also heralds something new, like a new promise or venture. Why have I suddenly made this new discovery? Why have I started getting up so early and drinking in the elixir of the morning darkness into light? It is all down to you, our new baby of the family. Your name is Pablo. You are small, curious, full of mischievousness and life, and bringing pleasure (mostly) in your lovely abandonment to the whole family.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020



We drove- or rather I drove- all the way to Richmond in traffic whilst you sat in the back seat with your older sister-  a more experienced traveller at almost 15, but still naïve and high school inexperienced in many ways. Then you, on the precipice of change, chatting away at 12 and waiting, expectant, but no doubt trying to push things to the side or back of your mind. Things. What things? New encounters, mixing with people you do not know, a sea of unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar experiences awaiting you like a grey tide of uncertainty.

When we arrived, we parked just before the school crossing and I could see that you didn’t really want to get out of the car. The short walk across the road and into the grounds of the school were probably mildly terrifying; similar, but at the same time so different, from Mandela’s walk out of the prison on Robben Island. His was freedom, yours not so embracing.

Inside the gate there were adult helpers who told us about the lists. I found yours first. Melba 2, it said. Your sister told you she was in Melba 1 when she was in Year 7 last year. Then your sister simply disappeared. The right attitude. ‘Stand up, like I had to do last year’, would have been the silent message. And that philosophy was the same kind of thing for me. The clutch of Melba 1 students- maybe about a quarter of them- were sitting underneath a tree, and there was no adult in sight. I was glad I was not holding your hand. And I was glad that you didn’t insist I stay and sit with you.

In fact, I was impressed with your fortitude, which you somehow dragged up from the depths of your soul. I briefly introduced you to a couple of girls- ‘I’m from a primary in South Yarra…’, etc, one said, and I asked if you could sit down, then after a few minutes I told you I would be back soon. I went to another ‘house’ and looked for the only other girl you knew beside your sister, but just fleetingly. As a reinforcement during the day if you needed it. I glanced over to you, often, and caught your eye a couple of times with a little wave, but mostly watched you clandestinely, noticing your attentiveness to the other girls. Not talking, but listening, and learning, and navigating that awkward situation where you know nobody but other people seem to have some knowledge of each other as they sit smiling. You, a portrait of innocence, your childish multi-coloured backpack, your hair in plaits with a red heart-shaped adornment on each braid.

In desultory, threatening weather and a soft cool breeze, it started to rain, and the Melba 2 group leader- very young looking herself- began dragging you all away. I wandered over and said ‘have fun, darling’, and I was away. The sky turning charcoal and me hoping it wasn’t an omen.

I think back to a similar day two years ago with your sister- in fact it was the first day of the school year- and recall her anticipation and nervousness. I think of these days accurately or otherwise as being like Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’, encounters that are completely new and challenging but will define you and shape you. Experiences you will always remember, like a wedding day, or a particular birthday, but essentially experiences that herald change or growth or some kind of significance in you.

I know you are 12 but it still feels a little like I abandoned you, but not abandonment in the gross or cruel sense, but rather leaving you in a foreign and challenging environment, but hopefully not a hostile one. I sit here at home typing this some hours into the day, with our newly arrived dog next to me, sitting on the couch. And I wonder how it is going. Have you found someone to chat to? Are other kids aware of you? Have you made them aware of you? Are you thinking ‘this new place- you know, may be ok after all.  I look forward to 2021.’ Or is it all horribly different to this?

Another spots of time moment for both of you, was the first day of primary school. You both had someone you would grow to care for next to you. For the eldest, Liberty, and still probably a best friend, even though you are now at different schools. For you, it was Holly, Liberty’s sister, who was here just last night. So, Holly and Liberty are experiencing the same thing as you two- a year 8 girl about to share the school with her little sister- except different schools.


I watched you come out of the wrought iron gates, waiting expectantly with a multitude of other parents. Your face. Drained of colour and exhausted looking. Not sad as such but relieved, a trial over for one day, only for it to be renewed in a couple of months. Will day one next year be any easier?

‘ What would you give it out of ten?’

 ‘Six out of ten’, you replied.

We climbed back into the car to navigate the traffic home. You unpacked your emotions. Steady, calm, even perhaps a little indifferent. Relief.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

ON SOLITUDE- 2020 and Court Green late 1962


I sit here on my bed lying peacefully

My bookcase with my favourite books

At the bottom of my feet

About a half metre from the end of my bed.

The red curtains are closed and

The windows jammed shut.

The air is a little thick with

My restlessness and torpor.

I call it ennui and it is a

State of nothingness and helplessness

And feeling the need to do something

But being uncertain about what it is.

It is a heavy press on the mind and it is

I think, a reflection of dissatisfaction and

Unfulfillment, but at the same time

A sense of nagging responsibility and guilt.

No-one is here besides me and yet

I feel this presence urging me to do something

Which is oppressive in its weighing down.

It does not come completely from outside but

Rather within as if I owe it to myself. I wonder

If it is connected to my body. I don’t

Think so. It feels rather more connected with my mind.

My mind takes me to places like Court Green

In Devon, England where I feel compelled

To visit the two star-poets who live there with their little

Young daughter, escaping the rat-race of London and

Inhabiting this new huge dwelling

Surrounded by a graveyard, a church and a yew tree.

Having so much space suddenly, being able to call out

Loudly from one room to another

Without being heard, but somehow still feeling

Restless and rather isolated and not in tune with

The people around them. A dream house in a dream

Setting which proves to be a fabrication of the mind.

She feeling some contentment in finishing her first novel and

Feeling the poems- many good ones- unearth themselves and

He, her husband, feeling less secure, missing the brightness and hope of

The big city and being young enough still to be

Attracted to bright lights and like-minded people

And the cosmopolitan aspect of everything, not

Terribly domesticated and not fulfilled with pram rides

With his daughter and blackberrying and wandering

Around town, and a pregnant wife whose moods can

Alter very suddenly, whose own moods are very changeable, who

Is about to be lumbered any day with a second child which

Threatens harmony and promotes restlessness even further and

On top of this is about to be visited by another woman whose eyes

Are mesmerising and whose smile and body encourage all sorts of

Wild fancies and lustful imaginings and the promise of a

Much more vibrant and intoxicating lifestyle compared to

The steady and monotonous hum of regular and steady life at Court Green.

One holds fort like Penelope whilst the other

Searches for who he really is, desperate to

Rediscover who he is as well as his

Literary life which has lay dormant for quite a while,

He eventually forcing a rupture, obliterating the

Family unit in order to fulfil insatiable needs, her voice

Reaching its peak and hanging on grimly and precariously

As a candle that pretty soon is going to snuff itself out.