Rock In Peace


The imminent return of the prodigal son has my mother on overdrive. My father’s on the late shift, that’s a blessing in disguise as the expected arrival home of the prodigal son is accompanied by the most unexpected. A grey Ford Commer van pulls up in the street bearing the trademark of its contents: crosses, graffiti, indecent proposals. It’s The Rocking Vicars. The Vicars, dog collared and dressed in unconventional ecclesiastical attire of long coats, long boots, long hair, greet my long-suffering mother as she answers the door to the prodigal son.

As they enter the buzz is definitely rock’n’roll. But I worry that this volume of vicars may further undermine a house already buckling under the weight of religious iconography. The Sacred Heart, bearded, long-haired and lit by the flickering votive lamp, with has his hands outspread in benediction welcomes the clergy.

I am dispatched to the shop for bacon, eggs, sausages, black pudding, potato and soda bread, the makings of an Ulster fry a traditional Irish welcome. My mother prepares the feast for the hungry travellers serving it up appropriately on her best Royal Dolton which is reserved for the clergy, Sunday visitors, and special occasions. This ample banquet will fuel ‘The Vicars’ rock’n’roll mission preaching to the converted at some smoke filled speakeasy in downtown Belfast. The prodigal will be there but not me.

I’m 14 and it’s a new school term. New exercise book, I’ve homework and I’m distracted. The lord will provide. “Let me help you kid,” says a vicar wearing knee length reindeer boots with the poise and confidence of a biblical prophet. If truth be told, he doesn’t look above mugging Santa and leaving the wellbeing of Rudolph in serious doubt. He takes up my pen and inscribes the inner leaf.

‘The Rocking Vicars are Great, not grate’ signed Lemmy!

I’m impressed by his mastery of common English usage and hope my teacher will be likewise. This brush with celebrity does have its pay-offs. My ‘street cred’ gains points on the Dow Jones. Friends ply me with cigarettes in exchange for first hand rock’n’roll gossip. But it’s my mother who deserves the attention and credit for giving new meaning in the neighbourhood to entertaining the clergy!


The life of the finger


Fingers, fingers, fingers and fingers.

Not fish fingers or chocolate fingers or sticky fingers, but the fingers of the hand. Those digits that we use daily for signing, lifting, licking, pointing, poking, scratching, and picking, without a second thought. As kids we used them to investigate, to eat, to paint, counted on them, got them caught in doors, bitten by dogs, and waved hello goodbye.

We’ve even given them names:

the thumb or opposing digit allows for amazing dexterity in collaboration with it’s neighbours;

the index finger for doing just that, useful when pointing and as a substitute to language;

the middle finger mostly used to insult it seems, SWIVEL! ;

the ring finger, banded in gold. “ I do”, the longest sentence in any language;

and finally the pinky?

Answers on a postcard please.

It’s all that other stuff that would get any self-respecting digit a bad name. All that posturing that people do with their hands and fingers, an esoteric language perhaps learnt at the cost of an arm and a leg. Symbols or signs that identify an allegiance to a sect or a movement, to a victory over adversity, a pressing need to scratch ones bum in public, and of course the successful extraction of that irritating bogie that had eluded the probing finger.

And let’s not forget the religious finger pointers whose index finger points skyward for some god unknown reason. The sinister jihadis known as IS are handy with that finger. Are they indexing the real culprit behind their inhuman behaviour or is that what they would have us believe?

Answers on the same postcard.

Apropos to nothing…. Well Fingers:

In Bertrand Russell’s 1954 short story “THE MATHEMATICIAN’S NIGHTMARE: The Vision of Professor Squarepunt,” the number 5 said: “I am the number of fingers on a hand. I make pentagons and pentagrams. And but for me dodecahedra could not exist; and, as everyone knows, the universe is a dodecahedron. So, but for me, there could be no universe.”

I have a bit of a thing about polyhedra, more specifically the Platonic Solids, which have been the focus of a body of 3D works that still occupy my creative endeavours.


Can you Adam and Eve it?


Exile: a person who lives away from their native country.

World news delivers stories from across the planet relating to displaced people as a result of war or natural disasters. These events cause an exodus of those seeking sanctuary from the depredations visited upon them and beyond their control. The human psyche is probably embedded with images of disaster beamed from around the world and delivered through the media on a daily basis. As a race I think we do react and attempt where possible to alleviate the suffering of exiles because it is in our nature.

The theme of ‘exile’ was the focal point of a sermon delivered by the priest at the funeral of my aunt. Kathleen, a warm and sensitive person, was a native of Ireland wooed by a Scotsman, a third generation Scot of Irish descent. She lived and raised her family in Scotland and died recently at the age of 91. The priest delivered a fine eulogy with humour and sensitivity to one who along with her husband had played a major role in the life of their Catholic community.

The priest on his altar provided a command performance funeral adding his baritone voice to the hymns, while engendering drama to the rituals of a Requiem Mass. In his homily he made reference to Kathleen’s chosen exile from Ireland suggesting that in essence we are all exiles here on earth. “Our true home is in heaven”.

At this point I fear I was losing patience. I am not at best tolerant of the blind faith acceptance of the flock and this notion of some reward to come. Oh for fuck sake! So we, that is, you and me, have been hoodwinked into a cul-de-sac where we are to be tormented for no good reason and await deliverance to the heavenly promise.*

Father, I wanted to scream, I don’t know where you come from but this planet, this jewel, this creation we call earth is my home. Exile? Exile my arse!

For the sake of my dearly departed aunt and her mourning family I paid heed to the voice with the hint of an Irish brogue,

“Hold your whist, child”.

* To any of you who have spend time at the mercy of a civil servant, or equivalent, I need say no more.

Lured to Lourdes


Travelling through the Lot and Gironde in divine weather, unseasonal for early September, was a pleasure. A landscape of vineyards, sunflowers and fruit trees, the panorama from the terrace of the gite, Moulin de Vent, where we dined alfresco and drank the produce of the region as the sunset on most evenings of our vacation.

Driving south to Carcassonne the road signs warned of slow lanes for heavy vehicles, ‘vehicules lourds’ while the destinations offered Toulouse, Tarbes, and Lourdes, where a heavy presence of Catholic pilgrims can be found in all seasons. This Mecca, oops, Lourdes is the worlds most visited shrine for miracle seekers able bodied or disabled. For the blind, the deaf and dumb, crippled or gullible, this is the place.

Las Vegas has bling and a promise of riches in this life, Lourdes offers miracles and blessed bling to ease the passage through this ‘valley of tears’ to the heavenly home: Glow-in-the-dark icons, alabaster statues, water bottle virgins, Grotto mints, onyx rosary beads, Monopoly, featuring the Stations of the Cross, and Holy Water Utility. Oh yes I’ve been there.

My favourite aunt, who was crippled from childhood, was a regular visitor to the shrine and the healing promise, returning home with a treasure chest of Catholic paraphernalia but no miracles. Maybe her devilish sense of fun, gambling for pennies and sneaking cigarettes with us kids, and telling fireside stories of cloven-hoofed strangers while puffing on a mother-of-pearl cigarette holder barred her from divine intercession.

So my visit to Lourdes, though brief, was in solidarity with my aunt whom I knew had crossed these streets and been wheeled along the Boulevard de Grotte to the Basilica and the revered site. The abiding image that replays when I think of that visit is the single file line moving slo-mo, passing into the Grotto and each to a man, woman, and child raising a hand to touch the rock.

Animism is alive and well in the Catholic Canon.

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