Lost Dogs and Englishmen

 

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It was round about 2005. My wife and I had been living in America for a few years, but had been moving from place to place every year or so, and didn’t have many close friends. On top of that, my work obliged me to be away from her for long periods of time, and all of those things combined left me feeling a little paranoid about her safety. So, more for my own peace of mind than anything else, I bought a dog.

And a fine looking dog he was, too, Mobutu by name. (No relation.) I gave him basic obedience training, but when he got into his gangly adolescent stage, I paid a king’s ransom to have him trained as a protection dog, and he served well in this capacity, although I believe just the sight and sound of him was deterrent enough to any would-be trouble maker.

Mobutu was well behaved, but required a great deal of exercise. In addition to two long daily walks, I always tried to run him off the lead at least once a week at a very large park a few miles outside of the town in which we lived. In order not to disturb anyone else, I always did this at or just before first light, and my dog and I had the park, which included forty wooded acres, to ourselves most every time. But one time we had company, and it was on this morning that we met the lost dog and the Englishman.

On the way from the car park to the wooded area, I saw a man sitting by himself in a sheltered picnic area. We nodded to one another, and I walked into the woods, where I let Mobutu off his lead. Sometimes he would take off charging, but this time he trotted alongside me. We hadn’t gotten very far when there was a rustling and a rather large dog–a Siberian husky-Akita mix, I think–came charging out of the underbrush. Mobutu’s very expensive ninja dog skills failed him for a split second and I was able to grab him by the collar and hold him back as he began snarling and barking.

The other dog just stood there, looking at me.

He was a good-looking dog, but a bit of a mess. His fur was matted and wet with mud, and he had sticky burrs all over his coat. He was wearing a collar but seemed to have been out on his own for some time.

“Hello, dog,” I said. “Go home.”

He had nothing to say. I put Mobutu back on his leash and began dragging him away.

The lost dog followed.

“Go on, now! Away wi’ ye!” I yelled.

He stopped and stared.

I finally got Mobutu to follow me without pulling, but the other dog kept following us at a safe distance. Every once in a while I would stop to swear at him shoo him away, but he was persistent. Finally it dawned on me that the dog was either lost or abandoned, which was a sad thought. But there were homes nearby—maybe he was just having a romp.  Then I remembered the man by the car park. If he wasn’t the owner, perhaps he knew who was. I regretfully decided to cut our walk short and headed back, an unhappy Mobutu and wayward dog in tow.

The man was still there and stood as I began walking toward him. He was a tall man with grey hair and a worried look on his face.

“Hello,” he said. “That’s a beautiful animal that you’ve got there.”

He spoke with an English accent, and my first thought was how far from home do I have to go? , but instead of saying that, I thanked him, even though I had nothing to do with the siring of the dog.

“Oh!” he said, upon hearing my voice. “You’re English!”

I’m often mistaken for being English by Americans, less so by English people themselves. But, I was in a bad enough mood getting worse, so I happily said—

“Nope! Irish!”

“Oh!” said he, looking a little uncomfortable. “Whereabouts in Ireland are you from?”

“Belfast,” I said, which was a lie, but can sometimes be a real conversation stopper if you’re not in the mood for small talk. This man was not one to be deterred, however, and by all I hold sacred, he tilted his head toward the heavens, put his hand over his heart and said, smiling—

“Ah! Protestant!”

I flashed him a far toothier grin than was warranted, for now my irritation had reached a level dangerous to my sanity, and replied—

“Nope! Catholic!”

(Which was sort of true.)

“Uh!” he exclaimed, (quite against his will, I’m sure), the way you would if you bit into a nice juicy apple and found a worm in there. We stared at one another for a few awkward seconds and then he blurted out—

“Do you know, many years ago, I went to Belfast on holiday–”

I doubted this very much but nodded my head. Maybe Fallujah was closed that day or something.

“—and did you know, that when we got off the plane, the very first thing they did was to give us a map. And the map marked out the neighbourhoods, and they told us which neighbourhoods where you would be met with a nice cup of tea, and which ones where if you went, you’d be shot.” He just blurted this out and as soon as he’d said it, his face turned red and he looked as if he’d die with embarrassment. I was absolutely delighted now and trying not to laugh, and without thinking or meaning to, I replied—

“Well, I suppose that depends on who you are. And why you’re there.”

Now, in case you think I was then or am now being unduly mean to this man, I have to tell you that the poor bastard was a credit to his race. I could see in his eyes that he was torn between wanting to run for the hills or stay and be “polite”, which it was a tad too late for, but whatever training he was given in his youth kicked in. He started babbling about what a lovely city Belfast was and what a shame it all was and what brought  me to America and did I like it. He said all this in the time it took you to read it. Then he pointed to the lost dog, who was waiting patiently behind my leaping, frothing- at- the -gob Mobutu.

“Is that dog yours as well?”

“No,” I exhaled, thankful that that bit was over. “I was hoping he was yours.”

“No, not at all!”

“Do you live around here? Do you know who he might belong to?”

“No, no,” he said, looking around. “I drove here, same as you. Surely he lives in one of those houses?”  he said, pointing to row upon row of identical McMansions beyond the park’s treeline.

“I don’t think so. Look at the state of him.”

“But look, he has a license.”

It was true. The lost dog had a tag which I’d failed to notice as it was partly covered by his fur. I handed Mobutu’s leash to the Englishman, who took it hesitantly, and kneeled down to inspect the tag. It bore the dog’s name—Tiger—and an address which I did not recognise, though it was within the city. There was also a phone number. Which was conveniently illegible.

“Do you have Sat Nav on your mobile, or in your car?” I asked.

“I’m terribly sorry, no.” Both he and the lost dog were both looking at me with their heads cocked. I was looking at Mobutu with my head cocked. I thought for a minute.

“Look here,” I said finally. “We’ve got to find this dog’s owner, or else we’re going to have to call animal control or something.”

“Surely he’ll find his way home—”

“No, I don’t think so. He looks like he’s been out here for some time. He’s lost. It’s up to us, wouldn’t you say?”

He set his jaw firmly and stiffened his upper lip and all of that and nodded.

“So here’s what we’ll do. I’m going to take my dog here home. I live only about ten or fifteen minutes from here at the most. I can’t have both of them in my car at the same time, there’ll be murder. You stay here with ‘Tiger’. I’ll grab the phone directory when I’m at home and there are maps in there that show all the neighbourhoods–” here I started laughing at the look of horror on his face as he remembered his Belfast holiday, ( lovely city, what a shame)–“and I’ll sort out where the dog’s home is. Then I’ll come back and fetch the dog and take him home. What do you say?”

He was horribly nervous, fidgeting and shifting his weight from one foot to another, looking this way and that. He didn’t know me from Adam, and what was worse, he knew he’d offended me. I could see in his eyes that he thought I was having him on, and that I was going to leave him with the lost dog.

“You’ll come back?”

“I’ll be back as quick as I can. You’ll stay?”

“Yes.”

And so I put a very angry Mobutu into the car and sped home, and explained the situation to my freshly awakened wife, who insisted she accompany me to the park. I told her the street name that was on the dog’s tag and she located it on a map in the phone directory as we went. It was only a mile or two from the park, but that distance was criss-crossed by two four-lane highways. Tiger the lost dog was either very skilled or very lucky or both.

When we reached the car park, the Englishman was talking to the dog in a very animated fashion. When he saw us pull up, he looked as if he would faint with relief. When my lovely woman exited the vehicle, he exclaimed—

“Madam, may I congratulate you on having married such a fine young man! So few people would take the time in this day and age to come to the aid of–”

“Aye,” she said coldly, cutting him off. I’d given her a bit of backstory on him. I was in a much better mood now, though. I shook his hand and thanked him. My wife and I bundled Tiger the lost dog into the car after a few tries and soothing words of reassurance.  We soon found his owner, who was sheepish and bewildered when we told him where I’d found his dog. He promised that it would never happen again and that he would have new tags made for Tiger so that his phone number could be easily read.

We lived in that town for a few more years. Mobutu and I went back to the same park many times, but we never saw Tiger again.

We never saw that awkwardly  friendly Englishman again, either.

I hope he didn’t get lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Border

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The last true and final peace had been struck. Instead of the raucous celebration we all expected (not to mention the undying adulation of the people sure to follow), we found ourselves greeted with silence and sullen stares.  Our services were no longer required, it seemed. In the awkward dawn of a new era, we bid one another farewell. I watched as my comrades faded one by one into the crowds, then into the countryside, and then into the mist.

I had plenty of time on my hands and no money in my pockets.

 

I stopped in at the bureau, which was empty save for a lone clerk who eyed me suspiciously over his glasses, which were hopelessly outdated, and therefore, in fashion.

“Your name?”,  he asked.

I gave it, as it was all I had left to give.

He picked his way through a rather large assortment of files, muttering as he did so. No real words, not even curse words, just some sort of bureaucratic speaking in tongues that pencil pushers erupt into when they’ve reached the depths of their uselessness.

“Aha! It says here you’re dead!” he exclaimed triumphantly, waving a rather thick folder over his head.

“Clearly, I am not.”

He jabbed his index finger at the name on the file. “This is your name, is it not?”

“Yes. It is also my father’s name, and his father’s, and so on. Keep looking. I’ll be the alive one.”

The clerk glowered at me and mumbled something about my family being “unimaginative but consistent”. He narrowed his search until he found a file with no death date and began reading. At length he sighed, relaxing his shoulders, and looked up at me.

“What is it that you want?”

“Recompense.”

He snorted derisively. “There are no benefits for volunteers. Save the plot when it’s your turn. That’s a part of it. As you know.”

“Surely you can help me find some sort of employment?”

At the word employment his whole demeanor changed from frustrated to fascinated, as if I’d revealed we shared an eccentric interest like underwater basket-weaving, or the keeping and breeding of racing snails.

“Well of course! What is it that you do?”

“Er. Well, I’ve only ever done the one thing…”

“What about your education?”

I felt my face burning and struggled to maintain eye contact. “I have an interest in history.”

The man’s eyes softened a bit and he looked at me with what seemed to be genuine sympathy.

“I think we may be able to find you something,” he said softly.

 

The Ministry of Cultural Resources assigned me to a position in a small town in the Derryveagh mountains. The job description was vague—“distribution of information and materials relating to history and culture”.  But the little town itself was familiar to me, as I had spent many happy summers there as a child. I was both hopeful and apprehensive upon my arrival.

The Ministry had arranged for my temporary lodgings at the home of a woman sympathetic to the plight of men like myself. After a brief tea with polite conversation that did not include a further description of my new job, she pointed me towards the town diamond, where she said I would meet the man with whom I would be working.

“I reckon you’ll know him when you see him,” she said.

And know him I did, for who did I find but Phil, my old friend and comrade in arms. Good old Phil, looking twenty years older than the last time I saw him. Phil, my mentor and hero, guide in all endeavors, sitting on a blanket, selling all manner of paddywhackery and knick-knacks to tourists.

Thankfully I saw him first. I watched him for some time, until my heart dislodged itself from my throat and found it’s way into the pit of my stomach. So this was what they had in mind for us. We were to be cultural relics ourselves, dusty old museum pieces, not worth much, mind you, but good for cheap entertainment.

There was nothing for it but a bad joke. I sidled my way up to him and shouted—

“Phil! What in God’s name are you doing?”

He fair jumped out of his skin with shock, and upon seeing it was only me, turned crimson with shame.

“Ah, Jesus mucker, if I’d known you were coming, I’d—”

“Mór mo náire,”  I intoned in an old hag’s voice, “mo chlann féin do dhíol a–“

“Oh, fuck off!”

I couldn’t help but laugh and clapped him on the shoulder as I sat down next to him. He wouldn’t look at me and I could feel the heat of shame and anger rolling off of him in waves.

“It’s alright, Philip,” I said. “We’re both in the same boat, just as always.”

We sat in silence for some time.

“Remember when we used to come here, when we were kids?” he said.

I nodded. “It hasn’t changed all that much.”

“No. Well, yes, actually. All of the old people are gone. And they’re the only one’s who’d appreciate us, to tell the truth of it.”

The mention of the old ones lit a faint spark of joy in me.

“Remember old Desmond? God, he was great craic. Had a million stories, that one.”

“Aye. We’ve only just missed him, apparently. He died late last year. Pneumonia. His place up in the hills in still there, just sitting, empty.”

It was a lovely home, very old and remote. Desmond had liked his company alright, but he wanted to know when it was coming. There wasn’t another house for miles around from his own, and it was so remote you couldn’t reach it with a car, but had to walk the last four miles uphill and on foot.

“Empty,” I heard my self repeating. Phil turned and looked at me.

“What are you thinking of? Going to have a look?”

“Maybe more than a look. Maybe to stay for a while. Sure, who would know the difference?”

He swallowed hard. “I hear you, but it’s not as if…we’d have nothing to eat, nor coal…and the landlady would be sure to tell someone we’ve wandered off this…fucking reservation, or what ever this is…they’re not just going to let us bandits wander around up in the mountains…”

I laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“You said ‘we’ and ‘us’.  I didn’t say anything about you going.”

“I’ll go,” said Phil.

I nodded.

“We’ll go.”

 

Autumn was growing long in the tooth when we made our move late one afternoon. A boy with a pickup gave us a lift up into the hills and let us off where the road ended.  As we walked in silence, a heavy fog began to drift in around us. It chilled my skin, but the steep hike kept me warm inside. Phil was shivering.

“I don’t want to go back down there to all that, but after a few days or so, seriously, where would we go?”

I had given that some serious and sober thought. It seemed to me that there was nothing left for us in our own country. That only left one direction.

“We could cross the border,” I said quietly. Phil didn’t stop walking, but I saw a catch in his step.

There was only a sliver of daylight left once we reached Desmond’s old place. The door was unlocked, the coal bin full. There was enough canned and dried food left in the pantry for about three days. There was a bunk bed in the guest room and Desmond’s bed sat made in his room. I checked his wardrobe where I knew he kept an old rifle. It was gone, as were his other personal possessions, including his books.

“Guess he must have needed them on the other side,” Phil quipped.

“Eh, he’s welcome to them.” I made a fire and sat down. Phil took a seat in the kitchen. I could just make out his silhouette in the dim light.

“Never in my life,” he said, “did I expect this. So many other things, but not this. You know? A choice between that life down there, and this…are you sure about crossing the border? Because I’m not, my friend. Not just yet anyway.”

I had felt in my heart he wouldn’t go with me, not just yet. I didn’t begrudge him the decision. He had his brother and his sisters, his nieces and nephews; they would provide him with the smallest of human comforts over the years to come, just enough to keep him going along. I had none of those things. I had foregone them all for years in order to get what I wanted. Or what I’d been told I’d wanted, anyway, and for my whole life. And here I had gotten it and there was no one to share it with. No foe to hold my prize in front of his face and declare myself the victor. Just an empty cottage on the border of an empty country.

“I am sure,” I said. “And when you do come along, I’ll be there.” I smiled at him. I couldn’t see if he was smiling back. “And I’m sure I won’t be alone when you get there. There’ll be a lot of us, I expect.”

“I expect so. Will you be alright here by yourself, then?”

“I will.”

I dozed off. When I woke, the fire had died and Phil had gone. I stayed in Desmond’s empty house for three days.

And then I walked across the border.

 

 

 

 

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Stick to the Route, Please

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Sabotage, A Beastie Boys And Sesame Street Mashup

AN SIONNACH FIONN

Big Bird meets the Beastie Boys in a mashup of the 1985 Sesame Street movie Follow That Bird and Spike Jonze’s legendary 1994 music video, Sabotage. All credit to the creator, Mylo the Cat (aka. Adam Schleichkorn), whose previous releases have included the Muppets rapping out to hip-hop classic, So What’Cha Want.

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Shinto Shrine Maiden

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How could you do it—

steal my breath away like that

—a fox in the night

 

moonstruck and foaming

at the mouth as I kiss you

our souls intertwined

 

you brought me to peace

and then tore me to pieces

Shinto shrine maiden

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Motorcycle Safety is No Accident

 

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Summertime is in effect and marching season is right around the corner.  But instead of focusing on a bunch of idiots in silly costumes engaging in antisocial behaviour and potentially dangerous activities, let’s talk about motorcycle enthusiasts.

I’ll assume that if you are one of these folk, that you already know and obey the rules of the road, and are well aware that there is no greater danger to you than the oblivious automobile driver. Always assume that no one sees or hears you. Also, ride safe and sober at all times.

Now that the obvious is out of the way, here are some safe riding reminders:

 

Proper riding attire: While the young woman in the photo above has remembered her helmet, she is wearing it incorrectly. Also, in the even that she lays her bike down, her clothing may not protect her from road burn.

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This more experienced rider knows that leather is still the best protection, but is wearing neither sensible footwear nor a helmet. Dress for the road from head to toe!

 

Be aware of both existing and new road rules.

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For those of you born after 1998, this is what a border crossing looks like.  (I time travelled to 2018 to take this photo on the Donegal/Derry border.) Always have your papers ready, and for fuck’s sake, keep your hands visible at all times! Expect long delays.

 

Respect the neighborhoods you ride through. 

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Examples of gang patches include the following:

anything with this—

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or this—

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Ride safely my friends, and may the wind be ever at your backs.

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Breaking – Ireland will block #Brexit deal if #MayDUP deal goes ahead

SKWAWKBOX

In a huge – and possibly mortal – blow for Tory hopes of delaying the collapse of their ‘weak and wobbly’ minority government, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has told Irish TV station RTE that the Irish Republic will not support any Brexit deal (encompassing, among other things, any free-trade agreement) if the UK does not ‘fully’ protect the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and the peace process in Northern Ireland:

As there is no conceivable way that the Tories can do a deal with the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) withoutthreatening the peace process by forsaking the UK government’s pledged impartiality, this amounts to a declaration that Ireland will veto any Brexit deal if a Tory-DUP deal goes ahead.

Putting Theresa May and her advisors in an impossible situation.

A legal challenge to any ‘MayDUP’ deal is already in preparation on the grounds that it would breach the…

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Daydreamer

Fine Art Photography by Julie Corcoran.

Julie Corcoran Photography

Julie Corcoran Daydreamer ©Julie Corcoran Daydreamer

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Echo of a Roar

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We lived each day as if living were an act of revenge, took delight in the jaw-dropped shock on the faces of the proletariat and warmed ourselves on the cold shoulders of our so-called betters. Then our luck ran out with our money and we learned to live lean and on the fringe, darting back into civilization every now and then…just for a little taste. Never mind those empty heads and the hollow eyes that call them home—they don’t hate us, they’re just not like us. They don’t even know how to hunt.

 

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This Election Is A National Emergency

Too good not to share, there is something here for everyone, regardless of nationality.

A Wilderness of Peace

You might not know it from some of my posts, but I’m an eternal optimist. Some say there are people out there who would never vote for independence: that they either identify too strongly with their British identity to even consider a vote that they feel could jeopardise it, or because they think Scotland is incapable of making a success of what literally hundreds of other countries around the world do right now, or simply because they believe themselves to be “anti-nationalist.” I refuse to believe that anyone can be immovably anti-Independence, any more than anyone can be immovably pro-Independence. We’ve already seen movement from both sides – people I could’ve sworn would never turn suddenly joining the SNP, and others who seem hell-bent on undoing decades of struggle for a cause we used to share.

Yes, of course it’s more useful – in a cold, tactical sense…

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