Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Geek Intepreter

I have another Kelly dream. This time it's the end of the world, a world seemingly mixed up with the desperation of a Japanese salary-man. This man's sleeves-rolled-up sweaty desperation somehow triggers the apocalypse.

Meanwhile, across town, I'm showing a version of the film "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" to a group of people and Kelly. Am I a professor? Or am I just showing off? The film is real by the way, it stars Murray Head and Nigel Green and I have never seen it, though I have always wanted to.

The film is a lush, psychedelic cartoon, and even in the dream I realise that this is nothing like the actual film, but I go with it. My version is probably better. A rival nerd has paid a sky-writer to advertise an alternative event - a screening of "Watchmen" across town. The poor pilot is attempting to draw Dr. Manhattan's hydrogen symbol against the background of a glowering mushroom cloud.

"Looks like he picked the wrong day to go sky-writing!" I quip. It gets a big laugh and Kelly looks very pleased with me. I hunker down next to her and a few more seconds of my made-up film continue; it's the capture of Grendel, though what Grendel is doing in this story I haven't a clue.

I turn to Kelly and she looks distraught, her face seems thinner and her eyes look panicked.

"What's wrong?" I ask her. "I feel as if I have five minutes left to live," she says.

I wake up.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Fun and Games

These games were invented by Douglas and Gwen. I think these are the rules:


Green-room is a game whereby you are in the green-room, back-stage at a chat-show, say Wogan or Russell Harty, and you are a celebrity of your own choosing. So is everybody else. The object of the game is to identify the various celebrities sat around you as quickly as possible while you yourself remain undetected. However points may be deducted for lacking flair and not amusing people with character quips and pithy anecdotes.


The acting master-class is slightly more complex. The set-up is as follows: there is a novice, hungry young actor and the worldly Master-Actor. The Master-Actor establishes a scenario for the neophyte with a lot of detailed back-story and, crucially, a piece of dialogue to play. This dialogue must be presented to the novice in a neutral manner. This is key because the acting Master already knows how he wants the line to be played. The novice must determine , using cunning and guile and, let's be honest, telepathy, how the Master would like the line played. This is the game's objective. It can be played by as little as two people taking it in turn to switch roles but is better with a larger cast. Of drunken show-offs.

- from Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures

Leprosy and Cumkin

Boys, boys, boys - still looking for a good time!

Doug, Simon, Owen and Dave came to visit Edward and I and, as they were on their holidays, everything dissolved into madness very quickly. The dark heart of this social group, the engine that powers all activity, is the central dichotomy of Simon and Doug. They are exact opposites, pulling in different directions, bellowing at each other and at constant logger-heads, leaving every one else a virtual bystander, gawping at the town's recently arrived circus. How they are friends I will never know. But they are. It's a mystery for the ages.

Simon is possessed of a furious, demonic energy; he is madly enthusiastic about doing stuff, just any stuff. Doug doesn't want to do anything. His idea of a good time is sitting on his arse in a pub with a beer and talking bollocks. Simon can't really do this, he needs distracting far beyond the gentle burble of pub badinage. When deprived of activities he drifts into a sort of catatonic state, like a wedged shark. When we go into a pub it is not enough for Simon to sit down and have a drink, he needs to organise a kitty! We don't order pizzas or takeaways because Simon wants to cook an astonishingly complicated Japanese meal from scratch, while already drunk. And it was delicious! He marinaded the chicken! The only thing I've ever marinaded is myself! If I had one eighth of Simon's energy I would probably be the King of Europe!

It started promisingly, sensibly, enough with a stroll out to Stormount, but already we had got it wrong. Nobody walks in Belfast, they either drive or jog. The only people who do walk are dog-walkers and you can tell they resent their dogs for it. So the sight of six, admittedly odd-looking, men striding about sans hound caused agitated consternation from the local motorists who rubber-necked at us all the way down the Newtownards Road. I resemble the wild man of Borneo in a cowboy-shirt these days and Doug looks like a grown-out boot-boy. Owen and Dave look like the members of two separate terrorist groups drawn into uneasy alliance while Edward resembles a scuffed Dave Cameron doing a walkabout*. Then there is Simon: glasses perched atop his head and a fag in his gub, imagining that a paramilitary flak jacket with a Dutch flag is perfectly acceptable Belfast leisure-wear. And it may well be but do you really want to take that risk? I don't but Simon is a blithe man and unconcerned about local politics.

We went into town and I took them to Botanic Avenue where everything was closed, either because it's July or because the students have gone home or because everyone seemingly closes whenever they like in Belfast, and then we went the Belfast Empire where we talked about leprosy and cumkins. As there was no word from Mullan HQ I took an executive decision and we brought home the entire off-licence from Tesco Metro, everyone bemused the little doorway you have to go through to get into the booze-leper's booth. That night was spent playing "Green-room" and "Douglas' Acting Master-class" until we all collapsed under sheer weight of alcohol.

The next morning all pretence at decency was abandoned and the wine bottles were opened while the sun was still scratching its arse in bed, the yard-arm still a hazy fixture in its diary.

The rest of the day went like this: A "Robin of Sherwood" box-set, Simon reading out Viz' "Profanisaurus" for three hours, (honourable mentions to the expression "A Greek Tip" and the phrase "Are you in there Mr. Hill?) a trip down the Upper Newtownards road to see the murals and the bunting and the burnt out shops and blocked in windows, a trip to the Duke of York pub which I hadn't been to for years (I think I've been out twice since I moved over here) where Doug and Simon got into a fight over the "kitty" request and the fact that Simon wanted us to sit in a little closed off booth at the end of the bar and Douglas thought, quite reasonably, that this might look a little odd. Then back here, more booze, more arsing about, more Robin of Sherwood (and Quantum Leap). We are all in our late thirties or early forties!** It's like Simon Nye was handing out the oblique strategy cards.

It was all tremendous fun, if a little more intense than I'm used to, and they are all remarkably lovely to travel all that way to see a sad drunken man in a box. I am truly blessed with my friends, they are remarkable. Well even if you skim-read the above you'd realise they are remarkable, but also for their kindness and generosity. Thanks fellas.

Now they've gone and then Edward, who has been at my side since before the funeral, butlering hairily, has gone and it's just me left in the house. I'm going to take advantage of the opportunity not to get drunk.

*Edward has since distanced himself from this description.

**Edward has asked me to point out that Owen and himself are in their early thirties. Thank you.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Other people's dreams are really boring...

I finally dream about Kelly and it's a dream about the death of the son we never had. I was woken up by the phone just now and the images are curling away like plumes of smoke but Gyles Brandreth was definitely there, shaking my hand with his left one as he was eating a bowl of soup while standing at the bar (this would have been some sort of wake). Other odd details: I had painted a bright yellow painting called "Sim", hanging to the right of the now empty but card festooned crib. I remember my brother Barry attempting to make stragglers leave at the end of the wake in the manner of a sheep-dog attending sheep. The stuff about Kelly is hazy, it comes primarily at the start of the dream and she remains mysterious and intangible. It is Kelly as I first knew her with her long black beautiful hair but she is wise and serene. I cannot now remember anything about the action of the dream but that she was the vivid heart of it. This has been the best dream I've had for a very long time purely because of her presence. It should have been a nightmare and most of my dreams lately have been nightmares but this one had her in it and I was so pleased to see her. I didn't care about a silly dead son that I didn't have.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Choose your own adventure

The Mullans are desperate for me not be left on my own and to that end we have gone on a series of long and increasingly elaborate walks. And I am dead grateful for it too. Yesterday's though might have been a bit too elaborate as it saw me shimmy under barbed-wire, over five-bar gates, into a "shuck" ("Climb down into the shuck, John, hi" "I don't know what a shuck is, Dee!") into the personal space of both a sheep's skull and a burned out, bullet-riddled car and finally into a forest where we were strafed by helicopters! Tricky business for a man with one knee!* But after it all I realised that it was the best I'd felt for a very long time. To paraphrase the Wombles "Exercise is good for you, compiling a dream diary sat drunkenly in your pants is not". It felt good to get out, get some exercise and do things I wouldn't ordinarily do and limboing under a barbed wire fence is one of those things. And it's hard to be that miserable in the company of Maggie the dog, she is one of natures true wallies: dirty tongue, an inside out ear and always, always covered in shite!

So thank you Mullans.

*see "King Leer"

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

This was the eulogy that Kelly's family wrote for the funeral.

I think it is a better description of Kelly than mine, more rounded. But they knew her longer than I did. I still can't really see past myself when I write about her. I love this:

Kelly was a force of nature. She was touched by fire; she burned with passion. Her passions in life were high-brow: modern art, postmodern literature, esoteric cinema, dirty looks, ladybirds and fancy dress. Her finest costumes included: a ballerina, an iceberg with the Titanic stuck to her head, the Bride of Frankenstein, Auntie Patricia, a Christmas tree, a zombie Maggie Thatcher and a space woman. Indeed, apart from not having children, the great regret of her life was not being the first Irish woman in space.
Kelly was beautiful, despite inheriting the unenviable combination of the Mullan hairiness and a Briney-Kelly nose. She said her nose was like a sundial. She didn’t need a watch. But she was beautiful. She had her father’s gentle soul and her mother’s lateral mind. She blazed a trail for all her siblings -- Brigeen, Stephen, Deirdre and Maureen -- and inspired each of them in every avenue of life. They each owe their vocations to her vision, encouragement and enthusiasms.
Kelly led a blameless life, except when she blamed herself. She was too hard on herself, but from the same source of self-disapproval came her matchless sensitivity and compassion. She was the most forgiving person we know, and she had friends of every political hue, every social stripe, every religious persuasion, every stage of life and every kind of weirdness. Her friend Tori said ‘I’ve never known anyone so widely loved.’ Few of us have.
Kelly had a difficult life at times, particularly in her twenties, with some sadness and ambitions unfulfilled. But she managed to turn her melancholy into poetry, art, wit and the laughter of her friends. Her friends were like family, and her family always friends, and her life devoted to both.
Every sadness changed when Kelly met John. It was more than love. They were sparring partners in endless wit, surreal banter and bad puns. She said on her wedding day ‘I never knew it was possible to be so happy.’ And with John, and all the Higgins’, her life took off. She wrote straight and satirical articles for publication, which received rave reviews. In London, she landed her dream job as a journalist with Disability Now magazine, which allowed her to flaunt her writing flair and demonstrate her never-ending empathy.
Kelly was incredibly brave, and remained afraid of nothing, except moths. And she kept her sense of humour right to the end. After being asleep for a day or so in the hospital, she woke up a little distressed. When a nurse asked her what was wrong, she said ‘just a wee bit of existential angst.’ The nurse said ‘I don’t know what that is.’
So it is for these things we love and remember her: drollery, beauty, compassion. Thank you, Kelly.

Monday, 18 July 2011


Kelly Mullan was the best person that I have ever met. She improved me in a hundred different ways both by her example and her gentle criticism. She was also the funniest and most selfless person I’ve known. Selfless to a fault - she would never think of herself if there was anybody else that she could think about. Lying in her hospital bed and terribly ill she was still more worried about Deidre not getting to spend enough time with Maggie the dog than about herself.

So what can I think about this? How can I possibly believe that she’s gone? I knew she was dying but I never thought that she would actually die. She was life! She was my life.

What I still feel when I think about Kelly is delight - she delighted me. Everything about her, from the softness of her skin, her pigeon-toed walk, the cool marble of the palms of her hands. The beady-eyed crabbit-ness of her child-hood snap-shots. Her interest in colourful socks, radical politics and American crime drama. This mad collection of disparate things filled me with a kind of thrilled joy. She was as unique in her tastes as she was in her personality. I have never met anyone like her and, sadly for me, can never hope to again. She was and is the love of my life, my perfect match, and like Granny Kelly would call a pair of matching socks, my “comrade”.

She was the best person that I have ever met and I will love her for all time.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Had a fantastic conversation with Kelly yesterday. A sad and joyful conversation. It was wonderful.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

I get in from the hospital with a chicken pie and a bottle of cheap Beaujolais.I went into the town centre but everything was shut. All that was left of Belfast were leggy emos* squatting like pigeons outside the city-hall and a drunk with a series of face-wounds laughing with ambulance-men.

Lovefilm have sent me "The Never-ending Story". I don't ever remember requesting it but it doesn't seem any more ridiculous than anything else I can watch. The Childlike Empress is a bit creepy, Atrayu a bit shrill and Bastien a bit of a weed but you can't argue with a luck dragon. I sit and watch it, pushing the chicken pie on the plate, swilling the thin acid tang of the wine around my mouth. Today had been another long day. I'd had another sleepless night staying up till four at North road, declaiming bullshit to Stephen, and then I went home and watched a Hancock DVD until six. I had four hours sleep and then couldn't sleep any-more. The rest of the morning I spent in lead boots, wobbling around the house, getting nothing done: it took me three hours to complete a bath. I make it to the hospital at four, getting caught up in school-run traffic, but my taxi driver is agreeable silent probably because I'm openly weeping in the rear-view mirror.

I am assailed by moths. I turn on the bathroom light at night and they fly in, big as birds, shit-brown and shivering next to the brilliance of the bath. They fly at my head while I'm trying to piss and I whip at them with towels like King Kong buzzed by Sopwith Camels. If King Kong used a towel. Which he should have down as they reduce these things to smears of brown dust in seconds. As soon as one is despatched another one bundles in, flying in fifteen different directions and always arriving at the same point - the back of my head. This is the only animal I will kill and not eat - even flies get the benefit of the doubt. This fear and hatred of moths is inherited from Kelly. She was obsessed by moths back in the Victoria Road flat - constantly digging through cupboards, ruthlessly combing through clothes, looking for tell-tales signs of their presence and, on one occasion, freezing tainted jackets or exiling them to the shed, where they slowly rotted. Rather the jackets are rotted and ruined than fallen to the moths.

I remain vigilant. No moths on my watch.

*Belfast is the only place I've ever seen goths wearing fake tan.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Kelly isn't getting better. And she isn't getting another dose of chemo as she isn't well enough to take that sort of systematic poisoning. She's moved now onto palliative care. Every thing is changing, it's dizzying, but yesterday I was taken aside and given a prognostic timeline for the first time. The first sighting of a black sail on the horizon. My poor, poor girl.

She's being amazing, of course. She's trying to make sure that she tells everyone that she loves them. That's her primary concern. I suspect this does mean everyone. She's such an incredible person.

Spent the last two nights at 90 North Road; first for Paul's birthday and then drinking and watching TV with the sound turned down with Stephen. I was talking wild and woolly bollocks for most of the time but it was good to be around people. And Mullans (and associated Mullans) are good people to be around. Hairy though.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A crack in the clouds

Kelly was better today. Still beyond knackered but when myself and Mo arrived there today with a big bag of womanly requisites she was up and dressed and even wearing a bit of slap! Unthinkable even yesterday. She suffered the weight of a huge amount of visitors and even extracted some enjoyment from my readings of Mervyn Peake's Nonsense Verse. The distension in her stomach seems to be going down and her eyes were bright and alive again.

A good day.