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‘He’s Only Gone And Died, My Daft Git’

Death Strikes The North Beach ... And Us

On goes the little white electric lighthouse above my tight but snugly fitting rolltop desk, and I light the twin-wicked citrus verbena candle beside it.

A ritual sacred and beseeching …

These little lights of mine, they’re going to let me shine … 

Like when I was that unblemished altar boy a thousand years ago, in my black soutane and snow-white surplice, lighting those tall early morning candles that flickered in the ancient shadowed silence before Mass ….

Where it began …

This is my altar now, and that once pristine rectangle of letters and symbols you see there awaits my priestly fingertips, and my computer screen will flicker softly in the ancient shadowed silence, as I tap once more into the mysterious reservoir.

From these depths I will draw up the thoughts that will become these words that flow down through my arms and fingers, and out across the miraculous ether to trickle and spurt across that Apple page …

Confessing all my secret things, or allowing myself to be distracted by whatever crosses the great divide between my head and my heart …

Actually I’m thinking about death right now, not just the inevitability of it, but the actual futility of worrying about it.

And how weirdly freeing that is …

It can’t be avoided, we all know that, but I think it is true, if you do stick around long enough, let yourself be marked by people close to you dying, or those random tragedies you read about every day, you do actually realise that death brings life … well, to life.

Even brings people together.

You can rage against the dying of the light, you can plunge into it suddenly and sickeningly, or you may go gentle into it, even just nod off silently into it, sitting there in your armchair after a run, and your wife finds you like that, your head tilted to one side, crooked in two fingers of your good hand, as if you had just dropped off to sleep.

Like Marion found Eric the other week …

We were out on our beloved North Beach, A and I, with our madly frisking dogs.

Since I have become a sea swimmer, a lovely little community feel has evolved around this ritual sacred and beseeching.

The regulars I meet, like the quietly lovely Paul who bikes down here most every day, like tall athletic Shay and his cheery wife, whose name I am too embarrassed to ask now that we have met so often, and it hasn’t yet dropped in easily into our conversations …

Shay is, I guess, in his early 70s, and looking at him now, on this afternoon, why do I sense he is feeling his years today … 

We first met him during the summer, when it was easy to plunge into these ancient mysterious waters.

A and I were both struck by how well he looked, that tall, upright carriage, and the tanned legs, strong and muscular.

Unusually for me, I was moved to remark how fit and well he looked.

I could sense him almost preening into my compliment, and I immediately liked that about him …

A friendly man, a native … a retired school principal, but that country thing, knowing his people, amusing tales of childhood summers picking potatoes in this famed market gardening corner of north county Dublin.

Could tell you all about those potatoes, where to get the best ones, and the people who could do creative things with the cast off spuds the pickers left behind … he even had a name for these orphaned tubers …

A rugby player into his forties, Shay still ran and swam, which paid off with that taut stomach and, yes, those impressive sinewy thighs and calves. 

But now, he’s asking did we know that older man, who had died … in his 70s  … used to run along the beach, lived in a low wooden house on the beachfront up the way  … 

Jeez, that sounds like Eric … couldn’t be … trim Eric, acerbic Londoner, always tanned, smiling … fit.

A runner, for Gods sake …

First called to our house, himself and Marion, Jehovah’s Witnesses, what, 14 years ago? 

Surely not Eric … full head of silver hair, worn becomingly tight, always so dapper in his starched white shirt, tie and that soft leather jacket thing he wore, neat briefcase in hand, when I would often meet him at the train station of a Friday.

Before Covid and all that.

Hadn’t seen him for a while, until the day not long ago, he pulled up beside me in that lovely purring old black Jag, which he lovingly serviced himself.

Had a lovely, bantering chat, and off he drove, and I carried on to my swim ..

On those Friday train journeys into town, he would tease me again with his free travel pass, as we sat in together to shoot the bantering breeze on the 25-minute journey into town …

A and I never bought the Jehovah’s thing, but we always enjoyed Eric and Marion’s visits … not that Eric ever gave up hope, usually leaving a copy of their Watchtower magazine behind for A.

No, not Eric …

Marion is the one who was ill … got that dreadful stroke thing a year or more ago … her balance affected, deaf —  implants have restored a good bit of that —  dizzy spells, eyes struggle to focus … but fit, tanned, impish, accomplished, handyman Eric to mind her.

Once drove a fire engine …

Fifty years and more together …

We walk down towards the house … and who’s coming out to us, leaning on the handrail as she steps down slowly and out on to the beach, moving towards us, and us to her …

Wonderful, irreverent Marion, with that marvellous London accent and cutting humour …

That gift for understatement … 

Asking had we heard about Eric … ‘he’s only gone and died, hasn’t he, the daft git ‘.. 

She’s smiling in full still coming to terms with it gallows humour mode … vintage Marion, eyes softly twinkling and moist memories fermenting  … coping … or trying to …

Their daffy brown and white spaniel working that stick intently as we speak …

Marion, so tender and so strong, as both of us hug her … properly, for the first time …

Tells us she had Eric’s ashes in the house and had planned to go up to the Martello Tower out along the cliff towards Loughshinny village, and throw the ashes in the sea … ‘get rid of him’, she twinkles …

But no, another Shay had other plans.

This Shay is another interesting old geezer, full head of silver hair in a neat ponytail, lives in a fantastically eccentric log cabin of a house festooned with lobster pots and all sorts of sea things, which he could only have assembled himself — it would make an amazing pub, right in the corner of the beach, up high, overlooking everything.

I see him regularly of an early morning, walking his old German Shepherd, Shadow, maintaining the old dog’s pace and rythm, standing as the old hound stops to sniff and pee before shuffling on together.

This Shay has organised a gang of these North Beach dwellers to join Marion’s Ceremonial Scattering Of The Ashes.

Marion has a friend staying with her for now …

It’s all so very sad, but again strangely uplifting … an irreplaceable loss …. but a heartfelt unshowy community to hold her …

Switch off the lighthouse — my watchtower — blow out the citrus verbena candle, and bow to the ancient shadowed silence that awaits us, and move on.

For now …

So long, Eric!

8 comments on “‘He’s Only Gone And Died, My Daft Git’

  1. Beautiful. Simply Beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey, good essay. I bet that Eric would have liked it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, Enda, what a lovely essay about your friends, who sound like the kind of people we all need in our lives. My condolences to Marion, carrying on without her Eric after more than fifty years. Glad she has her faith and supportive community about her. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh Enda, you almost have me in tears here. What a lovely piece of writing and a fitting tribute to Eric. I’d give Marion a hug too if I could.

    Liked by 1 person

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