“In case you ever foolishly forget:
I am never not thinking of you.”
“In case you ever foolishly forget:
I am never not thinking of you.”
Elizabeth Brennan, born Elizabeth Maher on the Eleventh of March 1924
To Bill and Johanna Maher in Ballydool – Kilkenny was the 6th of 11 children – 3 boys and 8 girls. She was the last of them.
She and her husband Jimmy met under the clock outside the jewellers in Kilkenny, they were married in 1947 and began a life there raising 4 children, before leaving it all behind and moving to Blantyre Scotland in 1961 and then on to Leeds in 1969 where she lived for over half her 99 years.
But of course, she was much more than just than just that bare biographical data.
A side effect of living to 99 is that she lived many lives, daughter, sister, wife, mother, grand mother – great grand mother, she went by different names too – Ma, Mammy, Grandma B, Grannie, Betty – Mrs Brennan.
Those roles and names all have their own history and meaning as individual to her as they are to the people who used them, and I will try to do justice to all of them by telling just a few small elements of those stories that we thought illustrated her life.
For example, she learned to drive in a way that seems taken directly from a comic novel or BBC comedy drama about life in old Ireland. – Mick Mullins the butcher gave her lessons in his van. It seems that was all she needed, though a close scrape with a bus and a direct hit on the wall of St Joseph’s church in Blantyre seem to imply that maybe she wasn’t always paying 100% attention to the road at all times.
A particularly memorable car journey for her and the children was a trip to the Wicklow Mountains. The purpose of which was to retrieve a potion to clear up Davy’s baby eczema, what today might be called a homeopathic remedy from a healer… and though the trip itself left scars of its own that still run deep to this day the eczema did clear up.
However, it turns out that on the way to obtain the healing cream of unclear origin a holy well was plundered for water and it may well have been the blessed contents from its depths that helped the infant Davy’s skin back to full health – it may even have been a passing nun who promised to pray for the baby.
She was always encouraging her children to live their true selves and in the case of Denis that included putting on bets at the local bookies for him when he was not only underage but also literally at school – though he recalls to much chagrin the Tanner bet she failed to place that naturally, came in.
Another memory less tangible but nonetheless shared across generations, she always looked cool, effortlessly cool – no matter what she was up to she glided and never looked particularly flustered.
I’ve been thinking a lot about some pithy tale I might tell, a personal story that skirts the line of melancholy and amusing and when I was a child we would play cards she would often look at my hopeless attempts to shuffle the deck and say “you’d get shot for less in Chicago” I never really questioned how she knew this or how much time she’d spent playing cards with gangsters in Chicago but it seemed to me at least like she could well have.
The abiding memories don’t really have sound though -they’re not funny moments, they are core memories – more foundational than a quip or funny line – mine include; baking in the kitchen at Harlech Road, the yellow bowl with the roll top on the small table with blue legs perched on a red chair and licking the beaters after. Being wrapped in a towel sat in front of the fire on the green footstool watching TV before bed. Going to mass in the chapel at the LGI or Catholic Cathedral in Leeds and just sitting quietly – together.
The well worm aphorism goes that your family should give you roots and wings and I think that is her legacy, her gift to me. I have never once thought to myself ‘I have nowhere to go’ and that, I have come to realise is an incredible privilege it has been a super-power for me – no matter where I have been in the world, no matter what situation I might find myself in, at all times day or night from my point A I had a permanent unchanging point B.
And at that point B would be a sandwich and a cup of tea, or at minimum a snack of some description.
I was asked recently if I could describe the physical sensation that occurred in my body when I thought of my childhood and specifically Grandma B and the word that kept coming back to me was ‘calm’ no drama, no outrageous highs or lows just a steady sense of calm and the idea that everything will be ok tomorrow and that someone should put the kettle on. And did I want a sandwich? some crisps? there might be a kitkat in the cupboard or a bit of cake, a bit of old cake but cake nonetheless.
Seems small I guess – there’s no grand story arch here that takes in the great and the good the rich and the famous. It’s just a tale of small things. Relatable reliable things. Quiet, unconditional. But of course, that’s not small, it’s elemental and runs to the core of what type of person she was and life she led the and impact she had – she wasn’t in the background of our lives she was the background of our lives.
I’m told that It’s a cliche to end with a quote, so I want to end with two. As we are in this holy place it seemed appropriate to use something from the bible. It is something a priest said to me when I was in primary school, and that for more years than I care to admit, I thought he’d made it up, there are a few translations but the one I think of, the one that gets me through darker times and I think for me epitomises the spirit of Ma, Mammy Grandma B, Granny, Betty, Mrs Brennan is the last two lines of Psalm 30
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
And the second quote is from a similarly worthy source, The Hollywood actor slash superstar Keanu Reeves. Who on a US talk show was asked: What happens to us when we die, Keanu Reeves?
And he paused for a second and answered
The ones who love us
will miss us.
You want your kids to be happy. Happy good humans that’s it really. There’s other stuff of course, of course, but really that’s as much as I’m asking for. Not to say that this is easy it’s not. It’s really, really relentless hard work, and often the reward is no reward. It can turn even the most pure person into the Grinch who stole childhood.
But occasionally they’ll do something that is so edifying and so fantastic that you’re moved. The best ones are the small ones, the unrequested please or thank you or maybe an act of kindness toward another person. You might think they’re few and far between, it can be easy to think they’re the one-offs and they might be, but it’s nicer to think that the ones you see are what’s really what and that they happen all the time.
Last month there was a bad car crash on the main route to school, thankfully not a bad one in terms of people and no one was seriously injured, but it happened at a key junction. The vehicles involved came to rest in, what I’m told was, an unfortunate arrangement and were sufficiently jammed together that it wasn’t going to be a short job to uncomplicate them and open the road.
The outcome was that the school buses could not make it to school and therefore were unable to pick up their precious precious cargo and deposit those delightful cherubs where they might. So, my child and her friend decided they’d set off walking. It’s not a huge distance, but it’s not inconsiderable either, 6 miles according to The Google. I set off in the car to get as close to the road closure as I could manage and save their teenage legs from the trauma of being used.
Weirdly, the roads were not chock-a-bloc with traffic as I had expected, but I decided I’d go the secret back way, which was, of course choc-a-bloc. The road between Halifax and Burnley is a busy one and has a lot of tiny rat runs, if you can face the cobbles and steep inclines.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology I was able to track Child 1 as she and her friend made it quite the distance really and I came out of a tiny and ‘not suitable for road vehicles’ but clearly suitable for vehicles as there were many, side road.
I stopped, taxi in a movie doing a chase style, and parked sensibly and invisibly by engaging my hazard warning lights. Far from it being Child 1 and school friend, it was Child 1 and school friends. “Hey, my dad will take you home,” child 1 said to the group, and in they piled. Now, I’m going to say it was child 1 and three friends because that is how many seats I have in my car. The boot can take 2 people if they lay down, but never with the car moving or in fact ever, officer.
Making it back to Halifax was trickier as the main road was chock-a-bloc this time and there was no route back on the rat run I had used as though it is/isn’t suitable for motor vehicles it’s definitely only suitable one way. So, we went via Lud Foot. Anyone from the general area will know that means stupidly steep hills on cobbles. In addition, I was behind a newly qualified driver. The green L plate was visible to me, but not to the absolute prick in the pick-up truck behind me who loved his horn as much as his toxic masculinity.
It was a traumatic return, the NQD wanting more space than was available and giving way far too much, combined with pick-up man on a mission made it tricky to maintain my composure. It would have been made worse if I’d had two school kids in the boot illegally as well as the four up front so it’s handy that I didn’t. They all chatted about a teacher they disliked, bonding over how little that teacher knew and how the children themselves could teach the subject better – I bit my lip.
After much go and wait and maneuvering we started to make progress, but the going was slow. We eventually made it back to Halifax and I was directed to ‘generally my house’ by a very polite teen in the front. They all piled out saying a variety of thank yous and I think one of them called me a lifesaver, but I’m too modest to say.
Cargo of well-organised teenage bones and flesh deposited somewhere near their homes Niamh jumped into the front seat and I sprung on this chance to bond over a chat and asked “Who were they?” “No idea” she replied as she put her headphones on turned the music to 11 and stared out of the window.
“And how did that make you feel?” Asked the therapist.
“Amazing” I said.
Last night I had the dream again. I was back there. That place that haunts my memory. It’s always the same.
The derelict castle, isolated and gloomy, towers over me. Crows surround the turrets and constantly call out in their ancient language. Uncontrolled plants from the untended garden below crawled up the walls and through the holes in the crumbling brick.
The tops of the castle seem charred like the remains of a fire that was put out as quickly as it started. There was a constant mist lingering in the air as if it were a ghost, spying on the castle, threatening to suffocate those who dared enter.
The windows had no glass and looked like gloomy holes that lead to an endless abyss of darkness and pain. After staring for a while, I take a step forwards and that is where the dream ends every single time. I wake up in a pool of my own sweat terrified by what I have seen although I did not see enough to scare me.
I See the castle in my mind every day. Trying to understand its meaning. Why it has come into my head. What does this place have to do with me? I have so many questions that cannot be answered for you only truly understand the fear of this dream if you live it. Like I do so often
The new M1 might just be the most interesting thing that Apple has done in computers since, well the last interesting thing it did. Seriously though, the move to Intel was ok, but a bit ‘me too’ PowerPC was hot for a while then too hot for its own good. The iMac was blue and plastic and, err, Blue, Bondi Blue. Sure, sure, that Mac that you like with the fancy thing was also ‘revolutionary’ and had ‘bleeding edge’ industrial design with physics defying welding techniques and a range of other nonsense, but was it really all that? No. No not really.
And, while I’m here putting my mouth where there is no money I should add that I bought a MacBook Air M1. That’s likely not all that interesting, in fact, I know it isn’t, but you’re read this far so you may as well keep on going. The last new Mac I bought was a 2013 MacBook Pro – for those of you not up with the ancient art of maths that is seven years ago. A laptop that lasted 7 years, and is still going strong. The battery was a bit lazy, but all in all it’s still a very, vary capable laptop. The reason I had a 7 year old Mac was because every time I looked to the One More Thing Machine the lens on the reality distortion field was askew. Nothing particularly new or interesting came along – TouchBar people? Are you off your Rokr? Steve Jobs would have given that particular feature all the effort of the Motorola iTunes Phone launch.
Let’s be honest here though, this brand new MacBook Air I have before me is basically the old MacBook Air with new gizzards. It is, though, you’ll be entirely shocked to discover, beautifully well made.
The keyboard is lovely, they fixed that and given my elongated upgrade orbit I missed out the painful butterfly effect anyway so I’ve gone from the (trademark symbol incorrectly used) best laptop keyboard ever ever ever to the new version of that. It is honestly a delight. There is something tactile there and not there about it – reassuring clattering and travel and yet not too far apart or too close keys. I am 100% sure it is just my personal taste and desire to justify the cost, but I make fewer errors and words flow more freely from the meat muscle in my head and down the AppleTalk network that is my nervous system to the delicate pinkies that are bashing this crap out more quickly and accurately than they do on the keyboard that no-doubt looks identical to this one but isn’t the same somehow on other non-Apple laptops I own or use. This laptop keyboard is so nice that I am considering writing my work emails and longer messages on it and sending them from the Mac. That’s nuts, but really, it is that much better.
The trackpad is, as all Mac trackpads have been for time immemorial wonderful. This may seem a tiny point and the sort of people who say things like “you can buy a laptop for half the price and it will have 17 USB 4 Ports!” will scoff, but the MacBook trackpad is and has been for many years one of its best features. Unsung, dull, an ‘expected’ feature, but I Stan for the Mac touchpad. In my day-to-day I have to use a work issued HP laptop – it is perfectly serviceable and does everything I need a work machine to do. With one very specific exception. The trackpad is AWFUL. Terrible. Naff. Crap. Infuriating to the level that I have a mouse at all times. Even when I’m mobile – 2020 says LOL at that, but you get me. Trackpad superiority is an oft overlooked feature of Macs. Now, I’m sure there are 4 million settings I could try to fix the trackpad on the HP and I’m equally sure that the £250 Toshiba you picked up at the car boot has a ‘perfectly serviceable’ trackpad and I don’t know what I’m talking about, but no, I do, and the Mac trackpad is worth the £1000 entry fee alone. A. Lone. Do not @ me.
The screen is perfect. I say that with no pretension to know about these things in a deep technical sense. I just mean that when you look at it, it is wonderful to look at. It “pops”, just like Bob Mansfield said it does, or whoever it was at Apple that coined the phrase “pops” for a description of something visual. It is balanced and bright and like the trackpad, better and different for almost entirely blasé reasons like ‘because’ and ‘I can’t explain it, but’ – it is the best.
I have never, not once ever when using a laptop thought to myself “hey, I’d like to just touch the screen to control that”. You may take a different view, but a lack or touchscreen is no problem for me. Also, you aren’t good looking enough to be allowed to touch this thing of beauty with your grubby digits – it’s a miracle that Apple allows you access to it at all. You should think yourself lucky they let you buy them – honestly you don’t deserve it.
So far, keyboard, trackpad and monitor are all wonderful – it’s almost as if Apple really does look at the interaction points and designs experiences rather than computers. Not that I buy any of that nonsense, natch. However, one does have to think that once you’re past the gimmicky nonsense of ‘computer needs to have x’ – keyboard and trackpad and screen are just about all that matters. Oh, and battery life, which is life-y.
The operating system has a fancy name, but between you and me, does it really make any difference? I say this as someone who used Macs since OS 6 – barely anything has changed really – double click here, pull a menu down there, it’s all the same. There are some nice touches if you are a dreadful fanboy sucking on the teat of Mother Apple – logging in to services, unlocking with Apple Watch, TouchID, that sort of thing. Slick, smooth and simple. Absolutely worth the Apple Tax.
Which leaves us with just the M1 to talk about – which, given that it is the most interesting thing Apple has done in computers for years you’d think I have lots to say about it. I don’t, there are loads and loads of other places you can go to see how fast the M1 is when it’s importing 4K HD video and audio and also opening Microsoft Word, but in the real world I and I’m guessing 99% of you do not do that. However, what I can say is that this Mac does just work – no awkward hesitations, no spinning beachball of doom, just click and do. Even with the Intel app versions. And that is all you or I need to care about really. This is a marvellous laptop and yes it only has two thunderbolt ports and a, no sniggering at the back, 3.5mm headphone socket.
I got the 16GB of RAM version, because getting the most RAM you can is a mantra I live by – with absolutely no justification or understanding, it’s just something I heard one time and I’ve kept at it. Otherwise the MacBook Air I have before me is the base model. It is currently marvellous. But then for the money you’d have to expect that. Of course, you should never ever buy the version one of anything Apple as in 6-8 months they will release a much better one, but if you were to buy this laptop it would be the best 6-8 months of your entire life.
A short tribute to Adam Banks who passed away this last week
Simple twists of fate are odd when we look back through the lens of time passed. They gain such significance, but let’s be honest they are just happenstance and pure chance. I was at school aged 14, perhaps 15 and there were no Acorn BBC computers available, so I was sat in front of a Mac SE FDHD. This single event put Adam and me on a collision course.
Fast forward a bit and I am consumed by Apple and Macs, I know, cool right? Anyway, part of that inconspicuous consumption was a copy of MacUser magazine every two weeks, which Adam edited and wrote for. I read the magazine from cover to cover for year after year.
Then one day, I find myself sat at a desk on the fifth floor of Denis Publishing in London, I have cut out some detail you can fill that in yourself with a montage set to music, Yakety Sax would fit. Anyway, I am in awe, absolutely beyond imposter syndrome – I have no clue what is going on or how it has happened, but I’m employed by MacUser magazine.
I have to pinch myself, this entity which has been my bible, map and guide to the stars has let me inside and I am going to be part of it. I sit at my desk from which I can see old covers I bought and designs that never saw the light of day. I meet real people who’ve been 2D to me for so long I sort of feel like I know them. I’m set adrift on a fanboy sea and not only can I not sail, I can’t swim, I have no boat and I have no idea which way is up.
Then…Someone, I’m not sure who, is asking who might write something, I’m not sure what “Get Adam to do it” comes the call from across some desks and all of a sudden I’m back in the room. Adam Banks. I know all these names; I know all these people who do not have a clue who the clueless northern lad in the corner is. I’m in awe, not ashamed to say it.
I look up and Julian who is sat opposite me picks up the phone (I know, right? The. Phone.) and dials. I have no idea why, but the call to Adam specifically caught my attention. I remember it very clearly even now. I watched in rapt awe – Julian could just call Adam Banks and speak to him. What. The. Fuck?
Julian waits and then Adam Banks answers the phone, just like that, Actual Adam Banks is on the phone to another person, just meters away from where I sit and everyone else is acting like this is totally normal. My brain isn’t really coping with this. I zone out a bit. It’s overwhelming. Adam has clearly said “Hello” Adam Banks answers his own phone, I can’t really believe that. Then Julian screams down the handset:
“BANKSY! YOU ABSOLUTE SLAAAG, can you do me 2000 words on…”
Later that week it was the MacUser awards, a ceremony where printers and scanners won prizes and PR people and journalists did Colombia’s economy the power of good. All hard to imagine these days. Anyway, I was staying over at Julian’s house after. On our way out of the door of the awards it turned out that Adam was also staying over. I can’t begin to describe to you how insane it felt. Not only was I drunk on free wine, I was in a minicab (unlicenced) heading to somewhere in South London with Adam Banks. Insane.
The cab driver dropped us off somewhere near our destination and we began the short walk to Julian’s house. As we were rounding the corner to his street a car travelling at twice the speed of sound approached, screeching, sparks flying everywhere, the scene made all the more dramatic by a background of blue light getting ever closer. The car hit the kerb and I instinctively jumped into Adam’s arms. I’m not kidding, full-on jumped on him.
The car bumped off the kerb and continued, chased by several police cars. As the dust settled, I realised that the car was a good 100 feet away from us and would not, could not have caused me or Adam or Julian any damage whatsoever. As the sound and light show faded away my embarrassment deepened in equal and opposite measure. Adam told me not to worry about it, but that I should forever remember the night he saved my life.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the world’s most cliché greasy spoon and went back to the office and chatted about Apple-related things, like that was a normal thing to do. In the space of about 3 days, I had met, got drunk with, broken stale bread, been to South London with and had my life saved by Adam Banks.
I know that asking someone to understand the fever dreams of a 15-year-old boy come true is always a big ask, but Apple was my passion at the time and MacUser the main conduit for that passion. So, to try and illustrate: imagine you’re drunk in a minicab heading to Sidcup or Dartford I forget which, with the protagonist of your 15-year-old fever dreams who or whatever they may be.
Over the next several years we worked together apart on many things. Reviews, work-throughs, features, presentations, discussions about publishing, my work, his work, unpaid invoices – his first then years later, mine. We made jokes about publishers and their desire to re-use the word repurpose in ever more creative ways. That some of my work is connected to his will forever give me a deep sense of pride. Adam was always generous and an absolute pleasure to be around, near or in the same general space as.
Like many freelancers our orbits were sometimes tight and other times far too wide. Adam was all the nice things that people are saying about him and much, much more. Adam was a riot of joy and good humour, a real-life life saver. They say, never meet your heroes. They are wrong, the absolute slags.
Apropos of nothing in particular. Just before Roy Scheider, playing the green, but somehow simultaneously edgy Chief Brody in Jaws, says his most famous line in, well, just about any movie “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” he says “I can go slow ahead, come on down and chum some of this shit”
The only thing I knew about this movie before I watched it was that it existed. Now at least I know that it is quite the most ridiculous film ever made. I like an implausible plot twist at the best of times, but the entire film is an implausible twist plot. Awful.
I guess the easy thing would be to go along with the swathes of glowing reviews from experts and take note of the huge array of awards that this movie has won and seems to continue to win. Wait. For. It. … Just a little more…
I really didn’t like this movie. I did want to. I just didn’t. I was searching for a way to describe how I felt, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It looks lovely, but that, for me is about it. The story is stupid, the characters ugly. It’s a good thirty minutes too long and, well, boring. The best way I could think of to describe how I felt watching Parasite was thus:
Imagine you are sitting in front of a washing machine that has a lovely white cotton towel in it, the really fluffy one you just bought that totes gets you and then you half notice what looks like a flash of red. A rush of adrenaline, but then it abates because it was just a figment of your imagination. You turn to look away, but WOAH just as you glance back, there in the window is a big dark blue sock and it is clinging to the glass taunting you.
THEN BAM. The red sock appears and pushes the blue sock off its perch. You reach of the off button, but know that despite your need for this disaster to be over the off button on a washing machine is more an indication of future intent than a strict instruction and this horror show is going to continue for some time and you’ll just have to deal with it.
You sit, horror-struck in front of the washing machine unable to move, you watch as red follows blue follows white and then it all starts to blend into one indescribable shade of grey. A really crap grey that ruins everything. It ruins the blue sock, it ruins the red sock and worst of all it ruins is the white towel – everything looks awful and all you can do is sit.
THEN BAM, the washing machine inexplicably lurches forwards and falls on you trapping you until help arrives – it never does. As you sit there, trapped, you try to work out why this happened and how on earth the washing machine could have fallen on you, but this story has no need for logic or sense it’s just a collection of things thrown together. Not unlike Parasite.
I didn’t like it.
Mobile World Congress Barcelona has been cancelled and this is sad, I like the cut of some of the gibs of people complaining that it shouldn’t have been cancelled though. Can you imagine the pearl-clutching-sanctimonious- shrieking if they’d gone ahead and a technology journalist caught a cold? However, as with all clouds there is a silver lining, it has provided me with a perfect opportunity to link a current event with something I did years ago and, as they say, repurpose it.
Believe it or not, I was a judge for the GSMA Global Mobile Awards Most Innovative Mobile App at Mobile World Congress a few years back. Which is easier done than said. The panel was made up of some incredible names, Cherie Blair, yes that one – some other famous people, very high-profile technology journalists and, err, me – they CC’d everyone into the first email so I got some good contacts too.
For the small price of judging apps and mobile related stuff across a small number of entries, about 20,000 if I recall correctly, I got a pass to the show and access to the executive lounge.
There was free Wi-Fi in the lounge and free soft drinks – though I spent most of my time in the press lounge where there were no free drinks, I did have the Wi-Fi password though, so was basically treated as a demi-god. This being one of the world’s premier digital shows they’d put the Wi-Fi access code on the back of the Presss Room sign and then on realising they’d put an extra ‘s’ in Press, taken the sign down and along with it the code. I may be misremembering the fact, but the gist is there.
I attended launches by Huawei, Polycom, China
Unicorn Unicom, Rovi, Otterbox, Sandisk and Nokia – lolz remember them? The Sandisk PR man had a nightmare as I nonchalantly asked the spokesperson they’d proffered up as a flash-based hard drive expert what he thought of Apple’s flash storage solutions, it was as if I had uncovered the scabby wound of a chip on his shoulder and dabbed it with a salt solution. Sufficed to say, he wasn’t happy I’d asked what their product was like compared to someone else’s. I’d put the shrug emoji in here if I knew how. PR guy winced when I asked and then again at the answer, joke was on them though as I had zero chance of writing anything about flash-based hard drive storage with any of the magazines I was writing for. Well, that’s not strictly true in that it’s not true at all, but it makes me feel better to think that.
Best launch of all though was the Nokia one – I can’t remember exactly why, but they launched a phone not intended for the European market and then got flustered by the first question from the assembled journalists which was something along the lines of “why are you showing us this?” Then they launched something I feel sure with the Symbian OS. I think there was whooping from the crowd at that point, I may have been hallucinating because of the Symbian bit, but feel sure there was. I also got invited to Nokia-World or whatever it was called, that took place in Finland so I was excited about that at least. Sadly, this was just about the same time they discovered the platform fire and they never did quite put it out so Finland got filleted.
Anyway, the award for which I was a judge went to SwiftKey one of those Swyping keyboard things that were all the rage on smartphones before they all got Sherlocked (look it up kids). There was a lavish awards ceremony followed by a party, but I got lost, ended up at the wrong event and never did get to celebrate with Cherie Blair or Tim Minchin. However, this personal mishap did lead me to partake in what I can only describe as one of my finest culinary achievements as a freelance journalist.
The glitz and glamour of a press trip can never be adequated illustrated, but here is my evening meal of crisps, warm beer and a tin of olives.
Hopefully, MWC will return, I mean, I don’t really mind either way now that I’m not likely to return to the hard life of fulltime tech journalism, but it was a fun one in a beautiful city where tins of olives and warm beer are readily available and pickpockets and price gouging taxi drivers do it with a smile on their face.