“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
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.
To help stretch my current blogging interest in the longevity of digital, specifically publishing, but in reality anything, to its limit… I was invited by Amazon Photos this morning to remember where I was exactly a decade ago today.
I mean, it’s not there anymore either.
A passing thought about the changing nature of human memory when paired with digital devices entered my brain for a second, but the complexity of how that might manifest itself meant that my brain deleted it almost immediately.
But, as Phil Collins might say, seriously… What if digital, with its impression of permanence begins to affect the actual permanence of physical memory. You start to rely on Amazon photos to remind you where you were a decade ago, even sub-consciously, and then your actual memory starts to discard memory it would have normally kept. The digital memory turns up and woo great. Amazon fails to remind you and poof, memory gone. I guess that’s not really all that different to a physical photography, but with so much more of our day to day being digital and the increased reliance on that digital content store are we putting more of our memory at risk? A bit like the humans in the movie WALL-E but not a physical deterioration a mental one too.
I bet there’s some proper academic research along these lines too, but I’m far too busy and important to search that out so this unsourced stream of consciousness attached to a weak sauce excuse to remind myself I once went to Apple HQ will have to do.
In my last post I mentioned that digital just disappears and that got me thinking about how I might be able to keep some of the digital things that I’d done. It’s weird that even at the first step of my own digital footprint, the stuff that I alone control the assets for, some of it is already gone.
I started to sift through the digital-only stuff I had created over the years and one of the first I came to was a presentation I gave at a ‘future of digital magazines’ event, website gone, ironically, at UAL: London College of Communications.
Basically, I have the slides for the Petchu-Kutcha and you can see them in that incredibly very annoying animated gif (hard G) that is cycling below. What’s gone though are my notes and though I memorise all my presentations before I give them, inevitably, the detail disappears from my memory and, sans notes, I’m afraid I couldn’t be 100% sure of what I said for, let’s say, the slide with ‘Distraction’.
I do know what I said for the Guttenberg slide as that got a nice laugh and I’m an absolute sucker for the pleasure of making a large group of people chuckle. I was saying that Guttenberg made the press to make money, not to please God or the church which is basically the same notion behind the Police Academy franchise.
However, other than a few emails back and forth between myself and the other contributors about subject choice and this keynote, that’s all that’s left. I think it may have been recorded, but I don’t think it ever made the light of day.
I do wonder if there’s any use in even attempting to understand what a realistically safe public digital archive with longevity might actually look like. Can anything that isn’t a huge, globally uniform, globally funded site work? And for what and who curates and who pays for that?
I do like the word disenthrall though. Still.
First. Failure leaves you if you let it. Success is nice and warm, like a favourite jumper, you can always put it on and make yourself feel better. It keeps you warm no matter the weather and even when the jumper has made that trip to the charity bag of middle-class guilt you can always reminisce about the warm fuzzy feeling it once gave. Failure is a bit like that goop you find at the bottom of the bin, that stuff you inevitably stick your hand in. Or, that baby nappy you’ve lifted the leg cuff of to check for content and, well, hot fire sewage comes to mind. It gets stuck under your nails, makes you retch, leaves you looking wistfully into the middle distance cursing the things that might have been. However, once you’ve washed your body in bleach, clipped your nails until they are bleeding from the tips and had an optician fix your middle-distance antimetropia then all of that stink and stink eye is but a middle-distance mirage.
B. It is possible to get everything right and to still have a negative outcome, but much more likely is getting about 50% right and the rest is just dumb chance and circumstance. Like, for a random example I’m pulling from thin air… you could have decided that a good day to launch your paid for issue is the same day that Apple decides to increase pricing tiers and that screws everything up and even so it is YEARS before you realise that actually the price increase had absolutely zero to do with download numbers really and it turns out people won’t pay for a digital magazine so you were worrying about completely the wrong thing. A complete lack of interest in iPad based digital magazines wasn’t an option in the ‘threats’ column. Lesson learned.
iii. Communicating your intention is much, much, much harder than you might think. Saying the same thing over and over and over again, might and I mean might help about 7% of people get on the same page as you, but honestly, the other 94% are just not interested or listening or that good at maths so detail that should, you’d think, stand out like a sore thumb goes unnoticed. And here I mean on your own team, not the generally interested passers-by, I mean the people in the car with you, some of whom may be driving or at least changing gears or tuning the radio. The very people who have bought in are on payroll are super enthusiastic. It’s not that they aren’t on the journey with you, it’s more they’ve all got the same Google maps location, but to a slightly different postcode. Some of them might even be using Apple maps so are completely, utterly, irredeemably lost.
Further: Picking the ‘right tools’ is about 1/10th of 1% of the process. Any good salesperson will tell you that it’s 99% of the thing, but honestly spending time worrying about how to get something done just gets in the way of getting something done. Pick a tool you like and use that. When Geoff, the guy who’s never
publishing done anything original says “see, this is why you should have gone with a container app build on HTML5” tell Geoff to go fuck off to the far side of Fuck and when he’s found the mayor of Fuck Off town to keep going to Fuck Off street until it meets Keep Going Geoff Avenue and then turn left. But what if Geoff is experienced and knowledgable I hear you whisper, well, if Geoff truly is knowledgable and experienced he’ll give you better advice before not after and it will be based on options, not opinions. Even then, Geoff doesn’t have to be a dick about it is all I’m saying.
Failure stinks, but the smell goes away. The reasons something doesn’t work are very likely not the reasons you think are the reasons why something fails and only about a decade of reflection will help. Your vision isn’t as clear as you think it is and you need to bang on and on and on and on and on and on about it, then when you think people get the message you need to reiterate it over and over and over and over and over again. Tools are tools and you should pick one and use it. Digital is permanently temporary.