Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Birdman of Paris

To hurt is as human as to breathe. ~ J K Rowling
They call me l’homme oiseau de Paris, the birdman of Paris.  A child and her mother walk past; I hear them as they pass me, muttering that I am a lost cause.
“Only the birds are his friends.”  
I turn towards them, the pigeons  fluttering about with my every movement. I want to say that this is not madness it is grief. I open my mouth to speak but my words are incoherent. The mother puts a protective arm around her child, urging her to walk on.  “Don’t stare at him,” she scolds.
Does she not know that I can hear her hurtful words? I shrug. I too would not want my daughter near a vagrant like me.  The thought of my child brings forward that dull ache that is buried deep inside me.
This mother does not tell her child that I was once the happiest man in Paris.  Like you, little girl, I had a home. I had a family. Now the birds are my only solace.  But it is better out here with the birds. They don’t judge me.
The child averts her eyes from mine – oblivious to my pain she  scurries away.

About the photo: This photo was taken in Paris, just outside Pompidou Centre. There is nodoubt that the birds were enjoying his company.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.
~ Japanese Proverb

Light flooded through the tall arched window in the examinations hall. Lia gripped her pen in pain as her abdomen cramped again. A feeling of nausea danced in her belly. ‘Focus’ she whispered to herself, careful not to be heard. Lia looked down at the paper and bit her tongue hoping that the pain would shift.
 “You can open your booklets and begin,” the invigilator said at the front of the hall momentarily glancing at the large white clock behind him. He looked like a dinosaur. Lia stared at him longer than necessary as if willing him to reveal to her the answers. But of course he did not, instead his pre-historic eyes bore into her until she averted her gaze. She began to write.   
‘Pick any two questions’ the paper instructed but she could only answer one. Mark was right: if she couldn’t get through a standard mid-term how on earth would she be able to get through a trial, a real trial in fron of a real jury?
The silence of people writing furiously unnerved her.  An arm shot up to the right of her. More paper, she thought incredulously; it seemeed like barely five minutes had passed. But the clock told a different story.
The pain in her abdomen grew worse. Was it nerves or was she really sick? Lia looked up at the arched window – if only it were open she would be able to breathe properly not like the shallow puffs her body was forcing her to take.  
“You have five minutes,” the dinosaur said. But this time when he spoke the cramps eased and a feeling of calm took over. Lia looked at the paper if front of her. A sketchy answer to one of the questions lay before her but she wasn’t scared anymore. Somehow, the fear had passed.

About the photo: This photo has been taken from inside the Main Hall at the Bodleain Library.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

...and then it was over!

We cannot escape history.
~ Abraham Lincoln

We had queued in the rain, waiting patiently all morning and finally we got to see the flotilla. Jerry caught a glimpse of the Duchess of Cambridge and of course we saw the Queen with Prince Philip by her side. We were proud. You could see it on our faces; on everybody’s faces. The embankment was lined with people braving the elements of nature to show their support. If ever there was a picture of solidarity in support for a Monarch, it was today, the 3rd of June; The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Jerry had bought us some flags; a pound each. We waved them furiously, glugging our champagne from little plastic flutes, as the Spirit of Chartwell passed us by. The other boats went past, one by one, each holding their passengers, making history.

We clinked glasses, and kissed. When I opened my eyes it was over. We could hear the crowds cheering further down the embankment. Now there was nothing left for us to wait for; to queue for.  With the rest of the crowd that we had come to know, we made our way back home; our belongings held in a plastic bag.  The Jubilee pageant was over but its memory would stay with us forever.

Friday, 22 June 2012

No going back

Freedom is never voluntarily given by
the oppressor; it must be demanded
by the oppressed.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I walked with the rest of them, down the path, away from the river. It was over. I had whiled away the morning waiting for the Queen of England. I hadn’t meant to. I wouldn’t call myself a royalist and I am definitely not British. I just happened to stumble across the festivities.

I can hear you laugh.  Yes, there were road closures. Yes, I had seen it advertised. It wasn’t as if I was living in a black hole. I had chosen to ignore it all. It was what I did best.

That Sunday morning when Tomasz drove his fist into my stomach, I ran. Out on to the street. I took the tube as far Central as it would take me. I managed to get out at Blackfriars and then unexpectedly I was caught up in this mass of people – all gathered to see the Queen. I tried to hide from myself in the crowd and watched the boats pass by. I saw couples holding hands and happy families celebrating together. I wanted a family too except I had none; an orphan child with an abusive lover.

I should have been angry. I should have been upset. But I wasn’t. Somehow here I was, caught in the celebration enjoying it for what it was. I realised then that it was the first time I had smiled in ages. The smile made me feel something inside - deep within. It was then that I decided I wanted to be free - I wasn’t going back. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Liquid History

Water is the driving force of all nature.
~ Leonard da Vinci

A life source on its own - I look with admiration at the water that flows against the mossy green embankment. The crowd pushes gently but I stand my ground. A lady dressed head to toe in red, white and blue spills beer on her half eaten pork pie. But she does not mind; she continues to munch on the pastry and ground meat.  There is chatter all around me, excitement, boredom, anticipation. When will the flotilla arrive? I look at my watch – it is only two. I know we have at least another two hours to wait, the Queen is still to get on to her boat at Battersea.

Others are with family and friends - I am on my own. I don’t mind. The river is my company. I search the waters surface but I see nothing. No roach, no bream, no perch yet I know it carries more than this.  I envision the deep, below the murky depths: eels playing with plastic bags. 

The two hours feel like days, finally my watch tells me it’s almost four o’clock. Suddenly a trout jumps into the air as if it knows. The crowd cheers and I smile.  Any minute now the Queen on her Royal Barge will pass along this part of the river; sailing over 346 kilometres of Liquid History. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Proud to be British

However British you may be, I am more British still.
~ Henry Thomas

We caught the ferry the night before and arrived in good time. Marcus wanted to camp outside. I said to him it was never going to happen, not in this weather.

We slept on the floor of Simon’s apartment that night. Four of us on the hard wood floor, up until two in the morning, drinking Jack and reminiscing about our university days. At eleven the next morning, we arrived at Embankment.

As we stepped off the bus the rain started. “A typical bank holiday then,” Ciara said and I shrugged.

It was impossible to get a good view of the Thames. I cursed Simon for not booking a riverboat. But looking around me, I knew that we were not the only ones who couldn’t see and that made me feel better. We walked from Embankment past the Strand and Somerset House down to Blackfriars. I envied the crowds standing on riverside apartment balconies, overlooking the Thames. I envied those dining in the Oxo Tower.

At noon, with still no place to stand, we found somewhere for lunch. Just a burger joint. But they gave us hats like crowns and free cups of hot tea. The Jubilee spirit was in the air, everywhere around us. As we headed back towards the river we could see that the crowd had swelled. The atmosphere was electric. We were pretty far off when the Spirit of Chartwell carrying its royal guests passed us by. We were cold and we were wet but we were proud to be British. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

King for a day

He wanted to be King. I frowned.

“There is no harm in a five  year old wearing a red velvet cape and a gold paper crown from Burger King is there?” my mother said.

“I suppose not.” I conceded. I pursed my lips looking at the joyous child.

“We are going to see the Queen, mummy. And I am going to be King.”

I raised my eyebrows.

All happiness unto my lord the King!
~ William Shakespeare
Josh stuck out his bottom lip.

I knew it was going to be cold and wet. I didn’t really want him with me. Yes it was a once in a life time experience, but one I doubted Josh would remember.  He would just get tired and cranky. He would slow me down.

In that moment I pined for his father. It would have been different if we could have gone as a family; if Mark was there to help me.

“You know Josh…” I started in my sweetest voice. My mother shot me a look.

“Okay you can come as a king.” I said and then he gave me that irresistible smile.

The Sunday came quicker than a flash. Together, we walked down the Strand, and in that crowd, without Mark, I was glad of his company.

Then as the rain started to fall, I held out my umbrella for Josh. After all he was King. 

About the photo: This photo was taken below Tower Bridge, at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations on a soggy Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


I look at my watch. Still no sign of him. I pull my knees closer to my chest and huddle against the wall looking for some protection from the cold. April in Paris can be surprisingly cold. Much colder than London. He said one forty. It’s now two.

A man in a black jacket jumps up on to the wall. Is it him? I wonder. Should I say something? He does not look at me. Perhaps this is a popular meeting spot. After all I do not know Paris. I am sure that I would recognise Pierre. How could I not? After our endless conversations, late into the night,  I feel I know him like the back of my hand.

The wait is long, my dream
of you never ends
~ Nuala O'Faolain
As time passes I begin to wonder if Pierre is in fact the man sitting beside me but his face is turned. I whisper his name but he does not turn.  Surely he would have recognised me by now. I take out my phone and read the last email exchange between us. I can’t help but blush. Yes I see that I have the time and the place right.  But my heart starts to sink– perhaps he will not come after all.


I have waited so long for this moment. To finally be able to meet Sarah, the woman of my dreams. I wonder if she will look the same as in her pictures?  We agreed one forty but she is not here yet. I hope she has not gotten cold feet. Perhaps I should have eaten first, my stomach reminds me that it is past my usual lunch time. But I wanted to show her Chez Michel, quite possibly the most romantic restaurant in the ninth arrondissement.

I look at my watch again and then over at the woman sitting next to me, or should I say teenager. She looks to be at that awkward age, she has not even learned how to sit yet.

Another half hour passes and I begin to wonder who the young girl is waiting for. A horrifying thought crosses my mind but I dismiss it fast enough. Instead I take my 
                                                                                                mobile phone out of my pocket and dial her number. 

About the photo: Its been taken across the road from the Notre Dame, two strangers lost in their own world.

Sunday, 10 June 2012


It is only noon and I know I have drunk too much already but it is summer in Madrid and what else is there to do? I spy an abandoned sofa in the middle of the plaza. I use the strength left in my body to push it to the edge of the square. The Españoles don’t like a drunk being the centre of attention but they don’t mind so much a quiet drunk  in the corner.

Happiness is not the absence of problems, it is the ability to deal with them.
~ Steve Maraboli

You see I’m not a bad alcoholic.   Some days I get work and I don’t touch the vodka till sunset but I’ll admit those days are now few and far between and in actual fact  they are verging towards non-existent. ‘Man should work’ they say and you can’t really do a proper day’s work with alcohol, but as I lie here sitting in the sun I realise I am at my happiest when I am intoxicated. Not to the extent where I make a fool of myself, like falling down and starting fights; just high enough to feel warm, alive and happy.

My mother doesn’t give up on me, she calls me every Sunday urging me to go to church with her.  And sometimes I go, just to see her smile. Elena  gave up on me a year ago. I didn’t expect her to stick around, I was lucky she married me in the first place.

“You should stop drinking,” everyone says to me and perhaps one day I will. But for now I am happy, lying on this sofa in the heat of the midday sun, drunk!

About the photo: I took this photo in Madrid on a warm February afternoon, with this man obviously making most of the unexpected sunshine.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Love Locks

As we left the Notre Dame and headed towards the left bank a reflection caught my eye. My gaze drifted towards the Pont de l’Archeveche. I smiled. The sun had burnt through the April cloud. François gripped my hand and led me towards the bridge. In silence I kept pace with him savouring the last hour we had together.

At the bridge we stopped and looked back at the Notre Dame. François wrapped me in his arms and we kissed. I couldn’t tell you how long we stood there for. Lips glued together like the world was about to end. When I opened my eyes Francois held out an open padlock. He rubbed his thumb over our initials which he had etched into the brass.

L'eternite, c'est long...surtout vers le fin.
~ Franz Kafka
It was only then that I noticed the other locks, ribbons and ties all marked with names or initials. François clasped the lock on to the metal railing, “Our love will be locked for all eternity,” he said before he threw the key into the Seine.

Now, two years later, I stand on the Pont de l’Archeveche on a beautiful summer’s morning. Our love lock is still there amongst the others. I wonder how many of those lovers are still together. My hand reaches out to hold on to the tangible evidence of what was my first love.

I feel his arm around me. I turn around. I want to hold him but instead François drops to one knee and only then do I notice a small blue velvet box he is holding in his hand. 

About the photo: I have been to Paris before but hadn't seen this bridge then. We stumbled upon this bridge as we were making our way from Notre Dame towards the Louvre.