This is a re-run of a piece I posted a few years ago. I think I was trying to do a Keith Waterhouse. It drew a few nice comments. I happened to come on it today, and thought I would post it again. (Sometimes, when I Google usages of a particular phrase or reference, I find my own stuff.)
My life has been notably uneventful by most peoples' standards. And yet I am fascinated by how eventful life is, in every case. We have all been places, seen things, known people. Every now and again I am struck by a sense of wonder at the unseen world, so that a dusty store-room somewhere seems no less marvellous than the Grand Canyon.
Similarly, whenever I hear someone use a phrase like "I remember a time we used to..." or "back in the day, a few of us would always..." I feel a frisson of awe.
This essay was more an attempt to convey this sense of awe, than to write about my own experience particularly. I also love the phrase 'the chimes at midnight", which evokes to me this particular atmosphere of tremulous wonder.
If I were to die this very day...
If I were to die
this very day, I would have walked alone on a deserted beach, and stood
in a crowd of untold thousands in London on New Year's Eve, with my
I would have flown over the Atlantic Ocean,
looking at the clouds glowing beneath me. I would have heard a tune
played on an organ made of stone, in an underground cavern.
would have played blind-man's-bluff, charades, beggar-my-neighbour,
Cluedo, hide-and-seek, Pooh sticks, and a game invented by me and my
brothers that involved trying to hit each other with the rubber base of a
hospital crutch, first bouncing it against the floor.
would have been a socialist, an Irish nationalist, an anti-Irish
anti-nationalist, an anti-modernist, an atheist, an agnostic, an
anglophile, a Judophile, a Luddite, a monarchist, a eugenicist
(unfortunately), a Catholic, and a fan of Liverpool Football Club.
would have sat in a field with other neighbourhood boys, at dusk, after
playing football for hours, and listened to ghost stories. I would have
lain awake in bed that night, desperately trying not to say (or rather,
think) the Lord's Prayer backwards, thus summoning the Devil.
would have been to a single baseball game, and come away entranced,
with the song echoing in my head: "Take me out to the ball game, take me
out to the crowd..."
I would have watched bats flitter through the twilight in Limerick, and watched lightning-bugs glow in Virginia.
would have worn: sideburns, a Marseillies soccer jersey, silky
tracksuits, fingerless gloves, massive square-framed glasses, a pink
wrist-watch, denim corduroys, a blue jumper with pictures of space
invaders, and slacks and shirts and jumpers that made one girl tell me,
"You dress like a seminarian".
I would have sat in an
empty cinema watching a movie alone. I would have been to see the same
movie five times-- for two different movies. I would have watched three
movies in the cinema, in a row, on one day. And all this after having
nervously bought a cinema ticket on my own, for the first time, in my
I would have eaten five cream cakes in a
row, walking around Dublin city centre in my college days, because I
could afford all five for a pound.
I would have heard
an old Jewish man recalling his memories of Krystallnacht, the night
when SA troops and ordinary Germans smashed up hundreds of Jewish shops
I would have prayed to God in
Westminster Cathedral, in the café of a cinema, in a completely dark
budget hotel room, at the top of Croagh Patrick.
I would have actually slipped on a banana peel, in Moore Street.
I would have stood in a dole queue, and sat in the first-class section of an airplane.
I would have lain awake in bed reading all night until morning, not once but several times, reading To Sir with Love, David Copperfield, The Ragged-Trousered Philantropists, and a Sexton Blake book.
would have forgotten my own birthday at the age of fourteen, but never
have lost a child's excitement about Christmas-- even when I half-wanted
to, in my late teens.
I would have collected Batman cards, Transformers toys, the Tranformers comic, The Eagle comic, Carry On movies, Subbuteo teams and accessories, and unusual words.
I would have been on a picket once, rather reluctantly.
would have drawn a map of a fantasy world on the back of a roll of
wallpaper, as part of a plan to out-Tolkien Tolkien, before my voice had
I would have lain in bed crying, wishing Aslan was real.
would have visited the National Museum with my class, and have been
frightened because everything there was so old and belonged to the dead.
would have heard kids in my French class excitedly discussing the odds
of a white Christmas that year-- a white Christmas that never came to
pass. But I would have lived to see a real, gleaming, perfect white
Christmas, many years later.
I would sat in an Accident and Emergency department for twelve hours with my future wife, on her first visit to Ireland.
I would never have milked a cow, because my farmer uncle would never let me when I asked him.
would have pompously told my father that "I renounce Shakespeare", some
time in my teens, only to receive the withering response that I wasn't
the first person to do that.
I would have been shown a rock with Satan's footprint on it.
would have watched with awe as my older brother and my cousin played
games like Back to Skool and War of the Worlds on my cousin's Spectrum
I would have been caught in the middle of a riot.
I would have gone on my knees (plural) and proposed to a woman, and heard her say "Yes" through tears.
I would have written a love-note to a girl, and then chickened out of putting it in her school-bag.
would have smelled freshly-mown grass, tasted greasy chips, seen the
night sky glow orange with the reflection of street lamps, shivered with
cold as I walked around the school-yard on a Winter morning, and lost
all taste for red wine after I drank too much of it at a dinner party
and almost threw up in the taxi.
I would have been in
detention once, and struggled with scruples about promising the
supervising teacher that he wouldn't see me again, since I didn't see
how I could conscientously promise that.
I would have
known neighbours knock on our door to ask if they could use our
telephone, long years before every ten-year-old kid had his own mobile.
I would have been given a snow-man snow-globe, for Kriskindle, at a work Christmas party.
would have played a computer game for sixteen hours straight, then gone
out to walk the dog in the early hours, have been so light-headed that I
felt I was walking on the moon, and resolved not to play any more
I would never have been in a wax museum, seen E.T., played spin-the-bottle, read Treasure Island, been in a helicopter, or had a headache.
I would have known what it was like to have no friends, and what it was like to have wonderful friends.
I would have seen every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but never seen an episode of Cheers.
I would have received a Valentine's card-- for the first time, in my thirties.
I would have written poetry in a café in Wales, in Dublin airport, in Philadelphia airport, in a pub in Chester.
would have sat down in an almost-deserted school hall, during one study
period towards the end of the day, reading my history book as silence
fell over the school, and suddenly realised that history had actually happened.
would have been almost mugged, with a bottle waved in my face, until my
would-be-mugger relented, when someone he knew shouted from a window to
leave me alone.
I would have had one line to say in a school play, and forgotten it.
I would have got trapped behind a china cabinet, that was placed diagonally in a corner of the living room.
I would have heard children playing outside my window.
would have seen what seemed like hundreds of crows filling the sky at
dawn, out my bedroom window, when staying with my step-grandfather, in
I would have volunteered for a psychological study in Trinity College, which involved spitting into a glass dish.
I would have made shadow-puppets by candlelight, with my family, during a power-cut.
I would have lost my glasses in a water-slide.
I would have once written ten thousand words before breakfast.
would have had debates about capitalism, poetry, euthanasia, gun
control, the existence of God, Irish history, cinema, national
traditions, immigration, superheroes, and dozens of other subjects.
would have carried two bunches of roses, one white and one red, through
the streets of Richmond, drawing thumbs-ups and cheers from a group of
young guys, a deadpan comment that "you've got it covered" from a
passing girl, and-- months later-- a mention from some acquaintances who
had passed me in a car at the time.
I would have heard
a ghost story about the Titanic, told in a school dressing room, that
involved deep-sea divers seeing the words "Leave us in our watery grave"
written on the hull, and walked home feeling a chill all around me.
would have walked into a shop with clothes-pegs in my hair, as a child,
just to top a story that my brother told me about a friend who had
started eating a paper bag at the cash desk of a bookstore.
would have missed my train on a visit to Sheffield, because I couldn't
resist going back to the pub where I'd had dinner, to look one more time
at the red-haired barmaid who'd served me. But she was gone.
If I were to die today, I'd be grateful.
But I'd rather live for many years to come.