Beyond the neon runes


Burn notice

It begins with an overheard conversation in the post office, two old dears breaking the news before it’s even broken: “They’re giving it lovely for the weekend,” says the first. “Are they?” asks the second, agog. “They are. 22 degrees,” the other replies proudly, as if she’d arranged it all herself.

You scoff inwardly, knowing that if such a thing were true you’d already know about it. Your phone would have told you, it tells you everything. And if it somehow forgot to tell you, one of the lads in the WhatsApp group would have said it. “Jesus, I’m not able for that kinda heat now, Mary. It kills me so it does.” “Aw, really? I love it. Strips off in the backyard and all so I does.”

Pushing all thoughts of semi-naked, aged women from your mind you switch on your phone and open up the weather app: Thursday, overcast, highs of 16°.  Friday, cloudy with sunny spells and occasional showers, highs of 17°. Saturday, hardly any clouds whatsoever, big yellow thing in the sky shining down all day, highs of 22°. You let out a little yelp of excitement, vowing never to doubt Post Office gossip ever again.

In case you didn’t know – in case you haven’t been to the Post Office this week – they are giving it lovely for the weekend, with both Saturday and Sunday predicted to be warm, sunny and pleasant. This will be, by my reckoning, the second time the sun has come out this year, putting us on course to beat the record of five which was set sometime in the nineteen-thirties. And, just like always, this appearance of a long-forgotten friend will see Irish people the length and breadth of the country lose their tiny little minds.

One by one we’ll take to the streets, like stupefied zombies, unsure of what to do but knowing we have to be out in it, that we can’t be stuck indoors on a day like this. A few will be prepared, will have spent the night lying in wait, gazing at the horizon. They will emerge into the heat like African queens; suitably attired, factor fiftied up, sunglasses atop their beautiful heads; bottle of water in one hand, book in the other, ready to worship at the altar. But the rest; the fearless, the foolish, and the forgetful; they’ll do things a little differently.

Like models in a fashion parade for the mentally unwell most of us parade around in the heat with little or no self-awareness and, quite often, little or no items of clothing. There’s the lads who, having spent the entire winter busting their arse in the gym, avail of this rare opportunity to strut their stuff. Flaunting honed, toned physiques, not to mention an enviable collection of tattoos, these Adonises swagger about town wearing nothing but a pair of GAA shorts and a gormless grin. By day two they are nowhere to be seen; confined to a darkened room as they nurse excruciating first-degree burns.

Then there’s the mix and match brigade. Caught on the hop, they open the curtains, see its sunny and do what they do every year; they rummage around in the wardrobe, chucking old shoes, odd socks and dirty linen aside, until they find what they’re looking for: their summer clothes. Bermuda shorts, coupled with music t-shirts that were never cool (not even in an ironic way), are casually draped on to bodies which haven’t seen the light of day since a sweaty coalescence three Christmases ago, sunglasses usually only seen on fading Hollywood sex sirens are brandished without shame, and crusty, musty trucker hats are stuck on heads which have inexplicably grown over the past twelve months.

Accompanying this carnival of insanity is, of course, alcohol; because what’s the point in having good weather if you can’t get buckled? Beer gardens, previously home to but a few smokers, become bristling cauldrons of activity. Afternoon drinkies turn into all-dayers as the perennially quarantined join the sober and the teetotal, everyone throwing caution to the wind, knowing that just one single cloud could call a halt to proceedings.

However, this pre-approved, self-contained, environment is only the tip of the iceberg. Parks, fields, avenues, estates, beaches, open spaces of any kind, host impromptu parties, music provided by whatever means necessary. Everyone gets in on the act; dogs, children, the infirmed, all join the conga, such is the feeling of togetherness brought about by the tropical temperatures. On it goes, until day turns to night; fights break out, cherries get popped, tears shed, and weary revellers limp home on streets paved with puke for a night of restless writhing beneath too-hot blankets on beds soaked in sweat.

Should this heat, and the accompanying mania, last for more than a handful of days, then the complaining starts, and not just from the elderly or the goths either; from everyone. The bonhomie of the previous few days is forgotten as stressed-out, hungover souls seek solace by any means necessary. Grown men hold miniature fans to their faces, any outdoor space offering a modicum of shade is snapped up vigorously, irritation sets in. And when water levels begin to deplete, when the Government advise us that, after six days without rain, we are on the brink of drought, the mood suddenly turns dark. A tearful farmer appears on the news, surrounded by scorched earth and dying crops, and we lambast that odious ball of fire in the sky. Our taps start malfunctioning, the toilet won’t flush, we stock up on bottled water from the supermarket fearing that this may really be the end.

Then, just as quickly as it arrived, it’s gone. You wake up one morning and instead of pitter- pattering around the house in the nip you find yourself pulling on a pair of trackie bottoms. You look out the window and there they are, the clouds, those lovely familiar, fluffy clouds, obstructing the source of all this commotion just like they’re supposed to. You reach into a sock drawer and pull out your woolliest pair as your flip flops lie neglected in the corner. It’s over, we’ve had our fun, now things can return to normality. We all got very brown, and that was some session we had on the Saturday, but we wouldn’t want it to get that hot again, not for a while anyway.

A month or so passes, it’s the middle of July and the weather is typically Irish; grey, occasionally warm, thoroughly depressing. As you enter your local post office you find yourself stood behind a couple of old women you vaguely recognise: “This weather is a bloody joke isn’t it, are we going to get a summer at all this year,” says one. “Tell me about it, Mary,” replies the other, “think I’ll just feck off to Spain for meself and never come back.”


No punishment at all

When I was a teenage boy I had but one interest in life; teenage girls. Unfortunately, thanks to a crippling shyness and substandard social skills I was rarely able to further this interest, their mysterious lives remaining just that, a mystery, throughout my formative years.

However, while I was no dab hand with the ladies, I was excellent at misbehaving in school, proficient some might say. For my efforts, I was rewarded with detentions, suspensions and threatening intentions, standard practises when dealing with a boy of my ilk. Never once though, in all my years, was I rewarded for acting the blackguard. Yes, you could argue that suspension, and the accompanying days off, is kind of like a reward, but you’ve never met my mother.

But, in Wuhan university in China, misbehaving kids not only avoid punishment for their deeds, they get special treats too. Or at least the boys do. Should you be found guilty of breaking the rules in this utopian environment, the punishment is a rigorous cleaning detail, in the dorms of the opposite sex.

Three boys were the first to fall foul of this new initiative, caught on the dag and sentenced to an hour or two in the girl’s bedrooms. Can you believe this stuff? I couldn’t get near one of them bedrooms for love nor money as a youngster, and now they’re letting the bold lads in there as a form of rehabilitation.

Having gone through the dorms with a fine comb and had a fine time of it in the process, one of the lads had the cheek to say, with tongue firmly in mouth, that, “It was embarrassing to clean up for girls. I won’t skip classes anymore.” The truth is he’s already planning his next mitching session, and the rummage through some poor Chinese lass’s locker which will inevitably follow.