The Irish language has a delicate way of saying something is back to front, we say it’s  ‘tóin ar aghaidh’, or arse about face. I have made a habit all my life of doing things out of sequence. For instance, most people get an education which prepares them for life, then they start working,  I did it the other way round. When I retired from work I then went to Maynooth University in search of an education. The ordering of my life though was outside my control at the time, most men of my generation didn’t get even to secondary school.

When I was studying for my degree in Irish I came across the memoirs of Ernest Blythe and enjoyed reading them. A few years later I took a vagary ( or a figary as my mother called it) and decided to translate them into English. This took about a year.

When I had completed this task I decided to write my own memoir. This also took the best part of a year, as I am a two-finger typist, or at best maybe three fingers. Then I had another brainwave, it occurred to me that I should write my life story in the first official language, so off we go again, as Gaeilge.

Now these two enterprises, Blythe’s story and my own infinitely less interesting one probably contain a couple of hundred thousand words, all laboriously hammered out with two fingers; I won’t count the many, many essays I laboriously wrote, in two languages, while studying in Maynooth.

Now here’s the thing; three weeks ago I was struck by another ‘figary’ and decided to learn to type. I found a brilliant app online and am happy with my progress. But it could be said that the cart was definitely in front of the horse.

Sitting in the garden the other day drinking coffee, I remarked to the light of my life that I found it strange that if I failed to put a capital letter at the start of a sentence while writing on my phone, it automatically changes the letter to upper case. Why, I wondered, did this not happen on my computer? Why did Microsoft Word not offer this service, thus saving me the bother of having to use one of my three typing fingers to press the ‘Shift’ key at the start of each sentence, hundreds, maybe thousands of times on each document.

So I googled it. And guess what, it is there, it was there all the time, it just hadn’t been activated.

So now I can ignore the shift key, forget capitals and let the software do the work for me. But the big question is now, will I have the opportunity to make use of this great labour saving technology in a substantial way? Will I get to do much more writing? Who knows? But I did use my newly acquired skills to type this piece, so the effort has not been entirely in vain. Follow your ‘figaries’.


There is a lovely expression in Irish, amadán críochnaithe, an utter fool. Many times during the course of my life I have resigned myself to the fact that I fit comfortably into that category. It gives me no pleasure to admit this, although my foolishness is somewhat mitigated by some of the good decisions I have made during my better moments.

Many years ago I was a heavy drinker, but we won’t go into that as the wasp said looking into the pint of stout. One morning I awoke with the mother and father of hangovers, my head pounding, my stomach heaving, but I had to go to work, so I got out of bed, showered, had a cup of instant coffee and a cigarette and headed for work; delicate doesn’t begin to describe it, I put on my sunglasses and minced my way to the bus stop.

The conductor smiled broadly as he gave me my change, ( yes it’s that long ago). I noticed his smile lingered as he made his way back to his post beside the driver’s cab. It was still there as I approached the door to get off. I attributed his good humour to a naturally sunny disposition.

I stopped at a newsagents near the Abbey Theatre to buy my Irish Times. The woman behind the counter gave me a warm, beaming smile when I paid her. Two happy people, not bad I thought, and the day is still young.

The usher on duty in the foyer greeted me warmly, a man not noted for his amiability. I was hoping that our director wouldn’t be too nitpicky today, all I wanted was a quiet, stress-free session to get me through to the break, when I could have a ham sandwich and a pint.

On my way to the toilet I popped my head into the kitchen and asked Margaret, our lovely tea lady if she could make me a coffee. She didn’t say a word but acknowledged the request with a winning smile.

As I was washing my hands in the toilet I was startled when I looked in the mirror and saw someone odd looking back at me. There was one bloodshot eye staring menacingly back at me, the other one was still concealed behind the darkened lens; there was only one lens in my sunglasses.

I was slightly disappointed to realise that the friendly demeanour I had encountered all morning during my trip to work had been caused, not by a sudden improvement in the general feeling of goodwill in the Irish people, but by my own bizarre appearance.