Jack and Jeremy
Most people will remember the 11th July 2020 as the day they heard Jack Charlton died. I too, was fond of Jack. But I will remember this day as the day I received an email - from Jeremy.
I remember getting off the ferry in Rosslare during Italia 90, and driving through deserted towns. All my mother wanted to do was to find somewhere that sold bread, milk, and the inevitable Barry's tea, and maybe, something for dinner, at the end of the day (both literally, and to use a footballing term). I couldn't take my eyes off the seas of green, white and gold on every window, door and lamp post, and I was secretly wondering how I'd get my hands on a Irish jersey. Anywhere where the door was rather half-heartedly, ajar, we found the telly on, and the person behind the counter was more than distracted, pointing an absent-minded finger in the direction of the fridges. Living as an Irish person in Germany, I immediately got immersed in the buzz. This was my identity, and so I felt, in the very depths of my stomach, such a small country as Ireland slowly regaining its confidence, and reigniting our hope. Of course, the reason behind this change of psyche was an English man - the legend that is Jack Charlton. When I switched on the news yesterday morning, I was gutted to hear of his passing. When they were sharing stories about him on the Mario Rosenstock show, I wondered if Jack Charlton ever realised the impact he had had on people's lives. For someone known to regularly shake hands with regular people, or to write back to a letter, whilst managing to instil confidence in a team which hadn't made it to the Qualifiers, let alone the World Cup or the Euros, in decades, must have been a very special man.
Be the best you can be, they say. I think from this day forth they should say: Be more like Jack.
As I was standing listening to the radio, waiting for the kettle to boil, to make myself a big mug of tea, I thought I'd check my emails. And there it was.
For those of you who follow my Musings, you will know that I wrote a story for the collection 'Lights on the Horizon', which includes short stories, poems, and more, about heroes and hope, and is written by Irish writers North and South of the border during Covid lockdown. Mine was a fictional diary entry, and when I saw the call for entries I knew I needed to get involved. We all felt helpless at one point or another during lockdown, and also, I wanted to do something more than clap - though don't get me wrong, we all need a bit of cardio for our fingers. But when you're standing by your front door, clapping to the wild flower meadow on your right, and your car on your left, and your dogs scamper for cover, you know you need to try something else.
I wrote the story on a whim; one of those stories you just sit down and the ideas spill out. Lockdown was tough, but I didn't want my story to be, so I kept it on the lighter side - because humour is what gets us through difficult times, innit.
And when the book arrived, I have to say I enjoyed the sheer variety of the beautifully crafted poems and prose, and just the raw emotion and honesty that simmered beneath the lines. Though we had writers from different backgrounds, and at different stages in our writing journeys, the writing was powerful and poignant. If just one thing in our collection resonated with just one person, or the mere existence of this collection gave a healthcare worker a lift after an horrendous day, we had done more than we'd ever imagined.
I believe in our stories, because they're such a snapshot of how we felt, or interpreted, the world around us. A world changed by Covid. And so I set to work. I had a lot of spare time on my hands, so every day I wrote to a newspaper or a magazine or a radio station - or did something a little less productive: I just sat and thought, a lot, about what I could do next. And then, one day, I went on another mission. Anyone who knows me will know that I am liable to getting mad notions, and doing something about them, on impulse. Sometimes this doesn't end well. Sometimes I say yes when I should say no. But sometimes, they just work out.
I'd heard about Matt Damon and his bulging SuperValu bag when he was in lockdown with his family in Dalkey, and thought, how cool would it be if our book was in that bag. I'd also re-watched the original Lion King, because, well, you don't mess with the good stuff. Oh, goody.
I'd read an article about Jeremy Irons' beautifully pink abode in Skibbereen, and so, another mad plan was forming in my head. My head is where most mad plans are formed. It's a scary place, mainly.
So, I decided I would write. A card. To both Matt, and to Jeremy. To tell them about 'Lights on the Horizon', which, I was almost sure, they would have read by now. But it was no harm to tell them about it, and ask for their support. Because sure, you know, why not. And, in my defence, it was for a good cause, so I wanted to give sales my best shot. And I'm not a sales person. But sure, I wasn't doing anything else. Apart from baking.
I wrote with enthusiasm, deleted and reworded. One is never happy with one's first drafts. Eventually, I was content enough. Note that I didn't say 'happy'. I knew if I left it another day I would rewrite the whole thing. So they had to be sent, right away. When the letters were gone, I felt slightly queasy. Then I reasoned with myself, well, sure, I didn't even have the proper addresses, and they would probably never arrive. And if they did, well, if nothing else, my fortunate recipients would have a beautiful card for their respective mantelpieces. The picture on the front was from one of my favourite views in West Cork. It was beautiful - not because of my photographic skills, but because it is just a naturally gorgeous sea view. You see, I was also trying to encourage Matt to explore West Cork after lockdown. I'm sure his kids would be delighted to go surfing in Inchydoney, or visit the Model Railway Village. I didn't google his kids' ages but hey, you can't go wrong with Clon. Will Farrell had mentioned he'd love to quarantine in Midleton distillery. I felt Matt could perhaps do the same - but in the Clonakilty distillery. I should suggest it to the Scully's.
Of course, it occurred to me that Jeremy might be miffed that someone would have the audacity to write to his address (which I completely blagged, based on the article I had read), but I had seen him open the Darkness Into Light walk in Clonakilty at 4:15 in the morning a few years before, and anyone who does that must be a very sound bloke.
So, back to my boiling water, which of course now has to be reboiled, because I've taken so long. As my teabag was stewing - it has to be the right colour, and contain the exact right amount of milk, don't you know - I signed into my email. I actually had to do a double-take. There, in my inbox, was a message with the subject line 'J Irons'.
I knew instantly that this wasn't just someone's proud statement that their child had learned to press their clothes.
I have to say, I had to sit down. Tea bag forgotten - who cared, I had a 600-box of Barry's, so I'd be grand. This. Was. More. Important. Than. Tea.
Jeremy Irons had taken the time to write back to my crazy card. He'd taken the time to think about this, and about how he could support our little effort to make things a little bit better during Covid-19 lockdown in Ireland.
And this is what he wrote:
'One of the positive realisations to come out of this plague, is how we all need each other. I hope these stories help us never to forget as we live our future lives.'
If you're reading this, Jeremy, from the bottom of my heart, Thank You! You have made my day, my week, and now, my year, which was on the verge of becoming a work of apocalyptic fiction. And judging by the responses of my fellow writers in the collection, I think you made their's, too. This is huge for us. It will give our book new momentum, and I hope we sell hundreds more copies, so that we can support frontline workers North and South.
And to anyone else who's read this far, and if you haven't bought it yet: Please do. It'll make a very colourful trivet for your teapot, if you don't feel like reading it. And please leave a review, because, apparently, reviews help with the rankings.
And in time to come, you might appreciate having your time capsule.
PS: Matt, I know you were leaving Dalkey two days after I sent the card, so you may never have received it. Knowing the efficiency of An Post, though, you probably did. So, do the right thing, Matt. Grab that SuperValu bag, stuff our book into it, and strut around LA. And when someone asks you what's in the bag, just tap your nose, send them to Amazon, and tell them to put five copies of 'Lights on the Horizon' in their shopping baskets and send it to their friends. Because we all could do with a bit of heroes and hope. At the end of the day.
Photo credit (Jeremy Irons pic): (c) Gage Skudmore, Wiki Commons.