The Púca

It began with a book we bought in Harten's newsagent and book shop in Navan Shopping centre. It was from a trashy series of weird phenomena books we loved called "World's Greatest." It was "World's Greatest Ghosts." The book was full of blurry photographs. We became quickly obsessed with them on account of their terrifying power over us. A moment with those photographs was all it took to leave the two of us feeling consumed by sucking dread, even nausea.

Despite the havoc they wreaked on our peace of mind, we filled our minds with ghosts during the weird and heightened months that came after the book. That's one odd thing about dread, it's an addictive feeling. During the period, I was completely open to the possibility of their existence. So much so, in fact, that I saw them, or at least I thought I did, which is the same thing really. I remember two ghosts, though there are probably more. I'll write about them both, over two blog posts, starting with the púca.

I wasn't the only person who saw the púca. There were at least twelve of us. But that's getting ahead... The púca phenomenon began in third class in the boys' primary school in Kells. Our teacher that year was an eccentric but deeply thoughtful old Kerry man. He was long past caring about the curriculum, and he'd completely neglect it for literal weeks on end, instead telling us rambling stories about Tír Na nÓg and the Fianna and such like. Many of his stories concerned the supernatural and he once told us a very disquieting and convincing story about the púca. We learned from it that the púca was an entity that lived in vegetation and could shift its shape. It quickly found its way from the teacher's story into our real lives. Looking back, I can see how all this is testament to what a masterful story-teller the old Kerry man was. He put us under an enchantment.

The gang I palled around with during lunch, the oddballs who didn't like soccer or handball, often played games that drew on the imagination. We couldn't wait to weave the púca into our ongoing narratives.

We began a daily púca watch. At lunch every day we would position ourselves in the grass at the back of the school field, and stare at some trees and a low wall, in the hope of seeing it. A mythology grew within days, with secondary ghosts and backstories galore for the púca. The púca was a green face, we decided, a green face with no body. It appeared in trees, we said, it had cursing eyes.

Of course, then we all began to see it.

First there were individual sightings of it, always in the trees. In my own vision (which came after staring at the crotch of a tree, like a believer waiting for a statue of Mary to move), I saw a great green face arrange itself, facet by tiny facet, from nothing. It smiled at me.

What happened next can only be described as a mass hallucination. Someone shouted, "the púca the púca is behind the wall," and we soon stood crowded, tippy-toed against the wall, all somehow seeing the same thing: a man marching towards us, stretching into the shape of a horse as he went. 


A Dance of Many Nations.

Brian sat on his upturned rucksack with a piece of card that said 'Winnipeg' resting against his feet. The night around him was full of the fluttery suggestion of mothsiles, and miles distant, he could see silent lightning dance a vast flashing dance across the mirrored surface of a lake.

He had begun his hitchhiking a fortnight before, on the evening of his final day attending international school on the west coast. Throughout those fourteen days he had experienced many moments of loneliness, but nothing compared to how looking at that distant lake made him feel. Utterly alone. Utterly vulnerable. A speck on the curved, corn-covered darkness of the Canadian Midwest. He tried to think of Stephanie, as she physically was, in her bed in Winnipeg, far over the corn where it was already dawn. He recoiled from that thought too, from the rushing sense of distance contained in it.

As dawn brightened, he watched a small red truck approach from some way off. It slowed down as it drew close. He stood up cautiously, raising the cardboard sign. A car had slowed down the evening before, but only so that the driver, a leering man wearing big reflecting sunglasses, could best aim a coke can at his torso. There were no projectiles as the truck pulled up with the fart of a handbrake. Its driver, a long haired man, beckoned him over. He smiled as he did so, revealing teeth the colour of decayed vegetation. As Brian bent into the passenger seat, he breathed in close air that smelled of alcohol and, oddly, because they were thousands of miles inland, dead sea life.

“Where ya going?” asked the driver, adjusting the mirror, disturbing a dreamcatcher.
“Winnipeg,” said Brian.
“Winnipeg. The cloudy lake,” the driver's eyes became distant, “that's what they call it in the First Nations' tongue. It's not exactly a tourist trap. What brings a British kid like you there?”
He looked quizzically at Brian who did not bother to correct the geographical error.
“I’m travelling from Vancouver. I'm visiting my girlfriend.”
“Vancouver, Eh? A sweetheart, Eh? You met her over here?”
“Yeah her name is Stephanie. We went to a school together.”
“Wow, good for you buddy, good for you. A Manitoba missus. And tell me, sexy Steph isn't worried about her white knight out roaming the province on his own? I've got to tell you, you're fuckin crazy doing that on your own.”
“She doesn’t know where I am. I’m going to surprise her with my visit,” he said.
He imagined her, possibly lying awake in her room. She'd wondering to herself why he had not contacted her as he usually did. He experienced a frisson of excitement at the spontaneity of it all.

“Where does she think you are?” asked the driver.
The driver whistled low and slapped his knee, making the van lurch so suddenly that boxes shifted and fell inside its boot. The smell of dead sea life immediately became more intense.
“Well, may God bless you my buddy. Or should I say, 'old chap',” the laughing driver said, “I hope it's a great surprise.”
“I hope so too. She likes spontaneity,” said Brian, as his mind returned, once more, to their last night.

On the last night of term, the international school's dance society had put on a “Dance of Many Nations,” for the school’s various local fellows, mostly elderly couples who were well-to-do. He had come to the performance laden with dark and secret humours. Though he had never told Steph, he resented the show because its rehearsals had eaten so hungrily into their last months at school together. He couldn't resent her, though. He could never resent anything about that laughing, dancing girl.

The theatre building was so full when he arrived, that he had to crouch, like a human fire hazard, on the steps between cloudy banks of old ladies' perfume. As he pulled his knees close to his chin, the desire to see Stephanie in her element won over his resentments. He was soon smiling and laughing, as the performers began their first dance, the big crowdpleaser, the South African gumboot. The lines of dancers hollered their song, then beat a ferocious syncopated rhythm of slaps against their rubber boots as they began to dance. Stephanie, small, springing, and fluid, moved at the edge of the front line. He watched her freckly face with fascination. She was lost in the life of the dance, transported.

Her star turn came two dances later. She was the female partner in the Argentinian tango.

It began suddenly, with the pair of them appearing out of nowhere in a tube of red stage light. They were static. He, in his striped suit and fedora, made sharp angles into her limbs. They stared into each other's eyes. Moaning string music began.

Two minutes later, Brian bounded for the exit with the taste of puke strong on the back of his tongue and the awful, alien in his ears, all lusty lunges and moans. The way she had looked at him... at those eyes that burned beneath the brim of his hat... that look!

Later, in the school's car park, she looked at him with her eyelids fringed bright red from sustained crying.
“I just wish you could be more spontaneous sometimes,” she said.

“I thought you were the spontaneous type when I picked you up, alright,” said the driver, towards the end of their eight hour journey, “but now I’m not so sure. You’re the quiet sort, I'd wager.”

Later, the numbered door of a city apartment swung open and a bearded middle-aged man, with a spherical nut brown belly in an open Hawaiin shirt, met Brian. His anger was intense and shocking. He spoke through clenched teeth in piercing spit-flecked tones, as his belly hopped like a fully inflated basketball.
“The Irish asshole finally arrives,” he said.
His face was murderous.
“I’m so sorry,” said Brian, failing to halt an involuntary physical cringe.
“Why did you not phone my daughter? You know she has thought about nothing else this week? No, you fucking don’t know this, hey? Wowee, pal.”
“I wanted to surprise her.”
“Yeah. A surprise. But why didn't you email her, you fool?”
Stephanie appeared behind her father in the soft shadow of a staircase ascending to light.
“Shushh Dad,” she said, and ran down to pull Brian into a happy hug.

Hours afterwards, he sat on the patch of kitchen floor where the moonlight and the candlelight mixed, and he watched her dance. Their surroundings seemed to him mutable in the low light. On the far counter-top an empty wine bottle and glasses made a disquieting cubist still life in shades of purple and grey. They had been talking about fantasies, and she was lost in one of her own.

Behind her naked shoulders, he saw the full moon between derelict buildings. When he turned his eyes from it, her face had changed. A look had come over it. Like the first time he saw it, the look wasn't for him. It was aimed into the gloom behind his shoulder.

Her shadow twisted over the floor towards him. He drew his feet up under himself so that it could not touch them. Somewhere in the room, a tap dripped irregularly against an iron basin. The sound of it, once he noticed it, became louder with every drop. A thought grew with it, a horror that spread itself towards clarity with erratic lurches. He was watching a stranger dance.


The window near Manor Street.

As I walked along the luas line towards Manor street, I saw the shining window. Against the remaining dregs of November daylight it looked like a lit emerald. It contained so much green. Forest green, lime green, unripe lemon green. All there, all resulting from the simple play of a light on wall painted a single shade. A vertical skirting board gave a dramatic bar of white. 

I thought I'd seen the colours in that window before. And when I got home, I found that I had, in Van Gogh's painting of his bedroom. There they were, the same bejeweled colours, jumping from it.

The light inside the window is not turned on every day, so the times I find it turned on are a treat. It is the first friendly beacon in my current Dublin neighbourhood, a place that I am only now getting to know. 

I like picking out places like the window, and I actively try to do so. It is a forcible act of creating a psychogeography I suppose. A mental sense of place. Whenever I take note of something like the window, I permanently add it to my construct of my neighbourhood. And through gradual accumulations of such things, my mind map of the actual place becomes more vibrant and more enriched. More a part of me.

I was not always like this. I spent long years depressed. And in those years, I'd often walk the harried walk of someone who avoids every pair of eyes they meet. My own eyes trained on the ground, I'd see little beyond my shoes and trampled chewing gum. Sometimes not even that. I'd be so lost in the self-lacerating loops of my depression (depression runs in circles), that I would sometimes not even notice the rain. I never want to live through such days again. As long as I am able to look at things like the window near Manor street, I believe I never will. 


core of stone

I've put the book I'm writing away for a while. You can get far too close to something and then not see it at all. So it is parked, until I can see it from a distance, which will be after Christmas. Though it is not as finished as I rather hubristically let myself think until quite recently, it is finished in a way. The plot is there and the key moments are there and all of that. I've been very fortunate to have good people advise me about it (my girlfriend who is a wonderful reader, and an editor who I'm lucky to have a correspondence with). So I am happy enough. Let's say mild-persistent-feeling-of-accomplishment happy.

On my way to work this week I've been listening to Shifted's Under a Single Banner album. Ah here, you might say, not another one of these grimy industrial techno albums. I thought so too, at first. It is very much of techno of that ubiquitous stripe. But it has something more to my ears. There's a sculptural quality to it - the sculpture of huge solid objects, of heft. Like SunnO)))'s Monoliths and Dimensions and Sleep's Dopesmoker the music implies vast physicality, weight and traction. When I listen I think of objects of stone and steel, monolithic and weathered.

Weirdly enough, I also think of The Lord of the Rings. The Lord of the Rings was one of the last books I read before teenage self-consciousness somehow obliterated my capacity to imagine freely (I'll write more about this mystery again). It was the last book I really felt I was 'in' (until I taught myself to once more read mindfully a decade and a half later). Anyway, there is bit in the first book where a terrific evil creature called a Balrog emerges from the bowels of the earth to the sound of drums. Half asleep on the DART in the morning's gloom, with the corroded kick drum coming from somewhere deep beyond my headphones, I remembered the Balrog. 


In which I eventually talk about music...part i

I'm off work for a week, so I am trying to write. I'm breaking up some of the time during the day by listening to music. Aware that I hardly ever post any more, I'm going to use this post to have a look at some tracks. They're taken from what I've listened to most, in recent months, on my last.fm account (oh btw it's really interesting to go back through your musical history and read it like 'a diary'). I'll do it in two parts. This is part one.

DJ Rashad - Double Cup
This is an album in the footwork style, which is an extremely high bpm mixture of bass music and dancing that developed in Chicago over the past decade. I can't stop listening to Double Cup. It's an album of contrasts. The high bpms and chopped vocals are played off against smoothly drifting samples and synths.

It's similar to techno, in one way, I suppose, in that everything is composed with the function of dancing kept in mind. This track has a real acid house tinge to it. It's extraordinary.

Acid Bit Double Cup... feel it...

F.U.S.E - Dimension Intrusion.
When Daniel Lopatin was composing his latest album R plus Seven, he kept a youtube account where he favourited lots of things, quite regularly. Following it was fun, because of the variety and strangeness of the stuff that turned up on it. For example, I discovered a real gem of a techno record on it, (loads of people probably already know it. Sorry if I'm ignorant), F.U.S.E's Dimension Intrusion. 

F.U.S.E. is one of the Detroit techno producer Richie Hawtin's earliest pseudonyms. He's released a bunch of stuff on Warp Records under that pseudonym. The album Dimension Intrusion is the best of them. It's class. It's pure Detroit. Muscular, trippy techno from the later part of its early days. 

Sweet classic techno

Oneohtrix Point Never - Zebra
There's a lot going on on this fellow's new album, more than I'd begin to know where to comment. But one of the things he seems to be doing, is something that Zomby does or tries to do. He's marking a course through all of dance music. You can hear bits of Kraftwerk in his album at one end, and James Ferraro's weird MS Windows music at the other. He maps out his own territory too, though. Nobody else could quite make those rising vapours of sound that hover around so many of his tracks. This track, 'Zebra', is one of the clearer references to a point in dance music's history.

Synth Blitz

Okay, I'm off to feed some birds. I'll do more of these again this week.