A red hat, a lost love and an irritable bowel

No matter how much women complain that men don’t share their feelings, the fact is that women really don’t want to know everything


I heard Jimmy Crowley singing in a hotel in Bantry, during the West Cork Literary Festival. He was inside the door of the bar with a modest PA system and a box of CDs on the seat beside him and he sang with the clarity of John McCormick. Crowley’s voice is heroic and defiant; a tenor who sings with great wit about the loves and sorrows of ordinary folk.

I had a glass of cider at the bar. I was still recovering from a radio interview. The journalist, a dark-haired woman in a red hat, tried to do the recording in the foyer of the hotel but it was too noisy. We went upstairs to a lounge where a man was vacuuming the carpet, so that was no good either. Then we went to an empty function room but the air conditioning was humming. Finally we landed in my bedroom, which was quiet. In fact it was more than quiet.

It was intimate. There was a small corridor between the bedroom and the bathroom and we stood in the silence of it, she and I, while she asked me personal questions about my childhood, my father and my love life. The only thing I didn’t tell her was that her hat reminded me of another woman I met years ago in a Dublin nightclub as she danced in front of a mirror.

But even back then I was too old inside for nightclubs; and too much of a country boy for the slow teasing dance women did in clubs, as their bodies twisted in jagged shapes, dehumanised by strobe lighting.

I was a grounded culchie, a jiving man, who talked prose, whereas my dancing partner moved like breaking glass and flung monosyllabic emotions like poetry in my direction.

At least she danced with me, and drank cheap wine and champagne someone else had bought for £28, and then we went back to my place.

But I had only one firelighter, two turf briquettes, stale cream crackers and a lump of cheddar cheese.

Irritable bowel syndrome
At that time my left eye used to twitch when I was under stress, which was almost all of the time.

Earlier in life I had endured irritable bowel syndrome for some years, and later in life I had something like a nervous breakdown, but at that particular moment it was just the eye that bothered me. It twitched and itched, and I scratched it constantly.

“What’s wrong with your eye?” she wondered, and I was foolish enough to tell her everything.

I say foolish, because I suspect that no matter how much women complain that men don’t share their feelings, the fact is that women really don’t want to know everything. Mentioning irritable bowel syndrome at that hour of the night to a woman who might have thought the evening would end in climaxes of joy was like crashing a car on purpose.

In fact she stayed on the sofa, and in the morning I put out two bowls of muesli, but as I was munching the Swiss roughage a tooth came loose and fell into the bowl.

I was rummaging with my spoon among the grains of fruit and oats and she said, “What are you doing now?” and again I told her too much. “I’m looking for my tooth in the muesli,” I said, “because it may be covered with congealed blood and I don’t want to mistake it for a raisin.”

“Ugh,” she said, “that’s disgusting,” and she slammed the front door on her way out. I watched her from the window as she waited for a bus, shifting from one leg to the other. I suppose she had so many hundreds of eggs all wanting a sperm with Alpha written on it that she wasn’t hanging around with someone who has a dodgy bowel, or looses his teeth in the breakfast cereal.

After that I avoided nightclubs for a while and spent my evenings on a bar stool releasing methane and watching myself in the mirror behind the whiskey glasses. I’d sit there despising myself for hours, convinced no woman could love the unwashed feet in my stale socks.

“Were you always such a successful person?” the journalist in west Cork inquired. “Au contraire,” I replied, though I didn’t tell her everything. Instead I suggested we have a drink later in the evening. And she agreed. And Jimmy Crowley was brilliant. He sang all his old songs, and some wonderful new songs, but the dark-haired woman with the red hat never showed up.

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