‘That’s the trouble with reality, it’s taken far too seriously.’ It’s a line from a song that’s trapped in my head, dancing around in there as I encourage its sentiment to take root. Back in the nineties an Irish band called An Emotional Fish had a hit song, ‘Celebrate’ and that’s what the line is from. I love it. It’s on an old compilation CD that I play in the car as the soundtrack to my summer. Listening to it frees something youthful in me and unshackles caution. The Fat Lady Sings’ song, Arclight, is on there too. For me, Arclight is anthemic with its exhortation to, ‘shine like an arclight, sing like a bird might sing’ – and I sing along and try to shine and cast a new light on reality. And then Something Happens comes on; they’re singing, Parachute, an even stronger shove telling me to let go: ‘take a parachute and go, there’s gonna have to be some danger.’ I’m not going to do it, but I’ll take the metaphorical challenge and stop playing it safe all the time.
For me, summer is the easiest time of the year to lighten up, to shine and jump and relegate reality. It’s been a serious year so far, bombarded, as we’ve been, with a series of sobering realities. Is it any wonder I’ve decided reality is way too over-rated? Reality is mundane and boring; wearing, unrelenting, and scary, so my mission this summer is to escape it, deny it, re-shape it – have fun! I remember, fifteen years ago, leaving Dublin one night in July and driving up to Donegal to meet my family who were all there on holiday. I’d had a build-up of reality at work, I’d let it collapse in on me and I felt weighted and drained. I was so stressed that I forgot the bag I had packed, arrived with no more than what I was wearing. This didn’t matter, because as I drove north everything got lighter and dissipated. I pulled up at the wee harbour in Culdaff where everyone was catching crabs and gutting fish and jumping off the pier and I had an overwhelming urge to jump in with them. So I kicked my shoes off and launched myself off the wall, fully clothed, into the freezing water and that was it, I was free!
This summer started on Thursday. I went to the beach and somehow my creaking body managed to upend itself into handstands, loads of them (so many that yesterday I felt as though my back had been trampled by a stampede of baby elephants). We had hopping races and running races and rolling races. There was cheating, there was pushing, there was tripping up. We dug a massive hole and buried my nephew and his football in it. We left his head poking out of the sand, and over the top of him we sculpted a pregnant mermaid (because of the football, you see), and we preserved his modesty with seaweed. We collected razor shells with which we shaved our chins, and we paddled, and we kicked a football in bare feet till our skin was raw and the only thing we took seriously was the pursuit of fun.
Then we trailed back along the beach to my car, where, from a distance, I could see a little note tucked in behind the windscreen wiper. Was it a talent scout for mermaid sand-sculpting (the tail was magnificent)? Was it an admirer who had spotted my Simone Biles gymnastic talent on the strand? Was it an East Lothian fashionista who loved my new sailor trousers? Was it… three more steps… a parking ticket? It sure was! A little walk-up call from reality. I didn’t mind, it was a small(ish) price to pay for being as free as the wind!
Arclight, The Fat Lady Sings
Shine like an arclight
Like I want you to shine
I know that you’ve nobody
And I know that you’re not mine
But the light that you are
And the light you can be
Is the only thing I want
The only light I can see
You don’t have to know the words
And you don’t have to know the rules
You just shine in the morning like the sun
Burn like a candle in the night
Shine like a book that’s never been read
Burn like a saint who knows he’s right
Shine like a shard of glass
On the forest ground
When you shine you know
You burn me down
Well I don’t wear no chains
I’ve got no cross to bear
And I’m as free as the wind
I’m as free as the air
I’m as free as the old
I’m as cold as the dawn
And I’m as lost as you are
You are my only law