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TIME WARP The years hurtle by so quickly, like rocket ships of time speeding across the cosmos

Our memories and emotions work in mysterious ways


I struggled to comprehend that U2's Achtung Baby is now 30 years old

I struggled to comprehend that U2's Achtung Baby is now 30 years old

I struggled to comprehend that U2's Achtung Baby is now 30 years old

On life's more fragile and tender days, every signpost seems to direct us to that place where the heart resides.

All the colours in the emotional rainbow danced across my horizon this past week.

Love and loss, gratitude and sorrow, contentment and regret took adjoining rooms in the castle of the soul.

A confluence of events - the familiar dazzle of Grafton Street's Christmas lights, a Dubliner mourning her mother, a wistful pint in a beloved old haunt, the 30th anniversary of U2's Achtung Baby, an unexpected bus conversation - propelled me into a time tunnel, one where the roads are paved with melancholy.

Together, these cameos fed a hunger for the lost familiar, awakened that ache that sleeps within us all.

I have never met Imelda May, but the ooze of love that seeped from each syllable she penned in honour of her mother, Madge Clabby, who passed away on Wednesday, washed like a soothing balm over the entirety of my being.

"The sorrow is deep, our hearts are hurting" the singer-songwriter's lyrical tribute to the 94-year-old she described as her "matriarch" and "supreme queen" announced, "but gratitude is abundant and love all consuming".



Simple, but soulful, and profoundly beautiful, her words clamped my heart in a vice-grip.

Maybe that was because we are all some mother's son or daughter.

Maybe it was because I read Imelda's tribute while sitting in Neary's of Chatham Street, the old Dublin city centre house where I banked some of the most precious hours with my late parents, priceless keepsakes from days without stain.

You know how it is when a backdrop, or a memory, a smell or just an empty seat takes you back to how it was before death fractured and thieved and made life smaller?

I have only to step inside the door of Neary's to hear my Mam and Dad's voices, to be wrapped in their vibrant embrace, to be propelled back to how it used to be.

To play again the greatest hits of our lives together.

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Maybe Imelda's words resonated all the more because the twinkle of those festive bulbs lit the street outside, a reminder that the season is almost upon us when those we love are most acutely missed.

Christmas is unrivalled in its power to find and throw open the picture albums that reside in our internal hard drives.

To locate the smiling faces of those who can no longer smile.

To pour the living a glass from the bottle of way back then, a Cognac that is at once consoling and rueful.

How quickly the years hurtle, rocket ships of time speeding across the cosmos.

A Radio Nova promotion reminded us that Achtung Baby - the album that gifted us peak-era Bono, that introduced One, Mysterious Ways and Even Better than the Real Thing to the world - is three decades old.

We slave-drove that CD to exhaustion over the course of the football season of a lifetime driving to and from games.

Volume raised to windscreen-shatter mode, we were young, carefree, invincible, intoxicated by life's possibilities, the world a red carpet stretching out before us.

Thirty years. Gone. In the blink of an eye. Youth pickpocketed while we dozed. Terrifying.

On Friday, a bus journey to town was almost aborted when I discovered there was no credit on my Leap Card, and I had insufficient loose change to pay the fare.

Hearing my predicament, a kind lady further down the bus volunteered the two euro I was short.

We fell into conversation. She spoke in that lovely open, old-school way that has been largely stolen by Covid strictures. She offered an access-all-areas pass to her world.

She was heading for the shops, the familiar tour of Penneys and Arnotts. Later, she would slip into Clarendon Street church to light a candle for her late husband.

"He's gone this 14 years," she told me, "I live on my own, but thank God for the bus pass. I can go for a ramble most days. It keeps me independent."

The words were eerily familiar. It might have been my mother talking to me through a gentle surrogate.

I wanted to get cash and repay her, but she wouldn't hear of it.

I should have asked her to join me for a coffee, but I didn't. I should have invited her to Neary's, but I didn't.

We said goodbye at the old Central Bank and went our separate ways.

And she turned down a side road and was gone, a lovely creature who gifted me two euro and something far more valuable: a memory of better days.

I walked on under a rainbow of emotions, love, loss and gratitude the dominant shades.

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