The Wisdom of Jim


Here is another piece of wisdom from the mind of Jim Hourihane, my late father in  law.

Conversations are like plates of biscuits.

Four people sit at a table for tea.  In the centre of the table is a plate of biscuits.  All the biscuits are the same type and there are eight of them.

As everyone is putting milk and sugar in their tea one of the people at the table starts eating.  He scoffs down three biscuits, and picks up a fourth.

At this stage the other three people have worked out the maths.  This guy has eaten his own biscuits and half of the biscuits of two others.  The rest of the tea break is uncomfortable.  Three biscuits are quickly snatched up, and the remaining one sits there just daring anyone to pick it up.

It is so much more pleasant for everyone when people sit back a little, relax, and take one biscuit.  Wait to make sure everyone has a biscuit before taking another.  The biscuit muncher quickly finds that others avoid sitting with him at break time.  If he is lucky an outspoken colleague will tell him to stop hogging the biscuits.

So what has this to do with conversation?

Some people are like the biscuit muncher.  They barge their way into conversations and talk at everyone, without assessing if anyone is listening with interest.  They speak seemingly without taking a breath, in case anyone else interrupts.  If someone else speaks they don’t listen because they are more interested in working out the next thing they want to say.

They are so interested in what they want to say themselves that they often interrupt others mid-sentence to get their points across.  If someone else has done a thing they have done it bigger or better.  No matter what problem you have they will tell you how to solve it.  If one person dominates the conversation then it is like one person eating all the biscuits.  It becomes awkward for everyone else, and they slip away.

The art of good conversation is to include everyone.  Some people are a bit shy and need to be coaxed to engage in conversation.

As children we were told that when someone offers you a biscuit you should refuse the first time out of politeness.  Then accept only when they press you a little.  The general rule in Ireland is to refuse twice and accept the third offer.  This little politeness was born in times of extreme poverty.  People would offer food to a guest out of politeness while they starved themselves and their children.  An astute guest knew the difference between a polite and a genuine offer.

In conversation we sometimes need to give a bit of time and space to the shy or quiet person if we want them to join in.  That patience can pay dividends.  Still waters run deep and it is often the person who speaks least and last that says the thing worth hearing.  But the quiet people who take their time to make their point never get a chance in the company of a biscuit muncher.

I come from a whole family of biscuit munchers.  Conversations amongst my siblings have a lot in common with the Hunger Games, they are a blood sport.  One-upmanship is the norm, interruptions are frequent, listening is for wimps. Growing up in this way does not make you a fine conversationalist.

This, of course, is why Jim tried to teach me about the biscuits.  I did listen!


How to live your life

Mont Blanc

Jim Hourihane, my late father in law, liked to talk about life being like a bar of chocolate.  When you are a kid and someone gives you a whole bar of chocolate to yourself you gobble down the first half without thinking.  Then you realise you only have half left.  You begin to take your time.  You start to appreciate the remaining chocolate more.  When you come to the last square you take a long time to savour it.  You let it sit on your tongue until it melts.  You eek out every last ounce of pleasure from it.

The poem below is on the same theme.  Where do you live your life today?  Are you in the mindset at the start of the poem?  Are you focused on the negatives of the daily grind?  Do you bemoan Monday mornings and wish the week away to Friday?  Do you look at the clock at 10:00 and pray for 17:30?

How better to live every day the way he lives the last 3 minutes.  Enjoy the journey, it doesn’t last long.


25 minutes to go: by Shel Silverstein

They’re buildin’ the gallows outside my cell.
I got 25 minutes to go.

And in 25 minutes I’ll be in Hell.
I got 24 minutes to go.

Well, they give me some beans for my last meal.
23 minutes to go.

And you know… nobody asked me how I feel.
I got 22 minutes to go.

So, I wrote to the Gov’nor… the whole damned bunch.
Ahhh… 21 minutes to go.

And I call up the Mayor, and he’s out to lunch.

I got 20 more minutes to go.

Well, the Sheriff says, ‘Boy, I wanna watch you die’.
19 minutes to go.

I laugh in his face… and I spit in his eye.
I got 18 minutes to go.

Well…I call out to the Warden to hear my plea.
17 minute to go.

He says, ‘Call me back in a week or three.
You’ve got 16 minutes to go.’

Well, my lawyer says he’s sorry he missed my case.
Mmmm….15 minutes to go.

Yeah, well if you’re so sorry, come up and take my place.
I got 14 minutes to go.

Well, now here comes the padre to save my soul
With 13 minutes to go.

And he’s talkin’ about burnin’, but I’m so damned cold.
I got 12 more minutes to go.

Now they’re testin’ the trap. It chills my spine.
I got 11 minutes to go.

‘Cuz the goddamned thing it works just fine.
I got 10 more minutes to go.

I’m waitin’ for the pardon… gonna set me free
With 9 more minutes to go.

But this ain’t the movies, so to hell with me.
I got 8 more minutes to go.

And now I’m climbin up the ladder with a scaffold peg
With 7 more minutes to go.

I’ve betta’ watch my step or else I’ll break my leg.
I got 6 more minutes to go.

Yeah… with my feet on the trap and my head in the noose…
5 more minutes to go.

Well, c’mon somethin’ and cut me loose.
I got 4 more minutes to go.

I can see the mountains. I see the sky.
3 more minutes to go.

And it’s too damned pretty for a man to die.
i got 2 more minutes to go

I can hear the buzzards… hear the crows.
1 more minute to go.

And now I’m swingin’ and here I gooooooooo….

The rain came down


Back in 1993 the days of the week were one day off where they are this year, with the 11th of June on Friday and Saturday being the 12th. On Thursday morning I got up very early to go to the flower market in Dublin. It started to rain at about 6am on the 10th.

I bought a huge number of flowers and put them in the boot of my clapped out Renault 4, the beige one with the sunroof.

That is still my favourite car. We had so many good times in that rusty heap of garbage, driving on rainy days with plastic bags on our feet, there were so many holes in the floor. That was the car I drove in college, bringing a third of the rugby team to matches. It’s the car we went to Donegal in when we finished our exams in 1990. On sailing holidays I had no problem slinging an inflatable dinghy on the roof, what was another scratch on the paintwork? And as for that boot, you could get a washing machine or a fridge into the Renault 4 without any hassle. Legend!

So there is me with a car full of flowers and it’s raining. I go home and pick up Louise and all the luggage, and off we go to Tipperary. The rain just kept coming down all day on the 10th.

On the 11th of June, 22 years ago, we spent the morning turning the flowers into floral displays and little wreaths. Myself, Louise, Mrs H and Jim Hourihane in the kitchen in Turtulla Rd, chatting away as we cut stems and arranged flowers. Mrs. H was boiling hams to make sandwiches for the next day. The two boys, Liam and Vincent, were in and out all day on little jobs. Delivering bread, drinks and other food. Leaving out shirts to be ironed by the mother. Taking cars off to wash them. It was still raining. It rained all day on the 11th.

In the afternoon we brought all the flowers over to Holy Cross Abbey to place them on the Altar. We laughed so much. The flower arrangements that looked huge in the kitchen were lost in the church. They were a joke. Ecclesiastical floral displays are enormous. But luck was on our side. There was a mission in the church that morning and they brought proper huge installations. Our efforts provided a little extra garnish on the side.

Still it kept raining. Dublin was flooded, as were large sections of the N7. Friday June 11th 1993 was a day of chaos for Dublin traffic. All those grumpy commuters stuck in their cars, windscreen wipers keeping time to the tracks on the radio. Ace of Base on top of the charts with “All that she wants”, with UB40 in number 2 slot “I can’t help falling in love with you”. House of Pain were in the charts with “Jump Around”, a song that never seems to get old. “Everybody Hurts” from R.E.M. was probably more appropriate to the weather. “What is Love” by Haddaway was also in the charts, another old song that still sounds fresh.

We took a spin out to Dundrum, to the Rectory, to deliver out our bags and our music for the reception. The Rhododendrons were in full bloom and looked fantastic. Shame about the rain, but what can you do. We lived in hope that it would clear off by morning.

That night I went to bed for the last time as a single man.

Have You Ever Seen The Rain? ; by John Cameron Fogerty
as performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Someone told me long ago
There’s a calm before the storm,
I know; it’s been comin’ for some time.
When it’s over, so they say,
It’ll rain a sunny day,
I know; shinin’ down like water.

I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
Comin’ down on a sunny day?

Yesterday, and days before,
Sun is cold and rain is hard,
I know; been that way for all my time.
‘Til forever, on it goes
Through the circle, fast and slow,
I know; it can’t stop, I wonder.

I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
Comin’ down on a sunny day?

I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
Comin’ down on a sunny day?