It would be safe to say that health and freedom are at the top of this very long list. For me I see stuff and feel things every day that I will never take for granted again. Like yesterday, the temperature dropped by a few degrees and it was time to put a match to the fire that had been set for at least two weeks. I sat in the grey day without any electrical equipment or IT paraphernalia to interrupt the hypnosis of the flames as they licked and fluttered in the gentle back draft of the fire. I’d just finished my ironing and noticed a label sticking out from the back of a tee shirt. Don’t they make the labels big nowadays! Went into the kitchen a and grabbed a pair of scissors and sat and trimmed all me shirts. The scissors felt weird in my hand and I felt as if someone was watching over me. Then I remembered a funny (to me) incident regarding this lethal weapon when I was in prison. What follows are two of my memories of scissors over the past couple of years. A short story and a poem. My fire has just been reset and I can’t wait til later when I can sit in quiet and watch the flames lick my imagination, things we take for granted eh…
Just replaced the plastic ink refill in my biro. Such a simple task you might think. Not in here it ain’t. This one has got a rubber grip on it. The stem’s bit thicker than most, the end has screw on nib, allowing one to use any ink replacement from any biro and a lot easier on the wrist. The problem is it needs to be the same length as the previous one. I have clear plastic container full of pens and pencils. It was originally the packaging containing a ‘Yule Log’ at Christmas time. It brought me a lot of pleasure and a lot of pain. Pleasure at eating the chocolate, but pain working it off at the gym. A bit like this writing malarkey. No pleasure without pain.
Anyway, I removed the ink cartridge from another biro, making sue it worked first, it wasn’t. On my fifth attempt I’ve found one that works. It is three to four millimetres longer than the original cartridge and needs to be trimmed. So snip off the end and bobs your uncle.
What do I cut it with? We’re not allowed scissors.
I’ve recently replaced my razor head and the old one is still in my wastebasket. So, I crack open the razor head, remove one of the blades, wrap it in tissue paper to avoid slicing the end of my fingers off and start cutting around the hard plastic of the ink cartridge. Think I’ve cracked it, put the newly trimmed cartridge into the pen casing. Nope, too short, disappears inside the casing when I go to write. On the third attempt I get another cartridge that works and take it and the old cartridge with me. Up to the officer’s station where the hairdressing equipment is kept.
There’s a new directive that all cupboards must be locked. I waken the dozing officer and stand patiently by as he unwraps himself from his key chain which has got tangled up in the chair whilst he was dozing. ‘What the fuck you want the scissors for’, he politely says. I hold up the pen cartridges and smile. He rolls his eyes and takes an age to find the correct key for the cupboard.
I thank him and say ‘I’ll be back in a mo.’
Go back to my cell, get the scissors, making sure I hold the two cartridges together and snip off the end of one to match the other. Install the new cartridge; give it a quick scribble to make sure I’ve put the right one in. It works. Then back to the officer; he’s now talking to one of his colleagues about retail profits and consumer rights. Patiently wait for them to acknowledge my existence and we go through the same procedure as before only in reverse. The officers stop their conversation completely, as if it could not be continued in the presence of a master terrorist/criminal and national security depended on it. They don’t know that I can hear every word they say from my cell. Officers seem to be unaware that because doors are closed we are out of sight out of mind. We’re not. Perhaps they are so detached from the real world that they don’t really care that we can hear them. After all who’d believe us?
Return to my suite, put my music back on and do a bit of writing. Happy and relieved in the knowledge that I didn’t have to go through the whole pantomime of questions normally asked when borrowing a pair of scissors. A bit like what a primary school kid has to go through. Or Oliver; ‘please sir can I have some more?’ I start writing and three lines later the ink runs out. Lifted a pencil and kept going. Would you go through all of that again? I’m in a bit of temper and lean a bit too hard; the lead breaks. Don’t have a sharpener as it contains a blade. Used to have one but it was removed on my return to Northern Ireland. Put the feet up and listen to some music. Some things are just not meant to be.
By Michael Irwin
After five years of imprisonment
Twenty years not living here – Norn Iron
There’s American accents on the Belfast train.
The window view, blinded by condensation, rain.
Through the gap between the seats I can see
Her trimming, with wee scissors, the hair on his nose
Is this love, care or annoyance?
Or a pensioned mixture. Who knows?
He sits placidly, doesn’t bat an eye.
Life seems simple, obvious, between them?
Oblivious to everyone, to the cold
The hidden landscape, the wintry sky.
Murder posters in the station. A pensioner dead.
Botanic’s frozen trees.
But prisoners a tag that still sadly
Means rapist, murderer or thief or all three
The pensioners disappear. The wind
Stirs up questions and the trees.
When will I be free? What’s next for me?
Will someone cut my hair? Will I die lonely?