Writing Exercise #1

The Auction Room coffee shop in Maghera has hosted two writers’ nights over the last few months. I’ve managed to miss both nights (arrival of new small person into the family) but I’m using their writing exercises to see if I can re-find my writing style. This was the first:

The writing stimulus for this month is: Who is the most loyal person you know? The crankiest? The most jealous? The most patient? People at the edges are always intriguing. Start with an extreme and see where it goes.

So I wrote this in an hour on Saturday morning:

The Most Different

We all have one: the friend who, at some point, will probably get us arrested. Not for anything sinister, just because of mischief, because they’re not made like the rest of us and because they look at all of our customs and conventions and think “Nah, you’re all right thanks.”

The nickname of my friend who will one day get me lifted and earn me a caution and eye-rolling from a stern officer of the law is Johnny Dangerous.

His centre of gravity is mischief and always in its orbit: mayhem, random events and episodes of spectacularly bad judgement.

Thoughts fly continuously from his head like crazy birds leaving a crazy ginger nest. He is always thinking about what’s normal, what’s madness and what he can get up to in the margins in-between.

“Here, do you think we could break into that museum? Not to steal anything. Just to see if we could, like.”

And the next thing I know it’s night and there’s dirty grey light lying in the east of the sky and I’m running across the dawn-wet grass of Botanic Gardens, being chased by an Ulster Museum security guard who wants a word.

“Here, do you think we could drive to the Mournes, take some E and run up Slieve Donard? Just to see if we can, like.”

Later, back at sea level, when I can breathe properly again and my legs have stopped howling from the awful surprise of the sustained exertion, I think to myself that that was an unusual way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

In the off licence, as I collect my four habit-formed cans of Carlsberg, Johnny approaches the man behind the counter:

“Here, mate, what’s the most popular beverage among your wino clientele. That’s what I’ll be having.”

And others. Sitting having a cup of coffee in my living room, nursing a hangover:

“Here, do you want to have a fight right now? Just to see who’d win, like.”

There’s nothing unkind about him: warm-hearted, interested in anything you say no matter how routine and, when he has things, generous with them. Just that his brain is built with unusual machinery that makes him want to live differently and extremely, perhaps to keep a darkness we sometimes glimpse in him at bay.

The years have moved us on to different places and unshared lives now. Time and turns of events have taken the clarity off his randomness and the darkness that we saw growing in him, voraciously for a time, has gone back. He’s calmer now, more pedestrian but still, sometimes, an agent of surprise. He never did become the disorganised architect of his own destruction that we thought he might. At worst, he drifts, sometimes briefly with someone, more often alone. But he has given me and others a catalogue of stories to tell, and an acceptance if not understanding of the different.

“Here, do you think you’ll ever write about me? Not the mental stuff, just the funny stuff, like?”

Johnny, I just did.

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