The Organ Recital


Peter Cunningham ©



                                                                     Sailing to Rigor Mortis


I crossed the invisible bar at the dead of night as a ship silently crosses a meridian on its way to a port called Rigor Mortis. Well, to be truthful, it wasn’t quite like that. In fact, when I eventually awoke I felt exactly the same as I had when I became 30, except now, at 70, I had less to worry about – so to speak.

Many of my friends are also people of three-score-and-ten years, and more. Anthropologically, we’re a new subset of our species. The monks on Skellig Michael lived on average to only half our age, and had certainly gone to their reward by 40. Things had not improved much in Tudor England. It took until 1980 for 70 years of age to become a reasonable goal.

We meet, my friends and I, as if members of a club united by our ownership of ancient bangers. The age of our vehicles is beyond dispute, but it is their condition that provides us with such endless fascination. From the moment the first drop of coffee is poured, information about chassis and engines, about tyres, wheels and exhaust systems is offered and updated in meticulous detail. We are the Organ Recital.

There can be few topics so absorbing to the owner, and at the same time so boring to the uninvolved listener, as health. It’s like a rolling inventory being carried out on the way to the scrapyard. Everyone of my age whom I meet is obsessed with their ailments. I understand it. I have a chrome-and-cement hinge in my knee and for six months if you had come in and told me that a nuclear bomb was hurtling towards Dublin I would probably have replied, ‘Really? Well, I’m down to 2 Paracetamol a day for my knee.’

My new knee has redefined aspects of my life. When I go through airport security nowadays it’s like Isis has arrived. I’m reluctant to walk on ice, or over bogs. My Bungee Jumping days are over. And there was a period during the post-op phase when I found myself unable to stop talking about my knee. Except at the Organ Recital, where I was forced to wait my turn.

Men and women with pacemakers, prosthetic hips, absent prostates, stents, fused vertebrae, teeth implants, lasered eyes and tin shoulders all feel compelled, not just to tell their story, but to tell it unendingly. It’s like in Ancient Greece where they sat around all day re-telling the Iliad. And, like the owners of old cars who find unceasing enthrallment in swapping tales of cylinder-head gaskets and wheel-bearings, members of the Organ Recital trade the names of doctors, the quality of hospitals and clinics, views on pain relief remedies, the number of hours we sleep every night, diet, the cost of physiotherapists and whether living in a bungalow really does shave years from your life expectancy.

No one in the Organ Recital smokes, nor has done for years. Some vape, but they’re in a minority. Pipes, cigars and cigarillos, once our essential props, are now as rare in our hands as condoms.

And then there is the vexed subject of booze. We chuckle as we remember our lunatic excesses. We like to think that drinking eight pints and driving home, as we once did, was harmless back in the day when our roads resembled Ireland of the Great Famine. Necessity, usually in the way of engine trouble, has dictated common sense. We all share the huge surprise that a round of drinks for four persons in Dublin costs €30. How can they afford it? Where do they get the money?

But what we also know is that our erstwhile friends who followed a different path, who were defiant 40-a-day men or women to the end, and who into their late fifties were still equating booze with oblivion, these lovely souls are now with us only in memory.