'LIFE", teases John Lennon, "is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" – which may explain why my life as a stay-at-home dad has seen me not quite getting around to, well, quite a lot of what I'd perhaps hoped to when I left full-time employment two years ago.
Who knew how quickly a morning flies by and how little you can actually get done while you've a little girl still in primary school and two of her three brothers still lope home for lunch each day from theirs?
"Eh, hello?" says my wife, raising one hand.
Who'd have thought how the daily 'must-do' list outnumbers the 'would-like-to-do' list; the mountain of sundry chores to chip away at without so much as a discernible dent some days, the trail of teenage detritus to pick up and the endless other menial tasks to tackle as time ticks down to school pick-ups.
"Ahem," says my wife, waving her hand now.
Honestly, I think to myself, there's probably only three hours each morning in which to do all the things you HAVE to get done before there's a hope of starting anything you'd LIKE to do. Writing a book, I list off in my head; mastering the guitar; heck, just finding a moment to stare longingly into my wife's eyes. All things I'd planned to do every day, more often consigned to the back burner.
"Um," says my wife. "Earth to husband."
I shake myself awake from where I'm sitting in my dressing gown, propping up my head among the breakfast dishes, then stare longingly into her eyes for a moment.
"What ARE you doing?" she squints back.
"I'm working through my 'to-do' list," I tell her.
When I left my job to take over a little publishing company with my wife in the quiet north-east coastal Dublin fishing village where we live, I'd pictured myself as a sort of Kevin Spacey character from the film The Shipping News – if, that is, Kevin Spacey had a wife, four kids, one dog, and joined the school board of management, the chamber of commerce and a committee to get a skate park built.
"Eh," says a longtime author friend when we meet over drinks and I mention this, or something like it. "Isn't Shipping News rather tragic? There are probably better stories in which to find a character that you relate to. How's your own book coming along?"
"Well," I say, sucking my teeth, then drumming my fingers together in what I think looks like an author-like way. "There IS a book, and I figure I should be able to do about a thousand words a day, so . . ."
"So you must be nearly finished," she says. "Well done."
"Umm," I frown.
"My dear," she says, fixing her eyes on me over her wine glass, "You told me about this book over a year ago, so at a thousand words a day you must be nearly finished . . . or it's fecking War and Peace."
"You got me," I sigh.
Barely a week later, a tiny 263-year-old heritage cottage comes up for rent. It's going for a song and my wife and I leap at it. It's the perfect village garret from which to work on our little publications – and somewhere to write without the willing distraction of household duties.
It's time our children became a little more independent, we decide. It's a gamble, but we go for it.
A new floor goes in, then a cast-iron gas heater, and desks – one downstairs for the publishing business and one in a loft at the top of a spiral staircase for writing, where there's little room for anything else. Swinging a cat will not top the dwindling list of 'other things to do'.
And so it's a day like any other day that I find myself staring at a blank page, except it's not any other day. I'm alone in a small room away from the norm. Even the air smells different.
"It was a day like any other," I write. "Except it wasn't. Even the air smelled different."
I scribble out this cliched rubbish then realise that the gas fire has gone out, which is what the smell is.
I open the door and am fanning the air with my arms when another old friend pops in.
"New office?" he says, cheerfully, and we quickly get lost in conversation. He tells me his band is being brought to Italy by a friend of Robbie Williams. It'll make a great article for my Shipping News. My phone rings. It's my wife. Can I pick up the little girl from school? Of course I can. Actually, as distractions go, it'll be nice.
A car screeches to a halt outside and three people hurry into a nearby house. Minutes later, the car screeches off again and a young woman rushes over, distraught. Had I seen those people a minute ago? They had just attempted a robbery. A garda arrives and takes down the sparse details I manage to babble then I shuffle off to collect the little girl from school, arriving back with her just as a forensics expert arrives.
My wife calls again. "Been getting much done?" she asks
"No," I say, "but I plan to."
"Anything happening?" she says.
"You know," I shrug. "Just life."