The sudden violent downpour on the coast
That soaked the surfers, paddlers,
Bleeping beachcombers,
Filled the creek that had been
Pouring from its concrete pipe mouth
A dirty flood that
Cut a thick V-shaped
Across the sand

The gushing silty water
Carried leaves,
Branches, twigs, worms,
Drowned insects,
Tumbling to the waves,
Shards of shimmering
Plastic wrapper
That a fishing Tern
Swooped on
And then disgustedly

And among the mess and foam
A snake-belt buckling against
The current,
The silvered slithering
Of an eel
Which writhed and turned
In febrile opposition
Against itself,
It moved sideways, backward,
Longward to the advancing salty tide…

Backyard gum trees provide homes and food for multiple species, but as building density in suburbia increases, the pressure on this important habitat has intensified.

Early morning Blackbutt Gum Tree, Eucalyptus pilularis

New Year’s Eve and I’m up on a ladder cleaning out our gutters. This wet La Niña Christmas, the large Eucalyptus pilularis in our yard has been showering us with gifts of bark, leaves, gum-nutted twigs and long dry branches. A magnificent Blackbutt Gum, it is the tallest tree in the neighbourhood, a stand-out landmark in our low-rise beach-side suburbia. We can see its towering frame as we return from work, or from a tiring visit to the shops; home is where this tree is.

The bounty of bark and branches that it gives us is useful, harvested and put…

Autumnal scene — trees with golden leaves
Autumnal scene — trees with golden leaves

When asked about religion, Mr. O’Connor used to laugh and say: I believe in life before death. And right enough, he used to enjoy a good time to himself. He got through a packet of ten cigars every week, more around Christmas time, and he would have a glass of whiskey of a night time, if there was football or anything good on the television.

It was only after he had the stroke that he began to overindulge himself, and Mrs. O’Connor was sure that it was as a result of his condition, this inability to know when to stop…

Trained in the Army, moved to the pipelines

X-ray. Photo: Wikipedia

Jim lived along the same landing of Arlington House hostel as Phil and Peter — the Kildare bhoys, and a contingent of other Irish fellas, from both sides of the border, and both sides of the religious divide. They looked out for one another, kept each other company, provided support when someone was ill or feeling miserable, helped each other out when funds run low; and regaled each other with yarns and stories about the glory days of their youth….

When Jim was in hospital, Peter came to visit him every day, his only visitor. And while Jim was recovering…

Interview with ‘Peter’ who lived a working life digging in the tunnels — where ‘you could be drowned, you could be gassed’ at any minute.

In the tunnels of the Victoria Line

Peter was an enthusiastic voluntary worker around the hostel— not that he would ever have described himself in such terms, or expected any credit. No, he just helped his mates out along the landing, calling in on the older residents who couldn’t manage to get up and about much. When I called in to see him, he proudly showed me around his small but comfortable room, immaculately clean, furnished with TV and a fridge, which was stuffed with about a month’s supply of food, and which he was especially pleased with. Used to a lifetime getting up early and getting…

Resurfacing after twenty years, interviews with the Irish residents of Arlington House, London’s biggest hostel for the homeless.

Picture of the floppy disk used for ‘Interview book back-up’
Picture of the floppy disk used for ‘Interview book back-up’
Floppy disk used for ‘interview book back-up’

Back in 1998, I was too caught up in the dizzy excitement of the bright new digital world to give these interviews the attention they deserved. The internet was just opening up in an electric ocean of endless possibilities and was going to change everything we knew. I was determined that I was going to be a part of that bright new future. I didn’t understand that in the yin and yang of the web there was a dark side too.

I did put the stories together in various forms and some were published in The Irish Post and Force…

This famous hostel for the homeless in London’s Camden Town once housed writers George Orwell and Patrick Kavanagh and inspired both the Pogues and Madness

Arlington House, Camden Town

Arlington House, built by Lord Rowton in 1905, is the UK’s largest hostel for the homeless. The hostel has an illustrious history, having housed many thousands of homeless working men over the years, including the Down and Out in Paris and London era George Orwell, and the celebrated Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh. There’s even a rumour that Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese revolutionary leader stayed there.

From the outset, Arlington House has always provided accommodation for men irrespective of their creed, class, colour or nationality; it has, however, always had an especial importance for the Irish. The poet Patrick Kavanagh…

Kevin had been a rocker with a cool Norton motorcycle and a leather jacket, but an accident at a plastics factory radically changed his life.

Norton motorcycle advert. Image:
Norton motorcycle advert. Image:
Norton motorcycle advert. Image:

Kevin was admired In Arlington House hostel as a man of great courage and integrity. Despite the horrendous troubles he has suffered in his past life, he rarely complained; instead, he kept himself busy collecting bits and pieces of scrap metal in the Camden area.

In the hostel, he finally gained some peace of mind, and was more settled and content than he had been for many years. And nobody judged him on his past life — a worry which has prevented him resettling back in Ireland

Kevin’s life was dominated by his illness of 1956-’58, possibly caused by exposure…

Adventures in the Merchant Navy

Tramp steamer, 1950s. Photo: Wikipedia

Frail and unwell, when interviewed in 1998, Johnny is one of the many old sailors that lived in Arlington House hostel for the homeless.

“ I come from Co. Antrim, a place called the Glens of Antrim.

There was five of us. Three sisters and one brother. I went to St. McNessie’s college. I couldn’t take the college life at all. I was there a couple of years. There was boarders there, but I wasn’t a boarder, I only come from four mile away from it. I was a ‘day-boy’. They were all priests, the…

Tommy came over from Ireland to get the work in the coal-mines in the North of England. He didn’t like it much. So, he went to London and took up his trade of welding, instead.

1940s coal miners
1940s coal miners
Miners in England in the 1940s. Photo: WikiMedia Commons

Tommy laughed about the mines, in a mischievous way, like he was almost worried that some mining official would come from round the corner and demand that he return to Sheffield. He was especially happy in Arlington House. Prior to getting a room in the hostel, he had spent 18 months sleeping under a bridge along the canal bank, and he was always quick to remark how comfortable the house was, and that he didn’t want to move on. …

jim mccool

Human-Centred-Design consultant, critical thinker, writer, researcher, storyteller, believes we can work together to find a better way to live.

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