An Irish Tail: 
A hilarious tale of an English couple and their unruly dogs, searching for a new life in rural Ireland.
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An Irish Tail (a hilarious tale of an English couple and their unruly dogs, searching for a new life in rural Ireland and it was hands down the funniest book I have read all year!) will be the funniest book you’ll read all year.

The story follows this delightful English couple as life events lead them to move to a very rural part of Ireland. However, they find themselves in one crazy predicament after another as they visit Ireland for the first time to go house hunting and as they try to repair and upgrade the home they eventually purchase. At the same time the story follows the couple's adorable canine companions, who also have their share of adventures and comical situations. This story is incredibly well written with brilliant comical satire that seriously made me laugh constantly. I kept running to my husband to share parts of the story with him.

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Summary

A hilarious tale of dogs, fogs, bogs and moving to Ireland.

For many years, Nick and Lesley Albert had shared a dream of living far away from the stress of modern life, and when the opportunity arose, they jumped in with both feet. Almost overnight, they decided to move to beautiful County Clare, in the west of Ireland – a Country they had never before visited. With little experience or money they set about renovating a derelict farmhouse and building a new life together - hindered only by their lack of skill, twenty-two chickens ,two ducks and several unruly dogs. Bursting with comical anecdotes and witty observations, blended with occasional moments of exquisite sadness, this is a delightful true story of an English couple searching for a new life in the quiet solitude of rural Ireland.

"Marley and Me" meets "Round Ireland with a Fridge." If you love dogs, Ireland and life, then you will adore “An Irish Tail”.

Author Bio

Nick Albert was born in England in 1958. Raised in a Royal Air Force family, he had attended dozens of different schools in England, Scotland and even Singapore, before his father retired and settled in Norfolk, England in 1970. 

 After leaving College in 1979, he worked in retail management for several years before moving into financial services where he quickly progressed through the ranks to become a training consultant. As a very passionate and reasonably talented sportsman, Nick had always wanted to use his training skills towards creating a parallel career, so in the mid 1980's he qualified and began coaching sport professionally.

After a health scare in 2003 and in search of a simpler life, he and his wife Lesley, cashed in their investments, sold their home and bought a rundown farmhouse in the rural west of Ireland - a country they had never before even visited. With little money or experience and armed only with a do-it-yourself manual, they set about renovating their new home, where they now live happily alongside a flock of chickens, two ducks and several unruly, but delightful dogs.

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An Irish Tail Free Chapter Read

Chapter 1 – In which we start a new life

“Carry on like this and you’ll be dead in six months – or at best, in a padded cell with nothing but a packet of crayons to keep you entertained,” my doctor said with a thin smile. “Sort your life out, Nick – or else.” He gave me a cheeky wink, “Now, come outside and see my new car!” This is where it all started.

At work, the lunatic accountants had taken over the asylum, constantly changing departments, reassigning responsibilities and outsourcing customer support, I.T. functions and the office of spectacular cock-ups to some city in India, where all the telesales staff have more qualifications than an astronaut, but cost less to keep than an anorexic hamster. I loved my work; I was passionate about it – totally committed to the cause and proud of my contribution. However, in the last six years my workload had increased substantially, along with a more demanding travel schedule and too many nights away from home. Staffing levels were being slashed repeatedly, but on each occasion I had successfully fought for one of the few remaining positions. Now the stress was finally getting to me. At that moment, sitting with my doctor after a massive stress event that was cleverly disguised as a heart attack, I was one of only six survivors from the original staff in my division. At times, it seemed like I was the last man standing on the battlefield, just waiting for the sniper’s bullet. I could feel that red dot itching at the back of my neck, as the accountants identified the next cost saving required to create the illusion of more profits, at the expense of decent hard working people – and perhaps me. Ironically, I had recently admitted defeat and offered my resignation, only to be told that I was indispensable to the business. I am confident that this assessment had more to do with my proportionately low pay rate, than my excellent transferable skill set and record of consistently making bonuses.

In any event, as I sat on a low wall at the back of the surgery with my doctor, looking at his new car, we agreed that I really needed to get a new life.

“Honestly Nick,” my doctor said, “There’s no point in working so hard and putting up with all that shit, if it means that you’re going to drop dead before you are forty.”

“But I’m already forty-five.”

“Are you? Christ! You look well for a dead man! What’s the point of having all that money, if you’re dead anyway?”

“But I don’t have any money, Dave; it’s no more than a house of cards. I feel like I’m in debt up to my flipping eyeballs. I seem to be running all the time, just to keep up – I can’t even afford a day off.”

“Me neither, mate. This car cost me a ruddy fortune and I’m always running around seeing patients at all hours. I never seem to get time off.” He pulled a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket and wiped an invisible speck from his windscreen, “Still –over 40 mpg and it goes like stink!”

“You need a break, you know! All that work is bad for you,” I joked.

“Don’t start! Anyway, we’re talking about you here. What are you going to do about it?”

“I’m not sure yet. I’ve been talking about change recently with Lesley. We think that, provided we can sell the house for a decent price, I could jack my job in. Then we might be able to buy a place somewhere for cash and start a new life – simple living, without any debts or credit cards.”

“Where would you go?” he asked.

“We were considering Scotland, perhaps Skye, or Portugal or maybe Spain. We even looked at France; prices look pretty attractive there at the moment. If we can sell the house, we might afford a small holding with a few acres; maybe we could get some goats.”

My doctor leaned back on the wall, ran his fingers through his unruly blond hair and gave a big sigh. “It sounds idyllic. Can I come?”

“Nah! You’ve got all those people in the waiting room to see to. Get back to work – this car won’t pay for itself you know.”

“Piss off,” he said, “Anyway, they’re all a bunch of old farts with piles and boils. Such a waste of my enormous talent!” Then, with a smile, “Good luck, I hope it goes well for you. If it helps, tell your boss that if he doesn’t let you go, you’ll probably go nuts within six months.”

I shook his hand, “Thanks mate – I think!”

“Hey,” he shouted, “Don’t forget – it’s never too late to be who you could have been.” He crossed his eyes and gave me a Vulcan salute, “Live long and prosper!”

So we went our separate ways, he reluctantly to his waiting room full of coughs and sneezes and I towards the prospect of starting a new life, with a slightly tentative spring in my step.

A lot of things had happened during the previous few years to bring my beautiful wife Lesley and me to this place in our lives. Our equally beautiful daughter, Joanne, was suddenly all grown up and already buying her own house, as she rocketed towards spectacular success in her career. My father had died recently, after a slow decline into dementia followed by a massive stroke. He was always a big influence in my life and, like many sons, I would subconsciously seek his approval for everything I did. His passing, along with the pointless and tragic death of my closest friend in a car crash, and then the recent news that another friend had just been diagnosed with brain and bowel cancer, left me feeling that I should be doing more (or perhaps less) with my life. Finally, Lesley had given up work recently and was now enjoying being what she liked to refer to as “a lady of leisure.”

 Retrospectively, I think that in some ways we had become like emotional nomads, travelling from challenge to challenge as if they were waterholes in the desert. We were at our most comfortable when we were fully engaged in a task that had a clear path to an obvious conclusion. Even the seemingly pointless exercise of doing jigsaw puzzles could help to fill the void between projects. A puzzle, after all, is a simple challenge, with a clear goal, that can be achieved with obvious steps. If the challenge seems too large, then you can break it down into interim steps, by first finding the corners and then connecting the edges and so on, until the picture is completed. You may feel some sense of achievement once the jigsaw is finished, but this will be followed by a feeling of emptiness – until you start the next. As young parents, the demands of everyday life provided some measure of simplicity to our lives, where each day was planned around our daughter; the need to put food on the table and pay the bills – like most people. Once Joanne was old enough to be more independent, Lesley and I instinctively started to look for new challenges, changing jobs, taking evening classes to learn new skills and renovating our Victorian terraced house. A few years later, when the renovations were complete and around the time when Joanne was getting old enough to move out, we got into the habit of “window shopping” for houses during the weekends. I don’t think we actually had any serious intention of moving, but I had recently been promoted again and the housing markets were buoyant, so we were curious about what was available. One day we spotted a delightful, but derelict cottage, in a pretty village just outside Colchester, in Essex, England. It contained one elderly resident, a friend of the lately deceased original owner. The family who had recently inherited the cottage wanted to sell – as quickly as possible – but because the current and previous residents were so old and frail, the entire property had remained untouched, without maintenance or repair, for almost thirty years. With everything but the roof and walls needing replacing or repair, it was going to be a major renovation project. The state of the cottage would have put a lot of people off, but we were instantly in love with the property and committed to becoming the new owners; with Joanne’s enthusiastic support and a huge bridging loan from my bank, three months later we were. Unfortunately it took another four months before we could sell our first house, which was a considerable additional strain on our nerves and finances. My employer joined in the fun by announcing a 50% cut in staff nationwide – and then giving me a new project requiring trips to every corner of the country and hundreds of nights away from home. Undaunted, we got our heads down and started the process of creating a new home. The garden was a wall of impenetrable bramble that would take three months to clear, there was no heating, all the electrics were pre-war (1939), there was significant woodworm damage in the floors and all of the windows were rotten. The kitchen was unbelievably filthy and caked in grease, but not as foul as the toilet, which showed significant signs of impatience and inaccuracy from the elderly male residents. Curiously, the bathroom was fitted with a top quality corner bath, although with mismatched, second-hand taps. Also, there was a new double garage with remote-controlled doors, but no sign of there ever having been a car. A search of the outbuildings and accessible parts of the garden revealed thirty years of collected junk, including seven hundred sheets of glass and dozens of old window frames, presumably taken from skips and building sites around the village. Disposing of all the rubbish would eventually fill twelve large skips and cost thousands. Almost five years later, all of the renovations were complete and the house looked superb – beautifully presented with real “curb appeal”. Lesley’s mighty efforts had produced a magnificent garden that was the envy of many visitors, especially during the recent open gardens day in the village. After so much hard work, renovating the house and gardens while still working full time, we had a real sense of achievement. But at the same time we were both getting restless, perhaps subconsciously feeling the need to get on to the next project. Also, I was also starting to feel the effects of the stress I had been under.

In another life, I might have been diagnosed with “a mid-life crisis” and given a prescription for a motorbike and an illicit affair with a nineteen-year-old blonde Latvian girl. While one cure would have been fun, the other would surely have killed me – you may decide which. In any event, money was tight and neither stress treatment was available free on the National Health Service in England. Money, or the lack of it, was a constant worry for me, even though we were not spending wildly, nor living the high life beyond our means. In common with most middle-class families at that time, our only debts were a reasonable mortgage, a small bank loan and a few credit cards. Although we were able to meet the repayments at that time and even add a little to our savings account each month, I was acutely aware of how tenuous the situation was. If I were to suffer even a small drop in pay, or, worse, lose my job, then we were only a few weeks away from financial disaster. Just eighteen months after we were married, a cruel twist of fate during an overseas contract left Lesley and me out of step with our financial commitments and potentially facing homelessness. It was shocking how quickly the reversal of fortune had occurred, with seemingly insignificant events turning into major stumbling blocks. In the end we worked our way out of the mess and the experience made us stronger, but the memory of that time is like an icicle driving into my heart. The fear of a repetition now weighed heavily on my mind and I had recently started having premonitions of disaster, waking in the night, panting, with the sheets soaked in my sweat. Even though every day the post brought further offers of new credit cards and cheaper bank loans, I felt strongly motivated to find a way out from under the burden of debt. I can understand now why some desperate people rob banks, or even consider going into politics, to make a quick buck. In any event, towards the end of 2003 the housing market seemed to be at a peak, local demand was substantial and it was obvious that, through selling the house, we could more than double our investment.

My own career, in training and coaching, was obviously at its peak and likely to demand more commitment, for fewer rewards, along with the eventual and inevitable certainty of redundancy and unemployment. Although still a comparatively young man, I was starting to feel like an old dog, no longer able to keep up with the pack. Perhaps this ridiculous feeling of vulnerability was leading me towards unrealistic expectations of my own performance and adding to the pressure I was feeling. My employer was also contributing substantially to my stress, setting higher targets, demanding longer working hours, frequent nights away from home and creating a general air of anxiety. The tension around me was palpable; I had fallen into the trap of allowing my work to dominate my life, to the detriment of my family and my health. Many people who work in management within large organisations become institutionalised, living in a sort of “corporate bubble,” where the unacceptable and even the unthinkable can almost become company policy. Large organisations can develop rules and working practices that evolve dangerously, because of how the employees are rewarded. If you want to stay inside the bubble and continue to draw a salary, you must think and act as the others do. In its most benign form, you may miss out on promotion by wearing a tie on “dress down Fridays,” or by taking your full holiday entitlement. At its worst, these corporate lemmings can knowingly destroy families, economies and environments in the pursuit of bigger profits. I loved my job, I was passionate about my work and proud of my achievements, but at what cost? I had started to question whether the rewards were worth the cost to my physical and emotional health; after all was said and done, were a few “exceptional” performance reviews and a cash bonus going to be adequate compensation if I ended up a physical, emotional and matrimonial wreck? To add to the fun, I was frequently dragged halfway across the country for meetings that did little but add to our workload and frustration; commuting in England was a daily nightmare of stress and delay. The trains are expensive and unreliable, and the London underground can be horribly hot and overcrowded. There are few less pleasant ways of not getting around London, than standing for two hours on a stationary underground train, with your face jammed into some fat guy’s sweaty armpit, all the time wondering how long it is medically safe to hold on to a fart. The M25 London outer ring road and the terminally constricted coronary artery that allegedly connects it to Heathrow Airport, under the cheeky name of the M4, were rumoured to be the inspiration for Chris Rea to pen “Road to Hell.” Every painful minute of delay in your daily commute is irreplaceable time, callously stolen from your family. Little wonder then, that people are so depressed and that road rage is becoming more violent.

When working within a large company, life can be hard and sometimes impossible to justify to those on the outside, who may live by other (more sensible) rules. One colleague proudly evidenced the commitment of his management team, by how almost all of them were now divorced. On another occasion, disaster was only narrowly averted, after a manager deliberately disabled the alarm system so he and an assistant could fight a fire without disruption to the business. Sadly, three years later, similar actions cost the life of a dear friend and almost one hundred others, in an office fire in Indonesia. Large corporations are particularly adept at destroying the souls of their employees, by simply moving the goal posts, so that those things that were almost “life and death” yesterday, become irrelevant and unimportant tomorrow. I have personal experiences of sweating blood and disregarding my family to meet some arbitrary deadline, only to find the project has been cancelled at the last minute, as the corporate eye lost interest. At times I have screamed, cried and punched the seats of my shiny new BMW because of the frustrations of outrageous business targets and inter-department wrangling. “Business as usual” and “the show must go on” are clichés that are frequently overused in an attempt to justify the indefensible. I am ashamed to say that I wasn’t there to hold my father’s hand as he slipped from a coma into death, because I was preparing slides for a crucial presentation – and what for? In the end, the meeting never took place. I am sure that many of the good people who worked at Lehman brothers before the crash, also gave their all – right up to the last day, when they packed their meagre belongings into a cardboard box and joined the dole queue.

Perhaps even more damaging to the spirit these days is the constant threat of unemployment or redundancy, brought about, not by the failings of loyal, hardworking employees, but by the financial manipulations of faceless executives in their ivory towers. Previously I had seen many of my friends and colleagues pointlessly lose their jobs almost overnight, to achieve a temporary “blip” in the share price in support of a failed attempt at a merger with an American company. Now it was evident that my job would probably cease to exist again, probably within six months and that I could either fight for another position, as I had done several times before, or simply accept redundancy and try to get on with a new life. After much discussion, Lesley and I had decided it was time for me to leave, and we started to plan accordingly. The previous week I had even discussed my options and opinions with my boss and his boss also, only to be told that I was too valuable to lose. For some reason, this well-meaning vote of confidence only added to my stress; I imagined that on my boss’s desk, my photograph was sitting in a personnel file marked, “Must keep! Will work for peanuts and is reasonably unlikely to really screw up.” Lesley and I were very conscious of a shared desire for a different and better life, and the possibility of starting anew was a regular topic of conversation; particularly when we were out walking our dogs.

At that time we had two dogs, named Brandy and Romany. Brandy is a pedigree Lhasa Apsos bitch, one of a pair we had purchased from a local breeder some ten years previously. Her sister “Tammy” had sadly died after a long illness when aged just seven. Brandy has a thick coat the colour of warm honey and “love me” eyes, which were like looking into her heart and seeing melted chocolate. If you are unfamiliar with the breed, the Lhasa Apsos originates from Tibet where the name means “Barking Lion or Little Lion,” depending on which book you read. They are loyal, intelligent, playful and inquisitive dogs with a warning bark that is twice their diminutive size. On the day that I secretly collected our new puppies from the breeder while on my journey home from work, I walked into the house clutching a small cardboard box and a few items of paperwork from my office. Our daughter Joanne was still a young girl, as pretty as her mother, tall for her age and athletically slim, with short brown hair, sparkling blue eyes, and a cheeky smile displaying the silver braces on her teeth. Although normally a diligent student, she had recently become a teenager and on this day she was keen to avoid her homework, by reprimanding me for my own.

“Aw Dad!” She groaned, “Have you brought loads of work home again? I thought we were going to the cinema – you promised.”

“This isn’t my work; it’s something for you to do.” I countered, dropping the box onto her lap.

She was quick to respond. “I can’t help you, I’ve got loads of homework to do – I’ve just remembered.”

“Tuff luck,” I said with mock sternness.

Lesley was in on the gag and added from the doorway, “You should do as your father says!”

Joanne fixed a full teenage pout onto her face and was about to launch into another objection, when the box on her lap started to move and whimper. Open mouthed she looked at our beaming smiles and then opened the box and gave a yelp of delight. Inside were two squiggly little balls of fur, one brown and white and the other white and brown, both were desperately scrabbling for her attention. Like miniature overstuffed caricatures of the perfect puppy, covered in velvety soft fur and equipped with beautiful deep brown eyes, each was no larger than her hand. They became her constant companions, happy to lie at her side while she did her homework, or trot along proudly when she took them for long walks in the park. With Joanne’s enthusiastic encouragement Tammy learned to use the slide at the park, patiently waiting in line with the children, before climbing the stairs and sliding down the shoot and into Joanne’s waiting arms. Brandy even learned how to run after a ball, but she considered the process of pursuit and retrieval to be somewhat pointless and would usually drop the ball and wander off at the first distraction. As far as she was concerned, if you wanted the ball then you shouldn’t have thrown it away in the first place.

After we bred Brandy and Tammy, and mostly at the behest of our daughter, we decided to keep the runt of the litter, who was eventually given the name Romany. She was a delightful puppy, playful and full of beans, until she was old enough to have her first proper walk… Along with her mother and aunt, Romany confidently and proudly trotted along with her nose and tail held high in the air, like a princess in a white fur coat. Once we reached the field and were away from the main road, I let all three dogs off their leads. Brandy and Tammy bounded away along the usual route and Romany trotted along behind, confidently mimicking her mother’s every move. When they ran, she ran, when they walked, she walked and when they peed, so did Romany. At the bottom of the hill, the footpath was bisected by a narrow ditch, filled with stagnant water, slime, and the usual garbage generated by most fast food eating, beer swilling populations in town centres these days. In line astern first Brandy, and then Tammy, jumped across the three foot gap with an athletic spring. Last in line, Romany attempted to replicate their aerial acrobatics, but because she was half the size of her mother, she only covered half the distance. Like a scene from a “Road Runner” cartoon, Romany hung in the air for what seemed like several seconds, with her legs paddling desperately, before plopping like a fluffy stone into the filthy water below. The poor little thing went in looking like the latest celebrity fashion accessory and emerged, a few seconds later, looking like an oily rag. With head down and tail between her legs, she turned dejectedly for home, her confidence shattered forever.

Because she was always the smallest doggy in the room, competing with the other two for a fuss from somebody with only two hands, Romany quickly discovered that she could become the tallest by balancing on her bottom, in a begging position. She wasn’t particularly adept at this mildly acrobatic feat, wobbling precariously back and forth like a drunken Scottish sailor until she received a fuss, or rolled over backwards. When she was a young dog, as skinny as a racing snake, she would instantly spring up again and resume her begging position, but as a more rotund dog in later life, she would remain stranded on her back, turtle-like, until the inevitable rescue. Should you decide to subject the helpless dog to a tummy tickle, she would squirm and giggle in delight, like a child. As prissy as a teenage prom queen and reluctant to even step in a muddy puddle, she once amazed us by spontaneously inventing the game of “mud surfing” while we were walking on the mud flats of the River Severn estuary in high summer. While Brandy sunbathed in the baking heat alongside Lesley on a sandy embankment, Joanne and I decided to walk Romany out across the cool muddy sands of the estuary, in search of seashells and interesting pebbles. Suddenly the little dog ran ahead, perhaps intending to chase after a nearby wading bird, but moments later she lost her footing and slid sideways into a shallow puddle. The resulting splash of cooling water seemed to delight her and she immediately jumped up and repeated the slide into the next puddle. For almost an hour Romany raced about madly, ignoring our ever more desperate calls to return, leaning over like a bike racer and using her shoulders to surf along the mud. Each “surf” sprayed water, and stinking estuary mud, several feet into the air and all along each flank of her previously white coat. In due course, she tired of this never to be repeated game and trotted back with a huge grin on her otherwise mud smeared face. For some reason, Lesley refused to believe that Romany had invented this game without any input from me, although how she thought I had explained the rules and techniques of “mud surfing” remained unexplained. In punishment I was sentenced to find a hosepipe and wash the stinking mud off our little prima donna. By the time we had walked back to the camp site in the hot sun, the mud had dried to a dull grey, prompting a passing pensioner to comment on the unusual colour of our pretty dog! Later in life Romany was plagued with infected eyes and the canine equivalent of Crohn’s disease, which caused cramps and a bleeding bowel – both afflictions are unfortunately quite common in the breed, although Brandy remained in excellent health.

During the previous few months, we had endlessly chewed over the numbers and options for moving, spending hours on the internet, looking at houses, businesses and jobs, both at home and abroad. If everything worked out in our favour, it would be possible to start a new life, free of debt and stress, where the air is clean, the sky blue and the water sweet. There were hundreds of interesting and exciting properties available in Scotland, Wales, Portugal, Spain and the north of England, but painfully few job opportunities. A year previously, I had even set up my own limited company and started building up a small bank of private clients that I could see in the evenings and at weekends, but the income was still a long way from replacing that of my employed position. I had also placed my C.V. with several local recruitment agencies in an effort to keep my options open. Although I had an excellent work history with several notable awards and achievements and consistently high performance review scores, I had been unsuccessful in all of my job interviews. While I presented very well on each occasion, either the package on offer for my grade was well below my current basic salary, or I was deemed to be too experienced to fit into any alternative career. Put simply, I was over-aged and over-paid. The prospect of being without a regular income was starting to frighten me. On paper the figures added up, but for everything to work out, allowing Lesley and I to start a new life successfully, a lot of ducks needed to get in line and the first “duck” in line was probably quitting my job. This was an alarming step, because there was no guarantee of any of the other ducks joining in, but I felt it needed to happen first and it needed to happen quickly. In an ideal world we would have first sold our house and perhaps rented for a while, as we organised the move abroad. Then the final step would be to quit work and jump on the next flight out; it all sounds so easy. However, our experience was that the dream of starting again, in a simpler, less stressful life, would remain a dream unless we jumped in with both feet. If I carried on working we wouldn’t have the time or freedom to do the house-hunting and there would be no incentive to sell the house. On the other hand, even if I continued to see clients privately, if I left my job first, we would have to sell the house and cash in our investments, to clear any outstanding debts before my severance pay and savings ran out. We would need to buy another house in some (yet to be selected) country, move and then probably try to find some work. In the unlikely event that we couldn’t sell the house, I would be forced to try and find work locally at a similar, or better salary – and this seemed doubtful, at age forty-five, in a changing and competitive job market. It was a tricky conundrum. We both needed the motivation to start things moving; otherwise we would end up carrying on, out of habit, as we had in the past.

Then on Sunday morning, while I was meeting with a private client, I started to feel unwell. At first I felt a little dizzy and flushed, and then I noticed that I was distracted and unable to concentrate. Thinking that I might just be coming down with a head cold, I did my best to carry on working. However, within an hour I was feeling considerably worse, with a sharp pain in my chest and back, cold sweats and a racing heart. Obviously, something was wrong, so I apologised to my client and set off for home. Lesley was surprised to see me home so early, but immediately noticed that I was looking very pale in the face and unwell. Despite my protests, she called the out of hours medical helpline who advised us to go immediately to a nearby clinic. Within minutes I was on a heart monitor while a nice Indian doctor was checking my blood pressure and shaking his head. I wasn’t worried or scared, but I could see that Lesley was very concerned, despite her attempt at “gallows humour” by asking about my level of life cover and funeral preferences. Initially I was quite pragmatic and practical in my thinking – I was after all a comparatively young and fit non-smoker, a former karate instructor who enjoyed running most days; I had been vegetarian for twenty years and didn’t drink much alcohol. My feeling was that if something was wrong with my machine, the doctors would fix it. Although I wasn’t happy, I didn’t see any need to worry. After about an hour, our local GP Dave Harrison popped his head around the door; he was about my age and we were friends.

“Hey Nick, Hi Lesley,” he waved and smiled. “I heard you were here – I thought I would pop in.”

“Thanks Dave. No need to worry though, I’m feeling a good bit better now. It’s all a big fuss over nothing. I only came here because Lesley was worried.”

“Well you’re not dead yet, I suppose.”

“Do you have any idea what’s going on?” asked Lesley.

“I was thinking we might send you home in an hour or so, if nothing changes. It looks like you had a bad reaction to all the stress you’ve been under. I have been warning you about this for months.” He looked at my chart. “Come and see me at the surgery tomorrow morning – I should have all the test results by then.” Then more sternly, “Nick, we need to talk about this – it’s important.”

The following morning Dave explained his diagnosis.

“Listen Nick, the human body is a wondrous machine; it can absorb all manner of punishment and yet heal itself. With poisons and toxins it can even build up a resistance, like with alcohol. When you first drink, you are under the table after a couple of glasses. But if you continue drinking regularly, you discover that you can drink all night and hardly feel the effects.”

“So you didn’t waste your time at medical school then?” I quipped.

“Not at all, it was all serious research. Lots of hangovers, but it had to be done.”

“What’s all this got to do with me?” I asked.

“Well – here’s the thing. Stress is different. It seems like the body and mind can absorb almost any amount of stress without any negative side effects. In fact, some people, like you, almost seem to thrive on it. Then one day – bang! You can’t take any more. Worse than that, you suddenly can’t take any stress at all. That’s what I think has happened to you.”

I sat quietly for a moment. “So what does all this mean, how do I get better?”

“Well, at the end of the day you need to get away from all this stress. Your body just can’t take it any longer. There are some drugs we could try temporarily, but that would merely be postponing the inevitable. Yesterday you had a big warning, next time it could be a lot worse.”

I put my head in my hands and we fell silent for a while. Dave was being very clever, he wanted me to think seriously about what had happened. I wasn’t frightened, but I was angry. Angry with my employer for exposing me and my colleagues to such unnecessary stress. Angry with myself for allowing it to happen, for being too weak and selfish to stand up and say, “Enough!” and angry with my body for failing me. It had always seemed to me that, provided I looked after my body, it would look after me. If I had a good diet, didn’t drink excessively and kept fit, it was reasonable to expect that I would stay fairly healthy. That was the deal. In my limited experience of ill health, most things that broke could be fixed, with the application of a little medicine and time. I had never considered that my body would let me down. Breaking a leg, getting cancer or catching some virus was acceptable and manly. It seemed to me that there was nothing “macho” about being a victim of stress. I wasn’t a coward, I was a karate black belt and I had faced up to my fears in the past, except for big spiders – I’m not that stupid! But now I was being told I couldn’t handle stress anymore. I wondered how I could fix this; I was starting to feel like a heavyweight boxer, who had just been told that the next punch would be fatal. Finally I looked up.

“Okay. What do you suggest I do?” I asked.

“Well that’s up to you my friend, but I think you’ve got some important decisions to make, and quickly.” I noticed he changed his posture, leaning forward to emphasise his point. “Carry on like this and you’ll be dead in six months – or at best, in a padded cell with nothing but a packet of crayons to keep you entertained.” He patted my knee and gave me a thin smile. “Sort your life out, or else. Now, come outside and see my new car!”

It was a cold and frosty morning, but the sun warmed us as we sat on the wall admiring Dave’s new car. I was grateful that he had taken the time and trouble to help me find a cure. We chatted about nothing in particular, for twenty minutes and then he sent me on my way to get my life back in balance. Lesley and I had discussed the options extensively, but ultimately the decision was a “no brainer.” Something had to change. At lunchtime on Monday I called my boss and informed him that I wanted out, and two hours later he called me back and my wish was granted. I was to be made redundant. At that moment, I felt as if a great weight was lifted from my shoulders. At the same time a cold hand seemed to grip my bowel.

I thought, “That’s it. No going back now.”

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