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Norah Casey is CEO (and owner) of Harmonia, Ireland’s largest magazine company printing over four million magazines annually for the Irish, British and US markets. Harmonia’s stable includes strong women’s brands: Irish Tatler, U, Woman’s Way and www.ivenus.com; and specialist titles like Food&Wine, Auto Ireland and Ireland of the Welcomes (aimed at the Irish Diaspora with over 80,000 USA-based subscribers). Norah was awarded The Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year Award for 2007/8 and has won The Publisher of the Year Award for three years running.
* The KNOCK
Now here’s a good story about hope, love and Destiny …
Life was not like a coffee ad. This much he knew.
For weeks now he had drawn up plans. First he thought he would just go up there and knock on the
door. And when she opened it he would …
What? What would he do?
That was the stumbling block. He thought he could casually say something about needing sugar. But
he never had sugar in his flat and if things went to plan she would end up living with him and would
discover that he hated sugar. She would know he had duped her and then she would fly at him in a
rage and throw all her clothes in a suitcase and march straight out the door.
He could see it all happening and found himself choked with tears at the thought of it.
So, back to the knock on the door.
In his hopeful moments she would answer with a smile which widened at the sight of him and she
would say, ‘Why, Johnny, I thought you’d never knock on the door! Come in, come in, I was just
baking chocolate cake in the hope that you’d arrive.’
Some mornings, as he listened to her putting on the radio and running the shower – his sense of
hearing being preternaturally keen in her regard – this particular scenario would play out all the way
to their first-born son.
After the chocolate cake was finished they would talk and talk and talk. And when sleepiness
overtook them she would ask him to stay and they would lie in each other’s arms and in the morning
make mad passionate love. He knew all the details but you, lovely reader, have to use your
imagination – because Johnny was a deeply private man and I am only giving you a glimpse of his
anguish and fantasies.
So, back to the knock on the door.
In his worst, ‘three o’clock in the morning, blackest hour’, he imagined the following.
Every step – all 59 of them – from his door up to her apartment is measured out and he matches his
steps, breath for breath, with his heartbeat. Thump. Thump. Thump. He gets to the door. He feels his
breathing can be heard in Outer Mongolia so he calms himself, waits for his heart to stop thumping,
fixes his tie and prepares to knock.
Then the door flings open and she’s there laughing and shrieking and behind her a naked man is
chasing her and laughing, laughing, laughing and gouging a hole in his heart that will never heal. He
sobs. His vivid mind won’t let him rest and he follows the story all the way to their first-born son and
he a witness to their happiness and love.
At these moments he knows he will never knock on that door.
Then morning would come and life would take over for a while.
Johnny has a good job. Not the most exciting job but it’s not the worst job either. He’s a financial
adviser. But Johnny isn’t boring. His friends would say that he is sensible – a sound man – willing to
lend an ear or a fiver if you needed one or the other. And he is faithful to his friends. He remembers
birthdays and anniversaries. So he isn’t boring but, if truth be told, he isn’t the most exciting either.
That’s why what happened to Johnny was all the more remarkable – a rollercoaster in an otherwise
So, back to the KNOCK.
I knew I would start using capital letters eventually because the KNOCK became the biggest thing in
It had started soon after she moved in, in January – around a nanosecond after he saw her humping a
suitcase up the stairs. In his mind he rushed to her aid and manfully took the case and lifted it up to
What really happened was this.
He came out his door to go to work and saw this woman. Large brown coat, long brown hair, jeans,
boots, suitcase – all in a flash frame – like in the ads. He was about to turn away to walk out the door
to go to work.
And then she turned.
‘Hi, there! Just moving in. If I can ever get this blasted case up the stairs.’
He stood frozen.
What he saw was this woman. Beautiful big smile, flushed face, beautiful big brown eyes, sparkling,
shining, shimmering – oh, those eyes! He was mesmerized. And nothing would come out of his
mouth. In his head a whole heap of stuff was crashing in, trying to push to the surface.
He was sorting through all the possibilities of what he might say.
He looked down for a moment to gather his thoughts and courage, and began the most important
sentence of his life. ‘Can I …?’
And she was gone. Thump, thump, thump, the suitcase followed her up the stairs. How could a normal
working day in the middle of a miserable January begin with such hope, only to crush him with
That was before he even left his building.
He feared he would not be able to concentrate on the mortgage applications and the pension reviews.
But he did. That’s our Johnny. Solid and dependable.
But not for long.
So began the period I like to call ‘THE KNOCK TIME’.
Johnny came home that evening fuelled with a passion for his little flat which heretofore he had never
possessed. It was just a flat. But now it wasn’t just a flat. It was the home of his angel, the woman he
was going to marry and he rushed towards it with excitement. When he got to the front door he took
an age to enter the building.
He stood in the foyer looking at the empty post-box for Number 2. Pretending it was jammed with
letters when in fact he was putting back in and taking out the telephone bill he had picked up that
morning. But there was no audience for his theatrics (albeit a little low-key on the dramatic front).
Then he walked down the corridor to his ground-floor flat: Number 2.
He fiddled with his keys. He stalled after he heard the click. But there was no repeat performance of
that morning’s thrilling escapade. Thump, thump, thump, went his heart. But otherwise it was silent –
eerily silent they would say in the horror movies. But then they had never come home to a flat in
Ringsend at 6 pm on a wet Thursday in January. There was nothing eerie about that silence – it was
just an absence of noise.
Especially noise from the stairwell. Sadly.
Johnny made some tea and he thought and he thought and he thought. There was a purpose to his
evening. How to find a way to get the woman upstairs to talk to him. Because the rest would be easy.
He knew in his heart, his head, his other places, that they would fall in love and Destiny would take
over. But there was this big challenge first. How to get to her in a way that didn’t make her feel he
He liked the word ‘nonchalance’ and that was his ambition. A ‘nonchalant’ encounter that would
develop and grow and escalate and take them over. Then Destiny.
So he decided that the only thing to do would be to knock on the door. At this stage there was no need
to capitalize the ‘knock’. It was such a small thing to do.
So he thought, ‘I will go out the door of Number 2 and go up the stairs and walk to her door and
knock on it …’
He stopped and pondered. ‘And then I will ask her for a … what? What does she ask for in that coffee
ad? Sugar …’ Yes, that’s what he’d do.
Now, dear reader, you already know the dilemma about the sugar so we’ll say no more.
Then he had it. ‘Coffee.’ He hardly drinks it but every now and again he likes a cup so it is plausible
that he might not have it in his cupboard. And how they will laugh in years to come about them
meeting over his simple need for a coffee on a dreary Thursday in January!
So he opened the cupboard and discovered a jar of coffee. Not a bother. He poured the granules down
the drain and worried about all that caffeine going into the water system. But only for a second. Then,
jar in the bin, he headed for the door. Then he stopped and thought that an empty jar would add
‘authenticity’ to his request so he headed back to the bin.
By now the empty coffee jar was nestling among the tea bags and soggy toast and orange peel – the
detritus of breakfast – and he had to put his hand in to retrieve it. He did it like they do on that TV
show – I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. He closed his eyes and imagined spiders and locusts and
slimy things and he bravely wrestled the empty jar and got another meal for his camp mates. (Look –
if you haven’t watched the show you won’t understand but Johnny does and so do I).
So there he was with the worst-looking coffee jar in Ringsend. So he headed for the sink to wash it
off. And ran it under the hot tap and discovered the error of his ways when the label began to slide off
And that was the real bitch about it. If he was trying to get that label off he knew it would stick to the
jar and only budge in small centimetre pieces so that forever you would be picking bits of white gluey
bits off it and you would never get the pristine glass that he was now staring at. He dried the jar. Now
what the hell was he going to do?
Okay. ‘Regroup,’ he thought.
There must be something else.
So he thought about tea. But that would be no good because he has a slight addiction to tea and would
never run out and that would be obvious when they got together.
How about milk? Yes. Yes. Yes. Milk would be the perfect thing. Very easy to run out of milk and in
order to have his tea (which he can’t live without) he had to have milk. So he went to the fridge. And
of course there was a two-litre carton with a sell-by date well into the following week but he knew
how to fix that. Over to the sink and his milk joined the coffee granules into the Ringsend water
supply. He bypassed the bin. All systems go. He had the empty milk carton and he was heading for
His thoughts turned to the knock. She would answer (same smile) and he would say: ‘Hi. I saw you
this morning moving in and I …’
That’s when it hit him.
How could he go upstairs and ask her for milk when she had just moved in? How crass was that? He
would have to be the most insensitive man on the planet to proposition a woman on the first day in her
new flat with a request for milk. He should be bringing her milk, and tea, and coffee.
He stopped mid-stride and headed back to the cupboard.
By now he had no coffee and no milk, which left him with tea bags. He couldn’t go upstairs and give
her tea bags. The path to true love was never more crooked. He listened to the rain battering the
window and put on his coat. Off to the local supermarket for the essentials and then he would be well
equipped for the trip upstairs.
A proper welcome.
He would buy cake as well and then he wouldn’t be embarrassed, when over some family dinner in
years to come, she’d tell the tale of her gallant husband’s attempt at wooing her. And to think she
might have said: ‘Can you believe it? He came up to borrow some milk and me surrounded by empty
packing cases!’ He suspected that she would never say that because he would never have stood a
chance and Destiny would have had something else in store for him.
Anyway all was right again and he was off to buy the perfect moving-in offerings. He forgot a plastic
bag and had to splash out on buying one at the till – ‘This is how much she means to me,’ he thought.
So he was heading back home. The rain was pelting him, his coat was getting heavier and heavier and
he could feel the wet seeping into his shirt so that it was sticking to his shoulders.
He didn’t feel very romantic when he turned into his street. Even less so when he saw her. Brown
coat, brown hair, jeans, boots – getting into a bloody taxi!
Apart from anything else, where did she manage to get a taxi on a miserable Thursday evening in
January – in Ringsend? He stood in despair as the taxi whisked her away to …
Okay, he didn’t want to let his mind wander down that road.
He gave himself a good talking-to all the way back to Number 2. He didn’t even know her name, she
could be engaged, married, on the run. He would go into his nice, cosy, dry flat and watch some TV.
But of course he didn’t.
He began to think about the knock. Because tomorrow it might be too late to say ‘Welcome to your
new flat’ and his humble offering would be inappropriate. He worried over this. Then he thought
about whether he could give her flowers. Would that be better? But did it strike the right note of
‘nonchalance’? He didn’t think so.
And in any case he hadn’t really contemplated what would happen once she opened the door.
That’s when the real horror began.
That’s when the knock became the KNOCK and assumed capital letters.
What would happen if she answered the door with a man? What would happen if she looked at him,
perplexed, and said: ‘Why would you do such a thing? I don’t even know you!’? What would happen
if she answered the door and spoke to him in Russian and he didn’t know what she was saying? What
would happen if she answered the door and laughed in his face at the absurdity of his meagre gift?
Horror of horrors! What would happen if she answered the door with her arms locked around another
Okay, dear reader, you get the idea. Poor Johnny, who was never prone to a vivid imagination, was
suddenly struck with the wildest and most creative scenarios that would happen after the KNOCK.
So weeks passed.
He discovered her name was Ruby. He loved her name. She left in a taxi every evening at 7 pm.
Exactly. He was left with one hour from arriving home until the time of Ruby leaving to contemplate
the perfect moment for the KNOCK. She arrived home at 1.10 am. Too late for him to affect an air of
His friends began to worry. Johnny missed a birthday in week two and was too distracted to listen to
poor Martha’s tales of woe about her parents’ divorce in week three. He stopped going out and for
three weeks he stayed in the flat hoping that was the evening she would come home early.
Now, just as an aside, I need to put Johnny’s suffering in context lest you think I am exaggerating.
Johnny had had girlfriends before. While he was not a man of the world by any means, a nice solid
boy from Athlone would always attract willing companions. So he had a fair share of dates and
previous romances. Quite why he was so struck by Ruby he had no idea. He just knew when he
locked eyes with her that they would be together. Ask anyone who finds their one true soul mate and
they will tell a similar story, you cynical reader.
He was in love.
So back to the KNOCK which has taken on biblical proportions in Johnny’s life.
And then it comes to pass that one evening he hears the taxi pull up outside. He hears her phone
ringing to let her know of its arrival. He hears her open her door. And by the way it’s the same ritual
every evening so he has heard it all before. He hears her clattering down the stairs and before he even
knows he is doing it he is out the door and at the foot of the stairs just as she reaches the third step
from the bottom.
Step 48 of the 57 steps from her door to the door of Number 2.
She looks at him and he looks at her. Big brown coat, brown hair, jeans, boots, beautiful big smile,
brown eyes sparkling, shining – and he smiles back.
She says: ‘I wondered if we would ever meet again.’
And he says: ‘So did I.’
She would never know how much there was to tell about those three words ‘So did I’.
She goes to pass him by and he moves to one side with nothing in his head or his mouth to hold her.
She turns. Laughs and says: ‘I was hoping you’d knock on the door but when you didn’t …’ At this
And he says: ‘Could I knock on your door when I get home tomorrow?’
And she says that would be great. ‘I nurse a very frail woman and I do the twilight shift and she
always sends a taxi so anytime other than then would be good. I’m Ruby, by the way.’
‘And I’m Johnny,’ he says.
And his heart is filled with hope.
And what happens next, dear reader, is a matter for Destiny.