Dicing With Story - Fut and Cucaracha

Two weeks ago, I ran two story workshops for young people for the Linenhall Arts Centre 'Roolaboola' Children's Festival.

We used Rory's Story Dice to demonstrate the elements of a story and then we took one final throw of the dice and made up a story based on whatever the dice gave us. The dice gave us a Foot and an Eye and a Cockroach and a Book and a House. As ever, I am amazed at the ingenuity and invention of our young folk. 

This is the story we all came up with. Full credit to my co-writers will follow shortly, both here and on The Linenhall Website. 

Fut and Cucaracha

Once upon a time…

No, wait, I don’t want to say ‘Once Upon a Time’ because then people will think this is a fairy story when, in fact, it is a story of gained mutual respect and co-operation. 

So, what shall I say?

Let’s try ‘Last Year’.

Last year…

But no. If I start the story with ‘Last Year’, and somebody finds it and reads it in fifty years’ time, will they be confused? Will they wonder if ‘Last Year’ means ‘Last Year’ or if it means ‘Last Year, Fifty Years Ago’?

I can see why people use ‘Once Upon a Time’.


Once upon a time, in a decidedly un-enchanted forest just outside of Cong, in County Mayo, there lived a Fut. If you stand on the topmost roof of Ashford Castle and strain a bit, you can still see the Fut’s house. It is surrounded by trees and the trees are surrounded by fields. So next time you’re up on the roof of Ashford Castle, look north and scrunch up your eyes really tight and you’ll see the Fut’s House.

“Wait,” I hear you cry, which is odd because my computer speakers are turned right down, “we don’t care where the Fut lives or how to see his house. What on earth is a Fut?

Good question.

A Fut is a creature which is mostly comprised of one eye and one foot. Yes, it has a brown squidgy mass around its tummy to hold these two organs together but that is often disregarded. If you met a Fut on the High Street (unlikely) it would be the large green eye and the huge scaly foot that you would remark on first. The brown hairy bit in the middle would go largely unremarked-upon.

I hear your next question. I must get these speakers looked at. “How does the Fut eat?” “How does the Fut get around?’ “How does the Fut this? How does the Fut that?”

Yes, yes, only this is not a Fut biology lesson, it is the story of The Fut and the Cucaracha. We could jump down a rabbit hole of Fut physiology and, interesting and all as it might be, it would not get us to the story, the crux of the matter.

Let it suffice, then, to say that the Fut hops about the place and eats by shoving things up the gap between its upper eyeball and its upper eyelid. We will not discuss the function of the lower eyelid at this juncture because I’ve just had a sausage sandwich and frankly I’m not up to it.

So, yes, the Fut lived in the house which was surrounded by trees which was in turn surrounded by fields and it was very very happy. It watched Netflix with the sound turned down and did a sort of hopping Pilates to keep itself in trim. Life was good in that spectacularly un-enchanted wood near Ashford Castle in Cong.

Until the Cucaracha came along.

Everything changed when the Cucaracha came along and not for the better either.

The Cucaracha came out of the un-enchanted forest one fine morning and she liked the look of the Fut’s house and she decided, there and then, that she would stay. She was really just an ordinary common cockroach like the one you might find under the sink… or is that just me?

That’s just me, isn’t it?

Let’s move quickly along.

This ordinary cockroach had heard something somewhere. Probably up at Ashford Castle but you didn’t hear me say that. She had heard that the Spanish word for Cockroach was Cucaracha and she liked that. She has also heard a tune about a Cucaracha and it was very rhythmic and catchy so she decided to make it her theme tune. It’s the kind of a tune you might hear on ‘Strictly come Dancing’ on the nights when they all wear multi-coloured pom-poms up their arms. The rhythm to the tune goes dah-dah-daah-dah DAH, dah-dah-daah-dah- DAH.

“Why is he telling us all of this?” I hear you cry. The answer is simple. This is the crux of the matter. The Cucaracha and her dance/walk is the reason we are all here, telling and listening and reading.

Allow me to explain.

Please, allow me.

Every morning, at 5.30am, the little Cucaracha took its morning run. Okay, not quite a run, more of a scuttle. And she did it on the concrete footpath that ran right around the Fut’s house.

Every morning, hail, rain or snow, the Fut was rudely awakened by the Cucaracha scuttling around his house to the Strictly Pom-Pom rhythm of dah-dah-daah-dah DAH, dah-dah-daah-dah DAH.

It drove him completely loopy.

Every morning, the Fut ran out and tried to stamp on the Cucaracha with its one big foot but the little bug was too brittle and the foot too soft and scaly to exact any damage at all.

And so the Fut’s nightmare continued every day. Interrupted sleep, endless rhythmic scuttling. We have to feel sorry for the poor Fut, I think.

But the Fut was a vengeful beastie in his own way. He ordered a book on Amazon Prime which was called ‘How to Kill a Cucaracha if You are Only a Foot’. To be honest, it seemed right up his street. The book came and the Fut started to read it.

‘Wait’, I hear you cry, ‘Stop, Cease, Desist’. The Fut is only an Eye and a Foot with a hairy bit in the middle. How can he find a book and order it and take delivery of it? How can he do all these things?

All right, all right, I’ll take a moment and explain.

Not many people know that Amazon Prime has a Morse Code service where you can order things via the medium of Morse Code. The Fut blinked his order in Morse code into his computer with his one massive eye and the book arrived by next day delivery. Amazon Prime also have a ‘First Page’ offer where they not only deliver the book but they also unpack it for you and leave it open to the first page. It’s a service for extremely lazy people and it costs a packet but it also happened to suit the Fut very well. He got the book and there it lay on his carpet, open to page one.

He started to read, with his one good eye.

Page One said the following:


Then it said the following:


That’s all it said.

The Fut tried to turn the page over but he couldn’t. The Fut’s foot was not agile enough for the task and his eye was worse than useless. The information he needed to kill the dratted Cucaracha was probably on the very next page but it might as well have been a million miles away on the planet Foozebod.

The Fut took his one good eye and he wept. He wept from frustration and from sadness and from a profound lack of early morning sleep.

As he wept, his front door opened a tiny bit and the Cucaracha scuttled in with her little dah-dah-daah-dah DAH rhythm. She had heard the Fut crying and had become concerned. The Fut had his back to her and she wondered what to do because she knew that The Fut really just wanted to squish her.

As she wondered, she spied the book on the floor and she read the first page with interest. Here was useful information for her. If she knew how a Fut might kill a Cucaracha like herself then she could possibly devise a defence against it.

She stuck her little cockroach-horns behind page one and she flipped over to page two.

The Fut heard the page turn and turned himself. Here was the dratted Cucaracha, sitting on the page of the book reading. The Fut blinked. All he had to do was kick the heavy book shut with his Fut foot and that would be the end of the dratted Cucaracha. His turmoil would finally be over.

He hopped to the side of the book and prepared to deliver the final blow.

But wait…

The page had turned… to PAGE TWO.

How had that happened? The Fut paused. He so wanted to squish the Cucaracha but… but... PAGE TWO looked so interesting and inviting.

He started to read instead.

Side by side, the Fut and the Cucaracha sat and read PAGE TWO. The Fut had never seen the second page of a book before. It was really quite interesting. When they were finished, the Cucaracha did her little horn trick and flipped the page to PAGE THREE and on they read. And on and on until the failing light meant that even The Fut’s large eye could not continue.

Then they both laid down and slept. They slept so long that Cucaracha turned its early morning scuttle into a mid-morning scuttle and that allowed the Fut to catch up on some much needed shut-eye

‘See what I did there? ‘Shut Eye’? Oh, never mind.

And that is how they became friends. All through the evenings, they read together until the light dimmed. They read all the books that The Fut ordered on Amazon Prime by Morse Code and which the Cucaracha never could. The Cucaracha earned her keep by turning the pages, which the Fut never could.

They read all the Harry Potters and all the Twilights and then moved on to some classics like Pride and Prejudice and Moby Dick.

They read and they slept and they were company for each other and a help to each other throughout the rest of their days.

And they all lived…

No, wait, I don’t want to say ‘They all lived happily ever after’ because then people will think this is a fairy story when, in fact, it is a story of gained mutual respect and co-operation.

So, what shall I say?

I know. I’ll just say…

...The End.

Start with One Sentence and See…

Normally, I greet Sunday morning with a blog post clenched in my hand. It might need a bit of tidying but it’s pretty much there. I grab a mug of tea and I set to work making it passable.

It’s Sunday morning now (checks computer clock), it's 09.55, and I’ve got nothing, zilch, nada. Not a word, not a thought, beyond the (checks computer word count) 65 or so words I have written thus far.

I had a thing written but it’s not good enough to post. There has to be some quality control, even if it sometimes doesn’t seem that way. There has to be some line drawn in the sand that says, ‘this far on poor quality and no further’. I drew the line this morning with my toe on the carpet. I argued with myself, “but only a handful of people read it anyway. Who would know? Who would care.” That’s easy to answer. I would know. I would care. The day I stop will be the day I stop, if you catch my drift.

So then I concluded I would write nothing today. I actually deserve a day off. I finished a first draft of a play yesterday and it was a bit of a push to get it over that ‘shit line’ I described loosely in the paragraph above. It’s left me a little drained, writing wise. I tend to forget that writing is work. It takes energy to do, it burns fuel. I love doing it so much that I tend to completely discount this but whenever I do a good chunk of it I can end up feeling fairly weary. So, yeah, I can take a day off. Nobody’s hanging to see my latest post and I got nothing anyway. So why not brew up some good coffee and read my book and have a long walk and do Tesco and generally have a nice Sunday?

Why not?

Why sit here and type something that has no beginning no middle and absolutely no sign of an end? (I still have no idea where I’m going, in case you’re wondering).

There are a couple of reasons, none of them very sensible.

Here’s one. I will feel bad if I don’t write a blog post today. It’s part of my regime and, if I don’t do it when I’m supposed to do it, I will feel like I failed a tiny bit and let myself down a tiny bit and have taken a step towards not being a writer a tiny bit and all those tiny bits can add up and become quite a big bit, if you’re not careful, and sometimes when you’re just writing crap the sentences become quite long and you don’t know where to stop them. There. Stop there.

So, yeah (I type that a lot, don’t I?) another reason that I’m still typing is this. I really like the cumulative result of my 10+ years of weekend scribbling on the blog. I think I’ve said it before but it’s like a mosaic. Each individual tile may be pretty average and even quite mundane but the overall effect gives an odd ‘magic eye’ effect if you stare at it for a while. It’s an image of a life, and it’s my life. I like that I’ve used my words to create an impression of my life. Does that sound pretentious? (Reads back) Is that how you spell ‘pretentious’ (checks). It’s not meant to be pretentious. Who would I be trying to impress? There’s nobody here but me and a few good mates who give me a bit of support. This is my life here. There’s very little guile in it any more.

Another reason? Okay. I hate to let things go. I won’t replace my shoes until the old ones literally fall off my feet. I cling to my old jacket. To let something go is to lose it. I don’t want to let this thing go. The honest impression I get is that it’s well past its sell-by date. Like the old house in the song ‘This Old House’ this place once rang with laughter, this place heard many a shout. The blog is hanging in tatters on my feet but I don’t want to let it go. So here I am typing random words into the void.

Wouldn’t it be better to type nothing at all? Too many shit tiles and the mosaic will be completely devalued.

True… true…

But is something intrinsically without value just because it presents as free form and unplanned? (Are they both the same thing? Checks (Doesn’t check)). Does the true insight into someone not lie in these free writing exercises? Are they not the Rorschach of the written word? That’s probably giving too much weight and importance to what is really nothing more than a desperate attempt to generate content on a Sunday morning as my tea slowly cools in the mug.

(As an aside, I’ve got a random playlist going on my Spotify as I type and I just had a thought that a bit of Bob Dylan might be nice and then he came up, next song, an outside track from ‘New Morning’. That’s weird, right? But not too weird, not enough to get a whole blog post off so carry on.)

I’m blank again now. What was I saying? More to the point, haven’t I said all this at least one time before, back there in the blog post archive? I bet I did. I bet I said it better than this or, worse still, maybe I said it exactly the same. Wouldn’t that be awful, to be a stuck record, playing the same phrase over and over again and demanding that people listen. I’d need a nudge, to get me out of that groove, to play the next part of the track…

(An advert just played. Damn. I should have kept my Spotify subscription.)  

I just had a look on Spotify. If you type ‘Soundtrack’ in, a lot of links come up to ‘A Star is Born’. I guess somebody is paying somebody something for that. It reminds me that I couldn’t sleep at 3.00 am this morning so I got up and ‘A Star is Born’ was on the telly. The one with Kris and Barbra’. I watched it for a while with the sound too low to hear clearly. Nothing really seemed to happen so I went back to bed. I don’t mind the odd late night sit up. I don’t let it stress me, though it’s easier to do it on weekends because you know you can sleep in the next day although you never ever do.

So that’s me. I have nothing to say to you today so I just typed randomly for a while and now I’m going to stick it up on the blog. It’s most likely just a load of shite but it’s true and it’s straight from the horse’s mouth so - who the hell knows? - maybe the innermost working of my mind is right there, between the random Dylan track and the sleeplessness.

I can’t say. I’m a bit tired and I’m stuck for a necessary second beat to complete this sentence pleasingly.

Also I need to get to Tesco.

Sad Face Emoji Blues

“And some certain significance lurks in all things, else all things are little worth…”

             Herman Melville – Moby Dick

One evening this week, I was having a look at my Twitter while the dinner was evolving. As I was watching, one of my favourite tweeters said something funny and I smiled. Then, as is the way of such things, I thought of something to tweet back, a ‘reply’ as we tend to call it in the trade. So I typed my reply and got on with the dinner, which involved peeling some spuds over the bin and missing the bin with every bit of peel, one of my many life skills.

When I returned to Twitter, there was a reply to my reply. It was from the tweeter who had originally tweeted and it was short and succinct.

This caused me a little concern. I had no intention of making anybody sad with my little reply, least of all this ‘one-of-my-favourite' tweeters. I replied light-heartedly to the effect that I was sorry, that I hadn’t intended to cause any sadness with my reply and I rounded the tweet off with a little in-joke to emphasis the unimportance and silliness of the entire exchange.

Back to dinner, picking up of potato peelings, and dishes.

Later, I checked and saw there was no further reply to my reply. This was not unusual or suggestive of anything. This tweeter has a busy and full life and a twitter feed that reflects this. My reply had finished off our exchange quite acceptably. There was no need for a reply.

All was well.

Except it wasn’t.

Silly me but, for the sake of that one sad face emoji, I was now actually troubled. I’ve been doing this tweeting thing for a long time and one thing I’ve learned is that you hardly ever know exactly what is going on with the people you are swapping your typed words with. People can be hurting or anxious or under pressure or fragile in a myriad of different ways. Sometimes you can’t tell how over-inflated a balloon is until you accidentally burst it.

And it’s kind of ironic (in a non-ironic Alanis Morissette sort of way) that it was an emoji that caused my discomfort because I think emojis were invented partly to defuse such discomfort. I believe they came about as a device to gently add some visual emotional qualification to the cold type face of text communication.

I’m not generally a big wuss but the sad face emoji is something I tend to take seriously. A happy face emoji is just a general non-event, as innocuous as a comma or a full stop. It can mean that you’re happy or amused or it can just mean that you have nothing left to say in this conversation and you are now going to leave on a relative high note. It’s fine. But, for me, a sad face emoji does not have any social or ironic alternative definition to it. For me, it means you are hurt, sad or upset. And if it’s directed at me, it means I may have been the one to have caused that hurt and I can’t entertain that.

You see, I have a thing about hurting people. No, let’s strike that. If you hurt me or my family or if I even see you randomly causing hurt, I could hurt you a bit without too much agonising about it. In fact, I am resolved to intervene in everyday situations where I see people being hurt and I know this will probably eventually result in some more blood-strewn blog post at some future point but so be it. I am no longer comfortable with being one of the bystanders. But I digress. I don’t have a thing about hurting people per se. What I do have is a thing about accidentally hurting people. This is most definitely a thing for me and, I would go so far as to say, it has become one of my defining characteristics. I hate the thought of hurting somebody unintentionally and, if I reckon I may have done so, I may go to extraordinary and even embarrassing ends to try to put that right.

This may explain why, the other evening, sometime around midnight, I was sending a private message to my twitter pal, explaining how I hadn’t intended to cause any modicum of hurt with my flippant reply. The lovely reply I got back completely defused my concern and confirmed for me that, as usual, I was just being a silly git.

But being a silly git won’t stop me from doing it all again next time. If I get wind of the fact that I may have inadvertently caused you some measure of pain, you can expect some embarrassing attempt from me to put it right.

I could explain the genesis of this aspect of my psyche to you but, don’t worry, I won’t. I know exactly where it comes from and I understand it and if you knew it you’d probably understand it too. So don’t judge me too harshly as being just a silly wuss and a sentimental fool. We may be just flesh and blood and water but our characteristics are formed in fire and are not easily re-forged.

I watched a bit of ‘The Circle’ on Channel 4 over the last few weeks. A bunch of people were sent to live in an apartment block and could only interact with each other through social media mechanisms. Text and photos primarily and, of course, emojis. The winner was the one voted most popular by their peers. The winner turned out to be a man pretending to be a woman. A completely false image. But what was telling for me was that, although the person’s image was totally false, the person himself was not. Behind the photographs and the texts and, God help us, the endless emojis, there was a real flesh and blood (and water) person, trying to do the best he could by his online friends. And that shone through.

It’s a point to bear in mind. Behind our online texts and photos and jokes and outrage and declarations, we are all just flesh and blood and water. ‘Such stuff as dreams are made on’, if you will. And through thousands of miles of physical separation and through layers and layers of the very latest technology, we can still often sense those things that are real.