Inside Track

There is, quite rightly, a lot of talk these days about men and the stupid things we tend to do. 

In particular, there is a lot of talk about how we act in relation to women. Acres and acres of risible behaviour has been reported and documented. There can be no argument, we often act very badly indeed.

In the midst of all this truth-telling, there sits a cohort of bemused males who repeatedly proclaim to anyone who will listen that, ‘it’s not me, I didn’t do any of it’ and they too, quite rightly, get berated almost as much as the people who know it was them.

I can see why this is. It’s unhelpful, unproductive even, to simply remove oneself from the firing line and to think that will be enough. It can’t ever be enough, really, can it?

I can never speak for anyone but myself so that’s what I’ll do here. For myself, after witnessing the outpouring of negative truth about my gender, I have tried harder to audit myself a little. What do I do? How am I complicit in the negative narrative? I know it's not much but I hope it’s at least an attempt at a constructive reaction to all this. After all, what can we usefully do with the past and present if not learn from it for the future?

So, what have I found? What do I do? Well, here’s one tiny thing, for the purposes of illustration.

I walk on the outside of the pavement.

If I am walking down the street with a woman, I will always position myself so that I walk on the outside of the pavement, between the woman and the roadway.

And, wait, I think I know what you might be thinking. Check this guy, he’s doing the polar opposite of damning himself with faint praise, he’s actually praising himself with faint damnation. He’s just as bad as those helpless males he mentioned before. The ones who loudly plead their own innocence. He is loudly pleading his own minor infraction. What a wally. 

That may be how this piece will read but I promise you that it’s not my intention. The process of auditing a lifetime of male behaviour is a drawn out and ongoing one and several things have been unearthed along the way. This ‘walking on the outside' thing is obviously only small and seemingly insignificant but it has provided me with some helpful (to me at least) insight which I would like to share with you. Bear with me. They are going to carve on my grave stone ‘At Least He Meant Well’ and not without some reason. So bear with me a moment while I try to explain. 

It was my Auntie Rosaleen who first taught me about walking on the outside. Auntie Rosaleen came home from Boston when I was quite small and I still remember how she rocked my little world. She smoked menthol Pall Malls and had a fluffy white fur coat and she gave me insights that I’d never had before. She introduced me to yoghurt, she instilled the radical idea of cleaning my fingernails from time to time and, most tellingly, she explained to me how gentlemen walked on the outside of the pavement, allowing the lady to be protected on the inside. This quickly became a ‘thing' with me. I was the little fellow who would always retain the outside track and it gave me a sense of thoughtfulness and chivalry that fitted well with my mentality. 

Fifty years later and I’m still doing it. I might have shed the habit as I grew to adulthood except there was a major boost to my behaviour in my late teens. In college, where I studied Architectural matters, one of our lecturers, Paddy Doris, was briefing us on matters of historical drainage systems when he inadvertently topped up my pavement habit. 

Mr Doris explained how, in the Olden Times, all the waste from the houses would be dumped out onto the street from upper windows and how a channel ran down the middle of the road to carry the detritus away. Carriages would spash through the channel in the street and throw all kinds of unmentionable product up on to the pavement. Men wore long cloaks to protect their inner clothing from being splattered and women walked on the inside of them to gain some protection from the cloaks against the flying shit. 

The metaphor fitted me well. I was keeping the shit off the women. Here was an almost logical reason for my perambulatory foible. It reasserted my correctness and set me off in a clear direction , my eyes set firmly on the future, my feet planted firmly on the outside of every path.

And thus it has become one of my adult ‘things’, like only ever owning one pair of shoes or singing loudly in the car. I walk on the outside and the ladies must take their place inside. 

But here’s where it gets interesting. 

I have become quite seriously defensive about my ‘right’ to walk on the outside of the pavement. It  is a subconscious thing or, more accurately, it was a subconscious thing until recently when I started thinking about these things. I unerringly claim the outside track and, if a woman approaching me from the other direction clearly wishes to assert her right to be there, I give it to her, of course, but (here’s the thing) I do it with a type of internal surly reluctance and even resentment that now seems neither helpful not healthy. “I am a man”, my subconscious seems to murmur, “I deserve the outside of the pavement. If you take it away from me, you are challenging my authority.”

This, I think, is a fair example how a seemingly innocuous and almost-cute male habit becomes a microcosm of some of the ills abroad in the world today. For me, it demonstrates an historical sense of duty and politeness, churned into a sense of entitlement and defensive embitterment by long habit and, yes, by a dash of male ego too. Further, when examining this, I noted a strong tendency inside myself to try to logically explain away the silliness of it all. Let me try my minds defence out on you so that you can see what I mean. 

"It is good if men walk on the outside and women on the inside because then we each know which way we will go when we meet. There will be less misunderstandings on the street because we will each know where we should be, where our place is."

Our place… it’s the type of awful dangerous argument that one could almost hear fools make for slavery or any other kind of terrible repression. 'At least we all know our place...'

So if you think I’m simply trying to slip away from my responsibilities as a man in the world of 2017, I can assure you than I am not. Not consciously anyway. I may not be doing as much as I could but the revelations of the past year has shown me that I cannot afford to be complacent in my skin and bask in the sentiment that others are the culprits rather than me. My 'outside track' habit may be just a small thing but there are lessons for me to learn from it all the same. 

As for the habit itself, I’m going to try to be less assertive about walking on the outside of the pavement. To think that a middle aged git like me, by being out there, can offer any protection at all to a strong independent woman is only the height of foolishness anyway.

Movies with Friends

This week, for some unknown reason, I did a little thinking about and remembering of films I have gone to see with friends of mine. I have these odd strengths and weaknesses in my recall. I struggle a lot to pull up names on the spot, it’s a real embarrassment to me, but I can easily remember when and where I saw a film and who I saw it with. 

Here’s a random few. I saw lots of movies with many of these people but I’ve just chosen a random one (or two) that sprang to mind when I thought about them. There could have been many many more. 

I can’t see how it’s of very much value or interest to anyone for me to write these down but it’s a place where my mind went to this week and that’s what makes a blog post in this village. Perhaps, someday, I will be forced to forget everything, either by time or by rogue chemicals in my brain. Then I’ll have this to look back on, won’t I? Maybe that will help.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs/Darby O’Gill and the Little People – Mum and Dad

The two films I remember being taken to by my parents as a small boy. Both terrified me a little but Darby O’Gill won that prize by a long chalk. Seeing it again in recent years, I don’t believe it was the banshee or the deathly carriage that haunted me the most. It was the upholstery inside the carriage when Darby climbed in to be taken away. 

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Granny

Granny and I went through a phase of going to the Saturday matinees to see movies. I would have been six. We loved Butch Cassidy, Granny and me, although one slightly naughty scene might have made us both squirm a bit.

Diamonds Are Forever – The Lads

My first matinee excursion without Granny was with the Lads, my pals from the street. Mum and Dad had been to see it in the week before Saturday came and they predicted I would love it. I had been primed by the James Bond publicity machine which included Sean Connery advertising milk from the set of the ‘Lunar Test’ scene. 

The Man with the Golden Gun – George Henderson

The first time I was allowed to set off from the house by myself (no lads) to see an evening show. I met George at the door of the Savoy. I had read the Fleming novel to prepare myself. I was eleven. 

Fist of Fury – The Lads

The Lads and me all went to see Fist of Fury. The film was over eighteens but Padraig got us in somehow. I would guess there was a general acknowledgement that Bruce Lee had become so beloved of kids of my age that we just had to be let in.

Enter the Dragon - Martin

I think I saw Enter the Dragon more times than any other film. It was a regular at the Savoy matinees and we rarely missed it, loving the live action iconography on the screen.  

Death Weekend – The Lads

This marked the end of my blatant ‘over eighteen’ movie-going career for a while. My parents strolled past the cinema where the posters, foyer cards, and tagline left little to the imagination. I was thirteen at that stage.

The Spy Who Loved Me – Shane

Me and Shane went to lots of movies. I remember this one because I thought I knew what the much heralded ski stunt was going to be but I didn’t and it kind of knocked me out. When I got home my parents were watching ‘Avanti’ on the telly but I wasn’t allowed to come in the room because it was too grown up. 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Sean

As I recall, we chatted quite a bit through this one. An unforgivable sin but it was a bit slow in places. Sorry. I got Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds album on the same day I saw this and I went home and listened to side one before bed. 

Rocky 3 – Alan

We went to the Late Show in the Gaiety in Sligo. They played the song several times before the curtains opened. It was very loud and there was a pervading sweaty and overtired atmosphere in the place. It was great fun. 

The Shining – Brian

Saw this on a Saturday night in Sligo. By nine the next morning I had left home for the very first time for college in Dublin. Brian and me kept suggesting that something terrifying was about to emerge from the shadows of the Overlook Hotel and, eventually, something did. 

Poltergeist – Damian

Adelphi One in Dublin. In a packed first weekend showing, Damian reached forward and scared the person in the row in front of him with his hand. We could have been killed. 

Southern Comfort – Greg

The only movie I ever saw with Greg, who was a friend from college. He wanted to see it for the Ry Cooder soundtrack and that was all right with me.

Once Upon a Time in America – Damian

Deserves a mention because I a received news on the afternoon that a good friend’s Dad had just died back home. This added a real life elegiac layer to a film which already had so much of that. 

Ghostbusters – The London Crew

After moving to London, I went to the movies a lot. I loved to go to Leicester Square and see them all as soon and as big and as expensive as possible. I bought something like ten tickets (as I often did) for the first night that Ghostbusters was on and a  bunch of us went. It was the level of anticipation that holds it firmly in my memory.

The Hustler – MC

I liked the small retro cinemas too. The Hustler was showing in a lovely wide black and white print. I remember Jackie Gleason, how poised and mannered he was. A real ‘cinema’ night out.

Into the Night – Cormac

Cormac wasn’t at too many movies but I remember a few. He was always engaged company for a movie. I remember him at this one because he liked it quite a lot. I think the B B King music helped with that. 

Fright Night – Tim

I saw lots of movies with Tim and pals between Dublin and London. I choose Fright Night as a memory because Tim is a big strong lad, who had looked out for me once or twice, but this seemed to scare the shit out of him. 

A Room with a View - Amy 

Curzon Mayfair, a Saturday evening, a packed house loving the film. Who could forget that?

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Nuala

It wasn’t my best Saturday ever, to put it mildly, but Ferris and his crew somehow made me smile. I think that’s why I remember it with fondness.

Jude – Una 

Patricia’s Sister and me caught a few Sunday afternoon shows when Patricia was pregnant and not in the mood for cinema seats (she was  glad to be rid of us for a few hours, I think). We saw Jude, which was shockingly miserable and I remember it because Una took her sister’s blood pressure before we left and predicted that matters of first child birth might soon get under way. As was so often the case, she was not wrong. 

War of The Roses – John

Patricia’s brother loves his movies as I do and it was fun and a privilege to see this one with him in Boulder Colorado. 

Dances with Wolves – Patricia

Patricia, my Wife and also my Best Friend for over thirty years, has been to see many, many films with me. I could write a list of times and places that would stretch all around the entire world and back again and it would run for thousands of words all by itself. This particular film was not a firm favourite or anything but it comes to mind because it was an extended cut on a Sunday afternoon in Haymarket and the feeling that I had over four hours to sit with this lady and not be concerned with anything else – well, that was a feeling I like to hold on to.

Toy Story 2 – John

I brought my eldest son on our first excursion together to see this. He was three. He was quite nervous about going in but we got as far as the usher’s chair in the back and sat there together for the first part. Eventually, entranced, we moved further in. At the end credits, the girl who came in to clean up the popcorn stood beside our seats and recited along to Mrs. Potato Head’s entire speech. She was very good. 

The Amazing Spider Man – Sam

Sam, my second son, is a great guy to go see a movie with and we often go together. I remember this one because he felt a bit sick half way through and we had to go home but we came back the next week to see the second half. 

Sitting here, I find I could go on and on and on but I think I’ll stop now. Maybe I’ll do more some other time. Thanks to all my friends and family, some far away, some long gone, who made my movie days and nights such a warm and integral part of my life and memory.

Don't Deserve. Don't Deserve

I was watching Louis Theroux on BBC2 last weekend. He was interviewing people who suffer terribly with eating disorders. I thought it was a sensitive and quite revealing programme. I would have to confess that eating disorders would be something of a mystery to me. In that respect, the programme made me think a little more clearly about the subject. 

One interviewee was particularly clear in explaining that the problem, for her at least, was nothing at all to do with body image or the need to be a ‘size zero’. Her testimony along with others, painted a different picture altogether. One where the pain of virtual starvation is almost a welcome release from all the other pains in the world. One where the person suffering feels they actually don’t deserve to eat. 

That last bit hit home with me on rather a personal level. The woman being interviewed quietly expressed the sentiment in two repeated words. ‘Don’t deserve. Don’t deserve’ and…

Wait. Stop. This is where I make the whole thing about me and what those words mean to me. But that just doesn’t feel right. My heart went out to the people in the programme, the mountain they are struggling to climb every day. It shouldn’t become about me. Lucky me, who has no illness or disorder to contend with. I shouldn’t even go there.

But then again, maybe I should. Empathy is a powerful weapon in battling things. I think so anyway. Perhaps, if something evokes empathy in us and makes us acknowledge that we feel even a micro-fraction of what the person suffering feels, perhaps the exploration of that can have some value too. 

Who knows. Either way, here I go. Talking about myself yet again now.

When that person repeated the phrase ‘Don’t Deserve’ to herself on my telly, I immediately realised that this is a thing I subconsciously say to myself all of the time. It doesn’t manifest itself in me in the form of any palpable discomfort or pain. It is just simply a way of looking at things. ‘Don’t Deserve’. 

And I’m not mentioning it here by way of some confessional or anything. I sometimes think of myself as a sort of an ‘emotional everyman’. I reckon that, if I’m thinking or feeling something, you can bet that lots of other run-of-the-mill folk like me are probably thinking it too. That’s why I debated with myself about scribbling this thing, decided against it, and then, somewhere along the way, evidently changed my mind because, well, here I am.

So, yeah, it’s a thought I often have. Strike that, it’s a thought I practically never have. It’s actually more of an all-pervading ‘knowledge’ without there ever being any kind of a conscious thought. 

Whatever it is, whatever it might be, I don’t deserve it. 

I think, on one level, it’s quite easily explained. I think I have a sort of a general loose ‘socialist’ outlook on things. I have so much ‘Stuff’, you know? ‘Stuff’, food, shelter, entertainment, warmth, clean water, family, freedom… so very much stuff and so many people in the world have so very much less. So many people have nothing at all or less than nothing at all. So how could I not feel that I don’t deserve anything more? I’ve got my share already, much more than my share. And not just of things or comforts but of luck and love and those even greater things that are harder to quantify.

So that’s it sorted then. I sometimes feel I don’t deserve things but why the hell wouldn’t I when the world is an uneven as it is and when I sit so near to the top of the pile. 

Fine.

Except that doesn’t answer all of it. Not really. It’s a bit more complicated than that, isn’t it? Because it isn’t just about material things. It’s also about more obtuse, difficult to pin down, things such as personal achievement and creative satisfaction. To have these type of things for oneself is not to deprive anyone else of anything at all. They are purely personal. And yet that sub conscious part of me will still mutter that I don’t deserve them, any of them.

The amateur psychologists all step up. “Easy,” they say, “this lad has a tiny little inferiority complex that he’s nurturing in there.” Except I don’t. Nuh huh. In my mind and to my mind, I am pretty damn good. I am actually one of the best at the stuff that I do. I don’t ever feel much inferiority to anyone or anything. More often than not, I feel exactly equal. And, truth to tell, in those choice few things that I work very hard at, I feel a damn sight better than most people.

So what is it then? This ‘Don’t Deserve’ thing.

Well, I don’t know. Do I? I’m only mentioning it in case some of you have it too and think you’re the only ones in the world who do. I bet you’re not… well, I know you’re not.

In my own case, I could easily tease out several other contributing factors but that’s not a job for here. As I said at the start, this is not a confessional, it’s more of a public service alert that lots of people probably feel this way and if you do you're not on your own.

One positive in it is that it might just give me a small key to unlock a greater understanding of those people who have it much worse than I do. That’s something, right?

And usually, at the end of a post like this, there’d be some kind of inspirational resolution. A statement of intent to do better, to give yourself more of a chance. To take a deeper plunge. To have a little bit more bloody faith in your own worth. 

Not in this one though. Not today. 

I don’t deserve it.


Post Script – Except I probably need to try to do better. If only out of respect for the people who think this way every day except a thousand times worse than I do. There’s a play on in Dublin at the end of the month that I’d quite like to see. It’s a lot of trouble to get there and back, an awful lot of hassle. I don’t think it’s really worth all that trouble for just me to get to see a play. If there were a few others interested it might be worth while but it’s just me and I don’t think I should_

Fuck it. I’ll go.