It’s not where you start…

Sometimes I change my mind about things. Here’s an example of one such time… sort of. 

I've never really found any benefit from the use of Index Cards in writing a play... until now. I always seemed to be hearing about people using them, with great success, to outline their stories. The great and the good would appear on their social media and announce how they are ‘just starting out on the index cards’ and express the subtextual view that a whopping great script would pretty soon emerge. I've tried to do this myself now and again. Not because my own odd way doesn’t work for me but because I felt I must be missing out on something useful in my life. I must confess I never really found the benefits. I always seem to end up staring blankly at a baker’s dozen of half-chewed cards, which I would eventually hurl at the wall and then shuffle back to scribbling maniacally.

I written a blog post about this somewhere. Let’s face it, I’ve written a bloody blog post about most things at this stage. In fact here it is. That one states fairly clearly how I respect the ‘Index Card’ pre-planning process just how it’s really not for me. Reading it back again, I find I still agree with practically everything in it.


But, this week, I have finally got the old Index Cards working very well for me. All because of something someone said at a Writing Thing that I went to a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes you might only take away the tiniest gem from one of these Writing Things but, as we know, tiny gems are pretty cool. In this case the tiny gem was this: The person giving the Thing said something, almost in passing, about how they don't use Index Cards to start a story, they use them to finish.


So here I am with a new play, practically finished, but it's a complicated-enough thing. In among all the pages and pages there is a sense that it is all moving too linearly and also that something, somewhere, is missing. So, mindful of what the guy said, and in a last ditch attempt to find some kind of a working relationship with Index Cards, I've written each scene out on a postcard and laid them all out on the floor in order.

Then stared at them for a while.

And then changed that order.

And then stared.

And then changed the order yet again.

And, by golly, the story has gotten better. More sensible. Slightly more sophisticated in the telling.

And the gap, the missing part, was suddenly obvious to me, laid out there on the floor. So, if I move this and tweak that a bit and… and…

The Index Cards, they’re finally working! 

I just needed to use them at the end of the process. Not at the beginning. 

Purists may scoff and think gleefully about all the wasted words I’ve written to get to this place of relative order. If I had only 'Index Carded' it all out at first, the way would have been clearer and so much effort would not have been expended. 

A nice thought but not one I can use. Index Cards, nor any kind of preliminary planning, just don’t get me started. I need to plough in, get writing (often with a lot of dialogue) and a form tends to emerge from there. That’s what the earlier blog post was mostly about. We have to find our own way to do things lest we do nothing while trying to do things the ‘right way’.

One final benefit of Index Cards (I’m now a convert, can you tell? I may even become passionate.) 

As I wrote them and laid them out on the floor it was almost as if the play stepped a little further out of the script pages and closer to some kind of reality. That sounds strange, I know, but it’s true. The script itself is a rather bulky tome and the only corporeal form it has is a stack of pages or, worse again, a series of digital imprints on a computer screen. On the floor, the little cards, so loose and so tenuously askew, look like they might dance and sing a little. They look like someday they might actually turn into something real.

So there’s another rare writing tip from me. If index cards work for you at the outline stage, well done. If you hate them, like I did, try them once more right at the end. 

You might be surprised.

Death Grips – The Academy, Dublin – October 2016 – An Evening We Won’t Ever Forget

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post much more than I usually do. You see, I’ve got a story to tell. Triumph over adversity. Never giving up. That kind of thing. Stick with me a moment, I think you might like this. 

Deep in the summer, I got a phone call from Patricia, my wife. Sam’s favourite band in the whole world had just announced a gig in Dublin in the Autumn and he was really, really keen to go to it. Sam is the younger of my two sons, just turned 16. He is an avid music fan and a talented drummer. 

The band was ‘Death Grips’ and it was an easy decision to make. Sam loved their work, knew every song, every twitch they ever made. It was a simple no-brainer. Sam had to go to the show.

Except, of course, it wasn’t simple. It really wasn’t simple at all. 

Death Grips were playing the Academy in Dublin and the Academy in Dublin is a licensed premises which means that persons under the age of 18 are not permitted inside after nine o’clock in the evening. Death Grips were playing a Strictly Over 18’s gig and Sam was only 16. 

I explained it to Sam, how it was quite likely that he wouldn’t get in, that he would be turned away at the door. He took it all on board, he understood, but still he wanted to go. His rationale was simple, they were his favourite band, he had to go.

So we got the tickets. Three in all, one for his older brother, John, one for John’s friend Mike and one for Sam. The idea was that the two older boys would provide cover for Sam on the way in and hopefully ease his access. We also borrowed an ID card from a just-over-eighteen pal who looked a bit like Sam in his photo. Sam memorised the date of birth on the card and we got him a haircut to make him look a bit older.

We were ready.

On Thursday last, at two o’clock, it was time to make the four hour drive to Dublin to see the show. 

Nothing to it.

A word about ‘Death Grips’. ‘Death Grips’ is an experimental/industrial hip hop group from Sacramento, California, formed in 2010. They have a highly dedicated following and they play hard, sharp gigs which have received considerable attention for their wild physical performances which, almost literally, blow their audiences away. The band members remain extraordinary elusive. They do not encourage photographs, they do not sign autographs, and they generally do not engage with fans or public in any way. They simply come in, blow the room away, then leave. No encores.

As soon as I saw the queue for the concert, I knew we could not succeed. Sam and I had driven all the way for nothing and we would drive home the same way. As the three boys joined the back of the queue, I stood some distance away and watched and waited for the inevitable.

The main man on the front door was scrupulous. Every single person who came past him was examined and questioned whenever there was even the slightest doubt. IDs were meticulously checked and anyone who was even suspected of being below age was unceremoniously turned away. 

John and Mike and Sam got to the man on the door. John was fine. Mike was fine. Sam was not fine. 

“You’re not going in.” he said.

The cordon rope was lifted and Sam was eased outside of it. No entry for him. 

This was doubly hard, triply hard, on account of what happened the year before. You may recall we were all set to head off on a (for us) wildly extravagant trip to London to see Foo Fighters at Wembley Stadium. Our bags were packed and we were ready to go when the concert was cancelled on account of Dave Grohl’s broken leg. That was Sam’s Christmas present that year.

That was his first ever gig. 

‘Death Grips’ was his second ever gig. 

Once again, it wasn’t going to happen.

We tried everything known to man. In case you’re angry with me for trying, can I just say that Sam had no interest in alcohol or breaking any laws or conning anyone out of anything. He just wanted – needed - to see his band. 

Regarding the man on the door, who I spoke to at length over the next hour. He was one of the kindest, most amenable men I have met. Every question I asked him, every point I made to him, was met with a reasonable and friendly response. He never lost patience with me and was never anything other than approachable and kind. He was also a completely immovable force. Sam was not going in.

For my own part, I was also never anything other than friendly, that is my default setting and it would have been difficult to have been any other way with the gentle giant of a man. I told him about Sam and his passion for music in general and this group in particular. I told him about Wembley and Foo Fighters. I even showed him a video on my phone of Sam drumming. He watched with interest, all the time turning away belligerent drunk people with a flick of his wrist. An amazing man.

One exchange we had perhaps sums up all of the others.

Me – I’m not trying to con you or cheat you or anything, I hope you know that.

Him – I know that. I know what you are. You’re just a Dad trying to get his son into a gig. But it’s a licensed premises and, by law, I cannot let him in. There is just no way. 

Eventually, after many and varied attempts which I won’t bore you with, I had to give up.

“Okay,” I said to the man, “I’m not going to try anymore but is it okay if we just stand here and hear what we can through the doors?”

That was no problem. We stayed on the street at the front door and listened as the band came on stage. Faintly, we could hear the songs being played. Sam knew every one.

After the show started, things quietened down a bit out front. Not too much, but a bit. The man on the door was standing by me again. I said to him, “I’d like to thank you, if you don’t mind, for treating us so well. You couldn’t let us in but you were never anything other than nice.”

He stared at me quite hard then.

“I’ll tell you what,” he started, “no, no, wait, wait.” 

He moved away and got on his radio, talked briefly, then came back.

“You two be at the stage door at 10.20,” he said, “I’ll try my best to get you in to get a photo with the band.”

We agreed, thanked him profusely, and headed off to find the stage door. This was great. Except that Sam knew this band a lot better than the kind man at the door did.

This band did not ‘do’ photos and they did not ‘meet’ people. 


Still, something had been given to us and we had to make the best of it. We discussed it and we agreed that, on the off chance that we could see the band, we should be ready for it. We practised taking rapid-fire selfies in the alleyway by the stage door. Then I had another idea.

“Maybe they would sign something for you.”

“They don’t sign.”

“But what if they did? What if they just did? We have to be ready. What could they sign?”

“The ticket?” We still had the ticket.

“Good, that’s good but, wait… the T-Shirt!” Sam has his ‘Death Grips’ tee on. “What if we could get them to sign the T Shirt?”

We really needed a permanent marker, just in case. But where do you find a permanent marker at 9.30 pm in Dublin City Centre? We went to the only two shops we could find, a chemists and a sweet shop. Neither could help. Then Sam has his Inspired Idea, he threw it out there tentatively.

“You know when you get a coffee in Starbucks? They write you name on the cup with a…”


There was one in O’Connell Street. It was empty, the lady was just closing up. We explained that we had the chance to meet our favourite band but we needed a marker for an autograph and could we please buy a marker off you? She gave us one for free. A real permanent marker. We were all set. All we needed was a chance.

The set ended at 10.20 precisely. There was no encore. We know this because we were all alone in the cobbled alleyway at the stage door listening at the crack. Even after the gig ended, nobody else came to the stage door. The band’s reputation preceded them. They don’t do photos, they don’t sign. 

After a while, John and Mike and their friend Matthew joined us from out of the gig. They were sweaty and deaf and tired and it must have been hard for Sam to see them but we were focused on our own prize now. The chance to at least see the band as they ran out. Sam rehearsed in his head what he might say to them, if he only had a moment to do so. 

Mike had to go but John and Matthew stayed. Matthew was another huge Death Grips fan. I had never met him before but he said to me, “I’m only staying to see if I can help Sam meet the band.” I had no idea how much he meant that but I was going to find out.

At one point a man came out and we chatted to him. I think he was the band’s manager. He was sorry to hear what had happened to Sam. He told us 6 year olds regularly come and see the shows in America, where there no alcohol. It was a shame that Sam couldn’t have got in. I said we were hoping for perhaps a quick photo or something… He smiled at Sam. 

“You know the band, right?”


“Then I’m afraid you know how that’s going to go.”

The look on his face was kind but far from hopeful.

Time passed. We waited. From time to time, the man from the front appeared and disappeared, apparently not succeeding in getting any access for Sam.

“Are they still inside?” I asked him.

“Yes, they are.”

We waited. 

Empty bottles came out and were dumped.

People came out.

Instruments came out.

The back of the place went dark. 

Roller shutters slammed down. 

It became very quiet. 

It started to rain. 

After a time, it all seemed over. Sam and I discussed our small consolation. We had come, we had done everything we possibly could. We had tried, damn it, we had tried.

Something happened.

A taxi/van with a side door pulled right up to the one remaining unshuttered stage door. There was only about three foot between this car and the door. We were across the cobbled lane so the entrance was now completely blocked by the van. 

“We have to move now,” I said, “if we want to even see them. This is it.”

We ran across and stood at the front bumper of the car. The stage manager was there and the man from the front was there too. All the players in the evening’s story were there.

The band came out and jumped straight in through the side door of the car. Beside me, Sam tensed in amazement. There they were!

That was it. At least we has seen them. Sam was smiling and quite in awe. At least there was that. 

I’ve thought about what Matthew did next. I’ve thought about it quite a bit. The best way I can describe it is that if Sam was Robin Hood at that moment, then Matthew became Alan-a-Dale, a troubadour at his shoulder, boldly telling his story.

“Guys,” he said, out loud, “Guys, this is Sam. He is one of your very biggest fans and he’s travelled all the way across the country today to see you. And, guys, he didn’t get in, he couldn’t get in, because he was too young.”

The side door of the van was still open. The three band members were sitting inside looking out, they seemed completely engaged in Matthew’s extraordinary telling of Sam’s story. 

“We sorry to hear that,” one of the band members said. Sam knows which one. 

“Guys, guys, can’t you please do something for him?  A photo or something?”

A minder spoke up, “The band don’t like photos. No photos.”

“Something, guys, please, can you do something?”

There was a moment’s silence. Nobody quite knew what to do.

I was quite close to the door of the van, to the band, I don’t really know how I got there. Everybody knew me by now and I guess I wasn’t very threatening. I spoke quietly to the lead singer.

“He has a T Shirt on, one of yours. Would you maybe sign it for him? I have a marker."

There was another silence. The impression I got of the band was very strong, it was one of three extremely shy guys who didn’t like any of the Melee that goes with their job, their art. This is ironic, perhaps, given the absolute mayhem they unleash while on stage but it is also remarkable and rather good. They are strong enough to be themselves. To never-ever compromise on what they believe. 

Then Andy, one of the band members, spoke up gently.

“I’ll sign it,” he said. 

Sam was quickly encouraged to tear off his coat and his sweater and then, astonishingly, he was brought into the van with the band. Face to face, Andy grabbed him by of his both shoulders and spun him around with some force. Sam laughed and the guy smiled to himself behind his back. It was a moment that, for me, told a story. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that story is. 

The guy took a long time drawing carefully on the back of Sam’s T-shirt with the Starbucks marker. When he was done he nudged the band member beside him, “Sign this” he said and he did. Again he drew a distinctive and careful signature. The final band member, the front man and the most famously reticent of them all, then also took the marker and added what Sam afterwards described as ‘two hard swipes’ on his back. This later transpired to be a rather intricately-formed pentagram. 

As they were all carefully and painstakingly signing the shirt, Sam spoke to them, saying all the things he had thought about before, telling them what their music really meant to him. He got it all out and they heard him. 

Then we were done. We wished them a good night in Dublin and Matthew wished them luck on the rest of their tour. Matthew, a huge fan for many years, had completely given up any possible shot at interacting with the band to enable Sam to have his time with them. It was, without doubt, one of the more selfless things I have ever seen.

On the long drive home, Sam spent more than an hour writing on his phone. On his brother’s advice, he was setting it all down so that he wouldn’t forget any of it. I hope these words might help with a little with that too. 

The T-Shirt is now a Beautiful Thing. It will be framed and cared-for and treasured forever.

My sincere thanks go out to Death Grips, for setting aside their rules for one young man who needed them just a little. 

My thanks, too, to the Man on the Door who only smiled at the last when I shook his hand and asked him for his name. The kindest immovable force I have ever met. 

The Death of My First Social Media

When I think about it, as I have been doing, I seem to have been on Social Media for most of my life. Before Facebook and Twitter, before Usenet and Myspace and even, God Help us, before Bebo and every other online computerised set-up that there ever was...

Before all of that… there was this;  CB Radio.

People these days think they know what that was. They have their tropes and their prejudices. It’s safe to say, though, that if you weren’t there, you don’t really know what it was. What if wasn’t (just to say), for me anyway, was Truckers and ‘10-4, good buddies’ and Country Music and Convoys and Smokies on the Run. Nope, it wasn’t any of those things. It was something quite different. Something quite similar, in its way, to what we have today. 

I remember how it started, though I can’t quite remember the year. I would guess it was 1978 or so. I was sitting in my living room at home, on a Friday night. School was over for the week and I was trying to get a good BBC picture on the telly for the late night movie, which I think was Polanski’s ‘Dance of the Vampires’. In those days, we got a shaky BBC signal which sneaked in between the mountains from across the border with Northern Ireland. It faded in and faded out and this was sometimes frustrating but sometimes it seemed t make an average film more involving and quirky.

So there I was, alone (everybody else had long gone to bed) drinking tea and enjoying the cheesy movie. Suddenly, out of the blue, a voice came over the TV, infinitely clearer and crisper than the crackled film reception. The voice, that of an elderly man, spoke what was obviously one side of an amateur radio conversation. I had never heard anything like this before on my telly. It quickly became more interesting than the film (which I had seen before). Who was this man? Who was he talking to? I listened until he was finished talking and I can still remember how he signed off. 

“Wishing you all you wish yourself. Good night”. 

I found out from my Dad that he was an elderly man who lived a few streets away from my house. A veteran of Ham Radio, he had descended to the lower wavelengths to take part in the local discussions which has sprung up in our town via the blossoming medium of Citizen Band Radio. 

I spend quite a few evenings, after the house was still, listening to him chatting rather aimlessly to the unhearable people on the other end of his line.

Not being able to afford a CB of my own, my friend and I took to chasing stray signals around town using an ancient plastic walkie-talkie that I resurrected from an old toy box in my brother’s room. This thing has only one channel so it was a rare occasion when a CB-er landed on that channel and started transmitting. But it did happen from time to time and the excitement of making a contact in this way is something I still remember quite vividly.

Eventually, I got my own CB Radio. It was an uninspiring black box, much less fancy that those which other people had. But my CB had been carefully chosen. It had 80 channels, as opposed to the normal 40 channels and this allowed me to follow the more serious users who would sometimes ‘Go High’ to the bigger numbers on the dial to escape the slightly more inane chatter one might encounter on the busy lower channels.

That summer was my CB Summer. Every evening, as dusk drew in, I would take my gear to the car which was parked in the back yard. I would wire it up to the car battery and then I would sit there until two or three in the morning, chatting to whoever came on.

There was no ‘lingo’ or ‘ stupid stuff’. These were mainly people who got on well but who did not have the economic or transport resources to meet up in person. We'd talk films and town-matters, we joked and smiled and encouraged each other a bit. We rarely, if ever, met up.

Winter became hard in the car. Running the heating could quickly kill the battery so there was lots of coats and a wool hat. For Christmas that year, I got the best present ever (widely hinted-at) – a transformer which enabled the CB to run from the electrical supply in the house. Once more sitting by the fire in my sitting room, late at night, with my magnetic aerial attached to a tea tray, I felt like the king of the world.

This nightly chatter was, by necessity, a local enough affair. The VHF bands we utilised operated largely on ‘line of site’ parameters. We spoke to people relatively close to us, and that was all. Then something quite different happened. It all sounds a bit far fetched now but it had everything to do with solar activity and sun spots. Basically, we hit a period of high solar activity and this increased the ionispheric refraction of the atmosphere. In our terms, the ‘Skip’ went ‘High’. This created an anomaly wherein people on tiny CB radios on the other side of the world could be communicated with directly via our own puny boxes. Suddenly we could all be Ham Radio people. We built bigger aerials and stuck them on our back sheds and we called ‘CQ DX’ into our power mikes to make faint and fleeting contact with far away folk. 

The ‘Skip’ was like the tide. It came in and went out at differing times of the day. CB people would meet on the street sometimes and tell each other that ‘The Skip was High’ in the same way that we imagined surfer people would tell each other than the ‘Surf was Up’. Generally the VHF bands were quiet and clear until somebody opened their mike and spoke. When the skip was high the airways were filled with the hissing, bleeps, and mumbles of a myriad of different transmissions. From time to time, a clearish voice emerged from the jibber-jabber and that was the moment where you tried to make contact. You called ‘CQ DX’ and identified your 'station' , usually your initials and a random number for show (I was Kilo Alpha 147) and you waited to see if the distant voice picked you out of the ether to chat to. Sometimes a voice would come in as clear as a bell, as if they were right there in the room with you, although they were actually many thousands of miles distance. It was both fascinating and a bit strange.

The ‘Italians’ were the bane of the long distance CBer. You might be in the middle of a delicate exchange with some dude in deepest Canada when the ‘Italians’ would come on the air and destroy everything. With their more powerful equipment (illegal in our country) they would power up their systems using long piercing whistles which would banish the far-away Canadian back into the deepest recesses of the Skip Noise, long before you could get an address from him. An exchange of addresses was the prize. This would often mean an exotic postcard received from the person on the other end, confirming the exchange. We sent these off too, sellotaping pennies to the back of our cards as memorabilia of the country we came from and hoping from something of the same in return. 

And all the while, when the skip was low, the local conversation went on, long into the nights.

In truth, the technology was not a very big part of it for me. I rode the Skip when it was high but, mostly, I just liked to chat. And, just like it was when I was fourteen, there aren’t often too many people around to chat to.  I still like to chat, though not on CB. So I reach out, as I always seem to have done, for a warm voice to share a thought with. CB, Usenet, Facebook, Twitter, it’s all been the same.

How did it die? CB Radio. When did it end? I don’t clearly recall. I’d like to think that the skip rose up and rose up until the background murmur became a roar and regular communication was no longer possible. That would suit a subtle analogy I’m trying to perhaps shoehorn in here. But it wasn’t really like that. 

In truth, I think the more meaningful voices simply just fell away, one by one, over time, until the only voices left were too loud and without any real substance. Until the seesaw finally tilted and it seemed more trouble to stay than to go. 

I think maybe all of my Social Media manifestations have ended this way.

I think they may continue to do so.

But hey, while they lasted, they were fun.