Old Long Since

We may all sing a bit of it tonight but we don't always remember quite what it means. 'Lang Syne' translates roughly as 'Long Since' or, even more roughly as 'Times Gone By'. So when you sing 'Auld Lang Syne', think 'Old Long Since' and you'll at least be on the right track.

Back on this day in 1999, with the 20th Century burning rapidly down to the quick, I had a go at 'translating' the original Burns language into something closer to my own.

So, with sincere apologies to my Scottish friends, here it is.

I'm not trying to be disrespectful to the wonderful original or even trying to be smart.

I'm just trying to commemorate the gentle wearing down of yet another old year and the rolling out of yet another new one.

Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintances be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

We two have run about the hills
And pulled the daisies fine
But we've wandered many a weary mile
Since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the streams
From morning sun till dine
But seas between us broad have roared
Since auld lang syne.

So there's a hand, my trusty friend
And give me a hand of thine
And we'll take just one more drink of cheer
For auld lang syne.

And surely you will stand your round
And maybe I'll stand mine
And we'll share that cup of kindness yet
For the sake of auld lang syne.

Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796)


A Happy New Year to us all.

k x


Is it Still a Snog Fest?

When I was a teenager - before the Dublin Post Office has bullet holes in it - New Year's Eve was a very big deal.

It wasn't about looking forward or even about looking back, not about old friends, old memories or even 'Old Lang Syne'.

It was about snogging. Pure and simple.

Maybe it was just me but, back in those 'wilderness years' of 15, 16 and 17, kisses often seemed to be in bloody short supply.

New Year's Eve offered itself as a teeming oasis in the midst of this Kalahari of consensual lip-contact. Dec 31st was a free-for-all. Everybody could kiss everybody, no-holds barred.

And, boy, they did.


We all used to rush to a place called 'The Baymount' in Strandhill. This club/dance hall/den of innocent iniquity comprised two extremely large halls which were interlinked by one tiny set of double doors. The object of the night was to pass through these double doors from one hall to the next as many times as possible.

This was made interesting because both of these two halls were absolutely jammed to the rafters with revelers. Getting through that link-door on those nights was as close as you could come to another human being without risking an unwanted pregnancy.

And the kissing... (almost) everyone you met that night wanted to kiss and be kissed. It was as close to a Bacchanalian Wine Fest as I am ever likely to see.

Maybe it still is? Maybe all that ruthless snogging is still going on out there?

I sincerely hope so.

I'm completely happy to stay at home this New Year's Eve and attempt just one kiss, round about midnight.

But, if it's still the case and you're still the right age, stock up on that old Cherry Chap-Stick, go somewhere crowded and just... pucker up.

You may as well. It could turn out to be another Kalahari year.


Long Distance

He called again last night, just like he always does.

It was after three in the morning when the phone finally rang out. I was not asleep. I lifted the handset and listened. As always, it was a poor connection. My father's voice sounded hollow and tired and very far away.

He said, "Do you know what day it is?"

"I haven't forgotten," I said, "I've bought flowers for the grave."



There was silence then, at the mention of graves, as well there should be.

The phone had woken Teddy. She raised a tired eyebrow at me and I nodded and waved her towards the tape machine in the corner. She padded over and set it running.

"How is the weather?" My father asked and I told him, just as I always do. I rarely bother to ask him questions anymore. For many years I was encouraged to do so but it was always a tiresome business. Dad was never a great one for dialogue but now he has simply given up responding to my queries altogether. Now, when he calls, all he ever does is persist with his own inane, pointless line of questioning.

Always the same questions, always the same day every year.

The anniversary of his death.

"Did you get the shoes?"

As a rule, I answer all of his questions positively, even though I usually have no idea what he is talking about. I say "Yes" to humour him, hoping to fall on the answer that has most chance of bringing him peace. It never matters anyway. He inevitably ignores me

"No, Father, I did not."

This year I am trying "No". It is harder to ignore "No".

Dad doesn't find it at all hard. He gives no reaction, not even an "Oh", just onwards to his next familiar topic.

"Is it safe?"

I can never answer this. For anyone who has seen that film there can be no serious answer. I wonder about this particular question. Perhaps it is some kind of joke from beyond the grave? But my dad was not a humorous man and he died, you see, several years before they made 'Marathon Man.' Who knows, perhaps it has played wherever he is now. Perhaps he liked it.

"Is there water in it?"

I sit on the edge of my bed, in my favourite "Neil Young" tee-shirt, wiggle my toes in the deep pile carpet, and wish that this was all over for another year. The calls neither disturb nor sadden me anymore because I have long ago stopped thinking of them as real conversations. To me, they have become like a recording. An old L.P. that you dust off once a year and play distractedly for "old times' sake".

Whatever else he is, though, my father is certainly not a recording. Though repetitive, he will often vary the questions he asks and occasionally will throw in something that I will never have heard before. The quality of his voice will also vary from Anniversary to Anniversary and, of course, there are the background voices. They are always different. Except for the woman who cries for Vigler. She is the only constant.

"Is it raining?"

"No, Dad, it's fine tonight."

"When will it be dark?"

"Now"

"When?"

"Now, Dad it's bloody dark now. It's the middle of the bloody night!"

Teddy frowns at me from across the room. My wife is the type of person who would sit and read to a coma victim for ever. She doesn't really believe that my father can hear me but still she worries that he might.

"Vigler, Vigler...where are you?"

Poor lady. Faint, insistent and always punctual, she is one of the many voices which continuously echo behind my father's. A member of that subdued cacophony of ethereal tones, each of whom has their own unfathomable agenda to follow.

"Oh Vigler, please answer."

For eight years now I have recorded these calls and kept the tapes. I have discovered that these background voices perform most eerily in playback. They vary considerably in quality and content each time I listen to them. I could, for instance, pull out the '85 recording now and hear on it voices that were not there before. Only poor Vigler is constant.

Most of what they say is unintelligible although, here and there, clear phrases will emerge, things like "I have run out of patience" or "I see Murray's off the smokes again". One shifty voice in '91 said "Bohemian Lad" quite clearly several times. I thought it might have been a tip on a horse but, if it was, I never found it. I have never traced Vigler either although I have searched.

"Is the heat up?"

"Yes Dad. So how are you, Dad, eh? How are you?". My last ditch attempt at real communication.

"Where's the dog got to?"

I don't know why I even bother.

One year we got a psychic investigator in. He arrived from Kingsbury with an anorak and some luncheon-meat sandwiches. At bedtime, he positioned himself at the foot of our bed in a tangle of Radio Shack gizmos, entreated us to pretend he wasn't there, and goggled so hard at Teddy's breasts that she had to get up and put a sweater on.

Dad was late that night but he did finally get through. Duncan, the investigator, nearly wet himself. He had listened to all of the earlier tapes in preparation but the real thing was almost too much for him. He collected himself somewhat as the call progressed and proceeded to suggest a series of ridiculous questions written with the aid of a piece of white Formica and a smelly felt tip pen. I dutifully passed them all down the line and Dad dutifully ignored them, choosing instead to touch on such favorite subjects as the price of oatmeal and the whereabouts of his other blue sock.

Afterwards, Duncan proclaimed the event to be "a class one physic encounter" and cited us a few chilling examples of similar documented experiences. One of his stories stays with me.

He told of a teenage girl in America - New Hampshire I think it was - who used to hitch her way home from University every Christmas. Almost invariably, she would phone up on Christmas Eve and explain how she had been left without a ride a few miles from home and could someone please drive out and get her? This particular year, however, it was terribly late when she got through. "Please Mum", she moaned down the line, "can somebody please come and get me? I'm cold and it's dark here and I'm very, very scared..." She was, of course, dead. She had been killed in a road accident over twelve hours before the call was made. Or so the story goes.

Duncan left us next morning promising faithfully to get us "written up" and, unfortunately, he was as good as his word. We made it into most of the tabloids, the local rag did a centre page spread and we only missed a "That's Life" spot because somebody came along who could play a passable version of "Amazing Grace" on his knee.

The year after that, we received a lot of attention. All through the night of the Anniversary, a bunch of second rate hacks fluttered around our porch light and swapped tall stories. We even admitted a few to the inner sanctum, on Duncan's recommendation. Father never called that year. He always was an awkward bastard. Duncan and the associated press went off in the morning and never came back, thank God.

I wonder why he phones on his anniversary. I wonder why he phones at all. I can picture his funeral, the Astroturf, the flash of unnatural yellow from the poorly concealed mechanical digger, the incongruous sunshine. There was no hint, that day, that he would ever speak again. I remember being at his deathbed. He almost spoke to me that day, almost gave in and said something bloody worthwhile. Maybe it is the memory of that which summons him back each year, maybe not.

"What time is it?"

I pay attention.This is a brand new question.

"3.24 A.M."

It is best to be accurate when speaking to the faithful departed.

"Is it?"

"Yes"

"Oh"

My toes stop their dance in the carpet. This is different. This is more like a real conversation than I ever remember it being before. In the corner, Teddy looks out from between her headphones with eyes like saucers, she has heard it too.

I know all the theory. I've read all the books on the subject. In case you don't know, they say that the entire "Phone-call from the dead" phenomenon is spawned by an advanced form of self hypnosis. The person left behind feels such a desire to keep in touch with the deceased that they can generate an actual manifestation of the person's voice. They can even cause a phone to ring. Although I see it to be unlikely and flawed, I have always subscribed to this theory, it being the only semi-rational one open to me. It is definitely Dad who is on the phone, He is definitely dead, what else can I believe? Hence I have always blamed my over-emotional subconscious for this annual ritual, always reprimanded myself for putting so much subliminal energy into something so intrinsically foolish.

Until tonight, that is, until Dad started to talk back.

"Sam?"

He had never used my name before.

"Yes Dad?"

("Vigler, Oh please Vigler, answer me now")

"Dad?"

"Is it dark there?"

"Yes, Dad, it's dark now."

"Right."

"Dad... can you hear me?"

A pause, such a long pause.

"Yes Sam, I hear you now."

And I cry, as I haven't cried for many years. My hair is being stroked. I look up, Teddy is beside me, smiling.

"Speak to him," she says, "Talk."

When I can finally open my mouth he beats me to it.

"Are you all right?" He asks.

"Yes, I'm fine. Are you?"

"Where are the shoes?"

"Damn it Dad, don't start with the fucking shoes again, talk to me!"

"You shouldn't swear, Sam, it never suited you."

"Sorry."

"It's all right."

His voice has started to fade now. To break up, like it always does when the call is coming to its end. Soon he will become a part of, and finally lost in, the background babble.

"Sam?"

"Yes Dad?"

"This will be... last call...won't... ... call...again."

God, he was going fast.

"I don't understand. What are you saying?"

"Last call...you'll have a...new life...good luck old..."

And that was it. I could feel him go. I shouted after him that I loved him, shamelessly for the first time, and I swear that his voice returned for a moment to say it back to me. The recording doesn't have it but I heard him, I know I did.

Then he was gone. I laid the phone gently on the bed. The other voices would continue to ebb and flow until just before dawn and I could never hang up on them. I fell back on the bed and there was Teddy above me. Huge soaking tears were flooding in her eyes. She laughed and cried at the same time.

"Oh Sam", she said, "Oh bloody hell Sam."

"It was really him, wasn't it?"

"It was him all right. 'Your new life.,' he said. Sam, oh Sam, I was going to tell you in the morning, but he knew, the bugger bloody knew!"

And then I knew too.

So I held them both for a long time.



(c) Ken Armstrong


(Would you like to read another story?)

My Favorite Christmas Song and Other Ramblings

Everybody in Ireland will know my favorite Christmas song and will probably be fed-up of hearing it by now.

But it just struck me that the rest of the world may not know it as well as we do. Are there places in the world where 'Fairytale of New York' is not well-known?

Let me know, eh?



This little post is just my way of wishing all you lovely visitors a Happy and a Peaceful Christmas.

Thanks for a fun fun year, let's hope for more of the same next year.

I'll be 'around' for Christmas so say hello if you're dropping by. I have lots of old whiskey and some porter cake in the press.

All right... I don't. It just sounded good.

Drop by anyway.

There used to be a tradition in Ireland where the Christmas Eve newspapers would publish some fiction. Just a little seasonal reading. I used to like that - I remember John McGahern one year...

Anyway, to try to keep up the tradition, I will post a short story tomorrow night and leave it up for a few days. Although it's not set at Christmas, it does concern ghosts and families, so it might suit the mood a little.

I'll leave you with a joke I heard on the radio yesterday - thanks to Joe Duffy and the guys for this.

God granted a man one wish. He had a choice between all the wisdom in the world or all the money in the world.

He thought about it and he finally chose wisdom.

"There you go - wisdom", God said, "now, say something wise."

The man thought for a moment, then he said.

"I should've taken the money."

My Favorite Christmas Joke (Rude)

Here's a little joke I've told over quite a few Christmas's. It's rude so be warned.

There aren't many new jokes in the world and this certainly isn't one of them but it can get a good laugh if the punchline is delivered correctly.

* * * *
So the dust bin (garbage) man was going around all the houses collecting his Christmas pressies.

He called to this attractive housewive's house and there she was, all done up in frilly under-garments and seductive spices.



She invited the bemused bin man into her living room and, without further ado, made mad passionate lurve to him right there on the living room floor.

When they were finished, and he was getting ready to go, she handed him a five euro note.

The bin man became quite emotional.

"I have to tell you", he said, "this is the best Christmas present I've ever been given."

"You can thank my husband for that," said the lady. "When he was going to work this morning, I asked him should I give the bin man a tenner for Christmas and he said...

... No, f**k him, give him five."

* * * *

Writing that reminds me of another favorite joke-for-telling which isn't Christmas-related but which does involve the garbage bin again. Both these jokes are infinitely better in the verbal tradition rather than written down so, if you've not falling about laughing, try telling them to yourself as you might tell it to somebody else and you may see the potential for smiles.

Oh - language differences - you need to know what a Wheelie Bin is. It's a fairly descriptive term anyway. Wikipedia says that Americans call it a "mobile garbage bin" or 'MGB' (that's so gonna spoil my joke) and you dear dear Canadian-folk tend to call it a 'Green Bin'.

It's a bin-with-wheels, jees!

Without further ado, here's number two, the 'Wheelie Bin Joke. I'm always grateful to my dear Sister-in-Law, Carrie, for telling me this one:

* * * *

So the waste-collection-company hired a man who had recently arrived from China. His job was to ensure that everybody put their Wheelie Bins outside their house at the correct time each week.

He took his job very seriously and was known to be quite belligerent with people who failed to get their bins out on time. The fact that he was still learning the language didn't always help

One collection-day, he came to a house with no bin outside. He knocked loudly on the door and a man came out. The man was wearing only shorts and was very very sunburned.

"Where you bin?" The wheelie-bin guy shouted.

"What?"

"Where you bin?"

The man smiled proudly, "I have been to Hawaii for three weeks."

"No no no no no... where you Wheelie Bin?"

The man deflated.

"All right," he said, "I fell asleep on the damn sun bed..."

* * * *

Anyone got a seasonal joke for me.?

Let's aim to maintain a loose PG13 rating, eh?

Goose-ey Goose-ey

Before we bought our own place in Twickenham, we lived for a few years in a little first floor one bedroom apartment in Acton.

We flew home from there to get married and came back to live there again afterward. It was cosy and it was fun.

Even when Trish’s sister Una came to stay for a few months, it was still fun. Una was always a blast and London was at its very best for us around that time.


But it was kind of tight for space, what with Una sleeping in the living room and all. Finding those intimate little moments, the ones that newlyweds crave, was sometimes a bit hard to manage.

So I was delighted when I slipped into the bathroom one Saturday morning and found my wife leaned over the wash basin vigorously brushing her teeth. She was dressed casually in a nice pale blue Ton-Sur-Ton top which I liked (I know I shouldn’t know that, sorry) and black leggings

Being young and foolish I couldn’t resist sidling up behind her, lifting her Ton-Sur-Tom hem a little and gently clasping her legging-clad ass with my hands. One hand for each buttock – rather a neat equation.

Then I did something I had never, ever, done before and it has lived with me ever since. Well, it wasn’t actually something I did, it was more something I said. Perhaps it was that clasped rear-end, so familiar and yet so new, that made me do it.

I whispered in my wife’s ear.

I whispered the immortal words, ‘Goose-ey, Goose-ey’.

(Wait a minute… “So new?” What the hell_?)

Her head raised from the wash basin and our eyes locked together through the steamy wall mirror.

This wasn’t my wife, this was her sister. She must have borrowed Trish’s Ton-Sur-Ton top and now here was I, hands neatly planted on buttocks, whispering sweet but absolute nonsense into her ear.

I fled.

I don’t think I said a word, I just fled. I had only one thought, to find Trish and explain it all to her before Una burst out of the bathroom screaming virtual-incest and incoherent verbal harassment. Trish was watching telly in the living room.

“I_ I_ went in the bathroom and I thought it was you and I_”

Una came in. She looked at Trish.

“He said ‘Goose-ey Goose-ey,” she said and then she collapsed on the couch in a paroxysm of silent hilarity.

I’m telling you this because it’s nearly Christmas time and, wherever my in-laws gather, this story will be told and retold.

If ever I’m being over-serious or pretentious, someone only has to mutter two words and all my attempts at gravitas fly out the window.

“Goose-ey goose-ey.”


Dark Knight – Who Was Heath Watching?

As you may know, I don’t often see movies in the cinema any more. So when there’s one I’m really keen to see, I make sure that I get the DVD as early as possible, turn up the sound, turn down the lights and watch it right.

So it was with ‘The Dark Knight’ last weekend.

A newer foible is that I avoid as many reviews and as much discussion about a film as possible, until I can see it for myself. After quite an effort, I therefore came to this one fairly ‘clean’. Not entirely, of course, the world and his grand-aunt knows that the late Heath Ledger turned in a performance as ‘The Joker’ which rocked the screen and promised great things to come. Alas not to be.

Much more about Heath in a minute but first the movie.





Singer paved the way with ‘X-Men’ and one can hold out some hopes for next year’s ‘Watchmen’ but, really, ‘The Dark Knight’ is the first comic book adaptation directly aimed at adults. It’s a great film but I think you're going to have to like comic book adaptations to get it. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Director, Chris Nolan rarely puts a foot wrong with his movies anyway. There’s ‘Memento’ (brilliant), ‘Insomnia’ (Pacino’s last 'genuine' performance?) and, hell, I even rate, ‘Prestige’ as a clever, highly-entertaining film. His first hit at Batman (... Begins) suffered, for me by too much back story and one unforgivably misguided line from Gary Oldman (“I gotta get me one of those...”) which nearly spoiled the whole show for me.

But this time he gets it all just right. Most impressive for me was the editing. Nolan cuts from many of his scenes even before they seem to be finished and hits off into the subsequent scene just a few seconds after it seems to have begun. The effect is one of breathless story telling with not enough time in hand. It is both striking and highly effective.

So I really enjoyed it.

But here’s a funny thing that happened while I was watching it. Heath Ledger appeared on screen and I was very interested in what my reaction to his performance would be. My immediate thought was, ‘My God, he’s ‘doing’ someone.’ When I say ‘doing’ I don’t mean it in a bad, rip-off. way or anything. I think Heath yet again proved himself as a great performer here and it is lamentable that he didn’t get to stay around and show us many many other great things. But it immediately struck me that an element of his performance was clearly referencing someone or something that I had seen elsewhere. It was very distracting and it took me over half an hour to figure it out.

I have a theory about two people he might have studied. The second one even revealed something very interesting to me about the film.

Here’s the first:



That’s right. Jack Lemmon. Half an hour in, it hit me like a ton of bricks that Heath was throwing quite a bit of 'Jack Lemmon' in there. Need some more proof? Just watch the scene where the buildings blow up behind the Joker, watch how he moves, then watch ‘Some Like It Hot’. Eh?

Then, I saw someone else in the performance.

The second actor I saw was none other than… Andrew Robinson.

Now before any of you run away saying ‘who the hell is Andrew Robinson?’ I think you know him all right. Watch this (be warned, may be disturbing):



The 'Scorpio Killer' from 'Dirty Harry'. Tell me that Heath’s Joker does not contain elements of Andrew’s spectacular performance. Go on, tell me.

The Joker character is so very remarkable because of the remarkable way the late great Heath Ledger plays him. But the writing also helps too. Dispensing with the traditional ‘History Of’ back story, The Joker comes from nowhere, wants nothing and tragically, due to the actor’s untimely death, may now disappear back into nothingness. A comic legend is completely redefined.

And, finally, when I realised the ‘Dirty Harry’ connection, I came to see something else . that was; how very similar to ‘Dirty Harry’ the whole ‘Dark Knight’ movie is. A twisted serial killer, a city held to ransom, a renegade law bringer deeply tied to the killer, it’s all in there. Batman is Dirty Harry. Is that an accident, do you think? Just something I’m over-thinking? Look at all those yellow school buses in ‘The Dark Knight’, so iconically used in ‘Dirty Harry’ – no accidents in the mind of Chris Nolan methinks.

What do you think of my Joker theories. Did you see anyone else in Heath’s performance? I’m off now to read some reviews and see if any one else saw what I think I saw.

‘I bet the whole bloody world did…


Limerick Competition Winner!

Thank you all so much for joining in the Limerick-Fun-And-Games in the last post. I really had a ball and I hope you did too. Let's try something similar in the new year, eh?

I promised I would pick a winner from the comments section and here he is - my friend and yours - Linc, otherwise known and loved as Canucklehead.


Linc gets himself a space on my sidebar for a few months and 500 EC into the bargain... the lucky lucky bastard!! I gave it to Linc because he met my criteria so wonderfully. He wrote about the commenter above him, his meter was exemplary, he rhymed well, and he was borderline-very-rude.

Here's what he wrote: about Margaret from Eyespi

A lady who went by eyespi,
Was well known as 'a heck of a guy',
Which was gender confusing,
Yet rather amusing,
As long as you don't check her fly!

Honorary mention (or is it 'honorable', I never know) to this miscreant, who gets 200 EC and a kick in the ass.


Celtophilia (on Canucklehead)


It's true, Linc's my favorite Canuck,
but beware if he drives up in his truck.
He's Canadian so keep
an eye on your sheep
unless they could use a good f**k

There's loads of other super Limericks in the comments section of the previous post. Keep them coming, if you like..

... and thanks for playing!

UPDATE

Jena Isle - a woman of her word - has contributed an additional 500 EC to the prize fund. Therefore Canuck gets another 200 EC, Celtophilia, gets another 100 EC and we get another runner-up who bags a cool-and-highly-desirable 200 EC for himself

He is Dave King of Pics and Poems, - a highly-literary-yet-highly-enjoyable blog which you really should visit. Here's Dave's contribution (about Rachel Fox).

There was a young lady named Fox
whose work was exact, not approx,
every word apropos,
every metre would flow,
and all rendered best by her vox.

Rhyming 'apropos' with 'flow' certainly put you in the running for first place, Dave, you just weren't quite rude enough!

Start Your Week with a Lim-er-eeek

I had planned to be posting something else today but the feedback to the last Limerick post was very cool so I thought I’d drag it out just a little bit more.

Some of my commenters were suggesting that I might post a regular Limerick feature. It’s a good idea – I’ll certainly think about it – but it’s probably not for me. I like to be a little ‘looser’ than that.


Give me land, lots of land and the starry skies above, don’t fence me in’ and all that kind of jazz.

But, seeing as how we had such ‘joy and fun’ last time and nobody apparently died, I thought I might suggest a small Limerick competition for you clever types who leave me comments.

In the last day or two, I’ve whipped up three Limericks about three of the very nicest people I chat to at such excellent forums as: ‘Top Ten Blog Tips - CMF Forums’ and ‘The Batcave’ or on Twitter. They also happen to have wonderful blogs so do hit the links.

Fragileheart
The blogger we call Fragile Reggie
Eats only some lime juice and veggie
Guarding her body mass
So the shape of her ass
Doesn't give her poor undies a wedgie*

*My reference for the undies remark

Wisdom Hypnosis
I consulted with Wisdom Hypnosis
And I cured all my tics and psychosis
I got wisdom and care
And my hypnotised stare
Caught a glimpse of her sheer panty hoses

Ohio Realtor
House hunting? Go talk to Cecilia
Her houses are really a steal. Yeah
So when you’re ready to buy-oh
In Cleveland Ohio
She’ll do you a really good deal. Yeah

(There! How to insult your pals in one fell swoop...)

Now, here’s what I thought.

In the comments section, I'd love you to take the name of the commenter above you and compose a limerick about them. I’ll disable comment-moderation for this one post so please behave (a little).

After a couple of days, I will give 500EC’s (or a link in the sidebar if you don’t use EC’s) to my personal favourite limerick. Then I will try and write my own one about the winner.

The first comment (if there is one) should be a limerick about me. 'Felix' is my middle name if you want a slightly tougher challenge.

Oh and ‘God among men’, rhymes quite well with Ken...

...apparently.

There Once Was a Fellow Called Ken…

Anyone who’s come across me around the forums may have noticed that I quite like Limericks.

I like trying to write them, particularly if the name in question is a little unusual. I don’t think I’m particularly good at it but I like trying to came up with a rhyme which says something about the subject-matter as well as meeting the simple rhyme and scan criteria.




My relationship with the Limerick goes back quite a ways but it was definitely cemented when I came second in my school class in first year of secondary school.

I would have been twelve years old then. For coming second (I always came second, where are you now Martin Kennedy? Eh? Do you have a blog all of your own… he’ll probably answer too) anyway, for coming second, I got a book. It was called ‘A Little Treasury of Limericks, Fair and Foul’.

It was a great book, right up my street. The teachers knew I liked a bit of a laugh and a joke so somebody thought this would fit me. They were right, bless them. But, man, they so mustn’t have looked inside – it was full to the brim of filthy limericks. I couldn’t show my prize at home ‘cos they would have looked inside and all hell would doubtless have broken out. So I kept it as my little secret, well, one of them – you don’t need to hear about the others thank-you-very-much.

The opening Limerick in that book summed up the art-form pretty well I thought. This from memory:

The Limerick packs laughs astronomical
Into space that is quite economical
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones are seldom so comical

How true, how true.

There are clean ones, of course, but it seems to be the added sauce that decides whether a particular limerick is palatable or not.

I’d like to share with you my favourite limerick, which comes in the form of a story. It’s a story I tell quite a lot and I pass it on to you in the hope that you might tell it somewhere too. If you tell it right, it’s a winner but, please note, it works better in the telling than it does in the reading so you may not get a full appreciation for the jollyness-potential from what follows. I should also say that I am writing the following story from memory from that book. I don’t know the copyright issues with my doing that but if anyone has a problem, do let me know.

Thanks.

So, the father-of the bride had to make a speech at the wedding and he was very nervous about it. He wrote all his prompts on little cards and then, at practically the last moment, he discovered a limerick which he thought would finish off his speech brilliantly. The limerick went like this:

There was a young man called Skinner
Who took a young girl out to dinner
At half past nine
They sat down to dine
And by a quarter to ten it was in her…
… the dinner, not Skinner.

Yes, it had a sixth line, breaking all the rules of limerick writing but it was funny, if a little rude, so he decided to include it in his speech.

The speech went ‘poorly’. He’d had too much dinner-wine and he’s got his little cards all jumbled up and, right at the end, he could not find the card with the limerick on it, So he decided to rescue the evening by doing the verse from memory. Here’s what he said:

There was a young man called Tupper
Who took a young girl out to supper
And half past nine
They sat down to dine
And by a quarter to ten it was up her
…not Tupper… some bugger called Skinner.


Stardust – A Movie Review

I came to this movie on DVD with a number of prejudices.

In fact I might not have come to it at all if Matt of MTMD hadn’t rated it so highly. My hand had already brushed over it in the video shop (will it ever be the DVD shop?) several times, my brain saying 'nuh-aww, life’s too short'.

It’s a really good film though, I recommend it to parents with young teens who would like to sit down with a movie – perhaps over Christmas – and be engaged and entertained. I think this is just the film to do that.

But let me tell you about those prejudices before we get into all that. The screenplay for ‘Stardust’ was co-written by Jane Goldman (sorry to do this Jane but it’s my prejudice and I have to explain it). Jane is married to Jonathan Ross, talented controversial British talk-show host and, wait-for-it, foremost TV movie critic in the country.


The movie was pushed hard on Jonathan’s show and the impression I got was that the production was populated by British celebrity chums and a peppering of A-Listers who were having favours called in.

I concluded that this was a silly confection, best avoided altogether and so I duly left if alone.

Then Matt recommended it just when it was coming up to Friday night and that helped. You see, Friday nights are always a challenge for me. On those nights, my son John and I like to settle in and watch a good movie. It’s just that, him being twelve and all, the list of movies which can keep us both hooked is rapidly dwindling. We’ve done ‘Cloverfield’ and 'Be Kind Rewind'. So, a couple of Fridays ago, we had Stardust.

‘Stardust’ is adapted from material by the excellent Neil Gaiman – first a series of DC Comics then a novel. It stars Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer, relative newcomer Charlie Cox and that host of familiar faces that threw me off the damn thing in the first place.

It’s a fairytale. I’ll tell you what it’s like, shall I? It’s like ‘The Princess Bride’ except played much straighter. William Goldman’s excellent film was all-knowing and full of insider-swipes at the fairy-tale genre. ‘Stardust’ on the other hand, believes much more in fairy tales than ‘Princess Bride’ ever did.

Claire Danes recreates that ‘something magical’ she had so much of in Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ – and which she hasn’t had any of since. Michelle Pfeiffer is dazzlingly beautiful when she is required to be (how does she do that?) and the smaller-parts are often most-charmingly played.

Star of the show for me among the smaller parts was Mark Williams as Billy. You may know Mark as Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter movies. He does his acting work with such integrity. Watch him in ‘Shakespeare in Love’ as the stammering narrator of the play who comes good at the critical moment. In this movie, he plays a goat transformed into a man by witchcraft and he does it quite brilliantly.

Bum note? Okay (sorry) Robert De Niro strikes a distracting bum-note in this, his much hyped ‘Gay Pirate’ role. He prances and gurns and looks unconvincing to the core. I wish it was otherwise, it’s a fun part that somebody could have enjoyed doing.

So, come Christmas, if you can handle a little sexual frisson and a Gay Pirate or two, settle down with somebody young and try this one. It surprised me, it may do the same for you.

And did it keep John entertained? Well, he’s currently in a bit of a ‘meh’ phase where it’s often hard to tell the ‘brilliant’ from the ‘dreadful’.

But he did ask for it to be paused while he went to the bathroom.

That’s a good sign. Isn’t it?


Without a Hurt the Heart is Hollow

Sometimes I can get fixated on a song, often it’s a song from a musical.

The song rings around in my head and I generally obsess a bit over it. Then it goes away or, maybe not completely away, it just sort of retreats to a less obtrusive neural channel.

In the past, this has lead me to spend time which such delightful shows as ‘South Pacific’, ‘Cabaret’, ‘The Music Man’ and even ‘Chicago’.

At the moment, there is a very nice song which I cannot get out of my head.

The way a song like this manifests itself is a little odd. One minute I will care nothing for the song, the next I will seem to know every word in the lyric, never to forget it again.

Anyway, this month’s song is from the longest running musical of all time (at 42 consecutive years, it is a record unlikely ever to be broken). The show is called ‘The Fantasticks’.

The song has been massacred and mangled down through the years. I think what put me on to it was coming across Jerry Orbach singing it on YouTube in a White House concert from some time ago.

Jerry played the Él Gallo’ part originally, it seems. He might be a familiar face from the TV show ‘Law and Order’. He died a few years ago.

He also played Lumiere - the candelabra in Disney’s movie ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

Anyway, his rendition of this song, which has seen so many mawkish and exploitative versions, was so ‘clean’ and ‘pure’ that it fascinated me.

He just let the engaging tune and the tightly-composed lyric do its good work, knowing full well that there is enough sentiment in there to go around - without Gladys Knight or someone else sighing and moaning all over it.

The song is more famous than the show it comes from. It’s called ‘Try to Remember’.

I have known the song for the longest time but I think what has now made it a favourite is an understanding of where it fits within the show. This helps to give a little context to the lyric which was missing before.

For me, there was always a mystery attached to the repeated word ‘follow’. What did it mean?

Knowing now that the song opens the show and that the show is performed with a minimal set and some quite inventive staging tricks, I can see that the character is exhorting to audience to remember things from their own lives to help them to engage emotionally with the play. As the song says, if they remember then they should ‘follow’ (what is happening in the play).

Phrases like ‘tender and callow fellow’ or ‘without a hurt the heart is hollow’ are just great, aren’t they?

Here’s the lyric, reproduced without permission (for educational purposes only) but with genuine respect:

Try to Remember (Words by Tom Jones and Music by Harvey Schmidt)

Try to remember the kind of September
when life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when you were a tender and callow fellow,
Try to remember and if you remember then follow.

Try to remember when life was so tender
that no one wept except the willow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
that dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
that love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember and if you remember then follow.

Deep in December it's nice to remember
although you know the snow will follow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember
without a hurt the heart is hollow.
Deep in December it's nice to remember
the fire of September that made us mellow.
Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow

Good, eh?

And here's a clip of Jerry doing it.



Very nicely, I think.


More About The Song – Poems by Rachel Fox

Rachel Fox has a great blog and, if you don’t go there regularly, then you really should. Click this link and see.


Go on, I’ll still be here when you come back. I’ll just do a bit of tidying…


Rachel also has a new book of poems published and I wanted it so, like Paul Simon in his song, “I sent away… and I waited till it came”.


It is such a lovely book, really. I keep it on my desk and pick it up and read a poem or three now and again.


It does me good, I feel.




Here’s a little poem, reproduced with The Author’s kind permission:

Short Love
I loved you for three weeks
Or maybe longer
It may seem a short love
But it was stronger
Than you might imagine
From its length

Rachel writes stories and songs, she also blogs about her life on the Angus Coast in Scotland. One can’t help feel though, that in her heart, she is a poet. She is also a very accessible poet. The tools of her trade are honesty, forthrightness, humour… and music.

I think it is this latter quality to her writing which draws me in more the most – the sheer musicality of it. I find a song-like quality to many of the poems I have read and many more of them respect and reference the music she has known along her way.

The sisters said it best
I’ve always been
Lost in music
It’s never felt
Like a trap

It’s always felt
Just the right place
To wander loose
Off the track

Here I go now
Lost in music
I’m not sure if
I’ll be back

And don’t go making the mistake of thinking Rachel is a ‘fuddy-duddy up-her-own-arse’ type of a poet either. If her blog is anything to go by, and of course it is, Rachel has lived life to the full. She has had her early wild years of clubbing, DJ ing and God-knows-what else while now she paints an attractive picture of the gently-maturing-parent with the odd dash of irresponsibility thrown in.

Her book is a lovely thing. There’s some more stuff about it here and lots more poems to read (and hear) here. You can (and should) buy the book from here or Amazon.

And then there’s that blog… put in your reader, or bookmark or whatever-the-hell you use, I’d like to bet it won’t come back out anytime soon.

I have sometimes feared that I may suffer from Metrophobia. No, I love big cities, this is actually a fear of poetry.

The Poet-Bloggers I have come to know, over the last while, have helped me get over that. I think it helps me to appreciate the poetry when I see a little of the poets lives and preoccupations set down in their Blog-Posts. It gives me a little context for their work.

Perhaps it means I read their poetry all wrong – making it more about the singer than the song. But at least I’m reading, touching and being touched. That’s a start, eh?

I want to thank some of those Blogger-Poets who have helped me to peek inside the door to their minds.

Rachel Fox

Fiendish

Dave King

Francis Scudellari

Catherine Sharp

Kat Mortensen

And most recently - Maguire

And of course, the amazing Jim Murdoch who is the dour miserable old sod with the most glowing, humorous, poetic heart in the whole wide world.

Go and have a look at what they do. If one of them doesn’t touch you, another surely will.

That’s the way it is with poets.

Any Aussie Got a Photo of Tom Waits and Me?

On a cold week-night evening in October 1985 I stood outside the stage door of the Dominion Theatre in London and waited for Tom Waits to come out.

I had never done that before for anyone and am fairly sure I will never do it again.

Tom had played a series of shows in The Dominion - I had been to see him the night before with a bunch of people and was so blown away that I was tempted to drive back into the City Centre to wait a while and just tell him how good it was.

So I did.

Through the stage door, I could hear the end of the show. Tom played three encores, one more than the night before. The closing song was 'Blue Valentines'.

I wished I was inside for that.



Perhaps because it was the last night of his London stint, it was well over an hour-and-a-half before Tom and his band came out. The time was passed quickly by chatting to the many people who went in and came out of the stage door to pay their respects - among them Elvis Costello and Bono.

When Tom finally appeared, there was only me and a young Australian couple left outside the door. I told Tom that I thought the show was fantastic - he said, "Aw gee, thanks," and he Autographed my Rain Dogs album. He told me he was on his way To Newcastle to do some songs for something called 'The Toob' (The Tube with Jools Holland and Paula Yates - 1982-1987) and sure enough he was on it two days later on Channel 4.

It was great to meet him, I'm glad I took the trouble.

Here's the thing...

The Australian guy said, "You gotta get a picture" so me and Tom stood in together and this guy took our photograph.

After Tom had left, I gave the guy my address and made him promise he would send the picture on.

Guess what?

I never got it... guess what else?

I would quite like it.

So if you happen to be passing through this blog and you think you might be that Australian Guy from that night in 1985, could you check your photo album and maybe, if you happen to see me in there, give me a shout.

Thanks!

PS - Of course I've seen Tom quite a few times, most recently this year in Dublin, review here.


Liking it So You Don’t Have To #2 - Westlife, ‘My Love’























Okay, so this probably isn’t going to work out too well for me either…

Some time back, I resolved to post occasionally about things I like – but things that the rest of the world might not like so very much at all.

I reasoned that it’s far too easy to post about things everybody likes (walks on windswept beaches in winter, Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice-cream...). It’s also a bit ‘boring’ to post about things everybody shares a hatred for. So off I went.

I started my 'likes' with Mission Impossible: 3 and that all seemed to go fairly peachy. Now, God help me, I’ve decided to put my second scheduled ‘thing-I-like’ on hold for the following very late update.

I was working away last Saturday and I had on one of those TV Channels which show non-stop back-to-back old music videos. I believe they’re called ‘Back-to-Back Non-Stop Old Music Video Channels’ but do correct me if I’m wrong. Anyway on came this song. It was called ‘My Love’ and it’s by an Irish group called 'Westlife'.

So I watched the video and said to myself , “I quite like that song.” The thought followed almost immediately, “I would probably get a hard time if I ever publicly admitted to liking this song.”

Perfect!

I admit it! I like it! I liked it when it first came out and I still like it now. So come and have a go if you reckon you’re hard enough – and if you listen to this song, you probably will reckon you are hard enough.

Westlife haven’t as yet manage to ‘crack’ America but they have had a most impressive array of hit records over here and elsewhere. In fact (I looked this up) they have had 14 UK No. 1’s and they share with The Beatles the title of most consecutive number 1’s ever. If anyone in America wants to place them, their song ‘Flying without Wings’ did well for An American Idol finalist a few years ago.

Now I’m not really what you might call a ‘huge’ boy-band fan. But it helps a little that most of the Westlife guys are from my hometown of Sligo and that my brother used to work on the Electricity Supply Board with the father of one of the guys .

The video also shows a lot of places which I am well acquainted with. I know that train station, I know that beach, I know the cliffs too, how great are they? Most of all though I know the street near the start – I think I lived there for two years of my college time.

Have a look, if you fancy it.



If my friend Fragileheart comes by, she might have a little peek at the video because it's got some things she might like. It shows Ireland, it refers to coming back to Ireland and it’s got the famous Cliffs of Moher in County Clare at the end of it and, I could be wrong about this, but I think Fragileheart has been there.

Most of Westlife's songs feature what I like to call a ‘stool moment’ (behave). The guys often sit on stools when doing their songs but there’s always a key moment in the tune where they rise up off their stools and give it some serious wellie. See if you can spot the ‘Stool moment’ in ‘My Love’. I bet you can.

It's not all sunshine and flowers, for me, with this music video. At the start the boys have to do some acting and emoting - 'doesn't quite work guys, does it? Also, in the middle, (at 2:42) one of the guys sings a line in a heartfelt way- 'To hold you in my arms' - and, in doing so, manages to simultaneously look and sound like a complete and utter Muppet.

Love them or hate them, Westlife have one thing going that lots of other boy bands haven’t. Those lads can really sing.

Release this one once more guys. Go on, I think you’d do okay with it all over again.

Oh, and while we’re on pop music matters. watch out for Leona Lewis covering our very own ‘Snow Patrol’ with the song ‘Run’. This is an international hit in the making if ever there was one.



Mark my words… or else have a listen.

Things I Do...

Recently, I've been writing a song lyric or two, as I do sometimes.

There's never any music, unless I borrow a tune from somebody else. I do that sometimes too - I call it a 'Tribute'.

Anyway, this is an older lyric of mine. I posted it once before, back when I had a total of one reader. So sorry for the repetition Catherine!

Someone I know thinks this is actually a poem. I don't, it was written by me after all.

Oh, and if anyone thinks they might have a tune for this thing, do please let me know.




Things I Do Since I Took Up With You

Look left and right when crossing the street
Cut all the fat off of my meat
Eat unripe bananas for a treat
Read small books on the loo

These are things I’ve started to do
Since I took up with you

Brush my teeth three times a day
Eat my dinner off a tray
Stop kicking mutts out of my way
Wear red things when I’m blue

These are things I’ve started to do
Since I took up with you

Speak to guys about my fears
Come out of movies in floods of tears
Shave all the hairs off of my ears
And off my earlobes too

These are things I’ve started to do
Since I took up with you

Use both my hands now when I steer
Leave a little of my beer
Go to church three times a year
Instead of only two

These are things I’ve started to do
Since I took up with you

Close the windows as I drive
Apply the handbrake when I arrive
Thank my stars that I’m alive
And smile the whole day through

These are things I’ve started to do
Since I took up with you



(c) Ken Armstrong

Saying Sorry to Daisy the Curly Cat

When I posted the other day about nearly kicking the cat, I knew I might annoy a few people and I figured I’d just have to live with that.

But when Daisy The Curly Cat left the following comment, it got me thinking:

“::sniffs sadly::
I am sad that you do not like cats. Not all cats go potty where they are Not Supposed To Go.”

Firstly I was sad that I’d made Daisy sad because she’s a lovely cat with a great blog all of her own.

But secondly, it reminded me that I really like cats most of the time and have had many positive experiences with them too. One such experience was as follows:

What age was I? Ten, or eleven I think. Every day I used to walk my two dogs up along the riverside path. Laddie was a German Shepherd and Patch was a Springer Spaniel – bought as a gun dog but really never managed to do it very well.

There was a large open area at the end of the walk where the field ran down to the river. Nobody was around this particular day so I let the dogs run off and play a little.

Laddie made straight for the water. He jumped in, grabbed something small in his jaws and started to throw it around. I ran down to see.

It was a kitten.

I ordered Laddie back in and he came reluctantly, kitten still clamped in jaws. He gave it up when I told him to (he was such a good dog) and I was able to have a good look.

The kitten was half drowned, completely bedraggled and mewling pathetically. Still she seemed largely unharmed by Laddie’s rough treatment. I put her on my shoulder to keep the two dogs from antagonising her further.

Although I hunted all down along the river, I couldn’t find any more kittens. It is a harsh reality that unwanted litters had been known to be put in a sack with some rocks and then drowned in the river. I believe this kitten somehow escaped this awful fate.

She deserved a chance.

So I brought her home.

I carried her all the way on my shoulder and she cowered there, crying deafeningly in my ear all the way. The two dogs marched alongside and never once took their bemused eyes off my tatty little cargo.

Bringing the kitten home made me nervous. Mum was great but I didn’t think she’d take kindly to me dragging in a dripping stray after me. As a matter of fact, I didn’t quite know how to broach the subject at all. So, after I put the dogs in the back garden, I turned the steel dust bin lid upside-down on top of the bin at the side of the house and put the little kitten sitting in the bowl of this upturned lid. She sprawled there and started a miserable little puzzle. Then I went inside.

Mothers can spot furtive behavior within minutes.

“What’s going on?” She asked.

So I took her outside and showed her.

I expected her to be angry - I have no idea why, ‘angry’ was never her style - and I also expected to get a hard time. Instead she was all-over the poor kitten, getting her inside, warmed up, fed and generally ‘minded’.

A few days later, my granny heard of a neighbour of hers who was on the look-out for a nice cat. The kitten was duly brought over and she soon settled in with ease.

For years after, when visiting granny, I would occasionally see this sleek, proud cat stalking in the backyard nettles. The cat never acknowledged me and I never even got to know her name but I saved her life that day and it’s always felt great.

This story isn't really trying to say how I’m a great pet-lovin’ guy or anything.

It's just that thinking about this reminded me how differently I can sometimes feel about things from one day to another – cats for instance.

So apologies Dear Daisy, I hope this little - completely true - story, makes things up a little bit between us… I’ll still visit you regularly anyway.

You don’t have anything green you could wear someday? For us Irish, you know…

Ken ventures 'Inside Government'

Matt Urdan, he of MTMD Blogging fame has embarked on a new and very interesting endeavour.

Inside Government is a brand-spanking-new blog which sets out, in a non-partisan way, to explain how the United States Government goes about its business.

Matt has assembled an impressive team of co-writers and contributors for this new blog and the list continues to grow. Among them are Mike Cavin, Josh Gillespie, Jeff Hagen, Zee Harrison, David Lamb, Matt M and Bob O.

There are already quite an array of interesting posts to enjoy.

I've been particularly engaged by 'The Electoral College Explained' because I was having real trouble with that stuff and also the 'Filibuster' post. There's lots more too and they really are well-written, informative and they don't take sides, which is cool.

So, I actually got asked to guest post a little over there and I'm very pleased about that.

Maybe its my in-depth knowledge of American Government ('don't think so, do you?) or my serious, scholarly, professorial tone (no... me either). I think it's really to give a little 'outsider's view' of some things - an opportunity for me to bask in my own ignorance and perhaps thus raise a pertinent question or two.

Who the hell knows? Let's see what happens.

My first post is a little look back at how the American election played out from where I was sitting, here in Ireland. I'm not trying to give some 'Overall Irish' view. Anyone who knows even one whit about the Emerald Isle knows there is no such thing... on any subject. It's just my own thoughts but if anyone feels I haven't got it right, do please try to redress some modicum of balance in the comments sections - either here or there.

Blogging sometimes gives us opportunities to step out of the box we have created for ourselves and this is one such opportunity for me.

Thanks to Matt for knocking on 'my' box, let's hope it's not 'Pandora's' as well.

I Tawt I Thaw a Puddy Tat’s Owner

The first house we bought was in Twickenham, Middlesex (outside of London) back in the mid-nineteen-nineties.

It was a cute little two-up-two-down semi-detached terraced affair with an apple tree in the back garden and a front garden that was so small that the front door effectively led straight out onto the street.

There wasn’t any hallway in the little house so the relationship between the living area and the street was quite intimate to say the least.

We didn’t have the most auspicious start to our ownership of that house. The previous owner vacated a week or two before we got to move in and, as vacating owners sometimes do, they took everything away with them that wasn’t cemented in.


This included such inconsequential items as lightbulbs and doorknobs They also took one item which had traumatic consequences. They took the back door cat flap.

Oh dear.

No, we didn’t actually have a cat but the neighbourhood seemingly had a few. This was obvious when I opened my new front door and peered in. The sunlight beamed in through the hole where the cat flap had been. It illuminated the carpet on the living room (no they didn’t take that).

Oh dear.

The carpet was littered – is there a pun there? I don’t care, I’m too sick recalling this – littered, it was, with cat poo. The smell was overpowering and the visuals were nothing to write home about either.

It was a poor welcome to our new house.

As a result, I became temporarily embittered towards all the cats of my new neighbourhood. I’ve never touched a cat in anger (bear that in mind for later) but I was certainly not above glaring at passing moggys angrily and even muttering powerful swear words under my breath. I know, I was terrible wasn’t I?

There was one particular cat who I suspected as the main culprit. He seemed to be resident a few doors up from us and he was the target of the bulk of my suppressed vitriol.

One Sunday afternoon, some weeks after we first moved in, we were sitting in the living room enjoying the early spring afternoon outside our open front door. There were three of us in the room, my wife, her sister and me. I was the one closest to the door.

I glanced idly away from the TV towards the open door and I froze. Directly outside, pointing its pencil-sharpener butt at our climbing ivy – and thus in the front door – was the neighbour’s cat. I’m no expert in feline asses but my assessment was that this one was about to squirt all over our ivy and possibly into the house.

I gestured at the girls, shushed them, and rose ever-so-quietly from my couch. I got behind the unsuspecting cat, right at the door and drew my boot back as I took careful aim at its ass…

Okay, let me hit the pause button here for a moment. I know a lot of cat lovers come through here and what I am about to say now really is the truth. I was not going to actually kick the cat – it’s not in my nature – but I certainly did intend to whiz my boot within a few millimetres of its offending orifice and make it think twice about ever defecating on my new property again.

… so I drew my boot back and took aim.

Did you know that peripheral vision is extremely sensitive to light and movement? Well, it is. And right at that moment, my peripheral vision told me that a man was approaching along the sidewalk. Furthermore, in one of the few possibly-genuine psychic events of my life, I knew (I just knew) that this man owned this cat.

With my foot swung out at 65 degrees behind me, I seemed committed to the drop-kick but, in a balletic movement worthy of Nureyev himself, I swooped down on my one planted leg - my other leg was still out behind me - and laid my hand on the kitty’s back in a gentle caress . The cat bristled and jumped away.

“Ah”, the approaching gent said, “I see you’ve met Thomas.”

“Yes, yes,” I replied, “a lovely cat, really lovely”.

“He’s a character all right,” laughed my new neighbour, “terribly sociable.”

None of this was helped by the fact that my lovely wife and her sister were in absolute hysterics behind me in the living room. The stunning level of my doorstep hypocrisy – not to mention the impossible body-formation I was somehow managing to maintain during this wonderfully friendly discussion – was too much to not enjoy.

“Well,” my new neighbour said, after an impossibly long pause, “'must be off.”

“Right, well, see you then.”

And he went… and his cat went with him… but not before briefly squirting my ivy.


Bloody cats!

The Moon Cut Like a Little Book

I am pleased to let you all know that my theatre play ‘The Moon Cut Like A Sickle’ has just been published by those lovely people at the Drama League of Ireland.

Thanks guys!

Here’s a picture of the book because I know you won’t believe me otherwise.



It’s a neat publication called New Irish Writing 2 and I’m in there between Henry Hudson and James E Reid – which is quite a comfy place to be - except that Henry is all-elbows.

My play is written for a teenage cast of five boys and seven girls.

Here's a brief synopsis:

Terry and his friends love to drive their cars fast around town but now that Terry is finally due to get his own car – the fastest of the lot – his girlfriend Lisa is worried that he will come to harm. After all, his brother Joe was killed out on the roads racing his car, history may well repeat itself.

After being dragged to see a production of the Greek play ‘Lysistrata’, Lisa has a great idea.

In that play, the women stopped their men from going to war by…

... 'tell you what, I’ll let Lisa explain in this little extract:

LISA
Yes and we could stop our guys in just the same way.

MADGE
From going to war?

LISA
From driving like idiots.

MADGE
Ohhhhhh!

DAISY
How?

LISA
How?

DAISY
In this great 'Lysterine' play of yours, how did they stop their men from warring?

LISA
They... withdrew.

MADGE
With...?

LISA
...drew, that's right.

DAISY
How do you mean they 'withdrew'? Where did they withdraw to?

LISA
Not 'where', 'what'?

DAISY
Okay. What did they 'withdraw'?

LISA
You know.

DAISY
Lisa... what the hell did they withdraw?

LISA
Everything... their favours.

MADGE
Favours?

DAISY
Hang on... you mean...

She makes an ambiguous gesture with both hands.

LISA
I do.

DAISY
I'm fifteen years old, I don't actually do 'favours'.

MADGE snickers.

MADGE
Yeah, sure.

DAISY
Shut up you.

LISA
I don't mean sex. We're all far too young for that.

MADGE snickers again.

DAISY
I said shut up.

LISA
I mean the things we do do - kissing and hugging and general ego boosting and... just... riding around with them in their stupid stupid stupid cars.

DAISY
Withdraw.

LISA
Everything.

DAISY
Until they stop.

LISA
Until they stop.

MADGE
Or at least... Slow down?

LISA
Stop.

MADGE
Stop.

If you want to hear more, there's a radio piece which RTE One (the National Radio Channel) did about the first production. You can hear it ... no, sorry, you can't anymore, they took it away.

And if you fancy a copy of the little book, contact dli@eircom.net. Ask for Dara and tell him I sent you (he'll charge you more that way). I think it costs fifteen euro including postage.

But really, I’m not trying to flog you a book.

I always think plays are a bit like blueprints for houses – it’s much more fun to see the actual house than the plans.

That's why I’d prefer you to see the play.

So, if you’re a youth theatre group (or know one) who might be interested in a one hour play for a nice-sized cast of 15-16 years olds – a play which has proved itself in a few productions to date – a play which has entertained audiences and delivered a heart-felt kick in the teeth to them too – and, equally importantly, a play which has engaged the young casts right through the rehearsal and performance stages… well, let me know.

I’d like you to see it.

And I have lots of other plays too. I’ll throw in a post now and again about one, to see if you might like any of them.

Finally, for fun, I might as well give a copy of the book away. The first commenter who answers this random question can have a book posted to them by me. The only thing is they'll have to tell me their address and I do tend to come around and raid the fridge.

Random Question: What lady links 'Mack the Knife' with 'From Russia with Love'? There's probably loads of answers but the one I have in mind is the only one that counts.

You don't have to know the answer. This is the internet, go and look it up.

Winning Streak

For we the compulsive people-watchers of Ireland, there is really only one television programme worth tuning in for.

I refer, of course, to ‘Winning Streak’.

Millions may watch it avidly each week but they are largely doing it for all the wrong reasons. They hope to see ‘winners’, they hope to see ‘losers’, they hope to see distant relatives who they can tap afterwards for funds. That’s all very well but they are missing the true joy of the thing.

The simple truth, which many fail to recognise, is that this is the only programme on any station anywhere where the producers have no control whatsoever over who appears each week.


‘Your name comes out in the draw? You’re on mate!


‘Winning Streak’ is the ultimate celebration of that most elusive of creatures - ‘Your Average Punter’. Every week, five versions of ‘Your Average Punter’ are hauled from their oceans of mundane saline to lie flapping and gaping on the imitation-leather chairs of RTE’s Studio One. This, of course, is any sane TV producer’s nightmare and that is exactly what makes it is so very compelling to watch.

Most shows can withstand a brief moment or two of exposure to ‘Your Average Punter’. You see them on ‘Questions and Answers’ periodically, they ask the same question as the guy before asked and they press the panel for an answer. They phone up ‘The Late Late Show’ now and again in order to flash their bleary insights at passing celebrities. Pat always cuts them off before the celebrity responds. Pat is quite right to do so.

We may glimpse them in the wilds of the RTE schedule from time to time but ‘Winning Streak’ is their wildlife park. Here they can lollop around, resplendent in their average-punter-ness.

They can show how intelligent they almost are.

We can watch them squirm.

Mike Murphy is the resident zoo-keeper and this article has no quarrel whatsoever with him. Mike is a consummate media professional, silky and un-aging, the only man in Ireland who can still carry off wearing a beige suit with grey shoes.

He fearlessly extends the hand of over-familiarity to the row of expectant televisual virgins. He jokes with him. He shows them how to push their buttons. He gives them money to take home.

At about the same time he is doing this on TV, Mike can be heard doing something else on the radio. He is the presenter of the countries principal Arts Review Programme. This is Mike’s natural environment, he discourses knowledgeably on Diverse subjects from ‘Proust’ to ‘Wagner’. He lets us know what he is currently reading. He mixes with the best of them.

One listen to this programme will punch home to the unwary viewer just how far off his home turf Mike is with his Saturday-night row of hopeful scratch-card draftees. They think ‘Proust’ is a form of washing powder. They believe that ‘Wagner’ was married to Natalie Wood. They really don't care, they just want to get their money and then be allowed home.

Mike bridges the extraordinary gulf between his experiences and theirs by employing the sort of cheerfully-encouraging manner one might expect from a Gonhorrea doctor.

“Have you anybody with you?” he asks.

“They’re a rough-looking bunch,” he says, “you’d want to stay away from them.”

On his Arts show, Mike plunges in head-first. He delves into his guest’s deepest sexual yearnings and unconscious fantasies. On ‘Winning Streak’, he treads much more tentatively. Lines of questioning like, “So, Dolly, do I hear that you’re a bit of lesbian?” simply will not go over well with the guest’s assembled well-wishers.

The very best weeks are when five lads all line out together. Always fresh from propping up the Donnybrook bar in search of gallons of false courage, they slouch aimlessly behind their buttons and grin as their idiot sons wave inappropriately-sloganed socks from the back row of the audience. One gets the firm impression that the studio air would be thick with the smell of farts on these nights.

The various competitions are all subtle variations on a complex little game called ‘Spin The Friggin' Wheel Missus’. Each season, the management succeeds in coming up with increasingly perverse angles on this limited theme. The punters look increasingly baffled as the winnings pile up.

And when the money is all dispensed, the relatives all paid off, and the studio floor mopped dry of another weeks puddles of nervous urine, we sit and wonder ‘what was it all about?’

But we shouldn’t.

It was about people. Real, honest, God-fearing, good people. People just like ourselves. People who should never be let anywhere near the front of a television camera because we are so Real we will only look completely silly and get laughed at.

The people who look good on television are not ‘Real’. They are not ‘Your Average Punters’. They are neither like us or from us. They know nothing about us.

And yet still we always seem to vote for them.

Quantum of So-So

This is my review of the new James Bond movie ‘Quantum of Solace’ which I saw (just now) on the first night of its General Release. I haven’t read any other reviews so, hopefully, I feel differently about it to how everybody else will. That always makes me feel good.

I won’t give away any spoilers (not deliberately anyway) but I can’t promise not to colour your expectations. So if you’d like to see the movie ‘clean’, as I just did, leave now but come back another day.


Okay…

‘Quantum of Solace’ can be summarised in one sentence. ‘Not as good as ‘Casino Royale’’.

Need I say more? Well, yes, I should.

More than anything, this movie confirms what a wonderful movie ‘Casino Royale’ was and still is.

The brilliantly fresh Daniel Craig, the engaging story, rippling action, taut dialogue and beautiful settings all added up to the very best latter-day entry in the Bond canon.

The new film constantly suffers by comparison to the first one. It is ‘less’ on practically every front – not always much less but ‘less’ is still enough.

Personally I think there is lots to respect and enjoy in this new release but it is clear to me that the film is scuppered in the first thirty minutes and it struggles to recover.

Those first thirty minutes give us relentless action – chases, fights, crashes – they all come at us in rapid succession. Rapid-fire, outstanding, eye-popping – these are all things that the first half-hour is not.

Simple truth? This director can not 'do' action sequences.

For all the boom, bang and carnage - the action remains unclear and often downright frustrating. Fashionably maniacal camera movements, coupled with multiple cut shots, slo-mo's and God know what else, only serve to leave the audience disenfranchised and wondering what the hell just happened.

One needs only to look back to the first Craig Bond to see how a completely thrilling chase sequence can be kept clear in narrative and characterisation without ever slowing the pace. The action here is all wham bam but with no emotional content. After each of these sequences, the audience was left silent and bewildered – a little lost.

After that, the movie gets better – it really does. But it’s a little too late then, the damage has been done. Subconsciously, we fear the moment when the director will take up on another poorly staged action sequence– his failed opening gambits have lost us.

Which is a shame because Craig does brilliantly again. The story is good. The girl is beautiful (really). It’s just we got left behind in that opening 'Post-Bourne' frenzy and now we can’t quite get back in.

Interestingly, Bond seems to have much more going on with Judi Dench’s ‘M’ than with any of the ladies he comes across (no pun there, you’re on your own with that one). There’s some kind of Oedipus action going on there that still slightly eludes me.

There’s something else too...

All through the film, I was haunted by a pervading notion of Déjà vu. Some view, glance or twitch was always reminding me of one or another of the earlier Bond films. It’s like the producers were playing these Bond trivia tricks to keep the anorak fans entertained. I thought I was imagining all of this until one character turned up covered from head to toe in a black substance – killed by it – and suddenly we were in Goldfinger all over again.

This confirmed for me that my earlier suspicions were not entirely imagined – that the opening moments had clearly evoked the opening of ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ that the Opera has a Roger Moore quality to it, that the bad CIA man looked like ‘Mr. Kidd’ from ‘Diamonds are Forever’. Oh and didn’t the lady envoy feel just like a contemporary ‘Mary Goodnight’? And on and on.

A game was being played and, for me, it betrayed a lack of confidence in the basic material. Casino Royale seemed to stand defiantly on its own, saying ‘Like me or not, do I look like I give a damn?’ This all feels more like a committee-driven attempt to please.

One final in-joke - or is it just my over-active imagination again? The rather insipid bad-guy reminded me so much of Roman Polanski from the moment I first saw him – not so much the actor but rather the role he was playing. Then it is revealed that a major plot point (the McGuffin, if you will) was something which Polanski’s most iconic movie also concerned itself heavily with (you know what I mean) – was this again a co-incidence? I think not.

There is a lovely sequence in the centre of the movie, set in and around a spectacular modern staging of Tosca. I loved it. For me the movie gets much better during and after this. The locations become more ‘real’ and 'explored', the characters take some more room to breathe and the action is entirely more convincing.

The compulsory climactic sequence is jaw-droppingly well staged with high levels of surprisingly unsavoury-but-good violence and some really genuine sense of threat for the main protagonists.

Craig is simply a wonderful Bond. I hope he stays on to do more.

I also hope they find a director who can handle the action a little better.

Next time…

(It's twelve past midnight… two hours since movie end and that's what I thought of it.)

‘Night!