Mount Daddy

Nick Jr – the kids TV channel - ran a little competition a few years ago to encourage people to write a modern-day nursery rhyme.

I had a go at it. ‘Didn’t win, ‘didn’t get short-listed. That’s fine, I’m not bitter (sniff).

Anyway, ‘cos it’s no use for anything else, here’s the little rhyme what I wrote.

The criteria (what’s a ‘criteria’ mummy?) was that the rhyme could be no longer than 65 words. Mine was 65 words – I tend to do stuff like that.

My son used to enjoy ‘climbing up me’ when he was a toddler. Fond memories of small fingers gripping a nostril or bulky-nappy-in-face as the summit was attempted.

Happy Days…

Climbing Daddy

I’m climbing up my daddy
Good job that I’m strong
Should reach the top by lunchtime
Going down won’t take so long.

Inching up the Northern Face
No need for boots or ropes
There’s plenty to cling onto
Upon Mount Daddy’s slopes.

Sitting on the summit
King of man and beast
You can see the world from up here
Well, the living room at least.

Blessed Martin and the Fridge

Blessed Martin De Porres was very big in our house when I was a boy.  My mother was certainly a fan but it was my granny who liked him most of all. She even subscribed to his magazine every month.

Granny was always solid in her beliefs. She had faith in lots of things but she had especially large amounts of faith in Blessed Martin.

She would send her prayers through him and offer up her setbacks to him and she always gave him credit when things went right.

As time passed, 'Blessed Martin' became 'Saint Martin' and granny became quite old. She couldn't get out of the house like she used to but she had her little St. Martin statue on the mantelpiece and he was company enough for her (as well as Granddad, of course).

During one Sunday afternoon visit, my Mum remarked that St. Martin was absent from his perch above the fire. She asked where he had got to.

"You know," said granny, "how the wee light that comes on when you open the fridge door has stopped working."

Mum wondered what this had to do with St. Martin.

"Well," said Gran, "I just put him in there to see if he might fix it."

I went to look. Sure enough, there was St. Martin, comfortably positioned between the eggs and the milk, having a 'go' at the fridge-door light.

Many years later, I still have a smile over St. Martin being in the fridge but I often feel quite envious too. Ten years before she died, Granny was badly burned in a house fire. Her injuries were so severe that it was thought unlikely that she could survive. But, as with everything else, she prayed though St. Martin and offered up her setbacks to him and, despite all her burns and her skin-grafts and her pain, she prevailed.

My Granny didn't put her little statue in the fridge because she was old or feeble or naive. She did it because she had solid unquestioning faith in what she believed.  This same faith undoubtedly went on to save her life.

So although I can smile at Granny's faith, I can envy it too. I can wish that I sometimes had a little bit of it for myself.  I can't say that I would put St. Martin in my fridge if the little light went out but I can say I look up to my Granny, who did.

And in Granny's house that day many years ago, the fridge light was all fixed and working again by the time we went home. You might say that somebody nipped out and jiggled it when nobody was looking.  You might well be right.

Me, I like to think that Blessed Martin took a hand.

I Am (Not Really) Legend

Last Friday night’s DVD treat was 'I Am Legend', directed by Francis Laurence and starring Will Smith and, well, hardly anybody else really.

I’d been looking forward to seeing this, even though I’d heard some rumblings of discontent from those people who still get out to the cinema from time-to-time.

It was the source material, you see.

The original novel has been a favourite of mine for some time. The author of the short novel ‘I am Legend’, Richard Matheson, was a hugely influential writer in the realms of science fiction and, indeed, other genres.

You might know some of his adapted work from movies such as The Incredible Shrinking Man’, ‘Somewhere in Time’, ‘The Legend of Hell House’ ‘Duel’ or ‘What Dreams May Come’. Stephen King name-checks him as a major influence (he dedicated his novel ‘Cell’ to him) and if George A Romero doesn’t cite him then he bloody-well should… I’m sure he does.

So, anyway, I loved this novel ‘I Am Legend’.

It spent a lot of time deriving scientific explanations for some of our wilder supernatural obsessions and succeeded quite well in carrying it all off, in a slightly-dated sort of way.

For me, the book really stood out in the way the writer evoked the relationship between the hero, Robert Neville and a stray dog he finds. I won’t spoil it but the oh-so-slow build up of trust and mutual-dependency is extremely well handled. I recommend you seek out those chapters dealing with the man-dog relationship and read them – even if you feel the whole novel is not your cup of Horlicks.

I also had some affection for the movie ‘The Omega Man’, an earlier adaptation of the novel which starred the late Charlton Heston. I also had a passing knowledge of ‘The Last Man on Earth’ which was the first movie adaptation of the book and which starred Vincent Price.

I had watched with interest while Ridley Scott and one Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger battled in vain to get their version made.
Anyway, you get it - I had some history with the subject-matter. And now here was a gleaming new version, with a personable actor in the central role and a budget which might do the project justice.



I didn’t like it.

There are good things in it, make no mistake. It’s a tall order for an actor to fill up the screen all on his own for most of the running time (ask Tom Hanks) and Will Smith carries it off very well, giving what is, in my opinion, a very fine acting performance.

I am not trying to be funny when I say that the dog does a very good job too (there was probably seventeen of them). Some part of the touching relationship from the book is recreated here and in one scene where the dog is hurt, the amount of man-handling which the animal permits is impressive.

Also good is the desolation evoked (by CGI mostly) in the empty city.

But the film suffers a third act collapse. Story, character, mood and emotion get chucked out the window into the vacant city beyond and the resolution just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Worst of all, the ‘CGI’ing of the 'infected' removes the lingering hint of humanity which was their most chilling feature in the original story. In this version, Neville is challenged by outlandish monsters rather than altered versions of himself and the drama is much the poorer for that.

If you’ve stayed with me so far, here’s a thing.

The original movie, the Vincent Price one, has now fallen out of copyright and thus can be viewed online without damaging anyone’s moral rights.

There are a number of sites which have it but most of the versions are cropped pan-and-scan jobs from TV. Here’s a link which offers the full movie in glorious widescreen. I haven’t watched it myself yet but I will and I fully expect it to be a bit silly. But the screenplay was written by Matheson (he later disassociated himself on account of script-changes) and the film is credited with influencing many Living Dead/zombie movies which came afterward.

And also... it’s free.

The Mill Cut Like a Sickle

A play for teenagers which I wrote called ‘The Moon Cut Like a Sickle’ is currently enjoying a five night run at The Mill Theatre in Dundrum, Dublin - thanks to The Balally Players.

I got to go and see it last night in what turned out to be an extraordinary experience for me. You see I travelled there on a little bus in the company of the majority of the cast from the original DoYou Playhouse production of 2006.

It was a great night – the studio theatre was full-to-the-brim (as it will be for the remainder of the run) and the cast were brilliant – really brilliant.

Afterwards, I was mooching around, chatting to my sister and her family (who travelled for the show… thanks Mags!), to the director and the choreographer and to anyone else who would tolerate me.

Suddenly I noticed that the original cast had vanished without a trace.

I searched all over – including outside – but there was no sign of them anywhere. I called all their mobile phones but nobody answered – they had all switched them off for the show. Perhaps they’d gone back to the bus. I was heading for the bus when I got a call from Ellen, one of the cast.

"We’re in the theatre" she whispered, in a ‘Where-the-hell-else-would-we-be?’ sort of a tone.

They were all in the theatre, the old cast and the new. They had got a bit bored with sitting around and had slipped back into the performance space. The Current Cast were giving an encore of some of their favourite bits from the play and the Castlebar Crew were replying by showing how they used to do the scenes, back in the day. I was in time to see most of what they did.

I’m going again tomorrow night.

I expect to enjoy myself again...

But nothing will top that.

Here’s a little smidgen of the play for you.

(Lisa is dragged to the local theatre to see a production of the Greek play Lysistrata – written in 411 BC by Aristophanes. The Athenian heroine comes up with a novel way of discouraging their menfolk from continually going to war. This gives Lisa a similar idea which she thinks she and her friends might use for encouraging their own fast-car-obsessed boyfriends to ‘slow-the-feck-down’.)

DAISY: In this great 'Listerine' 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: Exactly.

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.

(c) Ken Armstrong

Hard to Tell 2

The story I wrote in my previous post is a largely-true tale about something that happened way back in 1991.

At the time, when all the facts of the matter became clear, it was one of the funniest thing I have ever witnessed. That Saturday afternoon we laughed and laughed at the memory of what had happened.

I love to write down these stories as best I can and I have read quite a few of them out on a radio programme called Sunday Miscellany .

But the writing of this one daunted me. Many times I have said to myself, "Must get that one down Ken."

(And I have answered myself back, "Please don’t use my first name, we hardly know each other")

I guess I was daunted by the complexity of the story. Of course, it’s a very simple tale about one man’s quest to be readmitted to his place of work. But how to get the story across, pass on at least some element of the humour and not tie the whole thing up in knots?

Look at some of the difficulties:

The action takes place simultaneously in two separate locations.

At the end of the story, nobody in the story knows that anything has happened.

Nothing funny happens at either of the two locations in the story – it is only in the over-view of the two coinciding narratives that the humour emerges.

The best bit is in the middle of the story. What happens at the end is not funny at all and must be cut out.

So, with so much narrative complication for such a simple tale, I never sat down and wrote it.
Until last Saturday.
"Come on Ken!", I shouted at myself, "just write it."
("I’ve warned you about names already," I replied, "and don’t you dare exclaim at me.")

So I just sat down and… wrote it. To hell with the consequences. Bugger the complications. JUST WRITE THE DAMN THING.

And I did. Wrote it, left it to cool, tidied it and fired it up on the Blog here. I don’t usually move from writing to posting so fast but speed was of the essence here, before the narrative-angst-bogeymen caught up with me again.

I had also written a whole spiel at the front of the story detailing my nervousness about the narrative complications therein but I decided to cut all that out and just let the story stand up on its own two legs. The only hint I put in that first post was in the title.

I’m actually quite happy with the way this little story turned out and I’m most grateful for your positive feedback, dear visitors. I brought it along to my friends in Castlebar Writer’s Group last night and raised quite a few laughs with it (which is my pretty much my food-and-drink).
Interesting, the best laughs were at the point when Richard remembered his bag of apples. I think that moment when an audience finally realises where a story might be going – that’s a good moment.

I hate morals. So the moral of this ‘story-about-a-story’ is a motivational chant which I guess I should listen to more often.

"Don’t get it right, Get it written."

Fighting with Writing… Stuff

Tam over at ‘Fighting With Writing’ has asked me to ‘Guest Blog’ for him today.

Silly boy.

I’ve never done it before. So, excited as I am, I’m letting everything go to rack and ruin around here while I spout some gibberish about ‘My first break in writing’ over at his place.

You could come and take a look… ‘wouldn’t kill you.

While there, you should have a good look around. Tam is a canny-wee-blogger and I’ve learned a thing or two from him.

The only thing is… nobody told me that guest blogging involved some baby-sitting as well.

Em… Tam?

What time will you be home…?


To Mooch is Human

I think this is going to be another of those posts that looks a bit like a sponsored article but which really isn’t.

I wanted to scribble a little bit about a website that I use from time to time - one which I get quite a lot of fun out of.

It’s called ‘Bookmooch’.

(Of course, you guys probably know all about it already and then this post will join the ranks of some of my other patently-obvious ‘discoveries’ which, in their day, provoked such edifying Blog-entries as ‘Breathing is Fun’ or ‘Have you Ever Tried Eating an Egg?’)

Anyway, just in case you haven’t heard of it is a community for exchanging used books. The idea is that you give away the books you no longer need in return for books that you want.

Every time you give a book away, you get awarded a few points and these points can then be used to ‘Mooch’ a book you want from somebody else.

I find that it’s a bit like being able to nip into a second-hand bookshop online. You get to browse through participant’s book-collections or search for that title that is not available in your country but perhaps can be ‘Mooched’ from somewhere else.

I’ve already received a few good books this way and also enjoyed passing books on to people who have been genuinely pleased to get them.

It’s a 'win-win' kind of deal.

Although it’s not entirely without its downsides. Mainly, the cost of posting a heavy book to a far-away-land can be sizeable enough and the three mooch-points you receive in return can seem like scant recompense. However you can always restrict which countries you will send your books to and if your budget is completely hammered after a few of these overseas forays, you can just shut down the ‘foreign-affairs’ wing of your mooching for a while and sit on your points until a good book comes along.

The other downside is that when a book is popular - it’s popular. Some titles can have a long waiting list for them and some just never seem to appear at all.

But if you, like me, are drawn to books and like being in their company, this little site might be well worth a look.

Writing in the Bubble

Where have I been?  I’ll tell you, shall I?

I’ve been over at Jim Murdoch’s blog ‘The Truth About Lies’ reading some of his archived material. 

He’s a great writer and there’s lots of really great stuff over there.

In fact, I recommend you head off over there immediately and never mind about this old guff.

Come back later if you like.

One of the things I found over there resonates with me a lot. It was a line buried in the comments section of his Dec 2007 posting which was called ‘You’ve never had it so good.’ I hope he doesn’t mind if I quote a line from one of his comments here.

What Jim said is this;

"… since I never share my works in progress and I rarely talk about the specifics of what I'm writing, I still choose to live with a level of creative isolation if not exactly social loneliness."

See, I thought I was alone in this. It’s great to know that I’m not.

Here’s the thing;

I cannot talk about whatever I am currently writing.

I just can’t.

Even when I go to visit with my friends in Castlebar Writer’s Group - and I listen to and comment on their precious work-in-progress - I often have to offer something in return that was completed some time before. Even there, among the people who would best understand, I have to keep my secrets.

And this seems to annoy some people quite a bit. (Not the Castlebar Writer’s Group, I hasten to add.) I think some people think that I’m a bit of a pretentious git who is trying to weave some kind of literary mystique about himself.

But it’s not like that…

Over the years I have learned that I need to write inside a little bubble that contains nothing but me and my current idea.

On several occasions, I have made the mistake of getting into discussions about my work-in-progress. After I do this, the bubble is invariably burst and the work, when I return to it, is somehow tarnished and lessened by having being oxidised in the public arena.

Jays… maybe there is a bit of the literary mystique crap about me after all!

But, no, I don’t think there’s anything mystical of clever about this need. I need to be able to continuously reassure myself that my work-in-progress is ‘simply brilliant’ in order to keep up the momentum necessary to get it done. If I go and tell somebody about it and they immediately don’t fall on the floor writhing in ecstasy at the beauty of my concept then I’ll start to wonder what the hell is wrong with it anyway? I’ll lose confidence in the work, possibly drop it and go and find something else to scribble.

It’s like finding a lovely polished black stone on the beach, keeping it in your pocket and thinking how great it is until you show it to your pal and he snorts and says, "it’s just an old rock." It sort of takes the good out of it, you know?

And, besides, inside my bubble is such a fun place to be. My idea is in there with me and it’s spinning around and swelling and shooting out pseudopodia (eh?) all over the place then pulling them back in again. It’s a mad place really.

So if we’re ever shooting the breeze – like on the street or something - and I don’t have too much to say about my current writing ‘thing’, please understand…

… it ain’t you, it’s me.

The Moon After Midnight

This Thursday sees what will probably be the final performance of my newest play ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’ by my great friends at Do You Playhouse at The Kiltimagh Theatre, County Mayo (8.00pm).

It’s been tremendously great fun and I’ve loved what they did with my little play.

So then, just as I’m getting ready to be depressed about the end of all that fun, I get this in my email.

This is the kind of thing that can brighten up a guy’s day.

Balally Players new production of ‘The Moon Cut Like a Sickle’ runs in the Mill Theatre Studio, Dundrum, Dublin from the 15th to the 19th April.

I’ve seen them do it in rehearsed reading and I’m looking forward like mad to seeing the full thing.

So if you’re in Dublin around that time, do come down and have a look.

As for all my Non-Ireland based buddies who drop by here from time to time. Well I know, what with carbon footprint concerns and the relatively strong position of the Euro against many other international currencies, that it might not be the easiest thing in the world for you to fly over here…

…but try eh?