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!