Tangled Up in Black

An embarrassing thing such as this could happen to anyone…

And something odd could always happen to someone in this particular location…

But for this thing to happen, in this particular location, I think you really need to be ‘me’.

Holy Communion Day, ‘Sunday before last, and the Armstrong Family Unit were not technically late but we were meant to be in our seats a whole 30 minutes before the event kicked off and we were the-hell-and-gone from being a half an hour early.

On the long walk up to the church door, we got trapped behind a slow moving family and couldn’t get past. I like to move fast when I move… whoosh, that was me. Eventually I got by. I accelerated up the gravel and looked back triumphantly. My family had not got by. Drat.

So I stood in the church porch and waited for my clan to catch up. As I waited, the slow family brushed past me – slowly – and headed up the centre aisle of the church.

So, reunited with family, here I was again, behind the leisurely family, looking for another opening to get past. Half way up the main aisle of the now packed church, I saw my gap and went for it.

I squeezed past and it felt like I got three yards onward up the aisle before some immense force stopped me in my tracks and hauled me back the way I came…

I should say that the family I was trying to get past were a Traveller family and the girls in the entourage were dressed up, as is customary, in bright, modern and somewhat revealing clothes. I should also add, for those who do not know, that Traveller families in Ireland, generally live quiet, socially separate lives from the so-called ‘settled’ community. A proud traveller girl, it is safe to say, wouldn’t really want anything to do with a damn-fool settled fella in a suit… particularly not today and particularly not here.

So, yes, I was hauled back.

In passing this youthfully-dressed twenty-something traveller girl, a button of my nice jacket had somehow become entangled in a stray thread from her black bra. The engineering of said bra was sufficient to yank me, Sam Peckinpah-like, back down the aisle and then there we were – this girl and me – all tangled up together in the aisle of the church on First Communion Day.

And if there is a single word to describe us both, it was this: Inextricable.

I think we were bound together for over three minutes as I tried in vain to get the bra-thread off my suit. I wound the thread one way and it started getting longer and longer, obviously coming loose. But then it would reach a critical point and start getting shorter and shorter again until we were back where we started off.

I would like to tell you about the hilarious reaction of the congregation, the cameras clicking, the older folk tut-tutting but the truth is, I know nothing of these things. Upon getting snagged I entered, as I often do in times of crisis, a highly-focused-shiny-forehead state of intense concentration upon which nothing intruded. There was only me and the bra-strap-thread… oh, and the girl.

With much respect to her, the girl was dignity personified. During the whole tangle-debacle, she spoke not one syllable to me. She stood tall and statuesque while I fiddled with her boobs in the church.

“I’m really sorry,” I said as I wound my thread. “Shall I just snap it?” There was no response, so I deduced from this that I shouldn’t and kept winding.

Trish, I now realised, was at my shoulder, giving customary support.

“You’ve got it now,” she said encouragingly. But I hadn’t got it, I was still a full 67 seconds away from that happy moment.

Neither Trish nor I mentioned the incident all day long – there were priests to stand beside, relatives to feed and cash money to commandeer.

That evening though, we had a Donnie Darko moment on the couch.

“How about that bra?” was all I said.

And we both laughed and laughed…

The Visibility - Script Extract

Thanks for all your nice feedback on a story I posted last year. Rachel Fox mentioned in her comment that it might make a good TV Play. Funnily enough, I have spent some time working it up as a short film script.

So I thought it might be fun to also show you just a few pages of that.

Some of the original script-formatting has been lost on the way to the blog-page.

Oh, can I also just warn you that there is quite a bit of strong language in this extract. So if that sort of thing bugs you, perhaps you might call back next time.

I promise I'll be better behaved then.


Int--night--driving in a car.

The windscreen wipers are going fast. Lots of rain is coming down.

The headlights are on full beam but still they hardly put a dent in the gloomy road unfolding before the car.

Maurice (V.O. Darkness)
I knew I had to kill him. I just didn't know how...

Int--day--The Confessional

It is dark.

A panel slides back revealing the dimly-lit silhouette of the priest in the next booth.


Bless me father, I have sinned.


It is twenty-seven years since my last confession.

An awkward silence.


I've forgotten the 'Act of Contrition', father.

I'm sure we'll find a way around that, Maurice.

You know who I am.

It's only a bit of chicken-wire that's between us.

And the seal of confession.

That too. Tell God your sins.

Maurice struggles inwardly.

I killed a man.

Now Maurice, we all know that was an accident...

Are you my priest or my fuckin' judge?

Carry on so.

He was my neighbour. I knew I had to kill him. I just didn't know how.

Ext--day--A pasture--running down to a river

A beautiful summer's day. The grass is long and the fast-flowing river looks cool and inviting.

Maurice (v.o.)
I had all the land I needed, except for the river pasture.

Int-- evening --the pub

CLOSE UP of a tattered old Ordnance Survey map being slammed onto the beer-soaked bar counter.

Maurice (o.s.)
One Two five. Final word.

LUDLOW looks up from his pint and into Maurice's eyes.

Sure it's not worth half that.

Still and all. It's a one time offer. Take it or leave it.

Ludlow sups his pint.

I'll leave it so.

The bar echoes with quiet laughter. All the customers have been listening.

Why won't you sell? You don't use it for anything.

Ludlow drapes a comradely arm around Maurice's shoulder.

I'm an old man, Maurice, I've few pleasures left to me.

He leans in conspiratorially.

Ludlow (cont'd)
Watching you fuckin' squirmin' is one of them.

Maurice gets up storms off to the toilet. A young man, MILES, leaves the table of guys he was drinking with and follows Maurice out.

Int--evening --the toilet

MAURICE is having a piss against the stainless steel urinal.

MILES comes and stands beside him. He unzips.

He's an old prick.

He is.

He coughs and chokes all night these nights.

Does he?

When he dies, I'll sell it to you.

Will you?

I will. For the price you mentioned.

Right. Good man.

It'll have to be index linked though.


The price, index linked, yeah?

What's that?

I don't know.

Index linked it'll be so.

He extends a hand. Miles eyes it warily.

Maybe we'll have a bit of a wash first.

Int--day--the doctor's surgery

MAURICE has his shirt up around his neck while McQUAID, the doctor, listens to his chest.





How many units?

Seven pints or so.

A week?

Maurice looks at him as if he is mad.


He motions for Maurice to dress himself.

You're as well as you can hope for.

Maurice turns his back while tucking in his trousers.

Better than old Ludlow so.


Ludlow. I heard he was bad.

McQuaid shakes his head.

The man's an ox. He'll bury us all.

(c) Ken Armstrong

The Lure of the Inside Pocket

My youngest boy made his First Holy Communion yesterday. It was a great day and everything went really well – apart from yet another one of my patented mortifying incidents which I shall report to you as soon as I figure out exactly how to write it. I know… just write it.

Anyway, during the ceremony-thingie, one of the young guys made a throwaway gesture which hurled me right back to my own First Communion about thirty-eight years ago.

It was something that I had completely forgotten about until I saw this be-suited young fellow doing what he did.

What did he do? Well, he did it over and over again actually and his unconscious gesture was definitely something I was doing myself on that day many years before… over and over again too.

It was no big deal really. All that he kept doing was thrusting his hand into the inside pocket of his natty new suit. Plunging it in and taking it out, plunging it in and taking it out…

But that was enough to take me back to my own new suit of some many years ago and my own big day.

It was reversible… my suit, that is, not the Communion. The ‘side less used’ was a blue and white check while the main event was… okay, truth, I can’t remember what colour it was – brown I think.

It came all the way from America and the reversible aspect of it was really very cool – if I’d been cleverer I could probably have gone up for my First Communion twice but I wasn’t so very calculating back in those days.

That was cool but it was the inside pocket that held the real attraction. I had always wanted an inside pocket and, for my First Communion, I got one.

There’s no mystery to it. Inside pockets were cool because the cool guys used them in the movies and on TV. They reached in and pulled things out of them. Particularly guns. I was a bit too young for Bond but I've seen since that Connery did seem to draw his Walther/Beretta out of his inside pocket from time-to-time and Illya Kuryakin certainly did it quite regularly.

And then I got to do it too. My gun was actually very nifty. You could stick the front of it into a potato and it would extract a little nubbin of spud which could then be fired at unsuspecting dogs… and grannys.

Was this a particularly Irish toy – the potato gun? I could see how it might well be…

Of course, I've learned now that guns are actually very heavy and would ruin the cut of your reversible communion suit. The well dressed gunslinger sports a Berns Martin Triple Draw holster. Dead posh, I'm sure, but I favoured the inside pocket option and I'm still here, yeah?

If I’m to be honest, I was still infatuated with the idea of an inside pocket even after I became a teenager. I realise that’s sad but it also true.

Real Truth? I’m actually still pretty excited about my inside pocket.

I mean, how could anyone not be?

My Munificent Seven

Cellobella – she of that most-radiant of blogs ‘Redsultana.com’ – has tagged me for a meme.

‘See that there? That’s one of those great sentences that would have meant absolutely nothing ten years ago. Imagine H.G. Wells appearing in my room after defeating the Ewoks from the future (come on - you know what I mean!) and me saying that sentence to him – how confused and insecure-in-himself would he then almost immediately become?

So – tagged for a meme, eh?

Allrightythen, I have to list seven useful things about myself. ‘Bit tough that. I generally have myself down as being about as useful as a chocolate teapot, or as useful as t**s on a b**l (sorry, that last word was ‘Bull’ – I went a bit asterisk-crazy there for a sec.)

But I’ll give it a go:
  1. I can boil the perfect soft-boiled egg every time. I blogged on my infallible condensation method once. If you can’t see why this is useful then you’re a fool, man, do you hear me? A damned fool.
  2. I can crack my knuckles twenty times in one knuckle-cracking-session. Invaluable when the person in the seat in front of you is talking too much during the movie.
  3. I can remember lots and lots of song lyrics. I can’t sing but I can hide behind the maroon curtain and prompt you with the words as and when you need them.
  4. I can play any tune on my face – either my tapping my cheek/teeth/head or, more effectively, by putting a ruler in front of my mouth and tapping that. ‘Popcorn’ by Hot Butter is my specialty.
  5. I wash up other peoples dishes wherever I go. This is undoubtedly my most useful trait.
  6. I can play the accordion. But I never-ever do.
  7. I can’t ride a bike. This is useful because you can hold yourself up in comparison to me and see what a great person you are and what an intolerable speck of humanity I am.

I’m not actually going to tag anyone. Sorry. If you like it and wanna do it, please be my guest.

Incidentally, just in case old HG does drop by in his DeLorean (eh??) How do you pronounce the word ‘Meme’? Is it ‘Mem’ derived from Memorandum or is it ‘Mee-mee’ as in ‘A memo about me’ (also derived from Memorandum)?

Perhaps someone could let me know.

That would be… useful.

Trampy Joe of Twickenham and Me

One of my few genuine talents is my ability to add two and two together and make five.

Here is an example of that talent.

We bought our first house in Twickenham in the early nineties. It was just off Twickenham Green and it was really great. Our years there were simply wonderful and I remember them as being eternally sunny and peaceful.

The Twickenham Tramp moved about on the periphery of my consciousness for a long time. I would see him heading down to the Thames on my way to work, or encamped in a shop doorway across the street from the bus stop.

He had a long beard and a long rain coat and he was a tramp. I should have noticed more about him - I fancied myself to be a writer back then too – but it was busy times and I didn’t.

My focus on him began one day in the local supermarket. He wasn’t actually there but there was a neatly-written notice about him on the local announcements board. It had a little cartoon picture of him – beard, coat, and smile – and it said something like, ‘Look after our Trampy Joe, please make sure he has enough to eat.’

I liked that, I felt like I was living in a real community, who might watch out for their homeless residents as well as everybody else. That little notice brought Trampy Joe firmly into my radar, and I started to look at him more closely.

He was not your run-of-the-mill tramp. For starters, he didn’t drink, he was always shy and reserved and sober. He had a shopping trolley on which he kept his worldly goods and these goods were stored in large, expensive, steel camera cases, five or six of them, all neatly stacked. It was almost as if Trampy Joe was wheeling his way through an airport concourse and off on a flight to Nairobi to film cheetahs.

Trampy Joe was the first ‘two’ in my equation. (see line one above). The second ‘two’ came while I watched a documentary about the original line up of ‘Fleetwood Mac’ on TV one evening. The band members were all discussing the brilliant Peter Green who had set the world alight with his playing until he then suffered schizophrenia, electro-convulsive therapy and finally resorted to living as a tramp in the Richmond area of West London. Most memorably Mick Fleetwood remembered how me met Green one day and noticed a piece of food in his beard then met him a year later and noticed the same piece of food…. This programme got the mental arithmetic going in my head…


Richmond was just up the road from Twickenham…

…plus two…

... expensive camera cases, reserved, quiet, notices in the supermarket about him.

..equals five!

Peter Green was living as a tramp on my street!!

There was no internet then, or if there was, I certainly didn’t have it. So I couldn’t just click and see a picture of Peter Green. I had to go to the library and look him up. All of the photos were of Green as a young guitarist. Could he be Trampy Joe? Yes he could.

I watched him now with fascination and told many people who he was but I didn’t ever speak to him. My bag may not have been quite as expensive as his but I too was shy.

Whenever Trish went away for work, I was in the habit of indulging in some serious junk food. One Friday, I was facing into a solitary evening in, I had some videos in my bag and a yen for some fried chicken (go figure). Trampy Joe was parked outside the entrance to KFC, looking a bit mournful. I drummed up some courage and spoke to him for the first time.

“Can I get you anything?”

He looked up at me from the pavement. “Eh?”

“I’m going inside. Can I get you anything?”

“Well… if you are treating me to something…,” He stated this formally, in a gentle voice, rather as if a contract was being drawn up between us.

“Yes, I am.” I said.

“In that case, I would like three breast pieces, a portion of large chips, corn-on-the-cob, beans, large coffee, three sugars and two creams… thanks.”

I stumbled to the counter in the restaurant and started my order. I didn’t get very far.

“… three sugars and two creams,” the restaurant guy intoned, “For 'him-outside,' is it? We know that order pretty well…”

I had a fillet burger and a coke, it was all I could afford.

Trampy Joe thanked me very politely and I left him to his meal.

Some months later, the famous rock guitarist Peter Green re-emerged on a festival stage in Berkshire, fragile but well. He wowed the audience with his playing just like the old days.

It was not my Trampy Joe, he was still down the main street, no doubt eating chicken.

But I don’t begrudge Trampy Joe his chicken feast. I know that I didn’t buy it for him because he was a famous rock superstar, down on his luck.

I bought it because he was Trampy Joe and that was enough.

Top Two Tear Jerkers are Christ's Story

I watched a lot (far too much really) of the Channel 4 programme 'Top 100 Tear Jerkers' some time back.

As with most of these things, the contemporary movies won out over the oldies in a rather unfair sort of a way.

It was interesting, however, that the top two movies were, at Two, 'The Green Mile' and, at One, 'ET' - both of which are, in my opinion, fairly accurate mirrors of the New Testament story.

In 'The Green Mile' - Tom Hanks is effectively the centurion at the foot of the cross who sees and believes although he still lets the good guy die.

And as for 'ET' - well, where to start?

An other-worldly visitor arrives, does miracles, spreads love, assembles a following, is killed, rises again and then ascends into heaven.

I mean, come on...

So, do you want to know where to borrow a good tear-jerker story?

Now you do.

Movies Over and Over

I can't handle doing a top ten movies list.

There are way too many that are way too good.

However, there are a set of movies distinguished by the fact that, whenever I see them on TV and decide to watch for a minute or two, I cannot stop watching, regardless that I've seen them a hundred times before.

Here's a few of them, I'm not saying they're brilliant and I'm not saying they're the best... I'm just saying I can't stop watching them:

Body Heat
As Good as it Gets
It's a Wonderful Life
Finding Neverland
Blade Runner
A Shot in the Dark
Dirty Harry
Blood Simple
GlenGarry Glen Ross

There's loads, I'll add a few more...

Jean De Florette
The Magnificent Seven
Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Perhaps you might suggest a few of your own - I bet some of them get added to my list too.

God, I hope none of them are on today, I've got things to do.