Call of the Bloody Wild

It’s true that I am mostly known as a patient and good-natured person but we all have our triggers, don’t we? Those things that switch us, in a split second, from being in a perfectly fine mood to being Godzilla with hemorrhoids.

I have a few of these. Triggers, that is, not hemorrhoids. Quite a few actually.

I’m happy enough to tell you about one of them - provided you promise that you won’t all start phoning me up and doing this to me.

Seriously, it would end badly for all of us.

Okay, here it is. I hate people who call me up and the phone and… well, let me give you an example phone call.

Me: Hell-oo?
Caller: How are you?
Me: Good.
Caller: That’s good… … … …
Me (smiling) Who’s this?
Caller: What?
Me: Who’s this?
Caller: You mean, you don’t know who I am?
Me: That’s right, sorry about that. Who is it?
Caller: Ah, Jaysus, Ken, you must know who it is.
Me: I know, this happens to me sometimes, it’s a real pain… can you just tell me?
Caller: Well, I’m very surprised about that. Will I give you a clue?

That’s around about where my trigger mechanism kicks in. Around about where I lose my head.

I don’t know if this is an intrinsically Irish thing, where false-familiarity is often the order-of-the-day or whether it’s a ‘me’ thing. In fairness, I am always forgetting people’s names and when I hear someone on the phone, without any context to help me I am occasionally at a loss.

That’s why I do that smiley ‘Who’s this?’ thing. I am old and tired and fed up with pretending that I know who you are. There has been enough misunderstandings that way, enough pain. So I just ask, nicely, and ninety-nine percent of the time that works really well.

It’s the other one percent that can drive me completely insane.

This happened to me most recently last Monday morning. I was on the school run and I was late. It was pissing rain and the windscreen-mist refused to clear on account of all the humid boys inside.

Then the phone rang.

My rule is that I don’t answer it but, honestly, it sort of answered itself due to an involuntary twitch of mine and so I was left, in traffic, with this disembodied voice. A voice who was warm and comfy somewhere and who just wanted to play.

Me: Hello.
Caller: Kenny!
Me: Hiya, who’s this?
Caller: Ah, now Kenny, you know who this is.
Me: Sorry, at the moment, I don’t.
Caller: Well isn’t that just awful, ye little fecker ye.
(tick tock)
Me: Sorry. Look, I’m stuck in a jam and I’m late… could you just tell me who it is?
Caller: You’re what?
Me: I’m in a tight spot, really. I can call you back…
Caller: (He said this, I swear) I don’t want to be knowing about your sex life Kenny…

It is a testament to my ever-increasing maturity that I actually got out of this conversation all right. I breathed hard and the guy eventually revealed himself to me. I’m glad of this because he turned out to be a good friend and I would have hated to do what I used to do. So all was well that ended well… in this case.

But in earlier years, this type of call did not ever go as neatly as this one did. Most memorably, at five-fifteen on a terribly-pressured Friday afternoon, I told the new secretary’s boyfriend - who had only called to flirt with his gal and who had decided to play a little ‘guess-who’ with me along the way – that he could take his 'mystery phone-call' and shove it a country mile up in his fucking arse. Before slamming the phone down. He still looks at me oddly to this day.

Would this annoy you, I wonder, or is it just me?

I also know that the temptation will be now huge but, please, don’t try to call and do this to me.

Every day, I’m getting better and better…

… but I’m still not terribly good.

Glasto Song (for @Cherrymorello)

Some of my eagle-eyed friends spotted this new song when I threw it onto the blog last Saturday, even though I dated it a few months back so that it would be buried.

I didn't want to put it too prominently online before I knew that @Cherrymorello wouldn't mind - I think she quite liked it actually so now I'm putting today's date on and pushing it to the front.

In truth, I'm quite pleased with it myself and I think the story behind it illustrates something about the nature of Twitter and inspiration - though God knows what that might be.

@cherrymorello is one of the many super people I chat to on Twitter. She's lovely and great fun. Last Saturday I noticed she had a new picture up (that's the one at the top there) so I said, 'Nice picture'. (It was deep, I know, but that's how I tend to roll).

She replied, 'Which one?' There's different pictures depending on where you look at my account."

I said, "You're driving a vehicle, there's a car, you're smiling. Christ, I think there might be a poem in this..."

She said, "That Poem's called 'On my way to Glasto with the offspring in the back'"

And that got me thinking - it's a good line for a song, isn't it?

So that's the song down below. Silly, yeah, but it came out of a Twitter chat with a nice person. I like it when things like that happen.

Twitter can be like that, if you let it. It can 'spark' things off.

'Course, you have to follow the right people...

Glasto Song

This year has been pure hellish
Thought it was never gonna end
I was left without a sunbeam, I was lost without a friend
But I don’t want to paint it badly
‘Cos now I’m back on track
I’m on my way to Glasto with my offspring in the back

We’ll see Blur, Nick Cave and Tom Jones
The best in all the land
We’ll see steam rise off Bruce Stringsteen
And his mates the E Street Band
We’ll eat couscous, rice and lentils
And there won’t be no Big Mac
I’m on my way to Glasto with my offspring in the back

So behave yourself dear kiddies
Don’t shed another tear
The answer to your whining
Is, Yes, we’re nearly there
It’s been a lengthy journey
But I can take your flack
Cos I’m on my way to Glasto with my offspring in the back

Ken Armstrong 2009

Indicators and Roundabouts

I see that our National Broadcaster is gently re-introducing those public advice adverts on the telly. Particularly the ones where they show you how to behave while out driving on the public highway.

I think this is a good idea, people are such spectacularly shitty drivers nowadays.

We had loads of these adverts when I was younger. We always had great fun with how bloody slowly everybody drove in them – even on the motorways. I guess you couldn’t show people just pissing along as normal – that wouldn’t be much good.

The ones I remember included ‘Don’t be an Amber Gambler’ (catchy), ‘ A splash of water on your tired face will not wake you up, you stupid fucker’ (apt) and ‘Keep your distance – you’re a fool if you don’t’ (not catchy at all but, hey, it’s still in there, right?).

(Image by Delphwynd)

The one that sticks most in my head wasn’t actually about driving at all. It was about being careful when lifting heavy loads. I wish I could find it on YouTube but no success yet. It had a memorable Country and Western track – “Big John was a muscular man, he had a lot of power in his two big hand (girlie chorus) but he never gave a thought to his backbone (and then Big John himself chips in) “Oh, me achin’ back.” Now that was message-giving at its very finest.

The newest of these adverts on the theme of ‘Here’s how to actually drive, you big wally’ concerns roundabouts and that is a very good thing. Would You All Please Watch this Bloody Advert? 'Cos 85% don’t seem to have the first clue about how a roundabout works. Many see it as a form of Russian Roulette, others take the view that if they break every rule but do it extremely slowly, then they will be okay.

If I were to suggest a subject for one of this new slower-than-slow-how-to-drive-passably commercials, I would propose that it be about the use (and non-use) of indicator lights. I written a little about this before.

I have my own little rule of thumb which goes like this – the more expensive the car, the less the indicators will get used. How often do Mercs and Four Wheel Jokes sail round the corner past me without a flashing light in sight. Often, that’s how often.

I sometimes tell the drivers off, “Doesn’t that fucking thing come with an indicator?” I may ask but all the emperor sees inside his insulated cabin is an ill-shaven lout with a shoulder pack mouthing some inaudible platitude. He may for a moment wonder about me and my pedestrian agenda but Bryn is just finishing up his Welsh Hymn and the Prelude to Something or Other is about to come on so, who gives a toss really?

But my preferred indicator advert wouldn’t touch on that. Those people are lost causes, let’s just pray they keep their casualties down to a reasonable total. It’s not the indicator left unused that will most likely kill you, it’s the indicator left on and forgotten.

I saw this in action the other morning when driving the kids to school. I was second-in-line to get out of the junction at the end of our road, turning right. It’s a busy road so it's always a dreadfully long wait. A car was coming at us with the indicator light flashing to say it was turning in to our road and the car in front of me trusted in this. But, of course, this car was not turning in – the indicator light had stuck on and the driver did not know about it. How these two child-filled cars didn’t crash and die is still quite beyond me.

So that would be the message of my road safety commercial – Don’t Trust Indicators.

What would yours be, I wonder?

All this reminds me – I met a lady once (it could just as easily have been a man) who was on a lesson with her driving instructor. The instructor told her to enter the roundabout and turn right off it. She drove in and went completely around it once and then went completely around it twice. What are we doing?” asked the instructor, at which point the lady burst out crying. “You said, I had to exit to the right but every single exit is to the left.”

That’s a whole other advert, I guess.

Ted (A Short Story)

They’d all been to some party or prize-giving or something and they brought Ted back with them. Roger said he had won him in a fight, I believed the first bit, not the second.

Ted was a teddy bear, of sorts, only a lot cheaper and tackier than the normal model. He was knee high, inflatable, and permanently moulded into a seated position.

His arms outstretched uncomfortably in front of him and his leg sections were crimped at the top from having been roughly heat-sealed to his torso.

He had fixed and dilated pupils and a manic grin welded permanently beneath his painted snout. He was yellow.

There was a lot of work to be done. I wasn’t in the mood.

They fooled around at my desk with him for a while and then drifted back to their architecture and their phone calls. Ted was left abandoned on my monitor, staring vacantly off at something over my head. I looked at him closely. He meant nothing to me. I had typing to do, he was in my way.

Andrew phoned at three and made mournful noises. I told him I was sorry but I couldn’t see how I would ever manage to forgive him. Ted didn’t bat an eyelid. I remember hanging up and wishing that someone would just get him out of my sight, how he was making my desk look shoddy. I poked his chest with my finger. He felt like a beach ball.

Denny stormed out of his office around four, looking annoyed. He picked Ted up and eyed him suspiciously.

“What’s this?”

“A Bear.”


“Roger won it in a fight.”

“It makes your desk look shoddy.”

“I know.”

He stuffed Ted in under his elbow, facing out.

“Do you know,” he said, “how much I wish this was Harish?”

He punched the inflated yellow snout savagely four times then tossed him back on to my desk.

“Anybody wants me, I’ll be in the conservatory.”

Then he was gone.

I pressed my nose tenderly. It was bleeding a little.

The guys had forgotten the bear in the afternoon rush but they were all delighted to see him when they came out at six. I’d sat him back up on the monitor and cleared both our faces up. There really hadn’t been much blood, just a drop or two.

Roger seized Ted. He threw him up in air and almost caught him.

‘Hey guys,” he said, “ shall we bring Cecil B De Mille down the boozer with us?”

“His name is Ted.”

They all looked at me.

“Ted? Ted? Is that what he told you? The swine.”

Jerry swept Ted up over his head and held him there.

“The bear is guilty of consorting with our womenfolk. What sayest you all?”




Jerry pulled off his tie. I guess they were still a bit drunk from that lunchtime binge. I sat and glared at them.

“You know the punishment for ravaging our womenfolk without a permit?”

Jerry looped one end of his tie over my angle poise lamp, the other end he tied around Ted’s neck.

“Any last words bear?”

I felt sick inside.

They hung him from my angle poise lamp and then went off down the pub.

I sat and stared at the swaying novelty, suspended before me at eye level. A voice inside was clearly telling me that this was a lump of cheap plastic., mass produced in Hong Kong. Nothing more than a piece of short-life, third world garbage not to mention a potential fire risk.

Another part of me was ready to weep.

Ted’s grin didn’t waver. His eyes were still fixed and dilated but now they stared straight at me. I packed up and went home, avoiding his gaze.

I woke up at two-forty in the morning having dreamed about him. The ludicrous image of him suspended above my desk diary, arms outstretched, would not fade. The office was four miles away, there was no traffic. It only took me ten minutes to get there.

Ted hadn’t moved. I untied the knot and let him back up onto my monitor. He seemed to have deflated a little since lunchtime.

I felt completely and utterly foolish, standing at my desk, bedraggled in the middle of the night, rescuing a thankless teddy bear. I tried to identify the cord which had dragged me back.

Ted was, after all, just a useless and unattractive piece of plastic. But, if the right person had him, a child probably, it is possible that he could mean very much to her. She could hold him and love him and take him to her bed to be warm and safe at night. He would be an instrument for the reception of her love. And since love, like Vitamin C, cannot be stored up, since it can only exist in the giving or receiving of itself, Ted would therefore become a creator of love. He would make the world a better and a more lovely place. If, that is, he was put in the right place to do it.

Therefore I should bring him home with me and look after him. Until the right place came along.

Then I sort of woke up.

“I am a mature, qualified, responsible career woman,” I thought, “if I give in to whatever juvenile pseudo-emotional hormonal flux has taken me to this desk tonight, I will be admitting my weakness, my pliability, my inability to survive in this cold city. I may as well pack up, go back to my village, and marry the first yokel that I meet.”

I strode back to my car through the angry buzz of ill-woken fluorescent lights. I left Ted on my desk.

I deliberately slept-in the next day. I was owed some time and didn’t see the point of turning up too early in case I hadn’t fully succeeded in rationalising my humanity away.

I got in at ten. There was a large orange packing crate on the floor in front of my desk. The kind you see on the docks in fishing ports. Ted was in it, feet and arms in the air, looking out.

When they heard I was in, they all congregated from their various corners of the office. They were all grinning mischief at me. Roger and Jerry were in front, as usual. They each concealed something behind their backs.

“Somebody cut the bear down.”

I took my coat off, pushed past them and hung it up.

“In the night. Somebody cut him down.”

“Sod off Jerry, I’m not in the mood.”

“It’s unfortunate that the bear was cut down.”



“The law in these instances is clear. If Cecil B De Mille had survived his night on the gibbet, he would have been deemed ‘The Bear They Couldn’t Hang’ and hence would have gained his amnesty and a respected place in our little community.”

“Unless, of course, embittered by his experiences, he expressed a wish to ride out of town.”

“Of course. But the bear was cut down, fellow townspeople, and our course is therefore clear.”

From behind their backs, they both simultaneously produced small cans of lighter fuel. Nobody in the office smokes so they must have gone to considerable trouble to get it.

“Now hold on a minute!”

“Shut up Kate, it’s just a laugh.”

They squirted the fuel onto Ted in the large crate. The liquid, where it landed on him, washed surprising streaks of dirt off his plastic. Jerry produced a box of matches from his pocket.


Before I could get to him, Jerry had lit one of the matches and dropped it into the crate. It missed Ted and lay burning by his side. Roger immediately started squirting fuel to make a connection between the match and Ted. A spray landed on his plastic face and ran down. He was crying kerosene.

He ignited then and they all cheered like idiots. A curl of black smoke rose from between his ears as he started to slowly crumple and bend. His head collapsed flaccidly into his chest without once looking up at me again. It happened very quickly then that he ceased to be a recognisable entity. Within seconds, he had shrunk and sealed himself into a tight ball of shining carbon. He did not make a sound.

Denny stormed out of his office.

“What the hell is going on out here? Harris, haven’t you any work to do?”

They sulked off back to their corners. Denny came over and peered into the crate. He wrinkled his nose.

“Clean that up, will you Kate? Harish is here at eleven.”

There were strands of Ted stuck to the floor of the crate which I just couldn’t get off.

I took him home and buried him in the garden under a rose bush. It was the least I could do.

And later that night, when Andrew phoned to apologise yet again, I told him that it might possibly be all right after all.