How to Time Travel

Time travel isn’t easy but it can be done if you try. Seriously. 

And, no, this isn’t a Science Fiction thing and neither is it a thing where I end up copping-out by talking about time travelling into the past only.

I’m talking about time travelling into the future. It can be done. You have to think about it a bit before you can do it but that’s all you need really, a little thought and perhaps a little memory.


Shall we try it? I’ll do it and then you can perhaps give it a try yourself sometime if you like.

Here’s the secret.

Nobody knows what the ‘future-that-hasn’t-happened-yet’ will bring. It’s a drawn-veil to us. So we can’t travel there or, at least, I can’t tell you how to. What we can do though is to travel to our own future from our own past. It may sound a bit silly but, as an exercise, it can actually be quite instructive.

Watch me, here I go…

There’s me thirty years ago in 1982. It’s New Year’s Eve and it’s about eight o’clock in the evening. That’s me there, behind the bar, serving the customers. Nineteen years old, hair too long or not long enough (it’s hard to tell), a bit spotty. I’m being forced to work on New Year’s Eve and that’s a complete bummer because this is the night were you get to kiss all the girls if you can only get yourself close to them. On this night only, you can smooch who you like and they will smooch you right back. For a spotty kid with indeterminate hair, it’s a bit of a red letter night. And this year, as is the case most years, the place where all this kissing will happen is The Baymount Hotel, down near the beach in Strandhill. Not me, though, not this year. This year I’m behind the counter in Harry’s Bar and the cosy late-middle-aged crowd are settled-in and are evidently going nowhere anytime soon.

The clock swings round towards ten-thirty. The merriment increases inside everyone except me.

Suddenly Sean appears from the back bar where he’s working. He’s my friend and he’s been feeling just as bad about having to work. He doesn’t look like he’s feeling so bad any more though. In fact, he looks bloody pleased with himself.

“Call last orders.”

“What?”

“Call last orders, quick. We’re allowed to close up early.”

“Jesus.”

The customers don’t like it one little bit and we don’t blame them but last orders is last orders and we’ve been ordered to shut the place down early and Sean has his van parked out the back and it’s pointing towards Strandhill so drink up and let’s go people. You don’t have to go home but you certainly can’t stay here.

We take the back road to Strandhill. Neither of us drink at all but the cops will be on the front road and they might possibly take up time hassling over brake lights and such. As we bump along the super-dark back road, I am excited to be getting to the melee after all. But I’m also tired… so tired. I close my eyes for a moment.

And when I open them again it’s ten years later. It’s New Year’s Eve 1992.

It’s quiet. A telly is on, some New Year thing. I am in a little house, a nice little house. The ground floor layout is all there to be seen, living room, kitchen, door into bathroom and cute stairs in the corner. I’ve been dozing on the couch for a bit among the Christmas decorations and the dim light from the gas fire. There’s a girl in the kitchen, cooking something. She looks nice. Who is she? She turns and smiles at me, she knows I’ve been dozing. She has a ring on her finger, two rings, like she’s married, like this house is hers, but who is she and what am I doing here with her on this New Year’s Eve?

I shut my eyes again, to help me figure it all out, and when I open them I find that I’ve travelled another ten years and now it’s New Year’s Eve 2002. That girl is there still. She hasn’t aged a bit. She isn’t alone anymore though, now there’s two little boys too. One is about five and the other must be only two or so. The house is bigger and there’s a real fire burning, a bigger tree. It’s nice and cosy, I feel like we all belong here together. I feel like there’s no place else in the world I would rather be. But there’s a pull on me, a distant juddering as the van hits another bump in the road. I’d better wake up soon because we must be nearly at The Baymount.

I jump again, one final time. It’s now 2012, New Year’s Eve and, like the climax to all those end-of-year stories, I am in a cemetery, standing alone in front of a grave. It’s cold and dusky and the wind blows the drizzle hard onto my face. I squint and look down and see my parent’s names etched on the granite in front of me. A small oval picture of each, one on either side. The newest of the dates is very new indeed.

This is too hard, this vision of my future. Too hard for a teenager who only wanted to be kissed. Is this what life ultimately has in store for me? A deserted graveyard? A family lost to the cold hard ground? I turn to look around at the mountains and valley I know so well, they at least unchanged by the decades, and I see the woman and children again, down there on the path beyond the headstones. She still hasn’t aged at all but the two boys are older now, tall and handsome, the elder so much taller than I am and the younger quickly catching him up. They are waiting for me there, down on the cemetery path. They want me to leave this cold place and rejoin them.

I think I will.

A deeper bump on the road jars me awake. I’m being glared at from the driver’s seat.

“You better get yourself in gear. We’re going to have to move fast to get into this hall by midnight.”

I shake myself. What had I dreamed? A vision of my distant future or just some semi-conscious illusion. Who knows? Sean needn’t worry, though, I’ll move fast all right. There’s one girl in particular I’d like to bump into. She normally wouldn’t look at me but tonight… tonight is New Year’s Eve and strange things can happen on this night of all nights…


Happy New Year. 



A Stream of Christmasness

I wrote a post a few months back about memories and how it’s a shame that people like me can become in thrall of forging an acceptable story out of a memory. Some kind of a story that has to have a beginning, middle and end. Some kind of a story  that has to incorporate a gag or an irony at the conclusion. It’s sometimes sadly true that the best memories get waylaid just because they don’t fit neatly into that ‘anecdote’ requirement.

Coupling this with the fact that my Sunday blog post is falling very close to Christmas Eve this year, I thought I would just sit here for a few moments and think about the Christmas Eves of my childhood and, without the requirement to corral them into a coherent entertainment, just write them down.

In sitting and thinking, I find that the various elements of my Christmas Eve recollections meld together such that I can’t say what happened in any one particular year. To get over this hurdle, I decided I would write about one particular childhood day but this day is actually an amalgam of various Christmas Eves. 

No point to it, none that I can easily explain anyway. We write what occurs to us and we hope it makes some kind of sense sometime, somewhere.

So…

When I think of my childhood Christmas Eves today, the overriding impression I recall is one of utter bafflement. “How can they act so normal?” I was always thinking, “how can they do that?”

It was true, all the adults were simply going about their business. The Vegetable Man was calling with earth-ridden carrots and rampant cabbages, the house was being hoovered, neighbours were stopping and chatting on the street about silly irrelevant things. “How Can They Do That?” Santy is coming, this very night. How could they be so incredibly cool about it all?

Kevin Bray called around for tea. Kevin was a great friend of the family. He brought me a present. This was unheard-of, a present before Christmas Day. I was allowed to open it. It was Lego. I was overjoyed, literally, I had a present and it wasn’t even ‘Santy-Time’ yet.

But, even with some new Lego to divert me, the clock still ticked terribly slow. There was no snow, ever. There was drizzle such that you couldn’t really go outside without getting drenched. There were parcels growing mysteriously under the tree as people got their wrapping done and dropped things there. The butcher had to be visited, Clive and Vinnie in striped aprons seriously debating the cuts of meat with the current customer while recklessly bantering with the customer waiting behind.

A bad cartoon on the telly in the drizzly afternoon, Rudolph and Santy in cotton-wool laden stop-motion. “It’s not a real cartoon, it’s one of those from ‘Out-Foreign’.” A Laurel and Hardy film, Stan and Ollie sitting on a bench in front of a huge hedge. I could hit Google and find out what movie it was in about thirty seconds flat but I don’t want to. The flickering image of my distant memory is far far better than the truth.

Confession in the afternoon. Although you might not go too much throughout the year, you had to be all-sorted-out for Jesus’ arrival in the morning. A cartoon abandoned, a real one this time, to trudge up the back-alley to the church to sit and wait for your turn to confess to the priest. Sitting in line on the arse-shined, bench with the other (older) people. Shuffling your own bum along as the end person goes into the box to tell all. Then it's your turn.

“Bless me fadder for I have sinned, I was bold and I was cheeky to me Mam and I told lies and I was late for mass…”

“Is Santy coming?”

“I hope so Fadder.”

“I hope so too. Three ‘Hails Marys’ and an ‘Our Father’. In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti…

Dusk. A candle lit in the upstairs window, the front bedroom curtains left drawn so that the guttering light can shine out onto the street and onto the black river beyond. “A welcome home for the travellers,” Mum used to say.

“Ice Station Zebra” on the telly in the tea-time dark. A big movie. I didn’t care. Please let it be over, please let bedtime come. Kevin Bray had brought a toy for my older brothers too. An intercom set – two futuristic handsets with a thin thread of extended red string between them. When the string was pulled tight the voice would carry down it. That was the theory anyway. We stretched it up the stairs and over the gap between the back bedroom ceiling and the wall. I was up there, on top of the bedroom wardrobe, trying to hear my brother whispering from down in the hall. It never worked but it passed some time.

Nearly bedtime and another movie on the telly. This time it’s “High Society”. Nothing else has ever seemed so utterly irrelevant to my life. Santy is Coming and everybody is watching this… this stupid rubbishy thing about some eejit who apparently is called Deckscrub.

A neighbour comes in. Do I have to wait until they stop chatting and leave before I can go to bed? Oh, please, please leave and please please, Deckscrub, stop singing so that the News can come on and I can finally hit the hay.

The News, at last. Santy is on there. He seems to be climbing on a train in Connolly Station with a huge sack of presents. How the hell can that work? Don’t think too much. It’s time for bed, it won’t be easy to sleep but it’s best to make a start. PJ’ed up, hugs all round, pipe tobacco smoke aroma from Dad, savoury stuffing scent from Mum. The turkey is in, most of the cooking done tonight for reheating after Mass tomorrow.

Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight. Don’t forget to let the fire burn down, leave the guard off the front of it so the big fella can get out, eh?

Everybody is so very cool, so very normal. I still don’t understand.

How can they do that?

Don’t they know that Santy is Coming?


So I Had An Idea…

I had this idea.

Not so unusual, I have ideas quite regularly. More ideas than some other people, I like to think.

But this was a good idea. Well, a better idea than most of mine, I reckon. A cut above the rest.

So I did what I do. I got my little book out and I scribbled something down about it and then I looked at the scribble for a while and thought, “Yup, it’s still a good idea.” 

Then, when I got home and on to my computer, I rattled down a page-and-a-bit about it.  I have to do that, not so much because I will forget the idea but because I can quickly become very un-enamoured by it. If that happens, and I’ve not bothered scribbling something about it, then it’s gone. But, if I get it down, and then grow to hate it, I may look at it again in months or years to come and rekindle some old flame. Who knows? Either way, it’s a shame not to cover the bases just in case.

But that’s not the point. You know my posts, the points tend to come in this middle part, after an only-tenuously-related preamble. It’s like an older Simpsons episode, in that respect if no other.

The point of this post is actually about the little train of thought I had after I got this good idea. I had got the idea scribbled down, like I said, wrote a bit more about it, then I looked at it some more and I said to myself, “I know, I’ll write that up as a pitch and I’ll pitch it to ‘X’.” (‘X’ is a particular person I had in mind.) That thought actually remained in my brain, unchallenged, for at least thirty entire seconds. My brain sort of wallowed in it for that time. A nice pitch from me, lots of excitement and interest in the pitch, an offer, a gig, ‘Bob’s Your Feckin’ Uncle’.

Than that other part of my brain kicked in. The real part.

“Sorry, who the fuck are you?” it said.

“Eh? What?”

“Who the fuck are you? William Goldman or someone?”

“I don’t really follow your-“

“”You’ll pitch this” and “you’ll pitch that”.”

“I don’t-“

“You don’t, you don’t… Wake up. You Don’t Get To Pitch Stuff, Fuckwit.”

Ah,

Yes.

That particular part of my brain is thankfully pretty sensible. It may go to sleep for the occasional month here-and-there but eventually it will snap back awake and sort me out, often in a rude fashion similar to the one illustrated above.

I sometimes need to be reminded how I don’t get to pitch stuff. I’d been reading too much Twitter again. I know people on there who get to pitch stuff and make good things happen in that way. For a moment or two, I slipped up and mistook myself for one of those guys.

I’m not. They get to pitch stuff and I don’t.

And why do they get to pitch stuff and you don’t? Eh, Ken eh? Why is that?

That’s simple. Because they’ve earned the right to get to do that. They’re earned their spurs. They had some good ideas, earlier on, and they brought them to realisation by sweat and guts and perseverance and sheer-force-of-will.  Now people will heed their pitch – because they know they can deliver a good product off the back of it. Oh, I’ve had plays produced (eight radio, eight theatre, I think) and I’ve won a few things and had bits-and-pieces published here and there but I haven’t proved myself widely enough to be in a pitching position. Not yet.

So you’ve got a pitch, Ken?  That’s good, a pitch is a great foundation, a template for things to come, a hanger to hang your newest writing-thing upon.

Now just go and bloody write it.

All of it.

Not a pitch, not an outline, not a draft, not a treatment, sketch, schematic, synopsis, not none of that. Not none of it. Write the whole thing. Then rewrite it and make it  as great as you possibly can.  (But it’s a novel, this idea… 95,000 words, I think). Brilliant, off you go, you’ve done it before, now do it again.

I don’t get to make pitches… but I get to write whatever I want and, for now, that’s exciting and good enough for me. I’ve always thought that I’m a good writer. Sorry if that sounds poncey, I just have. And recently, my confidence may have been a tad less than what it previously was. But, sod that, I think I’m back on track now. I reckon I’m pretty damned good and if I can do the work that I know I’m capable of then I can move forward in the way that I want to and pretty much need to.

So consider this a Mission Statement for yours truly. I’ve had a great idea for a new novel and I’m going to write it and write it and write it and edit it and then write it some more and I’m going to make it as good as I bloody well can…

And if I do it well enough…

And if someone likes it…

And if…

And if…

And if…

Then maybe I can be a pitch writing person too.

Let’s just see…




Short Fiction – Nobody Knows Where You Go When You Die

Some people think they do. Some people are actually pretty sure. But none of them really know.

Nobody knows where you go when you die.

I’d never given it much thought before it happened. If you’d have asked me, I’d have probably said that you don’t go anywhere much. That the lights would just go out and then you'd be done. Turns out I wasn’t a million miles from the truth. Funny that.

 
I did figure this much. If there ever happened to be a choice of two places, I would be bound for the lesser of the two. That was easy figuring. In life, I wasn’t ever much of a man, not really. I was mean and angry and I’d most likely hit you as soon as I’d look at you. No. If there was ever going to be a good place and a bad place, you could safely mark me down for the bad one. Like I said, I didn’t think on it too much ever.

Then, after I died, I pretty-soon got an inkling of how things were going to be. I didn’t like it very much either. I was in bed, when I died, and it was sudden-like. My son came in and tried to wake me up but he couldn’t cos I was dead. He ran out, all annoyed and such, and started shouting for people to come.

How do I know? I hear you ask. How do I know what he said and what he did after he found me dead in my bed?  Well that’s just it, isn’t it? That’s the inkling I got. The sense of how it was going to be.

I could hear him, you see, I could feel him. Hell I could even smell him. I was dead but I was still there inside me, listening and feeling. I couldn’t see cos I died with my eyes closed but everything else was working for me.

That was the inkling I got.

And that’s how it was going to be.

I’ll spare you the details. This isn’t meant to be no horror-novelette. Let it suffice to say that it’s not any great fun to be stripped and scrubbed and autopsied and embalmed when you can still feel most everything. I knew I was dead all right and there was a sense of panic and fear inside me like I never felt before. I could feel things, like I told you already, but thankfully the feelings were not as ripe as when I was alive. When they cut into me and prised open my ribs, it was like my flesh was rubber and my bones were twigs. It smarted quite a bit but not like you might fear it would. A small mercy that was. A small mercy indeed.

I remember being in the church for my funeral. I could hear the mourners filing past but my box was too thick for me to hear too much of the eulogy. That’s probably just as well.

And that’s pretty much it. They put me in the ground and filled me in and here I’ve laid ever since.

It’s been seven years.

You’d think I wouldn’t know. You’d think time would become a meaningless concept in the eternal darkness and unchangingness of your coffin but no. Senses become heightened, when other things go, and that remains true even when you’re dead. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t see but I could feel. I could feel things through the conducting-fluid of the sodden earth outside of my oaken casket. I could hear the sun go down and the dawn come crawling back in. I could mark every day in my mind and add them all up together and keep them tidy.

I could do all this.

After the madness passed.

Because, yes, of course, there was madness. How could there not be? That’s why it might not be seven years. It might be seven years plus however many years my mind screamed at me in denial and panic and utter indescribable horror. If you can imagine it, my situation, then you must know that madness had to come visiting and it had to bide a while, there with me in my rancid box.

Utter silent screaming insanity.

For a time.

But it passed on.

All things pass on within the measure of eternity.

When my mind settled, it found things for itself to do. I had  always been creative in life so that was my way too in death. I wrote novels, plays, built up entire structures in my mind. I developed characters and plots and scenarios and I lost myself in them for a good long while.

I slept too. After a fashion. When all was quiet above and around me, I slept, and sleep was a respite. I was relieved from feeling my corporeal body collapse into itself as I lay. The interminable buzzing of the parasites within me were momentarily muted when I drifted away for a while.

But only when it was silent. And it was rarely silent. The worms outside the wood were noisy, who would ever have thought that? And the people above who shuffled past. And the people in the next graves, yes I could hear them too. The ones who had been there the longest were the faintest, their mildewed bones only gave off a faint electrical hum. The newer ones could be quite chatty. Chatty is perhaps the wrong word though. They were chatty in comparison to the millipedes and the slaters. Sometimes a story from their demonstrably pointless lives was recounted. Mostly they just bemoaned their unexpected lot. Once a new person was put in, six or seven rows over, and her screams gave us a very bad year or two.

People come to see me sometimes. My children mostly. I hear them up there, standing. Sometimes plucking impotently at a stray weed. They never speak. Nobody ever speaks directly to me. That is the worst of it.

Today is Christmas Morning. How could I know that? I can't say. We know things, we of the graveyard. We know the turning of the year and we sense the anticipation from the houses across the allotments. We can feel Christmas even from down here.

Somebody has come. I feel their weight on my sunken chest. It’s Martin, I think. He stands there and lays something on top of me. A holly wreath, I would guess. Still he doesn’t speak.

“Who’s down there?” A young voice. A living voice. Could it be my Grandson? My only Grandson, only a little bruiser when I died.

“Your Granddad. Do you remember him?

“Yes.”

“Although he’s not really down there, he’s up in Heaven with Holy God.”

(Wanna bet, Skinny?)

“I remember Granddad,” the young voice again, no more than ten, “I remember him well.”

“You were too young to remember him all that well.”

“I wasn’t. I do. He gave me sweets. I remember him. I loved him.”

Something strange is happening to me. I feel lighter. I feel some kind of breeze through my bones. Like air.

“I’m sure he’s glad to hear you say that, John, how you loved him.”

“I did. He bought me sweets and was nice and I loved him.”

I-am-going-I-can-feel-it-I-swear-I-am-going-somewhere-else…


“We have to go now, John, come on, you’ll catch cold.”

“Goodbye Granddad, I loved you.”

Oh-Sweet-and-Divine-Mercy-I-am-going-I-am_

Here.

I am still here.

Those things he said. The boy. They were almost enough, they were almost enough to send me on from here. From what I now know as my purgatory, my limbo.

Almost but not quite.

Perhaps he will come again someday. Perhaps he will say again how he loved me. Perhaps that will be enough to send me on. 

At least now I know there is the possibility of something else, something beyond this grave.

If only he would come again.

Someday.




Beg to Differ

This is something I’m still trying to figure out. So I won’t be getting all high-and-mighty about it or anything. It’s really just a notion that I am trying on for size. I find that typing about these notions sometimes seems to help me gain a little more clarity. So here goes. Let’s see if it works this time.

It’s mostly about agreeing with people, about finding people you agree with and about finding warmth and succour in their company. It’s about how that’s not necessarily such a good thing.

As is often the case these days, it was Twitter which highlighted this notion for me. Twitter is really very good at showing me stuff. Not just news and joke stuff but human behaviour stuff as well. You may not really discern anything much about general behaviour from looking at one person on Twitter or even ten people. But when you look at a thousand, regularly, perhaps then you can tend to detect discreet waves or movements and patterns within them. Actually perhaps you can’t. Maybe it’s that Jameson I knocked back half-an-hour ago. Let’s run with the idea for just a moment, though. Let’s just pretend that we can see stuff about human behaviour on Twitter.

One of the things Twitter has shown me is that people tend to respond more to people who express opinions that they agree with. My instinct, and it’s nothing more than that, is that they also tend to fall silent at those moments when they disagree.

It’s no big surprise that they tend to do that. People don’t always like to be disagreed with. Your opinion is a bit like your property. If somebody bursts in on it and tramples all around on it and possibly even piddles in the corner, over there by the wall, your inclination may be to get quite put-out about that.

It’s easier, all-in-all, to stay in the ‘like’ group. Not necessarily to pretend that you like something just to get ‘in with the gang’, I don’t mean that, although I guess it must happen. I mean shouting out really loud when you agree with something and then shutting-the-hell up whenever you don’t.

But how, you may well ask, how can I be so definitive about this foible if I’ve only seen it in passing on Twitter? The answer to that one is pretty simple. I relate it to myself.

Twitter, like it or not, is like a big fat digital mirror. If you can only manage to decipher the bits and bytes that make it up, it can show you yourself quite clearly,. If you don’t believe me, run a little test for yourself. Pick a moment when you’re really annoyed or angry about something then go straight on to your twitter. It will reflect that bad mood of yours, I bet you it will. Go on again when you’re happy and buzzing and it’ll be mainly sunshine and flowers. It’s a big mirror, if you can only see into it.

This therefore follows; if I notice people appropriating strength from each other, on the basis that they all feel the same way about something, then I can be assured that this is something that I do myself and that it is simply being reflected right back at me by my Twitter.

And that’s true. I know I do it. Well, I have done, in the past. I’m trying to do it less. But it's not all that easy.

I dislike conflict, you see. I tend to shy away from it whenever I can. One of the reasons is that, when it comes to conflict, I have a pretty clearly defined tipping-point rather than any kind of balanced response. Up to that tipping point, I tend to be pretty patient and understanding. I try to sort things out as best I can. Beyond the tipping point, I’m afraid I can be rather an unpredictable little cuss, liable to do or say almost anything. That’s why I try to avoid such situations. I find them very tiring indeed.

This is where I need to learn a little. I need to learn that a ‘difference of opinion’ is not the same as a ‘conflict’. This is much easier to grasp and instinctively understand in real life. On social media, a difference of opinion can quickly become a conflict and it regularly does. On social media, an expressed difference of opinion can often cast you out of your nice cosy little group and make you feel quite isolated and odd.

But still… I now think it should be done as often as possible.  We should beg to differ.

Here’s where I reckon we’re going wrong. We are celebrating each other for the things we agree about when we really should be full of the greatest appreciation for those things we feel markedly different about.

Imagine three writers in a room. One of them writes a line. “How’s that?” he asks the others. “Great, good, lovely.” Says one. “Brilliant. I love it,” says the other. How good is that line actually going to be?

For creative things to be good, really good, they have to be torn apart, criticised down to the finest detail, deconstructed and then built back up again. Everybody sitting around and congratulating themselves on how they all love something may be warm and embracing but it won’t ever produce anything new or good.

That’s why I want to cry, “vive la diffĂ©rence,” a bit more often. If you feel different about something, I like that, I respect that and I want to know more. If I loved it and you hated then you are right and I am right too. Let’s try to find where the creative spark between these two correct positions lies.

I’m trying this at the moment, I really am.

A useful side-effect of me trying to be better at this has come to light. I now value my own opinion much more than I have ever done before. Movies are a good example. Previously, if I saw a movie and liked it, and then found that everyone else didn’t, I might have kept my head down a bit and perhaps even wondered where I went wrong in liking it. Silly me. With movies, as with most things, it’s all about my own personal reaction to it. This reaction may be unbalanced, swayed by the mood I was in at that moment or some other circumstances which helped forge my opinion. My view might be skewed and irrational but that never means that my view is invalid. Far from it. The more honest I can be with myself, the more valid my opinion must be.

One finesse though. Social media being what it is, I may still hesitate to jump in and express my polar-opposite opinion to yours. To date, my experiences of doing this have not been all that positive. I may not jump in to openly disagree but I will however quietly celebrate your alternate point of view and I will try to hear as much about it as I can.

So I disagree with you. Do you hear me? I disagree.

Isn’t it great?

Ask Me Something Hard


Try something new and learn something new.  Did I make that up or just steal it from somewhere? I don’t know. Never mind. 

Last weekend I got to do something that was quite new to me and I learned a little something new as a result. I’ll tell you about it, if you like, but I haven’t fully reached a concrete conclusion about it yet. Perhaps you might be able to help with that.

The thing? It was nothing earth-shattering. Probably not for you anyway. But, for me, it was quite exciting and I was looking forward to it and quite nervous about it for days before.

I got interviewed, you see, on camera.  This was the new thing for me. 

They’re making a TV Documentary about Ireland’s love affair with The Cinema. It will go out on Irish Television on Easter Monday next, apparently. I had showed them my ‘First Night of Alien’ story (click on the title if you’d care to see it for yourself) and they asked me to come and tell it to them for the programme. This doesn’t make me special or anything (well… no more special than I was before), lots of people are being interviewed for this programme. Lots and lots. So I’m not bragging or anything.

I figured the set-up would be that me and about twenty other people would roll up to the cinema in Westport on Saturday morning and we would file in and say our piece to camera and then go home again and that was perfectly fine. But it wasn’t like that at all. When I got there, it soon became clear that I was the only one being interviewed. They were all set up, ready to go, and the next hour was for me and me alone. I was radio-mike-ed up and black coffee-ed up and positioned in a nice cinema seat facing a nice cinema screen. There was boom mikes, glamorous assistants, the whole shebang. I was hugely complimented at their interest and also a bit anxious about what I could think of to say for, like, an hour.

Of course, I needn't have worried about that. The interviewer was obviously a fellow movie fan and seemed  by turns interested and amused by my answers to his questions. It was really a lovely experience. To be honest, I felt like a bit-of-a Megastar, what with all the crew working hard just to get my feeble musings down in digital form. Our discussion ranged across quite a lot of stuff and I got far too comfortable and probably defamed a few people along the way not to mention throwing in a few confessions which will probably result in criminal prosecution at some time in the future. It was fun, though, it was great fun and I know I’ll probably end up on the cutting room floor where I belong but, if not, I will let you know.

Now, here’s the learning bit. See what you think.

Near the end of the hour, the interviewer started to ask a new question. It was a difficult question. I won’t get too specific but it was something along the lines of the contribution which cinema-going had made to Irish Society down through the decades. The question took quite a long time to ask and, as it was unfolding, I became rather clinically aware of my own unfolding thought processes.  They went something like this:

“Oh, God, what’s all this now?”

“I don’t know this. I don’t know anything about this.”

“What’s he saying? Keep focused. You’ll have to answer all this in a minute.”

“What the hell are you going to say?”

“I don’t know, do I?”

“He’s reaching the end. He’s stopping talking. It’s your turn now. He’s stopped. He waiting. It’s your turn now.”

“SAY SOMETHING!”

I didn’t know what to say. I had hardly assimilated the question, never mind formulated any kind of answer. I dropped my jaw in preparation for gabbling a bit and then admitting I was a fraud and shouldn’t be here at all.

And then I answered. 

I said quite a lot actually. Despite my best efforts to stop it, the hard question he had asked had somehow soaked into my brain and, because I had to, I formulated an answer and provided it. And, not to blow my own trumpet, I think the answer I gave was actually quite good. It wasn’t something I had ever really thought about much before but, when I was pressed on it, it turned out that I had some thoughts to share and they were actually almost worth hearing.

I thought about this afterward, as I do. There’s a lesson to be learned. For me at least. I can’t speak for you. I shouldn't be afraid to ask myself hard questions. That was my first thought. I am capable of formulating a response if I put myself in the right place to do so.

Yes, okay, fine, but that’s just too easy. As I found out. I tried, you see, I tried asking myself a hard question. Just in my head, I didn’t do it out loud or anything. That would be disconcerting to passers-by. I just asked myself something hard in my head and I pressed myself for a sensible answer. But it didn’t work. You probably knew that already, you’re usually way ahead of me on this kind of thing. It turns out that I can’t fool my own mind that easily. I can insist that I want an answer to my hard question but my mind knows it’s just me doing the insisting and effectively tells me to sod off.

It doesn't work.

So that’s about as far as I've got. I have learned that if you are asked a hard question in a pressure situation you may surprise yourself by how quickly and well you can collect your thoughts and how much of a revelation those thoughts may be, even to you. But I've also learned that you can’t replicate that pressure situation just because you’d like to.

So there’s the rub. How can I manage to ask myself the hard questions and expect to get a meaningful reply?

Answers on a postcard…

Man About Blog


There’s no advice I can give you about blogging.

I might as well try to advise you about what to do with a blank sheet of paper and a pen, the options are just as diverse and every bit as impenetrable.

But I've been doing it – blogging, that is – for quite a few years now so you’d think I’d have something to say about it. Well, maybe I do, but it’s wouldn't be advice (perish the thought). Perhaps it would be more a short litany of things I do and don’t do when it comes to my blog. Perhaps that would be it…


I Know I Won’t Ever Move the Earth

It’s a lesson I had to learn. I don’t think anyone could have told me it. My blog will never cause ripples around the world or impact on international media or move masses to tears or, indeed, helpless laughter. 

In fact I have a theory. I reckon that our blogs are subject to a physical rule which is almost as rigid as the intertwined laws of capillary action and gravity. ‘This Far and No More’ this mysterious rule seems to say, “You Shall Not Pass…” Perhaps I should call it the 'Gandalf Rule'. What I mean is that my blog has tended to grow to a certain size and then not to grow any more. Maybe this is just me but I don’t actually reckon it is. Unless you’re some marketing guru, I reckon your blog will get to a level of exposure and there it will pretty much stay. Argue with me, if you want, I’d enjoy that.

That ‘If I Build It, They Will Come’ Malarkey Is Exactly That

I thought this for a while, at first. 

“I will just write my blog posts,” I thought (with a big noble head on me), “and, if they’re good enough, people will find them. They Will Come.”

No they won’t. Catch yourself on. 

I have to push my posts a little bit to get them read. I don’t have to go mad about it or anything. A Twitter link here, a Facebook mention there, then, if they get spread around a bit from there, well and good. And, if not, well that’s okay too. I put my post out there a little bit, because nobody would see it otherwise, and after that whatever happens, happens. 

It’s a bit like fly-fishing, I present the bait as attractively as I can and I wait and see what bites. If nothing bites, there’s always my sandwiches and the peace of the shady riverbank. 

Content is Key

It ain't rocket science. I just try to make my blog post as good as I can, every time. It’s not a disposable thing, a blog post. It may get most of its readers in the first few days after it gets posted but it also lives on out there, floating in the cloud, and now and again people will land on it and read it, even years from now. 

So I try to make it as nice as possible, for them and for you too. 

I Don’t Make It Personal To You

This stuff is just about me, remember, you must do your own thing. I don’t ever ask individual people to read a post. 

Sometimes there’s a new post that I would love someone to see, I still won’t ask them to read it. I do this because I believe that people need to come to my writing because they want to rather then because I want them to. If that reader/writer symbiosis is allowed to occur naturally it is a very rewarding thing, entirely worth the risk of it not ever happening at all. If a person were to come by my blog out of some sense of obligation then it would be exponentially more difficult to divert them with what they find here. As I said, this is just me. I’m not judging you. Not much anyway.

There is an exception to this rule. Say, for instance, if I’m tweeting with you and you ask me what I thought of ‘Skyfall’ then I may mention that I have a blog post on that very subject. This seems okay to me because it’s integral to the particular discussion I am having. To be honest, though, okay or not, it still makes me a little uncomfortable doing it. I think I’ll cut down on it…

I Won’t Ever Make Any Money

I’ve never made a penny from blogging but then I don’t ever try. I don’t have any adverts on the blog and I don’t want any. It’s not why I do it. Many people come to blogging to make loads of money online and drive fast cars and roger glamorous women. Trust me, that won’t happen. 

Having said that, I do know blogs can make pennies and I know that pennies are extremely valuable in some parts of the world and I applaud the industry of people there who blog their hearts out to get those pennies. They create content and fill up on adverts and theirs might not be the most edifying web creations ever but they are probably saving their lives by doing it so bloody well done them.

I just do it for my own silly reasons, which I’ve written about here previously. ‘Forget about the price tag’, and all that. 

I Won’t Last at It

I tend to think this way about my bloody-awful jogging too. “You’ll never make it around that lake.” “You’re Utterly Shit, why bother?” “Go back to bed and pull the quilt over your head and die.” Our inner voices are little bastards, aren't they? 

I never thought I’d be blogging this long. What will I write about next week? Fuck knows. 

“Nothing, you’ll be writing about nothing next week. This is probably your last blog post ever.” 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, inner voice, sod off eh? 

And see you next week. 

If you like.

The Half-a-Weetabix Quandary


There’s lots of juicy confessional stuff in this week’s post so please brace yourself. 

I eat Weetabix for breakfast. That’s the first confessional revelation right there. There’s worse to come. I didn’t always eat Weetabix. I used to do all kinds of weird things, like Cornflakes and Rice Krispies. Oh, yes, I have certainly lived all right. 

But all that had to change. As the years trotted by, I had to start thinking a little about what I ate so I did what every right thinking middle-aged male will eventually do. 

Yes indeed, I started eating Special K. I mean, every man aspires to glide up that azure pool in a one piece red swim suit… don’t they?

…moving swiftly on.

The ‘Special K’ thing didn’t last terribly long. To be honest, I found it to be pretty joyless stuff (other opinions are available) so I quickly moved on to the fancier Special K’s, the ones with berries and stuff in them. That was okay until I discovered that the box said it had 3% fat or 3 grams of fat (I don’t know) and that was 1% or 1 gram of fat (I don’t know) more than the boring Special K and that felt like too much even though, as you might have gathered by now, I really didn’t know.  Around this time, while avoiding someone in a supermarket aisle, I noticed that Weetabix was only 2% fat or 2 grams of fat (yes, yes) and that was the same as the dullest Special K while also being cheaper so I ran with that and have continued to do so ever since.

All you diet-experts can come and kick my considerable arse in the comments section if you feel you need to but, bear in mind, my dodgy nutritional information is not the point of the post at all, it’s just the preamble. The point is coming very shortly or at least I hope it is 'cos my fingers are getting a bit sore.

The point is, I adopted Weetabix as my breakfast weapon of choice and I’ve stuck with it. On the weekends I may treat myself to a sprinkling of muesli and honey (I warned you this was revelatory stuff) but generally it’s two Weetabix, a minimum quantity of milk, and Bob’s your maternal aunt. 

“Great, fine, super”, I hear you chant, “we’re happy for you, Ken, but where’s the conflict? For this post to succeed as a story-telling exercise, you need to insert an element of conflict soon or you will lose us, mate.”

Fair enough. Brace yourself once again because here it bloody well comes.

My wife. Patricia. Have you met Patricia? She’s nice, she is. She likes a Weetabix too. Just now and again. She’s generally a porridge girl and, god knows, I love the hot sweet smell of porridge wafting through the house. I love it, just don’t make me eat it, that’s all.

So, yes, normally it’s porridge for her but sometimes there isn’t time for all that oat palaver. Sometimes something simpler is called-for. Something… Weetabix. I don’t mind Patricia dipping into my Weetabix. In fact I quite like it. I take it as a small compliment – my choice of breakfast is not totally risible etc etc. 

It’s just… well…

Trish doesn’t like one Weetabix. Nor does Trish like two. She likes one-and-a-half Weetabix and that’s what she always has.

Thus has been born the ‘One and a Half Weetabix Quandary’ and lord knows it’s a biggie. I like two Weetabix, no more, no less, and I like them neat and presentable. Now, when I open the oddly old-fashioned paper wrapper of a morning, I am confronted with half – half -  a bloody Weetabix on the top of the stack. 

What on earth am I supposed to do?

I could just have one-and-a-half Weetabix (but that’s not enough).

I could have two-and-a-half Weetabix (but that’s too much).

I could have two, by breaking another biscuit and also taking the existing half, thus leaving another half of Weetabix in the ‘Weeta-box’, but that goes against my in-built sense of cereal decorum and also leaves me with a smashed and dislocated breakfast bowl vista.

The horror. Oh the horror.

Then I stop and I think. Would it be better if I was here alone, waking every morning to a perfect alignment of Weetabix biscuits in my box? Would the silence, the loneliness, the lack of sheer fun be worth the maintenance of cereal sanity.

I think about that for a little while…

… and then I quietly lift the half-a-Weetabix out of the pack, lay it gently aside, take two full Weetabix from the pack for myself, then put the half-a-Weetabix back in. And I never say anything about it.

It’s a small example of those little sacrifices we make in our day-to-day lives together. 

And as Elton John once quite-rightly sang, they’re no sacrifice at all.


A 'Gathering' Song - Sit in The Evening a While


Next year, Ireland will have 'The Gathering' where Irish People from all over the world will be invited to come home for a little while.     

People will doubtless write songs about it.

So I just thought I'd do mine before the rush starts...


Sit in The Evening a While

Not a big thing
Not so grand
Not a show of style
I just want to see you
And sit in the evening a while

Talk, listen
Friendly hand
A memory to beguile
Only to see you
And sit in the evening a while

We paddled streams together
Long days ago
And the waters now between us
Are heavy, deep and slow

Not a parade
Not a band
One moment in the Isle 
A moment to see you
And sit in the evening a while




(c) Ken Armstrong - November 2012

Don’t Take Your Life

This will be rather a naive post. It won’t be steeped in intellect or even harsh experience. It won’t be scientifically correct. In fact, the only thing really going for it is that it will mean well.

People are taking their own lives. More than they used to, it seems. In this country at least. I’m not thinking of anyone in particular here, I’m just generalising. The world has become a tougher, colder place for many of us and some of us are taking their own lives. 

This post is my attempt at a simple plea.

Don’t. Please don’t.

I don’t want this post to be one of those things like when people tell people to snap out of their depression. “Go for a nice walk and you’ll be fine…”. I hate those things. Depression is something I don’t really understand and I’m hugely grateful for that. The best thing I can do, in gratitude, is to not pretend that I understand it.  It’s much the same with suicide, I can’t comprehend the depths that one gets to before it becomes an option and I sincerely hope this always remains the case. 

So I’m not saying ‘you’ll be fine’ or ‘catch yourself on’ or ‘don’t be so silly’. I’m not equipped to talk any sense at all on this subject but at least I know it.

But I can make a plea, can’t I? They’re not sensible, scientific things, pleas, they’re just naive, rather silly things. Even I can manage one of those.

So, please, don't take your life.

I can also, in my rather silly way, offer two thoughts to a person who might one day come to consider taking their lives. They might be stupid thoughts, they might even be dangerous ones. If they are, please let me know and I will reconsider leaving them up here. I mean well but, as we all know, that’s not always such a great thing.

Here’s thought number one.

If you are thinking of taking your life, think about this for a moment. Who do you love? Bear with me, this is not quite as obvious as it will at first seem. So, who do you love? Who loves you? If the person or persons you love had fallen under the path of a speeding bus, you would throw yourself under that bus, push them out of the way and save them. You would gladly sacrifice yourself to the bus to let them live. You know you would. Well, here’s the thing; ‘Your Life’ is the bus. Whoever you love, whoever loves you, in order for you to save them you have to throw yourself selflessly under the bus of 'Your Life'. Whatever crippling injury, whatever unthinkable pain, will result, you would bear it to save the ones you love. And that’s really what you have to do.

Here’s thought number two.

Supposing nothing works, nothing at all. Supposing it’s darker than anybody else knows and you know in your heart-of-hearts that everybody would be so much better off if you were just gone. Supposing there is no other choice left. 

Then leave. 

If you have to leave that much, then you have to leave. 

Just don’t leave life. 

Grab a bus, a plane. Beg, borrow or steal some money and get completely and utterly away. Leave everything and everyone behind. Tell nobody, just go. It’s a terrible option, it will be cruel – unbearable even - on your loved ones but if you have to go it’s so much better than you should go that way. 

If the object of suicide is to tear down every aspect of your life until nothing is left then you can do that while still staying alive. Change everything. Go to Haiti and help the people there to build a house. Get on the road and thumb a lift somewhere, sleep rough, join a religious order. Anything. Do anything but don’t take your life. 

It's not hard to figure out why I say this. You can come back from any of these other departures someday, if you should want to. A day will come when things will be better and, speaking frankly, if you’ve killed yourself you don’t get to ever come back. 

So if you ever find that you have no choice but to go, then go. Go. Go anywhere but there.

Finally, I realise that I've done what I said I would not do. I’ve written, probably condescendingly, about something I know nothing about. I'm no better than those people who tell depressed people to have a nice walk.

I’m really sorry about that.

But we have to talk, I think. Even if we’re not making any sense. We have make it even more of a topic of conversation than it currently is.

I felt I had to at least give it a try. 

Why I am Haunted by Martin McDonagh


Martin McDonagh has a new film coming out soon. It’s called ‘Seven Psychopaths’. I suspect that it is going to be really really good and that I will enjoy it very much as I generally do with his work. 

That means it will start all over again, The Haunting. It starts every time he has something new and marvellous coming out. To be honest, I think it’s started already.

You know who Martin McDonagh is, right? Of course you do. He’s the writer/director of Academy Award nominated and brilliant ‘In Bruges’ as well as the Academy Award winning short film ‘Six Shooter’. He also has a highly-impressive range of theatre plays including ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ ‘The Pillowman’ ‘The Cripple of Inismaan’… I could go on, I really could. At one time he shared a distinction with William Shakespeare as being the only playwright to simultaneously have four plays running consecutively in London’s West End. That’s who he is.

And, yes, I think I am haunted by him. 

Here’s why.

Years ago, when I lived in London I used to read radio scripts for a couple of very good radio play competitions. I had won one of them myself and then dropped a hint that I liked reviewing so I got a gig reading and reviewing scripts for short listing. I wasn’t the judge or anything important like that, I just pared the list down to the best few and they were then sent on for judging. It was sometimes fun, sometimes depressing, and always beneficial to my own writing.

I used to get a big fat package in the post and that would contain thirty-or-so radio scripts and they all would have to be read and a review written about each of them. Then I got to pick the best three and send them onward to the big boys.

In one of these big fat packages, I got two scripts by the same writer. It was some guy called Martin McDonagh. They were wonderful plays, head and shoulders above everyone else so, when I got to pick my three plays, I picked his two and sent them on. Before I sent them, I noted there was a phone number for the writer on the front of the scripts. I wrote that number down. Of all the scripts I have ever read, this was the only phone number I ever bothered to write down. I just reckoned the guy was that good.

Martin won the competition with one of his two plays. It was the one I had written most glowingly about. The other play, about which I was a bit less glowing, did not feature at all.

I met Martin at the prize giving ceremony. We script-readers didn’t usually identify ourselves to the winners but I couldn’t resist introducing myself and saying how I had read, reviewed, and admired his two plays. We had a frank discussion about the plays, which I hugely enjoyed. I felt that he tended to push his dialogue exchanges several beats too far and he confidently disagreed, asserting that he actually had it just right. I felt that the right play had won the competition and he again effortlessly disagreed. In his opinion, the other play was infinitely better.

We had a grand afternoon. We positioned ourselves in the corner, watching the room, making fun of people, bantering in that ‘I’ve raised the stakes, now it’s you turn’ way that some Irish people like to do. He was a nice guy. He was hugely confident is his own ability and in his own future success. I told him if he ever fancied doing a bit of co-writing to give me a call. He laughed politely and that was pretty much that. We never met again.

And now he haunts me. 

Shortly after our little meeting, Martin exploded onto the world of theatre. Gary Hynes of The Druid Theatre Company took on his Leenane Trilogy of plays and wowed, first Ireland, then the West End and then Broadway with the work. Meanwhile Nicolas Hytner at the National Theatre in London took on another of his plays. He appeared in all the papers and famously told Sean Connery to ‘fuck off’ at an awards ceremony. His star ascended and it hasn’t stopped ascending yet. In his newest film, which he wrote, he directs Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell and my all time hero, Tom Waits, to name but a few.

Perhaps it’s because I saw his work before anybody else did, I saw the potential in him and I was right. Perhaps that’s what haunts me.

But, no, it isn’t that. Not really. 

The truth is that his is the writing career I believed I would one day have. I have always felt that I have some talent for writing and I have studied and read and watched and generally soaked up everything I can to further my ambition. And I have written, always written. I believed that my talent would, eventually, out. But I am nearly fifty now and I am coming to face the rather interesting possibility that I am not destined to succeed. Oh, I will have things put on, here and there, and I will love and treasure those, as I always have, but the big game is perhaps not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to keep trying until I die, it’s in my blood, I have to, but I have to start facing the facts too. I’ve never been a fool. 

The fact of the matter is that Martin McDonagh has earned and deserves everything he gets. When he had nothing but the faith in his ability that I had, he was brave and bold enough to take the plunge. He lived very poor and worked extremely hard, producing radio play after radio play, being rejected hither and yon. He didn’t give up though, he kept at it, he kept his faith in himself and ultimately he won through. I respect that enormously. I envy it but I respect it too. 

I was never brave enough to do that. There was always work that had to be done, real life responsibilities that took precedence over the writing that I burned to do. My writing was always (and still is) done late at night when all my other duties are fulfilled. When my energy is low and I am perhaps not at my best. I was never really brave enough to starve myself in the attempt to find success.

But there’s more to it than just bravery. Much more. The fact it took me longest to face is this one. Martin is just a better writer than I am. It’s hard to even write that down. There was a time when, in my head, nobody was better than me but I’m older now and wiser. There are levels of talent in all things and, in fairness, I believe I am on a level which is a bit higher than quite a lot of other writers. I belong there because I’m pretty good. But I’m not the best. For a while there, I thought I was but I’m not. 

In the early days, I thought myself rather clever to have ‘spotted’ Martin McDonagh from deep in my slush pile. “I must be pretty damn good to pick him out of the pile,” I thought. Not at all. There’s no talent in seeing pure talent, it will shine out of any heap of scripts for anyone. A fool could have found McDonagh in that pile. It’s just that I happened to be the fool who did it.

But, just because I touched greatness on its way up, that’s never any reason for me to equate myself with it, to say it should have been me. It shouldn’t have been me. For two reasons. One, that I didn’t put everything I had into it and, two, that I probably wasn’t ever quite good enough. Maybe if I’d covered 'number one’ then 'number two’ might have looked after itself.

In the meantime, as soon as I get over this little bit of wallowing that my Haunting inevitably evokes, I’ll be back on track, writing, submitting, trying my best with whatever time I am able to allow myself. 

I’m looking forward to Martin McDonagh’s new film, I think it’s going to be great.

Who knows? Maybe someday mine will be too. 

Skyfall – My Review


Skyfall opened today nationwide and I’ve just seen it. I promised myself I would write a few lines about it when I got home, before I read what anyone else thought of it. 

Because I’ll post this online I’m mindful of not spoiling the film for those many who haven’t seen it yet but who doubtless will soon. It’s not easy to be spoiler-free. Everything you learn about a film, before you see it, spoils it in some shape or form. 

Still let’s try.

Skyfall… those three dots represent me pausing and staring at the computer screen for a while… there, I did it again.

Come on, Ken, do it.

Sam Mendes has ‘delivered’ Bond. That’s the main thing to say. He’s just simply ‘delivered’. And that’s an incredibly difficult thing to do because people want different things from Bond now. It’s not enough to be a gambling philandering super-agent who saves the world, neither is it enough to be a broken reflective dinosaur of a man in a world which has largely passed him by. But these are some of the conflicting things that people want. They want the three dimensional Bond, that’s what they want.

But Bond can never be three dimensional. He is, in truth, the very epitome of two dimensional. He is totally ‘of the page’ and ‘of the screen’, a fantasy man if ever there was one. That is the magic of what Daniel Craig can do, he can be a two dimensional fantasy man but he can make him bleed believably. 

Craig is simply magic in the role. Who was the person who first looked at him and saw Bond? That person is the equivalent of the man who first decided it might be nice to eat an Oyster. I never believed in Craig until I saw him do it on screen but tonight I saw him do it again and now I believe in him even more.

Mendes gives us practically every Bond we could possibly want. He gives us blinding action moments, he allows us a title sequence that Maurice Binder would have been extremely proud of, he gives us statuesque Bond, ruthless Bond, horny Bond, broken Bond. He take us everywhere that we feel we should like to go with the James Bond film.

And that is good.

But then.

Then he takes us where we didn’t even know we wanted to go… until he takes us there and that is the best of all.

Ken. Ken. You haven’t said if you like it.

I do like it. 

I like it very much.

Not everyone in the cinema liked it though. It is a long film and it is, shall we say, ‘elegantly-paced’ at times. I think people occasionally found the gaps between action sequences a little long. I can say that I personally did not but I think my son did. He will never admit it, being a stoic little dude, but this Bond may not be a twelve year olds absolute delight. Maybe that’s no bad thing either. They have their own stuff, allow us this rather grown up fun.

I can’t tell you about the things I absolutely loved without spoiling it for you and I encourage you to see it without it being spoiled, if at all possible. There was a moment where I grunted in shocked sympathy, a moment where I laughed knowingly and another moment where I exclaimed aloud (but quietly) in sheer glee. That’s not bad, is it?

Could I pick some holes? Yes I could. I’ll pick one, just to prove it. I didn’t like the so-called Bond Girls. One seemed to be auditioning to be the next 'Doctor’s Companion' while the other seemed to me to be like a semi-drugged parody of a cartoon Femme Fatale. Except in  the shower where the water seemed to have some kind of invigorating effect on her.

The writers give us scenarios we might half-recognise from other movies then, much more brilliantly, they give us stuff we have simply never seen before. Bond meets some new challenges here, the most remarkable ones being of the most surprisingly mundane kind.

It’s filmmaking that cares and I love that. Everybody is trying really hard to make everything the best it can be and largely succeeding. Perhaps nothing can quite match the hype and the expectation of a life-long Bond fan but that hype and expectation is a least half the fun and this film delivered plenty to be satisfied with and perhaps even treasure.  

One final thought. I must stop watching trailers for upcoming films. It really does the movie-going experience no good at all. I should watch them after I’ve seen the film. That would be better. 

Why I’m Allowed to be Excited about Skyfall


This is the very best week in any James Bond year. This is the week before the new movie comes out. And I’m excited. I’m forty nine years old and I’m still excited about a new James Bond Movie. It’s silly, isn’t it? It’s childish. Of course it is.

But I have the right, you see. I have the right to be excited about ‘Skyfall’.

James Bond movies are fifty years old this year and I will be fifty years old next year. We’ve been hanging around together all of our lives, Bond and me. And I started young, very young.

I guess my parents must have liked Bond. They were moviegoers so they were probably being wowed by ‘Dr No’ and ‘From Russia with Love’ when I was just a dot and then a baby. ‘Goldfinger’, brand spanking new, must have knocked them utterly senseless while I was toddling around and ‘Thunderball’ and ‘You Only Live Twice’ must have been as eagerly anticipated by them as ‘Skyfall’ is now for me.

The first James Bond movie that I became personally conscious of was ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. That was 1969 so I was just 6 years old. I collected chewing gum cards of the movie, I remember them so well. In my memory, I was constantly arranging and rearranging them. I also had my beloved Die Cast Aston Martin DB5 with working ejector seat. I was Bond’s biggest little fan before I ever even got to see him. In fact, OHMSS was one of the last Bonds I got to see. It turned up on telly one Good Friday Night many years ago. I found it overblown and disappointing although the book remains my favourite one. 

The first new release cinema Bond that I actually got to see was ‘Diamonds are Forever’. There was an advert for milk on telly with Connery as Bond filming the ‘space walk’ scene. It built the excitement nicely. My parents went to the new movie early in the week and came home and proclaimed that I was going to love it. They particularly liked the gangster who said, “I didn’t know there was a pool down there…”. I went to the Saturday matinee with my pals. It was 1971 and I was eight years old. I loved it. Loved it. I went again the next Saturday.

My next Bond wasn’t a Bond at all. It was called ‘The Red Tent’ and it also appeared in our local cinema in 1971. Because Connery was in it, my mates were all convinced it was the new Bond but I looked up the titles of the books in the flyleaf of an old copy of ‘Thunderball’ that we had at home and there was no ‘Red Tent’ in there. So I had my doubts. Still, I went along in hope. Our disappointment was overwhelming.

Then, suddenly - Oh God, I remember it so well - Connery was gone and Roger Moore was in. I bought into the pre-release hype of ‘Live and Let Die’ in a big, big way. Moore had a diary of his on-set experiences and I bought it and soaked it up although I couldn’t for the life of me understand how he could sound so bored with so much of the filming . Also his kidney stone troubles seemed highly un-007-like. The movie was another Saturday matinee excursion. I knew from the stills that the speedboats would jump but I had no idea how much I would love them doing it. I was ten years old, remember. I actually thought that the plot concerned a bad man who wanted to release two tons of herons onto the streets of New York. I had no clue what heroin was. I also thought that James Bond's shaving can was equipped with a flame thrower to kill all snakes rather then just an inflammable product that was resourcefully lit by Bond’s cigar. Skippy Hopper put me straight on that point on the happy walk home from the cinema.

‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ is much-reviled but it still holds a warm place in my heart. In 1974, it marked the first time I was allowed to go to the cinema on my own at night. Yes, I was 11. George Henderson and I went along and I know George stops-by for a read here so hiya mate. I loved this film when it came out. I didn't really recognise it at the time but I loved the music too. Not the ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ theme song so much but rather the lush oriental strings which permeate the score. I didn’t know you could  even like movie music back then but that's what I was doing all right. I loved Britt Ekland too. My memory is that she had appeared topless on a horse in my granddad’s copy of the ‘News of the World’ the week before and that had birthed all kinds of anticipatory angst. George and me hung in at the end titles to see what the name of the next Bond movie would be. It was to be called ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ which, frankly, didn’t sound all that good to us. Less of the ‘loving’, Bond, more of the ‘action’.

As I explain elsewhere, I believe that Bond movies are at their very best when they are fresh. The Moore era looks utterly dated and stale now but, mark my words, when Shane Ruane and I went to the Gaiety to see ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ on the very first night it came out, it was absolutely stunning. Clapperboard, on the telly, had said that there was a brilliant ski stunt near the start and, when Bond did a somersault and shot a few baddies, all on skis, I thought that was it. Then… then… well, you all know what happened then. It was utterly eye-popping and unmistakably real. A truly great movie moment… at that time.

‘Moonraker’ came out in the same week as Superman. ‘Moonraker’ was the first Bond that I thought was just crap. I couldn’t believe it.  ‘For Your Eyes Only’ recaptured a little of the joy but I was seventeen by then and my tastes were rapidly changing. ‘Octopussy’ , I actually quite liked although I can hardly watch it now, so rife it is with silly in-jokes.

I was in London by the time ‘View To a Kill’ came out and I didn’t care much about it at all. Bond was over-and done for me by then. I went to see it weeks after it came out and hated it with a vengeance.

All this time I was catching up on the old Connery Bonds on the telly. I grew to love them. My absolute favourite remains ‘From Russia With Love’. I think it is timeless, cruel and tough. It will never grow old for me.

Then, finally, Moore stepped down and the word was that Brosnan was a sure thing to take over. But no, it was someone called Dalton and, out of the blue, I was all-excited again. A new Bond was promised, harder, more Fleming-like, more romantic, even. I again bought into the hype of ‘The Living Daylights’ in a way that I hadn’t for years. I went to Leicester Square to see the coming and goings at the premiere and I saw the film myself the night after in the same cinema with a herd of friends who I had bought tickets for. I really, really liked it. I thought Dalton did a great job and I looked forward to more.

‘Licence to Kill’ was dreadful. Dread Full. It was all-over again.

I knew Brosnan very well. His TV Show – Remington Steele – was very popular in Ireland and his slightly camp playing did nothing to convince me that he could carry the role. But then he appeared in ‘The Fourth Protocol’ as the bad guy and, man, he was ‘hard’. Maybe he could carry it off after all…

So I wanted to like Goldeneye, I really did. I expected to like it. I built myself up to like it… and I just couldn’t. Brosnan seemed to have a stone mask duct taped to his face throughout. He just didn’t do it for me.

I thought he grew into the role, in fairness, but I just don’t think he ever got the script he deserved. There’s a wonderful moment in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ where he shows delight in what he is doing (driving a remote controlled BMW) and I thought that was pure magic. Controversially, I also thought that the first half of his last outing ‘Die Another day’ was pretty good but the second half was dire. Brosnan looked great and played it great but the movies weren’t as good as he was, that was it. When he was out, I was actually wishing he could have one more go. There was talk of a Tarantino reboot. That sounded good to me.

But, basically, I was in ‘meh’ mode again and not likely ever to get back out of it. I still loved the old Bonds on the telly and I still liked revisiting the books too but there wasn’t likely to be anything cinematic to ever grab me again. 

And then along came Daniel Craig. They brought him up the Thames in a speedboat to introduce him to the world as Bond and he had to wear a life jacket. It was bloody awful. Who was this guy? He was blonde and hard-looking? Not Bond-Like at all. What the hell could he do?

What Craig could do, pure and simple, was be the best Bond ever - bar-none.  Casino Royale is something that other Bond movies (with the possible exception of ‘From Russia with Love’) could not be, it is a fine movie in its own right. You don’t have to like James Bond to like it. It’s an amazing film in almost every respect and I have a funny feeling it will not ever date badly. It certainly hasn’t so far.

‘Quantum of Solace’ was a disappointment by comparison.  I now think that the final half hour is very good but the rest of it seems joyless and detached and the action scenes a la ‘Bourne' remain incomprehensible to me. 

So, yes, I am allowed to be excited about Skyfall and I am. Sam Mendes is a great director and I look forward to seeing what edge he can bring. Purvis and Wade have proved that they can write these things and Thomas Newman can certainly write a score.

I will see it this week and then report back here.

Wish me luck. I deserve it.

The Value of Pointless Memories


I was driving back from a thing last Monday evening and Paul Auster was on the radio being interviewed. His interview got me thinking, mostly about memories and how I deal with the act of recounting them. 

I really like Paul Auster.  I can’t pretend to have read a huge amount of his work but I loved his ‘New York Trilogy’. Its studied oddity has stayed with me in a much stronger way than many other books. I intend to read more soon. 




In interview, he was much less obtuse than I feared he might be. As with many great writers, his ‘real voice’ is not his ‘writer’s voice’. 

(I think I’m the opposite, this is pretty much my real voice so, you know... deal with it). 

Paul was discussing his newest book which is called ‘Winter Journal’. It is apparently a memoir which is more a history of the writer’s body rather than of his mind. That sounds very interesting and it is the aspect of the book that most reviewers seem to have latched onto. I was more interested in an entirely different aspect though and the discussion which I heard about it.

Memories.

As Auster recounts his memories, he says he feels a desire or even an obligation to tell them as honestly as he can. He strives to ‘tell it as it was’ almost regardless of how this is received by the reader. I thought this was a very interesting idea. Mostly because it is something I have never-ever done. 

I am a storyteller by nature, really, and not too bad of a one either. I can take a series of elements and relate them in a way which is presentable and mildly diverting, perhaps even funny sometimes. I like doing it and people seem to like it when I do it. So all is well.

But what does this do to my memories, this narrative-driven reworking of my life? I was driving along, as I said, and Auster was finished being interviewed so I had some time to think about this. I came up with two ways in which my instinct to tell engaging stories impacts on my actual memories.

Firstly, to evoke Larkin a little , it fucks them up. Well, it has to, doesn’t it? My memories don’t come neatly packaged in anecdote-sized chunks. In order to tell them in an entertaining way, they have to be altered. They get diluted, cut, enlarged, saddened-down, happied-up… they get made bite-sized and palatable. The more I tell the reworked tale, the more it becomes the truth of the matter. Story wins and Memory loses.

Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, many memories tend to get lost altogether. It transpires that the only memories I consciously cling-to are the ones that I can write or tell engagingly. These memories get mulled-over and revisited in the guise of story-perfecting and, perhaps inevitably, they come to define me to the people I tell them to. Those other memories, the scraps and interludes than cannot be entertainingly told, well they remain unaltered and true until they rust and wither in those unvisited attic sections of my mind. 

Thank heavens, then, for the subconscious. Things can hide in there, untouched, until you go looking for them.

Paul Auster’s interview got me actively thinking about the memories I keep which are too uninteresting to tell to anyone else but which may be potential gold dust to me alone. He gave me a little key and, as I drove along, I used it. As I suspected, there’s lots of stuff in there that I wouldn’t ever be telling you (or myself) because there’s no actual point to any of it.

Or is there?

Am I wrong in thinking that a memory can only have value in the telling if it is fully complete and entertaining in itself?  I don’t know. Here’s a memory, as honest as I can tell it. Don’t read it waiting for the punchline or the twist to come along. There isn’t one. Maybe I’m starting to learn that that’s okay. 

Easter Saturday, 1980. A blindingly beautiful sunny day. My pal Sean calls round in his van and says he has to take a run to Gweedor in the neighbouring county of Donegal and did I want to come along for the ride? I did. On the way there, Sean told me that Donegal girls were special. If you passed one on the street, and looked back at her, you would most likely find that she was looking back at you too. On the way back we had the ocean down on our right hand side, the wide black tarmac road and Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins on the radio. It felt, to me, like we could be in a movie with Warren Oates. I sang along with the radio. “It’s ‘Far away in time’”, said Sean, “not ‘Fall away in time’”.  I remembered it was Easter Saturday and than I needed to get some kind of chocolate egg for Mum and Dad. There had been a nice one in the window of ‘The Smoker’s Own’ in Castle Street. I hoped it would be still there when we got back to Sligo and than I would have enough money for it…

To me, it's vivid and evocative and true. To you, it's probably nothing at all. So, if it's only of value to me  then there's no point at all in my telling it, right? Well, I'm not so sure anymore. Who knows? Who knows where a little piece of somebody's undiluted truth might come in handy for something. 

It's like putting on the indicator in your car when there's nobody else around... you don't really know there's nobody else around, you just can't see them.