Heike Investigates

The light was back on again, where it hadn’t been on for months.  Suddenly it glowed once more, orange and unclear in the coastal dusk.

Heike moved the telescope.  She manhandled it away from the main window, the one facing out into the bay, where it was used to study the sea and the stars and the lights that twinkled on as dusk fell over the distant island.

“What are you doing?”  asked Uli, from his favourite chair.


“Ssshhhh,” she told him, “read your book and ssshhhh.”

Despite the protestations of her poor back, she dragged the telescope and tripod into the side conservatory and she set it up so that she could peer at the window in the adjoining house where the light had so recently reappeared. 

“If you can see them, then they can see you,” Uli observed, from deep within his book.

“Ssshhh.”

“I’m only saying…”

But  Heike wasn’t listening.  She had finally fixed the telescope on the upper floor window and she could finally see inside.  But what could she see?  The light was still orange, as if through a shade or a filter, and things were stacked up inside, like rolls of carpet or fabric or_

“What do you see?”

“Nothing. I don’t know. Ssshhh.”

Nobody lived in the house.  For all the years that they had been coming to their retirement home-away-from-home-by-the-sea, nobody had lived there.  But, sometimes, there had been this light, in the upper floor gable window, glowing out into the night.  No car to deliver a person down the lonely lane to light the light, no other light anywhere else in the house to match it.  Just that one orange glow in the dusk, for a short while, and then gone again until the next time.

Heike realised she wasn’t breathing as she peered deep into the orange room.  She pulled herself away from the eyepiece and forced herself to inhale for a moment.  Through the naked eye, the puzzle of the distant window was now solved, carpets, or fabric, piled up in rolls, but no person, no movement, no hand to light a light.

Perhaps they were smugglers.  The coast below her house was rocky and challenging but a small boat could be landed there by a skilled oarsman and there had been plenty of reports of illicit cargoes intercepted not too much further down along the coast.  Why not here then?  Perhaps the house was a stopping-over-point for ill-gotten goods… like carpets or rolls of mysterious fabric.

She reproached herself.  Mustn’t let her imagination run away with her.  It was probably just the owner of the house who came down intermittently to check that everything was okay, stay an evening and then go away again.

How?

How does he get there?  How does he go away again?  Why do we never see him?

She peered once more into the eyeglass.  Orange light, carpets, no sign of life.

“I’m going over.”

Uli looked up, surprised, “What? Where?”

“Over, over,” she pointed with her chin, “over.”

“Surely not.”

“I have some of my Tiramisu left.  I’ll put it in the blue bowl and cover it with foil and bring it over, as a welcoming gift,” she nodded decisively, “it will be… neighbourly.”

Uli had been contemplating a small Whiskey.  Nothing fancy, a little Crested Ten perhaps and then bed and eventual sleep to the sound of the waves.  Now it all seemed suddenly rather distant and unattainable.  “Go in the morning, if you must,” he said.

“But the light will be gone by morning, it always is.”

“All the more reason to wait and go then.”

Heike tried the telescope once more.  Nothing had changed.  The smugglers orange light, the carpet cargo, the impending dusk.

She decided, snapped up straight, headed for the fridge, “I’m going.”

“It’s too late to go,” Uli protested.

“It’s seven thirty, it’s not late at all,” said  Heike.

“It’s late for us.”  And perhaps therein lay the crux of the matter.

        *        *        *        *

The house was only fifty metres away as the crow flies but to get there on foot was a more substantial proposition.  The driveway down toward the coast had to be negotiated and then onto the lane and back up away from the coast to the entrance to the other house.  It took ten minutes or so to navigate it and the Tiramisu slipped and slided in the blue bowl all the way around.

Uli had presented her with five final words as she stomped out of the back door in her favourite green Wellingtons.

“You are not Miss Marple,” he had said.

The words stayed with her as she tromped her way down towards the sea and her back itched in the exact spot that she knew Uli had the telescope focused on.  What on earth did she think she was doing?  Was she going to single-handedly round up the smugglers in time for the nine o’clock news?  Was that it?

The sea before her was choppy and black.  The lighthouse swept its rotating beam along the island with reassuring regularity and the lights along the far side of the bay were as many as they were going to be all evening.  She walked on.

They had happened upon a Whale, along the shore, earlier in the week.  Dead of course.  A Pilot Whale, Uli had said.  It had been assailed by the gulls and it stank to high heaven.  It wasn’t the smell that had bothered her though.  It was the finality, the suddenness of the finality.  One moment bolting through the black cold waters, the next impaled on a barren shore, life leaking away…

The front door of the neighbour’s house arrived quicker than anticipated.  She had almost expected the front door to be ajar, to creak open as she tapped gently upon it.  But it wasn’t, it was closed and it looked like it had not been opened in the longest of times.  In fact, the whole place looked deserted.  Perhaps that’s the way the smugglers liked it.

She glanced across at her own house and, yes, there was Uli, eye glued to the telescope.  He saw her seeing him and straightened up quickly to beckon her back home.  Come home Miss Marple, come home to the shore.

No.

Not yet. 

She turned and raised her fist to the door. A moment’s hesitation and then she knocked.  A hard confident neighbourly knock.  Then she waited, hardly nervous at all.

Was that a movement within?  She couldn’t be sure.  Who would come to the door?  Would it friend or foe, smuggler or aged owner?  What would they have to say to her?

Heike didn’t know and she suddenly realised that was just fine.

She didn’t need to know the answers, not at this very moment.

At this very moment, she was just out in the world asking the questions.

And that was enough.


Honk – A Review

I shouldn’t write when I’m buzzin’.  It never works out well.  Still I’m here… so…

Two of our loveliest schools here in Castlebar, (County Mayo, Ireland) – St. Gerald’s College and St. Joseph’s Secondary School - have joined forces to produce this year’s school musical and I’m just back from seeing it and, yes, I’m buzzin’ so watch out.

‘Honk’ is not a widely-known musical but it has a pedigree.  It won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical in the year 2000 many years after a fledgling version played in Newbury in 1993 (yes ‘fledgling’, I told you I was buzzed… leave me alone!).

Anyway enough with the history already.  ‘Honk’ is a bright, clever, show with a witty, ever-so-slightly-saucy book and a brace of hummable tunes.  It’s also ideally suited for a teen cast to kick to life bearing, as it does, messages of Tolerance, Anti-Bullying, Stranger-Danger and Frog Admiration.

It’s the ‘Ugly Ducking’ story, you got that, right?  There once was an ugly ducking…  It’s well suited for a musical, there’s all the farm animals, waiting anxiously for the hatching of Ida and Drake’s brood, everyone a little curious as to what’s in that big egg right at the back.  What eventually comes out is a bit ‘different’ and the farmyard is not slow to let poor ‘Ugly’ know all about this.  Isolated, starved of attention (and French Bread) Ugly turns in despair to the Cat for friendship but the Cat has other things on his mind.

This is all done with a great big huge cast of super-energetic teens – a boys school and a girls school thrown together and allowed to wear outlandish clothes and belt out huge show tunes… where were you, Mr Director, (Ronan Lardner) when I was young? 

And the cast is Phenomenal.  No, really they are.  They play it to the hilt and it’s a complicated show with as many different conflicts as you might find in the boys school and as many different mood shifts as you might find in the girls...  (I’m in trouble now, right?)

Let’s name some names.

Gerry Sheil plays Ugly with a gentle vulnerably – a sort of Clark Kent waiting to learn he is Superman.  I’ve known Gerry a long time and he really threw himself into this.  He fearlessly allows himself to play gawky and na├»ve in front of his peers and then effortlessly rises to the heights required to carry the finale.  For me, Gerry showed an elusive quality that I sometimes see in the likes of Johnny Depp, a sense of assured restraint.  Listen to me rattle on… I just thought he Aced it.

Katie Rooney, who plays Maureen, has a lovely voice – why did nobody tell me this?  She’s a little underused but she commands attention whenever she’s onstage, particularly when interacting with Ida and, of course, when she’s singing.  Have you heard her sing?  I mean really!

Neil Kernan is a great Cat.  He brings this Bob Fosse quality to the part – he probably doesn’t even bloody know who Bob Fosse is but you do, right?  You remember when he did that ‘snake’ thing in ‘The Little Prince’?  Yeah, that (I know that none of you have a clue what I am talking about and, guess what, I don’t care).  Neil is a great Cat.  Miow.

There’s another great Cat too.  Jane Murray is Queenie the Domesticated Cat and I can’t talk about her too much in case I get arrested.  Queenie, as a character, brings a little ‘edge’ to the piece and when the two cats get together… well…  Changing the subject rapidly, Queenie’s accomplice Lowbutt is played wonderfully by Katie Glynn and she’s got a belting voice and all.

Michael Hall as the Bullfrog is given one of the best parts in the show and he doesn’t miss a single opportunity.  Rasping Durante-like gags and croaking one of the show stopping numbers ‘Warts and All’ he owns the stage while he is on it.  Well done Sir.

I could name loads more, Drake and Jack Daw, Penny and Greylag the Goose but it’s nearly bedtime and we all have to be up in the morning.

So let me name just one more.  Tanita Tolan.  Tanita, as Ida, is simply a Star.  She delivers the emotional payload of the story with consummate ease and she sings like a dream.  People will return to this paragraph in decades to come and cite this as one of the first of her many subsequent glowing reviews.  I don’t mind, I need the page views.  Watch for Tanita though, mark me on this.

A word too for the band.  It’s lovely to see a show with a real live band, it’s a real treat and the guys were great.

I just had a great night.  It’s not just about the show or the music, it’s about growing up and making memories and taking part and bonding in adversity and doing things that scare you and showing yourself boldly to your friends and family.  It’s about the fear before and the buzz afterward, the catcalls from friends down the back, the onstage disasters that the audience never even notice…

… it’s about that frisson, innit?


Look, it’s finishing tomorrow night.  If you’re in Castlebar, you should get your ass up to Breaffy House Arena and see it.  Go on, you can come back and read this again after, I’ll still be here.

Thanks, then, to St. Gerald’s and St. Joseph’s for a grand evening out.

I had fun.

Can’t you tell?




Neighbour’s Dog Hates Me

It’s all in the title this week folks, no real need to read any further.  The dog hates me, what else do you need to know?

It’s disappointing though, mightily disappointing.  You see I rather fancy myself as a dog-person.  If you’ve seen some of my earlier blog posts like this and this, you’ll know this already.  You’ll know that I think I’m actually ‘part dog’ myself.

Plus, I like dogs, I’m not afraid of them and I tend to get on really well from them right from the off.  I like to make an effort and becomes friends with them and, like The French, they generally appreciate that.

Not this mutt though.  Not him.

He’s a little furry runt, this neighbour’s dog, not at all intimidating, and I would quite like us to be mates.  I been trying but I think I’ve given up hope now.  I think this little post is the final nail in the coffin of our relationship.

He’s usually holed up inside his master’s house, this little tyke, and then he’s obviously not a problem.  It’s when they let him out in the garden that all hell breaks loose.  He’s just a bit overly-territorial, I guess.  He stands in behind the railings of his steel gate and he peers out the gap and when someone passes, he barks at them.

Fair enough, you might well say, he’s a dog.

All very well.  It’s just that he’s got a different routine for me and frankly it gets on my nerves.  You see, he doesn’t bark at me, not at first, not for the longest time.  I generally see him when I’m walking down to the shop to the get milk or something.  He sees me approaching his gates and I see him…

… and he doesn’t bark.

I get right up beside him and he’s watching me intently and I walk past him and he seems fine with that and then, only then, when I’m gone past him, does he bark.  And, no, he doesn’t just bark, he goes friggin’ Ballistic.  He hurls himself at the gate, as if trying to tear it apart with his tiny jaws, he bawls abuse in his little doggy voice.  You would get the impression he would tear my throat out, if he could only get through the gate and if he could only reach up.

There’s more.

Once he’s started, he doesn’t stop barking.  Ever.  The shop which I go to is over five minute further past his gate and, all the time until I get there, I can hear him barking, barking, barking.  When I come out of the shop again, milk in hand, I can hear that he’s stopped and he doesn’t start again until I do the same thing again; walk past his gate, get eyed up intimidatingly and then barked all the way home.

“Why don’t you stop at the gate and make friends with him?”  I hear you ask.  (I do, I’m like that)  To this I say, “Do you really think I haven’t tried that, I mean, do you really?”  Trying to make friends with him is the very worst thing you can do.  Believe me, I know.  Friendship-attempts raise the level of apoplexy in the mutt to literally terrifying levels.  Not the sort of terror that applies to my own personal safety, I’m not that big a wuss.  No.  It’s that terror that this dog will drop dead at any moment from the sheer force of his hostility.

So I can’t win.  I suppose I could go around to the shop in the other direction but it’s a long way to go just to keep a tiny dog alive.  Hate me if you must but it’s a price I find myself unwilling to pay.

And here’s the rub, the truth of the matter.  The barking of this little dog doesn’t make me sad or scared or philosophical.  I wish.  It’s makes me angry, almost as angry as the little dog gets.  This is my street, you see, and I bought this house on this street and this little… this little… Shit… doesn’t get to tell me to back off on my own street.  Why if I could have five minutes in that garden with him, just five minutes, I would take him and I would_

Deep breaths, Ken, deep breaths…

… maybe I will walk around the long way after all.



Beautiful Fascinator

I saw you first behind a hedge
You were something fine to see
A lovely top to a lovely Head
Beautiful Fascinator, thee.

Some net, a feather, arcing wide.
Across the wedding spree
Too much for hair, too less for hat
Beautiful Fascinator, see.

I walked round to you
Bold as brass
And asked would you be mine
T’was then I got to see your ass
And that was also fine.

So now you’re mine and I am yours
We’ll marry, you and me
I will wear my fine top hat.
Beautiful Fascinator, thee.

Waiting for the Hype to Subside

Come home
When the party’s over
When the tears have dried.
Come on home
I’ll still be here
Waiting for the hype to subside.


Come back
When the crowds have left you
On the falling tide.
You’re not alone
I’ll be here for you
Waiting for the hype to subside.

Find me
When the light is fading
When the roar has died
To a monotone.
You’ll find me silent
And waiting for the hype to subside.




The Theme Nut


Everybody has different ways of writing. Sometimes I’m a bit jealous of the way other people can write.  It often looks so much better then my way.  One example of this relates to ‘Theme’.  You know, ‘Theme’ – the higher purpose of your story, the basic tenet which drives the whole thing… you know ‘Theme’.

No?

No, me either.

I sometimes envy writers who start out with their theme.  “I know, today I shall write about ‘Man’s Inhumanity to His Fellow Man’, that’ll be good for a few smiles.”  

It must be great to be able to do that, just grab a Theme and off you bloody-well go.

It’s not me, I’m afraid.  It’s never a Theme that starts me off on anything.  It’s more likely to be a phrase or a tune or a two-line dialogue between two unformed characters.  Some scrap will start me on a writing road and I will follow it along as best I can.

But, chances are, I will never find my theme.  Not until I go hunting for it.  And I have learned never to do that until I am really close to the end.

You’ve got to play to your strengths when you write.  If I was forced to sit on a chair and not write anything until I had my Theme all sorted-out, I would never get anything done.  I’d sit there and look at the wall and eventually I would give up and decide I would never be a writer and go and cut the grass instead.  But I want to be a writer so I don’t do that.

Here’s what I do.

I do everything but Theme.  I do story and character and pacing and dialogue and editing and spell-checking and rewriting and… everything really.  I do everything.

And then, when everything else is done, I go Theme Hunting.

It sounds silly, I know.  It sounds wrong.  But it works for me.

When it’s all done, all written – whatever it is – I sit and look at it and I say, “Now, what is this fecker actually about?”  After a little looking at it, I start to see, very clearly, what it is actually about and then I have it, I have my Theme.

You must be disgusted with me.  “How can you do this?  This is not writing.  How can you possibly write anything of value if you don’t know what you are really writing about?”

Fair points, all.

The thing is, I do know what I am writing about, I am just not aware of it.  An element of writing is sub-conscious.  If I’ve thought up something I want/need to write then there is a reason I’ve arrived at that thing, there is some good reason why I want it written.  That, for me, is a given.  But if I mooch around trying to figure out what that reason is, then I may never get the writing done at all.  So, instead, I get the writing done and I wait for that sub-conscious driving force to turn up.  And, generally, when most of the writing is done, when all the clues to the Theme are assembled on the page, then it will reveal itself as if by magic.

“But,” you cry, “it’s too late then.  You’ve written an entire ‘Thing’ without any knowledge of the Theme.  How can it possible by any good?”

And here’s the thing.  The most important thing.  It isn’t any good.

That’s why we rewrite.

Think of me writing a story as putting a wheel on a car.  I tighten all the nuts to hold the wheel on.  I tighten the ‘Story’ nut, the ‘Character’ nut, the ‘Pacing’ nut – I tighten them all.  But there’s one nut I leave loose, mostly because I don’t know where it is.  When I find it, that elusive ‘Theme’ nut, I tighten it and tighten it and then I’m done… right?

Wrong.

Because this late tightening of the Theme Nut has only gone and made all the other nuts loose again. 

Yes indeed.  When I finally find my Theme, as I invariably do, that Theme colours and changes and tightens everything I had written before I found it.  Everything gets twisted to synch with my new-found Theme.

And, for me, this is the very best piece of the writing process.  It’s a wondrous polish where all the work I have done gets tuned to subtly compliment the theme.  You might not ever notice it, as a reader, listener or viewer but the product - the writing - becomes vastly more coherent and convincing as a result of this work.  At least I think it does.

So don’t hate me too much, if you’re one of those blessed people who start out with their Theme.  I may envy you a bit but I’ve found my own way to work around it.

It might not be great but it’s better than staring at the wall.



In Praise of John And Marian’s

I’m late with my blog post this week.

There’s a good reason for that though.  We’ve been to John and Marian’s for the weekend.  We just got back.

We’ve been going to John and Marian’s for many years now.  John and Marian effortlessly bridge the gap between being Family and Friends and there’s no better place to go.  You kind-of forget how true that is, if you haven’t been for a while, so it’s always good to be back.


John and Marian have a magical home in the country and they welcome you with open arms whenever you happen to call.  They feed you magnificently and there’s plenty to drink too if you want it.  There are beds that are as deep as they are wide and the sun always seem to shine there whenever we go.

Even the back garden is a magical place.  Birds sing in binaural stereo, the pond ripples with industrious tadpoles and every tune that wafts across the subtly tempered stereo system is bound to be another of your own personal favorites.

John and Marian’s is a haven of rest, entertainment, challenging discussion, artistry, friendship and peace.  It’s really pretty good all-in-all.

But it is not a static place. 

That is perhaps the best thing of all.  Rather, it is a place that calmly reflects the years that have passed in-between visits.  The trees are that much taller, the greenhouse that little bit less transparent, and the beloved pets who resided so happily there now mostly lie beneath cool stone markers as the solitary survivor moves among them, ageing gently, and mourning their mysterious departure into the soil.

A visit to John and Marian’s is mostly about fun and food and friendship but it’s impossible not to reflect a little too.  “Time passes. Listen. Time passes” and a visit here is a moment out of time to remember, to look forward and, for that moment, to just ‘be’.

So thank you, John and Marian, for another lovely time spent in the safe haven of your magic home.  We’ll come back again soon.  We’d be fools if we didn’t.

I recommend that you all take a weekend out of time quite soon and go and visit John and Marian’s.

And, yes, I am fully aware that I haven’t really told you who John and Marian are or, even more importantly, where you can find them.  This was no accident.

This John and Marian’s is ours, you have to go and find your own.

And, hey, I wish you the best of luck with that.