This Year on the Blog

I can see why people do this kind of thing.

The year is nearly dead and gone. There doesn't seem to be that much original thought left in it to share. Also, it's a couple of days too early for looking forward. Looking forward can be a bit scary, best to leave it off until the tinsel is safely boxed up again and the tree is in the recycling pile.

So, what to do then?

Easy. Look back.

Every January 1st, I wonder what the hell I am going to write on this blog in the coming year. I have no idea, no plan, no saved up bits of text to use when the feeling is not there. It's my silly little version of a high wire act. This year, I managed the 52 posts in 52 weeks and I'm pleased about that in my own little way.

So, to close the year, I thought I would select one post from each month of the year and mention it again. I don't ask that you go and read them all, some of you for the second time but, if you have a minute or two, perhaps click a random one and see what you get. Feedback always appreciated.

It's been an interesting exercise, picking the twelve. There were things I had almost forgotten I'd written, things that no longer seemed relevant, things I had changed my mind about. The twelve I picked still seem to resonate in some way with me. I hope one of them might do the same for you. That's always nice.

Happy New Year, when it comes. Let's treasure the good times and get the hell out of the bad times as cleanly as we can.

K x 

January - Someone tweeted a line that appealed to me so I rattled off a lyric about it. I do this quite a bit. I know I'm poxy-bad at it but, hey, it keeps me off the streets. Here it is:


February - I was writing about bullying having seen some happen through my Twitter peephole.


March - A post about some random things like Mothers and Magpies which came out okay, I think.


April - Nights of late night movies and slow dances were recalled


May - A rather visceral series of memories from my childhood afternoons spent in the slaughter house.


June - My knee went and now I can never jog again. Perhaps I should cycle? Emmm...


July - Charlie Haden died. I wrote a little about what one of his songs meant to me. It got rather personal.


August - I reviewed William Boyd's James Bond novel. I called it 'That James Bond Fella, What a Prick'


September - One of my 'Deep Thought' days. I got to figuring that Life was like being on a Plane.


October - My Son, Sam, went Internet viral. I still shake my head in wonderment at this.


November - I wrote about our Trampoline Cat. People like Cat Stuff.


December - Just a couple of weeks ago, I was recalling bring my eldest son to the movies for the very first time.


That's it. There's lots more posts back there if you ever fancy them.

Thanks to visitors and readers, Facebookers, RTers, Spammers and a special thanks to Jim Murdoch, who has been my constant companion in blogging for many years now.

What on earth will I write about next year?

Not a bloody clue...

A Good Year in Theatre

As the year runs down, I wanted to note that it’s been a good year in theatre for me. It makes me wonder if I shouldn’t clamp down on my rampant pursuit of every written-word medium and focus in a little on what I seem to be okay at.

But more of that anon.

The year started, as is did the year before, in Claremorris at the Fringe Theatre Festival. I had won it the year before with ‘The Doubles Partner’ and wanted to be there again in 2014. 

I wanted to do it again for the fun and the drama but also, importantly, to be able to work with my friends, Donna, Tara and Eamon to put a new play together and show it to the Fringe. The play for 2015 has just been submitted and I would like to be able do it all yet again, one more time, if possible, but the competition will be stronger than ever, I know, and first we've got to get in. We’ll see.

That’s how ‘Dance Night’ was created. We didn’t win at the Fringe but, in my mind, we won everything that mattered to me. We won the audience and we won the polishing of a new small play which I have come to be very proud of. Dance Night went on to be performed at the Irlam Fringe Festival, a lovely event which gave me an excuse to return momentarily to England for the first time in fifteen years. This was a lovely production which had the desired effect of reducing many to gentle tears. Success! I hope and believe that the Irlam Fringe will return for 2015 under the guidance of Jane McNulty and I recommend you keep an eye out for it.

While all this was going on, my teen play ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’ had been put forward by the National Association of Youth Drama as one of three New Stage scripts. That meant that interested groups could take on the play, with the royalties covered by NAYD. Two new productions resulted for 2014 and I had the very best time travelling to see them and making new friends. First up was MAD Youth Theatre Company in Dundalk. This was a joy for me. I got to sit in among the audience and nobody knew me from Adam. I loved hearing the laughter and the sighs but most of all I loved the astonishment of the young group around me as they watched their friends and peers being so astonishingly brave and uninhibited on the stage in front of them.

Onward, a little later in the year, to Kildare to see ‘Midnight’ done by Griese Youth Theatre and the cast of the MAD production came too! This was another extraordinary production, imaginative and bold, and some gender swapping of characters opened my eyes to some new possibilities for the piece. A great show – two great shows – I drove home happy and fulfilled each time.

As if this weren’t enough, my pal Oisin Heraty brought‘Conception, Pregnancy, and Bert’ to Clann Machua Drama Group in Kiltimagh an they took it on, head on, and toured the One Act Festivals with it. This play was originally a radio play, written for and recorded by St Patrick’s Drama Group in Westport a good few years ago. The play is silly and a bit of fun and Clann Muchua brought all the energy and commitment required to carry it off, not to mention a series of eye-popping set changes. I followed along and saw them play in quite a few venues and, each time, the audience were clearly having a good time, as was I. 

This was the icing on the cake of what was, for me, a good year in theatre.

As I was alluding to at the outset, I start to wonder if I should focus my energy more exclusively to writing for theatre, if that’s where the fun and fulfilment can be found for me. My other pursuits, in TV and prose, took a lot of energy this year and singularly didn’t bear fruit. Should I draw a veil and just do what I seem to be able to do?

Well, no, I don’t think so. While I would love ‘The Break’ and the opportunity to not have to work full-time while writing into the night, I also need to write wherever my heart and head take me. And that might be a short story, a blog post, a film script, a TV notion, a radio play or ever a novel (again). 

I think if I start to make it about the ‘result’ and the ‘success’, I might lose whatever impetus makes me sit down and write stuff all of the time.

This is my life, I think. To never be a true writer in my own head but to still be able to reach people and sometime touch people with what I write.

Who knows, maybe next year will be a good year in Radio or TV or… something.

Let’s see how it all plays out. 

Two Memories of Toy Story 2

Alex on Twitter mentioned Toy Story 2 the other evening. He just said how his young daughter was loving it. That got me thinking about when I went to see it and what it means to me.

My life and the movies I see are always inextricably tied up together. If I want to evoke a certain era or a place, the best thing I can do is think back to the films I saw around that time. This is like a tiny key to my memory casket. The film comes back and other things come back too.

When Toy Story 2 hit the cinemas, Trish was heading off to London for a day or two and so it was just John and me whiling away the weekend together. I’ve checked online and, apparently, the film was released here in Ireland in February 2000. That would mean that John was very nearly four years old.

He really liked his Toy Story video and we had watched it many times over so I figured that this was as good an opportunity as any to give the local cinema another try. John had only been once before, with his Mum and some other Mums and pals. It hadn’t gone well. The film was called ‘Doug’s First Movie’. It didn’t make a major splash with the general public and it made less of a splash with my son John who, afterward, expressed the firm wish to never attend the cinema again.

This was hard on me. I never saw myself as the Dad who would be at the sidelines of the soccer match or the Dad who… did anything, really. Except go to the movies. I was Movie Dad and to have a young feller who was not keen to go… It was hard.

So, with Trish in London and some level of anticipation for this particular show, we steeled ourselves, John and me and we rolled off to see Toy Story 2.

This is the first of the two memories that stay with me from that early afternoon viewing. We went in to the cinema after the lights went off because the going off of the lights was one of the controversial issues. But, as it turned out, the lack of lights was also a similarly-rated controversial issue. We were nearly gone home before we even got in the door.

Memory One – The Usher’s Seat

There was a single seat, just inside the door. It was the seat where the usher would sit, back in the days when there would be an usher in the cinema. It was a solitary fold down seat, all on its lonesome. 

“Let’s just try this seat here,” I whispered, in some desperation,  because John was not for staying, “it’s right beside the door so we can leave anytime.”

So we both perched in the little seat in the awkward spot. John heavy on my lap. Both equally nervous, for slightly different reasons.

Then the movie began.

And everything was okay.

After a while we moved from the usher’s seat, down to two more comfortable ones beside the aisle so we could still get out quickly if required.

We were okay for the whole movie. I watched it swallow little John up and sweep away all his fears and anxieties. It was a wonderful metaphor for Cinema itself and what it can do for us all when it is done right.

Memory two was a teeny tiny thing that I really should have forgotten by now but I haven’t and it still makes me smile to think of it.

Memory Two – The Floor Popcorn Girl

When the movies are over, here in my town as in most towns, people move in to clear up the stuff before the next show begins. The soft drink cups, the sweet packets, the floor popcorn. They generally don’t wait until the credits finish because Multiplex time is of the essence.

At Toy Story 2 that afternoon, there weren’t many people in for the early show. The teenage girl who came in to do the floor popcorn really didn’t have anything to do except watch the credits with John and me.

And the credits scene in Toy Story 2 is funny.

And, because the film had been showing for a week or two already, the Floor Popcorn Girl knew the credits scene. She knew it off by heart. 

That’s my memory. The Floor Popcorn Girl stood in the aisle beside our seat and she spoke the credits scene along with the movie. She wasn’t doing it for us, she was doing it for herself. And she was very good.

I particularly remember her doing Mrs, Potato Head’s monologue to Mr Potato Head as she packed him up with provisions. 

“I’m packing your extra pair of shoes, and your angry eyes just in case.”

She did the voice and everything. Here’s a YouTube clip of that scene. It’s only a minute long and it’s good for a smile.


After that, John and me saw many movies together and, when Sam came along, we saw even more.

Our cinema-going is one of my delights and it has provided many fond memories. Just like the two I mentioned above.

Losing the War with the Spiders

I’m losing the war with the spiders
They’re up in the back room right now
Plotting and weaving their structures
Swearing their eight-legged vow.

I’m losing the war with the spiders
There’s a little more cobweb each week
In the small darkened nooks of my bedroom.
And the shoes in which I put my feet.

The attic’s a place that I go to no more
Though it's where the warm duvet’s is kept.
I can hear them all scuttling about on the floor.
I’ll opt for not-dead and not-slept.

I’m losing the war with the spiders
I think that the end’s nearly due.
They’ll come and they’ll eat me when I close my eyes.
In the same way they came and ate you.




Home Thoughts from a Telly

I seem to be watching a bit more telly this past month or so. It is perhaps therefore only natural  that my thoughts should bend in that direction. 

Calm down, Ken, it’s only telly.  (internal editor).

This telly-watching generally happens at around eleven in the evening, when everyone else has gone to bed. For a few years, this telly-watching slot was monopolised by viewing in relation to a particular project but that’s completed now so I’m a free agent again. I can watch what I like. 

What strikes me most is how technology has completely altered the way I now consume my telly programmes. I think this is probably the same for most of us so I know I won’t be breaking any new ground here. Still and all, it is amazing how profoundly different my preferred method of viewing is now from what it was, say, five years ago.

There is, basically, one main difference.

Five years ago, the priority was to watch a programme as it aired, the moment it aired. To see it while everybody else saw it. To be on the cusp of the zeitgeist.

Not any more. Now, thanks to technology, the very worst thing I can hope to do it to watch something live as it airs on television.

But what about Twitter? What about spoilers? If you don’t watch it live, don’t you get told what happened?

Absolutely but I don’t really care any more. I’m not really watching telly to be twisted and sideswiped. I’m there to be positively diverted and entertained. So what, if I know that Carrie pulls yet another mad face or if Lord Munchkin has an affair with his eldest niece? Twitter is like Lord Foul – it boots nothing to avoid his snares. (Kudos if you get that reference, don’t worry if you don’t. You won’t be alone). If I’m on Twitter just as a programme ends, I will get to know all about it. It’s my own fault for being there. Alright, hands up, sometimes I do get a bit annoyed when some charmless nurk scurries on to Twitter to tell everyone what they patently do not want to know. I’m usually more annoyed for other people who are being spoiled than for me. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Besides, delaying the watching of a programme doesn’t always mean that it gets left for another day before it is watched, although that is often is the case. Sometimes it only means that the programme will not be watched until it’s been on for about fifteen minutes.

But why? 

This is my rhetorical question, included for narrative reasons. It’s hardly yours. You already know why I wouldn’t start to watch a programme until it’s been on for fifteen minutes. That’s right, adverts. The removal of adverts. If you record the programme and then start watching it fifteen minutes in, you can buzz through all the adverts and still finish up at the end of the programme just as it ends on live TV. 

So that’s kind of like watching it live then? It finished when it finishes live, it just starts fifteen minutes later. 

I guess so…

But that’s only the ‘amateur night’ of delayed viewing. My latest thing is much more hardcore. It’s the ‘saving up so that I have an entire series before I even start to watch it’. That's a thing I tend to do a lot now. ‘The Newsroom’ is a case in point. I really like ‘The Newsroom’. Yeah, I know, shoot me, right? I wanted to watch the second series when it came out but I recorded it instead and then watched it, months later, night by night when I had it all to watch. I’m doing the same with Season 3 at the moment. Every week I record the episode. I’d quite like to watch them but I’ll like it more when I have them all to watch as-and-when I like. So that’s what I do. Watch ‘em live? Sod that.

But that’s not even the latest thing. There’s a new piece of telly watching behaviour that has surprised even me. First, as with The Newsroom, I defiled the sanctity of the ‘one every week’ episode structure by recording and watching them all. But now, now, I have found myself breaching the very episodic structure of the series itself.

It sounds kind of dangerous and even a bit revolutionary when I put it like that. Of course, when you’re splayed on your couch round midnight, it’s much less of a big deal. All that happens is, when one episode of ‘The Newsroom’, or whatever, is over, I don’t necessarily stop there. If I have ten minutes of good viewing time left, I will gleefully whizz on to the next episode and watch the first part of that too. 

Big deal, I hear you cry, who the hell cares? 

Fair point. Nobody should care. Nobody should care at all. Except perhaps one group of people.

The writers.

If I’m typical, and I think I am, the traditional structures of the weekly TV series are not just being broken down, they have already been demolished. The creative decisions made around the fact that viewers have a week between each episode... well they are redundant and probably have been for a long time. Even the hour-by-hour structure of all of our TV series become less of a regime to have to work within.

And you know the interesting thing? That series 2 of The Newsroom? It seemed to be taking all that on board. My episode-and-a-half-viewing pattern seemed to work very well for me. The overreaching story arcs spanned the episodes effortlessly and the individualistic sense of any individual episode seemed much diminished. 

Our TV viewing patterns have changed and are constantly changing. Our TV will change with it. 

It’s an interesting time to be sprawled here on the couch, watching the box. 

The Trampoline Cat

This is an actual photograph of her. It’s not one of those ‘borrowed-with-permission’ internet image like the ones I usually use. 

This really is my Trampoline Cat.

I think it helps that you are able to see her in her domain and know that she’s real and that I’m not making her up, like I sometimes do with stuff.

She arrived in the Summer, back when it was understandable. We’ve had the large trampoline in our back garden for quite a few Summers now. It’s been a very successful addition. Even this past Summer, when the guys might have considered themselves too big and mature for Trampoline japes, they would sit out there with their friends long into the gathering midnight dusk and drink Dr Pepper and chat and laugh about God knows what. Instead of the frenetic action place it had been in earlier years, the trampoline has now become a place to recline and consider. It's maturing along with us, I suppose.

So, yeah, it’s been good.

Then, one Summer’s day, the Trampoline Cat took up residence. I first saw her out of the bedroom window on a July evening. There was one corner of the trampoline where the sun still managed to reach and the cat was there, legs folded under, eyes closed, enjoying the soft base and the sunlight. 

Our trampoline has a very high protective mesh screen all around it and a single tent flap area where you can climb in and out. Once you're in there, you feel quite enclosed and protected. It’s kind of nice. I guess the cat thought so too.

After that, the cat came every evening to bask in the last of the sun and kick back for a while. I liked it. I like cats but I have a skin allergy to them such that, if I stroke one, I will generally pay the small price of a bumpy rash for a few hours. (I can feel an itch now just writing about it). So, yeah, although I can’t go around being all tactile with them, and I obviously can’t own one, I do like cats. Even saying that… ‘like’ isn’t the exact word. It's more like I ‘admire’ them, their power and independence, their attitude.

We’ve had lots of cats come through our garden, over the years. They’ve come and gone but the Trampoline Cat seems a little more special. She seems comfortably proprietorial over her trampoline spot. She seems relaxed and at peace there. There’s an element of a little rest being offered to a traveller upon the road and it’s rewarding to be able to do that.

It was obvious why the cat chose the spot she always sits in. As I mentioned, there’s the soft bouncy base and the last of the sun to be enjoyed. But the sun went from the trampoline as the Autumn extended and still the Trampoline Cat returns and returns every day to sit a spell on the very same spot, even though it's now in shadow and a bit cold. We are all creatures of habit, I guess.

I’m writing this because I was up pretty close to the cat on Friday at lunchtime. I raced home from work to hang some clothes out on the washing line (‘Domestic God’, I know) and the cat was there, in the usual spot in the trampoline enclosure. I had to go really close to hang the shirts on the line and the cat eyed me in a highly relaxed and superior fashion. I took the photo as I was finished with the hanging-out and I resolved to write a few lines about her. So here it is.

I like the Trampoline Cat even more today than I did before our Friday encounter. Here’s the simple reason why. As I described above, the trampoline has only one way out of it, through the mesh ‘tent-flap’ entrance, and I had that effectively covered while I was at the washing line. The mesh around the perimeter of the trampoline is very tall and offers no way out for a resting feline. I effectively had the Trampoline Cat cornered and trapped. But, here’s the thing, the cat didn’t seem to mind at all.

It seemed to trust me. Therein lies the rub, the one I cannot give to the cat. I like the cat more because it seemed to trust me. 

So keep calling, dear Trampoline Cat, you’re always welcome here. 

Rest a while. 

The sun will come around again soon enough and, with a little luck, we’ll all bask in it then. 

Admitting I’ve Lost Something is the First Step to Finding It Again

It’s probably a mistake to find general rules for life in one’s own tiny little experiences. 

When you think about it though, what else do we really have to go on?

So this is one of those small home truths that I have concocted for myself from my own world. It’s a ‘take it or leave it’ deal. If there’s something here you feel might be useful to you, go, be my guest. If not, you’ve lost nothing  except a mouse click and 2.5 minutes of your day.

Really, there’s not much to tell. The meat of this post is all there in the title. The rest is mere explanation.

It’s an odd effect that I've been noticing all of my adult life. I misplace something, anything at all, a book, a key, a child… whatever. I look and I look, I search everywhere and then, on the very precipice of giving up, I say out loud, “it’s no good, I can’t find it,” and then, straight away, I do. There it is, it was right there all along. I only had to admit I couldn't find it in order to immediately do so.

It works much the same way if I get lost in the car on the way to someplace. I drive and I drive and I get more and more lost. Even when I’m totally by myself, if I throw my hands up in final frustration and shout, “that’s it, I’m lost,” then the next moment or two will reveal the right road or even the actual location I sought.

It’s weird, it’s inexplicable and there’s no logic or witchcraft to it.

Or maybe there is.

(Stop contradicting yourself, Ken. It’s getting tiresome).

Maybe it’s like the man said, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. Maybe there is some unknown force abroad in the universe that only reveals the answers when the questions are asked out loud. I don’t think so but I wouldn't, would I? We are mere mortals and these things, if they exist, would naturally be beyond our Ken (‘see what I did there?).

All I know is that I lose stuff all the time. Well, to be more accurate, I mislay things because I’m never far from finding them again. This happens most particularly in work.

“Have you seen that file?”

“No.”

“Don’t worry, I have it now.”

It’s just weird, I know.

If I struggle hard to reason this out, I might conclude that my verbal admission of having lost something focuses my mind on the fact that it is lost and therefore increases the mental and physical resources I immediately apply to help find it again. Perhaps there’s also an ‘embarrassment factor’. I've admitted to losing it now and if someone else finds it easily, I’ll look like a fool.

Yes. There’s probably something in that.

This experience is useful on a ‘good advice’ level too. A metaphor for keeping well and seeking help and support if and when you might need it. An ‘ask and it shall be given’ sort of a thing. If you’re lost or have lost something precious, say it aloud and things may get better.

Whatever the truth of the matter and whatever the value of the effect as some abstract inspirational metaphor, I only know one thing for sure. These days, whenever I have lost something important or if I myself have become a bit lost, I am very quick to stand up and proudly admit it to anyone who will listen.

Then, at least, I know that some form of relief might just be on the way. 

The Fault in Our Scars

Long time readers of this silly old blog might just recall this story. It was covered in one paragraph of a long-ago post. Sorry about that. I just felt an urge to tell it again and then try to use it to illustrate a point I’d like to make about jumping to conclusions too quickly.

So here we go. This is a little thing that happened to me on one Sunday morning many years ago. As with many things in my life, I can date it fairly accurately if I think about the movies that were around in the cinema at that time. On that evening, my friend Sean and me tried to get in to see that new movie ‘The Blues Brothers’ in Dublin but it was sold out. Instead we went around the corner and saw Burt Reynolds in ‘Rough Cut’. This places the moment firmly in October 1980 and me firmly at seventeen years old. Remembering where you saw your movies is fun and useful too!

On that nice Sunday morning I was summoned by Sean to help out on a simple enough mission. His uncle had a caravan out in Rosses Point and he wanted to hitch it up to the back of his car and bring it back to his house for the autumn/winter season. He needed a little brute force to push the caravan to a spot where he could get it on the car and drive off. We were enlisted.

It was a nice morning, as I remember it, and I really didn’t think I would end up being rushed to hospital but that’s how thing go sometimes. We arrived at the caravan site and I remember it was good to be up and about early on the Sunday morning, smelling a little sea air before I had to go back to college in Dublin in the afternoon.

The brakes were taken off and we all set-to, pushing the caravan over to the car. I made my first big mistake then but I wasn’t the only one, Sean’s uncle made that first big mistake too so I didn’t feel so bad about it. Sean’s uncle didn’t make the second big mistake though and that’s why I ended up in the accident and emergency department and he didn’t.

My first big mistake was to push the caravan on one of its windows. There were lot of solid places on which to push the caravan but the window was right in the middle at the back and it was ideal pushing ground… for every reason except one.

(You can see where this is going now, right? Brace yourself)

Uncle and me were on the back window, pushing, and others were pushing elsewhere. We were encouraging each other along because the caravan was heavier than expected and there was a bit of an uphill incline too. Uncle and I gritted our teeth and pushed even harder.

And that, of course, is when Uncle and me both fell through the caravan window. I was pushing mostly with my right arm and Uncle with his left and so our respective right and left arms careened through the shattering glass with an alien crash.

Modern caravan windows are wonderful things, I’m sure. Double glazed, shatterproof, able to break down into tiny harmless pebbles if you ever should manage to fall through one (which you won’t). This 1980’s Blues Brothers era caravan window wasn’t like that at all. When it broke, it broke into a single glazed nightmare of jagged shards and stalagtital horror.

This is where uncle failed to make the second big mistake and I just went right along and did it anyway. It was simple really, uncle left his arm in there, among all the jagged shards and the lethal edges. Not me though, I wanted out of there as quickly as possible. I pulled back, hauling my arm out of the window, away from harm.

And that was my second big mistake.

There was a particularly nasty shard of glass sticking down from the top of the window. It was narrow and sharp-as-fuck and it came to a fine spiky point at its end. As I pulled backwards and dragged my arm out, my wrist became snagged on this bad shard of caravan glass. The spike went in through the back of my wrist and stayed there.

This all happened in a split second, as you can probably imagine, so by the time the caravan brakes were reapplied and the others had come around the back to see what had happened, it was all over. Well, the fun part was anyway. 

I looked at my wrist, dispassionately, I think, and I tried to pull it off the shard but, disturbingly, it would not come free. I was literally impaled. I’m sure I could have pulled downwards with some force and freed it, except that there was a glass shard on the underside of my wrist too and, if I tried to move the wrist, it sawed on the underside edge of the glass causing blood to flow from there. And, make no mistake, there was blood at this point. 

How had I managed to get my wrist impaled and still have more glass on the underside of my wrist? Beats me but that’s how it was. Somebody got a stone off the ground and smashed the glass at the underside of my wrist and then a friendly hand took my wrist and slid it firmly off the glass shard. Then there was a clean tea towel from inside the caravan, wrapped tight, and a speedy trip to the hospital. The caravan moving would have to wait for another day.

At the hospital, the attending guy took off the tea towel and frowned at what my damaged wrist had been doing in there. The impromptu bandage had closed up the main puncture wound to some extent and a large (very large) blood blister had formed there. The attending guy sighed again and asked me, in his tired voice, whether I could move the wrist. I moved the wrist, bending my hand back on itself and the blood-blister exploded, sending globs of blackened blood over the cubicle curtains, me and the tired attending guy.

That’s pretty much the end of the story. I got cleaned up and got some stitches and a sling and went back to Dublin and failed to get in to see The Blues Brothers, although I saw it on the Friday after.

The only other thing is this.

I still have the scars.

They’re quite faded now and the puncture wound has filled out a lot but they’re still there and you can see them. I was reminded of all this by a tiny Facebook exchange I saw the other day where somebody had a picture of somebody’s arm up and somebody else wrote under it something like, “gosh, you can see the scars where he must have self-harmed down through the years.”

I have those scars but I haven’t and don’t ever self harm (thankfully). 

My point is fairly obvious but I’ll type it anyway. Try not to jump to conclusions. We don’t ever know everything and it’s misleading to believe that we do.

That’s it. Oh, and don’t push caravans on windows. I know the glass is stronger these days but better safe than sorry.

Alarming People

I was going to call this post ‘Scaring People’ because that’s really what I do. Except it’s not. Not exactly. 

‘Scaring people’ sounds like I am doing something deliberate and decidedly awful and I’m not. I swear, I’m really not. 

What I tend to do is that I unwittingly alarm people.

And it’s difficult to know how to stop.

And it’s not always unwitting either. The very worst times are when I know I am about to alarm someone. When I am completely ‘witting’, if you will. At those times, there’s a desperate feeling of inevitability and a overriding sense of helplessness, as if the die is already cast and nothing now can be done. Yes, they are the very worst times.

Let me explain it all a bit better.

Most of the ‘alarming of people’ that I do happens in one single place. The theatre. The Linenhall theatre, in Castlebar, to be precise. I spend some time in there, working on plays, working on other non-play things and generally hanging around. 

It’s the nature of the place, the people in it, and the work that they do that lends itself to people being almost constantly alarmed or startled or even scared-shitless. It’s almost a part of the job-description.

You see, when the theatre hasn’t got anything on, like during the day or late in the evening, it’s a corridor-ey, echo-ey kind of a place. Couple this with the fact that the few people who inhabit these spaces at these times are almost invariably concentrating very hard on whatever it is they are doing. They are on their own, focused, not expecting company…

And then I turn up and alarm them.

They tend to jump, clutch the part of their chest where they believe their heart resides, and shout something like, “Jesus, don’t do that, Ken!”

Do what? What did I do? All I did was turn up. How can I not do that?

Once you start alarming people in this way, it’s very hard to stop. You would probably expect that a basic sort of self awareness would set in and a series of logical counter-measures would be rehearsed so that, the next time it happens, you would know what to do so that the poor person will not be alarmed.

All well and good but I ask again, what can I do?

When you come around a corner, in the empty, quite darkish, theatre and there’s a person right there in front of you, all alone, with their back to you, concentrating furiously on something or other, what can you do?

If you clear your throat to let them know you are there, guess what, they jump and clutch their chest and exhort you to desist.

If you ease up in front of them and present yourself silently until they naturally notice you are there, the same bloody thing happens. It’s no different.

I’ve even tried sending a text along the lines of “I’m behind you” but that ends up being downright creepy and possibly the cause of lasting damage.

I’ve taken a new approach recently and it seems to be reasonably effective in not startling people if utterly useless for everything else.

I devised this new method when I wandered into the theatre space one quiet morning and came upon a person up a very tall ladder adjusting the stage lighting. In this circumstance, my customary alarming of the person might clearly have proved fatal so, straight away, I developed this brand new approach which I feel I might continue to use into the future.

Yes, I ran away.

Like a panther (in my mind) or a big floppy dog, (in likely reality) I ran silently out of the building and all the way home and I went back the next day when the person was no longer up the ladder.

Unorthodox but at east effective.

Story of my life. 

Radio 3's On for the Cat

Let’s you and I go out to Tea
I really would like that
We don’t even have to hurry home
Radio 3’s on for the cat.

Let’s you and I sail off to sea
In a sailboat or a bath
We can dally on the briny foam
Radio 3’s on for the cat.

Tabby tends to worry
When we stay out 'til half past
But she won’t need us to hurry
With the late shipping forecast.

Let’s you and I get married
And get a little flat
Let’s honeymoon in Rome
Radio 3’s on for the cat.


Ken Armstrong 2014

What to Do When the Post is No Good

What to do when the post is no good? That is the question.

It’s great to have a regimen, a set routine to give you consistency and responsibility and which constantly defies you to fail. The repeated non-failings are little victories which can be treasured. But sometimes the regimen can become the problem.

Take the blog here. I write every week, hail, rain, or broadband problems. I get it done. Every week, I’ll produce a post and get it on here. Every week, I’ll produce ‘something’. 

But what about when it’s no good? What about when it’s complete crap or, worse, only average? What should I do then? Post and be damned? Leave it and fail the regimen?

This question arises because, yes, this week’s post was no good. It was a well meaning thing about trees and leaves and why all the leaves don’t just fall off at once and why some hold on for longer than others. It made a lukewarm attempt to tie the leaves to a metaphor for our own lives and how we should struggle to cling on as long as we can even though inevitably we must all fall in the end. See what I mean? Well-meaning but crap nonetheless.

This is when I envy the bloggers who only blog when they actually have something to say. Look back over their body of work. It’s inconsistent in regularity of posting, obviously, but the content is of a high quality. They become motivated to post about something and that motivation is the spice that makes the result palatable and interesting.

Maybe that’s the way forward. Maybe I should only post when I have something well above average to write about. In that way, the aimless prattling about leaves and such could be omitted altogether.

It’s a thought.

But it’s not that easy. Not for me anyway.

You see there’s a bit of ‘chicken and egg’ action going on here at the blog-face. I reckon I come up with an okay post sometimes. Not always but now and again. These ‘okay posts’ wouldn’t come if I sat around waiting for them. It requires the pressure cooker vibe of the blogging regimen for the ideas to coalesce and form into something. Sometimes something okay.

So, yeah, I’ll probably have to keep posting the lesser posts as well as the slightly more resilient ones, just to keep the old pressure cooker steaming. Unless it’s a really crap one about leaves. When that happens, I may just write a replacement post at short notice. Something about the difficulties and challenges of weekly blogging.

Wait, I’ve just burned that option, haven’t I?

Maybe I’ll use the leaves one next time…

Joking. I’m joking.

The Death of the Blog

Is the blog, as a form of expression, dying all over the world or is it just mine?

It feels like an ‘all over the world’ thing but the Internet is funny like that. You can slip into thinking that your own tiny corner of it is the whole damn thing and that everything that happens to tiny-you and your tiny-cohort is happening all over the world at the same time. 

It’s probably not. Somewhere in the world, great new blogs are probably starting and making friends and drawing in excited readers and commenters. Somewhere, far far away, it’s only just starting to kick off.

Here, though, in my little corner of the world, it’s been feeling a little like the end for some time now. Increasingly, people are getting what they need from Facebook and Twitter. They do their blogging there in micro format and they get the blogging fix they need too.

The blog itself starts to feel like yesterday’s tech. Just like what happened to the ‘personal webpage’ some years ago. With the availability of instant tech, it feels like a something of a vanity to expect people to come especially to your own little place to read your own little overwritten musings. Why bother reading 800 words when 140 characters will do?

Facebook and Twitter don’t lend themselves to blogs and blog links. Facebook only shows people what it wants to show and blog links seem to be very far down that list. And the poor people of Twitter have clicked on so many blog links down the years that they are burned out by the lack of quality and tired of all the self-indulgent repetition.

Quite right too. I have no gripe with any of that.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the action I used to get off my blog over the last six years. A respectable quantity of visitors, a wave of comments, an element of it being passed around and reacted-to. And the fond memories too, like the tiny post that suddenly got 170 comments or the cold St Stephen’s Day when 50,000 people came to read my little ghost story. Good times.

And this is not a plea for more readers or renewed readers or anything like that. Definitely not. One of my least favourite things is the thought that someone would be on my blog without explicitly wishing to be there. That has always been the case. If you ever fancy it, drop by. If not, that’s ultra-cool too.

So, yeah, I don’t know if the blog as a form of expression is dying all over the universe or just in my back yard but it’s certainly coughing and spluttering a little bit over here. It’s been going on for a while now so I thought it was time to take a view on things, a little inventory of the current situation, and have a think about the best way forward for me and my blog. 

All of which leads me on to making a small and largely insignificant announcement to the fistful of people who will get to see this.

...

I ain’t stopping.

No sirree. I’m just going to try to carry on doing what I do, regardless of whether it gets read by anybody or not.

Some years ago, I did a post about why I bothered blogging at all. In it, I wondered if nobody came to read the posts, could I really carry on doing it? It turns out that the answer to this question is an emphatic ‘yes’. I am happy to do it for myself. I enjoy the challenge of coming up with some form of post every week and of trying to make it as good as I can. I am quite pleased with the body of work I have amassed by rising to this challenge every time.

I also think it’s improved my writing quite a bit. I’ve got better at composing my thoughts and formatting an argument. Most importantly, I’ve got better at plugging into my slightly rawer emotions and setting them down. That’s something I was no good at before the blog.

I’m happy to write it for myself. I like looking back over previous year’s entries and seeing the slightly younger, slightly different, person who wrote there. It’s all good.

And, of course, I’m not just writing for myself. Not really. There’s always a few people who drop by. There’s always someone old and there’s always someone new and, now and again, I may even succeed in touching somebody with a word or a tone or a shared experience.

So I’ll trundle along for another while at least. Writing not for the crowd, and not just for me, but for the ‘occasional’ person who might just happen along.

Hey. 

How's it going?

Thanks for stopping by.


Joey Had Never Been Out of the City

Joey had never been out of the city but, by God he was out of it now. Racing down the motorway at 122 kilometres per hour. A little over the speed limit but probably not enough to get stopped. 

Beside him, in the passenger seat of the hotwired Peugeot, Wayne sweated and twitched and clutched the ancient biscuit tin closer to his stomach.

“Do you think we killed her?” he asked, almost too quietly to be heard.

“She looked resilient, like,” Joey said, “she’ll probably make it.”

When they left the old bird, she had a big gash high on her forehead from the blow of the cosh and her gossamer eyelids had flickered alarmingly. The two assailants were so shocked at their own violence that they had phoned an ambulance for her straight away after they had robbed the car. That was the good deed that would get them caught later in the evening.

Wayne cracked the lid of the biscuit tin for the seventh or eighth time and peered inside. By the rush of the passing motorway lights he could still see the wads of rolled-up fifties packed inside.

“It’s a score,” he grinned, “a genuine score.”

Joey shook his head.

“We have to get rid of it,” he said.

“But why?”

“It’s too much. They’ll never let us walk free with all this and the 'hurt-bird' too.”

“So what’ll we do with it?” Wayne peered out at the unremitting dark outside the windscreen. He had never been outside the city before either.

“We’ll stop and find a field and bury it. We’ll mark it somehow and come back and claim it when the heat is off.”

Joey liked the sound of what he was saying. All his life he had craved for the heat to be on him. Now, at long last it was and he was enjoying the burn.

“But what do we know about fields?”

Wayne was a bit of a gobshite but he did have a point. The two city boys were well out of their turf now. They were used to concrete and tall towers. Out here there was nothing but darkness, the unravelling white line on the road, and the faint smell of cow-shite in the air. They were a long way from home but there had been no choice except to go. The old lady had resisted too much, had been hurt too severely, and she had far, far too much money in her biscuit tin. They had to drive for as long as they could. As far out of their comfort zone as they could get.

They passed through a toll booth, scraping coins together to make the charge, and then there was only the four lane road, the unending darkness and the loneliness you only ever really get on a three am drive away from home.

“We haven’t go a shovel or anything, for digging in a field.”

“A spade.”

“Wha’?”

“You dig with a spade.”

“What do you do with a shovel so?”

“You shovel.”

A moment’s silence then.

“Do we have a spade?”

“Shut up, Wayne.”

Up ahead, there were lights. Some kind of posh petrol station. They pulled in. They’d never seen anything like it but then they’d never been outside of the city before. It was like an oasis on the motorway desert. There was Burger King and Costa Coffee and petrol and sweets and toilets. Only everything was closed except the petrol and the sweet shop.

Joey made up his mind.

“We’ll hide it here.”

“Why?”

“It’s like you said. We don’t know nothing about fields and digging. This is a bit like home, we’ll hide it here and come back when the heat dies down.”

Wayne looked puzzled.

“Why do we have to hide it at all? Why can’t we just split it and keep it like we always do?”

Joey looked at Wayne. He just didn’t get it. He tried to break it to him gently because he was only seventeen.

“We have to hide it, Wayne, because this time we’re gonna get caught.”

Joey was right. Forty minutes later, sixty-kilometres further up the road, they ran into a checkpoint that was looking out specifically for them. Their midnight run was over. They were arrested and charged but there was no cash on them and they said they knew nothing about any money or any old lady, for that matter. CCTV showed the boys passing through the motorway services station at 3.15am so maybe they had ditched the evidence there. It was searched but the money was never found.

Four and a half years later, Joey was released from prison with his earnings from his laundry duty in the back pocket of his brand new jeans. He was booked on a private bus back to the city and was pleased to find that he could charge his long-dead phone in a socket beneath his seat. He listened to the same radio DJ he had listened to every day for the last four years and watched the alien greenness slide along past his window.

The bus made a stop about two hours outside the city and Joey climbed down into the drizzle to stretch his legs and breath a little air.

He couldn’t believe his eyes.

This was the place. The exact place where Wayne and he had stopped on that night four years before. The place where they had buried the money. It was brighter than the last time he was here, and there were a lot more people around, but it was definitely the place. Burger King was still there and Costa Coffee and all the benches and coach parking spaces and petrol pumps and kids play area. It was all as he remembered.

He had fifteen minutes before the bus left. He went into the shop and bought a cheap screwdriver kit. There had been one in the boot four years ago. Then he headed for the rear of the compound, making sure nobody was watching him. There was a maintenance area back there and at the rear of a small storage shed there was a gas tank under a canopy and beneath the gas tank there was an inspection chamber with a steel lid on it. 

On that dark night, Wayne had spookily suggested that the inspection chamber was perhaps not in use. They lifted the lid and found this to be absolutely true. There was nothing beneath the lid except a dry shallow concrete chamber. No pipes, no wires. A risky place to hide thousands of Euro but they had little choice. They dropped the biscuit tin inside, shut the lid back down, and left.

Joey had some trouble getting the lid up. The screwdriver was crap. It twisted and buckled but eventually he got a finger hold on the rim. The lid seemed stiffer than four years before but that was understandable, Joey was stiffer too.

The lid clattered over onto the concrete. Joey looked in. Dry concrete, no pipes, no wires… but no money either.

Joey rode the bus in barely contained rage. Every fibre of his body was clenched. Somebody had happened upon their cache and had taken it and had the time of their lives with it. Or else…

Or else…

Joey got on his newly charged phone and called Wayne.

“Joey!!”

“Wayne, when are you getting out?”

“I’m out.”

“Since when?” Joey kept his voice steady.

“Two days ago. I was coming to tell you in your cell but they just pulled me out and stuck me on the bus home.”

“Amazing.”

“Joey,” Wayne’s voice dropped, “I have news. About the ‘thing’.”

“Tell me.”

“Maybe the phone isn’t the safest-”

“Tell me.”

Joey told him. “You’d never believe it. The bus I was on, it stopped right at the place. You know, the place-”

“I know. Tell me.”

“I walked over and looked. Joey, it was still there.”

“So you took it. Good man.”

“No. I didn’t take it.”

“What?”

“I thought we should go together. So I left it there. When do you get out?”

Joey’s mind raced. “Tomorrow. I get out tomorrow. I’ll… come and see you, yeah?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I’m leaving town for a while. Me ma bought me a holiday to Spain so I’m off today.”

“Ah, right so. I’ll… see ya when I get back.”

“Right. If I get back,” Wayne laughed, “if you know what I mean.”

Joey said nothing but he reckoned he knew what Wayne meant all right.

“We’ll spin down on the bus when I’m back and get the ‘stuff’. It’s safe though, that’s great, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Joey said, “that’s great.

Wayne’s house was a fifteen minute run from the bus stop and, when Wayne opened the door, Joey rushed at him so hard that he forced him all the way across the hall and onto the back wall. Joey didn’t really say all that much. He just saw the suitcase by the door and he swore and swore and Wayne sobbed and tried to reason with him.

Then the twisted screwdriver was in his clenched fist and he plunged it into Wayne’s chest and it slipped between ribs and spine, front to back, and met no resistance until it hit the back wall of Wayne’s front hall.

Joey searched the house as Wayne bled out on the hall tiles but he never found the money. Well, he wouldn’t have, would he?

Almost three years later, a young surveyor called Murdoch was making a schedule of the inspection chambers of a service station on a motorway some hours outside of the city. He came upon a lid beneath a gas cylinder and noted that the chamber wasn’t on his list. Using a specially prepared tool, he lifted the cover.

Inside, he found a biscuit tin with thirteen thousand euro inside it.

He knew it was pointless and rather silly but, as he tucked the tin carefully in his case, he resolved to walk across the footbridge that spanned the motorway and check the inspection chamber in the identical service station just out of sight on the other side of the road.

Just in case there was some money in that one too.

You're Doing Better Than You Think

Your friends are all ahead of you
Looking back with a grin
Earning much more money
Winning much more win
But that’s not how it is at all
It’s really not that way.
You are doing better than you think
And they’re doing worse than they say.

Their books have just been published
Their songs are number one
Their kids have got a law degree
Their granddad’s hit the ton.
Their whole damn world is flying high
But keep on making hay
Cos you are doing better than you think
And they’re doing worse than they say.

They’ll make you feel you’re on the bottom
Just barely on your feet
But don’t give them no credence
They’re all lying through their teeth

Do the best you can
It’s all that you can do
And one day you will wake to find
The sun’s come shining through
Until then, keep your chin up
keep fighting all the way.
You are doing better than you think
And they’re doing worse than they say.

Becoming a Roadie

I like my new role as a Roadie to my son, Sam.

He’s a drummer, you see, and he’s only fourteen so some of the hauling and connecting-up and screwing-together is not quite his forte yet.

He can drum though. Man-oh-man, he can drum all right.

So I’ve become his Roadie. Well, you know, I’m really just the Dad who hauls all the drums around and sets them up a bit. I don’t really know all than much about what I’m doing but I’m learning all the time. 

I'm learning about drums and I like that.

Sam has a much better kit now than he used to have. That's thanks to a clever local library scheme to help budding musicians. Up until a few months ago, he had a ram-shackle starter set with a buggered cymbal and a snare that was missing some bits. Now, though, he’s got a rather fanciable Gretsch kit with Sabian Cymbals and the Roadie and him are finally starting to look the part. We’ve also got huge faux-fur-lined cases to haul all the drums around in and we cut an impressive shape when we turn up with all our gear. That’s what I think anyway. 

When we got that first knackered kit, one Christmas Eve years ago, it was plenty. Up until then, Sam had been going to drumming lessons without having any drums. He would tap out his rhythms on the table, on the window cill, on my head. He simply burned to drum. 

And that first kit was a wonderful opening-up for him. I hadn’t the first clue about it and where everything was meant to go. One of my abiding Christmas Eve memories will be stumbling up the hall after midnight, time and again, with the various clinking-clanking components of the drumset, trying to put it all together with nothing to go on but a jagged image printed off the internet. It was the only present he ever got where, upon its discovery, the tiniest hint of a tear appeared in his eye.

And now, some years later, with the new ‘posher’ kit and some years of moving stuff around, I’ve become almost passable at packing, unpacking, setting up and adjusting everything. I’ve learned my crashes from my rides, I can set up the rather tricky high-hat in mere minutes, and I’ve stopped catching my fingers in the bass pedal thingie.

Yesterday, Sam was drumming along with a professional drummer in rehearsal. The guy was really lovely and he gave me some tips for setting-up which has increased my self-image of Roadie-hood about two million percent. It’s the little things, you see. For instance, when setting up the floor tom, put it upside-down on the stool and then the legs fit into it easily. (You don’t want to know how I was doing it before). Or keep the legs of the bass drum up a bit more so that the drum is angled upward a bit at the front. It makes the pedal connect sweeter with the skin. The best tip I got yesterday, though, the absolute winner, was that the pro-drummer brings all the loose bits - the stands and such - around in a wheelie suitcase. This is so obvious but I was carting them all around loose and suffering multiple trips to the car as a result. I went straight home and got out the suitcase out and, hey presto, I am now complete.

The professional drummer was also showing me some of his own kit and telling me the stories behind them. He had a beautiful snare which dated from 1968 and was found in a left-luggage locker in Chicago. The thing practically radiated long roads and old music. I feel there’s something in all that – the stories that drummers have about their drums. It's for some other day, perhaps. 

Tomorrow, Sam and his drum kit will travel with the Kaleidoscope Big Band to the National Concert Hall in Dublin to play on the main stage in front of the President of Ireland and loads of other people too. The Roadie is tagging along. He's checked and double checked the baggage and everything seems to be there. We’re good to go.

Now, where’s my tee-shirt?