Why I Blog – 2016

Blogging feels old these days, to me at least. 

It feels like writing a letter and folding it up in an envelope and licking the envelope flap shut (it tastes horrible) and then running to the post box to find that you forgot the stamp and then running to the post office and buying a stamp and posting the letter…

And then, a few days letter, it comes back stamped ‘Return to Sender’.

Technology and general interest seems to have moved on from blogging. These days, people tend to give and receive their opinions and stories and fun directly on their favourite social media platform. They don’t need to be clicking some link to take them off to some alien-looking cul-de-sac-of-a-site to hear the verbalised bellybutton fluff of yet another self-obsessed idiot with too much time on his hands.

I know this because it’s how I roll myself. Although I persist in writing this blog, I don’t tend to seek out other blog posts. If I ever do (with a couple of notable exceptions) I find people trying to get away with the minimum effort in some vain expectation of the maximum gain. Rehashed content and hundred-word-posts that promise the earth and always provide considerably less than that. Maybe that's part of the reasons why blogs die. Visitors have probably been burned too often. Too many well-meant clicks have resulted in being seriously underwhelmed and constantly disappointed. There is also a tendency in modern social media to meticulously tailor the content it chooses to share and this seems to mitigate against the accessibility of the old-fashioned blog. 

But it’s not just that. Who is a good enough writer to command a returning audience, week on week on week, for years on end? Not many, that’s for sure and I’d be the first to admit that I’m no Clive James. It always seems to have been the nature of the beast that people would form a habit of reading and then ‘un-form’ a habit of reading. It’s natural, nobody could argue against it. Also, with the act of writing a blog for years, some repetition is bound to creep in. I’ve probably written this same post ten times over the years and forgotten all about it. 

It’s understandable that the blog would fade and flicker and naturally go out. That’s what blogs do. It’s the nature of the beast. So why bother? Why continue in being a part of what has become such a dull grey kaleidoscope? 

Every few years, I’ve asked myself this question and the answers have always been quite different. Once upon a time, the blog would reach quite a respectable audience, a casual readership who would often react and respond to stuff. There often seemed to be a sort of reciprocal learning involved and a feeling that there was at least a small appetite for the work being done.

As that feeling inevitably faded, there was a replacement feeling that the weekly stories and thoughts were more of a scrapbook, to be looked over in years to come, to provide a quite colourful snapshot of how one’s mind worked back in those days. 

When I ask myself today, why am I sitting here writing this, the answer is once again changed. The situation has certainly changed. With each blog post being significantly less well read than the last, the whole endeavour is now nothing more than a tiny candle stub guttering in a saucer on a draughty shelf. 

So, again, why do it? Why not stop today? To continue may actually be a bad thing. To constantly rehash tropes and patterns and, in doing so, use up energy that could be valuably expended elsewhere.

Here’s what I see when I ask myself the question about why I keep going.

I see a gym.

I am not a muscular man. In truth, I have only one significant muscle. It might not matter to anyone else but it matters to me. It’s this muscle that makes me strong. It is, of course, my writing muscle. Those lucky people with lots of big muscles need to work them to keep them in shape. They put in hard hours and they don’t need people to turn up and smile and applaud them while they are doing it. If they didn’t do it, the muscle wouldn’t be ready when they needed it to haul something or to lift something heavy. 

And that's the reason. This is my gym. The place I continue to come, to work out my only useful muscle.

Except it’s not. Not really. It’s really more just one key piece of apparatus in that gym. I write a lot and the blog is only one part of it. It's that scary-looking treadmill thing in the corner. The slightly dusty thing that can still give you a good work out if you push it hard enough. 

There may be newer bits of equipment. Hell there may even by a sort of vegetable juicer than would provide the same effect with less effort. I don’t really care. I know I need to work my muscle and this shitty old blog regime does it as well, and sometimes better, than other more popular devices can. 

Some weeks I'll have a thought that’s going to be hard to get down. Some weeks I won’t have a fucking clue what to write. But, pretty much every week, I get my thousand words down and they have a start, a middle and an end and I work to make those words as real and as thoughtful and as coherent as I can.

And if you ever come and ask me to write something, you'll find me trim, I’ll be ready. That one little muscle is wiry and good and I just need to keep working it to keep it that way. That one little muscle kind of defines who I am, to myself if not to anybody else. So I’ve got to keep pumping.

And, hey, I don’t need you to come by every week and watch. That might actually be a bit weird and embarrassing for us both. If you’re passing, maybe give me a wave. I’ll wave back and be really pleased to see you.

But then you’ll have to please excuse me 'cos I’ve got some work to so.

And the work can’t wait. 


Yesterday I rescued a bee from the toilet.

It was floating in there, geometrically centred in the water. It sat, mostly proud of the surface, the opposite of an iceberg, its wings twitching slightly.

There was no way it was staying there. I had to get it out and, if possible, back on its way. We needed it out there, doing good. Besides, it had got this far in its life, it deserved to get a little further.

But how to get it out?

I found a cardboard toilet roll tube in the paper recycling pile. (Hark at me, saving the planet) That might do. It was easy, of course. I dipped the toilet roll tube into the toilet water and scooped the bee into it. Then I lifted him out.

He wasn’t going anywhere until he was dry. I opened the window and put the toilet roll tube sitting on the frame, facing out into the breeze. I looked inside. The bee was in there, trying its wings, feeling the rush of air. I watched for a while but I had other stuff to get done so I left it to it.

When I came back, the bee was gone. I reckoned I’d done a good thing and felt quite good about it. A small life was out there continuing because I took a momentary interest. I told the story to Twitter and even brought it up as a weak anecdote when having dinner with nice people last night. They might have thought I was a no-mates loon except they were nice people so I know they didn’t.

These kind of ‘little deeds’ that I do from time to time bring me a touch of pleasure. They also hang around in my head for a surprisingly long time. This morning, for instance, the bee was still there in my brain, buzzing around. The thought that was recurring went something like this: What if I was just like the bee? 

How does the bee see its world? A world of scent and colour and wind patterns. A world of finding and navigating and returning. A polarised world of work and eventual expiration. Perhaps it has some perception of threat in the form of birds or panes of glass or even us. 

It may know something of these things. But there are things that it cannot even begin to comprehend. Things that are commonplace to us. It cannot know Christmas or telephones or the series-link feature on the Sky box. It cannot know fashion or trying to stand on one’s hands or fishing in the sea in the evening sun. It simply cannot know. And if there are all these things that the bee cannot know, what of the things that we ourselves cannot know?

Hang on, some of you may say, he’s going to do the ‘God’ bit on us now. Others will think I’m going all ‘X-Files’ and will want you to consider little green men and space slugs from Saturn. Not those things. Not at all. I’m just noodling. Noodle, noodle. 

All I’m really thinking, with no agenda at all, is this. If the bee is there in its world and there are things all around it of which it cannot conceive then what may exist beside us or about us or inside us of which we have no grasp at all. That’s why I’m pointedly not thinking about God or Spacemen, because we are capable of dreaming up those things. I’m trying to think about the things we cannot possible imagine and the paradox of that.

I intervened in the bee’s world. I was a thing beyond comprehension, bearing the power to retain life or to take it away. Is it not interesting to toy with the idea, if only for a moment, that it might also be this way for us? Is it not only petty ego that keeps us from considering that we are only top of the heap in our own tiny sphere of consciousness?

Might it not possibly be just as Hamlet said to Horatio. That there are indeed ‘more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in your philosophy”? That some power, completely beyond our comprehension, might one day intervene, pluck us out of whatever mire we find ourselves in, and place us gently in the breeze to dry.

Or else thoughtlessly flush us down.

Purposefully Praising Prometheus

Yesterday afternoon, the sun was shining. In fact, it was a very beautiful day. I celebrated this in my own time-honoured fashion. Finding I had a rare two hours all to myself, I drew the blinds and put on a movie.

'Prometheus' was one of those films that I had looked forward to with much anticipation, from long before its cinema release. Then, after it came out, the negative reaction (shall we call it a backlash?) dissuaded me from ever forking out theatre-sized money on it. 

“I’ll catch it on the telly in a few years,” I said.

So yesterday was the day. I punched the couch into an accommodating shape, assembled some cushions, and had a good old ‘watch’. 

This isn’t a movie review post. There’s been a few of those but this isn’t one of them. There’ll be a little bit of a review but that’s all. This is more a ‘head above the parapet post’ with possibly a scrap of a ‘being facetious to make a point’ post thrown in as well.

I liked it. 

That was it. That was the review bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see flaws. I’m not an ape. I just thought it was engaging and rather beautiful with a bit more body-horror than I had expected and a seemingly endless flow of ‘Alien’ tropes, nods, and variations on a theme.

Expectation plays quite a part, doesn’t it? I had been ably primed to detest it and I reckon that gave me a bit of room to find some enjoyment. Also I was watching it from a time and a position where I might otherwise have been part-digesting a thirty year old episode of 'Columbo', so all that heightened cinematic first-run angst was long gone.

Also, I seem to be currently going through a phase of ‘liking stuff’. I think that may be because I am restricting myself to consuming things that I have a fair chance of liking, yesterday having been something of an exception.

Whatever the reason, I had a good time with ‘Prometheus’ and came away fairly happy. 

What to do then? 

Is it best to keep this desperate experience of potentially unpopular enjoyment to oneself, hiding it away under a social-media-free bushel? Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, etc? 

There are many people around who hated the damn flick. People who I respect and, occasionally, admire. People who know their stuff. People who know their stuff a damn sight better than I do. Do I want to be belligerent and force my differing opinion? Do I want to poke my head above the parapet? Do I want to lay low and, whenever a negative opinion of this film pops up again, just fall silent and wait until it passes?

There are the two options. Option A and Option B. As has so often been the case in my life, when faced with Option A and Option B, I choose Option C. 

Option C, in this case, is to not just mutter that I liked it but to slightly make a Federal Case about that or, at the very least, a blog post.

I’ve mentioned it before. There is a tendency to seek out and play with those people who feel the same way as we do about stuff. This tendency is, in my view, exaggerated a hundred-fold on Social Media. If someone comes on and hates something, folk will gather in the comments section, folk who hated the thing too. Occasionally, a dissenting voice will appear and, often, will be entertained and even encouraged. But, make no mistake, if you disagree it’s swimming against the tide. It’s so very much easier to say nothing. If you speak up you may only succeed in appearing churlish and uncooperative. “If he feels so differently about it, why the hell didn’t he just stay away from us?”

It’s a tricky thing, the opposing view. There’s a lot of elements to how it is received. I know places where it is positively welcomed. Huge disagreements break out and flourish like a wild fire and then, when all has been said, the protagonists reaffirm their undying love for each other and move on together. I love those places but, damn it, they are few and far between. 

You don’t have to look far on this Interweb to find good people virtually slaying each other over their differences in opinion on something. The average is three comment exchanges before it all descends into name-calling, personal insult and threats of grievous bodily harm.

It’s partly understandable, I suppose. 

We can’t help but view ourselves as intelligent people, worldly people, people of taste and distinction. Perhaps, then, it is natural that our subconscious would try to tell us that anybody who takes an opposing view to our own is less intelligent than we are and worthy only of our derision.

Here’s what I think.

I think, when someone peacefully expresses an alternate view to our own, we shouldn’t only consider and respect it, we should jump up and bloody dance around for joy that they did so. Firstly, they’ve shown an element of trust and respect in raising the dissenting voice and, secondly, they reaffirmed the most crucial fact of our existence.

That we are not sheep.

What kind of world would it be, if we all spoke the same language, if all our experiences were exactly the same, if we all believed in the same god... if we all hated Prometheus?

You feel differently to me? Thank heavens! Come and have some cake and tell me more about why that is. Let’s have a party and talk it through. Let’s learn a little from our differing views.

To finish:

Just this very morning, as I was twirling through some Facebook updates, I saw super writer and online pal Jason Arnopp waxing favourable about something he likes. It matters not what it was but, if you’re curious, it was the big wheel in Brighton which is being dismantled today.

A person of a different view popped up in the comments section and (rather good-naturedly, one feels) pounded a bit on our Jason.

“What the hell are you talking about man?” he asked.

And, as if reading my mind,  Jason replied.

“You know how some people love things you don't, sir? You know how that's possible? Well... that.”

The Parasite Equivalent of Succour

This week's offering is a pretty gross piece of fiction  (so be warned)  It includes a respectful hat-tip to Isaac Asimov. 

The Chagido parasite oozed in through the crack in the bedroom window and dropped wetly on to the carpeted floor.

It left a trail of yellowish luminescent slime all along the plastic rail of the window frame and down the inside face of the glass.

It was over forty minutes since the transport rock had landed intact in the garden and the parasite’s time was now near. It needed a ‘warm body soon or else it would expire.

Laying on the carpet in the half-moonlight, the parasite looked like a cross between an oversized pale segmented slug and a small parsnip. It had no eyes or other evident sensory organs but its entire body was attuned to the foreign space it now found itself in. It smelled/heard/felt/tasted everything in an instant and, in that instant, it located its potential host.

Two ‘warm bodies’ were in the room. They were encased in fabric on a soft plateau. They were dormant. They were clearly not ideal for a number of reasons but there was no other choice available and time was short. It was almost the moment to reproduce and that could not happen without a warm wet sanctuary.

The Chagido parasite struggled to navigate the carpet. The fibres clung and clung and enviously robbed it of its precious moisture. The vertical edge of the bed was no better. Upward travel in itself presented few difficulties but the cloth on the base of the bed took more and more of the parasite’s precious bile away. The warm hosts were near and yet still very far. But the drive to reproduce was strong.

Through its multi-sensual skin, the parasite could tell that the warm bodies were one male and one female. The female was the obvious choice for a multitude of reasons but it was swathed tightly in even more of the moisture-stealing fabric and was thus virtually impenetrable. The male was an easier prospect. It lay naked and sprawled, almost inviting.

The parasite worked its way up under the thick fabric cover and glided wetly over the dormant female in her cotton cocoon. There were a number of entry points on the male warm host. There were aural and oral and olfactory options, a possible squeeze in the side of a visual organ, and there was also the chance of digging straight in, possibly through the healed-over umbilical scar. But time and moisture were both almost gone and the best route would have to be the closest one.

The termination of the male’s digestive tract was a sphincter-like structure not unlike the portals in the Great Creator’s craft. It was clenched tight and unyielding at first but the parasite turned the tinier end of its parsnip body and chemically altered its shell to be momentarily tough and immovable and then it forced its way in.

The warm host moved, as was expected, and it uttered some respiratory noises but, beyond that, it did not become any more active. Once the entry was breached, the parasite lubricated itself and moved more easily into the orifice. There was moisture here and much warmth, the parasite equivalent of succour.

The transport rock had landed with little more than a thud and a hiss and scores of mature parasites had immediately vacated it and urgently sought their succour. There were scores of rocks and each had scores of parasites. On a scale of planetary invasions, it had not been a terribly large one but it had proved effective on other frontiers and there was no reason to think this place would be any different.

The warmth and safety of the intestinal tract immediately triggered the reproductive instinct in the parasite. The surface of its body began to simultaneously split and dilate as thousands of tiny parasitic offspring eased their pinpoint heads out, ready to emerge, exponentially grow, and soon break out.

But something was not right.

The natural laws had always demanded that many of the invaders would die, that many would not find a warm home in time, but this had seemed so good, so right.

But death was here. Parasite death. As soon as the pinpoint heads had emerged they had calcified and simultaneously failed. All at once. Massacred. The parasite was larger and more resilient. But it too felt the attack, the imminent danger. Along with all the blood and acid and bile which fuelled the warm host, there was also something else here, something earthy and hop-ridden and black as fast death.

The parasite hardened and its skin became brittle and cracked. It felt its life squeezed out. Its final biological process was almost a sentient one. A double barrelled quasi-emotion which combined elements of a low wattage wish that its fellow travellers might fare better with a sudden all-engulfing knowledge that they surely would not.

It expired.

Sean woke in the dawn light  with the mother of all belly aches. He drew the duvet around him protectively, his hands grasping his stomach and finding it to be as distended as a balloon.

Marianne woke too. She found herself stripped of the duvet and turned to fight to get some of it back. As she did so, her head dipped beneath the quilt at the same time as she inadvertently took a breath. She drew back in revulsion.

“Jesus God!”

Sean raised his head from the pillow. Just.


“Have you smelled it under there?”

Sean stuck his head under the duvet and took a breath. He gagged in initial disgust and then allowed himself a subliminal twitch of pride at being the likely origin of such a manly smell.

“Sorry about that, “ he grinned, after he gingerly re-emerged, “I guess I was on the Guinness last night. I did open the window when I got in.”

Marianne pulled a face.

“You’re rank, “ she hissed.

“Rank? That’s a bit strong, isn’t it?”

Marianne balked as another wave of horror assailed her nose, “It’s awful. Horrendous. It’s like…”

Sean grinned. “Like what?”

Marianne punched him hard on the shoulder.

“It’s like something crawled up inside of you and died.”

A Bit Like That Fella off The Ipcress Files

I’ve mentioned this before in a number of posts but it’s such a feature of my everyday life I think it’s inevitable that it will just keep coming up from time to time.

It’s about me and people’s names and how I have such great difficulty in keeping them in my head. 

I’ve worked at it, I really have. I focus on it when I’m meeting people. I try all the tricks, I repeat your name back to you when you tell it to me. I associate your name with some image in my head, I make a rhyme out of it. Nothing works.  

People tell me it’s a sort of laziness, even a type of arrogance. I’m so interested in what I am about to say to you that I can’t even be bothered hearing you say your own name to me, letting it register. I don’t know about all that. I hope it’s not true. All I know is that I would really like to be able to remember your name and say it back to you as a common courtesy whenever we meet, just like regular people do.

Instead, in an attempt to treat people equally, I will use nobody’s name. Even close friends, whose names I do know, will be treated with a generic ‘Hiya’ or ‘How’s it going?’, probably to draw attention away from the fact that I really don’t know the name of the guy standing next to you.

Anyway, whenever I start with a little spiel about this failing of mine, it invariably leads to an anecdote to illustrate the social problems it regularly lands me into. 

Here’s today’s one.

A while back, I was sitting in a coffee place having a coffee when the door opened and a guy came in. He was carrying a fair-sized steel case of the kind that photographers sometimes use. He looked around and then turned to the lady behind the counter and had a few quiet words with her.

Then he came down the room to find himself a seat. He passed my table, his case almost brushing my leg.

Then he was gone past.

Except he wasn’t.

“Ken Armstrong?” A hand was suddenly extended down towards me and was duly shaken. “Is that really you?”

It was. It was really me.

“I haven’t seen you since National School. You haven’t changed a bit. Well… A bit of ‘timber’ here and there maybe but we all have that, eh? eh? Can I sit down? Do you mind? It’s great to see you!”

Then silence. Expectant silence. He sat down and looked across at me expectantly.

Here’s the thing. I knew who he was. He hadn’t changed all that much either. A bit of ‘timber’ but we all had that. He was the guy from St. John’s National School. He lived out the road a bit. We had hung together now and again a bit and had even gone to see a Bruce Lee flick together once. He was okay, one of the good ones.

I know all this…

But what the hell was his name?

My mind ran though thousands of possibilities as I kept up a passable discussion about times gone by and where various people are now. As each of those people's names were mentioned, I mentally ticked it off my long list of what this person might be called.

The lady from behind the counter approached our table.

“He can see you now,” she said to him, this guy, whatsisface.

“Great!” the guy got up, "I have to see the manager. I sell restaurant fittings for a living and he has a query. I’ll show you the stuff when I come back, If you like. I’ll only be a few minutes.”

Great. He went off to see the manager, leaving me with his case. 

Sometimes there’s an odd thing that works for me. If I can’t think of something, If I ask myself the question out loud, the answer sometimes comes to me. I know it sounds strange but it’s true and it seems to work better the older I get. Desperate measures, perhaps.

“What is that guy’s name?” I asked myself and I must have said it a little too loudly because several people at other tables glared over at me. It was a wasted effort in any event because it didn’t work. 

If only there was someone I could call and ask the guy’s name. But who? Who? They mightn’t be available in any case…

Wait. Wait.


The Case.

His name would be in his case. On some letter or document or something. Maybe even inscribed on the inside for security reasons.

All I had to do was look inside his case, quickly, before he came back.

But I couldn’t do that. 

It just wouldn’t be right.

The case opened easily, there was no lock. It perched a little uneasily on the small table, between the coffees and the milk. It creaked a little as it opened. It was packed full with trade literature about kitchen fittings and such. And there, on a business card, tucked in a pouch inside the lid, was his name. Of course that was his name! How could I have forgotten that? His name was_

“What are you doing?”

“Hi. You’re back quick.”

“What are you doing in my case?”

“Ah, yes, it’s interesting really.”


“Yes. You see… when you mentioned kitchen fittings, I’m kind of in the business myself and I was very curious to see exactly what it was you sold.”

“I see,” he certainly might have seen but he looked managed to look hurt and invaded, “you could have waited until I came back.”

“Yes. Sorry” I said and then I said his name. It was great to know it. 

It was an awful experience, obviously. The nervousness of breaking into the case, the getting caught. The slightly iffy cover story.

Awful, yes.

But, just for a minute there, riffling through those files illicitly, in danger of being discovered at any moment, I felt... edgy... alive.

A little bit like that fella off  'The Ipcress Files'.

What was his name again?