Sorry, Happy What?

It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m not sure what to say to you.

On New Year's Eve, when I was young, too young to go out and party, my Dad used to take down his twelve gauge shotgun at midnight and go out into the front garden and blaze both barrels into the night sky. Our neighbours would do the same and, for a minute, the street was filled with the clap-clap noises that shotguns make. 

This may sound like criminal, backwoods, behaviour but it wasn’t. The people on our street were fishing people. People who sometimes hunted for their dinner. They came out and made a noise and saluted each other across the gardens then went back into their homes, another year older. 

When I was bigger, and able to get out to parties and dances, those big New Year’s Eve moments were taken up with the kissing of every willing girl in the vicinity. Booming music and flashing lights and a manic scramble from  mouth to mouth. More kisses were exchanged in that ten minute period than would ever be meted out through the entire rest of the year.

These type of celebration had some things in common. They saw off the old year with a little unusual excess. Perhaps more importantly, they allowed little or no opportunity to say anything out loud. You kissed someone or you shot your gun. You didn’t have to speak. 

Perhaps this was no accident. The more the years tick along, and the more we learn, the harder it is to know exactly what one should say when the minute hand finally skids across into another year. We can say what we always say and we can get away with it. ‘Happy New Year!’ We shout it, we whisper it, we mime it across a crowded room and it seems okay. It gets us through the moment. But it doesn’t really stand up to an awful lot of scrutiny, does it?

It’s a tall order, to wish someone an entirely happy new year. It’s a sort of an unattainable goal, like wishing someone a huge lottery win or eternal life. A noble sentiment but, by the very nature of its remove from any reality, it becomes something less than a simple greeting. It becomes almost a kind of a taunt. 

If I wish you a happy new year (and I probably will), we both know, deep down, that you’re probably not going to have one. This isn’t rocket science or even excess negativity. It’s just the way it always is. None of us will have a simply happy new year. The new year, at best, will be like all the other new years. There will be moments of personal sadness and stress. The world will throw up a number of disasters and man made horrors. There will be elements of struggle and worry and fear. There will be good times too, though. Great times, we hope. But it won’t be a happy new year or, on the off chance that it is, then the one that comes after it probably won’t be and next year’s wish will just become the same taunt only slightly deferred.

But I don’t mean to be churlish or petty. Not today. I want to wish you something. I want to wish us all something.

So, can I just wish you a Year? A New Year.

Can I wish that it will be as full of happiness and good things as it possibly can be and can I wish that the bad things, when they inevitably come, are bearable and that they may a least make us a little stronger or wiser or kinder than we were before.

I wish you a year. I wish you 2018. And I wish that we may all be here so that I can wish you a 2019 too, when that finally comes around.

Hmmm… 

Sod it. 

Happy New Year! 

You know what I mean.

The Things We Break In

I don’t have anything major for you this week. 

It is Christmas Eve, after all, and we all have  bigger fish to fry than my little blog. Nothing much here then.  A word, perhaps, about how evasive Christmas has seemed, thus far, this year. An explanation for two week’s of relative radio silence from me. Oh, and a hint towards the meaning of life, right before the end. That shit always seems to go down well, around this time of year.  

Christmas, though. Is it just me or has it been pretty hard to find this year? There have been lots of trappings about, there always is, but, for me at least, very little of whatever mysterious thing actually makes Christmas real. The best practical example of this 'elusiveness despite trappings' that I can think of, is sitting down in our local town square right now. Our town square, here in Castlebar, is quite unusual for Ireland. It is very much modelled on an English village square. Green and tree-lined. A place where people in cricket whites would not seem out of place on a Summer’s evening. For the last few years, the square or The Mall, as we all call it, has been beautifully lit with cold white wintery lights which adorn every tree. This has helped to instantly evoke Christmas for me every time they finally get lit. So much so that I would venture down there last on Christmas Night, when there is not another soul out and about in the world, to luxuriate for a minute or two in the winter silence and the cold light. 

This year, they’ve put an ice-rink on The Mall.. People in scarves and mittens smiling and careening about. A nice idea but, for me, it hasn’t worked. The simple winter paleness of The Mall has been lost to something that feels commercial and slightly out-of-place. It’s probably just me and my Scrooge-like tendencies but I don’t think I’ll be venturing to The Mall tomorrow night to see the dark temporary structure and the leering eerieness of the dark Disney-ridden carnival rides. 

This year, The Mall has roared and shouted Christmas to all who pass by. It has pushed Christmas forcefully into my hands. But still it has trickled through my fingers. Christmas seems to be best found via a whisper or a tiny nudge. That’s what I think anyway. 

But this might be just me and my cold, being miserable. 

Yes, I’ve had a cold. I hesitate to say Flu but, looking back, I think it’s been damn close to come kind of Flu. I’ve kept upright, kept moving, kept working in the run up to the holiday, but there were days when I wasn’t quite sure how I did it. I seemed to move about in a sort of a fever dream, sweating clean through all my clothes and collapsing every evening in shivers, shakes and restless dozes. Perhaps that’s why Christmas has seemed so elusive. It’s been such a struggle to keep upright, perhaps there was no time for anything else.

The Flu thing is largely gone now but it has left me incredibly weakened. Like the proverbial ‘drink of water’. I can do what I need to do but it drains me and leaves me longing for a sit down and a stare at the wall in an all-encompassing way that I am thankfully not at all familiar with. 

I think it might have been Flu all right. Maybe I’ll get one of those jabs next year. It’s certainly been no joke. 

I did eventually find a little bit of Christmas. It happened the other evening when Sam had to be transported to the Church to sing a Winter Carol with his classmates as part of the annual carol service. This may sound a bit like Home Alone or something but there was a real first taste of Christmas in the air inside the church. Not, strangely enough, so much in the carols or the story telling but rather in the hectic preparation for the event. 

We arrived about 45 minutes early and I sat at the back and sweated and stared blankly and then started to enjoy the show. The kids hurrying in and then back out again. The girls in their gospel chic drapes, enjoying the attention they imagined they were getting. The younger brothers and sisters, kicking and wailing against the requirement to wait for everything from bed to carols to the arrival of Santa Claus, still interminable days away. One mother had ill-advisedly decked his little boy out with potent looking desert boots and the little tyrant aimed kicks at everyone and everything who came within his reach. I think his poor Mum must have been black and blue even before the first carol started.

Here, in this mayhem, there was a first hint of Christmas. A hint of preparation for something. A hint of excitement and expectation. Only a tiny hint but a hint nonetheless. 

It all had a sort of 'Owen Meany Nativity' feel to it. If you’ve read the book you might have an idea what I mean. A sort of edgy but good-natured messiness that may come closer to defining Christmas than anything else I can think of.

Perhaps the secret is that you have to seek out and put yourself among people who care about Christmas. Perhaps the feeling cannot be got from TV adverts and shop windows or even from old movies. You have to feel the human touch. Then perhaps the season might arrive. Not sure. I’ll keep you posted. 

So, now, Christmas is upon us. Sam is drumming down the hall and John, newly returned from Paris, is reading in his intent curled-up way in the living room. Trish is making something to hang on the door and I’m in here scribbling away at this. We are together again, a little family reunited. It feels good. 

As I finish up for today I just wanted to mention the ‘meaning of life’ thing. In the height of my fever, last week, I had what I perceived to be quite a deep thought. I was going to write a whole blog post about it last week but I was too sick to function so here’s the gist of it. Make of it what you will. 

About a month ago, I got new shoes. I only ever have one pair and I wear them for all occasions and when they fall off my feet I buy a new pair. Always Doc Marten shoes. They always require a period of ‘breaking-in’. My heels hurt and my little toes get a bit out of joint too. This time it took about two weeks to break the new pair in.

On the fourth week, my new shoes developed a hole. More of a split, really. It was most disappointing. I took them back to the shop and they immediately gave me a new pair. No trouble at all. I went home delighted except for one fairly obvious thing…

Now I would have to break the new shoes in too.

But here’s the thing. Pay attention, now, this is the thing. 

I didn’t have to.

I didn’t have to break in the new-new pair of shoes.  They were okay, they just worked.

And that’s where I had my fever-dream-deep-thought. A thought that I like to imagine nobody has ever had before. 

Here it is, succinctly. Ready?

You don’t break in your new shoes, you break in your feet. 

That’s it. Think about it. 

I think the meaning of life, or at least a clue to it, may be hidden in there. I think it is a sort of a theory of relativity for the way we should be. We don’t break things in, things break us in. 

I’m not going to elaborate, mostly because I can’t. It came from a fever and the fever is gone now and all I am left with is the tiredness and the residue. The ‘Pixie Dust’ of a notion. There’s something there though, isn’t there? 

I can feel it. Can't you?

Happy Christmas to you and yours. 

x



Instead of Sheep

It’s funny, the things that stay with you. You can hear all kinds of things in any given week. Profound things, funny things, angry-making things but it’s always hard to predict which thing will stick in the recesses of your brain and take up residence there. 

This week it was an old song that climbed in there and refused to budge. I only heard it once (well, twice if you’re being picky) and it didn’t start to play on repeat in my brain immediately. It was actually some days later when it showed up and commenced to kick the inside of my cranium. 

I mentioned it very briefly in passing last week. I went to see Castlebar Musical and Dramatic Society  do their annual musical production. This year, it was ‘White Christmas’ and very good it was too. There was the song, right there in the middle of all the proceedings. Ronan Egan is a lovely singer but, even more than that, he get ‘get across’ whatever song he is singing. He can engage you in it and he can rather convince you that he believes what he sings. In one scene, his character meets the little girl, late of an evening, and learns that she is having some trouble getting to sleep. He has some advice for her.

“When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”

Irving Berlin has always been good at writing with the ‘little drop of blood' that I’m always so keen on. So many of his songs are permeated subtly with that element of real sentiment and emotion. It’s no accident that the song ‘White Christmas’ can touch us on some subliminal level when the sentiment floating just below the surface of that tune is one of separation and longing and hope.

From reading up on it a bit, I see that Berlin visited his doctor to discuss his terrible stress and insomnia and his doctor asked him had he tried counting his blessings. From that came the song. And if you want a bit of random trivia that I picked up along the way to this post, Berlin is the only person to ever open an Academy Award envelope and read his own name out.  

When I saw the song performed on stage, the week before last, I pretty much thought it was the high point of the show. Sweet and very touchingly-done. I enjoyed it and then I moved on. Or so I thought. I didn’t expect it to stick around as it has. And, boy, it has.

You’ll expect me now to say something like how I’ve now started to count my own blessings when I’m trying to fall asleep but that’s not quite the story here. For me, the song didn’t suggest that I do something new. Rather, it reaffirmed what I have already been doing for quite a few years now. 

In bed at night, I read my book until the words start to sway and the story starts to intermingle with dreams and then I put the book down. In those potentially troublesome moments when the day’s failings or tomorrow’s stresses can start to seep back in, I always turn my brain to think about how damned lucky I am and I run through some of the myriad reasons why I am so fortunate. That pretty much ends my day. The rest is sleep.

It works too.

And you may well say, ‘Look at that jammy git, he’s got so many great things going on in his life that he’s fast asleep before he’s finished running through them and I do, I really do. But we are all given a mixed bag, aren’t we? I could just as easily start listing off all the uncertainties and concerns that line up down the lane alongside all of the blessings. But that wouldn’t get me to sleep, would it?

Oddly enough, there’s not a single word in the song's advice that applies literally to what I do. I don’t ‘count’, I just sort-of think about things. Neither do I think of them as things that somebody or something has ‘blessed’ me with. I tend to think of the good things in terms of how fortunate I am. So, yeah, I sort of ‘list my luck’ rather than ‘count my blessings’ but even Ronan couldn’t sing that one. 

So thanks to the Castlebar Crew for such a lovely and memorable musical this year. I’m still singing your song in my head and I’ll continue to take the very good advice contained in there for as long as I can. 

A Slight Embarrassment

In a few weeks, it will be ten years since I started writing on this blog. I think I might celebrate by having a crisis of confidence in the whole business. How does that sound? Good, eh?

I can see the signs. Round about now is the time of the week when I sit down and bang out my first draft of the next blog post. A thousand words or so, on something that has occupied my mind in some shape or form through the previous week. That’s the brief. Easy-peasy. There’s inevitably some block of modelling clay in my head already and I just need to throw a little shape on it. And the actual writing of it tends to do most of the heavy lifting in that regard. 

But this week, I’m looking around for excuses not to write anything. I have some good ones too. I’ve covered some miles this week and I’m tired and my eyes feel strained. I’m a bit achy too, I could just stretch out on the couch like that American guy on the adverts. Also, what the hell do I write about? 

I could write about the Castlebar Musical and Dramatic Society production of ‘White Christmas’, which was lovely, but it will be finished its run by the time this goes up, nobody will read it, and I’m bound to leave somebody out of the blog who would deserve a mention so, yeah, probably best not.

I could write about ‘Let The Right One In’, which Sam and me saw at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin last night. A fabulous production. Go and see it, if you can. I actually jumped at one point and I never jump at anything. 

So, yes, there’s things I could write about. There always is. It’s just I don’t really want to. I could do anything with my little bit of free time. I could take a walk around the lake. I could watch something stupid on Netflix. Why write another blog?

Why write yet another blog post?

Well, Ken, there are a number of good reasons. Because you enjoy it. Because you feel better after you’ve done it. Because it helps keep your ‘writing muscle’ trim and exercised. Because, damn it, it’s just a thing you do. 

So why don’t you want to do it?

When I look back over what I’ve already typed here, I think I see at least part of the answer lying half-buried in the text. ‘Nobody will read it,’ I said. That’s kind of a ‘thing’ isn’t it? The fact that nobody will read it. Go on, admit it. 

Okay, it’s kind of a ‘thing’. Nobody’s read the stuff for quite a while, several years in fact. I know this. And, just to qualify the statement a bit, I know you’re there, right now, reading it and, Lord knows I appreciate that. Thanks for stopping by. When I say ‘nobody’, I really mean to say ‘not many at all’. You are a member of an elite group that contains ‘not many at all’. I’m sorry that I don’t have a badge for you or anything.

I bleat on about it. One day, not too long ago, Social Media discovered that we would accept, almost without question, having the stuff we see filtered through to us. I’d say the powers-that-be were delighted at how easily we gave up the right to see everything and anything. Maybe we shouldn’t have lain down so easily but we did and there ain’t no going back from it. So Social Media now invariably directs our eyesight to the great and the good, to the lowest common denominator, to the loud and the colourful. In fairness, they believe these are the things we want and need to see and they are only serving us well by cutting out much of the background noise. In further fairness, if they didn’t, it would be a noisy place. If we saw every lunch photo and every lost hamster plea, we would be mired in the mundane and the everyday and we wouldn’t see the big picture, the overview, the summary, the prĂ©cis, the… truth. They mean well, these Guardians of the Social Media Galaxy or at least we must comfort ourselves that we believe they do. 

The point is, a blog post like this one, with its funny little website link and its tacit implication of built-in mundanity, is what that bad cop in Blade Runner would have called ‘Little People’. To show it around too much would be to add to the white noise that clutters the 'message', the perceived truth. Best not do it. Give it a limited release, like some wacky home made movie. Keep things tight.

This is more an elegy than a complaint. I long to see everything much more than I long for everything to see me. I wonder which of my friends has just shared some meaningful thought or experience that I will never see, just because some committee who neither of us knows, has decided that it doesn’t fit the algorithm. Back in the day, not too many days ago, when I was allowed to see everything that my friends said, I managed okay. I had my own little filter and it seemed to work just fine. I also had the comfort of knowing that the truth I was distilling from the information I received was my own truth, pure and cold and clear. Not some dubious liquid that had already been pissed through several kidneys.

So, when I write my blog post now, it is mostly for my own benefit.

I don’t need readers. I’ve proved that already. I’ve done this for years on the back of a handful of nods and smiles and I’ve enjoyed it. The problem is not a need to be seen. The problem is quite a new one, actually. I don’t think, I’ve mentioned it before. Although I know that not very many people are seeing what I do, there is always the sneaking feeling that they are actually seeing it. That everybody is seeing it and they are just looking the other way.

This brings the new feeling. The not-very-nice one. 

A growing, gnawing, sense of embarrassment. 

It’s like having a simple trick, a coin-vanishing move, and it’s great and cool the first time you do it and even the second and third time. But you keep doing it and doing it. And people smile and nod politely, ‘Yes, I’ve seen that, it’s good.’ And still you keep doing it and doing it. And now, you’re not sure, but you start to feel like people are saying, ‘Shit, here he comes again with his fucking coin trick. Where do I look? What the hell am I suppose to say to him this time?’

I can write and write for ever and I love to do it. I would actively hate it if there was anyone out there who felt they had to read what I write. It would be as bad as someone feeling they had to reply to every damn tweet I ever sent. I love the idea of someone happening past my scribblings now and again and perhaps seeing something they liked. That is my dream. I don’t dream of the ‘constant reader’. I’m not really ‘constant reader’ material because I am stylistically quite unwavering and I tend to mine the same little quarries over and over (‘quod erat…’ etc.). 

I could quit but that’s actually something I find very hard to do. I always struggle to give up on anything. I wear shoes until they fall off my feet. I use an ancient iPod and I won’t stop until it does. I don’t really ever give up. Somewhere in my mind is a loop that says to give up is to fail. 

So when I do finally stop doing this, whenever that is, fear not. It won’t be because Twitter wouldn’t share my posts or because Joe Blogs (ha, ‘Joe Blogs’) didn’t come to read my musings any more. It will be because I finally came to fully believe the subtext, the niggling voice in my head telling me its own truth. That I had far-outstayed my usefulness. That I had become a slight embarrassment.

A big embarrassment, I think I could handle. That actually sounds pretty okay to me. 

But a slight embarrassment might just be too much to bear. 

Shout Out to Jamie

On Wednesday, I drove my younger son Sam and his friend Freya to see Mac DeMarco play at Vicar Street in Dublin. 

If you don’t know who Mac DeMarco is, don’t worry, you won’t be alone. He is, in fact, a very talented and interesting musical artist who seems to have gathered the bulk of his following from younger twenty year olds and older teenagers. I think this is pretty remarkable in itself, given the general laid back, ‘almost jazzy’ feel to his work. Projecting a strong image of a warm but world-weary sensitive slacker, Mac has an admiring fan base among his demographic and not without very good reason. 

Tickets for his single Dublin gig in the intimate Vicar Street setting were sold out from day one and were much pleaded-for and not found. I managed to get hold of two by being eagle-eyed on Twitter for quite a while. So, on Wednesday, off we went.

Sam and Freya went into the gig when doors opened at seven o’clock and got themselves a place two rows from the stage. I had a loose idea a to try to get an extra ‘face-value’ ticket outside if I could and if I couldn’t I always had my car seat, my Kindle and my warm coat. 

I had resolved to give it a half an hour outside the venue, to see what I could do about a ticket, but people tend to fascinate me, and at nine thirty, I was still there, wandering up and down the alleyway, chatting and smiling at anyone who seemed receptive to a chat or a smile and generally having my own rather odd version of a pretty good time. At half past nine on the dot, just as Mac was due to go on stage, I gained access to the show and had a really good time at the back, watching the gig. I don’t think I can tell you how I got in, as that isn’t really ‘blog material’. Next time we have a coffee, I’ll tell you.

But that’s not what I want to write about anyway.

I want to give a shout out to Jamie, who I met outside. Let me tell you about Jamie but, first, my mission.

I had a mission, you see. Sam was very keen to get on stage to drum with Mac DeMarco and his band and so he drew up an A3 sheet with a plea that had been carefully written out in his lucky Death Grips marker. I also thought that a hand delivered note, dropped in at the stage door, might appeal to Mac’s famous sense of live improvisation and general mischief. So Sam also drafted a card, in which he placed a one euro coin with a note which said ‘this is a bribe’. My mission was to drop this note in at the stage door. Nothing to it. 

Except there was something to it. The stage door at Vicar Street is not a stage door at all but rather is a stage steel double gate securing a yard where the band’s transport park securely. The gate was locked shut and nobody was manning it. There was nobody to give Sam’s note to. 

I would have given up quite soon if it wasn’t for Jamie. As I said, this is a shout out to him. Jamie was the only other person apart from me at the locked steel gates. Less than fifty yards from the pre-concert throng, there was just Jamie and me, waiting, assessing the situation, and getting completely drenched in some of the worst rain that Dublin had seen all year. 

Jamie was a tall thin guy with an evident passion for his music. Jamie was on his own mission too. He had arrived at the steel gates at three o’clock that afternoon and had been waiting ever since for Mac DeMarco, who he greatly admired. He had no ticket for the show and no money to buy one. All he wanted was for Mac to sign his guitar. The second signature that would appear there, if he could only get it. 

Jamie and I got chatting, we had similar missions and I had no wish to crowd him or reduce his chances of an audience with The Man. There was a gap in the gate about six inches wide and every now and again Mac would appear in the yard for another of his famous smokes. (He eulogises his favourite brand in one of his best known songs). At those moments, Jamie would call in through the gate and Mac would wave and acknowledge him but he wouldn’t come over. I didn’t call out, advising Jamie to maintain that he was the only one there and only wanted a quick autograph. But Mac still did not come over to the gate. I don’t blame him for this. The life of a music star must be a life of constant call-outs and requests and they cannot all be met. If Mac had known of Jamie’s commitment, I have no doubt he would have responded but he didn’t. To him he was probably just another faceless voice in the dark and there was a show to get done. 

In between Mac’s smoke breaks, Jamie and I chatted a bit. I told him about my note and how keen Sam was to drum. I told him about my own stage door experiences which included Tom Waits and the famous Death Grips encounter.

Jamie showed me his guitar and the neat, artistic, signature there and he told me the story of how ‘Liam’ had come to sign his guitar and it was then that I realised that I had seen Jamie before and that he was a bit famous in his own small way. Jamie had been one of a small cohort of guys who, back in June, had met Liam Gallagher on the street in Dublin. The signing of Jamie’s guitar is captured on a piece of video that was widely shared in the media at the time. Liam signing and chatting and then, realising that the lads had no tickets, returning to put them all on the guest list. At the time, there was a feeling that this might have been staged but Jamie was clear that it was not and his attendance at tonight’s gig in the torrents of rain seemed ample confirmation of that.

Most of the time, there was nobody about in the backstage yard and I left Jamie to it from time to time to wander up through the pre-gig crowd to see about a ticket for myself. To be honest, I would have bought two if I could have found them and let Jamie go in to see Mac play. It seemed clear to me that Mac could not come to the gate and sign the guitar because show time was drawing nearer and nearer. But there was no tickets to be had, not by me anyway. Although I saw three separate occasions of tickets being handed over for nothing by people who had extra ones, I could not get hold of any myself. I didn’t mention this to Jamie, ‘what ifs’ have very little value in a rainy night-time Dublin alley. 

Eventually, all the lights in the stage yard went out and Jamie and I knew that our missions were over and could not succeed. Jamie shook my hand and smiled a broad smile and headed off home in the rain, disappointed but glad he tried. 

Some time after, I went back to the gate and the lights were back on and there was a band member there who I called over and who promised he would deliver Sam’s note to the man himself. 

And I got to see the show. 

Sam didn’t get to play on stage with Mac but he had a great night.

Jamie didn’t get his autograph or an invite to see the show, which I sense he would not have refused if it came.

Both tried though. Both pushed hard for what they wanted. The two guys didn’t get to meet but they were similar in ways. Similar in ways that many of the young people I meet are similar. I grew up in a small town, with small town ways. The young people I meet have all grown up in the Entire World and this knowledge of the world entire has instilled in them a fearlessness and a tangible ambition that may yet carry them far.

We, the older generations, are leaving them a huge challenge as we go. Foolish, dangerous elected leaders. Oceans of plastic. They may be able to make it better though, if we don’t do too much more. 

Because they try hard and they smile when they fail.

And then they try hard again. 

Inside Track

There is, quite rightly, a lot of talk these days about men and the stupid things we tend to do. 

In particular, there is a lot of talk about how we act in relation to women. Acres and acres of risible behaviour has been reported and documented. There can be no argument, we often act very badly indeed.

In the midst of all this truth-telling, there sits a cohort of bemused males who repeatedly proclaim to anyone who will listen that, ‘it’s not me, I didn’t do any of it’ and they too, quite rightly, get berated almost as much as the people who know it was them.

I can see why this is. It’s unhelpful, unproductive even, to simply remove oneself from the firing line and to think that will be enough. It can’t ever be enough, really, can it?

I can never speak for anyone but myself so that’s what I’ll do here. For myself, after witnessing the outpouring of negative truth about my gender, I have tried harder to audit myself a little. What do I do? How am I complicit in the negative narrative? I know it's not much but I hope it’s at least an attempt at a constructive reaction to all this. After all, what can we usefully do with the past and present if not learn from it for the future?

So, what have I found? What do I do? Well, here’s one tiny thing, for the purposes of illustration.

I walk on the outside of the pavement.

If I am walking down the street with a woman, I will always position myself so that I walk on the outside of the pavement, between the woman and the roadway.

And, wait, I think I know what you might be thinking. Check this guy, he’s doing the polar opposite of damning himself with faint praise, he’s actually praising himself with faint damnation. He’s just as bad as those helpless males he mentioned before. The ones who loudly plead their own innocence. He is loudly pleading his own minor infraction. What a wally. 

That may be how this piece will read but I promise you that it’s not my intention. The process of auditing a lifetime of male behaviour is a drawn out and ongoing one and several things have been unearthed along the way. This ‘walking on the outside' thing is obviously only small and seemingly insignificant but it has provided me with some helpful (to me at least) insight which I would like to share with you. Bear with me. They are going to carve on my gravestone ‘At Least He Meant Well’ and not without some reason. So bear with me a moment while I try to explain. 

It was my Auntie Rosaleen who first taught me about walking on the outside. Auntie Rosaleen came home from Boston when I was quite small and I still remember how she rocked my little world. She smoked menthol Pall Malls and had a fluffy white fur coat and she gave me insights that I’d never had before. She introduced me to yoghurt, she instilled the radical idea of cleaning my fingernails from time to time and, most tellingly, she explained to me how gentlemen walked on the outside of the pavement, allowing the lady to be protected on the inside. This quickly became a ‘thing' with me. I was the little fellow who would always retain the outside track and it gave me a sense of thoughtfulness and chivalry that fitted well with my mentality. 

Fifty years later and I’m still doing it. I might have shed the habit as I grew to adulthood except there was a major boost to my behaviour in my late teens. In college, where I studied Architectural matters, one of our lecturers, Paddy Doris, was briefing us on matters of historical drainage systems when he inadvertently topped up my pavement habit. 

Mr Doris explained how, in the Olden Times, all the waste from the houses would be dumped out onto the street from upper windows and how a channel ran down the middle of the road to carry the detritus away. Carriages would spash through the channel in the street and throw all kinds of unmentionable product up on to the pavement. Men wore long cloaks to protect their inner clothing from being splattered and women walked on the inside of them to gain some protection from the cloaks against the flying shit. 

The metaphor fitted me well. I was keeping the shit off the women. Here was an almost logical reason for my perambulatory foible. It reasserted my correctness and set me off in a clear direction , my eyes set firmly on the future, my feet planted firmly on the outside of every path.

And thus it has become one of my adult ‘things’, like only ever owning one pair of shoes or singing loudly in the car. I walk on the outside and the ladies must take their place inside. 

But here’s where it gets interesting. 

I have become quite seriously defensive about my ‘right’ to walk on the outside of the pavement. It  is a subconscious thing or, more accurately, it was a subconscious thing until recently when I started thinking about these things. I unerringly claim the outside track and, if a woman approaching me from the other direction clearly wishes to assert her right to be there, I give it to her, of course, but (here’s the thing) I do it with a type of internal surly reluctance and even resentment that now seems neither helpful not healthy. “I am a man”, my subconscious seems to murmur, “I deserve the outside of the pavement. If you take it away from me, you are challenging my authority.”

This, I think, is a fair example how a seemingly innocuous and almost-cute male habit becomes a microcosm of some of the ills abroad in the world today. For me, it demonstrates an historical sense of duty and politeness, churned into a sense of entitlement and defensive embitterment by long habit and, yes, by a dash of male ego too. Further, when examining this, I noted a strong tendency inside myself to try to logically explain away the silliness of it all. Let me try my mind's defence out on you so that you can see what I mean. 

"It is good if men walk on the outside and women on the inside because then we each know which way we will go when we meet. There will be less misunderstandings on the street because we will each know where we should be, where our place is."

Our place… it’s the type of awful dangerous argument that one could almost hear fools make for slavery or any other kind of terrible repression. 'At least we all know our place...'

So if you think I’m simply trying to slip away from my responsibilities as a man in the world of 2017, I can assure you that I am not. Not consciously anyway. I may not be doing as much as I could but the revelations of the past year have shown me that I cannot afford to be complacent in my skin and bask in the sentiment that others are the culprits rather than me. My 'outside track' habit may be just a small thing but there are lessons for me to learn from it all the same. 

As for the habit itself, I’m going to try to be less assertive about walking on the outside of the pavement. To think that a middle aged git like me, by being out there, can offer any protection at all to a strong independent woman is only the height of foolishness anyway.

Movies with Friends

This week, for some unknown reason, I did a little thinking about and remembering of films I have gone to see with friends of mine. I have these odd strengths and weaknesses in my recall. I struggle a lot to pull up names on the spot, it’s a real embarrassment to me, but I can easily remember when and where I saw a film and who I saw it with. 

Here’s a random few. I saw lots of movies with many of these people but I’ve just chosen a random one (or two) that sprang to mind when I thought about them. There could have been many many more. 

I can’t see how it’s of very much value or interest to anyone for me to write these down but it’s a place where my mind went to this week and that’s what makes a blog post in this village. Perhaps, someday, I will be forced to forget everything, either by time or by rogue chemicals in my brain. Then I’ll have this to look back on, won’t I? Maybe that will help.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs/Darby O’Gill and the Little People – Mum and Dad

The two films I remember being taken to by my parents as a small boy. Both terrified me a little but Darby O’Gill won that prize by a long chalk. Seeing it again in recent years, I don’t believe it was the banshee or the deathly carriage that haunted me the most. It was the upholstery inside the carriage when Darby climbed in to be taken away. 

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Granny

Granny and I went through a phase of going to the Saturday matinees to see movies. I would have been six. We loved Butch Cassidy, Granny and me, although one slightly naughty scene might have made us both squirm a bit.

Diamonds Are Forever – The Lads

My first matinee excursion without Granny was with the Lads, my pals from the street. Mum and Dad had been to see it in the week before Saturday came and they predicted I would love it. I had been primed by the James Bond publicity machine which included Sean Connery advertising milk from the set of the ‘Lunar Test’ scene. 

The Man with the Golden Gun – George Henderson

The first time I was allowed to set off from the house by myself (no lads) to see an evening show. I met George at the door of the Savoy. I had read the Fleming novel to prepare myself. I was eleven. 

Fist of Fury – The Lads

The Lads and me all went to see Fist of Fury. The film was over eighteens but Padraig got us in somehow. I would guess there was a general acknowledgement that Bruce Lee had become so beloved of kids of my age that we just had to be let in.

Enter the Dragon - Martin

I think I saw Enter the Dragon more times than any other film. It was a regular at the Savoy matinees and we rarely missed it, loving the live action iconography on the screen.  

Death Weekend – The Lads

This marked the end of my blatant ‘over eighteen’ movie-going career for a while. My parents strolled past the cinema where the posters, foyer cards, and tagline left little to the imagination. I was thirteen at that stage.

The Spy Who Loved Me – Shane

Me and Shane went to lots of movies. I remember this one because I thought I knew what the much heralded ski stunt was going to be but I didn’t and it kind of knocked me out. When I got home my parents were watching ‘Avanti’ on the telly but I wasn’t allowed to come in the room because it was too grown up. 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Sean

As I recall, we chatted quite a bit through this one. An unforgivable sin but it was a bit slow in places. Sorry. I got Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds album on the same day I saw this and I went home and listened to side one before bed. 

Rocky 3 – Alan

We went to the Late Show in the Gaiety in Sligo. They played the song several times before the curtains opened. It was very loud and there was a pervading sweaty and overtired atmosphere in the place. It was great fun. 

The Shining – Brian

Saw this on a Saturday night in Sligo. By nine the next morning I had left home for the very first time for college in Dublin. Brian and me kept suggesting that something terrifying was about to emerge from the shadows of the Overlook Hotel and, eventually, something did. 

Poltergeist – Damian

Adelphi One in Dublin. In a packed first weekend showing, Damian reached forward and scared the person in the row in front of him with his hand. We could have been killed. 

Southern Comfort – Greg

The only movie I ever saw with Greg, who was a friend from college. He wanted to see it for the Ry Cooder soundtrack and that was all right with me.

Once Upon a Time in America – Damian

Deserves a mention because I a received news on the afternoon that a good friend’s Dad had just died back home. This added a real life elegiac layer to a film which already had so much of that. 

Ghostbusters – The London Crew

After moving to London, I went to the movies a lot. I loved to go to Leicester Square and see them all as soon and as big and as expensive as possible. I bought something like ten tickets (as I often did) for the first night that Ghostbusters was on and a  bunch of us went. It was the level of anticipation that holds it firmly in my memory.

The Hustler – MC

I liked the small retro cinemas too. The Hustler was showing in a lovely wide black and white print. I remember Jackie Gleason, how poised and mannered he was. A real ‘cinema’ night out.

Into the Night – Cormac

Cormac wasn’t at too many movies but I remember a few. He was always engaged company for a movie. I remember him at this one because he liked it quite a lot. I think the B B King music helped with that. 

Fright Night – Tim

I saw lots of movies with Tim and pals between Dublin and London. I choose Fright Night as a memory because Tim is a big strong lad, who had looked out for me once or twice, but this seemed to scare the shit out of him. 

A Room with a View - Amy 

Curzon Mayfair, a Saturday evening, a packed house loving the film. Who could forget that?

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Nuala

It wasn’t my best Saturday ever, to put it mildly, but Ferris and his crew somehow made me smile. I think that’s why I remember it with fondness.

Jude – Una 

Patricia’s Sister and me caught a few Sunday afternoon shows when Patricia was pregnant and not in the mood for cinema seats (she was  glad to be rid of us for a few hours, I think). We saw Jude, which was shockingly miserable and I remember it because Una took her sister’s blood pressure before we left and predicted that matters of first child birth might soon get under way. As was so often the case, she was not wrong. 

War of The Roses – John

Patricia’s brother loves his movies as I do and it was fun and a privilege to see this one with him in Boulder Colorado. 

Dances with Wolves – Patricia

Patricia, my Wife and also my Best Friend for over thirty years, has been to see many, many films with me. I could write a list of times and places that would stretch all around the entire world and back again and it would run for thousands of words all by itself. This particular film was not a firm favourite or anything but it comes to mind because it was an extended cut on a Sunday afternoon in Haymarket and the feeling that I had over four hours to sit with this lady and not be concerned with anything else – well, that was a feeling I like to hold on to.

Toy Story 2 – John

I brought my eldest son on our first excursion together to see this. He was three. He was quite nervous about going in but we got as far as the usher’s chair in the back and sat there together for the first part. Eventually, entranced, we moved further in. At the end credits, the girl who came in to clean up the popcorn stood beside our seats and recited along to Mrs. Potato Head’s entire speech. She was very good. 

The Amazing Spider Man – Sam

Sam, my second son, is a great guy to go see a movie with and we often go together. I remember this one because he felt a bit sick half way through and we had to go home but we came back the next week to see the second half. 

Sitting here, I find I could go on and on and on but I think I’ll stop now. Maybe I’ll do more some other time. Thanks to all my friends and family, some far away, some long gone, who made my movie days and nights such a warm and integral part of my life and memory.

Don't Deserve. Don't Deserve

I was watching Louis Theroux on BBC2 last weekend. He was interviewing people who suffer terribly with eating disorders. I thought it was a sensitive and quite revealing programme. I would have to confess that eating disorders would be something of a mystery to me. In that respect, the programme made me think a little more clearly about the subject. 

One interviewee was particularly clear in explaining that the problem, for her at least, was nothing at all to do with body image or the need to be a ‘size zero’. Her testimony along with others, painted a different picture altogether. One where the pain of virtual starvation is almost a welcome release from all the other pains in the world. One where the person suffering feels they actually don’t deserve to eat. 

That last bit hit home with me on rather a personal level. The woman being interviewed quietly expressed the sentiment in two repeated words. ‘Don’t deserve. Don’t deserve’ and…

Wait. Stop. This is where I make the whole thing about me and what those words mean to me. But that just doesn’t feel right. My heart went out to the people in the programme, the mountain they are struggling to climb every day. It shouldn’t become about me. Lucky me, who has no illness or disorder to contend with. I shouldn’t even go there.

But then again, maybe I should. Empathy is a powerful weapon in battling things. I think so anyway. Perhaps, if something evokes empathy in us and makes us acknowledge that we feel even a micro-fraction of what the person suffering feels, perhaps the exploration of that can have some value too. 

Who knows. Either way, here I go. Talking about myself yet again now.

When that person repeated the phrase ‘Don’t Deserve’ to herself on my telly, I immediately realised that this is a thing I subconsciously say to myself all of the time. It doesn’t manifest itself in me in the form of any palpable discomfort or pain. It is just simply a way of looking at things. ‘Don’t Deserve’. 

And I’m not mentioning it here by way of some confessional or anything. I sometimes think of myself as a sort of an ‘emotional everyman’. I reckon that, if I’m thinking or feeling something, you can bet that lots of other run-of-the-mill folk like me are probably thinking it too. That’s why I debated with myself about scribbling this thing, decided against it, and then, somewhere along the way, evidently changed my mind because, well, here I am.

So, yeah, it’s a thought I often have. Strike that, it’s a thought I practically never have. It’s actually more of an all-pervading ‘knowledge’ without there ever being any kind of a conscious thought. 

Whatever it is, whatever it might be, I don’t deserve it. 

I think, on one level, it’s quite easily explained. I think I have a sort of a general loose ‘socialist’ outlook on things. I have so much ‘Stuff’, you know? ‘Stuff’, food, shelter, entertainment, warmth, clean water, family, freedom… so very much stuff and so many people in the world have so very much less. So many people have nothing at all or less than nothing at all. So how could I not feel that I don’t deserve anything more? I’ve got my share already, much more than my share. And not just of things or comforts but of luck and love and those even greater things that are harder to quantify.

So that’s it sorted then. I sometimes feel I don’t deserve things but why the hell wouldn’t I when the world is an uneven as it is and when I sit so near to the top of the pile. 

Fine.

Except that doesn’t answer all of it. Not really. It’s a bit more complicated than that, isn’t it? Because it isn’t just about material things. It’s also about more obtuse, difficult to pin down, things such as personal achievement and creative satisfaction. To have these type of things for oneself is not to deprive anyone else of anything at all. They are purely personal. And yet that sub conscious part of me will still mutter that I don’t deserve them, any of them.

The amateur psychologists all step up. “Easy,” they say, “this lad has a tiny little inferiority complex that he’s nurturing in there.” Except I don’t. Nuh huh. In my mind and to my mind, I am pretty damn good. I am actually one of the best at the stuff that I do. I don’t ever feel much inferiority to anyone or anything. More often than not, I feel exactly equal. And, truth to tell, in those choice few things that I work very hard at, I feel a damn sight better than most people.

So what is it then? This ‘Don’t Deserve’ thing.

Well, I don’t know. Do I? I’m only mentioning it in case some of you have it too and think you’re the only ones in the world who do. I bet you’re not… well, I know you’re not.

In my own case, I could easily tease out several other contributing factors but that’s not a job for here. As I said at the start, this is not a confessional, it’s more of a public service alert that lots of people probably feel this way and if you do you're not on your own.

One positive in it is that it might just give me a small key to unlock a greater understanding of those people who have it much worse than I do. That’s something, right?

And usually, at the end of a post like this, there’d be some kind of inspirational resolution. A statement of intent to do better, to give yourself more of a chance. To take a deeper plunge. To have a little bit more bloody faith in your own worth. 

Not in this one though. Not today. 

I don’t deserve it.


Post Script – Except I probably need to try to do better. If only out of respect for the people who think this way every day except a thousand times worse than I do. There’s a play on in Dublin at the end of the month that I’d quite like to see. It’s a lot of trouble to get there and back, an awful lot of hassle. I don’t think it’s really worth all that trouble for just me to get to see a play. If there were a few others interested it might be worth while but it’s just me and I don’t think I should_

Fuck it. I’ll go.

Click Click Click

I was at a thing recently where four very good writers were reading and talking about their process a bit. They touched briefly on what things are like when they are not actively writing. They mentioned stuff like walks in the woods and Douglas-Adams-style long baths and some of them even subtly alluded to some vague sense of guilt and unease that accompanies the non writing times.

I tried to make a point in the Q & A at the end. The point was about how the periods of not writing are important to a writer. I just don’t think I did it terribly well. I wanted to give it another quick bash, if that’s all right. So that’s what this is. 

What I was trying to say is that I often find the times when I’m not physically writing to be very valuable and important to the writing process. Of course, I can only speak for myself and I may not be the best advert for any process I may have adopted over the years but there you are. You take these things as helpful or you leave them. You throw them at the wall and keep whatever sticks, for interior decoration. 

Let me rattle on for a moment and see where I get to. I think that’s best.

The things I am planning to write about are like planes arriving at an airport. They are stacked up back over the cloudy horizon. Some are clearly planes, with sunlight glinting off the wings and all that shit. Others, further back, are a mere dot in the sky with perhaps just an occasional flashing light. The closest one is right there, it’s about to touch town and it’s huge and you can see little faces looking out of the windows and it’s slightly off course and one wheel may touch the grass as it lands and Oh Shit!

Sorry, that nearest one is a terror.

The point is more about those dots back there in the sky. The arrivals board may have a clear indication of when they will all land and when their baggage will be delivered onto the carousel (unless it’s hand luggage) (enough, already, get on with it). It’s just that they may get diverted, they may get sent around the skies again. Perhaps the undercarriage didn’t come down quite as expected. Perhaps it has to burn off a bit more excess fuel before it’s ready to land. 

Those planes up in the sky may just be dots but we have a good idea of what they are. They are full sized planes and someday (maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow etc.) they will be there on the apron all glittery and huge. 

But here’s the point. At least I think it is. They can’t come down until they're ready. If you bring them down before they’re ready, the passengers will be all shaken up and uncooperative. The pilot will be a mess. You have to send them around again. One more time, maybe two. 

Let me ‘for instance’. About this time last year, I promised someone a play. It was a reasonably large dot on the horizon. I could see it had a red tail wing but then most planes do. I thought it was coming in clear and that the pilot would be on the shuttle to the Holiday Inn before tea time. Nuh huh. It went around. Then it went around again. One time, the damn wheels nearly touched the tarmac but, no, it wasn’t correctly aligned. Off it went again. 

All the while, other planes were coming in and landing. Some of them were only little single engine things, some of them with people only learning how to fly. Others were a bit bigger. Some older planes came back from abroad too and they had to be serviced and fuelled and sent off again on their way.

But that one, the one on the timetable… it still wasn’t ready to come in. 

This is where the airport analogy goes out the window. I’ll try another one if I may. Suddenly the thing is ready to land. Something remarkable happens. It’s like… it’s like one of those puzzles, you know the ones. A frame of little plastic squares and one square is missing and you push all the little squares to try and make a coherent picture (minus one square). Yes, I knew you knew them. The plane still in the sky is now like one of those puzzles. You slide the pieces around in your head and it doesn’t  fit and it doesn’t even make sense and then… And then, all of a sudden, a sense seems to arise out of the pieces and an end seems in sight. There is a rapid (very rapid) series of ‘click click click’s and, finally, there it is. The picture is complete. No real system got me here, no real logic. The pieces were just slid and shuffled and the effects of each shuffle briefly (sometimes subconsciously) considered until, wow, there it bloody is. 

This plane will come down now. There will be a mad flurry of baggage handlers and men driving trucks with stairs on the back and ladies with over-large ping pong bats waving me to my stand. It will be bat shit crazy for a while but it will land.

To try to explain it without silly metaphors for one sentence. A story that I previously struggled to summarise in two tightly typed pages can suddenly be summarised in one word. One little word. No, I won’t tell you what that word is. When the thing is finished and if something comes of it, I’ll happily tell you then. But, for now, it’s my mantra, my secret. 

All that time of not writing about the plane that went around and around in the sky. All that time, the squares in the puzzle were being slid around in the back of my head. Sometimes almost subconciously, sometimes with complete absorption and obsession. I could have written something at any time along the way but the plane that would have landed would have been badly dented, with birds stuck in the engines, and perhaps even a wing broken off. 

This time, with this one, I’m going to bring it down all in one piece. The passengers might even give a ripple of applause as the seat belt lights finally click off. 

We'll see.

Facebook Algorithm Blues

I got a good selfie this morning
My chin was shoved high in the air
Put it up on FB 
But sadly for me
The world didn’t see it or care

One day my black cat just went missing
Went to my computer to say
But no one logged on, 
The damn cat is still gone
And the mice are still firmly at play.

Flash me all of your photos
Feed me all of your news
You can do it all day, 
I won’t see them anyway
I got the Facebook Algorithm Blues.

An earthquake hit hard down on my street
I put up a warning online
But folk didn’t look
As the houses all shook
It turns out everybody was fine.

I told my baby I loved her
Put it right there in a post
The very next day, 
I just took it away
It had been seen by two people at most.

Flash me all of your photos
Feed me all of your news
You can do it all day, 
I won’t see them anyway
I got the Facebook Algorithm Blues.

The Joy of Not Liking Something

You could comfortably conclude that I am a terribly easy person. I seem to like almost everything I put myself in front of, at least in terms of books and films and TV programmes and such. I appear to be a complete pushover.

That’s no accident. By the ripe old age of 54 one has learned a little about what one likes and can generally see some signals or portents about what one will like even before it arrives. Add to that the fact that I don’t really need to be wasting my time on stuff that I probably won’t enjoy and there you have it; I am a person who seems to like most of what they consume, if only because they mostly tend to consume what they like.

This has a sort of logic to it. But nobody wants to be a complete pushover. In a world where authority and camaraderie often seem to be attained by the shared experience of loudly hating stuff, the person who likes a lot of things can seem tame and willowy by comparison. 

What a joy, then, to happen upon something that I can cheerfully declare was just a load of old bollocks. Doubly so because the thing in question seems to have been quite widely admired and enjoyed. Finally I can try to regain some of the Gravitas I must have lost in the wake of a long run of continuously enjoying things.

This thing I didn’t like very much. No, wait, strike that… I hated it, I bloody hated it. (Yay!). It was a film on Netflix. I didn’t set out to hate it because, as I was saying, I tend to migrate toward the stuff I think I’ll like. It was a big commercial movie and I almost (almost) went to the cinema to see it (for it promised a particularly cinematic experience) and then I almost (almost) rented it on my telly because I was keen to see it. So, yeah, I settled down on my couch in full expectation of another evening of enjoying stuff and this further denting my reputation as a meaningful person.

But, no, joy of joys, it was feckin’ brutal. 

Which enables me to do… this:

'The Walk', directed by Robert Zemeckis tells the story of the extraordinarily brave man who walked a wire between the newly constructed Twin Towers in New York in 1974. A cross between a loose biopic and a caper movie, it dramatised the genesis and execution of the dream mission. 

It was brutal, lads, completely brutal. 

I hear that the documentary ‘Man on Wire’ mines the same material very effectively. I might seek it out but not before I give myself some time to recover from this effort.

Which was pants, lads, utter pants.

Wait, I’m overplaying this ‘didn’t like it’ card. It’s not that bad, I just didn’t like it and I thought I would. I’ll stop fooling around for a moment and try to be fair to it. 

It’s a fascinating story, that’s why I was drawn to the film. The man, in real life, did an extraordinary thing, a thing that has unavoidably altered somewhat in the context of everything that has happened to his chosen arena since. The story, which in a simpler world would eternally remain one of heroism, showmanship, and human endeavour, has been moulded by history and aggression into an sort of an elegy for a time which we can never see again. 

Because the script is the only part of a film I might shyly claim to have any insight into, I do feel it is the script which has failed this film the most. Perhaps its creation was hampered by the presence of a real life protagonist and a series of truths which required a certain form of representation. I don’t really know. What I do know is that the film seems to be erected very tall on a crumbling mess of a screenplay that is at turns turgid, obvious, and unengaging. The moment the central character appears and starts a first person narrative (something that speckles its way through the whole film) I knew we were shot. Ben Kingsley turns up then slips away again, hardly making a dent in the proceedings. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is made up and costumed to give the impression (to me at least) that it is Hurricane Higgins up there on the high wire and, worst of all, the climactic wire action is rendered ordinary in ways that I cannot start to comprehend. For this latter point, I will acknowledge that I was watching on my living room telly and that the 3D 'Megamax' Cinema experience of these scenes may have been entirely different. 

The whole film seemed to be far too in thrall of the truth of the escapade to ever shed its inhibitions and fly fearlessly into the realms of true cinema. It felt like a TV movie of the week when the daring, the balls-out fearlessness, of the central exploit seemed to deserve so much more. 

How doubly wonderful then to go from this nirvana of dislike of a much-liked film to finding another film. This time one that seems to have been widely reviled but which I, wait for it, actually liked quite a bit. It’s so much more fun to like a film when everybody else is hating on it.  

This time is was ‘The Visit'. Patricia and I watched it last night. 

It wasn’t perfect but I thought it was really pretty good… pretty, pretty good, as Larry would say. 

It’s written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and you know how we all love to diss on him since he slipped down a hill from 'Sixth Sense' and 'Unbreakable' and such. 

This one is done in that ‘found footage’ style that can really be groan evoking when you’re not expecting it. It gets by though. Again, here, it’s the script I would draw attention to. I’m reminded, oddly enough, of the original Karate Kid and how that script was held up at the time as a sort of template for what a  good classic three act structure screenplay could be. M Night’s screenplay here is a sort of a three act template too. It ticks all the boxes of exposition, reversal, outer motivation, inner motivation with a little pinch of heart in there too. Oh and it’s just as nasty as it could possibly be without being totally nasty.

To expand a little further. I’ve always seen The Exorcist as a story about fear of old age and infirmity. I think I may be alone in that but, look, the little girl turns into a seriously ailing old person, vomiting, incontinent, spouting abhorrences and totally bed-ridden. The young priest is wracked with guilt over his own perceived neglect of his ageing mother. The most effective narrative horrors we meet are not imaginary monsters behind wardrobe doors, they are storytelling manifestations of the things which give us a pause and a shiver in our real lives. For me, The Exorcist hit home most with that 'aging and infirmity' angle and the demonic trappings always seemed like so much window dressing. This film, while nowhere close to being in the same league as The Exorcist, mines the same vein of fear and with some effect. 

As I sit here and think of 'The Visit' I am reminded of Steve Martin after he finally gets to consummate his marriage to manipulative Kathleen Turner in 'The Man with Two Brains'.  Steve says, “I never knew it could be like that... so professional.” There is something unerringly ‘professional’ about M Night’s script. You know you are being worked and manipulated and that’s perhaps the niggliest problem with the film. It never feels much more than an exercise in jitters and entertainment… except just now and again when that Exorcist vibe lands. 

So there you have it. This week, I liked a movie and I disliked a movie. I bet if you watched them you would probably reverse my view, liking ‘The Walk’ and disliking ‘The Visit'. That's okay.

It just goes to show how damn edgy and interesting I really am.

Now and again.