All the Fun in Just One

Quite near to the end of August, my Wife and I went on a holiday together. The boys are old enough now to easily fend for themselves so we waved goodbye and off we went. 

It was a great holiday. There was long walks on deserted beaches, leisurely food in posh surroundings, a quite pint in a venerable old pub. There was a lovely room that was only a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean. There was a wild drive through some unbelievable scenery. There was a  quiet time too, just reading and listening to the waves. 

Then we went home again, all refreshed and revitalised. 

Our holiday provided a break from the routine, an opportunity for a little down time, and some great, potentially lasting, memories. 

Our holiday lasted one day.

It’s a little lesson that I’m constantly trying to remind myself of and one which I constantly fail to remember. Perhaps if I write it down like this, it might anchor a little more steadily in my mind.

All of the pleasure, all of the fun, can exist in just a tiny part of something.

Earlier in the summer, I went to London. I met old friends, saw great stuff in a museum, had some nice food, perused  some shops, got rained on,  rode trains, flew planes... again the trip was just twenty four hours all in. 

This sounds like the opposite to a  'humble-brag'. A sort of a 'humble moan'. As if life is not as good as it could be but I'm not going to acknowledge it. That's not it though. That's not it at all. Life is great. The tiny bits are particularly great. You've just got to appreciate them a bit more.

It also sounds like I'm really good at all this. The extracting of pleasure from small things. I'm really not.

Supposing I bought a bag of sweets, Jelly babies, for instance. Supposing I kept them in that side compartment in the door of the car. Something to have a treat from on the long drive. (This might not be complete supposition.) I would eat all of those sweets. Invariably. Every last one of them. I would even be considering the eating of the next one while eating the current one. 

But, here’s the obvious thing. The thing I’m always forgetting. All of the sweetness, all of the taste, all of the joy, if you will, is there in that very first jelly baby. All the other jelly babies are simply more of the same. A series of repetitions leading invariably to excess. 

If one can extract it, one can get all of the great jelly baby experience that one could possibly need from that  first single sweet. The rest are largely redundant.

So can it be with pretty much everything. Our holiday was a single day and yet it was this perfect, leisurely, exciting thing. Like that first jelly baby, we really ‘tasted’ it. We weren’t thinking of the next day because there wasn’t a next day to think of.

It sounds like bullshit, I know, but it isn’t really. I think it’s a useful mindset that can help me to appreciate the tinier joys that are thrown at me. It isn’t about buzzwords like ‘mindfulness’ or anything like that. It’s just about enjoying whatever tiny part of something the fates allow you to have.

The next time I encounter a bag of jelly babies, I’ll probably dispatch the whole sodding bag. But I’ll try not to. With the very first one, I’ll really try to get what I want from it and then settle for that. 

I’ll probably fail.

I nearly always do.

But, man, that jelly baby is gonna be sweet…

There is a Tide

I was thinking about what I would say to The Mayo Team, if I had to say something to them, before they set foot on the hallowed turf of Croke Park for the 2017 GAA Football Final. 

What could I say to a team who have fought so hard and so well for months and for years to achieve their goal and who now, once more, stand on the threshold.

I would take a little Shakespeare, Julius Caesar in fact, and I would shamelessly iron it out a little to take the tang of ancient language from it. 

And I would say this:

Like that great ocean by which we choose to live our lives, 
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Take it at its flood and it will carry us on to great fortune.
Miss it and the voyage of our lives will be confined forever to shallow waters.
On such a full tide we are now afloat.
We will seize this current.
And on it, we shall win.

And what of the hoards of travelling fans? So many years they have trooped to Croke Park, hoping against hope, supporting with faith ,respect and boundless enthusiasm. Each time met with cruel failure at the final hurdle. What could I say to them?

Again, I would mangle up some lovely Shakespeare to suit my purpose. This time, it would be a famous speech by Prince Hal from Henry V. For the good Mayo Folk who will once more go to Croke to stand with their team, I would say this.

We come with high hopes.
We could not wish for more.
And anyone who has no stomach for this fight,
Let them leave now. We won’t stand in their way.
For we would not wish to fail in the company of anyone who fears to fail with us.

This day will be called ‘Mayo’s Day’.
He that survives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand up tall whenever that day is named,
And will rouse himself at the name of Mayo.

He that shall live through this day, and see old age,
will come to his neighbours every year on this Eve,
and say 'To-morrow is Mayo’s Day'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I got on Mayo’s Day.'

Old men forget much but they will well remember
The things they did on this day.
Then shall those names.
Familiar in their mouth as household words
O’Shea, Keegan and Moran,
Higgins and Dylan, O’Connor and Clarke,
Be in their flowing glass freshly remembered.

This story shall every good man teach his son;
And September shall never again go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered
We few, we happy few.
We Band of Brothers;

And gentlemen in Mayo now safe in their bed
Shall think their own selves cursed that they were not there.
And they will hold their manhoods cheap 
While any man speaks.
That stood with us.
Upon Mayo’s Day.

Maigh Eo Abú!

Handle With Care

I erected a small Social Media weather vane the other day, to see how the breeze might be blowing. It was nothing fancy. Just a tweet or two, in fact.

All I did was tweet a link to something then, straightaway, I sent a second tweet. The second tweet had a simple poll in it. It more-or-less said. “I just tweeted a link. It’s not interesting and I don’t want you to click on it or anything like that. I would be interested to know if you saw it though.” 

55% percent of the respondents chose the option “Link? What link?” Over half of the people who are linked to me on Twitter, who were online at the exact time I tweeted, did not see what I put up. 

Truth to tell, I don’t care too much about that. Not anymore. I have recognised the selective methods of Social Media sharing for some time now so I no longer see it as a personal affront and I certainly no longer get irate over it. What it does do is worry me. It worries me quite a bit. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

When I first started using Social Media, about ten years ago, it felt like something else. It felt like shouting to the entire world with the real potential that anyone at all might hear you. It felt like fishing in the deepest of oceans, where you never knew what bulbous and exotic fish you might haul out.

It feels quite different now.

The Social Media platforms we all use are now carefully controlled and balanced so that the user experiences the things that suit them best, the things they most want to see… according to the platform owners. Facebook is best known for it. When you post something on Facebook, I believe about 8% of the people you are connected with will be shown it on their screen. Some types of posts will be favoured over others. Photos seem to do well. Links to outside websites, less so. If someone ‘likes’ something you post, then some more people may see it but it’s hard to get ‘likes’ when nobody sees it initially. 

Historically, Twitter always seemed better at showing your stuff to people. It has always seemed to be the great leveling field where, ignoring filters and such, everybody sees everything their friends and contacts choose to show. 

But Twitter has its tricks too, as illustrated by my little poll. The most overt trick is that little box in the settings that is generally ticked by default. It says ‘Show Me the Best Tweets First’. It sounds like a nice idea but whose ‘best tweets’ do you get shown first? Is it the people with the most followers? Is it the most famous people? What about the poor sod with seventy followers who has actually got something meaningful to say? Who will see her?

This is starting to sound like a diatribe and that’s not what I started out to do. I didn’t start typing this to complain about how Social Media now discreetly corrals us into the little boxes it wants us in so that it can sell stuff to us more effectively. (Whoops, there I go again).

What I wanted to type was not a complaint, it was a warning.

People know that Social Media can be damaging but they tend to focus on how it can evoke envy and dissatisfaction with one’s own life. We see people smiling and apparently living it up when our own reality seems  far from smiles and the high life. It can be not much fun. That can be certainly a thing but I don’t think it’s the biggest thing. The biggest thing that I see on my Social Media, day on day, is isolation. 

It’s one thing to be put in a little box by Social Media. It is quite another thing to not have any idea that you have been put in there. I see this regularly. Ordinary good people in a state of isolated bewilderment.
  • The Mum who puts up a Facebook photo of her kid and his first day at school and only a handful of people liked it.
  • The terrible news shared on Twitter when nobody offers a word of support.
  • The message from an old and valued friend, very late one night, saying something like, "One little ‘Like’ now and again, that’s all I ask. It would mean so much to me," when you never see anything from them on your screen.

I fear that some people, who do not know the truth of algorithms and marketing strategies, view the changes in Social Media on a dangerously personal level. They simply see it in terms of old friends who don’t acknowledge them any more. They wonder what they could have possibly done wrong to warrant such a negative response. They see their friends only communicating with the great and the good, not realising that the great and the good are the only people that their friends are being shown. 

Sure there are buttons we can press, settings we can adjust to help us see more. But we don’t push buttons, do we? We come on and we see what we are shown and then we move on. Our friends of old become like the elderly neighbours in those adverts. People who need to be ‘looked in on’, from time to time, at Christmas or when it freezes. They become a chore rather than the vibrant interactive cohort member they used to be. They are in their own little box.

I’m not writing to try to change this. It will never change.

I am writing to try to let at least one person know. When your friend doesn’t reply to you or like your news or even randomly chat to you any more, 99% of the time it is not because the friend thinks any the less of you or has been wounded by you. It is just good old Social Media going about its business. 

Social Media... yeah. Use it, enjoy it, but stay painfully aware of its limitations and you’ll be fine.

Start to take it personally, and it can slice you like a blade.

Just so you know.

Handle with care. 

Planet of the Apes Thing Goin' On

Continuing my nasty little habit of trying to write song lyrics from interesting and eye catching tweets.

This evening the lovely @loreleiking said she had a 'Planet of the Apes thing going on'...

Well, I had to give that a go, didn't I?

Planet of the Apes Thing Goin' On 

Sometimes I shout at monuments
God damn you all to hell!
Then I shout it at the populace
And at dogs and cats as well.

There’s no need to be all worried
No need for dance or song
It’s just the same old trouble
I've got a Planet of the Apes thing goin' on

Sometimes I get my hopes up
Think I’m finished being alone
And I shout it on the pavement
Oh my God. I'm back. I'm home!

No need to call the coppers
Or run hither and yon.
There’s no need to get excited.
I've got a Planet of the Apes thing goin' on

Sometimes I just get touchy
Like there’s no real escape
Then I shout at random people
Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!

There’s no need to seek psychiatric help
No need for Doctor John
It’s just me doin’ my Charlton Heston
I've got a Planet of the Apes thing goin' on

PS slightly reworked version in the comments section. :)

Embracing the Finite Things

This is going to be as obvious as hell. There’s not much I can do about that. It’s just where my head is, at the moment. It’s about how much more we tend to appreciate things as soon as we remind ourselves that they will all-to-soon come to an end.

I could see it very much in evidence around my town in the last week or so. In every green spot, around the lake, at every shop corner, you could see gaggles of young people desperately meeting up, shopping, laughing, joking. They were simply trying to extract the last vestiges of fun from their summer as it drew inexorably to a close.

It’s the same pattern I see every year. The summer holidays begin and, just as they do, the kids become omnipresent, all around everywhere.  They are finally free, the world is now their oyster and they are going to do everything they promised themselves they would do when the summer finally came. 

The summer seems to be some sort of an infinite thing, at that point. As a result, so many of the things they promise themselves will never happen. The sunny rendezvous, the nights under the stars, the cycles trips down to the beach, the lazy back yard quarrels. There is so much time to do it in that none of it needs to be done right now and so it never gets done.

A couple of days after the holiday has begun, there are no more gaggles of kids. The park is sunny but deserted. There are endless days ahead in which to sit out there and shoot the gentle breeze. Today need not be one of them. 

There are other reasons for the vanishing, of course. People go off on holidays, to summer camps, to grannies for long biscuit-laden weekends. Others cannot get to their friends, the school transport system shut down for the holiday months. They are stranded in their rural homes.

Mostly, though, I reckon it’s the comfort of the illusion. The lovely feeling that this time will  go on for so long that time no longer matters. When, of course, it does. It always does.

And then, quite suddenly, the infinite summer has all but gone. Without warning, the summer is a precious bauble again, rather than the over-inflated beachball it had previously been. Suddenly it is a thing to be clung to and adored and milked for every possible remaining drop of experience.

But here, boof, it is gone. The town green is once again swarmed with school-uniformed kids, hoisting their far-too-heavy schoolbags towards their labours. The thing that they took for granted as being eternal has ended. The only comfort is that Summer Holidays will come again, one fine day, and they will be wiser the next time. They will know better. 

We’ll get together then, guys, you know we’ll have a good time then.

You don’t need me to say the moral of the piece. We all know it. It applies to everything in our lives, however tiny or enormous. What to do about it, though? What to do?

I think I might try to imagine that something is nearly over, I don’t know what yet. Then I might try to enjoy it all the more for that imagining. Perhaps I’ll try it with Autumn.

Autumn is here at last. I will see it again next year, probably. Let’s just pretend I won’t though. What can I do with it this year, now that it's here? I can’t stop it from slipping away. I can only taste it a bit more than I normally would.

Look, a golden leaf. That's cool, isn't it?

Dark Parts of the Sea

Claire on Twitter (@Novembervivi) tweeted to me last night that she was worried about the fish in the dark parts of the sea. 

It was apropos of something else so not as random as it may sound here. The thought resonated in my head. I thought there might be one of my crap song lyrics in it.

So here it is.

Thanks Claire. :)

(Anyone got a tune?)

Dark Parts of the Sea

I worry for the fish
In the dark parts of the sea
How do they find their way about
How did they come to be

I wonder are they lonely
I wonder do they frown
Alone there in their icy lair
Eight thousand metres down

Are they always rather anxious 
Do their jaws ever unclench
In the unremitting blackness
Of the Mariana Trench

I worry for the fish
In the dark parts of the sea
They remind me of the way we are
You and you and me.

(September 2017)

Believing My Own Hype (or Lack Thereof)

One of the things I see a lot, on Social Media, is the Art of ‘Bigging Oneself Up’. It's no big deal. Some people just tend to talk themselves up a bit sometimes. They accentuate the positive. They sell themselves quite hard as being productive and successful and happy… smart, fulfilled, ambitious, go-getting… the list goes on.

Although it can perhaps become a little tiresome when overplayed, I don’t see any great harm in it. As a matter of fact, I think it’s really quite a good thing. 

My main problem with it is that I don’t tend to do it myself. I’m not sure why. Do I simply not have the knowledge of how to do it? Do I have nothing to ‘Big Myself Up’ about? Or do I subconsciously look down on the good people who do it and think I’m so much better than them. I really don’t know. All I know is that I hope it’s not the third possibility much more than I hope it’s not the second. 

I think the reason I don’t talk myself up much on Social Media is a combination of laziness and lack of belief in the subject matter. To tell the truth as much as possible, I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty good writer, particularly in terms of drama/comedy. I’ve had about 12 or 13 radio plays produced, 15 or so theatre plays with one of them shortly heading into its 7th production. I've been on national radio and national television on the strength of my writing and some of the plays have been championed by some of the best playwrights in the country. I could certainly brag a bit and hype myself up a bit if I was so inclined but I’m not so inclined. Apart from this very paragraph, I hardly bother doing any of this stuff at all. 

And don’t go off thinking that I reckon I’m great because of this. It’s quite the opposite, really. I rather think I’ve let myself down but not pushing a little more, bragging a little louder, putting some more effort in to try to make some more good things happen for my writing work.

Because I’m a bit old, I guess I’m a bit old-school too. I always reckoned (and still do, in my heart) that how it works is that you write something really good and then you show it around and, if it’s good enough, somebody will spot it and encourage it and take it on and help bring it further towards some fruition. In my ancient mind, there is no real need to convince people that you are writing and being clever and that what is about to come out of your creative loins will be magnificent. None of that is needed, to my oldish mind. Just keep your mouth shut, do your writing work, get it out there and, if it’s good enough, it will find its own way. 

Make no mistake, this works. If you speak quietly but carry a big enough talent, you will definitely do okay. People will need you more than you will need them. Your work will be valued and revered. You will be fine.

It’s just that… well… not all of us are as quite as talented as that. Many of us are pretty damn talented, pretty darned good. Just not quite that good. For us, the moderate-to-slightly-above-average talents, the faith that our talent alone might see us through might not be enough. We need to help ourselves along a bit more. A little more talking things up, a little more self-aggrandisation, a little more hype.

This works in two ways. Hype raises the profile a little. It might annoy some people but it also gets those same people looking your way, paying a little attention where no attention was being paid before. That’s one way. But, perhaps more importantly, talking good stuff about yourself can make you feel better about yourself too. In a small way, you come to believe your own hype and you can feel more connected and empowered because of it. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Alas the converse is also true. One can come to firmly believe in one’s own lack of hype too. That’s where I’m at, I reckon. I don’t talk myself up, I don’t brag about stuff,  and the result is that I have sort of come to believe I have nothing to brag about. I am the kind of person who can ride a long way on a tiny droplet of positivity and encouragement. If writing was hair then my hair grows and grows when a molecule of hair tonic is applied. But encouragement and affirmation seems increasingly hard to find. Social Media, once a great source of the tiny boost, now seems compartmentalised, wrapped in a sturdy cling film of worry and negativity such that little or nothing that is not loud can seep through. For the longest time, I have chosen not to hype myself and now I wouldn’t know where to start or, indeed what to hype myself about. I really admire those that do. They are working it and they are making things happen. More power to them. 

I suppose I  could start, even this late, to ‘Big Myself Up’ a little more. But I never will. It’s just not who I am. I’ll keep doing it the old fashioned way. Keep writing, keep my mouth shut and keep showing the stuff I write as widely as I possibly manage.

This latter point is where I really need to improve. I tend to write stuff and it tends to get an outing and it tends to get well-liked and then I don’t really manage to do anything else with it after that. This is where I should do better. There and in the writing. Always in the writing, that’s what really counts.

The crux of the matter is that I’ve never really had the perfect writing product about which to publicly enthuse. I tend to write where my heart takes me. Considerations of marketability and future successes rarely motivate me to make something. The result is a fairly long list of not bad writings which do their job and which then become hard to raise any supplementary interest in. The writing is pretty good even if (just now) I say so myself. I should be happy with that and I generally am. It’s just sometimes I berate myself that I haven’t been a little bit more savvy about what I have done and what I failed to do.

So on I go. Don’t expect any tantalising teasers of big news coming down the tracks. There isn’t any. It’s just me doing what I love to do, banging out my words. There are currently three plays being written. One nearly finished, one about a third of the way through and one whirling magically around in my brain. They will all be on the page, in time. 

In an ideal world, that really should be enough. 

Meeting Friends

On the way over I flew the plane, just like I usually do. 

Of course, I don’t mean I actually flew the plane, I just sat in my seat and paid close attention to all the workings of the flight. The angle of the wing flaps outside my window, the subtle interactions of the flight staff, the level of the clouds far below. 

I’m not a particularly nervous flyer but I often have this almost subconscious feeling that the flight somehow needs all of my attention, focus, and help in order to proceed satisfactorily.

It’s silly, I know, but it got me over.

This week, I went to London to see some old friends. 

It was the archetypal ‘flying visit’. Getting in one afternoon, gone again early the next morning. There was no particular event or anniversary. It was just a confluence of calendars and train timetables that meant some people could all land in a Soho pub at the same time and have a drink or three. It turned out to be a truly lovely evening with truly lovely people.

There are, of course, some other people I would dearly like to meet up with and someday, hopefully, we might manage it. But this particularly thing could only have happened if it was short and fast and very, very small. The alternative was that it could not happen at all. 

For some people, the oddest thing about this would not be the meeting up or even the travelling to do so. It would be that a few of us had never-ever met up in person before. For my part, I had only ever shaken hands with one person in the room. Still, I knew them all so well. They were friends, the best of friends really. For eight or nine years now, we have come to know each other across the expanse of Social Media. Not in any intense, phosphorescent way but rather in that long term slow burn that comes from stories and small happenings and music and sadness and fun.

People who don’t know any better might well say, “Ack, those are not friends at all. They are strangers and the meeting you describe was just some pathetic exercise in novelty and futility.” How wrong anyone who thought that would be.

It is true that there is some danger in jumping to conclusions on Social Media about who is a friend and who is someone who talks back to you when you speak. But time addresses most of those questions. By my own little definition (hard-worked-out) if your heart swells a little at somebody’s good news and shrinks a little at somebody’s bad, and if that feeling is in some measure reciprocated, then there is friendship there. It helps, too, if nothing more is needed from the friendship than just that. That there is never anything more to lose nor anything more to gain from the friendship than the friendship itself. 

Perhaps friendship, in the end, is a bit like a boomerang. You throw it out and if it comes back, it is probably real.

Whatever about any of that, we had a lovely evening. There were laughs and smiles and stories and gossip and, if I am anything to go by, a subtle level of fascination at how people are a little different in the flesh than they are on a computer or a telephone screen. How there are aspects to them that one would not normally see across the social ether. But because they are good friends, all those little differences only serve to make the people even better than they were before. 

There is, apparently, a drug that is released through increased levels of human interaction and eye contact and such. I don’t know much about it although Joe Hill’s book ‘The Fireman’ talks about it quite a bit (and is also very good.) It’s called Oxytocin. I think I may have overdosed a little on that drug the other evening. In these few days that followed, I have felt somewhat elevated and empowered and with a slightly better regard for myself than I would normally have. Is that crazy? It seems even more likely because, now, three days later, it finally seems to be wearing off and its absence seems to conversely help to prove its existence. 

To widen it out a bit. I think it’s a good thing to reach out and meet up and bond a little, particularly with people you regard highly. I think it’s like a small work-out for the soul. 

I think, in the tight airplane seats from which we view the world, many of us share that feeling I had. That we all have to watch everything warily all of the time to make sure that the world continues to fly okay. If we take our eyes of the bigger picture for a moment, if we stop reacting and worrying and fretting, then everything will somehow fail. 

It ain’t necessarily so. Take a moment, trust the auto pilot for the shortest of times. Have a slice of pizza or a slim glass of Prosecco or a languid stroll in a park. The world will glide along by itself for those few moments and, when you come back, you’ll be stronger and better equipped to make sure it continues to fly right. 

Thanks to the people who rendezvoused in The French House in Soho the other evening. It meant a lot to me because it meant a lot to you. It wasn’t hard to tell. 

Let’s do it again some time. 

                      * * *

On the flight back, early the next day, I read my book and listened to my old classic ipod and didn’t pay very much attention to anything else at all. The plane was okay. We got home just fine and thus a singular day trip was successfully completed. 

Bleeding Fresh

I tend to treat writing prompts in that same way that I do tips on horses. I never actively seek them out or put myself in a position where I get them but, if one should appear naturally in the wild, from some unexpected source, I sometimes find that hard to pass up.

At last Monday’s writer’s group meeting, we had a new visitor who we hope might come again. Roberta Beary is an accomplished writer and poet and she brought a welcome hue of enthusiasm and edge to the proceedings. She mentioned a writing prompt she had been given and she read a piece which had resulted from it. It was a good piece. The prompt was simply ‘My First Job’. I hadn’t intended to ‘get on that horse’ but the prompt stayed in my head and, as I suppose it’s meant to do, prompted a memory.

So here it is:

“I want you to go in and sell this one yourself.”

We stared into the boot of the car, my Dad and me. You know the scenes in 'Goodfellas' or 'Reservoir Dogs' where they stare into the trunk of their car? It was a bit like that, I think, except it happened long before those films was made.


“You’ll be grand. I’ll wait here.”

I had only just learned how to pick the salmon up, my index finger slid behind the gills and up along the inside of the jaw. The full thirteen pounds hoisted up straight to hang from nothing more than that single digit. I had only just learned how to do that and now I was going to sell him too. 

He was laid out in the boot of the car, on three flattened sheets of 'The Sligo Champion'. He was silver and opalescent and sleek and fine. He was mine to sell to the restaurant. I was thirteen years old. 

I wasn’t the keenest fishing person in my family, not by a long way, but I had been going through something of a renewed fishing appreciation stage. Perhaps it was something to do with ‘Jaws’ being in the Cinema. Seeing Quint up there on the big screen, in that chair of his, carefully eyeing up the gently clicking reel, it just seemed to make what my father and elder brothers did seem all the more cool and exciting. I had been driving around with Dad for a few weeks now and with my brother too whenever they had a salmon to sell. Enjoying the spin in the car from hotel to hotel and enjoying, too, the haggling over the sale of the fish they caught. These fish were prized commodities and the money we got for them was really very good for the Nineteen Seventies. 

“Try to get eight pounds a pound for him. Thomas Mahon said he got that for one earlier in the week.”


“Don’t go any less than seven-fifty anyway. If we can’t get that, we’ll try The Southern.”

My Father said ‘we’, and that was kind of him I guess, but there was no ‘we’, not really This was all down to me. My very first job. Get in there. Work that finger. Sell the salmon. Get the price.

The hotel kitchens all looked the same, to me at least. White tiled, clean, quiet because the evening’s business had not yet begun. The chef, all white hatted and chequered trousered. He lit up a little when he saw me coming. I think I thought that was all about the sight of a little fella like me hauling a salmon that was nearly his own length in by the gills. Looking back now, I’m sure it was only the salmon that lit him up. Wild as anything. Three hours before, it had been rushing through the brown peaty waters of Loch Gill. 

Bleeding fresh. 

“Did you catch him yourself?”

“My Dad, Eddie Armstrong.”

“I know Eddie all right. Is he sick?”


“How much do you want for him?”

“I was thinking, ten pounds a pound.”

“Were you, thinking that?”


“Let me look at him.”

The chef took the salmon from me. His finger in the other gill, lifting the fish up and off mine. The blessed relief of that. Hoping I didn’t have to take him back and carry him out again.

“We’re giving eight at the moment.”


“You might go nine.” I was always my father’s son. 

“I can’t go nine. I’ll tell you what. Is this your first sale?”


“Is it, though?”


“I’ll do you eight-fifty. Seeing as how it’s you that’s in it,” He smiled.

My first sale, my first job. Dad would be pleased. 

I smiled back at him. The tall bearded chef.

“Nine,” I said.

Movies with Boats

I’d really like to go and see Dunkirk today. I haven’t been to the movies in a long time and, to be honest, I haven’t really been bothered about that either. These days, I rent my movies via a little Apple TV thingie, close the curtains and do my own cinema thing without the crunching popcorn and the incessant chatting (yes, I’m getting old and grumpy).

But Dunkirk, yes I’d like to go see this one. 

I’ve been trying to persuade Sam to come along with me but he seems to share my feelings about the cinema now. I told him how it was a Christopher Nolan film and reminded him that we’ve seen all of his since way back when. So maybe he’ll relent and tag along with me. Maybe I’ll go on my own, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

Why Dunkirk, though? Why the particular interest there?

Well, it sounds good, doesn’t it? The story of Dunkirk (for me) is one of ordinary people being completely heroic, setting off into the unknown, unprepared, in a desperate attempt to rescue their people. It looks good too, if the bits I have seen are anything to go by. There are quite a few reasons why I’d like to go see this one.

But, if I’m honest, it’s mostly the boats.

I seem to have a weakness for movies with boats in them or movies set on boats. I think I always have. Even when I was young, old flicks like ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ or ‘Captains Courageous’ always seemed to capture my imagination. 'Jaws' probably sealed the deal when I was twelve. It’s my favourite movie (I think) and I’ve written enough about it in other posts so I won’t go into it again here but it was the ‘men on a boat’ part that finally won me over I think. Last year's 'Swallows and Amazons' also won me over completely... there were boats in it. 

Why boats? Why me?

There’s two aspects to it, I think. I’ve partially forgotten that my childhood played itself out in the company of boats. We lived right beside the river and I was often to be found out there in an eighteen foot rowboat, heading for the lake and the islands or else just loitering at the edge of the bullrushes, lazily trying to nab a perch or a pike. 

I think it gets into your spirit a bit. The lapping of the water on the bow, the oars cutting through the still surface, the deep spiralling eddies the blade leaves behind. Stuff like that. Perhaps, when you’re not on the water any more, it sparks something in memory to at least see other people there, even if it's only up on a screen. Perhaps that’s it.

Of course, Dad was a man of boats too and he loved a good boat movie as well. That probably played a sizeable part in influencing me. It was said that he went to see ‘The African Queen’ every night for the seven nights it played in our local cinema. Whenever a boat movie would come on the telly, he would sit forward a little and announce to the room ‘this is a good movie.’ He let me sit up to see ‘A Night to Remember’ when I was probably too young for it. I’d watch it again right now, if it was on.

There was one boat movie he didn’t care to see and he shares this with my wife, Patricia, who cheerfully reckons it is the very worst movie we ever went to see. ‘A Perfect Storm’. I didn’t mind it so much. It had men in boats in it and that ticks enough boxes for me to generally see me through. I remember talking to Dad, saying ‘you should go and see this one’. I remember him looking surprisingly sad and saying to me, ‘no, I don’t really care for films like that’. 

That was a puzzle. I didn’t quiz him more about it but I sometimes think about it. It was a boat movie, after all, and there was fishing and drama and camaraderie before things turned bad. Why did he not care for this type of film and what type of film was that anyway?

I can only assume it was because people drowned in the film. I can only guess that this was the reason why he didn’t care to see it. But that doesn’t quite fit. When has there been a boat movie where people have not drowned? Titanic and such didn’t seem to trouble him. So why this one?

I’ve thought about it and I think I know. I think it was because we got to know the characters who drowned before it happened. Like the film or hate it, we knew the characters well before the water came to claim them. I think that’s what it was. Dad had known people who had gone to the water and never come back. Perhaps that particular movie was too close to the heart.

Anyway, I think I’ll see if somebody might bring this old sod to see Dunkirk. Maybe Patricia might take pity on me, thought she’s largely spoilt for boat movies after Clooney and Co. 

It’s not so much that I’m looking for an afternoon out or that I crave popcorn or dark enclosed spaces on this nice July day.

It’s just that, well, it’s a boat movie and you know how I’m a sucker for them. 

Saving Dead Birds

I see certain people on Social Media and they are always fighting the good fight. Every day, it seems, they are out there doing battle with awful individuals who say terrible things. 

I can totally see why. The world is in a bad state in many ways and every idiot and horrible person has a soapbox and a voice which is respectively as high and as loud as anybody else’s. The poison and horror they broadcast simply cannot be left unchallenged. 

It would be wrong to ever let their terrible sentiments stand. So long as we have a voice with which to shout back and a keyboard upon which to type a challenge. The fight must go on…

I get that…

Except… I suppose, I don’t. Not really.

I’m all for fighting the bad guys but I tend to think that one-on-one battles with evident trolls on social media are both self-destructive and ultimately pointless. This is tricky because anything I say about the futility of arguing with fools on Twitter is so easily refuted by expressing some heartfelt, genuine and true sentiments. Thoughts along the lines of those things I’ve started to say in that first paragraph. If we don’t fight every hater and shout down every dangerous fool, what will become of us? Will we simply be overrun by the mob?

I think I’ve been subconsciously casting around for a metaphor for some time. Some kind of simile that might help me try to illustrate this point. I think that because, when one came crashing into my car this week, I recognised it almost straight away.

This week, I killed a small bird. With my car. It wasn’t intentional. I was driving along, just outside of town, when it happened. It unfolded with a certain inevitability, as these things often do. The little bird seemed to come from a million miles away, always and inevitably heading straight for my front bumper. One moment wheeling breathlessly through the summer air, the next a tiny inert bundle in a ditch. There was just the faintest of thuds and a glance at the startled face of the person driving behind in my rear view mirror to mark the moment. That was it. It was unavoidable and there was nothing to be done about it. 

I was sorry. I don’t like to kill things. I’m one of those people who tends to move snails if they are in a dry place or let flies escape out the window whenever they are willing to go. So, yeah, it was a bummer but there was nothing I could do.

Nothing at all.

And then my mind went about its work, as it often does. 

What if..?

What if I felt I absolutely had to do something about the death of this little bird. What if I felt it was my own microcosm of all the ill that I see in the wide world and for me to not take action would be a terrible, terrible mistake. What if I imagined that the little bird had flown out to find grubs for its collective of tiny nestlings and that, now, those shrill voices calling for food would never be answered and even more deaths would soon result from my inaction. What if I parked my car and searched every tree in the neighbourhood and eventually, against all odds, found those little chicks and brought them home and fed them and tried to sustain them until, one day-

It’s all impossible, of course. A pipe dream. An illusion of effectiveness. 

A little bird is dead. It is sad but there is nothing I can directly do to help or change that. 

The word ‘directly’ is relevant here. This whole train of thought led me to the next piece of silliness. Something I’ve never done before but may do again. Later, when I was in the shop, I stuck a couple of coins in the ‘poor box’. I did it for the bird. I couldn’t do anything directly but I could do something indirectly. To mark the moment, to redress the balance. Call it what you will. To do something useful.

This, for me, is how it is on Social Media. The trolls and the fuckwits are like the dead bird. They are an ill, a wrongness in the world, but I cannot beat all the trees and knock them out. If I try, I am only bloodying my hands and endangering my mind to absolutely no avail. If I want to really achieve any moral victory against them, I must walk away and leave them to their ditch. I must find something else. Something small and positive to do in order to counter them. It may not be direct action but it is, at least, action and something good may come of it. Scouring the sycamores for imaginary orphan birds will serve nobody and will do no good. 

There is something almost Quixotic about the way people do battle on Social Media. Valiant and almost-alone, they ride out on their exhausted nag into the dusty plain to wage war on the evil giants.

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them… for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

On Social Media, we can come to see ourselves as our own ‘Man of La Mancha’, our missions equally noble and equally misguided. The main difference is that the trolls there are not imaginary. They are all too real and their windmills are built specifically to draw us into their fight.

I remain open to be convinced of everything I say. Those who righteously disagree with this may quote, “He who saves a single life, saves the world entire,” and I would not argue with that. I would only suggest that most of these online battles will not save a single life or even necessarily do any good at all. I would go so far as to say that some of these vicious virtual battles may end up costing a life, for no gain.

Don’t misunderstand me. I fight. I stand my ground. But the modern world is full of false, time-wasting things that only give the illusion of being righteous battles. I need to find where I can do the most good. I need to do my best work there, and leave the windmills to do their own work. 

This one’s for that little bird, still laying dead in the ditch. I’m really sorry I put you there but this, I think, is as much as I can usefully do. 

Jetson Injuries and Fast Forwarding Plaudits

When I was little, I watched that cartoon ‘The Jetsons’ on our telly. It wasn’t my absolute cartoon of choice. From memory, my great faves of the time included things like ‘Hong Kong Phooey’ and ‘The Hair Bear Bunch’. So, no, ‘The Jetsons’ was by no means on top of my list but, still, it’s ‘The Jetsons’ I’m thinking about today. 

Because I don’t have a ‘Hong Kong Phooey’ wound or even a ‘Hair Bear Bunch’ malady (I shudder to imagine what such a thing might even constitute). 

I have a Jetson injury.

Do you remember ‘The Jetsons’ at all? In the quite likely event that you don’t, George Jetson lived in a technology-ridden future with his futuristic family. His life was populated with flying cars and sundry domestic time saving devices. For his job, he pressed a button. That was it. And therein lies the rub, the button-pressing job. How impossible it seemed, back in the sixties, that some future man could have a job that consisted largely of pressing buttons. How very silly.

And yet here I am, the button-pressing man. Well, not quite but almost. I spend many hours a day on one of my computers, doing either one thing or another, clicking and pressing, pressing and clicking. The Jetsons future est arrivé, albeit sans la voiture volante.

The most ludicrous thing about George’s button pressing job was the injury he would suffer as a result of it. His poor finger would swell and throb. Oh, how we laughed at George and his silly sore finger. 

Yup, you’ve guessed it. 

After a very intense period, which involved many weeks of continuous computer work, especially mouse-clicking, I have developed my very own version of George Jetson’s dreaded ‘Button Finger’. My version is, apparently, sometimes called ‘trigger finger’. My right index finger is constantly sore, especially if I try to bend it. Most fun of all though is that, when the finger is dormant, like when I’m asleep, it closes up into a trigger-pulling posture and locks there. The only way to unlock it is to grab the finger with my left hand and tug it back into shape. Whenever I’m doing this, I remind myself of Inspector Kemp from ‘Young Frankenstein’ with his errant wooden arm which also required constant forceful rearrangement to keep it in check. 

Technology is bad. But, hey, technology can be good too. 

One of my current favourite things is my Sky TV remote control. (Nope, 'not being sponsored by anyone, I swear). I simply adore buzzing through the adverts on any given programme. It’s come to the point where I hardly ever see TV adverts anymore, except as a rapid frame blur as I race to the next part of my show. (Somebody should devise a super-slow visual advert that plays to the fast forwarding generation… there’s an idea!). These days, if I’m keen to watch something on commercial telly that, say, starts at nine, I will set it to record and start watching at 9.15, buzz through the adverts and finish just as the live programme is finishing. I bloody love it!

In this house, we tend to race through the ads at 30x speed and are required to come back to the programme at the exact moment that the adverts or over. It calls for no small measure of skill. On our couch, we compliment each other on our fast forwarding skills. “Oh, nicely done,” we’ll say or, “check out the Maestro,” as the remote control commander of the hour steers us safely and at high speed to the other side of another commercial chasm. My own secret is that I bring the speed back to 12x as I approach the end of the ad break, to give myself a better chance of landing neatly. To overrun is to bring down gentle derision or, ever worse, stony silence upon one’s head. 

We may not have a flying car and we may have the injury but, by golly, we can sure buzz the adverts and that’s a wonderful thing. So shall it always be with technology. The joy coupled with the pain. The laughter married with with the occasional tear...

The remote control giveth and the mouse pad taketh away. 

The More Things Change - A Novel by Jim Murdoch

Jim Valentine is a relatively ordinary man in a relatively ordinary rut. Solitary and unfulfilled, he moves though his life without hardly making a ripple. Then, one day, he meets an interesting old man in the park and everything changes… or maybe it all just stays the same.

I wanted to give over some special time to reading Jim Murdoch’s novel ‘The More Things Change’ so I read it as I walked to and from work every day. People I passed regularly remarked on how I did this without running into lamp posts or falling down manholes. It’s all about peripheral vision, I think. 

It made for a heightened experience, I think, reading the book while moving through streets and parks, passing business people, dogs, and children as I went. The book concerns itself with questions of life and existence and interaction and it was an added dimension to be out in the world and moving through it as these question were addressed. 

Jim Murdoch is a consummate writer. He knows exactly what he is doing and he does it with great insight, wit, and skill. The corollary is also true. He knows exactly what he is not doing. He is not writing a bodice-ripper nor a page-turner nor a thriller nor a mass audience satisfier. He is a writer with a poetic and an intellectual heart and he has themes which he wishes to probe and to agitate. His book has characters and story and development and resolution – all those things one looks for in a book – but they are not the priority. The priority is exploration, thought and the development of ideas.

At first glance, then, the book may present as a weighty tone. Not in actual bulk but rather in a certain delay in story development while thoughts and theme are being explored. First glances can be misleading though because Jim is a writer with a colossal inner database of cultural references, all the way from the sublime to the ridiculous, and this makes for a journey between the covers that is both a funny and constantly enlightening one.

Jim and I have things in common. We are both writers who will never stop no matter how little feedback the world chooses to give us. We have writing in our blood and we must do it, in some form or another, to keep that blood flowing.

We are also quite different animals too, in our way. In trying to think of a comparison, I came up with a pond. If the world was a pond, then Jim might  be a Pike in that world. Strong and imposing, digging deep into the bottom mud and poking hard among the bullrushes to find its fodder. As for me, I think I would be a pond skimmer, fast and precariously-balanced, never stopping to inspect anything too hard for fear of slipping though that surface tension on which I so depend so heavily. 

The pond skimmer is probably not the best creature to interrogate the ways of the pike. Jim digs deeper than I dig and his tendency to borrow deeply into the mud sometimes makes me a bit nervous and tempted to skim quickly on to the next available water lily. And the water lilies in Jim’s novel are sometimes more widely spaced than the poor pond skimmer can comfortably handle. 

To be less obtuse, the novel takes its time from development to development and this can require some acclimatisation in this world of never-ending sound bites and gifs. But, after one realises that getting there is much more than half the fun, only then can one start to more fully appreciate what Jim is doing here. He is actually much more like a cat than a pike, a Cat-Pike. He toys with his reader – his dinner – in a most mischievous and calculating way. He pulls himself out of the narrative then pulls himself back in, then he acknowledges that he has done this, then he does it again. Jim knits a deep pile rug for us then gleefully pulls it out from under our feet.

What I’m trying to say is that Jim’s writing is not always entirely easy but it is always entirely worth it. 

Do not think that he pursues a thought as far as he does because he is self-indulgent or in need of editing. One need only look to Jim’s amazing body of poetry work to see that he could literally write the book on being concise and succinct. There are no mistakes here. Jim writes as he chooses to write and he knows exactly what he is about. 

The book left me sad. I think that is a personal reaction from someone who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time concerning himself with other people. I am someone who sometimes seems to find my own self vanishing in my outward-gazing habits. I know this is not a good thing but, through conditioning and life-experience, it is just how I roll and it is difficult to change. This book seems to be more about the ‘self’. The ‘other people’ in the book seems to me to be quite peripheral and even disposable in the most literal sense of the world. Jim’s closest companion seems lovely and quite perfect but that person comes and goes and hardly ever seems to exist in that person’s own right. The most powerful character in the book seems kind and understanding and benevolent and yet also seems capable of acts of wanton destruction on a whim. To say more would be to spoil the twists and turns of the story.

Again, I know that all of this is no accident. Jim is a student of Beckett and, here, he almost seems to ‘out-Beckett Beckett’ in terms of casting a cold eye on life and death. (Yes, I know who that is). The overall result, for me, was not uplifting, nor was it meant to be.

Jesus,’ the reader of this review might say, ‘you’re not going to sell too many books for him, are you?’ and no, I’m not. But Jim and I know better than that. We know, all too well, that I could write here that Jim’s novel is a hot bed of sexual intrigue, murder, car chases and political chicanery and I still wouldn’t sell a single book for him. This blog of mine will never persuade anyone to buy anything and Jim and I both know that. All that I can do here is to react to the work I have read and to pay it the compliment of exercising my brain around what I have seen and heard and felt there. 

I learned from the book that I don’t have to be made happy to be satisfied and I realise that a writing work must contain some considerable power to make me feel as down about things as it did. The book wrought in me a passing but quite real feeling of general hopelessness and despair and, although a review like that on the back cover won’t make you pick it up at the airport and take it on the plane with you, it might make you feel that here is a writer who looks deeply at the world and who can skilfully evoke some of the pain he sometimes sees there. 

You can get hold of this book and much more of Jim's writing at: and, for a full flavour of Jim and the work he does, please do visit his blog at  It is a monumental work of commitment to writing which I believe may come to be recognised as such in times to come.

That was the end of what I wrote (apart from this). Jim's reply was so in-depth and good that I asked his permission to include it in the body of the post. So, if you want to know more (ie. something) about Jim's novel, read on...

This book took a long time to write, Ken, almost twenty years. It began as another ‘Truth’ novel, or at least one set in the same universe and I’d every intention of having him appear. In the end only Destiny gets the tiniest of cameos. Although published fourth The More Things Change was actually written before Milligan and Murphy which, as I recall, you called my “love letter to Beckett.” It wasn’t. It was me dealing with the residua following this book which really is a love letter to Beckett. Why do you think the protagonist’s named Valentine? It was a long time before the Randolph-and-Mortimer-type characters appeared—remember the $1 bet? from Trading Places—and I suppose that’s where I got the idea of casting Jim as Job. When Joe calls Lucien a “wild rover” what I’m referencing is Job 1:7 where Satan, when asked, says he’s been “roving about on the earth” but here’s the thing with Job, he starts the book as “the greatest of all the Orientals” and ends up right back on top: nothing changes. Jim starts off alone and with illusions and ends up alone with delusions. We never actually learn who wins the bet between Joe (Jehovah) Hoover and Lucien but it doesn’t really matter. So I can see perhaps why it might make you sad. It’s the whole “giving birth astride the grave” scenario “the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more.”

After I got to the end of the opening section I hit a brick wall. Although I’d started out with one thing in mind I found I didn’t like the idea of repeating myself. And the book lay in a drawer, well, on a hard drive, for a good two years before I got the idea to jump twenty years into the future and ignore his rise to success and the subsequent collapse of his marriage; none of that interested me. Changing to a first person narration was what made all the difference and that’s where writing all those short stories—which is what I’d ended up doing in the interim—helped.

The structure’s meant to echo Beckett’s life. His early novels were written in the third person. In the trilogy he moved to a first person narrator and then it was on to the plays which is why the last section’s written the way it is. I didn’t set out to “out-Beckett Beckett” as you put it or even to imitate him especially (except in the funeral urn section which was based on the sucking stones text in Molloy) but I wanted a sense of Beckett to be there. Jim’s universe is built on what was important to him. In an early bio I once referred to myself as “the character Beckett never got round to writing” and that is what Jim is. Most people assume that Act II of Waiting for Godot takes place the next day and it probably does but they also get that if the acts went on forty years later the two of them would still be standing there waiting for Godot.

You’re quite right when you called the other people in the book “peripheral and even disposable” because they are. Jim’s dad only exists as and when needed. Only Abby is granted any depth. He can’t even remember his kids’ names in the end and two or three times in the book Jim struggles with names and that’s something Beckett did; the May/Amy thing is straight out of Footfalls, for example. Most of the characters in the novel take their names from Beckett but not Abby. She’s named after a character in Swamp Thing and there’re many nods in the chapter in which she first appears mostly notable the book The Anatomy Lesson which references the first storyline Alan Moore wrote, the one where he reinvented the character. When Len Wein (one of the names on Abby’s keyring) created the character he was a man who’d been turned into a monster. Moore turned all that on its head. He proposed that Swamp Thing only thought he was a man; in reality Alec Holland had died and Swampy only housed his consciousness. No one will make the connection but it’s an important clue for those who do. Londahl, by the way, is an anagram of Holland.

I could go on. I want to go on. I will go on! I wanted to write a treasure trove of a novel, a novel you could read over and over again and still discover new things. Christ knows how many times I’ve seen Airplane! and every time I’d catch something I missed on previous viewings. My copy has almost 1500 footnotes because there’s no way I was going to remember all the clever stuff. But the clever stuff came later. I wrote the novel from start to finish and nothing changed from the first draft to the last, nothing essential. It was only once the story was done that I started tweaking it, grafting in interesting things and the more I did that the more I realised there was a whole other level to the book that I’d not seen before, other levels in fact. They were there; they just needed highlighting.

I had a religious upbringing as you know but one thing I wasn’t taught was everything’s predestined. In that respect there is no Grand Plan. From a fictional point of view, however, it’s far more interesting if there is a grand plan. And now science is suggesting free will is an illusion and we’re all living in a computer simulation controlled by an evil genius. I love all that stuff and even though I gave up Science at school as quickly as I could it does keep worming its way into my writing. I’m not sure I reference The Matrix anywhere in the novel—it came out in 1999 when I was busy writing short stories—but its spirit is there although Jim is no Neo; Christlike he’s not be but he is godlike and as soon as I realised his initials J.H.Va. were similar to Joe then there was another strand to develop. All writers are gods even fictional ones.

It’s odd the book made you miserable when it has a happy ending. Jim’s dream’s fulfilled and I don’t mean the wife or the success—those were red herrings—I mean his real dream. Writers are by their very nature outsiders, watchers (unless you’re Jessica Fletcher) and how many of us yearn to be in the story. Well, that’s what Jim gets. Whether that was something the original Jim wanted we’ll never know for sure.

You’re right though any summary of this book will just put readers off. And yet here’s the thing: books like this do sell; there is a market for them. The most recent example I can think of is Satantango by László Krasznahorkai. It’s a miserable book full of miserable characters and yet it’s absolutely compelling. Who’s buying these books? It can’t just be me. One has to wonder how Beckett would fare if he tried to find an agent with The Unnamable today. Would they see it as the work of genius it truly is or would they give up reading the manuscript by the second page? That is assuming they didn’t give up after reading the summary.

So I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this. I know it’s good. I’m pretty damn sure it’s the best thing I’ll ever write but no one’s going to read it in its current format. When I first published Living with the Truth back in 2008 I had intended to use the reviews I got as evidence to present to an agent: see, SEE, I can write. But that never happened. Almost ten years on the publishing world’s changed and it’s even harder now but clearly not impossible. As evidenced by A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. I did toy with the idea of sending the book to Galley Beggar Press but I imagine every literary novelist out there’s been banging on their door so maybe wait until the fuss’s died down.

In the meantime I just wanted to say thanks for reading the book and for writing this. It does make a difference. I don’t care how sure any one of us is of our own worth/talent/genius it doesn’t hurt to get the odd pat on the back.

You're welcome, mate.