After The Debs is Over

If you know me via Social Media, you might have seen a few of the terse updates I was posting this week. ‘Almost time…’, ‘Tech Rehearsal…’ ‘Full Dress…’ ‘Showtime…’ ‘Exhausted…’ that kind of thing. 

An extraordinary week has drawn to a close. My newest play, ‘Deb’s Night’ has had its two nights in The Linenhall Arts Centre here in Castlebar. It played to capacity audiences and the extraordinary cast received spontaneous standing ovations on both nights. I think I can say this because I only wrote it, they fully deserved each one.

So today, after reflecting on things for a day or two, I want to first thank the main players in my wonderful week and then I want to scribble a little bit about the writing of Deb’s Night, partly as an aide-memoire to myself as I get ready to move on to the next one, which is mostly already-written in my head.

So. Thank you.

Thank you to Donna Ruane, who is my friend and who also happens to be a highly talented director and actor. For many years, Donna has run her Acting for Fun classes on Saturdays here in Castlebar. It is one of her many commitments but one that is particularly close to her heart. That title ‘Acting for Fun’ is both slightly misleading and entirely correct. It’s correct because the teens who go there pretty much have the best fun you could imagine. They tend to become tight friends and (from what I know) they look forward to each session with eagerness and anticipation. It’s slightly misleading because the name almost has a casual feel to it, a sort of ‘let’s not take this stuff too seriously’ vibe and that could not be further from the truth. Donna shows her people how to act, really act, and, to her, it is an earnest and important endeavour. This seriousness rubs off on the teen actors. This mix of serious and great  fun produces a special kind of acting student. One who loves to act and have fun but who never-ever take it casually.

Thank you Donna, for seeing something worthwhile in the Deb’s Night script and for taking it on and for shaking quite a brilliant production out of it. 

Then there’s those guys I was just talking about in the last paragraph-but-one. The Cast. Eighteen, yes count them, eighteen amazing guys and gals, every one of whom brought their ‘A-Game’ to this endeavour. The feedback I got suggested that the audiences could not quite believe the quality of what they were seeing. I could believe it though, I’d seen how hard they worked and how much fun they had doing it. (there’s that mix again).

Then there’s The Linenhall Arts Centre. I’ve written about them quite recently so I better not go on too much but, damn, they really know how to look after a creative endeavour and that’s for sure. A vibrant young cast finds itself enveloped in a professional theatre with a professional director and professional lighting and sound design and professional show management and everybody raises their game to come along with what The Linenhall gives. If you’re here in Castlebar and you’re artistically inclined I would suggest you make friends with the place. See the exhibitions, catch the shows, drink some coffee there. Your creativity will blossom just from spending quality time within those hallowed walls. 

A particular word for my friend Oisin Heraty who brought the theatre design up to the highest level. Because I mostly write stuff that doesn't use formal sets, in this case, just a couple of stools (well, eighteen) I tend to want to lean heavily on lighting and sound and music to set scenes and tone. Oisin has never let me down in this regard. Also the pleasure of being allowed to work the sound cues myself while Oisin ran everything else (and most of the sound cues too), the ability to watch the play and the audience as-one while also feeling as if I was a part of the theatrical machine that was running it. It all made me feel a bit important and I’m still cruising on that vibe. So thanks mate. 

For me, it’s kind of the dream come true. To write something as carefully and well as I possibly can, to have twenty plus people working flat out to make it come alive, and for the audiences to come out and enjoy the result. Yes, it’s ‘dream-come-true’ territory all right and I count my blessings that I get to experience all of this. 

And so now the Debs is over. There may be another outing but The Linenhall premiere is now writ in history.

A moment, then, if I may, for me to selfishly set down some thoughts and reminiscences on the actual writing of the play. What drove it and what might have added a pinch of inspiration to it because, as with all my little plays, there were many pinches borrowed from hither and yon.

I had written two other full length plays-for-teens and both had been pretty well received. When the second one ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’ was revived last year at The Linenhall, along with the shorter (and beloved) ‘Fine’ I saw the power and potential of the current young cast that Donna had trained up and I resolved to try to give them a brand new play for this year. Teen casts move along quickly to College and Adult Life and they have to be grabbed while they are still around. This was very much a year to do that.

I knew I wanted to write about Family and, particularly, about Parents and their Children. I was intrigued to give the teens a platform where they could play out some of their parents concerns and, in doing so, to show them what they sometimes look like from the adult point of view.

I also knew I wanted to capture something that I had seen in Donna’s classes. There, in the safety of the group, scenes and sketches would be devised and performed while the other actors sit around and become the audience. I loved how, from this relaxed and fun atmosphere, something dramatic and moving would often suddenly emerge. 

For that reason, I wanted everybody on stage the whole time, watching their fellow actors as they came centre stage and did their pieces. It’s not a new idea. I read ‘Equus’ as a much younger person and had loved how Shaffer had done it there. I had also seen ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Bruiser’s excellent production) in The Linenhall and had loved that Brechtian notion of the ‘Play within a Play’. The wonderful Mickel Murfi had also directed ‘The Far Off Hills’ in The Linenhall a few years ago and I loved the way his actors stayed around and visibly enjoyed it while their peers were doing their thing. 

I wanted a number of little families in the play, each with their own story to tell. I ended up with four. A family without a father, a family without a mother, a family with neither father nor mother and a family with both father and mother around. Several people commented that there were a lot of ‘dead parents’ in this play and they were not wrong.

The stories worked themselves out and evolved from one thing to another. The notion of the characters Debs Night being a part of the play actually came quite late on. At first, this was a play called ‘My Project, My Family’ in which a  school project to look into family histories threw up a series of dramatised stories, the teacher ultimately becoming the central character in the main story. But that didn’t quite play ‘entertaining’ enough. The threat and promise of an impending Debs Night seemed a better reason to have some fun and I think it turned out that way. 

The stories all may have evolved but there was one little kernel of a story there for the longest time. The story of a dad, a recent widower, and his daughter, alone together in the world and one stupid, silly thing he might do to try to keep her safe. This was always the nut at the centre of the play, everything else grew up around that. 

With eighteen actors and eighteen characters in the play, there was another challenge I was keen to address as best I could. I needed each character to have their own little story arc. Without going overboard on the technicalities I simply resolved that each one would have their own object of desire and something standing in their way of getting it. Some were small, Tam wanted to be a tree but the Stage Manager wouldn’t let her. A tiny thing but the audience went with it and many commented on Tam afterward. The most rewarding comment, repeated quite a bit, was how every actor had their part. Audiences don’t generally concern themselves consciously with such things as story arcs and desires and impediments to achieving those desires but they do respond to the tiny stories that emerge when these things are thought about. 

In case you think I’m vanishing up my own arse here, talking about Brecht and Shaffer and such, the play also purloined little nuggets of stuff from many much more street-level sources. ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ definitely played a part. If you watch the climactic scene and if you’ve seen my play, I think you’ll know what I mean. ‘Mary Poppins’ featured more heavily in earlier drafts but a tiny little taste still remained in the final product. ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ is clearly in there somewhere, as is ‘Hamilton’, Reeves and Mortimer’s ‘Shooting Stars’ and, of course, Bruce Lee and ‘Enter The Dragon’. An online pal, Darragh Doyle’ once said something on Twitter, years ago, and that has clearly turned up in the play. None of this stuff is stolen, not to my mind anyway. I think it’s a powerful writing tool to try to be open to those myriad little things that give you pause on any given day. These, to my mind, can sometimes become tiny keys to our souls. 

This was the play where I finally learned the value of scene index cards in the writing process. I wrote about that here. I could never make them work for me until David Keating, in a great one day seminar, explained how he used them right at the end of the process instead of at the beginning. This really focused the mind on what was missing in the play, narratively, and also tightened the flow and pacing of the thing. Remember that for next time, Ken. 

Enough.

Wait. Just one final thought. 

The play has a slightly peculiar structure. It starts out in an element of deliberate chaos as the group try to work out how to do their little devised play. There are mess ups and miscommunications and pratfalls and arguments. In the end too, there is a sort of joyous chaos, a relief that the silly thing is nearly all over.

But in the middle… in the middle some stories emerge, the tomfoolery slips away and some moments of drama and pathos peeps out. 

This is where Tom Waits has yet again inspired me, as he so often has in the past. 

He has a song called ‘Please Wake Me Up’ on his album ‘Frank’s Wild Years’. This little play of mine owes quite a bit to that song. Not on account of the words and not on account of the music but on account of the intangible chaos that exists at the start of the song and the chaotic refrain at the end. Mostly, it's on account of the lovely melody that emerges briefly right there in the middle, in among all that chaos. Have a listen on YouTube, I think you’ll see what I mean. Here's a link.

I’m generally my own toughest critic and I’m rarely entirely pleased with the writing I do but I must confess that I am quite proud of ‘Deb’s Night’. I know I owe much of that to the Actors and the Director and the Designer and the Theatre who made this production go as it did but, hey, I did my bit too.

And that feels pretty good. 

Memory is a Dish Best Served Hot

Yesterday, I thought of a girl from my past and, as soon as I thought of her, I realised that I’ve been thinking of her pretty-much once a week for years and years now. 

As blog post openings go, this may promise to be rather yearning and revealing and such but it’s not. It’s just my old pal Memory throwing one of its curve balls at me again. 

I met this girl for the first time in, oh, it must be thirty years on Monday last. It was at the sad occasion of her Father’s funeral. She was (and still is) a sister of one of my very best friends from my teenage and young adult years. Let’s call her M for that indeed is the initial of her name. 

When I met her again on Monday, I remarked to myself how little the years had changed her and how she still looked like the same M that she had looked like back in the Seventies and the Eighties. I never for one moment remarked that she entered my head roughly about once every week and had done for so many years. I didn’t know it then.

I only knew it yesterday, when I was making dinner. 

Most Saturdays, I make Chilli. I make a big pot that satisfies the appetites of the most voracious of returning students and spice-seeking adults alike. If I say so myself, I make a great Chilli with all the freshest ingredients and the best, most potent spices. There are touches of vinegar and sugar and dark, dark chocolate. There are real fresh juicy chillies that I cut while wearing an old golf glove but still the burn works its way through to my fingers. There is also cumin and peppers and onions and… oh you know the score, it’s a Chilli after all and it’s not rocket science. It’s just that I’m quite proud of my one and I enjoy cutting everything up and preparing it and dishing it up and eating it. 

And, yesterday, as I reached a particular stage of making the Chilli, I thought of M and I suddenly realised that I thought of M every week as I come to this very stage of Chilli-making. 

The thought is a simple one and it’s not a romantic or an aching one, except perhaps in the sense that all memories are, to some extent or another. It’s just… a memory.

Here it is. 

M made me my first Chilli. 

We were at a party in my friends house. Their parents had gone away and we had all gathered there to play records and maybe dance a bit and eat a late night Chilli which I had never had before, my Mum not being adventurous in the culinary respect. To try to date the year in which this party happened, I remember that one of the favoured albums by the girls at the party was by Culture Club – Colour by Numbers so that puts us firmly in 1983. 

There is actually very little detail to the memory. It is primarily to do with kidney beans and it is at the kidney bean draining part of the my own Chilli making that I invariably think of M and that party. 

On that night, the Chilli was served up on large white plates on the compulsory bed of rice. I got my plate and sat down beside S. I inspected my plate. I had never seen a Chilli before and had certainly never set eyes on a kidney bean. 

“What are they?”

“Kidney beans, they’re great,” this last part said in Tony-The Tiger fashion. 

I remember how I carefully ate my way around all of the kidney beans and left them all to the side of my plate. Logic told me that they were called kidney beans on account of their kidney shape and not because they were some kind of little animal kidney, cruelly harvested to ‘meat up’ the stew. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to eat them. No way. 

“’You having those?” S was eyeing up my stash of beans hungrily. S was always hungry.

“No.”

He ate them. All by themselves. Relishing them. I felt sick.

Today, I would do the same thing. I love how the little beans soak up the Chilli essence. My son would look at me in the exact same way as I looked at S that night. That might be the key to the recurring memory.

So, every Saturday, when I’m making my own Chilli in my own kitchen, and when I’m working on the kidney beans, I think in passing of A’s sister M, of the party and of Culture Club and of Chilli and kidney beans and youth and changing taste and of my sons and of time. 

And I realised all of this, not when I saw her again on Monday but a week later when it was time to cook. 

Cool, eh?

Except…

Well, this one niggling thought persists.

Did I?

Did I really think of M and her Chilli every Saturday for years? Or is it perhaps possible that I only thought of her yesterday for the first time in years. The memory having been spurred by the funeral and the visit to my home town and seeing my friend A again and the sad passing of Martin, his Dad, who was a lovely man. 

Maybe my mind has played a trick on me. Throwing me a memory but then going further. Implanting another memory of me recalling this memory all of the time when, in fact, I only ever remembered it once. It happens in dreams all of the time, perhaps it happened to me while waking too. 

I don’t know the answer. I don’t think I’m capable of discerning the answer. We are, to an extent, slaves to our memories and the vivid tricks they can sometimes play on us. They serve us up a rich banquet and we eat our fill and we never really know what is fresh and what has come out of a tin.

Still the food is good and we eat it with some relish. 

Enabling My Writing at The Linenhall

Writing can be viewed as something of a bad habit, by me at least. It takes up a lot of time in the doing and it takes up even more time in the thinking-about and the plotting and general mulling-over. Lawns don’t get mowed, cars don’t get washed, cobwebs remain largely unchallenged and the tangible rewards are singularly meagre, except in the case of a daring and talented few. 

The writer embarks upon a course that, unless he/she is very careful, will result in a dotage spent wandering through a spider-ridden house, with tonnes of paper stacked high in every room and no visible means of support.

That’s why, when I use the word’ Enabling’ in the title, I’m thinking of the slightly negative connotation as well as the positive one. When someone enables you in writing they are encouraging you and providing you with resources and creative shelter. But it’s also like you’re a smoker and they’re holding the door open for you and handing you a box of matches.

Enough whimsy. All I really want to do this week is to acknowledge the part that the Linenhall Arts Centre has played in keeping me thinking of myself as a sort-of-a writer and in making me better in that regard.

The Linenhall has been doing this for me for the last fifteen years or so, pretty much ever since I first came from London to live and settle in Castlebar. Before that, there were other ‘Enablers’ – good folk who quietly provided me with kindling for my writing spark. There was my English teacher in school, Patricia O’Higgins, who quietly slipped me books that were out of my comfort zone and who, when I was getting ready to leave for Dublin at the tender age of sixteen, told me how, ‘it would be good for my writing’. The instillation of the idea that I might have something called ‘writing’ was a key moment in the confirmation of my lifelong passion.

Then there was Independent Radio Drama Productions. Marja Giejgo and Tim Crook gave me my first break in radio and continued from there right up to today in quietly affirming that I could righteously consider myself to be a writer, even though I’ve never quite managed to do that.

Apart from the radio productions with IRDP, Tim and Marja also allowed me to be a script reader for a number of writing competitions. I would receive bundles of radio scripts in the post, thirty at a time, and would pare them down to the best two. It wasn’t hard. The best ones always shone so brightly that anyone could have seen them. The invaluable lesson was not found in perusing the top two but in examining the other twenty eight. Each had to have a little review written and I took some care with those, trying to explain why, to my mind, the script had not made the grade. Seeing things that should not be done being done over and over again taught me something. I’m not sure what, exactly, but it’s in there nestling all the time.

When I arrived in Castlebar, I was a little cast adrift from anything that might anchor me to my writing. Luckily, I’ve always had the drive to be writing, even when there was no logical reason to be doing so. Somehow, I blipped on The Linenhall’s radar and they’ve been subtly looking out for me ever since.

I have come to be a person who likes to share the writing I do. If I did not have a facility to do this, I would still write but it would be a less satisfying, more closeted, sort of writing. What the Linenhall have done, among many, many other things is allow me to avail of their facilities. They have a lovely theatre with all the lights and all the sound and all the space that a person like me could wish for. Through their auspices, I get to avail of all this stuff. If there’s a play, I get to take it in to the theatre space and, with the help of good people, work it up and mould it and make it more ready to be shown. That’s only the start of what they do for me at The Linenhall but much of it is almost too subtle to pin down in a coherent sentence. They… make me feel like a creative person. I think that’s it.

Of course I am a creative person, at least by some definition. I take a blank sheet of paper and, for better or worse, I make a play and then actors come and bring the play to life. So, from nothing there comes something and that, I guess, is what you might call creative. I can drag myself for enough to say that I am creative but I will never think of myself as an ‘artist’ or anything as far reaching as that. I am, at most, a storyteller, a mouthpiece, a bit-of-a-wag.

And the Linenhall give me room to be all that and they do it with a constant smile and a gentle nudge in the right direction, which is unerringly forward.

I feel so lucky to have this.

Sometimes I feel like David Mamet (although I could not tie his shoelaces). Like him, I can grow my play in a small theatre setting, show it, improve it, and send it out into the wide world to see where, if anywhere, it may go. I won’t ever be a world-beater but the little plays conceived and grown in-and-around The Linenhall had gone on to play further afield and to people who don’t know who I am. I like that.

This time next week, we’ll be in the run-in to my newest play at The Linenhall. ‘Deb’s Night’ is directed by my good friend Donna Ruane and features a superb teen cast of eighteen. Yesterday afternoon, I sat and watched the rehearsal. The drive, the intensity of trying to get it right. You couldn’t buy it, not with a million bucks. I hope it plays well to the audiences who will come. There is drama in there and humour and some feeling. Let’s see how we go.

I am a lucky duck to have The Linenhall Arts Centre in my life. I have deliberately refrained from naming everybody in there because you are all my valued friends but I’m not writing about you today. I’m writing about what you collectively become when you do your work for the Artists and for The Community and for the old Writing Wags too.

Something valuable.

Something good.

Sometimes Sleep Goes Away

Sometimes sleep goes away. Not very often, thankfully, and not for very long but sometimes it does go.

It’s not a stress thing, although there’s some small element of that. It’s not an anxiety thing either but that probably does play a tiny part too. For me, it’s more an overpowering feeling that there is simply too much to do and that it would be wrong to sleep too easily.

I know lots of people suffer a thousand times worse than me with this kind of thing. I really don’t get it too bad at all, nor do I beat myself up too hard over it. So I’m not pretending to be a martyr to insomnia or anything like that. In my case, it’s simply that sleep occasionally goes away and I thought I’d write a few lines about it this week because, well, sleep has currently gone away.

In my case, it works like this. I go to bed, sometime around midnight. I read my book until the words get all mixed up with sleepy thoughts. Then I put the book down and I close my eyes. Sleep comes really easily and quickly. It’s been a long day. The sleep is solid and deep. 

Then, at about four or half four, I wake. It feels a little like that bit in ‘Groundhog Day’ where the radio clicks on and the same song as yesterday starts to play. “Uh oh, here we go again.” The immediate reaction is to go to sleep again. It’s dark and it’s hours yet until morning. Sleep is the obvious move. But the old brain hasn’t just woken up, it’s come alive in a strange highly-caffeinated fashion. Ideas, plans, scenarios have come leaping in, all wanting to be thought about and considered and mulled-over and worked out. There’s no great feeling of anxiety or unease. A general annoyance at being awake again, yes, and a drive to process information, leaping mentally from one thing to another. 

Oddly enough, no matter how much information is processed or scenarios are worked over, it all seems gone by morning. Nothing is furthered, nothing is any more resolved that it was  before. It’s almost like it’s a sort of wide-awake dreaming. 

Running through song lyrics in my head is sometimes a constructive way to push the mind toward something more ordered and sedate. I know a lot of songs all the way through. ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ is a recurring lyric in these sessions, ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ also comes up quite a bit. My night time owes much to ‘Blood on the Tracks’. It’s no good racing through the lyrics either, as this overactive mind of mine itches to do. The words have to be recalled at the same pace as which they are sung. This isn’t necessarily effective in reclaiming sleep but it does tend to calm the jumpy brain down and ease it away from all that infernal planning and analysis. 

I don’t tend to get up. I ride it out. I think some measure of sleep sometimes comes back on the way towards morning but it’s a light ‘skim across the surface’ sort of sleep where any dreams which may arise are grounded in facts and real life events. 

The alarm goes and then I feel like I could sleep but I can’t and I don’t. The day begins. 

If you’ve never done it, you would imagine that the days after such a night would be long and weary and sub-par. That’s certainly not how it is for me. There seems to be a heightened focus and edginess to those days after sleep goes away. Work gets done.

It all generally runs its course in a couple of weeks and then I’ll sleep like a slightly more normal person again. It might not come back again for a year or even two. 

The main thing, I reckon, is not to worry about it too much. The bed is warm at 4.30 in the morning and the darkness is all-enveloping.

And Bob Dylan’s lyrics are not the worst thing to bounce around in your head. 




Words are Pouring Out

And when I finish one writing thing, I get to start the next and that’s often a great relief.

That 'next thing' has been crashing around in the old head for a while now, generally demanding attention. Suggesting little snippets of insight, dangling a tantalising notion or two, but mostly generating a measure of unease. Will I be able to write that thing, when the time comes? How on earth will it all fall together into some coherent shape?

It’s something of a relief, then, to finally get to the moment when the next thing can be started. It’s also a relief, almost physical, when the words come pouring out. It’s very much like drinking pints of water and not being allowed to go to the toilet for a while. The well of small ideas has been visited and visited but no relief has been granted. So, yeah, words tend to come pouring out.

And a measure of order too. That’s the most surprising thing. While the mind has been assembling various component parts, and the brain has been worrying about how it might all screw together, the subconscious must have been tinkering away too. When the physical writing starts, I often find that decisions have already been made, decisions I really knew very little about. An order is rapidly achieved and the words come pouring out. It’s a halcyon moment.

And how crucial it is to not stop and think too hard about what is pouring out. Not now. Let it flow, baby, just let it flow. It’s a time for forgiveness of all things. A time for doing anything and saying anything, just so long as the flow keeps coming. Drain the brain. Get it on to that page at all costs.

And the stuff that comes out can be quite emotion-bringing and visceral. Just yesterday, as I was typing the flow of uncorked words, the damn stuff was making me nervous just because the set up was quite an edgy one. I was worried how it would all turn out and who would get hurt and would they be okay after. Actually really worried. I raced through the scene with my pecking fingers, trying to arrive at a place of some resolution where I could breathe a bit again. It was odd.

And today, the flow will continue. I can feel it clearly in my fingertips and in the base of my skull. These words I’m typing right now are not the words I should be typing. The right words are crashing around and tickling and struggling to get the hell out. So stop, Ken, stop. Go and write the right stuff and stop this dicking around.

In a minute. In a minute.

Just one more thing and, as Hamlet said, “Meet it is I set it down.” What was it again? It's difficult to focus. Those other words are making a lot of noise and turning my head.

The flow…

The flow…

The mistake so many people make…

Ah, yes, that’s it.

It’s so easy to fall in love with the product of the flow. A large beaker full of stuff that came out so gushingly and even assembled itself in ways that were surprising and new. How could it not be wondrous? How could it not be the best?

Of course we all know it isn’t wondrous. It isn’t the best, not to anyone but you at least. We all know that first drafts are shit and that the good work is now only beginning. A block of wood has been created from nothing, as if by magic, but now it needs to be carved and sculpted and shaped into something a bit fine.

We all know it.

But, man, how we forget it.

We are charmed, bewitched by our tall beaker full of product. See how it gleams in the pale moonlight. We take it door to door and show it to our friends and they (being our good friends) confirm for us that it is indeed wondrous and we are indeed magnificent human beings for creating it. We smile and bask in the reflected light from the jar while, inside, our friends secretly shrug and shiver. For all they can really see is a big jar of piss.

And so, on with the flow. Long may it continue, long may it go.

Just don’t fall in love with it, Ken. Not this time. This time, remember that there is still much work to do after the flow has stopped.

And, oh, what's that? In the back of my head tickling gently?

Damned if it isn't the thing after this one.

Starting to squirm...

Words Coming Out of My Ears

We changed the car recently. Nothing wild or extravagant, just a second hand car that was significantly less of a second hand car than the previous one was. It’s nice though. It’s nice to set out for someplace with some level of confidence that you might actually arrive there. 

I’m not what you would call a ‘car’ person. In fact, one of my odd focuses in those rare times when we do change cars is the kind of radio that it might come equipped with. 

I’m old enough to remember wishing the car would have a CD Player. I even remember wishing that a cassette player might come as standard. Hell, I even remember wishing for a radio that had push buttons rather than two twirly knobs. That’s old. 

With this new/old, car I had an updated wish for the radio. I wished that it might be possible to connect my classic ipod to the sound system via a cable so that I could listen to my podcasts over the speakers. Honestly, it was one of the first things I looked for. So, yay, I am happy to report that this feature does indeed exist. Now, when I set off on my long journeys, I can enjoy my podcasts with ease as I roll along.

I’ve been doing it for a few weeks now and it’s great.

It is… great, yes, great.  Except…

Except something has been lost. Something really small and quite difficult to define. I’ll give it a go, though. You know me; always trying. 

Before I do, I just want to explain why I’m not going to tell you about the podcasts I listen to. Not today anyway. Podcasts, I feel, are a bit like underwear. You can reveal a little too much about yourself by describing in depth the type you use. With a reveal of your underwear, you can immediately be seen to be either the coolest dude on the block or the lame ‘tighty whitey’ doofus. So can it be with podcasts. So lets not go there today. I don’t feel up to it. 

But, yes, something has been lost. Let’s  do that.

Before my new Batmobile, I tended to listen to podcasts in three places. Firstly, when I go on specific ‘walking’ walks, I bring my beloved, still pristine, ipod classic along, I plug my earbuds in, and I ‘do’ my podcasts. Secondly, if I’m making dinner and there’s a bit of prep involved, I will again break out the ipod and buds and do me some listenin’. Generally, in this case, I put the ipod in my breast shirt pocket and go to work. Invariably, the earphone wires gets caught in chairs and pots and the buds get ripped out of my ears and I swear a lot such that my family thinks I hate making dinner but, apart from that, it’s good. 

Thirdly, and this is naughty I know, I used to listen in the car on long drives. I’ve done a lot of podcasts that way. 

“Ah no, Ken,” I hear you say, “that’s not naughty. You stick one of the earbuds in your ear and turn the volume up a bit and you’re good to go.”

Yes. Um. 

I use both earbuds. When I’m driving. I know, I know, it’s just that the one ear thing winds me up. I’ve always been a bit of a sound junky and the one ear thing just doesn’t fly my balloon or float my boat or rattle my cage. 

So, yes, naughty.

But it’s okay. I’ve stopped now. I’ve got my new/old car with the hot line connection between ipod classic and car sound system. I don’t need my earbuds any more. All is peachy. Except…

Except I miss listening on my earbuds. 

Something has definitely been lost. Something I never really knew existed until it was gone. It’s a strange sort of intimacy to comes from listening with earphones wedged in your ear canal. The words and the voices all seem to land with an unfiltered purity in your brain. The tones and registers of the voices seem to tickle those tiny nerve endings that bring us our sounds. To go altogether too far, there is almost a sensual quality to listening to regular podcast stuff like this with earphones. And in the car, on the speakers… well, it’s just in the car, on the speakers. 

Do I make sense? I don’t know. The ease and convenience of the new/old car and its sound system means that earbud free driving will now be the norm and, in truth, there’ some sense of relief about that. I always felt I was doing wrong being totally plugged in, in the car. 

But I will now look forward even more intently to the long long walks and those chair-tangled kitchen earbud listens. 

Tickle me, podcast. 

Tickle me there. 

I Just Won’t Write One This Week

I’ve probably said it before. I think I’ve said everything before. Sometimes the problem is not being able to think of what to write about, it’s much more a problem of focusing in on one particular thing. 

This week, the old mind is racing with all kinds of different stuff, some fantastic, some utterly appalling, and it’s hard to find the right direction to focus in. It’s equally hard, also, to find any kind of consistency of tone. Should I verbally punch the air or verbally throw myself off a cliff. 

“I’ll tell you what, “ I say to myself, “it’s Sunday morning and you still haven’t written anything. Take it as a sign, a gift from the Cosmos. Take a day off.”

It’s tempting. There’s a nice smell of toast coming from the direction of the kitchen. The rain has stopped. Why the hell not? 

I just won’t write a blog post this week. Why should I bother anyway? If I can’t pin myself down to something I want to say, what’s the point?

Right. Toast. A walk in the non-rain. Maybe even a glance at the paper.

All good. 

But wait. What's all this? I’m here, two hundred words in to something that has no rhyme or reason and has no clue where it might go after the next line. Why am I not eating toast? What the hell is going on?

There’s a tiny trickle of fear, certainly, that keeps me typing. If I don’t do it this week, will I ever do it again? That must be how a blog finishes up in the end. Not with a ballistic post damning all-and-sundry to hell and back nor even with a post announcing the end of it all. I bet the final post on most blogs is an everyday run-of-the-mill thing about, I dunno, eating toast or walks in the rain. 

I don’t like things to end. I don’t like things to stop. I don’t like throwing old, long past their sell-by-date things away. That’s why I wear the same old shoes and jacket, that’s why I follow the same old patterns. That’s why I’m still sitting here, three hundred and seventy words in, and not out in the kitchen munching toast.

So what can I tell you? If I try to write about the awful stuff that is lurking in the news, I will find that a couple of sentences won’t make it and anyway anything I might write would seem impotent and floundering in the light of the awfulness. Best leave it for another day, when thoughts may come straighter.

There’s been lots of drama stuff this week. I could tell you about that. Three separate rehearsal sessions for three separate things. All of them excellent fun. I could easily have written a long post about all that. I just don’t want to overplay that hand and the fun is only just beginning. 

I’ve read a few good books. That could make a passable post. Not bothered though. I tend to write fairly shitty reviews because the tropes of review writing tend to bore me so I usually just end up saying if I thought a book was good or bad and refusing to tell you the plot. So, no, not a post about books although, if you’re looking, I found Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh to be very good. I also enjoyed Miss Jane by Brad Watson for the quality of the writing and the empathy therein. I recommended Remember My Like This by Bret Anthony Johnson to Lucy and she enjoyed it too so that makes me feel safer in saying I thought it was great. 

Movies I’ve seen. I loved The Lives of Others on Netflix, which I was years late to. I thought In A World was smart and sweet and funny and Bone Tomahawk settled me in to a very well made genre-respectful western only to be shocked out of my complacency two thirds of the way through. Oh, yeah, Hell or High Water is a fine film too. Jeff Bridges remains The Man. 

What else? It’s been raining. I got wet. 

Sam and I went to see Graham Hopkins at his Drum Hang in Mocha Beans in Westport. That was very cool. Graham is the ace drummer with The Frames and many other collectives and he was happy to drink coffee and chat and drum like bejaysis. A good night. 

We saw Dinosaur too at The Linenhall, fronted by Laura Jurd who plays trumpet like a great-trumpet-playing thing. It’s lovely to hear and see trumpet playing in real life. It’s quite a physical thing. The jazzy inflections of the instrument are naturally paced by the limits of what a breath can do and the breath itself sits behind the music like some physical proof of its reality. Also there’s saliva to be drained. It’s quite a beast and Laura doesn’t tame it, she more rides it like a bucking steer.

We’re watching ‘This is Us’ on RTE2 and it is pretty schmaltzy and smooth but I think it’s also pretty good. The narrative is corralled in an impressive way, the humour is light and good, and the characters are engaging. It’s not Ibsen but we keep recording it and sitting down with it so that’s a good sign. 

Apple Tree Yard was very good on the BBC. It sparked some lively discussion around the place and that’s always a positive sign too. We missed Taboo and we don’t get iPlayer in these parts so I’ll have to look into a way to see it. It sounded really edgy and blunt, all at the same time. 

So, yeah, look, I just won’t write a blog post this week. I’ll have that toast and that walk (not at the same time) and I’ll come back to it fresh and inspired next week. 

That’s the best thing. 

See you then.

Great Evenings and How to Have More of Them

Last week I told you about my day out in Dublin. I didn’t tell you what I did when I was finished there though. I’ll do that now.

Most people would just go home. Not me. Nuh huh. I pointed my car in another direction entirely and headed for the town of Gort in County Galway. It was going to be one of those good evenings for me. The Wild Swan Theatre Company in that fine town were putting on one of my plays, ‘Conception Pregnancy and Bert’, and I was driving down there to see it. 

I get to do this a bit and I feel lucky every time I do. I get to go to a town that I don’t know and find a band of smart talented people there who have taken weeks and weeks learning off some of the silly stuff that I write down in my spare room. They have grappled hard with my pages and figured out how best to perform them. Then they'll play it all out for a willing audience. What a compliment they have paid me in taking this on. How very lucky I am.

In the case of the Wild Swan Theatre Company in Gort, that was only the start of it. Imagine my surprise when I marched in to a huge room elegantly dressed, table by table, as if a society wedding party was about to motor in at any moment. Walk around a corner and there was this beautifully set stage with hundreds of seats carefully laid out in front. 

This was Supper Theatre, except it was more Dinner Theatre as the patrons were about to be treated to a full sit down meal in between the two plays they had come to see. My play was up second, after everybody had been wined and dined. 

I won’t single anybody out. It was just a great evening. The first play was very well written and performed and went over marvelously with the audience. The second play was a little more odd and maybe a little more edgy. It needed a good director to get its quirky set-up across and a brave cast to play out the rather extreme levels of silliness that ensues. The Wild Swan Theatre Group delivered all of these things in spades. 

My usual delight is to sit at the back and watch the play and the reactions of the audience at the same time. I can learn a lot from where people laugh, don’t laugh, shift uncomfortably in their seat or even look down at the floor. This time, my cover was blown by a nice introduction from the stage. Never mind. The audience went along with the play as the pace accelerated and there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a room erupt with laughter at some of your own writing. 

I drove home after a very, very long day, buzzing and happy. 

So thank you, Wild Swan Theatre Group. It was a great night.

I only wish I could figure out how to have more of them.

My plays generally end up getting performed by a sort of ‘word of mouth osmosis’ or, as often as not, because somebody saw a production somewhere else and thought the play might suit their group for a performance too. I have quite a few plays and quite a few of them have had quite a number of productions. Which is great. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s great. 

It’s just that there’s no plan to it. None on my part anyway. No real rhyme or reason. I word hard on the plays, trying to get them as good as possible, and their first productions usually emanate from the wonderful people in the Linenhall Theatre here in Castlebar coupled with my production and directing friends here in Castlebar who all support and encourage me more than I can say. In the case of ‘Conception Pregnancy and Bert’ it was initially born as the third of three radio plays written for and produced and directed by Mary Carr and St. Patrick’s Drama Group in Westport. It then evolved into a theatre play, with the encouragement of some of my Castlebar friends.

Once a play has been first-produced, I generally end up at a complete loss as to what to do with it next. Sometimes, as I was saying, word of mouth carries it on to some other adventure. One play has been published and one great production came out of that but then no more. Another play is on the national database for youth drama and that has resulted in three productions since the first so that was good. Sometimes, though, it all just stops in Castlebar and I don’t really do much about it.

What should I do? Should I send the plays more vigorously around to theatre groups? I guess I should. That seems obvious even now that I’ve type it out. Should I make the scripts downloadable from this website? Very few people come here, in actuality, so I’m not sure that would be much use but then Google does seem to index the stuff on there pretty well so maybe it might be worth doing. From time to time, I just bang up a link to a script at random and that too has led to a most interesting production.

Whatever it might be, I should really do something. Because I like having those great nights out and I love seeing the plays picked up and performed for audiences all over the place.

I mean, who wouldn’t?

Belong/Don’t Belong at All

One day last week, I had to drive to Dublin and do some stuff. Dublin is strange for me these days. I feel like I belong there but yet don’t belong there at all, both at the exact same time. 

My years in London, and in Dublin before that, have left me with a general ease in the big city. This doesn't ever seem to leave me, no matter how small-town-trained I become. 


Whenever I go there, I tend to slip in to the rhythm quickly and slide easily through the melee. 

On the other hand, I now also have a tendency to study every single face, to wonder who they are and what their story is. It’s very tiring and it makes me want to get out and go back to my own small town, where I know many of the faces and where I have at least some idea of where they are all going.

Here are three small points from my day out in Dublin on Thursday. I’ll set them down in order. As far as I can tell, they are linked by nothing at all, apart from the fact that they happened to me.

I had to visit a venerable library reading room to look some stuff up. This next part will probably tell you something about myself but, before I went inside, I tried my pens on the back of my hand. I had quite a few. None of them would write. This actually happens to me quite a bit as I tend to migrate from dusty dirty places to academic reading rooms and the dust often lingers and renders my ball point pens incapable. 

It was a problem. With what could I make my notes?

There was a convenience shop next door to the library. I went in to buy some new pens. There was a guy sitting outside the door, holding up an empty coffee cup. He asked me for some spare change but I only had my pen money and so I couldn’t oblige.

The man behind the counter had loads of pens, right up until he went and looked for them and found that he didn’t have any at all. He was sold out.

“That’s okay,” I said, “not to worry.”

“Here,” he said, pressing something into my hand, “take my pen, Take mine.”

Hopefully this kind of thing happens to other people as often as  it seems to happen to me. People are just randomly and quite outrageously nice. This guy didn’t know me from Adam but yet here he was, giving me his only pen. He really insisted I have it.  

“Thanks,” I said, “at least let me pay you for it.”

He wouldn’t.

I’ll just type that again… he just wouldn’t. No, I don’t know why either. I generally try to be nice, I guess some people are encouraged to be nice back to me. To try to be fair, I bought a Mars bar that I really didn’t want because I am trying hard to reduce my sugar intake. 

The guy with the cup was still at the door. I gave him my pen money and the Mars bar too. Truth? I like to think that’s why the guy gave me the pen. A sort of Time Travel Karma.

As a footnote to this first point, the library would not allow the use of pens. They supplied nice pencils. 

My second point is about wildlife in the city and how very close to it you can stand.

On O’Connell Bridge, in the beating heart of the city, there is wildlife sitting there. It’s not foxes or bears or even rabbits. It’s seagulls. No, don’t go yet, let me tell you. Have you ever seen the seagulls that perch on the guarding of O’Connell bridge? They are Huge and they are right there. You can stand and look at them so that they are tiny inches from your face and they will stare defiantly right back at you. The ‘Danger’ in them is palpable. Their beaks are clearly razor sharp and they could easily lean forward and have your eye out with a savage peck. Their webbed feet (are they called ‘feet’? I can’t think) are so vivid and strong. Their feathery mane oily and stained from the city. In the wildest of the wild places, you could not hope to get so incredibly close to an untamed thing like you can there on O'Connell Bridge. It’s really quite something. 

Final pointless point. 

I met my good friend J_ and we went to the lunch place at the top of Debenhams for a bite to eat. Up there, in a certain corner, there’s a bench that you can sit up at and have your dinner. Beyond it, there’s a void, all the way down to the ground floor. And out in front of you, through the full height atrium glazing, lies the whole of Dublin City stretched out before you. Look down, and you see all the little people milling around on their lunchtime missions. Look up again and there’s the city, stretching away off to the Wicklow mountain. That bench sure doesn’t look like much… until you sit down at it. Trust J_ to find that. He knows stuff, he does. 

Up there, looking out over the streets and buildings, I felt it again. I felt I belonged to the City and yet didn’t belong to it at all.

It felt okay. 

Maggie’s Year

This morning, I’ve been sitting here thinking about Maggie’s Year and what a strange and surreal year it was. The trouble is that I was only seventeen and now I find that the true memories of that year have become clouded and mixed up along with impressions and emotions and even dreams such that the exact truth is no longer easy to know. 

What I do know is that I was too young to leave home. It was early September and I had just turned seventeen in July. Apart from a couple of hospital nights, here and there, I had never slept in any bed other than my own. No friend sleepovers, no evenings with Granny, nothing. And, yet, here I was waving goodbye to Mum and lugging my baggage through my small town to the train station and to the train that would take me to Dublin to live.

Summer was over, it was time for college. I spent three years in college in Dublin. To the best of my knowledge, I was the youngest person ever to start my course and the youngest to ever finish it. That sounds lovely, and on many levels, it was but I was young and maybe a little too young.

Not only was I setting off on my first solitary venture, I had no place to stay. I was booked into a B&B in Northside Dublin and there was a possibility of obtaining ‘Digs’ with an elderly lady within a couple of weeks. I sat on the train and read ‘Thin Air’ by William Marshall. The carriage was packed with the young members of a basketball team. I watched them laugh and jump around and thought about how they would be on the train back home again in the evening and I felt a not inconsiderable surge of envy about that. 

The B&B was almost too nice. For breakfast, they served me bacon and the cleanest fried eggs I had ever seen. There were three blonde daughters in the house and I feel in love with them in chronological order between Monday and Thursday. On the first morning, I walked to college. I came to a big road and knew that the college was in one direction and the airport in the other. I set off. The airport looked nice and I was late for my first lecture. 

On Thursday, following a lead from a guy my parents knew, I walked up a typical residential street in Phibsboro looking for a house. In this house was Maggie. The house was dull and poorly lit and old fashioned and a bit ‘cabbagey’. From the doormat the hallway was so dull that I could hardly see Maggie inside. She bade me come in and I did. I stayed for the next nine months. It became ‘Maggie’s Year’. I may not remember it terribly well but I can never forget it. 

Maggie took in two of us. There was me and there was a fellow from Cork who looked, if anything, even more lost than I did. On Thursday’s, this guy and me would treat ourselves to the cinema and I would show him the scary stuff I had already seen over the Summer months. I loved how ‘Halloween’ terrified him and, in a rerun of Jaws at the Ambassador, in an auditorium that was murky with cigarette and dope smoke, I gleefully thought he was going to lose his life.

The guy – I can’t remember his name – and me had a room each on the upper floor of Maggie’s House There was an upstairs bathroom, which was alien to me, and the rooms were dull and furnished with sold brown wardrobes that will kill you instantly if they fell on you. We got a breakfast and an evening meal, which was okay and in the evenings we watched a revamped version of ‘Quicksilver’ and other dubious stuff on the telly. Most weekends, I left Dublin on the bus and, during the week, my mind always registered the exact moment when half of my time away was over and I was again on the downhill road to going home. 

I loved college. It was full of people who seemed okay with being my new friends and there were new jokes and music and attraction at every corner. But, yes, I was young, and I missed my home and a part of me always ached to be back there. But, still, the days were fun and filled with companionship and learning.

And, in the evenings, there was Maggie.

Maggie was a short, stout woman who wore glasses which made her look like an owl. She seemed to me to be about seventy but I was only seventeen so perhaps she was only fifty. She was a country woman through-and-through. I have no idea how she wound up alone in a house in Dublin but there was nothing Dublin about her. She was feisty and opinionated and she loved her Gaelic Football. On the rare Sundays afternoons when I stayed in Dublin, she would be glued to her radio for updates on all the matches. She would whoop the good results and roundly curse the bad ones. 

Maggie was a good landlady. She looked after us well, if a little unconventionally. One Friday evening (I had stayed up for a party) she gave me a Valentine’s card to post. It was for my follow lodger in the house and it was from Maggie, albeit anonymously. “Look at the poor devil,” she said to me, “he needs a bit of encouragement’ I didn’t get one from her so I must have been doing better. I posted the card at the bottom of my street on the way to the party. There was a Saturday post so he would get it okay. It was Friday the thirteenth, the next day was Valentine’s Day. In a few short hours, a short way up the road, the Stardust Nightclub would be ablaze and forty eight innocent people would be dead.

My housemate moved back to Cork. It was just Maggie and me then, toddling along together. Shortly after that, Maggie got sick and ended up in hospital for a month. At seventeen I became the sole proprietor of a run down house in Dublin. I remember eating a lot of takeaways and watching subtitled movies on BBC2 in the evenings. Then Maggie came home. She was very sick. She told me she was dying. People came in and saw to her needs. I saw to her needs when they weren’t there. Before my year was over she was gone from the house again, back into hospital. I used to visit her and tell her how the house was okay. I never met anyone else during my visits. Shortly after my Summer began and before I had even turned eighteen, she was gone for good. 

I think of Maggie often. She was my very first experience of living with someone outside of home. Alas, she also became my first experience of mortality. 

I am grateful to her. Sending me to college was no easy feat for my parents and the accommodation she offered was so cheap as to be almost miraculous. She got me on my feet in Dublin and probably looked out for me in ways I still cannot even comprehend.

So here’s to you, Maggie. I’m better at Dublin now than back when we knew each other but, to be honest, I’m still a bit lost some of the time. 

Thanks for being my landlady.


The ‘Deb's Night’ Adventure Begins

I love being involved in making theatre. Most of all, I love writing for it. It has its limitations, of course. Unless you’re (insert somebody famous here), the reach of what you do will remain quite limited. The theatre space can only hold so many people and the number of nights it can be lit remains small. Also any recording of the event tends to dilute or even lose the magic beyond repair. So it's usually quite a small thing.

All of that, yes, but still I love it. 

And, as with most things in my life, I have been lucky in theatre. I have been lucky to wash up in a town with the brilliant Linenhall Arts Centre who warm me and encourage me and who give me space and time to do my theatre stuff. A town peopled with folk who can do the theatrical things that I cannot do. People who are okay with doing them with me. 


So, yes, incredibly lucky in theatre. Here in my town, I get to grow my little plays and then watch them venture out tentatively into other places, with other people, in other productions.

Gosh, it sounds fabulous, doesn’t it?

Lucky git, me.

And this week, the adventure begins again. 

On Tuesday afternoon, me and Donna Ruane the Director and about twenty powerhouse teenagers will meet up in the Linenhall Theatre for the first read-through of my new play ‘Deb’s Night’. I think of this as my third full length YA play. The previous two ‘The Moon Cut Like a Sickle’ and ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’ had brought me much fun and journeying and excitement. I hope this one might do more of the same. 

More than the other two, I think this play offers a ‘blueprint’ for a strong innovative YA group to stamp their authority on. It’s a portmanteau story centring around a group of young people as they approach their graduation night. There is a central theme concerning families without one or other (or both) parents and there is a ‘loose’ feel to it that might either baffle of intrigue the audience. Time will tell.

I’ve worked long and hard on this one and it will be a bit nervy, now, to see how it gels. The last few productions I’ve been directly involved in, have all been of plays that had been done before. No matter how original the production, there was always the safety net of knowing that it had played to an audience before, that it had hit its mark. Here, we have completely untrodden ground. Who knows whether we will all be stepping along a solid path or wading in a bog.

These last few weeks, knowing that the reading day was fast approaching, have been busy too. The play was written last year but these final weeks, with the energy of the upcoming production looming, sees the text being interrogated pretty intensely. Are there too many words there? Would anyone ever say that? Why is she doing that, why? There is no other moment when I feel more like the ‘wright’ that is included in the word ‘playwright’. This part is always more like a physical job of building than a pensive job of creating. There is cutting and paring and slipping things in and easing things out and moving around the room and talking aloud to oneself. The sheer excitement of knowing that, for better or for worse, the words you are currently ‘wrighting’ will find an audience and will have to connect to them in order to succeed. 

This play would not have been written if it weren’t for the energy and joy of Donna’s Acting For Fun Company. Last year, in performing ‘Midnight at the Theatre of Blood’ and ‘Fine’ at the Linenhall, they forged such bonds of friendship, creativity and performance and they won the audience each time they did it. It would have been a crying shame if I could not have written myself into a place where I might be allowed to witness it all again this year. In the way a force can sometimes be, the force of this group has become a sort of a muse for me, giving me a reason and a motive to get my wrighting work done.

On top of that, my quirky little play ‘Conception, Pregnancy and Bert’ is currently being rehearsed by Wild Swan Theatre Company in Gort. I’ll be driving down to see that in a couple of weeks. Also there is another new, adult, play in production, to be seen in March , but I can’t really say too much about that because it’s not all out in the open yet. 

It’s fun though. It’s all the best of fun.

Today, I’m continuing to print scripts. Twenty two of them. At eighty three pages per script. The machine will be running hot. Then, on Tuesday, we’ll all meet in the theatre, turn the first page, and read it aloud. 

I wonder how it will be?

I’m hoping it will be pretty good.



Booking for 'Deb's Night' here.

What My Shoes Say About Me

I am inclined to write a little about my shoes today but there’s a small difficulty.

The way I write these weekly posts there is often the appearance of openness and candour and that is correct… to a certain extent. As with most people there are levels of information that I do not necessarily wish to impart, places where I do not wish to go. 

If I am to write a little about my shoes, I fear that line must be crossed.

I don’t think I can write about my shoes without revealing a little too much about myself.

Regardless of this, when the urge to write arises, it must be obeyed so here goes nothing.

I only ever own one pair of shoes. If there’s a posh occasion, I polish them up to a gleam. On the other hand, if a field is wet and muddy, my shoes must suffer those consequences too. When my pair of shoes are done, I buy a new, identical, pair and I leave the old ones behind me in the bin. I’ve worn the exact same style of shoe for about the last thirty years. Dr. Marten 1461 PW Smooth in Black.

Since roughly the end of November 2016, I have had a hole in my right shoe. The type of shoes I wear are not repairable by a cobbler so a hole is a hole. As I write this, at the close of January 2017, I am still wearing those shoes – the pair with the hole in them. 

(See what I mean? It’s almost too much to be sharing.)

I deal with my leaking shoe in a number of ways. Firstly, I always carry a spare sock in my coat pocket. If my foot gets wet while walking into work, I take the shoe off and replace the wet sock. By the time it’s time to go home, the shoe is relatively dry again. I have also developed a curious wet weather gait wherein I keep the inside of my right foot slightly elevated as I walk to keep the hole off the pavement and minimise the water ingress. 

I’m certainly not rich but neither am I so substantially hard-pressed that I cannot afford to walk in to the shoe shop tomorrow and buy my next pair of shoes. So why, then, have I been walking around for two months with a hole in my shoe?

Am I a wretched twisted skinflint? Well, no, I don’t think so. It’s not as simple as that. 

It’s a bit like this.

If anybody needs anything, they get it. That’s the way it is in my family. Mostly, even if somebody just wants something a lot, they get that too. I just tend to put myself last-in-line a lot of the time. It’s my natural inclination. If I really need something, I’ll get it, just like everybody else around here… just not necessarily today or tomorrow. There are always more important things to do than to go and get myself things that I may need. 

These current pair of shoes. They didn’t last long enough. I usually get a year out of a pair, these ones hardly lasted six months. I think I have developed a new habit of sitting in work with my toes bent over on the floor. It puts more pressure on the soles and the uppers and, as a result, the shoes have failed more quickly. It’s a bummer, I’ll have to try to stop doing it, I guess.

So I need a pair of new shoes but I’ve just been holding out a bit. It hasn’t been all that wet and the spare sock works pretty well. That’s my way. If my wife or either of my sons needed new shoes, their feet wouldn’t touch the ground until they had them. Make no mistake about that.

I think I’ve simply become accustomed to not taking too much of anything, of living quietly. I tend to eat the last dusty contents of the Cornflakes box. I don’t make dinner if I’m ever here by myself. The computer I’m writing on now is over ten years old. I seem to have come to feel a responsibility to not ever have any more than my share and less if I can get away with that. 

I have come to feel that it’s okay that I’m not number one in any particular equation. That there is a good grace in living quietly and not making too large an imprint anywhere. Sometimes I feel this is a kind of resignation. Once, I remember, I felt I might one day make a crater-sized impression on something or other. Now I don’t. Maybe we just modify our desires as we get older and learn more. 

There are still things that I want and I hope for and sometimes I get some of those. At those moments, I feel somewhat undeserving, almost as if some kind of cosmic error might have been made. I had quite enough before, I think, I didn’t really need this new thing no matter how much I might have wanted it. 

I wanted to write about this in particular today because it strikes me that this odd self-effacing tendency of mine is in total contrast to a certain world leader who now dominates our collective consciousness with his ruthless businessman approach to humanity. He already has a lot and he wants more… and more and more.

Today, I feel like I am his diametric opposite in the world.

Perhaps, in the nature of superhero comic everywhere, I am therefore one of those people best equipped to oppose him. 

It’s a thought worth considering.

Although perhaps I’d better get some new shoes first. 




Ain’t Got No Spit

You know the scene. It’s from one of my favourite films ever.

Hooper is going down in his cage, as a crazy last resort, to try to poison the Great White Shark. Just before Brody and Quint finally lower him into the depths, he tries to clear his diving mask. 

“I got no spit,” he says. 

That’s how I feel now. That’s just how I feel.

I feel like there’s a Great White Shark loose in the water and I reckon I may have to face up to him in my own stupid little way. I’m ready, I guess. I know what it is that should be done. 

I just ain’t got no spit.

The metaphor is sound enough, I think. The ocean is Social Media in general, the cage is my own meagre presence there and the shark… well, you know what the shark is. 

Over the past weeks, I have vacillated about going down in the cage, even to just watch the shark as he stalked around, never mind to rail against him. It’s tough down there, the air is very stale and tinny and the pressure pinches hard on my nose and temples.

These past weeks, I’ve tried just hiding in the wheelhouse and hoping that the shark will just go away. But it isn’t going to go away, is it? 

It’s been fed now and it’s emboldened and the taste of blood is on its tongue. 

I guess I just have to go down in the cage. I know that I can’t possibly hope to stop it or even to slow it down in any way. All I can do is present myself before it and say, “Hey, Shark, I’m over here! You can eat me if you want but you’ll have to do so knowing that I am against you.”

Maybe I’m actually wrong. That would be nothing new if it were the case. Maybe this is all just another in a long line of over-dramatised political games. Maybe the hype and the constant battering of awful news and opinion has finally got into my head. That’s what I tended to think, until yesterday. I almost seemed to be thinking of it all as just another storm, something to shelter from until it simply blew over. I had pretty much resolved to hang out in the fruit cellar with a lantern and a good book until the whole stupid hurricane has passed. Then I was planning to climb out and tidy things up as best I could.

But, this weekend, I think I feel differently. All that talk of ‘Enemies’ and ‘Tombstones’ and ‘Carnage’. And today too. The orchestrated dissembling about how many people were at an event. The never-ending aggressive campaigning when the campaign is over and apparently won. 

It’s not a storm, I now reckon. It’s a shark. And it’s not going away. Not anytime soon at least. 

Until today, I had sealed my cage tight shut. Any mention of certain people and certain events had been blocked and filtered as much as I could. Today, I feel I have to stop all that. I have to open my eyes wide and try to see what is going on. It’s not always easy because many of the people who are allegedly against the shark can fight pretty dirty too and everything they say cannot necessarily be trusted as being the truth.

So that’s it. I’ll go down in my cage as much as I can and when I see the shark do its thing I’ll shout ‘Shark!’ even though I won’t be heard much through all the murk and the turbulence. I won’t make much difference.

Maybe, though, if we all go down in our cages and if we all shout at the shark when he comes, teeth bared, maybe that will make some kind of difference. 

Who the hell even knows?

Time to descend. I’m ready, I think.

I just ain’t got no spit.