Movies with Friends

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

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

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

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

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

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Granny

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

Diamonds Are Forever – The Lads

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

The Man with the Golden Gun – George Henderson

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

Fist of Fury – The Lads

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

Enter the Dragon - Martin

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

Death Weekend – The Lads

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

The Spy Who Loved Me – Shane

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

Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Sean

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

Rocky 3 – Alan

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

The Shining – Brian

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

Poltergeist – Damian

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

Southern Comfort – Greg

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

Once Upon a Time in America – Damian

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

Ghostbusters – The London Crew

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

The Hustler – MC

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

Into the Night – Cormac

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

Fright Night – Tim

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

A Room with a View - Amy 

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

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Nuala

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

Jude – Una 

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

War of The Roses – John

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

Dances with Wolves – Patricia

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

Toy Story 2 – John

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

The Amazing Spider Man – Sam

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

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

Don't Deserve. Don't Deserve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not in this one though. Not today. 

I don’t deserve it.

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

Fuck it. I’ll go.

Click Click Click

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, that nearest one is a terror.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We'll see.

Facebook Algorithm Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Joy of Not Liking Something

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which enables me to do… this:

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

It was brutal, lads, completely brutal. 

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

Which was pants, lads, utter pants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now and again.

The Doorbell Lady

So now there’s this lady who rings the doorbell of my office every time she walks past. She doesn’t stop or anything. She just keeps going.

My office is on the second floor, four flights of stairs up. There’s no intercom and you can’t see down to the door from out of any of the windows. When the doorbell goes, it’s a matter of galloping down to see who’s there. Lately, I’ve been doing some galloping to find that there’s nobody there at all. It’s little or no fun.

I hadn’t known what was going on for a long time. The doorbell would go, often quite late in the day, and I would tear down the stairs in my usual state of nervous enthusiasm and, voila, ‘nobody there. There would be nobody in sight up and down the alleyway either, the mysterious ding-donger would have evidently taken off at a considerable pace because I am by no means tardy in descending those stairs. 

One day, I figured it out. The doorbell went and it was late in the day and I was suspicious so I looked out of the main window, the one that looks out over the car park, and there she was. A lumpy middle-aged woman in sweat pants and toting a small rucksack. She was progressing across the middle of the car park at a fair old clip. I could see at once that she was an eccentric (it takes one to know one) and I immediately reckoned that this was my Doorbell Lady. 

It only took a couple of more occurrences for me to be sure. A late-in-the-day doorbell and a quick glance out of the window to see the now-familiar broad back receding across the tarmac. Not running or sneaking away, just moving forward through the world at her bright and pacy pace, ringing the doorbells as she went. 

Even though I am now fully aware of the Doorbell Lady and her habit of giving me a tinkle every time she passes, she still catches me out sometimes. Sometimes she might be walking the other way and I can’t see her out of my window. Then I’d have to assume it was a genuine ringer and clatter down the stairs to see who it was. When I find that there's nobody there, I swear softly but pretty fucking fluently under my breath, slam the door unnecessarily, and storm back up the stairs. 

The most recent time I was caught out was just yesterday evening. A distracted dash down the stairs to an empty laneway. Well, not quite empty. The Romanian Lady who often sits at the top of the steps was there, shaking her head in a silent denial of any possible forthcoming accusation that it was her who had rung the bell. After the head shake she performed a subtle but effective mime of the swaying rear end of the Doorbell Lady, simultaneously conveying both her own innocence as well as her witnessing of the actual guilty party. 

In some obvious respects, she annoys my arse. This Doorbell Lady. Of course she would. She frequently disturbs my work flow and my tenuous concentration. She often sends me on a fool’s errand, up and down the stairs like some decrepit over-keen gobshite. I know she isn’t on any errand of mischief or anything like that. 

I actually think it is just a routine for her, an element of her eccentricity. We all have them, myself included. Only yesterday, during my lunch break, I stopped dead in the middle of the street to pick up and keep a dull penny that lay there. I stowed it carefully in the tiny pocket that sits above the bigger pocket in my jeans. I didn’t think this coin would bring me luck, or money, or fortune, or benefit of any kind. I just thought it was a thing that had known considerable care in its design and manufacture, a thing of purpose. I just thought it deserved one more shot at usefulness. It’s marking the page of my book now and will continue to do so until I lose it (which will be quite soon). Then I’ll find another and use that. 

I’m just an odd fecker, exactly like my Doorbell Lady is. I might breathe a swear word at her receding arse now and again but I’ll forgive her too. 

After all she, and people like her, they sort of bring the colour to our day. 

If you ever spent a day with me in my office, you most likely wouldn’t remember the phone calls or the hours of computer work, or the emails that were sent or the tea that was drunk. You would, however, most likely remember the odd dumpy lady who rang the doorbell with some urgency and then waddled off on her way to God Knows Where, possibly ringing a multitude of other bells along the way. 

So roll on, Dear Doorbell Lady. May fate and fair weather look upon you kindly. You and I and others like us are the very salt of the earth. The flavour in that bland daily sandwich. 

We may annoy your hole now again but don’t forget that you need us around too.

Because we bring the memorable bits.

A Farewell to Uli

This week, I had the very sad experience of having to say goodbye to my friend Ulrich Martin. 

I wanted to write a few words for him, as I do, but it’s not entirely easy. It was always clear that there were several versions of Ulrich and, although I had the privilege of knowing him, I was always aware that I really knew only one version.

The Uli I knew was the West of Ireland Uli. Twenty years ago Uli and Heike came to live in the beautiful home they made for themselves in Lecanvey, between Westport and Louisburgh, just a stone’s throw from the wild Atlantic ocean. They divided their time between Switzerland and here and, as the years marched on, more time was spent down by the ocean. 

I knew this Uli well and liked him very much. The other ‘Uli’s were a little like his shadow. They were always subtly there, always complimenting and adding to who he was without ever for a moment getting in his way. 

There was Political Ulrich, who could sometimes be glimpsed on his Facebook page, railing against some moral injustice in his assured and level way. There was Family Ulrich, who showed himself in the pride that would sometime betray in his countenance when he spoke of them. There was Professional Ulrich, the shadow of whom travelled very lightly beside him when he was on our side of the water but who was obviously a major part of him in those other worlds which he inhabited. 

Professional Ulrich was a highly accomplished man. An eminent figure in his long and full working life. But you would never know this because he told you. You would have to find these things out for yourself. West of Ireland Uli did not wear his professional accomplishments loudly on his sleeve, as others might have done. 

Uli was a fun-loving man, an outdoors man, an adventurous, daring man and a most engaging conversationalist and raconteur. He was more Irish than I am, in many ways. 

Last night, there was an event in Staunton’s Pub in Levanvey. There was music, singing, and stories, laughs, hugs and smiles. It was an evening that Uli would have loved and, of course, his spirit was there, carried by us all. In many ways, it was an interesting group. A collection of  people who might not normally have ended up in the same room socialising together. Hard bitten men of  the sea and soft spoken patrons of the arts rubbed shoulders and bounced off each other amicably. It is another sound measure of the man, this diversity of folk who interested and engaged him and who befriended him easily. Each as comfortable in his company as the other. 

At the event, Heike told me a story. Heike and Uli were together forever, husband and wife for many great years. Here in Ireland they were an inseparable double act of vivacity and fun, of warmth and friendship.

That little story that Heike told may paint a picture of Uli better than I can. Forgive me if I embellish it a little, it’s what I do.

Uli had almost forgotten that he had a hang glider but he got it out of the shed one day and set off on an impromptu flight, volunteering Heike to follow along beneath him in their car so that she could cart him home after he landed. Heike tried to watch the skies and drive at the same time, struggling to keep up with the multi-coloured dot in the sky. It wasn’t easy. An errant wind drove Uli a little off course and Heike had to negotiate some little-used laneways to keep up with him. Eventually he came down, somewhat ingloriously, in a boggy field to the side of a tiny stone cottage. As Heike pulled up in her car, a small round woman dressed entirely in black ran out of the cottage and accosted Uli where he lay on the ground beneath the lurid fabric of his glider.

“Hey,” she shouted, “hey, you, no camping here. No camping!”

This was West of Ireland Uli. Action Man. 

Uli bought himself a yacht, in need of some repair. I’m not a sailing person but it was one of those bigger ones that required a team of six to sail it. Through trials and tribulations, he saw the  boat repaired and made seaworthy. He assembled a crew and they sailed her through many summer evenings in Clew Bay out of Mayo Sailing Club in Rosmoney (53° 49.45'N, -9° 37.12'W). They competed and won  trophies for their sailing. It is easy to see how this became a large part of the joy which the West of Ireland brought for Uli. This amalgam of ocean and adventure, of kinship, teamwork and achievement. 

Uli was a great encouragement to me in my writing. Heike and he would turn up in odd places, unannounced, if some little play of mine was on. They were always kind and supportive. As with everything they did, they always brought this natural air that they were simply enjoying themselves and not fulfilling any kind of social obligation. At one of my plays, Uli was clearly genuinely moved by the story that was  told and he referred to this often afterwards. It meant a lot to me. 

Uli and Heike would arrive back in Ireland and would pop in to my office, just to say hello. It was always a treat to see them coming. Sometimes Uli would have a ‘find’, some obscure brand of whiskey that he could add to his formidable collection. A collection, we knew, he took more pleasure at looking at than imbibing.

Perhaps my fondest memories will be of Patricia and me, sitting with Uli and Heike in their wonderful oceanside home, quietly watching the lights on Clare Island pop on, one by one, as the summer light faded away. Those are not evenings you tend to ever forget. 

We, his diverse band of friends, all liked Uli very well indeed. How could we not? He was a lovely man. A man worth knowing. We all probably liked him for many different reasons, in the same way that there were so many different facets to his own life. 

I can only speak for myself.  I guess some of the reasons I liked him so much were actually quite selfish ones. 

I liked him because he came here to where I live and he just saw the very best in the place. While we ,who were here all of the time, might have become jaded and disillusioned with our home, he continued to revel in it. He effortlessly bore quiet witness to the wildness of the place and to the beauty of the people here. 

He always saw the best in us.

And, for my part, let’s be honest here, it was not just the place. It was me. Even when I was crashing a party, or reading something foolish to a disinterested room, or twitching nervously before some little play went on. He always smiled and his eyes always seemed to betray that he thought I was all right, really. 

He always seemed to see the best in me.

Perhaps that, right there, is the very definition of a good friend.

Farewell Uli and thanks.

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 AbĂș!

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 people
And the dogs and cats as well.
There’s no need to be all anxious
There’s no need for dance or song
(It’s just me)
I've got this Planet of the Apes thing goin' on

Sometimes I get my hopes up
I think I’m done with being alone.
And I shout it to the Heavens
Oh my God. I'm back. I'm home!
No need to call the lawman
Or run hither and yon. 
(Can’t you see?)
I've got this Planet of the Apes thing goin' on

In Planet of the Apes
They say those funky lines
Cos they thought they were in space
But were on Earth here all the time.

Sometimes I get so angry
Feel like there’s no real escape
And I shout at random people
Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!
There’s no need to seek no mental help
No need for Doctor John
(Let me be)
I've got this Planet of the Apes thing goin' on