A Borrower from A Lender Be

Man, I love my Library.

Castlebar Library, County Mayo, Ireland. I love you.

But then I have been around a bit and, in fairness, I have loved all my libraries in their time. I’m like Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson, singing about all the girls I’ve loved before, except I’m singing about libraries. That’s not actually the only difference but it will do for now.

Thursday was a bit of a pain this week. I’ll spare you the details. It was just a bit of a pain. Then, on Friday, I got two messages on my phone simultaneously. The first said that a book I requested online from the library was now ready for collection. The second message also said that a book I requested was now ready for collection. Just the week before, I had logged on and asked to borrow two books. The library had tracked them down in another library elsewhere in the country, had them shipped to my library and now they were sitting there waiting for me. I dropped in at lunchtime and there they were, two beautiful trade hardback versions of the books I wanted to read, my name neatly written on the labels attached to them. 

No charge.

Man, I love my library.

And it’s not just books, you know. Now that people are moving on from DVD and Blu-Ray and getting their entertainment via streaming services, the Library is replete with DVDs and box sets of all shape and sizes. Want to catch up on a recent movie or binge on a series? It’s probably in there, in your library, waiting for you. They’re great for music too. CDs and Audio Books and books online to download onto your computer, even in the middle of the night. Our Library even loans musical instruments. The first decent drum kit my son had, came on loan from the library. That way, we learned how much he loved to play before we bought the kick ass kit he has now. How brilliant was that?

Don’t get me wrong. I buy my books when I can. I enjoy doing it. I think you should buy books too. It’s tough being an author and they need our help and support, just like the libraries do. But I read quite a lot and I couldn’t afford to entirely support my excessive reading habit from book buying alone. That’s why the Library has always and forever been a lifesaver for me. More than that, it’s been a heaven. Sometimes, I can hardly get over what an amazing facility it is to have. A place that will lend you books and let you read them for free. It almost feels like it shouldn’t be allowed and I pray that it always will be and I fear that it someday won’t.

My library is what keeps me on a par with everybody else in the entire world. No matter how rich you are, no matter how powerful, I can afford to read anything and everything that you can read. Because of my library, nothing is held back from me just because I am not as wealthy as you are. All knowledge, all entertainment, is there. Access to it is my right. It is mine.

People say we should make use of our libraries as a sort of a political statement, to reinforce how important and how necessary they are. I have no quarrel with that. It’s true that we do need to defend our libraries in any way that we can and making good use of them is the most obvious and effective way to do that. I just don’t think it ever has to be a chore. Anyone who loves to read can grow to love their library. There are more books there than in practically any bookstore and they are yours to take down and look at and borrow and read.

On Friday, the high point of my day was going in to the library and getting two books I wanted to read handed to me with a smile. I read the first few pages on the walk home and didn’t walk in to a lamp post, as I sometimes do. Life was good.

A wonderful resource, the Library. Use the resource to save the resource but learn to fall in love with it too.

It’s that loving of it that will ultimately save it, I reckon.

Naming My Phobia

I’ve never had a phobia. All of my life, I’ve been totally phobia-free. But I think I might have one now. I’m not sure, let me explain.

But, before I do, I should just say that I don’t want to have a phobia. It’s not on my bucket-list of things to have and things to do. My writing about it now is not some attempt to cement it in my brain, to legitimise it and to authorise it. If anything, it’s my attempt to purge myself of it, to shout at it in the hope it might just go away.

I mean… who wants a phobia?

My phobia has always been a ‘thing’. I’ve written about it quite a few times, often to try to raise a smile with some silly embarrassing story told against myself.

That’s enough preamble, let’s cut to the chase. This phobia I think I might have. Actually I don’t really think I might have it, in case you’re worried or anything, I’m mostly just shooting the breeze on a Sunday morning.

That’s too much preamble now. My phobia (or not) is this; I think I’ve developed a fear of names.

I’ve never been any good with names, particularly people’s names. I’ve always struggled to recall them, sometimes to comic effect. It’s always been a ‘thing’ but has it become something more? I’m starting to wonder.

I probably won’t remember your name, if we meet. I almost certainly won’t use it, even if I do remember it, because I’d be fairly convinced I would get it wrong. Instead, I will greet you over-effusively, to emphasise the fact that I definitely know who you are even though I’m patently not using your name. I say stuff like ‘Hiya’ and ‘How’s it Going?’ and I infuse them with such intent and meaning that you might worry that I was genuinely concerned for your well being when, in truth, I’m mostly just over-compensating for my own failings.

It’s always been a ‘thing’ but why would I start to think that it’s more than a ‘thing’ now?

I know a little bit about phobias. Just a little bit, I’m not pretending to be an expert here. My eldest son had a long-standing fear of loud unexpected noises, as a child and as a teen. His worry about the potential for balloons bursting and fireworks going off kept him from parties and events for quite a few years. Then he had an excellent series of sessions of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy which we both went to together. We learned how your thoughts and actions can affect the way you feel and we learned some ways of combating those negative thoughts and actions that make things worse. Thanks to some brilliant help, we sorted the noise thing out and things have been great ever since.

Along the way, as I said, I learned a little bit about these things. I learned enough to recognise what I’ve been doing with this ‘names’ thing. I have been conditioning myself to fail. By repeatedly explaining to people how I am ‘bad with names’ I have embedded the knowledge in myself that I am indeed ‘bad with names’ and I have given myself licence to fail whenever the question of a name arises. My failure is now a foregone conclusion.

Two moments from my last week.

I was at an event and I met someone I knew quite well. I knew their name and, in a rare burst of confidence, I used their name in greeting them. I used the wrong name. I knew I had done it the moment I had done it but we were just passing each other and there was no time to repair the mistake.

Even more recently, I was sitting with a friend having a coffee and I recalled another friend who had recently died. I could not summon the friend’s name. The one who had just passed away. My mind went around and round, trying to find the name as I hopelessly tried to explain who I was talking about. It seemed beyond belief that this name was not there for me on the tip of my tongue. The person I was thinking of was there in front of me, as clear as day, smiling benevolently but still the name would not come. It only took my hearing the start of the name for me to instantly have it all but, still, to not have the name of someone so in the foreground of my life is a rather disturbing thing.

I think this latter moment, in particular, is a very good example of how I have conditioned myself to fail. If someone asks me about a name, all kinds of walls and barriers shoot up in my head. These walls are plastered with graffiti that shouts things like ‘you will not remember this name’ or ‘you are bad with names’ and I get so busy reading these walls that I have no time or energy to simply say the name.

The first moment is more an example of the kind of event that adds to my conditioning. I am actually quite bad with names but every mistake I make, every failed attempt, reinforces the writing on the walls in my brain. I beat myself up quite a bit over getting that person’s name wrong. I even Facebook-Messaged them to apologise (I think they thought I was a bit deranged).

So, yes, I am now starting to think that my ‘thing’ has grown to something a little more than just that. I have conditioned myself into an active fear of having to recall a person’s name. It's a 'First World Problem', if ever there was one, but there you go.

And, as I said at the start, I’m not sitting here typing about this 'phobia' to try to make it stronger. I’m trying to weaken it, to undermine it. I witnessed how my son’s ‘loud noise’ thing was addressed. It was called-out and faced-up-to and weakened by a combination of work and consideration. I think I have the capacity to do the same for myself. I can force myself to use any name that I know. I can push myself to attempt to use names I think I know and risk some fallout whenever I get them wrong. I think I might try.

I delight in using a person’s name. It’s a compliment I pay to people that they will never even know exists. I just think I need to do it more and I should probably get on with it and stop whinging about it here in my head.

I looked it up. There is a name for my phobia, my fear of your name.

It’s called ‘Nomatophobia’.

I doubt I’ll be able to remember that.

But maybe I will.

The Moment You First Miss Someone

I did a few hours work in the office yesterday. No hardship. I wasn’t kicking down walls or drilling holes through concrete floors, like I used to do on my Saturdays many years ago. 

I had parked the car way up on the hill because my usual parking corner was occupied by the Saturday shopping folk. As I trudged up the incline, after I’d done my hours, I checked my watch and started to look forward to something in that low-wattage, back-of-the-brain sort of a way that you don’t even know is happening until after the feeling has been subverted.

It was about that time when the guy would be out sitting on his window cill.

Every day, around this time, this guy sits out on his window cill and has a leisurely smoke and studies the crossword. If he was deep in the consideration of some cryptic clue, I wouldn't say anything to him. I wouldn’t want to break his concentration or disturb his little well-deserved break from work. But if his head was up and he was looking around him, I would always say ‘hello’ and he would always say ‘hello’ back. Not much else. Maybe an occasional observation on the weather, as is customary around these parts. Nothing more than that though. A quick hello and then pass on. 

When I worked my way up the hill yesterday, at the correct time, I hadn’t done it in a month or two. Revised parking arrangements had meant that my car was now, more often than not, in that other place and the route to it didn’t take me past the guy’s shop. Perhaps that’s why I was actually looking forward to something as simple as a ‘quick’ hello and then pass on. I don’t know. It was always nice to see him there with his rollie and his folded newspaper. It was kind of reassuring or something.

But he wasn’t there. There was no sign of him. I was disappointed, in a little way.

Then, just as I walked past the place, I remembered that, of course, he wouldn’t be there. He had died, some months before. He was gone. I had known this, of course. I knew it at the time. I was sad about it and I remembered him with my friends. But I never really missed him.

Not until yesterday.

Yesterday, I missed him. I never really knew him beyond that occasional ‘hello’ but yesterday I finally identified the little gap that was left in my life as a result of his no longer being around.

I often find this. I often find that it takes quite a long time before I actually get around to missing somebody who has died.

This isn’t meant to sound all reserved and cold-hearted. I’m just like everyone else, when someone dies I am sad and I mourn them and remember them but, for me at least, missing them is something quite different to all that. You can’t choose a moment in which to decide to miss someone At least I don’t think you can. It’s like a burglar in your head that turns up when you least expect it and kicks your coffee table over.

I remember, after Dad died, I felt all the stuff you would expect to feel. In his later years, when he was on his own, I used to phone him up every night for a chat. Nothing much, just a ‘hello’ and pass on. One evening, months after he died, I had a good story to tell and I looked forward to telling him it. I knew he’d get a laugh, maybe tell the story on, with his own embellishments. I had the phone in my hand before I remembered. I missed him then. That’s how it tends to happen, to me at least.

I didn’t mean to go on about this today. It’s just the absence of the man and his ciggie and his crossword has stayed in my head so I thought that made it worth writing it down.

There are people who are gone from my life, important people, and I don’t think I’ve even really started to miss them yet. Someday, there will be some corner of a room or some conversation where that person should be and I will turn to them to see how they are and hear what they have to say and they won’t be there.

I’ll feel it then. I’ll miss them then for sure. It’s a good thing, all in all. It reminds me I care.

Fearsome Codfish and Slow Slow Planets

It’s a fabulous summer over here and, although it’s not exactly passing me by, I’m not out in it very much either. 

Work requires that I keep my head down and not take random days off to hit the beach or even seize very many spare hours to bask in the sun.

This absence from the Summer seems to make me more intent on noticing it and marking it in some small way before it shuffles off again, as it soon must. 

That makes the few minutes I get to spend out in it each day seem more intense, or ‘sensual’ if you will. Not in a ‘sexy-time’ way. Just in an increased use of the senses to gather in as much of the season as I can.

Here’s two things I noticed this week, in my attempt to make the summer my own, despite being largely absent from it.

One of the local fish and chips shops have put a sign outside their establishment, to entice the summer folk inside. It’s one of those free-standing board signs. You know the ones. They sort of block the pavement. Yes, one of those.

This one declared that freshly cooked cod is available inside and invites the passer-by to come in and partake of some forthwith. All very well. But here’s what chilled me, in my short-duration and thus heightened sensory quest for summer moments. As well as telling about the lovely cod that can be had inside, the board also boasts a brightly coloured cartoon rendition of the cook who will prepare this lovely meal for you. He is smiling and upstanding and golden-hued and he sports one of those tall chef’s hat. He has a spatula in hand and is obviously ready and able to prepare some fish to your most exact specification.

So what, Ken? So what?

Well, here’s what.

He is a fish. This cheery and willing chef with the hat and the spatula is, himself, a codfish.

In a less bright and jolly season, this might have passed me by. I may well have written it off as just another symptom of the general malaise of a winter-ridden world. But, in the bright happy sunshine, that doesn’t work. As my eye seeks out some intimate detail on which I can base my summer 2018 memories, this fish-cooking fish is a highly disturbing anomaly.

I find myself thinking about him. What does he dream of as he cheerfully hauls the bodies of his brothers from the cold cabinet and submerges their corpses in the boiling hot oil? How does he get to sleep at night? The next body he cheerfully deep-fries could be his cousin. It could be his sister.

And he is so cheery in his work. Does he not know that there could be a shortage of fresh brethren to cook, some busy day, and that he could himself end up in the oil, bubbling and mutely screaming his final awareness of his crimes and his far-too-late repentance.

This is one side effect of trying to find summer in too short a space of time. Stuff assails you. It’s better if you can find a little time to do it. Better things come to you.

The other evening, I was sitting in a chair in the living room. There was some recorded Wimbledon action on the telly but I wasn’t watching it. I was looking out the window. It was fairly late in the evening but there was still some light in the sky. It stays bright late here, in the wild west of Ireland.

It was a lovely vista, out of my window. The sky was a deepening blue colour that I wish I had a fancy name for. I could see the top of the fir trees off in the distance and the… blue sky above them, all bright and summery and nice. For some reason, it reminded me of ET, when he was out in the woodland, building his phone-home thingie. I can’t say why, it just did.

As I admired the sky, a planet appeared in it. Over on the left of my field of vision, low in the sky, just above the trees. It was bright and very well defined. It was quite red so I think it was Mars but I can’t be sure. The appearance of this planet added enormous value to my view of the trees and the sky so I just sat and watched and watched as the tennis played on, ignored, in my peripheral vision.

And, as I watched, the planet moved.

There was only a limited opportunity to see it, as it sailed left to right across my… blue sky before it became blocked by some taller firs on the right. I watched it all the way. It took about fifteen minutes, all in all, and then it was gone.

I never actually saw it move, of course, it just did. Unseeable but unstoppable too.

A little like time. A little like our lives.

So that’s my Summer so far. A lot of work, one evil codfish, and a slow slow planet in my sky. Not too bad. I’ve known worse.

I'll keep you posted.

Let Me Smell Your Bum

This morning’s walk to work had a sort of a ‘Baby’ theme to it.

But only in my own head.

First off, I saw a friend in the distance who will have her first baby soon. I gave her a wave but she didn’t see me. Then I thought a bit about how people use the word ‘baby’ like it is a cutie-pie thing, particularly people in advertising, and how that seems to annoy me a bit. Then, as I was mulling over that little conundrum and crossing the car park simultaneously, I saw a woman taking her child out of her car, presumably to go to the supermarket to do some shopping. There was another older woman too and my assumption was this this was the Mum’s own Mum. The Granny, if you will.

The Mum, not the Mum’s Mum, then proceeded to do that thing that Mums effortlessly do.

I heard her say, “I just need to check her before we go in,” and, with that, she flipped the baby almost upside down and sniffed her nappy region. 

“No,” she said to the Mum’s Mum, “she’s okay,” and off they went towards the shop.

It reminded me of the first moment I saw that routine in action and how shocked and appalled I was at that time. My brother and his wife had recently had their first kid and it was a first kid for all of us. First nephew, first grandson, all of those things. I don’t know what age the baby was when I came home from London to visit but that’s when I first caught the nappy routine. My sister in law, in the middle of a regular conversation, had a noticeable nose-twitch. She grabbed the baby, flipped it a bit, and inhaled deeply of the nappy, nose buried right in there. Whatever she detected there indicated fairly clearly that a nappy change was in order. This was all horrible enough in itself, and totally alien to me, but it was made infinitely worse by her declaiming the immortal words, “Let me smell your bum,” just before she did it.

“Let me smell your bum.”

What planet was this that I had temporarily landed on? What reduction in personal liberty and self-esteem could bring a previously composed and totally together person to the point of smelling bums effortlessly in public and, more than that, loudly declaring to the world a clear intent to do so?

Of course I eventually had to learn this the hard way and learn it I did. While I don’t think I ever got to a cheerful declaration of impending arse-inhaling activity, I too became a parent (twice over) and I too discovered, soon enough, that you couldn’t go around changing expensive nappies on instinct, routine, or timing alone. There had to be the olfactory element. 

Bums had to be sniffed.

It’s a microcosm of the whole baby business, this bum sniffing thing. At least I think it is.

When we become parents, we have to learn stuff. Just when we thought we had learned all the stuff there was to know.

As parents we have to cheerfully do things we thought we could never-ever do.

As parents, we embrace… we just embrace stuff.

This doesn’t go directly to explaining why the eternal commercial sing-song pandering of the word ‘baby’ annoys my own arse. Or maybe it does a little bit. It’s late now and I’m not entirely sure of anything anymore.

What I do know – what I think I know – is that the woman I know who is about to have her first baby is not just about to have a baby. It is so much more than that. You don’t just have a baby and then go on to do something else afterward. She is starting a family and, once started, a family doesn’t ever stop.

Doesn’t ever stop.

It changes your life forever. Long after the 'baby-gro's and the soft toys and the bum sniffing have all gone.

My children are grown now. There are no more babies bums to smell. But the thing that started with those babies, well, it continues. That amazing adventure. The pride, the worry, the anxiety, the fear, the pride – did I say pride – well I’ll say it again. The pride.

That’s it, I think. You don’t just have a baby, a cute wriggly baby to have and to hold until it’s not a baby anymore. You don’t just smell its bum and then somehow move on to something else.

It’s not the beginning of something small and cute and finite, as the commercial world might have us believe.

It’s the start of something very very big.

Something that doesn’t ever stop.

Pasta: Point of No Return

I seem to have become rather awkward of late. Ungainly, even. I knock things over, drop things, break things. Don’t leave your best crystal out when I come to call. It may end poorly.

The other evening, I left work and bought some things in the supermarket on my way to the car. Some pasta, some pasta sauce, some bread, you know the kind of thing. On the way to the car, I let the pasta sauce slip. Well, I don’t exactly know if I let it slip or not. It slipped and let that be an end to it.

I park up a little street. It’s on a hill. There are a few houses. Again, you know the kind of thing. I was nearly at my car when I felt the pasta sauce jar slip. I would normally have caught it again. I’m rather good at dropping things and catching them before they land. Mostly, though, I just remember the things I fail to catch. I didn’t fail to catch the jar, per se, I never tried to catch it. My hands were too full with all the other stuff I was carrying to even try to catch the slipping-away jar. If I had, I’d have probably dropped several other things in the attempt. Where’s the joy in that?

So the jar slipped away toward the ground, in super-slow motion, as they do, and then it smashed on the concrete and spread itself in a forensic spatter all over the pavement. I looked around. My car was only a few paces away. I could be in it in a matter of seconds. Slam the door, rev up and away unbeknownst to anyone ever.

But that’s not me. No really. I make messes and then I clear them up. That’s who I am. But this wouldn't be a story if I had cleared it up. This is a story because I couldn’t clear it up. I simply did not have the tools to do so.

Instead I did what Bruce Willis did in ‘Die Hard 2’, whatever I could.

I got a plastic bag from the boot of my car and started to pick out the shards of glass from the red mess on the footpath. I don’t know about you, but I have never managed to pick up shards of glass without cutting myself. This time was no exception. It was hard to tell where the pasta sauce ended, and the blood-letting began. After a while, I had all I could get from the mess without losing a finger so I stepped back to view my handiwork. Not so good. The ground was still a turgid display and there wasn’t much else I could do about it. The windows of the houses across the street gazed blankly down on me. I couldn’t get up the nerve to go door-to-door requesting buckets of water and/or a mop. I put my glass shard ridden bag back in the boot of my car and slunk off home.

It was due to rain that night. The rain would wash the rest of the mess away. Rain is quite good for that.

The next day, it hadn’t rained and my mess was still there when I parked up. It was more congealed now, a little dehydrated even but still there. A testament to my ungainliness and my lack of civic responsibility.

The next day, it still hadn’t rained and now I noticed that there was a security camera on the wall right above where I dropped my sauce. (If you’re just starting to read here, you’ll be confused). Great. Now I know there is somebody with a PC somewhere nearby who has footage of me picking up bits of sauce-ridden glass and hopping about and swearing when the inevitable cuts ensued. I know that, in actuality, they’ll probably never look at it. That somehow makes it all seem a bit worse.

What next?


Having typed this with no idea of a resolution or a moral in mind, I’m going to wrap it up and go and fill a couple of two litre bottles with water and drive down and wash that stain away once and for all.

These things just tend to prey on my mind. I guess that's why I started writing this in the first place. Hoping for some release. But there isn't one. Not from reflection. It requires some small action. No matter how stupid an effort it takes, it is always best for me to do rather than think.

Post Script – Mission accomplished. I didn’t get there until a few minutes ago. Sunday morning. There was nobody about. I brought the stiff yard brush and two bottles of tap water but only needed to use one. Nobody saw me. I don't think the security camera is working. The stain was dried and almost gone but I got rid of the last of it and then went to the shop and bought a Sunday paper and a baguette. The girl in the shop knew me and slipped me a copy of the magazine from yesterday’s paper too. This was entirely better than sitting at home eating Cornflakes. I feel set for the day now where I didn’t before.

Post Post Script – A hundred years from now, if somebody is thumbing through these posts and casually wondering who the hell I was, I feel there may be a significant clue in this one.

Saint or Sinner?

Sometimes you think you’re doing great but, from someone else’s point of view, you’re really not. That’s the little moral to this week’s tale. I thought I’d get it out of the way right at the start.

On Tuesday evening, I was driving home from work and I decided to drive up through the town. Usually, I skirt around the outside streets, cut through a car park, you know the drill. 

But it was a sunny evening and there was less twists and turns to the ‘straight through the town’ route and the car window was open and, sod it, I don’t know,  I just went.

It was after six and not too busy so I trundled up the main street, taking my time. The light up ahead was green and I was going to make it easily. Then the van in front stopped and indicated that it was going to reverse into a parking space. Okay, so I wasn’t going to make the light. Who cares? No rush. I’m good.

The guy started to reverse in to the space and it was clear that the space was a little tight for his van. Do-able but not a complete cake walk. The first attempt was pretty close but not good enough. The guy pulled out and tried again. This time his line was much better. He was going to make it. Big van in small space. Nice one, dude. Kudos to you and yours.

But, just as the guy was nearly in, he stopped and made like he was going to come out again for another attempt. But he was practically in. He had a couple of feet at the back, he just couldn’t see that he had them.

I could help.

I managed to catch his eye in his wing mirror before he pulled out. I waved and mimed that he should continue to reverse back and I would guide him in safely from my vantage point. He reversed in, slowly, slowly and I kept waving him in, seeing clearly that he had room to spare.

He got in, nice and neat. No problem. He waved at me and I waved at him. The sun was shining. What a good lad I was.

The a car came towards me from the other direction. Her window was down and my window was down. As she went past, I turned to her and smiled, my best winning smile.

And she called me a name.

Imagine the worst name you might call someone. Don’t imagine too hard, you probably don’t like the word. Yes, that one. And she put a verb with it, imagine the worst verb you could put with the worst word. She went there.

I was taken aback.

“Sorry?” I said, completely baffled.

So she repeated the noun and the verb for clarity and then drove off.

As I drove on my way, it dawned on me what must have just happened. The lady was coming the other way, waiting for the reversing van to give her room to pass. And all she could see was me waving her on and smiling condescendingly. Waving, waving, waving, although she didn’t have enough room to fit through the gap, there was I smugly insisting she did and blithely demanding that she get on with it.

The kicker is, I didn’t even bother to look at her when I did it. I just sat there smiling and looking at the back of the van.

What a 'noun/verb combo' I must have seemed to her.

Sometimes you think you’re doing great but, from someone else’s point of view, you’re really not. 

Whoops, I repeated the moral.

That’s bound to piss someone off.

Good or Regular?

There are quite a few things I could write about here this week but none of them seem to fit.

Some of them are not sufficiently thought out yet ('never stopped you before, Armstrong) and some of them are perhaps more other people’s business than my own.

This leaves me with a quandary or sorts. One that arises from time to time. Not necessarily what to write but rather this: should I write anything at all?

Blogging is an odd business, particularly these days. It often feels, to me at least, like I am riding a unicycle while everyone else is bombing around the place in nifty convertible sports cars. 

A ’Blog’, these days, almost seems to mean a place where fashion and trends and consumables are discussed and subtly peddled. The original concept of a ‘Web Log’ of thoughts and memories and reviews and general… stuff all seems rather passé in this world of sophisticated social media.

In short, nobody cares about old fashioned blogging and quite right too. It is an anachronism and often another outlet for ill moderated Sunday morning writers to pretend they have a credible outlet for their wares.

I don’t mind too much about all that. My reasons for the weekly blog are largely selfish and they are the only reasons that would keep an endeavour like this trundling along for so very long. I like to arrange my thoughts into words and I don’t value those words enough to keep them entirely to myself, as one would with a diary. Therefore the minimal ‘show and tell’ of the 98% defunct blogging system keeps the motivation going. An update every week. A loose brief. What is exercising me this week? On it goes. Who gives a shit? It keeps me off the streets.

But that’s not the crux of what is exercising me this morning (and only because I can’t write about the other stuff). I’m actually questioning where the line of responsibility should be drawn in delivering a weekly blog post particularly, as I was just saying, when nobody actually gives a flying fuck about it.

By now, if you’ve read this far, it’s probably becoming clear; I have nothing to write about this week. I am dry. I am ‘up’. Nothing. Nada. Diddly squat. So, here’s the thing. Am I best not to write anything at all, save it up for next week, or is it better to squeeze any kind of old shite out to keep the wagon train rolling along for another while.

Many of the blogs I admire, granted they are by great writers, only post something new when they have something  particular they want to say, where no other medium will suffice. This may result in maybe only one post a year or so. But the blog is a tight, marvelously written thing of insight and true feeling. I'm thinking or people like Julian Simpson or Sarah Pinborough, who use blogging in this way, rarely and only when it counts. There are, of course, people who carry it off with aplomb, week in and week out. Gary Bainbridge springs to mind here. 

But what about me? Should I continue to write every week, even when I have nothing to write (quod erat demonstrandum) or should I become an occasional contributor, only turning up when I feel I have something worthwhile to say?

To not write is the thin end of a wedge. If it’s easy not to write this week then it’s easier again not to write next week and nobody cares so why bother anyway? I’m getting fat sitting here and typing this waffle. Cut down on your pork pies, mate, take a turn or three around the park and get over your good self. It’s certainly an idea.

And when I look at my blog writing with any semblance of clarity, I would say it’s probably a good two years since I’ve written a single post of any individual value.

That settles it then, doesn’t it? Pack it in. Go and play somewhere else. Come back now and again when it feels great.

Except it doesn’t settle it, does it?

The clue to why it 'doesn't settle it’ lies in my pitifully self-indulgent rant of two paragraphs ago and how I chose to qualify it. I’ve not written a ‘single one’ of ‘individual’ value. Therein lies the rub. The value of the blog, for me, lies not in any individual week’s posting but in the cumulative value of the fifty-or-so posts that make up a year of my life.

Each post is like a tiny tile in a mosaic. The mosaic of my year. It might be a bit off square and poorly glazed and in fact it most probably is but stick it on the wall and stand well back and, alongside its comrades, it creates an image. The image might not mean anything to anyone else. In fact, it’s highly likely that nobody will ever actually step back and look at it. But I will. And it gives me some little twitch of satisfaction. So the mosaic is important to me, rather then any single tile. And the mosaic requires a tile of some sort every week, regardless of the quality.

It also gives me a freedom in writing which I value. It helps me realise that it doesn’t matter if I’m boring this week. It doesn’t matter if I’m not funny or moving or apt or clever or arsey or inciting or… or anything.

What is it, after all? This thing I’ve just typed. It’s just another tile in a mosaic. If it’s for shit, it won’t spoil the overall picture and the overall picture won’t ever be viewed by anybody anyway.

So who cares? Who actually cares?

I do. I still care and that’s why I sit here and write it.

So all is well. On we go.

The blog is done for this week. Another brick in the wall and all that.

Sunday afternoon, here I come…

A New Laptop

It’s been quite a day.

Some very big things have happened here in Ireland this weekend. I feel I should be writing about them, saying my piece, doing my thing. 

But, these things, they’re so big and so close at hand that it’s hard to immediately get my head around them in a way that would let me write anything worthwhile about them. It’s probably best if I don’t.

So, what else happened this weekend then?

Let me think… 

Wait, I know. We got a new laptop.  That’s what happened.

It takes a long time for things to change around here. We’ve had our old computer for so many years. But the old computer had never really been any use and it was obviously now doing much, much more harm than good, so we finally decided to get rid of it.

I’m very glad that we did.

Some people did not think it was a good idea to get rid of the old computer and get a new laptop. But the old computer was so useless that, for the longest time now, if we had to do something hard, we had to travel all the way to the office to do it. Some people perhaps thought it was better if we continued to travel to the office to do all the things we could not do on our old computer. Maybe it meant going out in the storm and maybe it messed with our head and sometimes it even made us quite sick, but it was still better than getting a new laptop.

A new laptop would open up new possibilities, you see, and not all of them completely attractive. We would be able to see things we wouldn’t otherwise see, We would have to deal with things we wouldn’t otherwise have to deal with. Wouldn’t it be better to just leave the comfortable old broken machine in place and let it do whatever it could do and, in those times when it couldn’t do anything, get on the road to the office where the necessary could always be done.

It was a thinking that prevailed for a surprisingly long time. But we thought about it and we considered it very carefully and we finally took action and now we have a new laptop to write on and to do other hard things on too. I’m sitting here now and it’s working beautifully and I’m listening to some peaceful music and it’s after midnight and I’m not really doing anything terribly important right now but I know that if I have something hard to do - something that really needs doing - I won’t have to go out in the cold and the damp to travel to an office far away to get it done. I can get it done here, in the safety and shelter of my home It still won’t be all that easy. It still won’t be without heartache. It still won’t be without pain. And, of course, I can still just choose not to do it at all and I may very well do that. But at least, if I do choose to do it, it is my choice and I can do it here in my place.

So that’s it. That’s what’s happened here in Ireland this weekend. A new laptop.

It’s been a good day and I think our new laptop will lead on to even better and brighter days ahead. I know that a lot of good people will really grieve for the loss of our old PC and I don’t think they’ll ever come to love or possibly even fully accept our new laptop. But I hope, over time, they will see how much better and stronger we have become because we have our new laptop. I hope they will see that it was ultimately a good decision, made by good people.

Will all that come to pass? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I can’t help but feel proud of our new laptop and of the decision that led us to finally getting it. I feel we stood up for what we knew needed to happen and that, by doing so, we played our part in making life that little bit better.

But I think I’ll go to bed now.

It’s been quite a day.

Storm in the City

Thunder over Battersea
Despite the evening sunshine.

Here we go again.

Cat still snoozing, doesn’t know
What’s going to come down hard.

Drag the cushions from the chairs.
Leave the glass door open
To hear the first drops as they smash
On to the dusty yard.

Storm in the city.
City in the storm
Safe but still in danger
Chilly but still warm

Light is green and grey and blue
Cloud is closing in.

Here we go again.

Cat gone behind the couch
Nervous. Standing guard.

Drag the blanket from the bed.
Hold your eyes wide open.
See the lightning as it walks.
Smell the ozone charred.

Thunder in the city.
Lightning in the sky
Safe but still in danger
           Living but may die

Sacrificial Moments

You can’t choose the songs that whisk you back to another time. They just do.

In an ideal world, it would be a track from an album that has grown and matured, over the years, into some deeply revered and much loved thing. Better still, some obscure and troublesome classical movement from some obtuse symphony. How great it would be to evoke my memories to a soundtrack like that.

But that’s not how it happens. Not to me anyway. The songs that whisk me away every time are simple, rather familiar pop tunes. 

I heard Elton John’s song ‘Sacrifice’ the other day and off I went again. Swept away on the tides of the memories evoked by that tune. Back to January of 1990. 

‘Sacrifice’ didn’t become a number one hit in the UK until it was released in June of 1990 but we weren’t in the UK in 1990 anyway so that’s a moot point. Although it was apparently never a major hit in the US, it certainly got a lot of airplay over there in January of that year. A lot of plays. That’s where we were and that’s how it got into my head and became associated with that time. Tied up with the drive from San Francisco to Tijuana. 

Patricia and me weren’t yet married but we were having a ‘year out’ around the world. That’s a misnomer, actually, because the trip only lasted 364 days and not the full year, as advertised. The whole thing must sound a bit middle class and privileged now but it was really anything but. In late 1989, I was embedded in my career in London. I could have envisaged myself doing anything else, being a somewhat unadventurous type. What happened was that my car got stolen while we in the swimming pool one evening and it was subsequently destroyed by the nice people who stole it. In the time it took to get everything sorted out, I became accustomed to not having a car in London and so, when the insurance money landed, and under Patricia’s adventurous inspiration, we said ‘sod the car’ and spent it all on a cut price world tour instead. 

It was one of the best decisions ever. In my current existence, where I rarely go anywhere or do anything, the memories of the miles we traveled and the things we have seen, warms me and keeps me contented in my relatively confined life. 

And random songs sometimes bring me back to particular places.

As we drove out of San Francisco and headed off south down along the west coast, the Elton John/Bernie Taupin song seemed to be playing over and over and over again. I misheard the lyrics, thinking it was about some unfortunate person called CoCo Hall. In my mind, she was a sort of a modern day version of ChoCho San from Madama Butterfly. Sad and abandoned. Effectively ‘hard done by you’ as the lyrics say. Of course I was completely wrong. 'CoCo Hall' was actually 'Cold Cold Heart' but that didn’t stop me from singing along anyway.

Whenever I hear the song now, I experience a vision of the sort that you see in TV dramas all the time now thanks to drone technology. We are driving on Highway 1 down towards Carmel and I see a birds eye  view of us in our car, roof down, as we cruise along. We didn’t even have a convertible car but music-evoked memories can be a bit fluid like that. It was a magical time. Rare in the knowing that it was magical while we were doing it as opposed to only finding out it was magical many years after the fact.

The song reminds me of going to pick up the rental car in San Francisco. We were staying in a  hostel somewhere out by Fort Mason so I had a bit of a trek to get to the car place. I was then going to drive back and collect Patricia. I remember sitting in the hire car for a long, long time, trying to figure out how to put my seat belt on. It hung there above my head in a really unusual place and I pulled at it and tugged at it but couldn’t get it to go around me. In the end, I resolved to drive the car back to the hostel without the seat belt and use Patricia’s brain power to figure it out. I turned the key in the ignition and the seat belt automatically coiled itself around me and secured. Okay… that’s sorted then. 

I remember small things. All of the sign posts sounded like songs. Staying in random motels just because we’d never done that before. Having breakfast in some very tidy little back street pastry shop in San Luis Obispo. Trying to track down an old friend in San Diego and, when finally successful, spending a day with her on the beach in sight of The Hotel Coronado from 'Some Like it Hot'. 

The border into Mexico. I remember the considerable numbers of  troubled people on the Mexico side, pleading for help to get back into their own country. A gauntlet of hard luck stories to be run. 

A visit to Hearst’s Castle. Opulence and grandeur coupled with a subtle sense of slow crumbling. A sign for Disneyworld, quickly driven past.

And all along the way - the excellent way - there was that song playing on the radio. When I think of it all now, I think of the sun and the open road and the not knowing what lay around the next bend. But I always remember an occasional kind of low key sadness too. I remember being in some small town on a Friday afternoon and that song was playing. Everybody seemed to be buzzed because it was Friday and the weekend was here. But we were hobos on the road and everyday was a Friday to us. There was a brief sense of missing the ‘work is now done’ joy of a regular Friday afternoon. And, on the positive side, another sense that when we finally returned to that way of life, it wouldn't be all bad. Sometimes, too, out on the road, there was that small feeling of loneliness and isolation. To be a million miles from anyone who knew you or cared anything about you. We had each other, though, and that has always been plenty.

I also remember that every little place seemed perfect in its own way. That it would be easy to stop and stay forever in any one of those places and that life would always be easy and good there.

But, whenever I fell into thinking like that, the song was always there. Playing. Reminding me ever so gently.

“Some things look better, baby, just passing through.”

If I Had a Penny

For all the complaining I’ve done about Facebook over the years (and I’ve done some complaining) it does continue to provide a very important service to me.

It keeps me in touch with some of my oldest friends. 

I’ve always been more of a Twitter head, as you may know. Facebook was something I was sort of ‘dragged onto’, to take part in a campaign for Arts funding that was being run there. But I stayed and stayed, as I tend to do with things.

Twitter suited me, for some reason, but it didn’t suit everybody and so my old friends didn’t ever really show up there. But Facebook, for all its horrors, was a revelation in that respect. Old pals, who had become just a trace of fond memories and somewhat wistful thinking, were there. They were there almost in the flesh. A little older, a little more settled perhaps, but still very much the same in all the important ways. And there was their family and there were their kids and there was their dog and there was their cat. And it was like a bright window was opened into their lives, for me to peep in.

There was a reconnection, of sorts. For not only could I see them but, rather obviously, they could see me too. We exchanged ‘hello’s and ‘how are you’s and perhaps shared the occasional updated confidence but, mostly, in truth, we just saw each other again, after all the years. And how very good that was and how it remains that way to this day.

There’s MC, out on the ocean with her pals. There’s Nuala, still navigating the world like she always loved to do. There’s Brian, still making his excellent music. There’s Tim, hitting the Rugby with his pals and out sailing in the bay…

Even the friends I made more recently, on Twitter. They are there too with their lives and their families and their concerns. We are not linked by too many cords, my old Twitter pals and me. But the cords that do link us can get stretched and kinked and even a little torn up... but they don't break. They don't ever seem to do that. And that's a good and a somewhat precious thing. 

To look at my old friends, and to share small moments with them, is to also think of the friends who are not there. The friends who are out there somewhere, living their own updated/same lives just not choosing to share them on some website. It evokes a hope that they are okay and that everything is going along just fine for them. That’s why Facebook is so valuable in the end. If it wasn’t there, I wouldn’t call, I wouldn’t write. I would cast myself adrift by torpor and social ineptitude. Facebook provides me with the entry level tool that I need to keep in touch.

We think of our friends and almost believe that we will all be together again some day. But we won’t. Or if we will, it will be for a fleeting moment. A changeover of trains that are going different directions. It may be a sombre thought but I think that our time in each other’s company is largely done. One or two of us will meet, from time to time, but no entire collective will assemble. Indeed, when were we ever an entire collective? Weren’t we always just a combination of personal relationships that bounced off each other and ricocheted off in so many different directions.

That is why I think it’s important, when any two meet, that we evoke the others, the absentees, in fond stories and smiles. That is the only way we will ever manage to reunite again, in each other’s  collective memories, shared whenever we may occasionally collide.

Because the years are passing quickly now. Almost as fast as the pages can be torn off a calendar. Not too soon, but still soon enough, we will slip into legend as we all must do. That is when the distant relationship changes. What is cosy and warm now may become precious then, almost at the flick of switch. 

It is with that it mind that I am scribbling this down today. Here’s to you, good friends. Although I hate Facebook in many ways, I won’t ever leave while you are in there. The picture I see of you may be a rosy one. For who shares their upset stomach on Social Media? But it is still you. And your kids look great and your pets look great and I’m glad to see you looking so well.

My friends. Online and off. If I had a penny for every time I thought about them, well, I wouldn’t be very rich or anything. Or, more accurately, I would be rich only on account of the thoughts I have of them rather than from any pennies I might have earned. I’d have earned enough for one good drink, perhaps, and I would raise that glass in a toast to them.


Glad to see you there.

Hope to meet up again sometime soon.

Keep in touch. 

Radio Drama - Mythos by Julian Simpson

If it can be said that I ever cut any of my teeth anywhere, I cut my writing teeth in radio drama. Radio was my first passion. 

Taking possession of an old hand-held transistor radio from my parents, I listened to the Radio Plays on BBC Radio 4 from an untenably young age, investing in the Radio Times to mark up what was coming in the next week. 

When I wasn’t allowed to watch a grown up movie on television, I retired to my bed and listened to it on the VHF band of my radio instead.

Lately I’ve gone back to spec radio writing with a vengeance and I am loving the revisiting of that ‘unleashed’ feeling it gives me. I think my radio writing has coloured every other kind of writing I’ve done since. Certainly in the theatre work I find I have an ingrained aversion to the use of any kind of complex set, preferring instead a couple of stools or a single chair. In radio, as with books, the audience/readership brings its own sets, its own costumes, its own lighting. It’s quite different from cinema or television where the entire meal is spoon fed to you. In radio, theatre and books, you have to do some of the cooking yourself and the experience can often be all the richer for it.

In the midst of this renewed radio obsession, I was delighted to see Julian Simpson roll up with the second and third episode of his new ‘Mythos’ series on BBC Radio 4 this week. Tuesday started off with a rerun of the first episode then Wednesday and Thursday brought the new stories. If you want to hear it, I believe it stays on the BBC iPlayer for another twenty days or so. Here in Ireland, we don’t get the TV version of iPlayer but the Radio stuff works just fine so it is possible that these plays can be listened to all over the world. Here’s a link to the page. I can’t guarantee it will work for you, dear resident of Western Samoa, but it’s worth a shot. 

Julian Simpson is a writer I admire. He’s been kind enough to chat to me on the ‘Social Media’s for the last ten years or so and perhaps that’s given me a front row seat to his work. Still, though, I can’t help but feel if there was no connection, I would still be envious of the ambition, wit and intelligence he brings to all of his work. Even if you don’t know his name (you probably do) you will probably have absorbed his work when remarking that a particular week’s episode of Spooks or Old Tricks was  exceptionally clever. That will most likely have been him. One also senses that even greater plans are currently being hatched among the unsuspecting denizens of North London so watch that space.

Mythos is great fun and one senses that JS had great fun writing it. The rough conceit is one of a team of Government-affiliated guardians who try to hold a line between the world we all know and an endless stream of alternate worlds which are shaped and coloured by our collective mythology and folklore. That’s a mouthful but basically it’s a conceit that allows some contemporary, slightly world weary, characters to come up against the great and good of our beloved monsters and heroes of yore. 

It’s hard not to think of how Douglas Adams reached out to the stars and made such fun out of them. JS reaches in to our folklore and does the same.

For me, though, the series successfully evokes the original ‘Avengers’ series much more than ‘Hitchhikers’. And, no, I don’t mean Iron Man and The Hulk et all. I'm talking about the John Steed/Emma Peel version which I grew up with. Tim McInnerny’s ‘Johnson’ character has, for me at least, some of the Steed DNA in him. Tim does a super job in these plays as, of course, does Nicola Walker and Phoebe Fox. It’s a truly great cast which includes Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s Jana Carpenter who plays Libby in the second episode and who I like for all kinds of reasons, none of which need concern the writer/director.

JS is a damn clever fellow and although he wears that lightly on his sleeve he can’t help but showing it in his writing. As a result there is one hell of a lot of stuff going on here. At face value, it’s a ‘steampunkish’ romp through time and fable but scratch the surface and there is perhaps some deeper political punches being landed too. 

One of the things Julian deliberately does is to draw back the veil of the narrative structure to show us, the audience, some of the workings beneath. I wonder if this is almost a sub-conscious effort to show us how he understands, all too well, the limitations of the narrative structure he is working within or whether it’s an entirely conscious wink to the audience saying, ‘this is just a bit of a lark, let’s get on with it’. Whatever the reason, I found it a tiny bit jarring. Audiences have an ingrained knowledge of their stories and, deep in their, hearts, they know how these stories must unfold. To open those stories up, mid tale, is a little like a magician showing how a trick is done or some exotic dancer (male or female, take your pick) peeling back their skin to flash the glistening muscle and tendon that lies beneath. I realise this is the writer’s intent and that this ‘desire for story’ lies at the very heart of the concept. I just think that when this conceit is extended into the actual story being told, that may be even a little too ‘meta’ for me. 

The very nature of these plays brings challenges, particular in Radio, and nobody sees this clearer than JS. There is an immense amount of business to be done in the forty-four minute running time. As a result, the drama unfolds rather breathlessly. Super-smart lines which might have benefited from a split second pause and an invisible, virtual, nod to camera, can not be permitted this luxury. The narrative simply must barrel along. One could see this format convert well to TV, where an extra fifteen minutes on the run time would give JS enough room to add an additional beat or two or even a ‘middle eight’ pause before barrelling on again. It is clear that there just wasn’t enough space in the timeframe to do all that. Despite that, the often-frenetic pace at which proceedings unfold is really very charming and it would be a shame to lose it completely.

Another great challenge of the concept is the large amount of exposition which must be imparted in each episode. Parts 2 and 3 were somewhat liberated, in this regard, as the world had been well-established in Part 1. Still, though, there is lots that has to be told and the characters take turns at telling it. In doing so, JS employs a knowing, almost-apologetic, tone which seems to say, ‘here we go again with the exposition, we know it’s a bit of a pain but it has to be done’. Much fun is had with this ploy although the fact that a number of characters employ it does sometimes lead to a touch of ‘tone-borrowing’ where the characters occasionally start to sound a bit alike.

For me, the biggest challenge in carrying off future episodes of ‘Mythos’ lies in the questions of Risk and Consequences. A great universe has been firmly established where almost anything can, and probably will, happen. However, there also appears to be infinite opportunities for escape and ‘do-overs’ within the rules of this new universe. The dead might be dead but not really all that gone. A universe can be destroyed but, wait, there’ll be another one along in a minute. Something I struggle with, in my own attempts at drama, is the ‘All is Lost’ moment where there really seems to be no way back (although somewhere/somehow there always is). With the three Mythos plays, due to a combination of an infinite number of options and the very pace of the action, there is always the feeling that everything will be all right and that it will be all right quite soon now. Knowing JS’s work, I know that if he had a little more time to work with, a greater sense of risk and consequences would quickly be instilled in the drama. 

I recommend you have a listen to the first of the plays via the iPlayer and see if you are engaged and entertained as I certainly was. As I said earlier, JS is a smart, smart fellow with a lot more to say and do. I feel that, in listening to these plays, you may find yourself on the fourth or fifth floor of an elevator that is very soon and very rapidly going all the way to the top.