Small Beige Umbrella

I don’t know if you know but I carry an umbrella almost everywhere I go. It’s not an affectation or anything. I just don’t like getting rained on. 

Although I’m not superstitious, I’ve almost come to believe that it is more likely to rain if I do not have my umbrella with me. It is almost, but not quite, evidence of a humorous God above. That he/she would look down, see me venture out without my umbrella, and entice the heavens to open and piss it down upon my head.

I say this to people who ask me why I am toting an umbrella on a patently fine day. A number of people use this as a conversational ploy whenever we meet. “Got the old umbrella? Keeping the rain away?” They smile gently and speak to me like I am four years old, which sometimes seems about right.

My umbrella ‘weapon of choice’ is one of those little black numbers that shoot open when you press the button on the handle. It fits neatly in the front section of my shoulder bag and comes to hand easily when the rains recommence. I go through them though. They are cheap and never last very long. Generally it is a gust of high wind that does for them, turning them inside-out, ripping the fabric and twisting the frame.

Of late, though, the simple old pop-out black number has been hard to find. Perhaps it’s been the wetness of the winter, perhaps some factory in China has had a setback. I don’t know the reason. All I know is, for a time there, I have gone about my business umbrella-less. 

And, oh, how the Gods have laughed and made merry. Sheets of rain, vertical and horizontal in turn have assailed me as I go on my way. The country has suffered flooding, the farmers have not enough feed. All because of my lack of an umbrella.

Okay, not really… but I did get wet.

One particularly torrential lunchtime,  a few months ago, I was in my spiritual home, The Linenhall, getting a sandwich. In a cloud burst of inspiration, I asked them if they had any abandoned umbrellas behind the counter and, if so, could I borrow one to get me home? They had quite a few abandoned/lost umbrellas and told me to take my pick and keep it but most of them were too flowery even for me. Only one seemed even slightly passable. A small pop-up one like the kind I normally favour… except it was beige. It was ‘Mum Beige’. You know the colour. Mums have umbrellas that colour. I weighed my options and went with the umbrella. A little reluctantly. It wasn’t me but it was shelter from the storm. I took it and went home and it kept me mostly dry all the way.

I’ll keep it, I thought, just for a couple of days until I can get a nice new black one all of my own.

It’s been months, months and months, and I’m still toting my small beige umbrella. Mostly I keep it in my bag, like I do with the black ones, but at lunchtime I walk home without my bag so there I am, rocking my small beige umbrella, just like my Mum and countless other Mums used to do. 

The umbrella is now completely ruined. The little beige handle at the end kept falling off and I kept screwing it back on until it cracked and refused to stay in place. The retractable shaft no longer fully retracts so the unhandled sharp end sticks out far too far. It looks like I am carrying a menacing sort of a weapon. A beige weapon. 

I am a professional person of almost fifty five years of age. I am self employed and do a rather serious and responsible job which carries quite a bit of weight and responsibility. My peers are spinning around town in large cars and wearing nice suits. I, meanwhile, am struggling up the main street, bedraggled in my all weather coat beneath a tattered beige umbrella. 

What on earth am I like?

There are a couple of truths attached to this.

The first truth is a) I don’t care. I don’t care much what I look like or what kind of image I project. So long as my flies ain’t undone and my shoes are on the appropriate feet, I kind of feel I’m doing okay. My best attributes are definitely not how I look. I’m kind of funny and fairly sharp. I’ll help you out if I can. These are the kind of things that matter to me. Not how beige my umbrella is.

The second truth is b) I like to hold on to things. I find it hard, bordering on impossible, to let go of things that people have given me. The tattered beige umbrella is a case in point. If I’d bought it, I would have thrown it away by now. But somebody gave it me. It makes it more valuable on some stupid subliminal level that I can’t even understand myself, much less explain it. 

I think that second truth holds a key to one of my failings. This way I tend to hold on to things that I have been given. My firm embrace of the Status Quo. Almost all of the more radical changes in my life have been brought about due to external influences. My turns have been necessary reactions to things that have happened. Rarely, if ever, have I thrown down something and picked up something better, while the first something is still clacking along in some half-assed way.

Reading back, that last part has a whiff of dissatisfaction about it but that is totally not the case. I am quite satisfied and happy with my lot. Indeed, I know I am a very, very lucky guy. But it’s good to think about silly things now and again. It’s good to try to reach. 

It’s only on those occasions when you make that conscious effort to step out from under the beige umbrella and look up into the sky… 

It’s only then that you wonder if you should have thrown the tatty thing in the nearest bin and just allowed yourself to get more wet a little more often. 

The Bravery of Liking Things

This week is just about some things I like.

Here’s two things I think about liking things. I’ve put an a) and a b) on them so you can tell them apart. I’m nothing if not helpful.

a) You have to be a bit brave to admit to liking things. It’s like sticking your head above the battlements so that someone can catapult a cow at you. In ‘The Colour of Money’ Paul Newman kept using a peculiar expression. “I’ve shown you my ass,” he used to say. Admitting to liking something is a bit like that. You show people your ass. It’s there, all laid out, to be kicked if so desired. “You liked that? What kind of an idiot, gobshite, half-wit, could like that?” The converse is also true, it requires no bravery at all to say how you don’t like something, though sometimes it has to be done.

b) People seem to get worried or even a bit agitated when somebody doesn’t like a thing than they themselves like. I’ve never really understood this or at least, as Sting used to say, I don’t subscribe to this point of view. Being somewhat perverse in my outlook, I absolutely love it when people don’t like what I like. It’s like a great compliment, a testament to my individuality and quirky taste. A reaffirmation that we are all individuals who all like and love our own things in our own way. We are diverse and windswept and interesting so, you know… yay.

I’ve liked lots of things, recently. I’m a ‘liker’ really. I tend to like things. 

The things that I mention here have a least two things in common. No, I won’t do a) and b) again, I think we’re good. 

Firstly (!) I really, really, liked these things and, secondly, I don’t thing everybody will like them the way I do. Am I being deliberately provocative? No! Fuck you! (That last bit was me being deliberately provocative, just so you know what it looks like.)


Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I really, really like this book, which is great fun ‘cos lots of people don’t. I bought it for Patricia at Christmas (Yes, a brand new copy. Yes, she’s worth it). I then sneakily read the first few pages. “Oh, no,” I said to myself, “I can’t be  doing with this,” and I tossed it aside but onto a bed so that it wouldn’t get damaged. The word-of-mouth I was hearing all seemed to support my decision. It was only when I heard a trusted friend was raving about it, some months later (like, now) that I picked it up and looked again. It’s written in an odd format, with many real and not-so real characters providing short testaments which make up the story. Every line reads like the opening of a chapter. But it works. It’s alienating at first but, once you get into the cadence of it, you’re good. And what a sad, warm, cold, story unfolds. And what marvellous flights of fancy and outlandish characters take us there. 

It’s a book I would recommend to people, if only for the joy of having them throw it back at me. 

The Florida Project.

I really, really like this film. I don’t want to say too much about it because I saw it without knowing too much about it and I feel that contributed to my liking it as much as I did. Actually, thinking about it now, I think I’ll say nothing about the story at all. I think it should have featured more prominently in the recent awards season, it’s that good. Like ‘Lincoln’ it starts off in such an odd fashion that you may be inclined to give up. At first, it seems, to coin one of my Dad’s expressions, to be ‘about nothing’. Also the sound is slightly odd, such that you may struggle to hear what is being said. But it ropes you in. It just ropes you in and you become invested and involved in what is unfolding. Real cinema, beautiful to look at. A real world, terrible to behold. Give this a go. I predict you will like it, just like I did. 

Hamlet (on telly)

Yes, that Hamlet. Well, the version that was on the telly last weekend. Last year’s Almeida Theatre production which moved to the Harold Pinter and was filmed there. I watched this in several goes over the Easter Weekend. I did Hamlet for my Leaving Cert exam and was able to say a couple of the key speeches along with it (which was fun). What I really like about it was Andrew Scott and how he spoke the lines clearly and with some clear empathy for what he was saying and doing. It was almost as if he took his character’s advice to “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue.” Although, funnily enough, he also seemed to pass on another piece of advice from the same speech as he did sometimes, “Saw the air” a little bit. 

I think I decided to mention ‘Hamlet’ here, not because I wanted to impress you with the odd ways I tend to spend my Saturday nights but rather because it provides a good working example of people not liking stuff. I saw lots of profound criticism on my Social Media while Hamlet was unfolding on the telly. This is obviously well-and-good. It’s just that some of it seemed designed to show how fabulously erudite the critic was, rather than making any attempt at constructive reaction. Maybe it’s just me but if you are saying things like “some of it was good but here’s why it wasn’t good…” perhaps you could save a little space for the bit you thought were good as well as all the bad stuff. I think there is a real fear that we show ourselves up by liking things and I wish we could change a little in that respect. 

Cabaret (The Donmar Warehouse Revival)

I watched this on Youtube. It’s there in 16 parts, a TV version of the musical. I saw this on ITV late one night, years and years ago, when I landed on it by accident. I thought it was amazing and nobody else had seen it. It was like I dreamt it. Then I found it on YouTube and,  guess what, I didn’t dream it after all. It’s not a prefect recording and there’s songs missing in the edit but Alan Cumming is naughtiness and pathos personified and Jane Horrocks literally makes arm hairs rise with her sinewy delivery of the title song. Here’s a link, in case you fancy it. Maybe it’s a bit niche (slight pun intended) but I really, really like it. 

That’s it for now. I could do more but I must get to Tesco. 

I suppose what I’m trying to say is, tell me the stuff you like. Mostly so I can consider giving it a go myself. If I value your opinion (and I do) and you really, really like something, then I might like to try it. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even hate it.

Then we’ll have something good to talk about. 

Drama Season

Drama Season is over now, for another year. 

It’s time to stop and breathe.

It seems an arrogance to even suggest that there is a ‘Drama Season’. A presumption of something that one shouldn’t presume. Certainly, there is no guarantee that Drama Season will ever come again. It is not like Easter, its annual arrival is not inevitable. But the last number of years have followed a pattern for me and, lucky as I know I am, the months between Christmas and Easter have been my Drama Season.

And it is over now. Time to look back. 

This was the sixth year of The Claremorris Fringe Festival, the sixth year I entered, the sixth year I got in. Upon hearing they would have me and my anonymously-submitted script again this year, I did what I always do. I quietly delivered the script of ‘I Bet You Say That to All the Boys’ to my three partners-in-crime in Drama and then ran away before they saw me. Donna Ruane, Tara Niland, Eamon Smith and myself. For all of the six years, these three actors have formed the cohort that brought the plays to stage. We have had one first and two second places over those years and this years was one of the seconds. The guys were brilliant and gave a great performance, Tara and Eamon picking up a well-deserved acting nod along the way.

This little play was a bit unusual for me in that I felt I was at least trying to react in some way to the world I find myself living in rather than simply playing within it. The husband in the play literally speak for his wife, telling her how to feel and what to say. In these days when women seem more visibly oppressed than ever and also seem to rail more actively against this wrong, I felt I should look to my own game. I’ve been trying to do that this year, as my own tiny and personal response to the ills I see. Am I without sin? Can I throw the stone? No, I certainly can not. Being almost fifty five years old, I have grown up in a world where prejudice has subtly flavoured everything. It was, to my mind, almost more of a na├»ve prejudice than a malicious one. We stared at the very few black people who crossed our paths, we cheered as Benny Hill ogled another band of women and couldn’t wait until next Tuesday, when he would do it all again. Such things leave a hue on our souls that is hard to wash away. For my own part, when I stop and look hard at myself, I can see things I do that are not as good as they could be, things that are embedded in me. I can’t change the world but I can change myself. The play was at least trying to acknowledge a little of that. 

The Claremorris audiences are marvellous things. They go in and see a  full length play and then they come through into the Fringe space and watch two more. I hope the Fringe continues to go from strength to strength. As a writer, it gives me a bar to try to pull my chin above. It builds my confidence and skill. It encourages me to create something new. 

I may never be a part of Claremorris Fringe again but it has been a part of me and, for that, I am grateful. 

Then came the Teenage Play. 

I didn’t think I had a teenage play for this year. Donna and I were reading scripts and throwing out ideas from other writers. I was deep into other writing and didn’t think I had the energy to produce something that (literally) fit the bill. 

Then, over Christmas, I did some thinking. I thought about the last two productions of my plays, over the last two years, ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’ and last year’s ‘Deb’s Night’ and I knew I would be missing out if I couldn’t get to do it all again this year. And so, ‘The Colour of Red’ was born. Derived from a radio play I wrote for St Patrick’s Drama Group in Westport about fifteen years ago, called ‘A Place in Between’. The play went on to be shortlisted for the PJ O’Connor Award and then lay dormant as radio plays can do. Another radio play of mine ‘Conception, Pregnancy and Bert’ had been revived as a theatre play by Oisin Heraghty and toured the national one act festivals. Since then it has found a life of its own with theatre groups in various parts of the West of Ireland. Why could ‘A Place in Between’ not do the same?

A ‘significant rewrite’ was done to make the material more suited to the young cast of Donna’s brilliant ‘Acting for Fun’ group. Then, like the Claremorris play, it was dropped in a letterbox and the poster scurried away to await the verdict.

The verdict (never predictable) was positive and ‘The Colour of Red’ became a real life thing all in its own right. 

And, this week, it went on, in two marvellous performances at The Linenhall Theatre in Castlebar. Two real and unequivocal nights of theatre, coloured in and textured by the production work of Oisin Heraghty, who calmly and unflappably ran each show while I flapped about enough for both of us. 

Two wonderful nights. The culmination of months of hard work and preparation. Thanks to Orla and Maura and everyone at The Linenhall Arts Centre who give us their splendid theatrical facility and who allow us to play with it.

I am so proud of the cast. They were brilliant without exception and they continued a tradition of excellence in acting derived from Donna Ruane’s mentoring and care. 

I was delighted, also, to see my own son, Sam, step into his third production of one of my plays and do us both very proud in the process. 

These productions, from rehearsal to execution, are tailor-made golden memories for me. Often, we can’t tell what will become a treasured moment in our lives until years after the event but these times, particularly the performance days, are heightened fulfilling experiences that I know will warm my heart for as long as memory stays. 

Too much, Ken? 

Nah. Not nearly enough. 

And now the stage is bare and the blank page faces me once more. 

Oddly enough, for all the productions and acting and performances, this is the moment where I finally realise that I may be a writer.

Because the blank page holds no fear for me.

There, deep in its cell structure, lies a world of endless possibilities. A land where anything can happen and probably will. 

Earlier this week, when the plays were done, I scribbled a note to myself and laid it face down on my desk.

An arrogant mission statement of what I propose to do next. It may not work. It may not even be possible. But I am emboldened now by Drama Season and I’m going to give it my best shot.

So let’s get to it.

Old Dog, New Dog

Walking home for lunch last Wednesday (yes, I get to do that), I was just coming up to The Mall, which is like our village green, when I saw this:

A man was standing beside his car and he was chatting to a woman. Just general chit-chat, I’d say, though I couldn’t hear any of it. What caught my eye was what was happening at the back door of his  car, which was wide open.

There was an old sheep dog there, black and white and shaggy, and he was trying to get in to the back of the car. The owner was deep in his conversation and wasn’t paying attention but I couldn’t take my eyes off what I saw.

The old dog had his front paws in the car, all fine and good, but he couldn’t manage to get his back legs in. Those rear legs were scrambling and scraping and working with a kind of tired ferocity, trying to gain purchase on the lower edge of the door frame. The old dog tried and tried but just couldn’t manage it. The dog’s mouth was agape and his tongue was lolling in a configuration that people often seem to mistake as happiness but which was clearly stress.  

The man having the conversation looked up and saw me. I hadn’t fully realised that I had stopped in my walk past and was simply standing and staring at the dog from about 20 yards away. I hadn’t realised that I was just a heartbeat away from moving to the poor dog’s aid.

The man looked at me and clearly wondered what I was staring at. Then he looked over the top of the open car door and saw his old dog there, scrambling and scraping valiantly but with an increasingly tired air about him. The owner smiled over at me as he broke off his conversation.

“He’s getting on a bit,” he said to me, “he needs a bit of help sometimes these days.”

And, with that, he moved to the dog and gently lifted his posterior so that the dog could finally get a grip on the door ledge and propel himself into the car. 

I smiled back at the man and walked on, out onto the path that runs diagonally across our village green. I was only a few steps on when I saw another dog. A younger dog. She was little more than a grown pup. Her owner, a young guy, was throwing a ball for her and she was chasing it. She was a sheepdog, just like the dog at the car but her black and white colours were bright and vital, where the other dog’s had been loose and dull. She was sleek and fast and powerful where the other dog had been weak and slow. 

She was an exact duplicate of the older dog, only twelve years younger. 

She powered after her ball, cutting ridiculous banked corners like some motorbike rider in a race and, although her mouth was also agape and her long tongue lolling, there was no mistaking her energy and her enthusiasm for the game. 

Why write this down? Why bother?

I don’t know. 

It stayed with me after I had walked on, after I’d had my lunch. The old dog and the new dog had been in the closest of proximity to each other but neither had acknowledged, or even been aware of, the other’s presence. The younger was far too engaged in the thrill of the hunt to see the elder. The old dog too taken up with the mechanics of simple movement to care who else was around.

There seemed to be some kind of comparison between these dogs and how I lead my own life. Blinkered to the old person I will soon enough become, if I survive that long. Indifferent to the young as I struggle to scramble up to the next ledge. 

Maybe there’s a good analogy to draw out of this confluence. Maybe there’s a good lesson for me to learn. 

But I’m too tired to work it out right now. I must be getting on with things. Maybe I’ll come back to it some other day.

When there’s more time. 

Plays are Happening

Plays are happening. This month. New plays that I wrote. It’s all very exciting and great fun. I’m certainly a lucky boy, to have these things happen to me.

First up, on 22nd March, at The Claremorris Fringe Festival, it’s ‘I Bet You Say That to All the Boys’. 

This is my sixth consecutive new play in the Fringe Festival and it’s only been running for six years, so it’s a record I’m a bit proud of. Some might possibly tut and say, “It’s his local area, they’d let him in, even if he only entered his shopping list”, but I don’t think it’s like that. Every year, I take my entry very seriously and try my best to write the best play that I can. This year is the first time I’ve tried to write in response to a political or current situation. I don’t think anybody will know that when they see the play but I did and it makes me feel all grown up and stuff.

The same three actors have appeared in all six plays and I have directed them, with lots of help and conspiracy from my thespian pals, Donna, Tara and Eamon. The rehearsal process is a joy of discovery, of pushing each other’s boundaries and of generally taking the piss out of each other.

I’m looking forward to our night at the Fringe in Claremorris. I think this may be my last year for a while but then I always say that, don’t I?

Then, later in the month, Donna Ruane’s superb ‘Acting for Fun’ teen group is back at the Linenhall. It’s the 27th and 28th, actually, and tickets are going fast so… y’know. After having such an amazing time over the last two years with the productions of my plays, ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’ and the premiere of ‘Deb’s Night’, I found I couldn’t just let them go off and work with some other old playwright. I had to try to get their attention again. 

Thus was born ‘The Colour of Red’. This one is a romantic comedy about such lightweight subjects as Love and Death. The play has its genesis with Mary Carr in St. Patrick’s Drama Group in Westport, who asked me to write them a second radio play many years ago. That play became ‘A Place in Between’ and it has now transformed itself (well… I transformed it) into a teenage play for the stage. I say ‘teenage play’ but really we try hard to allow the young actors an opportunity to present themes and stories which will connect with the parents and all the other adults in the audience. The surprise, for the adults, is that the play they see is really as much about them and for them as it is for the teenage members of the audience. Over the last two years this aspect of the work has been very satisfying. To see the adults emerge from the theatre, every bit as moved and amused as everybody else. That’s what we’re going for again this year. 

Rehearsals are going very well. We had one yesterday and the level of commitment and care from the cast is very high indeed. We also laughed out asses off quite a bit, which is a fundamental part of the endeavour. It’s acting for fun but it is also acting of the highest integrity (kudos to Donna Ruane) and with the most noble intent; to bring the best show we possibly can to our audiences, with no concessions to anything. 

‘The Colour of Red’ is about 45-50 minutes long so I also written a new short play to go in front of it. I like this ‘Pixar’ notion of presenting a short piece before the main event. We’ve done it before with my short plays ‘Fine’ and also with ‘Dream On’ This year’s short play is called ‘Tweedie’ and I hope it raises a smile. 

We’re also taking another short play from a book of short plays by John Dessler and Lawrence Phillis and (being permitted to do so)  I have ‘tweaked’ this around a bit to suit our own local ways and peculiarities. It's called 'The Date Tests'. A read-through on this yesterday resulted in almost unbearable hilarity so I have high hopes that this one will pave the way for ‘The Colour of Red’ with our audiences. 

I return to the same thought regularly. I am just one lucky duck. I get to write and to find people we are willing and able to bring my writings to fruition on the stage. The writing then often goes on to be performed by other groups and in other places. I have a wonderful theatre on my doorstep who back me up and encourage me on to do the next thing.

Thanks to everyone who  enables me and encourages me to keep typing my stuff out in the dead of night. I always try to do it the very best I can because the people I work with deserve nothing less. 

This month of theatre-stuff is going to be edgy and a bit scary and great fun.

Bring it on.

Tickets for 'The Colour of Red, Tweedie, and The Date Tests' can be booked at The Linenhall Theatre, Castlebar or on 094 90 23733. The Claremorris Drama and Fringe Festival can be booked on  094 93 10999)

A Toss Up Between Love and Anger

This is traditionally the week where I start to get to see the best movies of the year.

I’m not sure why, but the week preceding the Oscars seems to often be the week where I finally get paid legal access to the big award contenders, in my own home. I don’t get to the movies much anymore and I have never in my life illegally downloaded a movie to watch so I tend to exist in a sort of Limbo until I am allowed to see the puppies for myself.

This week, I have seen ‘Lady Bird’ and ‘Three Billboards…’ and I’ve got to tell you that I really liked both of them. 

It seems clear to me that I can’t say anything about either of these two film that won’t already have been said a thousand times before. I liked them. They are good. You should see them. See? Nothing new. 

What did strike me, having seen both of them in such close proximity, is how thematically close these two films are to each other. To my mind, at least. Perhaps nobody else has said that yet? Oh, I’m sure they have but let me give it a bash anyway. It’s Sunday and I have to be typing something. 

Two completely different films but with striking similarities in their concerns. 

Both films give us a set of characters, vivid and sensitively drawn, each of whom have the same problem, the same choice to make. Do they choose to love the people they love or do they give in to the almost overwhelming anger and outrage that those people evoke in them?

Love or Anger? Anger or Love?

In ‘Lady Bird’, it’s all about Family. Mother and Daughter. In ‘Three Billboards…’ it’s Community. 

I don’t tend to do spoilers and I’m not going to do any here. Suffice it to say, that both films bring laughter and tears to their careful examination of this problem. The ‘turn on a sixpence’ nature of feelings of love and outrage are brilliantly and memorably depicted in both. Particularly in that scene where… but no, I won’t do that. See it yourself. 

I will just say (slight spoiler) that, in one of the movies, a wine bottle, carried to a confrontation as a weapon but left there as a gift, is an apt depiction of the struggle. 

Martin McDonagh has mined this territory before, in my favourite of his earlier ‘Leenane Trilogy’ plays. In ‘The Lonesome West’ two brothers fight their battles in the little house where they live together. They make a conscious decision to try to treat each other better but will love or anger ultimately prevail?

There are two things evident in each of these love/anger fables. The first is how the conflict invariably dresses itself up as a sort of a game. The parties to the game manoeuvre and play and try to trick each other into action or submission. It is like a fake battle that is in no way fake. The second evident thing is how the persons on the periphery of this battle, who may try to referee or even broken a solution, inevitably become casualties of war. Witness the priest in ‘The Lonesome West’, the Dad in ‘Ladybird, the advertising person or the co-worker in ‘Three Billboards…’ 

These are two good films and a good play too. ‘The Shape of Water’ seems destined for the Best Picture Oscar but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that ‘Three Billboards…’ may shade it to the post. Martin McDonagh does not have a Best Director nod (though I thought he deserved one for his adept handling of his own material and his luminescent cast). Pictures without Best Director nods don’t win Best Picture very often. Without looking it up, I think it’s only happened about four times in the best. I think it may happen tonight. If not, then this post will be out of date before twenty people will have read it. Such is life. 

One other thing that both these movies have in common, for me at least. Both of them were significantly lessened in impact for me by my having viewed the trailers before I saw them. There was lots of material in the films that was not in the trailers but, time and again, I found myself going, ‘Oh, this is the bit where she says that,’ or, ‘this is bit where that must happen’. I can only imagine how much more I would have enjoyed each of these if I could have come to them fresh. We need trailers and such to get anticipation and word-of-mouth going’ but, man, I just need to leave them alone. 

That One Percent

This week, I’ve been thinking a bit about inspiration and where it might come from. 

This train of thought was initially sparked by listening to an interview with Martin McDonagh. In it, he was explaining how he had been travelling around on a Greyhound bus in Missouri when the bus drove past a series of angry billboards. He told how the billboards were just a momentary flash in his peripheral vision and then were gone. Just a flash yet, years later, a screenplay emerged and, still more years later, a celebrated film. 

My train of thought was given a few more rails to ride on by another story I unearthed. This one about Irish songwriter Jimmy McCarthy and the way he wrote one particular song. A while ago, I was browsing through Jimmy McCarthy’s back catalogue and particularly the way Mary Black sings them. I reminded myself of one particular song called, ‘As I Leave Behind Neidin’. You probably won’t know this song but it is remarkable in the level of longing and ‘ache’ it manages to impart. When I heard it again, it made me wonder who (or what) Neidin was, to create such a level of emotion. Was it a person, was it place? For a while I thought it might be a donkey and that's when I decided I had to find out. I went and looked it up and the story was interesting, to me at least. 

Neidin is the Irish name for Kenmare, an idyllic small town in County Kerry. Some people might have the name in the back of their minds because Kenmare was one of the teams in the Quidditch World Cup in that Harry Potter  book… but I digress. 

The story I found online describes how the songwriter Jimmy McCarthy was on a drive with a friend from Kerry to Cork. The friend was quizzing Jimmy about where he got his song ideas from. Jimmy decided to show the guy by writing and impromptu song about what he could see. Jimmy looked out of the window and noted he was driving out the far side of Kenmare. He noted the Irish name of the town on the sign and that the sign was surrounded by colourful Rhododendrons. Thus, as a sort of demonstration of how inspiration can be all around us, the song was born. 

It is amazing how much feeling can be instilled into a thing so mechanically born. That in itself is a lesson in inspiration, I think. That inspiration so rarely arrives fully formed, it is a thing to be nurtured and developed. But first it is a thing to be recognised.

In thinking about inspiration and in trying to put some kind of expression on my thoughts, I came up with this. People seem to think as inspiration as a sort of a seed. A tiny thing that lands on you and sparks something inside of you and grows and becomes something in its own right.

I think of it a little differently now. I think there are millions of seeds all around us all of the time. Inspiration doesn’t come from the seed, it comes from the fertile ground where the seed lands. I think we spend too much time hunting for the elusive seed of inspiration when perhaps we should be opening ourselves up to see and hear as much stuff as we can and to be a warm damp place where at least some of the seeds can prosper and grow, when they land there. 

I know, I know, pretentious, moi?

But Neidin is a nice song. Have a listen to Mary Black singing it and feel the longing in her voice. 

And I haven’t managed to see ‘Three Billboards’ yet but I will, very soon now, and I’m very much looking forward to that. 

Doors Closing

Sometimes I feel like writing about my Social Media experience and generally, at least in the last few years, it naturally falls into the form of a complaint. 

People who know me online sometimes advise me to just leave it alone. Social Media is a bit like City Hall, they say, you can’t fight it. Just go with the flow of it and leave it alone. No good can come of constantly picking at it and moaning about it. I agree with all of that and, taking their advice, I have left it alone for quite a long time now, preferring instead to plough my own furrow and let things be.

My excuse for this post, which will be about Social Media and which will probably involve at least some level of complaining, is that I want to explain something. I wanted to explain why my Social Media presence is gradually getting less and less and less.

And it is. 

I tweet less and less, I update Facebook less and less and Instagram remains a wonderfully warm and entertaining mystery to me. In trying to explain the reasons for this, I may moan a bit. Forgive me. After this, I will once again plough my furrow and do my best with what I have.

I stopped and thought a bit about my Social Media this week. You may note that I generally say ‘My Social Media’ rather than referring to Social Media in general. If I’ve learned one thing about this beast, over the years, it is that everybody’s experience is different. To try to generalise too much is to fail before you begin. So if none of this rings in any way true for you, so be it. I completely understand. 

So, yeah, where was I? Oh right, I stopped and thought. I tried to think of a suitable metaphor for what my current social media experience is like. Eventually, I decided it was like a door, more specifically a lift door. You know the type, chrome plated, a little glass maybe. Two halves gliding apart to let you in and then coming together to close tight.

In the early days, all my online friends and acquaintances were in the lift and I was outside, looking in. They were all squashed a bit tightly together in there, such that you couldn’t always tell exactly where one person ended and another began. But they were generally a smiley communicative group who I murmured stuff into and who usually murmured back. The doors of the lift were wide open, they never closed, and the good folk inside never seemed to want to be anywhere else.

Over the years, the doors gradually started to move together. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the two leaves began to slide shut. It became harder to hear the people inside and it became harder for them to hear you. The voices of the people on the outer edges of the lift car were lost the soonest as the doors eased shut but the central core remained visible and communicative. There was a sense of… well, closure I suppose but it was so slow and so subtle that it didn’t really seem to matter at all.

These days, the doors are almost closed tight. It is hard to shout something through the crack and make yourself heard. It is harder still to hear what is being shouted out from inside. Apart from the ever-diminishing gap between the lift doors, there is also the ever increasing noise of the lift machinery. Louder and louder if growls, making it hard to say or hear anything at all. 

There are a number of mechanisms which work to close the doors or at least to make the gap as small as possible. For one, the increasingly commercial concerns of the Social Media platform favours the stronger voice, the louder shout, the more piercing cry. Mostly, though, the commercial concerns favour… the commercial concerns. Money talks and can be heard most clearly through the crack in the door.

And this is what I want to explain. I still love to communicate, to interact, to say silly stuff. Similarly, I love to hear your news and your thoughts and dreams. Your successes still elevate me, you challenges still move me. All this is unchanged. But the energy required to get through the crack in the door is much greater than it ever was before and it is tiring and it wears me down a bit. I still shout through and I still press my ear to the door but I do it less and less.

The good thing is that there is more time for other things. I’m writing well, working hard, watching a few more movies, getting some walks in. All that is good.

But there’s no denying that I miss my online people and the open door murmurings that used to succinctly colour and enhance our lives. I don’t think I am alone in experiencing a waning energy for dealing with social media. I think that I see it all over the place. I even think there is a subconscious resentment against the media which quietly bleeds onto personal interactions. ‘They didn’t say anything back to me so, just this once, I’m not going to say anything back to them.’ That’s not a big thing, I think many people would deny that it exists, except, if I’m being harsh and honest, perhaps in my own twisted little mind. But I think it’s there and every little thing closes the door a bit more.

So, hey, I’m still here and I love to see your stuff and I regularly seek out your stuff out of interest and perhaps in defiance of the forces that try to stop me from seeing it. 

And now my Social Media complaint is over, hopefully for another year at least, and I will keep on keeping on and will hope to see you around the platforms somewhere. 

The doors have nearly closed and I don’t see a way that they will ever sit wide open again as they did in those grand old day of yore when we saw everything we wanted to see and were heard by everybody who wanted to hear us. 

“Excuse me. Is this car going to the basement? Hello..?”

Wizards Take the Train

We arrived home after midnight from a journey to London to say a very sad farewell. When you feel that the person you are saying 'goodbye' to would have enjoyed the way you did it, there is some comfort in that.

During the few days I was there, as I traversed back and forth across the outskirts of London, a thought occurred that I’m sure I would also have had back when I lived there over twenty years ago. Back then though, there wasn’t the tidy frame of reference that I seem to have for it now. 

Now we have Harry Potter, in all his incarnations and all his glory. Because of that, I can now say what I must have thought all those years ago.

Wizards take the train.

Back when I lived in London, for my fifteen years or so, I did my fair share of Tube travel. In and out to the City Centre, wedged in, rocking and rolling in all of the heat and the interesting smells. It was okay, I didn’t mind it, if I could get a seat, I could always get some reading done.

But, in the latter years, my destinations seemed easier to reach by using the rail network. Similarly, this time around, I didn’t set foot on a tube. Instead I nipped from station to station along the rail network and enjoyed the ride.

Armed, as I was this time, with all my Harry Potter references, it was plain to see that the Tube was strictly a Muggle form of transport and the rail was for the Wizards. 

In the books, the Wizards have their own peculiar ways of getting around. Sometimes they seem more clunky and old fashioned than the Muggles’ ways but that is only a superficial reading of the situation. The Wizard ways are fast and effective as well as being slightly quirky and other-worldly.

So it is with the rail system. It has about it a strange quality of being in a slightly alternate dimension to the rest of the city. It ploughs through the same landscape and arrives and departs from much the same places but it is slow and yet fast at the same time. High tech yet old fashioned. Familiar but still a  bit odd. 

And the Wizards take the trains. They just seem different to the tube people. More given to noticing that you are there beside them. More prone to a smile. There is space on the trains and light. The staff at the stations seem more personable and, surprisingly for Wizards, human. 

The train trundles and jangles and clatters and groans but it gets there and you arrive more neatly-pressed, slightly more sane than if you had gone via under the ground.

It all makes me wonder about buses. I think that buses might just be a little bit magical too. 

I’ll try them out next time and report back. 

Hey Kenny

I’m late posting today. ‘Nearly didn’t bother at all.

On weeks like this, when the world hangs heavy in the air, there is a tendency not to write. More than that, there is a tendency not to show any writing thing to anybody. It feels frivolous and almost disrespectful to engage in lightweight considerations when the overriding feeling all around is one of sadness and loss. 

This was my tendency. Leave your blog posting for now. Let it be. There are bigger things to deal with. 

But I don’t think that’s what Una would have wanted. A key part of how well we got on together was how I could make her laugh and smile. Sometimes bemusedly, sometime with reserved disbelief, but often with an unbridled sense of fun. 

And we find that, don’t we? That even in the unhappiest of times, a laugh or a smile will creep through, under the wire. We can’t help it and why should be try? It’s our strength to find a way through and if it’s a laugh or a smile that helps, then we should welcome it rather than fight it. 

It’s in that spirit then, that I share a silly thing that happened to me last week.

I was walking back to the office from the house after a lunch break. Along the street, a car drove past me and pulled up sharply on the road in front of me. The lady who was driving opened the driver’s door and leaned out. She looked back at me and spoke in a rather world weary voice.

“Come on Kenny, let’s go.”

I often meet people who know me but who I don’t immediately know. I didn’t really want a lift but the tone of the driver suggested she had something she need to talk to me about.

“Come on, Kenny, come on.”

I realised I had been standing rather blankly on the footpath and so snapped into action. I hurried around to the passenger door and opened it as a necessary prelude to climbing in. 

Just as I was about to put my first leg into the car, a small Jack Russell Terrier dashed up from behind me and jumped into the passenger seat.

“There you are, Kenny. Bad boy.”

Kenny grinned out at me from his seat. The lady looked up at me.

“Thank you,” she said, for getting the door for Kenny, I guess.

I closed the door and went back to work. 

That’s it. It might not make you laugh. Hell, it might not even raise a smile. But I think Una might have smiled at it.

And that’s why I’m posting this week.

The Pizza Routine

One thing I learned, from last week’s look back over ten years of blogging, is that you never know which scribble might turn out to have more value than another. 

As I looked back over the years of posts, I could see that things of seemingly great import at the time now looked irrelevant and, frankly, a bit dull while some of the tiny details now seemed quite evocative and relevant.

This was rewarding to see. I’ve always been consistent in not trying for a ‘showstopper’ blog post every time I sit down to write one. Therein lies the way to ruin. The object has always been to just get something down. Something that has coloured my week in some way. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, or even obviously interesting to anyone but me. Just get it down. Last week confirmed that those ‘tiny posts’ can be just as good as the big noisy ones… at least for me.

That’s why I’m going to write about the Pizza Routine this week. It’s hard to see how anyone would be bothered with the details of this but it meets the criteria for a blog post. It’s real and it’s something I’ve thought about (and done) this week. 

So here it is. 

On Saturday evenings, Sam likes a takeaway pizza. He’ll have worked hard in school all week and he deserves it so there’s no argument there. Patricia and I don’t go for  pizza so we usually have some dinner made at home which gets eaten while Sam has his pizza. 

I have a routine around this pizza which is more calculated and more rigorously enacted than any other single aspect of my life. This is partly because Sam has liked takeaway pizza on Saturday evening for quite some time now. The routine has had time to evolve and cement into what it is now. Something that is completely set and reliable in an otherwise busy and often uncertain week. Something that gives me more pleasure than you might think possible. 

The routine starts with the making of the evening dinner. That’s a variable, depending on what the dinner is, but it will most often be a rice-based meal and the moment when the rice goes on to cook is the moment that the routine really kicks in. 

The rice goes on, it’s now time to order the pizza. Get to the computer, get to the pizza website, re-submit last week’s order. Yes, I will collect. Yes, I will pay when I get there. The moment the pizza is confirmed as ordered is the moment that I set the stopwatch on my phone. 

A quick check that the rice is doing okay and into the car. Drive to the garage, park up, go in, buy a Dr. Pepper in a bottle. One Euro, Sixty Five. No, sorry, it’s gone up to One Euro Seventy now. That held me up by a  few seconds in the first week it happened but then I adapted. Correct change, back to the car, walk don’t run. 

Drive to the pizza place. Go into the supermarket car park across the road to turn the car around so that it is pointing for home when I park outside the pizza place. Park up. Check stopwatch. It will be between nine minutes thirty and ten minutes thirty. The pizza take ten minutes to make. 

I walk in the door and greet the staff behind the counter as I walk up to them. They all know me and we exchange a line and a smile or two. The pizza is ready and is handed to me as I get to the counter. I hand over the correct money, turn and leave, wishing them all a good evening. They are smiling collaborators in my little routine. Although they probably don’t know I am actually on a stopwatch, they do know that I am an immovable constant in their world of impatient customers and cold uncollected pizza. It is a peculiarly specific contract is a rather loose world. If they make it on bang on time, I will collect it bang on time. They always deliver their end, no matter how busy they are. I think they may even jump me up the queue sometimes, knowing that I will open their door ten minutes after they see the order. 

On the drive home, Lyric FM is playing the Saturday Night Opera and I always listen to it as I drive to the pizza place and back. The best drives are when the opera is coming live from The Met in New York via the Toll Brothers Network. I love to hear the generous sponsors listed and the breathless description of the opera storyline then the applause as the conductor comes out and the incredible fast start as soon as he hits the podium.

Then I am home. Sam meets me at the door and takes his pizza and Dr Pepper while I check the rice, which is now done. Sometimes I steal a slice of pizza as Sam doesn’t eat it all.

Our dinner is ready. Sam has his pizza. We settle down for some junk TV. All is pretty right with the world. 

And that’s all there is to it, the Pizza Routine. What’s the point, Ken? Why waste the time it took to write this down? 

It’s like I said, I learned something last week, when I was reading back over the writing stuff of ten years. In another ten years time, the things that seem tiny and irrelevant now may not seem such any more. The Pizza Routine will be long gone. Who know what else, apart from that silly routine, may be done with? In ten years time, if I am spared, I may look back and smile and say, “Gosh, yeah, remember that?”

And, who knows, you the reader may find something to hold in my silly little routine. Something quite unknowable to me may be evoked in you as a result of this waffle. That’s how it works sometimes. That’s where the magic lies.

But that’s your business, not mine. 

Ten Years

So, yes, I’ve been writing this blog for ten years, as of this week. 

Celebrations have included a bowl of Corn Flakes and de-icing the windscreen of the car, so it’s a complete social whirl here, as you might imagine.

I’m not inclined to get all philosophical about the anniversary. The blog is a low key thing these days, more for my own benefit than for anything else. 

I do always appreciate the people who come and have a read and I’m always keen to re-emphasise that there is absolutely no obligation to do so. I fear most for those good people who drop in weekly. Do they now feel tied into some perceived requirement to turn up? If so, please don’t. Drop in now and again, when you’re passing, and that will be great. If my blog was somebody else’s I definitely wouldn’t read it every week so I don’t see why you should either. 

But I do like to see you coming and always welcome the feedback.

Well. How to mark the ten year milestone?

I went back over my posts and picked out one that I liked from every year. I didn’t mull too hard over it because that might have kept me at it all day. 

Here, then, is a link to a post from every year of the blog. For God’s sake, don’t go reading them all, that would be daft. But, if you have two minutes, you might click one and have a look, for old time’s sake. 2016 (the second last one) is my favourite of these, I think. 2015 proved the hardest to pick, nothing really stood out. 

Here’s the posts. Thanks to everybody who dropped by over the last ten years. I’m quite proud of the 642 posts and the approximate half a million words I’ve amassed here.

A couple of them are actually quite good. 

2008 - Goos-ey Goose-ey - One of my more mortifying true stories. People laughed, which was nice.

2009 - Eavesdropping on the Movies - Lots of posts were about memories from my younger days. This one caught something I like to remember.

2010 - A Shallow Grave for the Dice Man - About books and such. Things I like a lot.

2011 - Naked Ladies of my Youth - Not quite as provocative as it sounds.

2012 - Summer Holidays - If the blog has had minor preoccupations, I would say one of them has been that of being a Dad and being a Son. 

2013 - Getting into Valentino's - I haven't blogged about my writing too much. I think this post has a  good level of honesty in it.

2014 - What Charlie Haden's Song Means to Me - A general point turned into a rather personal memory.

2015 - Draw Rein, Draw Breath - Some thoughts on Yeat's Grave and what his headstone means.

2017 - Maggie's Year - My first year in college will be remembered by me as 'Maggie's Year'.

Next week... who knows?