The Half-Life of Chips


There is a Golden Moment in the life of a takeaway chip. You just have to be there for it. You have to be ready.

You are handed your bag of chips over the tall tile and aluminium counter. You reach up and it comes down to you from on high. I won’t say like manna from heaven but you get the gist. You hand over your money. The exact amount, if possible, you can’t miss the Golden Moment on account of having fussed with change.

You leave the takeaway, nodding to those who are waiting, smiling sympathetically at those who are still wondering if everyone has their shout in. The door closes behind you.

Now you either climb into your car or start the walk home. Let’s explore the car option, which is my own life, my own experience. I never walk with my chips. This statement describes precisely how posh I am.

You get into your car and place the chips on the passenger seat beside you. It is time to ferry these puppies home so that your waiting family can enjoy them as hot and as fresh as is humanly possible.

But wait. Bide a wee. For now is that moment.

The Golden Moment.

Don’t drive off just yet. Poke at the chip bag with a single index finger. Feel that brown paper sturdiness. Allow a small aperture to be formed in the top, such that a single chip can be gently teased out.

This is the chip. Look at it. Just look at it.

It is still deep fat fryer hot. That vinegar, so recently sprinkled on top, has not yet had time to run off and down towards the bottom of the bag. It still clings to the surface of the chip, glistening in the streetlight.

Don’t wait any longer, eat it.

It is the simply the perfect incarnation of a chip. Any moment before this will find it too hot, too bewildered from all that shaking and salting and bagging. Any moment after and the deterioration has already begun, the cooling, the congealing.

This is the Golden Moment.

Have another. And another.

Now it’s time to drive, to get this precious cargo home. You turn your headlights on and indicate to pull out but the stream of cars is steady and nobody is of a mind to let you out. Eventually, there’s a gap. You accelerate away, keeping within all limits but yet mindful that there is a clock running here. With every second that passes, the chips are losing some minuscule part of their charm and you know from long experience that their zenith has already been passed.

You drive and drive and, all the time, you are reaching your left hand into that enlarged aperture and pulling chips out of the bag and eating them. These might not be the exact equal of that magic chip from a few moments ago but they are still fresh and hot enough to be simply wonderful.

You drive and drive and soon you are home. The chips are delivered and dispensed. You eat your own share, minus the ones you already had, and they are fine but nowhere close to those clandestine ones you stole while in the car. Not even close to being close.

This is why you are always glad to be the one who goes for the chips. It may be raining, the chipper may be packed out and sullen, but you are so amply rewarded with that golden moment, in the street or in your car, when you find yourself alone with the food. That magical time together.

And when your wife and children shake the top bag of chips and comment how there seem to be less of them every week, you only nod and smile and suggest that perhaps next week there may be more.

Seven Years


Time moves faster, the older you get.

They didn’t tell me that, when I was young. Sure, they alluded to the fact that a long life can seem to go by in the blink of an eye. They just didn’t cover the speeding up part.

I mean, come on, it’s March already. It was Christmas yesterday and last Summer was just the day before. Tomorrow is Easter and 2020 is close behind. This isn’t going to end well, is it?

It’s seven years this week since Dad died. How can that be right? It seems like…okay let’s not go overboard but it does seem more like four years than seven.

“Time passes. Listen. Time passes.”

I figured it would be nice to write a new post about Dad. Some memories and stuff like that. I’ve been thinking about it now for a couple of days. It’s evoked a strange feeling in me. It’s kind of hard to describe but let me try. 

When I was little, I somehow ended up out of my depth in a swimming pool. I wasn’t happy out of my depth because I couldn’t swim. But the edge of the pool was right there, just out of my reach. So I started kicking and splashing to get myself to that edge of the pool. I kicked and splashed and eventually I got there and clung on and climbed out and I don’t think anyone even noticed that it had ever been a thing.

The thing I remember though, about that, is not the relief of reaching the edge of the pool. It’s the eternity of time I spent before I got there. Kicking and splashing, getting nowhere, floundering.

When I started thinking about a new post to write about Dad, I started to get that feeling again. That the edge was right there in front of me but I couldn’t get to it, no matter how hard I kicked.

The edge, in this case, was my memories. My memories of Dad. They are right there, I can sort of see them through the melee and the stinging pool-water in my eyes. But I can’t grab them.

I thought it would be a breeze. Write something new? Easy. Dip in to the old memory banks, pull out a juicy titbit, write its ass down.

Not so, as it turns out.

Granted, I have written posts about Dad before and covered lots of stuff in there. But there’s more. There’s lots more. Acres more. He was always there. We were especially good mates in the years between Mum dying and him dying. Loads of things happened. Loads of moments. Loads of memories…

And those memories remain like the edge of a swimming pool that I am reaching for and can’t quite get to.

I think I thought that starting to write this post would give me the impetus to get to the edge of the pool and haul myself out onto some rough tiled floor of memory. So far, though, it’s not working.

Oh, I could tell you about that time we went out to lunch in Strandhill and… or the time we watched The Shining on telly together and… or that other time when… Not all of my memories are out of reach. Many are right there, I have them. But those ones, well… To continue the pool metaphor, none of those memories seems to provide a sufficient grip, a sufficient hand-hold to haul myself out of the fix I am in. They’re not ‘substantial’ enough.

But, now that I think about it, it suppose that’s the thing, isn’t it?

I’m trying to find a memory that will sum it all up in a neat eight hundred words. Me and Him. Him and Me. And of course such a memory never existed. The whole thing was a mosaic of tiny moments and interactions. There was never one all-consuming moment that told the entire tale.

It’s just the small memories that matter, isn’t it?

I really didn’t know that when I started typing.  

But I got there in the end.

There was that time we went for dinner and Dad was trying out some new pill which was obviously messing with his metabolism such that he was hugely and unstoppably charming and flirtatious with all the female waiting staff. I had to go around after him apologising profusely. He was 78 at the time.

Or that late evening when I dropped in to visit and we ended up watching the Shining together and it was coming to the Room 234 scene and I said to him, “Dad this is good film but that lady is about to climb out of that bath and you know that you don’t want to be sitting here with me when she does that.” So we turned over to the football.

Or that time we went together for your endoscopy and all the grown men before you were coming out shaken and teary-eyed and you came out, same as ever, quietly reporting it wasn’t terribly nice.

Seven years on and I’ve still got you in here, Dad. No worries. My memories may not be huge or earth-shattering but, whenever I bunch them all up together, I’ll easily have enough to haul myself up onto the edge.

Every time.

Tendons


I’ve been walking around the town doing a kind of a Hitler salute and people have been looking at me funny so I thought I’d better explain.

It’s a stretching exercise. I seem to have somehow damaged some tendons in both my arms at the same time and this stretching thing seems to help. I extend my arm, waist high, and raise my palm backwards as far as it will semi-comfortably go. Man, you feel that action in your tendons, trust me on that.

I’ve had this thing since roughly early December. I looked it all up on the Internet, as you do, and the general consensus is that stuff like this can take about six months to heal. So here I am, working my tendons and pissing off all those good townspeople who haven’t read this yet.

How did I do it? I hear you ask.

Okay, I don’t, it’s a literary device, deal with it.

Our clothes line broke. It’s one of those twirly-round helicopter type ones, you know what I mean, and perhaps it didn’t so much break as wear out. They do that, you know, those twirly-round helicopter type clothes lines. So, anyway, I bought a new one and I started into putting it up. And, for better or worse, I started to put it up like you would put up an umbrella. Except, of course, it was one fucking enormous umbrella. When the ‘Umbrella Technique’ failed to have the desired result, I resorted to going at the thing from the other side, stretching the arms of the line out and out in the hope that they might click into place. 

Unfortunately the spread of those metal arms was marginally more than could be managed by the natural spread of my arms or, more specifically, the spread of my arm tendons. Regardless of this, the line had to be erected so I pushed and I pushed and something tore a bit, I guess. Not just in one arm but in two, which is all I’ve got… two.

So here I am, with constantly painful and aching arms, moaning occasionally and grimacing a lot, doing my little Hitler exercises all around the town (Autocorrect keeps capitalising Hitler (see) which is annoying me a bit. Grammar or not, I don’t want to afford the prick that amount of respect). It’s not all that painful. A minor thing, really, and I’ll be okay. So don’t be worrying about me. Stupid tendons, stupid helicopter clothes line. 

I got the line up, in the end, did I tell you?

Tendons, though. They are sore. They’re sore now, as I’m typing this. They’ll be sore later and they’ll sure as shit be sore tomorrow. It’s made me think. Everything makes me think. It’s quite tiring, really. All that thinking.

It made me think that you can’t ever really have empathy.

I always like to think that I have a lot of empathy. It’s one of the very few things that I actually clap myself on the back about, from time to time. I like to think I can feel some of what you feel, experience things from your point of view.

But these overstretched old tendons of mine have told me otherwise.

For two months, a little more, I have been in some pain. Not a lot but some and almost constantly. It’s been a persistent presence in my days… and nights. It’s told me lots of things. It’s told me I’m getting older, that injury is easier to do, that recovery times are longer. More importantly, it’s told me that I’ve never felt this for anybody else. I may be a great empathetic person, here in my head, but I’ve never felt pain when somebody else has told me they were feeling it. Now that’s it’s here with me, at least for a while, I know that nobody is sharing it with me and, when it goes, as I hope it does, I won’t be sharing anyone else’s. Our pain is our own to bear.

It’s a pity. What a talent it would be to be able to take a percentage of someone’s pain for a little while. We could all chip in and give some poor person a week away from their burden. Fourteen of us, half a day each. We would be doing good and we would be getting a solid dose of real empathy. We would know how that person lives.

I also think we would live in a far better world, if we could feel a little of each other’s pain. We would be kinder to our ill and our elderly and our disabled. We would take care of them better.

I think I might stop typing now. My tendons are a bit sore.

You might think you know how that feels.

But you probably don’t.

Not. Really.

Adam Ant and the Spider Woman


Whenever an old edition of Top of The Pops comes on BBC4, people fire up their Twitter and reminisce about the acts they are seeing there. Last night, Adam and the Ants must have been on. I don’t know for sure because I wasn’t watching it but good folk were tweeting about the band and I assume that was the reason why.

Upon seeing those tweets, a random memory came into my head. I tweeted about how I went to see the film ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ back in the day and ended up sitting beside Adam Ant at the show.

Since nothing much has happened to me this week, I thought I would type out that thought in a blank word document and then see where it took me as a prompt. At the time of my typing this line, I have no particular idea where that might be.

Let’s just see what happens.

In 1985, I had only been in London for a year. I went to the movies all the time - well once a week at least. I loved the fact that I had access to obscure, outrageous films that would simple never appear in my home town in Ireland. As well as the larger movie houses, I frequented places like the Lumiere in St. Martin’s Lane and the Curzons in Mayfair and Shaftesbury Avenue. I liked to see the films on the first day they appeared. Not the posh Thursday night premieres (if there was one) just the regular first showing on the Friday night. I remember ‘Subway’ and ‘Betty Blue’ and ‘Caravaggio’ and ‘The Cook, The Thief…’ and ‘Manon Des Sources’ and loads more.

Let me try to recall what I can from the ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ outing. It was that first Friday showing and it was packed. I went with D from work, who was effectively my boss. Only there wasn’t that much of a restrictive hierarchy to the place we worked in. D might have attended more important meetings that I did, he may have made some bigger decisions, but we all had tea together at the break and laughed and socialised a lot so it wasn’t that odd to catch a movie in the city, after work.

Looking back, I reckon I was pretty naive then, even though I had no idea that was the case. When I think about it now, this evening, it seems to me there were things going on then – wheels with wheels – that I had no clue about at the time. This is true of many things that happened to me in my London years. I lived through things without dwelling on them too much and it only seems that they start to have some logic and coherency now, thirty years later.

Anyway, never mind about that, we went to see ‘Spider Woman’. It was coming into town with great critical reviews and William Hurt could do no wrong in my book so it was a no-brainer to go and see. I remember, particularly, the opening titles of the film. No, not so much that. I really mean the bit before the opening titles, where the cards of the production companies are projected onto the screen. I remember there was loads and loads of production company cards to get through before the movie got going. It got so that the audience started to laugh and cheer a bit with every subsequent production card that appeared. There really seemed to be that many of them. I think it’s a more normal thing now, to have lots of production and finance companies involved in the story of how a movie gets made but back then it seemed unusual.

D was on my right, still in his fine suit from work, while the seat on my left remained empty as those production cards rolled. Then someone came in and sat down. A slight dark person, my peripheral vision told me. D, who was always hugely interested in everything around him, leaned forward slightly and inspected this fellow on my left then he nudged me. I looked at him. He mouthed something without speaking. “Sorry?” He mouthed again with a modicum of volume. “Adam Ant.” I sneaked another look and, sure enough, the profile was unmistakable. It was Stuart Goddard or Adam Ant as his fans knew him best.

That’s the end of the story. Stuart and D and me watched the movie and at least two of us enjoyed it. I didn’t ask Adam Ant what he thought of it. I didn’t interact with him at all. In truth, I forgot he was there and by the time the lights came back up, he was gone. It’s not much of a story, really.

I’ve always enjoyed random near misses with celebrities though and London was great for that kind if thing. I never felt the need to engage with them or anything like that. Not much anyway.

Patricia and Una and me went to see Howard’s End in Richmond and Richard Attenborough was in the row in front.

At the Killing Fields, Mel Smith was in the seat in front, which surprised me because it was a cheap Monday night showing.

Timothy Dalton used to live in the block of flats across the road from us and he would be in the corner shop sometimes getting milk. He was James Bond at the time.

John Hurt lived down the road and I can’t tell you where my flat mate and he used to regularly run into each other, but they did.

We met Michael Crawford one evening, as he came out of the stage door after playing the Phantom of the Opera and there was nobody there to greet him. We said hello and he said hello back.

Just last week, Patricia and I went to see Bryn Terfel in the National Concert Hall and as we walked up the street to the entrance, Bryn was going in. We wished him a good show and he thanked us.

I think I like just glancing past people, almost proving to myself that they are real and just as mired in mundane daily rubbish as the rest of us all are.

I think that’s it.

Adam Ant though. Weak story though it may be… well, it just still remains a bit special. It was a time where it seemed anything could happen and often did. That chance seating arrangement seems to sum all that up now.

It was the best of times, you see. It was the worst of times.

Short Fiction - Felicity Figures It Out


This week’s post is a short story and possibly not a very good one at that but it had just had to be done.

I heard a discussion this week about a grammatical rule that I had never heard of before. 

I immediately felt (as I occasionally do) that there might be a story to be built around this little factoid so I resolved to give it a go.

I've written some of these on the blog before. There's one here and another here.

For me, these type of stories are more akin to devising a crossword puzzle than any kind of meaningful literary endeavour. The words get erected around the primary foundation, the characters are bent to suit the trick. 

Still, they're fun to do. For me at least.  

Here it is: 

Felicity Figures It Out

“So all I can ask you, most humbly, is that you please consider the situation and return with all haste what is so very precious to me.”

Felicity’s plea was modest and impassioned and seemed to hit home with the twelve small faces who stared up at her from behind their tiny ink-stained desks. She could not imagine which of her beloved pupils had acted in this way against her. Could it be Bosede, who looked so guarded and who would not meet her eye this morning? Or could it be Dikelede, whose exceptional poverty was widely known in the village?

For a moment, she held out some hope that her transparently emotional approach would be enough to see her stolen torsade bracelet safely returned to her possession with no further harm done.

This hope lasted for all of thirty seconds, when the English teacher Simon Dufrene careened into her classroom.

“What’s this I hear? What nonsense is currently afoot?” His jacket was askew and his moustaches trembled. “Show me the culprit, present him to me this minute.”

Twenty-four brown eyes in the classroom widened. Twenty-four lips tightened. Twenty-four tiny fists clenched tightly.

“Simon, there is no call for mayhem.”

“Mayhem? I’ll show them mayhem. I will not leave the colour of them upon the ground.”

Felicity coloured a little herself at Dufrene’s lack of composure but she held her own as she knew she must.

“Really, Simon, we have had a small moment of confusion which I am well on the way to resolving satisfactorily. Your intervention is every bit as much appreciated as it is unnecessary.”

Simon Dufrene took a long moment to quietly try to grasp the import of what he just been told. Failing spectacularly, he returned to his default position of high-volume bluster.

“The note, show me this famous note.”

“Really, I don’t think- “

“Show it to me!”

Felicity was reluctant in the extreme to produce the note but Simon was the senior teacher in the mission school and she could not refuse his demand to see it. She slipped it from her sleeve. The note was written on a sheet of foolscap which had been yellowed from the dust of the village. It had been folded as many times as necessary to render it very small against her wrist.

“Confounded liberty,” said Simon as he unfolded the sheet. He read it in two seconds flat and then exploded all over again.

“Who wrote this?” he roared at the twelve terrified children in the classroom. “I know one of you wrote it so who was it?”

The children all looked to each other to see who might confess but nobody did.

Simon produced his pocket watch and made a great show of flipping the gold cover open and studying the time displayed therein.

“I shall give you thirty seconds,” he said, “and, in that time, one of you will confess to stealing Miss Adams’ heirloom bracelet and will, for his or her trouble, receive six of the best from the cane in my office. “He looked up from his watch and his blue eyes appeared hooded and mean to the young assembly before him. “But, mark me on this, if nobody confesses, I will take each of you in turn to said office and I will gift you twelve of the best across the backs of your legs and before I am done, by heavens, somebody will speak.”

The room trembled. Felicity trembled too but she tried not to show it.

“Simon,” she said, “while I greatly appreciate your assistance, I think it would help my standing in the classroom if I were to deal with this in my own way.”

Simon thrust the note back into Felicity's hand, crushing it a little as it went.

“This cannot stand. A theft, a ransom note, by God’s blood. It’s a damned outrage and it shall not stand. I shall show you, Felicity, how a gentleman takes command.”

He glanced at his watch again.

“Fifteen seconds. Who will now speak and save his comrades?”

Adise, at the front desk in the classroom, stood up tentatively. Dufrene’s eyes fell upon him.

“Was it you? Do you confess?”

“Sir, I would gladly confess to save my friends and if I am permitted to do this, I will.”

“Did you steal the bracelet?”

“No, sir.”

“Then sit down and be quiet.”

Felicity read the note in her hand once again. A childish script, a rudimentary grasp of spelling and grammar. One of these children had to be responsible. There was nobody else.

The note read as follows:

“Missyadams. I have taken your jewellery away from yu. Leave two shillings under the village Baobab tree and it will come back to yu in safely. I offer you 10,000 apppologys but my need is verry grate.”

“That’s it. Time’s up.”

Defrene produced a lengthy bamboo cane as if from thin air and commenced to swishing it around, cutting the air in the classroom noisily and leaving a tangible vapour of discord in its wake.

“Who shall be first? Who shall taste the consequences of their continued silence?”

Felicity stared at the note. In a single moment, she saw what she had not seen before. She surprised herself by not being very surprised at all.

“Simon?”

“You must not try to reason with me, Miss Adams. Discipline and the Rule of Law must prevail.”

“I quite understand but may I ask you one question?”

“A question? At this critical moment?”

“Just one.”

The cane cut the air impatiently.

“Very well then. Just the one.”

"And will you step outside with me while I ask it?"

"Ask here or not at all."

“Very well.”

Felicity hesitated a moment.

“Yes?”

And then she took a very deep breath and proceeded.

“Do you have some regard for me, Mr. Dufrene?”

“What?”

“This is my question. Do you have regard?”

Dufrene looked anxiously at the twenty-four brown and two green eyes that were fixed on him.

“I think you must know, from my genteel advances of late, that I do indeed have some considerable regard for you but I don’t quite see- “

“And do you aspire to impress me as a gentleman of power?”

“Really, Felicity, have you lost your mind?”

“And would you do one terribly important thing for me if I were to most humbly ask?”

Dufrene paused, dumbfounded.

“Would you?”

“I suppose I would.”

“Then let me ask you this. Will you now return my Mother’s bracelet to me?”

“I will, by God, I will. I will leave no leg unmarked in my quest to do so. The culprit may not produce it forthwith but I feel confident it will soon appear underneath that brute of a tree without need for payment of any ransom.”

Felicity pressed on.

“You misunderstand me, Simon. I am asking whether you will return it to me for I am now quite certain that you have it in your possession.”

All was silent in the room.

A droplet of sweat formed on Dufrene’s brow and trickled down his nose.

“You are impertinent. I am your headmaster.”

“You have my bracelet. I know for a fact that you have it. Will you now return it to me?”

Dufrene stared at her in open disbelief, his cane poised as if to strike. Then, ever so slowly, he dipped his free hand into his jacket pocket, removed a small packet and placed it into Felicity's outstretched palm. His voice dropped several levels so that only she would hear it. Everyone in the room heard.

“I apologise.”

“Accepted.”

He turned to leave but spoke over his shoulder as he went.

“How did you know?”

“It’s not important. A trifling thing.”

“Please.”

“You wrote the note as one of the children might but you also unthinkingly penned it in accordance with a certain rule of grammar. A rule these children could not yet know.”

“And this rule?”

“You wrote 'Two' and '10,000'.  One to one hundred should be written as words…”

“…anything higher should be written as numerals.”

Simon Defrene nodded sadly as he turned to exit the classroom.

“I only sought to impress you,” he said, “To display for you my true power as a gentleman.”

Felicity also nodded as she closed the door gently behind him. The latch clicked shut decisively as she whispered gently to herself.

“You failed,” she said.

Just a Phase I’m Going Through


I’m going through a phase.

“So what?” you might well ask, “Everybody is always going through a phase, what’s so special about your one?”

Nothing, obviously, absolutely nothing at all. Except that this is my space for writing in so I get to write about my phases. Get your own space and talk about you own damn phases there.

Sorry, sorry. That was a bit rude. It’s just another part of the phase I’m going through.

So what it this phase, Ken? Why don’t you tell us all about it?



You’re still here? I thought you’d have buggered off after I snapped at you. Well, okay, if you insist.

I’m going through a phase of thinking that every writing thing I’m currently doing, including every writing thing I’m proposing to do in the near future, is a load of old shit. That includes this blog post. Which is no surprise, seeing as how this blog post is a load of old shit. Or is it? Is this just another part of the phase I’m going through?

Oh dear, this is going to get messy, isn’t it?

Oh, and before I go on, this is not a cry for help. Deep down, I know I’m fucking brilliant and I don’t need you to tell me that. So don’t. It’s just that, on that superficial level where phases tend to reside, I just reckon my writing has gone to fuck, gone to shit, gone to all the swear words.

But, don’t worry, it’s just a…

Thinking about it, it's possibly the only tangible downside of being loose online pals with lots and lots of really great writers. The fact that I get to watch them write great stuff and innovate and battle and be incredibly productive and succeed. Basically, I get to see them get their shit done. It makes me feel a bit silly sometimes. It makes me feel like I haven’t done as much as I should have done and that what little I have managed to do should have been done a damn sight better.

Allow me to make some excuses for myself.

Many, not all but many, of my loose online writer acquaintances are professional writers. They get to give their full energy to the task. I am not a professional writer, never have been. although I do always try to write with all the professionalism I can possibly muster. I have to squeeze my writing into late night hours and borrowed weekend sessions while the body of the week is taken up with all that other stuff I do. The stuff I don’t talk about on here. My real life.

Time and quality are inextricably linked, in my mind anyway. In order to produce something substantial and coherent and valuable, it helps enormously to have a continual period of time in which to dedicate your heart and mind to it. I can never find that. When I retire, in about 15 years’ time, I hope to do so, if circumstances spare me that long.

That’s my excuse.

I know how it sounds. It’s the eternal refrain, isn’t it? The excuse of all the would-be writers all over the world. “I would be great, if I could only find the time.” Let’s all face the truth together. The great ones found the time. It doesn’t matter how they did it, they did it. They got that shit done.

And, again with the excuses, I really have managed to get some shit done over the years. Twenty-Eight produced plays for theatre and radio, many of them long-form, some of them produced many times over. A short film that got made, a pile of long and short scripts that didn’t. A novel that didn’t get published (‘wasn’t good enough, ‘will never self-publish… that’s a blog for another day). And then there’s this blog, eleven years’ worth of it, every week. Over half a million words, some of them almost passable (that might be the Phase talking). So I think I have earned some licence to bitch a little about the lack of continuity available to me for my writing.  

Short form stuff works well. Long form stuff is harder. You can write anything in tiny bursts like the ones I get to work in but I certainly find it way harder to corral the tiny bursts into something really substantial.

Something that would be ‘A Product’.

If I’ve learned one thing from watching my loose online writer pals it is this: You need to have a product to sell. A book, a play, a movie script. Some product. You can be the best writer in the world. You can have a vast Twitter following and you can convince the world that you will be the next best thing after the current best thing. But it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that thing… The Product.

For all my plays and short stories and failed novel, I don’t really have The Product. I have lots and lots of stuff but it’s all either one thing or another. Too short, too old, too weird. I don’t have a single long form product that’s worth flogging far and wide and finding somebody to take it on. I don’t have that embryonic West End hit, that potentially wonderful film script, that biddable novel draft. In the case of one of my full-length teenage plays, a very famous playwright told me, “You have a hit there” and, in fairness, it has seen quite a few productions and done well for me. But it’s still not a full three act theatre play in the old sense. It’s a modern ‘hour in the theatre’ type of deal and that is fine in itself but is never going to rock the world.

Longer form work, that’s where the continuous time is needed. Smaller things can be done, inch by inch, hour by hour, midnight by midnight. But the long form masterpiece needs a locked room, isolation and a considerable headlong run at it.

At least I currently think it does. It could be this phase I’m going through.

This will pass. All things pass. I will force myself to bang on with the long form stuff I continue to thrash out, night by night. I will love it all again and see some vague potential in it, enough to keep on keeping on.

Just probably not today.

Possibly tomorrow.

We'll see.


Provisions


Last week, I had to spend one night in an airport hotel before flying back home early the next morning. I don’t do that terribly often, not being the jet-setting type.

By the time I got into my hotel room, it was late in the evening and I was extremely tired. I had a glance around the room. It was modern and clean and big enough for two, although there was only me. I put down my bag and hung up my jacket and did what I usually do when I end up in a hotel room in the evening. I went to the window and looked out.

There wasn’t very much to see. The brightly illuminated car park several storeys below, the red tail lights of the cars on the adjoining motorway, the twinkle in the sky from the queue of planes lining up to land. Not a living soul in sight. Just lights and darkness, darkness and lights.

I looked back into the room. I felt over-tired yet restless, not quite knowing what to do. I could go down to the bar but that wasn’t really my style. Besides, I’d been travelling for hours to get this far and I had a very early start. I needed to rest.

So, once again, I did what I usually do in these circumstances. I filled the little kettle at the bathroom tap, clicked it on, unwrapped one of the two teabags and laid it in one of the two cups, tag and string hanging over the side and, when the kettle had boiled, I made myself a cup of tea.

With UHT milk and water from a bathroom tap, it wasn’t the Rolls Royce of cups of tea, not by a long shot, but, still and all, it was wonderful. As I sipped my tea, I found myself becoming at peace with the space I found myself in. I pulled out the tucked-in bedclothes (I hate those), set the alarm on my phone, and arranged my book on the bedside table. It wasn’t home but it would do for a little while.

All thanks to the cup of tea.

I think I need to be able to do something for myself in order to know I am someplace where I am welcome and where I, at least temporarily, belong. I don’t think I’m alone in this. The simple act of making a brew was enough to add my own tiny contribution to the standardised commercial preparedness of that room. It made me feel okay.

And that was it. I would have never thought there was anything to be blog-posting about in that tiny occurrence. 

Until I came back home.

I was listening to the radio on the day I came back and there was a lady on there speaking very passionately and very lucidly about her situation. She is running for Local Government somewhere in the Country and she is an Asylum Seeker who has lived for over nine years in Ireland’s Direct Provision system.

The Direct Provision system was established in 2000 to house asylum-seekers entering the Irish State in search of international protection. It was initially described as an interim system which would provide accommodation for a six-month period while people awaited an outcome on their application.

Like I said, this lady had been in the system for nine years and is still there.

She said lots of interesting and clearly genuine things in her interview and I wish her well in the upcoming election. I feel she would be a strong addition to local politics in our country.

But one thing in particular stayed with me from her interview and you’ll soon see why.

Paraphrasing like mad here, she was asked was she able to cook her own meals in the government facility in which she was being accommodated. She confirmed that she was not, that all her meals were provided for her and her family.

And that’s when my heart really went out to her and to all the thousands of people who live in similar circumstances, while their doubtless complicated applications are being processed.

I thought back to my meagre self-made cup of tea and how it had welcomed me and made me feel that I had staked some tiny claim on the place where I now found myself. I thought how much longer that single night might have been for me if I had not had the ability to provide for myself in that simplest of ways. And then I multiplied that feeling by a thousand, several times over. A thousand nights, a thousand people, a thousand meals not prepared with their own hands.

I don’t pretend to be smart or to understand the intricacies of the world. I only really know what goes on inside my own head, and really only some of that.

I do know that the ability to prepare some food for yourself and for your family is food itself. It is sustenance for your heart and for your soul. I know that the absence of that is something that could only ever make your day, and your life, and the country you find yourself in, a lot bleaker and a lot less welcoming than it needs to be.

If only for a day or two a week, if that woman could cook something for herself and her family, how much shorter would the night be for them? How much easier might they sleep?

Quite a lot shorter, I think.

Quite a lot easier.

They Cannot Yet Know


This picture surfaced again this week.

It’s surfaced a few times before over the years and I even feel as if I’ve written about it before on this very blog but, if I did, I can’t find the post so here we go again.

The photo dates from about 1979 (that’s a guess) and it shows the cast of the first play I ever wrote. That’s me there, third from the left, in the life jacket and hat, smirking.

I could name all the guys in the photo but I won’t because I don’t know where they all are anymore and I don’t want their names turning up in a random blog post like this. I’m in touch with only one of the guys and he often comes by here for a read so, Hi G, hope all is well with you.

The play – it was more of a sketch really - was called ‘Hamlet in Ireland’. We were doing Hamlet as our Shakespeare play for our final exams so I wrote a sort of skit on it for some school variety production that was going on. I remember a guy and a gal singing ‘When I Need You, I Hold Out My Hand and I Touch You’ but the rest of the show is lost to the mists of time and even that may have been some other year.

I remember ‘Hamlet in Ireland’ though. I remember writing it on six or seven sheets of foolscap paper, using different coloured pens for each of the different character’s dialogue. I don’t think there were any copies. I think we just passed around the foolscap sheets to get an idea of what we should say and then we took it from there.

The play went over quite well, as I recall. It was just a loose amalgam of references to school happenings and telly adverts of the time, all tied together with the vague conceit that Hamlet had been shipwrecked off the coast of Sligo and had struggled ashore. Shakespeare scholars might note the appropriation of various  themes from The Tempest and Twelfth Night but that would be bullshit, as theatre analysis quite often is.

There was really only one overriding reason for writing ‘Hamlet in Ireland’ and it was very silly. We had a teacher - a very fine teacher and a lovely man - who had a markedly large head. His nickname was Skull. When we came to the part in Hamlet where poor Yorick is uncovered in the graveyard, I saw an opportunity for some of what my Mum would have called ‘Divilment’. The play grew around the moment when I got to hold a Halloween skull out to the audience, point it directly at the teacher with the prominent head and proclaim, ‘Alas poor Skull, I knew him’. It was every bit as as great as it sounds.

There were other teachers lampooned in the piece too. One teacher had remedied a blockage in a school sump by ‘togging out’ and going into a manhole and clearing the blockage. This was represented in the play by one of our cohort doing a bad impression of this hero while performing a gratuitous striptease on the stage before diving off stage left. This also went over pretty well too.

‘Hamlet in Ireland’. Fun times.

There is an element of serendipity in the way this particular photo surfaced again this week. At the same time, a warm discussion has been going on between a number of other school mates, myself included, about the various bands and gigs we went to see in our late teens.

Although the bands were a little later, it’s all part of the same larger subtext. 'The way we were, the way we are now.'

It made me think.

It’s the reason, I think, that I’ve had the gall to write plays for teenagers while in my fifties. I mean, I’m practically an old man yet here I am, thinking I can write things which are relevant to a whole new generation of young adults in a whole new world.

Why would I think that?

That’s easy. Because I can.

Because some things have certainly changed but not very many. Not very many at all. It’s plain to see, if you look around. The young people of today may have technology and media exposure at their fingertips that we could never have dreamed of. It doesn’t matter much though, not really.

The real concerns of today’s kids, today’s teenagers, are basically the same as they were when I was a teenager, forty years ago. It’s the same fears, joys, loves, hates, successes, failures, wins and losses that obsess them as obsessed us all those years ago. The teenagers we were then and the teenagers they are now are the same people, hardly any difference at all.

It’s just a shame that we, the older teenagers, remember our teens so well but still we forget how to be teens. Our concerns as fifty-five year olds become quite different. We see the remainder of our lives mapped out in a way that no teen ever can and this makes us heavier and slower and somehow less alive.

It’s the great conundrum of being a parent. We can remember exactly what is was like to be young, how it felt, how it was, but we can’t actually be that way anymore, much as we might like to.

Perhaps the distance between adults and teens would not be so great if we couldn’t remember anything at all of our own teens. I think, perversely, it’s the very fact that we remember so much and so vividly… it’s that that keeps us apart.

When I wrote ‘Hamlet in Ireland’ on a few sheets of foolscap in multi-coloured biro, I never guessed I would go on to write twenty something more plays. I know it now. That’s the key difference between us, I think. The Adults and the Kids.

We know all that we have done, all that we have failed to do.

They cannot yet know.