Guessing Game

Over dinner, George Michael was on the radio singing 'Somebody to Love' with Queen.

I said to my two young men, "This was originally sung by somebody else, do you know who it was?"

The eldest (12) said, "Was it that guy with no shirt?"

"That's right," I said, "What was his name?"

Big blank.

"I'll give you a clue. His first name was Freddie and his second name is also the name of a planet."

The younger (7) thinks a bit then pipes up...

"Was it 'Freddie Uranus'?"

I think Freddie might have quite liked that.

The First Night of Alien

The word got around. The Savoy was about to re-open.
For months the dilapidated foyer had echoed to the clatter of hammers and the buzz of power drills.

Now the word was out. The year was 1979, we were sixteen years old, and the movies were the crux of our social lives.

The re-opening of the Savoy Cinema was a big deal to us. When we heard that the first film to be shown would be 'Alien', that deal became a good deal bigger.

Ridley Scott's 'Alien' was coming to Sligo with some major advance publicity. It was, we read, the scariest film ever made. The poor cinema-goers of London were dropping dead of shock in their seats. We simply could not wait for it to arrive.

The Savoy re-opened on a fine Summer's Friday evening. We queued from Seven o'clock, a full hour early, to be super-sure of getting in. When the mesh curtained French-doors finally swung open we may have shuffled nonchalantly up the newly-carpeted steps but our hearts were beating fast.

The d├ęcor might have changed but thankfully Marie, the horn-rimmed lady in the ticket booth had not.

Marie ran her very own little censorship office from behind her Plexiglas screen. While the powers-that-be had judged that 'Alien' was worthy of an 'X' certificate and therefore suitable only for persons over eighteen years of age, Marie figured otherwise. Although 'Alien' contained mayhem, death and dismemberment aplenty, there was absolutely no sex whatsoever. Marie therefore reckoned it was all right for us to go in and see it. She was a fine woman.

We opted for balcony seats. Only Feeney, proud possessor of a new blonde girlfriend, headed for the stalls, having heard a rumour of the re-instatement of 'courting seats' in that area.

For the uninitiated, 'Courting seats' were unpartitioned couches designed to accommodate two like-minded souls. An evening in a courting seat was considered a success if the pair managed to swap their positions without ever standing up. Feeney was all on for giving this a go.

The rumours were right, the courting seats were back - built for pleasure and speed - but this was not to be Feeney's night. While he installed himself hopefully in the first courting seat, his girlfriend was busy settling into the second.

She stretched out, put her feet up and grinned across the vast expanse to where Feeney lurked.
"These big seats are great, aren't they?" she said.

It was about then that Feeney knew he would have been as well off upstairs on the balcony with the rest of us.

'Alien' was great, at least I thought so. Full of dark corridors, dripping acidic fluids and shiny designer-creatures, it remains one of my most vivid movie-going experiences.

But not all of my friends agreed. Half way through the film, at a particularly tense moment, an unimpressed ne'er-do-well called Gilmore got frustrated with the pacing, picked up his duffel-coat and threw it out over the balcony.

I have many memories of Sligo's Savoy Cinema, now dark once more.

One of my fondest is of the screams which rose from Feeney's nervous girlfriend when, alone in her oversized seat, a mysterious fuzzy alien, with floppy arms and a hood, descended on her from the darkened skies above.

I Have Been a Rover

Lots of writers deal with the subject of Lycantrophy or the art of being (or at least believing you are) a werewolf.

Well... I’ve got a bit of that going on. I firmly believe that there is a part of me which is Canine through and through.

Yes, I am convinced that I am part-dog.

Sure, it would be cooler to be Lupine and howl at the moon but, as the man says, you can’t always get what you want.

Why do I think I’m part dog?

Well the evidence is there in my behavior, particularly in the way I deal with other dogs.

It’s mostly territorial. Whenever I see a dog who barks at me, it effects me at a very basic primordial level. That dog is clearly trying to assert some kind of authority on me and I CANNOT HAVE THAT (sorry). I see any dog barking at me as a personal invasion and affront and the desire to go to that dog and take my bloody vengeance is often difficult to suppress.

I have never come across a dog who scared or intimidated me. Dogs sense this in me too – generally they are afraid of me no matter how nice I am trying to be – they sense that thing in me which humans cannot – namely that if they get in my space and annoy me, I could gleefully tear them limb from limb.

As a result people often tell me that I am ‘good with dogs’. I like dogs, so that helps, but mostly the dogs know not to get out line with me. They smell a kindred spirit. One who responds to them as another dog would – an Alpha Dog.

Why am I musing on this today? Well yesterday, someone ‘got in my space’ down town. They were drunk and they ran full tilt into me as I was coming out of the video shop. I said something like ‘Please be careful’ and he said ‘F**k off, don’t touch me.’ At those words, the territorial instinct set in and, in that moment I was no longer a tired dude heading home from work.

I hissed something into this guys face that I won’t repeat here – suffice it to say it was graphic and completely confrontational.

The guy looked into my eyes and he saw the dog in there. Maybe in his drunken calculation he saw somebody who he could win over in a fight but he also saw somebody who would bloody him badly before he finally succeeded.

So he lowered his eyes and he went away.

And as I walked up the street, the dog was gone again and I was left reprimanding myself for rising to these situations.

I was an old fool, I thought, and it was time I calmed down.

But one part of me – a small part – just wanted to find a pole and piss on it.

Sub Text

Some days it all comes together. Not very often, once or twice in a career, but when it does, it’s sweet, very sweet.

I was over at the guys place, doing what I liked to call a ‘Columbo’ on him. I knew he’d killed his wife’s lover, everybody knew it but nobody could prove it.

Especially me.

Joey Price had been poisoned. He had been given some sticky acidic stuff that had eaten through his guts and caused him no small measure of agony before it finally dispatched him.

My guy had been in another county at the time, or so he said. He had a rock-solid alibi but you can buy those if you know which solid rock to turn over.

Basically I was fishing for Probable Cause. I figured if I could get into his underwear drawer, I’d find something to pin the tail on the donkey. Trouble was, I couldn’t get in, I had no reason to go searching, the guy was innocent.

Yeah, right.

I was doing my patented small talk on him but he wasn’t liking it much. He kept looking at his watch as if he had someplace better to be. Just like on Columbo.

“Still, it must be a burden,” I said.

“What?” Testily. ‘Testily' is good.

“The name – your name – people must poke fun at it all the time. “I’ll have you on the rocks” or “what proof are you”. That kind of thing. Does that happen a lot to you sir? Does it?”


Did I tell you his name was Smirnoff? No shit. Peter Smirnoff.

I had a little bit of information to tease him with and I was trying to figure how best to feed it to him. It’s a bit like fly fishing. I wanted to present the bait to him, get him to nibble, then reel his ass in.

“Mr. Smirnoff, something has come to light…”

My phone went. I yanked it out.


But it was a text. I can’t tell the difference in the ring tones, like some people can. I’m not technologically sound.

The text said, “Where R U???”

Gerry, my partner is better with phones and stuff than me. He can use letters in place of certain words to save space and time. It’s admirable, I guess. I don’t admire it but it is admirable. Me? If I’m forced to send a text, I have to use that ‘predictive’ thing where the phone guesses the word you’re going to write. I usually prefer to call back.

“Where R U???” Shit.

Gerry was sick in his bed, that’s where Gerry’s ‘U’ was at. He called in and proudly announced that he had the ‘Man Flu’. I don’t think he knew what it meant. Gerry is good with phones and not much else.

“You can reply to that if you want,” offered Smirnoff magnanimously.

“Nah. It’s my partner, he’s needy but he’ll wait.”

Smirnoff poured himself a drink. Orange juice actually.

“You were saying,” he said, “something come to light.”

“Was I? I said, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, the text. Funny it was a text, isn’t that funny?”

“What text?” Testy again, someplace better to be.

“Joey Price, we found out he sent a text before he died.” I studied Smirnoff, not too obvious. He twitched. That’s a sure tell, when they twitch that way.

“We know this,” huffed Smirnoff, “He texted Kathy, “Help me dying,” he texted. We know all this.”

Time for the bait.

“Not that text, sir. You’re right, we all know about that one . I mean the other text.”

And that brought a big twitch. Maybe I could still land him after all.

“What exactly are you talking about Detective?”

“Joey, he got one more text out before he died. To his mother. We didn’t see it ‘cos he fell on the phone and damaged it and poor Mary was too distraught for a week to check her messages. Understandable, I’d say…

“What did it say?”

Old Vodka Peter was doing more than twitching now, he was palpitating, flapping. It was a shame I didn’t have anything, anything good.

“Tell me what it said? Did he name a name?” Smirnoff was red. Red label, geddit?

“What if it did? I pushed him, “What if it named you?”

And that’s where he went calm, that’s where I lost him. He was smart, this Smirnoff guy. He realised I was out fishing for him with no real bait and that all he had to do was stay calm. So that’s what he did.

“Tell me what it said, please.” He said, all cool and collected, and I knew he had slipped away from me.

My phone buzzed, another text.

“Tell Me Where U R AT.”

I ignored it again. Man Flu my ass. Oprah was finished and now he wanted me for diversion.

I sighed.

“The text he managed to send to his mother only had one word in it.”


I sighed again.

“’Poisoned’, he texted the word ‘poisoned’”, I said.

Smirnoff nearly laughed.

“That was kind of stating the obvious, wasn’t it?” he smirked.

“Well yes sir, it was, and that’s what’s been bothering me,” I was starting to sound a bit too much like Columbo, truth be told, I should move on to ‘Murder She Wrote’ or something, “It’s been bothering me all night. His killer must have left him for dead but he woke up and got one more text out. Why would he text that?”

Smirnoff looked at his watch for the fiftieth time.

“I have no idea, Detective,” he sighed, “And now I really have to go.”

My phone went again, another text.

“Can U Call ME at Home? OPRAH is over.”

I did some sighing myself.

“Would you excuse me a moment sir, I’d better reply to my partner, he thinks I’m lost.”

Smirnoff nodded impatiently and I set to the painstaking task of drafting my reply.

“Can you leave me alone?” I punched in, “I’m with Smirnoff.”

And then I looked at what I had done.

And then I looked again… and scratched my head… and laughed, out loud. I actually laughed.

Smirnoff exploded.

“That’s it detective, I am leaving now and I will seriously consider reporting you to your supervising officer_”

I held up my hand.

“I’m sorry, sir, but you can’t go anywhere. I’m going to need you to come down to the station with me.”

“What? I have no intention _”

“And I need to inform you that you are under arrest for the murder of _”

“Have you gone mad?”

I looked at him through my one good eye and grinned. I really couldn’t help it.

I showed him the text I had written to my partner. He read it.

“I don’t understand,” he said, “why did you write that? “I’m with poisoned.” What does it mean?”

“That’s just it sir. I didn’t write, “I’m with poisoned”. I wrote, “I’m with Smirnoff” but this predictive text thing I have to use – well, it turned your name into that word.”

Smirnoff’s mouth fell open. I couldn’t really blame him, it really was one hell of a catch.

"Who'd have believed it?" I said, "You type in Smirnoff and it comes up 'Poisoned'."

Sometimes they fall that way. Not often but when it happens, it’s sweet, really sweet.

And I couldn’t resist one final swipe.

“Don’t worry Mr. Smirnoff,” I said, “we’ll make sure they put you on ice for quite some time.”

© Ken Armstrong 2009

First To Admit it, 'Last One to Know

Are there song lyrics that just seem to speak about you in particular?
I’ve found quite a few but this Paul Simon song seems to hit closer to the mark that most any other.

If something goes wrong
I’m the first to admit it
The first to admit it
But the last one to know
If something goes right
Well, its likely to lose me
Its apt to confuse me
Because its such an unusual sight
Oh I can't get used to something so right
Something so right

Mostly it’s that line ‘first to admit it, last one to know’. That’s me, that is.

He wrote that song about me. And then he goes on to say:

They’ve got a wall in china
Its a thousand miles long
To keep out the foreigners
They made it strong
And I’ve got a wall around me
That you can’t even see
It took a little time
To get next to me

God, Paul knows me so well. Except he doesn’t, does he? He doesn’t know me at all.

I bet there’s lot’s of people out there who think this song speaks to them personally. It’s 'carnival fortune-teller 101' - find those truths that seem highly personal to the client but which most of us, deep-down, really share.

I know all this… I know…

Still, that’s me he’s singing about.

What songs get you this way?

The Awful Responsibility of the Check Out

I always feel such a grave responsibility at the supermarket check out. I feel it is my solemn duty to be fully paid-up and effectively gone from the end of the conveyor before the next customer is ready to be checked out.

Don’t ask me why this is. I never mind if the person in front of me dallies, messes up on their packing or even doesn’t start to contemplate paying the check out person until their goods are practically out in the back of their car.

Whatever the guy in front does, I’m pretty cool with. But, when it’s my turn, I might as well be going on stage at the bloody London Palladium – the pressure comes on.

I’m pretty good at it too. Usually , everything is packed neatly in the trolley before I have to enter my PIN.

Then I can wheel away with a warm sense of accomplishment. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

On those black days, you will witness me wheeling away from the back of the checkout, bags everywhere, receipts trailing like renegade toilet paper, trying to get to a neutral place where I can organise myself in peace.

But, I will console myself, the person behind me did not have to wait on my account. This consolation remains unabated even if the person behind is a ninety year old barn owl of a lass who hasn’t even managed to heave her Steradent multi-pack up onto the conveyor yet.

One interesting side effect of this unnecessary (and frankly a bit scary) super-market compulsive disorder is this; I will rarely go to a vacant checkout with my trolley.

If there are two checkouts to choose from, and one is completely free, and the other has an auld wan unloading her gear, I will happily fall in behind that auld wan and wait.

I know how mad this sounds – I feel feckin’ dodgy just typing it out.

But the simple fact of the matter is, if I go to the vacant checkout, then the checkout guy/gal will have practically all of my stuff rung through before I even get it unloaded.

And then, when I’m desperately trying to catch up on the mountain of packing on the far side, there is no doubt that an emotionally damaged soccer mom will arrive at the checkout behind me and she will glare at me all the time that I’m fecking around with my veggies.

And, as you’ll probably have gathered by now, I hate that.

Holy Thursday - 40 Years Ago

We were an elite among altar boys.

We could light our Turibles in a force 10 gale, swap our gleaming pattens from hand to hand without batting an eyelid and our synchronised genuflection was, purely and simply, the talk of the sacristy.

The nuns of the Convent required four sturdy lads to serve at their Easter Ceremonies.

These volunteers would be required to infiltrate the convent walls, witness ceremonies other boys would never dream of, and eat hard boiled eggs in the convent dining room.

We felt we were ready.

We each brought their own particular skills to the team. For instance, Plu Kilcawley's two-kneed genuflection may have owed more to Bruce Lee than to Saint Martin De Porres but it would always strike mortal fear into those heretic hoards out beyond the altar rails.

For my own part, I was known to be 'good' with a communion bell - very good.

That whole weekend remains embedded in my memory. There was the sad and silent Good Friday ceremony with the passion reading that would not end. There was the Holy Saturday midnight mass where a huge crucifix had to be carried backwards up the central aisle under the steely gaze of the nuns. There were those eggs afterward.

But it is the Holy Thursday that most sticks in my mind...

The time before the mass was severely dragging its heels. So, when some non-serving mates invited me out for a game of football, it seemed like a good idea.

When the game was over, I had to grab my bag and run for the convent at the last moment. I got there but only just.

The nun's seats all ran at right angles to the altar and each had her own little compartment in which to perch.

The gig went just fine - up until the moment that the priest announced the 'Ceremony of the Washing of the Feet'.

I turned to Skippy Hopper.

'Feet?' 'Washing?'

'That's right,' said Skippy as he pulled his socks off, 'weren't you told?'

I most certainly was not!

I looked down at my own feet and winced. Bath Night was just a distant memory and all that football had done nothing to improve them.

I kicked off my shoes.

Father Gilhooley approached us carrying an angelic white ceramic bowl and a pristine white cloth. He stooped in front of Plu, took his leg and dipped his bare foot in the bowl then, removing it, made a nominal gesture toward patting it dry.

I was the last in line.

The priest kneeled before me and, only then, became aware of the dreadful condition of my feet.

He gave an audible sigh, motioned the offending articles into the bowl, rolled up his sleeves and set to work. Soaking one end of the cloth in the water he scrubbed and buffed my poor under-attended feet.

The nuns in their compartments leaned forward and craned to see what was happening.

When he finally rose, the bowl had a rich grey ring just above the water line, the cloth was beyond reasonable repair but my feet were Christian once again. He glared at me and shook his head sadly before returning to the altar.

And, even though my subsequent communion-bell-work was well up to par, I don't think he ever really forgave me.

(c) Ken Armstrong

Theme Player

In a serendipitous occurrence, I had literally just being thinking about TV themes when Jim Murdoch accosted me down in the virtual post office queue and suggested I write a little something on the subject.

Such is life.

The reason I’d been thinking about TV theme music was on account of ‘The Wire’.

See, the whole world seems to have seen and loved this hard-edged intelligent TV show. Well, the whole world except me – I missed it completely.

It started a complete run last Monday night on BBC2 (no ads) running every weeknight until all five series play out. Five nights in and I am completely hooked.

As a bonus to this great programme, the theme music happens to be a song by my hero Tom Waits. ‘Down in The Hole’ as performed by The Five Blind Boys of Alabama. Here’s the opening credits of series one, as a taster:

Good, eh?

It got me thinking about how the TV series theme tune has largely died a death this last few years. Look at ‘Lost’ (Neeeaaaaaaarrrrrgggghhhhhhhhhh) or more recent series of ER. The new aim seems to be to get through an opening credit as fast as humanly possible and get into some early early commercials. As they might say on ‘The Wire’: ‘Damn!’

But back in the day, when men were men and music was music, themes were themes and there were some great ones.

So, when Jim suggested a TV Theme post, I immediately rubbed my hands in glee and did some quick scheming. I can do my favourite themes, I schemed, like ‘Mission Impossible’ and ‘Hawaii Five O’. Then Jim said (and he really did say this word-for-word) “To be honest forget Hawaii Five-O and Mission Impossible…”. That’s what he said!

But… but…

I love the themes from MI and H5O, do you hear me, I love them! And now I can’t write about them. Where’s a guy to go?

In truth, Jim’s little 'constriction' makes the challenge more interesting because those two exclusions rule my memory in terms of TV themes. So now I've have to work a little harder to come up with others which have made a great impression on me.

I’ll show you a few in a minute but first a genuine question.

Can you tell me what your favourite TV theme tunes are, avoiding the big big players as I’ve had to do? I really want to know because I am sure that your memories will kick start my own memories and many of your favourite themes will thus become mine once again.

So tell me what you like and why and, for my favourite comment (if I’m lucky enough to get any) I will post you a book from the pile behind me which I’ve finished reading and am even now contemplating dropping in the Charity Shoppe. I’ll give you a choice from a few of them, how’s that?

So, come on friends, what do you like?

The ones I’ve summoned up below have stuff in common. They are largely orchestral and also largely not written specifically for the series they ended up on.

Here’s a cracker: It’s by Khachaturian, the ‘Adagio from Spartacus’ but can you remember the TV series? Of course you can. (Go to 6:10 if you just want to get the TV Theme effect.)

You're right, it was 'The Onedin Line' or 'The Uneven Line' as we used to call it.

Remember Black Beauty? The times I ran around the garden slapping my arse to this one. Granted, by the age of 21, the neighbours had started to stare…

I never actually watched ‘The Life and Times of David Lloyd George’ but I remember Ennio Morricone’s theme, which I think was written for an earlier movie. It’ll always be the Theme from TLATODLG to me though.

The High Chaparral anyone? I used to love that one.

And finally, dammit, it’s my blog after all. Try listening to this without mimicking surfing. I dare ya.

I double dare ya.

You are Something Other than a Hound Dog

Once in a blue moon, I have something which might just pass for an original thought. Whenever it happens, I like to post about it so, let’s see, I’ve had one previous post like this.

Yes, that sounds about right.

Anyway, here we go with today’s supposed original (trivial) thought. I’ve surfed it up a little and I can’t find anyone saying it. If you have seen anyone, do please let me know. I thrive on disappointment.

I grew up with TV cartoons and I have great affection for them. It was always a revelation to me when I found out that particular cartoon shows were based on real-life characters and earlier TV programmes or movies.

One of the most famous of these was ‘The Flintstones’ which came straight from ‘The Honeymooner’ . There was a lot of dear Jackie Gleason in Fred Flintstone and more than a lot of Art Carney in Barney Rubble.

There is also that sometimes-contended-but -nonetheless-fun-fact which says that Fred and Wilma were the first couple ever shown in bed together on US TV.

Another famous cartoon spin off was Top Cat, which obviously derived from The Phil Silvers Show, otherwise known as Sergeant Bilko. In fact, Maurice Gosfield, who played Doberman on The Phil Silvers Show, also provided the voice for Benny the Ball in Top Cat. So the connection was hardly a secret.

There were others too; Snagglepuss was clearly inspired by Bert lahr who played the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Dick Dastardly was simply an animated version of Jack Lemmon’s Professor Fate in The Great Race (the role of Mutley having been played by Peter Falk in that movie).

And on and on….

"Get to it", I hear you cry, "where is this so-called 'original thought' of yours?"

Very simply, I firmly believe one of the more famous cartoon characters of the last forty years is patently based on a real live person. And I can’t find anybody else who suggests it.

So who is this character and who is the person he is based on?

The cartoon character is Scooby Doo. God, I used to love Scooby Doo when I was little. Who ever knew that Shaggy’s name was Norville "Shaggy" Rogers. Not me!

I also think I had a little crush on Velma – no, she wasn’t the hot-looking one but I didn’t mind. I figured Velma and me could research stuff in the library and say ‘Jinkies’ together and if that sweater of hers ever got too hot…

… sorry?

Oh, yeah.

Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?

Scooby Doo is Richard Pryor.

He just is.

You want to argue this with me? G’right ahead.