Attic Attack

Something is living in my attic now.

It’s become a bit of a ‘thing’ with me, mostly because I’ve never had anything living in the attic before. This thing – or things – in the attic is fairly small (most of the time) and a bit scratchy and pitter-pattery. It’s active mostly in the night and it moves fairly rapidly across the other side of the ceiling…

… now you’re all looking at me like I’m stupid.

“Ken,” you’re saying, hands on hips – and it’s not a good look for you, let me tell you , “It’s a mouse, Ken, you have a little mouse in your attic.”

Yes... but is it? Do I?

I have been tracking this beast for a few weeks now. I can find no droppings, no chewings, no earthly trace.

I have also been trapping for quite a while. At first my ‘Last Tango In Paris Buttered-Up’ mousetraps were sprung without snaring anything. For the last week, they haven’t been touched at all.

One of the few upsides to all this is how I have come to enjoy being in my attic. The careful priming of the traps, the feeling of dangerous solitude, the frisson that, at any given moment, a very small creature might venture outside of its nature and go for my throat.

I’ve got lots of tips on the best bait for my traps, which now comprise a bewildering array of alternating humane and brutal contraptions. I’ve got peanut butter, butter, bacon, cheese, more cheese, smelly cheese and After Eight mints. The mice must think it’s party time at the Ambassador’s Residence.

Yet here I am - still no closer to meeting my invader.

The trouble is, this kind of thing messes with my slightly over-active imagination. I have one of those pull down stair thingies to get me into my attic. As I pull it down, I envisage thousands of hostile dying mice cascading down into my hair…

…then sometimes I think it’s a rat up there. I once came face-to-face with a wild rat as a child – we were perhaps six inches apart, this rat and I – and I’ve had no genuine love for the breed ever since. If I meet a rat up there, I’m going to just step between the joists and go back down to the kitchen the fast way.

I actually do believe that it’s a mouse, or mice, up there but I really want to know for sure so that I can finally ease my squirming imagination.

This morning, at six thirty, I lay in my bed, arms behind my head, watching a spot on the ceiling above my head where, behind the plasterboard-and-skim an incessant scratching… scratching… scratching was going on. Was something about to dig through and finally show itself? I didn’t really need the alarm this morning.

So, dear folks. Any advice for me on this one? Different bait? Poison (I hate the thought). Ignore the little mites? Get the professionals in?

Or maybe there’s really nothing up there at all… maybe this is my own personal Tell Tale Heart, reminding me of some long dead transgression. Beating… beating… beating…

There he goes again, above my head...

…shut up, you little git.

Haiku Would Your Help Be With This?

Okay, I won’t gild the lily. I could use a little creative help here.

I’ve been asked to do something ... one of my more spectacular failings is that I find I hard to refuse anyone who asks me to do anything. (Please use this information humanely) .

In particular, when someone I love asks me to do something for them, I find it impossible to refuse. No, that statement doesn’t quite tell it like it is – When they ask me, I don’t even want to refuse.

So my beloved Linenhall Arts Centre have asked me to do this and I don’t even dream of saying ‘No’ because I 'heart' the Linenhall Arts Centre in a great big way. The Linenhall is my town’s Art Centre, and they have supported, entertained, and befriended me ever since I came to live here in Castlebar. They have premiered - what is it now? – five of my theatre plays. I have appeared in three plays there (none of them my own) and I… just love the place. That’s all.

So, The Linenhall have a programme of events for Culture Night next Friday night – 25th September 2009 - which is part of a nation-wide endeavour to get more of the general public involved in ‘culture-stuff’. The Linenhall will be crammed with diverse events and opportunities for fun. You should come along.

And, yes, I will be there. Here’s what the brochure says about my bit:

Haiku 4 U
Want to write Haiku?
Ken will show you how it’s done
or else die trying

Fifteen minutes in
You’ll know all you need to know.
A good deal or what?

My brief is to show the good people of Castlebar how they might go about writing a Haiku poem in fifteen minutes or less… it wasn’t my idea but it’s not a bad one and that’s mainly why I will do it. I reckon I will have a little ‘stall’ or corner of a room where people can come and talk Haiku and hopefully give it a go.

I have several valued readers who are themselves established and talented poets and I hope they won’t look too dimly on my little excursion into this territory. Jim Murdoch has written well on the subject, as he has done on so many subjects. Sorry Jim.

Allow me to be the first to clearly state that you could fit all that I know about Haiku in a Haiku. I know this and Marie Farrell, the Director of The Linenhall, knows it too. But she’s a smart cookie, is our Marie. She knows I have an enthusiasm for writing which I’m passably good at sharing, that I will approach the subject from the basement up and that I am brilliant at taking the piss out of myself. These are the qualities that I hope will carry my Haiku evening off.

But, like I said, I would sure welcome some input from you guys. We did it a few times before, with Limericks 1 and Limericks 2, and they were a blast.

Could you write me a Haiku in the comments section or else, tweet me one. If you let me, I will use them on the night to help illustrate how a toe can be dipped in the Haiku pool by simply expressing yourself within the confines of the most basic of Haiku rules. This may seems frivolous and perhaps downright disrespectful to some but I actually have a serious writing point at the back of my head.

I firmly believe that creative writing can be strengthened by the at-least occasional imposition of confines upon it. There!

Take a blank page and write anything – it might well be great, it will probably be crap. But nail yourself to a subject and a point of view and a timescale and a tone and a setting and… the end result will be more focused, considered, and points will arise along the writing of it that you never thought would occur.

Anyway, I’ve lost you, I know. If you’re still here, please write me the simplest of Haiku – three lines, 5 syllables in the first, seven in the second and another five in the third. Tweet it or comment it and let me use it for Friday – all copyright remains with you of course – it’s not really Haiku at all but it’s a toe in the door of the form and that, for now, might be enough.

If you want a subject for your poem, here’s a couple of possibilities, Autumn, Myself, Swine Flu, Impotence, cinema-talkers and grass. (I thought of those as I wrote them, can you tell?)

Look, I’ll have a go at a few, ‘top of the head.

Please movie talker
In between your popcorn crunch
I’m longing to hear

Shout at it or sing
It just won’t stand up today
Better call Pele

Something in the air
Not summertime anymore
Better season nigh

... help?

Lyric - Fresh Out of Clever

The moment demanded
A joke of some kind.
When you said you were going away.
But nothing real funny
Jumped into my mind
I’m fresh out of Clever today

You said my inaction
Had ruined your head
Then you waited for something from me
But my witty responses
Were all left unsaid
I'm fresh out of Clever, you see

On a better day
I’d have thrown in a line
I’d have given as good as I got
But today I’ve got nothing
The fault is all mine
My comedic timing’s all shot

So, yeah, I got nothing
Just leave me alone
And close out the door as you go
If you want, you can cut me
Once more to the bone
Cos I’m fresh out of Clever you know.

(Ken Armstrong 2010)

Driving Imagination

God but aren’t there are a lot of bloody awful drivers in the world?

You go out in your car, it’s like being in the middle of an ‘80’s video game. That guy is gonna pull out in front of you, this old dear is gonna park her car in the middle of the road, this girl is gonna drive three inches behind you while doing her lippy in the rear view mirror.

It often annoys me to see how downright badly people drive and I regularly find it hard to hold my peace about it.

Sometimes I berate them after they have driven away (amusing but largely pointless), sometimes I fume silently and promise to blog about it - and sometimes I go at them while they are still there (which is often quite dangerous).

Me? I think I’m quite a good driver. Not in a rapid gear change, heavy revving, wear pointless black gloves sort of a way. I think I’m focused and steady and fairly safe.

As a matter of fact, I’ve developed a bit of a theory on the reason why this might be…

(What? Oh, you’re off? Well see you next time maybe, eh? I know it’s boring but I just want to get it down on paper… you know how these things are.)

My theory is simple. I think there is one key element which sets all good drivers apart from the hoards of useless ones out there. No, it’s not gender, I have no time for that discussion at all. Well, maybe I have a little time… but not right now.

This thing that sets us good drivers apart… it’s Imagination.

I do a bit of writing, I don’t know if you know this. I like to imagine stories and scenarios and discussions and arguments and gun battles and such-like. It occupies a surprising amount of my time. For this reason, I am gifted with a very graphic imagination. I’m not bragging here – it can be something of a curse.

If I get involved in visualising a scenario, that scenario can take over my mind to quite a startling extent. The regular world can simply ‘go away’ for a time and whatever thing is ‘playing out’ in my head will be there, wide and vividly coloured, in front of my eyes. This visualising can halt me in the middle of a conversation or even stop me in my tracks when I am walking. It’s like how they sometimes show flashbacks in movies, without the wobbly-screen bit at the start.

Okay, so we've established that I have some level of imagination. My point is that this helps me enormously towards being a safer driver. The reason is simple. I can ‘see’ what might happen or, more to the point, I can see what might have very nearly just happened and the visceral – often gory – truth of what I see scares me and troubles me into being a little bit more careful as I drive down the road.

These driving scenarios are always playing quietly in the back of the mind. Is there a child behind that car? Will I be able to stop if she runs out. Will I hit her and watch with horror as her little ragdoll heap tumbles up and bloodily shatters my windscreen. How hot will her blood be as it spatters my face? What will the smells be like in my car then, burnt rubber from the all- too-late-brakes, some fruity shampoo from her hair in my face and perhaps… other things too - things I can visualise but do not wish to mention.

The possibility of what I could do with my car is kept in the front of my brain by my imagination and this keeps me slower and safer than some others you may see.

‘Not a saint – never a saint – just a slightly scared motorist who understands what my car might do on my behalf.

The proof of my theory lies mostly in its corollary.

The next time you see someone driving badly, look at them closely. You will see. Whoever they are, they are not creatures of imagination. They do not dream of what they and their car might one day inadvertently do to somebody else.

I really hope they never have to find out.

Liking it So You Don’t Have To #5 – Another Song

I started this little series of posts as a sort of self-flagellation... you’re sitting up and paying attention now, right?

I just thought it might be fun to try to highlight things that I really like which I feel you might not like at all. To defend the indefensible, to bare the very kernel of my middle-of-the-road soul. And, yeah, so far, it has been a laugh.

First we had a movie, then a song (that one was rough) then a singer and number #4 was a book. Yup, although I didn’t actually call that post ‘#4’, that’s what it was… (Here’s an impromptu competition; tell me what that book was and I’ll send you a book, we’ll work out what. Use the comments, that’s what they’re bloody there for, right?)

To business…

Below is a Youtube video of a song. It’s a song from a show which has been held up a template of middle-of-the-road/yuppie pseudo artistic endeavour. A show which has been adored and pilloried in equal measure (I pillory it a lot). And this song is in it.

The song is ‘Bring Him Home’ from the behemoth musical version of ‘Les Miserables’. I like this song, so you don’t have to. But it’s not just the song, it’s the singer. Colm Wilkinson is Irish and we’re all dead-proud of him ‘cos he went and made good on the international stage (no, not the one in Kilburn).

This singer - singing this song - does something to me. What can I tell you? The little hairs rise on the nape of my neck and stay rizzed-up until the final astounding note is done.

Have a listen and see what you think.

Here’s a curious thing. I went to see the show on Shaftesbury Avenue quite a few years ago… and I bloody hated it… and I still bloody hate it. One qualification: I liked the opening scene – the bare-naked revolving stage bit. That was brave and theatrical for a big show like that. But then it went all to hell in a hand basket with urchins and barricades and God knows what else. Hated it, grrrrrrrr.

Doubtless someone sang this song the night we went to see it but it whooshed right over my head. I think I was so annoyed at all the money I’d spent getting in to see this dross that I was rendered totally impervious to anything good about it by the time the drunken innkeeper finally buggered off.

It was years later that the song finally struck me. I remember it well. We were babysitting our nephews in Ballinrobe and the Late Late Show was on but I wasn’t paying much heed to it. Then Colm came on and sang this song live… and I stood transfixed in the centre of the floor and watched him. I literally could not believe what I heard.

So what it is about the song? He sings it quite brilliantly, I think, but it can’t be just that, can it?

Is it the sentiment that subconsciously tugs at the father in me? The elder’s plea for the life of the youth – 'take me instead'? There may be something in that – I have felt twinges of this before when reading ‘The Road’ or even watching ‘The Mist’, so I am obviously susceptible.

Or is it just a stonking good tune? I don’t think it is actually, it’s okay but it's not brilliant. No, there’s more to it that that.

Is it perhaps the vulnerability of a man adopting this emotional and moving falsetto? Does it touch the soul in some indefinable way?

For me, at least, the song is definitely operating on some base level. I equate it to the moment when the head pops out of the boat in ‘Jaws’. Something made us jump then - and it was more than just the head and the fright. Something basic was touched upon. It's the same here.

I like this song. So, go ahead, mock me as a fool. At least I stuck my neck out and I said it., right? I’m like Randall P McMurphy in the shower room… at least I tried, dammit, at least I tried.

What are you brave enough to like?