In My Mind I’m Going to Colorado

In the run-up to Christmas this year, I was thinking about a tune that evokes Christmas for me personally but which has nothing to do with Christmas at all for anybody else…

… as you do.

The main one that I came up with is this:

If We Hold on Together by Diana Ross

It’s not a highbrow example by any means.  In fact it's a rather twee, lightweight, tune which not that many people may even know.  So why does it invariably say ‘Christmas’ to me?  When I thought a little about that, the memories that came flooding back were warm indeed.

Twenty years ago this year, Trish and I spent a month in Boulder Colorado and that month ran from mid December to Mid January. 

I’ve had enough Christmases at this stage to be able to spot the memorable ones and it is fair to say that this was one of the very best.

We stayed with Trish’s Brother and his family and, for me anyway, it was like Christmas on another planet.  The weather – feet and feet of snow, the geography – a vast open plain leading to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and, in the opposite direction, the smoggy spires of the Mile High city of Denver.

The skiing was wonderful too, mind.  We skied Breckenridge and Vail, Winter Park and Loveland and it was magnificent and unforgettable.

Everything went to make that year remarkable but mostly, I think, it is remembered because it was a Christmas purely with friends rather than family.  John and Marian are family, of course, but even more-so they are friends and the type of people I would long to be friends-with even if they weren’t family, if you follow me.  Yes, that was the greatest thing about that year.  Trish and I were together and autonomous and we were amongst friends.

And the song?

It was from little Lisa’s favourite film – The Land Before Time  - and she played it on the video over and over again.  The song tied itself up inexorably with that Christmas.

But not, oddly enough, straight away…

… it must have been ten years later.  I’d just got holidays from work the day before and I was listlessly scanning the television channels trying to find the meaning of Christmas or, at least, a good cartoon.  And there was that film, just finishing, the credits rolling and that song playing.

And it all came back to me in a rush.  The times we had, the memories we burned into our minds.

And, ever since, that song has held as a memento of a great, great, moment in our lives.

Happy Christmas, eh?

The Busiest Day

It’s the busiest day in the graveyard.
A day of gifts and snow
All the people full from feasting
swing on by to say hello.

They remember all their loved ones
so deep beneath the earth
with holly wreaths and icy breath
this day of saviour's birth.

I watch them from my corner
and nod as they pass by.
They read the headstone that I touch
and ask it who am I.

“What was that girl to him?” they ask.,
“what truth did they once know?”
The cold boy and his long dead girl
So deep beneath the snow.

We nod again as they walk back
to warm within their home
those hands that briefly touched a pain
that’s easier left alone.

I’ll see them here next year again
Upon that next Noel
and if they come another day
I’ll see them then as well.

© Ken Armstrong 2011

Beyond Disappointed

Though my friends never ask
if I’m over you yet.
The question is there
just the same.
I can see it sitting
in back of their eyes.
A fear that dares not speak its name.

I stand there and ask
the same thing of myself.
Am I finally free of your spell?
Have I now wriggled out
of the web that you wove
Round my head and my poor heart as well?

I’m over the panic,
the horror, the pain
I’m over the hurting part too.
And now there’s one final hill I’ve successfully climbed.
I’m beyond disappointed with you

You can say what you like
You can see who you want
Those things cannot hurt me no more.
I’m over the aching
That you left behind.
All the sadness that dogged me before

So next time they ask me
that thing with their eyes
I’ll say it out loud cos it’s true.
I’m over the worst
of the damage you caused
And beyond disappointed with you.

(c) Ken Armstrong 2012

X Factor Etc

Every Saturday evening, my Twitter feed explodes with comments about the main Saturday evening television fare.  It kicks off with ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ then moves rapidly (and most vociferously) into ‘The X Factor’ and, these evenings, it finishes off with ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’.

There are loads of people pouring disdain on the shows, there are very few people proclaiming their love for them but there is a vast majority of people who are ‘consuming’ them – watching them – and being entertained by them.

My own relationship with each of these shows is quite fractured.  I often watch bits and pieces of them.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a complete episode of any of them.  Still, though, I know them fairly well.  I would guess my relationship is the same as many many other people who tune in.

Photo: Susanne Stoop (All Rights Reserved)
Reading back over things I have written about X Factor in the past, here and here for example, I can see that I have a sort of love/hate thing going with it… except that I don’t love it at all.  In previous posts, I have been angered and disappointed with the way ‘X-Factor’, in particular, has played its game. 

Today, I feel the need to stick up for it a little bit.

My defence of such programming is pretty basic.  It’s this:

I think we need something to mark our weekends.

Times are tough, there isn’t a lot of ‘going out’ and ‘living it up’ for a lot of people these days.  Also the working week can be a grind – a tougher grind that it was in previous years - and for much less reward too.

Programmes like Strictly and X Factor look a little different to weeknight programmes.  They are lit differently and they sound a little different too.  When they come on, we can subconsciously say to ourselves “Hey, it’s the weekend, relax a bit.”  And, even if we don’t watch them, or even if we just throw a casual eye over them or, oddly enough, even if we absolutely hate them, they still can remind us that it’s the weekend.

We used to get this from heading out to the cinema, or the pub, meeting friends, having a bite to eat.  But, for many of us, the world has closed in a little bit, hasn’t it?  We still go out, live it up, but not as often.  We are older, we have kids and responsibilities - and budgets - and so we sit in.

If television looked on Saturday night as it did on Wednesday night then the week might seem longer, more continuous, interminable.  There are satellite channels like that, where even on Christmas Day, you'll get the same stuff you see every other day.  Is there anything more depressing than a medium which refuses to mark the days with us?

At least, when that blasted music comes on, we know it’s time to bung in a frozen pizza and crack a beer.

It’s the weekend

The telly just told me so.

View From The Grassroots 2

I was saying to myself, “You can’t write a post like this, you did that two weeks ago.”  

After saying that, two things occurred to me.

Firstly, it was actually five weeks ago since I last wrote on this subject (that’s scary) and secondly, there’s so much talk and attention on it, it seems almost churlish to write about anything else.


I live in Ireland and, boy, have we made International News this past few weeks?  Well, yes, yes, we have.  If I understand the situation correctly, and I probably don't, our national banks became bigger than our country could provide backup for and, then, when big trouble finally hit the banks on a very bad day two years ago, our country guaranteed all of the banks losses thus putting the burden on us, the tax payers of Ireland.  The banks have run up more debt that we can currently afford to cover so we are about to be loaned a huge amount of money by Europe and the IMF to keep us afloat.  It’s something of a nightmare scenario and, as my son might say, I may not have told it exactly right.

Having read many international news stories over the past weeks, I have some feeling about how this looks to the world as it peers in upon our plight.  In return, I just wanted to try to give a taste of how it feels to the Average Joe here in Ireland, looking out.

(I’m in danger here of imposing my own feelings on that of the whole country but, if you take me with the customary pinch of salt, we’ll probably be okay.)

If there was one word to describe how we are as a people at the moment, I would say it is ‘Bemused’.

People haven’t been here, at this place, before and they are not being given any indication of where it will all end up.  Will we literally have no money?  Will we starve?  Is it the end of our lives as we have known them?  These may seem like silly questions in the cold light of day and in another country but, like I said, we haven’t been here before and, while we may not actually starve, nobody is reassuring us that we won’t.

We are firmly in uncharted waters. 

More accurately, perhaps, we are like a bad swimmer in a pool who is asked by his instructor (who is safely at the side) to wade a little further into the deep end with every passing moment.  We do it, because we are asked to but the water is getting up over our mouths now and we don’t know when we’ll be allowed to stop.  The Instructor wouldn’t let us drown, surely?  He wouldn’t ask us to keep wading until there was no ground left beneath our feet, no air left to breathe?  Surely not?  But there’s something good on the telly in the swimming pool and the Instructor seems quite interested in that.  Perhaps he won’t notice what he’s done to us until it’s too late?

There is a perception in other places that we threw some kind of ten year party here, that everyone did everything to absolute excess and now we are about to pay the righteous price for this debauchery.  The trouble is, there wasn’t any debauchery – not for the Average Joe at grassroots level.  The Average Joe got a little more Unemployment Benefit or paid a little less tax or had a few quid more in the old age pension, nothing wild or outlandish, just a little more. 

In those last ten years, The Average Joe worked harder than before and was bemused to see other people doing exceptionally well while only apparently working just as hard as he was.  They were the ‘Brave Ones’ who took out second mortgages, and more, in order to ride the expanding property boom, to make their fortunes in a brave new world where big prices never went back down…  When it burst - as it had to eventually, those brave Ordinary Joes were the ones left at the sharp end of the nightmare.  Their depleted employment, their empty unwanted properties and their debt that that will never go away.

And the incessant news reporting makes half-arsed experts of us all.  We are like a guy who knows nothing about soccer trying to talk soccer with his mates.  We have the key phrases and we throw them in to conversations and we really don’t know what the hell we are talking about.  We see now that the people who should have known didn’t know either and that is a stark and worrying revelation.

So here we are, in our little country, bemused.  At least, that’s what I reckon we are.  We go to work each day (those lucky enough to have some) and we greet each other on the street and we cheerfully tell each other that we are ‘Fucked’ as we pretty much always have done. 

It feels a bit as if there is a war looming, a dark cloud descending over our little isle, and we don’t know when it will blow over, or if it will ever blow over, how how dark it will be.

In many ways, we have been blessed down through the years.  We haven’t known famine for centuries, the weather is mostly gentle and kind to us… are we really now heading into something worse than we can possible comprehend?

If not, would somebody please tell us so?

Thanks.  Bye.

Liked This, Liked That…

This week, I’m simply imagining that I am sitting in the pub with someone, just  nattering about stuff  -movies, books, telly programmes - that I’ve enjoyed over the last little while.  

It’s not something I do much anymore but it’s always nice, isn’t it?  To try to instill your enthusiasm for something you like into somebody else, particularly if they’re completely trashed.

So pull up a stool, what are you having?

For a long time now, I’d been longing for a TV programme to hook me in.  Since Sopranos, West Wing, etc passed on, I’ve been a bit adrift, searching for something that I would enjoy coming back to every week.

Downton Abbey’ surprised me by doing just that.  I never thought it would be my kind of thing but, every week, I was back, settled on the couch, waiting eagerly for it to start.  It was lovely to look at and (although I know nothing about it) it seemed well-informed on its subject matter.  Plus it did something unexpected - which is always a good thing – it portrayed the relationships between the upstairs folk and the downstairs folk as being so much more personable and human that I would ever have imagined.  I was sad when it ended, I look forward to more of it next year.

After it ended, I even mourned its passing with a wee ditty, you’ll guess the tune.

Downton, where all the lights are bright
Downton, where all the servants fight
Downton, we’ll be here waiting for you…


On the polar opposite, I also got myself into ‘The Walking Dead’ on FX on the back of some positive advance word from Stateside.  It’s comic book Zombies stuff and I’m sticking with that too.  The acting is sometimes a wee bit wooden (and I don’t just mean the zombies) but the production looks great and the gore and mayhem are done in a rather no-holds-barred way which I really like.  The ‘Downton Abbey’ following may not all find a totally comfortable home here.

Movies?  Just last night, I watched a little movie called ‘Frozen’ which I really liked.  Thanks to the wonderful Sarah Pinborough for mentioning it.  It’s a nervy American film about three young people who get stuck up a mountain in a chair lift.  My son and I found that it built to some fine tense moments and was an entertaining 88 minutes.  Perhaps not for the faint-hearted.

Reading wise, I spent quite a bit of time with  a novel called ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin.  This is a huge book, an end-of-the-world, vampire saga (yes I seem to be wrapped in horror related things at the moment).  I liked this a lot but with a couple of reservations.  I can’t give anything away but there is a plot point in the book which seriously disrupted my reading of it – having settled into the setting and pace of the book, the gears were crunched-down deliberately and hard and I, for one, found it unsettling.  The end, too, lost me a little bit but generally it was a big book which I rushed home to read and that’s a good thing.

I’ve been re-reading some original Sherlock Holmes too.  It’s ages since I have been near any – perhaps not since I was a teen.  They’re really great, very readable and involving.  Give ‘em a go.

I also read ‘Let The Right One In’.  Having fallen in love with the film (blogged about it here), listened to the soundtrack, got the tee-shirt (kidding) I thought I should read the book which started it all off.  It’s a good book but it’s also a prime example of a film improving on a book, in my opinion.  Now the American version is in cinemas… I hear good things about ‘Let Me In’, it’s got a good pedigree… but I think I’ll stick with the original for now.

How about you?  What are you enjoying this last month or so?
Oh, before you start... I believe it’s your round?

The Only Orient Express Memories I’ll Ever Have

If I was any good, I would have been watching the Rugby yesterday afternoon.

I love a bit of International Rugby but, for whatever reason, I wasn’t in the mood yesterday.  Then there was the boys, who had commandeered the computer for a few hours, preventing me from getting at the writing stuff I needed to do.

So I put the telly on and pottered about the house with it going in the background.

RTE were showing a Poirot, one of the ITV David Suchet ones.  Typical Saturday afternoon fare – those older hour-long episodes – I wasn’t into it.

But then I noticed the setting, the opulent train carriages, the locomotive snowbound in the Balkans, and I quickly became interested.  This wasn’t just another ancient repeat, this was a 2010, brand-spanking-new remake of a story that had meant quite-a-bit to me when I was younger.  This was Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’.

Before I tell you a little bit about my relationship with that book, back in the dim and distant past, let me hit you with an impromptu review of the version I saw yesterday.

I thought it was sublime.

Far and away the best adaptation of this book, in my opinion and, at the centre of it all, sits David Suchet – an ageing, troubled Poirot, weighed down by the burden upon him, introspective and, at times, wonderfully still.

It’s a difficult story to make work – there’s lots of characters and the setting is as closed as closed can be.  Plus, it suffers from the same problem as Anthony Shaffer’s ‘Sleuth’ namely; who in the world does not know the famous solution by now?  Don’t worry, if you’re the one who doesn’t know, I won’t be the one telling you.  You are quite safe here.

How typical of RTE to place one of ITV’s biggest productions of the current year on the telly at three in the afternoon.  Still, if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have seen it so thanks guys.  If you get a chance to see it, please do.  The script adds some stuff to the original story, particularly at the end, but the iconography and moral grappling which this introduces is well worth the revisionism.

And, hey, once again, David Suchet is simply marvellous in it.

So why does it mean something to me, this rather silly story of murder in the Balkans?

I’ve referred to it before, in other posts, but, when I was eleven-or-so, my best mate’s dad was the station master and he used to take his son to Dublin on the train for free to see all the new movie releases in the cinema.  In 1974, one of the big movies was the adaptation of ‘Murder on the Orient Express.' starring Albert Finney.  Hard to believe, I know, but it really was.  There was an impressive advertising campaign before the film came out, which was quite unusual in those days, there was a rather stellar cast and the premise looked exciting.

So, when Martin headed off to see it in Dublin, and it was still several months from arriving in Sligo, I took my extremely limited revenge by buying the book and reading it.  Martin returned from Dublin pronouncing it to the best thing he had ever seen, with the most extraordinary solution.  He chatted to me every day as I read the book, asking my opinion on the various characters, the scenarios and such.  The effect was very much like I was on the train solving the mystery for myself.

In the end, I failed to solve it and I was as stunned and impressed with the book as Martin had been with the film.  Bear in mind that I was only eleven years old.

When the film finally arrived, I was extremely disappointed with it, although the music was good.

So, the reading of this book marked a few important ‘firsts’ for me.  It was my introduction to Agatha Christie and the birth of a drive in me to create some of my very own mystery stories.  It was also a revelation to see how much more satisfying a book can be than the resulting film.

But perhaps more importantly, it provided me with a taster for social media.  Nowadays, if I want to talk about a movie or a book, I can do it anytime, here in the Internet.  Back then, though, to find a common point of discussion like that was both exciting and intriguing.

It planted a seed, I reckon.

Here’s a link to another book that struck me hard, in my youth, if you’d like to investigate further…

…’see what I did there?


I got a bit of a pain in my stomach, one morning this week

In truth, I reckon it was the worst pain in my stomach I ever had.

For two hours, starting at eight thirty am, I was crippled.  I couldn’t stand up, ‘couldn’t lie down.  I shuffled around the house from room to room and wished fervently for this pain to ease.

And, after the two hours, and some drugs, it did.

There wasn’t any of those rather gross drippy pukey things that can sometimes go with tummy ache.  It was just a pure pain, blunt and tight.  Afterward, someone rather unsympathetically suggested that it was a fart that went the wrong way.  That may well be all that it was.

But it showed me some things.  For starters, it showed me that I’m not nearly as good with pain as I thought I was. 

I always reckoned I was something of a tough cookie.  I never take sick days, no matter how I feel, I struggle-through.  And those few times when I have seriously injured myself, I have bourne the injury with a fair measure of stoicism and calm.  So, yeah, I’m Indiana Jones, me.

But the other morning suggested to me that, in my life, I have been blessed not to have known much real physical pain.  Also that the degrees of pain I have known may have been relatively low on some acknowledged Richter Scale of Unease.

This thought worried me quite a bit.  It’s easy to be blasé about what may lie in store for you in the future when you haven’t had an actually taste of it.  It’s like watching someone getting lashed with a cat o’nine tails in an old pirate flick and you say, “I could take that…” and then someone casually flicks the beast at your own bare back and you finally have yourself a little context for your statement.

Because when my own little pain hit, there was nothing else in the world.  Beforehand, I had a meeting to get to, calls to make, there was worries about stuff… none of those continued to exist while the pain was in town.  There was only The Pain.

The other thing I got from my twinge was a little more respect.  Respect for the people who suffer.

Apart from thinking I am Iron Man, I also reckon I am a pretty emphatic person.  I reckon I share in people’s pain a little.  It turns out that I was wrong about that too.  Someone close to me regularly phones up and says they are having a ‘bad day with their stomach’.  Until the other morning, I had not the first notion of what they might be talking about.  So, if pain is a part of your life, you have my sympathy – and a little more understanding than I had this time last week.

The last thing the pain did for me was it have me a little context.  When it was gone, I felt released -  delivered from something - and all the meetings and the phones calls and the general weight of the day ahead did not seem as heavy as it had before.

I’ll try to hold on to my feelings of empathy and release.  I’ll try to hold onto the fear a little too.  But, like the pain, these feelings dull and lessen quickly as time passes.

I may have to read this post back, to remind me.

That’s why I wrote it.

The Ghost and Mr Ken

It’s Halloween!!   I don’t  believe in ghosts, sorry, not in any way, shape, or form, I just don’t, but I do seriously love ghost stories. Go figure that, I know I can’t.

As long as I can remember, I have loved ghost stories, reading them, hearing them, telling them, making them up.  Much of what I write seems to involve ghosts in some way or another.  I invest in the stories I read/hear/write wholeheartedly but, as soon as anyone tries to ‘get scientific’ and convince me that ghosts are real I simply switch off.

When I was little, there was a ghost story book in my grandparents house, I remember it vividly even though I must have been only nine or so.  It was called ‘Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book’ and it was a collection of alleged-true reports of ghostly happenings.  The text was probably unsuited to a young lad like myself, there was lots of that old-fashioned practice of substituting real names for ‘M_’ or ‘N_’ – That ‘Edgar Allen Poe’ thing which I always find off putting.

The cover of the book was great, though.  (I found a picture of it and stuck it on top).  As you can see, it was a skeleton, in a top hat and cape, grinning, and he was holding that big old key.  Creepy, isn’t it?  I loved that cover and, even though I was only wee, I struggled through all the stories inside, perhaps solely on account of the spooky loveliness of that cover.  Anyway, I reckon that book may have been the genesis of my love for ghost stories.

But how can I possibly enjoy stories about ghosts if I don’t believe in them at all?  It is a bit of a mystery all right.  I think the ‘ghost story’ is a fascinating device with which to tell life-affirming stories.  I think it allows the narrative to traverse the boundaries of death itself and it allows an exploration of ‘fear’ and ‘need’ as no other subject can.

Like most people, I have a sort of ghost story of my own too.  I don’t believe it, of course, but I’ll tell you anyway.

It is, after all, the hallowed eve…

My local theatre is The Linenhall, I write about it here quite often.  Everyone who works there is my friend and I have had great experiences there, both with my own plays and with everyone else’s too.

One great memory I have of The Linenhall is when I was allowed to sit and watch the Welsh Ballet Company rehearsing for – I think it was Romeo and Juliet – I was the only one in the theatre apart from the dancers and they were all in full classical ballet dress.  But they weren’t dancing to Romeo and Juliet, no, they were dancing to ‘I’m Like a Bird’ by Nelly Furtado.  It was a truly remarkable sight and it felt like it was mine, all mine.

Since then, I am always on the lookout for remarkable little moments in The Linenhall.

One morning, I was in the deserted theatre, as I often am, and I was walking up the side corridor that leads into the theatre when I heard a piano playing from inside the auditorium.  I put my ear to the door and could hear the piano crystal-clearly through it.  It was some classical melody which I couldn’t identify.  I thought this might be another golden opportunity to sneak in and see a performance being rehearsed but I also knew that if I walked through the door I was at, I would arrive right in the middle of the performance area.  So, instead, I high-tailed it back down the corridor, up the main stairs and in through the rear auditorium entrance.

I crept in so as not to disturb the piano player.

But the theatre was pitch dark…. there was no piano player… there was no piano.

There was no body.

I quickly checked the control room.  Somebody must have been in there playing piano music over the theatre speakers.  But it was locked and dark and nobody was inside.

It had taken me much less than a minute to get from one door to the other, and the music had been loud and real.  But there was nobody in that whole theatre that day except me.

That’s my story.  Was it a ghost I heard? 

Of course not, there is no such thing.

Do I enjoy telling it?

Of course I do…

Dicing With Story

This weekend, I held two kids writing workshops as part of the Linenhall Arts Centre Roolaboola Festival.

The idea was to use Rory's Story Cubes to come up with random ideas for stories and then show how stories can be made up out of anything.

Towards the end of each of the sessions we allowed ourselves one throw of each dice to decide on such matters as Hero, Nemesis, Desire, Reflection. Obstacle, Romance and the rest. Then we made up a story using these elements. I then took the final idea away and wrote down the two stories and am reading them publicly today.

Here are the two stories which resulted from all this work. Well done to the co-authors, it was a good time.

First up the six and seven year olds, who got from their dice, A Turtle, A Clock, Books, An Alien, A Pyramid Shape... and some other stuff.

The Turtle Who Needed More Time

By Ava Flynn, Jack Follard, Ellie Follard, Tess Nealon, Luke O’Brien, Seoshamh O’Riarda, Aisling Tierney, Freddie Tursley, and Ken Armstrong

Once upon a Time there was a turtle who needed more time.

That’s a bit of a tongue-twister, really.  Not the best way to start a story, with your tongue all twisted up like that, but that’s just the truth of the matter.  Sally was a turtle and she simply needed more time.

Sally was no ordinary turtle either.  She was a South African Speckled Padloper Turtle who was bought by the Lovett Family when she was only a teensy little Turtle-ette.  As she grew, however, she was found to be unusually clever for a Turtle and so was sent to the Convent school for some human tuition.

Sally got on well with her human classmates.  She was like a normal student in many ways – she hated Monday mornings, she was iffy about U2, and she loved Spongebob Squarepants.

And that was where the problems arose: with Spongebob… and with her homework.

You see Sally was only allowed to watch her beloved Spongebob after her homework was completely finished.  And, although she was smart, for a human as well as for a turtle, we have to face this basic turtle fact:  she… was… sloooow.

Turtles are naturally slow and Sally, poor Sally, was no exception.  Her homework took her absolutely ages to do.  Sometimes, on really bad days, all the other Lovetts – Mr and Mrs Lovett and Baby Joshua Lovett - were tucked up in bed before she was finished.  Which was a sad and lonesome state of affairs and, worse still, by that time of the evening, Spongebob was finished.

One evening, on a rare homework-free day, in a fit of desperation, Sally logged on to her computer and, instead of going onto ShellBook to look at photos of her friends, she went onto eBay instead and bought a Speedy Homework Robot direct from Tai Wan.  It cost €2.87 so it had to be good.  Right?

The Lovetts presented Sally with her package one day and they didn’t even ask her what it was because they were a progressive family who respected their turtle’s autonomy.  Sally went to her room, slowly… and opened the package with great anticipation.  Rather disappointingly though, the Homework Robot looked a lot like a cheap pocket calculator.

“This is junk,” thought Sally and she threw it across the room in disgust, as best as she could manage with her green flippers.  But, when the Robot hit the Justin Beiber poster on the wall, the on-switch must have got activated and a electronic voice sprang from the little device.

“I am your homework robot,” it said (sounding a little bit like Stephen Hawking), “what is your wish?”

 For the next two weeks, The Lovett’s were astonished to see Sally finish her homework easily in time for Spongebob every single day. The homework was of the highest quality too, no misspellings or blots or anything.  They were astonished and pleased because they didn’t like to see Sally working so late, they were nice people, The Lovetts.


In the triangular-shaped attic at the top of the Lovett’s house, there now lived an horrific Ghost Alien called Yuk from the Planet ‘Boo!!’.  The planet was not called ‘Boo’ or ‘boo’. it was called ‘Boo!!’ and it was an extremely jumpy and nerve-wracking place to live.  Yuk and his kind could only grow and develop from their spore-stage in triangular shaped places so they sold Robot Computers on eBay and hid themselves inside them and then, when the customers threw their Robot Computers at the wall in disgust, they creeped out and climbed into the triangular attic where they grew rapidly into a Godzilla-like creature who conquered entire housing estates and did terrible farts.

After two weeks, Yuk was already the size of a small rat.  He bathed daily in the water storage tank and he ate the Rockwool insulation which Mr Lovett had installed using a grant from the Government Energy Saving Scheme.  His plans for housing estate domination were already well under way.

Exactly two weeks to the day after it arrived in the post, Sally’s Homework Robot suddenly sprouted tiny blasters and blasted-off up the chimney and back home to the Planet ‘Boo!!’.  This happened right in the middle of Irish Spelling homework which was very bad timing indeed.

After weeping bitter salty turtle tears of frustration, Sally went to the chimney and peered up in the hope that the Homework Robot was sitting up there just having a strop.  It wasn’t, of course but, as Sally extended her lovely stretchy head up the chimney a soft voice echoed down to her in weirdly seductive tones.

“Your Robot is in the attic, Sally, come and find us… I mean - it… come come come…”

It’s not easy for any of us to get into our attic.  There are Stiras (as seen on the Late Late Show) to be pulled down, light switches to be found and heads to be (ow) banged.  Imagine then for a moment how hard it was for Sally –the turtle - to get into the attic and how very long it took. 

Go on, imagine…  exactly.

Most turtles are quite afraid of attics and Sally was no exception but she needed her Homework Robot back and so she struggled and banged her head and eventually she got there.

The attic was a strange and hostile environment for a young turtle.  Sally was surprised at the triangular shape and the general dustiness and the strange lack of Rockwool insulation.

She flapped across the floor of the attic and wondered where her robot was.

A noise caught her attention.  It was coming from the big water tank at the highest point of the attic.  It was a splishing splashing noise.  It wasn’t very nice.

The plywood lid on the top of the tank lifted up a little and Yuk peered out.

“There you are,” it hissed, “you’ve come at last.”

It twisted out of the tank and plopped onto the floor of the attic.  It looked like a rat but it had no hair at all, it was pink all over, had eight legs and it wore a Barbie Doll hat which it had found in an old toy box.

Sally recoiled in turtle-horror but Yuk came right up to her.

“I am here to take over your housing estate and make your entire family into slaves.  If you ever want to see your homework robot again, if you ever want to see Spongebob again, these are my demands.  I need a single Billy Lizzy plant from your mother’s kitchen window, I need a bowl of Greengage Jelly, I need two full…”

But Yuk spoke no more.

Sally did not even have to think too hard.  She loved Spongebob but she loved her family more and she would rather never see Spongebob again than see her family enslaved.  It was a turtle no-brainer.

She extended her large front left flipper and, quick a flash (her flippers were her quickest part) she slapped Yuk and flattened him into a pink and green puddle on the attic floor.

“Spongebob is good,” she thought, as she struggled back down to her Irish spelling homework, “but Family is so much better.”

                                 *                         *                       *                     *
Then came the 7 to 8 year olds.  The Story Cubes gave them A Bridge, A Sad Face, Drama Masks, An Empty Speech Bubble, A Cockroach and a Big Footprint.

Get this:

The Voice of the Bridge

by Alex Avern, Sadbh Caulfield, Ilia Marcev, Aisling O’Connor, James Swift, Hana Rae Quinn, Clodagh Ryan, Abi Skillington and Ken Armstrong

 Photo by ColourfulFoxes

Once upon a time there was a bridge who had lost its voice.

The ancient stone bridge was set high in the mountains to the extreme north of nowhere and it spanned between two mountain peaks where no man ever travelled anymore.

There was a time when men had journeyed every day back and forth across the little bridge but times changed, as they always seem to do, and the men had given up tending their sheep in the frozen hills and had instead gone down into the warm valleys to live.  They had long-since forgotten the ways of the high mountains and so the bridge was left, high and cold and alone.

The bridge did have one loyal friend - a tiny black cockroach who made his home in a small crack in the bridge’s granite keystone.  The cockroach was a constant companion to the bridge and spoke to it all the time about the tiny affairs which occurred everyday in the lands on either side.  Although the cockroach could get no reply from the silent bridge, he knew that it was listening intently and that it treasured both the news and the companionship.

The cockroach also knew that the bridge had once had a voice, quite a beautiful voice, and that its heartfelt wish was to one day get this voice back.  The cockroach did not know these things because it was a mind reader or because it had mystical powers.

No indeed.

It knew them because the Yeti told it so.

Every evening, as the sun went low, the Yeti came down from its lair in the highest peaks and it taunted the bridge.  It laughed cruelly and said how it had stolen the bridge’s voice and was keeping it locked up in his heart and would never let it go free.  It mocked the bridge and ran its huge claws along its stone walls, scarring it and hurting it.  But, for all its cruelty, the Yeti could not kill the bridge for it was made of the stuff of thousands of years and would prevail over all, even the Yeti.  The Yeti knew this and it made him angry.

‘Yeti’ was the name men had given to it – there were others such as Abominable Snowman, Big Foot, Urak Hai and others but, really, after all words had passed, it was simply a man.  It was a man who had set itself apart from the world many years before and had embraced darkness and pain and evil.  It had grown shabby and bent deep in the mountains and it had learned that evil things can live a long time but can only ever reap what they sow.

One evening, after the Yeti had finished its cruel business and left, there was a strange sound under the bridge.  The cockroach scuttled down to investigate.  There, in the long-dry channel under the bridge, he found a tiny trickle of water.  “Could this be it at last?”  He thought, “could the high mountain thaw be finally on its way.  But he saw then that the water was falling from beneath the bridge rather than coming from the peaks above and he realised that this little stream of water was actually the tears of the bridge. 

He saw that the bridge was crying for its lost voice.

He tasted the salty tears and he came to a resolution.  He resolved, there by the briny stream, that he would win the bridge’s voice back from the evil Yeti even if it cost him his small scuttley life. 

He retired to his keystone crack and he there he crafted for himself a desperate plan.

The next evening the Yeti came down to the bridge as ever.
“What ho, you ivy-infested eyesore,” he sneered, “still here I see, still clotting up my land with your smelly disgusting presence.”

And he proceeded to claw at the bridge as he always did, tearing away shards of stone with each swipe of its huge paws.

The cockroach invariably stayed in its lair until the Yeti was spent but this evening he ventured out to the top of the bridge and he boldly accosted the beast.

“Stop,” he squealed in his tiny voice, “Desist and leave my good friend alone.”

The Yeti stopped and looked all around in surprise for it had not in many years heard a voice except its own.

“Who said that?” it boomed, “come forth and show yourself if you dare.”

“I am here,” tweeted the cockroach, “and I fear you not, you overgrown poo-stained furball.”

The Yeti peered down and saw the cockroach and laughed heartily.

“Is it you, tiny snot,” he said, “that dares to assail me?  Be gone or I shall eat you like the errant bogie thou art.”

But the cockroach, shaking though it was, stood its ground.

“Eat me if you dare, you farty-smelling shamble of a beast, I fear you not.”

And the Yeti snapped his huge head down and ate the poor cockroach up, without another word.

Then the tiny stream of tears beneath the bridge grew a little bigger as it grieved for its poor lost friend.

Once inside the Yeti, the cockroach wasted not a moment.  It swam the furry veins and arteries of the Yeti’s innards until, in time, it landed in the chambers of the Yeti’s dark heart.  There, in a pool of black blood, it saw written on the walls the truth long hidden, it saw at last where the bridge’s voice was spirited away and it understood how to undo the evil although the way was fraught with danger.

It left the heart and saw that there was two ways back out of the Yeti and that the second way was dark and extremely unpleasant so it wriggled and tickled its way back to the Yeti’s throat and it rolled around there until the Yeti finally coughed and spat it out onto the bridge.  Then the cockroach scuttled away for it knew it had work to do and it felt there was not much time as it seemed the end was drawing near.

The Yeti was furious.

“Now,” he roared, “I shall avenge myself upon you, bridge, and I shall finally pound you back into the rubble from whence you came”  and he jumped over the bridge and into the bed below and his feet were bathed in the tears of the bridge as he pounded and he beat on the stone walls until it looked as if the bridge could do nothing but finally fall.

Meanwhile the cockroach ran and ran.  It was bloody and spit-ridden from the Yeti’s innards but it knew if it stopped, the Yeti would kill his friend for he had seen the new potential for this deep in the Yeti’s heart.

He ran and ran up the dry bed until he came to the Yeti’s secret – a mountain of broken trees and boulders and earth.  A dam.  A dam to block the river.

The cockroach knew the truth now – that the river was the voice of the bridge and that the Yeti had dammed the river and stolen the voice for himself.

The cockroach knew he had to break the dam to save his friend but he was only one tiny speck against the might of the Yeti’s work.  What could be do?  He picked a single tiny twig from the dam and he threw it aside.

He knew he could only try.

Back at the bridge, the Yeti was close to success.  He pounded and pounded relentlessly and huge chunks of stone had now been painfully torn from the body of the poor bridge.

Then the Yeti saw it.

The Keystone.

“If I bring yonder keystone down, you will fall my silent friend.  This I now know.”

And he beat at the keystone with all of his might.

The tears of the bridge made a bigger stream in the dry river bed now, as its life reached an end.  But could one bridge’s tears really make all the water that was now tumbling beneath the bridge?

No it could not. 

The few twigs which the cockroach had hopelessly shifted had caused a drop, then a trickle then a torrent.  The water around the Yeti now covered its feet, now its legs and now its chest until it could barely stand.  Sensing its doom it spat a final quote at the bridge.

“To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell's heart, I beat at thee; For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”

Then it was swept away in the rage of the river down to the village of men where it was caught and beaten and killed and its body burned in the Halloween blaze.  And it was no more.

The cockroach returned to the bridge.  Two of its legs were badly broken and one of its eyes was lost but it returned.  And the bridge, its wondrous voice restored by the river which bubbled beneath it , sang to the cockroach and, in time, made it well again.

And they live together in the mountains in peace to this very day and they speak of us often.

Reminded of Censorship

This week, I’ve been thinking back to how it used to be when we went to the movies back in the Seventies.  In particular, I’ve been remembering how films used to get ‘cut’ by the censor and how odd it was to watch a film then and watch all those cuts play out brutally on the screen.

Of course movies are still cut for cinema and edited-for-TV and censored these days but it’s not like it used to be.  

Nowadays, we are allowed to see so much more, so there’s so much less cutting required, and also the technology for cutting is much more sophisticated.  These days, it is very hard to notice what cuts there are.

Not so, back in my day.  I don’t know exactly how movie cuts were made but it seemed like it was done with a huge blunt scissors on the actual film roll.  Often, while watching the film, some terrible event would be signalled and built-up-to and then, suddenly, the whole movie would have a big lump taken out of it and we, the audience, would be shoved on to the next scene, wondering what the hell had just happened.

This was by no means an Irish-Only phenomenon.  Although we have quite a little reputation for being heavy handed with banning movies, (both ‘Life of Brian’ and ‘From Dusk Til Dawn’ spring to mind) Great Britain was a real star for cutting stuff as well, back in the day.  I remember reading a British review of ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’ where the reviewer said he spent a considerable amount of time staring at a blank screen where dubious scenes from the film had been ripped away.  Interestingly, he also remarked that his imagination was probably much worse than those images which had been removed.

This is certainly true of me.  I could dream up all kinds of awful stuff in place of the stuff which the Film Censor had decided I shouldn’t see.  He would have been doing me a favour just showing me the actual scene, it might have spared me a few nightmares.

For me, the most memorable ‘cut films’ of that era were the Bruce Lee ones.  As young teens, we loved Bruce Lee with a passion that knew no bounds.  The movies were way too old for us to get in to see so we sneaked in to see them.  In ‘Enter The Dragon’ Bruce fights the Evil O’Hara who was responsible for the death of his sister.  Disappointingly-enough, Bruce is seen to dispatch O’Hara with a simple enough side-kick which sends him crashing into the spectators.  He is pronounced dead straight afterward.  That is the film we saw in the Cinema.

But it was ‘cut-to-bits’, as we used to say.  In the uncut version, O’Hara recovers from the sidekick and attacks again, brandishing two broken bottles.  Bruce sorts him out and lands, feet first, on his head with a skull-crunching coup-de-grace.  We get to enjoy Bruce’s slow-mo expression as he Riverdances the life out of this, his more-hated of opponents.

Which brings me to the final point of this ramble – the sincere joy of finally seeing a missing scene, years after it was first cut.  Such was the case with the above scene, where, one night on TV, the missing action magically reappeared, forgiven, and all was revealed.  It was a genuinely exciting moment for me, which is a bit sad, I know.

All of this pondering on censorship cuts was brought on by watching ‘From Russia With Love’ on ITV yesterday afternoon.  After all the hype and fashion has died down, this film has now settled itself into being my favourite of all the Bond movies.  There is no ‘save the world’ mission here, rather just a rather lewd and tawdry attempt to steal a decoding machine.  At times, it’s all so very lowlife that the bad guys almost start to come across as being the good guys.

The point is, ‘From Russia With Love’ was quite brutally cut upon its release and some of the keys cuts have never been restored.  So, these days, not only is it a grand entertaining period spy movie, it’s also a perfect example of heavy-handed censoring which has never been put right. 

There are cuts throughout.  Watch the final showdown between Klebb and Bond – what happens to Tanya?  We don’t get to see.  I imagine Klebb went at her with a four-blade-chainsaw, but that’s just me getting carried away again.

Watch the final scene, with Bond and Tanya on the boat.  Witness one of the most crude and jarring cuts in motion picture history, when Bond examines the film reel, and wonder what he could possible have said to warrant such a cruel edit.  

In fact, he simply said the words, ‘What a Performance’.

Although it seems we’ll never now get to hear him do it.

A View from the Grassroots

I’m a resilient-enough kind of a guy.  When things get a bit rough, I generally take it on the chin and move on as best I can, not un-scarred but not broken either.

But the last few weeks, a recurring thought in my head has been along the lines of, “if it’s effecting me this way, how on earth are the more vulnerable ones managing?”

I’m thinking about the constant bombardment of bad news stories which our country is experiencing these days.  Stories of economic doom.  Stories which have now left the homestead to play out in  glorious Technicolor on the international stage.

(Photo © ard hesselink)

As a country, Ireland has been mismanaged to such an extent that our debt is beyond the grasp of the populace.  The world looks on as this movie-wild-west-town we built for ourselves falls over to reveal the tumbleweed blowing behind.

It’s a tough time here in Ireland.

And, like I was saying, the unfaltering doom and gloom is even getting to me, someone who normally rides the waves of such things.  It’s not that I’m feeling especially weak or vulnerable, it’s just that the unremitting barrage of black news is hard to shrug off.

Can there be such thing as too much news? I sometimes wonder.  If our country was a business, would the bosses be running out of their offices every few minutes to tell the people manning the machines how much trouble they were in?  I don’t know the answer to this.  I know we’ve had our heads up our asses for the last decade and there will be a high price to pay for the misdeeds that were done while we were up there.  I guess we finally need to know the worst now, blow-by-blow.

I don’t know.

I know what I have to do, though.  I just need to keep reminding myself of it.

I need to play my own game, look out for my own house.  I need to keep fighting and working and seeing the good things and smelling the roses and staying strong and optimistic and productive.

I need to keep on truckin’.

I think we all do.  Whatever our circumstances.  If we have work to do, we have to get it done.  If we are unemployed (God knows, I know how that is) we need to keep ourselves mentally and physically fit for the day when we find work.  It’s not easy but it has to be done.

We have to be optimistic too.
We’re in a cycle, we’re always in a cycle and even the smartest people don’t seem to be able to appreciate the fact that there is a bottom when they are at the top.  The converse is also true; we’re at the bottom now but better times are coming.  The projections are dreadful because everything is largely worthless now but, as things improves, things gain value again and the projections improve.  It’s a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.  We have to ride it out for a while – not as long as they like to tell us but a while nonetheless.

The worst thing would be for all this doom to make us unwell.  It can happen, we have to defend against it.  Value life and health above all else, hold onto both, treasure them and go out into the world every day and enjoy them.
Today won’t ever come again, we have to find something that makes it special and good.

This pep talk was brought to you by me… for me.

Why Dalton Was Good

Here’s the truth about James Bond movies… well, my truth anyway.

James Bond movies are like white sliced loaves of bread – you have to catch them first while they are very fresh.

The key word in that statement is ‘first’.  If you get a nice fresh loaf of bread and it slowly goes a bit stale on you, you can still use it.  You can perhaps toast it or grate it up for breadcrumbs or… well, you get the idea. 

If it was somebody else’s loaf of bread, you wouldn’t dream of using it.  You would just throw it out.  But this is your loaf, you knew it when it was fresh and tasty, it has aged and hardened under your watchful eye and so you still hold some deep-seated affection for it.

Let’s face it, most of the James Bond movies are very much like loaves of bread.  They are conceived and executed to be at their best on the day that they are released.  They use ingredients which date and age and lose their quality quite quickly.  They become hard to swallow.

The early ones are the exception to this little rule of mine.   Whether that’s because they weren’t trying so hard to be ‘of-the-moment’ or whether it’s because they come from a time when many of the fans weren't actually born – thus allowing a greater deal of respect - well I’m not sure.  It’s probably just because that young Connery was so damn good that all other considerations pale.  Whatever the reason, those first three do buck the trend and they remain eminently watchable.

So, having said all that, let me present my defence of Timothy Dalton as James Bond.  Many of you will disagree.  That’s understandable.  Dalton, you see, was my ‘Loaf of Bread’.  It’s quite possible that he wasn’t yours.

For me, Dalton’s first Bond film, The Living Daylights, arrived like a super-refreshing bolt-from-the-blue.  Roger Moore had ceased to have any relevance, to anything, several features before he finally bowed out and, as a result, the franchise was two stages past being on its knees.  

Casting Dalton was a brave and imaginative move and he threw out most of what had gone before and made the part his own.  The music was brilliant, the film looked fabulous on the big screen.  It was, at times, romantic and sweet in a way that no other Bond film was ever brave enough to try and it had a re-worked hard edge to it that the Moore Era had successfully worn away over such a long time.  Plus Maryam d'Abo was a lovely Bond girl.

But, just because I like my own loaf of bread, that doesn’t mean that I can’t see that it has gotten stale over time.  It is a fact that Bond movies go stale and, when they do, our affection for them comes down to our memories of how we were when we first saw them – it is this which keeps a particular one high in our esteem and allows us to remember how good it once used to be.

So let it be with ‘The Living Daylights.”

When I see it now, I see the staleness.  I see the rather insipid villains, the unconvincing Mujahideen sequence, the milkman with his exploding bottles… I see how it probably won’t convince anyone who sees it for the first time now.

I also see the value in other people’s loaves of bread, even if they are not mine.  For me, Craig’s Casino Royale remains a stunning and almost flawless reboot and I will not argue with anyone who puts him second best.  I will, perhaps, quietly point out that his second outing ‘Quantum of Solace’ is almost grindingly boring from start to finish (I watched it twice to confirm this) but I will also accept that Dalton’s second attempt ‘Licence to Kill’ was also quite poor.

So, for those of you who will doubtless say that Craig in Casino Royale is the best thing ever, and for those of you who say Brosnan in Goldeneye is the one, think for a moment about my little analogy.  I just bet your favourite (Connery excepted because he wins everything) was the one who arrived fresh and new for you…

…your own personal ‘Loaf of Bread’.

I just bet it was.

Nowhere to Hide

I hate looking at myself in pictures.  I really do.

I don't really know the reason why but I imagine it's complicated.  These days I am older and wider that I used to be (no, that's not a typo) and I could easily put that down as the reason.  But when I was younger and considerably less wide, I still hated seeing myself in pictures.  I think the most likely answer is that nearly all of us hate looking at ourselves in pictures - our own mental image of ourselves does not match the truth which the camera displays... I think that's probably it.

Anyway, I've become pretty damn good at avoiding getting into pictures.  One of my top tips is to always bring a camera with you to whatever event you're attending.  Then, when the picture-taking starts, you can be in the crowd taking them rather then in the crowd being taken.  It works a treat.

This week, though, was different.  This week there was nowhere to hide...

The Budget is coming and still-more savage cuts will need to be made.  If, however, the Arts are targeted as being some kind of  soft touch for cuts, it will be disastrous.  Not just for the people who work in the Arts, not just for the people who most enjoy the Arts but for our country - which earns much from its deserved international reputation for excellence in the Arts.

So, anyway, my great pals in The Linenhall Arts Centre decided to create a very short video to launch on YouTube as part of County Mayo's contribution to The National Campaign for the Arts 'National Day of Action' which was held on Friday last.  I helped a bit with the writing of the thing and wouldn't say no when I was asked to say a line or two for the video

So here's the video:

Oh, before that, you might well ask, if he hates looking at himself so very much, why is he now plastering his mug all over his own blog?  

Well... The Arts are important...

... more important that my desire to hide.

What Did You Do on the Weekend?

Well, funny you should ask…

Two weekends ago, a friend of mine, Simon Ricketts, called, a bit out of the blue, and said he was passing through Mayo and could we perhaps meet up for a while?  He was over from England, touring the country for ten days or so and Castlebar was on his route.  So, hell yeah, I could meet up.

We took the day and we spinned around my (adopted) home county of Mayo in my car.

Before he arrived, I was in a bit of a quandary.  What do you show visitors in Mayo?  I don’t do an awful lot of this kind of thing.  I knew Simon would be happy with a meet up and a coffee and a bit-of-a-chat but I wanted to show him around a little and I wanted to hang onto him for longer than an hour while he was here, cause he’s a really sound chap.

But what do you show people in Mayo?

I learned a couple of things on our journey through Mayo a few Saturdays ago.  I learned that seeing a place is not necessarily about going to a particular monument or vista, it’s not about ‘taking something in’.  It’s much more about simply being in the place, moving through it, nosing around it, smelling and hearing it too.

We drove around for hours on end.   We stood on deserted beaches and under cloudy mountains, we sipped a drink in a roadside hostelry, watch kids dipping in a drizzly evening harbour, heard some music in a crowded friendly pub and had a late pint in a sociable corner.

We didn’t see anything that would qualify as a show-stopper or a big event.  We just took a little time and had a good old nose-around and, you know what? It was bloody great.

So that’s the first thing I learned: don’t just see the high-spots, try to ‘be’ in a place.

The second thing I learned relates to how very lucky I am to live in a place like this.

We’re like rabbits, aren’t we?  We cut a track in the grass between our burrow and the places we go out into, to eat and to shit.  We often don’t deviate much from those tracks.  But to do it – to stray off the beaten track, even if for only a day – can open your eyes to where you are.  It did for me anyway.

For instance, we drove down the ‘Atlantic Drive’ towards and then onto Achill Island.  My God, what a wonderful road!  Edging along the ocean, dotted with fearless defiant sheep. It is a high road, a slender road and, by God, an isolated one.  I’d been there before but I was going somewhere else, I wasn’t there just for the sake of it.  To do that... it was an eye opener for me.

Even to be in the pub, with the music playing, and to look around and see all the people having a good time and knowing I’d usually be dozing in the recliner by now.  There’s a life to be lived just outside of our rabbit runs and it’s in your place just as much as it is in mine.

So thanks, Simon, for coming by.  I kind-of alluded to it on the day - and I know it sounds odd - but there’s a genuine feeling that, by coming to my country and driving and eating and drinking and chatting and… just… seeing… well, you honoured us.  Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds stupid but I did feel something like that.  You were enjoying yourself so well that you were doing us proud.

So thanks mate, come again soon, eh?

FOOTNOTE:  Simon kindly provided me with this link to some of the live music we heard in Matt Molloys in Westport on the Saturday evening.  It's here.

Story Cubes 2 – The Revenge

When I tried the Story Cubes for the first time a few weeks ago, a little story emerged and you were very kind about it.  Thank you for that. 

(That story, as well as a more detailed explanation of exactly what I am playing at can be found here).

One thing troubled me about that exercise though.  The story that emerged was unremittingly cute and cuddly.

I wondered whether the very nature of the cubes, with their pretty little pictures, would always point me towards a sweet and shiny outcome.

When I decided to throw them again today, I resolved to give myself one additional challenge, a ‘tenth dice’ if you will.  I resolved that the story would have to be darker and less cutesy.

So I threw the dice.

My rules for myself are quite strict.  I get to throw them only once - if I don’t like the outcome that’s tough shit.  Also I don’t get to think about my options for days on end – throw the cubes and get writing.

So, here goes…

The nine cubes are now showing me the following:  A Learner Plate, A Walking Stick, A Sheep, A Flower, An Eye, A Dice, A Tent, An Arrow, and a Speech Bubble.

(The following owes much to The Dice Man by Luke Rheinhart. )

(It also relates to this true story of mine)

Something Big

I had been actively throwing the dice for a full fortnight before I realised where I had been going wrong.

Up until then, I had enthusiastically been using the dice to make my decisions for me and it had been going rather well.  I would write six options on a sheet of paper, numbered 1 to 6, and then I would throw the dice and do whatever number came up.  Just like Luke Rheinhart told me to.

My life had been completely adrift and without direction before I found the old paperback book buried in my back garden in an oilskin wrap.  It wasn’t my normal reading fare but finding ‘The Dice Man’ interred in your rhubarb patch was reason enough to at least look inside and, before long, I was engrossed.

It was no mystery how the book had got there.  When I was eleven, I contracted the Measles for the third time in my life.  This is, of course, a medical impossibility but that didn’t seem to dissuade my metabolism.

I was an avid reader even then and, after three days in bed, I had read the house dry.  My mother, anxious to satiate my need for literary stimulation, ransacked an old cupboard and came up with an even-then battered copy of ‘The Dice Man’.  It was far too adult for me but I read it anyway and rapidly tumesced my way back to health.  Afterward I was better, I couldn’t give the book back to Mum in case she read it herself and saw what I had been imbibing so I buried it in the back garden along with the book of disgusting limericks which the school had mistakenly awarded me the year before for coming second in English class.

Now, thirty-five years later, alone and bereft in the house of my youth, the book came back to me as I tried to put shape on my garden.

It spoke to me in a way no other book ever had.  As soon as I finished it, I went out and bought a heavy expensive dice in a specialist game shop and I set about putting order on my life.

For two weeks, the dice decided everything for me.  I ate, slept, washed, turned in for work, all on the basis of a throw.  I seemed to have more order and purpose than at any moment since the night when Shiv and the boys had driven away. 

But something was missing.  I knew that but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

It was a strange sort of automatic writing incident that finally pointed out the error of my ways.  I was sitting over my sheet of paper, setting out my options for the impending Saturday night.  They included, ‘takeaway’ ‘cinema’ ‘long bath’ ‘pub’ when, suddenly, something appeared on the page after the number 6 and I swear I never wrote it at all.

It simply said, “Kill Something’.

I stared at it and shivered.  I reckoned I must be over-tired and I reached for my eraser to get rid of it.  But then I stopped.  “Why not,” I thought, “my problem is obviously that I am choosing placid options all the time, that I need to inject a bit of danger into the proceedings.  Besides, what is the worst that could happen?  If it came up, I could find a spider or a fly or a worm for Christ’s sake.  Something to kill would not be a major problem.”

So I left it on there as option 6 then I went away and got myself a can of diet coke from the fridge. 

When I came back, I threw the dice.  It came up with option four, which was ‘take a long bath’.  But I didn’t fancy that option too much so I took the liberty of throwing the dice again.  This time the number six came up.  

You know what that said… except somehow the word ‘Big’ had now got added on to the end of the instruction.  

I really have no idea how.

    *        *        *        *

The country laneway was dark and deserted as only a three a.m. July laneway can be.  I was wrapped up against the drizzle and the gloom and I wished with all my heart I had stuck with Option 4 but either I was going to honour this deal or I was going to fall back into my wayward and self destructive ways.

I came to a steel gate which hung askance on a piece of rope and I heard the noises and saw the fleeting grey shifts in perception that told me I had climbed the hill far enough.  I climbed over the gate and went into the field.  I had a bunch of ragged petrol station forecourt flowers with me, like the most pathetic suitor in the world.  I now offered then forward into the darkness, clucking gently.  With my other hand, I brandished my blackthorn walking stick and waited for something to emerge from the darkness.

Soon enough, the sheep wandered over.  If there are only been one, I would have brained the witless beast and been on my way but that’s the thing with sheep, isn’t it?  They so rarely arrive alone.  In face they came in a drove, appropriately enough, and seemed more interested in me than in my primroses.  Flowers like mine were alien to them, I suppose, but a human was normal and often came bearing hay.

They milled around me and brushed their shitty wool sides against me and I lost patience and lashed out, catching one squarely across the back.  His mates dispersed then, into the dark but the one I had hit was flattened momentarily and disorientated.  I raised my stick and creased in its head with a single blow.  The beast scrambled about and kicked my shins furiously.  I swore and hit it again and again and once again.  I could see in the gloom that one of its eyes had fallen out of its socket but even that didn’t cause me to stop.  The beast lay still now but I continued to pulp its head with my stick.

“Hey what are you – oh my God!”

Somebody had come, out of the depths of the field.  As he came towards me I could see something of him through the slack-jawed shock of his face.  He was too clean and too thin to be from this locality and, even now, over his shoulder I thought I could detect the unnatural billow of his tent.  How unlucky was that?  To choose the field with the camper in it.

He was up close to me now and his face darted from me to the mess on the grass and back again.

“What have you done?” he said again and his accent was mid European for sure.

He looked at me more closely then and this time he did not look away.  I watched carefully as he detected in me something that I was only just beginning to detect in myself.  The shock and outrage on his face fell rapidly into something more pitiful, something more defensive, something entirely more justified.

I didn’t speak to him.  It would have just been throwing words into the void, wouldn’t it?

Instead I raised my stick high once again and made a mental note that, next time, when it came to the number six, I would write down something a little less messy.

A Song Lyric - 'Sheer Force of Habit'

One of the many fun things about following quite a few people on Twitter is that things pop up in the stream that can sometimes inspire or, at least, incite a piece of writing action.

One of my weaknesses is that I like to try to write song lyrics from time to time.  They're really pretty much doggerel and the fact there are no tunes for them rather emphasises that perception but, hey, I 'm not hurting anyone and it keeps me off the streets, right?

My simplistic view of lyric writing is that many songs spring up out of little phrases which we know and use regularly without thinking about them.  Others arise out of odd, distinctive, expressions which make you stop and think when you hear them.  So, whenever such a phrase turns up, I like to try to mess with it a little.

It happened previously when @cherrymorello told me she was 'Driving up to Glasto with the offspring in the back'.  The resultant lyric is here.

@Gerrymulvenna also set one of my lyrics to a tune and sang it on his blog.  That was great and gave me a lot of pleasure.  Here's a link to it.

This time it was @SianMeadowcroft who put forward the notion of loving something out of 'sheer force of habit'.  I thought it was a very neat idea.  

If this has been done before, please don't sue me, I'm not aware of it.

Sheer Force of Habit

I’m trying to kick you
To give you right up
It’s stupid, I know, but it’s true
I’m still loving you out of sheer force of habit
There’s no patch for my craving for you.

I’ve been to the doctor
I’ve been to the church
The witch and the hypnotist too
But I’m still loving you out of sheer force of habit
My heart just needs something to do.

Should never have started, should just have said no.
The memory of you makes me shake
I should have been stronger and told you to go
You’re a mighty tough habit to break.

I pace down the hallways
I scratch at my arms
I’m restless the endless night through
Cause I’m still loving you out of sheer force of habit
I’ll never be all-clear of you

I think it would have a sort of overblown Engelburt Humperdink or Late Elvis kind of a vibe to it but what do I know?

I just scribble this stuff down...

PS:  The inestimable Gerry Mulvenna sings his version of the song here.

What a guy!

Peein’ on a Jet Plane

(Written after poor Gérard Depardieu was placed in an intolerable position on a plane)

Well my bags are on
We’re up a mile
I’ll have to wee out in the aisle
I hate to do it but I have no choice
Me bladder’s breakin’, feels like hell
The steward’s waitin’, he’s rung his bell
I haven’t been this ‘caught-short’ in a while

My Piss
He won’t wait for me
So mind my auld prostate for me
Hold this bottle while I try to go
Cause I’m pee-in’ on a jet plane
Wonder will they let me on again
Oh babe, I had to go
Uh oh, uh ohhh…

There’s only so long I could hold you in
On account of I had too much gin
But a man’s gotta wee when he’s gotta wee.
Every drink I saw I thought of you
Thank heavens I don’t need a poo
I hope this bottle’s big enough for me.

My Piss
He won’t wait for me
So mind my auld prostate for me
Hold this bottle while I try to go
Cause I’m pee-in’ on a jet plane
Wonder will they let me on again
Oh babe, I had to go
Uh oh, uh ohhh…