I Am Glad I Like What I Like

Yes, I am glad that I like what I like.

Lots of my Friends on social media are pleased-as-punch with their new purchase this weekend – The iPad.  Quite right too, it’s a neat looking and very desirable piece of kit.

It struck me that the availability of the iPad in Britain (and soon here in Ireland) will create envy with some people.  It’s a lovely device but it’s not the cheapest thing in the world. 

Few people are entirely escaping the grip of the economic difficulties our green little country is currently in the midst of.  Therefore many people will want one but will simply not be able to buy one.

That’s why I’m glad I like what I like – ‘cos I don’t really want one.

Before you run off, this is not a whinge-post along the lines of, ‘Why can’t I have one?’  I am (thankfully) in the happy position that I could go out and buy one any day I ever wanted to.  Times are not buoyant but there’s ‘enough-to-get-by-on-and-then-some’ and I know that’s not the case for everyone and my heart goes out to them, it really does.

All this post is really about is me celebrating that the things I really love and desire are cheap or free or very easily accessible…

… bloody hell, it’s starting to sound like a ‘family, friends, trees, air and sky’ post now - you must have all left.  All those 'tree and air' things are valuable and wonderful, of course, but they’re rather a given and, let’s face it, a bit of a bloody cliché too.  I’m talking about those more mundane things which we might want or aspire to...

Imagine if your great love was Travel.  Every year, you lived for your sojourn to some far-off place or your weekend away in some wonderful colourful capital city.  Then the current recession would probably mess you up, wouldn’t it?  Imagine if your ‘thing’ was ‘Haute Cuisine’ –  a fine meal in a fine restaurant now and again.  These cutbacks could really interfere with your delight.

But me, I’m lucky.  I like movies, I like books, I like music.  I’m lucky because I can access these things whether times are good or whether times are bad.

I am also lucky because these things are great social levellers.  Look at the very-well-off people in the world.  Let’s pick one… Donald Trump, okay?  Do you like good food?  Well Donald Trump is going to eat better than you.  ‘You like clothes?  Trump’s going to dress better than you.  ‘You like travel?  … you get the picture.

But me?  I can have everything that Trump can have.  He’s got nothing on little-old-me.  What movie can he see that I cannot see?  What book can he read?  What tune can he listen to that I cannot?  (Actually I think there is one Jan Michel Jarre album – ‘Music For Supermarkets’ – that only ever had one copy made of it.  So I can’t hear that - but I’m not that bothered really).

These things I like enable me to gain enjoyment at the same level as the richest man in the whole world.  I like the thought of that.

So when I express delight at your new iPad, it’s genuine.  You’re getting something you desire and you deserve it.  I’m really not envious at all. 

Me? I’ve got a movie to watch…

And that new book sounds really good. 

Doesn’t it Donald?

The Biggest Movie of My Life 2 - Cross Country Viewing

(This is a companion-piece to the first post I did on Jaws some time ago.  You can see that here.)

In the book, ‘Fever Pitch’, Nick Hornby tells how key moments in his life have been defined by soccer matches he had seen.

It’s much the same for me with films.  I have very precise memories of almost every film I have seen – which cinema, who was with me, events that happened on that day.

How odd then that, after such enormous anticipation, I remember so very little about the first time that I ever saw ‘Jaws’.  Almost anything I might say about that first viewing would be largely imagined or made-up because I really don’t remember.

However, I remember loads about the second time I saw it.  It was exactly one week after the first time I saw it.  I was going again with my friend and his sister, neither of whom had seen it yet.

My mother was annoyed that I was spending good money to see the same film twice, she thought it was a bad idea.  But I went anyway – this is as close to rebellion as I ever came.  I since found out that my Dad went to see ‘The African Queen’ on seven consecutive nights in the local cinema so maybe Mum didn’t mind me going quite as much as I thought she did.

In that second viewing, I actually felt that I owned the film.  It was mine now and I was showing it off proudly to my friends.  ‘Look what I did just there, aren’t I great?’

This second time around, I was able to look around and watch the astonishing audience reaction when Ben Gardner slipped out of that hole in the boat.  It was the oddest thing – everybody jumped.  And I really mean jumped, they didn’t cower under their loved ones elbow or throw their hands up to their faces to hide.  They jumped and screamed in complete unison… and then they laughed in relief.

One thing I do remember about my first viewing is that I didn’t jump.

I think I might have been the only one.

    *    *    *    *

In September 1980, Jaws turned up on television in Ireland for the very first time.

It might be hard to believe now, but this was a bit of an event too.  VCRs were only just starting to tentatively appear in the more well-off homes and the concept of the video as home entertainment was still a few years away from being cemented.  As a result, the film had dropped from view after a long cinema run and had not been seen much for nearly five years.  The prospect, therefore, of reliving the experience in your own living room was an interesting and, yes, an exciting one.

This Sunday night TV premiere spawned one of the most lasting and emotional memories of ‘Jaws’ for me.  Perhaps it goes some way to explain why that silly old film still means so much to me.

You see, Sunday night was no good for me.  I couldn’t get to see it.  On Sunday night, at Six O’clock, I got the bus back to college in Dublin.  I had just turned seventeen, was only two weeks into College and Dublin, had never been away from home before, and was physically and desperately homesick.  I didn’t want to be in Dublin, I wanted to be in my own house watching the film, just like everyone else would be.

But I had to go and so I didn’t get to see the film that night.

Except… I did.

I watched the film through every living room window I passed, from eight o’clock to ten, as my bus rolled across the country.  My eyes riveted to the bus window, I saw snapshot after snapshot of ‘Jaws’ beam out to me.  There was lots of houses, lots of windows and everyone was watching. 

I know, I saw them.

And the abiding memory of that snatched cross-country viewing?  Easy.  The colour blue.  The azure sea…  I can’t explain it but it tugs at me to write it even now. 

That blue became a link to home.

Strangely enough, it still is.

My Approach to Drunkenness

The perception of we, the Irish, is so often one of a person who cheerfully consumes vast quantities of alcohol on a regular basis, often to poetic or musical effect.  

That wouldn’t be my perception of we, the Irish, and it certainly doesn't apply to me.

Around the age of 14, as is the norm, me and my classmates were encouraged to take ‘The Pledge’.  This happened as part of a religious ceremony where the priest called forth all the boys who wished to eschew the demon drink until they reached the ripe old age of 21. 

That happy cohort rose from their seats and enunciated ‘The Pledge’ while the villainous renegers remained with ass-firmly-in-pew. 

As I recall (I may be wrong) I was the only one in my class to not take 'The Pledge'.  As I also recall (I may also be wrong) I was one of a very very few who went on to not take a drink until I was over twenty-one.  This probably says something about me but I’m damned if I know what it might be.

If my relationship with alcohol was summarised in a Facebook page, it would definitely say, ‘It’s Complicated’.  Thankfully, though, it is not a tragic relationship, as so many complicated alcohol relationships are.  My family were all light or non-drinkers and nowhere in the closet lay the spectre of a relative damaged or destroyed by the bottle.

No, my complication lay firmly with the fact that I started working behind the bar at such a young age.  My friend's family owned a pub and we both worked there regularly.  It was mighty fun but I got to see an awful lot of drunk people while I was there and I think this coloured my own subsequent behaviour markedly.

You see, I like a drink.  I like many kinds of drink.  Sometime a beer is just Nirvana, a whiskey a treat and a glass of wine a welcome accompaniment.

But, here’s the thing, I hate to be drunk.  I really really hate it.

There is a brief magical thirty minute period which can occur about three drinks into a social occasion where I become 'Master of The Known Universe'.  My synapses weld together and connections and thoughts flash across them and out my mouth like a virtual wild fire.

Then that passes and I get drunk.

I’m not a sloppy drunk or anything.  It’s more about what’s going on with me than with what others are seeing.  I feel, inside, some abdication of control.  Whatever events might unfold over that subsequent few hours will not be manageable by me, someone else will have to do it.  And somewhere deep inside my haze, this disturbs and unsettles me.  I try to regain position but I know I am now hobbled and that it will be twelve hours or more before normal service is restored.

Nuh-huh.  That’s not for me.

So the upshot of this is that I have only been drunk about three times in my life.  A little buzzed?  Many time but drunk?  Not so much.

I remember, so well, the first time I ever got drunk.  I was twenty one, living and working in London.  One Saturday night, we went out in High Street Kensington and I had one too many.   That’s not an expression.  It doesn’t take many drinks for me to get drunk.  One too many will be fine.

I remember standing outside a pub, under a scaffold, with my friend who had best remain nameless as he is now a more prominent man than I am.  “Look,” the now-prominent person said, “A scaffold.  Let’s hang on it.”  So he and I jumped up, grabbed a bar, and dangled on the scaffold.  It was fun.  Long after he had fallen away and found something better to do, I was still dangling.

Then a girl I had known some years before appeared.  Her name was Grace, I’ll say no more, she might be prominent too.  I was astonished.  Is this what alcohol does?  Bring old friends out of nowhere on a Saturday night?  What a wonderful thing.

I conducted a jolly and effusive conversation with Grace who I noticed, even in my befuddled state, was not the least bit interested in reciprocating.  Looking back, I believe this is because I remained dangling from the scaffold for the whole time she was there.

After that some time passed, Dylan Thomas fashion, and I found myself alone in my shared flat.  Lord knows how I got there.  The other guys were not back yet so that explained the alone part.  I found that it was far too dark so I turned every light in the place on.  Then I found that I missed the gentle gurgling of my home-river so I turned every tap on too.

Then I sat on the couch and watched telly.  Fatima Whitbread was on.  She was talking about her javelin and running with some car tyres tied to her rear end  As I studied her face in close up, she slowly transformed.  She became bigger and more Neanderthal and, well, sorry, uglier (it was me, Fatima, not you).  Then I fell asleep and was found that way later – lights on, water running (no leaks) and Fatima long-departed in disgust.

So, these days, if we meet, don’t expect me to consume vast quantities of booze with you.  I will probably have two and be surprisingly altered by them.  Then I will either move on to soft drinks or simply pretend to drink more if required.

It doesn’t mean I don’t like you. 

Quite the opposite, probably.

A Shallow Grave for The Dice Man

My youngest son, Sam, has just given up wanting to be read-to in bed at night.  He is Nine.  Suddenly, he only wants to snuggle up under the quilt and read himself to sleep. 

As a matter of interest, the book that grabbed him and made him want to do this is called ‘The Name of This Book is Secret’ by Pseudonymous Bosch – which is possibly not the writer’s real name. I don’t know anything else about it, sorry.

Thus ends my ten-year stint of reading every night to our two children.  It’s something I have enjoyed enormously and would recommend wholeheartedly.  Along the way I have read aloud ‘The Lord of the Rings’, The Hobbit’ all of the ‘Harry Potters’, ‘Watership Down’, ‘Winnie The Pooh’ (which is wonderful to read aloud) and many many others.  Just a few pages a night, every night. It's stunning how much ground gets covered.

As we peeped in the other night at Sam reading his own substantial book, Trish remarked that this was a gift I had given both of our kids.  If that’s true, I’m very pleased.  I myself have adored reading for a very long time.

And I started so very very young.

Well, not so much 'reading' as 'reading adult books'.

My parents were very protective of what I was allowed to watch on television but they never seemed to realise that books could be so much more vibrant, descriptive and damned informative  than TV could ever hope to be.  I quickly got bored with ‘Famous Fives and such and so, when I began to dig around in the adult section of the library, nobody seemed to mind.

I arrived in post-primary school, aged eleven, and the English teacher asked what was the last book we had read, she was a bit taken aback when I told her it was ‘Papillon’.  She took it on board though and slipped me a copy of John McGahern’s ‘The Dark’ while the others were catching up with Dear Enid.  That teacher, Patricia O’Higgins, was a huge influence in my pursuing my writing in the way that I have.  I should really thank her for it somewhere other than here.

Was it a co-incidence then that, at the end of first year in that school, I was given a book prize for coming second in the class?  (I nearly always come second in things).  The book was the rudest book I have ever owned.  It was called ‘A Little Treasury of Limericks Fair and Foul’ and whoever picked it out for me could not have misunderstood the level of content within because it was copiously illustrated.  That book met the same fate as The Dice Man, which I will come to in a minute, but not before I practically memorised it.  I still get laughs from recounting the verse therein from time to time.

Where was I?

Ah, yes, The Dice Man…

At some stage, I got some kind of cold or flu and I demanded that Mum go and get me a book to tide me over.  The book I wanted helps me date that sickness quite accurately.  I wanted a copy of Spike Milligan’s latest war memoirs which were called “Rommel?” “Gunner Who?” and which was brand new out.  That came out in 1974 so I was eleven at the time. 

I got the book.  It was funny but didn’t last long.  I needed something else to read.  Mum dug in a cupboard and came out with a thick battered paperback – ‘The Dice Man’ by Luke Rhinehart.  I don’t know how this book came to be in that cupboard.  Nobody in our house had ever read that book, that’s for sure.  If Mum had only read the blurb on the back, she would never have given it to me.  That blurb on the back was so misogynistic and sexually explicit that I would even not be comfortable reproducing the text here although I remember it word-for-word.

So there was me, in my sick bed, aged eleven, reading The Dice Man and quite enjoying it.  It was rude and wrong and overly-educational but I soaked it up and moved on.

The big problem was what to do with it after I was finished with it and feeling better.  Should I have handed it back to Mum, say, “Thanks, that was great.”


In the end, I wrapped the book in a plastic bag, took a spade, and buried the little package in the back garden, behind the old shed.  The limerick book went there too some time after.  Thankfully, that marked the end of my book-burying career.

So maybe I have given my kids the gift of reading – I hope so.  What I won’t be giving them any time soon is the gift of adult reading.

They’ll probably be a little behind me in that respect.

I can live with that.