Always a Mother to Me

It’s surprising that it’s five years this week since Mum died.  I’m always out by a year, I thought it was only four.

Inevitably it’s a time of year for remembrance and a little sadness.  Although my mate Luce said it well a few weeks ago.  She doesn’t see why Anniversaries should necessarily be a time of sadness, how much better to remember - and celebrate - the person’s life rather than their death.  How true.

That’s what I like to do.  I like to think of the good times and how many of them there were.  At least, I like to try.

So, today, I had resolved to write a happy sort of blog post about Mum and how great a person she was in her own right, not just as a Mum but as a strong, smart, lovely human being.

And here I am, having hit a bit of a brick wall with this.

You see, I know lots of stuff about Mum, lots of stories and adventures and great moments and fun… I could share some of those with you and that would be nice, I’m sure.  But they’re not my stories of her – they are other people’s stories.

All my stories of her are as a Mum.  My Mum.

Does that even make sense?

My Mum was funny and tough and strong.  She was quite short and she had remarkably small feet.  She was always singing around the house and she would never sing in public.  She baked cakes and sent them off around the world at Christmas Time.  She loved Bingo, never went to the pub, was religious.  She made me feel safe and insulated and she always took my side when I needed her to.

These are all things – true things – but they’re not about Betty the Person, what she wanted, how she felt.  They’re all about my perception of her as my Mother.

I seem to be able only to define her as that and nothing else.

Which is a bit sad.

Or is it?

Maybe that’s the way it’s meant to be, for me at least.  My Mum was a great Mum and I’ll always remember her as that.  Perhaps I was also more a Son to her than a person, I don’t know.  I have no doubt that a relationship could have been forged, in later life, where we knew each other more as people than as close family.  Unfortunately, I was gone from home by seventeen and Mum was not permitted to enjoy those later years where such a thing might have grown.

C’est La Vie, eh?

I can be regretful but I can be happy too.  I guess I was never destined to know Mum as much more than Mum.   I was damn lucky to have her as that.

So, (tips forehead to the skies)  thinking of you Mum.

Thanks for everything, I appreciate it.

'You know?

What To Do… or Not To Do.

A tricky one for you, this week,

One of my better qualities, I think, is my ability to see opposing sides of an argument. I may feel pretty strongly about something but that rarely seems to stop me from seeing how the other side feels about it.

This has its downside too. It means I can often be wishy-washy about things. I can dither over reaching conclusions and, sometimes, in matters where I patently should have stood strong from minute one, I have wasted time vacillating.

But enough about me… what do you think about me?

No, No…

I’ve been mulling over a question this week, it’s a fair example of how I tend to go at things from different angles. I’ll tell you about it and if you want to suggest to me what I should do, that would be nice too…

…although I may not do it.

Right. There’s this Lady, you see, and she sits on the main street of our town every day and she plays her wooden flute. She’s not from this country originally but that’s neither here nor there – I only mention it to colour the picture in a little bit. Six days a week, she sits on the ground from 9.30am to 6.00pm and she toots her flute.  She doesn’t do much harm. Perhaps she blocks the footpath a bit, perhaps her crutch sticks out a bit further than it needs to – a ploy to get attention, maybe – nothing really troublesome.

The main issue one might have with this Lady is that she can’t actually play the flute she toots. She just pipes out a series of tuneless random notes, all day, every day.

And here’s the thing, here’s my quandary; I never give her any money.

Am I right or am I wrong?

That, as the man said, is the question…

The case for giving the Lady a few pence is fairly straightforward. She has some need, lest she would not be there. I can afford to give her a few pence. It wouldn’t kill me. My moral code tells me I should be mindful of those less well-off than myself. Therefore I should give.

The case against is perhaps less clear but it is the one which currently sways me. I have it on good authority that the Lady is quite severely arthritic. That crutch is not just for ‘show’, when she finally wends her way home at six in the evening, she hobbles on her way. This Lady was there in the coldest days of this harsh season. In temperature of –8 degrees, she was on the pavement, tooting her flute, seeking alms.

That last bit, that’s the crux of why I don’t give her any of my money. I believe that she is encouraged to sit there every day, by person or persons, who see her getting money from people. I believe her suffering of the endless days on the pavement and the bitter, bitter, cold is a direct result of her receiving money and, if there was no money, she would not be sent to sit there.

So, that’s my case, if I give her money, her painful days will continue. If I don’t, and everybody else doesn’t too, perhaps those who tell her to sit there will stop doing so.

But that’s all a bit easy, isn’t it? I’ve made up a little moral reason for me not to give.  But what if I am wrong? What if the Lady is sitting there of her own accord, freezing, because there is nothing else for her, no other way to get money of any kind. What if I am walking past her, my pockets jingling, as she starves?

And I’m putting myself across as some kind of bloody saint here – pondering the fate of the Lady we all ignore. Trust me, I am no bloody saint. If I am to be honest, this Lady, with her incessant tuneless tooting, annoys me.

“She sits there for ten hours every day,” I say to myself, “why doesn’t she teach herself a tune to pass then time… and then have something coherent to play.”

Yeah, and that crutch of hers sticks out so far and makes me walk around it… and she never asks me for money, she only asks the Old Folks, the ‘Easy Marks’ and… and… and…

Yes. I’ve got high motives, I can reel them off when I need to… but are they real?

What is the truth of my not giving any money to the Lady in the street?

If you know, let me know.

Heel Have to Go

Sometimes I reckon that the world is conspiring to get me to do things that I swore I would never do.

For some years now, I’ve been looking out of my office window and watching all the people passing by.  I’ve noticed many things about them, some of these have things stuck in my head and some of them haven’t.

Here’s one thing that stuck.

People’s trousers are too long.

No, really.  Have you seen them?  Particularly younger people – they wear their jeans or whatever so damn long that the hem goes down over the heel and gets trodden on and mangled in no time at all.

This situation, as viewed from my window, was bad enough in fair or summery weather but it became annoyingly ridiculous in the winter rains and storms.  These overlong pants would soak up enormous quantities of water from the puddles on the ground.  It would get so bad that people would be seen walking along with their legs drenched right up as far as the back of their knees.

I would click my tongue and tut and shake my head and generally go on like an incredibly youthful Victor Meldrew as I watched these semi-sodden people trudge past.  Sometimes I would joke about how civic-minded they all were, soaking up all the excess water from the footpaths and bringing it home with them, meaning that our town need never again fear flash-flooding and well-heeled people like me can walk the streets in dryness and comfort and warmth.

Yes, I was a smug bugger even then.

But look at me now, I say. Just look at me now.

Gradually, subtly, insidiously-even, mine own jeans have become too long.

I don’t know how it happened.  I haven’t become noticeably shorter or anything.  Still, there can be no doubt, somehow, someway, I have become one of those twats who goes around town soaking up all the excess water in my pants.  This makes me very sad.

Even worse, when I come home and take my shoes off, I have to roll up the bottoms of my jeans until I look like an extra from Pirates of the Caribbean stranded on some living room island.

A little further investigation throws some light on this mystery.  My old jeans fit me just fine.  It’s the new ones, the new ones are longer – not just a wee bit longer either but waaayyyy longer.  And yet… and yet… the leg measurement on these jeans is the same as all my other older pairs.

This leads me to conclude…

… it’s a Conspiracy.

That’s it, a bloody Conspiracy.  The jeans manufacturers have made a fashion-decision that a 32 leg will still be a 32 leg but that now the trouser will reach around below the heel and scrape the ground.

Why would they do this?  I can hear the nicer-people among you answer this easily – Fashion, it’s all the Fashion these days.

The less-nice among you, myself included, say, "Bollocks to that!”  (That’s why we’re not nice).  “It ain’t Fashion, it’s Economics.”

And we’re right, we viler-thinking beasts.  A pair of jeans where the hem goes down to the ground gets manky and torn and horrible much quicker than a regular pair.  Then what do you do?  Damn right, you buy another pair.  More money for the jeans-guy.

Not me, though, no more.  I’m at the end of this sodden road…

… I’m off to get my legs extended.

Following Directions to You

Turn left on Main Street
down by the bars
Cross at the corner
Watch out for the cars.
Up by the statue
Around by the tree
I’ll be standing just right there at two
I’m reading the texts that you send me.
Following directions to you

Stay of the left side
Not on the right
It’s brighter on there
beneath the lamplight
It’s best not to drive
Cos the parking’s not free
An hour is all I can do
I’m reading the texts that you send me
Following directions to you

I don’t want to live any longer alone
I’m coming to ask you to stay
And every beep of this old mobile phone
Makes you even less further away

Don’t talk to no strangers
This area’s rough
Don’t answer their questions
Don’t ask them no stuff
Keep walking and reading
And following my words
That’s all you will need to get through
I’m reading the texts that you send me
Following directions to you


Turn left on Main Street
down by the bars
Cross at the corner
Watch out for cars.
On past the clocktower
That's what you do
Then I’ll be waiting there at two

I’m reading the texts that you send me.
Following directions to you

Stay of the left side
Not on the right
Cos it’s brighter down there
beneath the lamplight
You'll be with me soon
if you follow each clue
An hour is all I can do

I’m reading the texts that you send me
Following directions to you

I don’t want to live any longer alone
I’m going to ask you to stay
And every beep of this old phone
Brings you even less further away
Further away...

Don’t talk to no strangers
This place is rough
Don’t answer their questions
Don’t ask them no stuff
Keep walking and reading
These notes I send you
That’s all you will need to get through

I’m reading the texts that you send me
Following directions to you

(c) Ken Armstrong  Jan 2012

Writing About… Um…

I’m not very good at it, am I?

I do it all right, I do quite a bit of it, but I’m not really any good at writing about it.

Writing, that is.  Writing about writing.

I wonder why not?  I love to write - it’s my passion, really.  You’d think I’d be bursting at the seams to tell you how many words I did today or what part I edited and how much fun it all was.  But, no, I don’t ever feel the urge to do that.  

I don’t feel the urge to do it now either but I was thinking about it and that’s where these blog posts generally come from – whatever I happen to be thinking about.

So why don’t I write about writing?

I’ve found over time that I need to write within a bubble in order to get it done.  If I reveal what I’m writing at any given time, the intimate relationship I have with the material is instantly shattered.  I’ve told somebody about it and I’ve let them into the world too and now the world no longer belongs simply to me and the story I’m writing.  This has quite been enough to kill projects stone-dead for me, in the past.

So I can’t write about what I’m doing right now… I need to stay in the ‘Bubble’.  But, still, I could be writing about whatever I was writing before, couldn’t I?  I could be promoting it and announcing it and trying a little bloody harder to flog it to somebody.

I think I don’t tend to do that because it bores me so much.  When it’s done – written, rewritten, rewritten, rewritten, rewritten – it’s done.  I don’t want to discuss it anymore  At that point, the next writing thing becomes the focus, the excitement.  And, like I said, I can’t talk about that.

I also find I need some validation before I’m truly comfortable talking about something I’ve written.  When somebody’s taken a piece of my writing on, whether it’s a play that got a production or a story that’s gotten into print somewhere, then I can talk about it until the cows come home.  I guess I don’t feel that my simply having written something makes it worthy of discussion.  I need that third party to come and want to use it.  Validation; I need a bit, I reckon.

Also, the Internet is already so very replete with people writing about their writing.  For many people, it seems almost as if every paragraph which is completed must be marked with a blog post or a Twitter/Facebook announcement celebrating the fact. 

I’m not complaining.  Writing is such a personal thing, whatever works for you works… so long as it works.  I even tried a little bit of that with the book I recently finished writing (‘too boring, let’s not).  For once, I hinted to some people what I was doing, I even outright-told a few people – unheard-of for me.  No detail, that would have been Death, but just a few mentions that I was finally intent on finishing that book I’d been struggling with.  I did this to try to push myself.  To see if, by putting my intention out in the public domain, it would add some impetus to my doing it.  I’d be churlish if I didn’t admit that it worked, to a certain extent.  People would ask me, ‘How’s it going?’ or ‘Aren’t you finished yet?” and I kept at it.  I won’t be doing that again in a hurry but I did see how it might work for other writers.  To be constantly announcing your progress and hinting at your methodology, if it drives you, it drives you.  Like I said, whatever works…

But there’s no doubt that there are people out there who are much more enamoured with talking about their writing as opposed to actually doing any writing.  That’s the danger.  You can get so wrapped up in telling everyone about it, keeping them posted, that you forget to do any of it.  You gotta watch out for that one.

So, what am I doing now?

Well, it’s a thing… about a thing… it should take me about... hmm hmm hmmm to write and…

… um... it’ll be Great.

The Drum Kit and Me

My younger son got a drum kit for Christmas.  It didn’t come from Santa or anything, rather it’s a good second hand kit which is now set up in his bedroom.  He’s been taking lessons for months and months – banging out practice rhythms on window boards and show boxes and biscuit tins.  He may well make a good drummer someday.

Here’s the thing though.

I spent some time sitting playing with these drums, hearing the various components, tapping them and crashing them.  This is all quite new to me and a bit intriguing too..  For the first time, I know where a particular drum sits in the kit, what it looks like and what it sounds like.  In short, I got myself a modicum of first hand drum experience.

Then something quite strange happened.

I went for a night-time walk the other evening, as I often do, and I brought my trusty old iPod along.  I put on an album I got quite recently which I like a lot.  It’s called ‘Becoming a Jackal’ by Villagers.  Then I walked and listened, listened and walked.

And this ‘listen’ of mine… it was all about the drums.

Suddenly, thanks to my little investment of time with an actual drum kit, the drums on this album came alive for me in a way I have never experienced before.  I could identify which drum was being played, I could picture where it was in the set – I could almost feel the skin vibrate as if I was playing it myself.

This got me thinking.

How much greater an experience, the music must be, for someone who understands the ways and the nuances of the instruments therein.  I 'tasted' a drum for a few minutes and the music seemed to go up to an entirely different level.  You guys who work with music and play music all the time – are you really on a different level of sensual appreciation than the rest of us?  I am now starting to believe that you really are.

If this is true, then I probably must also revise my long-held views of highly prized TV Chefs generally as being nothing more than Bluffers and Eejits.  Perhaps this newest personal discovery of mine applies to them too.  Perhaps years of learning the ways of the ingredients has indeed given them the ability to savour their wares in a manner far beyond my understanding.  Perhaps I should spent some time with a sprig of Parsley to try and get at least some feeling for whether this is true.

And that brings me, as things so often do, to me.

What can I savour?

What specialist experience do I possess that means I am getting more enjoyment and depth from something than you might be? 

In truth, I don’t think there is anything.  A master chess player will appreciate the nuances of a great game in a way I never can.  A fashion designer extraordinaire will relish the cut of a garment while I only stare helplessly on.  A ballet dancer… well, you get the picture.

My 'things' tends to be words and humour but, let’s face it, everybody’s thing is words - and we all love a good laugh.  I genuinely don’t think there are levels of humour appreciation in the same way as there are levels of appreciation of other things.  It’s funny, it ain’t funny – that about covers it.

So here I am, I now see, confined to live in a world of practical sensory deprivation…

… I think I’ll go and hit the drums for a while.