I Got Your Letter… What Does it Say?

People say lots of things about me.  Different things.  I just know they do.  But one thing everybody seems to agree on is that I have truly God-Awful handwriting.

Back in the good old days of sending faxes (all right, so maybe I still do, sometimes), I would scribble out a quick note and bash it off.  A few minutes later, the recipient would invariably phone up and say, “I got that fax of yours just then… can you read it out for me please?”

This wasn’t always the case.  My ‘starting secondary school’ joined-up writing was actually quite neat and small and spidery.  I used to average fourteen words to the line and hard-pressed teachers used to plead with me to write a bit bigger.  Granted, I always had that left-handed problem of dragging my little finger over what I had just written and thus tending to smudge a bit.  But that was no big deal – the worst effect was that I would always have a blue stain on the outside knuckle of my left pinkie.  There are worse things in the world.

It all went wrong when I started Technical Drawing in school.  There was a requirement to be able to write things in neat precise block capitals and I took to this quite well.  Unfortunately, this block capital usage started to seep into my normal everyday writing too.  Couple this with the fact that I write very fast and that was it.  Over the years, my handwriting has become a rubbish amalgam of block capitals and joined up writing which most normal people have great difficulty in deciphering.

Mostly, like everyone else now, I tend to type stuff out so handwriting is no longer the huge issue it used to be.  But if I am required to fill in a form or something, I have to settle down and really focus on producing something presentable.  I can so it but, my gosh, it requires concentration.

Sometimes, if I have what I reckon is a good idea, I write it down.  I do it really quickly in case I get bored before I’m finished and then, as often as not, I forget entirely about it.  For this reason, I can often be seen scowling into my wee notebook as if it is the bloody Rosetta Stone or something.  Even I can’t read my own writing sometimes.

The most interesting question which emerges from the post, for me anyway,  is why should I bother telling you this?  Who wants to know, who cares?  I wonder about that too.  What the hell am I playing at?  Well, trying to answer, at one level it’s writing practice.  It keeps my mind turning over phraseology and how best a story might be told.  This has been useful to me, down my blogging years.  More oddly, perhaps, is a notion I picked up from a comment on a post some years ago.  It is that a blog like this can almost become a sort of a jigsaw puzzle of the person writing it.  If there lies even a modicum of truth within each post then the three-hundred-or-so posts that are now here might build to a picture of the person.  In years to come, someone might look them over and feel they know me better than they did before.  Hell, in years to come, I might look them over myself and know more…

Anyway, I’ve told you now – I have bad handwriting – it’s another piece in the puzzle.

I scribbled something out for a lady once, not realising that she was a professional handwriting analyst.  She became quite agitated and, in truth, a bit over-excited.  I think she reckoned that she had finally found the Holy Grail of Mad Handwriting and I could see in her eyes that she had every intention of locking me up in a cage and feeding me scraps of things to copy out for her.  I managed to make my escape just as she began to explain to me what all my scriptural foibles and eccentricities actually meant.  I really don’t want to know, thanks all the same.

As I vanished over the horizon, she did shout after me that I had a decidedly Red Aura. 

So that’s good I guess…

… isn’t it??

Leaving London

I just dropped my Wife and Kids to the Airport as they fly to London for a few days.  Perhaps it’s natural, then, that my thoughts would fly in that direction also.

I have a passionate – and slightly odd - relationship with London in my head and it isn’t the relationship I thought it would be when I left Dublin in 1983. 

After completing third level education in Dublin, I was of the belief that I hated cities and wanted nothing more to do with them.  I don’t blame Dublin for this – it wasn’t you, Dublin, it was me.  I was just too young for cities.  I managed fine and had many a good time in my three years there, I just never developed a relationship with the place.  It’s still true to this day – I love to visit Dublin and I enjoy spending some time there but there’s an edge to it and, deep down, I fear that someday I might be required to live there again.

So, college over, I went back to Sligo and hid there for a year, happily working behind a bar.  There was no professional work to be had and London wasn’t for me – I hated cities after all.  But everybody was gone to London and there was good work there and I was stagnating in my home town and_ well, eventually it was just silly for me not to go, so I did.  Just for three months, mind, and not a day more…

…fourteen years later and it was time to leave London.  My wife and child had gone on ahead, back to Ireland, and I had a week to pack up the house and get it ready for the removal men.  A week on my own to say goodbye.

I had fallen in love, you see, with London.  I had got on the ferry from Ireland and watched the shore slip away behind me and I had berated myself for having to play out this most tired of clichés in this most modern of times.  I had caught the train at Holyhead (along with my friend Damian) and had arrived in London and made my way to Kensington where our friends had a flat and, yes, almost immediately, I had fallen in love with the place.

It was hard not to.  I was the right age now to want to live free and that’s just what London provided.  But it wasn’t just that.  I loved the scale of the place, the anonymity, the endless possibilities.  I didn’t ever really want to be anyplace else.

So, for fourteen years, we lived the full London experience.  We went everywhere and did everything.  We worked bloody hard too.  I mean bloody hard but the work was somehow part of the life rather than an exception to it – testimony perhaps to the quality of the people I was blessed enough to work with.

And then, 1997 arrived and Trish and I were no longer just a couple.  We were a family now and the imperative existed that our family would do better in Ireland than it would in London… and a job arose so we jumped, for the sake of family, we jumped. 

And, yes, it took a little time but it’s all worked out very well.  I used to have a fantasy of living in a little place where I was on speaking-terms with loads of people – a bit like the Steve Martin character in ‘Roxanne’ and here I am and I love it.

But my relationship with London had been quite intense so here’s where it gets a little strange – I left in February 1997 and I have never once been back since.  Not once.  I still think of London very often and love tweeting with my London friends.  Every year, I promise myself I will nip over and look around and I never do.  It would take another post to try to analyse the reasons for this, suffice it to say I don’t think they are overly simple.  But then, what is?

So anyway, there I was faced with my last evening in London, all on my own and what should I do?  I did what I had done so many times before, I went to Leicester Square and caught the latest movie.  That odd encyclopaedic-like knowledge I seem to retain of practically every cinema visit I’ve ever had tells me what film I saw that evening.  It was ‘Ransom’ with Mel Gibson and I really quite enjoyed it. 

Afterward, it was late but I didn’t want to go back to the house yet (already it was no longer home) so I walked.  I ended up at Westminster Bridge - on the Trafalgar Square side.  This bridge had been an icon of London for me since I had first come here on a college excursion when I was seventeen.  The illuminated underside and the sheer presence of the structure, as well as its amazing location, had all impressed me greatly.

I fancied I would stroll across it one more time but, when I got to the riverbank, I found the bridge was barricaded-off and completely empty.  A workman told me it was closed for the night for road repairs, which were due to start at One a.m.  It would be open again in the morning. 

I would be a hundred miles up the motorway in the morning.

“I’m in the building-game myself,” I said to the guy, “I’ll be across and nobody will notice.”

Amazingly, he let me slip through the barrier.

So it was that, on my last night in London, I stood, all alone, in the middle of the road in the middle of Westminster Bridge at midnight and I looked all around at the fabulous sweep of that fabulous city and I said goodbye.

I may go back for a weekend visit this year.

I’ve been saying that for a long long time now.

But, this year, I just might…

The Secret (and the Grit) in Their Eyes

This week, I want to rave about a movie and recommend that you all see it – well, all of you who are over 18 anyway.

Last weekend was our bank holiday and I had resolved to catch up on a few DVDs as a treat to myself (I’m very easily pleased).

It was perfect timing, then, when my friend Maria mentioned on Twitter a film that was currently on Sky Movies and which was excellent.  I don’t have Sky Movies but I trust her judgement so I hit the DVD shop early next morning and get the film along with a few others.  It would fit perfectly into my schedule for a decadent Saturday afternoon viewing when Trish was out at work.

I had known of the film for some time and wanted to see it but I am lazy.  Without a push or a special recommendation, this was the kind of title I could easily overlook and never see.  So I am indebted to Maria for mentioning this.

The film?  I haven’t named it yet? Jees, it’s paragraph five already!  Yes, well, it’s called ‘El Secreto de Sus Ojos’ or ‘The Secret in Their Eyes’ – an Argentinean film directed and co-written by Juan José Campanella.  It’s no shrinking-violet of a movie, this, it won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year and swept the boards in Argentina’s own Academy Awards.

Look, I never gush like this so please pay heed – this is a Wonderful film.  Exciting, Intriguing, Moving, Funny, Scary, Horrific, Admirable by turns and always Hugely Entertaining.  You should do yourself a favour and go and rent this film immediately – it is that good.

I really don’t want to tell you anything about the set-up or the story because I saw it totally ‘clean’ and it doubtless contributed to my enjoyment of the thing.  I should say that it is a murder mystery and that it contains brief but striking graphic scenes of violence and sexual aggression.  I feel I need to say that so that people who find such scenes unpalatable might be warned that this is no Rom Com… except, now I think of it, it is, actually.  It is that too, as well as so many other things… Oh, look, just go and see it, will you?

Of course, it’s a subtitled film but that’s not going to be an issue for you, right?  I’ve been thinking about the attraction of subtitled movies since my Twitter compadre and all-round-good-guy Jason Arnopp discussed the subtitling script for his new film ‘Stormhouse’ (which sounds very exciting).  Ever since reading his blog post I’ve been looking at subtitles more closely.  I’m watching The Killing at the moment (don’t talk to me about it until I’m finished) and, fifteen episodes in, I now feel like I can speak the language.  What becomes clear is that the characters are speaking so many more words than the subtitles set down, they use each others names a lot and they say things a few times in different ways.  The subtitles are clearly cutting to the quick of the matter.  Perhaps I like subtitled films because they give me a clear concise entertainment as well as a different take on film to that regular Hollywood one.

Anyway, have I been clear and concise enough?  See ‘El Secreto de Sus Ojos’ before the inevitable Hollywood version turns up.  Prepare to fall in love…

One of my other long weekend movies was the (for me, at least) highly anticipated Coen Brothers re-adaptation of True Grit starring Jeff Bridges.

There’s been acres of stuff written about this so I can’t add much.  I loved it.  It is stately and authentic and understated and elegiac and moving and… many other things.  It has stayed with me, in my mind, since I saw it and that’s a good thing.

The music by Carter Burwell is excellent.  Burwell has served The Coen Brothers very well ever since their first film ‘Blood Simple’ - which is another thing you really should see, if you haven’t already. Hailee Steinfeld, who plays the young Mattie Ross, does a particularly great job alongside Matt Damon and Josh Brolin…

But you know all this.

So what can I actually add to the archive of True Grit information?  Not much, as it happens. 

I spent some time thinking about the Theme of the story.  What is it all about?  Like all good stories, one can probably find one’s own theme in it, rather than some universal truth, and be happy with that.  Having thought about it, I reckon that, for me, the film was about the bond between a Father and a Daughter.  Mattie was a good daughter and Rueben Cogburn not a very good father.  When first she meets him, Mattie immediately moves to roll old Rooster’s cigarettes.  He confesses, in one key later moment, that his own boy, “…never cared for me anyway. I guess I did speak awful rough to him, I did not mean nothing by it.”

Old Rooster, who can calmly advise a boy of his impending death, (“I can do nothing for you son,”) ultimately consummates the mutual need of both himself and the girl for a father/daughter relationship by means of an extraordinary feat of endurance in order to save her life.

The tragedy of the film lies in the fact that this deep bond, once forged, is not maintained and both parties seem so much more isolated and adrift as a result of this.

Like I said, it’s a film which I feel has burned itself into my brain and one I believe I will think about for a long time to come.  Not least, I will remember Rueben’s lines which offer what is possibly the best advice on fighting that I have ever heard:

“You go for a man hard enough and fast enough, he don’t have time to think about how many is with him. He thinks about himself, how he might clear of the wrath that is about to set down on him.”

Damn right, Rooster.

Under the Anfluence

A friend of mine had to undergo a general anaesthetic this week and this got me thinking about my own relationship with being ‘knocked out’.

It’s many years, thankfully, since I’ve gone into an operating theatre and I’m sure the stuff they use now to put you to sleep has moved on and become much more sophisticated.

Back in my day though, whatever it was that they gave me did not agree with me.  It did not agree with me at all…

On the evening of Thursday, October 5, 1978 I brought my dogs for a walk in the woods.  (How can I be so accurate with this memory? I’ll tell you in a minute).  One of the dogs was a fairly young German Shepherd with a propensity to run off when unleashed.  That’s why he was on the leash when I slipped in some mud and fell on my wrist, dislocating it.  It was a long walk back through the woods that day.

At the hospital, for whatever reason, they decided I had to be given a general anaesthetic to get sorted out.  I’m still a bit surprised about that but I suppose they knew best.

When they wheeled me in_


I’m procrastinating.  I’d better stop beating around the bush and explain exactly what happens to me under general anaesthetic.

I get pissed.

No, I don’t mean pissed as in ‘Pissed-Off’ like you American Friends might say.  I mean drunk, rat-arsed, paralytic, bollixed, bet, fluthered… ‘tired-and-emotional’.  Pissed.

You may (or may not) have seen a previous post where I explained that I practically-never get drunk.  I hate the feeling, the dereliction of control.  I have a drink-or-two then I stop.

So I’ve never been a very good drunk and, that last time I had an anaesthetic, I was only fifteen years old and I’d never had a drink at all.  So it was always going to go badly.

_anyway, they wheeled me in and somone got me to count backwards and everything started to clang and echo and then, just as I went under, somebody said, “I see Dana got married today.” 

(Dana (Rosemary Scallon) won the Eurovision for us in 1970 with ‘All Kinds of Everything’.  You knew this, right?)

This fact crashed around in my head as I fell asleep and I’ve never ever forgotten it.  So, today, I can look up Wikipedia and see that she was married on October 5, 1978 and that’s how I have my dates so accurate.  Good, eh?

I woke up_

Let me give a little context for this next bit.  Every day I walked past the hospital to school and, next door to the hospital, was a nice house with a bronze nameplate on the front gate.  It read, ‘Turloc Swann, Surgeon’.  He was an eminent and much respected man in our town and that nameplate had puzzled me for many years as I trudged past.

_anyway, I woke up and this nurse said to me, “Hello, this is the man who fixed you all up… Mr. Swann.”

It was him!  I'd never seen him in the flesh before but it was really him!

“Heyyyy,” I said, with lips that didn’t seem to want to co-operate fully with me, “I've always wondered, what kinnnd of a fuggin’ name… is ‘Turloc’ anyway?”

When I woke up more completely, some time later, I was back on the ward and there was a weary-looking attendant sitting by my bed.  He had glasses… I would know him today if I saw him, I’m sure.

“Are you really awake this time?” he said.

“I think so,” I replied, “I think I might have been talking shite a bit earlier.”

“Yes,” he said, suddenly looking much much wearier, “you certainly were.”