The Score of my Life

I like to give the impression that my blog is a bit of an open book, that everything and anything is always up for discussion.  That’s not really the case though, is it?

Astute observers of this page over the years will note that there are certain subjects I don’t talk about very much at all.  This is no accident.  Things related to my work and my family may arise incidentally from time-to-time but it is not my wish to regularly offer these aspects of my life into the public domain.

This week I felt I should make a small exception.

This week my wife, Patricia, and I slipped away for an nice dinner and a quiet clink of glasses.  This week we were twenty years married.

Trish is one of the subjects I have deliberately chosen not to write about here.  Mostly because she is, first and foremost, her own person and for me to trap her in the glass bottle of 'my own perceptions of her' would be to do her a serious injustice.

But, just this once, for the week that’s in it…

I met Trish in The George Inn on Borough High Street one Saturday night in March 1987.  There was a party in a nurse’s residence adjacent to Guy’s Hospital and my flat mates were going.  I wasn’t going, no way, I had free tickets to see a preview of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in The Warner West End for the next morning and I was going to have an early night.  In addition, I was grumpy and out of sorts.  The guys needed a lift home, though, and, mostly for that reason, they persuaded me to go.

I guess I owe them one for that.

Trish was there in the pub.  It was one of those ‘across a crowded room’ things… not an instant head-over heels reaction, more of a ‘She looks nice, who is she?’ type of thing.  We spent the night talking. She had just arrived in London, I offered to show her around one evening, she accepted.  I gave her a lift home and 'One Trick Pony' was in the car cassette player.  She knew all the words. It’s funny how things happen, how they can fall easily into place.

We drove around London-by-night.  We peeped into the Auditorium of The Royal Festival Hall and I asked her out again.  Our first real-date was to The Royal Opera House to see Swan Lake. Unusual, that one, but I was going for an illusion of Classiness.  Our first movie date was ‘Stand By Me’.

In 1989, my car got stolen.  For me on my own, that would have been a disaster to mope-around-about for months on end.  Thanks to Trish, it became a ‘Seize the Day’ moment.  Instead of buying another car, the insurance money we eventually got was put towards a year-long world trip.  I quit my job and off we went together.  Such a thing would simply never have happened without Trish.  I would never have been brave enough to pack in a job without having another one lined up, I would never have thought I could exist without a car…  That 364 days out in the wide world remains one of the highlights of my life.  The memory of that adventure keeps me satisfied now, no matter how fixed and anchored my life may sometimes seem.

We got married in 1991 in The Claddagh in Galway.  We returned to London afterward and lived there until 1997 when we returned to Ireland with our new son… then another son came along…

One of the recurring themes of my early times with Trish was a wish to ‘have some history with her’.  She was (and is) very bright and lovely and I always kind of feared that my rather thin enamel would wear off, (as it has for many people over the years) and that she would see the real, grey, me beneath and then she would go.

When we were getting married and the priest came and asked what reading we would like at the ceremony, I immediately suggested a slightly obscure one from The Book of Tobit.  The priest raised an eyebrow. “Here”, he must have thought, “is a man who knows his scripture.”  Not so, of course.  As usual, I was bluffing. I had just finished reading ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’ and that reading and the sentiment, used so aptly therein, had remained with me.  It still does to this day.

“Please be merciful to us and grant that we may grow old together.”  Tobit 8.7

For that was always the wish, to make some history together and to be allowed the time to do it.

So, the report is, so far so good.  We have made some serious history together and with the grace of whatever dispenses it, we will be permitted to travel onward a ways yet.

So here’s to us, twenty years into our married life together and still truckin’ along.  And here’s to you, Babes, the love of my life…

… let’s do another twenty and see how we get on, yeah?


Naked Ladies of my Youth

It is fair to say that I started going to see grown-up movies far too soon for my own good.  It is also true that these movies sometimes contained a fair measure of ladies without any clothes on.

But that was not the point.  That was never the point.

The point was Bruce Lee.

‘Fist of Fury’ came to the Gaiety Cinema in Sligo and it simply had to be seen.  All of us eleven and twelve year olds simply idolised Bruce Lee.  We spent all of our time clucking like angry hens and aiming flying-sidekicks at each other’s heads.  We were obsessed.  And the oddest thing of all was that it was an entirely second-hand obsession.  None of us had ever seen any moving footage of Bruce Lee.  All we had were the posters, the rumours, and the visions of our older brothers (who had actually seen the movies) maniacally kicking the shit out of each other.

(Bruce Lee by Tony Lewis)

‘Fist of Fury’ was released in 1972 with an X (18) certificate.  I can’t have seen it then, I was nine, for Christ’s sake.  That would have been just silly.  No, I must have seen it the second or third time around.  I would have been at least eleven.  Yes, I must have been eleven when I asked my Mum if I could go with the older boys to see Bruce Lee.  Mum would have known, in a passing way, that this was some movie guy we liked a lot so she said yes.

The mechanics of getting into the over 18’s movies when you were eleven were interesting, nerve-wracking, and they worked for us on many happy occasions.  If you turned up at the ticket-window, barely able to reach up to the counter, you would be unceremoniously 'ran' so a more subtle approach was required.  It was simple, really.  You needed an older boy who would buy your ticket for you.  He wasn’t 18 either but he was old enough that people didn’t care.  While he was doing that, you, the 11 year old, would duck up the stairs to the balcony and hide in the disused cloakroom up there.  The tickets for the balcony were never checked until you entered the auditorium so you waited in the cloak room until the lights had gone down and then you went in.  The older boy presented the tickets and you slipped past.  It certainly added to the ‘frisson’ of movie-going to know that, at any given moment, you might be grabbed and chucked out.

So, in this manner, in late 1973, I got in to see Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury at the ripe old age of eleven. 

I dislike the film now.  Apart from the fight scenes it’s a bit boring and repetitive.  But those fight scenes, then… man, they were just Poetry.  An icon, previously only known via images and rumour, literally came alive on the big screen in front of me and I was instantly and irrevocably sold on the magic and thrill of Cinema for ever more.

But there was an unfortunate price to pay.

There was Nudity.

For an eleven year old trying to get in to see his hero, nudity was not a fun or a titillating thing.  It was a Problem.  As far as we were concerned, Nudity was the only reason that Bruce Lee movies were not open for all kids to enjoy.  If we had our way, all the nudey-bits would have been cut out.  They were the moments when the usher might snap awake and see that there are diddies on the screen and young boys in the auditorium, munching Milky Moos.  They were the moments you could get yourself chucked out.

So, yes, nudity at eleven, as I now recall it, was a thing to be annoyed-about and cursed.  It was the barrier between you and your heroes.  It was odd, wasn’t it?

The Bruce Lee nudity was restrained enough – a glance of a bare breast or buttock, perhaps, and then on with the Nunchucks.  The step upwards was with a well-known cult film from 1975 called ‘Death Race 2000’.  I was twelve on the night that Over 18’s puppy arrived in Sligo and I simply had to get in.  I simply had to.

This film had everything.  A super-car race to the death, a hero called ‘Frankenstein’, points gained for killing people… it was, for me, by the sound of it, the absolute perfect kid’s movie and, as I said, it had everything.

Unfortunately, it really did… have ‘everything’… if you know what I mean.

We got in.  No problem.  We didn’t even have to use the cloak room technique.  The new ticket-tearer guy was a distant cousin so, once the ticket was bought by an older kid, I had no worries for the rest of the evening.

What a great movie.  I couldn’t believe it.  (See it now and it’s a bit shitty but, come on, I was Twelve).  Mayhem, cars, heroes, villains.  Then, at a moment of peak happiness, there occurred a scene in a massage room where everyone was laid down on benches, getting massaged… and then they all got up… and here was something new to me… here was Full Frontal Nudity in all its glory.

How did I react?  Was my youthful libido released and did I then venture outward into a world of physical love and adult relationships?

Did I hell!

I had only one thought in my head.  “If Mum or Dad catches me in here, I am Feckin’ Dead.”

It spoiled the movie for me.  Nudity was yet again the problem and not any kind of solution… and if there is a pun there then, yes, it was intended.

I didn’t get caught for ‘Death Race 2000’ but we were certainly living dangerously with our Over 18’s Movie Activities and at some point there had to be Retribution.

It came in 1976 (I was now Thirteen and a Veteran of all kinds of unsuitable flicks) with a film called ‘Death Weekend’ (Alternative Title, ‘The House by the Lake’.).  We went to see it.  It was a violent film and is still, to this day, something of a benchmark in nastiness and exploitation.  When I got home, my parents were waiting for me. 

“What cinema were you at tonight?”

We had two in the town, the Savoy was showing ‘Lady and the Tramp’.  I had a moment where a lie might have let me go free but I’ve always been one for cutting my losses. 

“The Gaiety, I was at The Gaiety.”

Our mistake had been basic.  We had neglected to read the huge lettering above the cinema entrance promoting the film we had seen.  It boldly stated,  “They raped her one-by-one, she killed them one-by-one.”  An unusual evening-walk past the Cinema gates by my parents had done for me.

That curtailed my movie-going for a time but not really for too long.

By 1978, we were fifteen, and we could pretty much step up and buy tickets for anything we wanted so the ‘Cinema-Assault’ party was effectively over.  Then a film came out called ‘The Stud’ (yes, you remember
it ).  It arrived in Sligo blaring the fact that is was a ‘sexy-time show’ and that only over 18’s would be allowed in to see it.  Thus challenged, we went and we got in, no bother.  Interestingly though (and this is true) while sitting in my seat, along with my pals, waiting for the curtains to open, I decided I didn’t really want to see a crap ‘sexy-time show’ so I got up and went home.

Go figure that one.

Perhaps our movie-going sounds awful now but it wasn’t such a bad thing.  As young teens, we never wanted to sneak into films which were ‘Adult’ first and foremost, we only craved the fighting, the monsters, the cars.  I don’t feel I was ever damaged by anything I saw on my teen excursions into grownup cinema, although I suppose it’s possible that more-impressionable kids might have been.  I certainly wouldn’t swap any of my experiences as I believe they coloured-in the love affair that I carry on with The Movies to this very day.

        *        *        *        *

Here’s a Couple of Footnotes:  There was only one film I failed to get into upon its release and that was ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. For some reason that was heavily clamped down upon.  It is one of my favourite films.

I didn’t try to get into ‘The Exorcist’ upon its release and I am pretty sure I would not have been allowed in. 

And, finally, in 1975, I was challenged when buying a ticket to a film called ‘Hennessy’.  It carried an over 12’s certificate and, ironically-enough, I was 12 at the time.

They eventually let me in.

Super 8 and The Shape of Things that have Arrived

Having been away from my computer for an entire week now, I realise you will be expecting me to return with something very bright and wickedly insightful.  Well, friends, prepare to be not-disappointed.

I have traveled around a bit in the past week and I have looked carefully at things and, as you quite rightly expect, I have reached a conclusion.

And it is this;

Many of you have simply not come to terms with the concept of Widescreen TV.

Don’t get in a huff now, don’t ‘hump off’ with that ‘face’ on you.  This is simply the fact of the matter and you might as well face it now as later.  So, let’s face it together. 

You remember when you all went out and got these widescreen TV’s?  Mostly, it must be said, because your old telly blew up in accordance with the laws of built-in-obsolescence and you couldn’t find another square shaped one to replace it.  Fine, so here you all are now with your wide screen tellys and my observation is that a considerable percentage of you have not the first feckin’ clue how to use them.

Which is sad, really.  I’ve always been in love with the concept of widescreen.  We ’see’ in widescreen, after all and the movies have, for the longest time, recognised this fact and given us the marvellous wide experiences which our brains covertly desire.  Telly screens were only ever box-shaped on account of technological shortcomings which I won’t go into here mostly because I don’t have a clue what the hell they were.  I remember once journeying to Harrods on the strength of a rumour that they had a widescreen television on display there.  That wasn’t today or yesterday, I can tell you.  Well, let’s be blunt, it was a bloody long time ago.  Widescreen has been with us for a long time now yet still the widescreen telly in the corner of your room is not doing what it should be doing and, guess what, it’s all your fault.

Stick around and I’ll tell you why.

I tend to get quite anxious about screen-ratios.  It’s definitely one of my foibles.  I get upset when the correct proportions are not applied to the film or programme I am watching.  I get itchy.

Only yesterday, I was in a fine cinema watching ‘Super 8’.  I had made a special journey to see it there and I was excited to do so and very very pleased with what I saw.  More on that in a minute.  But, before the main feature, the adverts and the trailers where all projected  onto the screen in a different ratio to the screen on which they were being shown and I was edgy (really) that the main event was not going to fit the screen.  Had that been the case, I would have sought out the projectionist and had a chat with him about it.  That’s the kind of thing I tend to do.

While we’re close to the subject, go and see ‘Super 8’.  My wife loved it, my kids loved it and I especially loved it.  For me, it was a new experience.  It was a nostalgia film which was nostalgic for the exact time when I was a teen – the very late seventies.  Interestingly though, it’s not nostalgic for that era, as such, rather it is nostalgic for the films of that area.  The big Spielberg productions.  It nearly made me cry for that very reason.  Apart from being a great movie, it was like a validation of my time as a teen, a sort of ‘okay, yeah, you were cool too.’

A lovely lovely film.  Go and see.

Now… about those tellys of yours.  Here’s where you most likely went wrong.

Back when you got your spanking new widescreen telly, you embraced the concept wholeheartedly, didn’t you?  You said, “Right, now we’ve got bloody widescreen, we’re going to have everything in widescreen.”  And you twiddled with your telly until everything on it looked widescreen.  The trouble was – and still is – that not everything is widescreen.  These days, almost everything is but there are still a few throwbacks to the old 4:3 screen ratio of your old Bush (no, ‘Bush’ was a model of TV, missus). 

You hated to see any black bands on the side of your screen when a 4:3 ratio programme came on your shiny new telly so you ‘fixed’ them, didn’t you?  You zoomed and stretched the picture until the entire tube was filled with glorious widescreen content.  But, look carefully, it’s all Kak, isn’t it?  That lady's’s right shoulder is twice as wide as his left one and the titles of the programmes are shooting out the side of the telly and into the curtains.  Your telly picture looks crap and it’s all your fault.

You can fix this.  I’ve done it to three tellys as I mooched around this week.  (And when the owners find out they’ll probably kill me).  Here, in fairly general terms, is what to do.

First, are your settings actually wrong?  Let’s see.  Find an old episode of ‘Friends’ on some channels, More4 or something.  Let’s face it, it’s not hard to do.  ‘Friends’ was made in 4:3 format so you should have black bands on the left and right of the screen on your widescreen telly.  If you do, you’re probably okay.  If you don’t then you, or some other git, has stretched your picture to fit the telly and it looks crap.

Set your Sky Box or whatever you have to output in 16:9 format.  I don’t know where the setting is, what am I, Handy Andy?  Go and bloody find it yourself.

When that’s done, go into your telly settings and set the zoom to ‘Auto Zoom’.  Then it will zoom in and out all by itself to give you the optimum viewing experience.  It’s worth it.  Correctly set widescreen is wonderful and incorrectly set is the exact nemesis of wonderful… whatever that is.

If my instructions are too vague and, yes, of course they bloody are, then do a little internet research or get your son or idiot cousin to sort it out for you.  It’ll take them ten seconds and the self-satisfied sneer they will surely impose upon you will be entirely worth it on account of your improved telly-viewing experience.

Go and do it now.

Go on.

I’m waiting…

Doubting Kenneth

(I’m writing this first part last.

I just want to say that the opinions expressed herein are my own. I’m not looking to diss your own opinions or anything.  Quite the opposite, your opinions are great... No, really, they are.)

Prince played Dublin last week.  I didn’t go.  I’d seen him in Wembley Arena in the Eighties and thought it was brilliant.  That’ll do for me. 

This isn’t about Prince, though, not after this first bit.  It’s about something a DJ said about him on the radio last weekend.

The DJ said something like, “If you live in the vicinity of the hotel where Prince is staying, don’t be too surprised to get a knock on your door Sunday morning and find him standing there…”  Prince, you see, is a Jehovah's Witness and, as such, is required to engage in door-to-door preaching from time to time.

This throw-away line got me thinking…

When people call to my door, evangelising, I am usually polite and a tiny bit receptive.  I tend to respect people’s beliefs and their right to hold them and if that requires them speaking to me for a few minutes then I can bear that, within reason.  These bright, polite, doorstep conversations are usually quite short.  I may be a nice guy but you don’t have to talk to me for too long before you realise that, if you want to convert me to your way of thinking, you better be coming with some cold-hard facts.  That’s why the Jehovah’s Witnesses will probably leave my door tut-tutting and saying, “Nice Guy, ‘pity we could do nothing for him.”

There is a basic problem with converting people to your own choice of religion.  Basically it boils down to Faith.  None of the religions of the world, as far as I know, are rolling up to your door with a series of Facts and a big book of Knowledge.  No.  They deal in ancient scriptures and writings or what I like to call ‘Hearsay’.  Religious people fear that word – Hearsay – so much so that they converted it into another word ‘Heresy’.  They will tend to throw this word at you if you try to speak about Hearsay with them.

This brings me to the crux of today’s matter,  ‘My Pet Hate’.  If you come to my door wishing to discuss your beliefs, I may give you a few minutes.  You’re a person and I am interested in people and what they think.



If you come to my door and tell me you ‘Know’ stuff - that your particular branch of ‘Creed’ is the ‘Proven Way’ and that your belief springs only from certain-knowledge and fact – well then you are in trouble, my friend.  There is no knowledge in religion.  That’s why it’s religion and not science.

It’s all about Faith, isn’t it?  And the reason it’s all about Faith is that there isn’t any proof of anything.  God.  The Afterlife.  Whatever Particular Paradise you Picture.  There is no proof.  As George Michael succinctly put it, “You Gotta have Faith’.

This is where many people will differ with me.  Because, when you have Faith – real honest Faith – it is almost impossible to distinguish your Faith from Knowledge and Certainty.  It is in the very nature of Faith that, when you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and it is by its very nature quite unshakeable.  Knowledge is something which can be imparted from one person to another.  Faith, I believe, can not. 

I worry that I might be wrong on this point.  There is obviously much knowledge in the world which cannot be imparted to me.  Stuff like Quantum Physics and High Mathematics.  The knowledge is there, I’m just not smart enough to get it.  Perhaps religion is like that.  Maybe the people with faith are smarter in that way than I am, maybe it’s all there and I’m just not bright enough to know it.

I don’t really think this is the case but I accept it as a possibility.

I feel I can speak about faith like this because I had some of it once and now I don’t.  I think that qualifies me, at least a bit, to hold an opinion.

When I was young, I lived in a reasonably faith-full environment.  There was lots of well meaning conditioning and reaffirmation of the chosen credo.  It wasn’t brain-washing (I think) and it brought great benefits – a strong moral compass, a comfort in times of grief, a community to exist within.

When we learned about the Bible, the Apostle Thomas often came across as a figure of faint disdain.  When Jesus came back from the dead, Thomas was the one who wouldn’t believe a bloody word of it.

“Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:24-29).

Doubting Thomas was a bit of an eejit, as far as our teachers were concerned.  He couldn’t just have faith, he couldn’t just believe.  He had to be shown, he had to have proof.  And, lucky old Doubting Thomas, ‘cos, in that particular story, he got his proof.  If I got a bit of the proof that Doubting Thomas got, I’d have to change my way of thinking, wouldn’t I?

So that’s me, that is.  ‘Doubting Kenneth’… well, ‘Disbelieving Kenneth’ if we want to be straight about it.  I have no faith except the tattered remnants of the implants of my youth and, God knows, I can envy people who do have faith.  So long as they don’t let it twist them and make them feel aloof, it’s a wonderful thing to have.  And I mean that, I really do.

Finally, on this, I think that faith is a choice we can make, to a certain extent.  If you want to have it, then you simply have to decide to have it.  Nobody showing up at your door can give it to you, or take it away for that matter.  So maybe someday I will have faith again.  Most likely somebody will die and I will adopt faith as a tool to enable me to believe I will see them again some fine day.  Although… you can see how bloody cynical I am so perhaps the possibility of faith has now passed from me altogether.

I guess I’ll shuffle on as I am, Doubting Kenneth.  If you come to my door and tell me what you believe, I’ll give you a few minutes of my time.

Just don’t try to tell me what you know.

Don’t do that.