Ask Me Something Hard

Try something new and learn something new.  Did I make that up or just steal it from somewhere? I don’t know. Never mind. 

Last weekend I got to do something that was quite new to me and I learned a little something new as a result. I’ll tell you about it, if you like, but I haven’t fully reached a concrete conclusion about it yet. Perhaps you might be able to help with that.

The thing? It was nothing earth-shattering. Probably not for you anyway. But, for me, it was quite exciting and I was looking forward to it and quite nervous about it for days before.

I got interviewed, you see, on camera.  This was the new thing for me. 

They’re making a TV Documentary about Ireland’s love affair with The Cinema. It will go out on Irish Television on Easter Monday next, apparently. I had showed them my ‘First Night of Alien’ story (click on the title if you’d care to see it for yourself) and they asked me to come and tell it to them for the programme. This doesn’t make me special or anything (well… no more special than I was before), lots of people are being interviewed for this programme. Lots and lots. So I’m not bragging or anything.

I figured the set-up would be that me and about twenty other people would roll up to the cinema in Westport on Saturday morning and we would file in and say our piece to camera and then go home again and that was perfectly fine. But it wasn’t like that at all. When I got there, it soon became clear that I was the only one being interviewed. They were all set up, ready to go, and the next hour was for me and me alone. I was radio-mike-ed up and black coffee-ed up and positioned in a nice cinema seat facing a nice cinema screen. There was boom mikes, glamorous assistants, the whole shebang. I was hugely complimented at their interest and also a bit anxious about what I could think of to say for, like, an hour.

Of course, I needn't have worried about that. The interviewer was obviously a fellow movie fan and seemed  by turns interested and amused by my answers to his questions. It was really a lovely experience. To be honest, I felt like a bit-of-a Megastar, what with all the crew working hard just to get my feeble musings down in digital form. Our discussion ranged across quite a lot of stuff and I got far too comfortable and probably defamed a few people along the way not to mention throwing in a few confessions which will probably result in criminal prosecution at some time in the future. It was fun, though, it was great fun and I know I’ll probably end up on the cutting room floor where I belong but, if not, I will let you know.

Now, here’s the learning bit. See what you think.

Near the end of the hour, the interviewer started to ask a new question. It was a difficult question. I won’t get too specific but it was something along the lines of the contribution which cinema-going had made to Irish Society down through the decades. The question took quite a long time to ask and, as it was unfolding, I became rather clinically aware of my own unfolding thought processes.  They went something like this:

“Oh, God, what’s all this now?”

“I don’t know this. I don’t know anything about this.”

“What’s he saying? Keep focused. You’ll have to answer all this in a minute.”

“What the hell are you going to say?”

“I don’t know, do I?”

“He’s reaching the end. He’s stopping talking. It’s your turn now. He’s stopped. He waiting. It’s your turn now.”


I didn’t know what to say. I had hardly assimilated the question, never mind formulated any kind of answer. I dropped my jaw in preparation for gabbling a bit and then admitting I was a fraud and shouldn’t be here at all.

And then I answered. 

I said quite a lot actually. Despite my best efforts to stop it, the hard question he had asked had somehow soaked into my brain and, because I had to, I formulated an answer and provided it. And, not to blow my own trumpet, I think the answer I gave was actually quite good. It wasn’t something I had ever really thought about much before but, when I was pressed on it, it turned out that I had some thoughts to share and they were actually almost worth hearing.

I thought about this afterward, as I do. There’s a lesson to be learned. For me at least. I can’t speak for you. I shouldn't be afraid to ask myself hard questions. That was my first thought. I am capable of formulating a response if I put myself in the right place to do so.

Yes, okay, fine, but that’s just too easy. As I found out. I tried, you see, I tried asking myself a hard question. Just in my head, I didn’t do it out loud or anything. That would be disconcerting to passers-by. I just asked myself something hard in my head and I pressed myself for a sensible answer. But it didn’t work. You probably knew that already, you’re usually way ahead of me on this kind of thing. It turns out that I can’t fool my own mind that easily. I can insist that I want an answer to my hard question but my mind knows it’s just me doing the insisting and effectively tells me to sod off.

It doesn't work.

So that’s about as far as I've got. I have learned that if you are asked a hard question in a pressure situation you may surprise yourself by how quickly and well you can collect your thoughts and how much of a revelation those thoughts may be, even to you. But I've also learned that you can’t replicate that pressure situation just because you’d like to.

So there’s the rub. How can I manage to ask myself the hard questions and expect to get a meaningful reply?

Answers on a postcard…

Man About Blog

There’s no advice I can give you about blogging.

I might as well try to advise you about what to do with a blank sheet of paper and a pen, the options are just as diverse and every bit as impenetrable.

But I've been doing it – blogging, that is – for quite a few years now so you’d think I’d have something to say about it. Well, maybe I do, but it’s wouldn't be advice (perish the thought). Perhaps it would be more a short litany of things I do and don’t do when it comes to my blog. Perhaps that would be it…

I Know I Won’t Ever Move the Earth

It’s a lesson I had to learn. I don’t think anyone could have told me it. My blog will never cause ripples around the world or impact on international media or move masses to tears or, indeed, helpless laughter. 

In fact I have a theory. I reckon that our blogs are subject to a physical rule which is almost as rigid as the intertwined laws of capillary action and gravity. ‘This Far and No More’ this mysterious rule seems to say, “You Shall Not Pass…” Perhaps I should call it the 'Gandalf Rule'. What I mean is that my blog has tended to grow to a certain size and then not to grow any more. Maybe this is just me but I don’t actually reckon it is. Unless you’re some marketing guru, I reckon your blog will get to a level of exposure and there it will pretty much stay. Argue with me, if you want, I’d enjoy that.

That ‘If I Build It, They Will Come’ Malarkey Is Exactly That

I thought this for a while, at first. 

“I will just write my blog posts,” I thought (with a big noble head on me), “and, if they’re good enough, people will find them. They Will Come.”

No they won’t. Catch yourself on. 

I have to push my posts a little bit to get them read. I don’t have to go mad about it or anything. A Twitter link here, a Facebook mention there, then, if they get spread around a bit from there, well and good. And, if not, well that’s okay too. I put my post out there a little bit, because nobody would see it otherwise, and after that whatever happens, happens. 

It’s a bit like fly-fishing, I present the bait as attractively as I can and I wait and see what bites. If nothing bites, there’s always my sandwiches and the peace of the shady riverbank. 

Content is Key

It ain't rocket science. I just try to make my blog post as good as I can, every time. It’s not a disposable thing, a blog post. It may get most of its readers in the first few days after it gets posted but it also lives on out there, floating in the cloud, and now and again people will land on it and read it, even years from now. 

So I try to make it as nice as possible, for them and for you too. 

I Don’t Make It Personal To You

This stuff is just about me, remember, you must do your own thing. I don’t ever ask individual people to read a post. 

Sometimes there’s a new post that I would love someone to see, I still won’t ask them to read it. I do this because I believe that people need to come to my writing because they want to rather then because I want them to. If that reader/writer symbiosis is allowed to occur naturally it is a very rewarding thing, entirely worth the risk of it not ever happening at all. If a person were to come by my blog out of some sense of obligation then it would be exponentially more difficult to divert them with what they find here. As I said, this is just me. I’m not judging you. Not much anyway.

There is an exception to this rule. Say, for instance, if I’m tweeting with you and you ask me what I thought of ‘Skyfall’ then I may mention that I have a blog post on that very subject. This seems okay to me because it’s integral to the particular discussion I am having. To be honest, though, okay or not, it still makes me a little uncomfortable doing it. I think I’ll cut down on it…

I Won’t Ever Make Any Money

I’ve never made a penny from blogging but then I don’t ever try. I don’t have any adverts on the blog and I don’t want any. It’s not why I do it. Many people come to blogging to make loads of money online and drive fast cars and roger glamorous women. Trust me, that won’t happen. 

Having said that, I do know blogs can make pennies and I know that pennies are extremely valuable in some parts of the world and I applaud the industry of people there who blog their hearts out to get those pennies. They create content and fill up on adverts and theirs might not be the most edifying web creations ever but they are probably saving their lives by doing it so bloody well done them.

I just do it for my own silly reasons, which I’ve written about here previously. ‘Forget about the price tag’, and all that. 

I Won’t Last at It

I tend to think this way about my bloody-awful jogging too. “You’ll never make it around that lake.” “You’re Utterly Shit, why bother?” “Go back to bed and pull the quilt over your head and die.” Our inner voices are little bastards, aren't they? 

I never thought I’d be blogging this long. What will I write about next week? Fuck knows. 

“Nothing, you’ll be writing about nothing next week. This is probably your last blog post ever.” 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, inner voice, sod off eh? 

And see you next week. 

If you like.

The Half-a-Weetabix Quandary

There’s lots of juicy confessional stuff in this week’s post so please brace yourself. 

I eat Weetabix for breakfast. That’s the first confessional revelation right there. There’s worse to come. I didn’t always eat Weetabix. I used to do all kinds of weird things, like Cornflakes and Rice Krispies. Oh, yes, I have certainly lived all right. 

But all that had to change. As the years trotted by, I had to start thinking a little about what I ate so I did what every right thinking middle-aged male will eventually do. 

Yes indeed, I started eating Special K. I mean, every man aspires to glide up that azure pool in a one piece red swim suit… don’t they?

…moving swiftly on.

The ‘Special K’ thing didn’t last terribly long. To be honest, I found it to be pretty joyless stuff (other opinions are available) so I quickly moved on to the fancier Special K’s, the ones with berries and stuff in them. That was okay until I discovered that the box said it had 3% fat or 3 grams of fat (I don’t know) and that was 1% or 1 gram of fat (I don’t know) more than the boring Special K and that felt like too much even though, as you might have gathered by now, I really didn’t know.  Around this time, while avoiding someone in a supermarket aisle, I noticed that Weetabix was only 2% fat or 2 grams of fat (yes, yes) and that was the same as the dullest Special K while also being cheaper so I ran with that and have continued to do so ever since.

All you diet-experts can come and kick my considerable arse in the comments section if you feel you need to but, bear in mind, my dodgy nutritional information is not the point of the post at all, it’s just the preamble. The point is coming very shortly or at least I hope it is 'cos my fingers are getting a bit sore.

The point is, I adopted Weetabix as my breakfast weapon of choice and I’ve stuck with it. On the weekends I may treat myself to a sprinkling of muesli and honey (I warned you this was revelatory stuff) but generally it’s two Weetabix, a minimum quantity of milk, and Bob’s your maternal aunt. 

“Great, fine, super”, I hear you chant, “we’re happy for you, Ken, but where’s the conflict? For this post to succeed as a story-telling exercise, you need to insert an element of conflict soon or you will lose us, mate.”

Fair enough. Brace yourself once again because here it bloody well comes.

My wife. Patricia. Have you met Patricia? She’s nice, she is. She likes a Weetabix too. Just now and again. She’s generally a porridge girl and, god knows, I love the hot sweet smell of porridge wafting through the house. I love it, just don’t make me eat it, that’s all.

So, yes, normally it’s porridge for her but sometimes there isn’t time for all that oat palaver. Sometimes something simpler is called-for. Something… Weetabix. I don’t mind Patricia dipping into my Weetabix. In fact I quite like it. I take it as a small compliment – my choice of breakfast is not totally risible etc etc. 

It’s just… well…

Trish doesn’t like one Weetabix. Nor does Trish like two. She likes one-and-a-half Weetabix and that’s what she always has.

Thus has been born the ‘One and a Half Weetabix Quandary’ and lord knows it’s a biggie. I like two Weetabix, no more, no less, and I like them neat and presentable. Now, when I open the oddly old-fashioned paper wrapper of a morning, I am confronted with half – half -  a bloody Weetabix on the top of the stack. 

What on earth am I supposed to do?

I could just have one-and-a-half Weetabix (but that’s not enough).

I could have two-and-a-half Weetabix (but that’s too much).

I could have two, by breaking another biscuit and also taking the existing half, thus leaving another half of Weetabix in the ‘Weeta-box’, but that goes against my in-built sense of cereal decorum and also leaves me with a smashed and dislocated breakfast bowl vista.

The horror. Oh the horror.

Then I stop and I think. Would it be better if I was here alone, waking every morning to a perfect alignment of Weetabix biscuits in my box? Would the silence, the loneliness, the lack of sheer fun be worth the maintenance of cereal sanity.

I think about that for a little while…

… and then I quietly lift the half-a-Weetabix out of the pack, lay it gently aside, take two full Weetabix from the pack for myself, then put the half-a-Weetabix back in. And I never say anything about it.

It’s a small example of those little sacrifices we make in our day-to-day lives together. 

And as Elton John once quite-rightly sang, they’re no sacrifice at all.

A 'Gathering' Song - Sit in The Evening a While

Next year, Ireland will have 'The Gathering' where Irish People from all over the world will be invited to come home for a little while.     

People will doubtless write songs about it.

So I just thought I'd do mine before the rush starts...

Sit in The Evening a While

Not a big thing
Not so grand
Not a show of style
I just want to see you
And sit in the evening a while

Talk, listen
Friendly hand
A memory to beguile
Only to see you
And sit in the evening a while

We paddled streams together
Long days ago
And the waters now between us
Are heavy, deep and slow

Not a parade
Not a band
One moment in the Isle 
A moment to see you
And sit in the evening a while

(c) Ken Armstrong - November 2012

Don’t Take Your Life

This will be rather a naive post. It won’t be steeped in intellect or even harsh experience. It won’t be scientifically correct. In fact, the only thing really going for it is that it will mean well.

People are taking their own lives. More than they used to, it seems. In this country at least. I’m not thinking of anyone in particular here, I’m just generalising. The world has become a tougher, colder place for many of us and some of us are taking their own lives. 

This post is my attempt at a simple plea.

Don’t. Please don’t.

I don’t want this post to be one of those things like when people tell people to snap out of their depression. “Go for a nice walk and you’ll be fine…”. I hate those things. Depression is something I don’t really understand and I’m hugely grateful for that. The best thing I can do, in gratitude, is to not pretend that I understand it.  It’s much the same with suicide, I can’t comprehend the depths that one gets to before it becomes an option and I sincerely hope this always remains the case. 

So I’m not saying ‘you’ll be fine’ or ‘catch yourself on’ or ‘don’t be so silly’. I’m not equipped to talk any sense at all on this subject but at least I know it.

But I can make a plea, can’t I? They’re not sensible, scientific things, pleas, they’re just naive, rather silly things. Even I can manage one of those.

So, please, don't take your life.

I can also, in my rather silly way, offer two thoughts to a person who might one day come to consider taking their lives. They might be stupid thoughts, they might even be dangerous ones. If they are, please let me know and I will reconsider leaving them up here. I mean well but, as we all know, that’s not always such a great thing.

Here’s thought number one.

If you are thinking of taking your life, think about this for a moment. Who do you love? Bear with me, this is not quite as obvious as it will at first seem. So, who do you love? Who loves you? If the person or persons you love had fallen under the path of a speeding bus, you would throw yourself under that bus, push them out of the way and save them. You would gladly sacrifice yourself to the bus to let them live. You know you would. Well, here’s the thing; ‘Your Life’ is the bus. Whoever you love, whoever loves you, in order for you to save them you have to throw yourself selflessly under the bus of 'Your Life'. Whatever crippling injury, whatever unthinkable pain, will result, you would bear it to save the ones you love. And that’s really what you have to do.

Here’s thought number two.

Supposing nothing works, nothing at all. Supposing it’s darker than anybody else knows and you know in your heart-of-hearts that everybody would be so much better off if you were just gone. Supposing there is no other choice left. 

Then leave. 

If you have to leave that much, then you have to leave. 

Just don’t leave life. 

Grab a bus, a plane. Beg, borrow or steal some money and get completely and utterly away. Leave everything and everyone behind. Tell nobody, just go. It’s a terrible option, it will be cruel – unbearable even - on your loved ones but if you have to go it’s so much better than you should go that way. 

If the object of suicide is to tear down every aspect of your life until nothing is left then you can do that while still staying alive. Change everything. Go to Haiti and help the people there to build a house. Get on the road and thumb a lift somewhere, sleep rough, join a religious order. Anything. Do anything but don’t take your life. 

It's not hard to figure out why I say this. You can come back from any of these other departures someday, if you should want to. A day will come when things will be better and, speaking frankly, if you’ve killed yourself you don’t get to ever come back. 

So if you ever find that you have no choice but to go, then go. Go. Go anywhere but there.

Finally, I realise that I've done what I said I would not do. I’ve written, probably condescendingly, about something I know nothing about. I'm no better than those people who tell depressed people to have a nice walk.

I’m really sorry about that.

But we have to talk, I think. Even if we’re not making any sense. We have make it even more of a topic of conversation than it currently is.

I felt I had to at least give it a try.