The Trampoline Cat

This is an actual photograph of her. It’s not one of those ‘borrowed-with-permission’ internet image like the ones I usually use. 

This really is my Trampoline Cat.

I think it helps that you are able to see her in her domain and know that she’s real and that I’m not making her up, like I sometimes do with stuff.

She arrived in the Summer, back when it was understandable. We’ve had the large trampoline in our back garden for quite a few Summers now. It’s been a very successful addition. Even this past Summer, when the guys might have considered themselves too big and mature for Trampoline japes, they would sit out there with their friends long into the gathering midnight dusk and drink Dr Pepper and chat and laugh about God knows what. Instead of the frenetic action place it had been in earlier years, the trampoline has now become a place to recline and consider. It's maturing along with us, I suppose.

So, yeah, it’s been good.

Then, one Summer’s day, the Trampoline Cat took up residence. I first saw her out of the bedroom window on a July evening. There was one corner of the trampoline where the sun still managed to reach and the cat was there, legs folded under, eyes closed, enjoying the soft base and the sunlight. 

Our trampoline has a very high protective mesh screen all around it and a single tent flap area where you can climb in and out. Once you're in there, you feel quite enclosed and protected. It’s kind of nice. I guess the cat thought so too.

After that, the cat came every evening to bask in the last of the sun and kick back for a while. I liked it. I like cats but I have a skin allergy to them such that, if I stroke one, I will generally pay the small price of a bumpy rash for a few hours. (I can feel an itch now just writing about it). So, yeah, although I can’t go around being all tactile with them, and I obviously can’t own one, I do like cats. Even saying that… ‘like’ isn’t the exact word. It's more like I ‘admire’ them, their power and independence, their attitude.

We’ve had lots of cats come through our garden, over the years. They’ve come and gone but the Trampoline Cat seems a little more special. She seems comfortably proprietorial over her trampoline spot. She seems relaxed and at peace there. There’s an element of a little rest being offered to a traveller upon the road and it’s rewarding to be able to do that.

It was obvious why the cat chose the spot she always sits in. As I mentioned, there’s the soft bouncy base and the last of the sun to be enjoyed. But the sun went from the trampoline as the Autumn extended and still the Trampoline Cat returns and returns every day to sit a spell on the very same spot, even though it's now in shadow and a bit cold. We are all creatures of habit, I guess.

I’m writing this because I was up pretty close to the cat on Friday at lunchtime. I raced home from work to hang some clothes out on the washing line (‘Domestic God’, I know) and the cat was there, in the usual spot in the trampoline enclosure. I had to go really close to hang the shirts on the line and the cat eyed me in a highly relaxed and superior fashion. I took the photo as I was finished with the hanging-out and I resolved to write a few lines about her. So here it is.

I like the Trampoline Cat even more today than I did before our Friday encounter. Here’s the simple reason why. As I described above, the trampoline has only one way out of it, through the mesh ‘tent-flap’ entrance, and I had that effectively covered while I was at the washing line. The mesh around the perimeter of the trampoline is very tall and offers no way out for a resting feline. I effectively had the Trampoline Cat cornered and trapped. But, here’s the thing, the cat didn’t seem to mind at all.

It seemed to trust me. Therein lies the rub, the one I cannot give to the cat. I like the cat more because it seemed to trust me. 

So keep calling, dear Trampoline Cat, you’re always welcome here. 

Rest a while. 

The sun will come around again soon enough and, with a little luck, we’ll all bask in it then. 

Admitting I’ve Lost Something is the First Step to Finding It Again

It’s probably a mistake to find general rules for life in one’s own tiny little experiences. 

When you think about it though, what else do we really have to go on?

So this is one of those small home truths that I have concocted for myself from my own world. It’s a ‘take it or leave it’ deal. If there’s something here you feel might be useful to you, go, be my guest. If not, you’ve lost nothing  except a mouse click and 2.5 minutes of your day.

Really, there’s not much to tell. The meat of this post is all there in the title. The rest is mere explanation.

It’s an odd effect that I've been noticing all of my adult life. I misplace something, anything at all, a book, a key, a child… whatever. I look and I look, I search everywhere and then, on the very precipice of giving up, I say out loud, “it’s no good, I can’t find it,” and then, straight away, I do. There it is, it was right there all along. I only had to admit I couldn't find it in order to immediately do so.

It works much the same way if I get lost in the car on the way to someplace. I drive and I drive and I get more and more lost. Even when I’m totally by myself, if I throw my hands up in final frustration and shout, “that’s it, I’m lost,” then the next moment or two will reveal the right road or even the actual location I sought.

It’s weird, it’s inexplicable and there’s no logic or witchcraft to it.

Or maybe there is.

(Stop contradicting yourself, Ken. It’s getting tiresome).

Maybe it’s like the man said, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. Maybe there is some unknown force abroad in the universe that only reveals the answers when the questions are asked out loud. I don’t think so but I wouldn't, would I? We are mere mortals and these things, if they exist, would naturally be beyond our Ken (‘see what I did there?).

All I know is that I lose stuff all the time. Well, to be more accurate, I mislay things because I’m never far from finding them again. This happens most particularly in work.

“Have you seen that file?”


“Don’t worry, I have it now.”

It’s just weird, I know.

If I struggle hard to reason this out, I might conclude that my verbal admission of having lost something focuses my mind on the fact that it is lost and therefore increases the mental and physical resources I immediately apply to help find it again. Perhaps there’s also an ‘embarrassment factor’. I've admitted to losing it now and if someone else finds it easily, I’ll look like a fool.

Yes. There’s probably something in that.

This experience is useful on a ‘good advice’ level too. A metaphor for keeping well and seeking help and support if and when you might need it. An ‘ask and it shall be given’ sort of a thing. If you’re lost or have lost something precious, say it aloud and things may get better.

Whatever the truth of the matter and whatever the value of the effect as some abstract inspirational metaphor, I only know one thing for sure. These days, whenever I have lost something important or if I myself have become a bit lost, I am very quick to stand up and proudly admit it to anyone who will listen.

Then, at least, I know that some form of relief might just be on the way. 

The Fault in Our Scars

Long time readers of this silly old blog might just recall this story. It was covered in one paragraph of a long-ago post. Sorry about that. I just felt an urge to tell it again and then try to use it to illustrate a point I’d like to make about jumping to conclusions too quickly.

So here we go. This is a little thing that happened to me on one Sunday morning many years ago. As with many things in my life, I can date it fairly accurately if I think about the movies that were around in the cinema at that time. On that evening, my friend Sean and me tried to get in to see that new movie ‘The Blues Brothers’ in Dublin but it was sold out. Instead we went around the corner and saw Burt Reynolds in ‘Rough Cut’. This places the moment firmly in October 1980 and me firmly at seventeen years old. Remembering where you saw your movies is fun and useful too!

On that nice Sunday morning I was summoned by Sean to help out on a simple enough mission. His uncle had a caravan out in Rosses Point and he wanted to hitch it up to the back of his car and bring it back to his house for the autumn/winter season. He needed a little brute force to push the caravan to a spot where he could get it on the car and drive off. We were enlisted.

It was a nice morning, as I remember it, and I really didn’t think I would end up being rushed to hospital but that’s how thing go sometimes. We arrived at the caravan site and I remember it was good to be up and about early on the Sunday morning, smelling a little sea air before I had to go back to college in Dublin in the afternoon.

The brakes were taken off and we all set-to, pushing the caravan over to the car. I made my first big mistake then but I wasn’t the only one, Sean’s uncle made that first big mistake too so I didn’t feel so bad about it. Sean’s uncle didn’t make the second big mistake though and that’s why I ended up in the accident and emergency department and he didn’t.

My first big mistake was to push the caravan on one of its windows. There were lot of solid places on which to push the caravan but the window was right in the middle at the back and it was ideal pushing ground… for every reason except one.

(You can see where this is going now, right? Brace yourself)

Uncle and me were on the back window, pushing, and others were pushing elsewhere. We were encouraging each other along because the caravan was heavier than expected and there was a bit of an uphill incline too. Uncle and I gritted our teeth and pushed even harder.

And that, of course, is when Uncle and me both fell through the caravan window. I was pushing mostly with my right arm and Uncle with his left and so our respective right and left arms careened through the shattering glass with an alien crash.

Modern caravan windows are wonderful things, I’m sure. Double glazed, shatterproof, able to break down into tiny harmless pebbles if you ever should manage to fall through one (which you won’t). This 1980’s Blues Brothers era caravan window wasn’t like that at all. When it broke, it broke into a single glazed nightmare of jagged shards and stalagtital horror.

This is where uncle failed to make the second big mistake and I just went right along and did it anyway. It was simple really, uncle left his arm in there, among all the jagged shards and the lethal edges. Not me though, I wanted out of there as quickly as possible. I pulled back, hauling my arm out of the window, away from harm.

And that was my second big mistake.

There was a particularly nasty shard of glass sticking down from the top of the window. It was narrow and sharp-as-fuck and it came to a fine spiky point at its end. As I pulled backwards and dragged my arm out, my wrist became snagged on this bad shard of caravan glass. The spike went in through the back of my wrist and stayed there.

This all happened in a split second, as you can probably imagine, so by the time the caravan brakes were reapplied and the others had come around the back to see what had happened, it was all over. Well, the fun part was anyway. 

I looked at my wrist, dispassionately, I think, and I tried to pull it off the shard but, disturbingly, it would not come free. I was literally impaled. I’m sure I could have pulled downwards with some force and freed it, except that there was a glass shard on the underside of my wrist too and, if I tried to move the wrist, it sawed on the underside edge of the glass causing blood to flow from there. And, make no mistake, there was blood at this point. 

How had I managed to get my wrist impaled and still have more glass on the underside of my wrist? Beats me but that’s how it was. Somebody got a stone off the ground and smashed the glass at the underside of my wrist and then a friendly hand took my wrist and slid it firmly off the glass shard. Then there was a clean tea towel from inside the caravan, wrapped tight, and a speedy trip to the hospital. The caravan moving would have to wait for another day.

At the hospital, the attending guy took off the tea towel and frowned at what my damaged wrist had been doing in there. The impromptu bandage had closed up the main puncture wound to some extent and a large (very large) blood blister had formed there. The attending guy sighed again and asked me, in his tired voice, whether I could move the wrist. I moved the wrist, bending my hand back on itself and the blood-blister exploded, sending globs of blackened blood over the cubicle curtains, me and the tired attending guy.

That’s pretty much the end of the story. I got cleaned up and got some stitches and a sling and went back to Dublin and failed to get in to see The Blues Brothers, although I saw it on the Friday after.

The only other thing is this.

I still have the scars.

They’re quite faded now and the puncture wound has filled out a lot but they’re still there and you can see them. I was reminded of all this by a tiny Facebook exchange I saw the other day where somebody had a picture of somebody’s arm up and somebody else wrote under it something like, “gosh, you can see the scars where he must have self-harmed down through the years.”

I have those scars but I haven’t and don’t ever self harm (thankfully). 

My point is fairly obvious but I’ll type it anyway. Try not to jump to conclusions. We don’t ever know everything and it’s misleading to believe that we do.

That’s it. Oh, and don’t push caravans on windows. I know the glass is stronger these days but better safe than sorry.

Alarming People

I was going to call this post ‘Scaring People’ because that’s really what I do. Except it’s not. Not exactly. 

‘Scaring people’ sounds like I am doing something deliberate and decidedly awful and I’m not. I swear, I’m really not. 

What I tend to do is that I unwittingly alarm people.

And it’s difficult to know how to stop.

And it’s not always unwitting either. The very worst times are when I know I am about to alarm someone. When I am completely ‘witting’, if you will. At those times, there’s a desperate feeling of inevitability and a overriding sense of helplessness, as if the die is already cast and nothing now can be done. Yes, they are the very worst times.

Let me explain it all a bit better.

Most of the ‘alarming of people’ that I do happens in one single place. The theatre. The Linenhall theatre, in Castlebar, to be precise. I spend some time in there, working on plays, working on other non-play things and generally hanging around. 

It’s the nature of the place, the people in it, and the work that they do that lends itself to people being almost constantly alarmed or startled or even scared-shitless. It’s almost a part of the job-description.

You see, when the theatre hasn’t got anything on, like during the day or late in the evening, it’s a corridor-ey, echo-ey kind of a place. Couple this with the fact that the few people who inhabit these spaces at these times are almost invariably concentrating very hard on whatever it is they are doing. They are on their own, focused, not expecting company…

And then I turn up and alarm them.

They tend to jump, clutch the part of their chest where they believe their heart resides, and shout something like, “Jesus, don’t do that, Ken!”

Do what? What did I do? All I did was turn up. How can I not do that?

Once you start alarming people in this way, it’s very hard to stop. You would probably expect that a basic sort of self awareness would set in and a series of logical counter-measures would be rehearsed so that, the next time it happens, you would know what to do so that the poor person will not be alarmed.

All well and good but I ask again, what can I do?

When you come around a corner, in the empty, quite darkish, theatre and there’s a person right there in front of you, all alone, with their back to you, concentrating furiously on something or other, what can you do?

If you clear your throat to let them know you are there, guess what, they jump and clutch their chest and exhort you to desist.

If you ease up in front of them and present yourself silently until they naturally notice you are there, the same bloody thing happens. It’s no different.

I’ve even tried sending a text along the lines of “I’m behind you” but that ends up being downright creepy and possibly the cause of lasting damage.

I’ve taken a new approach recently and it seems to be reasonably effective in not startling people if utterly useless for everything else.

I devised this new method when I wandered into the theatre space one quiet morning and came upon a person up a very tall ladder adjusting the stage lighting. In this circumstance, my customary alarming of the person might clearly have proved fatal so, straight away, I developed this brand new approach which I feel I might continue to use into the future.

Yes, I ran away.

Like a panther (in my mind) or a big floppy dog, (in likely reality) I ran silently out of the building and all the way home and I went back the next day when the person was no longer up the ladder.

Unorthodox but at east effective.

Story of my life. 

Radio 3's On for the Cat

Let’s you and I go out to Tea
I really would like that
We don’t even have to hurry home
Radio 3’s on for the cat.

Let’s you and I sail off to sea
In a sailboat or a bath
We can dally on the briny foam
Radio 3’s on for the cat.

Tabby tends to worry
When we stay out 'til half past
But she won’t need us to hurry
With the late shipping forecast.

Let’s you and I get married
And get a little flat
Let’s honeymoon in Rome
Radio 3’s on for the cat.

Ken Armstrong 2014

What to Do When the Post is No Good

What to do when the post is no good? That is the question.

It’s great to have a regimen, a set routine to give you consistency and responsibility and which constantly defies you to fail. The repeated non-failings are little victories which can be treasured. But sometimes the regimen can become the problem.

Take the blog here. I write every week, hail, rain, or broadband problems. I get it done. Every week, I’ll produce a post and get it on here. Every week, I’ll produce ‘something’. 

But what about when it’s no good? What about when it’s complete crap or, worse, only average? What should I do then? Post and be damned? Leave it and fail the regimen?

This question arises because, yes, this week’s post was no good. It was a well meaning thing about trees and leaves and why all the leaves don’t just fall off at once and why some hold on for longer than others. It made a lukewarm attempt to tie the leaves to a metaphor for our own lives and how we should struggle to cling on as long as we can even though inevitably we must all fall in the end. See what I mean? Well-meaning but crap nonetheless.

This is when I envy the bloggers who only blog when they actually have something to say. Look back over their body of work. It’s inconsistent in regularity of posting, obviously, but the content is of a high quality. They become motivated to post about something and that motivation is the spice that makes the result palatable and interesting.

Maybe that’s the way forward. Maybe I should only post when I have something well above average to write about. In that way, the aimless prattling about leaves and such could be omitted altogether.

It’s a thought.

But it’s not that easy. Not for me anyway.

You see there’s a bit of ‘chicken and egg’ action going on here at the blog-face. I reckon I come up with an okay post sometimes. Not always but now and again. These ‘okay posts’ wouldn’t come if I sat around waiting for them. It requires the pressure cooker vibe of the blogging regimen for the ideas to coalesce and form into something. Sometimes something okay.

So, yeah, I’ll probably have to keep posting the lesser posts as well as the slightly more resilient ones, just to keep the old pressure cooker steaming. Unless it’s a really crap one about leaves. When that happens, I may just write a replacement post at short notice. Something about the difficulties and challenges of weekly blogging.

Wait, I’ve just burned that option, haven’t I?

Maybe I’ll use the leaves one next time…

Joking. I’m joking.