That’s the Why

We used to say this thing, when we were little. 

We would employ it, if ever we were accosted by a difficult question or, more often, if a question arose where the answer might incriminate us with our teachers or parents in some way. 

“Ken, why did you do that thing?”



More silence.

“Ken, I’m talking to you.”

“That’s the why.”


“That’s the why.”

It didn’t make any sense, of course. That was partly the point. It was the unanswerable answer.

There was also a slight air of defiance that went with it. This is my answer to you. It’s all you’re going to get. Deal with it. Hearing it now, one might feel that it would work best if coupled with some rude suggestive gesture. A finger wave or a crotch grab. 

“That’s the why.”

But that never happened. Not when I was small. All we had were the words. It was less an attack, now that I think of it, more an admission of bafflement. “That’s all I’ve got for you, by way of explanation, sorry.”

I hadn’t thought about it in years but I’ve been thinking about it this week. So many unanswerable questions arose this week. Why that man murdered that poor lady? Why that pilot did what he seems to have done? My mind can’t come up with the answers. More than that. My mind can’t even fathom the possibility of the existence of a logical answer. Thrashing around in the deep end of human behaviour, without any form of flotation device, one reaches out for whatever one can.

“That’s the why.”

It worked as a kid (after a fashion), perhaps it could work again. Perhaps the only sane way might be to acknowledge that there are no good answers. That’s the ‘why’ itself if the only thing that really exists on any tangible plane. 

It’s certainly tempting.

But it’s not the way forward. I know it’s not.

It may be okay for kids but we’re adults now and we have to push the envelope further than this. No matter how unpalatable the truth may be, we are predestined to keep digging for it, no matter how likely it is that we will never be any wiser, no matter how muddy we may get along the way.

The best thing about ‘That’s the why’ was that it didn’t really hurt anyone. Sure, there was some bafflement and consternation, some extra homework, a few additional ‘Hail Mary's and a sojourn in the bedroom until tea. But nobody got damaged.

The necessary, adult, quest for the unpalatable truth isn’t like that. It can really hurt people. We have to watch out for that. Keep hunting but with a weather eye on how we hunt and who we touch may as we do it.


That’s the why.

The Mixed Message I Get from the New KFC Advert

Maybe this new KFC Advert only appears here in Ireland. If it does, then this little essay-ette is not going to make much sense to many people. Still I always try to write about what’s on my mind and this is it for this week. So what can I do? I gotta be true to me.

Yes, there’s this new advert for KFC on the telly and, for me, it’s sending out a rather confused message or, at least, I’m receiving a mixed message from it and, yes, I’ll grant you, that’s probably a completely different thing.

I’m saying ‘KFC’ but, in my head, I’ll always be giving it its full title of ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’. We never had one in my home town when I was growing up but when I moved to Dublin as a student I became a sucker for their three pieces with chips. 

Enough with the history. Let’s talk about this advert.

Have you seen it? There’s this kid of about eight or nine and he looks out of his upper floor bedroom window and he sees a car pull up outside and the guy in the car is bringing the KFC home for tea. So the kid bails out of the bedroom and starts heading down the stairs at a gallop. Oh did I mention that it’s, like, The Fifties, cos there’s an upbeat ditty playing that is faintly reminiscent of the Benny Hill chase music.

Here’s the thing. As he heads down the stairs, this lad starts morphing into slightly older versions of himself. First he’s a teen, then a young man, then a dad… and so on. By the time he gets to the bottom of the stairs, he’s a granddad and the KFC has arrived at the front door and he gets to sit down with all the generations he has begot and nibble some chicken with them.

It’s kind of good, in a KFC advert kind of a way. It zips along and the themes of family, constancy, and time-passing are ones we can all identify with.

It’s what the voice-over man says at the end, that’s what throws me. I won’t quote him verbatim but essentially what he’s telling us is that Kentucky Fried Chicken has now been feeding us for over forty years.

Forty years? Hang on, bro.

The little dude at the top of the stairs is, like I said, eight or nine. The little dude at the bottom step if like seventy five or eighty. 

What the heck happened on the way down?

Granted, he’s a sprightly enough looking septuagenarian. There he is, chowing down on a thigh-piece and having the crack with everyone. He’s looking all right. Except for that one small thing…

… he’s bloody ancient!

If KFC has been feeding him for forty years and he was eight to start with, then his diet, secret herbs and spices or not, has withered him atrociously. It’s nearly doubled his ageing process. He’s like that little guy in ‘Blade Runner’ and the advertisers have paid a fortune to show us this poor man and the terrible price he has paid for his weekly Saturday Night snack box.

So that’s the message I get from this KFC advert. “It’s nice but it will age you. Be warned.”

Post Script:

I was genuinely confused by this advert so I went and did a little YouTube research. The British and Irish versions of the commercial seem identical, except for one small matter. The British one says that KFC has been around for over seventy years while our one says forty. 

That explains it. We’ve only had KFC for forty years so the advert had to be tweaked. But, hey, what a tweak it’s been. 

The next time I stare down a Dinner Box and Diet Coke, I’ll be covertly considering my own mortality and wondering if I’m about to snack two years of my life away in one fell swoop.

It won’t stop me, obviously.

I mean, come on...


Don’t Worry So Much

I wish I didn’t have to worry so much about every little thing. I just do.

And please don’t roll up, talking to me about Mindfulness and Yoga, Tai Chi, Long Woodland Walks and Deep Breathing. I get the idea, really, thanks very much. I think it’s just the way I am, a bit of genetic programming gone awry, a short circuit in the worry-gene.

I worry about stuff. Tiny little things can grab my mind and exercise it for hours and days on end. 

‘Gosh,’ you might say, ‘if you worry so much about the little things, how on earth do you cope when there are great big things to worry about?’ 

Interestingly enough, the answer to that is ‘just the same’. I seem to worry exactly the same amount about teeny things as I do about bloody-great things. There’s no sense of proportion. Perversely, this means that I deal quite well with the huge worries in my world. I guess my mind is so adept at constantly worrying about the minutia that it’s well prepared for the serious stuff. Maybe that’s just silly. I worry that is the case. 

Some times are worse than others. Conversely some times are better. These current days seem to carry a high ‘worry about stupid things’ quotient. Bah. It’s very annoying.

Of course, I’m fully aware of the stupidity and pointlessness of it all. While one side of my brain is worried obsessively about some letter that I might have forgotten to post, the other side is busy reviling it for being a twat. It’s all very tiring.

It can distract from a sunny day or a good book. It can wrap you up in a damp sticky sort of cotton wool stuff that is neither comforting nor warm.

And I wish I didn’t do it.

There was a lady on the radio the other morning giving a very good interview. Bit by bit, her eyesight is failing. It is reducing down to a single tiny dot and then there will be nothing but darkness. Bit by bit, her hearing is also failing. Soon there will only be silence. Her attitude was wonderful, she is grabbing at every experience, filing them away where she can enjoy them when there are no new visual or aural ones to be enjoyed. She ‘keeps on keeping on’ despite everything. I respect her attitude enormously. Of course, she makes me feel foolish. I really must do better at 'not sweating the petty things'. I owe more to this wonderful life than to mooch around inside it, befuddled by little irrelevancies.

Maybe I’m learning. 

On Friday, I stood at Mum and Dad’s graveside and thought a bit more about this. All of their day-to-day worries are laid to rest now and have been for a long time. The things that seemed earth-shattering and insurmountable… well, they don’t even exist anymore. I have to be tougher with myself and fight to find some greater perspective, on all those silly little things at least. 

I owe them that much.

I owe the brave lady off the radio that much.

I owe myself.

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough - A Review

I like this book a lot and I think you will like it too. I think you should get it and read it.

That’s my review, really. The rest is mostly expansion of opinion, a little background explanation, and perhaps my now-traditional flight of fancy. So, if  all that doesn't appeal to you, just stop here and go and get the book. I am fairly confident that you will race through it, enjoy it, be quite moved by it, and not be one bit mad at me for sending you its way.

See you next week.


Still here? That’s nice. Stay another while then, and let’s talk this thing through a bit more.

‘The Death House’ is written in a deceptively simple style. The prose of the book sits back to let the story propel you through. It’s the kind of simplicity that a writer usually only attains after writing hard for many years. It’s the kind of simplicity that you have to struggle through every complication in the world to get to. It's the kind of thing that naive writers think they can do themselves anytime but they can’t.

This is where many reviews give you a synopsis of what happens in the book. Why? I guess it raises the word count of the review to acceptable levels. You don’t need me to tell you what happens. Go and read it and you’ll find out.

Sarah has written lots of books and I’ve enjoyed them but I’ve never been moved to write a page about any of them before. This is not to criticise them, Sarah’s always been a very fine writer. It’s just that this one is a step up, albeit from an already elevated position, to a whole other level altogether. I think this book puts Sarah up with the Kings and the Gaimans of the literary world. I think it has the potential to become a classic, a long standing favourite, a gem. 

Maybe it’s just me. You see I’m a sucker for three particular things in writing. Heart, Soul, Blood. When I writer puts these things into their work, I reckon I can feel it, way out here on the other side of the deal. I think Sarah has invested quite an amount of herself in this story. Not obvious biographical stuff, not that. I mean the more important stuff that drives us and makes us what we are. I don’t even think that writing about this stuff is necessarily a conscious thing. I think it’s an innate freedom which comes when there is a trust in the material. A comfort zone that enables the writer to open up subliminally and tell us about those things that really matter.

This is where the book is strongest, I reckon, in the things it doesn’t overtly say. Things about the importance of love and the defences we erect to enable us to survive when it is gone. Things about the drive to protect the ones we are ordained to protect and the pain that comes when, finally, there is no more protection you can give.

But, apart from all that stuff, this is also a cracking yarn for young adults and old adults alike. I predict you will read it in a sitting or two, if you can find the space, because the story has that juggernaut drive that carries you along keenly, breathlessly skipping words to see what will happen next.

Sarah has been a valued Twitter Friend of mine for some time now. My Twitter Friends, for me, are no less friends than any other type of friend and, truth be told, are actually more like friends in some ways. We Twitter Friends mostly haven’t ever met and may never do so, I won’t be trying to borrow money off them or looking to sleep on their couch or anything like that. But, yet, we’ve borne witness to certain aspects of each others lives, as the years have slipped along, and these things count for something, for sure. But I’m not writing this review because I feel some obligation to a Twitter Friend. God knows, there would have to be many more reviews if I ever felt the need to do that. No sir. This is a great book and if I had never exchanged a social media sentence with her, I would still be commending Sarah's book to you in just the same way.

On reflection, perhaps those friendships which gently evolve on social media are not dissimilar to the relationships which the characters forge in ‘The Death House’. We too are a diverse bunch who are thrown together in a strange place. Family and real life friends do not really enter into the equation and tiny events can often seem heightened and earth shattering. Both worlds, at times, can also seem false and restrictive and as if they ultimately can only lead to nothing good. But still we watch out for each other, the social media friends, we delight in our little successes and we place a virtual hand on a virtual shoulder in times of advancing dusk. 

See? I warned you that there might be a flight of fancy at the end, didn’t I?

Sarah Pinborough has stepped right up towards the top of the hill with her new book The Death House. 

I can’t wait to see where she might go to next. 

That Evocative Final Freeze Frame in Tootsie

The other evening, I was laid off on the couch, flicking through channels to see what I could find. I landed on that wonderful movie, 'Tootsie'. It was about half over or, in the optimist's version, there was about half of it left.

I stuck with it to the end, as I pretty much always do. It’s a favourite of mine, you see. I think it’s all about the timing. It’s a masterpiece of comic timing. So I hang in there, whenever it’s on, just to see it through.

The end titles started to run, as they do at the end and, rather surprisingly, I found myself feeling a bit moved, which is not my style at all. I suddenly started to feel as if this frothy comedy from way-back-when was something more than that, something more important.

Why was that?

I sat down and thought about it and this post is the result. I may go a little too far, at the end, I may not. Let’s just see where we go.

First and foremost, and as I've said already, it’s a great movie. It was back then and it still is now. And now here's the end credits and it’s over. Maybe that’s a good first reason to feel justifiably emotional. It’s a start at least.

Then there’s the song. Here’s a confession for you. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Stephen Bishop. Back in 1983, when I worked full time in The Stables bar in Sligo, we used to play his ‘Careless’ cassette tape in the back bar quite a bit. What can I say? It got in my head. At the end of Tootsie, Bishop sings ‘Something’s telling me it might be you, all of my life’ and, maybe even back then, it was just a wee bit touching. Maybe.

Then there’s the memories. When I first saw it, who I went with. I remember all of that. My pal Nuala was on a visit back from London where she had gone to live some months before. She was full of news about this great film she had seen and it had just arrived in my neck of the woods. She insisted I would love it and dragged me along to see it. She was right, as she so often was, then and now.

What else? The sheer quality of it. Like I said, the timing. Bill Murray’s ‘You slut’ line. The stammering revelation scene ‘deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply…’. Isn’t the goodness of it all enough to bring a tear to one’s eye, on your own couch late at night?

It’s all of these things, to some extent, but it’s none of them really.

I know what it is.

It’s the freeze frame at the end. That’s what it really is.

In that final scene, Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange, confront each other on a busy New York street. You remember, right? The timing, again, is wondrous to me. They reach an accord and walk off down the thoroughfare, getting smaller in among all the people on the crowded pavement. She bumps him with her hip and he falls away but immediately comes back up close to her like he simply can’t be kept away any more. And then the picture freezes as the titles and the song continue to run.

We could have watched them for longer, Jessica and Dustin, as they faded smaller and smaller into the distance, and we reckon that would have been nice, but the freeze frame is even better. It’s like a tiny golden moment in time, captured forever.

That’s the reason why it’s more ‘good for a tear’ now than it was then. It’s the passing of time. The film came out in ’82. It sometimes seems as if it were a mere moment ago yet it has actually been a full thirty three years. Next year it will be thirty four and so on and so on. The moment on the street remains there frozen in time. The fashions of the street people in the frame, once so contemporary, now start to seem of a different era. The two people who bumped each other fondly along the sidewalk have aged and gone on to other things yet here they still are, held forever in their moment in time. A reverse Dorian Gray moment.

It’s become an analogy for something, that freeze frame, a metaphor for something else, a microcosm of yet another thing. Time passes so quickly. Golden moments are retained by us as best we can and love, love is all there is, really. It’s all there is.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched it lying down. Perhaps too much blood flowed into my head and fed my already over-ripe imagination. Whatever the reason, 'Tootsie' seemed to speak to me of many things the other night but it made me smile too so that’s okay.

The frozen image at the end of the film, the one I’ve been talking about, cannot be found on the Internet. Not by me anyway. I wanted to use it as the photo for this post but I simply couldn’t find it. You can freeze it on a YouTube clip and screen grab it but the resulting quality does not do it justice. 

Perhaps it’s one of those things that works better deep in our heads as opposed to on a computer screen.

Something’s telling me that might be true.


Jim found the image for me. That's it on top. It may diffuse my closing sentence but I had to show it to you.