Silenced Again

This is not the blog post I wrote yesterday and intended to post up today. This is the one I wrote today.

Sometimes, when I’m driving along and another driver is being stupid, I shout at them. They can’t hear me, nobody knows I’m doing it, but it seems to do me some good. The post I wrote yesterday was a bit like that. It was a shout in the car and best to keep it in the car. I think I can give you the gist of it though, in more levelled terms.

I have been going through a period of frustration with social media in general and I think this has been reflected in some of the things I have said or maybe just the tone in which I have said them. 

Yesterday’s ‘car shout’ was worth writing, even though it will stay in the drawer. I thought about it quite a bit after I wrote it and I think it’s brought me a little clarity.

The title of the post is the same as yesterday's one. In essence, it discussed how I have got to feel like I am being silenced on social media, how the technology is effectively shutting me down. It recalled how I always loved remote social interaction, even back to the days of CB radio when I was only a kid. It described how I seemed to lose a lot of social interaction when I left London in ’97 and how the discovery of, first, blogging and then Twitter and later Facebook reactivated the sense of extended society that I had missed.

After thinking about it, and staring at the rant, it was plain to see that it is not the whole of social media that was yanking my chain. It was Facebook. I’ve make no secret of the fact that Facebook doesn’t work for me at all. It doesn’t show me the stuff I want to see and it doesn’t show my stuff to more than a handful of people. Updates are thrown out into the void and responses are only forthcoming when one almost shamelessly seeks them out.

In yesterday’s 'car shout', while casting around for some kind of a simile to summarise the negativity of my Facebook experience, my mind turned to that movie ‘Awakenings’ from back in the early ‘90s. In that film, Robert DeNiro is in a coma and is awakened by a new wonder drug. For a time, he is fully alive again, happy and functioning, but then, slowly and horribly, the effects of the wonder drug wear off. He is left fighting to communicate and, in doing so, becomes grotesque to his loved ones and to himself. 

That, I said in my rant, is how Facebook is starting to make me feel. Social Media was the drug that woke me up, allowed me to be sharp and witty and friendly again. Now, thanks to the workings of Facebook, it is being withdrawn, it is no longer effective, and I am left twitching on the floor, trying to continue to make my mark.

By rewriting today’s post, I’ve deliberately removed myself a pace from the use of this analogy because, obviously it is far far too extreme. To compare that level of human suffering to the minor pain in the arse that Facebook gives me is wrong and patently incorrect. 

Reading back on it showed me something pretty plainly. Facebook is not for me. I have been trying to use a marketing medium as a social interaction tool. I can see that it works for lots of people. Facebook obviously deigns to show them the people they most want to see and that’s all it takes for it to be easy and fun. But in my case, for whatever technical reason, it has not done that.

The solution therefore becomes crystal clear. Get off it. Step away from the Facebook. That’s what I’m going to do. I’ll stick up a link to the blog every week and I'll check sometimes and see if anybody is messaging me but, beyond that, I think I’ll try to make my Facebook like my 'Google Plus', a place where I go once a week and then quickly leave again. 

If you want me, I’m not that hard to find. I’m on Twitter.

Another realisation from yesterday’s failed post is that Twitter, for all its flaws, still works. At least it does for me. The crucial difference between Facebook and Twitter, for me, comes down to just one thing. Twitter allows me to see the stuff I want to see and anybody who wants to see my stuff can do so. 

So that’s it. Easy. Why didn’t I give up on Facebook ages ago and save myself some trouble? Well therein lies the rub. There are people on Facebook who I like and enjoy. People I have known for quite a few years now. People who don’t really do Twitter. I’ll miss seeing their stuff. Maybe I won’t be able to stay away, so good is some of it.

But, man, if I learned one thing yesterday, it’s that I have to try.

Footnote: The cartoon which illustrates this post is by Ben Cameron. One of the nicest and most talented people I know. He was doodling yesterday in his open studio and he asked online for prompts. Rather calculatingly, I tweeted ‘talking to the wall’ and, mere seconds later, he came back with this cartoon and kindly allowed me to use it today. Ben brings a level of emotion into his work that is almost beyond belief. Here’s a link to his online stuff. The cartoon is also a link to his blog. Go and check him out, you won’t be sorry.

'Draw Rein; Draw Breath'

Yesterday the national paper had a sort of a local story on the front page. According to the report, the bones buried in Drumcliff Churchyard, in my home county of Sligo, are not WB Yeats' after all or (reading deeper) they may not be.

Shock, horror. All those busloads of tourists who come to visit. Even Charles and Camilla dropped by just a few months ago. What will they do now? Who is down there? Where is Yeats? What can it all mean?

Calm down a moment.

Calm down.

This is not a new story. In fact, it is as old as the re-interment itself. There has always been the niggling possibility that the bones brought back from France were not entirely those of the great poet. What follows is my own potted history, which is probably wrong on a number of counts. Don't come complaining to me. If you want the exact facts, go and look them up somewhere reputable. I just tell stories here.

Yeats died at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France, on 28 January 1939. He had asked his wife George Hyde Lee to bury him there, in adjoining Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, discreetly. The words associated with this request are, “'If I die, bury me up there and then in a year's time, when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo".

If it were me, I think I would have chosen that, ‘Dig Me Up and Plant Me in Sligo,’ as my epitaph but more on that in a moment.

Yeats died and was duly planted in France, the plan being to bring him back to Sligo in a year. But that was not to be. War broke out and no body was going nowhere for a while, if you’ll excuse the pun. 

Yeats' bones were dug up and placed in an ossuary which, by definition, is a place or container with lots of people’s bones in it. When it came time, after the War, to relocate poor WB to his desired resting place in County Sligo, the bones were rather a jumble. In a twist which I rather like, and I think he might have too, a sort of 'WB Yeats jigsaw' seems to have been assembled to create a body to bring to Sligo and 'plant' there in ‘Bare Ben Belben’s Shadow’. 

It's rather a good story with some nice ghastly elements to it. Nobody quite knows who or how many are represented in the grave in Drumcliff. For those who might worry about it, I think there is comfort in the fact the Yeats was supposed to have had an unusually large head and so it seems likely that the skull at least was correctly identified. That’s good. After all, the poetry wasn’t written from his thighbone or his finger. If you’re going to get only one part right, let it be the skull.

What fascinated me more than any of this was a revelation I found about Yeats gravestone epitaph which, as we know, reads:

Cast a cold eye  
On life, on death.  
Horseman, pass by!

I’m from Sligo. I could recite that epitaph from when I was knee high to a grasshopper and, later, I learned that it was also the last line of one of WB’s last poems, in which he writes a wonderful instruction manual for where he should be buried and where he will be found.

Under bare Ben Bulben's head  
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.  
An ancestor was rector there  
Long years ago, a church stands near,  
By the road an ancient cross.  
No marble, no conventional phrase;  
On limestone quarried near the spot  
By his command these words are cut:  
Cast a cold eye  
On life, on death.  
Horseman, pass by!

This is why Yeats always belonged in Drumcliff. His instructions could not have been more emphatic.

But here’s a confession. It's a bit embarrassing really. Until yesterday, when the whole ‘Bones’ thing was woken up again, I really did not know what those last three lines meant. The epitaph was a mystery to me. Like so much poetry, it was just another intellectual in-joke to which I was not a party.

I didn’t get it.

Then, yesterday, I finally did.

There’s another line, you see. Yeats cut it out. It didn’t work in the context of the poem, I can almost see that. But, here’s an arrogant suggestion; I think it was a mistake to cut it from the gravestone too. If it had been left, then that 'cryptic-crossword' headstone would have been made into a purer, simpler, more reflective, traditional and shiver-inducing thing than it is.

Draw rein; draw breath
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death:
Horseman, pass by!

See? See? It’s a simple thing. It's really just one of those ‘Stop Traveller’ exhortations like the Romans used to do on their graves. There is a long tradition of gravestones inviting people to stop and rest and reflect for a while. Even my own parents’ grave tries to hold you up, rather solemnly requesting that you should ‘kneel and pray’. Yeats doesn’t want the passer-by to pray though, he just wants him (or her) to stop, think a while about matters of life and death and then… be on their way. 

Cool, traditional, deceptively simple. I think this is how the headstone should be. It even rhymes. But, hey, what do I know?

And if you ever should happen to stop there, will it be the bones of WB Yeats you will be standing over or some anonymous honorable French gentleman, now many leagues from his home?

Who cares?

It doesn’t matter any more whose damp bones lie beneath the limestone slab in Drumcliff. It never really did. Anybody who wants WB Yeats to be in Drumcliff - family, poetry people, locals - they can have him there. 


Because his spirit is there. That's why.

Because, let’s face it, ‘spirit’ is not a thing. It is a perception. People who think they see ghosts really do see ghosts. Because ghosts are not things. They are things we think we see.

It’s not where bones lie that make a grave real, nor documents, nor, heavens forbid, shovels and exhumations

It’s just the spirit. It’s where the spirit lies.

And WB Yeats' Spirit is there now, firmly planted. And it will remain there forevermore...

... under Bare Ben Bulben.

The Early Shows

Yesterday afternoon, my fourteen year old son sidled off to the cinema with his mates. He went to see ‘Terminator Genisys.’ I think that’s how you spell it. He wasn’t terribly keen to go because he reckoned it might be crap but I reminded him of the particular pleasure that can be gained from seeing a crap movie with your pals so off he went. He quite enjoyed it.

His going brought to my mind all the myriad Saturday afternoons that I spent going to the matinees with my mates, getting on forty years ago now. I got to thinking of the films I saw back then and wondered which ones stayed with me the most vividly and why.

Here, then, just for fun, is a short list of movies I saw as a kid/early teen with a little note on each as to why I still remember going to see them.

It’s not a very highbrow list. Bear in mind though these were matinees and occasional evening shows and we were only kids and the summers were warmer back then and the choc ices were waay bigger.

Diamonds are Forever.

I’d always been a James Bond kid. My parents had imbued a sense of Bond occasion in me long before ITV bought the rights and put them on telly on Sunday nights. My Goldfinger ejector seat car was a key part of my toy collection and often teamed with Thunderbird 2 in rescuing errant green soldiers from on top of the couch. Although I’d collected all the bubble gum cards for ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ it would be years (and on telly) before I ever got to see it. ‘Diamonds' was the first Bond I saw in the movies. It was brand new and it was the most hyper-modern thing I had ever seen. My parents saw it in the evening during the week and then practically demanded that I went to the Saturday Matinee (although I didn’t need much persuading). It was 1971 and I was eight years old. My pals and I chanted ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ to the rough tune of ‘Come On United’ as we marched down to the Gaiety. To this day, the film still looks really modern and new to me. It’s an odd thing.

The Towering Inferno.

I saw this one at an evening show. I was, after all, now eleven years old. I remember waiting outside the cinema on the Friday night, waiting for it to open up. There were lace curtains on the front doors and I couldn’t see inside. I remember reading on the poster that the colour was by DeLuxe and being disappointed that it wasn’t in Technicolor. I had read Richard Martin Stern’s novel in preparation for the film. Although fire had wreaked havoc on my own close family a few years before this, that didn’t seem to affect my young resilient careless anticipation of the film. It was big and suitably long and involving and I tend to think that it played a considerably part in influencing how my professional life turned out. I was very impressed with Paul Newman’s architect. Not so much because he flew around in planes and got to be with Faye Dunaway. It was more how he understood the inner workings of his building without ever having to have gotten his hands dirty building it. That intrigued me and that legacy lives on in what I do today.


I was an old man of fifteen by the time Halloween came to town and, by then, I was firmly in the habit of going to many of the movie shows by myself. There were so many movies and only two screens in town so lots of features would only show for a Tuesday and a Wednesday night. So it was with Halloween. Nobody else was interested in seeing it. Nobody except me. I loved it. I loved how it didn’t mind taking its time and building atmosphere. I loved the mundane evocation of an American Halloween, the quiet immorality of the central characters, the plinky plinky piano soundtrack, and how Donald Pleasance looked when he scared the treat-or-treat kids away from the old Myers house. Quite recently, I enjoyed how ‘It Follows’ evoked Halloween in its shots of wide residential sideways, grass verges, and unwitting teens walking along them. Michael Myers never seemed more than a hedge away. 

First Blood.

This is cheating, really. ‘First Blood’ was way up in 1982 and I was 'the-hell-and-gone' to college in Dublin by then. Still I came back to Sligo to see it on the Saturday night with my friends. This was an influential film for me for quite an odd reason. It wasn’t the story or the characters or the actors or the music or the cinematography or the action or the violence. None of that. It was one thing and one thing only. The setting. That foggy town, the empty roads but, more than anything else, over-riding all other considerations., it was the woods. Those woods were so like the woods that lay in the hills around my town. For the first time ever, it seemed that there was the possibility that big cinematic stories could play out in a place that looked like the place where I lived. That was really something. After 'First Blood’ I ditched my trademark duffel and went out and bought an army surplus German parka. That coat and me stuck together for many years and kept me warm in the night when there weren't enough blankets for the bed.

Enter the Dragon.

I could go on all night but I better not. I’ll finish this with the ultimate matinee idol for my generation. Bruce Lee. Enter the Dragon was our 'Lone Ranger', our 'Cowboys and Indians', our 'Flash Gordon'. Never were our eyes widened in the darkened cinema, on a Saturday afternoon, as when Bruce was stalking the night time opium caves deep beneath Han’s Island. We loved everything about it. The flashback origin sequences, the naughty girlie bits, the Nunchucks, the Nunchucks, the Nunchucks. Our favourite bad guy was Bolo Yeung. We knew him only as Fat Bolo, Han's merciless enforcer on his Island of infamy. We all thought Bolo was fat but of course he wasn’t. He was, in fact, a much renowned body builder. Not to us though. To our short skinny minds there was only one hero and that was short and skinny Bruce Lee. “Here comes Fat Bolo”, we would tell each other gleefully, “Bruce will soon sort him out.” Although, in the end, it was John Saxon as Roper who did the necessary. Fat Bolo was dispatched with a single nad-crunching kick in his fat balls and we all cheered as he eased his fat frame, almost apologetically, down to the grass to die. 

Bruce got to deal with the Evil O’Hara in a scene that was highly censored in Ireland when we were young. All we ever knew was that the Evil O’Hara was killed by one rather innocuous kick which sent him careening into a line of seated pyjama-ed spectators. I still remember the frisson of excitement when, as an adult, I saw that scene on late night telly expand into broken bottles and head crushing slo-mo ecstasy. 

Oh, and didn’t Han himself  look quite a bit like Richard Nixon or was that just me?

After any of our multiple viewings of Enter The Dragon on a Saturday afternoon (we must have seen it twenty times) we would retire to one or other of our front gardens where we would kick the shit out of each other in mock Han-Island-Tournaments. I remember dear old Jumbo McCarrick walking past our garden while one such melee was in full swing and pleading with us.

“Why can’t you just punch each other in the face like we used to do?"

Why indeed. 

London Again

Coming back to London was never going to be an entirely straightforward thing. There was baggage to carry and I don’t mean the Ryan Air hand luggage. I mean that there was history and time passed… There was just stuff. 

I left London eighteen years ago. I got in my car and drove to Wales, got on a ferry and came home to Ireland.

I reckoned I’d be back again for a visit probably the year after and the year after that too. 

Eighteen years later and I had never been back. 

That might not mean so much if I had not lived so intensely for the fourteen years I had been there. Eight-three to ninety-seven. If my life today sometimes feels like it is a thing viewed through a small mobile phone, my life then was seventy millimetre wide screen and Dolby stereo. It was, in the way of these cities, the best of times and the worst of times. 

Each passing year that I didn’t go back made the going-back bigger. After a time, I didn’t want to return just as a goggle-eyed tourist, holding up all the people on the escalators. I wanted it to be for a reason. Somehow. I wanted it to count. 

There was no reason beyond that for not returning. I am a creature of habit and I fell into a routine which did not include revisiting where I had been before. I had loved London more than any place I had ever been. I had fed on it and learned it like the back of my hand. I just didn’t go back. 

Two weeks ago, I went back. My family and I flew over for a couple of days, specifically to let my boys see the Foo Fighters play Wembley Stadium. My previous post describes how that all worked out and you probably know anyway, if you follow the news. Never mind. London beckoned and we answered its call, regardless of who had broken their leg.

So what was it like, Ken? After living there for all that time, then going away for so long and then coming back again… what was it all like?

Truth? It was the same. It was just the same as it was before. Lovely London. I guess a few decades is not enough to wreak any truly significant changes on a juggernaut such as she. 

Of course there were some differences. The key initial impression was gained from things which had seemed shiny and new, just eighteen years before, and which now looked just a little bit tired. I noted two of those in particular. First there was Stanstead Airport where we flew into. Back in the nineties, it has seemed quite glowing and modern, with its all-encompassing space frame roof and its big open areas. Now the public parts seemed tired and worn. The same, too, could be said for the International (Channel Tunnel) Train Terminal at Waterloo. Back then, it had been all varnished-up and full of promise. Mission Impossible had featured it and Tom Cruise had made a phone call from in front of it. Last week, it looked weather bleached and moved-away-from, a pretty fair reflection perhaps.

But it was the overriding ‘unchangedness’ of London that made the biggest impression and, really, how could you really expect anything much to change. The streets still intersect with each other as they always have done, the tube stations still align in the same inevitable order. It was a comfort, a rather exciting comfort to feel I could possibly still fit in to this gigantic, hyperactive town.

Apart from the ageing of some installations, there was one other thing I thought was different.

On Saturday, we had to be in town by 2.30 to see something. We went down to the river to ride a river bus in but the pier was closed so we got a bus to Sloane Square to hit the tube but the station was closed. So then we got a bus to Victoria. The bus could only go to the bus station because of the large demonstration in Central London. The guys were getting a bit twitchy, it was a walk to Victoria tube and time was fast ticking away. 

“Don’t worry,” I reassured them, “so long as the District and Circle Lines are not completely closed, we’ll be absolutely fine.” 

I laughed.

The District and Circle Lines were completely closed. 

We diverted up to Green Park and changed for Leicester Square and we got there. We shaved it tight but we got there fine.

Sure, there were closures and cancellations and diversions but that’s not the difference I noted, that’s always been a thing.

Here’s the difference. In Green Park, changing lines, we became part of the tightest most immovable throng of humanity I have ever seen. People had been diverted from everywhere, buses were not going through. We were stuffed into the tube corridors like so much toothpaste, shuffling forward in a subdued, head down, fashion. In truth, it was a bit scary. There seemed to be twice or three times as many people as there ever should have been and one couldn’t help but wonder, what if someone had to get out, what if someone fell over and got sick, what if… no, let’s not do that. 

When I came back to Ireland, my friend told me that it had always been that way, that I had simply forgotten the crowds of people under the ground. Maybe he’s right. Maybe I had lost the knack of the big city after all. I don’t think so, though. I think there was simply too many people in the tiled circular tunnels that Saturday and I didn’t like it all that much.

But enough about that. 

All in all, London was the same old London I have loved for such a long time. The book tables on the South Bank were still there and seemed to contain the same books, the Gap still has to be minded, and the people who pay to be entertained attend with a commitment and a focus which reflects the huge amount of money they have paid to be there.

Most of all, from my visit, was a sense of being back at the centre. Deep in the hub. The sense that one was rubbing shoulders with people at the top of their game because this was the place for them to be. I’m proud that I once used to be one of them. I’m not any more but maybe now, having broken my duck, I may get to come back a little more often and pretend for a while that I could somehow belong again.

Next time, I’d like to see some of the people I know. This time it simply wasn’t possible

Next time, though.