Bleeding Fresh

I tend to treat writing prompts in that same way that I do tips on horses. I never actively seek them out or put myself in a position where I get them but, if one should appear naturally in the wild, from some unexpected source, I sometimes find that hard to pass up.

At last Monday’s writer’s group meeting, we had a new visitor who we hope might come again. Roberta Beary is an accomplished writer and poet and she brought a welcome hue of enthusiasm and edge to the proceedings. She mentioned a writing prompt she had been given and she read a piece which had resulted from it. It was a good piece. The prompt was simply ‘My First Job’. I hadn’t intended to ‘get on that horse’ but the prompt stayed in my head and, as I suppose it’s meant to do, prompted a memory.

So here it is:

“I want you to go in and sell this one yourself.”

We stared into the boot of the car, my Dad and me. You know the scenes in 'Goodfellas' or 'Reservoir Dogs' where they stare into the trunk of their car? It was a bit like that, I think, except it happened long before those films was made.


“You’ll be grand. I’ll wait here.”

I had only just learned how to pick the salmon up, my index finger slid behind the gills and up along the inside of the jaw. The full thirteen pounds hoisted up straight to hang from nothing more than that single digit. I had only just learned how to do that and now I was going to sell him too. 

He was laid out in the boot of the car, on three flattened sheets of 'The Sligo Champion'. He was silver and opalescent and sleek and fine. He was mine to sell to the restaurant. I was thirteen years old. 

I wasn’t the keenest fishing person in my family, not by a long way, but I had been going through something of a renewed fishing appreciation stage. Perhaps it was something to do with ‘Jaws’ being in the Cinema. Seeing Quint up there on the big screen, in that chair of his, carefully eyeing up the gently clicking reel, it just seemed to make what my father and elder brothers did seem all the more cool and exciting. I had been driving around with Dad for a few weeks now and with my brother too whenever they had a salmon to sell. Enjoying the spin in the car from hotel to hotel and enjoying, too, the haggling over the sale of the fish they caught. These fish were prized commodities and the money we got for them was really very good for the Nineteen Seventies. 

“Try to get eight pounds a pound for him. Thomas Mahon said he got that for one earlier in the week.”


“Don’t go any less than seven-fifty anyway. If we can’t get that, we’ll try The Southern.”

My Father said ‘we’, and that was kind of him I guess, but there was no ‘we’, not really This was all down to me. My very first job. Get in there. Work that finger. Sell the salmon. Get the price.

The hotel kitchens all looked the same, to me at least. White tiled, clean, quiet because the evening’s business had not yet begun. The chef, all white hatted and chequered trousered. He lit up a little when he saw me coming. I think I thought that was all about the sight of a little fella like me hauling a salmon that was nearly his own length in by the gills. Looking back now, I’m sure it was only the salmon that lit him up. Wild as anything. Three hours before, it had been rushing through the brown peaty waters of Loch Gill. 

Bleeding fresh. 

“Did you catch him yourself?”

“My Dad, Eddie Armstrong.”

“I know Eddie all right. Is he sick?”


“How much do you want for him?”

“I was thinking, ten pounds a pound.”

“Were you, thinking that?”


“Let me look at him.”

The chef took the salmon from me. His finger in the other gill, lifting the fish up and off mine. The blessed relief of that. Hoping I didn’t have to take him back and carry him out again.

“We’re giving eight at the moment.”


“You might go nine.” I was always my father’s son. 

“I can’t go nine. I’ll tell you what. Is this your first sale?”


“Is it, though?”


“I’ll do you eight-fifty. Seeing as how it’s you that’s in it,” He smiled.

My first sale, my first job. Dad would be pleased. 

I smiled back at him. The tall bearded chef.

“Nine,” I said.

Movies with Boats

I’d really like to go and see Dunkirk today. I haven’t been to the movies in a long time and, to be honest, I haven’t really been bothered about that either. These days, I rent my movies via a little Apple TV thingie, close the curtains and do my own cinema thing without the crunching popcorn and the incessant chatting (yes, I’m getting old and grumpy).

But Dunkirk, yes I’d like to go see this one. 

I’ve been trying to persuade Sam to come along with me but he seems to share my feelings about the cinema now. I told him how it was a Christopher Nolan film and reminded him that we’ve seen all of his since way back when. So maybe he’ll relent and tag along with me. Maybe I’ll go on my own, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

Why Dunkirk, though? Why the particular interest there?

Well, it sounds good, doesn’t it? The story of Dunkirk (for me) is one of ordinary people being completely heroic, setting off into the unknown, unprepared, in a desperate attempt to rescue their people. It looks good too, if the bits I have seen are anything to go by. There are quite a few reasons why I’d like to go see this one.

But, if I’m honest, it’s mostly the boats.

I seem to have a weakness for movies with boats in them or movies set on boats. I think I always have. Even when I was young, old flicks like ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ or ‘Captains Courageous’ always seemed to capture my imagination. 'Jaws' probably sealed the deal when I was twelve. It’s my favourite movie (I think) and I’ve written enough about it in other posts so I won’t go into it again here but it was the ‘men on a boat’ part that finally won me over I think. Last year's 'Swallows and Amazons' also won me over completely... there were boats in it. 

Why boats? Why me?

There’s two aspects to it, I think. I’ve partially forgotten that my childhood played itself out in the company of boats. We lived right beside the river and I was often to be found out there in an eighteen foot rowboat, heading for the lake and the islands or else just loitering at the edge of the bullrushes, lazily trying to nab a perch or a pike. 

I think it gets into your spirit a bit. The lapping of the water on the bow, the oars cutting through the still surface, the deep spiralling eddies the blade leaves behind. Stuff like that. Perhaps, when you’re not on the water any more, it sparks something in memory to at least see other people there, even if it's only up on a screen. Perhaps that’s it.

Of course, Dad was a man of boats too and he loved a good boat movie as well. That probably played a sizeable part in influencing me. It was said that he went to see ‘The African Queen’ every night for the seven nights it played in our local cinema. Whenever a boat movie would come on the telly, he would sit forward a little and announce to the room ‘this is a good movie.’ He let me sit up to see ‘A Night to Remember’ when I was probably too young for it. I’d watch it again right now, if it was on.

There was one boat movie he didn’t care to see and he shares this with my wife, Patricia, who cheerfully reckons it is the very worst movie we ever went to see. ‘A Perfect Storm’. I didn’t mind it so much. It had men in boats in it and that ticks enough boxes for me to generally see me through. I remember talking to Dad, saying ‘you should go and see this one’. I remember him looking surprisingly sad and saying to me, ‘no, I don’t really care for films like that’. 

That was a puzzle. I didn’t quiz him more about it but I sometimes think about it. It was a boat movie, after all, and there was fishing and drama and camaraderie before things turned bad. Why did he not care for this type of film and what type of film was that anyway?

I can only assume it was because people drowned in the film. I can only guess that this was the reason why he didn’t care to see it. But that doesn’t quite fit. When has there been a boat movie where people have not drowned? Titanic and such didn’t seem to trouble him. So why this one?

I’ve thought about it and I think I know. I think it was because we got to know the characters who drowned before it happened. Like the film or hate it, we knew the characters well before the water came to claim them. I think that’s what it was. Dad had known people who had gone to the water and never come back. Perhaps that particular movie was too close to the heart.

Anyway, I think I’ll see if somebody might bring this old sod to see Dunkirk. Maybe Patricia might take pity on me, thought she’s largely spoilt for boat movies after Clooney and Co. 

It’s not so much that I’m looking for an afternoon out or that I crave popcorn or dark enclosed spaces on this nice July day.

It’s just that, well, it’s a boat movie and you know how I’m a sucker for them. 

Saving Dead Birds

I see certain people on Social Media and they are always fighting the good fight. Every day, it seems, they are out there doing battle with awful individuals who say terrible things. 

I can totally see why. The world is in a bad state in many ways and every idiot and horrible person has a soapbox and a voice which is respectively as high and as loud as anybody else’s. The poison and horror they broadcast simply cannot be left unchallenged. 

It would be wrong to ever let their terrible sentiments stand. So long as we have a voice with which to shout back and a keyboard upon which to type a challenge. The fight must go on…

I get that…

Except… I suppose, I don’t. Not really.

I’m all for fighting the bad guys but I tend to think that one-on-one battles with evident trolls on social media are both self-destructive and ultimately pointless. This is tricky because anything I say about the futility of arguing with fools on Twitter is so easily refuted by expressing some heartfelt, genuine and true sentiments. Thoughts along the lines of those things I’ve started to say in that first paragraph. If we don’t fight every hater and shout down every dangerous fool, what will become of us? Will we simply be overrun by the mob?

I think I’ve been subconsciously casting around for a metaphor for some time. Some kind of simile that might help me try to illustrate this point. I think that because, when one came crashing into my car this week, I recognised it almost straight away.

This week, I killed a small bird. With my car. It wasn’t intentional. I was driving along, just outside of town, when it happened. It unfolded with a certain inevitability, as these things often do. The little bird seemed to come from a million miles away, always and inevitably heading straight for my front bumper. One moment wheeling breathlessly through the summer air, the next a tiny inert bundle in a ditch. There was just the faintest of thuds and a glance at the startled face of the person driving behind in my rear view mirror to mark the moment. That was it. It was unavoidable and there was nothing to be done about it. 

I was sorry. I don’t like to kill things. I’m one of those people who tends to move snails if they are in a dry place or let flies escape out the window whenever they are willing to go. So, yeah, it was a bummer but there was nothing I could do.

Nothing at all.

And then my mind went about its work, as it often does. 

What if..?

What if I felt I absolutely had to do something about the death of this little bird. What if I felt it was my own microcosm of all the ill that I see in the wide world and for me to not take action would be a terrible, terrible mistake. What if I imagined that the little bird had flown out to find grubs for its collective of tiny nestlings and that, now, those shrill voices calling for food would never be answered and even more deaths would soon result from my inaction. What if I parked my car and searched every tree in the neighbourhood and eventually, against all odds, found those little chicks and brought them home and fed them and tried to sustain them until, one day-

It’s all impossible, of course. A pipe dream. An illusion of effectiveness. 

A little bird is dead. It is sad but there is nothing I can directly do to help or change that. 

The word ‘directly’ is relevant here. This whole train of thought led me to the next piece of silliness. Something I’ve never done before but may do again. Later, when I was in the shop, I stuck a couple of coins in the ‘poor box’. I did it for the bird. I couldn’t do anything directly but I could do something indirectly. To mark the moment, to redress the balance. Call it what you will. To do something useful.

This, for me, is how it is on Social Media. The trolls and the fuckwits are like the dead bird. They are an ill, a wrongness in the world, but I cannot beat all the trees and knock them out. If I try, I am only bloodying my hands and endangering my mind to absolutely no avail. If I want to really achieve any moral victory against them, I must walk away and leave them to their ditch. I must find something else. Something small and positive to do in order to counter them. It may not be direct action but it is, at least, action and something good may come of it. Scouring the sycamores for imaginary orphan birds will serve nobody and will do no good. 

There is something almost Quixotic about the way people do battle on Social Media. Valiant and almost-alone, they ride out on their exhausted nag into the dusty plain to wage war on the evil giants.

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them… for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

On Social Media, we can come to see ourselves as our own ‘Man of La Mancha’, our missions equally noble and equally misguided. The main difference is that the trolls there are not imaginary. They are all too real and their windmills are built specifically to draw us into their fight.

I remain open to be convinced of everything I say. Those who righteously disagree with this may quote, “He who saves a single life, saves the world entire,” and I would not argue with that. I would only suggest that most of these online battles will not save a single life or even necessarily do any good at all. I would go so far as to say that some of these vicious virtual battles may end up costing a life, for no gain.

Don’t misunderstand me. I fight. I stand my ground. But the modern world is full of false, time-wasting things that only give the illusion of being righteous battles. I need to find where I can do the most good. I need to do my best work there, and leave the windmills to do their own work. 

This one’s for that little bird, still laying dead in the ditch. I’m really sorry I put you there but this, I think, is as much as I can usefully do. 

Jetson Injuries and Fast Forwarding Plaudits

When I was little, I watched that cartoon ‘The Jetsons’ on our telly. It wasn’t my absolute cartoon of choice. From memory, my great faves of the time included things like ‘Hong Kong Phooey’ and ‘The Hair Bear Bunch’. So, no, ‘The Jetsons’ was by no means on top of my list but, still, it’s ‘The Jetsons’ I’m thinking about today. 

Because I don’t have a ‘Hong Kong Phooey’ wound or even a ‘Hair Bear Bunch’ malady (I shudder to imagine what such a thing might even constitute). 

I have a Jetson injury.

Do you remember ‘The Jetsons’ at all? In the quite likely event that you don’t, George Jetson lived in a technology-ridden future with his futuristic family. His life was populated with flying cars and sundry domestic time saving devices. For his job, he pressed a button. That was it. And therein lies the rub, the button-pressing job. How impossible it seemed, back in the sixties, that some future man could have a job that consisted largely of pressing buttons. How very silly.

And yet here I am, the button-pressing man. Well, not quite but almost. I spend many hours a day on one of my computers, doing either one thing or another, clicking and pressing, pressing and clicking. The Jetsons future est arrivé, albeit sans la voiture volante.

The most ludicrous thing about George’s button pressing job was the injury he would suffer as a result of it. His poor finger would swell and throb. Oh, how we laughed at George and his silly sore finger. 

Yup, you’ve guessed it. 

After a very intense period, which involved many weeks of continuous computer work, especially mouse-clicking, I have developed my very own version of George Jetson’s dreaded ‘Button Finger’. My version is, apparently, sometimes called ‘trigger finger’. My right index finger is constantly sore, especially if I try to bend it. Most fun of all though is that, when the finger is dormant, like when I’m asleep, it closes up into a trigger-pulling posture and locks there. The only way to unlock it is to grab the finger with my left hand and tug it back into shape. Whenever I’m doing this, I remind myself of Inspector Kemp from ‘Young Frankenstein’ with his errant wooden arm which also required constant forceful rearrangement to keep it in check. 

Technology is bad. But, hey, technology can be good too. 

One of my current favourite things is my Sky TV remote control. (Nope, 'not being sponsored by anyone, I swear). I simply adore buzzing through the adverts on any given programme. It’s come to the point where I hardly ever see TV adverts anymore, except as a rapid frame blur as I race to the next part of my show. (Somebody should devise a super-slow visual advert that plays to the fast forwarding generation… there’s an idea!). These days, if I’m keen to watch something on commercial telly that, say, starts at nine, I will set it to record and start watching at 9.15, buzz through the adverts and finish just as the live programme is finishing. I bloody love it!

In this house, we tend to race through the ads at 30x speed and are required to come back to the programme at the exact moment that the adverts or over. It calls for no small measure of skill. On our couch, we compliment each other on our fast forwarding skills. “Oh, nicely done,” we’ll say or, “check out the Maestro,” as the remote control commander of the hour steers us safely and at high speed to the other side of another commercial chasm. My own secret is that I bring the speed back to 12x as I approach the end of the ad break, to give myself a better chance of landing neatly. To overrun is to bring down gentle derision or, ever worse, stony silence upon one’s head. 

We may not have a flying car and we may have the injury but, by golly, we can sure buzz the adverts and that’s a wonderful thing. So shall it always be with technology. The joy coupled with the pain. The laughter married with with the occasional tear...

The remote control giveth and the mouse pad taketh away.