And the Turn Would Play On

I didn’t know what to write about, it being the middle of that end-of-the-year lull, but then Glenny gently asked that we remember Simon Ricketts today, on the Anniversary of his death, and so here I am.

Remembering a little thing.

I have no idea how I managed to get in with the cohort of extraordinary Twitter people that I did. Perhaps it was because I came early to the party and the gates were just sitting ajar. 

Whatever the reason, there I was, back in the glory days, exchanging warmth and bants and creativity with a wealth of wonderful folk, the like of which I could never hope to commune with in real life.

And Simon was there, and Glenny was there. And they weren’t the Kings of the Gang or anything. Nobody was. It wasn’t like that. It was just people who turned up and typed stuff into their phones and their computers. Nothing much, nothing special. Except, because each line they typed had some tiny trace of their DNA somewhere inside of it, the lines became something more than just lines. Because those scraps of themselves lurked inside every tweet, the scraps became strands and the strands became chains and, over much normal, everyday, time, the chains of DNA became people. Real life, breathing people.

Twitter memories of Simon R? He was brilliant and revered in equal measure, of course. But, when I skim my memory for the stuff that rises to the top, it is always those Saturday nights that come straight up. Simon and Glen would go to the football and then they would go to the pub – always the same pub – and there would be a ‘turn’ – a musical act of reliably dubious quality - playing there and then there would be home, where Glenny would seem to vanish a bit but Simon would have pizza and a cosy welcome home from the cat.

It doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it was, it really was. It was a tiny event shared without a care for recognition or reward or increase in fortune of any kind. Purely, simply, a life moment shared. And, just now, as I type it, I think that’s what made Twitter such a warm place for so many of us at that time. Life moments were shared… for no logical reason at all.

And where was I, when Simon and Glenny were down the pub, supping a pint, negotiating their way through the regulars, gently wincing at the ‘turn’? I was generally at home, with Patricia, enjoying my Saturday evening. A DVD and a can of beer maybe. I wasn’t glued to my phone or my computer, hanging to see what happened next. Nah. But I was never a million miles away from knowing that the boys were in the pub and that all was okay with the world.

And then, not suddenly but not too slowly either, those two single men, who attended the match and the pub and ate the pizza with unerring regularity, were not single men anymore. Gibbzer and Bernie came along and changed the shapes of their Saturday nights and it didn’t take a genius to realise that this was a change that was very much for the better. There may have been a charm to the lad’s routine, a warmth to it and a security in it. But what replaced it was better, so very much better. And if we were no longer sure where they were of a Saturday evening, we know it was a good place and they were okay.

And we know that the turn would play on regardless.

It can’t really be a year, though, can it? How times passes. Thankfully, we remember. And, of course, it’s not just an annual remembrance on some significant date like this. It is that everyday, ‘sideswipe you from no place’, ‘make you unexpectedly grin’ type of remembrance.

Simon R is still very much here.

Making me laugh unexpectedly. Making me think. Making me remember.

I’m glad he’s still around.

Thank Goodness for Christmas

For the last number of Christmas holidays I have arrived at 2nd January, put on my work face, and said to myself, “That’s it, Ken, until 23rd December. Off we go.” And that has indeed been the case for the last number of years. Granted there has been a day off here and there and even a firm plan of a holiday but, apart from that, it’s been go, go, go from January until December.

That’s the main reason I tend to say, “Thank goodness for Christmas,” these days. I get to stop.

All going well, after a few hours of tidying stuff on Monday, I can close the door of the office and be done until 2nd January. In theory, my time will be my own and I can do with it what I wish.

I say, “in theory’. 

In practice, Christmas has its own well-worn routine and there is very little deviating from it. Early on Christmas Eve, there’ll be a visit to Anthony the Butcher for turkey and ham vittles. I see Anthony in his shop several times every week and we always put the world to rights before the dealing is done. On Christmas Eve though, it’ll be too hectic for too much chit-chat. There is lots to do. Lot of meaty goodies to dispatch. A few compliments of the season will have to suffice. Last year I won my turkey in Anthony’s raffle and that was the best-tasting goddamn turkey I ever had.

Christmas Eve afternoon becomes about the ham. It has to be cooked up in cider and various other things (top secret) then glazed and baked and… you know the score, you do it too. There’s a visit to a good friend’s house as the darkness deepens and the shops all miraculously close. The return home brings the irony of a house full of food and not a clue what to eat.

Later it’s midnight mass, which is well-over by midnight. I’m not much of a mass-goer anymore but I like the late evening Christmas Eve mass for all kinds of complex reasons, not least the knowledge that I’m probably stealing a prime seat from a regular attendee.

Christmas Day is all gifts and bracing walks and cooking and over-eating and sleeping in front of Strictly and being mildly disappointed with the Christmas Special of something and then, one of my favorites, a long lonesome walk through the deserted town centre. Only the occasional passing car and the occasional similar restless soul for company. This moment is special for me as it is the zenith – the furthest away I can get from work.

Stephen’s Day is visiting and family and board games and best ham competitions and fun.

The day after is visiting and visiting and turkey pie with possibly some chips on the side… ssshhh.

My favourite borrowed moments from the holiday will be a nice easy book to read or a favourite movie revisited on telly or a new one that has been saved-up and finally enjoyed.

Christmas will be different this year and one sometimes feels it should almost not be. But we need to stop and breathe and eat a sweet and shake hands and smile whenever possible, despite everything.

So, roll on Christmas. Let’s do it together and try to make it nice in some small way for someone we meet who might be less fortunate than ourselves. I wish those reading this a happy and a warm one and only good things for the New Year, though I know that’s a bit of a tall order.

To those not reading this, my wish is exactly the same.

Sure, why wouldn’t it be?

The Wild Finds a Way

My wife’s sister is in hospital at the moment and we went to visit her this week. It was a lovely visit, as always. Full with chat and memories and smuggled ice pops.

It gets dark early these days and just as the dusk was slowly creeping in, a movement outside the large window became noticeable, even though we were up on the first floor.

“The birds will be coming soon. Have you seen the birds?”

The hospital is a very modern facility. Everything is pristine and spotless and well-thought-out. But the room we were in looked out onto a large central courtyard which was sheltered on all four sides and which boasted some tall slender trees, bereft of leaves, it being December.

As dusk deepened, the birds came. Pied Wagtails (Motacilla Alba)

At first they all gathered on the edge of the courtyard roof, looking down at the slender trees below. They hovered around, a little nervously, venturing out into the branches of the trees and then going back again to the roof. Testing the waters. Viewing the lie of land. As full dark descended, they came out into the trees and settled there edgily. Preening and fluttering, rising and falling. Easing themselves in.

Perhaps it doesn’t sound so special. After all, Pied Wagtails are not uncommon in our world.

There were two distinct things that made them special in this particular instance. One was the sheer numbers of them. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of wagtails descended on the hospital courtyard and settled in for the night.

The other thing was the incongruity of it. This modern controlled facility, where everything was planned and projected, has become a natural home for these agents of the Wild, who know nothing of planning or order or management. Into this safe, secure, slightly sterile place, the Wild has descended and settled easily in.

If this was happening in a shopping centre or a block of apartments, the effect might be less remarkable and maybe even less welcome. But, here, in this place, it is not much of an exaggeration to say that it is like a gift bestowed from nature. Something that could not be designed or scheduled. A reminder that, though the four walls may have temporarily confined us, the wild still exists just outside of our room. Just as it still exists here in our hearts, no matter what walls may hold us in.

Perhaps the best part of the visit of the Pied Wagtails came when they were finally settled in for the night. Every little branch of every little tree had its own little soul, silently perched, plump and still, rocking gently with the motion of the wind. It was very much like the leaves had come early back to the trees. 

Like Spring had come again.

I hope the people who take care of the hospital take care of the birds too. They may be a little messier than is desirable. They may occasionally make a little more noise than is ideal. But their reliable arrival, every evening, as the darkness draws in, is a kind of medicine that cannot be dispatched through a cannula. It is a kind of tonic that cannot be poured onto a spoon.

It is the Wild.

And it is outside of our window and here, still, inside of our hearts.

Warm Memories of Aloysius

On Thursday, I met Tom on the street as I was walking home from work for a sandwich. Tom is not his real name but let’s run with that anyway.

I was glad to see him out and about and I told him as much. Tom had recently had a tumble which had put him in hospital and laid him up quite badly and it was good to see him walking confidently home from his hospital appointment. I offer to ‘shake his wrong hand’ as there was a walking stick in the right one but he adeptly switched hands without a bother and we did it the old-fashioned way.

We got to talking for a while, as we generally do when we meet and, because we are both from Sligo, the discussion soon came around to there and to the people we both might know from there.

Tom mentioned a new book that he thought I might like, where the writer evokes memories of old Sligo very well, he thought I would enjoy it. If this blog was any use at all, I would now tell you for sure what this book is and where you might get it but, alas, the substance of certain conversations can slip between the cracks in the loose paving of my memory and that’s just how it is. I’m pretty sure the book is ‘Fifty Poems’ by Michael Gorman because I’ve looked it up and that seems right. It looks lovely and I may hint about it as a possible Christmas pressie. I actually heard Michael reading the first poem from the collection on my radio a few weeks ago so I knew a little more about it than I thought. Plus, in truest Sligo fashion, I would have known some of the writer’s people, having grown up with them in seventies Sligo and having liked them very much indeed.

But that’s not the point. Or, at least, it’s only part of the point.

In talking about Sligo and its characters who are long gone, Tom was obviously reminded of one such person.

“Would you have known Aloysius?”

It was a fair question; Tom is a little bit older than I am. The gap certainly seems less every year but he still has a few seasons on me. It might just be that Aloysius was gone by the time I was out and about in Sligo. But no, I remembered Aloysius well.

And here we come to another memory problem for me. Although Aloysius is vivid in my memory, I cannot quite pin him down enough to describe him. The only thing l I can offer is more of an impressionist sketch than a description.

So here I go with that.

First of all, Aloysius was a man who was intellectually challenged. Although we would not have said so many syllables at the time. We would probably have said that he was ‘a bit simple’ and, with some awareness of how that sounds today, we would have meant absolutely no harm or even disrespect with it. It was simply the case and these were the words we had to reflect it.

Aloysius would also have had some physical challenges which meant that his body was contorted and his face presented a remarkable and amazingly open portrait. He spent the days of his life traversing the town at breakneck speed, smiling and greeting all the people he met with laughter and enormous enthusiasm.

Someone may come and correct me. They may say he was not like that at all. But that his how I remember him. His dark clothes, his jacket draped askance on his broad shoulders, his heavy eyebrows, his broad grin.

But that’s not the point either. Not really. The point is this:

When Tom mentioned Aloysius, and I remembered him as I have not done for years, I felt a great warmth inside of me. The evoked memory of the man, gone at least forty years, caused a wave of nostalgia and memory and fondness to break over my head. It caused a good feeling that stayed with me for a time, as I went on about my day.

Why is it, I wonder, that the simple people stay so fondly in our memories. For that is the case, at least with me. Do they come to stand as ambassadors for those times that were simpler in themselves, or at least seem to be?

I don’t really know.

All I know is that, when Tom asked him if I remembered Aloysius, I smiled and nodded and said with some warmth:

“Oh yes, indeed I do.”

Dawn of the Cats

This morning, I looked out my kitchen window just in time to see a black cat’s ass vanishing through a broken windowpane in my garage door. Thirty seconds later, a ginger cat turned up and searched all around, clearly wondering where the black cat had vanished to. It searched and searched but never figured it out.

I went to the garage door and opened it and explained to the cat, who was still concealed somewhere within, that it seemed like a very nice cat but, unfortunately, I wasn’t amenable to letting it set up any kind of residence in there. There was the worry – well, let’s not put too fine a point on it - of it doing some weeing in there and thus significantly reducing the already questionable amenity of the place. Plus, being unaware of the physical likelihood of this occurring, there was at least the possibility of a litter of kittens arriving at some point in the shed and all the inherent responsibility and worry which would come with that.

“So, dear black kitty, I am going to close up the hole in the glazing with a tatty combination of flattened game console box and black duct tape. Then I am going to leave the shed door open for a while so that you may affect a dignified and unpressured exit. Then I am going to close the door on your black cat’s ass and wish you all the best.

I taped up the window, all the time being sensible of the eyes of the cat being on me from the gloom and amassed tat in the garage interior. When I was done, I once more entreated the cat to come out in its own time. Then I retreated to the house where I set up a stakeout on the garage door from across the kitchen sink.

After a time, quite a long time, the little black cat came out. It peered out cautiously and seemed to sniff the air, possibly to see if there were any ginger colleagues or crazed humans still lurking about. Then it eased out and slinked on its way. I nipped out and closed the door.

The end.

I don’t think the cat was living in the shed. It was sleek and well-minded. I think the shed had very recently become a hobby for it, a stop on its daily patrol. There are probably some mice in there to stalk or a nice corner to dream in when the rain was coming down.

This episode has focused my mind once again. It had all slipped into my peripheral vision, my sub consciousness.

There are a lot of cats round my street.

An awful lot.

When I come around the corner into my street, there are often four or five cats to be seen. Sitting on walls, skulking behind hedges, eyeing each other up, eyeing me up. The next time I come around the corner, there may be four or five cats but they may be different cats.

Who owns all these felines? Who keeps them well-fed and watered, as they so evidently are? Are cats really popular in my neighbourhood or is there one main household responsible for the herd? A cat sanctuary where the little mites roam free, unhindered by any resource or contraceptive concerns.

It’s kind of spooky. It’s like the first reel of The Birds except it’s about Cats. They seem to be congregating, conspiring, laying their plans against us.

Don’t get me wrong, I like cats. They’re got shedloads of character (see what I did there?) and they don’t give a shit about anything much. That’s all commendable stuff in my booklet. I am, however, a little bit allergic to them. Nothing earth shattering: if one were to rub up again my bare arm, it would come up on an itchy rash and then shortly-after, go back down again (my arm, not the cat). I wouldn’t fall to the ground convulsing or anything. The rash, ma'am, just the rash. All this means that I usually stroke them with my index finger. That particular digit seems to be largely immune to irritation. It’s all fairly harmless stuff but it does tend to keep them at a small remove from me. And that, in turn, makes me that little bit more paranoid about them.

As I type this, there’s a cat sitting out in the front garden looking in. Does it know what I’m doing? Will it now alert its compadres and will they then commence a swift and stern action against me? Is this how it finally begins, the Feline Apocalypse?

More next week.

I hope…

Tales from the Lodge and The Joys of Portmanteau Horror

After much anticipation, I got to see the new portmanteau horror/comedy film ‘Tales from the Lodge’ this week. It’s written and directed by Abigail Blackmore, who was a key member of the ‘Class of 2008’ on Twitter, of which I was lucky enough to play a small part, if only mostly as a spectator.

But more of that anon. (That means nearer the end, Gran).

The set-up is pleasingly familiar, A bunch of thirtysomething pals reunite at a remote holiday cottage to memorialise their friend and spread his ashes more or less on the adjoining lake. It’s ‘The Big Chill’ and ‘Peter’s Friends’ with the prospect of fun and high-anxiety and these are both delivered in spades.

I really liked ‘Tales from the Lodge’. For lots of reasons. But not least because it is funny and savvy and very understanding of the genre and the tropes it is consistently riffing on. There’s a hint of the iconoclast about it too, as it gives the horror film a bit of a shake and then enjoys the sounds of the bones as they rattle. But, as with everything good, there’s a bit more than just that going on. 

After an initial viewing to enjoy the gags and the banter and the jumps and the shivers, a second viewing is rewarded by a creeping realisation that the characters' stories are all efforts on their parts to confess something about themselves to the others. Lurking just beneath the banter and the comradely fun, there is an undercurrent of guilt and betrayal and of truths longing to be told. The film rewards a little scratching at the surface fun. Could it be that the lodge itself is a metaphor for the heart (a very present theme within the narrative) and that the tales that emerge from within that isolated house are really coming from that much deeper place.

But more of that anon (or maybe not, maybe that’s quite enough of that).

To some extent, I was born and raised on Portmanteau horror. Those great Amicus film were shown in cinema matinees when we just kids and I loved them. I also got to see Night Gallery on telly when it first came out and the Roddy McDowell segment from the pilot still lives with me to this day. And yes, I could also do the argument that Night Gallery was anthology horror rather than portmanteau horror but, hey, time is short and we all have places we need to be. In addition to the movies there were also the comics. In my neck of the woods, in the early seventies, it was Creepy and Eerie comics that ruled the roost and both had dubiously-related gatekeepers who guided us through the even-more-dubious content within.

But, hands down, the granddaddy winner of them all, was the movie ‘Tales from the Crypt’. I can’t say exactly when I saw it but I read that it came out in 1972 and I saw it in a matinee so I’d make a conservative estimate that I caught it in 1973 when I was all of ten years old. For ten-year-old me, it was sheer perfection. Serial killer Santa, Monkey’s Paw twists and, king of kings, Peter Cushing’s sad old Mr. Grimsdyke coming back from the dead to wreak poetic justice. I don’t think I even knew what Valentine’s Day was. All I got was this dude was scrabbling out of his grave to straighten things out and, man, that was all I needed to know.

The characters in these stories were often poor enough examples of the human race. People did nasty things and met their comeuppance. The stories came short and sharp, such that if you didn’t like one there would always be another along in a little while. But, for me, the main trope of Portmanteau Horror was always that everything was simply not going to be all right. There may be fun and shivers and incredulous laughs along the way but you could always rely on the fact that everything was going to end shittily.

Tales from the Lodge uses all of that and shakes it up and plays with it too. It even manages to maintain the tradition of using high profile and talented actors to feature in the stories (and in the film entire). It combines the traditional 70’s schlock with more modern tropes, such as the one where characters in the stories sometimes lip sync the narrator saying their dialogue. Something that TV’s Drunk History series did so well.

A word, too, for the music. Warren Bennett has written more tunes for the moving image than I’ve had hot dinners and here his work is reflective and jumpy by turns and always with that trademark musicality of his. 'Sweet Billy Pilgrim' also features prominently on the soundtrack with my own favorite ‘Arrived at Upside Down’ sneaking in, to great effect.

Abi’s direction and writing are spot on. I’ve always greatly admired how she effortlessly captures the gentle ribbing of good friends. I have no doubt it is her unfailing determination to get work done and seen that has driven this project to its full fruition. I hope and expect it will open creaking doors to ever escalating levels of horror and fun.

One final point, and I feel you will have sensed this already in the subtext. The film is about old friends meeting up, the joy of seeing each other again mixed with the bitter-sweet ache of missing those who cannot be around to share in the fun.

Life mimics art. Doesn’t it though? So many of the names associated with the project are names I have known for so long. People who I have come to care about and, although we may never meet or shake hands, who have become friends. For me, there is at least some element of this film echoing that. Reading the credits was, for me, something of an emotional experience. To see that Warren and Tim sat down together to write one of the songs. To see Bob thanked right at the top of the list. To see Jana and Julian in there as they would always be. It’s a great warm thing that transcends the creation whilst also remaining an integral part of it. 

A joy, really. A joy.

But, all that aside, I greatly enjoyed ‘Tales from the Lodge’ for the fun, naughty, four-wheel-drive joy ride that it is. I also sensed some subtle current of real-life concerns running beneath all the Grand Guignol happenings as they swiftly unfolded. We need that. 

Well done, Abi (et al).

Can I watch it again?

Better Watch Out, Four Eyes

Sometimes, mostly when driving, I use the expression ‘Four Eyes’ in a derogatory sense. 

In fairness, there isn’t really a non-derogatory sense in which to use it so maybe just ignore that.

I’ll say it when that other driver does something typically stupid and inconsiderate. And is wearing glasses, of course. 

I really only use it when there’s somebody in the passenger seat and I sense that my usual stream of undiluted abuse might be viewed as a little over-the-top or clinically insane of some such thing.

I did it the other day and the person in the passenger seat turned to me and grinned and said, “I hate to break this to you but…”

I know. You don’t have to tell me. I’ve been wearing glasses myself for the best part of twenty years. Constantly, unswervingly wearing glasses.

Yet still I call other people 'Four Eyes'. What’s that all about?

I haven’t really thought of myself as ever wearing glasses. In much the same way as I haven’t thought of myself being the age I am. I've always been quite a way behind reality in who I think I am, how I think I look, and what I'm going to achieve. One side effect of this is that I haven’t ever really given up on things. Things like twenty-twenty vision or youth or crazy dreams.

Until these days. Until now.

But we’ll come to that…

I’ve always had some pretty outlandish dreams of how my life would go. When I was twelve, I was pretty sure I would play James Bond someday. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think I would actually be James Bond just that I would be the actor playing the part in the movies. I didn’t see anything overly difficult in achieving this proposition either. I had no illusions that I was a good-looking kid (I wasn’t) but I didn’t see ‘good looking’ as a requirement for playing the part of the secret agent. I figured I would manage it all right, without too much bother.

Then, in my twenties, I figured I would be a writer and would one day be primarily known as a writer. That outlandish dream pretty-much persisted through my thirties and forties too.

Remember Lucy Jordan? That lady in Marianne Faithful’s song seemed to let her dreams go relatively early on. At the age of thirty-seven, she’s already realised she'd never ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair. At thirty-seven, most of my crazy dreams were still going full tilt. I always thought Lucy Jordan should have held out a while longer. And, yes, yes, you may say she did get to ride in the car blah blah but I don't think she did really. 

(As a side note, I just looked up Google to get the name of the titular lady who gave up her dreams in that song. What I got was ‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan HD’. I then spent an embarrassing 15 seconds wondering what the ‘HD’ stood for. Was she some kind of doctor or something? I figured it out eventually.)

But now here I am, deep in my fifties and things have changed, even for me. These days, when I call that driver in the other car ‘Four Eyes’, there’s a bit of self-awareness and irony thrown in there along with all the ire. Realisation is finally dawning, I think. Not all of your dreams tend to come true.

At the age of fifty-six, Marianne might sing of me that I realised I would never play James Bond, nor drive without glasses, nor be known primarily as a writer. Whereas, up until this point, I had usually felt a decade or two younger than I actually was, So often now, I feel my true age or even a little older. Real life seems to have finally caught up with me. Some aspects of it have even passed me by.

But all is not yet completely lost.

I’m sitting here after midnight, typing away and there’s still time for some silly dreams to come true. Some day yet, I may be known as a writer as well as being known as that pretty nice guy, occasionally funny, and quite irritating to a number of people.

Some day they might even want a slightly overweight and grizzly James Bond who runs the bad guys mercilessly off the road and calls them 'Four Eyes' as he whizzes past on his way to his next adventure…

…even though he is clearly wearing glasses too.

Sign of Life

I can’t really put up the post I wrote for this week at the moment, the timing for it just doesn’t seem right.

So I got nothing in hand… nothing.

So here’s an off-the-cuff rant which does something I haven’t done before. Repeat myself. This post is in danger of practically duplicating an earlier post I did (in April of this year, in fact). And, wait, stop the presses. Just as I went looking for when I did that recent (probably identical) post, I find that I’ve written on this bugbear of mine three times before. Count them, three!

So what do it again, Ken? Why not leave it alone.

Three reasons, really.

Reason One is the main one, this shit is driving me crazy now.

Reason Two: It’s my blog, suck it up.

Reason Three: You don’t actually think anyone reads this stuff, do you?

So here it is.

Imagine you are driving at night and you are on that road that runs from Perth to Melbourne. In the middle of the Nullarbor plain. One of the great desert areas in the world, one of the great straight stretches of road. Imagine you have to turn right up a side road. (There’s nothing up the side roads, Ken, it’s a feckin’ desert). Just… imagine, okay? Your eccentric pal lives up there in a tent and you're going to visit him for his birthday. Okay? Imagine.

Here’s the thing. The road stretches for miles and miles straight in front of you and behind you too. There’s nobody in the world except for you and the road and the darkness. You are totally alone.

You come to the junction and you slow and you turn right. You are off to see your friend.

Off you go.


No. No. Bloody No.

You didn’t bloody put your bloody indicator on. You absolute twat.

But, but, but…

But nothing mate. Out there in the dark there was a gentle Aboriginal man, walking home along the side of the road. Your unexpected right turn nearly killed him, nearly wiped him off the planet. Because you didn’t know he was out there in the dark, without a reflective arm band on. But mostly, mostly, because you didn’t put your indicator on.

You were lazy.

You were distracted.

There was a good song on the radio.

You didn’t think there was any point in putting your indicator on.

The world of considerate driving has gone to hell in a hand basket. My rough estimate is that about 40% of drivers in my town and county no longer bother their holes to put their indicator on when they make a turn. Another 5% put the indicator on after they’ve gone around the corner, for fuck’s sake.



Always put your indicator on. No matter if you’re out on the Nullarbor with a care package for
your pal in the tent. No matter if you’re on some country lane. You never know who is looking to you for some clue as to which way you are intending to go. Your indicating that intention could save their life.

So, please, please, I’m begging you (you bastards) go back to using your indicators at all times. What are you doing not using them anyway? Are you trying to save on the little bulb or something?

We need a Road Safety Authority telly advert for this, to try to get us back to showing a little consideration out there on the roads.

Can I suggest a slogan or two? You can have them for free, if you like.

1)     Show a sign of life before you end up looking for a sign of life.


2)     Put your indicator on, you bastard.

The Exorcist and Me

The touring theatrical production of The Exorcist is coming to Dublin for Halloween week and that has put the film back into the front of my mind. I’d like to go and see it but I don’t think I will. It’s a bit of a trek from here.

But I remember the film well…

By the time The Exorcist came to my hometown in 1974 I was already something of a veteran at trying to sneak into the cinema to see grown up movies. I was ten years old.

We didn’t try to get into unsuitable movies for any old reason. It was all about Bruce Lee. Bruce was everywhere and everything in the early seventies and you were nothing if you hadn’t seen him in the flesh (so to speak) up there on the big movie screen.

So we had techniques for at least attempting to get in. Hiding in cloakrooms while some older-looking kid bought the tickets, that kind of thing. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.

But, when The Exorcist came to The Savoy on Market Street in ‘74, we didn’t even try. We knew, almost instinctively, that it would be too much for us and that we just weren’t ready. We wouldn’t have had a chance in hell (sorry) of getting in anyway. This one was too hot.

But stories reeled around the town of the things that were happening inside the darkened halls of The Savoy. Heads were spinning, pea soup was being thrown around, the worst kind of words were being shouted and growled. There was an illicit, ‘too much’ feel to it all and the queues were long and patient.

Oddly enough, we never called it The Exorcist. That word comes with three syllables, each of them pretty equally emphasised. No. We put colossal emphasis on the middle ‘or’ syllable, and called it ‘The Ex-hor-cist’. This led me to slightly misunderstand the nature of the film. I thought that it concerned a priest who was exhorting a demon to come out of a little girl. Not a million miles from the truth but not quite right either. Or maybe there’s some truth to it. Now, as I write this, I’m not entirely sure.

I didn’t actually get to see The Exorcist until it was re-released to Cinemas in or around 1989. Its withdrawal from the home video market left me with no way to get to it and, by that time, I was intensely interested to see it.

But there was a false start or two before then.

The Omen seemed like it might partly fill the gap left by not seeing The Exorcist but, alas, it just didn’t do it for me. I like it a lot more since but, at the time, I found it far too insipid and safe. The presence of long-established Gregory Peck seemed to be a constant reassurance that nothing too terrible was going to occur and that proved to be exactly the case.

When Exorcist 2 came out, I had no problem getting in to see that. By then, I was a venerable fourteen years old and no one was going to accost me on the way in. I was too much the regular attendee for everything that was showing. Although the glimpses that film afforded of possessed Regan from the original film were rather tantalising and made me want to find the original film even more, Exorcist 2 was and remains easily one of the very worst films I have ever seen.

I even had a horrible rematch with it, some years later. The Savoy announced, in small text in the paper, that The Exorcist would be playing for two nights only on the Tuesday and Wednesday of a particular week. They were school nights so not my usual movie night but I made some excuses and got myself off to see it, dripping with anticipation. But they weren’t showing The Exorcist at all, they were showing bloody old Exorcist 2 again. I have rarely been so angry.

I finally got to see it on a wet Saturday afternoon in Dublin, when I had nowhere to be for a few hours. The cinema was mostly deserted, so it was me and the film with little to distract from it. I found it bleak and a bit troubling while also seeing that it was indeed a major and important cinematic work. The special effects didn’t bother me at all, I’m largely immune to that kind of schlock stuff and the detective part seemed a little ‘by the numbers’ though I can’t help but feel that Lee J Cobb’s character and the character of Columbo fed off each other in some creative way that I could never quite figure out.

Today, in 2019, I have an unusual view about The Exorcist and I can’t quite tell where or when that view was formed. It certainly wasn’t in the humid Dublin cinema in ’98 although there was definitely some element of unease there. I think it was much later, in fact… much later.

I hesitate to even talk about it. I’ve found that it is well nigh impossible to talk about any kind of good art without opening yourself up for inspection along the way. When something touches you inside, that part of you becomes a little more uncovered and sometimes, in talking about it, you can say too much or give too much away.

I don’t really want to do it. But I’ll say it anyway.

For me The Exorcist is not really about demonic possession. For me, it speaks about aging and infirmity and the fear we have of those things. The person in the bed that we all fear is not a demon or a devil, not really, it is an old person, a dying person, a person whose mind has slipped away. That person lives in the closed room at the top of the stairs and they are always there. Life may go on outside as before, there may be parties and ceremonies and exercise and fresh air and conversation but the person in that room at the top of the stairs is always there, always waiting and, sooner or later, they must be attended to.

Of course this theme is overtly stated at several points in the film through Fr. Karras’ relationship with his mother. There is no missing that. But I think that occasionally centre-stage theme also succinctly permeates practically every other scene in the film.

When did I form this view? As I said, it wasn’t back when I first saw the film or when I saw it again many subsequent times on DVD or on television. It was when real life showed me some genuine aging and infirmity, first hand, and some moments came when I said to myself, ‘this is a bit like The Exorcist, isn’t it?’

Do I think the writer and film maker set out to make a film about aging and infirmity and then went on to dress it up as a demonic possession flick? No, I most certainly do not.

But we all take what we take from art and then we hold that as our own.

And, in doing so, it maybe tells us something about ourselves.

A Poem And…

The other evening, Thursday actually, I was lucky enough to get to MC this event in Bridge St., which is a lovely pub here in Castlebar. The event was part of the annual Wild Atlantic Words Festival and it was called ‘A Poem and a Pint’.

It does exactly what it says on the tin. The attendees are called upon to come up to the mic and share a poem with us. It could be an old favourite, it could be one they wrote themselves. One person, one poem… and a pint… or a G&T. Whatever you’re having yourself.

It sounds like it might fall on its arse, doesn’t it?

But it didn’t. Quite the opposite. The pub was full and lively and people were keen to come up and share their poem and also keen to hear everyone else’s. There was a general relaxed air and the mood eased from fun to reflective and back again, depending on whatever poem was being shared at the time. Looking back at it, I think a visitor to our shores would have found something here of the quintessentially Irish welcome that we like to pride ourselves on. I think they would have liked it.

I’m quite the ingĂ©nue when it comes to matters of poetry. I remember a few scraps of what I did in school and I know a few things that I’ve happened upon in my own reading and listening and, last but not least, I know something about the poems that people have told to me. Beyond that, I'm pretty much lost.

I don’t think that makes me unusual. In fact, as with a lot of other things, I think it makes me Mr. Average.

A lot of us tend to say that we don’t understand poetry or even like it very much. But, when I think about it, that’s a bit like saying we don’t like food or socks or… anything really. There might be lots of it we really don’t like but, if we find the bits that work for us, we might find that we like it very well indeed.

I think that’s why an evening like Thursday evening can work so remarkably, so surprisingly, well. If one person stands up and says a poem that means something to them and if there are twenty or twenty five such persons, the odds are good that we will hear something that also touches us in some way.

Poetry is like distilled emotion, I think. It gets boiled down to some kind of essence and, if that essence is not chemically similar to our own then, chances are, it will not bind. But when that alcoholic distillation fits our palate, then a little magic can happen. The brew can hit home in a way that a book or a movie cannot. It hot-wires, it short-circuits, and it goes right to the heart. A song can sometimes do it too because that’s a distillation as well.

If we go into an evening like this actively looking for that hit, we may not get it. It’s too much pressure. But if we simply venture into a lovely pub and find a lot of friendly faces there and a warm chatter about the place and the prospect of a small drink and, just incidentally, a wee woman over in the corner, sharing her favourite verse. Then the evening may be subtly elevated such that you may end the night and head home without even fully realising that something a bit special has just happened to you. 

That you have been touched by a verse.

I had a highly enjoyable evening. I got to blather on a bit and there were plenty of people to back me up so that I was never very far out of my comfort zone.

I hope they ask me again next year.

I think l might go.


Earned Rest

I can’t pin my mind down today. I can't extract a single coherent thought from it, something that might be sensibly corralled into a blog post.

I woke up thinking that, if I were God, I might have a selection of pet owners come back as their pets with some sensibility of their situation. Fifty percent of those chosen would have been given the greatest gift imaginable, a life of warmth and care and companionship. The other half… well, not so much.

A nice enough thought but not a ‘full blog post' one.

Then, earlier in the week, I had been contemplating my vegetable peeler. It’s a brilliant one and I’ve had it for many years. I never want another. Lately, though, it’s been getting ragged and tired. The rubbery handle has been becoming visibly distressed and a bit floppy. Still it held on (no pun intended) and so did I. Then, a week or two ago, Patricia brought home a new vegetable peeler. It’s all metallic and sleek and designed and, to my mind, it doesn’t work at all. I gave it a try and instantly hated it. It only removed a small width of veggie peel from the veggie and took fifteen times longer to do a spud than my old one. After completing one copiously peeled carrot, I laid it down in disgust and pulled Old Faithful out of the drawer. However, on the first swipe of the first veggie peel, the rubbery handle of my old peeler separated and broke in two. After years of service, it gave up the ghost on the day the new kid arrived. 

Not bad but not really a full blog post.

On Friday, while driving back from Galway in the afternoon, I found myself taking pleasure in seeing the schools I drove past all quiet and closed up tight for the weekend. It reminded me how this is something that I enjoy seeing. The little buildings I was whizzing past had all been centres of work and striving and fun and tension through the entire week but, for now, they were done. The work was complete, at least for a little while. Pupils and teachers alike were on their way home, the prospect of a little rest and leisure time in their sights. The dust motes in the rooms, agitated and bouncing all week long, could settle slowly down. Until Monday, when they would righteously bounce once again. 

I like that.  

Silly, stupid, overly introspective? Yes. A blog post? No.

That’s why this Sunday, this late in the morning, after a very early start, I had almost resolved to write nothing here this week. Let it lie. But I’ve been away for a few weeks and, if I ever stop, I’ll want it to be because I chose to stop not because I simply lost momentum and allowed it to peter out.

So here I am, with three rather random thoughts for your delectation. Nothing much, really, but still words on a page and that itself is something.

Also, looking at these three thoughts now, I wonder is there not a sort of loose theme running through them? And if the thoughts are as randomly formed as I think they are, then does that not perhaps mean that any loose theme might be a key to something which is really important to me? It’s possible, isn’t it?

So what is this theme of themes?

For me, I would summarise it as the title of the piece (which I’ve just come up with right here at the end). Earned Rest. And yes, looking at it now, I can see that it is a concept that I value and an end that I am often trying to achieve for myself.

Rest, in itself, is not such a valuable thing for me. I’ve done nothing all day and now I get to sit down and watch telly? That’s doesn’t really rock my boat. For me, there’s a sort of restless guilt hue attached to any downtime like that. Rest that hasn’t been earned. That’s why the newly vacated Friday school pleases me so much. That place has been all-abuzz and flat out all week, now it can rest. I like that. It goes to why I like Christmas so very much. I can work and work to get there and then I can rest awhile.

It’s also why the veggie peeler struck me as it did. It kept going and going until the new veggie peeler arrived, then it gave up.

It’s why, as my version of God, I might give the pet owners the rest they had earned, be it a place of love and warmth or a place of something considerably less than that.

To rest is good. It’s fine. But to rest, having tried hard to do one’s very best?  

That’s the prize, that is.

Gotta Make the Morning Last

Astute readers will have noticed that I’ve not been blogging for a few weeks.

“Is this it?” some will have perhaps said, “Is he finally going to give up on this silly pointless outmoded blogging lark?” Channelling ‘Gladiator’ I will answer that by implying that it will certainly happen someday but “not yet… not yet.”

I’ve been away because a rather bad thing happened. Things are okay now, thanks. We’re back on track. Knowing me as you do, you would expect that I would probably tell you about the bad thing but, no, it’s not my story to tell. I was only a witness to it, not the actual recipient, so I don’t feel it’s my business to discuss it. Plus I don’t much feel like writing about it anyway.

So, let’s channel something else (there’ll be quite a bit of channeling today, I think). This time it’s a memorable quote from Peter Straub’s novel ‘Ghost Story; “What was the worst thing you've ever done? I won't tell you that…” In this case, I won’t tell you the worst thing that happened in the past few weeks but I’ll tell you the second worst. And, don’t worry, it’s pretty funny and at least it won’t mess you up.


I always do the bulk of the grocery shopping on Sunday morning and Sunday morning three weeks ago was no different.

Except for one thing; it was raining.

Okay, granted, it’s often raining. Drizzling or mizzling or pizzling or something second rate like that. That morning, though, it was pouring, really pouring. And I was rushing around, huffing and puffing and totally hassled. Now, looking back, I literally have no idea why I was in such a fuss. Whatever was hassling me is as nothing to me now. And that’s the lesson for the week, folks, but don’t worry, we’ll return to that at the end and drive it home a little excessively as usual.

First, the carnage.

So, yeah, it was raining. I came out of the supermarket and raced my overloaded trolley to the car as the rain drenched me. I had cereal boxes and a newspaper, all of which were rapidly turning to porridge in the deluge. I had some porridge too but, ironically, that seemed to be doing okay.

I got to the car. I was mithered, I was drenched. I wrenched open the boot of the car to chuck all the bags of groceries in. There was a radiator in there, taking up all the useful space. Why was there a radiator in the boot of my car? Okay, that’s a rhetorical question, I know why there was a radiator in there and you don’t need to know. It’s enough to know that there wasn’t any room in there for the grocery bags.

I swore. I tend to do that. Then I raced around to the back door of the little car and wrenched that door open too. The plan was simple, I would relay the bags from the shopping trolley on to the back seat of the car. It was a good plan and this is what I did. Using a movement that must have looked a little like a stevedore on a dock passing cargo from one man to the next, I swayed my bags out from the trolley and into the car.

Suddenly I was done. All I had to do now was race back to the trolley bay to retrieve my Euro coin deposit on the trolley – I wasn’t leaving that behind. But wait, the boot was still open. I had to nip around to the back of the car and slam it down. Easy. Except the trolley was in my way. But, wait, I didn’t have to go around to the back of the car to do that. From where I was standing at the side door, I could simply reach up and slam the boot down, no need to go to the back. Easy.

I reached up and grabbed the edge of the boot and made an impromptu decision. I would express my dissatisfaction with this day by slamming the boot lid down as hard as I possibly could, making as much of a bang a possible, so that everyone in the town would know of my ire.

So I did. I slammed it down hard. Very hard.

I wasn’t accustomed to standing at the side of the car and slamming the boot down (hard) and, in fairness, I hadn’t reckoned it right.

And my head was in the way.

I felt a remarkable thud on the top right-hand side of my head and knew immediately what I had done.

Suddenly, rain or not, it seemed like quite a good idea that I should sit down. So I sat down on the tarmac. It didn’t seem like an imperative that I sit, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Then, from the sitting position, it seemed like a terribly good idea to lie down. So I lay down, arms outstretched, legs akimbo.

Then I thought I must look a bit like the guy from the Shawshank Redemption, right after he escaped from the sewers, in the rain, arms outstretched to the deluge. Except he had been standing up and I was now patently lying down.

This struck me as funny so I started to laugh. I called myself a few choice names and then I struggled back to my feet.

As I leaned against the car, quietly berating myself for the fool I was (and am) a nice lady came up and offered me a tissue. I took it and put it to my head. I wasn’t surprised to see that it came away bloody, I had slammed that old boot down pretty, pretty hard.

After assuring the nice lady that I was indeed fine, I decided to make my way back into the supermarket, to use the bathroom facilities and generally clean up. On the way, I met lots of people who asked me if I was all right and I remarked to myself how thoughtful people were. After all, I was only holding a tissue up to my head, nothing particularly remarkable.

It was only when I reached the bathroom mirror that I could see why they might have been a wee bit concerned. The tissue had not done its work as well as I might have imagined. My face was an entire bloody mess. Have you seen ‘Carrie’ after the Prom? It was quite a bit like that.

All’s well that ends well. I cleaned up nicely and, three week’s later, my head is fine. But I remain the man who slammed the boot down on himself because he was rushing and racing for absolutely no reason at all.

And there’s the moral of our story again and also one final bit of channelling. I always thought that Simon and Garfunkel had one particular intention when they told us to, “slow down you move too fast, you’ve gotta let the morning last.” I thought it was just about being cool and enjoying things. But now I see that they might also have been thinking how if you don’t slow down you might not actually live to see the whole of the morning.

I'm going to try to keep that in mind.