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.