Merry Little

So many of the songs we hear for Christmas were written for Christmases like this one.

Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow”

“I’m dreaming… with every Christmas card I write…”

These songs, and others like them, come from times of war and tribulation. They suggest separation and an element of melancholia and sadness as well as a hope for some better times ahead.

It’s going to be that kind of Christmas this year, isn’t it?

Twitter is terrible in so many ways but it’s still a central tool in my life. One reason for this is that it shows me the implications of things. It shows me what the rather amorphous twists and turns of the news means to real-live people out there in the world.

Yesterday evening, London and other places got an un-signaled Tier 4 lockdown imposed on it. I’m not in London, I’m not even in England but that news made me nod sadly and say to myself, “that’s a tough one.” Then Twitter started to show me just how tough it will be on people and I understood better.

There was the nice lady who had just done her huge shop for the family who were coming to stay for the allowed few days. Sitting in a house full of food and drink and bright lights. Nobody coming.

The elderly gentleman who was packed up and ready to be brought to his daughter’s house for Christmas Day, his first family contact in so many months. Nobody coming for him.

The young son, first time away, who couldn’t come home before this, ready to roll homeward for his already-warmed electric blanket and a little well-deserved pampering. Not happening. Stay put. Muddle through somehow.

Here in Ireland, as I type, we will still be allowed meet in limited ways. But it is tenuous, tenuous. The numbers are on that climb that they do. They will not level off by themselves. Every little joy we allow ourselves seems to make the situation worse.

My own little family unit, the four of us, won’t see anybody else this Christmas. Our extended families must use the slender opportunity to see sons and daughter and mothers and fathers, rather than the aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews that we constitute.

Still we are lucky. Lucky and we know it. The four of us are here now, in our home, and here we will stay, together for the Christmas season. For us, it won’t be massively different from other years although the three or four key family and friend interactions we always traditionally have will be sorely missed.

A few more days of work and I’ll be finished until the New Year. The way the dates fall this year means there’s a few extras days over the weekend so it will be the 4th before I trundle back. This time of year is my annual holiday, I rarely take another. So, I look forward to it and treasure it.

I thank the fates that they have allowed the four of us to be together for this Pandemic Holiday.

But my heart goes out, it flies over fields and rivers, over mountains and seas, to those of you who must miss out on the things you need this year. It is tough on the remote factual level, but it is even tougher, down on the single human-being level, where Granny and Mother and Son and Daughter and Dad and Grandad cannot meet just this once and greet each other face to face, as in golden days of yore.

This next thing is easy for me to say, from where I sit, and I apologise if I sound trite or privileged.

I think it almost behooves us to have ourselves a merry little Christmas this year, no matter how hard that may be to do. The kindest thing we could do for the people we cannot see, the people who will worry and fret over us, is to show them that we are okay. We may not be together, but we can smile a little and shelter a little and interact in every way we can. The greatest gift I could get would be to know that my friends and family are muddling through somehow and that someday soon we all will be together once again. It’s not a gift easily given because there’ll be sadness and loneliness and a fervent wish that things could be different. And, of course, we can't all do this. Some people's Christmases are just too hard. 

But, if at all possible, for that moment at least, let your hearts be light, if only for those who will worry about you and miss you. Let’s raise a glass to those we cannot be with us and those dear ones who are no longer with us and those brave ones who are going through even greater trials than us this Christmas. Let’s remember them well.

And perhaps next year, as the old song says, all our troubles will be miles away.

Here's hoping. 

Happy Christmas, wherever you find yourself.

K x

Stepping Out Before the Rain Has Stopped

(Photo by Patricia Wilden)

We’ve all done it.

You’re on the High Street and it starts to rain. Strike that, it starts to pour. You find a shop door to stand into and you shelter there. You wait and watch the rain pummel down onto the pavement. From your place of cover, you watch all the other people either dashing for their own shelter or continuing to brave the deluge regardless. After a while you get bored and you check out the merchandise in the shop window. Any bargains? Any oddities? That also gets boring quickly so you start to scan the skies for signs that the shower will pass. There’s a bright streak up there, in the west. All should be better soon. The rain eases. Then people start emerging from adjoining shop doors where they have also been sheltering. With newspapers over their heads, they hurry onwards late for their appointments. You twitch a bit. You’ve been in here for too long now. Time is ticking away.

It’s time to go now. It’s time to go.

To hell with it. You go.

You dash out into the world again and it’s better, it’s far better than it was when you first ran from it but here’s the thing…

The rain is not over.

Not yet.

You march along. The sky is brightening, and it feels like it might yet become quite a nice day. But there’s no avoiding the obvious. It’s still raining hard and you are getting wet. You are getting just as wet as you would have been if you’d never stood in out of the rain in the first place. All your good sheltering work has been for nothing because you are now as wet as you could be.

Five minutes later and the rain suddenly stops. The sun bursts out. Wiser people who hung in their doorways for that crucial extra few moments now emerge, businesslike and dry.

You carry on. You squelch and the papers under your arm are soggy and falling apart. The rain got you in the end. You jumped too fast.

Yes, folks, you guessed it. It’s ‘Tortured Metaphor’ week again. Don’t they come around faster and faster as the years go on? It’s spooky really. And you’ll see where I’m going with all this rain palaver. We’ve known each other long enough at this stage. We know all our little ways. There are few surprises to be had. Let me spell it out for you though. Mostly because I’m not up to my word-count yet and I have nowhere left to go. Hell, I’ve even done the weather.

There’s a feeling that the rain is almost over, isn’t there? Christmas is coming, it feels like Christmas, doesn’t it? We can get together, as Bruce Willis said in that Christmas movie, and have a few laughs. We can forget about our troubles and be like we were. After all it’s the Holiday Season and the rain is nearly done.

But it isn’t done yet, is it?

If we all run out in the last remains of the shower and dance around, as we long to do, we may end up just as wet as if we stood out there all of that time. And we didn’t stand out there. We sheltered and sheltered until every item in that bloody shop window was known to us inside and out and we could recite them all by rote. Still, we stayed and stayed. We did good.

Are we really going to get drenched now and, in drenching ourselves, drench the people closest to us too?

There’s a definite light now, in the western sky. Can you see it? You must, It’s right there.

But it’s going to be a little while yet before it gets here. Before the rain truly stops.

So, hold on. Don’t get yourself soaked right at the end. That would be quite the shame.

Particularly now when a brighter day is so near.

Guest Post - Waiting To Go On - Ronan Egan

Some people are natural performers. They belong on the stage. They can unselfconsciously transform themselves into a character, completely inhabit a song and lose themselves in their performance. They come alive on stage and thrive in the presence of a live audience. One performer I know says that the safest place to be is on stage. But even the most talented and experienced performers know the terrible fear of live performance. It is often not performing that they fear the most but waiting to perform. Waiting to go on. 

I am not a natural performer. I am not someone who can entertain at a party. I’m no raconteur. I’m no comedian. I’m shy and I don’t like to draw attention to myself. The spotlight is not for me. I like the company of friends in small groups. I am more comfortable listening than talking and I feel awkward and uneasy in crowds.

It is strange then that performing on stage is what I do for fun. It’s my hobby. It’s been my hobby for 15 years. I discovered in my thirties that I could sing. In fact, it turns out that I sing pretty well and am able to sing for people. It turns out that I am able to perform. It doesn’t come naturally; I have to work at it but I can do it. I have performed in concerts, in musical theatre, in plays and in shows. I have become a competent performer and I love that. I don’t have that elusive talent that dazzles and I don’t “own the stage” but that’s okay. Once in a while I even shine a little bit. I like doing it very much. I love the preparation, the rehearsing and the convivial company of likeminded people. I love to sing or play a character. I love everything about it… except waiting to go on stage.

Waiting starts long before the performance begins. It starts to build in the days leading up. There is an uncomfortable something in my mind and body that I cannot quite put my finger on. In the early days I didn’t know what it was but now after many years I recognise it creeping up on me. This slowly growing sense of foreboding. Then there are the dreams. As the performance draws closer there are dreams of being on stage with no idea why I am there. I know I am there to perform but have no idea what or how and I wake in a blind panic. I have become accustomed to these dreams. I expect them now and I know it’s just part of the waiting.

The day of the performance is the longest wait. The sense of dread builds over the course of the day. The normal tasks of the day provide a helpful distraction but I cannot really concentrate and eating is out of the question. In the evening I go to the venue. I like to get there early. The greetings of colleagues and the preparations; warm up, costume, make up, provide another useful distraction as the waiting continues.

Eventually it’s time to make my way side stage and prepare to go on. Every performer has their own way of waiting. Some bring their script or piece of music and study it intently. Others like to chat and laugh to ease the tension. Some can be seen making the sign of the cross and saying a quiet prayer. I like to wait alone, quietly avoiding other people as the terror builds. I have this habit of sort of dancing from one foot to the other and walking in small circles. The movement helps to control the trembling that fills my whole body. Standing in the wings waiting for my cue to walk on stage is the most terrifying place I have been. It is dark back there and as I wait alone in the dark looking out at the brightly lit stage those last few minutes feel like an eternity.

It is akin, I imagine, to a parachute jump, waiting to jump from the plane. Once you step out there is no going back. Once you step forward you are committed, you are vulnerable, you are free falling. Even though you are told the parachute will open, there is that raw fear that it just might not.

Once you do walk onto the stage and begin to perform, the terror begins to dissipate a little and you become busy with the task in hand.

It’s the waiting, the interminable, stomach churning waiting that I dread. I never feel lonelier, more vulnerable than when I’m waiting to go on. Each and every time I curse my stupidity for putting myself into this hell. I don’t have to do this. I don’t make my living from performing. I do it for fun but what kind of fun is this? What kind of hubris made me think that I have the ability to do this? What kind of arrogance made me believe that I have the talent to entertain an audience. They will hate me. I will be humiliated. I will be mocked for my hubris and arrogance and absence of any kind of talent. I have absolutely no business being here.

I can’t and won’t step forward. There must be a way out. I imagine a multitude of escape routes. I am ill and can’t go on. The power goes down. The fire alarm goes off… or I could just turn on my heel and run away.

How easy that would be… but I stay. Every time I stay. And I wait and I wait… 

And I step forward… 

And I go on…

                *                        *                        *                            *

Ronan Egan is a good friend and a wonderful singer and performer. He was kind enough to let me post this new piece of writing  which he shared with me recently. 

Thanks Ronan. Please keep 'Going On'.

Here, Not Here

It’s Christmas but it’s not Christmas. Christmas is still nearly a month away. Yet it’s here, it’s everywhere. On the telly. In the shops. Over there in the neighbour’s front window.

It’s in my head, as I figure out what I need to buy and do. It’s also in my heart, as I think about how I want it to be. It’s all a bit tiring, mostly because, hello, it isn’t here yet. And if you find yourself berating yourself 'cos you don’t feel Christmassy yet, that might just be because, hello, it isn’t Christmas yet.

Or is it?

I wonder what Christmas will be like in a hundred years’ time. I have a funny feeling that this extended commercial and emotional preamble will actually become Christmas itself. By the time the day itself arrives, we will be so exhausted by ordering and planning and anticipating everything that there will be nothing left to do but crash out on the couch with a sherry. We seem to be 50% there. 

Who am I kidding? We’re there already.

I love Christmas. Mostly I love how I stop work in or around the 22nd December and don’t go back until 2nd January. For many years, it’s been the only annual break I take that lasts for more than a day or two. The Yule time, for me, is generally a time of being closeted-up and insulated from the rest of the world. A time for family. A time to find a boxset to binge on or a miserable, unseasonal book to get buried deep into. This year is most definitely not going to be any different. This year, though, there will also be lost days of visiting and meeting with extended family and I will miss those days greatly. But we’ll be okay, locked up here together. It won’t be all that different from the norm.

It’s around now that I generally get ‘present anxiety’. No, that’s not me being anxious about the present situation, it’s me worrying about what stuff I need to get for people. Four weeks out starts to feel desperately late and the over-riding sentiment is that something really must be done. Except it won’t be. Not for another week or two. Still, the mind will get working on the problem and that’s the main thing.

I do realise how lucky I am. As a little family, we will get to be together for Christmas (touch wood and God willing and anything else that might keep things all right). I know this will not be the case for so many families, this year, and my heart goes out to those who really need to be a particular someplace, with a particular someone, and yet cannot be.

If it’s any consolation, when we lived in London, we used to come home every Christmas and used to look forward to it so much and, in truth, I used to need it a bit. But, one Christmas, for ‘reasons’, we stayed in London and didn’t come home. Truth to tell, it was one of the best Christmases ever and I will never forget it. So if you can’t make the home thing happen this year, know that next year will be even better for missing out and try to make the best you can out of where you need to be. I think you might surprise yourself at how nice it could all turn out. I hope so anyway, I really do.

You’ll have guessed by now that this is one of those weeks where I don’t have a lot of tangible stuff to write about. I generally try to scribble something on something that has exercised my brain in the week-gone-by and I guess I’m pretty-much doing that. Christmas is in my head now and it’s creeping into my heart. The break, the insulation, the joy of everything normal and everyday stopping for a while. ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ on the telly at eight in the morning. A bumper Radio Times. A muddy woodland walk. Chocolate. A good movie. I look forward to these things and the other things of the season too.

There’s always a price to pay for Christmas. January is often dark and a little bleak. This year has all the portents of being even more dull than usual. But we’ll weather it. By then, Spring won’t be far behind and, with it, we can cheerfully expect a brighter dawn. We can fix our eyes on it, even if we have to squint a bit to see it.

I won't wish you a happy Christmas yet because, hello, Christmas isn’t here yet. But that doesn’t mean you can’t wish yourself one. I’m definitely wishing one for me.

And I’ll definitely wish you one... when the time is right.

Ruthie Nails It

In our house, ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ is on the telly most of these evenings. I watch it quite a bit, but I do get up and leave the room quite a bit too. I kind of resent how the programme invites itself in practically every evening of its three-week run and leaves little opportunity to see anything else.

Patricia and I both quite enjoy watching Ant and Dec. They are so darned smooth at what they do. Their besuited, carefully rehearsed, interactions hark partially back to days of Morecambe and Wise. Plus, they love a little mishap or slip-up along the way because they are fearless in adapting themselves to the unexpected and always seems to capitalize on those moments. It’s also interesting to have a glimpse behind the façade of even minor celebrity and confirm that, yes, they all have pretty much the same basic concerns and needs that we do.

This year’s show went up a notch for me, though, when two additional celebrities arrived in the middle of this week. That’s because one of them just happens to be Ruthie Henshall. You see, Ruthie holds a tiny corner of my heart and has done for some time now.

Don’t get me wrong, I don't know hardly anything about her. I’ve hardly ever seen her perform or sing. I didn’t even know she had a connection to Prince Edward until she started talking about it on the show the other night. I am not any kind of super-fan, I’m afraid, though she does seem very nice.

But, still, as I just said, Ruthie has this tiny corner of my heart booked and probably always will.

Let me tell you why and maybe show you too. If you’d like that?

Would you like that?

(Too creepy… sorry)

I’ve grown to like musicals. Not all of them, God help us, but enough. I’ve always had a soft spot for a good show tune and my regular date with Aedín Gormley on Lyric FM on Saturdays has deepened my knowledge a little. I like all kinds of music, I really do, but musical theatre has a small corner of my heart. And it’s in a small corner of that small corner where Ruthie lives.

My favourite musical is Cabaret. I’m sure I’ve written about it here previously. Late one night, years ago, on ITV, I happened upon a video recording of the Donmar Warehouse revival production from circa 1993. I loved it. Alan Cumming was such a persuasive (and pervasive) MC and he also brought such pathos to the role. Then there was the brilliant Jane Horrocks, almost bursting blood vessels in her vein-popping rendition of the title song. The programme was on so late at night and then vanished so thoroughly that I almost thought I had dreamed seeing it but then I managed to get a cast CD off eBay and played it ‘til it cracked so it was real all right.

(We’re boiling this down to where we need to be. Nearly there. Bear with me)

My favourite song in Cabaret is ‘Maybe This Time’. In the Donmar show, the late Natasha Richardson brought a new measure of vulnerability and pain to the song, she did a great job.

And now we are down to Ruthie and her place in my heart. She sang ‘Maybe This Time’ and, for me, it is ‘the’ version. The definitive’. I’m going to try to stick the YouTube video in at the bottom of the post. Let’s see how that works out. You may be underwhelmed, you may not. I don’t mind. For me, it is a marvelous rendition. Not flashy or ostentatious, never veering over the top. Just delivered. Bang. Perfect.

For me, there’s also something of a subversive element to her performance. Look at the video. This is obviously lifted from one of those bog-standard Saturday night ITV fill-in-the-gap variety shows of the nineties. Jesus, it’s even got a ‘singalong’ red button link in the top corner. The arrangement of the song is also pretty bog standard. It’s got an eighties sitcom feel to it… or something like that… I don’t know, I’m making this shit up as I go along. It is all just set up to be slightly tacky and completely forgettable. Something to watch while you’re having your dinner and then move on from.

But nobody told Ruthie that or, as I prefer to believe, she didn’t hear them. Whoever she is, and I obviously don’t really know who she is, she is obviously a proud denizen of the higher echelons of musical theatre and she did not turn up to this forgettable TV show to turn in a throw-away performance. She arrives at the mic, sings, and simple nails the song. Simply. Nails. It.

There. I’ve sold it pretty hard and I’m going to try to embed the YouTube video now. Have a look, see what you think. I would ask that you stay to the end to get the overall effect. It’s not about any one moment in the song, it’s not about the big finish. It’s just the overall subtle honesty of how she does it.

I hope you like it as I do.

And welcome to the jungle, Ruthie, even if it is only a tatty old castle in Wales.

I hope it works out good for you.

     *                *                *                *

Footnote – I’ve just been reading back on this, prior to posting, and I think sound like someone. “You sound like someone here,” I said to myself. Then I figured out who it is.

Have you ever read the book American Psycho?

I sound like Patrick Bateman.

Have a nice day.

Running the Roadblocks

Here in lovely Ireland, with its saints and its scholars and its forty shades of green, we’ve been in Level 5 Lockdown, our highest level, for three weeks or so now. The first incarnation of our highest-level lockdown lasted for nine weeks and this second one still has another three weeks left to run.

It’s a slightly funny one. It was announced widely as the highest lockdown option but, succinctly, lots of things have kept going. Don’t get me wrong, lots of things have been locked up tight too, and people are hurting, but things are still moving a lot more in this second lockdown than they were in the first.

And that’s a good thing. At least I think it’s a good thing. The numbers are coming down steadily, having been worrying there for quite a while. Things are getting better. And, in getting here, we have kept the kids in school and the necessary services ticking away. It’s not been easy and it’s going to take a hell of a lot of getting over but, as balanced responses go, it could have been far worse.

My own experience of the first lockdown was one of being… well… locked down. Everything but the absolutely necessary was closed up and there was no movement beyond 5km from home. I did nine weeks of that, as did most everybody else, and I have my own reservations about how well I did it, but I think that probably goes for most of us too.

Lockdown Two has been different for me though. Quite different.

You see, they didn’t shut down Construction and Development this time. These were deemed essential works and so they have continued. Of course, it still applies that we should work from home unless we absolutely cannot and many of us do that as much as we can. But it’s hard to work in Construction and Development and stay at home all the time. The two are not always mutually inclusive.

So, this lockdown, just now and again, and by necessity, I’ve been on the road.

If I must go somewhere for work, I just go and do what I must do and then I come back again. In doing this, I have driven past the doors of two close family members in other towns. Family who I haven’t seen since February. But I don’t stop and call in. The rules don’t allow it and it’s only all of us following the rules that keeps us halfway right. So, I do what I can. Even though, when others are ensconced within their 5km bubbles, I am bailing up the empty motorway.

It feels funny.

I know I have to do it because it’s my job and the government have deemed that my work should continue… but it still feels funny. Sometimes I feel like a fugitive in an early Spielberg movie. As if, at any moment, a posse of slightly speeded-up cop cars will emerge in my rear view mirror, out of the horizon haze, and come to retrieve me, hauling my ass back to my 5k Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Silly, I know, but the effect is only heightened by the proliferation of police checkpoints out on the highways of the country. Often located on county boundaries, the blue lights and ever decreasing bollards draw you in and stop you. And then you have to explain yourself. Who are you? Where are you going? Why?

It’s never a problem. As I said, construction and Development continues, even in this ultimate Level 5 lockdown of ours. The exchanges with the cold and wet police people at the roadblocks are invariably courteous and friendly and even, dare I say, a little kind. We are, after all, in this thing together and, if I had my dibs, I would certainly be at home.

Coming out of Dublin the other evening, there was a huge slow tailback which culminated in a virtual city of a police checkpoint area. Vast blue flashing signs, teeming rain, and slow, slow progress gave the whole thing a sort of a ‘Blade Runner’ vibe. Again, the passing through was easy and fine. It’s the tension of waiting and approaching and creeping forward than heightens the dystopian feel of it all.

But this is 2020. Pandemic time. Even without knowing it, we are learning to adapt to our new truths. We are evolving into a populace who duck around each other smilingly and who have toughened leathery hands that can take multiple scrubs and alcohol wipes every day.

As I walked through the quiet town early the other morning, I tried to take it all in. The streets washed clean from the overnight rain. The clusters of leaves on the grass, the last few clinging obstinately to the trees. The church bell ringing the quarter hour. The sweetness and coolness of the air.

I wondered if things went wrong for me, as they have for others, and I ended up on a bed hooked up to a machine, could I retain this town centre early morning moment as a place to flit away to in my mind when it all got too much. I found I was actively trying to do it. To file this thing away for possible future reuse.

Would it work? Would my stored impressions of that moment be a respite for me? I hope I don’t have to find out. I hope you don’t too. That’s why I’ll keep doing the best I can with all this stuff. I’ll keep running the roadblocks with my mask and my smile. Trying to do the best I can.

Perhaps writing it down, as I’m doing now, might help solidify the imagery of my early morning town in my head.

Just in case I need it.

We’ll see.



On Learning of the Death of Sean Connery

Saturday 31st October.

Twitter tells me.

I am sitting here typing when Social Media starts to cough and splutter its news and its reactions to that news. People instantly start to over-react and under-react in roughly equal measure. Jokesters quickly post their gags before everyone else can think of them too.

I go into the living room, where Patricia and John are chatting.

“A famous person has died,” I say.

I don’t expect them to start to guess who it is. I am just trying to break the news gently. A list of famous people is reeled off. All the people on that list are all still around, as far as I know.

I tell them. They are appropriately impressed and reflective at the news.

I come back here to my desk, glance once more at the Twitter stream-of-consciousness at the news, then start typing…

Sean Connery is dead.

He was not someone I knew personally. He was not someone who I thought about every day. He was not_

But he was important to me all the same. We had history. Granted, it was that curious kind of ‘one-way history’ that we tend to have with famous people who don’t even know we exist. But, still, it was still some kind of a thing.

Sean Connery was in the first film I ever saw at the movies, though I didn’t know it then. The film was 'Darby O’Gill and the Little People' and it scared the shit out of me so badly that I’m still mildly traumatised by the thought of it to this very day.

Then came Bond. I was a Bond kid from an early age.‘I’m still not entirely sure how that happened. There certainly weren’t any of the films available on telly back then. I think it was because Mum and Dad were big movie fans, going every week. Perhaps their excitement at a new Bond rubbed off on me. I had toy Aston Martins and Walther PPKs. My first ‘conscious’ new Bond was ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ in 1970. I was seven, so I couldn’t go and see it, but I collected all the bubble gum cards and shared in the excitement of its arrival. After that came Diamonds Are Forever and I was allowed to see that one in the matinee with my friends. It all looked so gleaming and modern and, very oddly, it still kind of looks that way to me.

I think that moment kind of cemented me and Sean Connery. It represented a sort of release into the world for me. The moment when I was allowed go out and see a movie with my mates. Film have continued to be so important to me all my life. Perhaps that goes a little way toward explaining why I feel quite sad now, typing this, to know that Sean Connery is dead. Maybe I’m overthinking it. I don’t know.

I’m not sure we would have got on very well in person, Connery and me. I would imagine he would have had little time for someone like me and that, in return, he would have annoyed my hole on several different levels. Some of his stated opinions, particularly in regard to his attitudes towards women, are most definitely not shared by me. Accounts of filming would have him as an impatient, over-assertive and surly man. A man’s man from an era when that was not exclusively a good thing.

He was iconic though, wasn’t he? He was a presence, and he stayed that way all of his life.

Like granite.

The story of Sean Connery is written now. He seemed to realise early on that James Bond had handed him a licence to do things on his own terms, and that this was infinitely more valuable than any licence to kill.

Someone on Twitter wrote, “For me, it's not about who was the best James Bond. It's about who *was* James Bond. That was Connery.” I tend to agree with that. Well, I would, wouldn’t I? I wrote it.

Anyway, thank you, Sean. For what? I’m not entirely sure. For being an icon. For never really compromising, at least not in full view. For being someone to look up to, if only when you were up there on the big screen.

Rest in peace. 

I bet you will.

Two Lessons in Perspective at Castlebar Station

Whenever I have to meet someone off the train - and it’s usually one or the other of my sons - I always try to get to the station quite early so I can walk up and down the platform and generally take the place in.

I’m just back from there now. The train was about 30 minutes late. No hardship. Some time to breathe.

I love our train station here in Castlebar. It’s got a kind of ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ feel about it. There’s only one platform and one track. There’s a little waiting room and a luggage trolley dispenser that nobody ever uses. There’s a walled-off patch of Japanese Knotweed that we’re not supposed to touch, so we don’t.

One of the main things I like about Castlebar station is the perspective. I always seem to have been engaged with perspective. Even as a young kid, drawing young kid pictures, there would always be a road, leading to some distant mountains, and the road would stretch away towards those purple hills, gradually converging into a single line as it went.

In later school, doing technical drawing, I loved those perspective exercises we had to map out on our drawing boards with our T-squares and our lethal 2H pencils. A plan was drawn, a viewpoint established, a line of vision plotted, and two vanishing points laid out. If you set them poorly, the result would be a misshapen mass, spiky and unconvincing though geometrically correct. But when you got all those points and lines right, and you joined them all up correctly, the appearance of the shape within the defined area at the centre of the sheet was like some kind of manageable magic.

When I walk to the front end of Castlebar station, and as I look back down the track to where the train will come from, the perspective is perfect. Track and platform run off to the limits of my vision, turning a gentle curve to the left, down in the distance. The poles along the side get progressively smaller and smaller, even though they don't really. It is perfect perspective, just like I used to draw. It makes me feel all right. 

This is where the front of the train will stop when it finally arrives. The driver will sit right across from where I stand. And everything falls away from this point, from my point of view at least. This, of course, is the case for any point in the world at which I might care to stand but, here, at the front end of Castlebar station, it is more aptly demonstrated than anywhere else in my current world.

I think it makes me feel a little like I am centred in my place.

It makes me feel at home.

There’s usually time to walk all the way to the other end of the platform before the train arrives. It’s not all that far but it’s far enough. This end of the station is a different sort of a place. The perspective seems less marked when you get there and turn and look back. The turning in the track beyond the station happens sooner and thus impairs the effect. The feeling down there is one of being at an outlying place. A place where people don’t usually go. The platform tapers down to the tracks and a stern sign warns you to go no further. If you want to venture beyond this point, you had better be on a train, with your ticket gripped tightly in your little hand.

If the front end of the platform feels like a confirmation of home, this far end feels more like the Ends of the Earth. For me, it’s a sort of an edgy feeling. One step from where I should not go. My town behind me, an uncertain place ahead.

On a stone wall, just out beyond where I am not supposed to go, there is another sign. There is no companion sign at the other end of the station. The other end of the station is the safe place. But this is the ends of the earth.

The sign is one simple sentence, written small. It reads: ‘Talk to us if things are getting to you'. There is a telephone number at the end.

Back at the safe end of the station, the perspective is geometrically correct, reliable, and reassuring. Out here, nothing seems as safe or as clear cut. It is a place where the end of the platform might not always be far enough to go. A place from which it may prove hard to go back.

I think it can be okay to venture to the far side of the station now and again. To peer over and know the danger that lies there and the lines that can be thrown to help if ever they are needed.

But the front end of the station is the place to try to be. Not only to maintain a little perspective but also to know that the perspective is true.

The train is late but it’s coming now. I can hear the whistle when it’s still three minutes out. There’ll be a tired face off the train and a heavy bag to help with.

It will be time to go home.

Getting In – Short Film

As many of you will know by now (I’ve been bleating about it on Social Media for a while), I wrote a short film and the talented film maker Richard Keaney bravely took it on and made it. 

Thanks Richard!

This weekend has been the first opportunity for the film to be seen out in the wild. It’s an official selection for the Dublin International Short Film and Music Festival. 

Due to Covid matters, the festival, quite rightly, decided to do its business entirely online. There are ups and downs to this. 

One ‘up’ is that anyone who wants to can pay their one euro and see the short film in a suite of seven other short films, all of which are commendably good. 

One ‘down’ is that we don’t get that golden moment to sit in a crowded Dublin cinema and feel how an audience responds to the material. The social and interactive element of such a festival is much diluted in its online manifestation. Still, as the old song went, we’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here. And it’s a pretty darned good place to be. My thanks to DISFMF for allowing us to join in. It’s been great.

Oh, I should do a link, shouldn’t I? Thank you to those of you who watched the film over the weekend and gave such kind and positive feedback. It means a lot. If you’d like to see it in this festival, it’s around until midnight tonight, Sunday. Here’s a link to it:

(EDIT - The Festival is over now.)

I won’t go into much detail about the story here today. Those of you who know it seem to remember it fondly and well. Those of you who don’t might have a nicer experience coming clean to it. So that’s enough about that.

There is one thing I would like to share, and it’s something I have had to learn for myself even though I’ve been told it over and over again throughout the years.

Here it is, in a slightly roundabout way, though you’ll get the gist of what I’m going to say from the next line.

I’ve known the director, Richard Keaney, for a long time now.

Will I embarrass him by saying a little about this? I hope not. My first full length play for teens was called ‘The Moon Cut Like a Sickle’. It was produced for the Linenhall Arts Centre stage in 2006 by DoYou Playhouse and, even if I say so myself, it was amazing. Richard was in the cast of that very first production. I would say his reading of Darko was the definitive one but that’s just pretentious on my part. (It’s a joke, don’t hit me). Richard was very good though. He went on to play a key role in the next play too. In ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’ he played Donnie, who I named so that Richard could have two consecutive characters who were named Donnie Darko.


Simple. Richard adored the movies. Even then, as a fairly young teen, his knowledge of cinema was bordering on encyclopedic and his enthusiasm for the form was boundless. In that second play, Richard’s character engaged in a ‘pop quiz’ on Bond baddies which was largely written as a riff on the kind of discussions that teen Richard would have gladly taken part in all day.

As an aside, it’s such a pleasure to see the casts of those early plays move on through university and life and do so well in their chosen fields. That must be how a teacher feels.

Anyway, Richard went to university to study film and to build on that early knowledge. Then he started making films and his films have done really well. He has a great cinematic eye and a real feel for human storytelling.

We’ve always been in touch, to some extent. That’s where social media really does do us a service. When the script for Getting In was finished, I didn’t quite know what to do with it. I’m actually not the world’s best at submitting things to people. I was better at it years ago but I now seem to be more interested in the writing of something than the ‘placing’ of something, if you know what I mean. It’s a rather odd thing.

‘Getting In’ came up in conversation and Richard read it and saw some merit in it. He took it and, together with the wonderful producer Sonya Deegan, they made it happen, they brought it all to life.

It’s quite a wonderful thing to have this happen. To have a blank page on a computer screen turn into a living piece of storytelling that somebody can sit and see and hopefully take something away from. I am endlessly grateful.

And, yes, you know the point of all this. When I was younger, I was going to be a bit of a world-beater. I was going to scribble something down and the world would beat a path to my door to get it. I know now I will never be that. But, still, I love to write, and I love to see my writing placed before people for their consumption even if, perversely, I don’t push too hard for that anymore.

And I was told it and told it, but I had to learn it: if you want to make art and tell stories with your writing then seek out the people in your community and in your wider circles. People who think and burn a little like you do. Just talk to them, show them your stuff, look at theirs. Find common ground on which to co-operate and grow something good. You can wait your whole life for some fairy-tale ending that will never come or you can go to work with what you have and make your own story.

It’s a hugely rewarding thing to dream and to conspire and to see a little something get done.

Just keep it in mind, eh?

Looking out the Window


This isn’t like me

I’ve just spent a good half hour worrying because I can’t settle on what to write about in the blog for this week. 

It’s not like I haven’t got anything. It’s just that the thing in the front of my mind is someone else’s story, really, and not for me to be telling. 

Still, it’s hard to move your mind from something when it settles there. Plus, I really want to get one written for this week. I’ve missed a few weeks in the last couple of months and I know that’s how the blog routine will eventually end. One week will become two, two will become a month… I’ll be like every other single blogger in the world – I will have stopped.

In search of an idea, I looked up some random writing prompts on Google. I don’t generally have any time for writing prompts but, in times when one has been foisted on me, I’ve generally done passably okay with it.  So, looking at writing prompts… No… No… Jesus, No… This isn’t working.

Wait, I know. I'll look up some children’s’ writing prompts. That’s more your shoe size, Ken.

On a page of children’s writing prompts, I quickly found the following:

Go look out a window for 30 seconds. Write about what you saw during those 30 seconds.


There are six panes in my window onto the front garden, here in the computer/study/video game/Taxi Driver poster room. Of these six, five are stained by condensation creeping in between the two panes of double glazing and leaving its indelible mark there. The varnish on the hardwood frame needs renewing and the little brass handle that opens the bigger central window is snapped off, making it difficult to operate.

Still, I can see out and I can get it open if I crave air or if an errant fly craves freedom.

Outside, it’s Saturday morning in the garden. The garden doesn’t care.

Next door, I can hear John trimming his lawn. Is it the last run for this year? Maybe not, the weather has been relatively clement. John is using his basic unadorned ‘push-it-yourself’ mower. He’s got an electric one but he likes the finish of the older one, plus it’s a bit of exercise for him. That’s a laugh, though. John, retired this while, has a life of exercise, golfing with his pals regularly, cycling up and down to the shops. It’s me who needs the mower.

There are weeds in the junction between the footpath and the road… but only outside my house. Everybody else seems to be more conscientious about attacking theirs with a spade and a plastic bag. I did my part a few months ago but the weeds just grew back. Go figure.

At the start of the pandemic, I trimmed all the bushes and hit all the weeds but the bushes are now back to where they were and the pile of cuttings that formed in my March/April attack is still down the back by the shed. So I guess I'm worse off than when I started.

I wonder why I am more useless than everybody else at keeping up with basic maintenance tasks… oh, yeah (types some more).

I wish I had a photograph of the tree in the front garden from when we moved in here twenty-three years ago. I bet it was a lot smaller then.

I’ve written about the cats before but, man, there are a lot of them. I think there’s a house up one end of the street that lets their moggies breed and breed and then there’s a house at the other end of the street that kindly leave food out for this mob. Maybe not, I don’t know. All I know is that there are a lot of cats. They prowl around and eye each other up and they stalk the birds in an unmotivated way and they hang around the warmth of the car. Sometimes one particularly adventurous one comes in the house for a look around. It was in our bedroom at about 3.30 am one night last week. A paper bag with a new pair of trousers in it started crinkling gently and I thought the mice were finally back. I like cats but I’m not so gone on an uninvited guest bedding down in my chinos in the dead of night. Still, it’s a minor cross to bear.

My front lawn is green. That’s about all I can say in its favour. To name its constituent parts as ‘grass’ would be something of an overstatement.

I like my street. It’s a residential cul-de-sac so most of the cars that go up and down are familiar to me. I am on nodding and smiling acquaintance with the bulk of my neighbours but I’m not much use with names. It’s a quiet, companionable street and I’m happy here.

Venturing back to my window to see what else I can tell you. Not all that much. It’s Sunday morning now, though it was Saturday at the start of this ramble. No, I haven’t been doing this all that time. But I haven’t been doing much gardening either. Maybe I’d better get my boots on and get that pavement verge scraped of weeds. But it’s early still and I don’t want to disturb anybody’s well-deserved Sunday lie-in.

Maybe I’ll leave it to later on. 

Maybe I’ll do it then.

Then again, maybe I won’t.


I had to dash to the post office on Friday afternoon to get a letter in the postbox. That was some old-fashioned stuff, right there.

I made it in plenty of time.

(Build the tension, Kenneth, you’ve got to build the tension)

On the walk back, it was 5.15 on Friday and that 'Friday Feeling' came over me. I was just about done for the week and Friday evening beckoned like a nice person beckoning.

(Better work on those similes too, Kenneth).

So, anyway, I was walking back through the car park and thinking about finishing up for the day. I would get some chicken fillets from Anthony the Butcher and some burger buns and lettuce and tomatoes and potatoes-for-wedges and some beers for my one-beer-of-the-week. Then I would go home and put some music on and make dinner while everybody else was out walking or doing whatever. Then, around seven thirty or so, we would sit and eat, constructing our own personalized chicken fillet burgers from the array of stuff on the table.

And, as I thought about this, as I looked forward very much to it, something unusual happened, right there in the car park.

I smiled.

Hang on. Don’t let me give you the impression that I never smile. I do. I reckon I smile quite a lot, but they are different kinds of smiles. You know what I mean. We smile in response to other smiles; we smile at something on telly or on our phone. We smile to deflect and encourage and to hide behind.

But this type of smile was rare. A spontaneous, uncalled-for smile from nowhere. It surprised me; I don’t mind telling you.

And that smile got me thinking.

What a strange beast I am, that I can smile broadly in the middle of the car park while all of the shit in the world continues, just like it always does. What right is there for me to be smiling while such god-awful things are happening all over the place and right here on the home front too.

I got to wondering: how do we manage it? This smiling thing. Is it resilience? Are we so weathered and tough that literally nothing can keep us down forever? Or is it that we are so inherently selfish and uncaring that, no matter what is happening around us, something good in our own little world will always make us happy?

And there has been so much trouble and quite a bit of pain. I don’t need to run through the worldwide stuff with you, you all know that well enough yourselves. And the more private stuff, well, it’s not for blogs is it? Not this morning, at least.

So why smile?

I thought about it and I didn’t come to the conclusion that it is a negative thing, this penchant for a smile. I actually think it’s pretty good.

I don’t think it’s because we’re overly selfish or impervious or uncaring, though we all have a measure of those things in us. I think it’s more that we all subconsciously know that we are all in this together and that pain and sorry and anxiety and… just… trouble is all around the corner for all of us. We may not be in trouble today but we will be one day, as sure as eggs is eggs. 

That guy in Gladiator kind of put his finger on it when he spoke to his deceased friend, “I will see you again but not yet. Not yet.” As adults we mourn the loss of those who have died. And if that was a fate solely for them then it might be even harder to bear. But it isn’t. As adults, we know that we are all going to go the same way, we are all bound to die. In the same way as we know that whatever level of trouble and pain someone is having, we all know we will have our own share of that cake on some future day.

So we smile. Not because we do not care but because we do.

We’re most likely only here once and we’re most likely not going anywhere much after we’re here. So we should just embrace the good moments when we get them, any time that we are able. There are hurdles and ditches aplenty ahead. Some we’ll get over; some we’ll crawl through somehow but some we will not.

But for now, it’s Friday afternoon. That letter is safe in the postbox and the prospect of a homemade chicken fillet burger and my one beer of the week beckons warmly.

“Not yet. Not yet.”

Just once, a long time ago, I asked my Twitter people what I should write about here because I didn’t have any ready ideas for that week. I got only one reply, from my good friend John, who said that I should write about the importance of a smile. In that particular week, I couldn’t think of anything to say on that subject so I wrote something else, God knows what.

So maybe this one’s for you, John - and, of course, for anyone else who wants it.

The world may be in a state of chassis, as the man said, but we can still allow ourselves our little smiles whenever they come to us unbidden.

We deserve them.

Some Thoughts After Rereading The Shining

I just finished a little reread of Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’ and I wasn’t going to write about it here, but two things changed my mind. Firstly, I like to write about something I’ve been thinking about during the week and this qualified. Secondly, Aaron Cahill, a lovely guy and a constant supporter of my ‘long-past-their-sell-by-date’ blog endeavours, also announced that he was rereading it. 

So that was like Karma or something.

So, yeah, this post will be mostly about The Shining so it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I get that. But maybe come back next week, if this one is not for you. I’ll be on some other tack. Though God only knows what that will be. 

Whatever occurs at the time, as per usual.

Some history first. My best guess is that I bought the novel ‘The Shining’ in or around 1978, when I was fifteen. I had been casting around for some reading that engaged me a bit more and, without really knowing anything about King, I picked up two of his novels in Broderick’s bookshop at the bottom of O’Connell St. in Sligo. The other one was Salem’s Lot. I have a strong physical memory of these books because they were both really poorly bound and they both fell apart in my hands while I was reading them.

I found both books to be unputdownable. I was fascinated by the way dialogue and paragraph and narrative could be randomly and savagely interrupted by some other thought, like a TV channel being changed without warning. My breathless reading of The Shining started a life-long affair with Stephen King’s writing.

Then came the movie.

I saw the movie with Brian McGill in The Savoy in Sligo on the Saturday night it came out. I was due to catch the train to Dublin first thing the next morning to start college. My first time ever to be away from home. So, it was an odd evening. The film didn’t go down too well. I really like it now but, back then, it seemed slow and uneven and weirdly uneventful (which it certainly is not).

Now we’re up to date. 2020. I’ve seen the movie a gazillion times and even had coffee in the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, where King had some formative inspiration for the novel, but I had not revisited the book since I was a callow youth. On the prowl for something to read, earlier this week, I found a more modern copy on John’s bookshelf and had a peek inside. That was it. I was off once more to The Overlook Hotel, high above fictional Sidewinder in the not fictional Rockies.

So… how was it Ken?

Interesting. It was interesting.

The first thing to say is that King’s style and power was still evolving and growing and although the concept was world-beating, the writing is occasionally a little – dare I say – clunky. Younger Stephen seems to have had some kind of minor fixation with breasts because they get an impressible amount of shout outs throughout the text. 

Some of the scary imagery just doesn’t work for me. Most notably the topiary animals who periodically and literally spring to life. For me, that was too absurd to be chilling. Similarly, the boiler in the basement seemed strained, with no pun intended.

As somebody who has tried a bit of writing since I first read this book, I can now entertain myself by imagining the thought process that started King on this road. You take Shirley Jackson’s ‘Haunting of Hill House’, with its malevolent structure and its psychic visitors, and you massively up the ante. The house becomes a vast hotel. The psychic presence a little boy. It’s a genius conceit.

But here’s what I really want to try to say.

After this second reading, I would say that The Shining is, for me at least, one of Stephen King’s most important books. People who know me through writing will know that I am always banging on about the ‘little drop of blood’ that needs to go into one’s writing to give it intrinsic value. There must be something of the writer’s soul buried in the work for it to reach us. Pure cold story will not do. And, for me, on this second reading, Stephen King has opened a vein and bled into this book.

It is, through and through, a story of alcoholism and fear.

When I am writing, in my own low-wattage way, I don’t usually know the actual point of what I’m doing until I get to the end. Then I go back and rewrite it, informed as I now am but what I am doing. To my mind, King could have written this book as a supernatural horror story and not known until late-on that he was pouring all his own fears and insecurities in there as fodder for the story machine. I don’t know, I’m only speculating. But the overriding impression for me now is that the writer is a man who has known alcoholism (he makes no secret of it) and who has probably feared where that might take him. This fear drips off the pages in this book.

I’m lucky in that alcohol has not played a starring role in my family history. I thank heavens for that. But anyone who has lived in a small town will know the sight of the main breadwinner of a household stumbling home from the hostelry, singly focused on getting in the door. Anyone from a small town will know that thought that goes something like, “I hope he falls asleep quickly.”

Stephen King famously has little regard for Kubrick’s film adaptation of the book. This surprised me initially because so many King adaptations are well below-par and, love it or hate it, Kubrick’s endeavour is striking and innovative and pretty damn wild.

But I think I can understand a little better now why King might not have much time for that movie. As much as the book is ultimately a thinly veiled metaphor for the horrors that alcoholism can wreak on a family, so equally the movie is not. Oh, there is booze there and it plays its part, but it is not the root of everything, it is not the point. And Jack Nicholson’s Torrance becomes ever more elevated and dominant as his possession advances while the Torrance of the book becomes a shambling incoherent mess of a thing, a drunk through and through.

I greatly enjoyed my rereading of The Shining. It’s not perfect but nothing ever is and the imagery from the film rather pervades the book, such that’s it’s hard not to see Nicholson when it’s Torrance standing there.

Not everyone's cup of tea, this, but still a very good read. There is more going on than meets the eye and that's always a good start for a good book. 

Walking the Second Beach

Took Friday afternoon off I did, in true Yoda fashion, and hopped in the car and headed for Sligo to meet my old pal and to have a walk with him on the Second Beach at Rosses Point.

We were lucky with the weather. The sun shone us out and back and it was only on the final part of the return march that the wind fired in a squall from across the bay and the rain came on in drenching waves. 

We sheltered at the side of a car which was fortuitously parked at a good angle on the side of the road. It shielded our lower halves from the driven rain and our jackets looked after the top halves. There was a middle-aged couple in the car having sandwiches and a flask of tea and they were happy to loan us the side of their car in this way for five minutes, even going so far as to ask us if we wanted to climb in, though we knew they didn’t mean it really.

Social Distancing was easy; the nearest people were mere dots on the horizon for most of the time. You can tell the knowledgeable walkers on the Second Beach because they veer sharply to the right and away from the oceanside when they draw near to the cliffs at the end. They know what the novice visitor does not – that there is a busy stream than flows constantly through the golf course, down across the beach and into the tide. There is an easy crossing up close to the dunes. Nothing fancy, some rocks and a plank of wood, but if you try and cross it further down it’s deceptively deep and fast-running and you will get your socks wet. Follow the locals, veer to the right. You won’t go far wrong.

The second beach ends at the base of a small cliff and a rocky outcrop down to the shoreline. You can walk further but we didn’t. It gets a bit slippery over beyond. We’d come far enough.

We had so much catching up to do that the beach nearly passed me by. I got so engrossed in the conversation that I almost forgot to take it all in. The wild windswept blue sea, the sky, the lands across the bay. I only noticed the extreme erosion on the way back and, as I sit here and think about it, I can’t even be sure that the always-constant metal buoy was still there embedded in the sand as it always has been. It must have been, right? I’m mean it’s never not been there, for as long as I can remember. I guess the chat was so involving that I walked right past it. I guess that was it. I hope it’s still there, I used to like trying to climb up it when I was little and succeeding when I was bigger. At the end of the beach part of the walk, I had to stop and look around for a moment. Just to imprint it a little harder on the retina.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this post isn’t actually about much. There won’t be much detail, narrative, sense, or insight into anything useful. I drove to the beach in my old hometown, had a nice walk and a great chat and came home again. It did me a power of good but to try to explain why would be boring and a bit pointless. Anyway, you know why. It was the beach. It was a friend. It was a walk. You have all the tools to figure it out.

Rosses Point has always seemed a tiny bit ‘other-worldly’ to me. I think it’s because there’s so little down at the beaches to define it as particularly Irish. There’s no shops or administration buildings or anything like that. Just an abandoned beach store, long disused, and a hut for the lifeguards. Apart from that, you could perhaps be anywhere. It’s kind of a blank palatte of sea and sky on which you walk and dream a bit if you like.

A beach walk is a good thing. There’s the theme of this post. I knew it would show itself eventually.

And the Second Beach in Rosses Point has always been a part of my life, back from when I was very little. It is a wonderful place, expansive and bright. If you’re round that way, go and take a walk up and down it. 

Or any beach, for that matter. You’ll see what I mean.