Home Entertainment

It is important to remain entertained when one stays at home.

There are four of us in this house and there are things we all come together to watch on the telly. By necessity, those things have a ‘common denominator’ quality to them. That doesn’t mean they are bad though.

One surprising life-saver has been Jeopardy on Netflix. I watched one once, when it first appeared there, just out of curiosity, and quickly decided it wasn’t for me. Then I watched another with my elder son, John, and he seemed to like it. So, we tentatively brought the whole family unit in for a viewing of the third episode and that was it, we were hooked. 

There are some downsides. Sometimes a category of questions is very USA-centric, and we have no chance of engaging with them. But this is surprisingly rare. Generally, it is a gentle entertaining watch, with the late Alex Trebek an eternally genial host and quizmaster. Because the winning player returns, it is easy to build up a relationship with a repeat winner and feel under threat whenever they are under threat and cheers their successes. Sometime a player is just too loud, and we enjoy making fun of that. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is. It’s something to enjoy and that’s invaluable. 

There is also the knowledge that Alex Trebek passed away recently and that he knew something of his fate as he recorded the episodes we currently watch. On one college episode he announced that he had ' a tear in his eye' the day before when the contestants had all done really well. You don't fake that. 

We like Gogglebox too and we’re glad it came back on Friday, though we haven’t sat down with the newest one at time of writing. We’re all adults now, the youngest being twenty, but we still fast forward through the naughtier bits. Life’s too short.

Monday night is Quiz Night, with Only Connect and University Challenge both getting a watch. Gosh, this sounds very highbrow, but it isn’t really. We don’t have a high hit-rate on the questions, and they are getting harder and harder these days as the end of both series approaches and the semi-finals and finals kick in. But, again, you get to know the returning teams a little and Jeremy is nicely unpredictable. We watched one from ten years ago on YouTube one evening and it’s amazing how Jeremy’s pace of questioning has slowed over the years. None of us are getting any younger, I guess.

My own personal treat is to watch a film. Late at night, when everyone else has gone to bed or at least to some other room, I’ll see what I can dig up on Netflix or Prime or recorded off the telly. I usually can’t manage the whole film in one sitting ‘cos I’d never get up in the morning and I’d just fall asleep anyway, but I can usually get a flick in over three sessions and that’s not too bad. Most recently, I watched ‘The Trial of the Chicago Seven’ and found it to be very entertaining. Before that, it was ‘The Rental’, which was okay and ‘Sputnik’, which I also enjoyed. Next up might be ‘The Dig’. I’d like to see the original version of ‘Rams’ so I’ve booked that in too.

I read too. Mostly at night but I’ve rediscovered the joy of sitting on the couch and getting some pages in. Recently, I became quite immersed in ‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel. I surprised myself by how involved I got into it all. Lockdown, I guess. I also enjoyed ‘The Mercies’, though I’ve been advised that enjoyed is not the word to use. ‘Shadowplay’ was also very involving. At the moment, I’m reading some George Moore for Castlebar Library Book Club and learning some stuff as I go.

I got a nice pair of Bluetooth headphones for Christmas, so I use those for music and a podcast or two while I’m cooking. I’m a long-time listener of Kermode and Mayo and they are like old pals who help to see me through.

I had pretty much given up on going to the Cinema before the current trouble arrived. I wonder, will I go back a little more afterward? I don’t feel a particular drive to do so but there is a feeling that one should celebrate our eventual emergence from this cloud by seeking out groups of people and places where we will once again be able to congregate. I’ll wing it, I think.

As with everything else this year, I do these things, but I feel I should be doing more. I read but should be reading more. I walk but should be walking more. I garden… no, wait, I don’t garden but definitely should be gardening more.

How much of an effect has the last year had on me? It’s hard to know. Not much, perhaps, but really quite a lot. I feel older than the year that has passed. I’m like a stone, on the ground, and the pandemic is like a constant drop of water, drip drip dripping down onto me. Any effect is hardly perceptible but, over time, there will be some kind of a dent in me. A hollow. It will hold water when it rains. Maybe small birds will come and drink there, maybe an insect will drown…

Ack. Don't think too much. Entertain yourself. Here’s to home entertainment and minding ourselves and taking care of each other.

Oh, I write a blog too. I nearly forgot about that. Thinking about it and doing it and sharing it has been an important part of my home entertainment programme.

Thank you for dropping by.

You Dredge One Up and Another One Comes with It

This just might be moderately strange, so buckle in.

In my memory, I was my Granny’s favourite grandchild. We went to the movies together on Saturdays, she bought me stuff on excursions. Her and me, all by ourselves, we were a team. But the oddity of memory is mostly what this post will be about. 

Yes, memory, that will be the thing.

Although, in my memory, I was my Granny’s favourite, that’s probably not the entire truth of it. Sure, she loved me and sure we got on but, putting a little cool logic on it, her Saturday excursions with me were probably derived more a matter of practicality than from any particular need she had to be in my company on the weekend. Let’s do some sums. 'Butch and Sundance' came out in 1969 and Granny and me went to see it in the movies. I was six years old, maybe seven, so my younger sister was one maybe two. It’s obvious, isn’t it? Mum just needed a break from me. Can somebody get this unruly kid out of my hair for a couple of hours? Please? Thank you very much. So Granny and I went to the flicks quite a bit, we went to the shops.

On one such excursion, we went to the newsagent and Granny said I could have a comic to read. Cool. I picked one out. Granny looked at it. “Are you sure you want this one?” she asked. I nodded vehemently. It was a comic full of single pane cartoons. A simple drawing, a single punchline beneath. Many of the cartoons were set in offices, or hotel rooms, or tiny desert islands with only one coconut tree in the middle. I wanted it. Granny bought it.

Back at home, I stretched out on the living room floor and read my comic. Remember I was six, maybe seven. I didn’t get too many of the jokes. I remember the jokes came in collections, each of which had its own title. One of the titles was ‘Motel No Tell’. It’s funny the things you can remember when you try.

I was vaguely aware of a conversation that was going on out in the kitchen.

“What did you get him that for?”

“He said he wanted it.”

“We’ll take it of him later. He’ll forget about it. Jesus.”

You’ve guessed it, right? This comic book that I wanted, and got, was filled with cartoons of naked people. Naked people in offices, naked people in motels, lots of naked people in tiny desert islands. I’ve done some Googling to try and find an example of this sort of comic book, where all the people were naked, but I couldn’t find the exact one. I think the one in that image up top is quite close but not quite right. In truth, I had to stop looking because that kind of Internet search is the kind of minefield that can take an unsuspecting researcher into some downright strange places. I don’t recommend you try it. The comic, as I recall, had a sort of innocence about it, a bit like those seaside postcards you used to see. It seemed old-fashioned even then. Oh, and I remember that the men all had saggy bottoms for some reason. I think all the cartoons might have been drawn by the same person and perhaps that was their sort of trademark.

What happened with me and my nudey book? I can’t honestly say. It was, after all, over fifty years ago. I imagine the book was quietly removed when I was sleeping, and I never thought about it again…

Until two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago, I wanted to post something about my Mum so I went dredging around in my memory for something I could write about. The thing that I came up with is there, two posts back. It’s about Mum giving the man next door his dinner every day. It’s fine, I’m glad I found it in my head.

But going dredging in your memories is a funny old business. It’s a bit like being in a fishing boat, with a fishing net, and you throw it out the back of the boat and you let it scrape along the bottom as you row along. When you pull the net back in, you may have the gleaming little fish you were hoping for but you’ll sure as hell have some other stuff too. Muddy stuff. Stuff perhaps left sunken and lost.

This nudey book story is true. I know that. The two details that make it true, for me, are the title ‘Motel No Tell’ and the cartoon men’s saggy bottoms. This thing happened for sure.

But memory is strange.

How much of this can I actually remember and how much of the narrative am I simply filling in, using my knowledge as an adult and my hindsight and, let’s face it, my ability to create false memory?

I think dreams and memories are closely related. You hear people recounting their dreams. They did this and then they did that, then they went there and this happened and this and this and then they woke up. But, really, wasn’t it possibly a lot more abstract that that? A burst of images, an emotion. In the moment when we wake up, in the space before we remember a dream and we impose a narrative on it, don’t we know that the narrative wasn’t really in the dream at all? We naturally and adeptly applied it afterward.

Isn’t it that way with our memories?

Dissect the memory I just told you. If, as I believe, I wanted the comic book in a way that was completely innocent of the nudity being a thing, then Mum and Granny’s consternation is not something I could have expected to have known. I’ve probably put that on afterward, to make a narrative out of the few things I recall. Similarly, with my feeling that the cartoons were largely innocent. This is not something the six-year-old me would be likely to consider. I have again editorialised the memory, to make it more complete.

What’s the point of this? I’m really not sure. Perhaps we should tread a little carefully with our memories. We tend to tidy them up or mess then up to suit the way we retell them to ourselves. We can’t help but embellish and edit and change them a little as we go.

Perhaps that’s why the future may be that much more important than the past.

Because we can’t rewrite it.

The Thirteenth Going on the Fourteenth

In 1981, the Thirteenth of February fell on a Friday. It’s a day I don't forget. I was seventeen and in the middle of my first year in Third Level Education in Dublin. I was enjoying the course and all my new friends, and I was a little bit lost in practically every other respect.

Every Friday since September, I had scurried home to Sligo on the bus and rolled back again on Sunday evening. Although I was getting-by okay, I felt that five days was as much as I wanted to do. This Friday the Thirteenth, this fateful day, was to be the start of the first weekend I hadn’t ever come home.

There was to be a party, a Valentines Party, in our college. I was going. Although my college was Bolton Street, we had our own little annex on the other side of the city, just off South Great Georges Street. Longford House was a three storey ex-knicker factory and we loved it there. We had our own dedicated studios, one for each year, and our own little canteen in the basement. It was becoming a home-away-from-home. It was time to try a weekend there.

The afternoon of Friday the Thirteenth was not auspicious. We were practicing our chain-and-tape survey techniques out of doors in Kings Inn Park and it was bloody cold. A man on a bicycle cycled right through our measuring tape and tore it in half. He didn’t stop. Yes, it was Friday the Thirteenth all right. 

I went home and got ready for the party. I set out early because it was quite a long walk from Phibsboro to the ‘Knicker-Factory’. I walked almost everywhere. On the way out the door, my Landlady gave me a brightly coloured envelope. “Post that down the town, will ye?” It was a Valentine’s Card for the young fella in the room next to me, “I don’t think he has much chance of getting’ one.” She never posted one for me, though I didn’t get one either. Anyway, I posted it, it arrived. That part all worked out.

I had arranged a survival technique for the party. I had volunteered to do the bar all night. I had worked behind the bar in Sligo for all my teen summers and it was a place I felt comfortable and defended.

I don’t remember much about the party. It was fun, the bartender thing worked well for me. I sneaked out and danced a bit from time to time. Madser, who was profoundly deaf, impressed us all by dancing with a great sense of rhythm. He explained how he would ‘feel’ the music through the concrete floor. Mr. Lauder, one of our younger lecturers, promised that he was close friends with Freddie White and that he would get Freddie to drop by and play a short set at the party. That sounded great but Freddie never showed, and Mr. Lauder was affectionately known as ‘Freddie’ by everybody for the remaining years I spent there.

I don’t remember how I got home. I probably walked. As I said earlier, I walked everywhere. If I did, I have no impressions of that walk. I could make something up, I suppose, blue lights flashing in the night, sirens howling but, no, I’ve got nothing. I got home somehow and tumbled into bed and didn’t get up until noon the next day.

On the Thirteenth, going on the Fourteenth, I didn’t know anything about anything.

The first I knew was coming into the kitchen, in search of Corn Flakes, and Maggie telling me how I’d probably be wise to phone home. I listened to the radio and watched the television in shock for a little while and then decided she was probably right.

There was no phone in Maggie’s house. There was no phone in our house in Sligo either. The procedure was to walk to the phone booth down near the shopping centre and wait your turn and drop in your coins and press button A and talk to our neighbour from four doors down.

Mrs. Hopper answered.

“Hello, it’s Ken.”

Mrs. Hopper sobbed. I had never heard that before.

“Thank God,” she said, “thank God you’re alive.”

I think about the Stardust Fire on every February Thirteenth going on Fourteenth and I think more about it on the years that the thirteenth falls on a Friday, like it did then, and we all tiptoe around for fear that something terrible might happen.

I’m thinking hard about it this year too, even though the days are not in sync. It’s forty years ago today since I walked to that phone booth to let them know I was okay. The horror of the lives lost on that night does not go away. The quest for truth and justice, by the surviving relatives of the 48 people who died, never seems to end.

This morning, the Fourteenth of February, as the wind whips the house and the rain pounds my window, my mind goes to them. The good people who scribbled their cards and walked out into the cold night and, braved the party and danced…

… and didn’t come home.

A particularly hard gust of wind hits the side of the house. Happy Valentine’s Day. Hug the ones you love, if you’re able to. If not, maybe say something nice to somebody.

Make this hard old world a little better.

The Marty Routine

There’s been a number of anniversaries this week. It’s always a time to remember and to evoke the person in thoughts and words and any other way we can. 

Yesterday was Penelope’s birthday and we remembered that with all the warmth and love that the day deserved. Last year we visited her in hospital and there was cake and love and laughs and smiles. This year, alas, the cakes can only be shared in spirit so that’s what we did. The love and laughs and smiles perhaps a little altered but not in any way diminished.

It was also the anniversary of my Mum’s death. It’s hard to believe it has now been fifteen years, but it has. She’s still around, of course. People don’t go away as much as you might think, even after so long.

This week, I put my mind to recall something I haven’t already written about Mum.

I came up with this little thing.

When I was a boy, I had my ‘chores’. We never called them that though. We never called them anything, as I recall, they were just little jobs that we had to do. The things I had to do mostly revolved around our two dogs, Laddie and Patch, and that suited me fine because I liked the dogs. I fed them and washed them and walked them up along the river every day. I also had to go and get the meat for the dogs directly from the slaughterhouse, a formative chore if ever there was one. I wrote about that here if you ever feel you can bear it.

But I had one other job. I never really thought about it and what it meant. It was just a thing to be done and I just did it.

In our house, we always had our dinner at dinner time and our tea at teatime. Dinner was in or around one o’clock and teatime was at six. That never changed, I came home from school and had my dinner and then went back. The now-everyday practice of the evening dinner would then have seemed like the most outlandish and alien proposition ever.

Dinner time was the time for my chore but I’m going to stop calling it a chore now because it was never that. I’d like to say it was a pleasure and a fulfilling thing, but I must try to be honest and tell it like it was, so it wasn’t that either. Thinking about it, it was mostly a routine. Something to do and not think about too hard if, indeed, at all.

The Marty Routine.

It’s not half as remarkable as the build-up I just gave it. Every dinner time, Mum put the plates out on the table and dished out the food. Then she dished out another plate on the sideboard. This was covered in tinfoil and wrapped up in a tea cloth and handed to me. My own dinner was ‘poured out’ on the table and I would be all set to tuck in, just as soon as the routine was done.

I took the tin foiled tea-toweled dinner plate and struggled out through the hall door and the front door with it then across in front of the living room window to the metal railing which divided our garden from the next garden in the terrace. I never needed to call or shout or throw a stone at the neighbouring window. Marty was always there, looking out, waiting.

Marty would come out of his front door and over to the railing. There, a complex little swap would take place. I would give Marty his dinner, hot and wrapped, and he would give me yesterday’s plate, meticulously cleaned and polished.

Marty was old, though I was very young so many ages were old. His wife had died, and he lived alone. As I remember it, we didn’t ever say very much to each other, perhaps a ‘howiya’. We certainly didn’t do small talk like weather or current affairs. Marty was always smiley and seemed kind. That was enough, I was keen to get back to my own cooling dinner.

I’d forgotten all of this, until I dragged it up to the surface when trolling, this week, for a memory. How, every day for many years, Mum sent Marty in his dinner and Marty sent yesterday’s plate back. Marty was no relative of ours and I know for sure that no money ever changed hands. She just did it.

None of this surprises me. Not because I knew that this basic level of goodness was inside of Mum. No, not because of that. It doesn’t surprise me because it’s inside of me too. It’s been given to me like a great hereditary gift. “If I’m making a dinner,” I tend to think, “there’s absolutely no hardship in putting another carrot or potato into the pot, no hardship at all.” We don’t have a Marty next door, but I am pretty sure that, if we did, there wouldn’t be any qualms about passing a plate over the fence. Although our Marty might have to adapt to evening dinners, instead of real dinnertime ones.

We wonder about what our parents give to us and often we don’t know. I think Mum left me this key thing and it’s going to sound boastful when I type it, but it’s not intended to be. “Not brag, just fact,” as some old cowboy gunslinger used to say. What Mum finally left me is that I am a pretty good person. Not good at any particular thing, not good looking or good smelling… just good. I’ll usually try to help you, if I can, and I certainly won’t bad-mouth you in street. I’m not great in any particular way. I’m just good. I got that from Mum, I reckon, and I’m glad to have it.

When Marty died, the routine obviously stopped.  I haven’t thought much about Marty until today when this memory washed up on the shore. But here I am now, thinking about him again, his kind face, his quiet gratitude for being minded across the garden fence.

Rest in peace, our much-missed departed family and neighbours and friends.

Our memories of you remain warm. Our gratitude, real.

Leaving the Lights On

It’s raining this morning. It's Sunday morning and it’s raining cats and dogs. It’s raining hammers, raining nails. You choose. All I know is that it’s raining. Won't it ever stop?

Tomorrow is February. January will be gone. I’m not a great one for wishing months away. I suppose I don’t really believe that a turning over of a calendar page can make much of a difference from one day to the next. But I’m on the lookout for Spring and February sounds so much more like Spring than January does. 

When I walk down the next street, there’s a bush of some sort that extends out onto the footpath. The buds on this bush are swollen and ready to burst open. Spring is well on its way or even already here. I can’t always tell.

I’ve had as easier time of it that many. I’ve managed to keep myself occupied, though I think of the things I might have got done and didn’t. Plus, I didn’t get sick. Touch wood etc. etc. So, yeah, people have had it way worse than I have. Almost everybody, I’d say.

But man, it’s not easy, is it? It’s not like a piano falling on your head from a first-floor window. It’s more like that same piano being lowered onto your head, millimetre by millimetre, over a period of many long months.

So, thanks for leaving the lights on. It helped… I guess.

The lights are a favourite aspect of Christmas time for me. All around the town green, we call it The Mall, the trees are lit up for the Christmas season. It’s a lovely sight. In recent years, a temporary ice rink in the centre of The Mall has diffused the effect somewhat for me but, this year, there was no ice rink, no fairground attractions. There was just The Mall and its lovely yellow light, shimmering in the branches.

There’s always a day in January, usually after the 6th, when you walk up through the town and find that the lights aren’t on anymore. A brief moment of sadness, time is passing, then onward. Next year is, after all, another year. But, this year, the lights never went off. January went on and on and on and on and it was tough enough. The lights stayed and stayed though, warming the town a little, brightening the darkness. It was a good thing.

But, strangely enough, it was only a good thing for me for a very little while. I guess I over-thought it, as I often do with things. For me, as it turned out, the lights worked best as a sort of a promise. Christmas is coming, Christmas is here. We will rest and eat and be together again. After the warm novelty of seeing the lights in mid-January wore off, what remained was a tangy aftertaste. The lights wanted to promise something, it seemed to me, but there was nothing to offer. Christmas was gone, the days were short and hardy. The lights came to symbolise a general malaise rather than a general good. Another false promise, another short road to nowhere in particular.

It’s probably just me. As I said, I overthink things sometimes.

And now, as I remain vigilant for the coming of the Spring, the lights seem further diffused and irrelevant to me. The evenings grow a little longer. The lights are now competing with the creeping daylight of the coming spring. They seem pale and weak and a little out of their correct place. They seem sad to me.

Perhaps it’s time to let the lights go, until December comes around again. They have served us well over the dark months and they will do it again soon in, hopefully, better times. But everything has its season and the season of the lights on the Mall is now past. Spring is well on the way and she can do much of the heavy lifting from here.

Thanks for leaving them on, though. For a time there, it was undoubtedly welcome and helpful and good.

But for now, onward.

The Trajectory of Work

I like to throw things into the bin from afar. 

Mostly this happens in my kitchen, where the bin sits majestically in the corner over by the back door. I tend to throw non-food items, for good reason, which I’ll come to in a minute. 

The bin sits with its lid open, mostly because it no longer closes, and it is like an open mouth begging for a bacchanalian grape to be popped inside. 

I do what I can.

The reason that I don’t throw foodstuffs at my bin is pretty easy to figure out. It’s because I’m a bloody awful shot. If I threw everything that came into my hand in the kitchen, then the walls and floor  that adjoins the bin would be smeared with unmentionable stains of all shapes and sizes. That wouldn’t do at all. Mostly, I just restrict myself to packaging and balled-up kitchen roll.

My sons are kind in encouraging this little enthusiasm or at least in not berating me for it. There is often a quiet respectful nod when some errant piece of cellophane shoots its way above the kitchen table and hits home. By the same token, there is a quiet and understated 'looking the other way' for the majority of times when I miss.

(I’ve just realised, this is going to be one of the most blindingly obvious posts I’ve ever written. Better brace yourself.)

I’ve learned to adapt emotionally to my poor stats in hitting the bin. In the simplest terms, I take inordinate pleasure when my shot hits home and I immediately write off every attempt that fails. That pleasure I take does not manifest itself externally. I do not, for example, run circuits of the kitchen table with my jumper pulled over my head while whooping in an upper register. None of the above. I just do a small mental fist pump and feel better about myself, both as an athlete and a marksman. The failure routine just involves strolling over to the bin, picking up the misdirected missile, binning it, and getting on with things without further comment.

I have learned two things from my career of throwing things into the kitchen bin. I’d like to share them with you if that’s all right. After that, I’ll turn them into the most obvious metaphor in human history. Then we can all go home. Sound good? Great, let’s get it done.

Here’s the two things I’ve learned:

1) If I feel that it matters that I hit the bin, then I am far more likely to do so.

2) Whenever I shoot with a low trajectory, I invariably miss. 

To quote MC Hammer, let’s break it down.

I’m in the kitchen by myself. I have some redundant piece of detritus in my hand. I toss it carelessly at the bin. I will miss, it’s a given. If one or other of my family is in the room or, God help me, if all of them are there then I will most likely hit home. It’s about focus and about feeling that what I am about it do is important and that it matters. That’s the difference.

That second point is more technical. It’s about trajectory. I have a tendency to shoot straight for the bin. A hard straight shot that looks great when it goes in. But it doesn’t go in all that often. Whenever I choose a high looping trajectory, my chances of success increase by many times. The balled-up kitchen roll rises, rises, then drops neatly into the centre of the bin. It’s the best way.

Sermons and sitcoms are often the same in having this trait; they often drop a little ‘moral of the story' bit right at the end. This is also true with some of my blog posts. I tend to sermonise. Sorry about that. It is Sunday after all.

So here it is, the sermon bit.

These two lessons I’ve learned from hitting and missing my kitchen bin also serve as a useful guide in my attempts at having a creative life outside of my normal one. I write but I don’t write for a living, that work lies elsewhere. But my ‘Bin Theories’ help me with the writing part and can similarly be applied to whatever your creative endeavour is too.

You know how this will work already but let me spell it out, if only to further tick you off.

Whenever you’re doing your own creative thing, try thinking about throwing stuff in the bin… no, not like that. I mean the mechanics, and the emotional engagement of throwing stuff in the bin. Do 1) and 2).

Firstly, go about the work like it matters hugely, not like it’s some time killing exercise in a back room that will never go anywhere.

Secondly, aim high with your work. Aim exceedingly high.

When I write a little play or a film or something, I am not writing it for the local village hall or for a YouTube upload seen by twenty friends. I am writing for Broadway and Hollywood. Every time. This encourages me to keep my game up as much as I can. Second best will not do. A quick stab at it… will not do. It has to be the best it can be.

And in this aiming high and pretending it matters hugely, my work follows a similar trajectory to that ball of aluminium foil that I just hit the bin with. It soars high for a moment, it scrapes the ceiling, it touches Hollywood and Broadway for a brief moment… and then it comes back down to exactly where it belongs.

That final home for the work might well be the village hall or the limited YouTube viewing. That’s fine. That’s the nature of creative work for most of us and it's probably where it belongs. But if it hadn’t scraped the ceiling for a brief moment on its way there, it would not be nearly as good as it is and it might have never got there at all.

Here endeth the lesson. Turn to Hymn number 578 – ‘Why Can’t You just Drop It In, Like Everyone Else?’

The collection plate will be coming around shortly.

Two Bee Gees Songs and a Sentiment

This old blog is not getting any easier to write.

I was thinking about that this week and I quickly came to the conclusion that it’s not that I’m losing interest or forgetting how to string a sentence together. It’s just that nothing much is happening. Life is necessarily smaller than it was. Interesting people are not being met; challenging conversations are not happening. Funny moments are not being witnessed. That kind of thing. There’s just not so much to be writing about.

The upside of this lack of potential material is that little things tend to hit harder.

On Friday night, we were flicking through the myriad of TV channels and finding nothing to make us stop. We landed on Sky Documentaries and the Bee Gees were there, singing some song.

We stopped.

We stayed.

It turned out that this was a new documentary on the career of the Bee Gees called ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.’ “This will pass half an hour,” we thought, because it was clearly close to its final act. We watched it. Perhaps it was on account of what I mentioned at the start. Perhaps it was because the world has grown small and little things have grown big. Whatever it was, it hit hard in the end. Two days later, it'

I’ve had a long standing and curious relationship with the Bee Gees. The first thing to say is that I’ve always liked them. The second thing is that I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that I was uncool because I did.

The part of the film that I saw captured that feeling well. The guys were unapologetically geeky, endlessly ambitious, patently egotistical… I hesitate to even say it but, come on, slightly funny-looking. They didn’t come across as stars. They looked like I did; a bit ordinary. They often seemed shocked and dazed by what they had achieved but they snapped at anyone and anything that tried to take it away from them.

In 1977, our school class went on a tour to Enniskillen. On the way back, we stopped in Bundoran and I ducked into a record shop and bought the soundtrack album to Saturday Night Fever. I remember I hid it in my bag and didn’t show it to anyone. The guys were a bit uncool, even then at the height of their trajectory. In a music video, they stood in smoldering New York urban ruins in their disco outfits and it was mortifying to watch and still is. The falsetto vocals just seemed so unworldly and so detached from the Punk Rock stuff that was obsessing the cool kids.

But the music. The rhythm. It was hard to ignore.

I hate the film Saturday Night Fever. I hated it when I saw it in ’77 and I hate it still. It is horrible and negative and misogynistic and not even the music can redeem it. But the music on its own… that was something.

The title of this piece says ‘Two Bee Gees Songs’ and neither of them are from Saturday Night Fever so I’d best move on or else we’ll be here all day.

The first represented my earliest memories of the Bee Gees. It was back in 1972. Did I tell you I was old? And, straight off, I’m telling a lie in two different ways. Firstly, I had heard of the Bee Gees in 1971 (I was eight years old then, just so you know) because there was a poster in my local cinema for a film called SWALK and it proudly boasted that the music was by the Bee Gees. I remember thinking, “That’s a funny name for a group,” and moving on. I never saw the film though I know quite a bit about it. 

But back to 1972. At that point, I became enamoured of a song that was in the charts. Well, as much as a nine-year-old can become enamoured of anything. It was called “Run to Me”. My brother had a very early cassette player/recorder. Remember the one with a single control that you pushed back for rewind and forward for fast-forward and up to play? No? Never mind. I borrowed it and recorded the song off the radio. I really liked it. Interestingly enough, I never knew it was the Bee Gees or if I did, I have forgotten that I did. It was many years later that I heard it, and someone said who it was, and it was a Eureka moment for me. The song still draws me. If I think about the lyrics too hard, I may have to acknowledge that they might be a wee bit dodgy. But the song still tugs at a string in my gut, as the second song does.

That second song has a rather strange effect on me. It’s ‘Too Much Heaven’. You know the one, classic ‘slow set’ stuff. “Nobody gets too much heaven no more…”. When I hear it, I break out in nostalgia and warmth. “Nothing strange about that”, you might say, “we all get that”. But here’s the strange part; I have no memory of what this nostalgia is for. All I know is that the song evokes some sweet moment for me, but I cannot for the life of me remember what that sweet moment might be. In trying to dissect this problem I have guessed that it is possible that it is the song that was playing when I first drummed up the courage to ask someone for a slow set dance at a disco. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I remember an awkward turn around the floor and the overpowering smell of shampoo. I now like to think that this song was a part of that equation too. It was something like that, I reckon. I’m just not sure what. I wrote a slow dance into one of my plays and, although the song itself is not specified in the script (I wouldn’t have the rights to do that) there have been several productions of the play where I have nudged that song into being played for the climactic slow set scene. Standing at the back of the theatre, watching my writing being played out, on the basis of a sweet song and a half-remembered moment, has been one of the high points of my writing life.

So that’s me and the Bee Gees. A rather awkward, geeky affair, sitting ever so slightly uncomfortably alongside all of the really cool things I like. But, alongside that awkwardness, always a respect, a huge respect.

What great songwriters.

What a creative force in music.

And then, right at the end of the film, there was Barry. Alone. His brothers all gone before him though he is the eldest. Old now, with an air of quiet bewilderment that he should be the one left behind. And to close the film, that sentiment. Barry is being interviewed. There was obviously something about his lost brothers than he had wanted to say, but he hadn't quite managed it. He tried once more. 

He said this:

“What I wanted to say earlier is I'd rather have them back here and no hits at all.

And that, right there, was one little thing that hit big.

The Worst in the Entire World

I woke up this morning with no blog post written. So, this is going out 'live', so to speak.

Don’t’ worry, I’m not drying up or anything (“Chance would be a fine thing”, you might say). For the last few days, I’ve been doing my usual, “Shall I write about this?” or “Shall I write about that?” but, each time, my mind has veered away to something else before I could pin anything down.

It’s hard to focus, you see, when you’re The Worst in the Entire World.

This might not be entirely true, I’m not a statistician after all, but it’s certainly how the narrative feels. Here in Sunny Ireland, we were the envy of many. We kept our Covid figures tamped down pretty well. If they shot up, we shot those buggers right back down again. We weren’t the best in the world but, by golly, we were a long way from being the worst.

Our downfall has been that we love Christmas. Maybe not every Man Jack of us but collectively we lap up the festive season. Our world effectively shuts down for ten days as we eat and watch telly and see each other.

We see each other.

And that’s how we slipped from being a postcard people of pandemic suppression to being a vivid illustration of how it can go when you turn your back for a minute and let that enviable guard of yours down. Covid19 is like a lion and we are the lion tamer. We can manage it and put on a good show and get some applause but when we turn our back on it and spread our arms wide to accept the adulation, that’s when it can pounce and tear our throat out. And that’s kind of what's happened to us.

Christmas was coming. As a people, we were clamouring for a break. And we had done pretty well. The case numbers were down to about 300 per day. “Let them have their Christmas,” was the feeling of many of the powers that be, “Let a few meet up with a few. The figures will rise but we’ll lock everything down after and we’ll bring them straight back down again. Plus, the retailers get to do a bit of business, the food people get to feed a few people, a little coin is changed hands. It will tide us over." It all actually sounded sensible enough.

And so there was Christmas.

But the numbers didn’t just rise, they shot right through the roof and out into space. I’m not sure how Christmas went. I stayed at home and saw nobody but I’m not looking to be ‘Holier Than Thou’, I always do that. But some good people met some other good people and ate and drank a little and now here we are, The Worst in the World or something close to that.

And it’s a different feeling. Where, before, there was a feeling that the virus was out there and one had to be careful, now there is a pervasive sensation that the virus is riding roughshod up and down every laneway and across the roof of every house in this country. There is a feeling that you will now have to be very, very lucky to miss its lick on your face. There is a feeling of doom.

I shouldn’t generalise like this. I don’t have my finger on the pulse of the populace in some special way. All I should really do is write about me. I often reckon I am a bit of an everyman, an ordinary bloke, nothing special, nothing grand, and I often feel that I do or feel what other ordinary blokes do and feel. That’s how I arrive at my generalisations. That’s how I gauge the country.

So, how are you Ken?

I’m a bit anxious, I guess, a bit weary. I feel the getting of the virus is almost an inevitability now, no matter how much care I take. In my mind I plot the logistics of having it, which room I should lock myself into, how to arrange for some shopping, have some Paracetamol ready. But I’ve read too many reports and peered into too many hospitals and ICUs via newspaper stories and first hand accounts from Front Line Staff. That stuff downright scares me. It’s blindingly obvious to say that I don’t want that for me or for any of my family and friends. Shit, I don’t want it for anybody. But I have metaphorically daubed a streak of fresh blood on my front door. “Don’t come in here,” it implores, ”just pass on.”

I debate writing something. A speech that I might wish to deliver when I’m flat in a hospital bed and reliant on tubes to stay alive. But that’s just a writer’s fantasy... or nightmare.

I don’t feel this stuff all the time. I’m not a walking wreck. Matter of fact, I’m really doing okay. But I think we are all haunted by this stuff and I think it’s no harm to admit to that for a moment, before toughening the fuck up and getting on with it.

I’m not sure it’s particularly good to be writing a post which reflects negative thoughts like this but, once in a while, I think that maybe it’s okay. I think it might be helpful for us to see that we are not alone in occasionally feeling a little out of our depth and a little overwhelmed and, damn it, a little bit scared.

Last week I wrote about how we'll get through and I’m not going back on my word here. Our Worst in the World figures will most likely plateau in the next few days, because we have really locked down hard since Christmas. Maybe this time we'll stamp the thing down a bit harder and keep it there. We may well do, 'cos we’ve learned a tough lesson this Winter. We will get through, just like I said last week. 

But it’s never going to be sunshine and roses getting there.

If you also believe this, as I do, the least you should know is that you’re not on your own.

The Year of Getting Better

There’s no doubting it’s going to take a little time.

There’s also no doubt that some wounds cannot be healed and no amount of getting better is going to fix that.

But, accepting all that, the clock has ticked around and there is a new number on the wall. It’s silly, it’s just another day, it means nothing. Except it does. It can mean everything, if we want it to. 2020 went badly. Not everything was bad but, hell, a lot of it was. And now it’s gone. The story of 2020 is written, the book is closed. 

There will be no more from 2020.

This is 2021.

Trump is going. He will not be back, though we will have to keep a weather eye out for his apprentice, whoever that might turn out to be. There is a vaccine. It works. We will get it. The figures will tumble and we will emerge, blinking, into some kind of daylight.

I believe all this. Call me an old fool, though not in the comments section because I will just edit them out.

We can look to this coming year with relief and optimism. To at least some of the current shit, there is an end in sight. But it’s like being out at sea in a storm. It’s like being able to see the port, the distant harbour light out there on the dark horizon. A twinkling beacon across the crashing waves and the teeming rain.

Home.

And you know what I’m going to say next. I know you do.

We’re not there yet. We can see the port and it’s growing a little closer every hour. But we are still at sea and the sea is big and hostile. We have to keep our wits and sail this skiff safely into that harbour. We might have to tack away a bit, in order to get there. We might even lose sight of the warm light as we do it. We might still have to get extremely bloody wet.

But we have to do our best not to be swept overboard, particularly when we are this close to home. Cling on. Sing a shanty. Keep your flask of tea full. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t let the guy in the luxury cruiser tell you it’s not a storm at all. It is. It really is. It could tumble you into the sea and that guy in the big boat won’t even bend to pull your ass back out.

All that shit about it being darker before the dawn. I never bought into that. I always thought it was darker right in the middle of the night, when the sun was farthest away. But I’m getting it now. Because I can feel the dawn over that horizon, I can really feel it. But it’s dark, isn’t it? It’s darker than any other time in this night and it might get darker yet before that dawn. It might get well-dark.

But don’t fret, at least not too much. Your job is to keep yourself well. By doing that, you’re playing your part in keeping all of us well. It’s that simple.

We’ll get to port. It won’t be long now.

And remember, you don’t have to personally witness every single raindrop to get there. You don’t have to shout out every time a wave throws us into the sky and back down with a gun-wrenching crash. You just have to keep on.

Happy new year. That’s what it will be. Not for everyone but for more than last year.

Hold that thought.

Land ho.

 

 

Footnote – I realise that this is almost the exact same post as the one I wrote a few weeks ago. Sorry about that. It’s just where my head is at.