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.