Showing Somebody Else Is Like Showing Yourself All Over Again


I’ll be in the audience in the Linenhall Arts Centre this evening. One of my favourite places in the world and seat to a solid handful of my happiest memories. This evening, the Fighting Words and Linenhall Arts Centre Young Playwright’s Showcase project is coming to fruition with rehearsed reading performances of five new plays by five new young playwrights. The performances will involve professional actors and will be directed by professional directors, all of the highest calibre.

It's quite something.

I feel very lucky that I got to be one of the writing mentors on this endeavour. Over the last number of months we’ve been meeting for long sessions on Saturdays, looking at the mechanics and the art of writing for theatre and then doing quite a bit of writing for theatre too. It’s been an absolute blast and the five young people are, without exception, some of the most committed, imaginative, and talented people I’ve met.

So this evening should be a bit special. The five writers will see their new plays performed in rehearsed reading, with full tech support, before a lovely audience. Hopefully, some of the seeds of encouragement that will have been planted by this process will germinate into a continuing writing habit for at least some (if not all) of the participants. And we all know where that can lead.

Because, in my small opinion, a little encouragement can be the difference between being a continuing writer and not. It’s an often-lonely endeavour, with nobody to lean on but yourself. If somebody comes forward at some point, and leans over your shoulder, and says, “Hey, that’s pretty good,” well, that can sometimes count for a lot. More than you might imagine.

In my own case, and I know I’ve written about it before somewhere in these pages, I received writing encouragement from my English teacher Patricia O’Higgins. She would slip me the more challenging books to read and talk to me in terms of my ‘writing’ before I ever even considered I had any writing in me. She started me thinking that maybe I could scribble something along the way.

These seeds sometimes take time, though, to germinate. Through my early twenties, I did some writing but never showed anything to anybody. I wrote sketches and little comedy routines and I kept a diary of my time bussing my way around Australia. In the reading room of Melbourne Library, I wrote my first full length screenplay in longhand. I was writing but, in another sense, I wasn’t. 

Then IRDP and LBC held a ten-minute play writing competition in London, not unlike what this evening’s cohort have been working on. I was newly-returned from the world trip, unexpectedly unemployed, and a little adrift. I entered and I was one of the winners. As a result, I spent a magical, unforgettable, Saturday in a studio with professional actors and a wonderful director, who teased out my fledgling script and made it into something. That was me. Done. From that moment on I was sold. I wanted to write, not just for myself, but for people. I wanted my little plays to be seen and heard. And I went off and managed to do that. I’ll never be rich, I’ll never be famous but, in my own small way, I am a writer and that brings me joy and some peace.

And this process, the dealing with these wonderful young writers and showing them the bits and pieces I have picked up along that way, it’s a mutual-beneficial process. At least, I hope it is. I know for sure that it benefits me. To tell somebody these things that you know, these things that you believe to be important, it’s like telling them to yourself all over again. It’s like reciting a sort of a Creed. And doing that reinforces for me what is important in my writing and what is not. It refreshes the techniques and the technicalities and makes them relevant and new again. More importantly, much more importantly, it refreshes the creative corner of the mind. To see the young people conceive and develop their writing, unencumbered with fear or trepidation, it can’t help but rejuvenate your own process and send you back to your desk with brighter and better ideas.

It’s the old, old story. Whenever you do something a bit good for someone, you also do something a bit good for yourself. The benefits of committing a little time and energy come back to you twofold, if not in time then certainly in energy.

So I’m looking forward to this evening. There’ll be a little edge in the air, as there always is with theatre. I wish the participants a good experience and I hope there is encouragement in it for them.

I’ve got mine already but, who knows, maybe tonight I’ll get a little bit more.

Learning to Go Away Again


Patricia and I seemed to have forgotten about going away long before the Pandemic hit.  Having spent a year in our twenties going around the world and back, we fell into the pattern of annual holidays and trips. Then the boys showed up and, for a time, there were fewer trips. Then they were of an age where there were journeys again, weeks in the sun with pool and pizza in close proximity. All to be expected. All okay. But then there was a funny moment where the boys were a little older and there were other things and going off together didn’t seem to fit into the agenda and going off alone didn’t seem right so there was no going off at all. Then there was Covid and the going off was done anyway.

So thank heavens for lovely nieces and nephews, who see the romance and the fun in tripping off to somewhere sunny and bright to be firmly wed to the love of their lives. Thank heavens for the magnetic invite, long stuck to the fridge door, promising that all this stasis would end someday and there would be travel – there would be ‘going away’ once again.

Yes, folks, we’re just back from a week in Nerja, where Keara married her lovely fella David, and where the sunlight and the festivities just kept on coming. Where you could hardly trapse down a little alleyway without encountering a family member or a new-found friend along the way.

I won’t dwell on the wedding here except to say that it was wonderful – thank you – and that it gave me a first opportunity to explore my new permanent role at family weddings. That of the elderly relative. Of course, I’m not old. I know that. But I am of that age that seemed old when we were all getting married back in our twenties. The fifty-going-on-sixty-something uncle who is reasonably good fun but who you might not want to get stuck in an overly long conversation with. The dude who occasionally limps up to demonstrate some outmoded form of dancing to some upbeat rap tune. The guy who is allowed to sneak away and sit outside and watch the stars gently appear over the olive trees on the hills and reflect on how darned lucky he is to be there. That role. I thought I did it pretty well. Just the right balance of mischief and boring.

Nerja is interesting. It is a place for tourists to come and be gently accommodated. It is beautifully appointed with the azure sea in full display and the picturesque hills in striking backdrop. Everything is to hand. Nothing is prohibitively too far away. It is a good place to takes one’s ease for just a little while. King Alfonso XII visited in 1885 and allegedly called the view from the Mirador, ‘The Balcony of Europe’ and the name stuck. The Balcón de Europa, is the centrepiece of the town and there is always something happening out there on the promontory.

I liked Nerja, the prettiness and the convenience of it. As with everywhere I go, I am always looking for a glimpse behind the scenes of the coffee shops and ice cream parlours, the hotels and apartments and bars and leather shops. One easy glimpse was found in the church right at the centre of town. Clearly genuine and very old, it afforded a cool and a quiet place to retreat to, as well as a taste of a religious culture which is not dissimilar to our own Christian one. Except, perhaps, that the statues of the saints are more ornate and perhaps a little more belligerent. Better armed with swords and looking much more inclined to use them. The faces on the statues seem more Spanish too. I guess we tend to see ourselves in the things we chose to venerate. With fifteen minutes to kill, I watched parents and children prepare for their First Communion, reading their handwritten prayers, singing a song that involved some intricate clapping, while mothers tried to keep them in check and muscular fathers shrugged helplessly at each other.

In my quest to see the ‘Real Nerja’ behind the tiled and painted frontage, I was not disappointed by peering over the parapet on the roof of the hotel and seeing how much of the impressive central area has been constructed in front of much more humble little houses, which were only part demolished to make room for the new development. Thus, little ‘part-houses’ still nestle in behind the new walls. Frontage pulled away to make room but little back kitchens, tiles and counters and windows still remaining.

Another thing I loved about Nerja was how it ended. You didn’t have to walk very far along the beachfront before coming to a dried-up watercourse with a little wooden bridge over it and there, obviously by some strong local ordnance, the development all stopped. The hotels and forecourts and pools and pool chairs and German towels all ceased abruptly, leaving only the shorefront as it doubtless was before we tourists arrived. The brightly paved terrace becomes a dust path and the land is undeveloped run-down single storey residences which look more like makeshift sheds than houses. I loved the illusion of being out of the tourist zone, if only for a brief time. I don’t think I’m alone in being very happy to be cossetted and cotton-wool-wrapped and fed and watered for a short time but, before long, starting to crave some measure of authenticity, even if that itself is only a slightly more convincing illusion.

Yeah, get me, the rugged travelled who never ventures more than twenty minutes from his saltwater pool. Ah well, we only do what we can do.

And, by the way, the character in the photo is Teddy Beag (Small Teddy) who has travelled the world with us since 1990 and who has been everywhere. He was glad to feel the sand between his toes again.

So thank heavens for family weddings off in the sun for all kinds of reasons. One of them being that it’s awakened us, once again, to the possibilities and pleasures of going away.

Boldly going where we used to go before.

The Library Didn't Go Easy Today

Most times, the library goes easy and that’s how it should be because I love the library.

Most times, the library just presents books to me. They practically spring off the shelves, causing considerable excitement and anticipation. Every shelf seems to contain a title I’ve been wondering about, or something new from an author I like, or something out of the blue that just looks too interesting to pass up.

Most times, it’s just like that. But, sometimes, occasionally, the library doesn’t go like that. Today was one of those days.

I think it’s mostly indicative of the frame of mind that I’m in when I enter the library. Most times, I’m well up for it, and the library lays itself out before me like a world of possibilities. Today, I went to the library to escape all the other things I was supposed to be doing and that sometimes works but, then again, sometimes it doesn’t. Today, I scanned all of the fiction shelves, went the way I always go, and nothing in the entire place presented itself to me as something I needed to take out and read.

This is obviously a silly state of affairs. There are thousands and thousands of books on the shelves and there are at least hundreds in there that I should be pleased to sit down with and read. But this is what I’m saying to you today; sometimes the library doesn’t go easy.

I have my routine. I start at ‘A’ and work my way through all the fiction. Wait. Strike that. I don’t start at ‘A’ at all. I start at the returned bookshelf and also at the shelf where the library people put up a seemingly random selection of new titles and other, older, titles that they like.

Nothing there for me: nada, zilch, zero.

(Of course there is, really. There is stuff there for me it’s just that the library is a state of mind and it was never going to go easy today).

So, here I am at ‘A.’ ‘A’ is normally good pickings. Maybe that’s because I’m sharp and ready for the book-hunt or maybe it’s something else. I sometimes wonder if some writers took on names that start with the letter ‘A’ just to catch the readers who search out their books alphabetically. There are good books on display here in ‘A,’ even today, but I’ve read them or I don’t fancy them right now. Onward to ‘B.’ There are letters I give more attention to than others. ‘M’ has brought me pleasures over the years so I always have a keen look there. And ‘K,’ of course. Ever since I started finding Stephen King there in the 70’s, the joy of happening upon a new book by him has never gone away. And even though I know now that no new book is due, and that I would end up buying it anyway, still, I always give ‘K’ a good once-over. For old time’s sake.

On a day when the library is not going easy, the tension starts to rise when you’re up around the ‘U’ ‘V’ and ‘W’s. How can I have got this far without a couple of books tucked under my arm? This upper echelon part of the alphabet seems somehow more rarefied. As if the chances of finding something interesting are somehow less likely up there. I have had great times up in the ‘V’’s and the ‘W’’s. Not today, of course. Today it is a just a barren wasteland of meaningless titles and unrecognisable spines.

Now I have reached the end of the fiction shelves and I have nothing to show for it. I tell myself I will go to the shop and buy myself a book. But, if I can’t find a single thing I want to read, in this entire universe of reading-material, what hope do I have in the little bookshop? Should I amble down the Biography section, maybe, have a look at the Graphic Novels?

I go back through the fiction to my favourite letters. I stand in front of the books and I threaten myself a little bit. If I can’t find something good to read on the shelf I’m currently looking at, then I am a big fool. I search that particular shelf with microscopic attention and then, of course, I start to see possibilities. I find two books, slender tomes, both by writers whose work I have previously enjoyed. My arm feels better with something tucked under it.

That’s the trick, you see. It’s obviously not the library’s fault if I’m having a bad day there. My mind is elsewhere, my brain is fogged. The library is always the library, consistent, welcoming, and replete with the best of things.

It’s me. Sometimes I just don’t go easy.

While, sometimes, I do.

The Drumstick Squashie Affair

Easter Sunday morning, 2022. A time to celebrate whatever it is you choose to celebrate, be it resurrection, the awakening of nature, or sweeties and chocolate.

For today’s missive, if it’s all the same to you, I shall go the ‘Sweeties and Chocolate’ route. Forgive me Mother Nature, forgive me Risen Christ, you are both great too. This post will also be a kind of a confessional, so we’re not entirely without Catholic input here.

The first thing to know is that I love sweeties and chocolate. “Don’t worry, Ken,” I hear you cry, “practically everybody loves sweeties and chocolate, you are not alone.” Yes, that’s exceedingly kind and I appreciate the sentiment, even though I made it up myself, but it’s not that simple. You may correctly assert that you love sweeties and chocolate and I will not doubt you nor cast aspersions on your high regard for said confections. Just be assured of one thing, gentle reader, however much you love ‘em, I love ‘em more.

One effect of my great love of all things sugary is that it is awfully hard to keep anything sweet in the house. As the evening draws in and some late-night telly beckons, I will seek out and find whatever sweets may be hidden and I will eat them. Nothing is safe. If this sounds like concerning behaviour, yes, good, be concerned, be very concerned. A little for my health, a lot for my waistline, but primarily because, if you have sweeties in the house, I am coming for them. I am the Liam Neeson of snuffling out sweets, I have a unique set of talents. I will find them and I will kill them.

In recent years, it’s my younger son, Sam, who has suffered most from my sweetie-purloining ways. When it became clear that Sam had a rather serious nut allergy, he could no longer get the customary Cadbury selection box as part of his Christmas morning haul. So Patricia started to create his own custom-made selection box in a shoe box wrapped in festive paper. There were all kinds of goodies in there and it turned out to be a vastly superior pressie to a silly old shop-bought selection box. It’s nice to have a little win sometimes.

But Sam was, and is, a slow consumer of sweets and chocolate, unlike his dear old dad. A square of chocolate here, a single jelly there… the darned selection box lasted for ever. And on those arid evenings when there wasn’t a sugary thing in the house, the selection shoe box called from Sam’s room like a tawny siren on the jagged rocks. “Come to meeee, Kenneth, come to meeeee.” But I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. This was the lad’s Christmas pressie and, yes, it was now March and he was hundreds of miles away in college and he didn’t want what was left in there anyway… but I couldn’t and I didn’t.

There came a time, and it took a bloody long time to come, when there was very little left in the box and the box was de-commissioned and the remaining product put out to sit on Sam’s desk. In truth, there was only one thing left in the box. A pack of Drumstick Squashies.

Drumstick Squashies are among the least desirable of all the sweets. Doubtless included in the shoe box as a reference to Sam’s percussive talent, rather than as a genuine treat. They are the last thing from the Christmas box, they lie on Sam’s desk unwanted and unloved. Late at night, I go into the room and stare at the pink packet. No, I can’t open them. I can’t.

Every story needs a crisis and the crunch came here when Sam arrived home for a nice weekend and then went back again. All good, you might think. No, far from it. Sam had opened the packet of Drumstick Squashies and had one or two and left them there. Now the packet was open, Drumstick Squashies spilling out alluringly onto the desk.

I’ll have one. Nobody will know. I had one. It was horrible. So I had another. And another. That was enough. Stop now. Stop.

I pushed the empty packet down the bottom of the bin. Guilty but sugared-up.

At the next supermarket shop, I bought a replacement packet of Drumstick Squashies and left them on the desk. One evening, quite late, as I was standing at the desk, I realised that this was no good, no good at all. This new packet of Drumstick Squashies were sealed shut. The previous pack had been opened. I opened the pack. Since Sam had eaten a few of the previous pack, for complete authenticity, I would do the same. Just one or two, to complete the effect.

I pushed the empty packet down the bottom of the bin.

I hate Drumstick Squashies. They aren’t detestable or anything like that. They’re just a bit… joyless. Of all the sweets in the world, they are not even in the top hundred. Not even close. But I am in a cycle now. I buy a pack to replace the pack I ate. Suddenly there is nothing else in the house with sugar in it. I eat a few. I eat them all. I buy a new pack.

There is a new pack on Sam’s desk as I write this. There is an empty pack on mine. I inadvertently bought Rhubarb and Custard flavour instead of the originals so that just wouldn’t do. They were truly horrible, particularly the last few.

The writing of this post will be the end of this horrific cycle. I will confess to my son, throw myself on his mercy, beg his forgiveness. No more Drumstick Squashies. No more.

Happy Easter. I hope you get some chocolate.

One small thing. If you do, please don’t leave it lying around.


Jerry, Kris, and Me

Jerry King passed away this week. We bid him adieu yesterday. Jerry was a friend of mine and I wanted to try to write a few simple words about him today.

So, here goes…

When Patricia and I landed in Castlebar, back in 1997, we knew hardly anybody but ourselves. As time passed, we tended to each seek out some things we knew and find some welcome there. For Patricia, one of these was Castlebar Tennis Club. She peered in the gate at Pavilion Road and was warmly welcomed in by Anne Garavan, marking the start of many years of playing and many great friendships, which continue right up to today.

For me it was the library. Wherever I lived in my life, I had always found solace and shelter in the local library. From my first of many excursions, as a boy, into Sligo Library, to the grand reading room of Melbourne City Library, from Chelsea, Twickenham, and Kensington right here to Castlebar, where I stuck my nose in the door, found a welcome, and never looked back.

Jerry King was a key part of Castlebar Library, and he made me feel welcome there from the first time I set foot inside. I probably first met him when I was checking out a couple of books and, while doing it, he expressed an interest in what I was going to read. This initial contact soon grew into long discussions about books and reading and developed to a place where Jerry would sometimes even lead me through the bookshelves to find a volume that he guessed I might like. He was never wrong.

Jerry didn’t just check out books in the library though, he lived and breathed the place and his innovations there became things which continue to shape my experience of living here in Castlebar. He organised a wildly impressive series of writers to come for evenings where they would read and talk to an audience. These were tremendously successful and I have great memories of many of the writers who came. The excitement of having Frank McCourt, hot off his success with Angela’s Ashes. The impressive spectacle of Joseph O’Connor,  decked out in one of his best suits, expanding on his ‘Star of the Sea.’ But, for me, the night to end all nights was to be allowed to sit in the quiet company of the Master himself, John McGahren, as he quietly read from his work and modestly deflected questions about the TV adaptation of Amongst Women, advising the audience that he had never seen it.

Jerry was a master of table quizzes. I loved his quizzes, particularly the music rounds. Our tastes seemed so in tune that I always seemed to do well with those questions. Our LP stacks must have looked quite similar to each other’s.

Jerry started a monthly evening gathering in the library of people who liked poetry and I went along, even though poetry often remains a bit of a mystery to me. The evenings turned out to be magical and memorable. It was amazing to see the elderly ladies who turned up, reciting entire works from memory, for that was how they were taught. The evenings encouraged us to look deeper into poetry to find something new to read out each month. One month, I remember, I brought a lyric from a Bob Dylan song, ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.’ I read it out and boldly claimed it was as much poetry as anything else we might read or hear. Jerry didn’t say too much but, the next month, he turned up with the lyrics to ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ by Kris Kristofferson. He cited my bringing of Dylan and said he felt encouraged by me to do this. Then, remarkably and unforgettably, he sang the entire song to the assembled group. There we were, Jerry, Kris, and me, bound in a small moment. The singing of that song, at that moment, seemed to tie a lot of things together: Library, Music, Quizzes, Poetry, Friendship and Life. It was a moment I will not forget.

The poetry evenings came and went after a few years, though I do believe the lasting and excellent Book Club, which came after, owed quite a lot to it. I saw Jerry regularly in various places. At friends’ houses, the Tennis Club, behind the desk in the library, although his duties often kept him in higher office as the years progressed. It was always a delight to see his smiling face and to be unfailingly heartened and challenged in equal measure by whatever was the order of his day.

June 24th, 2018, was a Sunday night and, around ten in the evening, I decided to take a walk around the town as I often did. That evening I detoured up towards the TF Royal Theatre because I wanted to see the crowd come out and get a feel for how the evening had gone. Kris Kristofferson was in our little town, playing a concert. Although I didn’t go, I felt an urge to be close to the place where he was playing. So I went up there for a look.

The concert had just let out. On the street outside I met Jerry and Majella, who had been to see Kris. The same Kris who Jerry had sung so brilliantly for poetry night, so many years before. There is no great point to this story, except that I had rarely met two people who were so alive and so happy to be out and about and in each other’s company. We chatted about how great the concert had been and I regretted not taking the opportunity to go. I hadn’t seen Jerry in a while, for some reason, and I found it completely uplifting to meet both he and Majella on that warm evening. It’s hard to explain but it’s true. Jerry, Kris, and me had enjoyed one more small moment together.

I’m going to miss Jerry. I’ll miss seeing his smiling face down on The Mall. I will miss being slipped a book I would never have found by myself. I will miss knowing that the elusive tune in Question Five of the Table Quiz is that final piano part from ‘Layla.’ The bit Scorsese used in ‘Goodfellas.’

Thanks for everything, Jerry. For all the books music, smiles, songs, questions, and answers.

Travel well, mate.

Trail Blazer of the Bloody Obvious

I had a crafty Cadbury’s Crème Egg this week.

The trick with those wee lads is to not take too big a bite at first. Take too big a bite at first and the thing is half gone and you’ve only one good bite left, which is nowhere near enough. No. Take a little nibble off the top first. You get all the taste without expending too much of the product. That’s my tip for today. The rest of this post is filler.

No, wait, I’m kidding. It’s not filler, it’s top notch. Just wait and see.

Although you would be hard pressed to know at this juncture, this post is not really about Crème Eggs. In fact it’s about little discoveries I’m constantly making as I progress through my lift.

Little things that astound and amaze me. Little things that make me feel so smart and intuitive for having spotted them. Little things that everybody else completely knew about all along.

This week’s ‘little thing’ was about the Cadbury’s Crème Egg I inhaled earlier in the week. (No, I can’t take my own advice either). It’s a realisation I came to. It’s just this: The inside of a Cadbury’s Crème Egg tastes the same as the outside, it’s just a different texture. There, that’s it. I was chuffed at my discovery, my own personal uncovering of the truth, and then I realised that I’d just done it again. This is just obvious. Everybody knows this, Ken. At least everybody who cares enough to have ever actively thought about it. Which, frankly, reduced the initial number by quite a bit.

I get these little false epiphanies quite regularly. Like the time I was listening to the song ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill Withers on the radio one Saturday morning when, suddenly, out of nowhere, after listening to it on literally hundreds of occasions before, a blinding light dawned. The backing singers… they are singing the words ‘Lovely Day.’ I was amazed, stunned. I had always thought they were singing something like ‘Daad-ah-new, Daad-ah-new, Daad-ay-diddle and a daad ah new….’ I mean, how wrong can a person be? I ran out to inform the world but, guess what, the world already knew all about it.

Or there was ‘Jaws.’ One of my most favourite films in the whole wide world, seen when it first came out and when I was twelve. What years-of-age was I when I finally cottoned on to the fact that the white head that scarily pops out of the hole in the boat was actually Ben Gardner, the seasoned fisherman who had appeared in earlier dockside scenes? This particular case is especially notable because literally everybody who cared a whit knew this. Hell, in the movie, they even say, “That’s Ben Gardner’s boat,” but I still had to figure it out for myself, some years later, and be pleased at how observant I was.

Of course, I understand that many of you will read this (strike that, many of you won’t read this) and say to yourselves that you knew none of these things nor cared one whit about them. That last bit is the key. I cared about these things. Chocolate and Movies and Music are three of my big obsessions. Your thing might be Sports or Crufts or, I don’t know, Antiques Roadshow or something. Imagine something obvious in your favourite genre, something everyone knew, and then imagine yours truly coming along and figuring it out and being dead chuffed about it and telling everybody who would listen all about it. That’s what I’m talking about.

Some of the things I figure out all by myself are actually surprisingly good. Like how that King on St. Stephen’s Day did not, ‘last look out’ or how the ‘Immaculate Conception’ is probably not what you think it is (go ahead, look it up).

But mostly, as we know, I’m just a silly moo. Forgetting things, getting things wrong, generally messing up.

Truth be told, I kind of like it.

It’s fun.

Where's the Frequency, Kenneth?


How long is it since my car radio actually worked? I can’t really say. Mostly because I don’t know but, I must admit, even if I did know, I’d be embarrassed to say. It’s about eighteen months, something like that. There; I’ve said it and, yes, I’m embarrassed now.

It’s sort of wrong to say it doesn’t work. It works… after a fashion. But, again in fairness, it is a pretty goddamn useless fashion, the one my car radio works after.

If I sit in the car on my driveway, I can get one station on the radio. Lyric FM. Which is pretty okay because I enjoy a bit of Lyric FM. But, as soon as I start driving somewhere, this one signal starts to waver and fade until, quite quickly, there is nothing there at all.

Eighteen months without a car radio.

There are some entertainment options. The CD player works just fine so I run through my sizeable back catalogue of disks, endlessly replacing the wrong CD in the wrong case, and causing all kinds of confusion. The cable that connects my phone to the faulty radio also works and so I can have a podcast if I want. I generally save those for longer journeys because it’s hard to get into an intricate true-life murder when you’re only motoring down to Tesco. The podcast thing might sound like a saviour but it’s by no means perfect. The cable that links my phone to the radio is a dodgy enough yolk, or at least the connection to the phone is. It cuts in and out whenever you go over a bump in the road and has to be jiggled and generally encouraged with a combination of gentle exhortations and gratuitous swearing to get it back in action again.

This all begs a fairly obvious question.

Why don’t you get your car radio fixed, Ken or, indeed, why don’t you just get a new one?

There are three reasons for this. Two of them are reasonably straightforward and the third is not.

Continue?

Okay.

The first is that it is hard to find someone in my town to fix a car radio. Dave can do anything with a car and he does but he draws the line somewhere before in-car entertainment turns up. I’ve tried (a little… see Reason Three) to find someone who will take on the challenge but I haven’t succeeded and then, quite soon, I’ve given up.

Reason Two is that I secretly reckon that I will arrive at the solution to my car radio problem all by myself if I think about it for long enough. I have worked on it. I’ve taken out the unit and checked all the connections. Bear in mind it seems to work fine, it just won’t hold a radio signal. I’ve also replaced the aerial on the roof and I can tell you that I had high hopes that the solution lay there. But it didn’t. I’ve also tried to track the cabling from radio to aerial and that was a bloody waste of time as you can well imagine.

Reason Three is the doozy. I may have to lie on a couch to get into it. Notepad ready? Here goes.

I've figured this out over the years. I’m just not good at doing things for my own benefit. I put myself on the ‘long finger’ with practically everything. If I need a haircut, if there’s a film I would like to go and see, if there’s a pain in my head. I’ll get to it, all in good time, it’s just not a priority. There are other things to be seen-to, more important things to get done. The hair will just grow a bit longer, the movie will be on telly someday, the headache will wear off eventually. I prioritise others over myself and if that makes me sound like Saint Francis of Assisi or something, don’t worry, I’m not. I’m a regular git, just like you are, I’m just not my number one priority. There are reasons for this but, trust me, this couch ain’t big enough for all of that. Not right now anyway.

Besides, this is not such a bad thing in many ways. I’m a handy guy to know. I’ll help you out, if I can, or at least I’ll try to. Plus it’s a good feeling, prioritising other people. It’s not all bad.

But I do think I need to redress the balance a little. Towards myself. And this is not a new thought, not by any means. I’ve been grappling with this particular teddy-bear for years now. I think I’ve got better at it too. These days, I have some ability to say no to things that are asked of me, if I don’t feel I can manage them. That wasn’t always the case. But I’m not quite where I should be, I think. How do I know? Well, for starters, my car radio hasn’t worked right in a year-and-a-half. That says something, right?

And if it were just me, I wouldn’t mind so much. But sometimes my lovely family are in the front line of this too. I’m not saying I neglect them. Quite the opposite, I would do anything for them at any time and that’s a given.

But think about it, Ken, they don’t get to enjoy any radio in the car either.

You should do something about that.

Bump it up the list a bit, at least.

Two Nights with a Tenor


It takes a day or two to sink in. We’ve done it. We’re done. A tiny trace of sadness lurks around the garden door. I don’t have to be at a rehearsal, there are no lights and sound to arrange, I don’t have to find a couch.

We’ve done it. 

We’re done.

And what a week it’s been. All the prep, all the energy, culminating in two wonderful nights with the warm, packed Linenhall audiences laughing and clapping us along. It couldn’t have gone better, in my eyes, and I know the cast feel the same. The word of mouth from a home audience after a play is almost invariably kind, this is a given, but you come to know when someone is being diplomatic and thoughtful and when they really had an enjoyable time. The people at our play had a good time, I can tell, and that makes me happy.

I love the hour before the play goes on, particularly for the first time, as it did on Wednesday evening. For me, it’s like a big ship getting ready to cast off from a dock. There is a calm in the theatre, where everything is prepped and ready to go. At front of house, the first audience members are trickling in, sorting their tickets out at the box office, getting a pre-show glass of wine in the coffee shop. Meanwhile, in the Green Room, the energy is much higher. Lines are run, trousers are stepped in and out of immodestly. Quiet corners are sought and not found, to try to contemplate what is about to be done.

And me? I have a slight and wonderful sense of my own redundancy. I’ll be in the Control Room with Sean for the duration of the show, hitting the music cues and prodding Sean a little for the lighting cues (though he knows he’s got it all under control). All that is to come. But for this moment, as the front lobby swells to a full house, and the in-theatre staff sort out their priorities, and the cast prepare and prepare, I have nothing much to do but smile. I sit on the couch that is the central part of the set, try for an unsuccessful selfie, and look out at the empty seats. I listen to a song on the American Songbook pre-show playlist and hum along. At this very moment, I feel like the luckiest son-of a gun in the whole wide world. What did I do to deserve all this? Important, professional people, struggling to make sure they have learned every line I wrote, an entire theatre at my disposal.

Lucky duck.

I check the vacuum clearer once more, to make sure it will start up when required and then I wander up to the balcony above the main foyer to look down on the people below. I hear my name, someone is saying something about me, I hurry into the Control Room in case I hear something I don’t want to.

The play brings surprises as it runs. A supposed sure-fire gag doesn’t quite hit home, while some presumed innocuous piece of business brings the house down. A music cue stutters momentarily, causing near heart failure in the Control Room. Ronan sings through the glitch effortlessly and, checking afterwards, many audience members didn’t even notice it.

The audience know exactly when the play is over, which is always a good thing. Standing ovation, (thank you), extra curtain calls for the cast. I run from the control room and take the secret route to the Green Room so I can congratulate the cast without meeting a single audience member along the way. I know this theatre really well. It makes me feel a bit like the Phantom of the Opera sometimes, dashing around the less travelled ways, causing mischief wherever possible.

The cast are happy. I’m happy. We go out and chat to the members of the audience who want to wish us well and tell us how they enjoyed it. There is an extra buzz on account of the fact that so many of us have not been in a theatre in over two years. We see old friends and we catch up a little. It all adds to the specialness of the evening. And the play, which is light and airy and not-too-deep, seems pitched about right for this type of an evening. It ain’t Pinter, it ain’t Mamet, but it did what it said on the tin. We’ll take that.

Once more, may I thank Vivienne Lee, Donna Ruane, Ronan Egan, and Eamon Smith for giving so much time and energy to the piece and for making it such an exceptionally wonderful experience. Thanks to the Linenhall Arts Centre who made us welcome and never said ‘no’ to anything we needed. A special word for Sean, who is a diamond in the theatre. And my lovely family, Patricia, John, and Sam, all of whom came and one of whom made a big round trip just to be here for it.

We’ve done it.

We’re done.

But wait. Are we really done? We have a show, it went over really well. Why not go someplace else, do it again?

Why not do that?

Hmmm…

Loving Rehearsals


This could be one of those blog posts where the two-word title tells you absolutely everything that you need to know, and the rest is just filler. I hope not. I’ll try my best to prevent it. But, really, it’s all there. 

I love these rehearsals we are currently in the middle of. End of.

But of course, that can’t just be ‘end of’. That’s not a blog post, that’s a telegram.

In a little over two week’s time, my newest play takes to the stage at The Linenhall Arts Centre here in Castlebar. We’ve been through the wars with it a little bit. Deferred by Omicron, cast brushed with the same virus. As a result, we’ve been living with, and working on, the play for quite a bit longer than we normally would. There have been breaks and hiatuses galore but still we sail on towards our goal – an opening on March 9th.

And you know this already, because it’s all there in the title, but I have loved the entire process - every minute of it. The Linenhall Arts Centre have been a dream to work with, as they always and ever have been. Help and encouragement has never been found wanting and Sean in the theatre is a beacon of positivity and technical input. While writing, many congratulations to Bernie on her wonderful news x.

My ‘loving’ of the rehearsal process is at least a two-fold thing. Maybe more. But let’s do two for starters.

Firstly, it’s such a huge compliment to speculatively write a play for the most talented people you know and then slip it in an envelope in their letterbox or Facebook-message them the script in a lowercase-titled PDF. Let me break that sentence ‘cos it’s getting unwieldly. It’s such a huge compliment to have them unanimously come back at speed and say, “Yes, let’s do it.” There is an element of kindness in this, for they are indeed kind people, but there is a warming vote of confidence too. No matter how much they like me as a person, it’s far too much of an ask to go up on a stage with a meritless piece, spending months learning and rehearsing, all without reckonable reward, all for the sheer love of the game. So, there’s an affirmation of friendship and support but there’s that other thing too. Just maybe, the play is not so bad and maybe we’ll do okay.

Secondly… well, it’s the process, isn’t it? The four actors who have committed to stand up and give this little play in a fortnight’s time are all hugely experienced. They have all spent more time treading the boards in front of audiences than… than… I don’t know what. Not hot dinners, I’ve had an absolute shedload of hot dinners. Let's just say they all know their stuff and that’s why this particular process of rehearsal is so wonderfully rich. They don’t just turn up and do lines and move around. They engage deeply with the characters and the reasons why they end up doing what they do. As a result, the play morphs subtly over time. Parts that don’t work slough away and new flesh grows on the barer bones (sounds gross, doesn’t it?). I think everyone in rehearsal with a new play has to be open to that. It is only when it is played-out in a room that one can start to see how it should really be.

I love this process. I find it tremendously exciting but also amazing funny and nerve-wracking in almost equal measure.

I suppose, if you ask anyone, I am directing this play as well as having written it. But, to my mind, I’m not really. We are a small collective and we work together with a common aim of trying to do the very best darned thing that we can.

Sometimes, when there is so much to do and such a long way to go, a person might wonder why they didn’t just stay on the couch and watch the next boxset. But this is living. This is our life. We have to step up and try to make something outside of our day’s work and our evening dinner. If it works (and I’m pretty sure now that it will) it will be a lovely glittering little moment to remember. If it doesn’t then we are once again like Jack Nicholson in Cuckoo’s Nest when he tried, and failed, to lift the shower block. We tried, dammit, at least we tried.

Thirdly. Yes, I figured there would be a third thing, and a fourth and a fifth but I’ll stop here. I’ll stop at three. 

It’s the people, isn’t it? It’s just the wonderful cast.

This is a first for me. I never wrote a longish play with specific players in mind for each of the four parts. I did it here and how blessed and lucky am I to have the exact four actors agree to play the exact parts I intended for them. And I didn’t write for them by accident. I love them, of course, and respect them, obviously, but there’s a little calculation too. I want the very best I can possibly get for my little play. I want to give it the best start in life. So, I chose the best to write for. The best to ask to do it. And they said yes. Oh lucky me.

In order of appearance, they are Vivienne Lee, Donna Ruane, Ronan Egan and Eamon Smith.

I have known them all for years and have sat and loved Vivienne and Ronan in the numerous musical and theatre productions they have excelled in. They are both consummate actors and the roles I wrote for them reflect, at least to some extent, the things I have watched them do so well up there on stage.

Donna and Eamon and me have done many things together. I have written a total of seven short plays for them for the Claremorris Fringe since its inception year (when we won) and they have even persuaded me to get up on stage myself in four separate productions. Never again though. As Dirty Harry used to say, “A man’s got to know his limitations”. Donna and me have done more together than I can even recount, she had directed all my teens plays and made them infinitely better along the way. 

And so, the days fall away and showtime rolls into view. The little deal that we all made together, quite a few months ago, will soon be consummated.

There remains one key unknown element to the deal. Yes, my Castlebar and Mayo friends, it’s you. Will you come out and see our little play? Share a laugh and a smile? For that is all we will ask of you. We continue to live in strange times. In normal times I know you would come, as you have come before, because you are brilliant and supportive. If you can come this time too, despite all the oddity and the continuous learning we are all doing about our new situation, well that would be just great.

It's not about money or turning a profit. There is none of that in a little endeavour like this. We just want to show you what we have been doing for these last few months and hopefully bring you for a spin on this tiny carnival ride we have built together.

Whatever happens, it’s been a blast.

An absolute blast.


You can book tickets here:  https://thelinenhall.ticketsolve.com/shows/873630326 or on 094 90 23733 during office hours.

Lurgy

It’s early Sunday morning and there’s a helicopter circling the house. It’s getting ready to land at the hospital over the way.

It’s not for me. I’m bad… but not that bad.

Leaf through the virtual pages of the darned blog, all the way back to 2008, and you will find little or no mention of me being sick. There is a highly technical reason for this – I’m a jammy git. Although my childhood and early teens had some minor bits and pieces, the adult part of my 58 years have been amazingly sickness-free. I got Chickenpox back in ’97 and I… nope that’s it. I’m fairly sure that the remainder of the latter third of my life might not run so smoothly but it’s good to acknowledge that I’ve been lucky thus far.

This week, my luck ran out a little… but only a very little. As I said, the helicopter is not for me, and I sent wishes of recovery and wellness to whoever it is for.

This week, I caught a ‘thing’. I’m not sure what to call it but we’ll get to that in a short minute. The first hint of anything being off came at about lunchtime last Monday when I noticed I had a headache. “Damn”, I thought, “This thing I’m trying to do must be really annoying me, it’s given me a sore brain.” I struggled through with it until about five, when I noticed that it had got considerably worse. I procured some pills. They didn’t have any of the blue box ones, so I got some green box ones, which allegedly work faster, and a bottle of still water. That steadied things though I fell asleep during University Challenge, which is never a positive sign.

By Tuesday morning, it had all kicked off. High temperature, headache, backache, front ache, side ache, cough. “I know what this is,” I said, “I keep up with the news.” So, I removed myself from Society and booked a PCR test.

Two years into the Pandemic and this was my very first PCR test. Oh, I’ve done my share of Antigens, but I’d never had any cause to roll up and get professionally ‘done’ so to speak. I won’t write my way through the process because you will all know as much about it (and more) than I do. I will just say three things about it. 1) It was an incredibly smooth, friendly and efficient set up, carried out by people who were working very hard to make it right. 2) As I waited in my car, the man in the car next to me took off his mask and rolled down his side window, clearly in the mood for a chat, even though he was only two feet away from me. I politely declined, as much for his safety as for mine. 3) I didn’t have COVID.

So, if I didn’t have COVID, what in blazes did I have? In my opinion, I have never in my life had Flu. My knowledge of Flu is that it is a serious thing and if you have it, you have no doubt you have it. I’ve had colds, like the next man, and sometimes people call them flu. But not me. If you’re on your feet and operational, it’s not Flu. But I had something, and it was no joke.

In the day it took for me to get my PCR result, I obviously stayed at home and eschewed all human contact. I tried to work but fell asleep, drooling, on my keyboard (join the queue, ladies). So, I repaired to the couch and fell asleep in front of a boxset instead.

I got my COVID clearance at about noon on Wednesday and so I went to work in the afternoon. I know, I know. Bed. Hot drinks. Sleep. My temp was still buzzing in the upper 38’s and I should have been back on the couch, at least.

But we’re made of two parts. Mind and Body. And my mind does not often give my body licence to lay down. Even the day before, prone on the couch, my mind was full of the things I needed to be doing. How behind I was going to be. By the time I was cleared of you-know-what, my mind could take it no longer. Even if I was only getting a little bit done, I was still chipping away at the block. It helped my head to get those little things done, even if the other half of me wasn’t doing so good.

I worked through the rest of the week. Not very efficiently, to be honest, but I defend the decision to do so. I arrived at the weekend with a feeling that I was not as behind as I would have been if I’d stayed in bed and was I any sicker for not having done so? I don’t think so.

Friday evening was a reprieve in all symptoms, so we went out to a thing we both wanted to see. It was outdoors and we saw friends there and had a laugh for an hour and heard some lovely music and then went home.

Yesterday was back to shitty again. I had some chores to do, and it was a shuffling grind to get through them. But I made it to the couch for the Rugby so that was all right.

Sunday morning and the helicopter’s just buzzed off again. I feel bleary and achy and tight in the chest. I’m not quite done with this puppy yet.

Ask me what I have. I think I have the Flu. This was too much to be called a cold and, yes, I walked around with it and got some things done but it was a grim struggle, and I only did it to shut my head up.

Call me a fool. I guess I am.

Just don’t tell me this was only a cold.

See You for Two out of Three

Meat Loaf sadly died this week. This won’t be an attempt at an obituary, I wouldn’t be equipped for that. But it’s worth a couple of words. That’s for sure. So here they are.

I realise it sounds more like a Jackson Browne song, but in ’77 I was fourteen and the music was everywhere. Punk and New Wave hadn’t yet crashed over our heads and, in that year after its release, the charts were full with songs from the likes of Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Barry Manilow had his place in the chart, as did Engelbert Humperdinck and ABBA. Things were getting ready to change but they hadn’t changed yet.

Then the ‘it’ I referred to in the paragraph before landed in our consciousness and took firm root there. ‘Bat out of Hell’ did not seem to grab us off the back of radio airplay or stuff on television, not to my memory anyway, it just leaked into our awareness. A sort of a, ‘Have you heard this?’ thing.

In more recent years, the way the production of the record was approached was quite the revelation to me. Apparently, the main creative forces of Steinman and Meat Loaf had come out of a musical theatre background and the album was born out of these influences as well as many others. A documentary I saw about the birth of the album gave it a sort of ‘Glee’ or ‘High School Musical’ type of preppy vibe.

We, the fourteen or fifteen-year-olds, didn’t get that vibe at all. For us, Bat out of Hell, seemed excessive and rude and out-there in a way that we must have craved but didn’t really know it. The young people in the songs were crashing motorbikes and getting off with each other down on the hot sands of a midnight beach. Our bikes were push-powered, and our beaches were the very antithesis of hot at any time of the day but still the songs connected in the way they openly talked of lust and need and general youthful over-the-top-ness.

Bat out of Hell wasn’t the only thing that year but it was certainly a big thing. The music of our day seemed washed out and for another generation. The music of yesterday drew us more, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, all connected to us and spoke to us but they belonged to other, slightly older people. When it landed, Bat of Hell might have been a bit tacky and a bit OTT but, dammit, it was ours and nobody else’s and we grabbed it.

We knew all the words, and there were lots of words. I’d say I still know every one and, with the lightest of kick starts, I could bale through them faster than any boy has ever gone. The words spoke of things we knew nothing about - varsity tackles, cracker jack boxes and such - but it spoke of things we knew and felt too and that peculiar juxtaposition of the strange and the familiar made for a momentarily heady brew that has never since fallen out of our affections.

My best memory of Bat Out of Hell comes from Valentino’s, the night club I tried and tried to get into way back then. The nightclub I failed and failed to get into until, one night, I didn’t and, from then on, I got in every week. I’ve covered that story in another post here.

The point is, there was a girl, and she was a friend of a friend, and I didn’t really know her very well and she didn’t know me. It is a sad truth that I can’t even recall her name at this point. She was nice but she had no interest in me and the feeling was fully reciprocated on my part. We both had our eyes elsewhere, on places where we probably wasting our time. Such was the nature of those evenings.

But we developed a thing, a very little thing, in Valentino’s. Every week, Tommy Higgins would play ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’ as part of one of his slow sets. This girl and me must have had a slow dance to it one night and, though I’m filling-in here, I imagine we both knew all the words and sang them aloud as we swayed around and laughed. It must have been fun because, every week, she would say to me, “Come find me for ‘Two out of Three’,” and I would, and we would sway around and sing and laugh together and maybe stick around for the rest of the set and then simply be gone.

You’ll probably read this and think, “Silly Ken, this was some unrequited attraction that his dumb fifteen-year-old self couldn’t even recognise.” But, no, I don’t think that’s right. For my part, I never really did terribly well at dances and such: I was scruffy, and my hair was too long in all the wrong places and my complexion wasn’t all that great. Thinking about it now, I was like one of those two guys on the periphery of ‘Gregory’s Girl’ who watch romance unfold all around them and who make plans and scheme schemes but who never really get anywhere much.

When ‘Two Out of Three’ played, somebody wanted me, if only for the briefest of interludes. Somebody sought me out or required me to seek them out. That’s what the album was like too. Somebody had made something just for us. It might not have been perfect, and it might have been a little bit off-kilter in places, but it was just ours.

Perhaps, in meeting up on the beer-soaked floor, and whirling around it one more time, we were both subconsciously reflecting that. I don’t think so though. Not really.

Like the album itself, it was just our little moment.

Faeries, Birthing and other Misapprehensions

Were you ever told stuff when you were very young that sort-of messed you up for a while? Some of the things that were told to me were imparted with the best will in the world, but they still set me off out into the world with some curious misapprehensions.

Let’s do two of these. Let's not get too serious, though, it’s only a bit of fun.

In Ireland, the last Sunday of July has always been something of a big deal. I don’t know if that’s true everywhere or not. Here in Mayo, it’s ‘Reek Sunday’ and people come and climb up our local Holy Mountain, Croagh Patrick, in their hoards. Some do it barefoot. Some wear things on their feet; boots and shoes and such. Some, like me, don’t do it at all. Come on, it’s hard.

In Sligo, where I spent my formative years (i.e. lived) it was called ‘Garland Sunday’, and everybody went to the Holy Well where there were food stalls and boat trips and… other things. (I dunno, it was a long time ago.)

I have this memory of one Garland Sunday at the Holy Well and I’ll tell you a something about it. But we have to tread carefully here. If I’m honest (and I do try to be) this memory is little more than a series of dreamlike impressions. It was over fifty years ago, for God’s sake. So, as I try to make a little narrative paragraph about it, there is inevitably a significant quantity of ‘colouring-in’ being done. For instance, when, in a minute, I come to describe my Dad lying back on a tartan blanket eating a ham sandwich, am I remembering that or am I filling-in something I subsequently glimpsed in an old photograph somewhere. I really don’t know.

It doesn’t matter anyway. Just keep in mind that what follows is probably 85% fabrication, which is a bit higher than my usual average.

So, anyway…

There we were, on Garland Sunday, up around the Holy Well (it all sounds impressively Irish, doesn’t it?) and we were having sandwiches and tea from a flask and I, being about six years old and a bit bored, set off exploring to the woods up the back. At the edge of the woods, there was a huge black hole that led in among the deep dark trees, and I paused on the edge of this hole and wondered if I should go in or not. Gradually, as I waited there, I became aware of an air of music emanating from the depth of the woods. I stood and let it ease over me for a little while and then I concluded I definitely wasn’t going in there. I ran back to my family and perched on the edge of the tartan blanket. Dad must have sensed that some little thing was amiss, so he asked me what was up. I told him about the music that was coming from inside of the woods.

“Ay yes,” he said, working on getting his pipe lit, “that will be the Faeries. Best not go in there.”

My memory is this: even at the ripe old age of six, I quickly discounted that the music was actually coming from Faeries. That was Dad being mischievous, as he often tended to be. Most likely there were some houses up the back of the woods, which seemed infinite but probably were not. The music was coming from a house back there or maybe even from some kids in the woods with a cassette player.

I worked all that out for myself. Here’s the thing though. I worked it out on a rational conscious level. But, somewhere in some much deeper subliminal level, the idea of there being Faeries in those woods inserted itself into my psyche and lodged there.

It is still there.

If I drive ever drive past those woods, I can’t help but glance up there and mutter in my head that I heard music there once. And even as I mutter it, some deeper quieter voice from another place in my brain will still always intone that some old refrain.

“It was Faeries.”

My second-of-two misapprehensions in this little collection is an altogether more practical one. After my second sister was born, I would have been about ten years old. One day, I asked my mother how my sister had got out of her. For the longest while I had been aware of Mum’s tum and that there was a sibling in there waiting for me. Then, rather suddenly, she was there. I knew where she had been, I knew where she had come from, but how did she get out? Mum sat me down and explained her experience of birthing to me. How my sister had come into the world and my other sister and my two brothers and me. How we had all done it.

“It was easy,” she said, “there was a sort of an opening in the side of my tummy and she came right out, just like you all did.”

Mum was being straight with me, as I subsequently learned. All five of us were born by Caesarian Section. I’m glad she told it like it was, but it did set me off on a temporary misapprehension that all babies came into the world in this particular way. Days at the beach were spent, as a child, peering at bikini-clad ladies, not in any morbid pre-pubescent sexual fascination. Quite the opposite really, I was looking for that discreet exit that all the babies came out of.

I bet we all have little things like this. Things we get over easily but still never quite fully give up.

I’m pretty okay with birthing matters these days and with Faeries too.

If one thing still troubles me a little it is only that I sometimes wonder why, instead of ethereal melodies, the Little People in the woods were listening to ‘Sugar Sugar’ by the Archies.

Making Sure That Puddy is in Her Bed

I have a new part to my nighttime routine, and I thought I’d best share it with you. Every evening, sometime before it’s time to turn in, I put on my shoes and venture out into the back garden. It’s dark out there so I need the torch on my phone. I’ve got good at switching it on though, at first, I kept turning on Airplane Mode and other monstrous things. It’s not a big mission I’m on, in fact it’s the simplest of things.

I just want to see if Puddy is in her bed for the night.

I shine the phone light in the garage window and that usually does it, but sometimes it’s a little opaqued with condensation on the inside. When that happens, I have to peep my head through the side door that is now permanently slightly ajar and shine my light in.

Nine times out of ten, Puddy is in her bed. Sometimes she looks up to see what this light-thing is all about and what this idiot-of-a-human wants this time. The best times, though, are when she is sound to the world, curled up in tight little ball in the straw, with no clue that I am there.

Regular readers of the blog will know Puddy as the semi-feral cat who gave birth to kittens in a precarious position in my garage last spring and who thus instituted a series of events which has led to this moment, where she sleeps in her house in the shed, suffers regular name changes, and gets fed whenever she wants it (and many times when she doesn’t). You can catch that story via this link, if you ever care to.

As Autumn set in, Patricia and I resolved to provide some form of comfy base for Puddy in the garage. We went to the pet store and came among a small kennel which was assembled on the shop floor. I begged the girl to let me buy the already assembled version, but she wouldn’t do it, so we had to bring home an Ikea-style cat house in a box. Although I set to it with some dread, it was actually an easy self-assembly and it wasn’t too long before the little ‘housheen’ was sitting comfortably in a defensible corner of the garage. Once it was quarter filled with fresh straw, it was quite an inviting little place and the cat, normally highly suspicious of every damned thing, took to it with surprising enthusiasm. Trish added in a microwavable heating pad which she got online and which I thought was a tad over the top but which I still heat up and place under the straw every evening. The cat goes in every evening, sometime after dark, when the neighbourhood patrols have become quiet and uneventful. She forms a cosy half-egg-shaped nest in the straw and settles in for the night. In the morning she emerges, yawning, stretching and musically proposing breakfast.

Things have progressed quite a bit since my last report. The cat has gone from being called ‘The Cat’, through being called ‘Magda’ after her foster-carer who minded her while the kittens were being weaned and while she was off getting neutered. We also tried the name ‘Blanche’ for a while – because she is largely white and has always relied on the kindness of strangers. None of these seemed to fit and the cat patently didn’t give a toss either way. Trish suggested we might call her what I had been subconsciously calling her for some time now. So ‘Puddy’ it is. Like I said, she doesn’t mind, and I call her that anyway.

We feed her twice (and sometimes three times) a day. Sometimes she eats it up and, just as often, she licks off the gravy and leaves me to tidy up the rest because she’s had a better offer down the road. We can provide for her all we want but she is still a neighbourhood cat, and she knows it. Offers of food seem to come from a number of sources. I met a neighbour before Christmas who was off to one of those European supermarkets because he reckoned that he got the best value there when buying chickens for the neighbourhood cats. It’s little wonder my Tesco own-brand white fish can’t always compete. Whatever the source, the cat is now sleek and well-nourished, and she stalks our block with a keen eye and a ton of attitude.

But the biggest change has been tactile. The cat had always been completely hostile to the idea of being touched in any way. Any such advance would evoke hissing and hand batting and, if you didn’t quickly get the message, a lightning-bolt scratch across the back of your hand. But Patricia is patient where I am not and, over months of interaction and fun in the wilds of our back garden, after hours of quiet time together, and a fair quantity of antiseptic cream, the seemingly impossible has happened. Every evening, the cat, upon seeing Patricia come home from work, trots to her ‘petting-point’ on the paved part of the back garden. There, she permits Trish to stroke her and scratch behind her ears to both of their heart’s content. A bond has been built where such a thing did not seem possible, and both seem to benefit from it as there is audible purring on both sides.

As for me, I don’t push it. I feed and replenish the straw and microwave the thing. I’m a surly uncouth lump and I don’t want to undo any of the marvelous work that Trish has done in gaining Puddy’s trust. I think I shall remain the ‘hired help’ and enjoy those two getting on with it from a safe distance.

Will there be more developments? Will Puddy advance ever further into our lives as I know cats can tend to do. I can’t say. I have a little allergy which might prevent many further advancements but who can tell? I’ll keep you posted. You know I will.

But why do I do it?

Why do I go down the garden, hail, rain, or snow, every evening, before my bedtime, to see if the cat is in her place? I don’t know. I find it relaxing and reassuring in a funny sort of a way. I think it’s something about having been able to do something good and to see evidence of it, yet again, before the long day closes. To have helped another little soul in some tiny way – it’s as good a way as any of rounding off a hard day.

I don’t need Puddy to be in her bed. She is still at least partly a wild thing, and she must come and go as she pleases. If there are nighttime assignations to be honoured, down the road or in some adjoining back garden, so be it. But it is somehow very pleasing to know that she knows she has a base that she can return to whenever she wishes, out of the rain, the wind, and the cold.

I don’t need her to be there.

But it’s always nicer when she is.