Back in the early, twilight years of this blog, I wrote about my shoes. I wrote about how I only ever owned one pair at a time and how I only every wore Doc Marten shoes.

Some things change, over time. Some things don’t.

I still only ever own one pair of shoes at a time. I put them on in the shop when I buy them, bin the old ones, and on I go. That hasn’t changed. But I don’t wear the Doc Martens any more. I’d love to, but I just can’t make it work. I go through them too quickly, you see, and they’re a bit too expensive to be having three new pairs every year, which it how it was shaping up near the end. 

At first, I thought it was the fault of the shoes but, when I looked harder at it I came to conclude, as I often do, that it was all my fault. It all came down to the way at sit at my desk when I’m working. I tend to ‘perch’ a bit on my chair with my toes planted firmly on the floor but the rest of my foot bent back up. It’s much more comfortable than it sounds but it is very hard on the uppers of the old Docs. That’s where they started to fail and that’s why we had to part company. The new type of shoe I wear is black and nondescript and is not a million miles from the aesthetic of the Doc Marten shoe. Except, well, it is actually a million miles from the aesthetic of the Doc Marten shoe.

Another aspect of having only one pair of shoes is that I only tend to get the new pair when a crisis occurs with the current ones.

That crisis always takes the same shape. The rain comes in.

You never know you have a hole in your shoe until it starts to rain. That could be a proverb, I think, though I don’t exactly know what the point of it would be. It just sounds like it fits, doesn’t it? I was like that old song. I ran on for a long time, in nice dry weather, and I never even had a hint that it was new shoe time. And then, quite quickly, it became all too clear.

There are few things more instantly party-pooping than having a hole in your shoe when it’s raining. That damp foot seems to drain a level of optimism and goodwill out of the world. Your stride becomes a trudge. Your smile a little more forced.

Off to the shoe shop, post haste. They don’t have the shoes I wear now, not in stock. Would I like these, or these, or even these (which are exceedingly popular). No, no and no. I find myself unusually entrenched on the type of shoe I need. The same as last time. Accept no substitute. I recognise in myself a dogged need to not give any more ground on this matter. Life has taken away my Doc Martens from me, and I am ever-so-slightly the lesser man on account of that. I can’t allow it to chip away any further at my sartorial standards. The lady in shop confirms that, yes, she can order me a pair of the same shoes again but wouldn’t I like these ones instead? No. An order is placed. But it will take two weeks for the new shoes to come.

So now I face two weeks of wet socks.

Or the alternative, which is almost worse.

My eldest son went to a wedding, some years ago, and bought himself a pair of shoes which he never wore again. The shoes are my size and they’re there under his bed, although he’s in another city now. I try the shoes on. They fit. So I wear them to work. My feet are dry.


These shoes… they’re like skis. They are long and slender and they feel almost twice as long as my actual feet. I walk around in these winkle-picker monstrosities and I catch my toes on steps and I trip. I feel like a spiv, a ‘Flash Harry’. I feel like the guy with the small moustache in Dad’s Army. I will get you whatever you need, just at a price.

It's dry today, so I can wear my shoes with the holes in. Yes, there is a hole in each now. If it rains tomorrow, I will be in spiv mode again. Ducking and diving. Stick a monkey in my pocket…

God, I hope my new shoes come soon.


Yesterday was the day when I bring my aging car for its annual test to see if it’s roadworthy. We have letters to describe that test but I’ll spare you all of that because you probably have letters of your own, wherever you are, so you’ll know what I mean without my having to get too deep into it.

I washed the car. Well, the car wash did. I just stood to one side and read a few pages of my Agatha Christie while the machine got it done. Incidentally, the car wash machine has a memorable name. It’s either Jesus or Christ. I just can’t remember which.

I don’t like all this car test palaver. They make you wait in a little room with other people who all seem overwhelmed by a need to be over-chatty, as if that will somehow help their jalopy fare better out in the workshop. I generally go and stand outside and read a few more pages of my Agatha Christie and freeze my cojones off while the test progresses inside.

Here's the thing. This week’s thing.

When you first go into the test place, you are greeted with a hatch in a wall with a sliding glass screen. It is here that the car testing person will take your details and your car keys and your fee and bid you to wait. But there’s some other bidding to be done before you can get to that stage. The hatch is unattended because all the personnel are out in the workshop, testing cars. They’ll only come back in when they have a result for someone and when they need to get the next car to test. So there’s a note taped to the glass screen on the hatch. I can’t remember precisely what it says – hell, I can’t ever remember if it’s Jesus or Christ on the car wash – but here’s the general gist of it.

“Please take a seat and you will be called when we are ready for you.”

That kind of thing. It’s pretty unambiguous. I read it and I take my seat and my mind recalls another reason why I don’t like this process very much. It’s that sign. Well, no, tell a lie. It’s not the sign itself, it’s how everyone in the world seems to deal with it. Everyone, that is, except me.

I take my seat and wait to be called. Poirot’s case can no longer distract me. I know, all too well, what happens next.

A woman comes in. Don’t get me wrong, it could have been a man. It just happened to be a woman. I’m not even making that up for the benefit of the story, as I am sometimes wont to do.

This woman steps up to the hatch and near-sightedly reads the notice. Then she stands and waits at the glass. She peers inside. She checks the time on her phone. She shifts her weight from foot to foot.

The car test guy appears at the window.


“I’m here for my car test,” the woman proclaims, as if this was to be some kind of a surprise to anybody in the room.

What does the car guy do? Does he direct her to the sign (“Read the sign, lady.”) and exhort her to take a pew. Does he perhaps even gently reprimand her for not just taking the seat in the first place?

Does he?

To quote the late John Wayne: The hell he does.

He processes her.

While he’s doing that, a young guy arrives. He sees there’s a very short queue of one at the hatch and he gets in line. Guess what? He’s here for the car test. He gets processed.

Another person comes in… and another… and another.

During this gala of processing an elderly guy comes in, reads the sign, and sits down quietly beside me. He has a gentle air of compliance and despair about him. We sit and watch the busier, more important people parade past us.

“I am this guy beside me,” I think to myself, “I carry the subtle fragrance of other people’s boots on my back.”

Eventually, exactly at my appointed time. A car guy appears and rather annoyedly calls my name. I go to the hatch, bypassing a girl who is evidently in a dreadful hurry.

I am processed with kindness and good attention and I am processed at exactly my allotted time. I had, in fairness, arrived a little early, having set off early out of fear of possible traffic.

My car fails but that’s beside the point. It always does. I have a few small things to get attended to and then I’ll go back for a retest and that will be fine.

But the scene that played out bruises me a little. There is no reason that it should. I played my part in the smooth running of the test centre and I got looked after at the correct time and I got looked after well.

It’s just all those people who step in front of me, who ignore the signs. Well, they make me feel like a lesser person than I should be. I should be up there, getting all thick and confrontational with them. Possibly assuming a poor shadow of a New York accent.

“Hey, buddy, what’s the matter? Don’t you read so good? See the sign? You take a seat and they call you when they’re good-and-ready. Savvy?”

It’s not just that I would probably get hand-bagged and verbally assailed if I stuck my head up over the parapet like that. It’s more than that. It’s just not in my nature.

I am compliant. I generally continue to feel that being compliant is a pretty good thing. 

But, as I get older, I get to feel like maybe, just once in a while, it's not.

Reflecting on the Musical


I’m going a day early with the blog post this week, for reasons which will become evident.

On Thursday evening, at about 10.30pm, I was buzzing. Not literally buzzing, that would be disconcerting, but now I think about it, yes, almost-literally buzzing. I had just seen the Castlebar Musical and Drama Society musical production for this year and it had left me buzzing.

This year’s show is a production of ‘All Shook Up’ and, yes, I can almost hear you thinking about that because that’s the way I was thinking about it too.

“It’s a Jukebox Musical,” I was thinking, “loads of Elvis songs. It’ll be happy and clappy and I’ll see some of my favourite people up on stage and it will all be very well done and I will have a fair-old time.”

But it’s better than that.

It’s way better than that.

I’ve seen all the CMDS musicals bar one, (due to Covid). From Oklahoma, through Fiddler to White Christmas my expectations have always… well… not so much been exceeded as blown out of the park. So perhaps this year’s production is not the best production ever. Perhaps I’m too close to it to be objective, the buzz of it still lingering on a bit. Perhaps that’s it…

But I don’t think so, not really.

I think this year’s production is the best ever. A delight from start to finish. A fantastic cast. I’m not going to single people out but, by golly, there is talent up there. A great production and set. A Rockin’ band/orchestra. Directed, choreographed, designed, arranged, and managed to the highest degree. An uplifting experience.

I went expecting something really good and I got myself more than that.

A word about the ‘book’ or the play itself. As I said, it’s a Jukebox Musical. The songs get crammed in and the story generally bucks and swerves to apply some logic to the running-order. All of that, yes. But the writer, Joe DiPietro, here took it all a subtle notch further. Unexpectedly, the character who delivers all the Elvis energy is not even the central character to the story. He acts as an Agent Provocateur, shaking up the populace of a sleepy small town, in all the ways you might expect but in a couple of other unexpected ways too. Before the final curtain metaphorically falls (to a thunderous standing ovation) issues of race and gender and aging and social equality will have been probed and poked in clever little ways. It’s a Jukebox Musical through-and-through, make no mistake. But like that swivelling roustabout, it makes some nice moves.

So the reason for the early post is to tell you that there are just two more shows left and both of them are today (Saturday 11th March 2023). One is this afternoon and one is this evening. I don’t even know if there’s tickets, there shouldn’t be, but if there is, you could do a hella lot worse than to rock up to the TF here in Castlebar and then tell me I’m not wrong – that this is a great show.

This all got me thinking. What is it about a Musical that comes out of the local community to entertain us? Why does it work so well?

The first thing to say is that it doesn’t simply work so well. It has to be made to work so well. It has to be dragged, kicking and screaming along the theatre floor and thrown onto the stage on opening night with all the energy and professionalism and hope and faith that everyone can muster.

There’s an old perception that the community musical is a rather dusty old thing that you haul yourself to see out of a sense of duty and you gain some modicum of distraction by seeing your local butcher pretend to be a Siamese regent.

But it’s not that anymore, at least it’s now here in my place, where Castlebar, Claremorris, Ballinrobe, among others, move heaven and earth every year to stage the most outlandishly professional productions you could imagine. The most talented professionals are enlisted to bring whatever musical is chosen to the stage and it shows. Casting processes are tough and unbiased with the best person ending up in the best place. The result is invariably something to behold and, when it all clicks perfectly, as it has for Castlebar this year, it is little short of astonishing.

But here’s the thing I most wanted to say. The thing that got me sitting here typing on this sleety Saturday morning.

It’s the people. It’s really all about the people.

What I’m trying to say has is origins in that musty perception I referred to earlier, that it’s great to see the butcher asking you ‘shall we dance.’ But that’s not it… Let me think…

There is so much superb talent in the world, and all of it can’t make it to dance on the top of the pin. Not everybody can grace the Oscars, and the Emmys and the Grammys. Not everybody can fit up there. And you can have all the talent to take you there but it just never happens. That’s life. That’s Entertainment.

But this thing, this Musical Endeavour, it allows us to see and appreciate the literally world-class talent that lives in our towns and cities. The chartered accountants, the school teachers, the company managers, the sales assistants and yes, the butchers.

It’s not about someone getting up there and fulfilling some misguided ambition at the expense of a tolerant audience. It is all about very real and superb talent being granted a deserved moment in the limelight, with full orchestra and in glorious costume. It is a very, very good thing.

And we, the audience, we benefit from this too. We get to see something special, something successful and, what’s more, we get to see our peers, our colleagues, do it.

It is nothing less than a Communion. An instance of sharing. Talent and Appreciation of Talent, mutually exchanged and appreciated.

I mean, is it any wonder I was buzzin’?

Will Not Submit

One of the weaknesses I have come to identify in myself, as a writer, is that I will not submit.

And before I even get to that, I should give some mention of how very difficult it was for me to write that first sentence. I read it back and the cursor hovers over it, ready to pounce. My mind speaks to me.

“You can’t write that,” it hisses, “You can’t.”

But I have. Look at it. And I’m not going back now.

There’s only one word in it that gives me the shivers, that almost breaks me out in a flop-sweat. One word; ‘Writer.’

I find it hard to refer to myself as a writer, or even think of myself as a writer. It’s a sort of historic thing. When I was much younger, and I dreamed of making myself into a writer, I used the criteria of the day to define for myself what I would need to do to achieve that distant goal. It was never overtly stated or written down. There was no ‘Mission Statement’ per se. Just a corner of my mind that knew, without question, what had to be done.

Put as simply as possible. I would be a writer when somebody asked me to write something… for payment.

As I suggested above, this is quite an outdated yardstick now, in much the same way that a yardstick is also an outdated yardstick. I am fully aware that many books are published, films are made, plays are put on, without anyone ever asking the writer to sit down and write something, much less give them any money to do it. Following this very model myself, I have had over thirty different things – plays, short films, radio plays – produced and seen/heard, a number of them in multiple productions.

And still you’re not a writer, Ken?

Wait, wait, I am a writer. I wrote it down (eventually) in that first sentence up there. So, I know I am. Well, at some reasonable level, I know I am. There is still a real part of me that rails against the descriptor. It’s not Impostor Syndrome, at least I don’t think it is. I’ve just never got over the bar I set up for myself when I was a much younger man.

Now, finally, back to this matter of ‘submitting.’

I have stopped submitting stuff to people. That’s the weakness I mentioned right at the top. I write and write but I don’t send it out, I don’t show it round, not much anyway. I’m not sure why I stopped, a rejection letter or a failure to win something has never burned me that much. It stung a bit sometimes, sure, but not enough for me to pack it in altogether. And, in fairness, I got a few yeses in my day, I won a few things. Mostly, though, I tended to come second. I was pretty darned good at doing that for a while there.

I think I just got lazy. I like to write but I don’t get the same kick out of assembling a submission. So I don’t do it anymore.

Which is patently not true! The reason I am writing this is because I actually did submit something just this week. With the help of a creative friend, we got something in to someone that I think is quite tight and good. In fact, I think we may stand a fair chance at coming second. Plus there was some satisfaction found in the act of rounding it all up and getting it out the door.

Maybe some taboo has been broken. Maybe I’ll do some more submitting now. We’ll see.

Meantime, I will still struggle a bit to write the word ‘Writer’ in the required box.

As I think about it now, the only thing that really gives me comfort with my defining myself as a writer is my persistence. I don’t ever stop and I don’t ever expect to stop. In truth, I am driven to write. Why that is the case, well, it’s a bit of mystery. All I know is that, if I stop, I do not feel whole and, when I’m in the middle of doing it, I am often in a happy place.

I’ve think, somewhere along the way, a part of me has just defined myself in the act of writing. It’s as hard-wired as walking or talking or seeing. If I lost the ability to do any one of these things, I would still be me, but something intrinsic would have been lost and I would have fought and fought to try to cling on to it. That’s how the writing thing feels. And when I think of it in those terms, I become slightly more comfortable in calling myself by that name.

In that way, the first sentence of this piece, minutely altered, also becomes the last.

One of the strengths I have come to identify in myself, as a writer, is that I will not submit.

Cycle of Doom

I thought I might model today’s post on that old Don Williams song ‘I Believe in You.’

As you doubtless know, in that song, Don sets out a bunch of things he doesn’t believe in and then, when the chorus comes around, he gets on to telling us about some things he actually does believe in. Wholesome things, like love and music. He also pronounces on how he believes in old folks but I rather think that they are more of a proven fact than a personal faith choice. Anyway, let’s not digress too much.

For this-here post (a little Don creeping in there, sorry) I though I would set out two major ‘wild things’ that I don’t believe in and then come on to one that I am starting to believe in a little. So, as usual, it’s not going to be earth-shattering stuff, down here on the blog, but you’re here now so let’s just do it.

Number One - I don’t believe there are Aliens in our skies. I mean, I believe in UFOs because they are actually just flying objects that have not been identified. That’s obvious. But I don’t believe there are aliens in those UFOs, not for a moment. But hang on a minute, I do, absolutely, believe there is intelligent life out there in the universe. To be honest, I don’t see how anyone couldn’t believe that. All it requires is a little mathematical ability and a slight lack of ego. There are billions of stars and billions more planets, of course there is life out there. It’s a bit of a no-brainer. But the same mathematics and logic that puts them out there also, for me a least, says they are not coming around these here parts any time soon. The distances are simply too immense. It would be akin to two particular grains of sand on a beach finding each other from two hundred miles apart. It may happen someday but it ain’t happening tonight.

Number Two - I don’t believe in ghosts. There's no ‘ifs,’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts’ with this one. There are blessed memories and , Lord knows, there is loss, but there aren’t any ghosts. There just aren’t, what more do I need to say? There’s just not. And, yes, I do write about them quite a bit but that’s because they’re so successful as a concept. We can project a lot of things onto the ghosts we create for ourselves, everything except reality.

So we come to the something that I’ve started to believe in. This has only happened in the last week or so. Let me give a little context for a brief moment. What, you have to be somewhere? Behave. Settle in.

On Good Friday, in Ireland, when I was a teenager, there was never anything good on the telly. This was written in stone. The content on our tiny screens was unremittingly wholesome and there was absolutely nothing else to do. It was a bad time for all concerned. But then, there came one Good Friday, and it was around eleven o’clock in the evening, and bed seemed to be the only viable option, when a movie came unexpectedly on to our snow-ridden and hazy BBC1. It was called ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’. It was the first engaging Good Friday movie. It could hardly be more dated in appearance now but the concept seems ever more relevant. In the movie, a computer started to take over the world.

And that, right there, is the wild thing that I’ve almost started to believe is possible.

I’ve never bought into the notion that so-called Artificial Intelligence could and would become so smart and powerful that it might threaten the way of life of the human race. I kept this idea in the same mental folder as ghosts. Not remotely possible but, still, the stuff of great stories. Two things have been simultaneously moving to change my mind. The first was an article in the New York Times that was circulated widely on Social Media last week. In the piece, the writer described how the search engine, Bing, had released a prototype of a new so-called AI interface and sent it to some people to test out. The writer of the article tested the AI, pushing it to theorise on how it might be if it had an alternate, evil, self and what it might do. The AI eventually got into it, probably a bit more than it should have. It posited the creation of fake accounts, the invention of dangerous viruses and other mean and nasty things. It even got on to declaring its love for the writer, claiming that he no longer loved his wife. As a story, it had that spine tingling ghostly quality that, just for a moment, makes one wonder if one has arrived at the very edge of some unmapped precipice. If the unthinkable could actually be starting to be thinkable.

I mean, there are computers in today’s world can play chess to a level where no human being can hope to beat them. If you give a machine like that the power to switch on and off the lights in your house to their idea of an optimal level, is it unthinkable that you may someday end up sitting in the dark? If that seems even possible, then the more extreme possibilities is just simple extrapolation.

So that’s enough, is it Ken? One silly article and you’re sold on this wacky idea? Well, no, not quite. There’s something else. I hesitate to mention it.

There are also the bicycles…

Around our town, there’s a new collection of convenience bicycles ('E Bikes') that you can hop on and hop off of. You enter your card details into the little on-board computer and off you go. Easy. They’re catching on quite well now, after a slow start. You pick them up wherever you find them and you leave them at your destination. I think some guy in a van drives around, picks them up, and relocates them periodically.

All good…

Except… well, they seem to congregate… don’t they? In unlikely places. I mean I went to the shop this morning as I always do and I parked in the housing estate at the back of the shop. Except I couldn’t park where I would normally park because the bicycles were there. Seven of them, all resting in the spot where I park. Who cycled seven bicycles there, to that unlikeliest of places. And why were they all staring at me with their little headlights, as I eased out of my car.

“Excuse me guys,” I said, as I gingerly approached them, “but you’re in the place where I usually park.”

They didn’t say anything. None of them. They just perched there and stared and stared until I turned up my collar and sidled away.

I’m just being silly. Right? 


EMP of Truth

If I were to have a superpower, I wouldn't be the kind of guy who would turn back time by flying around the earth multiple times really fast. Neither would I be the type of guy who would round up black-and-white stripe-shirted bad guys in a big net and drop them in the exercise yard of the prison around midnight. 

I’d just be a guy with a gizmo, and I would try to use it for good.

This gizmo would be a type of EMP device. Yes, I know you know what an EMP device is, but there’s one guy there at the back who looks a little baffled and too shy to ask. So, just for you, sir, an explanation. An EMP device produces a pulse of energy that creates a powerful electromagnetic field capable of short-circuiting electronic equipment. Basically, I push my button and all the machines close to me shut down until I press it again. There isn’t really anything like this in real life (I think) but this is comic book stuff so bear with me. There’s a point.

What good would this EMP thingie do for me? I mean, what would I do with it? 

That’s easy.

I would stop the cars.

                              *                   *                   *                   *

This week, there are a lot more bits and pieces arrayed around the little memorial at the side of the road. Candles and holy pictures and flowers and such. This suggests to me that an anniversary is drawing near. A year? Two years? If I think that, it’s probably at least three.

                              *                   *                   *                   *

On Thursday, I was crossing the street outside the police station, going across to the Mall. Halfway across, a car sped in front of me, missing me by a couple of hair’s width. I stepped back to give it a little more room. As the car rushed by, I got a glimpse of the interior. There was a lady in there, early thirties perhaps, and she was on her phone, the device held tight to her ear. In that briefest of moments, I could see that she was furious, her face was livid, and she was shouting into the phone. I caught a muffled hint of her raised voice as the door of her car rushed past my belt buckle. Then she was gone. One thing is certain. She never knew I was there.

If I was that super hero guy – the guy with the gizmo – I would have taken it out then and I would have employed it. I think perhaps it’s in my watch, like Ben Murphy’s Gemini Man from the 1970’s. I would push the winder on my watch and the EMP would do its thing and every machine within a 100 metres radius would stop dead. Clocks would stop, mobile phones would shut down and, yes, all the cars would stop. The angry lady’s car would stop.

I would walk up to her and tap lightly on her window. Thinking about it a little more now, I would probably need a second power in my EMP watch. A little something that would persuade people that I meant them no harm and that it was okay to interact with me a bit. Otherwise this next bit would never work.

She looks at me through the glass. Still furious but now also uncertain of what is going on, of why her car had stopped, of who this shabby guy outside her window is and what he wants.

I push that second button on my gizmo, the one that smooths everything over, and I ask her to get out and come for a walk with me. It’s not far, I reassure her, and everything will be all right.

We leave the car, it’s not going anywhere until I press my button again, and we ignore all the people standing around and wondering what the hell has happened to their phones. We walk up the road, the one where the old tennis club used to be. Up to the end and along the short path that leads through the hedge. Out onto the ring road, right beside the pedestrian crossing. The flickering battery lights on the footpath memorial are faint in the morning light but they still create an effect.

I don’t need to say much. I never knew the man that the flickering lights memorialise. I never even saw him once, as far as I know. All I know is that he died at this pedestrian crossing – one, maybe two, maybe three years ago. And I don’t know anything about the circumstances of his passing and I’m not allocating any blame to him or to the person that hit him. I couldn't. Besides, it’s not like I’m without sin myself. We’ve all taken our eye of the road at some point or other. So I’m not looking to judge anyone. The point I’m trying to make to her is a simple enough one. That event, that moment, will have left a wide trail of loss and bereavement and guilt and regret behind it. Maybe there wasn’t any lapse on anybody’s part in that moment. Maybe there wasn’t.

But there was certainly a lapse on this lady’s part, down the road at that crossing in front of the police station. She was late, she was angry, she was having a terrible morning. None of which would have mattered a single iota to her if she had hit me with her car. Her anger, her lateness, her daily trials, all would be rendered irrelevant in that split second. And me, I would be injured or dead or maybe something worse.

I don’t say any of this to her. I just show her the thoughtful, loving, sad memorial at the side of my road and ask her to just… have a care. Think about what might happen. Just… have a care.

Then I push the little button on my watch and the world returns to what it was before. Busy, rushing, not always caring quite enough.

Just another day on the block for your friendly neighbourhood EMP Man.

One More Time, with Feeling

The worst days in blogging are not, as you might expect, when you can’t think of anything to write. They are mercifully few. The worst days are when you’ve written your thing and you look back over it, on the morning you’re going to post it, and you immediately decide, “That’s no good, it just won’t do.”

Welcome to my Sunday.

This week’s blog post was to be a sort of a ‘Day in the Life’ for myself. A loose description of how my working day tends to play out, from when I get up to when I go back to bed. I did it… and I looked at it… and no, just no. It was a losing combination of having too much information and also having no useful point whatsoever.

So here I am. 10.12am on Sunday, with one arm as long as the other. What on Earth shall I write now?

This week, I was thinking about Mum, partly because it was the anniversary of her death and partly because it was so many years ago and yet feels quite recent and immediate. I was thinking how, for such a wonderful person and such a great personality, there should be reams of blog posts here about her. Reams. And yet there really aren't. There are a few, and some of them are some of my favourites. So, with the ’day in a life’ post safely in the bin, I sit here and comb my mind for some cool memory of Mum that I can set down here.

It's funny how memories won’t come on demand. They have to waylay you on a long drive or while you’re crossing the street to go to the shop. You can’t just summon them up. Well, I can’t. Not much anyway.

Two things were dragged up onto the shore for the brief dredging.

The first is only a guess and it’s easy to see how this presented itself because it’s nearly Valentine’s Day.

I got a Valentine's Day card in the post when I was about fourteen. It showed a cartoon rabbit, not unlike that Cadbury Caramel one that Miriam Margolyes used to voice. On the inside, was written ‘You’re my Hunny Bunny’. It’s not enough to say I’d never had a Valentine card before, I’d never had a single expectation or possibility of a Valentine card. This one boosted me up and made me feel like a player, a lad, a member of the human race. I spent far too much time dreaming about who it was out there who viewed me as a ‘Hunny Bunny.’ It did me a power of good.

It’s funny how time makes us view things differently. In the year I got the Valentine, I walked tall. Somebody thought something of me. In subsequent years, I became convinced that it was actually Mum who sent it to me, though nobody ever said anything. The writing was just too sophisticated for someone who might fancy me at fourteen. The card became a thing of embarrassment, never to be thought about or dreamed about again. But, as I said a few sentences ago, it’s funny how time makes us view things differently. Now, as my dredger hauls this snippet up gasping on the sand, I am quite delighted at the thought that Mum might have gone to this trouble for me. To write me a Valentine, for God's sake. Wasn't it nice? 

Time is funny.

The second memory that came up, riding on the back of the Valentine one, was about a little falling-out we had and what it might have meant.

When ‘Jaws’ came to Sligo, I went to see it with great excitement and it became a defining moment in my cinema-going life. This is already well-documented in these pages. What is not so extensively written down is how, in week two of its showing, I went for a second time. It was unusual for any film to last longer than a week in The Gaiety in Sligo. I remember ‘Where Eagles Dare’ did it, and they also started it late because there was a Jesuit Mission on in the Cathedral in the same fortnight. Kramer V Kramer did it too, but that was up in the Savoy.

But I digress.

When I went to ‘Jaws’ again in the second week, I went with my friend Padraig Conlon and his sister, whose name I can’t recall. Not Jennifer, she was too young. I was looking forward to going, I wanted to enjoy the film and also enjoy their first experience of it. I wanted to see how they jumped when the head came out of the boat.

But Mum wasn’t pleased.

“Where are you going?”


“To see what?”


“You saw it last week.

“I know. I want to see it again.”

I went. But Mum wasn’t pleased.

That’s the end of the story. Except it isn’t, really. It’s the footnote that adds the seasoning.

Years later, Mum would, from time to time, reveal things about Dad as a young man. Nothing immense. Just things that would pop up in random conversation. Valuable snippets though. Anything that gives us a flavour of our parents as young people is a treasure in itself. Like the time she told me that Dad sat up all night at the Boat House at the end of the Back Avenue on the night before he got married. That’s good, isn’t it?

The relevant snippet concerns my dad’s penchant for going to see movies twice. It was revealed, many years after the fortnight in 1975 when Jaws arrived, that Dad had gone to see the African Queen in the Gaiety for five nights in a row in the week that it played there. 

Five nights.

That says something to me, though I don’t quite know what it is. It says something about the annoying traits of the father alarmingly starting to turn up in the son.

It says something about how that mixture of annoyance, alarm, and inexplicable pride is part of the key to the mystery of what Family is.

The Lights from Pointless Hill

I’m trying to walk a bit more. I resolved to this in the New Year but it’s definitely not a New Year’s Resolution. I don’t go in for that kind of thing. I walk quite a bit but it’s not enough. In fairness, I could walk from here to Timbuktu every day and it still wouldn’t be enough. But a little more can’t hurt so I try to get down to the lake with my podcasts and my bulky but Bluetooth-enabled headphones and amble around it a few times.

Friday evening was the start of our brand new bank holiday, in honour of St. Brigid, who seems to have been pretty cool. She got me a day off, anyway, so that’s quite a positive start to her credentials. But, yes, Friday afternoon was the start of all that and the weather was very pleasant and the sky was still bright and offering a clear portent of the Springtime to come (and all that poetic stuff). So I decided to take a stroll, a constitutional, a turn around the lake, to kick off the non-existent long weekend festivities.

You can walk right around the lake. There’s a good path and two bridges and, oh, I just realised you don’t walk right around the lake, you cross a bridge over part of it. But that’s not pertinent so you’ll excuse the mistake. I know you will. You’re always kind. Jesus, where was I? Oh yes, you can walk around the lake (except you can’t) in a simple circumference or… or…, we’re getting towards the point now, you can cut off to the left and go around by the little playground and up the steep hill and re-join the circuitous lake path right where you left it. It’s effectively a pointless hill. A pointless exercise in terms of getting from A to B but a useful addition to the aerobic exercise element which is, after all, the main point of the walk.

Here's the thing.

When you’re walking up the pointless hill, just past the kiddies playground, and just before the lake comes back into view below you, you can look across the way and see the new cemetery on the other hill. The new cemetery is not new, it’s just that the old cemetery is considerably older than it so that’s why it’s called what it is.

Looking over at the new cemetery on a bank holiday weekend Friday evening, two thoughts occurred almost simultaneously. The first was that were a surprising number of little lights flickering on the gravestones. The second was that it is very likely that I will end up over there some day.

Let’s parse that second part first.

Although it feels like about seven years, I have been in this little town for over twenty-five years now and I’m happy to say it is my home. Although you can never tell what will happen and what boomerang the fates might chuck at you along the way, it does not seem over confident to predict that I am going nowhere else at this stage. I will probably end up being driven up the main street, while shopkeepers with that old sense of tradition draw their blinds, close their shop door, and dim their lights. A neat turn at ‘The Irish House’ and then it’s a straight run out to the cemetery. Not too fast though, many of the nice people walking behind are no spring chickens either.

I’ll be planted in the latest row of the new cemetery and that’ll be okay. They’ve been working back from the main road since they started and they’re a good bit in now. Hopefully, they’ll be a bit further in before I arrive there. Oh, I could get cremated like Una and Penelope and Michael did. There are a lot of pluses to that. But it’s a bit of a trek down to Limerick to the Crematorium and there isn’t really a top spot for a cup of tea on the way (not that I’ll be bothered). I think I’ll just settle for being carted up the road and eased into the ground there. That way, you could be back in town, half an hour later, for some soup and sandwiches and a nice chat. Not too many tears. I’ll have had a good run, whatever happens. Hell, even if I went out in the garden right now and was hit by a frozen turd from a passing Airbus, I’d have had a fair innings. So, yes, vegetable is fine and a toasted ham and cheese thank you very much. Maybe even a glass of Guinness. Push the boat out.

The lights are a bit strange. There’s just so many of them. It almost feels like it’s a concerted effort on the part of some group or collective. The ‘Light up the Cemetery Brigade’ or something. But, no, I don’t think it’s that. It’s just people coming by and putting a little battery-powered night light thingy on the grave of their loved ones. Perhaps they are aware of the rather striking twinkly effect that all these little lights cause, up on pointless hill across the way. Perhaps it’s just a whole load of tiny individual gestures, tumbling together to make something nice.

Either way, there is one aspect of the little lights on the graves that stands out pretty clearly. The greatest concentration of lights is on the newer plots and the number of lights gets mathematically fewer and fewer as the eye travels up the older graves closer to the main road. There are lots of lights at the new end. One quarter of the way from the new end, there are only one or two lights here and there. After halfway, there are no lights at all.

It tends to remind me of that old saying about how you die twice, the second time when your name is spoken for the last time. Putting a light on somebody’s grave could become a bit of responsibility. Even if you do it faithfully and true for all of your life, when you die the light does too. And who will light one for you?

Standing on the pointless hill on Friday evening, as the last of the light finally slipped from the sky and Spring suddenly seemed a bit further away again, I came to a small conclusion and reminded myself of how I generally feel about such things.

Somebody will plant me somewhere when the time comes. Somebody may light a light or two. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am here now. What matters is what I do with that. Can I do a bit of good before the shopkeeper finally closes his blind for me?

I can sure as hell try.

Now… about this bank holiday…

Critical Thinking

I’ve never been what you might want to call a great critic. But, whatever limited facility I might have once had for that kind of thing, now seems to be getting less, less and, yes, less. These days, I tend to either ‘like’ things or ‘not like’ them and, interesting enough, I tend to ‘like’ quite a lot of things. These days, as a critic, and I hope you’ll pardon this expression, I tend to be something of an easy lay.

Maybe this is not such a new development. Even when I was in college, and we were required to be incisive and judgemental about architectural stuff, me, and a pal of mine just tended to default to the view that either something was ‘Nice’ or it ‘Wasn’t Nice.’ I think our blatant use of this rather simplistic critical technique was only forgivable because we tended to do it a slightly ironic way, as if we intended to imply that all criticism was tosh and we were too big to even play that game. This wasn’t the case - we were actually just useless -  but I think we mostly got away with it. We’re still here, anyway.

So why is this in my mind in this week of all weeks? Well, there’s a couple of reasons. One reason is that I met two very good friends of mine at different times in the last week. These are people whose critical antennae and very finely tuned and to hear them expound on whatever is currently under discussion is invariably to see that thing anew from some other angles and, also invariably, to learn a thing-or-two that one did not know before. So, while I would throw in my tuppence-worth about how the thing was ‘nice’ and ‘good’ and that I rather 'liked' it, my wonderful friends would engage me and enlighten me with their ever-incisive views.

Another reason that this kind of stuff is in my head is on account of a review of ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ that appeared this week. The review appeared in Slate Magazine and it was written by Marc O’Connell, himself no slouch in the writing department. It gained some considerable traction on Twitter and that’s where I saw it and read it. Reading it got me thinking about criticism and how I’m not any good at it. 

This review, in my considered opinion, is very good (There’s that critical thinking). If you care to click on the title of the film in the first sentence of the last paragraph, you can read the review for yourself. I recommend you do. It's very good. (Um). I said hello to Mark O’Connell quite recently, after he introduced Sally Rooney at her T.S. Elliot Abbey Theatre lecture on Ulysses. I think he might have thought I was about to try to bum one of his rollies because we didn’t get much further than that on the evening. Nonetheless and regardless, he is an admirable writer and his critique of ‘Banshees’ is insightful and finely-formed. I may not 100% agree with everything in it and I’m sure he’d be cool with that, in the unlikely event that he was even slightly bothered about what I might think. 

For me, for all the well-made points, it doesn’t quite credit McDonagh with being the very good writer he certainly is. Perhaps that’s not the point, perhaps the point is what is written rather than how good the writer is. I don’t know. There is much I don’t know and the art of criticism seems to show up these chasms more than most other things.

As for me, I went to see ‘Banshees’ and I liked it pretty darned well… It’s not much of a review is it? Not a terrible insightful analysis. You fucking liked it? Is that it?

This kind of internal dialogue makes me try to think a little harder about the film. What did I really think? Come on, Ken. Suppose the fact you liked it simply wasn't good enough? Suppose it didn't cut the mustard? Tell us something more. Delight us.

I liked it...

I liked it initially because I liked the trailer, which set me up for a rematch of In Bruges', which I really liked. It set me up for more of the sharp, quirky dialogue, devil-may-care incorrectness, and edge of the seat unease that I experienced in both ‘In Bruges’ and in ‘Three Billboards’ too. Perhaps 'Banshees' didn’t deliver on the trailer as thoroughly as I might have liked but it still did plenty. The cast were great, the story had a coherence, the script, as one would expect, was deft and skilfully wrought. The scenery was lovely and… let’s stop and take a personal moment with the scenery.

One Summer’s Day, my friend Simon Ricketts came all the way from London to visit me in Mayo, where I live. The little excursion we made, that wonderful day, took us through much of the scenery in which ‘Banshees’ is set. We stood against the sky and the sea, as Colin and Brendan did, and he and I drew air and cigarette smoke into our respective lungs. We talked and gossiped and 'politicked’ and looked… and we didn’t fall out. Simon isn’t with us anymore and that day plays large in my memory. To see those places up on the screen, there to be admired and envied worldwide… that rather did me a good turn.

I realise that's a little beside the point of criticism but perhaps that’s what criticism can sometimes be: the deeply personal injected into the deeply impersonal.

McDonagh gets some stick for writing in his heightened Irish dialect. This criticism harks back to his theatre plays, which is understandable as the film is very much a part of that earlier 'oeuvre'. But he has also shown that he can set his stories elsewhere and that he can tell them in other voices just as well. Except of course the people from those other places tend to take issue with his subverting of their language and culture too. I would be disappointed if he ever apologies for this and I would eat my hat if he ever did. His work is, by its very nature, ‘heightened.’ Heightened in practically every respect; action, interaction, morality, dialogue, simplicity, complication. Everything is bigger than in real life and so it’s never going to seem real or authentic. He has to go somewhere to do this, why not here in the West of Ireland? Somewhere inside me, I've always viewed Mcdonagh's work as owning much to cartoons. Smart and adult but, yes, cartoons. I welcome the entertaining ‘cartooning’ of us. Please just don’t mistake it for real life. John Wayne wasn’t really a Wild West cowboy and neither are we.

I think Martin McDonagh is, technically, a writer of great skill. He creates gripping, engaging, shocking, funny stories and he realises them well. I rather think he gets more ‘Art’ imposed on him than he ever intended to garner and I imagine that amuses him and drives him onward to his next escapade. Write a fine script, throw in a little artistic existentialism, pepper the stew with a few Civil War bangs and crashes. The chattering classes will almost certainly come lowing… and they do.

I think he loves a great story, a great film, a great experience. I don’t think he’s bothered all that much about being the next Leonardo da Vinci. I think he's just looking to make a great flick.

Isn't this what all artists do? They don’t set out to make a masterpiece or to save the world. They just do the work that they are driven to do, for whatever reason. And the world and the people and time and history will decide if that thing they ended up making is of incalculable value or whether it is just another piece of landfill.

That's probably the best I can personally do. Not very good. But I do respect the people who can delve deeper and mine levels of success or failure that I, on my own, would simply never have found.

I did rather like it though… didn’t you?

School, College, Holiday, Life

There’s this thing I’ve done since I was little and I’m still doing it. That’s kind of the point of today’s post… I’m still doing it. I heard once it is possibly a symptom of something-or-other. I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m fine, I just do this thing.

As long as I can remember, I’ve always been calculating the time-span of things. I work out when things are halfway through, when the second half has begun, and when it will all be over.

I used to do it in relation to my weekends, when I was in school and perhaps occasionally didn’t like the school as much as I should have. The calculation used to go something like this. School finishes at three o’clock on Friday, at three o’clock on Saturday, it’s still not ever nearly halfway until I have to go back again on Monday morning at nine. All is well. Nine o’clock on Saturday evening, though, and now the halfway point has been passed. When the same time passes again, I will be back in school. It’s not a crisis or a calamity or anything. It’s just a gently discomforting 'knowing' that the first half of something good is now over and the slightly-less-auspicious second half has well and truly begun.

This subtle practice rather came to the fore when I started in college in Dublin, having just turned seventeen. I had never left home before. Remarkably enough, I had never even slept in any bed but my own, apart from a couple of hospital stays. So, although Dublin and college was great, the first year did see its share of homesickness. I would travel home on the bus practically every weekend, getting on the bus at 6.00pm on Friday in O’Connell Street and arriving back at about 10.00pm on Sunday evening, outside the Pro Cathedral. Here the weekend counting would obviously continue but it was the weekday counting that featured more. In my head, of course, only in my head. Nobody knew about my calculations or about how earnestly I pursued them.

Sunday night in Dublin, Monday night in Dublin… but, once Tuesday night was done, I then had only two more nights to do, before I would be into the day that would eventually see me on the bus back home again. Again, this was not a life altering calculation – nothing like that – it served as a small consolation for the bad things and a small anxiety for the good things.

As an grown-up person, parent, etc, it doesn't  happened so much anymore. I’m settled now and there’s been less things to dread or to look forward to. Life ticks on. The only time in the year where my little habit would surface in any meaningful way would be at Christmas time. For many years, my only holiday from work in the year would be Christmas and I came to look forward to it a lot. More for the break than for any measure of festivity. When Christmas comes, and work finishes, it offers a clear vista of a lengthy, extensive holiday. The opening moments of the holiday are always great, partly because the proportion of holiday to come is huge in relation to the proportion of holiday expended. As you might expect, the joy of the holiday diminishes as the midway point of the Christmas break is reached, passed, and vanishes in the rear view mirror. December 23rd is the start, January 2nd is often the end. December 28th is therefore the midpoint, the zenith. After that passes, the perception tends to be one of a good time that is rapidly running out.

It's not a very positive game to play. Holidays seem shorter than they are, as the final days seem slightly devalued by the proximity of the looming end. It’s something I would rather not do. But I am hard-wired to do it. It’s just a small aspect of who I am. Deal with it.

So why am I writing about it now? It’s not a new subject, I’ve alluded to it before in a number of posts over the years. Why is it this week’s topic of typing?

You might almost guess. Something bigger than a weekend, a working week, or a holiday is looming and the calculations in relation to it, muted quite successfully until now, seem to be getting a little louder and more insistent.


This year I will turn sixty. It’s not going to be any crisis or calamity. It’s just a year, a number, I’ve done thirty, and forty, and fifty. I’ll manage this one too, if I’m spared.

But there is a sense that the calculations are beginning, just like they always began for the weekends and the holidays. Except this time, it’s a bigger sum… and the sum is not going to add up very neatly.

I’ve never tended to do the calculation thing for my life before but my intuition tells me that I am in danger of doing it more as this next milestone gets passed. It’s a slightly different sum. Because the end point is unknown, it’s not possible to get a firm feel of where the mid-point was or when it was gained. Instead, the sum takes the form of a look back at how very quickly the last twenty years have rushed by and a low level wonder at where I will be, or what I will be, after the next twenty have passed. Twenty years ago, for my fortieth, we had a party in the old tennis club. Lots of old friends came, some new friends were made, a band played, there was food, I made a little speech. The tennis club is long gone and is now a municipal car park. A lot can happen in twenty years. A lot of it can happen very quickly.

And time seems to be moving blindingly fast now. Already the Christmas holiday, the subject of all the usual calculations, is weeks back in the distance, very nearly a month. I got my hair cut last Tuesday… except it wasn’t last Tuesday, it was the Tuesday before that. If time is speeding so hard, and I’m so far beyond the halfway point, so far beyond the best years, how will the rest of my life go?

Don’t worry. I’m not going to explode. I’m just trying to describe a calculation, a niggle, a feeling, not an all-out collapse.

I find comfort in odd places. For instance, in the film ‘Arrival’, which I think is quite profound in a particular way. In it, the main character gets to know quite a lot about the measure of her life. Her response to this is encouraging, for me at least.

“Despite knowing the journey... and where it leads... I embrace it. And I welcome every moment of it.

That’s the spirit. That’s how I’ll go forward, head held high, for there is much left to do and even more left to enjoy.

It may already be quite a few days beyond December 28th, quite a few hours beyond nine o’clock on a Saturday evening, but there’s still New Year’s and there’s still Sunday to come. I might as well just enjoy it all.

Monday morning, when it comes, can take care of itself.