Puddy in the Hall

I know there are a handful of you who like to hear about the cat and how she’s doing. I also quite like updating the cat’s progress myself. I like how she stalks the pages of this blog like… well, like a cat, as she grows from an occasional garden enigma, through a damned nuisance, and on to be a treasured and welcome part of our tight little cohort.

Here's the mandatory summary of events to date. During lockdown I would converse with the stray neighbourhood cat that periodically passed through our back garden and occasionally sat in a loaf position on the redundant trampoline. After inadvertently leaving the car open one evening, and after finding that said cat had gone in there and pissed on the passenger seat, enemy lines were firmly drawn. 

Although violence was never on the cards (on my side at least) the cat was no longer made welcome in the yard. Rude words were spoken (on my side at least) and the cat developed a scowl any time that it was not presenting its bum hole to me as it sidled away. Easter Saturday, two years ago, the cat was in the garage again and I was exhorting it to leave, in the strongest possible terms, but it would not go. The reason turned out to be three new-born kittens in a cardboard box. This development quickly turned the tide of hostility towards our new ward. Random piddling moggies may be one thing, but a new mum in the shed is quite another. Everybody was excessively well cared for and there were some interesting twists and turns, which are all back there in this blog (search ‘cat’ if you're interested or click on the word 'cat') but, ‘end of the day and with thanks to the NWSPCA, the kittens were weaned and found good homes and Puddy, as she was now known, settled back into neighbourhood life minus one womb and with a snip off her ear tip to prove it. 

Over the last couple of years, Puddy has become a daily feature of our lives, as she receives much of her food and shelter here. The shelter in the form of an elaborate and heavily insulated house in the garage. She shares her small bag of favours with several other houses in the neighbourhood but we can’t help but feel that we are her Numero Uno. Patricia gets to rub her and fuss her every day and she rubs up against my calves when I stoop to fill her bowl, but if I try to stroke her, she arches herself and hisses in hostile disbelief then runs away to gather herself emotionally. I mostly do much the same.

So, after that enormous recap, the latest update is mostly right there in the title. Yes, Puddy has started sleeping overnight in the front hall.

She’s been coming in and spending time there was quite a while now. There’s an incredibly comfy sheepskin basket-thing on a cushion and the front door is glazed so one (Puddy) can watch the outside world carefully when not snoozing. It’s a good place to be, our front hall, and it seemed logical that Puddy might evolve to overnighting there. But it didn’t start out well. One particularly torrid night, it just didn’t seem fair to ask Puddy to decamp to her garage pied-à-terre from the hall so we left her there, curled up and sleeping, and went to bed. The next morning was like a typhoon had swept through our front hall. Puddy, in a punk rock ‘do’, sat in the middle of the devastation, meowing plaintively to be let out. She huffed off and didn’t come back for ages.

That seemed to be the end of any thoughts of indoor overnight living for Puddy. And that wasn’t the end of the world. The garage abode got a microwave heating pad installed every night and was replete with fresh straw… I’ve slept in far worse places myself.

But you know cats so much better than I do. So much better. They want what they want and they get what they want. Over time, Puddy became less and less eager to decamp from the front hall to the garage as the evenings wore on. She would curl up defiantly with her back to the open door and clearly proclaim her wish to give the overnight sojourn one more shot.

So we rather nervously drew up plans.

The front hall was cleared of anything that might be compromised if a repeat tantrum arose. A large litter box was positioned, along with water and dry treats. The basket was fluffed and positioned; everything was poised. And then, on a rainy night earlier this week, Puddy did her customary ‘reluctance to vacate’ routine and so we closed the door and left her inside.

I was up at 3.30am. She was sleeping.

I was up at 6.25am. She was sleeping.

At 7.15 she was sitting at the door gazing out so I opened it up and she slinked outside and buggered off. The hall was tidy and untroubled by tantrums.

Operation successful.

Since then, Puddy eases in most every night and stays over. Like all other cats, I’m sure, she assumes sleeping positions which utterly exude comfort and relaxation. It bestows a subtle feline blessing on our home, as if confirming that this is a place where one can indeed come and be at ease and be happy.

You will all now say that she will beguile us into the next stage and will soon be residing within the inner sanctum of the house, fully integrated and ruling the roost. I’m not so sure about that. She comes in the house fairly regularly but always seems a little overwhelmed and ill-at ease. Also, I seem to retain the slightest of allergies which means her inner presence can tickle my nose a little. The hall is easy to ventilate by simply throwing the front door open. Perhaps she will become the elderly house cat in years to come, we won’t rule it out. Just don’t bet on it.

For now, Puddy is the cat in the hall. Imperious in her new domain.

I wrote this yesterday and last night she didn’t turn up to stay at all. Perhaps there were mice to terrorise or some midnight tryst to keep. Not to worry. We know how to deal with teenager and cats.

Sometimes they stay out late and they don’t want you asking where they’ve been.

Cocky – More or Less

When you slide over to the Internet, to look up a definition of something, even before you have typed one sentence of your thing, then you know you may not be standing on the firmest of ground.

Cocky – very confident, usually in a way that is slightly annoying.

Drat. It seems that ‘cocky’ is not the exact word I should be using here. That ‘slightly annoying’ part is not really what I’m after. It’s the ‘confident’ part that I want to write about for a few paragraphs. I could change cocky for the longer version but if I put ‘cocksure’ in the title you never know what kind of traffic this post might attract.

Cocky isn’t quite right but, never mind. Let’s try this anyway.

I wish I was a bit cockier. That’s going to be the point of this entire thing. However, I also wish I was a bit less cocky. That’s where it all might get a bit messy. But look around, Ken, isn’t it pretty messy already? Just plough on.

I somethings think like I have three lives. There are the two obvious ones, my Professional Life and my Family or Private Life. Two is possibly enough for most people. Two is quite enough to juggle. But I also have this third life. Let’s call it my Writing Life. Like ‘Cocky,’ it’s not exactly the right word because one could righteously look at me and say “Writing Life? What Writing Life? He’s scribbled a couple’ things here and there… does that make a Life? What pretentious garbage is this going to be? Where’s the funny stories gone?” All quite justified.

But I’m not really talking about achievement or recognition. I’m more talking about the places I live in, inside my head. In there, both work and family loom very large indeed. But, make no mistake, writing is in there too and, when the other two lives are not clamouring for attention, as they so often are, then the writing life is always waiting, poised, ready to take its place.

In terms of being Cocky, when it comes to Family/Private life, I think I strike a fair balance between being Cocky and not being Cocky. It’s the other two lives. That’s where I feel something is a bit off-kilter. These are the places where I wish I was a bit Cockier… or maybe a bit less… I’m not always sure.

A little expansion. In a few months, I’ll turn sixty. No biggie. A number on a card, some candles on a pretty intense cake. All good. The point of it is that I’ve been around the block a bit at this stage. I’ve seen some shit. I see people on telly saying, ‘I’ve been in this job for 25 years, with the world-weary attitude of someone who can no longer be surprised by anything, having done absolutely everything. I snort gently into my mug of tea. I have been doing my job for over 40 years at this stage. Chew on that, Motherfucker. 40 years! And guess what? I know nothing.

That’s how it feels anyway. At forty years, I should be the Maestro, the Guru. I should be the Crème De La Crème. Yet, here I am, scuttling around, second guessing myself. Is this right? Is that right? Am I doing the right thing? I am pretty darned brilliant at what I do but every day remains a school day. Ask me something and I’ll check it before I answer. I’m really good but I just don’t know it.

So, yeah, I wish I was a bit cockier – as in confident without the annoying part.

This effect bleeds effortlessly into my Writing Life too. If I throw a writing CV together for some random submission or other, people tend to look at it and say things like, “What? You’ve written all that?” and I’ll hang my head a bit and nod. As with the Professional thing, I’ve been doing it for a very long time. I’ve read a lot, I’ve seen a lot, I’ve written a lot. Yet, every day is a scuttle, a doubt, a subtle conviction that none of it is all that good really. I write for the pleasure of writing. It seems to release in me the sort of drug that runners produce when they run. I get a little involved in it, I get a little high. I have to keep doing it because I feel significantly worse if I don’t. The more of it I do, the better I feel.

I just wish I was Cockier about it.

It’s come to a stage where I write fairly intricate things and I polish them up and make them as good as I can… and then I do fuck-all with them. After a play of mine goes on somewhere, it goes in the proverbial drawer and stays there until someone literally comes looking for it. That’s not how it’s done and I know that. I’ve got to be out there, submitting, showing, getting gently refused and brutally rejected. That’s how you get stuff moving. That’s how you get stuff on. But you need cockiness to do that. You need to be a bit cocksure. I wish I was a bit more.

That’s it’s for this week. Goodbye.

Except it isn’t. Not quite. Not really.

Read back a little. Look at some of the sentences that are buried right there in my little diatribe about how very useless I am.

“I am pretty darned brilliant at what I do…”

“I’m really good but I just don’t know it…”

That’s what makes the problem that little bit more interesting. Somewhere, deep inside the milk chocolate coating of self-doubt and low confidence, there is a nut. A tough, fat, nut that you could break a tooth on if you’re not careful. That nut is a significant deeply buried belief… that I am brilliant.

I mean, what can you do with that?

If it were a simple matter of lack of self-confidence, you could work with that, you could perhaps overcome it somehow. But it’s like that image of a little devil on each shoulder. The strong healthy one on your right, telling you that you’re an idiot, the emaciated willowy one on the left whispering about how great you are.

It’s a conundrum.

How I resolve it, how I live with it, well, it’s easy really. This battle between Great and Stupid, between Maestro and Fool, maybe, just maybe, that's the conflict that keeps me writing. The grinding of these two tectonic plates might just be the friction that generates the words, just like it is literally doing right now.

I’m not bothered about resolving it. Why should I? I’m 60. It’s who I am.

I'll just deal with it.

What a… Nice Man

Would you like to know something about me that a lot of people don’t know?

I’m a really good liar… when I want to be. The reasons why not a lot of people know this are twofold. Firstly, I very rarely use this superpower of mine. I don’t use it professionally or in relationships. In fact, I only really ever use it for self-preservation. The second reason you don't know this is… well… because I’m a really good liar.

(Before I progress further, I should say that there will be an element of strong language in this post so take a view on that, eh?)

But, getting back to the self-preservation thing, it’s definitely something I do; lying to survive. And, mostly, it relates to cars and driving.  I get shirty, you see, when it comes to cars and driving. I say things that I probably shouldn’t say or, more pertinently, that I shouldn’t be heard saying. Sometimes, people hear me saying them and get a little belligerent. That’s when I break out my little talent. I don’t know Kung Fu and I can’t give off a bad smell like a skunk (well.. Friday nights, perhaps…) so I use what little talent God gave me. I lie through my teeth.

You need a ‘For Instance.’ I can tell, even from here. Okay, I’ll tell you one but, I warn you, you won’t believe it. You’ll say, “He’s embellished that story. That dude never bought that line.” But, if you think that, you’ll be wrong. Because I didn’t and he did.

I was walking through the TK Maxx car park one day, heading to meet a good friend.

(Shoop da doo)

When I stopped to watch a car drive along, across the roadway I was about to traverse.

(Cross la rue)

Sorry. Sorry. The story just sounded like it might fit into that ‘Da Dooh’ song from ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’ The one where Seymore finds Audrey II. I’ll stop it now. Sorry.

So this car was coming towards me, and it was going very, very slowly. So slowly that I could have probably stepped out and crossed in front of it and been halfway to my appointment before it got to the place where I was standing. But I didn’t think that was right. In fact, I became rather convinced that the car would stop for me and wave me across, given how slowly it was going and all.

I waited and waited. The car eased on through. Slowly, slowly, it came up alongside me. The driver and front seat passenger gave me no acknowledgement whatsoever.

As the car passed me. I clearly uttered the following opinion:

“What a Fucking Asshole.”

The car went on and I started over the road behind it but not before noticing the driver’s window had been opened as the car had passed. I had crossed the road and was making my way on through the large car park when my peripheral vision informed me that the car was describing a very large, very slow, circle around the outer reaches of the parking area. It was working its way back to me.

I kept walking. The car closed in and eventually pulled up in front of me. Second time lucky, I guess. Peering in the open nearside window I saw a little old lady in the passenger seat. The driver was across the way. He was lurking in the gloom over there, but I could still tell that he was an enormous tattooed man with a long grey goatee.

“Hey,” he said, across his purse-lipped old Mum.

“Hey,” I replied.

“Don’t call me a ‘Fucking Asshole’,” he said.

“Sorry?” I replied, he was a long way into the car and he was also a little quiet. I had reckoned I had got the gist of his statement but wanted to be sure.

Granny piped up.

“Don’t call him a fucking asshole,” she said.

I remember that scene in the first Terminator movie where there’s a guy at Arnie’s door asking questions and Arnie/Terminator has to come up with a reply for him. You get to see his mind processes flicking through the various options available to him.

I did that. When Granny said ‘fuck’ to me, I did that.

Here’s what I came up with.

I laughed at both of them. I laughed warmly and with some enthusiasm. I could feel them both looking at me in disbelief. He with all the brawn and Granny with all the outrage and the cute linguistics.

“You thought… you thought…,” I laughed some more. “You thought I was calling you a Fucking Asshole?”

They looked at me some more.

“That’s so funny. What on earth would I call you a ‘Fucking Asshole’ for? I mean, what did you do?”

They were clearly at a loss. In their little world, they hadn’t done anything.

“I was talking to myself,” I said, “I just remembered that I forgot to lock the office door and I called myself a ‘Fucking Asshole.’ I do it all the time.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “You thought…” Then I laughed a bit more. 

Then the man laughed and then Granny sort-of laughed. I was kind of hoping she swear again ‘cos that was kind of cool. “Man, you’re fucking crazy!” or something like that. But she didn’t.

I smiled some more and pointed at them with the gun-fingers of both hands.

“Fucking assholes!” I said, in a poor New York accent and with a big smile.

Then they drove away.

As they went, I gave them a warm wave, solely for the benefit of his rear view mirror. As I started once more on my way to my rendezvous, I reflected on the interaction that had just occurred. 

“Fucking Assholes,” I said.

We’ll All Still Be Here - Movements 8-14 – Not a Review

Good Friday 2023 saw the latest seven movements of Sam Armstrong’s theatre production ‘We’ll All Still Be Here’ being performed in the University College Dublin Dramsoc Theatre, over a five hour period between 12.30 and 5.30pm.

I was lucky enough to be there for the final four movements. I wish I’d seen more.

The following are some of the impressions I took away from being present for Movements 11 to 14. I am mindful that subsequent movements, being in a different place and with different participants, might evoke a completely different tone and a completely different experience. so this is not a review. More of a record.

A couple of extracts from the general parameters of the composition might help give an idea of what happens.

“This is a theatre show. It is not an installation. It is also not a concert, or a 'jam session'. Each performance of this show is a continuation of the overarching musical composition entitled "We'll All Still Be Here". Each performance is in seven movements. Movements cannot be repeated.”

“There is a microphone at the front of the stage. Anyone may approach the microphone at any time. They may use it however they like.”

“At the beginning of each movement, the MUSICIANS walk onto the stage and take up their instruments. Their instruments are already on the stage before they enter. Vocalists just take their place on the stage. The MUSICIANS enter one at a time.”

“At the end of each movement, when the DIRECTOR states into the microphone that the movement is at its end, the MUSICIANS exit the stage one at a time, staggered in the same fashion that they entered.”

There are many other parameters. It is an initially complex concept which ultimately presents as an strikingly intimate and involving theatrical experience.

Some impressions:

Initially, upon entering the theatre space, there is a rather anxious feeling of entering the unknown. After a nice Japanese Bento Box lunch in town and a Spring-like drive out to the Bellfield campus in the Easter sunshine, the interior of the theatre immediately feels compressed and slightly alien. There is a large contingent of musicians on stage, an attentive audience, a colourful diorama, darkness in the tiered seating. The tone of the afternoon has suddenly changed and the change is momentarily hard to process.

But that is a fleeting impression. The music coming from the stage may be improvised but the musicians are all talented and experienced and part of their brief is to, “… usually be in search of a 'blend', with no incessant discrepancies in volume or intensity between instruments.” As a result the music comes across as engaging and rhythmical and sonorous and pleasing. The musicians know each other (which is another part of the brief) and, because of this, there is a strong sense of friendship, fun, mutual respect, and general positive engagement between the players on stage.

The formation of music by this congenial collective quickly creates a strong impression that one is in a safe space. A place where musical challenges may be issued but those challenges will generally be open-faced and friendly, as opposed to being clenched and belligerent.

Because each movement starts with a single musician, builds and then ends with a single musician, the music retains a singularly organic feel. The musicians are, at different times, either enveloped in the music they are contributing or are reaching out with eyes and smiles to their compatriots, seeking avenues of harmony and rhythm to pursue together. Those moments of subtle interaction can seem more emphasised as a movement reaches a close and the stage slowly becomes stripped of people. The remaining few players seem to seek each other out more and subtly prompt each other through the final parts of the movement. Then they also leave.

In the short spaces between movements people congregate in groups outside of the space but communication is not too casual or off-topic. There is a feeling that a work is in progress and that there will be time for other niceties after it is complete.

Then there’s the microphone. It stands at the centre of the stage, with ample space around it for anyone to come from the audience and use it how they see fit.

Upon first arrival, and in that initial bemused stage, the microphone and its stand appear like some sort of an unspoken challenge. Come dance with me, if you dare. But that is just another one of those impressions that quickly dissipates. A young person springs onto the stage and radiates brilliance, then another, then another. There is no unspoken challenge here, just a proffered opportunity.

And the audience, liberally sprinkled with performance students, migrate towards the mic with fearlessness and ease. As the movements progress, the mic is rarely untroubled, which is regularly engaging and funny and thought-provoking and sad. But it is in the dying moments of each movement, as the mic becomes silent, and the music regains the centre ground, that one realises that one could occasionally bear a little more of the music and a little less of the mic.

But that is not the point of the theatrical event; or, at least, I don’t think it is. These elements – musicians, stage, microphone, audience, lighting, sound, imagery – they are all put in place to see what transpires, to create a space where ‘something’ can, and hopefully will, happen. That ‘something’ may have an emphasis on words and stories in one iteration while, in another, it might be a musical fiesta, overseen by a quiet mic and stand.

The performance is no greater or no less for an occasional emphasis on microphone and words. It was what it was. It will be something different every time.

I was not without complicity myself, stealing the mic for a delivery derived from one of my old blog posts ‘Positive Pussy Won’t Tell’. Patricia scored with an inspiring piece that she had considered for a while and which she drafted in the car on the way up.

One of things I really enjoyed about the performance was how the musicians, in the friendliest of ways, did not always cede to those wordsmiths at the mic. This was not, after all, a poetry slam or a writing/speaking event. By coming on stage, the mic-people entered themselves into the contract. Their words might come punctuated with soft backing airs or they might find themselves addressing the audience through a maelstrom of symphonic goodness. You step up and take your chances. Just like the musicians do. Today, you are a musician too.

For me, the most striking synchronicity of word and music came when a student came up and read a section from ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness. The second most aligned moment was when two people played rock/paper/scissors at the mic while the composer/percussionist obliged with a rimshot punctuation over on the drumkit.

The performance provided moments and interactions and memories of a level that would satisfy most anyone at a theatrical event. These are memories, one feels, that may abide. 

The girl who told a great story of her Grandad, evoking him in a way one feels he would have greatly enjoyed, who later retreated to a quiet position on the stage before erupting into a powerful soprano voice while doodling listlessly on a splash cymbal. One of many, many roving moments and interactions that made the day so, so, special. The journey so worthwhile.

Ultimately, the overriding impression was of a celebration of community in music and word, of friendship and creativity through friendship.

A red-letter day out.

Remembrance Saturday

It’s just been one of those weeks. You know the kind. The ones where the dead walk along beside you and ruffle your hair a little and fill up all those random spaces in your mind that the quieter times bring.

So this post might not be a whole barrel of laughs. You can just flick on past it if needs be. I won’t mind at all.

The other day would have been my brother Michael’s birthday. Well, it was his birthday, in fact… except it wasn’t. You know the conundrum. You’re familiar with it, I reckon. There is also some planning currently going on for a memorial for Patricia’s sister, Penelope, to at least partially compensate for the restrictions that we observed for her funeral back in lockdown, which so many partying leaders apparently did not.

It's been that kind of week where all these loved ones who are no longer with us seemed, somehow, close at hand. That included Mum and Dad, both now gone a reasonably long time, but still well able to colour a scene or turn a mind from one thing to another.

In fact, it’s Mum and Dad who are driving the admittedly-limited momentum of this week’s blog post. The thing that my mind is turning over, the thing that’s got me at my desk typing like this… well, it relates to memory and the curation of valuable memories. Yes, that, with a little pinch of Existentialism tossed in.

Still here? Man, you’re a patient one. I think I’d be long gone, if I wasn’t the one writing it.

Here’s the thing.

I have a particular memory. It’s a nice memory. It concerns an event that lasted no more than 60 seconds. There were three people there and I was, obviously, one of them.

Here’s the other thing.

Two of the three people who had some stake in that memory are now dead. That leaves only me and this tiny, quite insignificant memory.

I’ve never written it down anywhere. I imagine I might have shared it verbally with Patricia and possible some others, back around the time it happened, but, like I said, it’s pretty darned insignificant so I don’t imagine it’s stuck very fast in anyone’s mind.

Here’s the other, other thing.

As I’m the only one left, I’m obviously the only one who holds this memory. When I go, it’s gone. It might be small, it might not be earth-shattering, but while I’m alive, it at least still exists. The potential for it to be retold, to be recounted, it's still a thing. When that big red bus finally comes and runs me over, that’s it baby. Case closed.

The solution is simple. I will write it down. Here in this very blog post. It will only take a couple of sentences. Four or five at most. Doing that doesn’t bequeath immortality on it. Nobody’s under any illusions there. Computer servers will fail and rust, blog host companies will be soaked-up by bigger companies who will discontinue them. The web will be replaced by something else, probably something implanted right in our heads. Even though I write it down in the next few paragraphs, it will still eventually be lost in time, as every single thing ever will be lost in time.

But it gives it a little more time, doesn’t it? It increases the longevity. A child, a grandchild, stretching it, let’s say a great grandchild might happen upon the text on some dusty obscure archive and say, “Look at that. A genuine memory of times and people long gone.” That makes it worthwhile, doesn’t it? As Hamlet said, “It is meet I set it down.” So that’s what I’ll do then. Right here, right now.

And that was the intention. The design of this post, inasmuch as any design every exists here. Do an intro, set it up and then type up the memory and move on. Done deal.

But it’s not that easy. Not quite.

Sitting here, with the Saturday Chilli bubbling away in the kitchen, I find I don’t want to write the memory down. Correction. I have no issue with writing it down. What I singularly don’t want to do is to share it via my ancient blog with Facebook and Twitter and whoever else happens past. I thought I did but, right on the edge of typing it, I find that I don’t. It’s tiny but it’s personal. And, much more than it being personal to me, it’s personal to the other two people in the memory, the people who are dead and gone. Except in these kinds of weeks when they’re very much not.

So I won’t write it down. I’ll leave it be, here in my head. And it may warm and make me a bit sad in equal measure from time to time. And when I too die, as I some day will, then the little thing will be no more, as so many other things will also be no more.

Now, as I think about that, that seems like no great hardship, no great misfortune. Whoever demanded that memories had to aspire to live forever? Whoever mistakenly dreamed that they could? We are, after all, “such stuff that dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a sleep.”

So I’ll leave it alone. Let it ride. It’ll be okay.

Sorry for wasting your time.