Gorilla Love

Okay, first off, this post will contain a certain level of coarse language. Although the overall tone of the piece will be fairly tender and positive. Therefore, if you happen to have a child on your shoulder while you are reading this, and you suspect that the child may have a more advanced reading age than anyone has given them credit for… well… tread carefully is all I’m saying.

One thing that I have had no personal life experience of is In-Law Parents. Although I’ve been married to the lovely Patricia for nigh on 32 years, her parents, alas, had long-long departed before we ever met. Therefore those nervous moments of meeting your gal’s Mum and Dad and trying to impress upon them that you are an okay sort of a bloke to be dating their kid, well they never happened.

Except, of course, they did.

Patricia had a tidy selection of siblings and the family was as tight as ever I had seen. If I wanted to pursue this fair damsel, then I would have to make the right impressions on the cohort of brothers and sisters. No question.

I like to think I won dear Una and Penelope over fairly easy. This is not me bragging. In fact, it was a fairly obvious thing. Both her sisters would have had nothing but Patricia’s best interest at heart but, you see, I only had her best interest at heart too so it was not a huge surprise that we all got on mightily right from the start. Both sisters are sadly departed now, and we miss them daily and with unfading love.

Then there were the boys. Enda is smart and easy-going. I think I did all right there. Me and Enda got on well and still do. Hell, I get on well with them all. This is just a funny memory. There’s nothing earth-shattering to come.

Kieran is Patricia’s eldest brother and, although he would never enforce it, he always seemed to in possession of an understated patriarchal quality. A lovely man, he was still one to get over if I wanted to win the hand of the fair Patricia. We came home from London and stayed with Kieran and Ann and their lovely young family and all went swimmingly except for my natural penchant to make a joke wherever I see the opportunity arise. This is a trait that seems to have waned in me a little over the last couple of decades but, back in my twenties, I could never resist an opportunity to crack a joke. What can I say? Kieran tossed one up and I smacked it. It was only natural.

Kieran had just got himself a new camcorder and, bear in mind, this was circa 1987 so it was a big and a boxy baby. It took a little bit of setting-up and a little bit of hoisting onto the shoulder.

At one point over our weekend stay Kieran remarked that ‘Armstrong’ wasn’t a typical West of Ireland name and I explained, very casually, that my Grandad had changed his religion to gain the hand of his bride. Different times.

Kieran spotted an opportunity for documentary filmmaking. He hopped up and started the Mission Control procedures required to get his camera ready to record footage.

“That’s a great little story,” he said, not without some glee, “Very romantic. We’ll have to film it for posterity.”

I was arranged in front of a kitchen wall, pointed at with the huge device and requested to repeat my little tale.


“My Grandad changed his religion on his deathbed because he reckoned it was better one of them bastards died than one of us.”

It was an old joke. Slightly edgy but no malice intended. Kieran didn’t take any malice. He was just profoundly disappointed, that’s all.

“Ah, that’s no good at all. We’ll have to work out how to delete that.”

Kieran has been a great friend and ally and brother-in-law over all the years. But the video thing disappointed him a bit, I reckon.

Then there was John. John, the scientist, the movie buff, the music fan. John was probably the easiest win of all three brothers. We had lots in common and always got on like a house on fire. We still do, all these years later.

Our first evening with John and Marian on our sub-conscious 'Win the Family Over to Ken’ tour went just fine. Except for one part. And, again, it was my unmanageable sense of humour that let me down.

After a nice dinner, at John and Marian’s house, we sat down to watch a video. John was, and still is, always ahead on the technology. Whatever you’re watching, you can be sure that the sound will be good, the vision will be first rate. Some things don’t change, they just update.

That evening, we watched a video of ‘The Man with Two Brains’ with Steve Martin and Kathleen Turner. I hadn’t seen it. I was enjoying the zaniness and general off-beat foolishness of the whole thing and was, I felt, behaving myself admirably. Until, about half way through, a joke came along and I laughed really hard at it and everyone looked at me.

I’m not a hard-laughing person, as a rule. I snort a bit and smile and am generally amused but I am not one for belly-rippling guffaws or side-splitting roars. Perhaps it was the stakes of the entire tour, where I really wanted to make a good first impression on Patricia’s wonderful warm close family members.

I don’t know. I just know I laughed a lot.

In the scene, the ever-excellent David Warner is giving Steve Martin some options for the brain he has fallen in love with. He could have his own brain removed and placed in the tank with hers (hardly ideal) or, wait, David Warner could transplant the brain into the body of a gorilla. Steve Martin gives this some serious thought and then dismisses it with the immortal line, “I couldn’t fuck a gorilla,” and I started laughing. I didn’t laugh for a long time; I didn’t fall about the place. I just laughed loud and hard and, critically, nobody else laughed at all. Truth to tell, I was still laughing at it just now when I checked the clip on YouTube. I think it was the unexpectedness of it that got me.

All went well, apart from that, and I wasn’t judged harshly on my errant laughter or ill-timed gags. Patricia’s family is as much a part of my family now as my own family is, and their children and grandchildren add love and value to the world.

But still, across the ever-widening years, through all the joys and, yes, the sorrows, the memories live on. Often small and silly, like the ones described here, but defining none the less.

Who would have thought, of all the things that have happened since, that the gorilla would lodge in my head?


marty47 said...

Hi Ken ,same story with my great grandad, originally from protestant stock in Belfast, converted to marry a 'Southern' catholic girl, didn't sit well with his 3 brothers 2 solicitors & a college professor,so he was dismissed to Connaught, never again to be acknowledged. He did maintain a strange tradition, naming his 3 sons William Richard & George after his 3 estranged brothers,to this day there's still a Richard ,William,& George in the family, but I can safely say this will be the last generation,what descendants there are are either female or named far from the 'original trinity' hope alls good Ken

Caroline Donfield said...

That film always made me laugh like that. As did many Steve Martin films. There is a line in The Jerk where a stray dog causes a fire and he had been wondering what to call the dog. One guy roars in his face ‘you call him shithead’ and it has always made me laugh way more than it should. My household obtained a dog last year. He loves me. I barely tolerate him, being a hopeless cat person, but I get enormous delight in calling him Shithead regularly

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m not going to talk about families other than to say my wife’s son and his wife visited us a couple of weeks ago and are now safely back in the States. The trip went swimmingly. Took a while but I think I’ve pretty much won Robert over. Not so sure about his sister but she’s always been one to play her cards close to her chest. They both found it hard to grasp how their mother could leave their father after thirty years of marriage to move to the other side of the world to live with a Scotsman she met on the Internet. Twenty-six-ish years later I’m sure they still wonder what got into her head but they can see she’s happy and what more can you hope for for your nearest and dearest?

Anyway, since we’re talking about jokes might as well finish with the last one. It’s actually a kid’s song and quite often it’s about a caterpillar rather than a spider but in the version I heard, and the one I continue to perform, the kid has a lisp and that, to my mind, makes all the difference:

Thethil was a thpider, Thethil was my friend and last time I thaw Thethil he was this big! [Hold fingers slightly apart] And I thaid to Ththil, "Thethil! What have you been doing?" and Thethil thaid “I've eaten ALL the flies in the house.”

Thethil was a thpider, Thethil was my friend and last time I thaw Thethil he was THIS BIG! [Hold hands about a foot apart] And I thaid to Ththil, "Thethil! What have you been doing?" and Thethil thaid “I've eaten ALL the flies in the town.”

Thethil was a thpider, Thethil was my friend and last time I thaw Thethil he was THIS BIG! [Hold arms wide apart] And I thaid to Ththil, "Thethil! What have you been doing?" and Thethil thaid “I've eaten ALL the flies in the country.”

Thethil was a thpider, Thethil was my friend and last time I thaw Thethil he was [sad voice] this big. [Hold fingers slightly apart] And I thaid to Ththil, "Thethil! What have you been doing?" and Thethil thaid “I've been thick.”

Ken Armstrong said...

I'd love to hear you do that one!

It reminds me of the one about the lion meeting the mouse and the lion saying 'why are you so small and puny?" and the mouse replies, "I haven't been well." :)