Monthly Archives: January 2013

Indigestible

The screen was blank, apart from just four words. They had been there for over a week now, waiting for the accompanying paragraphs that would justify their existence.

The four words were “I Am John’s Knee”.

David had been writing this section for the Readers Digest for five years now. During that time he had been John’s heart, spleen, kidney, lungs and scrotum (he might as well have written just the one article called “I am John‘s sausage”). He hadn’t yet been John’s dandruff, his Betty Boop tattoo or his third little piggy (the one that got roast beef), but those days would surely come soon, John was running out of body parts.

Sometimes David got to be part of Jane, when the Digest wanted to explore areas of the anatomy that John simply didn’t have. You might think that this would put David in touch with his feminine side, but you’d be wrong. After the article where he informed the world that he was Jane’s ovaries he just felt embarrassed for the whole day.

And it’s wasn’t as if he was making a fortune from this. Indeed, readers with names like Mrs J. Spalding, Sussex, were making £250 for merry snippets about their grandchildren for the “Life’s Like That” section. This worked out usually at about two pounds a word, or about five times what David, a supposedly professional writer, was being paid.

The screen in front of him remained blank. It should by now have been filled with information about the patella, the cruciate ligament and even about the fact that de knee-bone connect to de shin-bone, but David just couldn’t be arsed. Couldn’t be John’s arsed, in fact.

The words remained a forlorn foursome on the screen. David went to the kitchen and got himself a bottle of scotch. He then sat on his sofa in front of an episode of Castle and, as he had done every evening that week, poured himself a very large glass.

Oh, I am David’s liver, by the way. I’m screwed.

The Play’s Not The Thing

Our adaptation of Strumpet City has been cancelled.

Four of our Writers Group had agreed to adapt the book, which is Dublin’s “One City, One Book” for 2013, into a play for a city centre Drama Society, but we no longer have to do it.

This is not because what we had written to date was so dreadful that even an Amateur Drama Society recoiled in horror, but because of some issue to do with copyright. Apparently Dublin City Council had been unable to get permission from the author’s family to do any performances so the Council has told everyone to shelve any plans they had.

All of us, as one, are very disappointed.

Oh, except me. To be honest I’m thrilled.

It is a waste of lot of hard work, but there was more hard work to come, the hardest work of all, merging the bits we had all written, and re-writing and then re-writing. And then re-writing.

And all of the hardest scenes were still to be done. I had written two scenes so far and was part of the way through a third. So far I had written about a dinner-party, about an argument between two priests and was writing about a character being offered a job. When I asked what I should do next it was suggested that I try the scene where one of the characters commits suicide.

Never has the phrase “that’s not really my scene” been more apt. I wouldn’t have known where to start, and certainly do not have the skill to handle such a scene powerfully, believably or sympathetically.

It has not been a complete waste. I am quite proud of some of the stuff that is in my two scenes, and some of what I wrote will be stolen, if you can steal from yourself, and put into future posts.

And it made me try something different, taking someone else’s ideas and trying to represent them in my own words. It made me try to write a bit more seriously, and with a bit more depth. It took me out of my comfort zone.

Having said that, its nice not to wake each morning thinking ‘oh God, I’d better try and write some more of the play instead of one of my own daft ideas‘. It’s nice not to have to lug the book around everywhere so that I can read bits whenever I get a spare second. It will be nice to have spare seconds as spare seconds.

So I have invited the others to a ceremony where I go to O’Connell Bridge, at the end of Dublin’s main street, and hurl the book out into the river.

One of the group has suggested that this would be littering. I prefer to regard it as literary criticism, through the medium of performance art.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Love

Tinman’s weekly camera-less attempt at the WordPress Photo Challenge…

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She went down to the river to where they always sat, sure that she would find him there.

He was sitting on the bank gazing moodily out across the water. She kicked off her shoes and sat down beside him. They sat in silence for a while, their legs dangling into the water. She tried to slip her hand into his, but he pulled it away. Eventually she looked at him. His eyes had followed his thoughts to somewhere deep and dark, somewhere a million miles away.

“Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” she asked, softly.

“Wherefort I am,” said Romeo, “is wondering why would you take a potion that made it look as if you were dead.”

“Ok,” admitted Juliet, “it does sounds silly when you say it that way -”

“Is there a way of saying it where it doesn’t?”

“No, but Friar Lawrence thought -”

“This was Friar Lawrence’s idea? You’re taking romantic advice from a celibate cleric?”

“Well, yes. He told me that Paris would think I was dead and would leave, and we could be free to be together.”

“Good plan. We could hang out together, and whenever we met your Dad I could say ‘It’s Ok, Mr Capulet, I’m just dating your zombie daughter’. He hates me enough as it is.”

“He’s just being protective,” said Juliet. “He didn’t like any of my other boyfriends either.”

“Boyfriends?” said Romeo, staring at her. “How many have you had?”

“Four,” said Juliet. Romeo kept staring at her, till her gaze broke. “Seven,” she mumbled.

“Seven?” said Romeo, sounding so shocked that Juliet was glad she hadn’t said thirteen, which was the real figure.

“What about you?” she retorted. “I keep hearing about what a Romeo you are.”

“What’s a Romeo?” asked Romeo.

“Um, don’t know,” admitted Juliet, “but never mind that.” She looked directly into his face. “I heard you took poison,” she said.

Romeo looked embarrassed.

“How come you didn’t die?”

“I barfed it straight back up,” said Romeo. “The thing they don’t tell you about poison is that it tastes like poison.”

“Why did you take it?”

Romeo looked even more embarrassed. “Well,” he said, “I thought you were dead.”

Juliet hugged her knees in glee. “That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”

Romeo shrugged. “I just was so – I just couldn’t face – I just didn’t want to live if…” he said, with the eloquent brilliance of any man forced to talk about his feelings.

Juliet sighed. “Mum says we’re a pair of star-crossed lovers,” she said.

“What does that mean?”

“Not sure,” she said. “It must be something to do with you being an Aries and me being a Gemini.”

“What we are,” said Romeo, “is a pair of neurotic basket-cases.” He looked at her and the shadow of a beginning of a smile crossed his face. “I suppose we were made for each other.”

Juliet grinned to herself.

They sat in silence for a while, their legs dangling in the water. She tried to slip her hand into his. This time he took it.

Now That Hurt

I pride myself on looking younger (and hotter) than I actually am. Just one week ago, when renewing my gym membership, I told the girl behind the counter that I now qualify for a cheaper rate because I’m over 55, and waited for and duly received the gratifying “really?”.

So I suppose I deserve what happened yesterday.

I was last to read at the Writers’ Workshop, so when I had finished we all got up to leave. A young lady came up to me and told me that she really enjoyed my piece. She said it rang very true, exactly as little boys behave.

I thanked her for saying, so, feeling inside the warm glow that only true smugness can bring.

Then she said: “Did you base it on your grandson?”

 

Dressed To Impress

At today’s Workshop in the Irish Writers Centre the prompt was this poem, “What Do Women Want?” by Kim Addonizio, after which we were to write about clothing and its effect. (Please read the poem, because it’s great, and because if you don’t my last paragraph will mean nothing to you) …

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In his blue V-necked jumper and his grey trousers he was Stephen, or Stevie to his parents. Stevie was a baby’s name and he wasn’t a baby anymore, he was four, and anyway they had an actual baby in the house now. Joshua was the baby’s name, and sadly there’s no way of dumbing that down, the kid already sounded older than Stevie did.

In his blue V-necked jumper and his grey trousers he went to his Montessori school each morning with his Power Rangers lunch-box which held his cardboard packet of Capri-Sun with its attached straw, his banana for little break and his sandwich for big break. Once there he put square pegs into square holes, kept inside the lines while colouring, and joined in a song which stated the indisputable fact that the wheels on a bus go round and round.

In his blue V-necked jumper and his grey trousers he was a Good Boy, with almost audible capital letters at the beginning of each of those two words.

But when he got home he was different. In his Batman outfit he fought crime, tearing around the house in his Batmobile, though he had to pedal it rather like Fred Flintstone. He felt sure that Batman didn’t have to do that, but then the Batmobile has blackened windows, perhaps inside Batman is pedalling frantically like a duck approaching a waterfall.

In his Ireland soccer jersey he was Robbie Keane, kicking goal after goal into his little net past the large fat teddy-bear who was playing the role of England goalkeeper Joe Hart.

In his Doctor Who pyjamas his bedroom was the Tardis, and his dreams travelled through the deep blue darkness of time and space.

When he grew up he was not going not wear a blue shirt or grey trousers. He would not wear a grey jacket either, and never, ever would he wear the waste of polyester-forests that is the tie.
He was going to wear dungarees with no shirt on underneath and a baseball hat on backwards, just like the Guerra brothers that he passed every day on the way home from school.

They threw pigs off a truck for a living. When you’re four it’s hard to imagine a cooler job than that.

Forget-Me-Nots

On each of my pacemaker’s first four birthdays I have marked the day here on my blog, wishing it a Happy Birthday and thanking it for the work that it is selflessly doing on my behalf. A fifth birthday is different, a bit more special, so it only seems right that I do something different.

Which is what I did. I forgot its birthday altogether.

Pacemaker day is January 22nd, and went by uncelebrated. I thought about its imminent arrival in the days coming up to it, but not once on the day itself did the significance of the date sink in.

Since we are as close as it is possible to be, practically joined at the hip (though if that were true it would mean that the doctors had put it in wrongly) I imagine that this is the equivalent of forgetting one’s Wedding Anniversary.

The pacemaker is probably not speaking to me, and may maintain a frosty silence for the next few days.

Or not. As a general rule, hearing nothing from your pacemaker is a Good Thing, since that means that the heart that it is meant to kick-start should the heart decide it’s time for a quick nap is behaving itself. So perhaps the pacemaker will do the opposite, turning on at random times of its own accord, giving me the sudden inner jolt that I feel on the occasions (thankfully, very rare occasions) that it has to leap into action, like a metal Batman summoned by the Batsignal. This usually causes the muscles around it to go into spasm for up to an hour afterwards, and is a thoroughly unpleasant experience. It may, if it is feeling particularly offended, time these jolts for when I am deep asleep, or on a training course (I have one tomorrow, I’m sorry I have just given it that idea) or sitting, as I am now, on a crowded bus.

Anyway, Happy Birthday to my pacemaker. I hope it can forgive me for being late.

I wonder should I buy it flowers.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond

Tinman’s weekly camera-less attempt at the WordPress Photo Challenge…

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Nothing much was happening. At séances, nothing much does.

“I am sensing someone called Mary,” hazarded Natalya, the Mystic.

“My name’s Mary,” said one of her clients, a lady named Mary.

Natalya raised her eyes toward Heaven. “I don’t mean here,” she said icily.

“My wife’s name was Mary,” said a man called Howard.

“Ah,” said Natalya. “It’s probably her.”

“I doubt it,” said Howard. “She’s outside in the car waiting for me.”

“You said her name was Mary!” snapped Natalya.

“She was christened Mary,” said Howard, “but no-one ever called her that. Everyone calls her Midge.”

Natalya spoke with a deathly calmness, rather appropriately. “Does anyone here,” she said, “know a Mary who has gone to the Other Side?”

A lady called Eileen timidly lifted her hand.

“I don’t mean moved to the northside of the city,” said Natalya, on a hunch. Eileen lowered her hand again.

“Morons,” thought Natalya, then reflected on the type of people who would come to a séance in the first place. “Very well, I will try to contact someone else.”

“What about the Mary that you sensed?” said Howard. “We can’t just ignore her.”

“She’s gone,” said Natalya dismissively. “She realised she was at the wrong séance.”

She raised her eyes toward Heaven again, this time along with her voice.

“I wish to speak to the Great Beyond!” she said.

“Hi,” said a voice.

There was a stunned silence. Even those who were there because they were true believers were amazed, because deep, deep inside they weren’t true believers.

“Er, who’s that?” said Natalya.

“The Great Beyond,” said the voice.

“Bloody hell,” said Natalya.

“Uncle Jim?” said Mary.

“What?” said the voice.

“Are you my Uncle Jim?” asked Mary.

“No,” said the voice impatiently. “I told you, I am the Great Beyond. That’s my name.”

“Nobody’s called the Great Beyond,” said Natalya.

“Not many people, admittedly,” said the voice. “Beyond is the male version of Beyoncé. It never really caught on. A bit like Matildus, or Elizaben.”

“And what about the Great bit?” asked Natalya.

“That was my stage name. I was an escape artist, like the Great Houdini.”

“You were as great as Houdini?”

“Well, no,” admitted Beyond. “That’s why I’m on the Other Side. Never padlock yourself into a shark-filled cage unless you’ve practised with something like, say, guppies first, that’s my advice.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Do you know my Uncle Jim?” asked Mary.

“What a daft question. Do you have any idea how many people have passed over to here?”

“Sorry,” said Mary.

“As it happens I do know him,” said Beyond, “but that doesn’t make your question any sillier.”

“Oh good,” said Mary. “Ask him does he know where the key to his back door is.”

“Seriously?” said Beyond. “Janet here (Natalya blushed) has gone to all the trouble of contacting the Great Beyond in the Great Beyond, and all you want me to do is find lost keys?”

“I’ve been left his house, you see,” said Mary, “but I can’t get into the back garden.”

There was a long sigh, then a long silence for a few moments, though Natalya swore she could hear footsteps receding, then returning.

“He says,” said Beyond, “that you should have checked in his pockets before you cremated him.”

“Oh.” Mary put so much crestfallenness into that one syllable that Beyond felt sorry for her.

“I can recommend a locksmith who really knows his stuff,” he said gently. “Trust me on this.”

Wholly Cow

Traces of equine DNA were found in some Irish beef burgers this week ….

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Deep in the dark valleys of Country Leitrim, where the soil is flinty, the rain is gloomy and the farmers wear their cloth-caps at all times, including during dental visits, weekly baths and, er, it, a horse was once crossed with a cow.

This was not done intentionally. The How, as it was called, was a result of the wonders of evolution, the capriciousness of Mother Nature and the dangers of raising all your livestock in the one small field.

Two were born. The male had the head of a cow and the body of a horse, while the female had them the other way round. This was fortunate, had it been the other way there would have been problems with milking.

The farmer they belonged to, Mr Frank Enstein, pondered what he would do one evening while he was shearing his shickens (they laid wool-covered eggs, surely the most comfortable childbirth of any species, ever). He sent the male off to Spain where it ran with the bulls in Pamplona, finishing four furlongs ahead of the rest of them. The female he kept, and used her milk to develop a remarkable cheese which tasted vaguely of hay, carrots and lumps of sugar.

The How lasted only one generation. The male met a filly  and they produced a creature that was half horse, half horse. The female mated with a bull (it hadn’t been the bull’s idea, after all she had a face like a horse, but when he tried to run away he was astonished at the speed at which she chased him down) and produced a conventional cow. The river of evolution, having divided briefly around an island of aberration, resumed its normal flow.

But tiny traces of the crossed DNA remains, hidden deep inside the helix. Horses descended from the How appear normal, but have a neigh like the sound a small child makes if you ask them to describe a Formula 1 car driving by.

And if you ever see a cow jumping a hedge, bucking wildly while its farmer hangs on desperately by the udders, or pulling a milk-float full of its own milk, then you will know that you are in the prescence of a great-great-grandchild of Enstein’s herd.

And cowboys? Well, we don’t know where they came from, but it’s no wonder they called it the Wild West.

Gone, Gone, Gone

I’ve just come back from the Gym (it’s been raining heavily here for 39 hours now so I wanted to practice on the rowing-boat, it may soon be our only way to the shops).

As I got to our house I saw that our car wasn’t in our driveway. “Ah,” I thought, “Mrs Tin has gone out.”

I put the kettle on, emptied my gym-bag and then loudly marched into our room to change out of my tracksuit top. I got a real shock when I got in there.

Mrs Tin was asleep in bed.

Those of you who fear that this story will end in a sad tale of car-theft can relax. Those of you who fear for the sanity of your friend Tinman can start to be very afraid.

The car wasn’t in the driveway when I got home because I was driving it.

I wonder do they have a gym for brains.

The Play’s The Thing – Act 1

The time for procrastination is over, or at least will be tomorrow.

I wrote last year that some of our Writers Group have agreed (I think we were fed cheap rum and then hit over the head) to take Strumpet City, Dublin’s 2013 choice for One City, One Book, and adapt it for the stage for an amateur Drama Group. The director is now ready to start casting, so we have now decided we’d better start writing.

We have done a certain amount of preparatory work. I, for example, have bitten the bullet (which would have been more fun) and actually read the book. We have decided that we will update it to modern times, since the same sort of deprivation and rich-v-poorness that happened in 1913 is happening here now. We have decided which scenes we are putting in, how the storyline will go (pretty much like the book, otherwise we wouldn’t be adapting it, we’d be writing our own play) and who will write the first drafts of each scene.

I have been given a well-off couple’s dinner party scene to do. There are a couple of problems with it. In the book the four people in the scene retire after dinner to play music and sing Gilbert and Sullivan songs. As far as I know this does not happen at dinner parties these days. I feel that I can hardly have the four of them playing Wii Sing, belting out tunes by Beyoncé or Aerosmith. Perhaps they could play Twister.

In the book one of them plays the cello. Now there’s a challenge for the props director.

In the book the foursome (no, that’s not what I mean) consists of the Bradshaws, who own the house, Yearling, a rich and cynical “gentleman” and the young local priest. In modern day Ireland I can think of no reason why a priest would be invited to such a gathering.

My first draft of the scene races off in all directions. Yearling is, at various stages, a retired headmaster, a civil servant, and a bank manager. The same line appears twice in the scene, some forty lines apart, since I’d forgotten that I already used it.

If we want the play to last for 90 minutes and have ten scenes then each scene should last about nine minutes (I can’t write drama, but I can still do maths) . I have acted out what I’ve written, the scene into which I’ve put in everything I could think off, and it lasts about two minutes. If I take out the line that’s in twice it will be even shorter.

The one good thing is that I have managed to sneak a joke into it. It’s not a very funny joke, but it’s one joke more than James Plunkett put into the whole of the original book, a tome unrelenting in its grim purposeful depression. I may not get away with this, the Plunkett police may arrive at my door late one night and tell me that I have broken the spirit of the book, indeed the spirit of the author may turn up to say the same thing.

Still, we promised we’d do it, and we will. We’ve set ourselves the utterly ludicrous deadline of January 31st, purely to force ourselves into activity. Four of us each writing different scenes should necessitate some line editing, after we’ve discovered that one of us has a character as a carpenter, one as a steelworker and one as a marine biologist.

It doesn’t leave much time for blogging, so apologies if I miss the occasional day. How we are getting on will, however, provide material, so there will be regular updates here, so that you too can feel the gnawing ache of terror as we get nearer the deadline but no nearer the end, like the way Olympic stadiums seem to be built.

They say it will be alright on the night. I’m just not sure when that night might actually arrive.