Tag Archives: Inksplinters

A Portrait of the Artist as a Way to Fill an Afternoon

Back in the days before photography, the self-portrait was regarded as the ultimate test for an artist, his or her showstopper challenge. At the bottom of the aesthetic ladder was the bowl of fruit. Next came the view of the countryside, then the scene from the bible, then the thirty-foot long depiction of some battle. The final rung was to be able to accurately represent something that the artist had only ever seen in a mirror.

The mirror played an important part back then. This explains why the artist-come-models are always looking off to one side. It may also explain why none of them are ever wearing clothing with words on them like Adidas, or Abercrombie and Fitch.

The self-portrait was a test not just of one’s artistic ability, but also of one’s integrity, the visual equivalent of today’s Linked-In profile. The artist had to fight the urge to make themselves a bit more handsome, a bit taller, a bit less fat. You may think that they would also have to fight false modesty, the urge to make themselves look hideous, but in fact they were unlikely to do this anyway. Art for art’s sake is a beautiful concept, but in the real world artists have to eat and they knew that there is a limited market for paintings in which the subject looks like the runner-up in a face-punching contest.

Most importantly of all, the self-portrait had to convey a sense of the tortured soul within. There are no known works in which the artist is smiling, or eating a giant bowl of ice-cream. No-one wanted to hint, in any way, that painting for a living might in fact be fun. Thus in every picture the eyes stare glumly back at you, the face is gaunt, the pallor is pallid. Munch’s self-portrait, for example, shows him slack-jawed and wide-eyed in misery, though luckily for him he was such a bad artist that no-one realised it was supposed to be a self-portrait, and to his surprise it was hailed as a masterful depiction of the awfulness of existence.

There are no known nude self-portraits. The modern selfie generation should reflect upon this.

I Dreamed Last Night That We Were Married

The above was the prompt at our Inksplinters Writing Group last week, and this post is based on what I wrote for it…


I dreamed last night that we were married, that we’d moved on to the next stage, moved on from deep infatuation, and finishing each others sentences, and going to the pictures no matter what shite was on, just so we could snog in the dark.

I dreamed that we’d moved on from feeling that we were soulmates, and being able to use the word “soulmates” to our friends without being mortified at how sickeningly sweet we sounded, the romantic equivalent of sixteen sugars in your tea. I dreamed that we’d moved on from long phone-calls about nothing, calls that ended, eventually, after a long round of “you hang up”, “no, you hang up”. I dreamed that we’d moved on from Valentine cards the size of front doors, from sudden kisses on the cheek for no reason, from you practising writing my surname after your first name, and me pretending that I didn’t know you’d done it.

I dreamed that we’d moved on from dreaming about being married, to being married.

I dreamed that we’d no money, struggling with a mortgage on a house thrown together by a cowboy during the building boom, a house built from Weetabix held together with snot, a house that leaked rain inwards and heat outwards, a house that always needed some shit done to its roof, or some shit done to its gutters, or some shit taken from its drains.

I dreamed that we bickered in this stressful place, that we found our own selves in a stressful place, that we squabbled over the telly, and why could I not give up cigarettes, and why it was the most important thing on earth, more important than world peace, or the rain forests, or global warming, that the toilet seat be left down.

And I woke, and looked at you, asleep beside me, and realised that it hadn’t been a dream, that we had indeed married, and bickered, and squabbled. That we had fought together, so many times.

But that sentence has two meanings. We have fought together, you and I against the world, and against everything that life could throw at us, and we’ve generally won.

And we have laughed together, so, so many times, and still do. And we do still give sudden kisses on the cheek for no reason. And we do still finish each others sentences, indeed increasingly over time we start them, one of us saying something just as the other person is thinking it. We’ve stayed as soulmates, though we’re too grown-up now to say that in public.

We moved on from dreaming of being married, to being married. And it’s been great.


Oh, and today is our Wedding Anniversary, celebrating 32 years of being married to my soulmate, the one-and-only, wonderful Mrs Tin. 



Idle Chatter

For each of the six months that she’d been a member, Susan had managed to find a reason not to host the next monthly meeting of the Seaview Drive Residents’ Book Club. But at the end of last month’s meeting Fiona had said “who’s house next month?” and Harriet had said firmly “Susan’s. She hasn’t hosted one yet, ” and that was that. Harriet was the unspoken leader of the group, and having her tell you that they were using your house was rather like the FBI telling you that they were commandeering your vehicle. You didn’t get to say no.

So they were all here, all four of them, and so far all was going well. The wine had been poured and the ladies had complimented Susan on her lovely home. Now all they had to do was discuss the book briefly before starting into the real business of the evening, which was to finish the wine, bitch about their lives, husbands and children, and gossip about their neighbours, the ones not fortunate enough to be invited into this circle.

This month’s choice was The Book Thief. Harriet said that the book did a wonderful job of describing the beauty and destruction of life in Germany during World War II (she hasn’t read it, thought Susan, that’s just taken from the first sentence in Wikipedia).

Fiona said that having death as the narrator had been a great idea (uh-huh, thought Susan, also taken from the same sentence).

And then, to Susan’s horror, from beneath the cloth that covered the cage in the corner she heard stirrings, as Joey the parrot began to wake up. Please, she thought, please behave.

“Mickey,” said Joey.


At first it had been funny.

Susan had been in the pet-shop with her three-year old twin boys. They had been trying to decide between a gerbil that looked like a brillo-pad and a gecko that looked like, well, Gordon Gecko, when from a cage in the corner they had all heard the squawked word “fa-a-r-r-rttt”, rising in pitch as if in enquiry.

The boys had giggled helplessly, then begged for the parrot. The shop-owner had promised her that fart was the parrot’s only swear-word, the boys’ entreaties had become pleadingly tearful and then bordered on tantrum, and she had given in, on the basis of anything for a quiet life.

A quiet life was not what had followed.

The twins had set out to teach the parrot more naughty words, which in fairness she had seen coming, but luckily the scatological vocabulary of a three-year old is fairly limited, so all that happened was that the words “poo”, “bum” and “pee” were added to “fart”, making Joey, whenever he was excited, sound like an explosion in a fireworks factory, or as if he was trying to sing a Bjork song.

But three-year olds become four-year olds and start going to school, where they come into contact with ruder, longer boys who know ruder, longer words.

Such as “Mickey”.


At the sound, the book club all turned to look at Susan, who went and took the cover from the cage.

“It’s our parrot,” she said. “His name’s Mickey.”

She was fairly positive that Joey glared at her, but the women relaxed. It was Maura’s turn to speak next about the book. She said that she couldn’t add anything to what the others had said (wow, thought Susan, hasn’t even googled it) and then Joey spoke again, as if commenting on Maura’s comment.

“Willy,” he said.

“It’s his name,” said Susan quickly. Harriet opened her mouth, but Susan carried on. “Mickey Willy is his full name,” she said. “After my grandfather.”

“I see,” said Harriet slowly. “Anyway, we haven’t heard what you thought of the book yet.”

They all turned to Susan. She wanted to say that she thought it was the most wonderful book she’d ever read, that she’d cried during it and then cried because it was over, and that if she ever had another child she would name it Liesel, even if it was a boy, but she’d learnt over the months that the group grew uncomfortable whenever she revealed her true passion for the books they’d been allocated, so now she no longer bothered, hiding her love of reading behind self-deprecating humour.

“Didn’t get to read it,” she said. “A book thief stole it.”

They all laughed at this, and the atmosphere grew more relaxed. Then Joey spoke again.

“Boobs”, he said.

It was unfortunate that Fiona had just taken a mouthful of wine as Joey said this. After they had all finished thumping her on the back she stared in shock at Susan and said “did he just say -”

“Books,” said Susan firmly. “He’s very astute.”

“Books?” sneered Harriet.

“In a Dublin accent,” said Susan.

Harriet stared hard at her. Susan stared calmly back. Then Maura, the appeaser of the group, stood and walked over to the cage.

“He’s a cute little guy, isn’t he?” she said. “Ask him if he wants a cracker.”

Joey regarded her, head on one side, for a long moment.

“Axe me bollix”, he said.


They had gone.

Into the stunned silence that had greeted Joey’s last remark Harriet had said “gosh, is that the time, I must be off” without even looking at her watch. The others had stood too.

“What about next month’s -” began Maura.

“We’ll organise it nearer the time,” Harriet had said quickly, and Susan knew that, when the organising came, her name would not be featuring among the invitees.

Having waved brightly at them from the door, she had turned back, and sighed.

And noticed that, because of the abrupt ending to the meeting, there was still a lot of wine left. She set about remedying that.

And as she sat, glass in hand, she realised how relieved she was. She’d joined their book club when she’d moved onto the road and was keen to meet her neighbours, but she admitted to herself now that they were snobs, and that their “book club” was as pretentious and superficial as they were, something that they had heard sophisticated people did and so had pretended to do themselves. Besides, she’d met a lot of the other neighbours now, mostly through having to drag the twins out of their flower-beds, and had realised that they were much nicer people.

She was better off without the book club.

“F’kawff!” yelled Joey suddenly. Susan raised her glass to him.

“Well said, Joey,” she said. “They can f’kawff indeed.”


(I’ve started going back to the Inksplinters Writing Group in the Irish Writers Centre on Tuesday, and this is built on what I wrote for a recent prompt, which was “a foul-mouthed parrot”.






Noted Name

The door to the internet opens, and Tinman creeps sheepishly back in. It’s been too easy over Christmas to find excuses not to write, but I finally went back to our Inksplinters Writers’ Group tonight. The prompt we were given was “Edward is asleep in his chair”, and I wrote two sentences to the prompt before my brain took over, which is never a good thing…


Edward is asleep in his chair.

Most people don’t sleep in a chair-lift when it’s on its way to the upper slopes of Mont Thing (sorry, I’ve never been skiing, so can’t think of any resorts), but then most people aren’t Edward.

In fact, very few people are Edward – take out the female half of the population, the Chinese, people who are named after their Dad’s favourite soccer player, everyone called Darryl, Henry of the six wives and the seven Henrys who preceded him, pop-stars children with names like North, Moon Unit and Scent of the Gloaming, anyone named after the town in which they were conceived excepting of course the residents of Edward, Minnesota, people whose parents thought Edward sounds too posh, people whose parents thought Edward sounds too old, people who thought Edward sounds too much like Jedward, people whose parents had wanted a girl and who are therefore called Edwina, people whose parents think it’s hilarious to list their religion on a census form as “Jedi” and have called their son Ewok, all of Jermaine Jackson’s sons, aliens secretly visiting from the planet Xjrui, people christened Edward who have since opted for a sex-change, all of the members of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch, He Who Must Not Be Named, people named after the Pope, Englebert Humperdink, Jude the Obscure, Robin the Rich, Given the Poor, all five of the Tracy brothers from Thunderbirds, a Man Called Horse,the Man With No Name, a Horse With No Name, people named after famous literary characters such as Holden, Yossarian and Tarzan, the Artist Formerly Known As Edward,and a boy named Sue, and you’re left with very few people who are Edward.

Who is asleep in his chair, by the way, and after reading this who could blame him.


It’s nice to be back, by the way…

Knocked Off His Perch

The prompt at our writers’ group tonight was to write a piece beginning with the line “It was the first time I killed a man”…..


It was the first time I killed a man. I’d fought villains for years, of course, wrestling with the Penguin, struggling with the Joker, grappling with Catwoman.

And I’d fought their henchmen. With Robin by my side I had engaged in many a punch-up, filling the air both audibly and visibly with “Pow!”s, “Thwack!”s, and “Shit, that really hurt!”s.

But no-one ever died. The henchmen ended up in a pile, the villains ended up in a cell, and the Batpistol ended up unused in the Bat Utility Belt.

Then came that awful night. You could argue, of course, that I didn’t actually kill him. The Batsignal lit up in the night sky, Robin rushed into my room to tell me about it, and I hastily pulled up the sheets to cover my modesty and the fact that I was once again grappling with Catwoman.

Robin stepped onto the rubber suit that I had discarded on the floor, slid halfway across the room, tripped over the pair of pyramids presented by Catwoman’s equally discarded outfit, and shot out of the window.

I’m not sure why we had picked Robin as a name for him, but it certainly wasn’t because he could fly.

You could argue, of course, that I didn’t actually kill him, that it was an accident, but that didn’t make me feel any better. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t succumbed to Catwoman’s womanly wiles. It wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t strewn our clothes all over a polished wooden floor. It wouldn’t have happened if I’d given Commissioner Gordon my mobile number, so that he didn’t have to use that stupid Batsignal.

I raced down the five flights of stairs and out the front door of Wayne Manor. Robin lay sprawled on the gravel drive, surrounded by five letters spelling out the word “splat”.

You could argue, of course, that I didn’t actually kill him, because he wasn’t dead. This was Gotham City, after all, so as I stood looking sadly down at him he suddenly sat up and said “Holy High Dive, Batman!”

I hated it when he came out with crap like that, so I hit him. With a bat.

You could argue, of course, that I did actually kill him, except that being hit with what’s essentially a winged hamster doesn’t do a lot of harm, so fear not, the Boy Wonder will still be stunning our enemies with his fists, and our audience with his clichés next week at the same Bat-time, on the same Bat-channel.

Night Shift


By day I am David Smith, an ordinary man in every way – office-worker, dutiful refuse-recycler and runner-up in the 2004 Mr Universe Contest.

But by night I am The Black Shadow – jewel-thief, art “collector” and cat-burglar.

I am a traditionalist. I wear a black-and-white striped jumper and a little eye-mask. I walk on tip-toe, not beginning a step until I have completed the one before, even when I am just walking from my front door to my car. I leave a calling-card at each crime scene, with a picture of a black shadow on it. To be honest this is not an easy image to capture, and the card simply looks as if somebody has sneezed hot tarmac onto it.

And I carry a bag on a pole – a bag with “swag” written on it in which I keep a banana, a flask of coffee and an iPhone with Google Maps on it, so that I don’t break into the wrong house.

Being a cat-burglar is a difficult and dangerous profession. Cats don’t like to be stolen, and have claws which they are happy to use to reinforce this opinion.

Dogs would be a doodle – just shout “here, Fido” and they practically steal themselves. It’s like robbing a bank where all of the money jumps out of the safe into your bag.

On the other hand cats won’t even come for their own owners, so they’re hardly going to trot obediently  after me.

In smaller houses you have to wrestle the cat into the bag while it claws furiously at you. I usually end up with more scratches than if I’d tried to stuff a duvet-cover with a hedgehog.

In the larger houses, the ones big enough to swing a cat in, it should theoretically be possible to grab one by the tail and, after spinning round like a hammer-thrower, hurl it out the window into your swag-bag beneath. Cats, though, have the ability to swerve in mid-air, and at the last second will veer onto the wall beside the window, clinging there for a few seconds by all four paws. They could then simply jump to the ground and run away, but they prefer, because they are evil like that, to slide down the plasterwork, their claws screeching like a banshee during mating season. This causes you to clench your jaws so tight that your diet for the following week is soup, drunk through a straw.

The best way to steal one, I’ve discovered, is to pretend that you don’t want to. Play hard to get, in other words. I used to employ this technique with girls when I was a teenager. I had my first kiss at the age of twenty-seven, so perhaps the technique wasn‘t perfect.

It works better on cats. Walk away with the same haughty air that they would normally reserve for you and they will follow you quicker than a rat leaving Hamelin. They will then jump up and down in front of you, determined to attract your attention so that they can then prove that they can ignore you better than you can ignore them.

There is no market for them, of course. Since they would they simply run, or rather stroll, away from their new owners, it would make as much sense as them buying the receding tide. I should simply stop stealing them, but the Black Shadow is an institution by now, a daring darling of the media, a Robin Hood with a bed that doesn‘t get rained on. I feel that I have to keep the legend alive.

This means that I an stuck with a house full of cats all pointedly ignoring each other, like furry versions of the commuters on a London Underground train.

Sometimes the punishment really does fit the crime.

Lest You Be Judged


There’s no book. I found this disappointing. I believe in tradition, and on Judgement Day there should be a book. A Book, in fact.

Instead, when I reached the top of the queue God flicked through a filing-cabinet, held up a sheet of paper and looked me in the eye.

“Your sins,” he said.

I looked at the sheet.

“That doesn’t look too bad,” I said.

God lifted it higher. It turned out to be like that old computer-paper. Sheet after sheet unfolded, the whole thing stretching out like the toilet-roll after the Andrex puppy has run away with it, leaving the kid sitting on the toilet yelling to his mum.

When it finished God was visible only from the waist up, his lower half looking like a Jane Austen heroine sitting down in a ball-gown.

“Bloody hell,” I said.

He started to read. White fibs, pulled pig-tails and knick-knocks filled the early pages. The teenage years featured smoking, underage drinking and desperately hoping to get off with girls, which God said qualified as “coveting thy neighbour’s ass”. The adult pages mentioned tax returns with small “errors” – he actually made the quotation-marks sign with as fingers as he said this -, speeding, and a hatred of the song “The Fields Of Athenry”.

The list seemed to go on forever, which unfortunately we had. Eventually, though, he reached the very last line.

“Swearing,” he said, “by saying the words “bloody hell” while standing in front of the Lord.”

“Hang on, that doesn’t count,” I said. “If this is Judgement Day then the contest is over. Adding stuff on now would be like the judges giving an ice-skater a load of 5.8s, and then changing them to 4.1s because she slipped onto her bum on the way off the ice.”

God considered my argument. God saw that it was good.

“Very well,” he said. “We’ll work with what we’ve got. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“The Devil made me do it,” I said.

“Get stuffed,” said the Devil, who I hadn’t noticed sitting behind God, like the other bidder at an auction. “You can’t blame any of it on me. I was too busy starting wars to make sure that you farted on a crowded bus.”

“Have you any other argument to offer?” asked God.

“I’ve done some good things,” I said. “I’ve held doors open for people, I’ve given directions to lost tourists, I’ve put money in the collection-plate at mass – well, I never took any out, like my friend Jimmy used to do.”

“A bit feeble,” said God. “Anything really impressive?”

“I fought in the French Resistance,” I said.

“You were born in 1957,” said God.

“Ok,” I admitted. “I root for the French Resistance in war films.”

“That’s not enough.”

I knew when I was beaten. I began to gather up my worldly goods, ready for my trip down the Stairway From Heaven.

“Wait a sec,” said God, “you play the harp.”

“How did you know?” I said.

“I know everything,” said God.

“Yeah, right,” snorted the Devil. “The shape of the case he’s carrying is a huge clue, it’s probably not a ukulele.”

“You’re in, so,” said God.

“Really?” I said.

“Yes,” said God. “Since the invention of the bloody guitar no-one plays the harp anymore. I’m running out of angels.”

Three In A Bed


They’d had no choice, really.

Ever since Goldilocks had broken Baby Bear’s bed they’d all had to sleep together.

They had, of course, had three beds, with Daddy Bear’s and Mummy Bear’s being the other two. But since news of Goldilock’s arrest (yes, arrest, she’d basically been breaking and entering) had broken on the BBC, on Sky and, rather bizarrely, on Al Jazeera, the Bears had had to reconsider their bedroom furniture arrangements.

Reporters were at their door, asking could they not afford a matching set of chairs, asking what sort of mother serves porridge at three different temperatures, and asking questions about the state of their marriage.

Some of the tabloids were asking how Baby Bear had been conceived in the first place.

So the Bears had gone to Ikea and bought a double bed. They had also bought a 22-shelf bookcase, a lamp in the shape of Sherlock Holmes’s hat and a fondue set, because it’s impossible to go to Ikea and just buy one thing.

They had issued a statement that the separate beds had been a temporary arrangement while Daddy Bear had recovered from whooping cough (“No sex please, we’re feverish”, one tabloid headline had read), and that the Bears would now once again be sleeping together. Furthermore, Baby Bear would be sleeping with them, since he was still traumatised after finding a human in his bed. Picture finding a bear in yours and you will understand how he felt.

They hoped that would settle the matter, but it didn’t. “Bears in Three-in-a-Bed romp!” the tabloids had crowed. Fame has a price.

But if it has a price it also has a salary. The Bears appeared in an TV ad campaign for Odearest mattresses (“so comfy, you’ll sleep all winter”). They sold their now famous single beds on Ebay for thirty thousand euro. And they were paid a huge sum of money to give Hello! an exclusive photo-shoot (“Mr and Mrs Bear show us their fabulous new double-bed and, er, fondue set”).

They moved from their isolated cottage to a luxury suburban bungalow with a snooker-room (they’d seen that print of dogs playing pool, so reckoned it couldn’t be that hard), an outdoor Jacuzzi and a very, very good security system.

The whole experience brought them closer as a family, and a shared indignation at the intrusion into their private lives had brought Mr and Mrs Bear closer as a couple. The real reason for the separate beds, Mummy Bear’s four-year affair with Paddington Bear, had not been forgotten, but as time passed it came to matter less and less.

(PS. The title is not an attempt to attract more readers, but was the prompt at our Writers’ Group yesterday).

On Retreat

Since I spent last week on retreat in the West of Ireland with other members of my Writers’ Group you may be here expecting my writing to have reached new heights of eloquence, wit and beauty. Those of you who have known me for longer, however, will be expecting the same sort of stuff that I always produce.

We didn’t write a lot.

In our defence we had expected to be trapped in our cottage for the week, staring out at driving rain while trying to think of something that rhymes with “saturated”. We had not expected that Ireland would get its first summer since 2005, nor that the West, normally the wettest part of the country, would have the heatiest of the heat wave.

So we had swimming to do, ice-creams to eat, salads to prepare, sunscreen to apply (I used an entire bottle in six days) and lolling about complaining about the heat to be getting on with before we could get down to actual work.

We did try. All of us wrote something. We also tried painting, to see if that would stimulate creativity (since I paint like a four-year-old my attempt will not be featuring here, even though it might well have been the funniest thing ever to appear on the blog).

The cottage was in the grounds of the Park Lodge Hotel, just outside Spiddal, which is run by the nicest and kindest family that you have ever met in your life. We would wake to little baskets of croissants or banana bread left on our kitchen window sill. When thanking them for their wonderful hospitality I promised I would mention them here, and am delighted to do so.

They would refer to us to the other guests as “the writers”, filling us with pride. We didn’t quite gate-crash a wedding one night, but did sit drinking in the beer garden where the wedding guests came out to smoke, so ended up chatting merrily away to them.

And one evening the family in the neighbouring cottage, walking home at midnight past the hotel’s childrens’ playground, did pass us playing on the swings.

So we were vain, we were eccentric and at times we acted like kids.

We may not have written much, but as least we behaved like writers.

Gone West

This is Day 2, and this is sentence number one. This means I will have three whole sentences written by Sunday.

Perhaps the above needs some explanation. Inspired by the number of writers throughout the ages who have escaped to remote cottages to finish their great novel, our Writers Group decided to book a cottage together for a week in the hope that we might start ours. So four of us have come to the lovely village of Spiddal on the west coast of the country and I am writing this outdoors, in frighteningly garish shorts and a chilly breeze.

There are a couple of confessions I need to make. Our cottage is not deep in a forest surrounded by pine trees and bears. We are in one of seven in the grounds of a hotel, just two miles from the town, so we will not have to set traps to catch possum in order to eat. And the absolute silence of Thoreau’s retreat in Walden is not quite matched here, where I can hear traffic and where the cottage next door have their radio on.

The four of us know each other simply from the Writers Group. We have always got on very well there, where we write, encourage each others’ work and then chat in the coffee shop afterwards. We have not lived together, where we can have rows over who ate the last Jaffa Cake and who left the toilet seat up. So the cottage may end up as friendly as the house on Walton’s Mountain, with cheery goodnights emerging from every room, or may end up like the last twenty minutes of the Shining.

We plan to swim, to go for walks, to listen to traditional Irish music in small dark pubs. We also plan to write. Honestly.

Yesterday was a settling-in day, but today, as you can see, we’re giving it a go.

(PS. I have just noticed that WordPress suggests “toilet seat” as one of its Recommended Tags. Who am I to argue with the masters).