Monthly Archives: April 2012

On Shakey ground

Ridiculous storylines, crazy behaviour, outlandish plot twists, a collection of grotesque characters unlike anyone you would ever encounter in real life…it could only be the world of the soap opera.

Or could it? This might give Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench an apoplectic fit, but the works of Shakespeare are every bit as outrageous, implausible and demented as the best (or worst) soap script. Now, this isn’t to say that they’re not also profound, lyrical meditations on the human condition, because the Bard’s plays clearly are.

But purely from the perspective of plot, Shakespeare’s plays are the Elizabethan equivalent of the modern-day soap: hectic, ludicrous and thoroughly entertaining. They were dramatic pot-boilers before pot-boilers – and possibly even pots – were invented.

As our English teachers were wont to say, examine the textual evidence. Hamlet is a lurid Oedipal melodrama. Romeo and Juliet is a Home and Away-style teen romance with added poetry. King Lear and his daughters form the classic dysfunctional soap family. Antony and Cleopatra features the most fantastical suicide ever (death by poisonous snake bite, in case you were wondering).

Shakespeare was the Coronation Street or Dallas of his day, with enough excitement, romance, laughter, tragedy and emotional meltdowns to sate the appetite of the greediest soap addict. But what would it be like to combine the two? Well, let’s find out. Oh players, play on…


Hamlet in an EastEnders style’


Act I, Scene I

It is wicked cold at the battlements of Elsinore Castle, innit? And the ghost of Hamlet’s old man appears or whatever, and he’s all like, ‘Ooh, tell me son I was murdered, innit’, and Hamlet finds out and he is well pissed off.


Act II, Scene II

So Hamlet is standing wiff a piece of a skull in his hand what is well gross innit, and he’s thinking about stuff. He’s, like, deep or whatever?


HAMLET: Oy, Horatio. You ever wondered about, like, wot a piece of work is man and that? Iss all, like, noble in reason and infinite in faculty, innit? A bit like Superman or sumfink. Or, like, Paxman wot does Universally Challenged. He’s well clever, inney?


HORATIO: Leave it aaht, ya plonkah.


They shout at each other for ten minutes, then go for a pint of laaaw-gaah.


Act III, Scene I

I reckon Hamlet knows at this stage abaaht the old man being done in and, like, his conniving mum and that, wot he sort of fancies and all, the dirty little monkey. So he’s all, ‘Ooh, wot am I to do?’ or whatever. Just do sumfink, ya useless git!


HAMLET: Well, what I’ve gotter ask meself is, to be or, like, not to be? Wevver it is nobler in the old grey matter to put up wiff all this palaver, or should I, like, take arms against a sea of troubles, innit?


OPHELIA arrives.


OPHELIA: ’Allo, my daahlin’. Wotchoo doin’ there, talking to yourself? You’ve gone stupid in the head, innit!


HAMLET: Shove orf, ya slaaaaag! You ain’t even meant to be in this scene!


They shout at each other for fifteen minutes, before Ophelia storms off to begin a secret affair with Ian Beale. Hamlet gives an extravagant yawn.


HAMLET: I am well tired, innit. I could do wiff a bit of kip or whatever; to sleep, perchance to dream. Yeah, there’s the rub and that.


Hamlet lies daahn in one of the fruit and veg stalls for a kip, and has right ’orrible dreams of one day being played on film by Mel Gibson. He awakes wiff a start, and sets off to end this, once and for all…just like Mel would do. Ooh, he’s handsome, inney? Bit of a nutter and all, though.


The final act, final scene

I fink everyone is dead by now, except maybe the extras what they use for crowd scenes and that. It all got well confusin’ there for a while, but I fink I ’ave it all worked aaaht now. Ophelia went mad about her old man dying and gone and drownded herself or sumfink, and Hamlet, like, stuck a knife in some old fart wot was hidin’ in the curtains and all that, and Rosenthingie and Guilderwhatever is dead too. And then some more people was stabbed or poisoned or whatever, and I don’t know wot’s goin’ on no more.

Anyways, Hamlet is lying on the graaahnd, philosophising, which ain’t much good when you’re bleeding to deff, innit? Be better off callin’ a doctor or sumfink.


HAMLET: Bloody ’ell, it’s all gone Pete Tong, innit? But it’s me own fault – I should have acted earlier and that. But I just couldn’t be bovvered, really.


He dies or whatever. Close curtain. The end, innit.


Slowly rise like something immersed

This is a story (actually an excerpt from a novel) which I’m putting up because a biggish part of it relates to the work of Louis le Brocquy, who sadly passed away today. RIP.


‘TELL ME something. A story or something.’

‘Okay. What sort of story do you want?’

‘I dunno, anything. Tell me whatever comes into your head. It’s this silence, I can’t concentrate. Talk to me about something.’

‘Alright. Let me think… Hold on now a minute… I suppose you know your mother and I are going to Tramore in a few weeks’ time?’

My father was cast in a pose by the window of our sitting-room, motionless on a velvet-cushioned dining-chair and looking into the middle distance as I pared a 2B pencil in a novelty sharpener Georgie had recently bought for me on a school trip. She was almost thirteen then and just finished primary school, and her class had gone on a day-trip to the National Museum and various stops along the way. I think she bought the sharpener in a joke shop along the Dublin quays: it was shaped like a clown’s head and its boggly eyes swivelled as you turned the pencil inside its head. I always found it a little creepy, but I couldn’t have told her that; she wouldn’t have understood and I would have felt embarrassed.

I finished honing the pencil and buried that manic clown head under a stack of sketches, then looked at my father’s face, saying, ‘Oh, yeah? Jesus. What’s bringing you back there? I would’ve thought Tramore was a bit lame for a pair of cultured travellers like you two.’

‘That’s us, alright, the jaded epicureans of the global village. No, we’re, ah… There are two reasons, really. Sylvia wants a little nostalgia, and I think my motivations are sort of ironic, if that doesn’t sound like too trendy a term for an old fogey like me.’

‘My dad the detached ironic. Stay perfectly still.’

‘Right. Yeah, she wants to visit all those old places we brought you guys when you were smaller, just to remember and see how much they’ve changed, or if they’ve changed. And I want to remember too, I suppose, but also just enjoy the tackiness and shabbiness of a seaside resort – that sweet feeling of decay.’

‘The penny arcades and the worn old funfair. The smell of grease and sugary candyfloss.’

‘There’s something almost comforting about a place with that feeling, just crumbling away into the sea… I don’t suppose you’d remember this – you might, you weren’t that young – do you remember a holiday we took in Tramore, oh, years back?’

‘Um…I guess so. I dunno. Which holiday in particular?’

He had the sort of unremarkable hairstyle that never seemed to lengthen or shorten and, should the unlikely need arise, would have been near impossible to describe to a police artist. His head was angular and tall, with a sharp jaw-line and large ears, and his neck was thin, dusted with greying stubble and centred by a very prominent Adam’s apple. He had a Roman nose, minutely misaligned at the bridge – the result of a clumsy tackle during his football days – long and well-defined, flaring at the nostrils. His cheekbones were high, and superficial laughter lines fanned outwards from the corners of his eyes. Okay: enough to work with. But those would come after the eyes; I always started with the eyes.

My father said, ‘You know how, at Tramore, you have the promenade first, across from the town itself, and that moves down then to the main beach – the wet sand that stretches very far when the tide’s out?’

‘Yeah. We used to play tennis and run the dog there.’

‘Correct. And then, if you walk down to your left, the beach curves around for a good length – a few miles at least. You remember that part of it? Very pretty down there. Little pools of water and lovely sloping sand-dunes, and always very quiet.’

‘Mm-hm. Could you lift your head slightly…? Just, like, half-an-inch… Perfect.’

‘Okay now? Well, one time – this is years ago – Sylvia had taken Barry to the cinema to see some cartoon he liked. I think you’d already seen it, and Georgie was too young to go. You remember the cinema they had there. A tiny little place; quite nice, though. Cosy.’

‘Yeah. They were always about six months behind the rest of the world with the films they were showing. Barry and me used joke about them getting Gone With the Wind in time for the tourist high season.’

The eyes are the midpoint of the face, and a useful focus when drawing portraits. This I had learned during the recently ended first year of my illustration course, from an amiable teacher with sloped shoulders and a gentle way of giving instruction. I had also learned, though I suspect I already knew this, that I had an aptitude for drawing faces, and more, an infinite fascination with the subject: I literally never tired of sketching the human face and its constituent features.

The eye is halfway between the chin and the top of the skull and, though there are exceptions, the tip of the nose is generally halfway between the eye and the chin. This is not as self-evident as it sounds; a brief glance at someone’s face can often give the impression that their eyes are located somewhere around the top third of their head which, unless you’re into the more avant-garde representations of the human form, isn’t very helpful. I studied my father’s eyes – the shape of them, the colour of the iris, the length and orientation of the lashes, the thin red veins clustered towards the inside corner, the odd stray bristle of the brow.

He continued to hold himself motionless, looking directly ahead, and said, ‘So I brought you and Georgie on a big walk along the beach, down towards that undisturbed area off there to the left. You were thirteen or fourteen so, of course, full of beans and mad to be doing something, and I had Georgie up in a sort of papoose that Sylvia and I had bought for the holiday, this orange and black papoose with some kind of Central American motif to it. She was only a toddler so it wasn’t that heavy.’

‘She ain’t heavy, she’s my sister.’

‘After a long time walking the three of us reached this broad stretch of water which cut across from the sea to the sand-dunes – there must have been a spring located there which fed into the sea. So we made camp there; you and I sat on the sand and we let Georgie paddle around in this shallow pool.’

‘Oh, yeah – now I think I remember. The little pool.’

‘Yes. It was beautiful there, really – the sand had that rippling quality, like you’d see in the Sahara? A really pleasant, relaxing afternoon. Georgie splashing herself in the warm water, the sky this clean blue colour with these delicate streaks of white cutting through it, you know, from where aeroplanes had flown by overhead. Just…perfect, really. I’m not sure why that’s come into my head just now.’

My pencil flicked back and forth, scratchy lines and soft blurs of darkness, as I extracted his face from the paper, watching it slowly rise like something immersed. His eyes and eyebrows first; then, measuring with the pencil, the outside of the nostrils and down to the lines of his mouth; the shadow along one side of his nose and under the right cheekbone; the hair, soft and fluid, the funny gnarl of the ears. I was about to outline the encasing curve of his skull then decided against it; I had recently seen one of Louis le Brocquy’s ‘Faces’ series on a television documentary, and was captivated by the impression it gave of three dimensions somehow existing on a flat canvas: that sense of facial features materialising above the milky-white background, leaving the rest of the head submerged.

I spun the pencil between two fingers and stared at my drawing. I said, ‘Dad, can I ask you something? You don’t have to answer.’

‘Sure. Gosh, this sounds ominous.’

‘No, it’s not…the question is maybe a bit weird. Did you ever, ah, expect things to happen the way they have? Like, what we’ve all done with our lives and the kinds of people we’ve become.’

‘Well…what do you mean, exactly?’

‘I dunno… I suppose, did you and Mam know that Barry would get into finance, say? Did you look at him when he was eleven or twelve and say, “There stands a banker”? Or, like, Georgie’s what now…thirteen. Do you have a sort of sixth sense as to what she’s going to be doing in, say, eight or nine years?’

‘No…not really, no. You have an impression of a person’s character – of your children’s character – from an early age. But no, I don’t think it’s a case of knowing what path each of you would take. These things are…vague, and unbounded. Anything is possible within reasonable limits. And people change as well; the person who starts out with dreams of being an astronaut may decide that something more down-to-earth suits them better.’

I lifted the drawing and shook it gingerly, dropping flecks of graphite and eraser onto the ground. I caught it in both hands and flipped it around to show him his likeness, saying, ‘Well? What’s the verdict?’

He nodded his head in approval, then smiled and said, ‘You’ve got me down to a tee, son. Spot on. Are you going to sign it?’

I twirled the pencil again and handed it across the table to him; he looked at me, a little confused, and I said, ‘A team effort. We both sign it.’

‘On the Road’ redux

Last month, during a four-day mescal and astral-travel binge with my good friend and famed beatnik performance artist, ‘Dirty’ Dylan Rainbow, I got to thinking: wouldn’t it be super if someone were to write the definitive Irish road book? It could be like a Hibernian version of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.

A gripping tale of one far-gone daddio hitching all the way across this crazy country, driven by way-out cats crazy for kicks and hallucinogenics, tumbling down that golden highway toward the ocean and God knows what else. It would be the defining literary statement of our age, capturing the raw naked Irish savage in all his untamed glory. Dig it!

And wouldn’t it be even more super if that someone were me? Name a person more qualified, and I’ll give you a coverless paperback of Dharma Bums and a one-way ticket to Woodstock. The place, not the music festival. I literally spent about four solid years of my life standing on some desolate byroad, thumb aloft.

So it was with confidence that I recently sat down at my old style manual typewriter, roof fan whirring, 94% proof whiskey and loaded revolver near at hand, dreams of the open road and God’s dark holy country filling my head…


On The Boreen* (Draft #1)


June 1st: Summer is here and I’m itching to get out. This city is suffocating me. I need to feel the wind in my hair as open train carriages hurtle through the cool blessed night. It’s decided – I’m going to travel the whole damn way across the country, getting from here to there to wherever by any way I can.

I ask my boss for a six month leave-of-absence, citing “creative stagnation and existential asphyxia”. In a weird forecast of my actions, he says, “You’ve gotta be joking, pal – it’s my way or the highway.”

I choose the highway.


June 2nd: Ring Iarnród Éireann and ask for a timetable of all open-sided freight trains for the next month. The guy asks if this is one of those hideously unfunny radio station pranks. I assure him it’s not, that I am planning a most righteous groove into the black heart of…he cuts me off by saying, “We got two loads of coal, the Guinness train, a canister of frozen nitric acid and the fifteen-fifty passenger direct ex-Heuston.”

This might be trickier than I thought.


June 3rd: Decide to hitch it. Hot damn! I’m almost crazy at the thought of that black-topped highway leading to the ends of the earth, needing nothing but a packet of Luckies and a ride to the next stop.

Pack a rucksack with windcheater, several changes of underwear, toilet bag, walkman, book, road map, anti-indigestion pills, thermal sleeping-bag, two three-kilo dumbbells and lucky troll doll.


June 4th: Pick what I feel would be a good spot, light a cigarette and calculate how much peyote I can buy with the money in my pocket.

(5 hours later): Maybe it’s some kind of rupture in the astral plane, maybe it’s the fact that my hitching sign reads “Loco cat in need of passage down life’s sublime highway”, but nobody has offered me a lift. Pah! Bourgeoisie. Who needs ‘em? I’ll sleep under the stars tonight, man, just the bounteous earth and her dark belly to hold me.

Find a field, roll my jacket up under my head, and dream of the ocean.


June 5th: Wake up with an incredibly painful crick in my neck. I can’t turn my head around from its ‘looking left’ position, which has quite restricting consequences on my tumbling passage toward love and despair. Resume hitching again, but with my back facing onto the road, gazing forlornly over my shoulder. I look like one of Buck’s Fizz.

Wait for some good-hearted son of the soil to take me where I gotta go.

(4 hours later): If just one more redneck shouts ‘Hey! Nice arse!’ from his car, I won’t be responsible for what I do.


June 6th: Jesus, I’m hungry. Am reduced to sucking on love beads in attempt to fool my stomach into thinking I’m actually eating. My energy centres are all messed-up from standing on the one ley-line too long. I’ve gotta get out of here! All I need is a ride, man, just one lousy ride.

Wait – I think I hear an old tractor chugging its way towards me. God bless those simple rustic people!

(That night): Am writing this by the glare of a 42-inch Samsung Widescreen TV. A little disappointed that my host didn’t make me a simple country repast of nuts and homemade wine, although he did offer me some oven chips and Toffee Pops, and his Cherokee jeep was really comfortable. I wonder where I’ll sleep tonight? Probably alone in his barn, with just the straw to lie on and the infinite stars above to send me to my sleep.


June 7th: So that’s what he meant about being “glad of the company – it gets very lonely out here sometimes”.

Walk rather painfully to my new hitching spot and check the map to see how far down that shimmering blue highway I’ve travelled. I feel like I’ve been on this road for ever, that it just circles the earth and comes right back to here…

Hmm – six miles. That’s a little less than I had expected.

Hitch a ride to the next town with an ancient old man, a man who looks more than just in this country, but of this country. If you know what I mean. The man is living history. He must have some crazy stories to tell.

I drawl, “So…you must have some crazy stories to tell.”

He jerks his thumb at the backseat which is covered in empty milk-bottles.

“D’ye see dat? Dat’s what I like. Milk.”

“Uuh…yeah, sure, sure, old-timer. But, what I mean to say is…you must have seen so many far-gone things in your time. So many beautiful and awful and sweet roaring things.”

“I have. Milk.”


“First, milk was just got from the cow; directly, like. Den de bottled milk came along. Dat was grand for a while. Den de cardboard cartons arrived. Now, dey weren’t always so easy to open; ye see, you had to stick your tumb right in under de edges…”

Slyly ingest a tab of ‘Dirty’ Dylan’s special brew acid to ward off a coma. The old man turns into a wasp and doesn’t even seem to notice.


June 8th: Come around at noon. The sun is tearing apart the faded sky like a cruel lovely mistress…err…tearing apart something. I’ve got a bitch of a hangover and my head is stuck in a ditch. What far-flung reaches of life’s black heart did I visit last night? What dangerous woman did I make love to, what dusty broken travellers did I meet riding that cold locomotive to death and infamy?

I sort of remember entering a bar, sucking on a long tall cool one and saying to the massive, vaguely homicidal-looking man next to me, “Say, brother, let’s sleep in the forest tonight and be as one with everything around us.” But all the rest is a blank.

My head aches. I feel like I’m not wearing any trousers. And why are all those people laughing at me…?


*boreen: Irish word for small road

Mao that’s what I call entertainment!

It’s almost reassuring, in the bland, consensus-driven modern world, to know that political crackpots still exist, fighting the bad fight as if the mass horrors of the 20th century had never happened. Sad to report, then, that the US-based Maoist International Movement is now defunct.

These keepers of the collectivist flame believed the revolution was both desirable and imminent. But the funniest thing about MIM – even funnier than the fact their website linked to that bastion of the hard left, – is that they reviewed movies through the prism of Mao’s teachings, Marxist-Leninist dogma, the class struggle, overthrowing the capitalist empire, etc. etc.

Obviously something like Alexander Nevsky or We Were Soldiers would lend itself to this sort of political analysis, but these guys weren’t choosy, reviewing every kind of movie, including cartoons. How anyone could see an ideological truth in the likes of A Bug’s Life is unfathomable, but it did get me thinking…


A Marxist reading of…Toy Story

Toy Story is nothing more than a reaffirmation of bourgeois capitalist principles. The importance of private ownership – in this case, Andy’s ‘ownership’ of Woody, Slinky Dog, Bo Peep et al – is unsubtly hammered home, brainwashing young children into becoming compliant consumer drones. Buzz represents American military might, the iron fist which ensures capitalism’s global hegemony, while the face-changing character of Mr Potato Head signifies the imperialist running dogs’ ever-willingness to switch position when it suits them. Death to all toys!


A Northern Ireland Unionist reading of…Shrek

This ludicrous parable marks a new low in Republican propaganda. The so-called ‘hero’ – if you could use such a term on this disgusting object – is a swamp-dwelling ogre whose skin colour immediately betrays his political affiliations. The sober, morally upright Lord Farquaad – the film’s equivalent of our beloved sovereign, and protector of the unity of all Fairytale Land – is a figure of mockery. The green guerrilla drinks too much, is enamoured of violence, makes fart jokes and finally runs off with the princess – much like those barbaric Paddies we have to deal with on a daily basis. God save our noble Farquaad…


A Feminist reading of…Snow White

Snow White is an almost totemic example of the patriarchal ascendancy in popular culture. The pathetic titular character is painted as the ideal woman: simpering, inactive and passive, waiting for her ‘prince in shining armour’ to rescue her, i.e. complete her as a woman. This, of course, couldn’t possibly be achieved through education, a career or artistic expression, as that would upset the cosy phallocentric paradigm in which Snow White is forced to exist. The only truly strong female character, the Queen, is portrayed as a wicked, homicidal megalomaniac; in truth she is simply a woman choosing her own destiny and imposing her will on a male-dominated world.


A Neo-Con reading of…Beavis and Butthead

These young hooligans are what’s wrong with America today. In fact, we can safely state that Beaver and Buttface are responsible for the federal deficit, our boys dying in Eye-raq and the levees breaking in New Orleans. If only some good old-fashioned American values like ambition, industry and self-reliance could be tortured into these young reprobates, this would again be a country I’d be proud to call home. Instead they sit on their couch all day, sniggering and watching pornographic MTV video games, and probably injecting marijuana. The degenerate sodomites responsible for this filth should have electrodes tied to their ill-used genitals.


An Ecological reading of…Antz

If we are to end our violation of the natural environment, we must educate the young on the importance of sustainable management of resources. Unfortunately, Antz merely reinforces the impression that the earth is here for our use only…that is, us and a bunch of computer-generated ants. These creatures seem obsessed with construction, industry and the relentless march of progress; a stifling conformity keeps everybody in line. The only voices raised against this senseless abuse of our blue planet are a bonehead (Sylvester Stallone), a highly strung princess (Sharon Stone) and a whining nerd (Woody Allen). They wouldn’t inspire anyone to live up a tree for two years.


(previously published in New Empress magazine:

The Devil’s Dictionary of Writing and Writers

Bumpf, n: gibberish found on the front and back of a book which accentuates the positive and eliminates the negative, and thus gives absolutely no clue as to actual quality. That which involves the commendations of fellow authors should be especially distrusted.

Cliché, n: mortal enemy of any writer; murderer of creativity; toxic to the artistic soul, et cetera et cetera. Ironically, almost always completely true, e.g.: ‘Writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.’ Which is 1% received wisdom and 99% totally goddamn bang on.

Excuse, n: that which stops you writing, or can at least be blamed for your lack of productivity, e.g. Dr Phil compulsion, pot marathons, chronic masturbation, long and wholly unnecessary phone-calls to anybody who’ll talk to you, creative asphyxia, artistic inertia, creative inertia, artistic dislocation, existential ennui, artistic-creative ennui-inertia-asphyxia.

Garret, n: ideal dwelling-space for one with literary ambitions. Minuscule, urban, flea-infested; owned by heartless slumlord. Alternatively, a brick cottage balanced precariously on top of a craggy cliff, the heartless sea lashing its four sturdy walls, a lantern casting a warm orange light onto a heavy metal typewriter.

Good health, n: a state unfamiliar to writers, whether physical, mental, spiritual or financial. Generally caused by chain-smoking, reckless drinking, poor posture, society’s persistent failure to acknowledge our genius, and our own utter refusal to accept even a close approximation of reality.

Market, The, n: what writers must now apparently aim towards and write for. Historically this function was fulfilled by various entities including ‘readers’, ‘art’ and ‘literature for its own sake’. They were subsumed into The Market in a hostile takeover a decade ago and have since been decommissioned.

Memoir, n: fictional genre wherein the writer invents stories about their dreadful childhood, struggles with substance abuse or torrid sexual history. From the French ‘to embellish wildly’.

Post-post-modern, n: late-era genre of fiction characterised by detached tone and almost wilfully uninteresting subject matter, e.g. the odious main character names all the anti-depressant medications he has ever taken, in exhaustive, unreadable detail, hyphenated chemical formulae and all, in order to fully convey his sense of disaffection with post-industrial society.

Sodomise, v: what celeb biographies and Dan Brown books do to the average human brain (figurative).

Superstore, n: relatively new arena for the sale and purchase of books, where everything is where it should be but nothing seems to be as it should be.

Submission, v: to sell yourself like a gigolo in a Roman flesh-market; to parade yourself and your works for the delectation of leering buyers; to bare your soul for the vulgar and the barbarous to pull apart, consume whole and vomit back in your face. Alternatively: to send a manuscript to a publishing house.

Tears, n: commonly found on the faces and keyboards of writers; often the result of frustration, bitterness and repeated striking of aforementioned face off aforementioned keyboard. Mostly literal, one or two metaphorical.

Work, the, n: following the Zen approach to artistic creation, one must be in it, but not necessarily of it. Or is that the other way around?

Zeitgeist, n: the Holy Grail of publishing; that which must be tapped into, e.g. ‘Our publishing house is currently looking for books in the Bloke Lit/Action-Espionage/Troubled Youth/Multicultural/Abuse Survivor/Historical Romance/Children’s Fantasy genres. Or think along the lines of Jeremy Clarkson meets Joanne Harris meets Harry Potter…’ From the German ‘to shamelessly ride another’s coat-tails’.