Fiction

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ICC Press Release 002

In Complete Circles: The Memoirs & Travels of an Ageing Schoolboy…

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More Memoirs: The Class Struggle, Urban Myths and Rural Legends

Here’s yet another instalment from  my long long awaited book “In Complete Circles”.  I have written the bloody thing, but I’m just finishing the proof reading. I do hope to get it published soon!

 008When I talk about class war or class solidarity in this book I’m not referring to the manifestos of Karl Marx or the latest campaign by some left wing socialist workers’ organisation.  I’m in fact alluding to the daily rivalry between 1C and 1D or 4A and 4E which formed a major part of my school days.  There were the legitimate forms of inter-class competition such as football, debating and quizzes.  A quarter of a century later and I still feel gutted at being on the losing 1C side in the final of the first year league which 1B narrowly won by a single point on a very wet and muddy pitch.  I wasn’t in the best of shape having had my fingers badly bruised after accidentally getting them crushed by two shot putts during athletics practice a couple of weeks earlier, but still managed to get on the scoresheet. 

Being an all boys school of raging hormones there were also the unofficial class conflicts.  If a fight broke out between two boys from different classes the unwritten rule was that you supported the one from your own class, a bizarre state of affairs given that we had no say in what class we were put in. 

If a brawl didn’t get resolved in the classroom or the yard, if the two combatants were rudely interrupted by the bell or the intervention of a meddlesome teacher it would often be rescheduled for after school with a neutral territory as the venue.  One such fight had been arranged to take place in the large public pay-and-display car park beside the school which hundreds of school boys and girls passed through daily on their way home.  The two opponents on this occasion were Skins Fallon and Cheese McArdle.  At this stage of the book I’ve run out of names given that there were so many Seans, Shanes, Pauls and Michaels (or variations including Mick, Mickey, Micko, Mike or Mikey) during my time at the school, so I’ve had to resort to using fictitious nicknames.

No doubt the school boys of today film fights on their mobile phones and post the footage on Youtube and Facebook, but back in the day we had to rely purely on memory and eyewitness accounts of varying degrees of accuracy and exaggeration.  Young people reading this (ie anyone under 30) could be forgiven for thinking we were living in some kind of primitive dark age back then.  In many respects we were.  This was a world without e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, blogs, i-pads, i-pods, Skype or Google.  Back then an i-pad was a surgical dressing which you wore if you had an infected iris.  Blackberries were still fruits that grew on thorny bushes at the side of the road.  Androids were something out of Doctor Who and a wiki was a small metal implement used to open a small door or padlock.  An app was what you took when you were tired.

Although I know I’m getting on a bit now that I’m in my very very late 30s, I don’t consider myself to be particularly old.  I draw some consolation from the fact that I’m still young enough (in theory at least) to be a goalkeeper at a top Premiere League club. It’s a lonely position to play in at the best times, but I often wonder how ageing goalies must feel being the oldest player on the team and surrounded by young lads half their age. But I’ll leave this discussion for another time.

 The fight started in classic style with a bit of pushing and shoving and the odd insult thrown in.

 “So do you want a fight, McArdle?”

 “That’s what I’m here for, Fallon!”

 “Is that right?”

 “Oh, you think you’re smart do you?”

 “So what are you going to do about it?”

 It was as if each party was playing for time by deliberately prolonging the dialogue.  A substantial crowd had gathered.  Things were about to kick off as the customary pushing and shoving had started, when a traffic warden – or more accurately the council-employed jobsworth with the peaked hat whose task it was to check if the car owners had paid and displayed with those annoying adhesive square stickers you put up on the inside of your windscreen – intervened.  He was a small chubby man with a moustache.

 “This is a public car park!” he screamed.  “You can’t get up to this kind of carry on here!”  It was probably safe to assume that he had an MBA (Master of Busybody Administration) from the “Ken Blowtorch School of Management”.  Naturally his interference wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms, especially when a bunch of exuberant schoolboys had been looking forward to a bit of entertainment.

The Fallon-McArdle bout fizzled out and attention instead turned to the developing confrontation between Mr Pay & Display and a big lad from the fourth form called Barry Bennett.  Bennett was none too pleased that his rights as a spectator to this feast of gladiatorial action were being curtailed by a small man in a uniform.

He squared up to him eyeball to eyeball and asserted himself, being a few inches taller than this uniformed killjoy.

 “And what the fuck are you gonna do about it, mister?”

Pay & Display Man was quite clearly getting very nervous and could only repeat his previous words, but this time in a much higher voice, as if a lobster had somehow crawled down his trousers.

“This is a public car park, you can’t…” he squeaked only to be cut off in mid-sentence.

“So you think you’re the big man do you?  This is nothing to do you with you!”

“I’m going to report you, you know.  You won’t get away with this!”

Bennett ignored this empty threat and continued his campaign of intimidation.

“Go ahead.  Go and put a ticket on some poor bastard’s car while you’re at it!”

The council employee backed down, humiliated at being made to feel small by a schoolboy.  The crowds of school boys and girls cheered and continued on their way to the bus station via the town centre.  McArdle and Fallon were even seen joking amiably with each other.  The car park incident inevitably became the main topic of conversation throughout the whole school over the next few days.  Everyone claimed to have witnessed it, even the boys who lived in the opposite direction to the “crime scene” and didn’t take that route home.  Not surprisingly the reports became grossly exaggerated and distorted.  Even though there had been no actual physical contact there were rumours that Barry Bennett had left Pay & Display Man lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood.

“My sister Sinead’s a nurse up at the hospital and she said he had to be treated for concussion and head injuries and needed 20 stitches.  You shoulda heard the roars of him!  The doctor said he was this much away (the storyteller at this point – not a medical expert by any stretch of the imagination – demonstrated a tiny gap using his finger and thumb) from getting his jaw broke.  Bennett just done it for badness, like.”

Another “roving reporter” expanded on this account:

“Sure the cops came round and cordoned off the area.  I seen them doing it.  The forensics boys had to take blood samples away with them.  There was a big queue of traffic all along the Kevlin Road for two hours.  The cops lifted Barry and took him round to the nick for interrogation.  They roughed him up a bit just for badness, but he still never told the bastards nothin’.  He gave them as good as he got”.

In an alternative narrative the traffic warden had actually attacked Bennett with a taser (or an Uzi sub-machine – or a machete – or a chainsaw – depending on who you chose to believe) and forced him into retaliating with his fists.

Not that I’m condoning thuggish behavior, but as the accounts of that day became more and distorted Barry Bennett became a bit of a legend after that, a Robin Hood character fighting injustice.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.  Just like a few other (but by no means all) events described in this book….

Yellow jerseys and white lies

Lance uses his fingers to demonstrate the amount of times he's taken performance enhancing drugs

Lance uses his fingers to demonstrate the amount of times he’s taken performance enhancing drugs

It’s not about the drugs…or is it?

“I can emphatically say I am not on drugs”, I said… “I know there’s been looking, and prying, and digging, but you’re not going to find anything. There’s nothing to find… and once everyone has done their due diligence and realizes they need to be professional and can’t print a lot of crap, they’ll realize they’re dealing with a clean guy”.


LANCE ARMSTRONG during the 1999 Tour de France (from his autobiography IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE, published 2000)

OK, so it’s easy (and some may say opportunistic) to kick people when they’re down, but some people deserve it. Texas may have a yellow rose, but no longer a yellow jerey.

Memoirs of An Ageing Schoolboy # 7: The Life of Larry

As some of you may know I’m currently writing a memoir concentrating mainly on my school days.  Just over a year ago I published some early extracts on the blog.  I’ve been working hard on it ever since and now hope to have the finished product out in time for Christmas.  And before any smart remarks come in – yes I do mean Christmas 2012.

In advance of a certain long-awaited reunion due to take place in just under a fortnight’s time, here are some further extracts to whet the appetite.Image

At the behest of our English teacher, a walrus-moustached Belfast man called Lawrence Muldoon, known among the pupils as Larry, a small group of us attempted (“attempted” being the operative word) to set up a film club.  The idea was to hire a film projector and show selected films of the more artistic type like Casablanca or Citizen Kane and profound subtitled European films from the likes of Bergman, Fellini and Truffaut rather than the standard current Hollywood blockbuster to an audience of appreciative younger pupils.

We managed to procure some used film posters from the local cinema and stuck them up at various locations around the school to publicise the imminent formation (ahem!) of the club.  Inevitably they were defaced.  On the Steel Magnolias poster two drawing pins had been strategically stuck through each of Julia Roberts’ breasts, and another one further south.

Due to a combination of apathy and logistical problems the film club never saw the light of day, even though about 20 pupils (mostly gullible first and second years) had already paid the £1 a head membership fee.   Where that money ended up remains a mystery to this day. 

Larry like many of that particular generation of teachers born roughly between 1940 and 1955 was a bit of a character.  He had nicknames for virtually all of his pupils based on agonisingly bad puns. 

If we ever had him for a free period (or study periods as the principal preferred to call them – even though during these interludes we did anything but study) he would go around the class asking boys their names.  A typical exchange would go like this.

Larry: What’s your name, boy?

Pupil A: Sir, Aidan Duddy.

Larry: Sir Aidan Duddy?  Have you been knighted? 

What’s your name?  (Pointing to Pupil C)

Pupil D:  Otis McAleer.

Larry: So what do they call you then? McAlnose?

Pupil D: No, they call me Curly because I’ve got curly hair.

Larry:  Where are you from?

Pupil D: Ballygawley.

Larry: Is that Ballygawley, Tyrone or Ballygawley, Zambia?

Pupil D: Zambia.

Larry:  What’s your name, son?  (Turning his attention to Pupil B)

Pupil B: Sam Teague.

Larry: I just asked your name, not your religion.  (To Pupil C) What’s your name?

Pupil C: Martin McTosser, sir.

Larry: Are you from Ballykilbollocks?

Pupil C: No, Killybastard.

Larry: I didn’t know there were any McTossers in Killybastard.  Sure McTosser’s not a Killybastard name.

Pupil C: My da’s from Ballykilbollocks.

Larry: Is your da called Pat?

Pupil C: No, sir.

Larry: Mick?

Pupil C: No.

Larry: What the hell is his buckin’ name then?

Pupil C: Frank.

Larry: Frank, the butcher?

Pupil C: No, he’s an electrician.

Larry: You mean electricity has actually reached Ballykilbollocks?

Pupil C (Unamused):  I wouldn’t know, I’m from Killybastard.

Larry: You didn’t have a brother at the school a few years ago?

Pupil C: No, I don’t have any brothers.

Larry:  And what’s your name?

Pupil X: Sergio McBastard

Larry: You’re not one of the Drumgallykilderrymore McBastards are you?

Pupil X: No, I’m one of the Castlegorfinmorebrack McBastards

Larry: You McBastards don’t half get around…

And so on…

There would be situations when certain troublesome pupils were making a nuisance of themselves in class.  Larry would pretend to get angry and bang loudly on his desk, then say: “Get yourself down to Brother O’Loscan’s office now!”  The miscreant in question would go out the door down the corridor and on his way to receive a bollocking or perhaps much worse from the Great Satan only for Larry to shake his head with a sigh and reveal his bluff, ordering a designated pupil to:

“Run after thon buckin’eejit and bring him back here!”

He would also indulge in the occasional spoonerism – If someone had left the door open he would bark at them – “Fose that cluckin’ door!!

Watch this space…

The Dubya-M-Ds in G-Dubya-B’s head

Oil be the judge of that

This week the Times is publishing serial extracts from a newly published work of fiction – the ghost-written memoirs of George W. Bush, Decision Points. This little gem caught my eye:

“When Saddam didn’t use WMD on troops, I was relieved. When we didn’t discover the stockpile soon after the fall of Baghdad, I was surprised. When the whole summer passed without finding any, I was alarmed.” [Yeah right – even thought the UN weapons inspections report by Hans Blix hadn’t found any evidence for WMDs prior to the invasion]

“The left trotted out a new mantra: “Bush Lied, People Died”. The charge was illogical. If I wanted to mislead the country into war, why would I pick an allegation that was certain to be disproven?”
It wouldn’t be anything to do with the fact that gaining a plentiful supply of cheap oil was more important than the truth by any chance? Or that Dick Cheney told him to?

“While the world was undoubtedly safer with Saddam gone, [try telling that to the hundreds of thousands who were killed after Saddam had been removed] I had sent American troops into combat based in large part on intelligence that proved false. ” [Somehow the word “intelligence” and George W. Bush don’t make good bedfellows].

“No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn’t find the weapons. I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do.”

Oil be the judge of that – pull the other one, Georgie.

Blair opposed Freedom of Information Act

Blair - control freak

 

Of the many revelations which have emerged from Tony Bliar Blair’s newly memoirs the one which I found most interesting in my professional day job capacity was his apparent opposition to the Freedom of Information Act which his government passed in 2000.

It seems as if the Act was an inconvenience to Blair and many other poiticians regardless of party in the wake of the illegal invasion of Iraq and the MPs’ expensesd scandal. Blair apparently described the FOI Act as not practical for good government. Conveniently for himself it looks like the cabinet papers on the decision to go into Iraq (whose disclosure was actually approved under FOI by the Information Commissioner, but later blocked at ministerial level) won’t be made public any time soon.

And guess whose speech this extract is taken from?

Our commitment to a Freedom of Information Act is clear, and I reaffirm it here tonight. We want to end the obsessive and unnecessary secrecy which surrounds government activity and make government information available to the public unless there are good reasons not to do so. So the presumption is that information should be, rather than should not be, released. In fact, we want to open up the quango state and the appointed bodies, which will of course exist under any government, but which should operate in a manner which exposes their actions to proper public scrutiny.

Freedom of information legislation exists in many other countries, including the United States and Canada and Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and France. The countries have sensible exemptions which the public here would understand and support. Information relating to national security, to law enforcement, to commercial confidentiality, to personal privacy, should of course be subject to exemption, as should the policy advice given by civil servants to ministers. But even with these kinds of exemption, there would still be vast swathes of government activity which would be exposed to public examination and to public debate.

And the Act would also be of practical use to individuals. In recent years we have finally been allowed to have access to our medical records, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Campaign for Freedom of Information. Why should we stop there? Why should what is held on other personal files not also be available for us to see? At present we have a mish-mash of rules which allows us to see some files and not others, partly dependent on whether they are held on computer or held manually. But I believe there is a strong case for taking a consistent approach to giving people access to what is held on file about them subject of course to those obvious exemptions.

Yes, it’s Bliar’s speech at the Campaign for Freedom of Information’s annual awards ceremony in 1996 just over a year before he came to power .

The New Sherlock Holmes

Kelly Reilly who plays Dr Watson’s fiancée Mary

A review in one of the broadsheets described this film as something of a cross between James Bond and The Da Vinci Code. There are certainly elements of Dan Brown and Ian Fleming in the film, but an over-simplistic summary like this doesn’t do it justice – the film has much more besides.

Given that celebrity mockney Guy “the ex-Mr Madonna” Ritichie was directing it I wasn’t expecting a literary purist’s version of the works of Conan Doyle.  In typical Ritchie style Holmes relies on brawn almost as much as brain. While not strictly based on any of the canonical Holmes stories there are shades of such gems as Scandal in Bohemia, The Valley of Fear, The Sign of Four and The Final Problem.

Downey Jr as Holmes with Jude Law as Watson

I had my doubts about the casting of Robert Downey Jr as Holmes, but was pleasantly surprised. The great Jeremy Brett he ain’t, but he does make an excellent Holmes.  Downey’s post-modern Holmes is a scruffy, unshaven character who dresses somewhat flamboyantly in an almost Byronesque manner.  Also a dashing man of action in the mould of a Victorian James Bond with the nervous energy and subtle sex appeal of David Tennant’s Dr Who.  There are perhaps one or two fight scenes and explosions too many though.  The literary Holmes was a skilled pugilist, but was rarely seen in action.  Nevetheless Downey’s Holmes has the usual remarkable powers of irritatingly logcal deduction using the flimisiest shreds of evidence to draw conclusions and is true to tradition a master of disguise.  The plot is quite far-fetched and less plausible than any of the Conan Doyle stories, but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment.  Downey’s Holmes is also considerably less dignified than the tradional interpretations and is subjected to his fair share of humiliating experiences throughout the course of the show. One could hardly imagine, for example the likes of Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone or Peter Cushing enduring the indignity of being drugged by a temptress waking up naked chained to a bed.  But then in this digital mass-media centred world modern audiences have an increasinglsy short attention span and are this so much more demanding than their predecessors of the late 19th/early 20th century.

Jude Law puts in a decent perforamance as Holmes’ loyal  sidekick the soon-to-be married Dr John Watson.  The doctor’s dignity and domestic duties contrast well with Holmes’ eccentric uncoventioanl behaviour.

Mark Strong as the villain has the menacing presence of Bond adversaries like Blofeld and Scaramanga or Dr Who’s arch-nemesis The Master.  One of his heavies is even vaguely reminiscent of the heavily-built metal-toothed Bond assailant Jaws.   Ironically Strong’s aquiline features and neatly greased back hair give him the appearance of how Holmes himself is traditionally portrayed. If this was deliberate then it’s a stroke of genius. It it’s purely coincidental it still works.

There is also the recurring theme of Holmes constantly solving the crime before the police much to the annoyance of Scotland Yard’s incompetent Inspector Lestrade.

For some bizarre reason The Rocky Road to Dublin by The Dubliners is played over the end credits as well as during a bare knuckle fight involving Holmes and a hulking gorilla of a man. Come to think of it Conan Doyle was of Irish origin, but this is probably just coincidental. There is also a number of very minor Irish characters in the film, including Derry’s Bronagh Gallagher who makes a cameo appearance as a street fortune teller.

Kelly Reilly and Jude Law

 

Rachel McAdams as American seductress Irene Adler provides the main eye candy.  Like Holmes she is portrayed as something of an action woman in the style of Lara Croft, who becomes a third unofficial member of the Homes/Watson team during the course of their investigations.  However Watson’s fiancée, the more feminine Mary is for this author more easy on the eye.

If any 9-year olds are tempted to go down to to their local police station in order to settle an argument with a schoolfriend as to the real existence of Sherlock Holmes (although as the film has a “12” certificate this shouldn’t be the case!) the standard disclaimer at the end should put their minds at rest “The characters in this motion picture are fictional and any resemblance to any real characters living or dead is purely coincidental”. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.  Pun very much intentional.

There is a very strong hint of sequel in the making, which I very much look forward to should it go ahead.  Despite a few forgiveable deviations from the literary Sherlock Holmes Downey has certainly proved his credentials as one of the three great iconic characters of popular fiction. He’s probably a little too old to play James Bond, but if Doctor Who ever transfers to the big screen…