I recently spent an enjoyable 10 days In Cyprus. It reminded me of Ireland – a small island with a border dividing the north from the south, with a British military presence and two tribes separated by religion and flag – except that the Cypriot climate is a little warmer.
To celebrate Limerick being named as 2014 City of Culture (
@Limerick2014), I’ve penned a limerick about Limerick:
The Limerick Limerick
A city on the banks of the Shannon
Renowned for its rugby and gammon
Though it’s not quite Paris
It spawned Richard Harris
A man who could drink like a salmon
As a tribute to Pete Seeger the American folk musician and activist who passed away yestersday at the age of 94 here’s one of his lesser known songs The Foolish Frog, a comic number which shows the great man’s lighter side. Enjoy…
From my forthcoming collection of short stories and poetry:
“A Poem That Has No Real Meaning, Yet Literary Critics And Academics Would No Doubt Find Some Hidden Connotations About Life And Death And Draw Some Significance In The Fact That The Title Is Longer Than The Actual Poem”
A fish opens its mouth
In a pond
Opens it again
Over and over
And gets eaten by a passing heron.
The Irish Post newspaper has published an interview with me about my book “In Complete Circles” which it describes as “an entertaining and esoteric memoir“. I found the following two quotes particularly gratifying:
“In Complete Circles does display a stream of consciousness which at times could be Joycean, combining the mundane with the exotic”
“With In Complete Circles Ciaran Ward has devised an excellent vehicle to carry his insight, not just into life in Tyrone, but in fact into the whole human condition.”
Thanks to Mal Rogers for the kind words.
In Complete Circles is available from Amazon at the very reasonable price of £5.47 (paperback) of £4.62 (Kindle).
The Dreaming Armadillo’s official deceased comedians’ obituarist Philip “Skinny Banana” Larkin returns with a tribute to Mel Smith who died last month.
GOODBYE MEL: THE ONLY GOOD POLL IS A DEED POLE
I was spending a weekend with friends down in Milton Keynes a couple of weeks ago, and we decided to go for a long walk in the glorious sunshine. We stopped at a convenience store to grab a few items for dinner, and it was there that I saw on the front of the Daily Mail a photo of Mel Smith and Griff-Rhys Jones in one of their head-to-head conversations.
“Good”, I thought, “they must be coming together for another series, or a special programme.” Then I inspected the photograph more closely. The caption tagline read: “MEL SMITH DEAD AT 60.” He had died from a heart attack. I felt sad, for a number of reasons. The first I suppose is one we all feel when someone we remember as a feature from childhood passes on, someone who has been metaphorically “in our house” through TV. I recall watching Alas Smith and Jones with my brother years ago, us laughing like drains at one of the “Home Video” sketches, where a family of chavs and their slobbish lodger, Len (Mel Smith, obviously!) made a very feeble attempt to re-enact Star Wars. It was hilarious. The second reason I felt somewhat sad was because he died at such a relatively young age, and never got the chance to enjoy the fruits of his achievements and life with his family into old age. That said, he did lead a very full life.
I’ve recently been finding out quite a lot of new information about Mel, but some things about him were obvious to all. He came from an ordinary family in Chiswick, London, where his dad was a bookie – Mel was, I discovered, very fond of the races and a flutter on the gee-gees himself – I suppose that it was in the blood! Apparently from the age of six or so he would direct little plays and sketches with his friends in the neighbourhood, so it’s perhaps no surprise that he took this route in life. He would have admitted himself that he was never the handsomest of men, but he could use somewhat bulbous nose, thick lips, and hangdog appearance to amazing comic effect – he looked funny, and was aware of it, turning what many men would see as a curse to his advantage.
He was one of those people who, once you saw him on TV, you wouldn’t forget. His appearance and frequent portrayals of slovenly and louche characters belied a sharp intellect and a strong sense of street savvy: as my dad would have said, “The softest part of him was his teeth.” From his grammar school he won a place at Oxford to study psychology, but, as he later said, he was attracted to Oxford primarily due to its famous and prestigious Drama Society, of which he later became president. It was through this office that he met Griff Rhys Jones, who was president of the Cambridge Drama Society, with whom he was to form a long-standing partnership. From what I’ve read, Mel was one of those people who really loved life, and all the good things that it had to offer, such as good food, alcohol, cigars, and quality cars. Sadly, it seems as if his fondness for the first three of these took its toll on, since he had suffered from much ill-health in recent years.
I first remember him as a child, appearing in episodes of the then ground-breaking comedy show Not the Nine O ’Clock News, together with other young newcomers Rowan Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson, and, of course, Griff Rhys Jones. This show, much of which has stood the test of time, was pure gold once it hit its stride, poking fun at more or less anyone and everything, including older, more conventional comedy shows. CW will confirm that I nearly choked with laughter one night when he put on the CD of Mel and Griff’s skit on the Two Ronnies, “The Two Ninnies.” We both later found out that the late Ronnie Barker was extremely upset about this sketch, labelling it “excrement.” I know that CW is bored with me saying this, but I do think that Ronnie overreacted a bit (and allegedly he did come to realise this when he had calmed down), when it would have been better to see the funny side of it. Another memorable sketch featuring Mel was one with Rowan Atkinson and Pamela Stephenson, where he was a professor on a chat show with Gerald the Gorilla (Atkinson), whom he had taken from the wild and made perhaps too good a job on civilising, including teaching him to speak flawless English, study philosophy, and play a game of one-upmanship with the professor.
Professor: “Let’s put this all in context, when I brought Gerald from the jungle he was wild.”
Gerald: “Wild!? Wild!? I was livid!!”
Priceless stuff, and the comic rapport between Smith and Atkinson was brilliant. Yet it was Jones with whom Smith was to go on and form a long lasting partnership with. Practically all of us of a certain age remember the famous head to head dialogues against a black background, where Smith would play the know-all (who really knew very little), and Jones would play the credulous, dumb bloke who occasionally would hit on a nugget of clear reality, puncturing the inflated pride of Smith.
Mel also scored great success as a producer and director, developing the Talkback production company with Jones, and selling in on to make them multimillionaires. He also directed the Mr Bean movies, starring his old colleague Atkinson. To me, it’s just a pity that time caught up with him so soon and he couldn’t have continued to enjoy life for a bit longer.
Many tributes have been written about him in recent weeks, but I believe that the best of these comes from an old childhood friend from Chiswick, Terry O’Sullivan, who grew up with Mel:
He was a few years younger than me but my mum and his mum, my sister and his sister, we were all friends together. We all used to play in the street together. It was after the war.
We stayed friends even after he went to the local grammar school and moved away and went to university.
I was just a normal working class lad and became a signal engineer, but it didn’t make any difference to Mel. He treated everyone the same and he came to my mother’s funeral.
We used to play cricket in the street together, he had all the bats and the stumps and we played football too, well you did back then.
He was a very generous man and a kind character. Not bad at cricket either!
Perhaps of all the eulogies he was given, Mel might be most pleased with this one cited above. Perhaps he was the archetype of the “working class boy made good”, whose attitudes towards friends never changed despite his success. One thing is certain, and that is that the world of comedy has lost a truly talented man, who brought laughter to us while alive.
Rest in Peace, Mel.
I received an anonymous e-mail from someone calling himself (or herself – but I assume he’s male) “The Backward Toad” who’s written a review of my book and asked me to put it on the blog. He said that if I didn’t publish it on the blog he would unleash a deadly virus that would wipe out all of humanity. So in the interest s of saving the human race from certain extinction here goes…
Nostalgia, Nostalgia, Nostalgia!
Once I started, it wasn’t too long before I was finished, but it is the sort of memoir that I could easily pick up and read again when the mood takes me. The author’s schooldays appear to have been quite similar to my own. If you like a bit of nostalgia, then you’re in for a real treat with “In Complete Circles.”
I think that Ward’s greatest achievement with the memoirs, is to make the familiar and commonplace seem slightly off-beam and new. All of us who attended an all boys’ school surely have memories of the “fight after school” to which two blazered gladiators had challenged each other to, and which we spent most of the day waiting on with anticipation? More than nine times out of ten these turned out to be spectacularly anti-climatic affairs, with the “fight” either being pre-empted by a teacher or other adult (much to our consternation!), or else the two warriors proved to be much less warlike when they faced the deed, and ended up either walking away or even making friends again! This proves the point that it is much more difficult to fight/hate people that you actually know! Not that this prevented some budding authors with brilliant imaginations spreading tales of a bloodbath the next day at school – again he brilliantly encapsulates these common memories in a very droll way. Similarly, we all recall teachers from school who were real characters (the teaching profession sometimes appears to attract them), and Ward again has captured our memories of one such character, and turned him into a live and animated figure.
Sometimes memoirs can carry a melancholy strain or an edge of bitterness about certain incidents and issues: there is none of this spleen here, and neither does he seek to settle any old scores with anyone. These would simply seem out of place in the scheme of this book. Overall, you get the impression from reading the work that this is a individual with a dry, wry sense of humour, with a magnificent memory for detail, who strives to be happy and see the funny side of life.
Whatever the result of the book’s publication in terms of sales, I strongly suspect that we have not heard the last of CW as an author, and “In Complete Circles” will prove to be merely the first gold coins in a large and rich treasure trove which has yet to be unearthed. Keep watching, folks!!
The Backward Toad
The picture was taken in the Cabo de Gatos National Park in Almeria, Southern Spain, where many “spaghetti westerns”, notably those directed by Sergio Leone were made in the 1960s. How appropriate – it’s certainly bad and ugly, but I can’t see much good there.
Here’s the latest reader feedback on the book:
“I really enjoyed it. It was great to be reminded of the retreats and trips. Hard to disentangle the real from the fiction in a few places, as the author probably planned. I saw on one of my old teachers in Belfast today. Greyed but not bowed. As I drew near him I registered a flicker of recognition in his eyes. He probably realised then that I might be an ex-pupil, and stared straight ahead ignoring me. I shouted after him “Alright sir!” A true eccentric.”
“Very funny and it brought back some great memories, particularly the formal and the car park battle.”
“A very amusing book, and one which brings back many similar memories from my own schooldays!”
“Anyone at school in the 1980s or early 90s should give this a read lol …”
Regular readers of this blog (if there are any left) must be fed up by now of me constantly plugging my own book. Fair enough, but unfortunately no-one else is going to plug it for me!
This article was published in the Ulster Herald, a local paper covering the Omagh and West Tyrone area on 16 May.