Monday, 12 November 2012

Isabella's Tail.

Poor, poor Isabella. My heart goes out to the people who lost such a beloved animal especially under such cruel circumstances. Its not hard to imagine why this noble little beast was so prized, so valued as a pet and a pal to the children of the area. It is hard to imagine the dog that savaged her being held in the same regard. Mind you I do not believe that such dogs are born vicious. They have to be brought up that way. Either by intent or neglect the cruelty gene requires nurturing.  Animals are as complex as human beings when it comes to how they turn out.
What a noble beast is a donkey. They have been almost as constant a companion to humanity as dogs have but they have never come to occupy a place in our shared affections in the same way. They have proved themselves loyal, dependable and hardworking to boot with no history of ferocious attack.
  I had an uncle who used to race donkeys in donkey derbies. By that I do not mean I had an eccentric but quite fast uncle who used to run rings around donkeys.  He stabled them and trained jockeys for that. His favorite , The Brown Lad, was a legend in my ma's kitchen. The Brown Lad won races and brought home trophies. He was a good natured animal, gentle but strong. Uncle Hughie once tried to train me to be a jockey but I was much too big a fop. All that bouncing around on a donkeys back was murder on ones crown jewels and I did not half cut a peculiar sight. Shooting along a grass verge past Castleblaney Castle Hotel bobbing up and down like a Punky Hobbit who knows his time has come. I ended up in a hedge being stung by nettles. My youngest sister Bernadette became the jockey I was destined never to become. Riding The Brown Lad to victory on more than one occasion. Fetlocks blowing in the wind to quote The Divine Comedy and Father Ted from their magnificent Eurovision Entry My Beautiful Horse. 
Last year I drew a card for friends showing Oscar Wilde and his famous entrance into Jerusalem one Easter Sunday many years ago  atop a donkey that carried him into the history books. He was going to stay with the Hebrew King Herod and watch Herod's step-daughter Salome dance for their entertainment. Wild wrote a play about his visit which was banned everywhere on account of it being bonkers and dirty. Like Christine Aguilera only all biblical. Oscar Wilde could be like that.
A really catholic friend told me when they got the card. Which pleased me no end I can tell you. Its the small victories that count. Even the ones that make no sense. 
There was a wee book in our house in Etna Drive by the writer Paul Gallico called The Small Miracle. It is a very simple but moving tale skillfully crafted and deeply moving. " A BEAUTIFUL STORY ABOUT THE SIMPLE FAITH OF A BOY IN INVOKING THE HELP OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI TO CURE HIS SICK DONKEY." That is what the Glasgow Herald said about this book way back in 1952. It is not much more than a short story, just less than fifty pages long. But like all good stories it is exactly as long as it needs to be with not a word wasted. It is tempting to say that it is a story from a simpler time but I do not believe simpler times ever existed. It is perhaps just that we who lived through it saw with simpler eyes. Please seek a copy out. And make an effort to go looking for it in an actual second hand bookshop in the real world. They do exist and they really need your patronage. You never know what else you might find so it is a double-plus good situation.
There comes a point in every young man's life when he sees with absolute clarity that he will never become The Astronaut he one day dreamed of becoming. Fortunately I had filed away a fall back plan for a second choice career. I used to believe I was going to become A Rag and Bone man. Going from street to street , door to door, collecting junk and second-hand clothes, loading them onto my cart pulled by my faithful donkey Bucephalus. The Rag and Bone man was not an unfamiliar sight on the Edwardian streets of my childhood and someday I hope to make it so again. It is not an ignoble profession. Few ways of making a living are.  
Donkeys have occasionally clip clopped their way onto the broad stage of the modern zeitgeist. One of Winnie the Poohs best friends and Shrek's chum for starters. And in literature too as I have minutely demonstrated. I have a childhood memory of my sister Nuala standing in her st. Gemma's school uniform rehearsing her part in Shakespeare's A midsummer Nights Dream. In her well worn and tatty copy of the play was a full page artists impression of the donkey headed Bottom. Surely one of the most familiar visual rifts in the history of theatre. I had not a fucking clue what she was saying but I loved the rythmn of the words as she tried to give them life. I thought I was hearing magic 
words and that is what I associate Shakespeare with...
Magic Words.
Woodland magic. It makes you want to lie in a leafy glade where sunlight plays between the browning leaves of autumnal trees that fall like confetti at the wedding between the real and the weird. The last place in the world where you are likely to be abused by someone in a loose ensemble of sport casuals.
Before I stop waffling I see a light break through the shutters of a movie projectors lens throwing the untold ending of Issabella's tale on a movie-house screen. The film stock it is recorded upon is a little scratched and the quality somewhat degraded. The film is after all the product of my minds eye and like everything else about me its a bit frayed about the edges. 
Do not walk out just yet though. Please stick around to see how it ends. If for no other reason than every movie shown in this particular theatre is proceeded by the sound of the national anthem of Utopia being played on an accordian. You will not even have to get to your feet to stand in respect for it.
No-one ever does.
In the flickering light on the screen thrown on the screen we see the image of a small town square huddled beneath a dark starless December night. It is as dark as a December night can get in this part of the world. Gaudily lit store windows display their wares behind glass encrusted with mid-winter frost. The kind that comes from spray can. The people of all shape, sizes and ages who shuffle accross untrustworthy pavements can see their collective breaths in front of their faces. They make their way to an unofficial assembly point festooned in decorations dripping with win driven rain which fringe the edges of every cable and rainbow bare bulb like gray decorative lace. Droplets dangle of ruddy noses and ruby cheeks that peek from gaps in scarf wrapped heads as songs are shared and sung aloud to ward of the winter chill. They are all gathered around the statue cast in bronze of Issabella the donkey. A nicely designed memorial to a little animal that brought a lot of joy.
Its only a thought. Not a short film at all.
In the total scheme of things Issabella's tale is a small one that few people outside of the immediate area she lived in has even heard off. But its the stuff of life and the whole worlds made of that.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Purple Gum Boots Of Destiny

It was raining again. Some days it feels as though the rain will never stop in this town. It just pours and pours.All day and all of the night. They have been saying its been the wettest period since records began. I suspect they mean since Noah started keeping a diary. It just comes on so quickly too. The sky darkens over and the rain clouds burst spilling their contents on we mere mortals below.
I was on my way into work when I got caught out by a sudden cloudburst. I had no umbrella and was not carrying a walking stick. I had intended a leisurely dander to the bus stop so I was not prepared for the sudden imperative to get under shelter. I have arthritis in both my legs so if I push it by suddenly hurrying up I end up lurching from side to side as I perambulate. Its not my favorite way to get from A to B as I believe shanks-mere should be an altogether more graceful affair. In my own head I hear circus music played by an organ grinder as his monkey in a fezz dances.
After an interminable wait for a green light I managed to cross a very busy road. I had my head down against the rain and the wind and did not notice until I got to the bus shelter that it was almost full. There were four blokes in track suits and hoodies huddled together beneath the sheltering heavy plastic roof. Each of them clothed in garmets made from no fabric found in nature. If I had seen them before making for the bus shelter I would have kept moving. Feigning indifference I would have faux-casually made my way to the next stop despite the biblical downpour. Now however I was committed and had to sit down.
The four blokes not only wore the same clothes they wore the same expressions. Snarling smirks with cats-eyes embedded on the road to perdition. They were in the zone. The every day party zone that most spides live in where linear time means nothing. Elvis time without end.
My stomach was full of butterflies but I did my best to look unruffled. I knew what was coming. Not the details but the general gist. I tried to concentrate on the cars flashing by in the rain but the game was afoot.
One of them helpfully pointed out to his chums.
His colleague begged to differ.
To be honest I have been called much worse. This was nothing. There was much more and worse I suppose in  among the general sniggering and swearing. The Jango-Jango speak of collective spides. It always sounds a bit like crab claws plucking on violin strings punctuated by swearing and hilarious blasphemy. This continued for a bit. The four of them mocking me as we all waited together for a bus to arrive. The whole time there was the back ground pitter patter of raindrops on the bus shelter roof. Even the shelter seemed to be mocking  me as their in-house ad lied with the words one bus every twelve minutes.
Out came another insult accompanied by a chorus of guffaws.
Said another to an encore of hoots.
I have had moments like this all my life. The mocking laughter of strangers(Which sounds like a southern gothic tragedy by Tennesse Williams.) I flashed back in time to my first day at school.  My first morning at Holy Cross Boys. That dark morning many years ago when I had paraded around our living room in my new school uniform. New clothes were something of an occasion for me as I had only ever worn second hand or hand-me-downs. Clothes that fit were a new sensation. I stood on the arm of a chair and posed in front of the mirror that hung above our fire-place. I thought I looked very smart and felt sure all who saw me would agree. The only item of new clothing I refused to wear were the new shoes. Sensible black school shoes. They were not real to me.
I wanted to wear my favorite pair of purple gum-boots. They were a pair of bright shiny purple boots. A bit like wellingtons only better. Up until that day I had worn them all my life. At least that is how I remember it. I  could not recall a life before them. It was as though my own sense of being began when I put them on. They were my day wear. They wear my night wear. I wore them when I thought I was a pirate on the Black Swan. I wore them when I thought I was a spaceman on the Forbidden Planet. I was the only member of the Magnificent Seven who owned a pair. I even wore them In Sherwood Forrest evading the crooked sheriff. I loved my purple boots and would often fall asleep wearing them. Someone would slip them off my feet and there they would be at the side of the bed in the morning. They seemed indestructable too. They never seemed to wear down and no matter how dirty they got all it took was a wipe down with a wet cloth to make them shine like new. This probably meant they were made of some cheap nasty plastic but to me they were priceless. 
My ma tried to get me not to wear them into school. That my school clothing grant bought shoes were the ones I ought to wear. That the purple ones would be waiting for me when I got home from school. I would not hear of it. I was looking forward to school. It was going to be a whole new adventure and for that I would need the proper footwear.
The purple boots of adventure.
I may have believed I was born to the purple but no-one else at Holy Cross Boys did.
The first day of that big adventure did not go quite the way I thought. The older boys were very aggressive to all the new boys but there was something about me that singled me out for special treatment. Because my ma and da were from the country and spoke with accents this identified the family as gypsies. And my purple boots confirmed this. All gypsies wore wellies. Everyone seemed to know this as one of those for-certain school yard facts. Everyone except me and mine.I was not even sure why being a gypsy could be percieved as being a a bad thing. As a child I imagined the life of a gypsy to be one of great adventures all beginning and ending in a colourful moving house on wheels. At break time and lunch time a crowd gathered to tell me how wrong I was. They loomed above and around me. Pushing and shoving, jeering and laughing.I tried to get away but they blocked me at every turn. I was terrified of them and felt butterflies in my stomach for the first time. Since I could not escape them in the school I escaped the only way I could. I turned and faced the wall and tried to tune out. The insults and the jeering continued even as I raced home through a gap in the school railings at the bottom of Brompton Park alley.
This first day set the template for the rest of my schooldays. It pretty much continued all through primary and all through secondary. I never talked about any of it at home and have not since. Until now. 
Malachy Moondust with his head in the clouds.
I never wore my purple boots again. I stuffed them under the bed and wore the school grant ones.My purple boots were eventually thrown out. I wish I had a different end to that story. That I could say I stood up to the people who mocked and won their respect.That would not be true. It was too late by then. I had been singled out for good
I was snapped back to the present by the arrival of three buses at once. The four blokes got on the first bus. I got on the second. The third bus whizzed by. No reason to stop.
One of the boys shouted at me as I made my way with giddy motion to the second bus.
Even I thought that one was funny.
It was then I noticed that one of my black suede brothel creepers was letting in rain.My sock was all sloshy with rain water. Oh for reliable footwear whos only weakness is molten magma. Hot lava being the kryptonite of gum boots.
My purple boots are probably still out there somewhere. Quietly refusing to rot in some landfill site buried under decades of discarded rubbish. 
My brave and loyal little purple boots whom I betrayed and threw away.
Wherever you are I salute you.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Noe: The Savage Boy

Noe News Is Good News.

                  Hey ho here we Go. Here's the cover for a new comic I have been working on for the Irish comic book publisher Atomic Diner. It is the first issue of a three part series about the traumatic life of a sixteenth century Irish boy Called Noe. It is based on actual historical events from an idea by the Atomic Diner editor Rob Curley. At his invitation I have adapted that idea into a thrilling adventure yarn illustrated by Stephen Downey(artist on one of my favorite titles at the moment Jennifer Wilde).

                  In 1631 the occupants of a small fishing community in the southern most extreme of Ireland vanished overnight. The Sack of Baltimore, as it became known, was carried out by Algerian pirates who spirited away all the people of that village to the North African Coast where they were sold into slavery. It is a really heartbreaking tale of desperate inhumanity that is all the more breathtaking as it is true. Imagine the headlines on the cover of the British red top newspapers or even the Web top headlines if such an event were to occur today.

                  Its the story of one family and their experiences. In the main it is the sons tale, Noe. How he goes from being an innocent boy to a savage warrior and ruthless assassin. Its the story of a family learning to survive against staggering odds and the unbreakable bonds shared between loved ones. Its about the bonds forged and formed in the face of adversity and cruelty at the hands of man.

                   I am hopelessly compromised but I believe Stephen has done some of his best work on this first issue. He has managed to bring to life a period and a location I do not remember seeing in a comic book before. Ireland in the sixteenth century. Page after page filled with a sense of a space and a time long gone by. The sight of the prow of the pirate ships cutting the waves and the wind in their sails. It has been a while since I last wanted to swash my buckle so ardently.

                    I have not written a history lesson though. It is first and foremost an adventure story even if  birthed in historical fact. As historical fiction it is not rooted in any particular genre either. I find life rarely is. Life is comedy and life is tragedy. Life is happiness and life is horror. I think the editor Rob thinks this too and he allowed me to take minor historical liberties for the sake of brevity in storytelling. Allowing me the full stops real life does not.

                     If you would like to read and see more Noe should be here soon.



Friday, 31 August 2012

Everyday Objects Transformed By The Conflict Exhibition.

                I was recently asked by a lady named Triona to contribute a piece to this exhibition which has been travelling around Northern Ireland. Its a really engaging and fascinating exhibition, which like the organising principle behind the project, has a very accepting and broad mandate. "WHATEVER YOU SAY, SAY SOMETHING." is the bridgehead on their flyers. Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a story to tell is what it seemed to say to me.
               The theme of the exhibition is as it says above. take an everyday object, drop it into a period of conflict and its adaptive purpose transformed it into something else. The alchemy of violence. Simple objects become loaded with newly aquirred significance and meaning with such stories to tell.
                My contribution was a black and white photograph of my brother and sisters and me taken by an english soldier during an army raid on our home. You would not think to look at this photograph that it was taken in the early hours of the morning , that our home was being torn apart by an armed raiding party and that the kids on that sofa smiling for the camera are actually huddled together because they are terrified.
                  The soldier who took the photograph winked at us. I think he believed he was being kind. Normalising a bit of a shocker. As far as I know this is the only group photograph of us as kids. We did not own a camera so our childhoods mostly only exist in memory. But then who's does'nt. This unknown soldier sent us the photograph weeks later in a plain brown envelops marked THE CONEY KIDS.
                   It was taken at a time of one of the Northern Irish Troubles many peaks. in the heart of Ardoyne in Etna drive. In the black and white memory play of the past it was  the street where everything seemed to happen. Etna Drive, Jamica street, Kingston street, the streets where I ran as a boy were all named after places with active and shifting tectonic  plates of their own.
                   I still remember the raised and frightening voices thundering with familiar threats countered by my ma's pleading but defiant voice. It might have sounded like a chicken clucking to the well armed invaders of our home but she was saying. "DO'NT YOU HURT MY CHICKS!"
                   I have always believed my ma to be the bravest most decent person I have ever known. So in that sense they were out-armed.
                   Nothing was ever found during those late night raids on our home. There was never anything to find.We may have been the poorest family on one of Belfast's poorest streets but we were rich in another sense. My ma and da would never have harmed another human being. It would never have occurred to them.
                    I think the soldier who took the photograph knew this.
                    Each object in the exhibition came with a brief explanation of its history. Mine came in the form of a short comic strip because that is how I communicate with the world. It was a one page strip which originally appeared in an issue of the politics,art and culture monthly Fortnight. A magazine whose editor Malachi O' Doherty welcomed my contributions. He was a very forward thinking man who who saw the artform of comics deserved a life beyond the publishing ghetto it seemed relegated to in Northern Ireland.
                     The organisation behind the exhibition are a group called Healing Through Remembering whose members come from a wide range of political, social and religious backgrounds. You can find out more about them at their website www,
                    The clarity of so many important and precious moments lose their focus with the passage of time and become misted.  The past cannot become a country we have lost the maps to. How else can we learn to navigate the complex and unknown paths of our shared futures.
                     How we get there may well determine what we find there when we arrive.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Bloggin Begins

When he was alive my da once said to me that one of the things he had always wanted in life was a small piece of land of his own.Just a wee strip of soil that he could tend to in his own way and on which he could grow whatever he wanted to grow. He never did get it.Men who support their families by digging graves cannot afford to buy land.In a way that is also something I  have wanted myself.A little space of my own where I can grow whatever I want.That is what this is.My tiny allotment on the internet.Maybe I will tease something to life in its hard unforgiving soil.And you are more than welcome to a taste of it.If you are ever in the neighborhood drop in and see whats growing.
Come and See.