I Know a Good Man When I See One

Yesterday I felt like writing some poetry. I want that experience I’ve sometimes felt when writing, probably on fewer than ten occasions in total, when a satisfying line pops into existence out of nowhere- it seems to be not of your own volition yet there’s no question that it’s exactly what you were after. It hits the spot. Anytime that’s happened it’s been at least an hour or so into writing. It doesn’t happen walking down the street. My thought was that poetry might be a shortcut to that. Or that that’s maybe the essence of poetry? Which is why I was in the mood to try it yesterday.

Sitting there, my first thought was that I’d write a Haiku because I thought there’d be good bang for my buck that way. But I looked Haiku up on wikipedia and became discouraged. You need a cutting word at the end of one line, separating two distinct moods, and it usually incorporates some ideas about the seasons. I didn’t want to have to do that kind of work. My hope was that I would hit on something I felt deeply about and then the poem would arrange itself naturally into a meaningful or attractive form.

So I started to mull over what I could write about. Immediately my walk the other day came to mind. I was walking up the residential backstreets off the main road on the return leg of my journey and I stopped to change what I had playing on my earphones. As I was stood there on the pavement a diminutive old guy, who looked a bit down on his luck, passed me and said ‘There’s a good man, I know a good man when I see one’.

I’m not sure why I’m inclined to get poetic about this rather than say my dinner of boiled potatoes with tinned meatballs. Probably because it was a novel experience and because there’s an unusual interaction between two strangers in it which gives it some charge. A poet shouldn’t need to rely on drama or novelty though, that’s what drama and …novels are for. But regardless, I dashed out my first poem in yonks in 30 seconds. It’s awful of course, being a completely thoughtless effort. What I did learn was that I like the notion of using plain language in a non-banal way and I also enjoy rhythm, so finding a form where rhythm is key would be good. In retrospect, disappointingly, I saw that I had just surrounded the main incident with second-hand ‘writing a poem now!’ ideas. So trying to think outside the box when I start to get moony-eyed is going to be necessary. Finally I got a little mopey right at the end, with a change of direction in the last two lines, in the mistaken belief that doing that would make the poem ‘big’, rather than wank. That’s another hazard to avoid.


Sweating the Small Stuff

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “State of Your Year.”

My major challenge of the last six months was furnishing the flat I moved into, to which end I used the savings I had from a very fortunate purchase and sale of bitcoin in 2013. I dreaded the task and thought about hiring an interior decorator. Decorating and even dressing and stuff is always more about self-assertion than self-expression with me. Trying to position myself a certain way to outside eyes over an entire flat was not a fun prospect. Plus the interior decorator, namely a cool girl, would charge just 15% of the price of the stuff to make all the choices for me.

I couldn’t bring myself to hire one in the end though. I thought I couldn’t live with myself if I ducked that responsibility. It’s a rite of passage, doing up your first home. I saw it in an ad for Mastercard once- the young woman covering a crack in her wall with her new mirror from the fleamarket, then dancing around her new living room in joy. Priceless. What kind of monster would I be to hide in the gloom while some girl comes in and does these things for me? I’d be barely human. And then to live in an environment someone else has created. It would have been a capitulation. On top of that, one of the first things I found was a nice lamp which I liked with instinctive certainty. That encouraged me to keep going with the rest.

But as it turns out the lamp was nearly a one-off (a two-off- I like the table I bought too). Everything else was a complete ordeal of endless second-guessing and I’m only lukewarm about the result. Being able to create a pleasant home for myself would be good but I’ve found out that for me it’s more worry than it’s worth. If I ever had to do this again I would give the 15% to a decorator. It wouldn’t be giving in to weakness, it would be the smart move.


Simpleton that I am, my dreams often relate unambiguously to whatever it is that’s occupying me during waking hours. Being 30 and without a career, or even a job just at the minute, the feeling that I’m in grave danger sometimes arises in me. Am I past the point of no return? I am taking steps to move forward but it’s still a worry. One night I dreamed I parked my car along a wide commercial road. The shops were shut and the area was devoid of life. I went to the passenger door to lock it and noticed that I’d left the handbrake off. I opened the door and sat half-in facing the headrest to reach across and pull the handbrake. Before I could reach the handbrake however a malfunctioning mechanism made the seat-back start whirring forward. I needed to adjust my position to be able to reach the handbrake now. The whirring mechanism outdid me though and I was becoming trapped by the seat-back. I could no longer reach the handbrake and the car had started to roll. I saw a single person walking quickly up the other side of the road away from me, quite a distance away. I tried to shout out the open door twice but it surfaced as a whisper both times. The runaway car was gaining momentum with me pinned to the passenger seat facing backwards, and I realised with horror that catching that person’s attention had been my last chance, at which point I woke up completely tense.

Near-Death Experience

I taught English in Vietnam for 18 months three years ago. On balance it was a brutal experience that I wasn’t equipped to handle, but that’s a separate story. It’s day two of my write something every day resolution and I’ve had to turn to prompts. ‘My scariest experience’ jumped out at me. It was thus-

I went with my girlfriend to a seaside town called Vung Tau two hours (by hovercraft, no less) from Ho Chi Minh City. We surfed and swam and played pool and ate out then caught the hovercraft back the next day. When I got home I realised I had forgotten to get my passport back from the guesthouse people. I would have to make the trip again to retrieve it, which I did, alone, the next week.

The heat was terrible on the day I went, as it was every day in Vietnam. I got the passport, then crossed the empty sand and weed-strewn coastal highway to the beach, to have a lonesome swim in the sea. Nobody on earth knew where I was. I wanted to add to that effect by swimming out beyond the waves.

[This is starting to look very stupid of me actually, but there you go]

There were smatterings of Vietnamese folk chilling on the beach all up and down the long stretch of coastline. I stowed my t-shirt and shoes under a plastic deck chair and swam out. I was surprised at the size of the waves up close, as you tend to be. They were forming in scary swells a distance from the beach and crashing down from a neck-craning height above me. But I pushed on and swam underwater and got past the area where they were breaking until I turned round and it was quiet and the people on the beach were very tiny. I drank that feeling in for a minute or two treading water then started to head back in, aware that I’d have trouble on the return leg where the waves were breaking but not worrying myself about it.

When I got to that area however shit got real without warning. A huge wave broke right on to me, leaving me gasping in the wash, then exerted powerful dragging forces while the next one loomed up behind. People on the beach remained tiny and after fighting to escape two or three big waves and their aftermath I quite suddenly reached failure and could no longer bring any force to my stroke and started to flail. I was being overcome, and I thought ‘fuck, I’m going to die’. It was a really lonely moment and scary but I also felt incredulous- can’t fucking believe this.

A last ditch attempt to save myself was to see whether my feet were anywhere near the bottom despite being so far from the beach, it might have been one of those weird beaches. I pointed my feet down expecting fathoms below me and it turns out I was standing at neck-height amid the crashing waves. So that was that. But still, scary stuff for a minute.

Living well is the best revenge

I had a job interview in Dublin on Friday. Afterwards, at midday, I went for a pint before the bus, which swiftly turned in to the most vicious,  debit card fuelled bender I’ve been on in a while.

There have been a good few of these since I finished my course. More than I care to remember. I don’t mistreat anyone, I’m generally well received by people, but ultimately I’m a drunken moron. On this occasion I found myself in a packed venue at some point in the night unable to remember where I was at all for a minute.

These nights are hard to resist, they’re always an exciting prospect. I don’t like being around myself! The same’s true for tons of people, many of whom are putting up a better fight than me no doubt. But there you have it. The temptation to get drunk and be who I want to be for a while, away from the scrutiny of anyone, is proving too much for me a fair bit lately.

The shame after is a nightmare though. Only the harsh stuff that happened sticks in my head:

“YOU JUST WANNA PUNCH HIM, DON’T YOU?”- some hateful girl.

“CAN YOU EVEN SPELL IT?”- angry man squaring up to me over my use of pretentious language.

“I JUST FEEL SORRY FOR HIM”- disembodied voices in my ear when I was finally slumped on the table in a pizza takeaway.

(Which may sum up the typical reader response to this blog.)

Some guy gave me half an ecstasy, and that and the fact that I didn’t eat a crumb the whole day screwed with my head much more than a typical hangover. I got back to Belfast, to my parents house, and have writhed really miserably in my bedroom for days, with the internet permanently at my side. Tom Hanks interviews were a great comfort. He’s a very likable man. I also watched Apollo 13 on a nasty low quality stream. I got up on Monday morning to smoke a cigarette out the window and my head was shaking like a hardened alcoholic. In my darkest hours there was a lot of lamenting this brain-mangling cycle of build up and release. I had an horrific nightmare on Saturday or possibly Sunday night, when I was asleep in a heavy coat and tracksuit bottoms under my duvet, my room an absolute kip. I was trying very hard to impress Russell Brand but he wasn’t impressed and was ridiculing me.

My head started to clear on Monday and my old faithful motivators came back to me- ‘Living well is the best revenge’ being one of them. It’s by some 17th century English guy whose thing seemed to have been coining great quips like that. I can’t remember his name right now. It’s also the title of an REM song. And my own plainer, angrier version of it- ‘Nothing will get in the way of my happiness’. Both of them work so well on me I would seriously consider having one of them tattooed somewhere. There’d be some worry though- maybe my responding to them reveals what a terrible man I am and I’m not even wise to it?

I then felt strong enough to watch a decent movie, rather than mindless warm uplifting stuff like Apollo 13. I watched ‘Maniac’ which is a stylish horror starring Elijah Wood as the eponymous maniac. It’s shot nearly entirely from the killer’s point of view (you see his face in mirrors etc). That’s good because you can’t stomach too much of hipster Elijah Wood as a deranged killer. It was spectacularly well made- excellent slicing and dicing effects and beautifully shot- but as is typical in killer movies they didn’t flesh out the character in any interesting or believable way- which lets the whole thing down in my opinion.  There were  a couple of amazing scenes though, including a murder in a loft apartment scored to Schubert’s Ave Maria, which I listened to on repeat about 10 times as soon as the movie was over. Here it is, an incredible recording of it, with old-school hiss and everything!

Describe the last time you were moved to tears by something beautiful.

The last time I was moved to tears by something beautiful was during a visit to a photography exhibition in an art gallery in the center of Belfast on a Sunday. I had been out the night before and was still in the same clothes and hung-over. I was feeling reckless, sort of mad fer it, which made for an unusually eventful day by my standards. It helped that I loved the outfit I was wearing. Before walking to the gallery I stopped at a cheap chain pub for a pint of lager. I sat by the windows onto the street and drank it while fiddling with my phone. In a wilfully dreamy, gawky way I became fixed on a man standing on the street a few feet from me. He was a wholesome well fed looking guy wearing an outdoor jacket and hiking shoes. He had thick freshly washed hair and a bit of a tan. He was leaning against a post and chewing gum with a reflective look on his face. He looked like he was waiting for something.

I spoke to him outside and it turned out he was waiting for a tour group. He was driving their coach and possibly also conducting the tour. I liked his functional look and tried to tell him so. “You’re so… unhip, I love it” was more or less what I said. I had meant something more like ‘you seem so resolutely unhip’, but I couldn’t find the words in the heat of the moment. “OK, that’s quite offensive” was his reply. He explained that they were his work clothes. The rest of the exchange was tense after that and I was also disappointed that he wasn’t who I imagined. I tried to back-peddle and talk to him about something else but it was a losing battle and he was soon replying to me with his head turned away, at which point I departed with a ‘Well, nice talking to you’.

I had decided on visiting the gallery not knowing what would be on. When I arrived I was happy to see that it was a photography exhibition- Northern Ireland: 30 years of photography. Typically, the photos were mostly of urban decay, violence and disadvantaged people looking miserable. Something had been done right though as I found myself in a trance in front of photo after photo. I hadn’t seen Northern Ireland in an ‘art photography’ light before. Here are some I managed to find online:

northern ireland photography 2 northern ireland photography 3 northern ireland photography 5 northern ireland photography 7 northern ireland photography 8northern ireland photography

There was an impressive couple, in their early 40’s I’d say, wandering about. The man was a big tall formidable looking guy with a bald head and stubble, a bomber jacket… and wire framed spectacles. The woman had red in her hair and was wearing an overcoat and colourful Nike trainers. They were snorting and giggling at everything and I started to worry that I was one of the objects of their piss-taking. I was sure I heard them pass remark of some kind behind me. I became conscious of my outfit- my perfect little jeans and impractical green plimsolls. I entered another room and stopped in front of the first photo. The couple entered after me and the woman said ‘oh, I like that one’ as they passed.

The whole thing, real or imagined, started to piss me off. My buzz had been killed. I moved further into the room and on a walk from one wall to another I aimed myself directly at them. I kept my gaze on the floor and walked towards them with one foot in front of the other, as if I was walking along a plank leading to them. ‘Don’t fuck with me, I might surprise you  was the message I hoped to convey. I raised my head when I’d reached a point pretty close to them, just before I changed direction. It wasn’t them but rather a different couple, with the woman wearing a similar dark coat. She looked puzzled. I wasn’t too embarrassed- I thought there was the possibility she had taken me for some free spirit and was impressed!

The tears, or welling up anyway, occurred just before all this, while I was still completely engrossed by the stuff on the walls. It was in front of this photo:

northern ireland photography one i was after 2

I was willing it a little bit. Full blown crying would have been a great release, but it didn’t come to that. I’m not sure how much credit I should give the photographer (Hannah Starkey) or myself as I welled up several times in front of Titanic on a hangover a month before!