Smirking From Home

Turning ideas into words.

Kickin’ Fitba’

Way back, when you could accuse the local slapper for being a witch if she refused your advances and you threw your daily ploppings out into the street, I borked my knee playing footie in the front garden. Dewy grass has always been looked upon with suspicion since. I was 15 or 16 at the time and looking forward to playing in my first Open Week as a competitive juvenile delinqu….I mean, golfer. (I doubt if juvenile delinquency was even invented in the 1980’s and hoodies back then were reserved for the monks). Up until that point in time I actively played football, both gaelic and less-culchie version, at school and whilst not being terribly effective at either, enjoyed hurling myself about a field with youthful abandon. Then the knee thing happened and whether it was a self-conscious thing or not, the enthusiasm for physical sport diminished. It wasn’t a terribly gruesome injury but it did necessitate gallumping around on crutches and regularly lifting pound bags of sugar strapped across my right foot for 6 weeks. None of yer underwater recuperation for this Irish lump. Shortly after it had healed, I went to Rosses Point in Sligo with an old friend of mine from school, the journey taking what seemed like 4 hours. Stepping out of the car when we reached Ryan’s Hotel, my leg took the rest of the evening to straighten itself out, something, at the time, I imagined it never would. Therefore I can only assume that a deep-seated fear of a similar injury re-occurring took hold and my non-existent potential as a professional footballer subsided, never to be re-discovered.
Now that was a long-winded way of saying I’m not a running about a field chasing a lump of leather type of person. Watching football? Yes but getting involved in an actual game? No way Jose. Except for this week. And whilst the mind thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the avuncular heap of slightly overweight flesh that carries me about today, didn’t. It was my nephew’s eighth birthday and my own mother hosted a small party for him and his muckers from school. We were down in Carlingford, where I grew up, for the day in order to assist with controlling the mayhem that normally accompanies such gatherings. The goalposts were mercifully easy to assemble, although unfortunately, a little on the minuscule side. The vertically challenged would have struggled to score goals in them things. The general field of play was determined and we waited for the guests to arrive.
It’s remarkably easy to forget just how haphazardly young folks throw themselves into a game of football. You tend to have a ball with everyone stuck within a 3 foot perimeter of its position on the pitch. For the most part, this was the case except for one major difference. The tackling was ferocious. A short while after I had left university I undertook a spot of substitute teaching for the Ma whilst she was recovering from an ailment of some sorts. It lasted 2 weeks and, not being their regular teacher, the lessons and pupils were less stressful than I have previously imagined. PE was exactly as I had described it above. Hordes of 8&9 year olds, all running after the ball, trying to give it a whack, the direction of said whack being entirely irrelevant. It was all fairly harmless yet something has obviously happened since that time which has added a more focused element to the chaos. (I’m wagging my finger in the general direction of SKY on this one). Putting in mildly, when it came to snaffling the ball from another player, the tackles were vigorous and just a tad over-exuberant. “No fear” is the expression that springs to mind. Luckily there were no broken limbs either.
The last time I encountered such physical endeavour on the football pitch was back in 1995. I’m going back on myself here a little as I did initially say that I avoided “playing” fitba, preferring instead the leisurely meandering of the golf course. However that’s not 100% accurate. In 1995 I used to frequent Robinson’s Rockbottom in Belfast on a Saturday night. Dirty, greasy shithole that it was, I bloody adored that place. Rock and Metal, Shots and Pints, with a bloody big Harley Davidson on the back wall. Not a Limp Bizkit or a Slipknot in sight. If heaven were in fact a real place and not some mumbo-jumbo paradise invented by some beardy blokes in dresses 2000 years ago, Rockbottom would have been its earthly equivalent. My Sunday afternoons, following the previous evening’s alcoholic entertainment, involved a primeval game of footie in a grassy clearing in one of Northern Ireland’s most notorious estates. There’s not many with an Irish dispensation who can say they’ve mingled with residents of Rathcoole without having to visit the Royal afterwards. 
Those games were remarkably skillful despite the large number of flying tackles and studs up challenges that were on show. I learned pretty quickly to volunteer for nets. On the rare occasions I was required outfield, I adopted the traditional goal-hangers position for the terminally clump-footed. Even to this day I’m still amazed no-one ended up in A&E considering various areas of the pitch had more glass than a tomato farm. Although perfectly amicable, I’m pretty sure no-one would have been too disappointed had the Paddy gashed himself a little. Then again, when in Rome, don’t feed the lions.
Naturally enough there were a few tears this week as the game progressed, mainly involving uncomfortable grass burns and scrapped elbows from the pebble-dashed wall on one side of the pitch. Children’s parties rarely finish without a little gowling from one guest or another. Mind you, waking up the next day and wondering who had replaced my legs with concrete pillars, was excruciating in itself. I’ll readily admit to being perfectly aware that a paragon of physical perfection I ain’t, but the simple fact that if an eight year old can floor me with a hearty lunge, then I need to lose a few pounds here and there. Oh and everywhere else too.  

April 9, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am, Sport, Times Past | , | 1 Comment


The North Coast of Northern Ireland is the geographical equivalent of a schizophrenic. On the one hand it’s extremely rugged and beautiful, with a pervading sense of calm amongst the cliffs, peaks, dunes and valleys. There’s a real sense of getting away from it all up there, a place to clear what might ail you. Yet there is a harshness and lurking menace which is inescapable. One man’s scenery is another’s desolation, borne mainly of bitter winds and horizontal rain.

 IN the past 3 days we’ve encountered 17 different shades of bloody freezing. One minute the sun is splitting the skies and the next we’re battling blizzards. Interspersed between these fluctuations is a rain which tears the skin from yer face, so unmerciful in its desire to inflict physical pain. If the Yanks fancied a stop off on their International Rendition tour for suspected members of Al’ Qaida they could do no worse than alighting here. A few lashes of a wet tea towel on POrtsewart Strand should loosen a tongue or two. Even in the 3 years I spent at university in this neck of the woods, I cannot actually remember a time when there wasn’t a wind which sole modus operandi was to cut you in two.

 Admittedly when I lived here you did become accustomed to it. You had to. Weather-wise the place takes no prisoners, especially in the wintry months between October and March. Naturally these months also coincide with the bulk of the scholastic year at university so the majority of our 3 years here were spent either floating gaily downwind, hoping to stop in time before been hoisted into the ravaging waters, or tramping diagonally into a gale, our pockets weighed down with change for balance. Was it my imagination at the time but did the walk home from the Anchor always seem to be into a headwind no matter what way ye were heading?

 A good friend of mine at the time ended up with a broken leg having being physically lifted by the wind one evening in Portrush and deposited on the other side of the street. She wasn’t helped by the fact that she was six-foot tall and willow-framed. I can recall her saying at the time that it was both scarily frightening and bizarrely exhilarating. I’d lean towards the brown trouser sensation myself. It’s not something you expect to experience outside of the American Mid West although the funnelled streets of Portrush do create ideal channels for the cold North winds to wreak their mischief. Whilst I’ve never travelled to places where extreme cold was the expected norm, I can only believe that relatively speaking, the North Coast is the coldest place on the planet.

April 9, 2010 Posted by | Times Past | | Leave a comment

When YouTube was an Insult.

It’s Friday evening and I’m feeling nostalgic. Hey, you cannot deny it doesn’t happen to you too every once and a while. People say you shouldn’t live in the past. Well tonight I say they are talking from their rear ends. Things that make you happy should never be forgotten and should be revisited at any available opportunity.
What’s brought this on? Well every now and then I feel duty bound as a responsible parent to introduce the Wee Lass to my favourite music, both modern day and from times past. Oooh, some might sense an incoming warm front of self-indulgence but I ask ye to bear with me on this one. I’ll not deny that I’m a rocker at heart, a sucker for some riffing and twiddling solos that go on for longer than is truly necessary. This blog post is categorised under “I Am What I Am” after all. However there’s more to these bonding sessions with the Wee Lass than big hair and spandex trousers. I’m also rather partial to your old-fashioned, song and dance laden, Hollywood musical. It’s the drama student still refusing to shuffle from this mortal coil.
Yup! There’s more to film than Pixar and Disney and I feel obligated to inform the Wee Lass of this unavoidable fact. I’ll trade you my song and dance numbers for your CGI any day of the week. The ideal song or perfect routine in a movie will give you much more emotional bang for your bucks than any special effect ever will.
If it wasn’t for YouTube many of these memories may remain just that. I would venture the opinion that YouTube is the success story of the Internet. Maybe not from a business or legal angle but definitely (or should that be defiantly) from an emotional one. Through its medium we can relive those periods in our lives where we felt happiest or even just relive personal favourites from the world of entertainment and all its forms.
Over the next few weeks the plan is, via the medium of YouTube, etc,  to get people discussing what are their favourite moments in particular categories of entertainment. Tonight I’m going to start with songs and dances from the movies. I had intended initially to start with “cover versions” but I’m holding back on that one until I’m 100% sure what my own particular favourite is in that area. So dig yer tap shoes out from your closet and don your glad-rags for a trawl through the highs and lows of film musicals.
When navigating the vast expanse that is YouTube for snippets of tonight’s topic I’ll always revert to this one. Mainly because it makes me laugh. I never cease to be amazed at the sheer brilliance of what this man does and the inventiveness of the routine. It can be no coincidence that it’s also the one the Wee Lass always asks to see. Enjoy the clip below and include your own favourites in the comments. Let’s all reminisce and, I promise, the show will go on.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Bringing Up Baby, I Am What I Am, Times Past | , | Leave a comment

The Best Laid Plans.

Fear takes on many forms. Without doubt there’s the brown trouser instances of fear, moments which would genuinely scare the insides out of anyone. Having a gun pointed at you would be high on that list of frightening experiences. I can only imagine what that might feel like and like most individuals would have no desire to discover what it would be like. Being assaulted would be another, a few smacks in the gob that arrive without warning or ones that you knew were inevitable because your fat legs couldn’t move fast enough. I have to admit having first hand knowledge of the latter kind. 
I never mitched from school, except for one unfortunate time in my fifth year there. I enjoyed high school immensely so there was no real excuse for non-attendance.  Near the school itself were the ruins of an old tower. I say tower, but to be honest, it was more like a crumbling old mini-castle which belonged to some bigwig of yesteryear. For the life of me I now cannot recall the name but I do remember the surrounds of the property. It sat proudly on the crest of a large mound with what resembled a dry moat at the base. There were numerous trees in the vicinity making the whole scene rather picturesque. At lunchtimes the tower was a popular haunt for those in the older classes in school. Many, including myself, would gather there to muck about and generally act the eejit. This usually consisted of forming groups and throwing stones at each other. I’m sensing many a raised eyebrow at this point and with good reason. Such is the folly of youth that such a pastime seemed normal in those heady days of adolescence. I now cannot imagine what would have happened if one of those projectiles actually connected.
Our lunchtimes didn’t solely consist of mock warfare at the tower. It was more common to just chill out under the sun and shoot the breeze. On that fateful day, an impromptu plan was hatched to head back to the school, gather our belongings and return to the leafy surrounds of the tower to spend the afternoon enjoying the privileges of being one of the seniors in the school, namely that we thought we could do what we liked. If I recall correctly, there wasn’t much happening that afternoon so the guilt quotient was remarkably low, unusual for young Catholic boys at a school run by the De La Salle Brothers. A guilty conscience was a pre-requisite growing up in those days, whether you were involved in anything roguish or not.
Actually in hindsight it was PE we were supposed to participating in that afternoon. There’s a reason I remember this well, one of those “bloody hell, what if”, moments you have on occasion. My PE kit resided in a tattered old green, leathery holdall with the strap slowly unattaching itself on one side. Also inside the bag was my Walkman, one which played cassettes. This was 1991 after all and long before I could ever have afforded a CD player in any shape or form. It was only after the subsequent events that followed that it occurred to me what I might have lost.
We arrived at the tower as planned and everything seemed as it should have been. The weather was warm and welcoming, no need to wear our heavy blazers or shocking blue jumpers. What we hadn’t anticipated was that we would have company and our idyllic day descended downhill rapidly.
As mentioned previously, we were not active in the dark art of truancy. First time for everything and so forth. IN our rush to carry through our cunning plan for rest and relaxation, we forgot to contemplate that there may have been others who were of similar intent, ones for whom skiving classes was not just a regular event but a badge of honour. It was to be our misfortune that they had actually even bothered to turn up to school that day at all, even only to scarper after lunchtime as was apparently normal. We were impinging on their territory that afternoon, with the added inconvenience that we, as casual, inexperienced mitchers, would attract attention to their habitual arrangements. It’s only now, when I look back on that day, that I realise were disrupting something more than just truancy. It makes sense now why these budding young hooligans never fully engaged in the schooling process, preferring to wander around half-dazed most of the time. Add naivety to the guilty conscience. The tower did have a reputation for being a drinking den amongst the hallions of Cox’s Demesne, the local sink estate, at the weekends. Seemingly it wasn’t just confined to Friday or Saturday nights.
What followed happened in a whirlwind of teenage cruelty, casual violence and nausea. Funnily enough there is still the odd occasion when I get a cold shiver thinking about it. It started almost immediately. Our belongings were wrenched from our grasps, the contents of satchels and holdalls, mindlessly emptied down the sides of the mount. For some reason I had taken my Walkman from my bag on the way there and it was safely in the inside pocket of my blazer. You can understand now why I breathe a sigh of relief about that day. The occasional fist was flung, at this juncture not towards me, mainly due to my normal cowardly position of not wishing to become involved in a ruck, such was my ineptitude at scrapping. You could feel the tension, the slow dawning realisation that all was not going to end well. A rare moment of calm ensued as we gathered up our scattered sportswear and schoolbooks. Had their sadistic interest in us subsided?
Ahhh, the chase. We had quickly and wisely opted to leave. To stay would have been a request for a beating. AS we trundled off towards the large iron gate which guarded the entrance to the mount, the gallumping of thuggish hooves was heard. One last infliction of misery to sate their bloodthirsty lust for violence. We ran. I was never the fittest person in the world but could move if the mood took me. The mood was up that day but the pins weren’t. Smack! Two jabs to beak later and I was allowed to depart, my tail firmly between my legs, my mind suffering a dizzying incomprehension of the previous 10 minutes.
We never went back.
To me, that day encapsulated was it means to be afraid. If asked to recall a time when I experienced fear of the intensely physical kind, that sunny afternoon in Dundalk, in 1991, will always be my choice. There’s something inherently frightening about having an ideal situation or scenario ripped away from you without warning. It’s the feeling of helplessness, the damning inevitability of what was about to happen and the sickening sense that you could do nothing about it whether you wanted to or not.
Note: I had intended to write about a more light-hearted interpretation of fear. This story was supposed to be the introduction but the stream of consciousness took over. If I were to continue with this post both ideas would clash and be lost in a wordy stew. I do believe, however, that there is space for both humour and seriousness in the blog. I hope you will agree.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am, Times Past | , | 1 Comment