Sunday, February 27, 2005

Pot roast , chardonnay and the Oscars

Tonight we'll be going to L&L to watch the Oscars (no Psychiatrist games or Desperate Housewives tonight) on their huge TV; it's not one of those attached to the wall, slim as a rail, jobbies, but its got surround sound that causes one's arse to lift off the sofa when the volume's too loud. I'm not sure which I'm looking forward to most, the actual Oscars or the Pot roast--probably the latter.

After I'd written A Son Called Gabriel, being the naive fellow I was at the time and like many writers I suspect, I had visions of my novel being rapidly snapped up and transformed into an excellent script, even envisioned myself writing the 110 page (must absolutely come in at 110 pages or less and lots of white spaces on the pages)thing and sauntering off to Hollywood to collect my Oscar, blah, blah, blah.

Of course, it didn't occur to me that Hollywood people rarely look at literary fiction for new material and, to boot, it probably didn't help that it has Irish themes when the film version of Angela's Ashes wasn't a runaway success a few years ago. It's currently with an independent film company somewhere in Ireland, though I must say they're taking their time getting back to my agent. I suspect they haven't cracked the cover yet or, more likely, are skittish because part of the plot involves the young protagonist struggling with his sexuality as he matures.

Regarding that fly in the ointment, I was dead scared when my publicist started sending review copies off to the Irish press and radio, etc. I really thought they'd have my butt for breakfast, lunch and dinner but, judging by its reception, I have been tremendously encouraged by how much Irish attitudes have changed and matured. It's not so very long ago that James Joyce (and no, I'm not comparing myself to him as a writer so please don't go there)left Ireland because of the Catholic Church and, ergo, Ireland's attitude toward sex--read 'dirty but necessary'. That, thankfully is not the case today, at least not in the Irish Republic. One book review in Irish Connections Magazine--though it was so late in coming, I lost my nerve and lapsed back to paranoia--lavished much praise, but their greatest compliment was that the work deals with a subject overlooked in Irish literature.

So eventually, I'm bound to hear something from that film company in Ireland, but in the meantime, I'm not waiting for them because I know, I just know, they'll be skittish. In any event, I think now it'll make a far better play, so I jolly well think I'll send a copy off to Kevin Spacey at his theater in London to see what he thinks.

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Friday, February 25, 2005

Riverdance excitement

Just under a fortnight and I'll be charging up to NYC for an event I've been looking forward to ever since I bought the tickets while at Radio City for the Rockettes extravaganza. Aha, I went to see the Rockettes and, yes, I enjoyed it..the dancing, the camels and magi montage, everything. I like glitz, occasionally. Look, I wouldn't go to see it again, but it's definitely an aspect of American life that all foreigners, regardless of age, should experience.

In a little under two weeks I shall attend the 10th anniversary presentation of 'Riverdance.' I've only seen the original on the telly, jolly old PBS at that, and I'm anxious to see how it stands up in reality. In addition, as an adorable eight-year-old, I was an Irish dancer in Derry...and a very competitive, jealous little dancer to boot, so I'm doubly interested. Normally I 'cleaned up,' as they say in Ireland. I won every local award in Irish dancing that was possible to win, and if I didn't, why, I pouted and huffed. I was also Mrs. McLaughlin's--the dancing instructor--favorite and was just delighted to wear my knee-length emerald kilt, clamp my hands against my sides, and dance my little buns off for her.

Unfortunately, my dancing days came to an abrupt halt when I was ten. I was appearing at a major local competition, doing a reel with a number of little girls in perfectly starched pinafores and shiny shoes, and no one told me the stage floor was wet and to be careful. Apparently, someone had been boiling water for the tea taht was served prior to the concert's beginning--for no logical reason they boiled the water on the stage in my local community center at that time--and, as I was doing a particularly complex maneuver, I slipped and fell on those little buns. Embarrassment did me in that evening, stage fright subsequently, and no amount of dire threats from my mother could force me to resume dancing and further stock her mahogany semi-circular trophy cabinet.

So, I'm looking forward to Riverdance and, undoubtedly, will think as I scrutinize the line-up that I might have been part of such a troupe in another life.

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Is something rotten in the state of 'Scout-Land?'

Who'd have thought some scout troop leaders would abandon their oaths and principles and massage their membership numbers in order to receive a bigger slice of the 'hand-out' pie. Surely this scandal can't be true...and in a red state, too. Though, by all accounts according to one high-ranking official I saw interviewed, it's been an open secret, a problem, for quite some time.

Of course, we've got scouts in Ireland and Britain too, but I must admit when I first arrived in the United States, I found it most peculiar to see so many grown, mostly middle-aged men traipsing about in scout uniforms, their khaki sheathed chests adorned with rows of pins and medals. Some of these sights, I must add, were sore on the eyes. I spied these people in supermarkets, in hardware stores, in all sorts of places--and I'd never seen such a thing in Britain or Ireland. It was just plain bizarre.

As I observed them, I'd ponder what it is about these men that compels them to cling to the vestiges of their boyhood, that makes them want to proudly strut about in a uniform the vast majority of boys demote to closets in parental homes once adolescence kicks in. What do their spouses really think about them strutting about regularly in these uniforms? I wondered. I have no doubt these men desire to train young male minds, but surely there's only so many years of teaching about lighting fires with flint, tying assorted rope knots and surviving in the wild before burn-out sets in and it's time to think about contributing to society in another way. I'd put that age at about thirty, tops.

In any event, by all accounts, rot appears to have invaded the monolith. What I'll be most interested to see when these uniforms are washed and hung out to dry is how many of their owners are Eagle Scouts and/or corporate leaders. Equally important, I'll be anxious to see what the monolith does about these people. Will they receive the same treatment as, say, the young Eagle Scout from a few years back who just also happened to be gay? Stay tuned.

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Grams and ounces, kilos and pounds

Mother and Siobhan's weight-shedding continues joyously unabated. In fact, Mum was recently on a jaunt through the Internet doing a bit of research and decided to stop by my blog to give it the once over. Overall, it passed muster, but she did allege my post about the weight reduction club she and my sister attend contains a slight inaccuracy. So to set the record straight, I add the following: upon each 7 pound shedding, in addition to receiving a shiny, black stone, the happy recipient is awarded a 'Silver Seven' pin. As its name suggests, it is in the shape of the number 7. It is also burnished, though is 'far too tinny' and feels 'far too feathery' in the palm of her hand to be of any quality. Thus, I can state with certainty that it will not be sported in public, except on those evenings the two attend their meetings.

Mum has also been most generous, albeit spurred by my insistence, and sent me an official booklet of the permitted and forbidden foodstuffs flanking her path to reform. When it arrived, at a cursory glance while sipping my customary chardonnay that evening, I noted immediately that many of my favorite nibbles and beverages would be relegated to 'occasional' or 'treat' status. Nevertheless, I shall give this whole business a whirl as I am determined to similarly reform, though I can already foresee problems because everything in Britain and Ireland is now measured in grams and kilograms and my head is already fatigued trying to do tedious conversions. Onward!

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Laptops and decisions, decisions

As I suspect the vast majority of everyday computer users to be, I'm not an expert when things go wrong with my computer's software or invading spyware suddenly reduces its speed to a crawl. (On the latter issue, I really wish Congress would enact a law with real teeth to stop these horrid companies doing this to innocent Internet surfers.) Presently, all I can do when my computer--a Packard Bell fossil that I bought one month before the company decided to move out of the PC business--freezes or slows down unbearably is rage as I switch the whole damned thing off at the plug and switch it on again in hopes the thing will have rectified or gone away.

Recently, perhaps because Spring is around the corner, I'm in a mood to buy another laptop. My first one, a sleek, black Hitachi beauty which came with a five-year 'on site' warranty--again bought shortly before the company decided to no longer make laptops--was nicked over five years ago from my hotel room in London. The hotel was actually a glorified B&B in Earl's Court, the theft an 'inside job', and I wasn't insured...naturally. Larry, Lynne and Lee were with me and had to console me over many beers the entire day because it felt as if a key part of me had been stolen.

Another reason I was roiling within was to do with the fact my first novel--a story about a young Catholic woman in Ulster that I now refer to as my 'cutting my teeth novel'--was ensconced in its hard drive and, in my halcyon naivete about all things publishing, I thought the thief would discover it and send it off to a major publisher, get it published and make millions of dollars!!! Yes, I really did believe that. All the compensation I received was a measly two-hundred quid from the establishment--the max. permissible under the relevant UK hotelier laws, and the surly buggers weren't worried about me suing them despite my stream of threats because they knew I lived in the States and it would have cost more to institute an action and....well, I'm sure you know how that sort of thing goes.

So, regarding my forthcoming computer purchase, I'm conflicted about whether to abandon the PC world as many people seem to be doing currently and move to the realm of Mac. I'm very tempted and leaning toward it. I've been doing my research and my friend Kevin, a computer fundy, says Macs have less problems, less viruses, and are easy to learn and use. The last bit I'm worried about on account of my computer lethargy and overall disinterest in learning new technical things about them. He also rabbited on about Blueteeth and Airport something which was way, way over my head.

A downside, he informed me about, is that the powerbook has to be left open (unlike the PC laptop) when one attaches an external screen--which I absolutely want to do because I'm highly attracted to the 20-inch screens--and uses the powerbook as a standalone computer in one's office. In effect, it means you'd see two screens on your desk. I'm not sure that would be a major concern for me, though. In any event, I've a feeling the Mac Powerbook will probably win because I'll take the risk of trying something new like I usually do with food in restaurants. For one thing, they're sleek, lightweight and look damned sexy, and I'm a sucker for anything with a shiny metallic finish. Today, I think I'll visit the local Mac shop and give it the once-over.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Tidbits on the art of book production

NYC last week, in addition to my visit to The Gates, was most interesting for me. I spent some time at my publisher and, amongst other matters concerning the June trade paperback release of my novel, they solicited my opinion about the book's jacket and inside contents. I was so thrilled because most first authors would give their eye teeth to have a teensy-weensy bit of say about that sort of thing. As a result, I'm learning much about the processes involved in launching books.

For example, they've decided to retain the artwork that appears on the hardback's cover because it proved very effective in the bookstores but asked me about the font and font size in which the book's title, A Son Called Gabriel, is written. Apparently, while it appeared appropriately literary and had a definite Irish feel, (I was so happy they didn't resort to shamrocks, harps and other such cliches to convey its Irish theme)it did not look as great after the book left the front of the store and went into the fiction bookshelf, albeit face-out. It appears it was difficult for browsers to read the title from a distance, which I can fully understand because I'm pretty short-sighted. Attracted by books that have the title done in foil, I asked if it would be possible to have this on my paperback--expected an automatic 'no'--and I am glad to say they said they'd definitely look into it. So the font will definitely be different and also larger, but the issue of foil or no foil will be decided at a later date.

A book production fact I also learned was that it's not just a matter of adding one or two pages to a novel if the publisher wants to, say, include loads of review excerpts, a readers guide for the benefit of book clubs and other such things. Page inserts come in groups (sixteen or twelve, I can't remember which) and, if one uses only four of the additional pages, then there will be loads of blank pages in the final version of the paperback.

Other tidbits I'm uncovering is that there is an optimum time to send the book to magazines and newspapers for review. Magazines such as January Magazine or Entertainment Weeklytend to have longer lead times--around three to four months as a rule of thumb--while newspapers like The New York Times and LA Times have a shorter lead of four to six weeks approximately. All very interesting stuff. I'll keep you updated on other developments as the Trade Paperback makes its way to the bookshelves.

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Monday, February 21, 2005

The other European anger

While on our trip to London and Northern Ireland a few weeks ago, Larry and I took a stroll into St. James Park to see its famous assemblage of water fowl. The park's centrally located and set in a breathtaking part of London, near Buckingham Palace, government buildings and 10 Downing Street. Shocking to me as a native of that part of the world was the sight of foliage and flowers as I entered the place--I'm talking roses the size of fists, not daffodils and snowdrops, which one expects to see in late January in Europe. I couldn't understand why.

Nor was Mother Nature done with me yet. On crossing over to Northern Ireland which is colder than London on account its farther North, I saw the gorse (called 'win bushes' in Ireland) was almost in full bloom. (For those of you who don't know what gorse is, I'll explain: In Ireland and the Scottish highlands, there's a kind of prickly shrub which grows in bogland and other soils of poor aridity. It grows in huge circular clusters--if permitted--and produces a blaze of small, gorgeous yellow flowers during the flowering season.) What was truly astonishing was that these flowers were out because I've known them all my life to bloom only in late April or May.

Of course, after my family and friends grew used to us being back in Ireland and the catching-up and anticipated bitch-fest about Iraq was dispensed with, they began to grill--moi in particular because I'm the Irishman--about America's other 'idiocy'(their choice of adjective, not mine). By that they meant the United States' attitude toward global warming. The European climate is changing, they're trying hard to halt(never mind reverse) the trend toward warming, and their question was, 'Why was the United States acting at best indifferent toward the crisis?' (Apparently, if water levels continue to rise, Londoners will see parts of their city under water in about 10 years.)

I did not agree with President Bush when he refused to ratify the Kyoto Agreement a few years ago, in fact was appalled by the seeming arrogance of his administration in this regard. However, in response to my friends anxiety (if not anger, actually) at our indifference to the issue from this side of the pond, I would normally have acted like a lawyer who didn't wish to be drawn and politely sidestepped the issue by muttering something to the effect, "I'm not an expert on global warming, and there are American experts who challenge whether global warming is taking place."

But this polite shrinking away from the issue by me and countless others is no longer tenable, I believe. Now, even the old farmers in Ireland who have abundant insight and experience of nature's ways are saying things are not right; my father, a man I regard as level-headed and wise, a man not given to expressing strong opinions in these matters, is also saying things are 'definitely not right.' What I witnessed in St. James' Park and on the Northern Irish bogland was a wake-up call, a roar that nature is reacting to man's tampering. Global warming is upon us. Europe is leading this issue and all wise Americans must follow her example in this instance.

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Friday, February 18, 2005

What's a well-bred gal to do?

Camilla's clearly a gal with foresight, a gal not to be underestimated. She saw the writing was on the wall for one of her hobbies. Marriage imminent, (though not amid Windsor Castle's sumptuousness because some obscure English law would kick into effect if she did which would allow any pesky commoner who wanted to also marry amid the castle's sumptuousness for the next three years to do so, and Lizzie, a woman renowned for her frugality, won't have her carpets soiled) Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, will thus be far to hideously busy launching ships and opening new wings at crumbling NHS hospitals to protest the new law banning fox-hunting. Yes, incredible as it sounds, the Brits have banned one of their ancient sport, not quite 'the sport of kings', but pretty damned close judging by the outraged plummy accents venting on Brit telly last night.

After a twenty year fight, the sensible Brits have proved their staying power and won the battle waged with those members of the aristocracy, upper-middle classes, and barely tolerated nouveau riche--which includes all American acceptees--who hunt. No longer will they be able to sip their sherries atop their impeccable steeds before the cry of "Tally-Ho". Now, all well-bred debutantes anxious to show off their prowess and snare a gentleman will simply have to take up, er, well, show-jumping or train for Ascot, I don't think breeding greyhounds and running them would work.

So another remnant of old Britain bites the dust. But the battle's not quite over yet. I heard one wizened, angry old bird, the mother of the Mistress of the Hunt, remark, "Thaare's nothing for it. We'll simply have to ignore the law and practice civil disobedience."

Good grief! The stanchions of English society resorting to such undignified behaviour. Britain is changing, really it is.

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Thursday, February 17, 2005

A jar of crystals

Ever since I can remember my mother, Anna, has been highly interested if not obsessed with the human body's propensity to attract fat. She is by no means obese, perhaps is best described as a little plump, and has for years been a casual adherent of one diet or another. My sister Siobhan is of the opinion it has left all of her offspring bar the youngest, Dermot, scarred because we are similarly obsessed. She might have a point: Telephone conversations with one or other of my siblings will inevitably steer toward, "How's the weight?" or "I've lost three pounds" or "Deirdre's put on a little bit, you know."

On my recent trip 'home' (here I should explain an Irish tendency to permanently call one's parental home 'home' even though one has quit it years ago and, in my case, notwithstanding my parents sold it to my youngest brother and downsized upon his marriage) my mother scoured my frame after I'd deposited my coat on the back of a kitchen chair and said, "You're looking nice and lean though a tiny paunch since the last time you were home, I see." This affront seemed even more appalling than the tiny earring I'd had the nerve to sport on my first trip home eleven years ago, which I was ordered to remove before my father saw it. Instinctively, I clutched the front of my sweater, mumbled something about parties and eating too much over Christmas, that I was going on a diet on my return to the States, had even obtained a brochure and price list from the local 'Y' before I left.

As I said this, my eyes swept to the kitchen window that overlooks a valley of hedgerowed fields, in one of which Mum is suspicious a local farmer is experimenting with genetically modified corn because the plants push through some kind of odd plastic ground covering in springtime. In fact, she is so deeply suspicious she keeps binoculars by the window in order to better observe his doings each time she sees him enter the field. On the window ledge, next to her binoculars, I saw a glass jar containing pretty, colored crystals. Attracted to them like a magpie and anxious to change the subject, I went over, opened the lid and shook out amber, sapphire and ruby chunks--plastic chunks it turned out--into my palm.
"Mum, what the heck are these?" I asked.
"They're stones. I earned them."
"As you know Siobhan and I have recently joined a strict diet program
so I won't be eating very much while you're over."
"Oh can break it for a week."
"Hmmm. As I was telling you...and Damian, you really must get
your hair cut because it looks dry and is far too long for the
shape of your face...your sister and I go to a weigh-in class
every Monday evening now. For every pound of fat I lose during the
preceding week, I receive a crystal which is presented in front
of the entire class. It's a very good motivator because I'd
die of embarrassment in front of everyone if I didn't earn
at least one stone per week. I shouldn't really say, but so far I've
collected more stones for my jar than your sister. In fact,
next week, I will be receiving my first black stone which represents
a loss of half-a-stone"
(FYI, that's seven pounds in American.)
"How is Siobhan, Michael and the kids?" I asked as I tossed
the crystals into the jar.
"You can go in next-door and count what's in her jar if you'd like.
There's definitely not as many."

(My parents live on the outskirts of a small town, in what is commonly called a compound arrangement in the States. From a tract of land Dad owned, he built a house and sold it to Siobhan and her husband, attached another bit to it for Mum and him to live upon the sale of the family home, and on an acre beyond that he'd already constructed another house for my brother, Seamus, and his family a few years prior.)

Sensing an air of competition, I declined and asked for tea. Unfortunately, during the length of our stay, there was much eating out and much consumption of forbidden foods such as Irish Wheaten bread, cheese and wine (the latter on Siobhan's part because Mum doesn't like alcohol and has taken the RC Church pledge of abstinence, in fact has resorted to drink only once, in abject desperation years ago after beseeching the local parish priest to give her a dispensation, to calm her nerves because she was taking her driving test for the fifth time and sick of failing it--Yes, she passed the test high on brandy) and Mum did not earn the coveted black crystal the following week. She informed me that her name was called out aloud immediately after the supervisor had tallied the results of the weigh-in and was then required to walk up the room and return two of the crystals, one amber and one ruby, into a communal jar.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

It's saffron, stupid

With propitious weather and finding some time between meetings in NYC yesterday, I ambled toward Central Park to drink in the spectacle of The Gates. Things looked decidedly interesting when I neared 58th street and saw that the coal-black statue of Jose Marti atop his rearing steed seeming to float on a sea of saffron (it looked orange to me) that swept into the park. In fact, I was so taken I stopped for a moment to admire what I was seeing, something I never do on a busy NYC street. Unfortunately, as I drew closer, things went downhill and all that stayed propitious was the weather.

I really wanted to like the installation on two counts: I admired Jeanne-Claude and Christo's 'Wrapped Reichstag' and, a daft reason I know, for the fact my birthday, like theirs, falls on June 13th too. True, the brazen saffron color contrasted beautifully with the gray trunks and reaching, bare limbs of the trees, but the overall effect of the winding gates seemed bizarre, vulgar even. Anxious not to judge quickly, I decided to walk inside the installation and set off on a stroll of the pond's periphery amid the clicks of tourist cameras and muted conversations. I stopped for a moment and gazed out at the ice-covered pond, out to where The Gates crested a hump-backed bridge and continued on into the mid-distance. I remained unmoved. I continued on, this time peering up at the limp curtain of woven, nylon fabric (or some such stuff) as I passed under each saffron transom. Still, I remained unmoved. Of more interest was a plump squirrel nibbling on a nut nearby one gate. More affecting were the sights of rising sap on shrubs near the pond bank and the green-goldish tinge on a few trees as they unfurled their leaves. Had the saffron energy of The Gates fooled the trees to bud prematurely, I wondered.

Of course, as are always present at modern art installations, a posse of self-appointed critics were there to justify Jeanne-Claude and Christo's latest offering. As I passed one clutch, a portly woman in sensible shoes was berating another--who'd obviously had the temerity to question the thing-- by saying it was "corpulently alive" (I'm not kidding) and she could discern bad and good installations and this was one of the most "meaningful ones" she'd ever been inside.

I saw a Jeanne-Claude and Christo interview on the telly recently and she said they did not care what other people thought of their work. What mattered was that they, the artists, liked it. I suppose that's a variation of 'The art stands for itself' argument. I'm glad they feel that way. As I left the park, on a whim, I returned to Jose Marti atop his coal-black, imposing horse. The nearby tree was not in bud, but I was moved. This was art, art I could truly appreciate. I saw art in Jose Marti's face alive with expression and in the horse's sinews, muscles and curve of its back. Don't get me wrong. I love modern art, just not all of it.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Is that Spice or Spike?

I've been getting emails about Spice and a few of you asked why I decided to have my photo taken with him for the jacket cover of the novel. The answer has nothing to do with authorial cuteness, I'm afraid. The simple fact is Spice is 16 and we're extremely partial to him and, not having any aspirations toward parenthood other than to produce books if you will, I decided I'd love to have a photo of him to look back on with warm and fuzzy thoughts when I get on a bit.

Regarding his name, it was originally to have been 'Spike'. However, despite his being quite large in that he's half Standard poodle, we decided his champagne-colored ears and tail and overall demeanor precluded such an appellation. He would undoubtedly have been traumatized and veterinarian bills would thus have been astronomical.

On one occasion though, he did respond to the name of 'Spike'. A couple of guys were doing some work in the grounds of the house and heard me call out to him loudly because I happened to see him charging down the driveway toward the road with his Beagle mate, Louis.

"What's the name of your dog?" one of them asked
as he leaned on his shovel and cocked his head.
"Spice" I replied warily.
Obviously confused by my Northern Irish accent which
he initially thought Scottish, he said, "Did you say, Spike?"
"Yes," I said. "His name is Spike."
He very kindly assisted by hollering, "Spike, come here."
Spice stopped dead in his tracks, looked toward the house,
looked at Louis, started toward me.
"Lovely dog," he said as both men watched him gallop with
his short tail between his legs up the drive.

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine's, Karaoke and the Psychiatrist game

Feeling Valentine's isn't just the province of freshly minted lovers and couples with lots of mileage on the clock and that it's also a great time for friends to hang out, eleven of us gathered at Lynne and Lee's house over the weekend. L&L are great friends who live in a nearby Victorian-style home and they're fanatical about everything peacock related--well, actually it's Lynne who's fanatical because peacock keepsakes feature in abundance on the annual Christmas tree, there are peacock sconces, a brass peacock fireguard, a sumptuous peacock tapestry doubling as a duvet in her Princess Diana (who among us didn't love Diana?) room, peacock sculptures, yet more peacock sculptures, peacocks painted on some of the wine glasses, peacock feathers...oh, and their house's name is on a beautiful handpainted sign with--you've guessed it--a magnificent peacock painted by another talented friend, Michelle.

We had a ball--many Champagne toasts, much good wine and a superb dinner prepared by Lynne who's an excellent cook. Afterwards, someone suggested we play a new game called 'Psychiatrist'--it was probably Lynne because she's a psychologist--and the group nominated Yours Truly to play the shrink. I was briefed hastily on the rules, namely to ask the group lots of questions including loads of sexually charged questions because they always elicit the best and most truthful responses. My assistant was Merryl who began excellently but then, perhaps grown tired from the effects of the vino or bored with the barrage of questions I was asking the others--who had to answer truthfully and furnish 'yes' or 'no' responses in order to help me solve the puzzle they'd settled among themselves in secret--passed out and left me to the wolves.

Of course, Sharon, who's proudly Polish-American and very assertive added much pressure by remarking that 'other friends who've played this game with us in Hoboken solved it in twenty minutes' and then, half-an-hour later following more red wine, began to take the piss of my Northern Irish accent. Getting nowhere, I began to feel extremely dumb and didn't even have Merryl to for co-share purposes. Groping for an out and not finding one, I began to dissociate and view the game as beneath me. Larry's patience cracked and he began to bark, 'domain, listen to our answers, really listen to our answers, it's simple if you listen.' That was it. I needed to surrender but my dumb-arse pride would not allow me--a longstanding disadvantage I've found about once attending law school. For me the argument runs: Damian McNicholl attended law school, ergo he must NEVER be seen or admit to being dumb under any circumstance. As the minutes tortoised by, Merryl, now splayed serenely beside me on the loveseat, would pop open her eyes, exude a squeak or teeny-weeny grunt, and then pass out before I could prevail upon her.

Finally, at nearly one o'clock in the morning, when even the peacock statutory seemed to be eyeing me malevolently and with ever increasingly pointed clues from my 'patients,' I solved the puzzle and out came one of Lynne's Christmas gifts, her shiny, silver Karaoke machine.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The looming return

Tomorrow is D-day and nine o'clock is D-hour. I must, simply must, get around to commencing my novel again. I'm dreading the return. I've got that Sunday afternoon sinking feeling already, you know the one where your brain starts to think about the morning commute to work and the detritus on your desk at the office. What's even worse, it's been four weeks since I looked at the piece and I know my compulsive self will not permit me to sit and begin to write at once. I will be required to reread the previous ten chapters, ostensibly under the guise of reacquainting myself with the plot's thread of which I am intimately knowledgeable. I will be required to search for all the grammatical errors and weak words I've used and eviscerate all immediately. I will be required to despise what I've written and endure shrieks of internal self-doubt. Only after I have done all of this will I be permitted to continue. Sustaining me through this purgatory will be the memories of last night--more about this tomorrow-- and the anticipation of next Saturday's "End the Winter Doldrums" party.

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Friday, February 11, 2005

One very happy puppy

I'm pleased to let you all know the puppy has fled his current owners. He's found a great new home.

HRH Camilla and a few other things Brit

So they've taken the plunge a few months before the general election and Britain's not on fire! England might perhaps as the civil ceremony draws closer, but not the rest of Britain I think. As someone weaned in Northern Ireland who grew up with one eye on the Republic of Ireland and the other on Britain, I'm neither pro nor anti-monarchy. I've become irrevocably apathetic.

Sure I see Lizzie, Charles, Harry and William on the telly, but they've become meaningless in my life, as they have with an increasing number of intelligent Brits. It's precariously close to comedy watching them stoically arrive for receptions peopled by grinning sycophants, launch a ship or open another wing attached to a crumbling NHS hospital. They look so stiff, so confined, so uncomfortable--well, everyone except the queen thanks to the power of pastels. I really think they should be officially retired now when the dears are still somewhat near the top of their game.

I realize this may smack to some of being anti-Brit. It isn't. Not at all. I happen to love the Brits, by that I mean the English in this instance. I went to law school with enough of them and later lived among them in a West London suburb long enough to know that. My love for them isn't like an American's love, which I suspect revolves around scarlet military uniforms, shouts of 'hear-hear' from the House of Commons benches, horsey smells, imposing building facades and glass coaches.

They're a flawed bunch, as are the Irish too, except the flaws of the English originate from a sense of superiority that's got something to do with their aristocracy and upper middle-classes banding together to conquer indigenous nations long since become independent. I love the English for their humanity and sense of humor, particularly the working class English. There's nothing better than being in an English pub with a good pint for a bit of fun. (For those planning to go over to England soon, pub hours are likely to change shortly so that pubs can opt to remain open 24/7 if they wish. Their equivalent of our Right Wing or Religious Right or whatever they're called--not that Europe, except for Northern Ireland which has Rev. Ian Paisley, has an exact equivalent today--are naturally up in arms about it, and right wing newspapers abound with arguments to the effect Britain will be doomed if the laws are changed, blah, blah, blah...They're the same people and newspapers that reported Britain would be ruined by the introduction of a national lottery a few years ago.)

I also love the Brits for looking on the bright side when things go wrong, although now I've lived in America for nigh on fourteen years I'm not at all sure I'd stand for twenty or thirty minutes in a queue waiting for a snotty postal or bank clerk or likeminded employee to get off his or her arse and do what they're paid to do. On my trip to London two weeks ago--I hadn't been there for two years--I was shocked to see the changes there. For starters, there were NO Brits (neither English, Indian nor Pakistani) manning the newspaper kiosks in the underground or on the streets. No, I tell a lie here--the old lady and her hubby at the entrance to the Gloucester Road tube selling the London Evening Standard were English. Restaurants, even the fancy hotel I stayed in at Gloucester Road, didn't have a single Brit waiter or waitress. I really missed that. (Admittedly, the English were never very big on waiting tables, but one was guaranteed to see a few of them serving in restaurants.) Instead, the place was awash with Poles, Russians, Lithuanians, and other people from Eastern Europe. All were very efficient, spoke good English, but they had no sense of humor. I couldn't pass a wry comment. It also set me pondering: where hell are the Brits? What kind of work are these former wait staff and vendor employees doing? Are they all living on the dole?

Anyway, back to Camilla, because I really want to congratulate her for her staying power. She's never lost sight of the goal, has got her man now, and shortly a title. When she transmutes to duchess--with the gift of HRH appended to it to boot--let's give her a warm hand from this side of the pond and wish her well with the ship launches and new hospital wing openings. Cheers!

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Thursday, February 10, 2005

A puppy's story

Last night my friend Brian, the owner of two mini wieners whom he calls 'The Girls' called in distress to tell me about another dachshund puppy that has been diagnosed with some kind of disease that will cause it to go permanently blind in a few months. He heard this from a friend of the puppy's owners who, having paid a dachshund breeder and taken ownership and thus bonded with him, were annoyed their dog was substandard. In addition, these people informed their friend that they were far too busy in their careers to take care of a blind dog. It would be too much trouble, notwithstanding any idiot knows dogs function admirably without sight owing to their keen sense of smell. The breeder offered to give them a new puppy and take the other one back, the second part of the offer being a euphemism for we all know what. They accepted, but their friend and Brian persuaded them to hold off giving their 'defective' dog back to the breeder because they are determined to find him a home.

As the owner of Spice, a sixteen-year-old standard-sized Cockerpoo who's deaf and going blind and whom I'm crazy about, the news caused me to reflect on the selfishness of people who want an animal in their lives but none of the inconvenience. It's clear these two amoral professionals view their puppy as they do chattel. I hope they're not parents. If they are and one of their offspring becomes seriously ill, will they cut off the bonds and hope it goes back quickly to its original maker, or dump it in a nursing home all expenses paid and continue on with their precious careers. There's an old, old Yorkshire saying that goes: "There's nowt queer as folk."

When the puppy finds a home, I'll let you know.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Airport parking lots at night

A few days ago my partner Larry and I returned from a two week trip to London and Northern Ireland--more about that in other postings. We'd left on the morning of the monster storm--had actually changed our flight to beat it--and were dreading we'd find the car (parked in an Economy lot) buried deep in a mountain of snow and would have to tunnel into the trunk by hand to extract the shovel we'd been clever enough to bring. As per my usual routine on transatlantic flights, I'd had my fair share of 'gratis' chardonnay and was in high spirits on arrival, breezed through customs without my sister, Deirdre's, homebaked fruitcake and my mother's Irish sodabread being confiscated--and swept out the revolving door to the cold Newark, NJ air.

As feared, the problem indeed proved to be the whereabouts of the car, though not due to a plethora of indistinguishable, dirt-covered snowmounds. You see, both of us are geographically challenged and, while we'd diligently recorded the car's position in the long stay parking lot, we'd forgotten the rows were enormous and were thus obliged to charge about like maniacs, Larry pressing vigorously on the car's panic button. All to no avail, naturally. Panic buttons NEVER work when needed. In the end, convinced we'd never find it, Larry sought the help of a passing, friendly bus driver who, like him, was Puerto Rican and the two set off on a late night jaunt of the parking lot conversing in Spanish like old friends just reunited while I guarded the luggage. I watched the bus slowly cruise the rows of cars like the shark in Jaws. Finally it drew to a stop, out Larry came, and I heard the sweet, shrill cry of the blaring horn. So the only thing lost irrecoverably was the fuzzy lift I'd got from my Virgin Atlantic chardonnay.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Setting out

I've wanted to try blogging ever since Lane at my publisher told me about weblogs late last summer. As soon as I got back home from my trip to NYC that evening, I logged into the internet, summoned a cornucopia of literary, author, rant and very funny blogs--the latter oddly originating mostly from England or written by English people or Anglophiles-- and was hooked, possessed if you will.

Having just finished the circuit of bookstore readings and promotions for the A SON CALLED GABRIEL hardcover and, absolutely looking for an excuse, any excuse, not to return at once to the completion of my next novel, I busied myself for months scouring and reading blogs for fresh scandals and interesting tidbits. It's been a delicious, hedonistic ride but, as inevitably happens in my case, the tolling of the guilt bell in my head grew louder and louder until its clanging fury forced me to reign in my surfing addiction, create my own blog, and return to my next novel. (As time goes on and I become proficient in blog navigation, I'll link to my much culled list of blogs.)

So what I've decided to do on the blog is write about whatever's on my mind, real or imagined. I plan to update every few days, sometimes every day if I'm in the mood. I'll write about the highs and frustrations experienced as I write my next novel and about the writing life from my perspective. Of course, I'll also go on about living in America from an Irishman's perspective, as well as refer to the goings on in other places I've lived like Northern Ireland, Germany and England. There'll also be the odd rants and some 'posts' will just be plain crap because I've had a late night or partied too much and the guilt bell will have clanged at an ungodly hour so persistently I've risen from bed just to get it done and assuage my conscience. Oh, and I'll do some book reviews. As an author I thought long and hard about that one because what happens if the book's bad or I hate it. Can one review one's peers dispassionately? Might the reviewed author think it's a vendetta? Ultimately, I decided it's permissible for one author to review another. After all, many of them are already doing that in the Sunday review sections. My philosophy is the work must stand on its own and that's how I'll judge any work I decide to review.

So with that, let the blog unfurl. Already, I have a suspicion that frequent posting will quickly become a non-negotiable demand by my alter ego, in much the same way that I'm compelled, due to an Irish Catholic upbringing, to say my prayers before going to sleep--though in the case of my "posts," I'll try not to rush them.