Sep 13th 2014

Me, two books and two movies

by Colm Herron

Colm Herron's first writing career began at the age of seven when he stitched together his vampire stories on his big sister’s Singer sewing machine and sold them to classmates for a penny a piece. He was in business. Two years later he was telling cliff-hangers to the ne’er-do-wells in the local gambling hall. Colm’s abiding memory is that these wasters seemed to enjoy this weekly break from misspending their lives. When he was fifteen he had a play on BBC and later brought his short stories to Brian Friel, an emerging playwright. Friel said “Great. This stuff’s better than what I wrote at your age." But Colm was unimpressed and thought “This guy’s going nowhere. I don’t know why I came to him at all." So Colm gave up writing, deciding to live instead. Meanwhile Friel took off and, while his plays were showing worldwide for the next thirty years,stories were kicking and turning in Colm’s head. But they still weren’t ready to come out. Till twelve years ago, that is, when he said to himself “OK, I’ve lived. Maybe it’s time to do the other thing." Thus began his second writing career. And his latest novel The Wake (And What Jeremiah Did Next) has just been published by Nuascéalta Teoranta.

The first time I fell in love was in the children’s section of Brooke Park library. I was eleven and she was ten and her name was Josephine and she had so many freckles on her face that she was a haze of delight.

It didn’t take long for me to work out that she changed her books once a fortnight, always on a Wednesday and always between half four and five. I used to arrive early just in case, hoping she’d do the same and I’d get more of her. But she never did and it was during those twenty minutes of earliness one Wednesday that I discovered William Brown. William was the central character in the Just William books by Richmal Crompton and he made me forget my shyness and my sadness by making me laugh out loud. Now laughing out loud in Brooke Park library was like yodeling in a Trappist monastery but I just couldn’t help it. 

William was my age and he had a gang which wasn’t supposed to include girls because, well, just because. Yet there was one girl that he couldn’t shake off and she eventually intimidated her way into his gang.  Violet Elizabeth Bott was the lisping spoilt daughter of the local nouveau riche millionaire and it was Violet’s company that William was forced to endure as his second-in-command to prevent her carrying out her threat

"I'll thcream and I’ll thcream 'till I'm thick." The end of my affair came one Wednesday at the foot of page fifteen of William the Rebel. I looked up for some reason and realized that Josephine had come and gone. Or maybe she hadn’t even been. I turned to page sixteen and stifled a snigger.

During the next few years I moved from William to westerns. The greatest of these was by a writer called Jack Schaefer. It was called Shane and it told the story of a mysterious gunman who was a combination of Jesus Christ, Che Guevara and Clint Eastwood. And you couldn’t get much better than that.

Hold on, that’s not true. Alan Ladd, the guy that acted the part of Shane in the movie that was made of the book, was better than the three of them put together. (Apologies here to all christians, left-wingers and Clint worshippers). Alan Ladd acted Shane.

Or rather, Alan Ladd outdid Shane. He was utterly magnificent, a man who presented himself as a tenderfoot but was in fact as brave as any lion, a man that made me want to wear buckskins and two six-shooters and win the heart of any girl I wanted. Ah, the dreams, the dreams.

Just one request from me before I go. Don’t read a library book while you’re taking a dump in the toilet. Not hygienic. Read it anywhere else – bus, train, plane, wherever – but keep it out of the toilet. The very thought drives my obsessive compulsive disorder to distraction. I’m a Quaker at heart but there’s one cinema murder that I approve of. Remember John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction who took a book to the can with him every time he was going in to do his number two? And never washed his hands after? And Bruce Willis’s character who shot him between the eyes just as he came out of the toilet for the last time?

Always remember that.

P.S.   Saw Josephine the other day with her grandchildren.All her freckles are gone and she’s a sight. Lucky escape there.

Below: John Travolta before going into the can:




In the picture at top the author Colm Herron as portrayed by his daughter Nuala Herron. For her web site please click here.


     

Browse articles by author

More Essays

May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The QAnon movement began in 2017 after someone known only as Q posted a series of conspiracy theories about Trump on the internet forum 4chan. QAnon followers believe global elites are seeking to bring down Trump, whom they see as the world’s only hope to defeat the “deep state.” OKM is part of a network of independent congregations (or ekklesia) called Home Congregations Worldwide (HCW). The organization’s spiritual adviser is Mark Taylor, a self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” and QAnon influencer with a large social media following on Twitter and YouTube."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The aim of my research for the Understanding Unbelief programme was to investigate the worldviews of non-believers, since little is known about the diversity of these non-religious beliefs, and what psychological functions they serve. I wanted to explore the idea that while non-believers may not hold religious beliefs, they still hold distinct ontological, epistemological and ethical beliefs about reality, and the idea that these secular beliefs and worldviews provide the non-religious with equivalent sources of meaning, or similar coping mechanisms, as the supernatural beliefs of religious individuals."
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Psalm 91, for example, reassures believers that God will protect them from “the pestilence that walketh in darkness… A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee”.............Luther was a devout believer but insisted that religious faith had to be joined with practical, physical defences against sickness. It was a good Christian’s duty to work to keep themselves and others safe, rather than relying solely on the protection of God. "
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Evidence from this study shows clearly that eating foods rich in flavonoids over your lifetime is significantly linked to reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk. However, their consumption will be even more beneficial alongside other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, managing a healthy weight and exercising."
May 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s possible that the answers to questions like, “how do I live a virtuous life?” or “how do we build a good society?” are not the same as they were a few weeks ago."
May 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Strangely, those with strong beliefs tend to be admired. The human mind hates uncertainty, so it is comforting to be told what to think, and to form settled opinions. But it is not rational. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Apr 21st 2020
Extract: "Humans, Boccaccio seems to be saying, can think of themselves as upstanding and moral – but unawares, they may show indifference to others. We see this in the 10 storytellers themselves: They make a pact to live virtuously in their well-appointed retreats. Yet while they pamper themselves, they indulge in some stories that illustrate brutality, betrayal and exploitation. Boccaccio wanted to challenge his readers, and make them think about their responsibilities to others. “The Decameron” raises the questions: How do the rich relate to the poor during times of widespread suffering? What is the value of a life? In our own pandemic, with millions unemployed due to a virus that has killed thousands, these issues are strikingly relevant.
Apr 20th 2020
Extract: "If we do not seize this crisis as a moment for transformation, then we will have lost the war. If doing so requires reviving notions of collective guilt and responsibility – including the admittedly uncomfortable view that every one of us is infinitely responsible, then so be it; as long we do not morally cop out by blaming some group as the true bearers of sin, guilt, and God’s heavy judgment. A pandemic clarifies the nature of action: that with our every act we answer to each other. In that light, we have a duty to seize this public crisis as an opportunity to reframe our mutual responsibility to one another and the world."
Apr 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Death is the common experience which can make all members of the human race feel their common bonds and their common humanity."
Apr 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "A crisis such as this one demands that we exercise what the philosopher Immanuel Kant called the ‘public use of reason’ – as opposed to merely the ‘private use of reason’ where, briefly put, the expert, the specialist is tasked with resolving a defined problem. The private use of reason is sufficient when we are dealing with a problem that can be solved by simply applying the appropriate expertise...............The public use of reason asks: how we are defining the problem? Is our definition – our conceptualization of the problem – perhaps part of the problem itself? Is this pandemic solely a problem of public health, or is it also a problem of extreme economic inequality? ..............Since this crisis began, the greatest failure of the administration is not the denial, the lies, the lack of preparedness, but the inability to rally and unify the nation against this common threat, the lack of genuine leadership – Trump’s utter inability to bring the nation together."
Apr 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Rarely has an architectural experiment aroused such extremes of ire and admiration. One side is convinced the house is a masterpiece. The other expresses brutal condemnation of the entire project (leaky roof, danger of flooding, too-hot, too-cold interiors depending on the American Midwest weather).........Farnsworth encapsulated her personal ambiguity in her comment to a Newsweek interviewer: “This handsome pavilion I own is almost totally unworkable.” She told one journalist, “ … all I got was this glib, false sophistication. The conception of a house as a glass cage suspended in air is ridiculous.”
Apr 1st 2020
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effects of Good Government fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.
Mar 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "The coronavirus crisis has forced us to look at our behaviour in a way that we’re not used to. We are being asked to act in the collective good rather than our individual preservation and interest. Even for those of us with the best of intentions, this is not so easy."
Mar 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "In March 2020, my sister Nancy and I did something that, as scholars, we had never done before: we wrote about ourselves, comparing our own experiences receiving cancer care on either side of the Atlantic. As we recently reported in the BMJ, much of our experience is similar. As twins, we both have the same form of cancer. Both of us received excellent treatment in well-established university teaching hospitals. Both of us are now in remission. But there is a glaring difference. Nancy lives in the US, covered under a good private healthcare scheme. I live in the UK, covered by the NHS."
Mar 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "In philosophy, individualism is closely linked with the concept of freedom. As soon as restrictive measures were imposed in Italy, many people felt that their freedom was threatened and started to assert their individuality in various ways. Some disagreed with the necessity of cancelling group gatherings and organised unofficial ones themselves. Others continued to go out and live as they always did. We often assume that freedom is to do as we choose, and that is contrasted with being told what to do. As long as I am doing what the government tells me, I am not free. I am going out, not because I want to, but because that shows I am free. But there is another route to freedom..........."
Mar 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "Repeated stress is a major trigger for persistent inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to a range of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. The brain is normally protected from circulating molecules by a blood-brain barrier. But under repeated stress, this barrier becomes leaky and circulating inflammatory proteins can get into the brain. The brain’s hippocampus is a critical brain region for learning and memory, and is particularly vulnerable to such insults. Studies in humans have shown that inflammation can adversely affect brain systems linked to motivation and mental agility. There is also evidence of chronic stress effects on hormones in the brain, including cortisol and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). High, prolonged levels of cortisol have been associated with mood disorders as well as shrinkage of the hippocampus. It can also cause many physical problems, including irregular menstrual cycles."
Mar 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s important to do things that make you happy or content as you are doing them – and doing them for yourself. Research has found that picking recovery activities you find personally satisfying and meaningful is more likely to help you feel recovered by the next morning."
Feb 22nd 2020
EXTRACTS: "A recent study of nearly 3,000 physicists found that a scientist’s most highly cited publication had an equal probability of being published at any point within the sequence of papers the scientist published.........Creativity is not the prerogative of the young, but can occur at any stage in the life cycle...........there is not a single kind of creativity, but that in virtually every intellectual discipline there are two different types of creativity, each associated with a distinct pattern of discovery over the life cycle. The bold leaps of fearless and iconoclastic young conceptual innovators are one important form of creativity. Archetypal conceptual innovators include Einstein, Picasso.......very different type of creativity, in which important new discoveries emerge gradually and incrementally from the extended explorations of older experimental innovators.......The single year from with Paul Cézanne’s work is most frequently illustrated in textbooks of art history is 1906 – the last year of his life, when he was 67."
Feb 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "As our global population is projected to live longer than ever before, it’s important that we find ways of helping people live healthier for longer. Exercise and diet are often cited as the best ways of maintaining good health well into our twilight years. But recently, research has also started to look at the role our gut – specifically our microbiome – plays in how we age."
Feb 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "In an increasingly polarised political landscape, we see differing political views challenged, not through debate and discussion, but through tribal behaviour. We often consider the groups that we belong to as worthy of empathy, respect and tolerance – but not others. What’s more, recent research has identified that we reward our leaders for being naysayers – negating, refuting or criticising others – rather than empowering them."