Wednesday, 10 January 2018


Fintan O’Toole, lead critic with The Irish Times, once labelled him a genius and, with his new film, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, writer/director Martin McDonagh may yet pin that badge on his lapel, along with the many other gongs and accolades that this film will garner for the London-Irish artist.

Previous film work includes the dreadful Seven Psychopaths, so opaquely ironic Martin McDonagh had to give extensive interviews to explain just how ironic the violence and the misogyny were meant to be and In Bruges, a brutal, tasteless and wasteful crime romp round a city which doesn’t seem to have any police force or visitors, unlikely in such a large Belgian tourist halt.

His stage work, lauded by critics and beloved by London and international audiences, were exemplars of post-modern paddy-whackery, with drunkenness, madness, oddness and violence as the standard tropes.

Yet even at its worst, Martin McDonagh’s work shows a marvellous grasp of the form and practice of drama, on stage and on film, of the history of theatre and film, and a command of the craft of writing for both dramatic forms. In Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, all of his many great gifts are in place and used to terrific effect.

The story is a small gem. A woman, Mildred Hayes, played to the heavens by Frances McDormand, demands justice and fair treatment from the local police authorities. She puts up billboards voicing her demands, using the engine of the Great American Dream – advertising – to make her point. The Police Chief is an honourable man, who sustains the moral core of the film by his letters from the grave, a telling device which brings ‘God’ into play in a unique fashion. The action, based in a small town, begins to take on an epic quality, when townspeople line up, when divisions appear, when death, violence and destruction are visited on people and buildings. There is awesome use of fire throughout. Burning billboards echo the Klan’s burning crucifixes, as the Southern states of the USA struggle to undergo change.

It is the change in the character of police office Dixon, played wonderfully by Sam Rockwell, that turns the arc of the film to its muted conclusion. He is racist and violent, torturing prisoners and beating up citizens. He appears as a modern neanderthal, yet he undergoes a transformation by fire, literally, while one of the Police Chief’s letters from the grave speaks to him on moral possibilities and on the bounty of love. Dixon edges towards those possibilities, aided by an act of kindness in a hospital ward where he lies, swathed in bandages. That kindness is delivered by the person Dixon threw out of an office window. Great pain, great pathos and great humour.

One liners rip through the film, as do extended, often comic, speeches on moral and political themes. When the priest comes to her house to ask Mildred Hayes to take down the billboards, she riffs on the relationship between the churches and urban street gangs, where collective culpability for crime comes into play. She could have included banks and corporations. She chucks the priest out of her house. Mildred’s challenge of meeting the cost of the billboards highlights the challenges facing many American citizens of accessing justice and fair treatment.

There is violence and oddness, misogyny and sentimentality, as in earlier work by Martin McDonagh. Why are the two young women presented as dumb and naive? Why are Dixon and his fellow police officers so violent and Keystone Cop-like? Is the dwarf character in it purely for a laugh? Is the move away from violence believable at the end, delivered as the two most violent characters in the film journey away from Ebbing and the tragedies there? And look out for the tortoise crossing Dixon’s mother’s lap, as he gives her an uncharacteristic caress? Is this the same tortoise, representing the slow passage of time, from Tom Stoppard’s great play, Arcadia? And like Arcadia, is this story occurring, not in a real place, but in art-land, a story-ville, where it is film not urban geography which delineates the place and where the townspeople, rarely seen close to the action, are like we viewers, an audience?

If you liked Fargo, you’ll like this film, mainly because Frances McDormand is superb and the story is brilliant and brilliantly told. If you liked Manchester by the Sea and its treatment of male violence in small-town America, you’ll like this film. If you enjoy well-made, well-acted films from America, which are not the thin soup offered by the dreadful Star Wars and Blade Runner franchises, then Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is highly recommend.

Hats off to Martin McDonagh, the genius redeemed.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri:
An interview with Martin McDonagh:

Saturday, 16 December 2017


You think it’s easy. Let me tell you, friend, this time of year, with all the ho ho ho and tinsel, this place goes crazy. One minute I’m replacing a bulb in the  fairy lights across the bar. The next I’m overseeing the disembowelling of the turkeys. 
Then this guy comes in with a sob story about a pregnant wife and everywhere else full up and ‘is there any chance of a room?’. Small stocky fella with blackened thumbnails and a line of fine white wood shavings in the turn-ups of his trousers. He caught me at a weak moment. I’d just learned that we’d hired a convicted child molester for our Santa’s Grotto, so when the fella came up to me and said his wife was about to pop any minute, I  felt a bit shaky. I suppose that’s what made me follow him outside. 
And there she was. Big as a house, just like he said. Sitting on top of a donkey. The donkey, grey as three day old slush, was chewing on a family pack of Dorritos. The woman was a looker, that blooming full bellied look,  and when she smiled her baby blue eyes at me,  I felt my spleen melt.
So the best I could manage was 
‘Look,  you‘ll have to talk to G.O.D. himself. I only work here’.
But even saying that I knew I’d succumbed. Last thing I wanted was that lady’s waters breaking all over the donkey, right in front of the hotel.
‘Round the back. Round the back.’ I said. ‘Look, there’s a shed we used for the taxi dispatcher. The hotel is full. Same as every where else. You can use the shed.’
Then I went back inside and sacked the paedophile Santa and forgot about them.  As you do. Another crisis beeped on my pager and I lifted a house phone. A guest in 113 had oh-deed on brandy snaps. When I got there, it wasn’t pretty. His face was red and flushed, lumpy cream dribbled from the side of his mouth, his chest was covered in soggy biscuit bits. I felt like kicking him. Hey, you expect an amount of excess, but this?
My pager beeped again and I took a call from one of the bouncers who told me the ground floor of the multi-storey carpark was full of sheep farmers. I told him to lay off the Goldschlager until I got down there. I took the service lift. I thought it would  be quick and quiet. But the muzak  penetrates everywhere at this time of year. By the time I made it to the car park I was humming ‘Jingle Bells’ and had developed a twitch in my left cheek.
The bouncer met me as the lift doors opened.
‘No Goldschlager. Just sheep,’ he said.
He was right. There must have been  about a dozen fellas standing around with lambs draped across their shoulders, like white fox stoles. And more sheep 
maaa-ing and shitting around the shed. I went towards it and looked in and saw the stocky man fussing about and a sheep farmer down on his knees in front of a Moses basket, beaming in at a wean with a screwed-up prune kind of face. Then the woman appeared and flashed those baby blue eyes at me and, with her ruby red lips,  mouthed ‘it’s a boy’ and I got that honey feeling in the pit of my belly, the one that makes a man’s knees tremble and his eyes water.
I turned to the bouncer and said
‘Lose the sheep. Leave the lambs. But lose the sheep. Keep me informed.’
Then I headed back across the carpark just in time to see the choir waft in, looking like some kind of leftover from Halloween. Ghostly white they were, with wings and flowing gowns  and giving it loads with the  ‘glorias’ and the ‘halleluliahs’.
I swore to myself I would take few days off. But not yet. This was not a time for relaxing. Especially with the pager going ballistic and news that the rooftop laser light show was stuck. I got back in the service lift and kept my palms pressed over my ears until I reached the roof.
We only got this thing because the place across the street has had one for over a year. Our’s beams circles, whirls, droplets and  spirals in all sorts of patterns in the sky. But not tonight. No circles. No whirls. No droplets. No spirals. Just one big star-shaped blaze, fixed above the multi-story carpark. I kicked the gizmo a couple of times, threw the switches back and forth and then made a strategic management decision that it could do whatever the fuck it liked just so long as we got through Christmas.
And we did. At the end of the day no one got killed. Not even the guy with the brandy snaps. Seems someone turned him upside down after I left and whacked him on the back. He came  to, and began demanding creme de menthe filled chocolate reindeer. He survived. We all did.
The sheep farmers moved off. The choir continued their pub-crawl. I forgot about the whole thing for a while until I was outside one afternoon, watching the street lights sway in the wind when three limos pulled up and three wise-guys got out, with a flunky carrying something gift-wrapped  behind each one of them.
The head wise-guy  snapped his fingers at me and said
‘Where’s the King? We’ve come to see the King.’
I said  ‘The King is dead man. Long time ago now. But we’ve got him on the system in the will be lonely this christmas... and we could put it through to your room if you wanted.’
They just ignored me, got back into the limos and drove round the back to the carpark.
I forgot about them too once I realised they weren’t checking in. Last I heard they spent some time with the baby in the shed then headed back east again.
The bouncer told me the shed is empty now. Said the trio just vamoosed one day, in a bit of a hurry. I can’t say I miss them. Too much on my plate. I mean we’ve got Valentine’s Day  coming up and we’re going to mount a thousand vodka filled red roses across the ceiling of the bar and release them at midnight. Something simple and tasteful for a change.
Still. Whenever I think of those baby blue eyes and those ruby red lips I get that honey feeling in the pit of my stomach. My knees tremble. My eyes water.
Jesus Christ. There goes my pager again.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017


The announcement that Harry Windsor (Prince, 33) will marry Meghan Markle (Actress, 36) was greeted with gasps of relief in London, with Teresa May (Prime Minister, 61) leading the applause at a cabinet meeting.

“Just what we needed,” she exclaimed. “Something to wave a flag over and not have to worry about tomorrow and those pesky Europeans, who want big divorce money from us. Saved again. Three cheers for the Windsors!” As the cheers quietened, there was unanimity in action, for the first time in months, and an orderly queue for the post-meeting sandwiches, port and brandy.

Meanwhile, in Dublin, politicians, still reeling from the latest political crisis, bemoaned the fact that there is no Irish equivalent to the Windsors, though there are many wealthy developers who act royally and think they own the country. Just as the Windsors do, with their public subsidies and hidden, off-shore accounts.

The former Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald (Former Tánaiste, 67), who failed to remember emails she received from someone who failed to remember sending them, emails so toxic they nearly tipped an already sickly parliamentary relationship into a deadly over dose, has been shuffled off to a hearty pension, in order to avoid an unseasonal governmental collapse and a general election.

Speaking outside Parliament buildings in Dublin, known as Leinster House, after the famous rugby team, one bereft Teachta Dála (TD, public representative, age and gender not given, but likely to be male and 45+), said

What’s the point of a republic if we can’t even get the team into the World Cup? Now that’s gone, we’re shagged. We’re short on the bread, big-time, because we gave it to the banks and they’re looking more. And we won’t even have a summer circus, watching the soccer team get bate in Russia. Even the Gah (GAA, sporting association, edging inexorably towards professionalism and oblivion, like rugby) is on a go-slow for the winter. Frances had to be given her walking papers. Like, who wants to be banging on a door in the middle of a sleety nowhere, looking for a vote from a frozen aul' fella who hasn’t seen you since the last time and who’s so far gone with isolation, poverty and the cold that he thinks you’re Michael Collins. And do you wise him up? Do you, me arse.”

The Chinese International Bunting and Flag Corporation announced a hike in its share price and a cut in workers’ wages, assuring share holders that, with big orders expected for Union Jacks, red, white and blue bunting and Kiss Me Quick hats, with images of either Harry Windsor or Meghan Markle on the hat-band, the corporation plans to accelerate its programme of throwing workers off the roofs of their campuses (aka factories) and replacing them with robots.

A spokesperson said: “We’ve swopped the green, white and orange line over to red, white and blue. Production of tricolours will be ceased as Italy and Ireland will not be going to Russia. We’ve moved all lines onto red, white and blue.”

Meanwhile, back at Kensington Palace, London, the newly engaged couple set up home in the modest (sic!) Nottingham Cottage, called after a county which the Windsor family effectively own, as part of the legacy left to them by a former sheriff and his dastardly cronies. The people of Nottinghamshire are said to have mixed feelings about this address. Some feel it should be in Nottingham and have called for a name change. Others are glad to be well away from the whole flamfew.

Harry Windsor’s grandmother, Elizabeth the Second (Queen, dog and horse lover, matriarch of the Firm, 91) is reportedly delighted by the news that Harry, known as a bit of a lad who enjoyed dressing up in Nazi and other uniforms, may be settling down. She is said not to be disturbed by the fact that her grandson’s intended has been described as having an ‘exotic’ background, because she is a woman, an actress, of mixed race and most exotic of all, American. The feisty grandmother expressed her delight at the news and had only one concern. She asked “Does this mean we’ll have to invite that awful man with the big hair and the wandering hands? No, I don’t mean him. I mean the other buffoon, the one with the twang.”

A Windsor family spokesperson assured Elizabeth the Second, and the wider public, that the wedding guest list will be tightly scrutinised and no one with dubious associations will be invited, apart perhaps from a few sheiks with orders pending for jet bombers from companies in which the Windsor family has interests.

The spokesperson responded to critical reports that Meghan Markle will have to give up her career as an actress when she gets married as an unfair and old fashioned way to treat a woman today, saying that those reports were untrue.

Of course, she will continue her career as an actress,” said the Windsor family spokesperson, “only now it will be as eye-candy in the Windsor family celebrity soap opera, which is essentially a cross between Dallas and the jungle celebrity shows where MM, as we now fondly know her, will get to do nasty things, like hang out with starving children and war victims, though not in Gaza or Yemen, if you don’t mind.”

Meanwhile, back in Dublin, now that the threat of a Christmas election has been seen off, a secret Dáil committee has begun meeting to come up with a wedding that would command similar powers of popular distraction, as the fumble to Brexiticide accelerates.  They are also investigating Meghan Markle's alleged Irish roots. One notion under consideration is an exhumation of the corpses of Queen Maeve and Brian Boru, with a jamboree nuptial beside the sturdy phallic stone, Lia Fáil, atop the hill of Tara.

Can’t wait.

Monday, 20 November 2017


The upsurge in news-by-crisis has caused Twitter, the primary weapon in the digital news-by-crisis armoury, to explode from 140 characters per tweet to a massive 280 characters per tweet. This doubling in size is caused by the over consumption of crises that now prevails in news, both fake and non-fake.

The first instances of the obesitised version of a Twitter storm, now upgraded to a Twitter Hurricane, to reflect the recent aggrandisement, have been named Twitter Hurricane Weinstein, (THW) and Twitter Hurricane Spacey, (THS). In both instances, the centres of the hurricanes, Weinstein and Spacey, have asserted they will ‘seek treatment for’ or ‘look at’ their behaviour, which is not much use to their victims, but it does let justice systems and police off the hook. More tweeting is expected, well up to the 280 character limit.

Despite their being no government in Northern Ireland, the new obese twitter activity continues unabated with a gale of hot air emanating from the Twitter community adding to the heat coming from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) enquiry. RHI was a corrupt government licence to burn public money, given out under cover of a scheme to shift businesses, who could afford it, to renewable energy consumption. It may also have served to buy votes and influence. The enquiry stuttered into flame, with non-Twitter users – the vast majority of the world’s population – wondering what all the fuss was about, exclaiming to each other directly: “Tell us something we don’t know.”

Salvation may be on hand for the newly obese Twitter with the announcement that the President of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams is to step down from his day job to devote more time to his tweeting, an activity at which he is particularly avid. The Twitter community await with bated breath. The rest of the world’s population just carry on breathing, as best they can.

Immediately following the announcement by Twitter, two UK government ministers left the Cabinet run by Frida Kahlo fan and Prime Minister, Teresa May. Michael Fallon, former Defence Secretary and keen advocate of selling fighter jet bombers to the already oversupplied regime in Saudi Arabia, left the Cabinet in the face of a variety of allegations of sexual harassment, summed up, with tongue firmly in cheek, by one female Westminster staffer, who described Michael Fallon as 'dodgy in a taxi'. And more.

Another minister, Priti Patel, resigned from the Cabinet because she blurred the line between work and holidays and didn't tell her bosses. Or perhaps she did and the problem was that more people found out. Or that she didn't tell them enough and when a second 'show and tell' session was required, she was forced to resign. Twitter, well, binged.

Further pressures on Twitter’s girth, causing it to expand two-fold, came from the ironically-named Paradise Papers, which showed that prime-time tv comedy actors, a racing car driver, a sovereign and her family, a football club owner, among others, aided and abetted by well-paid accountants, bankers and lawyers, were moving their cash assets (money, to the non-rich) internationally to evade and avoid paying taxes in their countries of residence. Some of the people named in the TV programme that investigated the papers are so rich that they didn’t know that this was happening, like you put your hand in your pocket and find a coin and exclaim “Wow! I didn’t know I had that.” And then you tweet about it.

Twitterphiles were disappointed to hear that, obese or otherwise, the Pontiff in Rome is not having any tweeting going on at Mass. Questions of solemnity and attention to a divine ritual were raised, though habitual mass-going tweeters cite their ability to be humourless multi-taskers as an adequate response to the Pontiff’s anger. He is reported to be considering a tweet in response, but Twitter may need another boost in character-numbers to cope with his ire. God has not yet tweeted in response, thus far, though the Twitterati are confident s/he will.

Lead-Twitterer in the world, the US President, eased back on tweeting recently, reportedly because he is not sure he has the vocabulary for 280 characters. Those reports were blasted – where else?- on Twitter by observers of the US President’s visit to China. They noted that the US President couldn’t be expected to maintain his usual level of tweeting with lavish entertainment, banquets and military displays so occupying him. Tweets by other people confirmed that the US President couldn’t rise to a 280 character tweet while consuming weaponry-laden spectacles, accompanied by extravagant buffets of jiaozi and bakpau.

“Tell us something we don’t know” is the widely felt and sometimes expressed reaction to all tweeting, slim and non-slim, be it in the worlds of politics, finances or the widespread field of older men harassing younger women and men, sexually and otherwise.

The old dramatist’s saw applies: show, don’t tell,
now amended to: show, don’t tweet. (Check: 15 characters?)

Wednesday, 8 November 2017


Following the success of his own book of family stories, RELATED LIVES – an imagined memoir, published by Guildhall Press last year, writer Dave Duggan will run a programme to help other people start writing the stories of their own lives and of family members.
Announcing the programme, Dave Duggan, whose work includes award winning stage-plays and film scripts, as well as radio drama and novels, said: “Readers of my own memoir and many others said they’d like to do something like that. And the breakthrough work of Tony Doherty’s memoirs, with two books now published, supports the idea that many people could consider something similar in some form. It could be a book, or articles in a newspaper or magazines or on-line. It could be a blog. All those options can be explored.”
When asked about the arrangements for the programme, Dave added: “It will start in January. You could think of it as a project for 2018 and this programme will help you stick to this New Year’s resolution. It’s called KICK START WRITING YOUR (FAMILY) STORY and is a mix of group sessions and one-to-one mentoring.”
There will be four group sessions in January/February 2018, followed by one-to-one mentoring sessions, concluding in September 2018. There are 12 places on the programme and the fee is £30 in total. The group sessions will take place in Holywell, 10-12 Bishops Street, Derry Londonderry.
Gerard Deane, director at Holywell, added: “We’re delighted Dave is running this programme here. We’ve known Dave’s work since he wrote stories for early editions of Fingerpost. His idea of kick starting the process of writing family stories fits well with our interest in stories and histories rooted in this city and district.”

For more details about how to apply to KICK START WRITING YOUR (FAMILY) STORY, send an email to, putting KSW in the subject line. This programme is supported by Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI). See RELATED LIVES – an imagined memoir by Dave Duggan (Guildhall Press, 2016).

Monday, 9 October 2017

Frida Kahlo bracelet causes Teresa May’s coughing fit

Much media attention has previously focused on the UK Prime Minister’s shoes. That attention has now switched to accessories, specifically to a bracelet Teresa May wore at the recent Tory Party conference.

The bracelet, a set of colourful, chunky rectangles, reproduces images of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who wrote about her work, in a 1951 dairy entry,

I feel uneasy about my painting. Above all I want to transform it into something useful for the Communist revolutionary movement, since up to now I have only painted the earnest portrayal of myself.

The work of such an artist makes an unlikely accessory for a Conservative and Unionist Party leader. But, on reflection, perhaps not. In these globalised post-modern days, every image and artefact is available to everyone with the money to buy it and it can mean whatever the purchaser wishes.

What was Teresa May thinking when she chose that bracelet?

Did she wish to have a dig at her rival, Jeremy Corbyn, exhibiting her ability to appropriate material Jeremy Corbyn and his colleagues might consider theirs? Was she aping the self-fashioning so grandly displayed by pop singer Madonna, one of the most avid collectors of the work of Frida Kahlo? Or did she just like the shape, the weight and the colour of the bracelet and have no idea about the life of Frida Kahlo, her politics and her work?

Will Jeremy Corbyn be seen with a Winston Churchill tie-pin and British Bulldog cuff-links next time out?

Similar Frida Kahlo bracelets retail on-line for £31.57.

Did a simple, uninformed consumer choice lead to the unintended consequence of a coughing fit and a public-speaking melt-down, produced by a communist hex delivered by the bracelet?

Did Boris Johnson give the bracelet to her, as a present?

Was she simply showing how culturally hip, metropolitan and internationalist she is?
More people may become interested in Frida Kahlo’s life and work as an artist in Mexico, perhaps another unintended effect of the UK Prime Minister’s choice of accessory. Everyone can welcome that, including Jeremy Corbyn and his allies.

Are these no more than beautiful trinkets worn by the powerful, simply because, in today’s post-modern, globalised consumer world, they can, regardless of association, symbolism or meaning?

We own everything, because we can buy everything. Even beauty.”

Did Frida Kahlo know her images and her words would adorn Teresa May, dreamer of austerity and righteous inequality?

I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.

I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017


Bang bang, you shot me down
Bang bang, I hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, my baby shot me down

A radio reporter said: “People come to Las Vegas to lose money. People come to Las Vegas to lose their inhibitions. They don’t come to lose their lives.”

And then they do.

The newspapers are amazed.

Police identified the gunman as Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, describing him as a retiree who loved to gamble and who lived with his girlfriend, Marilou Danley, 62.

Does his age matter?

The man, who checked into a suite at a Las Vegas hotel, reportedly lived in a quiet retirement community in Mesquite, Nevada – about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The radio reporter wondered how an ordinary man could do this. He was reported to have worked as an accountant.

Authorities also revealed that at least 10 guns were found in the hotel room, including several rifles.

Staff at the hotel didn’t notice anything untoward. He brought the guns up in the lift?

His brother also described Paddock as a wealthy guy who liked to play video poker and take cruises.
He added, “He didn’t have active employment. His life is an open book. It’s all in the public record. He went to college, he had a job. You’ll find out.”

We find out he went to a hotel in a city where we lose our inhibitions and out Gomorrahed Gomorrah, from a bedroom window overlooking an open air music concert. Eye witnesses reported hearing “Pop. Pop. Pop”, like an irritating fire-cracker.

Music played and people sang

We find out onomatopoeia is not up to it. The real sounds are not playful. They are deadly.

Bang bang, I shot you down
Bang bang, and I hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, my baby shot me down

That’s what you do with guns, in the home, on the streets, in your own country and in other people’s.

His brother is shocked.

The gunman’s brother said, “Where the hell did he get automatic weapons?”

That’s an easy one. He got them retail. He got them anywhere he wanted. It’s America, land of the free. For example, from this deadly combination

a gun store in Mesquite, Guns & Guitars

You can tote your gun and strum The Star Spangled Banner at the same time.

Now he's gone, I don't know why
And 'til this day, sometimes I cry

He didn't even say goodbye

Guns are bought and sold. Gun are fired. People die. It’s a domestic matter, the world over.

New estimates released by the children's charity War Child reveal that since the Saudi-led coalition began its intervention in Yemen, UK weapons companies including BAE systems and Raytheon have earned revenues exceeding $8bn from dealings with Saudi Arabia, generating profits estimated at almost $775m.

Seasons came and changed the time.

Until the next time.

Who will ‘take a knee’ for this?