Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Meeting on a Hill

9th June, 2013 - A hill, somewhere in Malaysia, around 11am.

There she was, barelling her way uphill along her favourite jungle trail, thinking she was God's gift to trekking. " Way hay ... gonna break my record on this one!" she thought, when out of nowhere, a needle sharp twang of annoying stinginess abruptly bothered her lower spine, just above her coccyx.

"What the fuck!” she muttered, stopping dead in her tracks. Shifting her trekking sticks into one hand, she felt her back with the other. "What the ...?" she said looking over her shoulder and pulling a tiny needle-like object, complete with attached string, from the aggrieved area.  A small drop of blood trickled from the needle-end as her eyes followed the line of the string back to its origin. 

There at the end of it stood a wrinkly, gummy, over-sized goblin of a haggard in a moo-moo, brandishing a peashooter. A hankie, knotted at each corner, covered his bald pate. He hacked a cackle at her while resting his free hand on the place where his hip curve used to be, and pointed at her with his bulbous belly.

"Happy Birthday Magzie!" Age cawed with a wink of a cloudy, cataract ready eye. "What's the craic?"

"For fucks sake! What's the craic? Can't ya see I'm walkin here! Shag off ya old fool will ya, and let me be." With that, she turned and resumed her barrelling to the echo of his wheezing laughter. The laughter stopped soon enough, but then, thwhoop, a new projectile came a-piercing, this time, at the back of her right knee.

"Fffffffffuck!" she yelled in pain, leaning over on her trekking sticks for support. Looking behind her again she could see the needle had gone in this time, and all that was sticking out was the attached thread which ran back to the free hand of Age, who minxishly tweaked at it like a puppet string.

"He he he he he ... gotcha now" he crowed as he yanked.

Magzie hopped a little as the string went taut, then limp, then taut again. Sucking in the pain, she reached into her hip-pocket for her leatherman. She opened it up and snipped the thread, then turned to face her aggressor with the look of the devil in her eyes.

"Sure, what goods cuttin' the thread goin’ ta do?My needle’s still in there." he said unperturbed, pointing at the offended knee with his peashooter.

"It's MY knee though, not yours, and it does what I tell it!” she shouted. “It might sting a bit, but it knows it has a job to do. It’ll wait to cry until I let it."

At that, Age loaded up his peashooter again, and took aim, a little more seriously this time, for her right eye. Magzie held her ground, and they glared at each other while he inhaled. He held his breath a second, then, thwoop, a new needle took flight.

Like a slow motion action scene from a Marvel superhero movie, Magzie leaned her head slightly sideways when the missile was within millimeters of her eye, and stopped it in its tracks with her hair.

"Explain that one to me now?" she asked, somewhat derisively, as she straightened up and evicted the needle from her coiffe.

"I know that eye is fecked ... just trying to put it out of its misery!"

"Shag off will ya! It's workin’ fine ... and anyway, even if it does go on strike, I got another one."

"I'll aim for that one next"

"Off  witcha Robin Hood! I may have a hundred pictures in me photo books, but I got a million in me head. I know this path like the back o' me hand. I could make it up here in the dark!"

Age's eyes glossed over with anger, and before she could ready herself he had his peashooter loaded, with a bigger needle and thicker string this time, and thwooped it at her heart.

It bounced off her chest, and fell useless to the dirt.

"What d' fuck?!" Age said with annoyance imbued disbelief.

"Ya gombeen! Do ya think a lass as fabulous as me gets to this point in her life without her heart having been harassed numerous times? It's pure scar tissue yer hittin buddy!"

“Gombeen is it?” Age spat as he furiously reloaded

Seeing where this was going, Magzie threw aside her trekking sticks and, stirring up dirt and dead leaves with the forcefulness of her intent, assumed scrum position.

“C’monnn ya scumbag!” she yelled, thumping her right shoulder with a fine slap of her left hand, allowing him to hear the concreteness of it. He double-took, but continued to load.

“Bring it! Ka Mate Ka Ora Muhhhthur Fffuckur! I been trained by the best ya scut.she growled, beating at her chest with the palms of both hands now.

Mentally tackled by her violent veracity, Age stopped what he was doing, stepped back, slowly pocketed his peashooter, and held his hands up.

“All right girl, chill out will ya. I'm only havin' the craic.” he said in a somewhat high-pitched tone.

Magzie pounded her chest a bit more, and gave him a Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson-like ‘come on’ with a raised eyebrow and a twitch of her head. Age kept his hands up, sporting a weak, gummy smile as he did.

Seeing he was done, she unhooked from her war stance, collected her sticks, and reconstituted into an upright position.

“You’re some bollix Age boy ... and on my birthday too!”

“Ah relax will ya! Sure, I thought it might be a bit o’ fun, and I was thinkin’ ... it might be cool to introduce ya to me old friend here.” he said nodding sideways to the trees.

At that, Death strolled out of the shadows, rolling a spliff.

He stopped and stood nonchalantly beside Age, looking the complete opposite of him in gait and appearance. He slowly licked the rolling paper, completed his craftwork, and casually placed it in the corner of his full-lipped mouth.

There, the two, Magzie and Death, regarded each other knowingly. He had a little sparkle in his blue eyes, his head slightly cocked to one side as he looked at her while reaching into a waistcoat pocket for his Zippo. Finding it, he turned his gaze to his smoke and lit up. A gentle breeze unhooked one lock of hair from his pomade slicked quiff so that it fell into a bit of a curl above his brow, collecting some white smoke spirals as it did. He clipped closed the Zippo, placed it back in its pocket, re-fixed his attention on her, and extracted a tiny comb from another waistcoat pocket while sucking on his one-skinner.  Magzie watched with a little twinkle in her own eyes as he smoothed the renegade lock back into place.

“Well Brazen, still causin’ trouble I see.” he quipped as he replaced the comb, took the spliff from his mouth, and exhaled the smoke as he spoke.

“Mr. D, ... lookin’ well,” she replied with a cheeky wink.

Age muttered in confusion at the sidelines.

Without moving her gaze from D, Magzie responded to Age’s crumpled and creased look of disconcertion.

“We’ve met before.” she said.

“Twice!” said D. “Ten months ago at my most recent count. I took a piece of your head then.”

“Ya did.” she nodded. “Not any bit that mattered though. Left me a bit scattered for a while, but taught me a lesson too. I see ya’ve had a bit more ink done since the last time we hung out.”

Looking down at the exposed forearms peeking out from the rolled up sleeves of his crisp white shirt, he nodded and smiled.

“Yup, Samoan fella I been waitin’ for finally stopped by and put his skills to work catchin' up on some overdue additions. Check this gem out!” he said gesturing toward the freshly-inscribed face of Johnny Cash on his right wrist, and starting to move towards her.

“Woah, back off  Big Man. I don’t need to be smellin’ your Hugo Boss. Last time that happened I woke up in a CAT scan machine missin two days of me life!”

“Ha! Fair enough. Our day will come.” he predicted, one side of his mouth curling up into a half smile, sliding the hand of the Cash bearing wrist into his jeans pocket. “I’ve a spot kept for YOUR face right here on my shoulder blade.” he said playfully, pointing to her first and then his left shoulder with the thumb of the spliff holder.

Age was getting twitchy, not really sure what was happening, and feeling a little left out. Magzie, starting to get restless too, reset her sticks and turned to conquer her hill again.

“Yup, it’ll come alright, and that’ll be some session. Better start stockin’ that fridge o’ yours with some good dry cider.” she called over her shoulder as she started to barrel off. Her right knee let a little crack of a weep out of it. “Stop wingin' will ya, there’s trainin' to be done. We’ve Fuji in 3 weeks, an’ I ain’t got time ta bleed” she chastised under her breath as she moved.

“And Mr. D ...” she shouted back as she gained momentum.

“Yup?” he smokily inquired.

“That Shitehawk next to ya AINT invited!”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Serpent’s Kiss … and some really bad beard rash!

I woke up recently to the news that Pete Postlethwaite had passed away. Shortly afterwards I found myself wandering into the sitting room, over to a bookshelf where my mother keeps old photos of us in frames. There I was, bold as brass, displaying the natural curves God gave me with the help of a lace up corset . 

That was an incredible summer, and one that marked the end of one life and the start of a new one for me. I had moved to Cork in anticipation of starting University that autumn. The move had been sparked by my father’s redundancy and the realization that there was no longer such a thing as a ‘job for life’. I decided to pack in my own job and go back to university to study something that I loved instead. Archaeology!

I found a room in a house near UCC and a job in a local B&B. Every weekend I would get the bus home to our little village to be with the family.

My youngest brother was still only a chick then, but had already developed a huge love for all things movie. One weekend when I returned, he started harassing me to take him down to the local parochial hall. It turned out that a movie was being shot in the village that summer, and they were casting for extras. Alan desperately wanted to get a part.

Bring him down I did, in good sisterly fashion, and while helping him fill in the forms, the casting assistant asked if I would be interested. I declined at first, but was then persuaded to have my photo taken. Once snapped, I promptly forgot about it.

Back in Cork I fell ill with a bad case of tonsillitis. I ended up being hospitalized for a few days. It was my first time being in hospital, and I was more than a bit distressed at the whole scenario. My parents would ring me a couple of times a day to check in. During one of these phone calls, they broke the news. The movie people called, they like your look, they want you to be a wench!

“In other words Dad, I look like a slapper!”

“You said it kiddo.”

The movie changed the whole dynamic of our sleepy village that summer. The production company set up office in an old building on the main street. The parking lot of the church was taken over by the catering company and a double decker bus that acted as the cafeteria. Some of the ‘stars’ caravans slash changing rooms also took up residence there. The parochial hall became the dressing room. Casey’s pub was the favourite haunt for actors and production staff alike. Donal McCann and Pete were often spotted sitting on the bench outside with a Guinness in hand discussing the day’s prices at the mart with the local farmers, while Ewan McGregor was inside plucking away on his guitar. Richard E Grant had apparently rented a tower house up the road, the stories of the parties thrown there became part of local lore. The village was alive in a way it hadn’t been for a long time.  The cast and crew immersed themselves in our small community, and it was a mutually enjoyed and beneficial experience.

Quite a few of us villagers had landed parts as extras, and were often to be found lazing on the grass in full costume outside McGregor’s bar across from the parochial hall, sipping pints of cider and waiting for the call to set.

Set was the house and grounds of Mount Ievers, a Georgian manor perfectly suited to the telling of the story that was being shot. The movie revolved around the building of an ornamental garden by a young Dutch architect, Meneer Chrome, played by the lovely Ewan McGregor. It was a period costume drama, which, legend has it, was the nursing ground for the friendship that would see Ewan and Charlie Boorman motorbike around the world together.

As backing players our roles were varied, but we mainly worked as a unit. The boys in the fields reaping the corn, the girls in their gussies providing water and a wink when cued.  Being fitted for my costume was an interesting affair.

I distinctly remember four people being involved in the process. They would literally sew me into my corsetry. One dresser would stand in front holding me at the waist while two at the back pulled on the lacing in perfect rhythm to the drill sergeant of a dresser bawling out “TIGHTER, TIGHTER’!

Apparently, I had the ‘only’ natural cleavage on set, and they wanted to maximise my assets. Allegedly, all the other players, leading ladies included, had to have theirs enhanced with shoulder pads.

We also had a choreographer who worked with us tirelessly trying to create a number for one particular scene. For the life of me I can’t remember his name, but he was a rather camp and dedicated fellow as I recall. We would practice our moves in our civvies in the front garden of the manor house.  On one particular day I forgot to wear sunscreen. In typical Irish form, my face and neck turned a fine shade of berry red.
This caused some problems for the dressers as I remember, due to the distinct T-shirt line of my new colouration interfering with the aesthetic of my corseted bosom.

I remember being descended upon by a swarm of make-up people, an uncountable number of hands patting the colour of my chest down with powder puffs. I also remember the, ‘Good grief’ and popping eyes of Mr. Pete as he passed in wigless costume pushing the pram containing his new offspring, no doubt in my mind, mesmerized by the ripple effect caused by the fixing process.

My chest curves, having had their colour fixed, were finally allowed onto set, and I dutifully followed.

Our usual station was atop a pyramidal structure that had been built at the bottom of the ornamental garden. It stood two or three storeys high (my memory is hazy, it was big, I know that much). At the top was a gazebo. I remember one day our having to play drunk and bawdy at the top. We did a particularly good job of this primarily because we had been waiting for quite some time on the grass outside McGregor’s pub downing the fermented apple juice. We were often left up there and forgotten while the ‘real’ actors did their thing on the ground. I remember one day catching a glimpse of Michael D, then Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, sitting on a prop wall, puffing away on a big cigar surveying the production. His smoke diffused gait oozed self-importance.

One random afternoon, we wenchly types were hanging about to the side of the set with one of the assistant directors. A call came in over his walkie-talkie.

“Philippe wants to know, which one of the girls is fun?”

The A.D. surveyed the motley crew of newly pubescent, scrawny and shy wenches until his eyes landed on me in the middle of taking the piss out of a reaper.



“You! Up them stairs!”

I swear I could hear the death march as I ascended those steps. I hadn’t a clue what was about to happen.
At the top I was introduced to the Lead Reaper and instructed by the director in his lilting French tone  to ‘make love to him with your kisses’.


Now, I’m not ashamed to say that while I was quite grown up, I was a little naive and somewhat unsure about how this was supposed to play out. I had screen kisses from the innocent silver screen days, to the more full on 9 and a Half Weeks kind going through my head, and wasn’t entirely comfortable with either. Fair dues to my opposite player though, he guided me through it nicely.

The Head Reaper was a bit of a Heathcliff type, and right up my street at that time. Three day shadow growth on his face, heavy lashed brown eyes, and a head of soft brown curls, leastways that’s how my memory sees it.

Once clear about the task, we were sent to the edge of the pyramid where I was directed to straddle the man, and the kissing began. Now, I foolishly thought that it would only last a few minutes. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

There began the longest day I think I’ve ever put down. They must have filmed that scene from about 50 different angles. I had to straddle him on the steps, then straddle him in the gazebo, then move back to the steps. At one point I noticed that Ewan and Charlie had plonked themselves in directors chairs at the base of the pyramid and seemed to be getting a great deal of amusement from the whole palaver.

When that day ended I had the worst beard rash I think I’ve ever had in my entire life!

Retelling the story when I got home saw my mother blessing herself so fast she nearly lost an eye.

My face was still raw enough the next day to warrant a wink and a smile from Mr. McGregor as he passed me by while I was walking through the church car park to the catering truck.

Those summer days passed quickly and it wasn’t long before I was back in Cork studying for my degree. Every so often I would think about the movie and wonder when it would hit the bigscreen. As it happened, it didn’t have a mainstream release. I remember hearing that none of the extra scenes had been used after all in the movie, so eventually, I forgot all about it.

A few years later I got a package in the post from my brother in Switzerland. The Serpent’s Kiss had turned up on German television. He had recorded it and sent me a copy. Sitting down to watch it I quickly noted that, true to rumour, none of the extras’ scenes had been kept. My little moment of passion had however.

Sitting there, in my little house in Cork, my jaw dropped as I watched it. The movie had been dubbed, and so, apparently, had I. I may have had no lines, but clearly the Germans felt like my performance could do with a little ‘groan’ over.

I wouldn’t mind, but I didn’t even get a credit. 

I sent the copy home to Mam and Dad. I have it on good authority that the rosary beads came out afterwards.

RIP Mr. P. You were a true gent, and a master at your trade. Thank you for being so generous with your time and character. It was a pleasure to have met you. M.M.