Imperceptible changes and the incongruity between present and past

It’s a hot day here in Galway. Spanish Arch is full of bodies young and old tanning themselves, getting gently drunk and soaking in the Friday afternoon chat.

Im sitting by myself taking a breather after a hellacious week. I’m listening to John Coltrane and looking around this city I call home.

I’m overwhelmed by a sense of place. On the one hand I feel totally rooted, fixed and situated. On the other I feel lost, tumultuous and spun; how did I get here? David Byrne’s take on it is now rattling around my head. How did I arrive at this stage in my life; was it all part of some plan or did it just happen.

Tiny steps, little answers, even smaller decisions.

All of which lead me to be a TEFL teacher who just finished a workshop on haiku and is now sitting on the banks of Galway bay watching a juggler practice a routine with hats outside the Galway City Museum.

The Corrib is tumbling between us on its way out to sea and I’m taken aback by the fact that this juggler, whose name is Becca and who has a lovely Northern English accent, is here in Galway because I suggested in February of last year that she should look into doing an EVS with Galway Community Circus. She’s been joined (passive present perfect) by a pillow of other jugglers (pillow is the collective noun for hippies I know but I’m using it here for artistic effect).

Is this my fault? Are my intentions a crucial part of her causal chain?

And what about me? How did I end up as doctor circus who’s teaching English now as the philosophy of circus art isn’t as high paying as one may expect.

Again, how did I get here.

Chance is probably the answer but I don’t remember any aleatoric elements to my decision making process. I remember Steve Schwartz’ French literature class, I remember Danto. I remember Rowland and meeting Noel Carroll. I remember acting in a play and renting a flat in Salthill. I remember playing Skyrim and loosing touch with reality. I remember newsletters and Google drive and I remember studying grammar and drinking beer. I remember trying and trying and trying and suddenly finding I had money. I remember really trusting people and I remember having that trust shattered. I remember starting afresh and going on holidays and building a tiny Lego millennium falcon while realising I was going to be a Dad. I remember the bump and Siobhán, my companion through it all, and I remember the bump going away and I remember Matilda. I remember being here. I remember starting this. I remember wondering why.

I don’t remember rolling dice or letting other people decide, but here I am. Dr Circus with the best baby ever and the coolest girlfriend.

Teaching English to pay the bills and cause I really really really like it (I also think it’s nice good and funny).

How did I get here?

Who cares.

It’s a nice place to be.



exploring the liminal lands (i) – Fatherhood and Friendship

Hi guys,

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything. I’ve had a LOT on my mind but very little time to write. I’m hoping to put some thoughts down over the next few weeks looking at the liminal lands, the parts of my extended mind that are blurry, vague, and blended with other people. places, and times. They might not pack a punch but hopefully they’ll be enjoyable.

“Rain approaching my position.” by David Donohoe

As you may know my partner and I are expecting our first child in the new year so this has meant an enormous shift in focus. I’ve moved away from working only for me (by which I mean the telos of career goals and personal satisfaction) and towards a more practical centre of financial and familial security. Fortunately, this hasn’t resulted in my slashing my canvases and going back down ‘t mine, but instead committing myself to teaching English full time, which I love, and which I seem to be good at. But this change, like any life change, has had a knock on effect. I’ve had less time to spend on creative projects and less time to socialise. The time I do have to myself is pretty much spent resting from a tiring and difficult week of performing as an adult educator. It’s a bit shit though because, like many people in Galway, my social life is tied up with creative projects. So I found myself losing touch with some filmy people and not getting to see my circus family half as much as I would like to. This has been an oddly lonely way of living.

I’ve been blessed with lots of really lovely and precious friends, but I also have a very bad habit. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a bit of a pleaser. You seen when I was a teenager I was incredibly shy, painfully so. I had very very few friends, really just a couple (you know who you are!) but when I went to art college at 18 a switch flipped and all of a sudden I had a whole bunch of friends. Hippies, goths and metallers of all shapes and sizes, movie nerds, actors and theatre folk, and I was in a prog band called MOO! It was stellar. But I was terrified that if I said the wrong thing it’d all go away. If I didn’t know who Pip Pyle or Screamin Jay Hawkins was maybe I’d be outta the gang, what happens if they find out that I don’t know much about Bob Dylan or that I fell asleep during the original Solaris. I think these kinds of fears are super common and everyone shares them, but my way of coping was to try and please everyone all of the time. And what is really shitty is that I was very good at it. It meant that as I got older I only got better at it, stretching myself thinner and thinner until I couldn’t go any further and then my friends would be furious about how I snapped and lost my temper. I’m not making excuses, I have had an awful temper and I shouldn’t have let my anger out but at the same time I think I was, or I have been (present perfect- connecting the past with the present) guilty of putting my friends on pedestals and then getting angry at them for not treating me like an equal. It was born from fear, and I think that behaviours born from fear never really work out in the long run.

Since learning I’m going to be a Dad I’ve had to reassess where a lot of my energy was being spent. This happened almost over night (June 7 into June 8 2015) and occurred at an almost instinctual level. Suddenly I didn’t care so much about what people thought about me, I was no longer the centre of my universe. I had ceased to the sun, I was now a celestial body floating around some genetic material and a whole load of potential wrapped up in my beloved partner’s body. There was a new more important future. This new future than means more to me than winning an oscar or landing a lecturing job. And this feels right. I cannot overemphasise that. It all suddenly felt right! Throughout this experience I’ve been going to weekly psychotherapy sessions with one of the smartest most gifted people I’ve ever met. She’s been teaching me how to embrace this change, to let go of old behaviours and to strengthen myself and grow esteem to the point where I can really feel like myself around strangers, people I know and dear friends.

But of course this was all happening inside my noggin and not in the outer world. This meant that there was a massive discrepancy between how I felt and how people expected me to behave. Whenever there is that kind of discrepancy, where you feel one way and your community of peers expect another, there is going to be pain. I’m sad to say that over the last few months while I’ve been building myself up, friendships have been collapsing around me. It’s been really hard, hurtful and in a word… shit. People I’ve known for years suddenly felt cold to the touch and I felt like what I was speaking some alien tongue. Conversations went backwards and waves of hard feelings washed over me. Tiny things became important and important things vanished into the ether. People who’ve known me and my family for years, who’ve loved and laughed along with me suddenly didn’t seem to care whether I was in or out or up or down. And what really hurt was that throughout it all I was sure that all I was doing was not bending over backwards to please them. I’ve been ignored and intimidated and outright insulted and I don’t know why. Here’s where it gets liminal.

Obviously the people who did and said these things (and who almost certainly won’t read this so don’t worry I don’t mean you!) had their own anger and there own troubles going on and maybe their friendship with me meant something very different to them then I thought it did, so when I wasn’t my “usual cheerful self” or when I had to cancel things (because of awful morning sickness or working really long hours) or when I found it hard to temper my moods they found it much harder to take from me then maybe they would from someone else. But the truth is that as hard as its been I’ve had to just let it all go (or more accurately try to start letting it all go) because me and Siobhán are starting a great new adventure and I’d love to share the joy of that with everyone in the world, but the price for that beautiful journey is that you also have to join me on the tough days, the days without pleasure and the times when I’m an anxious grumpy old git. If that price is too high then it wasn’t meant to be. I’m not going to be the static ME you want me to be, I’m going to be dynamic and dangerous and deadly. I’m gonna be a deadly dad and a fantastic friend and for me, that’s it.

I’m an explorer now, exploring how my mind and my body work in this new way. I’m walking through a misty landscape where I don’t know where I end and you begin. I’m not sure if this anger is mine or yours and I’m not sure if this joy is yours or mine. It’s a tough and scary place to be but it is also magical and marvellous. I think this will be a turn towards the creative and joyful in my life but no doubt it will be peppered with hardship and heartache. I’m a new me. I’m a man without peers but with a beautiful family (currently growing) and a blessing of brilliant friends, albeit maybe a few less than before. But this new misty, magical me is much more exciting so strap in for the ride of Stephen’s life.


Sitting at the back of Neachtains; three wrought iron tables; mine, an empty one, and my mate’s. I don’t know who he is but we’re about the same age. His hair is longer but just as grey as mine. We’re both by ourselves. Hoping no one sits at the vacant place between us. The light is brown. It smells like Bewleys on a wet Wednesday afternoon in December. We’re both reading; serious heady factual tomes; mine a Merleau-Ponty cosmology joint, his an independent Irish history print. It’s just gone half past four and we’re both on our second pint. The twinge of shame and guilt flits away with the presence of the Other. 


We’re both ends of a solitary pendulum hiding from real life in the pretend responsibility of academic consumption. He’s ordered a third. He’s opened the door. But is he the sustained note of the Bobby Darin song? That one that’s just too long; too creamy to hold the weight; too much like an impression of a better version of itself. In a moment of sartrian cliché I pick up my phone to write this lump and stave off the decision of buying a third and hiding from life that little bit longer. I’m writing away and a tired tourist takes up the third table in the middle. The answer is clear. Life the universe and everything. So long, thanks etc. John Coltrane pops up on Spotify and the decision is made.

Saying “Thank You” to Pain

Note: As this might not be a mega cheerful read I thought I’d supply a nice soundtrack, so if you can, listen to this while reading

I seem to be using this blog to talk a lot about mental health and well being, that was never my intention, and maybe in the future it will change but today I have a specific note I want to hit. Today I was struck by a thought; it’s important to say ‘thank you’ to your pain.

When you are making breakfast, and you’re late for work and you pick up your coffee pot by the base instead of the handle a shooting pain will run through your hand, up your arm and rattle around inside your brain. Your body, the disparate set of processes that it is, receives one solid piece of communication, a loud and clear message that says “DON’T DO THIS STEPHEN! IT’S NOT A GOOD IDEA!” Although, your body probably won’t use my name. The point is, your body has an over-riding experience, a shut-down moment of bright white light that is advising you of the danger of picking up coffee pots by the base and not by the handle. This message is one that needs to be heard, and usually, the next time you’re late for work and making breakfast, you’ll hesitate before picking the coffee pot up by the base, you’ll remember the sharp sucky pain of the last time, and you’ll swivel your wrist towards the window, taking the extra second, and pick up the pot by the handle. In this way, the pain, which was nasty and horrible, actually helped you. It gave you a message about your behaviour and you learned from it. That’s something to be thankful for, even if only in a very minor, thin and minimal way. You can still say thanks to your pain, for helping you learn. And hopefully by doing so, you can think of coffee-burny-gate as a positive experience instead of a purely negative one.

My suggestion today is that we should think about mental pain in similar terms. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a whole heap of anxiety and sorrowful feelings that take over in times of stress and tension. Experiencing anxiety for me is painful. It’s nasty, long and brutish. It makes me feel like a sick, damaged, half-a-person, who is unable to cope with the complexities of modern adult life. It’s painful. It’s a raw sharp and prolonged pain and I absolutely fucking hate it. It makes me isolated, bad to be around, unfriendly, pessimistic paranoid and down right nasty. It is literally the worst part of my all around happy life. So why on earth should I ever think about saying “Thank You” to it? Well here’s the thing. It’s powerful, it can take hours, days and weeks away from me, and when I’m not experiencing it fully it sits there lurking like the monster-under-the-bed, biding its time until it can pop out and grind my bones to make bread. So how do I go about depowerifying it? (I teach English by the way)

I was thinking about that very point today and it came to me that I should thank it. I should thank the pain. It’s the pain that let’s me know something’s up, it’s the pain that reminds me to calm down, take a breath and examine what’s going on. It’s the pain that highlights the toxic elements of the world around me and (and this point was only realised 3 or 4 hours ago) it’s the pain that says “Don’t worry dude, this is gonna pass soon, don’t do anything knee jerk, I’m here to remind you what’s up, so as long as I’m here don’t react to anything in a way you might regret i.e. don’t quit or move or get a tattoo, I’m here to tell you to lay low and wait til I’m gone, cause when I’m gone things will be a lot better”. (Yes, my pain is an eloquent if overly wordy Dubliner) If it wasn’t for the pain I think I’d just be wnadering around the world confused as to why everything sucks and why nothing makes sense and why I can’t seem to enjoy life. So yeah, experiencing pain is bollocks, it’s really shit and it hurts (tautology!) but it also is a way for you to communicate with yourself. It’s a diagnostic tool that points out which systems need attention, which ones need to be amped up and which ones need a rest.

Before wrapping up I want to make a small clarification. When I talk about pain, I’m not talking about injuries or those who inflict pain, you don’t need to thank them. If something or someone hurt you badly in the past, and that experience left an indelible mark on you, you shouldn’t be thankful or grateful about that (unless you feel you need to to move on). To go back to the coffee pot example, after that happened my finger tips were a bit red but they didn’t blister (#bassplayer) and the pain went away quite quickly. It stayed with me just long enough to make its point. Now other stuff that has happened in my life has left scars and clicking joints and damaged muscles and they suck, but they are a part of me. My scars are a part of me just like my beard or my big toe, I don’t owe them any special thanks except to wear them with the same pride as I wear any other marker of the life I have lived. Scars, wounds and injuries are, in my opinion, part of you, and not self-reflexive messages like pain can be. As for people who inflict, or have inflicted, pain on you; those people are dicks and do not deserve a single word of thanks. They took you into their story, made you an unwilling participant in their painful journey and the only thing we owe them is a short, firm goodbye.

Peace out!

So, to wrap up, my suggestion is that you don’t have to like it, you don’t have to be happy about it, but maybe it’s a good idea to say thank you to it every once and a while. It’s not trying to hurt you, in fact it’s trying to stop you hurting yourself any further, it’s just doing it in a bit of a spiky way. So stop, look and listen and feel around for where your pain is coming from. Follow what it’s trying to tell you and if you find it say thanks. Acknowledge it, thank it, be grateful and let it go. Let it go knowing it did its job and that you’ve found the issue and you don’t need to feel it anymore. Say thanks and let it go.

Oh and by the way I mean say thanks, as in out loud, to yourself. You’d be amazed the difference that you can feel between thinking something and saying it out loud so the whole cosmos can hear.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. Have a lovely weekend and as ever feel free to comment/email me with any thoughts, although I’m not on Facebook at the minute so on here is best.

K byeeee!!

PS Isn’t John Coltrane just the business?!

The Authentic Self – some ramblings of an occasional philosopher

Hi everybody,

I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity recently, specifically how it relates to the self (myself) to decisions (or communications) and to morality (sentences about you that contain the word “should”). It’s one hell of a topic, a real noodle scratcher. If you google the phrase “the authentic self” the first hit is from Dr. Phil .com, now if that isn’t an ejector seat into a pit of self-loathing I don’t know what is! But that very feeling, that absolutely snobbish reaction is exactly the feeling that’s causing me trouble…

To start from the start, authenticity is concept in used mainly in areas of philosophy and psychology to speak about true, sincere, and honest behaviour. It’s often explained negatively, by which I mean it’s often easier to understand what it is by looking at examples of what it isn’t. In my own life, I’m being inauthentic when I act like some great intellectual who sits around reading Hegel and listening to nothing but the later Coltrane all day and only ever thinks about truth, beauty and the cosmic mind. I’m not like that at all, that is not my authentic self yet sometimes I pretend to be like that (often around the French or actors). I show off, I try and push this inauthentic self into other people’s minds so they see me, and treat me, as such. Likewise, I’m being inauthentic when I pretend to be a working class hero who is all about the graft, and pints of Guinness and nationalism. I’m not like that at all, that is not my authentic self, yet sometimes I pretend to be like that (often around older men or Dubliners).

So the question then comes up; what is my real authentic self, who am I really? The existentialists (Sartre, Camus, De Beauvoir, Kierkegaard and, to a lesser extent, Heiddegger) went to town with this concept. For them it was all tied up with freedom, authenticity is the acknowledgement of freedom (of your inescapable freedom) and inauthenticity is the subsuming, denial or flight from your freedom (which remember is inescapable) so when you say things like “I’d no choice, he bought me a pint so I couldn’t say no” you’re being hella inauthentic. Equally, when you say “Well that’s just the kind of person I am, I say what I feel and if she has a problem with that then that’s her problem” you’re being inauthentic. When you think, act or pretend like you don’t have a choice, like you aren’t constantly in an unending state of choosing, you’re being inauthentic. First years in philosophy in UCD lap this stuff up, and usually they don’t press it any further and just map authentic onto good and inauthentic onto bad write 1500 words about it and then freak out at me in the pub because I gave them a B- (you know who you are!!).

But it’s not a simple isomorphic relationship of  authentic onto good and inauthentic onto bad because for the most part, most of our lives are spent being inauthentic and these periods shouldn’t be thought of as being bad. To explain, when your boss asks you to work late and you don’t want to the authentic thing would be to say no and let the chips fall where they may, but sometimes the authentic thing can get you fired, or even just make your life more difficult in the long run. The existentialists were mad into defending your freedom but they had no fucks to give about your job. The authentic choice is often more difficult than the inauthentic choice. Even worse, sometimes the inauthentic choice is clear and well marked whereas the authentic choice is veiled, vague and easily mistaken. How can you avoid being inauthentic when you don’t know what authenticity looks like?

The big issue for me is that life as my inauthentic self (who I sometimes pretentiously refer to as Cadwell Jones) is often much nicer than the life as the authentic Stephen Cadwell. At parties Cadwell Jones is fun and loud and charming whereas Stephen Cadwell is scared and tired and nervous. Cadwell Jones is great at every job because he never says no, and he’ll stay up all night making bagels for you while it’s Stephen Cadwell who has to pay the bill the next day. People generally prefer Cadwell Jones and I prefer being him. It sucks because I know I’m pushing all my dark yet honest thoughts and true yet negative feelings down into Stephen Cadwell’s stomach where they calcify into a dark ball of rage. But it’s so hard not to just go “Yep, I’m Cadwell Jones and everything is grand”, because the alternative is to say “No, I’m Stephen Cadwell and none of this is good or ok and I need to confront you and honestly talk to you about it”. The other day I was in a very dark place, feeling angry and hurt and disappointed and I met two friends of mine in town. Now I could have been Stephen Cadwell and spoken to them honestly but it was so much easier to just go “Wahey! How’s it going guys!?” and let Cadwell Jones take the reins while I sat at the back of my brain and seethed. As we chatted and Cadwell Jones took hold, I found my anger and irritation fading. Once our conversation ended and I carried on walking it all came back. It was shit. But the bad stuff, the anger and sorrow were real and needed attention, so while it may have been nicer to chat about goth music and films and pretend like reality is all groovy, the truth is I had shit that I needed to deal with and Cadwell Jones wasn’t up to the task. It’s a problem when the inauthentic life is the easier and funner one, but it’s an even bigger problem when every decision feels inauthentic and the true, honest and real way to face up to one’s freedom is masked and obscure.

Quick sidenote: if this tickles your pickle there’s a FASCINATING interview with Johnny Vegas that touches on a lot of what I’m talking about, You can view it here:

So I’m currently faced with a few big choices, mostly job stuff but also about the art projects I’m involved in. In modern Irish culture we’re expected to have a very robust sense of self that goes beyond our job, our class, or our leisure activities. One of the hangovers from the Celtic Tiger is that everybody is meant to be a well-rounded spiritually open tax-paying EU citizen, but the truth is it’s incredibly hard to live a cosmically beautiful life when you’re terrified about next month’s. It’s nigh on impossible to achieve enlightenment when you’re worrying about where your career will be in five years and whether you have wasted the last ten years of your life. It’s easy to say, “Ah – just meditate and find your quiet space and the answer will come to you”, it’s also easy to say “Sure just keep your head down and get on with it”. The expectations in our culture are very high, we are to be both happy and successful, and when they are at odds we should have the wisdom to navigate them. But you know what? It’s really fucking difficult! My choice (or should I say one of my choices) is about my academic career, I managed to get myself very very far and earn a bit of respect and a little bit of money by doing academic work in a relatively new field. But the question I have to ask is, does it make me happy?

I have spoken on here before about waves of anxiety and depression that bash against my life from time to time, I’ve also spoken about my panic attacks and how debilitating they can be for me and my loved ones. Well the last few panic attacks, the last few squalls within the waves of anxiety, have happened in conjunction with periods of prolonged academic work…. Now what does that mean? (Don’t worry I’m not really asking you btw, that’s just for rhetorical effect) Does it mean I shouldn’t keep on in academia because it clearly brings about very hard and difficult reactions in me. Or does it mean I need to examine why I’m feeling anxious about it? Pressing ahead and trying to relax more while doing it? Or is it just a coincidence? My panic attacks having more to do with tiredness and mental exhaustion which coincide with my academic work because Cadwell Jones signed me up to do too many things at the same time as Stephen Cadwell was trying to finish his God damn post-doc work?! The answer to all these questions are I don’t know. I don’t know what the right thing to do is, I don’t know what the authentic decision is. Each option carries with it a number of suppositions, if I quit, what does it say about all the work I already put in academically, and all the people who are counting on me? If I quit what does it say about me as a person? If I press on am I being inauthentic? Am I just doing it because it’s a pay cheque that subsidises my comfortable life in Galway? Should I carry on with the work if I’m even feeling this way? And it’s not just my academic career, all these questions apply to my life as a film-maker and as a musician. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What should I be doing? These questions all revolve around this notion of the authentic self, what is RIGHT for me to do, what is the TRUE path I should be on. The existentialists loved all this kinda talk, it’s no mistake that events like these are called existential crises.

The inauthentic thing to do would be to pretend I have no choice, to turn away from the question and just carry on thoughtlessly. Cadwell Jones just wants his Mam (whether real or metaphorical) to just come in and sort it all out for him. The hard thing is that Stephen Cadwell wants that too. It’s Stephen Cadwell who is sitting at home under a blanket with a cat on his lap playing Batman on the PS3 and ignoring the emails that keep appearing asking about his work. Both Stephen Cadwell and Cadwell Jones are knee deep in their inauthentic decisions and nothing is getting done, except that ball of anxiety is getting bigger and harder and more rotten with each day

Fortunately, I am going to see a very good therapist who is really helping me work through this, but sadly I only see her once a week and it can feel like a long time from Friday to Friday. Anyway, as is now the norm with this long rambling blog posts, I have no answers but rather I wanted to get something off my chest and hope that maybe some of the points raised chime with you and maybe we can have some form of discussion that greases the wheels of the authenticity machine and helps us both (but mainly me) figure out what the hell to do.

Much love as always,

Stephen  Cadwell (& Cadwell Jones – he wrote the bits with big words)

Meditations on Chocky – Episode 5 and The Finale

So I’ve just finished the first series of Chocky and I’m a little spooked. When I started the process of playfully reviewing Chocky it was out of a nostalgia for my childhood and a renewed interest in both children’s fiction and psychic phenomena. I didn’t realise that the show would chime with so many of my own current interests/fascinations. Now there is obviously an argument to be made for observer bias, by which I mean that since I am thinking about these things so much I am seeing them in everything I experience, so I am seeing art theory in Chocky just like I’m seeing it in the English language text books I use at work. But bearing that in mind, I do find it a little spooky that I had already seen this programme, when I was very very young and didn’t understand most of what was discussed within it, and that coming back to it now, kind of out of the blue, I find a huge amount of me in it. The interplay between memory and the subconscious is a crazy terrible thing!

Anyhoo, the show got surprisingly dark in these two episodes focussing on two incidents that I imagine would strike terror into the heart of any parent or sibling.

Episode 5 opens with Matthew and Polly having fallen into the river and all the adults standing around helplessly saying “They fell in the river”. It’s a beautiful terrible line.

Just like with the painting and cricket it’s revealed that Chocky was working through Matthew as we learn that Matthew saved them even though Matthew can’t swim. From a story point of view this is a very nice turn for the show to make, really amping up the stakes. It’s life and death now, not just paintings and cricket. But what I also love is that if we were to view Chocky metaphorically for some hidden reserve of power and knowledge residing within us all then this moment becomes an incredible act of self-realisation. Matthew might never have learned to swim but he knew what he had to do to save his sister. Chocky was the structure that gave him the confidence to do so. She was the psychic conduit that allowed him to access his hidden reserves. But that’s if we view it metaphorically, whereas within the show it is clear that Chocky is real and once we learn that Matthew and Polly are safe the show takes a jump and Matthew is now a hero.

Now I’ll be honest, there’s always been some weird part of me that wanted to be involved in an act of heroism like rescuing someone from drowning or stopping a mugging (me and Phil kinda did that once in Paris, but that’s a tale for another time). I think it’s the part of me that lacks self-confidence, if I rescued a cat from a burning building then I would be worth people’s attention and affection but until that happens I amn’t. Not exactly a nice way to be, particularly since what I am actually wishing for is that someone or something is in grave danger and hoping that I pass by. There’s a darkness to that that I’m not cool with!

Anyway, Matthew becomes a hero but he is totally conflicted, as he knows/believes it was Chocky that did the saving, he was just the tool she used. Very interesting point if looked at theologically. The show presents journalists as incredibly intrusive and without any real ethics or scruples, looking back on the 80s in Britain I think that was kind of just taken for granted. But again, for content in a kid’s show it’s pretty heavy. Also the scary woman that comes to the house wanting to talk about angels is full on terrifying. She’s like one of Roald Dahl’s witches! But it’s interesting to wonder if I would have been conflicted as a kid, as I believed in angels as real and interventionist at the time, but that character was creepy as hell! I wonder how I felt.

The Dad’s friend who believed that Chocky was real rings up again and it’s interesting to see how the Mam doesn’t want him (Roy Landers) back to the house, it’s an unusually nuanced image of her turning away from the truth. She’d rather he stay away than face the possibility of Chocky being real.

There’s also the complexity of Matthew winning the art competition. They say “It won first prize” said like it’s a terrible thing. That’s a fairly complex plot point to be putting in a kid’s show, but it works since they tie it in with the fact that he had just received such acclaim for rescuing his drowning sister and now he’s one of the finest young artists in the country. “They’ll think he’s going mad” as the Mam puts it. If looked at metaphorically, if Chocky is just a part of Matthew’s subconscious, then a question arises as to why she has such little faith in her son. She wants to believe that Chocky is imaginary and yet if she is then the Mam thinks her son is going mad.

“He’s haunted” is just a great line

They take Matthew to a psychologist who is immediately creepy as all F. The office looks like a set from “Yes Prime Minister” but the hypnotic record is BRILLIANT! I want one. Also as a little side note for those of you watching along, the woman drinking coffee in the background of the café is my favourite thing. She is wonderful

So Dr Thorn the creepy ass psychologist is trying to convince the Dad that Matthew is just going through a phase and that he has built up an elaborate fantasy system. What I find interesting is that is made to sound like it’s a bad thing! Surely to create something as finessed and delicate as that is a good thing? The doctor then drops a line which ties in spookily with my first paragraph above “The subconscious is an amazing thing, amazing” I’ll just leave that there!

Episode 5 ends with Chocky saying that Matthew must forget her and she must leave. It’s too dangerous for her to stay. Now within the story we know that that is because of the evil doctor and his nefarious plans but if we look again at Chocky as a metaphor then we can see a moment that many creative people feel they go through in adolescence which is the need to hide their light under a darkening bushel or else face the suspicions and ridicule of their society who doesn’t understand them, their power or their expressions. Dark stuff

The finale kicks off with one of the darkest and most troubling scenes I think you could possibly have in a kids drama. The holidays are over and Matthew is back at school and as he leaves one day he gets into a strangers car and disappears. The hero of the show, a small child, has just been kidnapped! Now I don’t know about you but when I was a kid I was terrified of being kidnapped, so this is not the kind of fodder I would expect on ITV at 4.30 on a Wednesday afternoon. The parents are obviously terrified but as if to throw fuel on the fire of darkness the Dad drops the line “”If he was going to do anything silly he’d have done it a fortnight ago”. Yep, the Dad just said that if their son was going to kill himself he would have done it 2 weeks ago when Chocky first left. This is five minutes into a kids TV show and we’ve had kidnapping child murder and suicide brought up quite casually as themes! Fair play Thames Television, you certainly weren’t pulling any punches!

Fortunately, Matthew is alive and well and in Birmingham Matthew and has come to no harm, no harm at all. But then the show enters another one of my all time fears. Through flash back we learn that Matthew was drugged, taken to a hospital, given repeated injections and unnecessary surgery. The themes, tropes and tone this passage are all lifted directly from UFO abduction lore. The description of the white room, of time passing strangely, of needing surgery yet feeling no pain, having no memory of getting there and likewise no memory of leaving. The way they shoot the scene really ties into the eeriness of it all, with the fish eye lens and black and white fruit. I do love though that they gave him “a stereo with buckets of tapes”, not an ipod or spotify account to be seen!

After all the excitement of the last 30 minutes (of show time) the programme makes a sudden gear change and returns to the homely, quiet suburban themes that characterise so much of the first half of the series. But now there is a strangeness. Everyone’s gone to bed except the Dad. He’s still up and Matthew comes to talk to him because he can’t sleep. As a kid who had terrible insomnia this strikes a tremendously loud chord.

In an interesting way to close out such an action packed series, the dramatic climax takes place at Matthew’s bedside and in the form of a conversation between Matthew, his Dad and Chocky. It’s strangely peaceful and at the same time eerie. I won’t go as far into the content of the conversation as I might like suffice to say that it does tie up an awful lot of questions one might have had about the plot.

The following quotes from the final conversation really stood out to me. Chocky described herself by saying “I am an explorer, scout, teacher”. When speaking of intelligent life she says “It is a holy thing to be fostered and nurtured”. He goal was to lead Matthew to “Discovering and demonstrating the use of cosmic power”. But having been discovered under hypnosis by the evil psychologist she now has to decide if he relationship with Matthew is “Valuable or dangerous?” and to ask “How much would a little boy’s life count?” Finally, to protect Matthew, Chocky tells the Dad “You must encourage him to take more interest in Art”. Now this all ties in with the plot and is really well written and works from a plot point of view but from the point of view of me and my own mental ramblings over the last few months its like I could have written it. It’s spooky. It’s fascinating.

Chocky leaves to continue her mission elsewhere and while Matthew paints an old country house the Dad has life-saving medal engraved to say “awarded to Chocky for a valorous deed”. It’s a beautiful way to tie up a beautiful series.


It’s strange, from one point of view this process has just been a nice way of looking at old TV show that I remembered enjoying as a kid. From another point of view there is a strange confluence of content, time and memory that has left me feeling a spooked and very intrigued. I wouldn’t have described myself as any kind of a believer in fate or determinism but this experience has, in a very mundane and pedestrian way, opened my mind a little to a new way of thinking about fate and memory.

I’m not sure that that was ever the point but I hope you enjoyed reading this. I’ve no idea what I’ll do next blog wise, but I think I might just watch season 2 of Chocky and not write about it. I might also read the book. If anything comes to me, and the muse strikes, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Chocky – Further meditations, episodes 3 & 4

Hey everyone, so I’m gonna keep the Chocky meditations going as I’m finding them to be a nice way of structuring my thoughts without doing a diary as I’m not a big fan of them.

So back to Chocky. I still haven’t done any research but as I watch the episodes they are bringing back more and more memories.

Episode three opened up with them “going for a drive”. I’m not sure how common that is these days but back in the 80’s the best thing we could do as family was go for a drive to Ardgillan Castle and Demesne (a word that blew my mind). We would pile into the car; bring sandwiches, crisps and flasks of tea and go for a walk before having a picnic (often in the car because of the rain). The best part of the day was going to the shop to buy a can/crisps and seeing the weird giant red candy soothers and bucket and spade sets that would hang off the door. There’s a real gentle nostalgia to Chocky that is 50% memory and 50% imagination around memories. When I watched it first it was just on, we wouldn’t have taped it (as tapes were a precious commodity reserved for films, French & Saunders, The Simpsons and in later life The X Files) and the show were rarely repeated so half of my memories are vague re-imaginings of what the show might have been, It’s funny for kids these days as all the shows they loved growing up are immediately accessible and always have been. They’ve never had to go without seeing their favourite episode of Pokemon. I wonder what it’ll do to nostalgia?

Nothing says 80s British tv to me like posh people playing cricket in the summer. As you can imagine I hated PE in secondary school but in primary school I was merely not a fan. I love the idea of Chocky taking over to score a 6.

The class elements of the show really come to the fore in this episode too, it’s not just that the parents went to university but that they were competitive about it and tied up in lots of assumptions about it. Fascinating stuff, even if it does leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Chocky says a brilliant line “Humanity has a primitive fixation on the wheel” I think that could pretty sum up the 19th and 20th century right there. Lovely bit of stuff from a kids show

In this episode we start to see more of Chocky as a character, I mentioned above about how I loved the question of gender and of their being a fluidity among the lead’s personality but here things become a little simpler as Chocky starts to stand out. The fact that in ties in so strongly with abduction lore (as above, I’m a true X-Phile) is something really daring to try with a young person. With a simply twist it could be properly frightening, but kudos to the makers for keeping it on the eerie side.

Episode four starts off with a real trip down memory lane about holidays in the 80s. Piling into a car and being taken a couple of hours from your home with a roof rack full of belongings was just enough to seem like the most exotic and magical vacation imaginable. For me holidays were always mysterious and magical things, delving into an old Ireland full of woods and mountains long empty seashores. And also it stirred up a memory of holiday friends! But things being as they are I won’t talk about that today

Polly is a rat. End of. UNFORGIVEABLE!!

I love the fact that Chocky is painting. I think it’s something we all used to do more as kids and I’d say most of us don’t really do it these days. And if we do it rarely is with the same raw abandon that bizarre holiday paintings could invoke,

The line “They’re not art – they’re private” is said in this episode….. That’s basically the inverse of my PhD thesis…. I’m a bit freaked out…. Did Chocky write my Phd????

Other wonderful lines of note are “me doing the drawing her doing the seeing”. That’s some pure Hegel right there. And “hold a pencil and think of nothing”; about as Zen as it comes. Again all this great stuff in a kids show!

The final scene with the boat crashing was properly scary! I was legitimately worried when I saw it all happening. With my film-maker’s hat on I’d say it was great fun to shoot, basically telling the kids to jump in a river fully clothed, probably seemed like a real bit of fun. But the economic way they shot and cut it really gives it a strong feeling of menace.

On to episode 5 now…