A man bitten by the acting bug – and Leitrim midges
The General was disappointed with how his turn in a film turned out
I was at the Galway Film Fleadh last week, rubbing shoulders with film stars and famous directors because the General had a part as an extra in one of the movies.
“Some have greatness thrust upon them,” he kept repeating as we drove over the Shannon in the jeep.
The movie was set in the 1950s and the General was required to dance a foxtrot as part of a dancehall scene. “I was dressed in tweeds,” he said, “and I glided across the slippery floor with a fairy,” which is his approving word for a woman of less than seven stone. I could imagine him, belly out, head in the air like a beast in heat, as the two of them slithered demurely around the hall and into cinema history. I couldn’t wait to see the film.
As we took our seats in Galway Town Hall and waited for the lights to go down, he whispered more information into my ear. “I play an ex-military man who meets a beauty in later life, with whom I have a passionate affair. We make love as we go up and down the Shannon on a cruiser, like characters in a Marquez novel. We stop off at various places like Banagher, to attend local dances.”
“But you’re only an extra,” I said. “Is all that information in the film?”
“Not exactly,” he admitted. “But that’s what’s called a back story. That’s the way I imagined my relationship with the fairy in order to portray my character with conviction. It’s called acting.”
“And are there any other extras in the movie?” I wondered.
“About a dozen couples,” he said, “But you know these extras are often very plain people. They needed me to give the film some colour.”
The actual scene in the dancehall hardly lasted a minute, and the camera was on the two big eyes of the leading actress all the time and only once did it pan out to show the musicians and the other dancers, so that just for a second I saw the back of the General’s head at the far end of the hall. He was livid. And he blamed the fairy.
“I told her to dance near the camera or we wouldn’t be seen,” he hissed. “That stupid woman.”
The General is hostile to women at the best of times, but he gets particularly tetchy in hot weather. I think it’s the sight of young women on the streets in tiny vests, black bras, short pants and bodies as brown as a naked chestnut that disturbs him. He was a sad sight, marching through them, with his bushy eyebrows furrowed, and his film career in tatters as we returned to the jeep.
And though hot weather means naked flesh in Galway, it usually means midges in Leitrim. I’ve seen builders with ladies tights on their faces, and holes cut out for eyes. But there’s no stopping the midges; they rise like an army of flesh-eating demons from the long grass.
I went to visit the General the day after we returned from Galway. He stood naked in the kitchen, flagellating his bare arse with a dish towel and shouting at the wall. When he calmed down he explained what had happened. “I headed for the garden in my natural state, as one does on a summer morning, to relieve myself. There’s nothing quite like the sensation of being free in the wilderness,” he confided. “But by the time I got back inside I was in agony.”
His hands were still working like claws on his red rump. “As GK Chesterton used to say,” he added with some venom, “the female of the species is more deadly than the male.” It’s a point he usually makes in relation to terrorists, or when he’s watching female detectives on television.
“What females are we speaking of today?” I wondered.
“The frigging midges,” he declared. “It’s the females that bite.” He scratched again at his bare behind, and flung further curses at the wall. His face contorted in a manner I have only seen on the faces of demons that infected my dreams when I was locked away in a Mongolian monastery years ago.
“It’s the females that bite.” he hissed again, “because they need the blood to lay the eggs.”
“Have you evidence for that?” I wondered, for I had never heard such details regarding the humble Leitrim midge.
“Evidence?” he hissed. “Evidence? I’m out there like a hunted animal and they’re dancing on my botty-totty like blood- sucking fairies.”