Damn good

Time rolls on
N’ that’s as it should be
Here and gone
Seems to move so quickly

‘Damn Good’
Dave Lee Roth


The training has been okay this week. Plenty of miles on the clock. Probably at the limit now, or certainly, I am getting some messages from the legs to say we’ve had enough. I’ll explain that picture in a minute…

Tuesday: 10k in the park at a decent 5:15 pace.
Thursday, after drill: about 6.5k at just over 5 minute pace.
Friday: slightly slower 10k at 6:11 pace.
Saturday: 10.8k at 6 minute pace.
Sunday (today): about 7k with Mark at just under 6 minute pace.

Plans to do one last, long run were scuppered with crew shortages. Again. But in truth, I think the general fatigue of the viral infection that has been doing the rounds, along with the overall mileage… let’s just say I am happy where I’m at.

In work news, I’ve finally made it in Hollywood. And of course, I am talking about the original Hollywood in Co. Wicklow. I have been engaged to produce some signage for the town on their history and heritage and I was out during the week to meet up with the committee and do the suggested walk. Hollywood, for those who do not know it, is a very small village in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains. In a deliciously Irish ‘life imitating art’ twist, they have erected their very own Hollywood sign on a hillside overlooking the village.


As it happens, the other Hollywood – the lesser-known one in America –  has also many ties to the place. There is a traditional Irish pub there called Tutty’s that has featured in many a film, and just behind the town to the south is an old quarry that has become famous as a location for a number of films, including Michael Collins (where the Big Man was shot, and I mean, shot as opposed to filmed, though in this case, it means both!) and King Arthur (the ice battle, if you know the film). Indeed, on the day we visited this week, a production company was building a cottage for a film about the Irish famine called Black 47, which would appear to have a hell of a cast. It will be interesting to see how the film pans out, as it’s not a subject that to date has lent itself to feature film.

Before my fire service career began, and while my graphic design business was just ticking over, I got the chance to use another skill I had picked up in my years of historical re-enactment: sword fighting. It seemed just about everybody I knew was in Braveheart. Except me. As you possibly know, much of it was filmed in Ireland and it became something of a classic. To this day, if I watch it, I periodically catch myself saying ‘oh look, there’s Michael in the crowd scene…’; that sort of thing. Doesn’t spoil a great film, even if the writers took liberties with the truth.

Well, speaking of that, let us segue into King Arthur. If I didn’t make the first Hollywood sword-fighting epic to be filmed here, I damn well made sure I wasn’t going to miss the second one. When word spread amongst the living history community that a big film was coming to town, every re-enactor in the country polished their swords (!) and dreamed of making the big time. Or at least getting some recompense for what is largely a hobby that tends to devour rather than create money.

With the long lead-in time from initial flurry of excitement to going to castings, getting the job, and actually arriving at the set, I had time to grow my own hair and beard, which was a blessing. I felt sorry for the others who had to go through hair and makeup each morning (and they were crack of dawn starts) and get fake beards and wigs fitted. We had an exceptionally hot and dry summer that year, which always makes me smile when I recall the director Antoine Fuqua talking about Ireland in an interview he gave about the film; apparently they chose Ireland because of the amazing Atlantic light and the overall drizzly grey gloominess of the place. Or something. I may be paraphrasing here. I suspect the taxes and the cheap extras also helped. Whatever way he pitched it, he was clearly suggesting that the fine sunshine of California wasn’t going to cut it. We filmed for the guts of six months and I can’t honestly recall losing a day to rain. It was a freak thing indeed. Sure, we had a few showers, but overall, the real danger was sunstroke (and getting torched by diesel and gas, but that’s another story…). Suffice to say, hot sun and itchy fake beards are not good bedfellows, not least when you’re smeared with Nivea cream and peat moss…


So above is some of the bumph that was produced to market and promote the film. Pride of place is Stellan Skarsgaard with one of his Saxon henchmen to the left. On the very left is me, with my helmet obscuring my vision. This was a general problem with the gear you were handed; it was pretty much take it or leave it. Good gear was traded like cigarettes in prison. Whilst the shields and weapons were standard issue, each person had their own costume, so if you were stuck with a ridiculous dead badger on your left shoulder, you had it for the entirety of the show. Continuity and all that, though I challenge even the greatest film nerds out there (you know who you are) to follow Extra #47 and notice how he starts the film with a bear skin and ends up with a deer skin. I mean, what are the chances? He may have decided halfway through the campaign of slaughter that bear really wasn’t in season that year, and traded up (or down, or whatever passed for fashion in those days) for something else. Maybe something a little more snug. Or fetching. Feck, I don’t know. The costume designer did the Pirates of the Caribbean movies as well, and having met her briefly on set, I can safely conclude she is as mad as a box of frogs.

Is there more to say about King Arthur? No doubt. Did we have some good times? We did. We were well paid due to our status on set, which put as in between the fighting extras and the stuntmen. It bought a lot of stuff for the house at a time when money was hard to come by. I busted my nose in a melee when some foreign stunt guys went ape shit. I fecked up my shoulder in training (ironically, learning how to fall and die convincingly without hurting yourself) but such was the craic on set that you didn’t want it to end. We did get to rub shoulders with a few of the ‘stars’ such as Clive Owen, Keira Knightley and Ray Winstone, but in truth, they buggered off to their trailers as soon as the director yelled ‘cut’ and who can blame them. Stellan Skarsgaard was probably the most human and approachable of the lot, and as he was our leader in the film (playing the bad guy), he actually made an effort with his army of rag-tag extras and wannabe swordsmen. And we appreciated the effort too.

But all good things must come to an end. We had begun training (boot camp, I recall) in the spring, and filming had continued throughout summer. The final battle scene in the film took weeks and weeks to shoot. By the time the producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, came on set at Turlough Hill, it was the start of November, and the director had finally got some of that grim weather he was looking for. I suspect Mr Bruckheimer was trying to find the bottomless pit into which the production was throwing his money. And possibly, ultimately, that is what did for the film: Bruckheimer’s company, Touchstone, is a scion of Disney, and the film was originally pegged to be an 18s certificate but somebody somewhere decided that the only way they were going to get some of their money back was to cut the rating and get the kids in. So the film probably lost some of its oomph.

All the promised gore and savagery on the battlefield ended up on the cutting room floor. Fuqua returned to the more appealing weather of the other Hollywood, and the fields around Ballymore Eustace returned to, well, fields, I guess. The fake Hadrian’s Wall they built there was about 1 kilometre long. Like many things in the film, it was overcooked. It was historically wrong, as was so much else. And clearly the money poured into the production never made it as far as the script, which was fairly wooden. (Arthur: “Deeds in themselves are meaningless unless they’re for some higher purpose.” Yep. Painful.). Rotten Tomatoes gives it 31%, even if the audience score is a more passable 59%.

There are some good snap reviews on that site too. Here’s one of my favourites:

“Overblown bastardisation of the King Arthur legend, knee deep in earnest hammy performances, only redeemed by some cracking battle scenes.”


Anyway, feck that. I get to include yet another gratuitous shot of me. This time, I have managed to hoik the helmet up out of my eyes. This was taken on top of Turlough Hill at the start of November, and yet the weather was still reasonably mild that day.

So, back to Hollywood. I have a sign project to complete, so that’s a positive. I have returned to the scene of the crime (in the sense that much of the film was a crime against history and the creative process). And I got to walk the glen once more, where we shot the famous ice battle scene. I say ‘famous’ but you know what I mean. We marched along a quarry floor covered in paper snow and pretended to fall over on the cracking ice. That’s the magic of the movies. If you visit this site, you can actually see some before and after stills of how the tiny glen was transformed into a mighty ice-bound ravine.

The real fun stuff took place in Glenmalure when the special effects team torched a village that the Saxon army had just sacked, and we had to march through it, looking suitably mean and moody. In reality, the damp thatch had refused to light, despite gallons of diesel and the gas that had been pumped in from underneath filled up each tiny home until they burst into ferocious fireballs. Those metal helmets heat up very quickly! With the director roaring at us to keep marching and not break rank, some of the most exposed had their necks, hands and ears burnt, and copious amounts of burn gel were flying around once they yelled cut. There could only be one take. And that’s the magic of… yeah, yeah, we get the picture…


So, the day we wrapped (yeah, look at me, sounding all knowledgeable and all…) I shaved off the fluffy beard, and took myself off to the hairdressers to get my head shaved. I had six months of being a marauding, pillaging Saxon and I was worn out with it.

Somewhere in a drawer in a filing cabinet, or perhaps stuffed in a box in the shed are a handful of bits and bobs cadged from the set and battlefield. Broken (rubber) arrowheads, bits of leather, some posters; general memorabilia which I had thought I would some day put together behind a frame. But I never did.

So, not much came of the film really. The various actors have mostly gone on to do good things. I’m sure the crew are all gainfully employed. Not sure about the screenwriters, but sure we all have our off days 😉

And I came up with a really bad joke.

“Keira Knightley? I’d settle for once a week.”

Yeah, I know. And I have the cheek to give out about David Franzoni…

To wrap up finally (enough of the feckin’ movie guff! Ed.), the triathlon magazine 220 Triathlon were in touch, via the Hardman race organisers, to ask me to write a short review of my first ironman. That has been duly dispatched (thanks Matt!) and I look forward to seeing the copy in March sometime. If you’re into triathlons, 220 Triathlon is a great resource, online or in print. I’ve cadged a few training plans from them over the years and there’s always plenty of gear porn reviews, if that’s yer thang. Just thought I’d finish on a theme more closely related to the blog’s actual point.

Be safe out there. Train well. Catch up shortly.

5 thoughts on “Damn good

    1. Cheer Franck. Likewise, your post made me reminisce about the gigs we used to play in Dolan’s pub in Mullingar. Though I would say the local boyos and the army cadets made for some fairly hair-raising times. Think ‘Blues Brothers’ and wire netting and you’re some of the way there!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s