Kermit is walking away. He’s not interested. Walter is distraught. “Kermit, you’re my hero. You’re on my watch.” As soon as I hear this line I realise, oh no, it’s happening. Involuntarily, there begins “a complex secretomotor phenomenon characterized by the shedding of tears from the lacrimal apparatus, without any irritation of the ocular structures”. Not for the first time while watching the new Muppets movie, I’m crying. Later in the film, Gary tells Walter: “You’re my hero.” Off I go again.
I’ve gone through a number of phases in the crying game. As a baby I just cried whenever I had my mouth open, so that doesn’t count. The small-boy-trip-and-fall cry is still traumatic to recall. It’s summer in town and I’m running along the pavement; only delighted with the new short pants and T-shirt from Dunnes which I’ve been allowed to wear home. Swanky as you like. Life is so good at that moment I decide to do a spot of scurrying. And then… FFHLUMP! I’m on the ground. Hands and knees are scuffed. There is a moment of silence as I process the shock and then the air-raid siren is released. WAAAAHHHHH!! [Pause for breath and repeat] Civilians are running for cover and the emergency services (parents) are called to the scene.
Often, the most frustrating aspect of this situation is the lack of blood; to have gone through all that pain and not see some evidence. When you’re a child and you fall and cut yourself, blood is the means- test that will allow you to access crucial emergency “Musha” and “Ah the Poor Boy” assistance as well as sweets. Without blood, you may be accused of whining. This pattern continues into adult life. You will notice the frustrated face of a Premiership footballer when they realise the gossamer-light touch they received on the head has not resulted in a gaping gash in their skull out of which their red lifeforce now pours. Contrast that with when they actually are bleeding. Suddenly they are stoic. “Throw the bandage on me and I’ll plough ahead. Get some of it on my shirt while you are at it.”
Small children also cry because they don’t have the language to adequately express the pain they are feeling. And by language, I mean bad language. Here’s an experiment which you should not try. Attempt to hammer a nail into something. Miss and hit the wrong nail, ie, the one attached to your finger. As the pain spreads, just say “Well flip it anyway!” Notice how the pain does not abate in any way. Now unleash a stream of guttural-sounding words with their origins in 1,200 year- old Germanic verbs describing bodily parts and their functions. Feel the analgesic spread through your body.
With this modern development, by and large, all of my emoting is just in response to being manipulated by filmmakers and, most cynically, all Irish sporting heroes.
These athletes know exactly what they’re doing: Sonia O’Sullivan’s ‘finishing kick’ on the last bend as she eases past the Kenyan, or even worse, the willowy frame of John Treacy toiling his way to an Olympic silver medal in the 1984 Olympic Marathon final, are designed to trigger the secretomotors. And for John Treacy, you don’t even need to play the Chariots Of Fire theme tune. Jimmy Magee’s commentary was all that was required: “The crowd stand to the Irishman. The little man with the big heart.” [Oh no I’m off again] There was something about John Treacy. The fact that he looked like the guy in the Mr Sheen ads, that he had the kind of haircut we all had in the 1980s; he made us think we could all be Olympians.
My other soppy secret is elections. I don’t mean seeing some parish- pumping medical-card procuring grand-man-like-his-father being hoisted aloft in a count centre by a group of his auctioneer/vintner colleagues. I’m talking about the first elections in a Third World country after the departure of a dictator. When the news reporter intones, “People have been queuing all night, just to exercise the right that has been denied them for years. The right to vote,” I’m blubbing. I reckon if I ever saw John Treacy queuing up to vote in a newly democratic African country, it would tip me over the edge completely.
This kind of carry-on just won’t do though. It’s a tough world out there and letting someone see your lachrymose side can leave you at a disadvantage. Enda Kenny made a crucial faux pas last year when he admitted to crying at the magic of Riverdance. That must have been a boon to his adversaries in the ECB. “Yes of course, Herr Kenny, we understand you require a reduction in the promissory notes but first can you look at the TV behind you, please.” As the sight of Michael Flatley bouncing proud and tall across the stage like a blond dolphin fills the screen, all thoughts of promissory note reductions are washed away in Enda’s tears. Some brief research reveals a number of methods for holding back the tears. Some are practical: deep breathing; thinking happy thoughts; raising your eyebrows very high. Others may not improve the image, such as grabbing a cuddly toy. Or just tough it out until the Muppets do something funny. Which is often. The film ends and my wife notices my glistening cheeks. “Were you crying?” she asks. “No, I just got some popcorn in my eye,” I protest. “Aww, you old softie,” she says kindly, and hands me some sweets.
Just like old times, without the blood.