A review of Dan Sheehan’s novel Restless Souls is in the Dublin Inquirer this week…click here
Talking airports on RTÉ Arena this week
Have a listen here or read on…
Before the beard and mortgage, and inexplicable mistrust of modern music, in much the same way as normal people, I too was a child. It being the eighties, a time of homemade Evil Kneival ramps and power gats, pastimes for most kids could pretty much be summed up as a series of creative attempts to mortally wound themselves. While most parents steered youngsters toward sport or artistic endeavours, my father liked to bring us on daytrips to Dublin Airport. There was no end of planes to be looked at, the odd seasonal decoration, even an assortment of massive foreign flags. It was indeed a much simpler time.
It’s true to say, there is more on offer for the modern airport wayfarer. Many airports have transformed public spaces into art installations or exhibitions. In Dublin, painted trees sprawl walls of departure areas, deer watching from the shadows, foliage framing the words of Irish writers. W.B. Yeats, Katherine Tynan, James Joyce. But Dublin isn’t alone. Heathrow is home to a three dimensional neon taxi and has its own permanent art gallery, while Philadelphia airport houses volcanic landscapes. In Sacramento, a flock of cranes escape the baggage area. There are swarming ants in Atlanta and a giant weathervane-esque contraption in Helsinki. Amsterdam accommodates a rotating glass pavilion, displaying work from famous Dutch painters.
Airports have transformed massively over the years. Without doubt, the majority of the change in Dublin has been witnessed from the mounds that span a good half-mile beyond the fencing on the southern end of the runway. This is the home of the Airplane Spotter, gathered in bunches, watching the rhythm of the traffic, imagining themselves at the helm of each craft. But surely the sport is more than tracking flight numbers. I imagine these Spotters read ambition in the progress of engines, beauty in the sleek design. They must taste endless possibility in each take-off, a sense of assurance in each successful landing, Or perhaps, like, Ted Kooser and his piece Flying at Night, it is poetry they seek in the idea of flight…
Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.
by Ted Kooser
Published in “Flying at Night”
…recently read Emma Quigley’s book ‘Bank’ and my review is in the @DublinInquirer this week if ye fancy a read….
…my latest piece is about imagination.
Have a listen to it on Arena here or read on…
I used to read dinosaur books as a kid. Everything about them screamed big. The oversized hardback covers and colourful illustrations. The lengthy prehistoric periods. Even their complicated names warranted the shouty ‘all-caps’ font.
GIGANTOSAURUS. TITANASAURUS. DOUBLE-MOCHA-GRANDE-SAURUS!
When it came to highlighting their magnitude, one thing that struck me was how these giant reptiles were always compared to the African elephant. In general, I’d never encountered that many elephants. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure the elephants I’d met were actually African. A person might believe it would make more sense to measure against commonplace objects, things that a child of the 80s could easily relate to. BMX bikes or space-hoppers, the fact that the Tyrannosaurus Rex weighed five-and-half-thousand Nintendo 64s. Or was as long as one-hundred-and-twenty Caramello bars. But the great thing about imagination is the ability to fill in the blanks. This skill of picturing objects or situations never experienced is a key element to creativity and something that’s widely considered to be a rarity in the animal kingdom.
Although limited in other species, we humans certainly know how to take it to the next level. Think entrepreneurship, advances in technology, the evolution of the gadget and the scope of stories in all their forms. For me it’s truly captured in our ability to build concrete worlds out of imagined foundations. Take the simplicity of something like the air guitar. There was a time when it was confined to the privacy of one’s own home, something the old man did after one too many glasses of stout. These days, not only is it common to see someone pretend to play a guitar on a night out, it’s even led to an annual air-guitar championship, where people converge from all over the world to showcase their skill at strumming the breeze.
The idea of pretending is something I see all the time with my own kids. The mundane transforms to a setting. Household objects become characters. I’ve been roped into countless worlds but in truth, it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was running around the park as a child myself. We were soldiers. Explorers. Cowboys. There was never a character of office worker or IT consultant. You wouldn’t catch any of the lads acting out the part of lab technician in a supervisory capacity. And perhaps it is the destiny of most to end up in the shallower end of the imagination pool. But sometimes, when I meet an old friend from school and we talk about our jobs and the economy, house-prices and bin charges, all the boring things that grown-ups are expected to talk about, I can’t help but shake the feeling that for some of us, the pretending never really went away.
I’ve a piece in the Dublin Inquirer this week and it’s all about ‘A History of Working Class Writing’. Click here if ye fancy a bit of a read…
Bit of a library theme infiltrating the old blog these days…the next one also mentions the humble bookmark. Click here to listen to it on RTÉ’s Arena show or read on…
There’s something of the old and the new when it comes to libraries. The blending of modern tools for hunting information with an age-old medium, advice on how to manage citations fused with doomsday-type warnings against online encyclopaedias. The staff are skilled at the silent walk and the unassuming observation, that ability to differentiate fine-dodger from genuine mistake, studious from chancer, the few students who think that wandering the carpeted floors constitutes as actual study time.
They have also gained a healthy knowledge of the substitute bookmark. Receipts are a fairly common one, pencils or takeaway leaflets, shopping lists with the usual student staples of pizza and beer, sometimes spaghetti, spelt with too many ‘g’s and not enough ‘t’s. Recently, I came across a photograph used as a marker, a graduation, academic gowns and shiny new shoes. Judging by the hairstyles it might have been a souvenir from the mid-to-late nineties or perhaps it was just taken on a very blustery day. The find made me consider how the reading of a book can coincide with so many different occasions in life and how these moments can often influence the way a person reacts to the subject matter. It’s as if a writer produces one single book, but after it’s unleashed, it has the opportunity to become so much more.
Imagine what it would be like to have something similar to a bookmark in a life, a particular moment in time a person can return to when things start to go a bit off-kilter. Think of those ‘choose-your-own-ending books’ read as a kid, where multiple-choice options dictate the path the story is going to take. Then again, maybe this would only work to highlight how similar one day is to the next, how most of them begin in the kitchen, puffy eyes and soggy cereal, making a decision that will have little to no impact on the direction your life is going to take. Relating to lunch, perhaps. The homemade or shop-bought sandwich conundrum.
I suppose there’s a case in stating that most of us are bookmarked already, restricted by financial constraints, held in place by limitations imposed by traditions or law, or inequality. Or perhaps, for some this could be the era in which too many prominent figures seem to have a complete disregard for the humble things in life, such as the bookmark. Leaders who own volumes with nice covers but weakened spines. Characters who go over the same pages with little intention of ever finding the right path or moving onto the new. Or even worse, the bend-the-corner sort, that type of person who would fold the world in half, rather than spend a moment seeking out a much simpler solution.
The latest essay on the RTÉ is about allergies and…(cue thunder and sinister music) THE DANGERS OF LIBRARIES!
Click here or read on…
It’s the time of year that we hay-fever sufferers tend to prefer. And for a brief time I did believe the sniffles were behind me, the red eyes and the congestion, that old familiar leaky-pipe kind of expression. But a recent project in work involved relocating thousands of books, most of them untouched in years. While everybody was swanning around the library with dirty hands and rolled up sleeves, I was wheezing from one bay to the next with a dust mask stuck to my mush. It slowly began to dawn on me that I might be one of those rare writers who are actually allergic to books.
I know there are some who laugh at the idea of a library being a hazardous place to work. But, are they really as safe as people might think? Of course there are the usual battles for seats around exam times to contend with. The murderous glances when the subject of a late fine pops up. Or even the time some old guy nearly throttled me for hitting the spacebar on my laptop too hard. But everyone should also be aware to the fact that paper is a combustible material and despite advances in modern technology, most library buildings are still crammed full of that stuff.
Another thing that doesn’t go unnoticed is how the library is always one of the first places to be hit when a regime decides to inflict some kind of culture shift on a nation. The Nazis were no stranger to this, destroying libraries in Germany, Serbia and Poland. While the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia destroyed 80% of the National library holdings. Nowadays, that very same library has recovered to hold over 100,000 works, including a special collection of palm manuscripts. These are strips of leaf etched in ornate calligraphy on folk tales or religious themes. And their survival is one which always makes me think of healthy green shoots, sprouting from vast fields of rubble.
Over the years there have been cases of libraries destroyed by flood or bomb, tales of collapsing shelves and falling books. But the biggest hazard is by far the smallest. Living in the mould that lurks between the pages of neglected volumes are multiple strains of bacteria, many of which can cause serious respiratory diseases. In the early nineties, a public library in New Mexico was forced to close down because of an unusual fungus outbreak in the reference section. In true ‘Day of the Triffids’ fashion, the fungus promptly spread to old history books before moving onto literary fiction. For all we know, it could be feeding on an George Eliot novel as we speak… So, for those who laugh in the face of library peril and the common allergy, this might be something worth thinking about when licking a finger to turn to the next page.
Last week, the 2017 East Wall History Festival began with a tribute to my uncle Tommy who sadly passed away in June of this year. As well as being a key figure in local drama and the East Wall community, Tommy had been involved in the History Group since it first formed. The evening involved performances from members of the P.E.G. Drama & Variety Group, Tommy’s grand-daughters Sophie and Ella , his son Anto and Peter Sheridan.
Tommy has been an inspiration and support to so many people over the years, including myself. This event gave me the chance to share my experience of delivering coal with Tommy when I was a younger man, and also to think about those days of ‘handballing’ cement and plaster to building sites with my own father, who also passed away earlier this year…
‘Got to keep those arms straight,’ he says.
‘Carry the weight along the shoulders,’ he means.
Because this route is all about the coal.
Summerhill and Donnycarney. Phoenix Park to Ballybough.
And isn’t most of the trail made up of flats. Those flights of uneven steps.
The pinging of footballs and the dogs baring teeth.
Jesus. That pressure in your elbows. The feel of it slipping away.
You‘ll be begging them to tell you where they want it dropped.
Don’t forget the narrow dark lanes and stubborn gates, bunkers and boxes and sheds. There’s a man in Fairview with a room full of porcelain owls. A girl in Arbour Hill who keeps handkerchief to mouth until you’ve left a bag of the smokeless. One woman on Constitution Hill has a floor covered in newspaper, shares her place with twenty cats. The reek of animal and piss and loneliness.
‘You met Bridget, did ye?’ He says.
‘The heart goes out to her,’ is what he means.
Back in the truck with the smoke and the dust and the Dempsey on the radio. And it’s difficult to shake the idea of her being in that flat at night, the felines crying like infants, scratching and tapping about the room.
Does it affect you? These people. This place? This route and this job.
Because it’s the same with your brother, isn’t it?
He does the cement, the lime and board. To building site and renovated home. Barren rooms and crusty floors and black webs that connect wall to wall and tie lampshades in knots.
‘I’m good at what I do,’ he says.
‘I do it for the family,’ he means.
This route is battered Dublin. Things free themselves from the lorry bed. Scrap of rope or loose Juncker, mostly it’s an empty sack. You might spot them in the grip of a tree or travelling through the air. To be caught on the rusting fang of an empty shed. To whip and thrash against the windscreen of a second-hand car on the airport road. To the coast where waves storm the rocks and the wind carries the taste of salt. Where you once drove a mini, too heavy with people to climb a steep hill.
To the factory and the outlet. Always rolling or moving. Conveyor belt. Wheel nut. Spinning tyre. The bar and the banter, the queue three person deep.
‘You can tell a lot about a man from standing next to him,’ he says.
‘Personality has substance,’ he means.
It’s not always about how they speak or what they plan to do. It’s as much about what they have done before.
You’ll find that in the Sunday scoresheets or in the names on a local plaque.
It is in the people, the traders of stories.
The jokes and the sayings.
Don’t give a monkeys, he says.
Go on ye head-a-ball, he means.
It’s in the script in the drawer or the recipe for baking scones.
It’s in the shoebox on top of the wardrobe , the one with ill-fitting lid. In the photographs it contains. In the bundle of ticket stubs or football programmes. In the birthday card at the bottom. The words inside are large and unsteady. A child’s writing.
‘To Granda’ it reads.
‘Love always’, is what it says.
This one be about piracy me land-lubbing friends…
There’s a nervous man driving from one housing estate to the next. He’s inviting adults and young people into his dilapidated van to show off movies. No, it’s not the opening sequence to an uncomfortable CSI episode. It’s the 1980s. And this is the video man, peddler of knock-off feature films, the majority of which will contain either blurred subtitles or Chuck Norris. Ever wonder how Teenwolf or the Goonies would look with a Crazy Prices bag covering your telly; get a film from the video man and you’ll have a fair idea what it’s like.
‘Isn’t that piracy?’ You might ask.
Aaarrr, it is. And there be plenty of talk about copyright infringement these days, but it’s nothing new. Piracy has been around since…well… pirates. Hardy adventurers traversing the seven seas in their vessels, cutlasses and eyepatches, burning CDs and selling them on to their mates.
The major problem these days is the speed at which contraband can be produced and shared. It has led to changes in how movies and music are released, and spawned countless websites, most of which make hefty profits from the sale of advertising space. In the academic world, it is one of the factors for increased electronic book prices, a cost transferred to the individuals and institutions playing by the rules.
Excuses are made, some claiming they would never have watched a particular movie if it wasn’t for free, others stating they are making a stand against big corporations. A predominate one seems to be that piracy is a good thing for an artist, that it amounts to publicity and increased ‘genuine’ sales of their material. Even if this is the case, surely it’s up to the artist whether they want to give their work away for free. Otherwise it’s a case of taking, without asking, which is commonly called ‘stealing’ and is pretty frowned upon in most societies.
It’s difficult to estimate exactly how much revenue is lost through piracy but the Motion Picture Association believe that over one million people in Ireland may be involved in illegally watching films online. But it’s not just about the loss in revenue. It’s about ownership and respecting the work of others, no matter what that work is.
With so much information coming at us these days, often in bold headline tabloid-esque format, creative ventures can offer time to pause and reflect. If anything, they are a tool to remind of the things that are good about us as a people. If a society doesn’t value creativity, it puts forward the question; will people still want to create?
Ah the old rejection. Whatever way you come at it, it’s a bit of a git, isn’t it? But here’s a piece on the RTÉ that might make budding writers feel a teeny bit better …
click here to listen or read on to…emm…read on…
Some take on the role of clairvoyant when it comes to the young. A career in science might await the curious, arboriculture for the tree-climbers. The lad munching on dandelions and crane-flies might even turn out to be a gourmet chef. When I was a kid, I had this sky blue schoolbag with an image of a bird on the front. It might have passed under the radar in junior infants but I was nine at the time and putting some serious thought into whether I should take on a persona of cool loner type or popular wild man. Neither of which required a bag with a cartoon canary on the front.
A simple plan was put into action, a sharp implement found and the strap severed. I assumed this mischief would be put down to normal wear and tear but on getting home from school that day, my father quickly informed me that he ‘wasn’t ‘made of schoolbags’ and the strap was repaired with electrical insulation tape. The plan was tried the following day and a number of times after, to the point that the strap was covered in so much tape it was completely inflexible and could pretty much stand up all by itself. Right there and then I should have realised I was a born to be a writer. Because it takes a certain type of person to willingly commit themselves to a failed ritual in the hope of somehow receiving a different result. And rejection is one thing that goes hand in hand with the arts.
But, unlike my bag vandalism, rejection doesn’t necessarily mean the work is bad. Post Harry Potter, JK Rowling received a number of refusals when submitting under a pseudonym, one of which even recommended she take a writing course. She went as far as sharing her rejection letters on Twitter to inspire budding writers. While George Orwell claimed that public opinion can often dictate a publisher’s agenda, as well as fear of political repercussions.
For some, the job a writer might conjure up images of quiet readings and sedate book launches. For others, it could be a darker one of grammar police and font snobs, those anonymous online reviewers who rate books according to their opinion of an author’s haircut in their bio photo. For me, when I think about what it means to be a writer, I sometimes see this image of a fly, tired and disorientated, butting against a windowpane time and time again. Rejection, in any area of your life, forces you to re-examine your stance. It can either reaffirm belief in direction or unearth mistakes. Or at the very least, to misquote Mr Beckett, it might even lead to a ‘better fail’ on the next try.