Friday, February 27, 2009

Great Teachers

There was a Primary School Head I worked with in Devon - fabulous woman, who once called a halt in the middle of Assembly, got everyone to their feet, and taught them how to tango. Apart from having great fun, the school excelled on all the government-ey tick lists that schools live and die by these days.

And in Assembly, when the kids weren't dancing or singing, they would be sitting listening: she had this way of commanding the entire hall, asking everyong if they had their 'listening ears' on - and she'd make this gesture, as though she was slipping on magic invisible ears (as opposed to, you know, ordinary invisible ears...) - and a zillion kids would imitate her, and listen carefully with their magic ears.

So I've been thinking about listening today. When someone's speaking - relating an experience, or telling a story - about what kind of commentary the internal monologue comes up with. I remember reading something by Thich Nhat Hanh years back: about how often, our version of listening is actually just a process of comparison. Someone says something and we line it up by our own opinions, and if it's a match we consider it to be 'true' and if it's different then clearly 'false'. And I read on, thinking his conclusion might be to be less judgemental or more accepting, but his point was this: if that's how we listen, then whether the statement is 'true' or 'false' is irrelevant; if that is how we listen, we learn nothing.

And a decade later, I'm still getting the hang of those listening ears.

Have a great weekend, folks :-)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stretchy Time

Ow. So, normally I write curled up on the sofa with laptop, a position free from ill-effects. Today - feeling all virtuous - I decide to sit at a desk, assume an ergodynamic (biodynamic? thermodynamic?) position. Maybe it's from sitting still for too many hours, but...


Off to launch myself into a class of Yoga for Twangs of the Back & Neck Variety... God bless yoga; any exercise that ends with a 'meditative period of relaxation' has my vote. That's right, I may appear to be napping, but actually, on a cellular level, I can feel the burn.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sunshiney things

Apparently the voyage of my belongings across the high seas is nearing an end... It's funny, the odd things you miss: a seascape, a dinky laundry basket, margarita glasses (sigh).

And of course, often I reach out to look up a quote in a book, and of course, it's not yet here. (God bless Project Gutenberg and a zillion other resources for their efforts in compiling e-texts; they've saved the day on myriad occasions.)

I was trying to remember a line from a poem - I think it's MacNeice - that I always associate with dappled sunlight, particularly those big medallions of gold in the leafy shade of a forest floor. Anyhoo, the line is something like 'Close your eyes, there are doubloons beneath your lids...' - which is just the feeling when you step through a sunlit forest, passing through darkness and light.

And that sparked off another image - of sunlight and sculptures underwater - from Jason de Caires Taylor. After meandering through his gallery, I watched a short film on his work, and slideshows of how the sculptures change over time - by the end I was thinking 'Why isn't art being installed all over the ocean floor?' - it just seemed such a fantastic environment and medium. Divers and snorkellers could have even more treaty things to discover in the depths...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Most Treaty Day

So, there I was, driving back from a delightful Book Club meeting, and a lovely series of cappuccinos with a friend (yes, the Fabulous Baking Lady - wedges of lemon drizzle cake AND marble layer cake seated beside me, looking all "Forget Granola, Eat Me For Breakfast...") and my mobile starts ringing like crazy...

News is out.

The Stinging Fly Prize 2008 has been announced. And it's, er... me.

Who is sitting here, thrilled and surprised-all-over-again and very happy to be surrounded by the sweetest congratulatory emails and calls and cards (I know! Some people are that quick off the mark).

So, it means I'll be spending a glorious fortnight in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at some point this year. Can't wait!

The judge's report for the Stinging Fly Prize can be read over here.

Thanks to everyone for the good wishes; you guys are the best. Just adorable...

Anyhoo, I should probably be getting back to the pressing business of being delighted. Busy busy...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Local opinions, for local people

The social scene this weekend was filled with colour...

A visiting sailing group got a smidge raucous (this was beyond broken glass, we're talking stealing heritage photos from one of the pubs). And suddenly I felt very local, disapproving along with everyone else about the troublemaking youth-of-today-type visitors (because when we've drunk too much, we remain charming, witty company. A sheer delight to be with. I'm just sure of it).

Anyhoo, that local feeling continued last night, when a friend of my brother's was staying over. Within seconds of entering the pub, curious parties drew close. And suddenly, there were gauntlets of local opinions to run. The guy was appraised, scrutinized, interrogated, challenged - "we're very protective of Orlaith here" - and while not formally overtly threatened, there were veils a'plenty.

Seriously, meeting my family would have been easier. Or you know, some feral Rottweilers...

Pretty funny, though :-)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday in Reverse

Seriously, this is all back to front.

So having spent - let me think... yes, the entire day socialising (and my sister must be wincing painfully at the mere thought), I am finally sitting down for my quiet time. A little reading, a little research, then writing.

So if everyone could keep the noise down to a reasonable level, that'd be great :-)

Have a fabulous weekend, folks.

[PS - quiz went well: we weren't exactly trailblazers but we didn't totally suck. Score!]

Thursday, February 19, 2009

D is for delightful / And try and keep your trousers on...

Today's been all about catching up on music: news of a guest spot by Elvis Costello (reverent pause) led me to Fall Out Boy; and I've been breaking in the latest from Interpol, Editors, Arcade Fire, Glasvegas and The Ting Tings. And of course, Arctic Monkeys, with their delightfully playful lyrics.

And in other news: there's a pub quiz on tonight - a perfect opportunity for me to discover what's been happening locally and globally. And a friend has just texted for me to come out and appreciate the phenomenal sunset - the sky is filled with pinks & lilacs... very purdy. Off I go :-)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hidden in plain sight

A tweet from Jonathan Carroll earlier led me over to

This kind of stuff always takes me by surprise. Page after page of secrets: surreal, funny, heart-warming, poignant, tragically sad.

There's something very voyeuristic about it, even though the secret-sharers have chosen to post. I don't know that I'd visit again, but it was a fascinating glimpse...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Elegant life

A little overcast; one of those mornings where the breakfast-time candles seems extra-glowy...

Anyhoo, I meant to blog this weeks ago, but it fits perfectly into a peaceful, serene morning such as this:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Weekend images

Ah, another lovely weekend.

Valentine's Day, I got all Benjamin Buttoned-Up - what an inspired adaptation. Sniffle sniffle. I'm resisting rereading the original story for the simple reason that F. Scott Fitz. always has me shaking up a batch of martinis within five pages, and my martini glasses - and cocktail shaker, sigh - are still on the high seas. But they approacheth...

Post-BB, the day was filled with kidlets (and a wicked chocolate & ras-a-bee cake with probably the best ganache I've ever tasted. Well done Tara!). Anyhoo, some photos were taken of me and Lily...

...which brought to mind another photo, with another niece, on her first day on the planet.

I know, I have just the one expression.

Of course, these days Molly is all grown up, being very nearly four...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Not just for Hallmark™

Well, Valentine's day approacheth. So for those in Dublin, this is the week to nip into Whitefriars Church and take a peek at the relics of St Valentine.

Okay, technically, you can't see his actual relics, but you can see a wooden casket with a little plaque reading: "This shrine contains the sacred body of Saint Valentinus the Martyr, together with a small vessel tinged with his blood." Mmm, a vial tinged with blood... romantic.

And it's also the time of year that I dig out some Chaucer. I just went to find an e-text of The Parlement of Fowles (my Riverside Chaucer is still sailing the high seas) and - lo and behold, in my scribbling on the novel this morning, I happened to quote its opening line:

"The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne..."

Kinda flukey, which I like.

Anyhoo, this time o'year is all about the Parlement because it's the earliest association of Valentine's Day as a day for lovers (usually dated to 1380s). True, Hallmark™ is not overtly mentioned in Chaucer, but his Valentine's Day is set in an enclosed classical garden, presided over by Nature. The trees are filled with every kind of bird, all waiting to choose their mates. A delay leads to a raucous debate on love, which - in classic Chaucerian fashion - is wrapped up neither neatly nor definitively, leaving the audience to continue the discussion.

Words engendering further thought... just as it should be!

And, thoughts of nature and love lead to... a mangrove swamp in New Caledonia, and one of Yann Arthus-Bertrand's signature images:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bizarre Bezoar

Life is all about bezoars this morning. They're calcified concretions (of the hairball variety) that develop inside ruminants. Highly-prized for their anti-poison action, they were harvested from deer, monkeys, hedgehogs, llamas, goats... in colours ranging from yellow to purple and sizes from teeny-tiny robin's eggs to whopping great oranges.

Bezoars were housed in elaborate cases, or set into chains (to be immersed in any vessel), or mounted at the base of 'poison-cups', a permanent protection against toxic drink. They were also set in rings, instead of gemstones: chew chew, sip, suck on jewellry, chew, sip... Yummy.

So if, like Captain Alonso de Contreras, your breakfast eggs were laced with arsenic, and the restorative fruit cordial adminstered was also poisoned, and then the next day when you thought you were able to face a little something - that too was poisoned (but your bodyguard dismissed your sufferings as the aftereffects of yesterday's poison, and ate your lunch, and died) - a bezoar stone was pretty essential.

And although the phrase 'caveat emptor' comes from a famous case in English common law about a fraudelent bezoar stone, bezoars do actually neutralise arsenic (thanks to the phosphate and sulphur compounds in their composition).

Goa stones - bezoars mixed with yet more treaty things - were a genius Jesuit spin-off industry in the late 17C. Forget gilding the lily. This is gilding the ginormous gakky hairball...

Moments of wonder

Pondering over two quotes this morning. At first they seemed quite disparate to me, but I'm starting to wonder...
Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.
-- Roald Dahl

If your cup is small, a little bit of salt will make the water salty. If your heart is small, then a little bit of pain can make you suffer. Your heart must be large.
--Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, February 9, 2009

What kind of muppetry is this

Driving conditions varied considerably over the weekend, but not so wildly as the responses to the driving conditions. Some took every chance they could; others went at the speed of a funeral procession; and one very special driver wambled along the M50, not having bothered to brush off the four inches of snow that blanketed the back window.

Now, maybe there was a perfectly logical explanation. Perhaps they were ferrying the snow for some 'Make a Wish' foundation gig; maybe the snow was protecting a photo-sensitive passenger - I want to believe that's true. Because the alternative...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Don't tell...

I'm just about to sneak up to Dublin, very quietly, to wish someone special a happy birthday...

If all goes well, I should arrive in time for breakfastey coffee. Perfect.

That lady rocks.

Friday, February 6, 2009

It's the edge of the world as we know it

A day of coffees and catch-up. And I'm also managing to get things marked off a To Do list. I mean, tasks other than: Have coffee. Chat at leisure - no particular rush...

And The Beacon at sunset was lovely, with an edge-of-the-world feel to it. Life doesn't get much prettier...

Have a great weekend, folks.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Faith No More

I had forgotten.

So, the disadvantage of me juicing - anything anywhere anytime - is that as I'm feeding stuff into the machine, my mind wanders to concepts of juicing. Because there are methods, systèmes to such things: and the basic dichotomy is between a masticating juicer - which squodges stuff up - and a centrifugal juicer, which is all about centrifugal motion.

Sigh. And at the appearance of those words, a song bursts in, a song: "it's a feeling like this... it's centrifugal motion... it's perpetual bliss..."

Now, I was never particularly fond of that song, but years of full-on attacks, like one of those face-huggers from Alien... infiltrating and fixing itself with an unwavering tenacity... well, put it this way - I am now at the stage where I would sooner listen to My Heart Will Go On.

And those peppy chirpy cloying lyrics burrow deep, as I shovel ginger and carrots into my little machine, whirring away, shredding, with its centrifugal motion...

Every time.

On a saner note, is by far the best fun for browsing videos - I love these guys! And here's an example I prepared earlier:

Off to listen to something loud and grungey now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


So, every year or two I do this 'pamper your liver' thing, involving weeks of fresh juices and trace minerals and yoga tailored to support both my liver and the space where my gall bladder once resided (sigh, you are missed, little gall bladder...)

The phase lasts 8 or 10 weeks, and tends to taper off because I just get tired of going through a buhzillion kilos of carrots (with ginger, beetroot - all kinds of treaty stuff) every week.

However, that ennui comes later; today, I'm at the enthused stage. So I bounce along aisles, loading up on all manner of salubrious fare, and wondering if there's such a thing as too many pumpkin seeds.

When I go to pay, there are huge queues everywhere, except over at the very far side of Field's. The teeny register that teeters at the edge of the Off Licence...

Resolute, I go over and wait in line. There's one woman ahead, trailing a big trolley behind her, so I scooch back behind the trolley. Which puts me smack beside the shelves of vodka.

And I avert my eyes for a moment, and another. And then the rationalisation forms:

Blackcurrants... they're rich in phytonutrients, antioxidants... a particularly fine source of Vitamin C and GLA.

I don't even need to mention the beneficial potassium levels. They had me from phytonutrient.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sand tales

For the first few seconds of this film I was kinda dismissive, thinking 'It's purdy, but we can all doodle...'

And then the Sand Whirler continued... and I was disabused of my notions, and happily so.

Monday, February 2, 2009

It's Candlemas Day. Again.

Ah, the feast of Candlemas; or - depending on your choice of weather seer - it's Groundhog Day.

If Candlemas Day be dry and fair
The half o' winter's to come and mair
If Candlemas Day be wet and foul
The half o' winter's gone at Yule

Now, although this year's Candlemas will be filed under 'Weather: wet and foul', Punxsutawney Phil insists there's another six weeks of winter yet to come. And frankly, he seems pretty authoritative...