Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Toasted Secrets

There was an article in yesterday's Times: April 2010, a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of the Weekly Crisis Meeting. In attendance are the Taoiseach, Minister for Finance, various Ministers and the German ambassador.

German Ambassador
What did we say again?

Attorney General
It was €20 billion Herr Ambassador. In return, you get west Cork, including fixtures, fittings and Bushe's Bar in Baltimore.
But, as requested, we have excluded the county hurling team.

German Ambassador (smiling)
Ah Bushe's. So many happy memories. Angela - sorry, Chancellor Merkle - is very fond of their toasted special sandwiches. I do hope that they will still be allowed sell them under German licensing laws . . .

Perfect moment yesterday evening, as the paper was passed down the bar, and discussion turned from the printed article to the secret of those special toasties...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fomenting rumours

At a recent piratey meeting, one of the actors had sorted a variety of shiny blades, and had borrowed an old gun from The Algiers pub. Well, everyone had fun playing with the new toys, but the frivolity continued after rehearsal.

The Algiers: quiet, except for a couple having a drink at the bar. Enter Actor: catches barman's eye. Couple watch as Actor sets gun down on bar.
"The job is done. No-one saw me."
Exit Actor, deadpan.

Like we don't cause enough trouble in this place...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Frocks & Frolics

Have just emerged from indulging in a lengthy tangent over at http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/; that'll teach me to follow innocent-looking links on facebook...

In college I acted in Caryl Churchill's Top Girls. The director asked each of us to bring in a photo of our mothers (there were seven of us I think), and used them for the play's poster; seven different variations. I remember we laid all the posters out, laughing as we tried to match mother to daughter. (One was super-easy: this Bond-style woman elegantly draped along the bonnet of a vintage porsche. I turned to the Bond-style elegant young woman beside me... "Yours, I presume?")

The photo I brought in was one of my favourites of Mom - her in London, in her mid-20s I guess. She's sitting at a bus-stop, flooded in sunshine, and she's wearing a neat little top and a full skirt that you know must swoosh as she sashays along the street. She's looking straight at the camera, head tilted, smiling. And the bus-stop poster behind her proclaims: Anything. Anywhere. Anytime.

It's just a great, sassy moment.

Anyhoo, my point is, after hours of reading Rilke poems this morning, this one - about clothing seeming 'right' - reminded me of that photograph.

Child In Red
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Sometimes she walks through the village in her
little red dress
all absorbed in restraining herself,
and yet, despite herself, she seems to move
according to the rhythm of her life to come.

She runs a bit, hesitates, stops,
half-turns around...
and, all while dreaming, shakes her head
for or against.

Then she dances a few steps
that she invents and forgets,
no doubt finding out that life
moves on too fast.

It's not so much that she steps out
of the small body enclosing her,
but that all she carries in herself
frolics and ferments.

It's this dress that she'll remember
later in a sweet surrender;
when her whole life is full of risks,
the little red dress will always seem right.


"...all she carries in herself frolics and ferments..." - what a line. Have a great weekend :-)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mixed News

Finally discovered that my belongings are in... Lisbon. Yes, after six months, they've made it to the mainland. And no further.

I remember the feeling when a bunch of money hadn't appeared in my bank in Madeira, and when I queried its continuing absence, a quite defensive Halifax person insisted: "We sent it exactly where you told us to. The Bank of Andalucia."

So, this is better.

And in other news:

Dial2Do: If you're not using this already, stop what you're doing and sign up.

Now that's how an article about Dial2Do should start!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Flights of Fancy

I've revisited Roberto Kusterle's strange and expressive images a few times of late; some are very beautiful, and some disturbing.

I kept coming back to this one - Wings of Dreams:

There was something about it - prosaic yet extraordinary - that reminded me of a poem, and I wandered through words about wings or dreams or flight or soaring. I finally figured it out: it's ‘Memorial de Isla Negra’; Pablo Neruda talking about beginning to write poetry:

...and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and I suddenly saw
the heavens
and open...

I love that idea of coming to words, bare and unaffected, and also the notion of 'forgotten wings' - I was recently struck by someone making the point that if you ask a group of four year olds "Who here can draw?" every hand shoots up with confidence; but by aged twelve, they've come to believe something entirely different about themselves.

And that's such a loss.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is Anybody Listening?

Once upon a time, schoolchildren in Pomona, California were reading The Great Gatsby and they got talking about the American Dream. And it turned out, they had a bunch to say on the subject. And out of their conversations, they made an 8-minute video - Is Anybody Listening? - which offered poignant, arresting perspectives of young adults facing drastic economic change.

Is Anybody Listening? began to resonate (news report on its spread here) and eventually made its way to their president, who responded "I am listening", and then visited the area and met the kids.

Great to see the aftermath of Obama's visit; the kids look so darned happy: "We can do anything. We can change everything!"


Monday, March 23, 2009

Feast of culture

What a great weekend! Did much wandering: sampled the many gastronomic delights of Borough Market, strolled along the Thames - where there were some fun sand constructions underway. The British Museum was in extra-colourful party mode, celebrating Norouz - Persian New Year. Face painting and puppet shows and fantastic music - wonderful atmosphere.

And then it was time for rugby. Irish bar: pints and hand-on-heart tension relieved only by shouting along with the hundreds of other folk being similarly tortured. [Best overheard comment: guys beside Sara, appraising women in the vicinity, "I hope Ireland wins. We'd be in with a better chance..."] And basking in Grand Slam glory, we headed to Chinatown, where Sara (as a one-time Shanghai resident) ordered dishes expertly, and patiently taught me how to thank someone in Mandarin.

At some point in the evening, I got all excited about checking out a local Latin mass (having recently been baffled by Catholics - filmed in Baltimore/Sherkin, produced by Barry Levinson and starring Martin Sheen, Michael Gambon, Cyril Cusack and (wait for it) Trevor Howard. Plotline: Sheen is dispatched by the Vatican to tackle rogue rebel monks who insist on saying mass in Latin. Who knew!) There's also a local Spanish mass, but that's at 8am; not quite practical under the circumstances...

Now, this is no run-of-the-mill mass: apart from being in Latin, it involves a cast of thousands, much swinging of censers, continuous singing; confessions are heard throughout and mantillas abound.

We were doing okay until I involuntarily flinched before being sprinkled with holy water, and, sigh, shame, sigh, got the giggles. Quite hopelessly helpless. I haven't rocked with silent laughter like that since me & my sister lost it during a funeral some years back.


Anyhoo, it was a great trip. And on my return, there was a scrumptious roast dinner cooking away. Fabulous!

Friday, March 20, 2009


Another sunshiney day: sampled the myriad delights of Covent Garden, with a variety of coffees along the way.

Now back in Balham: Sara's still working (from home, shhhh) so I'm curled up with a glass o'red & Lake Wobegon Days (I know I know, more in my line to be reading piratey stuff), listening to the latest Killers album. Pretty treaty all round. We've been planning possible Things To Do tomorrow - totally spoiled for choice, but there's a strong possibility that things of a Byzantine or Medieval nature will feature. Excellent.

Sara's little kitty keeps appearing with offerings of mice - we suspect as bribes to be let in. My first day here, I couldn't find the back door keys, and couldn't convince the cat to come around to the front of the house (instead she mewed, and hunted for offerings, and mewed). By the time Sara came back and saved the day, there were two and a half mice carcasses outside.

I guess kitty got a little peckish while she was waiting.

Speaking of which, there she is now, mewing at the back window. Better go before another mouse has to make the ultimate sacrifice...

Have a lovely weekend, folks :-)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

London Miscellany

I spent the morning sauntering through Westminster, then aimless shopping and on to the British Library (where of course I ego-centrically dipped into the bookstore to see if there were any publications with my name on them - a self-indulgent treat!). Camden Lock was its usual eclectic, lovely self. Weather turning colder now, and yaaaaaawwwwwn... I appear to have walked far and wide today.

Naptime I think.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

London Life

"I never thought it would hap-pen with me and the gi-irl from Clapham..."

So, I'm over in London visiting a friend for the week (note to self: see if Sara will guest blog). All excited to be here!

Wandered around a sunshiney Balham yesterday afternoon, noting the new and the old familiar places. Easily avoided the St Pat's Day rent-a-drinking-crowd (those tall furry green hats can be spotted a mile off). Enjoyed retracing steps, filled with memories of different times, of friends who used to live here, and have since moved up north, or to Dublin, Devon, Shanghai... they're a scattered lot these days.

Outstanding catch-up evening, involving superb mexican food & the most heavenly margaritas, which seemed to keep magically appearing.

I'm not entirely certain how many margaritas you could shake a stick at, but I'm pretty sure we left that number far far behind, until it disappeared completely into the horizon.

I know. She's a dreadful influence.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Weekend Round Up

Ah, what a social, sunshiney weekend. Caught up with family on their way out to the Sheep's Head (hi guys!!), a friend newly-returned from France, and fisher-folk and sailing-folk, as well as the normal weekend catch-up with friends. Phew. And visitors. And a very special birthday boy who turned five yes five. And Axl the Wonderdog.

So: coffee, pints, movies, some lovely walks, sunshiney pints (in addition to those other ones). Although today wasn't a bank holiday, it so felt like one: glorious sunshine, everyone sitting out in the square, sailing boats a'plenty (and Glenans are back in the water - a lovely sight); folk generally in great form.

As you may have guessed, my cold is receding; life returning to normal.

Piracy tonight: must off and learn some lines :-)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Worth another look

This afternoon I revisited an exhibition I had come across a couple of years back, which portrayed surreal and incredible interactions between humans & totemic animals: Ashes and Snow.

It's still on the go (opens in Brazil this year). To date, more than ten million people have visited Gregory Colbert's Ashes and Snow, making it the most popular exhibition by a living artist, ever.

And you can see why it captured the imagination of so many.

PS - yes, the English voice is Laurence Fishburne.

Have a great weekend :-)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

An early delivery


Snuffle snuffle, trudge out to answer the door.

And there stands a friend: arms filled with brownies, cookies, rum, and a box set of The Muppet Show. She hands them over, turns & heads on her way (knowing that I'm not a huge fan of conversing when I'm poorly).

1) Oh my goodness that is the sweetest thing ever...
2) Come back! For making hot rum: is it like hot port but rummy?
3) [by this time, closing the door, reassured that I can make hot rum, and oooh-ing over the goodies] Now how on earth is all this going to encourage me to get well???

I'm clearly scheming to have the longest cold in history.

Dum de dum... here's a gem from the very first episode:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cold delights

The nice thing about a completely stuffed-up head cold is that life comes in teeny-tiny doses: do a corner of the crosaire, make a little snack, curl up and doze for a bit, make some tea...

I caught up on The Onion as well, including this warning feature on office politics :-)

Study Finds Young People Remain Apathetic About Office Politics

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Noticing Absences

Ah, welcome back, local Leisure Centre. You were missed.

Okay, I guess technically speaking, it hadn't gone anywhere as such, but it did close for several weeks. Which felt like months and months and months.

Life without a sauna across the road; whimper whimper...

But it's back up and running; now in a pretty shade of pale blue, and with funky new lights in the steam room. And these days it's a community-run facility; by the people for the people.

So far so good...

Off to see Slumdog this evening. Last week, the cinema's popcorn machine was out of order. Shudder shudder. Trying not to worry too much, but...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Starlight on Sherkin

Made it back from Sherkin on Saturday night, before the weather picked up in earnest. Force 9 gales...

Great evening: fun ferry crossings, fantastic quiz, lovely pub, great craic. The raffle had the coolest prizes ever, including a beautiful lobster pot which frankly, I flat-out coveted. A rare enough thing for me, but there you have it.

But my favourite part of the evening was the walk from the pier to the Jolly Roger. Walking in darkness along the island road (without street lights), the moon strong enough to cast a shadow, and a universe of stars overhead. Perfect conditions for stargazing: Ursa minor, Canis minor, Orion - super-clear in all of his belted glory. I'm very slooooowly getting the hang of constellations: my current learn-to-recognise is Monocerus (who wouldn't want to discover unicorney things; seriously you could have the Unicorn Budget Approach and I'd probably take an interest...).

Anyhoo, gazing up at Monocerus on Sherkin, I thought of the Hubble's feature on one of its stars - monocerotis. It was a run-of-the-mill star until January 2002, when it suddenly flashed to 4000 times its normal brightness. And for a short time, it was the most brilliant star in the Milky Way. The flash faded, but as its light travelled through space, it highlighted the swirling layers of gas & dust that we normally don't see. They call it a light echo.

And where else was that light-echoey thought going to lead, but to Louis MacNeice's Star-gazer:

Forty-two years ago (to me if to no one else
The number is of some interest) it was a brilliant starry night
And the westward train was empty and had no corridors
So darting from side to side I could catch the unwonted sight
Of those intolerably bright
Holes, punched in the sky, which excited me partly because
Of their Latin names and partly because I had read in the textbooks
How very far off they were, it seemed their light
Had left them (some at least) long years before I was.

And this remembering now I mark that what
Light was leaving some of them at least then,
Forty-two years ago, will never arrive
In time for me to catch it, which light when
It does get here may find that there is not
Anyone left alive
To run from side to side in a late night train
Admiring it and adding noughts in vain.

So there I was, gazing up in the darkness, smiling at the beauty of the words '...adding noughts in vain'.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Late Friday

Super-quick post, while it's still Friday.

Deliberate day off from writing: coffee catch-up (with Super Baking Laydee - yes, there's killer millionaire shortbread for breakfast); then soft-drink catch-up (no edible treats there); the delightful Vicky Christina Barcelona; and end-of-day pints in a small selection of local establishments.

So, the big news this week (apart from the Minister of Education visiting Sherkin) has been a visit from a snowy white Arctic gull rarely seen in these parts. Purdy :-) It caught a lift for the last 16 miles or so of its epic journey with a fishing boat; just parked up and let them take him in to shore. His presence created quite a stir, with twitchers coming to town to catch sight of the little fellah. And in the pubs of an evening, there was brief imaginings of the bird becoming our very own Fungi-the-Dolphin-style tourist attraction. Brief.

It's gone now.

And in other news, my brother was a feature - yes, feature - on da RTE news last night. Very exciting to see him demonstrating the wonders of Dial2Do. (In shameless nepotistic promotion mode) Well done Sean - great interview!

So, the big event of the coming weekend is a table quiz in the Jolly Roger out on Sherkin tomorrow evening. Strange feeling, me double-checking ferry times, thinking, well my Plan B would be...

There's no Plan B. If Plan A doesn't work, I'm stuck on the island.

Have a great weekend :-)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Spring has sprung

Stunning day here. For the last couple of weeks, everyone has been taking advantage of sunshiney moments: sitting out in the square, watching the world wake up to Springtime, catching up with those emerging from hiberation...

Apparently the cold front is approaching again, so I thought a couple of reminders might be useful: life here on a glorious afternoon...

...or the dimming of the day...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

September Comes Early

Half the village is practicing pirate noises. Har-harrrrr!

So, remember about Baltimore being sacked in 1631 - the whole village nabbed by Algerian pirates and sold as slaves in North Africa? Well, there be a pirate play, complete with pirates; and we be doing a read-through this evening. [And I ask myself, why does pirate-ese sound so curiously Devonian...]

Of course, not everyone gets to play a pirate. Because in addition to nefarious swashbuckling nabbers, the tale needs nabbees as well...

Little sigh.

And somehow I'm reminded of the Pastaferian religion - doesn't being an adherent of Flying Spaghetti Monsterism mean that you get to dress up as a pirate once a year? [Invisible pause while I look that up...] Yes! 19 September: International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Most excellent!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

From Manatees to Mice

The 'restock candles' alarm is beeping - on my way out shortly. Precisely the kind of shopping I love :-)

First half of the day was blustery, rainy, dark, and quite suddenly turned sunshiney. I was walking along the seafront, pondering how strong the currents might be on a day like today, and I thought of those Weeki Wachi mermaids, who hang out in five mile-an-hour currents like it was no big thing. Which of course meant I should go and find that great manatee & mermaid picture...

None of which is related to today's writing, which is about a work meeting. Sigh. I feel like Bagpuss's mice-from-the-mouse-organ should be throwing ropes around the scene, chirping 'Heave. Heeeeeeave!'

Unless the meeting was interrupted by a death, or (yes Sean, you've guessed it) a vortex. Hmm, that might stir things up...

Monday, March 2, 2009

To sport with Amaryllis in the shade

For months now I've had an amaryllis growing steadily, coming into bloom. And on seeing it first thing in the morning, the line pops into my head "...to sport with Amaryllis in the shade..."

So I'm thinking: classical myth featuring a shepherdess who creates a purdy flower for the man she loves - I associate the whole Amaryllis-sporting thing with a love poem - maybe even a seduction poem. Something Keats might have come up with, or Marvell. So when my amaryllis burst into flower (with gorgeous shimmering petals; Amaryllis derives from the Greek for sparkling), off I went to check the reference, first reaching for the-physical-books-that-aren't-yet-here, then asking The Google.

It's Lycidas. It's crippled-by-the-death-of-a-friend, grieving and mourning, Lycidas. The next line might as well be "He was my North, my South, my East and West".

Of course, thinking about it, the myth of Amaryllis has heartache and longing - and a happy ending. So I returned to Lycidas, and read on, until the final, resounding conclusion:

At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue:
Tomorrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.

Phew. Nothing like the sparkley-ness of life seeming possible again