Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TO 'EXPRESS' OR 'IMPRESS' - IS THAT THE QUESTION

My Front Door
Always wanted the house to look as if it landed in the middle of a wood!

Crikey, this is ridiculous. First of all I published the title of this blog before I'd even written it... so there's was no going back. Then I subsequently managed to delete two and a half hours of writing, when I proceeded to save it as an almost finished draft. All of this takes for e...v...e...r (yawn, yawn) with no broadband as, apparently, I live in the arsehole of Ireland's technological landscape. Anyway, certainly didn't expect to be writing another blog so soon, particularly after the long one on Sunday last. Mind you even though I'm English, I could talk for Ireland as 'they' say. I went on a bit like a spoilt child in the last blog...tiredness...selfishness?! Don't really like to admit I'm tired. If I say I'm tired, then I'm fairly, fairly knackered! Come to think of it, don't really like to admit that I'm being selfish, either...I suppose...well maybe... eventually!

Anyway, today is another day... and while I was having breakfast this morning, looking out at a garden that looked like something from Lord of the Rings 2... changing shape and direction because of blustering winds and whipping rain, my imagination drifted from a horticultural bent to one of a socio-political nature. Now the garden didn't set out to 'impress' me...it just did, as it 'expressed' itself this morning with a little help from extraneous elements.

I had already been thinking of the way our egos get in the way of self-expression, particularly during performance, and the mental and physical exercises that I use when working as a director to try to stop negative planes of thought landing e.g. :' I'm going to make an arsehole of myself doing that!', 'I can't do that!', 'I'll probably get it wrong!', 'I will look like a fat f....r in that costume, or 'I'll look like shit if I have to pull my face like that!'...the list is endless. As much as we hate to admit, most of us feel the need to 'impress', and that desire/need can almost certainly hamper the flow of creativity. Instead of getting lost in 'expression', that journey is interrupted with self-doubting questions about the quality of the 'impression' being made. Back to my garden...

The yellowing piles of redundant leaves reminded me of the unemployed in this country (40% of architects out of work...to name just one sector!) Surely the main aim of this useless, clueless government should be to come up with an innovative employment policy. As the leaves should be harvested as mulch for next year's growth, so should the brainpower of this generation for the benefit of the next.

The dirty-grey perspexed sky blocked out the Galtees...mountains of wisdom...nowhere to be seen. How many times do you switch on the television to an almost empty Dail or Seanad chamber. For every beautiful song, epic poem, or indeed, a life-changing piece of legislation, there are a hundred drafts pushed aside or binned. You can be as wise or as creative as be damned...magic doesn't just happen...it has to be considered and re-considered and worked at. Slog, lads, sheer slog, with a sprinkling of wisdom, if you wouldn't mind.

My beloved honeysuckle transformed into the snaking head of Medusa, reminded of the banking and financial institutions...'I'll get you any which way but loose!' (NAMA!... yeah right!)

The smug, evergreen cotoneaster, which is just about to burst into berried glory, as everything else in the garden is dying or taking a break, reminded me of the Drumms of this country, the discredited heads of FAS and Allied Irish Banks, Anglo-Irish Banks and more, who have been given bonuses for poor work and fat pay-offs for being caught with their hands in the till. They make me sick! This greedy government, who has allowed this 'I'm alright Jack' attitude to pervade this nation, should be lined up and frogmarched toward the nearest dole queue. For the life of me, I still find it difficult to believe that Fianna Fail managed to capture 24% of the poll during the last local and European elections. What does that say about us?

A towering buddleia, like the arms of distracted Irish fans arms waving for justice at Thierry Henry's open display of bad sportsmanship last Wednesday, reminds me that it needs taking care of. I am old enough to remember the thrill of Italia '90 and the promise of World Cup '94. It was electrifying...American visitors didn't know what was happening...all the shops were closed on the Main Street in Tipperary, while everyone, was in the pub, watching David O'Leary score the penalty in the Ireland v Roumania game, which took Ireland into the quarter-finals. When John Delaney, head of the FAI was asked, recently, would they, the FAI, grant a replay to France, if the boot were on the other foot, he said, only half- honestly in my opinion, that he didn't know. I think he actually meant 'NO'. Had Ireland got through the play-offs and Trap's army found themselves marching towards South Africa, the FAI would have stood to profit by 10 to 15 million euros. The same goes for France. Think of how much could be done for provincial clubs etc. with that kind of clobber! Sorry its time for FIFA to join the 21st Century and take care of this problem, by introducing the same technological evidencing systems that are very much present in other major sporting competitions.




The blue table and chairs...empty...but shifting...there is enough to go around if only we cared enough. The unlit pot-belly stove hints of hope, whilst the usually humming bamboo, was busily chattering warnings like a half-crazed soothsayer. Polyanthus peeping out to say 'Perhaps I should come back later!' Even the ivy was struggling to remain steadfast in its trust.

The only things in the garden that seemed to be taking all of this stormy weather in their stride were the birds. It was business as usual for them! Middle-class white-collar workers? Their message... In the midst of the heaving, seething confusion and mayhem of the present, perhaps its not necessary to destroy the old to start anew, but instead an urgent need for radical pruning and re-assessment of old burnt-out systems.
Finally I looked over at the trumpet and cornet, that hang stoicly from the contorted willow. (You can just about see them!) That tree suffered a stroke a few years ago, when I moved it from the front garden into the back. Seriously, one whole side of the tree died for a while, then with very little TLC made a miraculous recovery. I hung the musical brass there for the craic and because we're a musical family, and its no harm to remember, that even when the going gets tough, it helps to have a sense of humour.


Well I certainly never expected to be going on a political rant today, but that's the way my garden 'expressed' itself to me this morning. I have to say, I was much 'impressed.' Am I off crusading again...probably! Photos taken few weeks ago of fairly 'inanimate' autumnal garden, not yet chilled by the winter of discontent.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

FRIENDSHIP, HEROES AND CRANES


I love dolphins and one of the things I want to do before I die, is swim with them, play with them, laugh with them. Now, yes I could go find Fungi in West Cork, but the water is so cold, I would have to don a wetsuit, wouldn't be able to feel him though, skin on skin. I was flying somewhere some time back, and read an article about a chap who followed the dolphins around the world. I was so envious of him (Not good to be envious, I know!) One day that will be me! I hate seeing them captured in pools trained to jump through hoops and perform dreadful banal tricks. A couple of years ago, I stood on the left hand side of the burren, Co. Clare with family and friends in lashing, unforgiving winds, waves crashing against craggy coastline, drenched but exhilarated. One of us spotted a school (think that's for whales, but you know what I mean), heading southwards towards Kerry. We were all hopping around, shouts of 'where...where?'. Our Dublin slicker friend, Christopher, however, bemoaned the fact that he had missed them. Suddenly, as if they sensed his disappointment, the dolphins re-appearing from the depths, were now heading northwards towards Galway. We were ecstatic and the childish left-out pout melted from Chris's face. Oh to be a dolphin, with it's sense of fun and laughter!


Friendship has been much on my mind lately. Perhaps this has something to do with my age... another season of my life beginning and/or my closest friend's brush with cancer. Diane and I grew up together. She was the dancer and I was the singer/director. We wrote songs together, put on shows in her garden. She had the bigger garden, because of the curve at the bottom of the avenue. We charged a nominal fee at the gate, which would keep us going in Mars Bars and Crunchies for at least a week. We included a fairly nifty version of 'She's Wears Red Feathers and a Hurly-hurly Skirt' and Diane's sister, Avril performed a burlesque striptease (down to a red swimsuit) from behind a screen, which brought tumultous applause from the pre-adolescent boys. At the age of 12, Diane, myself and Janet Bickerton (who now lives in New Zealand and met up with her in June after almost 35 years) got jobs as paper-girls. We had to be up at 5.30am and into the newagents by 6. Now I was fairly good at getting up, Janet wasn't bad, but Diane was an absolute disaster! We would meet up in the middle of the avenue, straddling our bikes and head off together in the early morning darkness. However, if by chance one of us overslept, we had a back-up wake-up plan. Naturally, we didn't want to draw the wrath of the entire household upon us by knocking on the front or back door, so we decided we should stand under the offender's window and whistle the big hit of the 60's, a piece by Whistling Jack Smith. That worked for Janet and myself, but Diane was a different story. Another back-up plan had to be introduced. Stones! There we were in the darkness, looking for stones that wouldn't smash the glass, but that were substantial enough to penetrate Dianes' dreams. Sometimes, mid-aim Diane's sister Avril's angry, remonstrating, curled head would appear at the window. Avril was four years older than us and we were afraid of her. About half a minute later, Diane would appear, biked, under the street lamp amidst the four leaf clovers. (I found about a hundred there one day!)!

Diane knows everything about me...good, bad and indifferent...and loves me, as I do her. In April of this year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer following a routine breast scan. Diane is a beautiful, voluptuous and beguiling woman... to me, feminity personified. She always had such great breasts and never hid them behind stooped shoulders or sloppy sweaters. (My mother had ample breasts and as a child growing up, I remember her cutting out a dress-pattern in a half-cupped bra and feeling disgusted as one of her boobs nearly popped out in front of me. I said a prayer at that moment, that mine would never look like that. Well my prayers were rightly answered! Rising from a salt bath, following the birth of my first daughter, I stood in front of the mirror in St. Munchins maternity hospital, Limerick, and on the fourth day, my breasts were filling with milk to feed my daughter, and they looked amazing. My tummy had flattened...and suddenly there were these breasts that didn't belong to me... Jesus, I was like Raquel Welch! ) Anyway, back to the main road. Diane, while delighting in her feminism, her stilettos, and her salsa dancing, is a very spiritual person, who is not afraid of dying. She accepted her masectomy and breast re-construction with optimistic grace and great courage. However, the re-construction job was an absolute fiasco! She lives in North Wales, just outside Chester, and when I visited her recently, she showed me what had been done to her, and what I saw, resembled nothing remotely like a breast. The image of a cornish pasty...scallop-edged sprung to mind... more in line with her shoulder than her other breast. Not only that, she had been in terrific pain from an infection in one of the draining tubes that had been inserted, which was finally removed a couple of weeks ago. Now, Diane fully accepts that mistakes can happen and that 'her young skin for her age' healing quicker than was thought, might have played a part in it, but it was the fact that she was made to feel vain and should have just been delighted to be alive, that upset her the most. Of course, she was delighted that the cancer hadn't spread into her lymph glands, and therefore didn't require chemo or radium, but she is still a WOMAN at the end of all that... having her breast removed was one thing, but having to look at her mutilated body in the mirror was another! Her surgeon, who is female, by the way, told her not to look in the mirror, if it bothered her so much. Can you believe that! She is now facing into another 6 hour operation on Dec. 1st, where skin is being taken from around her shoulder blades to reconstruct a new breast. (Apparently, this would have been the better option in the first place!) A nipple will be tattoed on in 12 months or so and the other breast will be lifted to match. I'm flying over to help take care of her for a few days when she comes out of hospital. I just want to see my dearest friend up and salsa-dancing again!


I started writing this blog a few days ago, while HMS PINAFORE was still sailing. The vessel ended her voyage last night to a standing ovation. The curtain came down on what seems to have been an extremely well-received production. Now I am a bit of a perfectionist (perhaps there's some Virgo mixed in there with the stubborn Taurean parts of me), but the fact that the films, that I had gone to great lengths to create as part of the production design, only worked properly on one night, freaked me out completely. From a performance point of view, the show was more than ready to open on Tuesday night, but the technical support network was almost non-existent. That it worked the night the critic was there, is of no consolation to me whatsover. Professionalism springs from attitude as far as I am concerned and there were absolutely no excuses for this cock-up! However, this was an important learning curve for me. Although I like to do the encouraging, inspiring thing rather than the dictatorial director thing with the cast, I now realize I have to 'toughen up' in some areas and 'demand' rather than 'request' cetain things, particularly those things that I believe will enhance and refresh. Many of the cast knew me as a fellow performer, or stage hand, or 'whatever it takes to get the show on the road person', but none of them had worked with me as a director.

That was a challenge, about which I had reservations at first. In the end, I thought, I've just got to be me and plan meticulously. There were hiccups along the way...people in college, sick, away for mid-term break etc., but the support and dedication I received from the cast was hugely gratifying. Of course, one has to consider the paying audience and levels of excellence, but judging by the comments from the cast, last night in the pub, it was also a thoroughly enjoyable experience for them. It would appear, that I may be asked to direct their main show, next April, which is marvellous, but I will be digging my heels in about the availability of technical support. I was extremely proud of the production inspite of the dodgy filming, but after two nights a sadness...an emptiness crept in. It was gone, my baby was gone! It's not like a piece of poetry, or a painting...it's gone unless it's committed to film, and even then its 'liveness' cannot be captured!


Whilst I love directing and I have four shows coming up on Dec. 17th with my youngsters in Cappawhite, it's somehow not enough! My daughter Kate, gives out to me about not being satisfied. It's not that simple. I am extremely grateful for being paid for something I like doing, but I would just love to get of the conveyor belt for a while, move to a tiny cottage somewhere by the ocean and create something totally new...I think! My thoughts wander back to the work I did last summer with disabled and older people. I was being totally creative and uninhibited with them...it was wonderful!




Annie and Margaret having fun!


The last few months, since I graduated from UCC have been difficult, because I had a structured timetable there for three years. Now its like I've been set free and I just don't know where to start first, because there's so much I want to do! I treated myelf to a new camera, a new easel, a sewing machine...I just want to MAKE! There aren't enough hours in the day... I forget to eat...don't want to waste time sleeping!



My Turkish Floor Painting

Talking about sleeping and my dislike of total darkness, I think I had a mid-week revelation. My mum had two cot-death babies before me, Maurice (2 yrs older than me) and Penelope (1 yr older than me.) Apparently, one night my mother tried to wake me up for night-time feed and I couldn't be stirred. The doctor was called and neighbours rushed to help. The doctor reassured my mum that she could rest easy... I was just a very placid, contented baby. However, I'm fairly sure that in her distress and anxiety of having lost two babies already, and mindful of how I felt about my own two weens, she probably spent a lot of time prodding me, stirring me from deep slumbers, just to check that I was still alive. My mum worked nights at Christmas in the post office sorting the extra christmas mail to provide the little extras for us, and I can still remember, that for some reason, I hated her falling asleep in the chair! Sadly I can't ask her, because she died seven years ago.




I am still reading 'The Odyssey', and I'm totally captivated. I can't believe that I am only getting to this stuff now! But thank God! Whilst reading a chapter during the week, I was reminded of a young male friend of mine, who had nervous breakdown recently. At 21 years of age, he felt, that somehow sharing tears with me, was not being a 'man'...a 'hero'. It has played on my mind since and I have wondered where those expectations come from. It dawned on me, that perhaps all young men should read this classic of Homer. Odysseus, hero of heroes, who slaughtered Polyphemus, outwitted Circe, etc. etc. sheds tears on many occasions throughout this magnificent tale. Not for one moment did I, as the reader, think any the less of him as a hero. It made him more believeable...an even greater hero, because he wasn't afraid to show his vulnerability! Now to Cranes...



I have had a fascination with cranes for quite some time. In second year at UCC I stayed in the most abysmal bedsit in the whole of Cork, I think... the antithesis of first year, which saw me staying in an upmarket apartment in Rochestown. However, inspite of its crumbiness, the space in that bedsit felt like 'home' , was almost next door to college, and I met my wonderful friend, Catriona from Galway, who was living in the bedsit beneath me. Sadly we only got to speak to each other towards the end of that year, but we got on so well! Catriona was in 3rd year doing Italian and music and went on to get a first in her BA, but was hoping to go on to do an MA in Italian and we said that we could perhaps share an apartment the following year. However, I thought that during the summer she might have second thoughts about staying with an old fogey like myself, but sure enough, come September, I got a text from her about us heading off flathunting! We found an amazing apartment on North Quay. It was, without question, one of the happiest periods of my life! Catriona and her friend Catherine (another Galway girl, who is now also my dear friend) travelled from Galway and Cork respectively, through floods etc. to see HMS Pinafore on Friday night. It was such a pleasure to have them stay in my home and meet Mel and Charlie, the horses, Flossie and Buffy the dogs and Scout, the cat. I forgive you Catriona for calling Charlie a little runt... He's a fellabella pony...he's supposed to be a little runt! It was wonderful to hear my piano being played so beautifully and to be a part of that simple, but elegant piano duet with Catriona, who got her first in her Italian MA. Congratulations dearest Cat! Anyway back to cranes...

I love them...I want to climb one some day and hang out there for a while! Across from the bedsit, there was all sorts of development going on in the TYNDALL research department of UCC. In the midst of scaffolding, soared the most majestic, heroic crane, covered in night-time blue lights, which became a great source of comfort and inspiration to me. I would just stand there and watch its twinkling eyes, that seemed to see right through to my heart and soul...we really, really connected. I know... I'm insane! Am I bovvered? I dont know where my hero is now, because the updating process at Tyndall is now complete and he has moved on to another. I am not jealous or sad...I keep those moments locked away to warm and hearten me whenever I'm cold or afraid. I am getting to the point of all this. Somehow, cranes are connected to my concern for troubled spirits, in search of a connection to others, to the universe... a reason for it all. Somehow Odysseus, Dante's treatment of Virgil, my young male friend's plight and cranes all connect. That has to be my next project...a play...a musical...a poem...I'm not sure...but it won't let go of me! Someone told me recently I was 'emotionally crusading!' I was flattered...thank God I am! I'm looking forward to everything...with an air of excitement and anticipation...but sometimes become frustrated and impatient with myself...mostly!. Probably just need to give myself a break!


Looking forward to...

Anyway, I'm away to Connemara on Thursday at 3pm when I've finished teaching. That's a start. Will take a little work with me, but mostly it'll be fun-time... can't wait!
There will be time to brainstorm...the future...new projects! Just hope the dolphins come out to play!