Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Citywise..worldly wise..

Had a lovely couple of hours in Fighting Words in Russell Square, Dublin this evening. There were a gorgeous bunch of girls in from Citywise school in Jobstown, Tallaght. These kids were aged between nine and eleven and what surprised me most about them was their emotional maturity.

I don't think I have ever come away from Fighting Words without learning something. Most of the primary school sessions tend to be really, really funny - the more absurd the story line the better they like it. And all girl groups can go the romantic route. But these lassies looked at, and developed - without too much sentimentality the themes of loneliness, feeling different and the saving grace of friendship - in whatever guise it presents itself. They were very very adult in their analysis and understanding of human feeling.

This particular bunch of kids loved to read (hence the maturity - don't say any different) and we chatted about books, Jacqueline Wilson is a big favourite as is our very own Roddy Doyle. But they told me too of a book they're reading in school 'Tom Crean -Antarctic Explorer' . One lovely little one confessed she normally likes 'totally girly' books but Tom Crean was deadly, she'd love if he had been her uncle and she thought that sometimes 'real life stuff can be very interesting.'I love that kid!

So as usual ( or at least for the fourth year in a row) I have kicked off my Listowel break with a visit to Fighting Words, where the future of readers and writers is being nourished. And God, it makes me feel happy!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Queen of Stories

Now I know I'm on me holliers and promised faithfully not to text, email or Facebook for the week. But I didn't rule out blogging. Did I? Did I?

Well, to hell with that - blogging is how I work things out. How I pull sense from the babble of noise that is modern life. Plus it's Writers Week in the lovel Listowel so I need to be practising like, practising all things writerly - reading, writing and possibly drinking the odd sip of nectar. I'm heading there with all my boys on Wednesday. Isn't it great when your family can enjoy some part of that most solitary of pursuits, writing.

Anyway I set out to blog about stories - and their importance in all our lives. People keep saying the novel is dead. The novel will never die, it will exist in some form always. What are movies, TV soaps, songs, plays bu the same thing as the novel - stories I'll do a couple of blogs when I'm down in the Kingdom of Kerry but my internet connection isn't a given where I'm staying so ye may have to wait to hear all about this year's festival of writing, reading, music, poetry, drama and whatever other cerebral pursuit you can think of. We won't mention the prodigious amounts of alcohol consumed. Alcohol may stifle creativity (actually, it does) but it can be a lovely lubricant so you can steel up your nerves and approach that writer/poet to tell them how much they mean to you. I think all of us have one book or poem or song that 'gets' us. We all read or hear something somebody wrote, one other person, who totally totally understands what it is to be our very own self and that person wrote it down - our stories our lives - so therefore we love that writer who empathised so thoroughly with us. Actually, as Listowel is a tiny town and the great and good mix with us 'pretend' writers lubrication is quite probably needed by self same authors to put up with the fawning of their 'No. 1 fans'!!

Back to the substance of this post. I am developing a 'character', a person who tells stories, either reads them or makes them up as she goes along. I started batting this idea about with the Senior Librarian in Fingal County Council and I eventually suggested a Queen, a Story Queen who will arrive at children's local library and read them a story - discuss stories with them and generally just have fun. I have the costume - its gorgeous, ridiculous but gorgeous, I have my crown, my story bag and my cloak and all I needed were children to practise on. So off I set to Skerries in North County Dublin where there was a street festival to celebrate the ending of the RAS - don't ask me, it's a bike race thingy. The lovely Mary of Magic Carpet Theatre Company was face painting and I sat along with her in all my regalia and read stories to some beautiful children. The location wasn't ideal but the kids LOVED the Queen of Stories. I asked them would they come to their local library to hear me reading and I got a huge affirmative YES. We decided a PJ evening might be nice as opposed to the original idea of a Saturday morning. So I already have groupies in Skerries who will all come to see me when I visit.

But lads. I has such fun! Whatever fun those children had (real smallies, the under sevens) I had it in hundreds. And on the way home I thought about it. There I was - an overweight plain middle aged suburban woman in a ridiculous costume and a plastic crown - glorying in it!! No, actually that's the wrong word. I was absorbed. Totally, utterly absorbed in the task in hand, the fact that I was the Queen of Stories, the fact that I had absolutely THE best stories to tell and above all the fact that those kids were as absorbed as I was. That's what made it. That absorption, a connection. I wondered on the way home why doing something like reading stories to children made me so happy. Most people would die rather than be seen in public in such a get-up, let alone reading aloud. A lot of people can only bear their own children, a lot of people even find their own children too much.

I think what it is is when I read - particularly the classic fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm brothers - I conjure up my beloved long gone mother. I conjure that complete and utter security. That feeling of loving and being loved. That knowing that no matter what my parents loved me and would always love me. Mam read to us every night when we were small, it was a very important part of our day - the full stop if you like- and it was the nicest part of every day too, she 'did' the voices, she cried, she laughed. She lived those stories and with her we lived them too. I can still hear her gulping to hold back the tears as the little Match Girl slowly fades away.

And now I feel really privileged that - at a stage in my life when my own kids don't even want to be related to me, let alone have me read to them - and at a stage when grandchildren are a dim and hopefully not too distant nebulous idea, I have been handed this gift. A gift that, once a week, perhaps more, I can dress up as the Queen of Stories and share my love of the written word with the wee ones, the ones who will quite probably end up being my carers in my dotage.

So if you hear of the Queen of Stories visiting your local library over the next year or so borrow an under seven and come along. Who knows, it might remind you of those utterly secure, utterly content childhood days - and even in the worst of childhoods there were these days, days of hope and happiness. Even if it doesn't it will be creating a memory for the child you bring along! And best of all, it's a free memory! Always the best ones.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Is Enda a Leprechaun?

I'm fit to burst with pride. Didn't our little isle look deadly on the telly? And it's being beamed into countries all over the world. Between Barack's visit (we're on first name terms now) and Lizzie last week and Leinster winning at the weekend Ireland is certainly on a roll. All over the land people sat glued to their televisions open mouthed at the sight of one of the most powerful men in the world delivering an address to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up in Dublin. And he talked to someone's Ma on their mobile - I'd say the secret service were having a canary. And this after a walk about in Moneygall - he's one of the O'Bamas of Moneygall don't y'know - where he supped a pint and had a look at his ancestral home, the home his ancestors left because of poverty and starvation.
Barack Obama epitomises the American dream, the dream of possibility. And he told us that - told us to believe in ourselves and his famous 'yes we can'. I certainly felt empowered by what he said. And his cupla focail were perfectly intoned, he had a grand blas. G'wan Barack, ye good ting!
But top marks of the day have to go to our own Enda Kenny. He gave a rousing speech to introduce President Obama and I admired his delivery of that speech, he is an impressive orator not something I realised before this. It set me to wondering. Mebbe our Enda is our very own leprechaun?Mebbe it is he who has the map to the pot of gold? He certainly seems to have a magic touch and since he took on the role of Taoiseach the country's profile has been high for lots of good reasons. I hope we can make capital on that profile and exposure on the world scene over the next few months.
We have a great little nation, let's keep it great.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Night Surfing
I have the most eclectic taste. I just realised it tonight. You lot probably knew that little fact about me already. Why am I always the last one to know these things about myself? I’m probably too busy sticking my nose into other people’s business to notice my own life!
I occasionally (actually it’s becoming more often) suffer or rather I endure insomnia.
Once I used that quiet time to clean my house, but I got over that one! Now I mostly read or write or surf the net. I just looked at my purchases tonight from my surfing. It’s a mad random shopping list. I bought three books of poetry ( two Billy Ramsells and one Grace Wells, keep their names in your head for you will hear more of them). Then I went on to a costume shop's website and bought two Queen’s outfits. A Queen needs at least two gunai (Marmo or Jemser, will ye fada and grammatical me Irish). Then I went onto a wig shop page and bought meself a nice little granny bun.
My latest adventure is reading stories to under 7s in Fingal Libraries on Saturday mornings. I’m calling myself ‘The Story Queen’ or is ‘Queen of Stories’ better?
So I decided to buy a costume or two. Isn’t it great to be able to dress up when you’re fifty and not worry about looking ridiculous? Because you are ridiculous. But isn’t it glorious to be ridiculous!!
So not only do I get to be the Queen, I get to pick all my favourite children’s books and read from them to an (I hope) enthusiastic bunch of smallies. And they’ll love me!! And I’ll feel all important and special! Ain’t Life grand.
BTW ye all better sponsor me for walking the mini-marathon on the June Bank holiday. I’m walking with my sister-in-laws in aid of the Donegal branch of the Alzheimer’s Society. They have been a marvellous support in helping the family look after our beloved Teresa, Jemser’s Mam, Now there is a Queen beyond compare. I wrote the poem below some years ago when the illness started. It is such a horrible disease for everyone. Although Thank the Lord Teresa has been very peaceful for the last few weeks. I love you Teresa Cunningham and I love all your wonderful family and your beloved Kilcar! Are ye all feelin’ the love?
Teresa’s Eyes
Teresa’s eyes, not yet inarticulate
Plead for understanding
She sits. BeWildereD
In the dimmed light
Of blown CoNNections.
Frustration clamping lips
She cannot
to form
no longer kn-wn.
that obscene shroud of mist
will thin.
Teresa’s raucous laugh begin
Hands clap, face lifts, eyes glint
With Our Teresa.
But mist rolls in again,
Muffling sound and skewing vision.
Will thicken to FOG

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Beauty Queen of Leenane

I am a huge fan of Martin McDonagh's work and if anything he wrote ever appears in Dublin I'm there. Meself and himself went to see the Beauty Queen of Leenane in the Gaiety last night.

We left the car on the northside of the city and ambled across town at our leisure. We had been worried about parking restrictions because the other Queen - herself from England- is in town. The city looked really well, maybe we should have royal visitors more regularly - the pictures being beamed out all over the world will certainly look great. Lets hope it imports lorry-loads of tourists with nice tourist Euro to spend in our benighted little island. We're rarely in the city anymore and it was lovely to stroll down O'Connell Street, over the bridge then up past Trinity and up Grafton Street. There was precious little traffic and lots of people were doing as we were - ambling, looking and listening.

The theatre wasn't full but it was a Wednesday night and the Gaiety is a big space to fill. The set was brilliant, the main living area of a cottage in Leenane in Connemara, complete with sound effect of a stream constantly burbling outside. I love Leenane, one of the best days I ever spent was on a boat in Killary Harbour with Jemser, sons#1 and 2 and 2 nephews. My favourite photo of Jemser was taken there, he was leaning on the rail of the boat, pint of Guinness in one hand and fag in the other, chilled beyond belief. We ended up back in the pub in Leenane where Jemser duly sang a song to the mortification of the children! So I have very happy memories of the area.

This production of the play is a young Vic production and a fine production it is too. I'm not a purist - there are those who claim that only Druid can get McDonagh or Synge right- Druid are indeed superb with these works but there is plenty of room for others to showcase McDonagh's work. The performances were all spot on. I loved Rosaleen Linehan's Mag Folan ( although I must admit when I think of the character it is Anna Manahan I will forever see) Johnny Ward was a suitably jumpy and impatient Ray Dooley - full of the self importance and ego of youth. Frank Laverty caught the pathos of Pato perfectly. My heart wept for the man and his missed opportunities. The tension between himself and Derbhle Crotty's Maureen was palpable, a finely tuned balance of comedy, passion, desire and sheer bloody sadness.

But it is Derbhle Crotty's Maureen Folan that stole the show for me. She was fabulous. I saw her in 'The Field' earlier in the year and she stole that show too. Ms Crotty is at the top of her game at the moment and from her slight form and superb voice she portrays passion, frustration, sarcasm, violence and great tenderness with apparent ease. A really fine performance and she interprets McDonagh's work in a manner I think would please him.

The only thing that jarred for me in the play was the lack of the Sacred Heart lamp! There was a big crucifix over the mantle, maybe the Lamps were in the upper (or lower) rooms in Leenane!

A'must-see' if you haven't already done so.

Monday, May 16, 2011

On birthdays

Well, I'm officially 50. I suppose I'll have to grow up now, stop dreaming and navel-gazing.

Only joking. I'm still twelve inside, full of possibilities and love of the world. We had a great night last Saturday for my party. The hall I booked was a tad too large (to say the least) but I had invited the world and his wife and being me I had to err on the side of caution in case they all turned up. The drink was the cheapest in the North County but it was still too dear for the teenagers who nearly got us all thrown out because they were skulking outside and drinking cheap as chips lager and vodka. Drink is way too cheap and accessible. A litre of vodka at twenty euro means that at some stage we are going to have teens dying of alcohol poisoning.

Anyway, we sorted it out ( what good party didn't have a row over gargle?). The band were feckin' briilliant and they put their hearts and souls into it and (once it became clear Jedward weren't going to win the Eurovision) they had everyone up bopping, teens and friends and neighbours all together. Son#1 is a great frontman, comfortable with mikes and stage etc. The poor aul' divils had to learn off loads of songs from the Eighties for me and they did it. These are the fellas that wouldn't open a school book to save their lives but can apply themselves with such diligence in music. They're a great bunch of kids and there is hope for this country if they are in anyway indicative of the next generation. Intelligent, confident beautiful people, all in touch with their respective creativities and concious of work/life balance. I hope they will all continue to knock on my door as they grow into adults.

I felt sorry for son #2, he's only eleven and was like a lost soul, not sure enough of himself to sit with the teenagers and bored stiff with the drunken adults. ~I was one of the first to leave my own party!He just had to get back to his bed and the comfort of his own surroundings. Anyway the neighbours all landed back as did the teenagers and I was last to go to bed at 7am Sunday morning. At one stage I looked at my Jemser and there he was sitting on me coffee table guitar on his knee bellowing out every song he knew to the delight of the eight females who were around him!! He's some man for one man.

My beloved friend Brid Conlan from Ennistymon in Co Clare travelled up for my party and at one stage I felt as if I were in my early twenties again, dancing the floor with her and talking and drinking and laughing and drinking and talking and talkin an d talking. It was Brid's dad who coined the phrase 'it's the talk that's killin' the people'. A wise man Mr Conlan for was he not paraphrasing Will Shakespeare's 'there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so'. Brid has the most marvellous store of funny stories, craic and songs - ~I love the very bones of that woman. But not enough to get me out of the leaba the next morning. Sure it didn't bother Biddy. Herself and the teens cracked open the champagne and had another bit of a singsong, old soldiers never die and old partygoers just keep on livin!

So that's more or less it. Oh! Except for the hilarious conversation I had with a sneezing fifteen year old girl and one of her boy friends. To the best of my recollection I told her - very seriously - that an orgasm was just like a good sneeze except hopefully longer! I think we all wet ourselves laughing!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Glorious weekends in North County Dublin

It's not natural. The sun shining for two consecutive weekends (long weekends at that) is enough to convince my burnt Irish craw that something in the universe is shifting. And I love it. Bring it on, baby. I'm definitely evolved from something feline. I love to stretch all my limbs and arch my back then turn my face to the sun feeling my troubles falling behind me. I'm just a big fat lazy old tabby lolling in the sun soaking up its energy. I don't care if its not natural - it's bloody brilliant.

May is often the best month of the year weather wise in Ireland and there are lots of places in North County Dublin where I live where one can ramble on a fine day. The Estuary in Swords/Malahide can be beautiful at sunset as can any of the beaches within a fifteen minute drive of my suburban home in Swords. I'm particularly fond of Skerries but there are great beaches at Malahide, Rush, Donabate and Loughshinney as well. We're spoiled for choice in North Dublin with parks too. Ardgillan Demesne, Skerries Mills, Newbridge House and Farm are all beautiful places to ramble through ans all are child-friendly. The libraries in Malahide and Rush are well worth visits too (although they close on Sundays). Both buildings have been lovingly restored and I love the way they have used the old confessional boxes in Rush library as sound booths where one can listen to music or audio books. Ingenious.

It's a pity there is still limited access to the castle and church in Swords. The restoration seems to be taking forever and of course public money for the job has dried up now. The church is really beautiful and its restoration had been extremely sensitive. I still dream of having a book launch there some day. With a red baby grand in one corner and one of my musical friends tinkling away as people mill around sipping wine and telling me how wonderful my writing is. Dreamer? Yes, perhaps - but once I'm still breathing and writing there's hope. Isn't there?