Happy in the Hinterland

Last Friday, we drove the grey of the N3 into the wind and rain of the Irish Hinterland. Spires and ancient round towers arose out of Kell’s magical mists and I soon found myself installed in a front row pew in the church of Ireland, seeking adventures along a silk road.

Peter Frankopan took his place at the altar in a stylish blue (silk?) suit, and transported me East to the magic lands of Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Tibet. Waving his hands, his undulating Notting Hill/Oxford tones created a wonderful discourse, flowing with passion and interest. It seems my history has been mired in Western war fare, in crusades, in squalid sallies, in colonial battles, world wars, and King Henry’s wives instead of in the rise and fall of Mesopotamia, of Byzantine culture, of Persia, the truly great civilisations of our world, arising from the glitter and glory of the trading routes of the Silk Roads.   Compared to the glory of Sultans, Pharoahs, Ayatollahs, the people of Western Europe were little more than slaves (apparently the only thing of trading value). We had no riches, no spices, little in the line of the black stuff, not much in the way of sought after natural resources; somehow, though, we managed to convince ourselves, and others, that we were the centrifugal force of  history (obviously we had the gift of the gab, and those spears and poleaxes probably helped) while actually the original power and glory was invested in the riches of the East, now on the rise again. Note China’s new ports, gas pipes, and its railways being laid across Africa.  So, after 500 years, the balance is finally being redressed and the current conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, Pakistan are mere birthing pains for a new era (unless the West has a tantrum and starts throwing its upgraded boy toys around in pique).

It was, truly, an invigorating presentation, providing a different perspective, sparkling with brilliance. Peter Frankopan was wonderful to watch (you can see why from the photo below), and his sales pitch was fabulous. He must have been practising on those Silk Roads. I bought the book.

In contrast, the historian, Turtle Bunbury stumbled about the church  while he told us how ‘1847’ had presented itself to him as ‘the year’ to write about. It had been the year the plans for his ancestral home castle were drawn up, the year the famine had got going (he didn’t comment on the structural relationship between the two), the year the Bronte sisters had been published, the year the USA conquered California. This was reason enough for an hour of stories about Black Ben Forbes (?) and Tom Thumb who apparently graced 1847 with their presence. Interesting? No. The historian, John Bowen was much more sober and erudite in his presentation of the ‘Autobiography of Ireland’ which is a collection of original sources: amusing letters, articles reflecting the hundred years after the Rising.

I was looking forward to the Brexit Debate on Saturday morning – Chris Mullins, David Murphy and Mairead McGuinness and was very, very disappointed. It was lack-lustre, un-engaged, uninformed, smug, and comprised an indifferent discussion. Chris Mullins performed like an oil painted portrait with a withering smile, (like one of those spectral portraits in Hogwarts, just not as interesting); Mairead McGuinness glittered with EU self-adoration, and David Murphy manufactured the statistics to suit himself. They bored me, and I felt sad at their lack of spirit, humour and passion.

Thank God, passion was not lacking thereafter. Ed Thomas, director of The Hinterland (a Welsh detective series on Netflix) was fascinating. He was a friendly, bubbly character, but clearly with a dark side. Hinterland is a slow, beautiful but rather grim portrayal of the Welsh countryside. It reflects isolation and is very bleak. He was well interviewed by Georgina Godwin who also later did a great interview with Stephen Frears. The first thing Ed Thomas said was that most of his work was autobiographical and that Wales was a ‘laughing stock’ and a country that didn’t really exist.  He described how being Welsh in the late eighties and nineties was akin to being invisible. He left, changed his accent, pretended to be Irish, or a loud South London lout. I was taken aback. My mother is from a South Wales mining town. In my mind, Wales was a small, beautiful country, the home of a strong, vibrant people who sang, worked and evolved a strong chartist, social spirit. It is clear that in the late 70s and 80s, the closure of the mines, the shutting down of a community, the abandonment of a people laid waste to a wonderful country. Ed recently had to sell his home place of a 130 years. He told us his daughter didn’t know what a miner was. What a sad indictment of a British Government that cruelly turned its back on its working people. An excellent interview which was followed by a second excellent interview with Stephen Frears (photo below)

At first, I thought Georgina Godwin (photo below) was going to have a difficult interview. Frears (who has directed The Snapper, The Van, My Beautiful Laundrette, Philomena, The Queen amongst others) answered her questions in short sentences with brevity. He faced out to the audience and seemed to find it hard to turn his head to look at her when she asked her questions. But she handled him very well. She always had another question ready when he didn’t seem disposed to answer the previous one. She was well prepared, incisive and confident.

Frears was laconic, dry and humorous. Classic Brit. He reminded me of a dragon, lurking in his lair, watching with glittering eyes, a grim smile and high intellect. He told us how fortunate he was. He was a child of a time. He had a golden letter box through which, over the years, amazing scripts were posted. He was self-deprecating in a humorous way which showed us how brilliant he was. The 1960s to 1990s were certainly the golden era for film and theatre. Shane Connaughton whom we had seen in The Town Hall, in Cavan the previous Thursday (interviewed by Philip Doherty) had said something similar. Shane had been in the right place at the right time. I asked both Shane Connaughton and Stephen Frears how much politics had contributed to their success. Both responded positively. The hope and optimism, the belief in humanity, the resources, the investment in the arts, and people had helped them create and become great artists. This is the reason the Brits need a new Government. Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!

 

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Happy in the Hinterland Last Weekend

Last Friday, we drove the grey of the N3 into the wind and rain of the Irish Hinterland. Spires and ancient round towers arose out of Kell’s magical mists and I soon found myself installed in a front row pew in the church of Ireland, seeking adventures along a silk road.

Peter Frankopan took his place at the altar in a stylish blue (silk?) suit, and transported me East to the magic lands of Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Tibet. Waving his hands, his undulating Notting Hill/Oxford tones created a wonderful discourse, flowing with passion and interest. It seems my history has been mired in Western war fare, in crusades, in squalid sallies, in colonial battles, world wars, and King Henry’s wives instead of in the rise and fall of Mesopotamia, of Byzantine culture, of Persia, the truly great civilisations of our world, arising from the glitter and glory of the trading routes of the Silk Roads.   Compared to the glory of Sultans, Pharoahs, Ayatollahs, the people of Western Europe were little more than slaves (apparently the only thing of trading value). We had no riches, no spices, little in the line of the black stuff, not much in the way of sought after natural resources; somehow, though, we managed to convince ourselves, and others, that we were the centrifugal force of  history (obviously we had the gift of the gab, and those spears and poleaxes probably helped) while actually the original power and glory was invested in the riches of the East, now on the rise again. Note China’s new ports, gas pipes, and its railways being laid across Africa.  So, after 500 years, the balance is finally being redressed and the current conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, Pakistan are mere birthing pains for a new era (unless the West has a tantrum and starts throwing its upgraded boy toys around in pique).

It was, truly, an invigorating presentation, providing a different perspective, sparkling with brilliance. Peter Frankopan was wonderful to watch (you can see why from the photo below), and his sales pitch was fabulous. He must have been practising on those Silk Roads. I bought the book.

In contrast, the historian, Turtle Bunbury stumbled about the church  while he told us how ‘1847’ had presented itself to him as ‘the year’ to write about. It had been the year the plans for his ancestral home castle were drawn up, the year the famine had got going (he didn’t comment on the structural relationship between the two), the year the Bronte sisters had been published, the year the USA conquered California. This was reason enough for an hour of stories about Black Ben Forbes (?) and Tom Thumb who apparently graced 1847 with their presence. Interesting? No. The historian, John Bowen was much more sober and erudite in his presentation of the ‘Autobiography of Ireland’ which is a collection of original sources: amusing letters, articles reflecting the hundred years after the Rising.

I was looking forward to the Brexit Debate on Saturday morning – Chris Mullins, David Murphy and Mairead McGuinness and was very, very disappointed. It was lack-lustre, un-engaged, uninformed, smug, and comprised an indifferent discussion. Chris Mullins performed like an oil painted portrait with a withering smile, (like one of those spectral portraits in Hogwarts, just not as interesting); Mairead McGuinness glittered with EU self-adoration, and David Murphy manufactured the statistics to suit himself. They bored me, and I felt sad at their lack of spirit, humour and passion.

Thank God, passion was not lacking thereafter. Ed Thomas, director of The Hinterland (a Welsh detective series on Netflix) was fascinating. He was a friendly, bubbly character, but clearly with a dark side. Hinterland is a slow, beautiful but rather grim portrayal of the Welsh countryside. It reflects isolation and is very bleak. He was well interviewed by Georgina Godwin who also later did a great interview with Stephen Frears. The first thing Ed Thomas said was that most of his work was autobiographical and that Wales was a ‘laughing stock’ and a country that didn’t really exist.  He described how being Welsh in the late eighties and nineties was akin to being invisible. He left, changed his accent, pretended to be Irish, or a loud South London lout. I was taken aback. My mother is from a South Wales mining town. In my mind, Wales was a small, beautiful country, the home of a strong, vibrant people who sang, worked and evolved a strong chartist, social spirit. It is clear that in the late 70s and 80s, the closure of the mines, the shutting down of a community, the abandonment of a people laid waste to a wonderful country. Ed recently had to sell his home place of a 130 years. He told us his daughter didn’t know what a miner was. What a sad indictment of a British Government that cruelly turned its back on its working people. An excellent interview which was followed by a second excellent interview with Stephen Frears (photo below)

At first, I thought Georgina Godwin (photo below) was going to have a difficult interview. Frears (who has directed The Snapper, The Van, My Beautiful Laundrette, Philomena, The Queen amongst others) answered her questions in short sentences with brevity. He faced out to the audience and seemed to find it hard to turn his head to look at her when she asked her questions. But she handled him very well. She always had another question ready when he didn’t seem disposed to answer the previous one. She was well prepared, incisive and confident.

Frears was laconic, dry and humorous. Classic Brit. He reminded me of a dragon, lurking in his lair, watching with glittering eyes, a grim smile and high intellect. He told us how fortunate he was. He was a child of a time. He had a golden letter box through which, over the years, amazing scripts were posted. He was self-deprecating in a humorous way which showed us how brilliant he was. The 1960s to 1990s were certainly the golden era for film and theatre. Shane Connaughton whom we had seen in The Town Hall, in Cavan the previous Thursday (interviewed by Philip Doherty) had said something similar. Shane had been in the right place at the right time. I asked both Shane Connaughton and Stephen Frears how much politics had contributed to their success. Both responded positively. The hope and optimism, the belief in humanity, the resources, the investment in the arts, and people had helped them create and become great artists. This is the reason the Brits need a new Government. Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!

 

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Cavan Discovered on Tour

Culture day in Cavan was a hot trail of art and theatre through blue skies, scudding clouds, all merging into a wonderful sunset behind the spire of the cathedral. It couldn’t have been a more artistic setting.
It was a great day which began with the Women’s Traveller Health and Social Care Project. They put on a wonderful spread of food but it was the knitting, the painting, and the chat that was brilliant to see and hear. I didn’t realise the project was so extensive. What a resource for the town to have.
In the evening, Julie and I started in the Library with Sally O’Dowd’s one line drawings. I was intrigued by these. I used to like doing one line drawings myself but mine only turned into scribble, unlike Sally’s. Maire, a friend of mine, reminded me of the toy we had as children: grey screen, red backing, two knobs in the front which you turned and created a one line drawing. Ahh yes, memories. Sally’s drawing made me wish I’d kept at it.
After the Library we headed up to the Moth Studios behind Church St. This is where I discovered parts of Cavan I didn’t know existed. Long beautiful gardens roll up a hill and there are interesting bungalows dotted on the horizon beneath an almost Swiss looking forest of conifers.
On down to The Living Thing exhibition by Jackie O’Neill and Joe Doherty in The Teacher’s Centre. This was a delightful surprise. The outside tree light sculptures were so pretty and so was Kavan Donoghue playing the harp. It was a lovely exhibition. It focuses on the concept of Mandella, the unifying centre from which everything evolves. Yes, a little hard to get your head around but the wooden artefacts were gorgeous and I loved the way the way they were displayed. I particularly liked Jackie’s Shannon Pot piece.
We got so excited about this exhibition that we missed the beginning of the Tapas Theatre on in the Town Hall but when we did get there, I really enjoyed this performance. With the Sinfonia orchestra on stage providing the music in between, the Theatre Lab Cavan brought us a few of the tiny plays collected by Fishamble and the Irish Times who received over 1,700 submissions when they asked the Irish public what could be achieved on stage in three minutes. I particularly liked the heart knitting piece, the two girls drinking and dreaming, and the banking scene. So clever, and so enjoyable. The stage setting was fab too.
As, indeed, was the launch of the Town Hall Programme by the crew. What a spectacular! Great lighting, smoke, creativity, charisma, charm, and engagement. I loved the lowering of the gigantic bar of lights to centre stage (isn’t it ironic how the lighting is rarely acknowledged in theatre despite often being the show piece) and the final wrap up with the wrapping up of the dancer by the stage hands. Brilliant.
We are so lucky to have the Town Hall as an arts centre in Cavan. It feels like home. There can be no greater accolade. Thank you everyone!

th prog benchjoe doherty

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Me and My Cheshire Cat

kate garden

It’s been an odd week. It has been frenetic and fun but I have also felt oddly removed from it as if I was watching myself, rather than taking part, if that makes any sense. I feel like the Cheshire Cat has joined me (the smiling cat from Alice in Wonderland which occasionally appears to Alice and talks – at least I think that is what happens, I haven’t read it for 50 years). When I was younger, each day led to the next, and was part of the whole; life belonged to me; it was mine. I didn’t notice time go by. I certainly didn’t notice Cheshire Cats! Now it is different. Each day is an individual day  and is slightly tiring. Each event in a day is a discrete one, rather than an integral part of my life. Each day is what I consciously choose to do rather than unconsciously experience.

Last Tuesday, my Cheshire Cat suggested I  get off my arse and go out. Later I slightly regretted our ‘conscious’ decision to go and see Inside Llewellyn Davies, the new Cohen Brothers movie at the Ramor Theatre in Virginia. The film was set in the 50s and 60s and was about ‘loss’ and the ‘failure’ of  singer, song writer, Llewellyn Davies. I found it lack lustre but dark. Oddly enough, though, it was the first event of a week that focussed on the past, loss, old friends and family in Cavan, Dublin and Galway.

On Wednesday evening ‘my poets’ read their love poems in the workshop I facilitate and discussed loss – the theme I had chosen. (I should say, my Cheshire Cat rarely appears in relation to my writing. Is this significant?) We read elegies and poems about death. While their poems we workedshopped a week later were very good, and it is a good theme, it is also a very dispiriting one. I came home, head in a cloud. So, when on Thursday I headed off to Galway for my poetry workshop and to go to Over The Edge with my friend Patrick, I was pleased to be heading for the clear skies of the West.

Patrick is an old friend of mine from England whom I have seen only twice in the last 30 years (different countries, marriage, children make it hard). He and I worked together in London during the eighties for the Labour borough councils. With our trusty type-writers, and fighting words, together we battled the Thatcher policies on local government cuts, rate capping and poll tax campaigns. But last Thursday, instead of politicking we were frolicking. Patrick is now doing  an MA in Writing in Limerick and so once again we were sharing passions and comparing notes. Sitting outside in the balmy winter weather on Quay St, we ate, drank and chatted about the poetry of life and love. It was as if the years had never passed. My Cheshire cat faded away!

I drove back to Cavan the next morning, feeling depleted, (more ghostlike than catlike) and was brought back to the present when I  discovered a  ‘homecoming’ was on the cards for that evening. Son was already here helping clear fallen trees and Daughter was on her way. A family dinner with all the accoutrements was required. Donning the mother mantle, I cooked roast chicken, parsnips, carrots, green beans, mashed potatoes, and it was all washed down with lashings of wine accompanied by love, laughter, bickering, and finally bed. Too busy to consider cats.

We all surfaced the following morning, misty minded, and set off on our different trajectories. Róisín (daughter) and I headed to the National Gallery in Dublin to peek at The Old Masters (and one Mistress) and an exhibition ‘Lines of Vision’ (highly recommended). This was  followed by dinner, a jug of sangria and a memorial concert at the National Concert Hall to celebrate the life of  John Ruddock, the father of one of my oldest and best friend in Dublin, who died last year. The concert was performed by the Vogler Quartet and the Scharoun Ensemble. I am not a follower of classical music or quartets, but to watch the musicians perform in the NCH was pure magic. The strings led and the wind followed, chasing their notes until they were perfectly inseparable. I cannot describe it. It was captivating. I know because I could see My Cheshire cat on the bar of the balcony with a big grin.

Yellow sunshine, blue skies, and that quiet, almost eerie calm of a Sunday morning in Dublin streamed in through Roisin’s bedroom window the next day. I got up and picked my way through the clothes strewn floor of my daughter. We had ended our musical evening with Graham Norton, Ann Hathaway, and a bottle of Aldi’s pinot grigot on the couch. After a cup of mint tea (no milk in the house) and a motherly daughter clash on  how to iron a ridiculous wrap around Penney’s garment, we set off over the hills to luncheon and reacquaint ourselves with our old and dear family friends.

We were armed with a delicious strawberry cheesecake from the Ranelagh Natural Bakery. It was oohed and ahhed at and joined an array of other lemon, raspberry, and strawberry cheesecakes, two banoffi pies, a remoulade, and a gluten free chocolate cake on the dessert table! They all looked very imperious, but an army of spoons and forks soon turned them into a veritable battle ground. The Cat had to fade rather quickly to escape injury! The white wine was gorgeous, and the house soon filled with musicians, my friend’s family, neighbours, and chit chat. It looked lovely. I didn’t watch myself mingle. I preferred to help with the food. At sunset, I took my leave and travelled north. The Cheshire Cat, snuggled on the passenger seat, talked to me as we wended our weary way to Cavan, to my own sofa, egg and chips, to watch Peaky Blinders (the BBC equivalent of Love/Hate set in the 1920s). Once there, the Cheshire Cat was chased off by Poppins, my real puppy.

The week ended  with more poetry at AT The Edge, Cavan. Kevin Higgins, Susan Millar du Mars and Philip Doherty read wonderful poems and short stories and the Open Mic was great. There was a good crowd and I was delighted. It was a success. I could be pleased, I told myself. The Cheshire Cat that sat on the podium with me as I curated the performance felt like the cat that got the cream. Later our visitors and I stayed up drinking in front of the fire, telling each other the different stories from our pasts. There are so many stories that make up a life. When we were young we had no stories to talk of, it was all about creating them…we wanted to change the world!

So my Cheshire Cat…maybe she is my inner being taking form. Maybe Philip Pullman would call it my daemon. Maybe she is my voice of experience. Whoever she is, I am learning to accept her as part of my life.

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A weekend of war and fudge

This weekend, I visited the WW1 Trench Exhibition in the Cavan County Museum and was so impressed! What a brilliant idea! Even bathed in Cavan sunshine, and pristine in appearance, it gives an idea of the horrors of trench life. The trenches were dug during the war, and had to be shored up with timber and corrugated iron or ‘wriggle tin’ (I love that description). Not only did men have to live in these appalling conditions, they had to build them opposite the enemy lines. There are sand bags, firing steps, dug outs, command posts. Did you know there were 25,000 miles of trenches dug by the end of the war? The information panels are excellent. There are not too many. They are short. They are interesting. The depiction of No Man’s Land is very good. The exhibition is sobering, and thought provoking without being sensational. Hats off to Cavan County Council and Peace III.

trench no mans land trench casualty trench sand

 The trench and commemoration of WW1 is a timely reminder given what is happening in the world today. Social media gives us greater access to information, but, in so doing it renders me more horrified and provokes feelings of powerlessness. Today I read on Facebook that ISIS is cutting off the heads of young children. Two weeks ago I read of bodies falling from the sky when the plane was shot down. Last week I read about slaughter of Palestinians. Before that it was children kidnapped and murdered in Nigeria. Now we also have Ebola. The experience we humans inflict on each other seems endless, probably as relentless as the life those men in the trenches faced. We say never again…but…it is amazing how night follows day.

 So, I am glad that on Friday I had a good day. I visited a Taste of Cavan. It was packed and full of sumptuous local produce and well supported by the businesses and traders of Cavan. There was a real buzz about the place. There were designer cakes, syrups, beef, cheese, oils, chicken, bread, beers, wines,  vegetables, relishes, mustards, ice cream and I got a taste of everything, except of course the array of wonderful knitting, beautiful crochet and make up that is all produced locally. There was lots of jousting, inside and outside the foodhall as WW1 exhibitions and other activities were demonstrated by men in uniform, on horses and other such fayre experiences. It was good to partake of something which made me feel proud to be part of mankind.

 I topped off my war and fudge weekend by going to see Shell-Shock by Philip Doherty in the Town Hall. I liked the end message: we all face our own trenches, war or no war, but felt slightly assaulted by the mix of pathos with high speed action and humour. It was about a Cavan boy (a nerd) who is bullied by a controlling mother, two stereo typical ‘knackers’, the local ‘John Boy’, and the village gossips. He discovers his great grandfather was a WW1 Hero and he manipulates this knowledge to justify revenge laden retribution. It didn’t quite work for me, though as usual Philip was on form with his humorous depiction of  rural life. The play was very well directed and the acting was excellent. It’s great to have Philip and Gonzo in town.

 Well done, Cavan.

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