Going for old

There’s not much by way of night life in the village. The local pub/café closes at 9pm. And that’s it. No restaurants, no bars, no cinema, no theatre, Nada. Our entertainment of choice is watching movies and TV series projected onto a wall in the front room. A French colleague back in my Chichester days had such a set-up in her house and I loved it. No TV as the focal point in the room. Just one plain white wall as your screen. Magic.

But as I have a tendency to binge and watch for hours, the next most important ingredient in a perfect village winter evening is a couch. A comfortable couch (kanapé). The one we inherited with the house makes a great bed but a crap sofa. So we went shopping.

And wowser – what an eye-opener. People in this part of the world must have massive houses with massive rooms because the sofas we saw, for the most part, were massive with massive price tags. Huge, L-shaped puffy things in plush-toy fabrics. We wanted a three-seater, no longer than 220 cm. How difficult could that be? Of the hundreds we saw and the tens we sat on, we only came close three times.

The first was on a tour of the myriad furniture shops in Keszthely. It was small enough, grey enough, and  affordable enough. They would order it and upholster it in a fabric of my choosing. It would take 8 to 10 weeks to arrive. We came, we sat, we thought, and then at the end of the day, after striking out everywhere else, we came back, ready to order. But on the second sitting, himself decided it was just a tad too small. Not quite deep enough. It didn’t put the lounge in loungeable. Now, on the Belbin team ranking, I’m off the scale when it comes to being a completer-finisher. I want everything done now. I have zero patience. Waiting just ain’t in my nature. I had a mission that Friday – I wanted to buy a couch. End of. And I have a cut-off point when shopping, when the enjoyment needle goes from grand to losing the will to live. I was at tipping point when I heard the backtrack, I think I screamed.

Our ever-friendly assistant had come upstairs, notepad in hand, ready to take the order. I told her he had changed his mind and muttered that perhaps I needed to change my husband as well as the sofa (and no, I didn’t get married – don’t ask – it’s just easier). She looked at him and at me and at the couch, and then told me quite sternly that he looked good – and that I wouldn’t do any better were I to change him. Sometimes humour doesn’t translate. One of us left happy.

It took me a few days to forget the experience and to psych myself up for a trip to Max City, a three-story building in Buda full of designer furniture shops (SF – you’d love it). It was a little depressing seeing so much fab stuff on sale and knowing it was way beyond our means and not just a few yards beyond but marathons beyond. That said, I doubt in any lifetime that I’d be able to justify spending the price of a new car (or a house in an even more remote village) on a sofa that wasn’t at least 100 years old and had been sat on by Hemingway. And although definitely out of our price range generally, we did find a second possible. A blue one that would go very nicely with the faint thread of blue on the fab Kerry Woolen Mills blanket that covers the bed, a bargain I picked up in Killarney last year. Good height. Right length. Super comfortable. Nice legs. Made in Poland. A 12-week order period. Delivery to the Kis-Balaton would be an additional 20%. Definitely at the upper limit of our price bracket but my back was screaming for a new sofa. The only drawback was that you couldn’t take off the cushions or turn them over. So were a glass of red wine to spill, we’d be screwed.  Oh they could sell me an all-purpose magic fabric cleaner but really??? And when did I get so practical?

We went down a notch or three and popped into Kika, another massive department store with all sorts of stuff you never knew you needed. Again, more massive sofas, and of all of them, just one possible. Half the price of the blue sofa, but not nearly as well made, It didn’t have that sturdy feeling. But it was available on the spot, no waiting period. And the colour would work with the grey in the fab Kerry Woolen Mills blanket that covers the bed (I love that blanket). And the cushion covers unzipped for easy cleaning. We were almost there – but delivery would cost an additional whopping 70%. I’d reached my tipping point. I was losing the will to live.

Thoroughly disillusioned with the new-sofa offer, and not prepared to wait 12 weeks for something I might ruin on the first sitting, I reverted to type. I much prefer old stuff. It’s better made, for one thing. It’s stood the test of time already and hasn’t given up the ghost. The day we were in Keszthely, we’d stopped at one of those Holland Bútor shops – shops selling old furniture imported from Holland alongside Hungarian antiques. There are quite a few in the county so business must be good. While we were there, we’d seen a couple of old brown leather sofas that were very comfortable. But at that stage, I wasn’t thinking brown or leather or old. But there comes a point in life when comfort trumps style, especially when your back is screaming for mercy and there’s a whole six seasons left in the series you’re watching.

So we went back again, for another sit, and another look this week. Of course it was nothing like I’d remembered. I’d convinced myself it was a low-backed brown-buttoned Chesterfield … but it wasn’t. But it is extremely well made. Solid. In good nick. Affordable. And it was available. Any spills could be easily washed off. And it would age well with time. My Hungarian got us through it. We bought. Yer man delivered the next day, for free. And my back is happy. Yep, going for old is where it’s at.

The great wave

A few months back, in a workshop I was running, a participant included an image of The Great Wave by Japanese artist Hokusai in their presentation. I was the only person in the room not to have seen it before and thereby not to recognise it. The shame of it. Where had I been? Coincidentally, that same week, I saw an advertisement for a screening of a documentary from the British Museum about the artist and his work. The first two were sold out but I managed to get tickets for the screening in March.

In the months that followed, I forgot all about it. When the day dawned, I was up to my tonsils – a litany of meetings strung together like beads on an abacus all totting up to a controlled frenzy. But we had tickets. So we went. To Várkert Bazár, billed as ‘a renovated 19th-century Neo-Renaissance complex of exhibition halls, theaters, gardens & restaurants. I’d not been before and the venue was another reason I’d chosen to go. But wow… Hokusai! Where have you been all my life?

Hokusai was painting right up till his death, some four months after his 90th birthday (depending on which page you read on the WWW). And by his own reckoning his best work was the work he did shortly before he died.

From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.

Interestingly, a variation of this translation also appears on the web. Or perhaps he was paraphrasing himself.

When I am 80 you will see real progress. At 90 I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100, I shall be a marvellous artist. At 110, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age.

There’s a good biography of his life on the Katsushika Hokusai website, which says that he changed his name more than 30 times during his career, a practice common to artists of that era in that part of the world. My favourite was Old Man Mad (Crazy) about Art (Drawing): Gakyō Rōjin Manji. The Guardian ran a piece on him last year and included some pictures of his prints. It’s worth checking out.

It’s said that Claude Debussy was inspired to write La mer after seeing The Great Wave, and while it’s arguably his most famous print, I was more taken by Poppies. I can feel the wind as I look at it. Amazing stuff.

Of course, I changed my mind a million times as the documentary went on. And then, when we got a virtual tour of the exhibition in London, I changed it yet again. I was very taken with this one but I’m not so sure I’d like it on my wall. But how alive it is. Those eyes. Still, after all the back and forth, I’m sticking with Poppies as my all-time Hokusai fave.

If you get a chance to see the documentary, make the time for it. If you’re one of the lucky ones who got to see the exhibition somewhere in the world, I’m suitably envious. It’s possible to order hand-painted reproductions of all his work from Japan, and with a 365-day return policy. Once I’ve decided what size I want my Poppies, I’ll be doing just that. What a man.

What’s the opposite of gun?

I have a fondness for poetry. Not all poetry. Some poetry. I like slam poetry, with its fast and furious pace, its jumble of words cascading over one another as thoughts rush out and feelings rush in. I’m a fan of the Canadian spoken word poet Shane Koyczan and travelled last year to Bristol to hear him live. He didn’t disappoint. You might know him for his poem on bullying To This Day…For the Bullied and the Beautiful that went viral a few years back. He suffers from depression and speaks openly about it, as he does many other issues that are so human, so prescient, so now. He makes sense.

And while WB Yeats gets my vote for an old Irish classic, an Irish classic in the making is the fab Neil McCarthy. Of anyone, he’s the one responsible for reconnecting me with the joy that is the spoken word. He’s going to be in Budapest launching his latest book on May 10th – at Massolit. If you’re in town, don’t miss him. When Neil recommends a listen or a read, I listen and I read. Enter Brendan Constantine and his opposites game. Given the debate that’s reverberating through the USA, supported by all those on the outside looking in, it’s a topical one. One that gives pause for thought – and more.

 

I’ve finally made time to listen and to read. I’ve realigned my priorities and taken the back control I’d temporarily lost to the gigging world. No more working myself to near exhaustion. Life is far too short not to make time for poetry.

 

2018 Grateful 41

Charles (Chuck) Swindoll is a pastor, author, educator, and radio preacher. He’s 83. He used to stutter. I still stammer. He was a member of his school’s marching band. I was a member of mine, too. He has a radio program – Insight for Living – that is broadcast on more than 2,000 stations around the world in 15 languages. I’d like one of those. I dabbled briefly in it one year in with a series of podcasts called Hotline to Heaven. And it’s on my list to do again. Occasionally, I get posts in my inbox that mention him. A few weeks back, I got this one on the Giving Tree.

‘When the boy was young he swung from the tree’s branches, ate her apples, and slept in her shade…But as he grew up he spent less and less time with the tree. “Come on, let’s play,” said the tree. But the young man was only interested in money. “Then take all my apples and sell them,” said the tree. The man did, and the tree was happy. He didn’t return for a long time, but the tree smiled when he passed by one day. “Come on, let’s play!” But the man, older and tired of the world, wanted to get away from it all. “Cut me down. Take my trunk, make a boat, then you can sail away,” said the tree. The man did, and the tree was happy. Many seasons passed – and the tree waited. Finally the man returned, too old to play, or pursue riches, or sail the seas. “I have a pretty good stump left. Sit down here and rest,” said the tree. The man did, and the tree was happy.’

Swindoll likens the tree to the many people who gave of themselves so that ‘he might grow, accomplish his goals, and find wholeness and satisfaction.’ And, indeed, there were times he was a giving tree himself. I was reminded of this earlier this week as I went about my business in Budapest. I had resolved some time ago that if I were approached on the street by someone asking for money, I’d give. Something, anything. My various pockets all have at least a 500 ft note in them, ready for the off. And when it comes to doling out the forints, I try not to discriminate. I read this verse on FB a few years back and it’s stuck in my head. It’s made me want to work on not being judgmental but it’s hard. It’s as if I’m preprogrammed to make snap decisions that catapult me into the role of judge and jury. So to avoid this, I try to give regardless.

But I still judge. And this means that after I’ve walked by an outstretched hand having judged it too well manicured to be in need, or after I’ve stepped over legs shod in designer-brand shoes that I can’t afford myself, I have this internal debate that could last second or minutes. After 12 months solid practice, 8 out of 10 times I’ll double back. But I’m still not there. I’m a work in progress.

Sadly, it seems like the asks are getting more and more plentiful. The number of people of all ages on the streets of Budapest asking for help is heartbreaking. And yes, perhaps for a sizeable number of them it’s a mafia-run day job. But what of the others, those in real need? Am I to be the one to judge? Perhaps, if I were smarter or more streetwise, I could. But I’m not. So I give. I’m aiming for 100%, but I’m not there yet.

I’m grateful for all the trees in my life – you know who you are. With thanks.

A palpable realignment of the soul

There are days when I’d cry at the sight of a cat crossing the road, or an episode of Coronation Street, or a Guinness advert. And there are days when tears are beyond summons, when death and destruction are greeted with a shrug and a whatever. I can’t find a correlation – not mood, not diet, not weather. It’s odd. But these days, for the sake of my sanity, I’m putting everything down to menopause and hormones. And I mean everything. If the bakery has run out of croissants, it’s down to not enough oestrogen in the kitchen. If the price of petrol has jumped overnight, it’s down to too much testosterone in the oil fields. And for everything else that goes wrong in my world, it’s down to not enough progesterone in my system.

Twice in my life, I’ve been moved to tears by a piece of art. Once was in Costa Rica in May last year. I’m not sure what happened. I was on holiday. In great form. Loving life. And then wham!$% … I was bawling my eyes in the Hidden Garden Art Gallery. I’m still not quite sure what happened, but ever conscious of what the universe might be trying to tell me (having learned to my cost that that little voice should be listened to) I bought it. Fast forward a few months and I found myself in an art studio over in Buda where the fab Hungarian artist Karl Meszlényi works his magic. He was pulling out canvases from here and there, trolling through paintings on the web that are on show in galleries in the city and abroad, and giving me a rundown on his art. I spotted something interesting in the corner: a rather large mixed media piece roughly framed in black wood. I asked to see it. He pulled it out and set it on the sofa.

I stood, I looked. I thought. And then wham!$% … I was bawling my eyes out once again. And this wasn’t the hysterical, expletive-ridden, just-stubbed-my-toe type of bawling. It was the kind that gathers in your feet and works itself up your body, getting bigger and bigger until it explodes, quietly. It’s accompanied by an overwhelming sense of something going on inside – a palpable realignment of the soul, perhaps. As it was the second time it had happened, I wasn’t nearly as embarrassed. I just stood there and let it all out. And with him being a painter and undoubtedly no stranger to artistic temperament, he took it all in his stride.

The piece is called Moon Two – it’s one of a series he did. Moon Blue is on the Saatchi website which gives a more knowledgeable, arty explanation than anything I could come up with. Roughly paraphrased, it’s painted acrylic, oil, tempera, and ink on canvas using mixed media with wood, stone, straw and bird’s nest. The abstract expression, is ‘all about texture, a stone breaking the monochrome, as daily events consecutively break into people’s monochrome lives.’ The term monochrome lives is used as a metaphor for the unresponsiveness of people to the speed of the world, a scream in a world of social deafness.

 

Mine has the same constituent parts…and some walnuts. That said, when I was busy going with the flow of emotion, moonscapes weren’t even on my periphery. What struck me about it all was the earthiness. The textures. The black and white. And curiously, it has something similar going on as the Costa Rica find. I’m a fan of black and white and the myriad greys in between, a reflection of my state of mind. While I might like my choices to be limited to either/or, my morals to be defined by good/bad, and my conscience to be guided by right/wrong, it’s the bits along the spectrum that I have to live with.

The piece hangs in the hallway. It’s the first thing I see when I come in the door and what I pass each time I enter or leave the kitchen. Were I given to flights of fancy, I’d say it whispers, that it knows my mood. I’d say that it darkens and brightens in sync with my soul. Occasionally, very occasionally, I feel an upsurge of emotion as I pass and when I stop to look at it, I lose myself in the shades and grey and know that I need to slow down, to re-calibrate, to centre myself.

Karl told me he isn’t an artist; he’s a painter. He explained that artists express themselves while painters study the techniques of visual communication. And for all its seeming randomness, this piece is a study of technique with each piece of straw, each nutshell, each twig placed with a higher purpose, be that Karl’s or the universe’s. There’s an order to it all that somehow makes sense.

 

Thanks again to Liz Frommer for the introduction. If you’re in the market for some statement pieces or simply want to see a painter in their home environs, contact her at lizfrommer@gmail.com

Walking in Circles

Who on earth am I?

Occasionally, very occasionally, I consciously do a bad thing. I’m sure I do lots of bad things without thinking. I’m human. But to actually do something sacrilegious in full consciousness, wide awake, knowing that I’m defacing someone else’s property, that’s a rarity. But it happens. The last time it happened was on a flight to Malta from Munich. I was leafing through the in-flight magazine – which, admittedly, is one of the better ones I’ve seen. And I came across a piece on a project with a working title Walking in Circles. Billed as ‘an artistic and literary project supported by the Arts Council Malta’, it’s an ‘illustrated poetic journey’ that started in 2017 and will be launched in book form in November 2018. I’ve combed the Arts Council’s website and can’t find any more details, so I hope this wasn’t just a flash in a pan. That said, if it was, I’m glad I happened across it when I did.

It seems that it will deal with the concept of Malta moving ‘from an emigrating nation to an immigrant hostess’. When I tore out the pages (I know, I know, how bad of me!) I missed one. I could have taken the whole magazine; it would have been easier. But that would have been just one more thing to carry. And I didn’t want it all, just a piece of it. A little like eating a muffin top and leaving the rest. Am I just one step away from tearing a page out of a book? But enough of my mental angst.

What caught my eye was a poem by Giulia Privitelli with an accompanying illustration by  Steven Bonello

Who on earth am I
or what I’ve done
that love I should deserve?
Is it a right that I could claim
or simply given and I’ve no say?
Like the moment of every birth
suddenly, a life’s just there.
So what would that make me
should I withhold
this ‘right’ to many, twice as many?
A thief perhaps
of riches I’ve already got.

But what is this need to show the other
that within is what really matters
the core, the soul, that captivating pulse
pulsing far beyond the limits of our sight
or the reasoning of our mind?
Isn’t this what I’d rather trust?
Feel here, my aching heart,
it pulls and pushes as my guide
and repeats what we’ve been told
through ancient wisdom, centuries old:
‘To love is to know,
forget your fear, don’t shift the blame,
you are blessed and without shame,
you are loved, and called by name.’

But tradition that resists all change
is a harmful poison, a barren land
and like stagnant water pushed down my throat
it burns with the taste of bitter and cold
and my faith is shaken, it trembles
and shivers in its hold.

I was reminded of this recently when I watched a video of János Lázár (the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff) set against the backdrop of a neighbourhood in Vienna, Austria. As migrants from all sorts of countries go about their business in the background, Lázár warns Hungarians that this, too, could happen in Budapest, if the opposition parties get their way and let the migrants in: spiralling crime, dirty streets, and good Christian locals being forced to leave their neighbourhoods in the face of the deluge of foreign migrants seeking refuge from abroad. The piece caught the attention of global media. The video was posted on Facebook, who took it down soon after saying it contravened user policy. But then, it had a think and put it back up because it was newsworthy. mmmmm…..

As the election day in Hungary approaches, I wonder which will prevail: fear or love.

Illustration by Steven Bonello

A little bit of me died tonight

I like experiential presents. They don’t take up shelf space or add to the the clutter of twenty-first-century living. They can be enjoyed over and over again, moments relived, memories recalled. I like jazz, too. So a Christmas present of two tickets to see jazz legend Dianne Reeves play in Budapest was a good choice. Thanks MI.

I’d be hard-pushed to describe what Reeves does on stage, lacking as I do the jazz vocabulary to do her justice. So I’ll borrow from her website: it’s a ‘melding of R&B, Latin and pop elements within the framework of 21st Century jazz.’ Yep – I caught that meld. And l marvelled at her scat singing – ‘vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, and nonsense syllables’ that I’d seen Ella Fitzgerald nail with Mel Torme on video once, a video that I managed to find.

Years and years and years ago, a cousin of mine went through a phase of singing everything. And I mean everything. Ask her what had happened in school or what she wanted for dinner or what she was going to wear that day and you’d get verse after verse after verse delivered in a sing-song voice that was cute at first…but quickly became annoying. While I can’t imagine Reeves ever being annoying, I can imagine her singing all the time.  She sang her hello, she sang through the usual ‘great to be back’ bits, and she sang through her band intro. She sang it all. And she improvised. And although Reeves ain’t quite Ella,  she’s a mean scat singer. With her quartet of super-talented musicians [Romero Lubambo on guitar, Peter Martin on piano, Reginald Veal on bass, and Terreno Gully on drums], she says they treat the stage not as a stage but as a playground. Every jazz musician gives what she calls a ‘jazz sensibility’ to the songs they were raised on. She mentioned Chicago, and Stevie Wonder, and Fleetwood Mac. And while I was wondering what she meant by jazz sensibility, she showed us with her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. [The cover we heard tonight was a lot jazzier than this, from 2015.]

She came back onstage for an encore – and then she got serious. Her short commentary on the state of the world ended with her asking us to stay lifted, to hold on to our consciousness, to our humanity. She asked us to be a light in the world. She finished with a cover of Mali Music’s Beautiful, and when the chorus came [I put my lighter in the air for you], there wasn’t one cigarette lighter to be seen; it was all mobile phone flashlights. So not cool, people. So not cool.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I officially belong to another generation. I’m at the ‘back in my day’ stage where I have legitimate reflections of a life that my teenage nephews would see as fodder for history books. And as Reeves sang her heart out, a little piece of mine broke off. I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia that rode in on the back of a series of flashbacks to gigs I’d been to in my early 20s, where cigarette lighters were de rigueur and having a Zippo lighter meant not having burned grooves on your thumb. But no more, I thought, no more. That life is done. Reeves’ final words – one note, one voice, one people, one world, one love – though poignant, were lost on me. This one will take some time to process.

2018 Grateful 42

Sometimes you just need a laugh. And if that laugh can be sustained over a few hours, all the better. When the world goes askew and the media is full of the bad stuff happening, when things are not working as smoothly as they used to, when way too much time is spent on wondering what if, then laughter is just about the best tonic there is. Yes, it might be a temporary relief, it might be treating the symptoms and not the disease, it might be covering or colouring the root cause of the malaise, but for those few hours, life suspends.

Trolling through the NetFlix offer a few weeks back, I happened across a show called Grace and Frankie. Back in 2015 Grace (Jane Fonda) used to be married Robert (Martin Sheen). Frankie (Lily Tomlin) used to be married to Sol (the gorgeous Sam Waterston). Now, after 40 years of being married, the two boys come out and get married themselves.  All are in their seventies  on the show and in their late seventies and eighties in real life. Each of the last four series has had 13 episodes. That’s some amount of work, lads. Some amount of work. It’s not the first time that Fonda and Tomlin have worked together – remember 9 to 5 with Dolly Parton?

The brainchild of Martha Kaufman, co-creator of Friends, Grace and Frankie addresses all sorts of social issues in a funny (often hilarious) and empathetic way. From ageism to adoption, From drug addiction, to dementia. From gay rights to gun rights. It focuses, too, on the septuagenarian world and what it feels like to be invisible. Each episode brings wit and wisdom to play and gives an insight into life and how we deal with it. Supposedly shot in La Jolla, San Diego (if you’re to believe the cast), it’s actually shot in Malibu, but that’s neither here nor there.

A stellar list of guest appearances includes four-time Oscar nominee Marsha Mason,  Craig T. Nelson (of Coach fame), the delectable Sam Elliott, Peter Gallaghar, and Friend, Lisa Kudrow. The theme song is Stuck in the Middle with you but the closing tune changes every week and were all 52 put together, they’d make a fab playlist for a old rockers party.

What I like most about the show though, and I like it all, is that these seventy-somethings are sassy and in-your-face. And though their friends might be dying off around them, they’ve rallied and are taking on the world. It’s not glamorised – the aches and pains are peppered with senior moments.  But it is brutally honest in confronting how we expect our elderly to be. It has a thing or three to teach us.

It’s been an iffy week. But Grace and Frankie have helped immeasurably. Thanks ladies. I’m grateful to you.

 

 

Fast-forward 35 years

I missed my 30-year school reunion. I was in Israel at the time. It was so successful that there was another one a year or so later. I got to that one and caught up with people I hadn’t seen in years. I remember a collective wondering at where the time had gone. American TV school reunions fascinate me, as do the High School yearbooks, where people are voted most likely to succeed, most likely to become millionaires, most likely to grow bunions. They’re the go-to resource when it comes to solving murders in TV whodunnits. Ireland is way more casual  – we didn’t get any further than the simple autograph book. And as we collected witty (and not-so-witty) rhymes from our soon-to-be-former classmates, I don’t think any of us stopped to wonder who among us would be famous – some day, even if one of our own, Murray Boland [now BAFTA-Award-winning executive producer in the UK] had made an appearance on the Late Late Toy Show while we were still in school – and that was like, Wow! Totes amaze.

I was in Edinburgh visiting one of my many cousins a quare few years ago, when I saw an episode of MacIntyre Investigates and realised that said same Donal MacIntyre had been in my class at school. Mad! I was a little in awe, reading his Wikipedia page. Who’d have thunk it. I never would have figured him for the type to get beaten up in bars and have to go on the lam when the thugs and gurriers he was investigating came looking for their ounce of flesh.

I was suitably impressed by Mick O’Toole’s photography and his ad campaigns. One of his most impressive photos is that of a man washing his face in the sea. Stunning. And staying with the sea, his short film on wave energy for Maynooth University has some jawdropping imagery. There’s a lotta talent lurking there, and I don’t ever remember him with a camera.

More recently though, another classmate came to light. Katrina Costello (although I could have sworn she went by Caitriona … she probably changed it to make it easier for the international brigade) is now a cinematographer/director whose documentary The Silver Branch was up for an award at the IFTA this year. And while I wouldn’t have the bladder control needed to live Donal’s life, reading about what Caitriona has been up to had me green with envy.

I contracted on mostly six months on, six months off periods — working in some of the major stock exchanges and banking capitals of the world,” she explains. “That allowed me the opportunity to do what I love; to go alone photographing and living in the far-off reaches of the world — from the mountains of Asia to the basin of the Amazon.

My ability with a camera wouldn’t even touch the shadow of the foot of a tripod in comparison to Mike or Caitriona, I have zero interest in being in or on TV like Murray. But a six-month on/six-month off schedule? And the wherewithal to travel? That I could do.

When I got over the envy and watched the trailer for her documentary, I was gobsmacked. It’s beautiful. Simply beautiful. I’ve been quoting it since. And it’s featured in the Fléadh in Galway later this year (Friday, 14th July) but I’ll be wedding it up that night somewhere in Portugal. I need to figure out another way to see the full thing.

The Silver Branch is a philosophical vision-poem on the life of farmer/poet Patrick McCormack, descendant of the generations of farmers who have lived off the wild landscape of the Burren in County Clare. Patrick and his rural community are drawn into a divisive battle with the Government, leading him and a small group of friends to the Supreme Court to decide on the fate of this iconic wilderness. Through Patrick’s eyes, and in his words, this beautifully shot film immerses us in the exquisite texture of the natural world, bringing us a rare glimpse of a disappearing way of life with all its richness and roguery, and leading to a deep connection with the Earth and our ancestral wild spirit. And though it is centred around [sic] one man’s life and a bitter-sweet end-of-era evocation, it explores much deeper themes: the relationship between man and landscape, between tradition and spirit, between body and soul. The Silver Branch is a story of hope – hope that we as individuals can make a difference to our universe.

My favourite line from the trailer is that everyone needs time and space and have a favourite place to come and see and visit and listen and be at peace. I have that. I’m lucky.

I’m sure many of the 70 or so who were in the Class of 1983 have done wild and wonderful things with their lives. That their fame has escaped me has probably lots to do with my paltry presence and engagement with social media, and little to do with the ineffectiveness of the village grapevine. I’m simply not in the know. It is nice, though, to see what 35 years can do to a life, and to take a tangential pride in the success of those you once sat beside in school. Note to self: Search for that autograph book. Some of those signatures could be worth money 🙂

 

2018 Gratefuls 44 and 43

Delighted the boys pulled it off this afternoon and fingers crossed nothing untoward happens between now and next Sunday when it’ll all be over. A nod to Scotland for doing so well this year. Marrying a fondness for quotations and a grá for rugby, I came across this list of Rugby Quotations that’s worth a share. Not quite sure what Oscar Wilde was banging on about in No. 8 but hey, each to their own. For me, I’m doubly grateful to the lads for the entertainment they provide during the Six Nations and that for adrenaline rush that tells us we’re still alive. They know how to rise the Irish in me.

 

 

1.”Remember that rugby is a team game; all 14 of you make sure you pass the ball to Jonah.”

FAX to All Blacks before 1995 World Cup semi-final.

2.”You’ve got to get your first tackle in early, even if it’s late.”

Ray Gravell, Welsh hardman explains his rugby philosophy.

3.”The relationship between the Welsh and the English is based on trust and understanding. They don’t trust us and we don’t understand them.”

Dudley Wood, English RFU secretary on Anglo-Welsh relations, 1986.

4.”A player of ours has been proven guilty of biting. That’s a scar that will never heal.”

Andy Robinson, Bath (in England) coach after his prop Kevin Yates was suspended for taking a chunk out of an opposing flanker’s ear

5.”Beer and Rugby are more or less synonymous.”

Chris Laidlaw, New Zealand All Black.

6.”Rugby is a wonderful show: dance, opera and, suddenly, the blood of a killing.”

Richard Burton, Welsh actor.

7.”Rugby is great. The players don’t wear helmets or padding; they just beat the living daylights out of each other and then go for a beer. I love that.”

Joe Theismann, American football player.

8.”Rugby is a good occasion for keeping thirty bullies far from the center of the city.”

Oscar Wilde, Irish writer.

9.”Rugby is a game for the mentally deficient… That is why it was invented by the British. Who else but an Englishman could invent an oval ball?”

Peter Cook, English comedian and satirist.

10.”Rugby players are either piano shifters or piano movers. Fortunately, I am one of those who can play a tune.”

Pierre Danos, French rugby player.

11.”Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our houses and they only live in them for a fortnight every 12 months. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you are playing this afternoon.”

Phil Bennett, Pre-game pep talk before facing England, 1977.

12.”We’ve lost seven of our last eight matches. Only team that we’ve beaten was Western Samoa. Good job we didn’t play the whole of Samoa.”

Gareth Davies, Welsh rugby player, 1989.

13.”The French selectors never do anything by halves; for the first international of the season against Ireland they dropped half the three-quarter line.”

Nigel Starmer-Smith, BBC TV (1974).

14.”The job of Welsh coach is like a minor part in a Quentin Tarantino film: you stagger on, you hallucinate, nobody seems to understand a word you say, you throw up, you get shot. Poor old Kevin Bowring has come up through the coaching structure so he knows what it takes … 15 more players than Wales have at present.”

Mark Reason, Total Sport (1996).

15.”Rugby is played by men with odd shaped balls.”

Car bumper sticker

16.”The pub is as much a part of rugby as is the playing field.”

John Dickenson

17.”The women sit, getting colder and colder, on a seat getting harder and harder, watching oafs, getting muddier and muddier.”

Virginia Graham, US writer and commentator, referring to the ‘muddied oafs’ image conjured up by Rudyard Kipling in his poem ‘The Islanders’ (1903).

18.”Rugby may have many problems, but the gravest is undoubtedly that of the persistence of summer.”

Chris Laidlaw

19.”The advantage law is the best law in rugby, because it lets you ignore all the others for the good of the game.”

Derek Robinson

20.“We’ve lost seven of our last eight matches. Only team that we’ve beaten was Western Samoa. Good job we didn’t play the whole of Samoa.”

Gareth Davies (1989)

21.“In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why.”

Sir Tasker Watkins (1979)

22.“Rugby backs can be identified because they generally have clean jerseys and identifiable partings in their hair… come the revolution the backs will be the first to be lined up against the wall and shot for living parasitically off the work of others.”

Peter Fizsimmons

23.“Grandmother or tails, sir?”

To Princess Anne’s son Peter Phillips, Gordonstoun School’s rugby captain, for his pre-match coin-toss preference from an anonymous rugby referee in 1995.