Friday 27 June 2008

Even if we never buy tickets, we're all affected by the Galway Arts Festival!

Recently I was asked what I thought about the Galway Arts Festival. Now that nostalgia ain't what it used to be, I tried my darndest not to allow my memory to turn the past into a Bulmer's cider commercial, where buxom girls wore frilly frocks; the sun shone from a cloudless sky; there was not one miserable fecker pulling a long face in sight; and we had all the time in the world to sit around and laugh and flirt and get pissed on cider.
Trouble is, the first memory my addled brainbox harvests of attending a Galway Arts Festival event looks exactly like a Bulmer's commercial.
Hundreds of happy sweaty young bodies are crammed into the Festival Big Top. There is straw on the floor. To my left, thick-set farmer's sons from Abbeyknockmoy; to my right, brick shithouse trucker's nephews from Tuam. The air is thick with the smell of beer and mud, and up on stage, the Saw Doctors are playing a blinder at home.
To this recently-arrived London boy, that night was a revelation. I was so musically and spiritually far away from the Marquee on Wardour Street, I could have been in Nebraska, or a different universe. But hell, I enjoyed the gig. That night was made possible for me by the inestimable Ollie Jennings, himself a co-founder of the Arts Festival.
Back then, writing a colyoom in this Noble Rag under a nom de plume, I had complained that while the Shams were enjoying worldwide success, they were at risk of neglecting the very roots that had inspired their music and their fanbase.
Months later, an envelope appeared in the newsroom, bearing two tickets to the Sawdoctors' gig in the Festival Big Top.
I've been around the block a few times, and am not easily surprised, but this act of professionalism truly impressed me. Not only did Ollie remember an isolated item in an old colyoom, but he then acted to show me that I was wrong.
Ollie was also on board when Project 06 took on the Arts Festival a couple of years ago, in a successful effort to reclaim the Festival for the people of Galway.
Project 06 focused to a great extent on the participation of local artists, performers and artistic talent, while this colyoom has for many years pleaded that the Arts Festival organisers should work harder to excite and stimulate the local population, through a greater emphasis on small street-based performances, so that we all might feel we live in a Festival City, and not merely a city with a festival.
But far too many column inches have already gone that way, while not enough have extolled the Macnas Parade.
When you live in Galway City, the Arts Festival just happens around you. The source of much revenue to some, to most of the locals it's just something that's happening that makes your life a little more difficult for a couple of weeks. There are well-to-do arty-farty types sitting in traffic jams and outside your pubs, and lots of shows you can't afford, or haven't the time to go to.
To us the Macnas Parade is much more than an event. Galwegians take the parade as a massive 'Thank You', and certainly, all of my favourite memories of the Arts Festival come from parades of the past, splendid and vibrant in their larger-than-life colours and forms. I particularly recall the Noah's Ark parade, with the God figure shooting water out of his gigantic fingertips.
The Macnas Parade brings together all the locals, tourists and arty types and stretches across our collective faces the ecstatic smile of an overexcited five year-old.
This year we have another night time parade, bringing to my mind the night of the first, when 'Cargo de Nuit' were due to make their way to South Park.
I was at that time living in a house that faced right onto the Swamp, so I'd have had the perfect view of all the parade madness and promised spectacular firework display, had it not been for the fact that I was working nights, looking after an elderly gentleman suffering from the later stages of Alzheimer's.
As I made my way to work, I was feeling really jealous of the excited crowds I passed heading whence I came, towards the show.
Later, as I ate an evening meal with my patient (let's call him Peter) and his wife, I thought it best to warn him of the night's proceedings.
"Just wanted to let you know, Peter, that if you hear loud bangs later on, it is only the fireworks from the Festival Parade."
Peter looked at me with completely blank eyes, and a little piece of his apple crumble slid slowly out of his mouth and down his chin.
"Who are you?"
"I am Charlie, Peter!"
Peter smiled warmly.
"Oh yes. Hello, Charlie."
At this point his wife, who was as short-tempered and impatient as her husband was delightful and gentle, turned to have a go at me.
"What's the point in you saying that to him? He cannot even remember your name. He cannot remember my name a lot of the time. How could he possibly remember something that won't happen for hours yet? Don't go trying to confuse him with all this nonsense talk of fireworks. Haven't I enough to think about without you worrying my poor Peter with all this fireworks nonsense."
Somewhat taken aback by the ferocity of her onslaught, I turned once again to look at Peter, sitting placidly and apparently completely unaware of our conversation.
Maybe she was right.
Maybe I had been expecting too much.
Hours later, when the firework display started, I heard Peter emit a little whimper.
Leaping out of my tiny bed to stand beside his, I asked Peter if he was okay.
"Oh yes. It was the loud noise. It woke me up. Who are you?"
"I am Charlie, Peter. "
"Oh yes, Charlie. I know you. Thank you, Charlie."
"My pleasure, Peter. Don't worry about the bangs. They'll stop soon."
"Oh I know. They are the fireworks from the parade."
'Why you sly old dog!' I thought to myself. 'You understood exactly what we were talking about, and simply chose not to engage the wife!'
Even though I rarely attend an event, the Galway Arts Festival is as much a part of my city Summer life as rain and wind.

Monday 23 June 2008

Is the pint as long as the shower, or the other way around?

Every time Angel moves just the slightest bit, his dog Merlin twitches with anticipation.
Is this it?Are we going for a walk?
Mocking Merlin’s response to Angel’s move for the kettle, we both nevertheless respond immediately to the dog’s request, and look out of the window.
The Galway afternoon sky holds a million possibilities. Light grey clouds float above dark grey clouds, hanging below the canopy of the billowing thunderstorm anvil.
Scattered cracked saucers of blue show through, and the rain has abated.
Well, at least, for the moment.
We three look each other in the eyes, and the two humans, being soft gits as much as they are men of honour, give in to the fantastically manipulative eyes of the dog.
“I’ll walk out with you, and head home.”
“Okay mate. Yes, Merlin.”
Before we reach the bottom of his cul-de-sac, the rain begins to fall.
It’s only a shower, and if I’m walking I’m walking.
Walking is good. Walking is fine.
Down the hill, and the rain is holding slight.
Good thing too, really, because these drops are not soft. These drops are not mist.
These drops are Galway Summer Style‘n’Fashion Mother of All Wet-Making Drops; soaking, permeating, getting down to business drops that have one purpose in life: to impregnate cotton towards flesh.
Being a bloke means that you are not allowed to stop and do your coat up. You have to keep walking as you do it, or otherwise risk being misinterpreted as a man of less than wholesome substance.
So whilst moving at full Bear Adley speed, my hands are flailing below my line of vision. To a stranger it must look as if I’m trying to read my wax cotton jacket in braille.
(stat)As I struggle to wrap the collar flap around my oak tree neck and snap the flap’s male rivet onto the little female metal rivet, without looking down like a sensible human being, and see what I’m doing, lest I lose a moment of momentum, I’m more than a little taken aback when the driver of the car right in front of me, stuck in a jam on the Bishop O’Donnell (I know, I know, a jam? There? Hard to believe) suddenly winds down his window, points out and yells:(stat)
“Chaaarlie Chaaaaarlie Chaaaarlieeeee Adley. I seee you-oooouu!”
Smiling as I recognise the nutty Loganberry, I feel completely irrational embarrassment that he saw me struggling to do up my jacket, when I know that
1) He didn’t.
2) He wouldn’t care if he had.
3) He’d have bigger and better fish to fry if he really wanted to embarrass me.
Facing up the hill towards the roundabout, I stomp onwards, now zipped up, buttoned up, collared up and ready to get going.
Even after 16 years as a Blow-in, it still feels good to be spotted by an Irish friend in Ireland.
Oh, now here comes the rain. And didn’t I learn something useful, in those 16 years, beyond my affected Irish use of ‘didn’t’ and ‘wouldn’t’?
Sure, (that too!) didn’t I learn how to deal with the rain?
Didn’t I learn to take shelter, because for 360 days of the year, the weather in the west of Ireland includes sunshine and showers. Didn’t I learn that these showers were the reason everybody clears the streets to take shelter in shops, and that a shower lasting just exactly the same time it takes to pour and drink a pint of the black, wasn’t the shower itself the very reason that a barrel arrived in the shop?
So when you arrive in a tiny west of Ireland town that has two shops and 47 pubs, you can blame the nature of the shower.
I take shelter under a bush at the side of the road, feeling smug and smiling in my ‘I’m not a local, but hey, I’m no tourist either’ kind of way. The rain stops, and I emerge into the steamy sunshine, walking on, with my head held high, my chin shiny and dry.
And then the rain really comes. The universe sensed my hubris, and now I will be truly punished.
There is no ambiguity about this sky. It is black; heavy, black and low.
As I round the almost-crest of the hill by the roundabout, the rain kicks up two gears, turing into flash flood sub-tropical downpour.
I know it can’t last at this level long, because we’re temperate in these parts, but shelter is now out of the question. I am going to get drenched to the skin, and, well, that’s okay.
The Irish have a word for it. You have to get drownded once in a while.
The Irish get drownded.
The English get drenched.
They both hit my mark
My hair is sodden, dripping floods into my eyes, and now I cannot see through my glasses, which are steamed and under torrential attack. Crossing by the lights at the top of Taylor’s Hill, I head down Threadneedle Road towards the Prom, repeating over and over to myself, deranged, not to miss the footpath out to the left.
Onwards, onwards, until I lift up my glasses and peer out to see I have, of course, missed the bloody footpath.
Turning around and heading back up the hill, I stumble into what I think is the footpath, which turns out instead to be a block of flats, and then the rain goes into overdrive again, and the flat shabby modern architecture offers not an inch of shelter.
Now I’m in the zone. Lollopping back down towards the Prom, I am slapping flappy-dappy my floppy wet jeans around with insane abandon, yelling laughing out loud crazy not giving a damn.
“Okay!” I yell to the skies,”You’ve shown me who is boss, and I accept. I am worthless. Thank you!”
But even that fleeting moment of freedom is taken from me, for as I turn into my own tiny street, the sun comes out, clouds disappear, and I am steaming in my sodden clothes under a hot clear blue sky before I turn the key in my front door lock.

Sunday 15 June 2008

Civilised? You're only three days from being a murderer!

My head sits heavy on my mountainous shoulders, as I drive down Grattan Road, wondering what peculiar wee beasties we are.
Pumped up with ridiculous levels of our own self-importance, we imagine ourselves civilised, and walk around as if we own the planet.
A driver coming towards me pulls out from the parked cars alongside Whitestrand, and I swear and gesticulate angrily as he passes by.
Is this what makes us civilised? Sitting in little metal boxes, leaving behind a trail of noxious gases as we nip from obvious A to inevitable B?
Is it really civilised to supply the car with petrol so that we can take it to work so that we can afford the petrol?
Hoh yuss, we are the bees knees, that’s us, and what we say goes. Can’t touch us, ‘cos we are in the driving seat.
I mean, do you see any other species driving around in cars? Stands to reason, then, that we are the number one, Top of the Civilised Pops, as far as this lump of rock in space goes.
Unless, of course, all the other species are shuffling through the undergrowth looking at us and calling us plonkers.
Brrrroom brrroom.
It seems absurd to think of driving a car as in any way civilised. We have grandiose notions about how we might be destroying the planet, as well we might, but also, with delusional hubris, we imagine we might be able to cure the planet.
We might be able to invent safe fuels, or build ‘Carbon Scrubbing’ machines to remove the greenhouse gases. We might build huge mirrors to reflect the sun’s rays back into space.
And a shaft of pure white light might shine out of my backside singing the hallelujah chorus.
This planet that we are so concerned with saving was born somewhere around 4,700,000 years ago, and Homo Sapiens, our bunch, have only been on the scene for the last 160,000 years. If the history of this planet was a mountain, we would barely be a pebble upon it.
Every day this living breathing pulsating lump of rock, pumped by an internal engine of swirling molten rock and trapped gases (think Uncle Mikey after Sunday dinner), hurtles through space being pummelled by all manner of other lumps of rock.
We might be hit by a massive meteor, like the one that hit Mexico 65 million years ago, leaving a 170 km-wide crater and releasing gases and dust that wiped out the dinosaurs.
Or that lump of Canary Island might finally slip into the Atlantic Ocean and send a mega-tsunami to the eastern seaboard of America, which will rebound and wash up on Ireland’s shores, causing total devastation an unbelievably short matter of minutes later.
Depending upon the whim of our planet, our deaths might be delivered from the Super Volcano that lurks under the vastness of the United States’ Yellowstone National Park. The size and power of this baby only came to light relatively recently, when vulcanologists realised that sections of the park’s pine forest were slipping into a lake, which then turned out to be part of a crater that was phenomenally and terrifyingly massive.
When that blows, the jet stream carries the blast and dust storms east, wiping out half of the United States, and again, probably the rest of us under the ensuing clouds of sulphur.
Don’t get me wrong. I‘m not standing on my soapbox giving hellfire and damnation diatribe.
Anything but, in fact. All I am saying is that we are so far from being the rulers of this planet, it is laughable to pretend to be civilised. When the Earth farts, scratches an itch or wets itself, we puny types are engulfed in disaster.
We can try to ascribe the evils of Global Warming to some natural phenomena, but equally, the weather only tells part of the story. When the ground moves or explodes, as it does with alarming regularity, all the lobby groups and self-help books in the world don’t help a damn.
Equally, it is hypocritical and pointless to talk of trying to ‘cure’ Global Warming in any kind of context that expects economic growth to continue. Were people, governments, our species as a whole truly concerned about how we might be harming our environment, then we would, as one, stop our insane desire for more; for material goods, for cars that take us from A to B.
We have no idea what will get us in the end. According to the ecological doomsayers, we might just die in any number of cataclysmic natural events.
Maybe the unprecedented level of permafrost melting all over the Siberian tundra will release so much methane that the Earth with flash into flame and disintegrate in a cosmic botty burp.
Perchance the ice melt going on in Greenland will finally hit critical mass, and flood the oceans.
Just up the road from us the ‘Conveyor Belt’ that brings the warm air and water to our west coast and transports the cooler air and water down south has been shaky for ages, and when that stops, as it has done already for short periods, our climate in Ireland will become Arctic overnight and not much fun at all.
Whether it comes from something we started, or another thing that the planet just produced, the only sure thing about the apocryphal ‘Big One’ is that it will be unexpected, instant and in the course of the history of the planet, nowt more than an irrelevant blip.
So yes, in our plush posh motors we might dare to feel civilised, and believe that we own the planet, and can save it. And then in our folly, we grow Palm Oil to run our cars, and cause food shortages and rice riots in South East Asia.
But we are all only 3 days from becoming murderers.
Whenever catastrophe strikes, time has proven certain types of human behaviour.
Whoever you are, however much you have right now, come disaster, you are the same as me.
Day One we forage, hide and await help.
Day Two we leave our shelters in search of food. At this stage, we are willing to steal to feed our families.
If we have not found food by Day Three, we will be prepared to kill another human being if they have food and our children do not.
Civilised? You tell me.

Thursday 5 June 2008

This referendum is the Emperor's New Clothes of democracy!

It's a shame that I now feel so apathetic and cynical about the European Union.
20 years ago I was a strong and fervent believer in the power of European unity, but looking back now, I wonder how much of that was down to the desperate and urgent need we all then felt to calm the Soviet and American superpowers, who were forever threatening to use Europe as the venue for their nuclear war.
In my mind I dreamed of a United States of Europe, strong enough to tell the big bad boys to shut up, go away, take their Intercontinental Ballistic Nuclear Missiles and station them a lot closer to their own homes. I hoped that the EU might offer a world-beating combination of financial might, historical depth and cultural strength to the worldwide mix, and hold firm as a great force for peace.
The seed that grew into this European Union was formed when the French, German and English considered a coal and steel co-operative in the late 1940's. Naturally the English wanted none of it, (Nasty dirty Johnny Dago, we have plenty of coal, yuk yuk go away, you rather lowly recently-liberated people) but planted into the rubble of a billion bombed out houses and nurtured by the exhausted war torn millions of Western Europe, the seed of co-operation germinated into a spirit, and above all, a determination that we would never go to war with each other again.
With the very best of intentions, I settled down to read the wee leaflet that had been delivered to our door. What was this Reform Treaty all about?
Checking to see if both sides had been allowed the same space, I found only an upside-down Irish language version of the English language 'Yes' vote's arguments.
But really, that didn't matter either, because before I read to the end of the very first paragraph, I had given up.
Under the heading 'What is the Reform Treaty?', the para was trying to explain the name of the thing that we were voting for:
"Its official name is the Treaty Amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community."
My brain flushed awash with images of Monty Python's 'Life of Brian', the debates between the People's Front of Judea and the Judean People's Front.
In a vast conference suite, somewhere in Brussels, people had been hammering out this bureaucratic befuddlement.
"Bonjour, guten tag, hello, buenas dias, prynhawn da, dobar dan, bom dia, svitchi svotcha, bugga booger, a dunkin donutski..."
"Yes please to get on with it. Last two weeks only beetroots saying hello we are in so much heat and bad coffee, honey drip drip drop as we say in my country honey drop a long time it taking to not get business done."
"Put on your interpretators headphones you foolish balkan type. I am not interested in your lack of manners and cultural ignorance of my people's protocols."
"So this reform treaty can be maybe called a Reform Treaty of Lisbon Treaty?"
"No, because Lisbon Treaty is already reforming treaty of all the other treaties, so they their names must be having in the name of this treaty. Beetroot fool."
"My delegation respectfully request that this Reform Treaty be called: The Reform Treaty that will be Reformed by any given EU member State, Country, Principality, Nation, or Dodgy Region with its own Funny Dialect and Enough Nutters With Bombs, near good-sounding City where in five years when We need to change Treaty again we will vote Treaty replacing all other Treaties and excluding Cities and Countries who have already either won a World War, or Eurovision , or already had a Treaty named after them ... Treaty."
Not much of a way to run a continent, really.
The Reform Treaty referendum, as presented to the Irish people, is nothing but a retelling of the children's story of the Emperor's New Clothes, wherein the voice of one innocent child screams out the truth that the Emperor is riding naked through the streets, allowing all in the crowd to stop pretending, and mock as one.
We are willing participators in a democratic process, but we are loathe to own up and confess that we have no clue what we are voting for. Even those of us sad souls who have read the damned treaty have no clue what we are voting for.
We want to vote 'Yes', because there is always the feeling with the European Union that you have to be in it to win it. But Ireland has already won the EU's Euromillons, and is now having to pay to support other less-well-off countries, and nobody likes that.
Our inability to understand what is being reformed is actually hampered by exponents on both sides.
A recent letter to a local paper from Fianna Fail MEP, Sean O'Neactain, stated:
"Ireland will have exactly the same rights of representation within the European Commission post 2014 as Germany and France."
On the very same page, a letter from Sinn Fein supporter Anna Marley stated:
"...under the new formula, Ireland's voting strength is cut in half while the voting strengths of the largest states - France, UK, Germany, Italy - doubles."
Pathetic, isn't it, and the only loser is democracy itself, because we are being invited to vote out of ignorance.
After my recent rant about the bureaucratic nightmare that is the EBU and the Eurovision Song Contest, I was sent a note by a friend of Conservative Party MEP, Chris Heaton-Harris, who is rightly concerned about his fellow MEP's' own ignorance of what they vote for in the European Parliament itself:
"MEPs vote to approve the budgets of each EU institutions like the Commission, the Parliament, the myriad of European agencies. Towards the end of one such session, as we were voting to approve something called the GNSS Supervisory Authority, my colleague Chris Heaton-Harris stood up and asked whether there was a single MEP present who knew what the GNSS was. There was an awkward silence. The Deputy Speaker, a genial Spaniard called Alejo Vidal-Quadras, told Chris that, by the end of the day, everyone would have looked it up."
(the GNSS is the European Global Navigation Satellite System.)
This colyoom will not advise you whether to vote 'Yes' or 'No' on June 12th. An old friend once told me that if you can't work out the answer, you might simply be asking the wrong question.