Monday 29 July 2013

It's time to celebrate my Annual HeadFest!

Drowning in Galway’s annual torrent of festivals celebrating film, the arts, poker and horse racing, I pack Blue Bag and head northwest, to celebrate Charlie’s Annual HeadFest.

The sky is a burning blue, the tarmac is melting and after a couple of hours I stop in Bangor for a coke and a sarnie. The girl in the local shop is incredibly friendly, and the waitress in the café lets me off 25c with a smile, forgoing her tip.

Has Bailout Ireland once again become the land of Céad Mile Fáilte, the Hundred Thousand Welcomes?

On Belmullet’s pier a sign declares a littering fine of €125. Below there’s a picture of litter bin. I walk up to use it, but there is no bin; just a sign.

Escaping the late afternoon heat, I go into a pub where some of the locals have been hiding for possibly a little too long. The exuberantly cheerful barmaid keeps them ordered, as a conductor in front of a raggedy yet benign orchestra.

We’re hearing about her visit to the fortune teller who has pitched up outside the pub.

“She told me I had a bubbly personality and that I work most nights! Sure, there I was all smiles, and hasn’t she seen me coming and going out of here at all hours? I think I’ll set up outside here too, and tell you all about yourselves. I know everything about ye all!”
We all laugh but a couple of the regulars look faintly nervous.

“Did she say if Mayo’d win Sam?”
“No, I didn’t ask her.”

Much general male groaning.

Stumbling back out into the glare of the low evening sun, I skip and dance across the road, avoiding the constant convoy of tractors towing trailers full of cut turf. A father and his young red-headed daughter empty their trailer into their back yard, turn the tractor around and head straight back out to the bog. There’s something wonderful about the way that even in the height of this heat wave, the Irish are preparing for the cold long nights of Winter.

The thrill of a true Blue Bag trip is to have no route planned, no end in mind. Like life itself, the best journeys evolve, just as this one has become a coastal tour of Bangor-Erris and my beloved north Mayo.

The following morning a thick sea fog clings low to the coast. Undeterred, I pootle around the Pollatomish loop and then drive north again to Rossport and beyond. Rolling grey white and black waves of moisture cascade over the clifftops, falling onto the searing heat of the grasses and boglands. The high views down to virgin sandy shores and distant craggy headlands are impressive enough, but driving through this natural battle between water and steam, heat and cool, the ethereal air of a dream envelopes me.

I am blissed out. Alone, free, aimless and ecstatic, I pootle back towards the Ballycastle Road, but have a lingering memory of a tiny bog road that goes all the way to Belderg, and yes, lovely, there it is!

Hanging a left, I experience what has become a rare treat in this modern world: for 20 minutes I drive slowly along the tiny road, during which time I see not one house, nor a car, nor a single human being. The only evidence of people occupying this planet are the hundreds of bags of turf left drying on the bogs and the recently-sheared sheep sporting multi-coloured paint brands.

On a day such as this the drive is pure pleasure, but were the car to break down, I’d be a heck of a long way from help, and wouldn’t fancy trying to explain my whereabouts!

Back on the main road, the fog clears just as I pass the Céide Fields, revealing a view of Downpatrick Head, prominent and pristine, as green as the ocean licking it is blue.

Forget the Giant’s Causeway: with a gentle breeze carrying 23°C, Downpatrick Head with its glorious sea stack Dún Briste is more impressive, more beautiful and more unspoilt.
Perched on the corner of the clifftop, I’m sitting at the same level as the grass atop the stack, 200 metres away across the ocean. Between us, a sheer and deadly 45 metre plunge, waves out of sight far below.

Up here, level with the flying gulls, my eyes are drawn to the wondrous layers that build the stack. It feels as if I’m looking at the history of the world in those slices of rock. I’ve seen sedimentary layers elsewhere, but how many centuries of seismic and volcanic upheaval does that thick pink stone layer represent? What cataclysmic event was happening to this planet during those thousands of years?

Today these gentle waves are simply nibbling at its base, yet one of the wonders of the stack is how it’s still evolving. When I lived down the road, I often came up here in Winter, lost somewhere between King Lear and the French Lieutenant's Woman, braced fearful and inspired against the ferocity of a storm. Gigantic waves swallowed mouthfuls out of stack and cliffs alike, salty spume filling the air, as nature’s full power relentlessly ripped out stones, created new arches, undermining the stability of the pile.

If it were like that today, those tourists walking back to the car park could not so easily ignore that fenced-off tidal pool in the middle of this grassy field. They’d stop in their tracks, transfixed, as the roar of water exploding on rock boomed and a plume of seawater rose majestic and incongruous from the blowhole.

Now I’m a tourist too, but with the benefit of local knowledge, I can  today fully appreciate the magnificent views of north Mayo’s stunning landscape, because I have often been up here when all is grey, dull, soaked and deadened by days of dreary rain. Now, as Summer delivers joy to the landscape, it soothes my spirits and calms my brain.

Friday 26 July 2013

I used to think ‘Closing Spirit Doors’ meant it was time to leave the pub, but then I met James O’Sullivan, and my dreams were never the same again!

Here’s a piece I wrote about the man, his wife and his talent. It was originally published in the Irish Examiner in 2003, but I’m playing it again now as a way of saying thank you to a rare human being.

This time last year my father was undergoing life-threatening surgery, and to add to the stress, my family decided to declare war upon itself. Every night, I was having deranged dreams, in which violent crimes were being perpetrated against loved ones. Towards the end of each dream, my ex-wife arrived, à la the 7th Cavalry. Smiling serenely, she hugged me, told me everything was okay, and then I woke up, disturbed and disoriented, alone with my mad head, herself a lifetime away in San Francisco. 
My back then decided it could no longer carry the burden of all these problems, and sent itself into breathtaking waves of spasm, leaving me unable to exhale without suffering indescribable pain.
A close friend recommended I visit his ‘Chinese medicine guy’ down in Galway City, and twelve hours later, I was making my way up Prospect Hill, trying to erase from my mind corny images of old geezers with stringy beards.
Just as well, because when James O’Sullivan appeared in the doorway, he looked like any other middle-aged Galwegian, with his Hilfigger trackies, and a welcoming twinkle in his eye.
James has a calming presence, and talks with a gentle authority that enables you to trust him implicitly. 
I told him about my family and my back, but he shrugged and asked me to tell him more. When I told him about my dreams, he responded immediately.
He told me my vital energy Qi (pronounced ‘chee’) was out of balance. Also, my Spirit Doors were open, and my Shen (‘spirit’, or ‘mind’ as we think of it in the West) was wandering, creating confusion, allowing lack of focus to flourish.
Such is the man’s healing charisma, that had he at this stage asked me to hang upside down, and immerse my head in a bucket of yoghurt, mud and manure, I would have willingly obeyed. 
However, he said I needed Tui Na, the Chinese Acupressure massage, that literally means to ‘push and grasp’.
Ever since that first session, my back has been absolutely pain-free, and I have not had one dream containing cameos played by smiling Californian redheads.
James O’Sullivan grew up in Galway City’s Old Mervue. Through the 80’s, he worked as a barman in London, a welder in Galway, and a salesman in Germany. Then, whilst living in Cambridge, he fell in love with Eunice, a foreign language student from T’ainan Kaohsiung in Taiwan. 
Now sitting on my sofa, James looks over at his wife with pride and affection, as she tells the story of their first meeting.
"I was visiting a friend who shared James’ house. He asked me if I would like a cup of tea, and I thought ‘What a nice, kind man!’ So I gave him my phone number."
From such cups of tea come splendid marriages. After tying the knot, they moved to Tenerife, and two years later, they fled the shabby world of timeshare sales, and moved to Taiwan.
"I taught English, and studied with Eunice’s father, Hung Shui Chen, a celebrated Tui Na Master, as well as taking a course in Acupuncture in the National College. 
“The minute I set foot in Taiwan, I was very impressed with what I saw, smelled, tasted, heard. I didn’t speak the language, but understood everything. The only downside was the humidity. Then we came over to Ireland, settling in Co. Cork."
How did Eunice feel about that?
"Where I come from we have a saying: If you marry a chicken, you follow the chicken. If you marry a dog, you follow the dog."
Back in Ireland, James was eager to apply his new-found knowledge:
"In the old days, I’d do anything you asked me to, but after Taiwan, I had a different sense of ethics. Once the Western doctor has made a diagnosis, there are set pharmaceuticals. We offer more natural remedies, and are less black and white about diagnosis. We can adapt our treatments, and diagnosis often changes as the patient moves on. We prescribe only natural raw Chinese herbs.
"Our therapies are not an alternative, but a compliment to other forms of medicine. If I have a broken bone, I go to a Tui Na master, then a Western doctor. If I have a cold or the flu, I go to a herbalist. The Chinese take far more responsibility for their health. They change their diets and exercise régimes, according to their own patterns of disharmony."
Does he ever wonder if his work really helps?
"When I worked in the hospital in Nanjing, there was a patient with a frozen right shoulder. I had been involved in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) for 6 years, so when the doctor asked me what I should do, I suggested Tui Na.
"Instead, he went to a point called Stomach 38, between the left knee and outer ankle, and inserted a needle. The patient immediately moved her shoulder. All four westerners in that hospital room had to peel their jaws off the floor. 
"I had read all the books. I knew, intellectually, that Shoulder 38 was the empirical port for a frozen shoulder, but to actually see it in clinical session - I did not know until that moment how many doubts I had! I asked him how did he do it? How did it work?
" ‘What is it with Western people?’ asked the Chinese doctor. ‘All you want to know is how it works! Why is it not enough simply to know that it works?’ "
For this pain-free peacefully sleeping scribbler, it’s certainly enough to know it works, and I am not alone. Through their immensely successful courses, James and Eunice spread the knowledge of how to heal with Tui Na, and the philosophies of TCM. 
"The courses are a great success!" enthuses James, "Our students come from all walks of life. We’ve trained everyone from complementary therapists to mothers who want flexible working hours, and the ability to use natural healing techniques on their own families. Our courses start in October, in Galway, Dublin and Cork, and when our students graduate, they receive an accredited diploma from Tui Na Ireland. Then, each graduate has an option to travel to China, where they can gain clinical experience, and use their qualification as an entry into learning acupuncture."
Recently, James and Eunice’s Active Health Foundation became the first college in the UK and Ireland ever to gain accreditation by the Zhe Jiang University, China’s largest and most respected centre of TCM.
To cap it all, James has become the first Irishman ever to be invited to be speak at the International Conference on the Treatment of Difficult Diseases, at Zhe Jiang University in April. 
The gentle Irish healer blushes, clearly humbled by this honour:
"They have only ever invited two other non-Chinese speakers. One was Giovanni Macioca, a renowned expert in Acupuncture, and the other was Salim Khan, a TCM Master, known to many Irish practitioners."

For information on courses or treatments, contact:
Active Health Foundation
Tel: 091 56 68 68

Monday 22 July 2013

Why do some women act like sexist men?

When my friend and teacher Iris Leal read the manuscript of my most recent novel, she she said she felt it was a little misogynistic. Admittedly, the Israeli writer and critic also pointed out many things that she liked about the book, and over the decades I’ve accepted her advice with gravity, but this time I was simply shocked.

I loved writing Myrna, my central character. A strong independent woman, she comes to terms with her sexuality, flees the middle-class married mediocrity of 1950s London and builds a new life for herself in California.

So I filed that particular criticism in my brainbox under ‘Hmm, naaah’ and moved on with my life, until a couple of days ago, when I received an email from a reader, accusing me of being misogynistic in this colyoom’s recent piece about Ann D’Another Thing.

The reader felt my scribbling betrayed a deeply sexist core. The accusation rather frightened me. Twice accused of misogyny, I had to read the piece again, but the process felt ludicrous. Both my heart and head knew the truth.

Back in the mid-1980s when I met Iris, I was a reflexive idealistic lefty. I knew exactly what was wrong with the world. Truth and lies were white and black, because black and white sounded racist, or was it the other way around?

It was complicated back then, when young men had to be on board with feminism. Thankfully, it was ideologically unquestionable, while the fact that I actually fervently believed in it was helpful on a more base level. Unlike lots of other less-convinced blokes, I never had to worry about ‘slipping up’ verbally, thus ruining a date with a sexist clunker.

Despite what my parents told me (and hoped for!) I didn’t compromise my ideals as I grew older, and still believe as fervently in women’s rights now as I did back then. The reason, I suspect, that I am now accused of misogyny is that I’m upset, and my feelings might be bleeding into my scribbling.

You see, as a man in the 21st century, I’ve been tolerating extremely unattractive and blatantly sexist behaviour from women for years.

During those militant years of the feminist revolution, we all hoped for the eradication of pay disparity, chauvinistic behaviour and a breakdown of the patriarchal society that had made the world such an unpleasant place.

Happily, progress has been made in some of those areas, yet I’m deeply saddened to see the way some women think it now acceptable to behave towards men in exactly the way they found intolerable as victims.

I can hear my female readers going:

“Oh, poor diddums! Can’t you take it? Welcome to our world!”

It makes me sad to think I fought, marched, shouted and campaigned for that world to change, only for it to be recreated in mirror-image. Television chat shows host groups of women who feel absolutely comfortable sitting around having a really good laugh about how terrible their husbands are in bed. Endless commercials portray men as nose-picking semi-comatose idiots incapable of using a microwave.

Meanwhile my printer is spitting out my work, I’m setting the oven to pre-heat, sweating some onions in a skillet, hanging out the laundry whilst putting on another load, listening to two women on the radio crowing about their ability to multi-task. They’d like to see a man try to do that, so they would, oh ho ho.

Yes, you’re right if you think I sound a little angry, yet mostly I feel sad. As far from a misogynist as I have ever been, I’m sad and disappointed that after all those decades of struggling, women are enjoying their improved status in society by denigrating and slagging off men with gay abandon. We all wanted society to change its attitudes, laws and behaviour to women, but surely we aspired for something better: something feminine, wise, inspired and compassionate.

I certainly never imagined that I’d be accused of misogyny for writing something negative about somebody who happens to be a woman. That level of logic that requires me to despise all men because I think Joe Stalin was a crazed psycho.

Sometimes the abuse comes subtly. Ann Robinson had equine expert Clare Balding and Sikh chef and comic Hardeep Singh Kohli on her lovely TV show ‘My Life In Books’. At one point the two women are bemoaning the lack of female writers in their choices. Turning to Hardeep, Clare Balding observes:

“That’s why we know so much about you!”

Then Ann Robinson leaps in with:

“And put up with you!”

They all laugh heartily, as do the Snapper and I, but inside I’m a little upset. As a bloke I’m expected (ironically) to ‘man up’: to shut up and laugh along with the joke. Yet if we all keep doing that, then sexism becomes once again as entrenched and acceptable as it was all those dark decades ago.

Yes, it was a tiny apparently harmless joke, but could there be any acceptable scenario in which a man would speak thus about a woman? No, thankfully, those days are long gone. 

So why is it okay to publicly and often proudly slag off men on a regular and systemic basis? Surely the sexual revolution dreamed of greater things than mere revenge?

Meanwhile, I’m aware that sometimes I become over-defensive about my status as a modern man, and would like to apologise to the supermarket cashier who hadn't offered to help any women in the queue, yet turned to me and asked:

“Will I sort out your stuff and pack it into bags for you?”

I’m sorry. I know you were only being lovely, and you didn’t deserve my response. But over the years I’ve grown tired of being treated like an imbecile, simply on account of my gender.

Still, you deserved to be shown courtesy, which was sadly lacking in my grumpy reply.

“Just because I’ve a penis doesn’t mean I don’t know how to shop!”

Monday 15 July 2013

Dishwasher dreams and multifunction foolery!

I’m ashamed of myself. I’ve willingly and knowingly embraced consumerism as a hungry dog facing a bowl of food.

For the first time in my life my home has a dishwasher. Have to say I wasn’t terribly excited by the prospect, because most of the time, it’s just easier to do the dishes by hand. Incredibly tedious sometimes, but fast and efficient. But when we have guests, or on my day off, I’ll sometimes just fill the machine and let it do its stuff.

Eeezy peezy lemon squeezy, you’d think, until Adley gets carried away with the purchasing of cleaning tablets for the bloomin’ thing.

When we first moved in I bought a pack of 30 Finish Powerball tablets, which lasted over a year. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the Finish Powerballs were on offer at half price in the supermarket, so I bought a pack of 39, knowing that they’d last for ages.

Saturday is my day off from doing dishes, so last week I opened my new pack of dishwasher tablets to discover that each was wrapped in plastic paper.
Being a simple rather slow soul, I was confused.

Doesn't take much.

Uh-oh, these-ens ain't like those other ones. The front of the box confirmed that I’d purchased Finish ALL-IN-1 Powerballs, which had a heck of a lot of CAPITAL LETTERS all over it, as well as FIZZING ACTION offering a POWERFUL CLEAN due to a NEW FORMULA.

WOW in even more capital letters!! Surely you couldn’t ask any more of a single dishwasher tablet? Thankfully my life so far has been fun and frantic enough to allow me no time to ponder the merits of how much I might expect from a dishwasher tablet.

Looking at the wrapped tablet like one of monkeys staring at the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, I turned it round and round, wondering whether I should take the wrapper off before I put it into the machine. Surely there were instructions on the box?
Yes! Now I was confronted by a wealth of information about how great this tablet was.

“The New Fizzing Powerball releases bubbles that disperse deep cleaning agents to wherever they are needed.”

Blimey! It sounds like the CIA!

“Markowitz and Shepherd - you’re our best deep cleaning agents, so we’re sending you into Syria tomorrow!”

“Sir yes Sir! We go where we are needed, Sir!”

More, they were:

“Dual layer tablets with powerful ingredients to lift off tough stains PLUS a rinse action to deliver a great shine.”

Can it get better than this? Yes! Pretty round icons displayed the tablets’ six power actions:

“Powerful clean; salt function; rinse aid function; tea-stain removal; grease cutting; machine limescale protection.”

Well that settles that then. Apart from solving the mystery of perpetual motion or coming up with a way to stop Greenland's ice sheet going into Critical Melt, these little babies did the lot.

But what’s this?

Having told me how superb their tablets are, the people at Finish are about to burst my fizzy action bubble. Just below all these features is a chart showing how these tablets compare with Finish QUANTUM and Finish CLASSIC.

Hey peeps, believe me, you never want to buy Finish CLASSIC Tablets. The poor wee things only have 2 functions, but as I examined the comparative lists, I realised that Finish had only been building me up to drop me down into a pit of dishwashing despair.

Never mind the 6 fantastic functions of my ALL-IN-1 tablets. I needed what I’d had before; the unwrapped QUANTUM tablets that had 2 more functions than my puny ALL-IN-1's measly 6. QUANTUM were ‘Wrapper free’ and offered ‘Amazing Shine’.

What? Had I just spent a small fortune (even at half price) on 39 tablets that didn’t even offer ‘Amazing Shine’?

All of a sudden the fizz went out of my tablet. I had 39 of the lesser buggers to get through, but I’d know the next time, several months down the line.

Except it didn’t go like that. Wandering around the supermarket a few days ago, I noticed that Finish QUANTUM Powerballs were now on offer at half price.
Why would I buy a packet of 30 more tablets when I barely used 30 in a year and already have 38 at home? Because I’d bought into the hype, and these were now the ones that I wanted. 

Even though I hardly ever use the dishwasher, when I do I want to be sure I’m using the best dishwasher tablets know to Man, because even though I rinse off the very worst dirt, I’m damned if I’m washing up the dishes before I put them in the machine, like my mum does. Then I might as well do the bloody dishes anyway, so yes yes yes, I’ll have them!

A fool and his money, easily parted.

Stashing the suddenly-redundant ALL-IN-1 box at the back of the cupboard, I looked with an equal measure of pride and embarrassment at my new pack of ULTRA SHINE technology tablets. No wrappers, 8 Power Functions, including the elusive AMAZING SHINE, with Apple and Lime Blast, able to tilt the planet’s axis and reconcile the North and South Koreans.

So I spent last weekend carefully packing the dishwasher with dishes, pots and pans, ran it and opened it up to find sparkly clean crockery and cutlery.

I’d taken time and trouble to make sure that everything had been stacked so that it could dry out properly, but as I lifted the saucepan out of the rack, the water left sitting in the U of its handle sploshed over the entire load.

Great. So I’d rinsed the dishes when I put them in and now I’m drying them before I put them away.

Great things, dishwashers.

I’ve got 67 dishwasher tablets left now, and a machine I can’t see the point of using.

Monday 8 July 2013

The unwelcome return of Ann D’Another Thing!

Back in Galway after a marathon of trips to England, and I’m tired. Dripping dribble tired. Deflated balloon sculpture held together by chewing gum tired.

When I’m like this I don’t trust myself with other human beings. To be honest, I don’t even trust myself with myself. I become the crazy guy walking down the street speaking out loud by mistake, like a latterday defrosted Austin Powers. Did I really let that vile snippet slip out of my gob? Whoops!

Still, life goes on and today I have to go into town and sort a couple of things at the bank.
There’s a bit of a queue, but not the worst I’ve ever seen. In front of me a woman in a cardigan styled more for grannie than mum is leaning on the queue counter, shaking her head and tutting. Turning to me she says

“There’s only two on. All those empty windows. Tshush.”

I nod, smile and understand how she feels, because that’s the way I sometimes behave when I’ve the enthusiasm to grumble. Right now, I’ve just about the energy required to breathe and blink at the same time, so I look away, avoiding further conversation.

At the Business and Commercial Customers window a Chinese woman is engaged in a dispute with the teller. The woman in front of me turns to watch the altercation in such a manner as to let everyone else in the queue know she’s watching the altercation. As I am still non-verbally making myself unavailable for chit-chat, she now turns to the man in front of her in the queue.

“Terrible isn’t it. She’s being very rude.”

 Unable to avoid overhearing, I assume that the woman in front of me is referring to the teller. After all, she’s just been giving out about the lack of tellers available at the windows, so surely she's now feeling sorry for the other customer.

Yer man in front of her doesn’t seem to want to engage her in conversation either, so she turns and leans once more on the counter, tutting and shaking her head and hissing and muttering audibly on and on how

“She’s being awfully rude. Terribly rude. Sure there’s no need for that kind of thing!”

Already half asleep, my mind drifts into a waking dream, as I recognise the unwelcome return of Ann D’Another Thing.

I first encountered Ann when I lived out in West Connemara in the early 1990s. After a mere two years in Ireland, I was eager to learn more about the people lurking behind the dark windows of my neighbours houses, so I listened to Marian Finucane’s Afternoon Call, the radio show that spawned Joe Duffy’s Liveline.

Although Marian took calls from all ages, genders and locations, I soon noticed a certain group of women, of a certain age, who appeared to be permanently disapproving of just about everything. They hiss and they tut and they look down their noses at others no worse than themselves, and once they’ve got their engines running they seem unable to stop the stream of venom spewing forth. Having finished with one victim, they move on to the next, invariably all using the link

“And another thing!”

Hence Ann D’Another Thing was born, and over the years she has made several appearances in this colyoom, but happily not for a very long time.

Yet here she is once more, huffing and puffing in full flow, while I ignore her utterly and completely, until suddenly she raises her voice and declares

“I don’t know what she’s doing in this country anyway.”

Life’s too short to take on every mean-spirited racist I encounter, and were I slightly more sane and able, I’d realise that there’s no point taking on Ann D’Another Thing. But I am  tired, feeble of mind and spirit, and horribly shocked to realise that she’s been hissing and puffing about the Chinese woman all this time, rather than the bank employee.

Like a light sabre of vitriol, a sharp red bolt of anger shoots out of me as I turn to her.

“I’ll tell you what she’s doing in this country. Exactly what millions of Irish are doing all over the world: she’s trying to make a living. That’s what she’s doing. Don’t tell me you have no friends or family members who’ve worked abroad at some stage?”

Part of her is happy to have found some sport, but I’m delighted to see that she’s also a little shocked by the intensity of my response. Racists often see their outbursts as an invitation for others to bond with them, so my counter attack came as a bit of a surprise to this Ann D’Another Thing, but true to her name, she still has bullets in her barrel.

“Well, there’s no need for her to be rude and shout at the poor girl like that. God knows what she’s on about.”

“Oh so it’s ‘Poor girl’ now is it? You were giving out about her a few seconds ago. And did it ever occur to you that it’s absolutely none of your business what she’s on about?”
Ann is flailing and mutters how she wasn’t talking to me anyhow. A few seconds later she’s called to a free window and I can hear her giving out to the teller. Ann D’Anothers enjoy an extraordinary ability to keep their nastiness rolling on, so I know that I am now the victim of her lashing tongue.

When I’m called to the same window I apologise to the young bank worker, saying the lady before had probably been giving out about me. I tell her about the racist outburst and she smiles and says

 “Well thanks and fair play to you! You’ve done your good deed for the day!”

Having felt rather sheepish about my outburst, I’m now joyful at the attitude of this younger Irish generation. Hopefully Ireland will soon be free of Ann D’Another Thing.

Monday 1 July 2013

I remember I went to Glastonbury, but that’s all!

After reading Denise McNamara’s excellent piece about her experience of the Electric Picnic, my mind wandered, stumbling around distant memories of festivals like a drunk in a field.

All these years later I can still remember a moment at Reading Festival in 1978 when I briefly experienced ecstasy. That’s the feeling, not the drug, folks. 1978, remember?

Off my tiny teenage mind on a cocktail of gordknowswot, I returned from the stage area to the campsite, abandoned to squelching my way across fields of muck and detritus, and then I saw a vision.

Like a medieval army resting up for the night, the fields in front of me were filled with tents, flags and fires. Even from a distance I could feel the spirit of bonhomie and comradeship coming from the camp.

Where was my tent? Who cared. I wandered from fireplace to fireplace, naive and safe, having a ball. What I felt that night must have had a profound effect upon me, because I’m feeling it right now.  

It’s a cocktail of freedom, trust in your fellow man, a lack of care and a host of kinship.
Equally, I remember the discovery of Drambuie that night, and the subsequent wasting of hundreds of drinks, spoiled by failed attempts to look cool. Del Boy’s drinks didn’t come from thin air. A pint of Directors with a drop of Drambuie: very sophisticated to an insecure 18 year-old Adley.

Life was confusing back then. Not enough to be half man half boy, I was also half a Public School boy maybe on his way to Oxbridge, half a warehouse-working dart-throwing biker boy from the other side of the hill, and just to make things particularly challenging, half a hitch-hiking low-life, hoping to be a hobo.

To mirror all these halves the world of music had been rendered in two. I saw Led Zeppelin in 1973 and Deep Purple and Frank Zappa and Humble Pie and will spare you all the gigs, because gradually many of the bands became boring. Guitar solos went on for ages, and don't even talk about the drum solos that had thrilled me as a 14 year-old, slightly drunk on cans of brown ale and Long Life.

So when Punk arrived I was right in there, thank you very much. Down the Marquee on Wardour Street, armed with the cut-out advert from each week’s NME, with which you got in for free, Monday-Thursday. At last, here were bands you didn’t sit down to. You weren’t half a mile away from them. Suddenly, anything could happen.

Yes, I loved punk, because I was 16 in 1976 and felt I had no future. I pogoed to The Clash, The Pistols, The Anything that you wanted to call your band, and a special mention goes to the Ramones.

Nothing could ever compare to a Ramones gig. I went to six or seven, memorably one, in which I lost a single shoe after ten minutes. The morning after a Ramones gig my black leather biker jacket could be snapped like Jacob’s cream cracker. Rigid in dried sweat salt, it had to be soaked in a bath and then hung to slowly dry before it would bend once more.
Siouxise and the Banshees, who I adored, had the ability to evolve as had my earlier hero Bowie and future hero Elvis Costello. All driven to change with the times.

Reading Festival in 1978 was the meeting point of changing times. Punks and Longhairs, the old and new musical worlds, meeting in a mudpool cesspit for the weekend.
Punks weren’t supposed to be into either big outdoor gigs or the superstar bands I’d enjoyed for years. So sub-culturally speaking, I was screwed, but much as I doubtless dreamed of little else, there was no joy to be found in the direction either.

But there was music. Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 had a cry on stage. Paul Weller of The Jam gave out about the sound but  then sent us mental by playing his (new) song Down In The Tube Station At Midnight.  Status Quo were Status Quo, which was no bad thing. Penetration were brilliant, and Tom Robinson had us all singing Glad to be Gay.

All of us, spiky-haired alongside the pony-tailed, were blown away by the Jimi Hendrix sounds of Spirit. The sun shone and people stopped and stood together for a few minutes, appreciating the pure brilliance of great guitar playing. Then the wondrous Patti Smith came on and enriched our minds and spirits with the power of her music and poetry.

Time lost itself in a blur of alcohol and music, laughter and mud. Seven of us in the back of Transit van, washing down anti-histamine tablets with rough cider, swigged from white plastic gallon containers. We all passed out and slept through the entire day’s music, waking up as everyone came back to the site to talk about the gig.

I know I went to Glastonbury in 1981, but aside from snippets of a tale of woe about orange juice, speed and one accidentally and tragically neutralising the other, I recall precious little. A row in a tent with a young lass from South Shields ... and … pfooffff. Nothing really. Not a single band. No memory of music at all, which probably scores high on the Festival-O-Meter Of Fun.

The last time I went to a festival was Feile’s final ‘Trip to Tipp’ in 1994. Years before any notion of ‘glamping’ had been conceived, I lifted the still-sheeted double mattress, duvet and pillows off my bed and lay them into my Transit van. With flat pack barbecues, a gigantic water container and a Chilly-bin filled with cans, pies, rashers and other healthy items, it was bliss.

Elvis Costello was brilliant. Sharon Shannon had all the hip young things twirling against their better judgements, and at the age of 34, I fell asleep, comfy and warm in my bed, in my van, listening to the sound of teenagers having their own epiphanies.