Saturday, 23 July 2016

"Culture is the distance that we put between ourselves and our fæces."

Dear Jon

I missed you last Friday night. You’d have really enjoyed that gig, if you hadn’t gone and bloody died 16 years ago.

Saved from the lashing rain by the mountainous blue canopy of the Arts Festival Big Top, we saw stonking sets from The Undertones and Elvis Costello. 

You were already on my mind because that afternoon I’d watched an excellent documentary on The Jam with Whispering Blue. 

Even though you never met him, my friend is well aware of you and smiled as I reminisced about how you’d taken me to see The Jam playing in an empty pub.

Your love of music allowed you to sense what type of music was about to happen, which band was about to break the big time before the masses had heard of them.

I was slightly distracted during the first half of The Undertones’ set as I was trying to find the Snapper, who’d made her way separately. 

As I suspected given the bands playing, mine was the average age of the crowd, so I kept bumping into familiar faces, standing in the sideways rain having an old chat with yer one who you haven’t seen for yonks.

True Galway style.

Talking of which, last Friday, right bang in the middle of the Arts Festival, we found out that Galway’s going to be European Capital of Culture 2020 (along with Rijeka in Croatia), so just when the place doesn’t need much extra input of excitement, everyone goes mental because we won.

I’m excited and delighted and proud of my adopted home and the crew who worked so hard to secure the kudos of the nomination, but I have to say I’m also a bit nervous.

See mate, we’ve got a bit of form over here for big numbers and events. Galwegians are always being told about what’s the next biggest thing to come along that will bring millions to the local economy. 

We buy the idea and support the hell out of the event and then, after all the corporates have left, there’s local suppliers and performers out of pocket all over the place; people feeling ripped off and let down until someone yells

“Hey, forget about that, here’s the next big thing and it’s way way bigger than the last big thing so this time it’ll work for everyone. Promise!”

Something in me believes that this time it truly is different. They’re planning to spend €45.7 million on projects during the year and claiming that there’ll be €175 million in extra revenue. 

I know to a Londoner like you that’s barely worth the raising of an eyebrow, but out here at the end of the European road, that’s big kahunas baby.

Mind you, the numbers aren’t wholly convincing. Once you take one from t’other there’s €129.3 million left, and that’s before costs, expenses, people getting paid, expenses, people getting drunk, expenses and people you never heard of up in Dublin getting brand new extensions to the backs of their second homes in Roundstone.

No, not going to spoil this letter to you getting bogged down in badness, madness, corruption and fear, but we have to admit here in Ireland, they are part of our culture. 

Thankfully I don’t have to, as our wonderful Galway poet Rita Ann Higgins said so much about the 2020 bid in her poem Our Killer City. Here's a small excerpt:

“…This is pity city, shitty city.
Sewage in your nostrils city.
This is Galway city of expert panels.
City of slickers and slackers who name-call Travellers knackers….”


The night before the gig and Capital of Culture result, the bid team were asking us to tweet as many Galway 2020 hashtags as we could, and it got me thinking about what they mean by culture. 

The best definition I’ve ever heard was by a man on the radio who declared with a slow authoritative voice:

“Culture is the distance that we put between ourselves and our fæces.”

Blooming brilliant. If there is room in our lives after we have survived, eaten, poohed and tried to reproduce, then culture evolves. 

The opposite of exclusive and esoteric, culture is the representation of the essence of a place and its people. 

Collections of contemporary dance pieces and exhibitions of installation art are expressions of culture, but so was that ecstatic massive crowd that greeted the Volvo Ocean Race yachts into Galway Docks at 3am.

So when it came to that tweet, all I could come up with was:
'Win or lose, we’ll celebrate because we are Galway.’

That is wholly truthful. Of course we’re filled with glee and anticipation about being awarded special recognition, but we don’t need to be told that we’re a fantastically cultured city and county.

Despite the tribulations of living on the western edge, we embrace life with a smile on our faces, a creative thought or three tumbling around our brainboxes.

So there I was, standing in the buzzed-out Big Top crowd, my eyes and ears drawn and assaulted by the sight and sounds of one of my heroes on stage, and then he goes and plays Shipbuilding and -

I think of my friend and brother Angel in his mobile home on that County Kerry clifftop, who sailed to the Falklands to fight Thatcher’s war; who has, ever since, dedicated his life to recovery.

I think of your father with his unique experience, knowledge and insight, explaining to us how that tragic conflict was eminently preventable.

I think of you and feel once again the tragedy of your death.

As Elvis contorts the tune and wails his words up there on stage, I think of injustice and madness and the tears slide down my cheeks untouched.

You’d have loved Galway mate.

I miss you.


©Charlie Adley

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