Archive for the ‘irish’ Category
The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night
dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,
Let others wear the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly.
Day 57 concluded at the Festival Hall where a full-house tribute to poet Seamus Heaney was celebrated. You’ve never seen so many lauded poets in one place at one time. The lines above from Station Island were on the back of the programme, a pretty good thought with which to start a day’s writing (even more so as it has its roots in Donegal). The evening opened with the Big Man himself recorded reading Digging, one of my favourites for its simplicity and rootsiness. Piper Liam O’Flynn played, who I saw perform with Seamus at the Barbican in 1999. His pupil and friend Paul Muldoon read very well, as did the amazing looking Edna O’Brien who is now 82. Seamus’ protegee Charlotte Higgins was the third of the trio of outstanding readers, saying Blackberry-Picking (also simple and earthy, also from Death of a Naturalist). Poet Michael Longley read another of our family’s favourites, Clearances: III (the bit about peeling spuds with the mammy). Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy read as did Ireland’s Professor of Poetry Paula Meehan. Tom Paulin and Simon Armitage added to the rich mix. The Chieftains with Paddy Moloney, Matt Molloy and Sean Keane played. Channel 4 had a kind of presence in actress Ruth Negga of Misfits fame who performed from one of Seamus’ translations of Greek plays. The photographic portraits of Seamus from various times in his adult life projected behind the stage during the linking sections by Andrew O’Hagan were all wonderful, all by different photographers or friends. It’s quite something to make the kind of impact he made on the world by being a Poet in this modern era.
I came to South Bank in the wake of two meetings. The first was with entrepreneur James Laycock, who worked with Richard Branson early in his career and is now getting Central Working up&running as a place from which to grow businesses. I was asking him for advice on the Business chapter as I still haven’t found a subject I’m happy with – though I know they’re out there. As it happened I may have found the right person through the next meeting which was actually about something totally different, about democracy, politics and activism, with writer/marketeer Chris Ward (mentioned on an earlier Day), my friend Steve Moore (who knew Terri Hooley, one of the characters in the chapter I’m currently writing, back in Belfast in college days) and some people new to me who in their different ways are highly committed to trying to make UK politics (and beyond) work better.
In the morning I found the title for my Music chapter in a Joy Division song (albeit the live version which has slightly different words from the record): Take A Chance And Say You Tried – it’s largely about being true to yourself.
I’m on the Tube heading for home from Stratford. I’ve just been interviewing actor Murray Melvin at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, where he worked with Joan Littlewood.
It was the first outing for my LiveScribe smart-pen as recommended by Jemima Kiss of The Guardian for interview recording. It performed fine but I ballsed up the last bit (5 mins) because of a technical mistake (you need to restart record mode when you change pages in the smart-notebook (it ain’t that smart).
So I want to capture that last bit for posterity while it’s fresh in my mind as it was about Brendan Behan. Murray played the hostage in the original TRSE production of the eponymous play.
Most importantly he poopooed the notion that Joan wrote any of Behan’s stuff.
Behan habitually attended performances of The Hostage in Stratford and would get up mid-show in the auditorium to interject. For example, after a song: “I’ve written an extra verse for you.” The audience loved the disruption. So did Joan as it kept the actors on their toes and the performance fresh and alive. And the new verse would be even better than what was already in the script.
Murray felt Joan loved the “destructive” nature of Behan’s character. In the same way that she was drawn to the destructive energy of the teenage boys hanging out in front of the Theatre with her encouragement.
Murray emphasised that Behan was from a family of storytellers. He would regale the company with stories, prompted by Joan. “Tell us the one about…” He’d go on for three hours then notice the time. The bar’s open, he’s off. Then Joan would ask the assembled actors: “What did he say about your character?” and scribble down furiously the collective memory of what had been said. From that she’d spot the moments of real brilliance and extract from the 3 hours 3 minutes of pure gold.
Today I spent at the excellent The Story conference at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, organised by my fellow Commissioning Editor at Channel 4, Matt Locke (a labour of love on his part). The theme was stories and story-telling – little theory, no money talk, just narrative and tales about tales. So what I learnt…
1) The best conferences (like this one) have only two outputs – Inspiration and catalysing Connections between people.
2) The best comic books have a layer of history, a layer of mythology and a layer of contemporary relevance as evinced by Sydney Padua‘s Lovelace & Babbidge. She showed the development of their new adventure Vs The Organist which combines Victoriana with Orpheus & Eurydice with proto-geekage. Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has a similar combo, a bit more literary, and it’s top of the tree for me. (Talking of trees, the frames in the new story where a band of monkeys break into Babbidge’s office and drag him off to the underworld gave me a sudden flashback to a game we played as children with plastic monkeys, something I hadn’t thought of for decades- there’s so much buried in these memories and imaginations of ours, and connection, especially surprising connection, is the key to creativity.)
3) The best stories combine profound emotion and humour. My old friend and colleague Tim Wright stole the show with his Harrison Fraud story. It’s about a mad time when he tried to convince his business/creative partner, Rob Bevan, that Harrison Ford wanted to work with them. The comic story of facial hair and faked letters was punctuated with insights into Tim’s marital struggles, recounted with an unflinching honesty. That willingness to confront difficult themes head on – as demonstrated equally in Tim’s wonderful In Search of Oldton project which has its roots in his father’s tragic death – is what raises his stories to special heights. Tim and I worked together on the writing of MindGym back in 1996, a game about creativity, Rob worked on it too programming and designing – it was a landmark project for me, drawing me into the world of non-linear story-telling and interactivity, and I learned a wealth from Tim’s methodical approach to scripting. I remember sitting with Tim in a bar in Clapham Old Town, asserting my dedication to film-making and that I’d be giving up this interactive thing before too long, not really my bag. 14 years down the line and here I still am.
4) The best fiction is less strange than truth. The day was rounded off in style by a besuited David Hepworth, he of The Word and Smash Hits, who told a lovely circular tale of the passage of wisdom from father to son to grandson via a bespoke tailor’s in the Yorkshire village he grew up in. It involved the coincidence of a suit being made for him unknowingly by the tailor who had made his father’s suits. It reminded me of my wedding ring. I wear two rings – the wedding ring my wife gave me in the top O of the OXO Tower by the Thames when the O X and O were all floor-to-ceiling windows and the tower was still a building site, and a plain silver ring I bought from a stall in Camden market several years before. To cut a long Irish story short it turned out that the posh jeweler in Gabriel’s Wharf and the Camden stall holder were one and the same person from Inishowen in Donegal (where my wedding ended, 60 miles down the road from its start point in Derry). This stranger than fiction coincidence came to light one day when I was chucking out old chequebook stubs and I found the £10 cheque I’d bought the silver ring with. Recently I’ve had another such experience where I came across the same person (Pippa Harris of Neal St Films, Sam Mendes’ business partner) through two totally different routes – one starting off in a novel I was reading, The Great Lover by Jill Dawson; the other through judging the RTS Single Drama Award for work – the true-life story weaving through all manner of themes from Rupert Brooke to Wikipedia. It’s coincidences and dynamics like those that make life worth living.
I had a quick chat with David Hepworth on the way out about the merits of The Word podcast (very good for jogging I said, great for repetitive domestic tasks he countered) – it’s the very best on the Web, a chat with friends over the kitchen table. Leaving the period lobby, it felt great to have spent the day in Conway Hall with its radical, left-wing vibe. It was here that I took my first published photograph – one of Gerry Adams and Ken Livingstone that appeared in An Phoblacht, the Irish Republican newspaper. But that’s another story…
As I’m becoming an older git with a dog’s age of doing cross-platform under my belt, I’m becoming conscious of my work disappearing into the mists of time (hence my recent archiving of MindGym in this august journal, at least it will be August tomorrow). Next week a site I did to mark Paul Greengrass‘ drama ‘Omagh’ being broadcast on Channel 4 in 2004 is about to be ‘migrated’. I suspect that means ‘knackered’ so I’ve just nabbed a few shots for posterity, a couple of which I’ll archive here. This one was a real labour of love (my wife is Northern Irish, my kids are Irish, I filmed in Omagh in the wake of the bomb).
[Happy days, working with designer Mark Limb and producers Kiminder Bedi and Katie Streten]. Contibutors included director Paul Greengrass (who sent me his contribution from the set of ‘The Bourne Supremecy’), actor Adrian Dunbar, singers Brian Kennedy and Tommy Sands, writers Nell McCafferty and Colin Bateman, comedian Jeremy Hardy, nurses, churchmen, shopworkers, all reflecting on what, if anything, positive came out of the bombing of Omagh from the perspective of 5 years on…
Watching the Six Nations rugby this weekend (the Ireland victory sporting theatre at its best) I couldn’t help seeing the incidents when players’ heads hit the ground (that happened in both the England and Ireland matches, with stretchers sent into action) in a new light, with a frisson emanating from our fragility. Our fragility as spotlighted by the genuinely sad news of Natasha Richardson’s accident and her rapid decline over just half a week.
I only encountered Natasha once, at a recent party of the old friend of mine who I met my wife through. The party was appropriately theatrical, with the historical venue done out like Mandalay (complete with Mrs Danvers), and Natasha appeared in a glittery outfit fitting the surroundings and her star quality. She looked fabulous.
Her poor husband Liam Neeson I’ve also only met once. It was in sad circumstances too. It was at the memorial for another old friend, actor John Keegan, at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn. I was introduced to Liam by Adie Dunbar. We had a ridiculous conversation about Dundalk and I found myself talking about the Four Lanterns take-away when what I actually wanted to say was “Liam, I think you did a cracking job with Oskar Schindler.” (It was the reverse of an encounter I had with Ralph Fiennes in the bar at the Almeida where I had the opportunity to say “Ralph/Rafe/whatever you call yourself, I think you did a cracking job with Amon Goeth” – and did.)
What can you take from a tragedy like this? To enjoy each and every day. To cherish the simple pleasures. To be conscious of everything you have, every privilege and happiness.
Watching the first episode of the new series of The Secret Millionaire last night, featuring ex-Rover boss Kevin Morley, you couldn’t help but detect that Kevin’s journey into the dark heart of Hackney has brought him back in touch with what really matters – he came to recognise the true value of his home and family, clearly regretting that his children’s growing up had passed him by while he was in the office. The one thing that seemed to escape him was that things like his collection of sports cars, which he showed off at the beginning of the programme with reference to shiny little models in a cabinet, come at a cost – beyond the readies he shelled out. Someone, somewhere pays for it ultimately. It could be a homeless person in Hackney. Or a starving family in southern Africa. Someone, somewhere always pays.
As Liam Neeson wakes his beloved wife and comforts their children none of the Hollywood glitz adds up to much. As my Irish mother-in-law always says (not a million miles from Liam’s home town of Ballymena): your health’s your wealth. Gandhi, much though I admire him, was more long-winded than Mrs Murphy: “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”
This morning I was involved in launching the government’s new White Paper on informal adult learning (doing a case study around Picture This and illustrating how Channel 4 brings motivation, purpose and inspiration to networked media), so with both learning and fragility in mind another Gandhi quote rounds things off: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Bumped into Adie Dunbar at The Pigalle Club watching an intimate performance by Sinead O’Connor. Adie hails from Enniskillen, not a milion miles from Ballymena, and knows fellow thesps Liam and Natasha well. He underlined the great tragedy here by describing the powerful, positive energy the pair of them radiated together. In the words of the great Matt Johnson: “Love is Stronger than Death.”
In our lives we hunger for those we cannot touch.
All the thoughts unuttered and all the feelings unexpressed
Play upon our hearts like the mist upon our breath.
But, awoken by grief, our spirits speak
How could you believe that the life within the seed
That grew arms that reached
And a heart that beat
And lips that smiled
And eyes that cried
Could ever die?
My late, much lamented sister-in-law, Bronagh Murphy, was in her time a playwright, a nurse, a poet, an actress, a midwife and a highly qualified expert in infertility treatment. She brought people into this world, and ushered them out, she brought poetry into this world in her writing and her actions, and ushered herself out of this world in a way which showed us how to live – she did all this with extraordinary care and compassion. There was nothing ordinary about her. Ruby is a poem of hers I heard her recite a few times at gatherings of family or friends – it captures a particular moment in her nursing experience when a dying woman’s daughter was unable to get to her in time… (and it says everything about the kind of person the poet was).
You lay as on a beach
Spindley legs entwined
Nails bloody red
Waxy flesh, draping brittle bones
Like a golden yellow stole
Courtesy, not of a Floridian tan,
But a boulder of cancer
Blocking the duct
Visions of you in your days of yore
A lusty Jewish broad
Vocals etched with
Sediment of Scotch and tobacco
And as you gasped your last
I begged my God to make it fast
Bereft of drugs to ease your pain
I thought of French’s sweet refrain
As your daughter wrestled with traffic
On the Finchley Road
I climbed in bed and held you tight
And from crazy Celt to dying Jew
I did the only thing I knew
“Are you right there, Ruby, are you right?”
What song means the most to you and why?
AUDIO FILE: Hear Conor’s answer: ws_10015conor-mcginley
Comedian Conor McGinley choses Rain Street by The Pogues and talks about the London Irish identity he shares with Shane MacGowan
The church bell rings
An old drunk sings
A young girl hocks her wedding ring
Down on Rain Street
Down the alley the ice-wagon flew
Picked up a stiff that was turning blue
The local kids were sniffing glue
Not much else for a kid to do
Down Rain Street
Father McGreer buys an ice cold beer
And a short for Father Loyola
Father Joe’s got the clap again
He’s drinking Coca-cola
Down on Rain Street
Bless me, Father, I have sinned
I got pissed and I got pinned
And God can’t help the shape I’m in
Down on Rain Street
There’s a Tesco on the sacred ground
Where I pulled her knickers down
While Judas took his measly price
And St Anthony gazed in awe at Christ
Down on Rain Street
I gave my love a goodnight kiss
I tried to take a late night piss
But the toiled(?) moved so again I missed
Down Rain Street
I sat on the floor and watched TV
Thanking christ for the BBC
A stupid fucking place to be
Down Rain Street
I took my Eileen by the hand
Walk with me was her command
I dreamt we were walking on the strand
Down Rain Street
That night Rain Street went on for miles
That night on Rain Street somebody smiled