Archive for the ‘irish’ Category
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
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Seems like a good moment to republish it here as exhorted by the UN General Assembly at the time of declaration, to ‘disseminate and display’ the text. Its brevity belies its gravity and significance. How come no-one ever taught us about it at school? Do they teach it these days?
But first I’m going to pick up on one particular right – Article 5, the one relating to torture. I promised some time back (see Hunger) to write a few lines about Philippe Sands’ recent book (published this spring), Torture Team, on the subject in relation to Iraq and post 9/11. Philippe is one of the country’s foremost human rights lawyers – I know him a little through my best friend, a fellow lawyer, and from occasional encounters in local playgrounds with our kids.
To me, torture represents the very lowest the human being can descend to. Once you inflict that on a fellow man or woman you make yourself less than human. In torture the abyss, the heart of darkness, cracks open.
Torture Team focuses on the contravention of Article 5 in Abu Grabe and Guantanamo Bay. Tracking a single memo, Philippe traces how Bush decided in the wake of 9/11 to undermine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention to be able to use what are euphemistically called ‘harsh interrogation’ techniques; how the terms ‘torture’ and ‘abuse’ were redefined, giving rise to the sanctioning of a catalogue of 18 techniques in 3 catagories; how this sanction came from the very top, not the fallguys/gals like Diane Beaver but from Rumsfeld & co. The redefinition meant anything short of ‘the pain associated with organ failure’ no longer counted as torture. Of the 18 techniques No. 1 was ‘yelling’; by No. 3 you’re already at waterboarding, the infamous technique which creates the perception of drowning. In 1863 Lincoln confirmed: “the US military does not do cruelty”. A far lesser president a century and a half later inspired the Jack Bauer age which showed ‘torture works’. Beaver, who gave legal sign-off to the techniques, confessed that 24 - produced by Fox TV, no surprise the malign influence of Murdoch is not far away from human degradation – had “many friends down at Guantanamo”. Kinda scary, no?
On that cultured note, here’s the birthday boy…
“Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948
On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all member countries to publicise the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.”
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,
Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.
(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”
In purely literary terms there are better declarations:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Irishmen and Irishwomen: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
but this is the Universal one and a key achievement of the post-war period.
Update 13.12.08: Just been watching Oliver Stone’s W and there’s a good scene in the middle of the movie where Dick Cheney tries to sneak out the reinterpretation of Torture past W and the government by trying to get Jnr to sign it off without proper perusal so it can pass through the system when key politicians are in recess. When the torture techniques are explained in a glossed over way to him, W can only associate it with his frat house initiation (captured in an earlier, frankly horrific scene which clearly indicates how people can descend so low – the fraternity scene suddenly thrown into relief in the light of the later White House Bush/Cheney lunch scene) and W is relieved the paperwork gives him only 3 pages to read.
What song means the most to you and why?
“The Jewish perspective on thanksgiving is to magnify the kindnesses that God has performed for us. Thus, we dwell on each of the momentous things that He performed for His people as He brought them forth from Egypt. The refrain, dayenu, means that each of these kindnesses is sufficient to cause us to give thanks.”
If He had split the sea for us,
and had not taken us through it on dry land
— Dayenu, it would have sufficed!
UPDATE Jan 09:
Conor McK from Connecticut gave a remarkably similar answer – he chose the song James Connolly
HEAR HIS EXPLANATION HERE: ws_10007conormck.mp3
The man was all shot through that came to day into the Barrack Square
And a soldier I, I am not proud to say that we killed him there
They brought him from the prison hospital and to see him in that chair
I swear his smile would, would far more quickly call a man to prayer
Maybe, maybe I don’t understand this thing that makes these rebels die
Yet all men love freedom and the spring clear in the sky
I wouldn’t do this deed again for all that I hold by
As I gazed down my rifle at his breast but then, then a soldier I.
They say he was different, kindly too apart from all the rest.
A lover of the poor-his wounds ill dressed.
He faced us like a man who knew a greater pain
Than blows or bullets ere the world began: died he in vain
Ready, Present, and him just smiling, Christ I felt my rifle shake
His wounds all open and around his chair a pool of blood
And I swear his lips said, “fire” before my rifle shot that cursed lead
And I, I was picked to kill a man like that, James Connolly
A great crowd had gathered outside of Kilmainham
Their heads all uncovered, they knelt to the ground.
For inside that grim prison
Lay a great Irish soldier
His life for his country about to lay down.
He went to his death like a true son of Ireland
The firing party he bravely did face
Then the order rang out: Present arms and fire
James Connolly fell into a ready-made grave
The black flag was hoisted, the cruel deed was over
Gone was the man who loved Ireland so well
There was many a sad heart in Dublin that morning
When they murdered James Connolly – the Irish rebel.