Archive for the ‘musings’ Category
I’m still absorbing yesterday’s dark news. Keeping these to capture the feeling…
Yesterday’s Any Questions on BBC Radio 4 was a special edition in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox. There was no studio audience and the panel was made up of commentators rather than politicians. What cheered my heart to some degree, in the midst of a moronic and deceitful referendum and a tragic assassination, was that two disparate journalists, Polly Toynbee of The Guardian and Peter Oborne of the Daily Mail, emphasised the desperate need for voting reform and some meaningful form of proportional representation.
I have voted in every election in my adult life – for 34 years – until the recent London mayoral election which I did not turn out for because I didn’t care for either of the main candidates. In those 42 years I have never elected a single person. Because I’m a liberal by nature, though even when I’ve voted otherwise/tactically, as in May 2015, I’ve still made no difference.
In Anita Anand’s Any Answers phone-in after the programme an MP’s chief of staff rang in and threw away that great cliche that in our democracy we “can always vote them out”. But we can’t. I haven’t been able to.
We have a highly overrated ‘democracy’ in which elections have boiled down to become focused on a tiny minority of swing voters in marginal seats.
We have an increasingly disempowering ‘democracy’ in which a party like UKIP gets millions of votes but one seat only, gets three times as many votes as the SNP but 1/56th of the representation in Parliament. How should those millions of UKIP voters feel in the wake of that most depressing election? I’ve no particular sympathy for the UKIP perspective but I don’t believe their supporters’ votes should be without value or real meaning.
As I was walking along the river in Winchester yesterday evening I spotted a Leave campaign poster at the back of an affluent house, with a URL including the words “take control”. I would contend that even if we took back sovereignty from the EU we would continue to have no real control. At least ‘we the people’ would not. We the politicians, many of whom are elected on well under 50% of the vote, indeed many on under 30%, may gain even more unearned control and fundamentally undemocratic power.
UK democracy has been severely wounded and bleeding out long before the horrendous murder of Jo Cox, by all accounts a representative of great integrity, selfless conviction and beautiful character. Her death is tragic. Her killer’s state of mind is sadly poisonous. The referendum debate is toxic with hate and mendacity. I’ll go vote on Thursday – but with a deep sense of disempowerment and little feeling of hope…
Yesterday in 1916 was supposed to be the day of the Easter Rising in Ireland. However, because Eoin MacNeill countermanded the order, the rebellion was delayed by a day amid confusion. I marked the eve of this momentous event in Irish history with a day in Dublin of much more coherence.
It began at the GPO in O’Connell Street, epicentre of the Rising, with a visit (with my sister- and brother-in-law) to a new permanent exhibition space built into the yard of the Post Office as part of the centenary commemorations. The exhibit I most enjoyed seeing was one of the original printed posters of the Proclamation. Due to a shortage of type in Liberty Hall where the document was printed on the eve of the insurrection the C in Republic is made from a converted O and the E in the next line (“to the People of Ireland”) is made from an F with an extra bit added in wax.
At the end of the exhibition is a marble and digital wall of all the recognised 1916 combatants (all those eligible to receive a pension from the State) on which we found my wife’s great uncle Patrick Donnelly of Louth, something for my two half-Irish boys to take pride in.
We walked up O’Connell Street with various signs of the centenary commemorations in windows and on lampposts, portraits of the Proclamation signatories, banners from the city council. The Sinn Fein office had a suitably Soviet hoarding with raised fist heroics. We ducked into Moore Street, to which the GPO combatants fled at the end of the uprising, visiting the lane where the O’Rahilly had died after writing a haunting last note to his wife (one my late sister-in-law Bronagh used to have on her wall). We also saw the houses/shops where the fleeing revolutionaries took shelter, numbers 16-20, which are currently under threat from property developers. In front of the boarded up red brick buildings was a rough looking band of Northerners from some kind of pipe band, tattooed to the hilt.
This set us up nicely for our next encounter – masked (Continuity) IRA men at the Gardens of Remembrance (which are dedicated to the memory of “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom”) gathering for a parade to the GPO. Those not in paramilitary-style masks and shades had on Celtic shirts with player names on their backs like Pearse and Sands. This motley crew looked out of step with the times and as bonkers as the rebels may well have seemed as they left Liberty Hall for the GPO on Easter Monday 2016.
We popped in to the Hugh Lane (Dublin City gallery) for a fascinating exhibition about Roger Casement, High Treason based around a large painting of Casement’s appeal by John Lavery, High Treason: The Appeal of Roger Casement, The Court of Criminal Appeal, 17 and 18 July 1916.
From there the three of us headed over to Glasnevin cemetery, the only location in Joyce’s Ulysses I’d not yet visited, and the main burial place in Ireland. From Michael Collins’ much-decorated grave to De Valera’s down-at-heel one, from monumental sculpture by James Pearse (father of Patrick and Willy) to the small marker for Countess Markievicz (part of a mass Republican grave), we followed a super-enthusiastic (oddly) Dutch historical guide around a 1916 themed tour under bright afternoon sunshine. The various characters joined by the Glasnevin tour also linked back to both the Casement case and the many stories making up the content of the new GPO exhibition. So all in all it was a considerably more coherent day than 23rd April 1916 in Dublin and across the country, and more satisfying.
It’s strange how things work out. I found myself today at noon under the portico of the GPO in Dublin, by my calculation within a couple of feet of where Patrick Pearse first read the Proclamation of Independence 100 years ago today. I’ve no Irish blood but I find the event very meaningful and resonant and it meant a lot to me to be present there and then. I made a special trip to Dublin for today to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.
I took the train in to Connolly Station (named after one of the signatories of the Proclamation, socialist leader James Connolly, in 1966 to mark the 50th anniversary) from Rush, a small station north along the coast from Dublin where scenes of Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins were filmed. On the train I sat at a table with a mother and daughter who were busy planning the logistics of some major shopping manoeuvres for the day. I revelled in the gap between what was on their mind and what was on mine.
On arrival in the city I walked round the corner to Liberty Hall, Connolly’s headquarters which played a central role in the planning of the uprising. The original building from which the rebels marched to the GPO on the fateful day is no more – in the Sixties it was built over to make a statement about modernity in the form of a highrise union HQ. Shortly after I arrived a woman dressed in dark green 1916 Irish Citizen Army uniform was preparing (with a modern worker with a droopy moustache and hi-viz vest) to raise an Irish flag of the era. She was then joined by two other ICA women and a troop of armed men dressed up in period uniforms. They marched out of an adjacent alley and gave the flag-raising sufficient gravity before a crowd of just a couple of dozen motley passers-by, tourists and left-leaning supporters.
I followed them off along the quay to the point where they were dismissed and wandered off. As I walked down the quay on the route I imagine the rebels took just before noon on 24th April 1916 to the GPO in Sackville (O’Connell) Street I could easily conjour up their emotions – they would have been perhaps slightly self-conscious in similar ‘unofficial’ uniforms as they walked among the few Easter holidayers on the streets that Monday morning. They would have been nervous on the short walk knowing they were about to raid the GPO and reach a point of no return.
As I turned right into O’Connell Street a crowd was gathered in front of the GPO. A trade unionist or socialist of some kind was making a speech, amplified off a stage just beyond the General Post Office, recounting and interpreting the events of Easter Monday 1916. Banners for various contemporary campaigns to do with energy companies and water charging and the like leant an appropriately grass-roots political vibe to the gathering. This was the Citizens’ Commemoration and it was a refreshing contrast to the bigwigs’ official ceremony on Easter Monday a few weeks ago. Suddenly on stage appeared a friend, ironically from just the other side of Highgate Hill from me, actor Adie Dunbar, who was playing Master of Ceremonies with his usual aplomb. I texted him from between the bullet-scarred classical columns of the Post Office. As noon approached, the hour Pearse came out of the building to give the Proclamation its first airing to mainly uninterested passers-by, somewhat against the odds I saw the mother and daughter from the train. They were rushing by through the now dense crowd with shopping bags in hand, pretty much oblivious of the commemorative event going on around them – a perfect echo of the Dublin citizens who largely ignored Pearse and his men.
A few minutes before twelve Adie announced that a descendent of one of the GPO combatants, the O’Rahilly, would lay a wreath at the entrance to the monumental building. Proinsias O’Rathaille, the grandson, walked a few inches in front of me and I found myself among a small group of media photographers as he laid the wreath to the fallen. As the clock above the window in which the emblematic black sculpture of Cuchulainn is displayed struck noon I was within a couple of yards of the focal point. Strangely I don’t think anyone had focused on the precise spot where Pearse would have been standing.
Foggy Dew was sung. The Proclamation was read. The Soldiers’ Song was sung. I watched for a few more minutes from the stone base of a column. I left to the strains of Fenian Women’s Blues, a song by a young Irish singer drawing attention back to the women who participated in the Rising but were to a large degree airbrushed out of history.
I walked round the corner to the Winding Stair bookshop, one of my favourite spots in Dublin, and picked up a souvenir in the form of a copy of Ruth Dudley Edwards’ new book The Seven, about the signatories of the Proclamation. Still buzzing from the intersection of history, time, place, my life – the rhyming of hope and history.
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
I wrote about 1971 as the key year in music this time last year and this week David Hepworth has released a book on exactly the same theme. I started thinking about this in 2013 when I had a discussion at BAFTA with Malcolm Garrett, designer of the covers of Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites (referred to below) – Malcolm argued for 1970. Today my friend & best man Stuart Rubenstein proposed 1978 as an alternative. I don’t really buy it as the most significant year but it was a landmark, dynamic one.
Here are a dozen of the LPs that got my blood racing that pivotal year of my youth and I write this listening to Stuart’s 1978 playlist.
1978 was the year I fully got the punk bug thanks to Buzzcocks who released 2 great LPs during those palpitating 12 months. So in no particular order:
(1) Give Em Enough Rope – The Clash
I trudged through the snow to Loppylugs in Edgware to buy this. I saw the tour at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town with Mikey Dread and Joe Ely supporting, one of the greatest gigs of my life.
(2) The Scream – Siouxsie & the Banshees
Was transfixed by this band, not least the track Switch. Saw them at Hammersmith Odeon and the Music Machine in Mornington Crescent around this time.
(3) Another Music in a Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks
Got this as a Christmas present (at my own request) from someone I didn’t much like. The single from it (which I got first from Smiths in Chichester), What Do I Get, was what opened me up to Punk. The sleeve design was really striking with its silver and fluorescent orange. It was a kick years later to meet its super-talented designer Malcolm Garrett through work. My copy now bears his signature.
(4) Easter – Patti Smith
I was transfixed by the hairy armpit in the cover photo by Robert Mapplethorpe.
(5) Plastic Letters – Blondie
I had a crush on Debbie Harry as Debbie had on Denis. I saw them for my 2nd ever gig at Hammersmith Odeon, as well as outside their record label, Chrysalis, near Bond Street.
(6) Stage – David Bowie
One of the few things outside of punk to catch my attention.
(7) Handsworth Revolution – Steel Pulse
Can’t recall how I came across this but it will have been thanks to the Punk-Reggae axis.
(8) Public Image – Public Image Ltd
How could Johnny Rotten transcend the Pistols? With a single as startling as anything those bad boys did.
(9) An American Prayer – Jim Morrison & The Doors
I still reckon Jim was a significant and talented poet.
(10) Here My Dear – Marvin Gaye
As intense as records ever get – I pictured Marvin alone in the studio in the dark, laying his voice over and over itself.
(11) Moving Targets – Penetration
Something a little exotic from the regions
(12) Power in the Darkness – Tom Robinson Band
My very first gig at Hammersmith Odeon with PJE. I used the stencil which came with this on my school bag.
This has flown in from Dan McKevitt in Carlingford (via Facebook). A musical parlour game for the holidays.The emphasis is on records that have meant a lot to you rather than the all-time greatest.
“Here are the rules. Post up 12 albums on to your timeline that have stayed with you for whatever reason. One album per Artist/Band. Tag 12 friends and get them to do likewise, include me so I can see your choices. Don’t overthink it. Enjoy. No Compilations.”
1 Kind of Blue – Miles Davis [how to become tranquil in 5 easy steps/tracks]
2 Jesus Christ Superstar [as a young teen I used to spend hours and hours drawing and colouring to this]
3 What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye [I played it the night my fist born made his appearance]
4 Another Music In a Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks [my route into punk]
5 A Love Supreme – John Coltrane [took me somewhere higher]
6 Hot August Night – Neil Diamond [the first LP I bought myself – helluva jean jacket]
7 Let’s Dance – David Bowie [helped me find the joy in my first year away from home]
8 Glorious Fool – John Martyn [prompted me to recognise that JM was the greatest singer of them all …ever]
9 Give ’em Enough Rope – The Clash [trudging through the snow to get this from Loppylugs the day it came out – there’s never been such anticipation]
10 Moondance – Van Morrison [contains my eponymous wedding dance]
11 The White Album – The Beatles [teen memories of discovering the Fab Four and others with JRT]
12 The Scream – Siouxsie & the Banshees [will life ever get more exciting?]
- Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. (Luke)
- Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke)
- Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother. (John)
- My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew & Mark)
- I thirst. (John)
- It is finished. / It is accomplished. (John)
- Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke)
There’s not really consensus across the gospels as to what Jesus’s last words were.
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? is the only one corroborated by two evangelists.
It sounds better in the old-fashioned translation:
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
The 7 utterances from the cross above are known as the Seven Sayings.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
This particularly resonant one contains 7 different words.
On the seventh hour
On the seventh day
On the seventh month
The seventh doctor said:
“He’s born for good luck
And I know you’ll see
Got seven hundred dollars
And don’t you mess with me”
Hoochie Coochie Man (Willie Dixon)
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? My
My God, why hast thou forsaken me? My God
God, why hast thou forsaken me? My God, My
Why hast thou forsaken me, my God, my God?
Hast thou forsaken me, my God? My God, Why?
Thou forsaken me, my God! My God, why hast?
Forsaken me, my God! My God, why hast thou?
Me, my God! My God, why hast thou forsaken?
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Jesus’ blood never failed me yet
Never failed me yet
Jesus’ blood never failed me yet
There’s one thing I know
For he loves me so
Jesus’ blood never failed me
Never failed me yet
Never failed me yet
One thing I know
For he loves me so
Jesus’ blood never failed me yet (Gavin Bryars)
I met Gavin Bryars at the Irish Embassy, London in 2014 and talked to him about this song. This recording of his from 1971 (the year of What’s Going On?) features a tramp/rough-sleeper singing. Here’s the story of the piece. It’s a piece of music Jesus would love.
Empty beaches. Lough Swilly. Hazy horizons. Traces of everyday history. Meeting strangers. The kindness of strangers. Working on beaches. Snoozing on the sand. Miles Davis’s music. A Kind of Blue nap. Photo exhibitions. Irish words for modern phenomena. European films. BB King & Tracy Chapman singing The Thrill is Gone. The Bridge Bar. Ramelton. Rivers.
I’ve been noticing coincidences a lot recently, and noting some of them down. Mainly of the type where you hear a word for the first time in decades and it comes up again the same day.
But today I had a cracker. I went to Church Hill near Letterkenny to visit Glebe House and Gallery. As luck (or the tourist season) would have it was closed so I contented myself with hanging out in the gardens by the lake, which I had entirely to myself in strong spring sunshine. I laid on the damp lawn and took out my two books. The first one I opened was ‘Human Chain’ by Seamus Heaney, a book of poetry my Other Half gave me for Christmas 2010. I’ve only ever read a couple of the poems so I brought in with me for this Derry-Donegal trip. I read a bit of it last night so it was parked up randomly in the middle wherever I happened to get to.
As I opened it and started reading today stretched out on the grass like a dying naturalist I wrote a note at the top of the page in pencil as a souvenir of where I was:
16.3.16 Church Hill – Derek Hill’s
Derek Hill was the artist who used to live in Glebe House and bequeathed it.
The poem I had got to last night was entitled ‘The Baler’, about a mechanical hay baler. When I got to line 19 who, of all the people in the world, is mentioned?
Derek Hill. I’m not sure if it’s the same one but it probably is.
But what I also remembered
Was Derek Hill’s saying,
The last time he sat at our table,
He could bear no longer to watch
The sun going down
What are the chances?
I finish the night before at that particular poem
I decide to go to Glebe House this particular day
I write Derek’s name
The name is printed on the very page
Doesn’t that mean there must be a God?😉
Donegal: Day 1
Had 5 days of holiday to take. Decided to obey the sign above our front door:
Donegal 1 [day away, or less]
Flew over the Isle of Man, the sun catching the blue-black sea. Landed in Aldegrove. Got my wheels and headed West. Sunshine, against all the odds, illuminated the Glenshane Pass, gateway to Donegal, my favourite county. Took the Foyle Bridge through Derry, a feeling of flying over the river, and once beyond the city of my nuptials took a detour up to the ancient stone fort Grainán Ailigh – the Solarium of the Stony Place, a stone eye catching the sun above three counties. Sitting up on the third tier of the fort I started writing my new book about online creativity, getting the outline under way. It felt like a propitious place – my favourite spot in the world. I enjoyed the contrast between the circle of ancient stones and the rectangle of my Mac Air.
Carried on West to Ramelton, to the Castle Grove on the shore of Lough Swilly, the hotel where our wedding concluded on the third day. I had a cuppa in the pale yellow drawing room by the fire of this Anglo-Irish Big House, once home of the Grove family (in living memory of Honour, the elderly former landlady in her own Big House of our friend Anita). On the way over RTE Radio 1 was full of the Easter Rising centenary later this week and the Cheltenham races. A resonant week to be here.
Donegal: Day 2
Had a run before breakfast and a meditate by a stream on the way back. Chilling you see.
Headed through Ramelton and Rathmullan up the East coast of Fanad peninsula, through Port Salon (now ruined with white bungalows at the North end, once named 4th best beach in the world). With difficulty found the way down to Pollet Sea Arch (the signs have been removed by some gobshite farmer I suspect). By now the sun was out in full glory. Walked down past all the traditional obstacles culminating in a flooded gateway to reach my other favourite place in the world, Pollet Beach which I had all to myself all morning. Wrote the opening of the book. This is an inspiring and productive place for me, to be sure.
Lunched at Fanad Lodge, an undercover pub just North of the sea arch, run by Donegal GAA supporters. Popped over to the lighthouse at Fanad Head after, then drove round the headland to a beach called An Rinn Bhui (the yellow headland).
Read ‘Human Chain’ by Seamus Heaney and ‘Where my Heart Used to Beat’ by Sebastian Faulks at each stop – both thoroughly enjoyable. Sunset drive back to Castle Grove, a brief snooze to Kind of Blue (as is my wont) and into Ramelton for dinner with my friends Anita & Don. Got back to Castle Grove to enjoy the kind of starry sky we city folk can only dream of.