Archive for the ‘dublin’ Tag

Sirens

I was about to sit down to write this when Bob Geldof came on the radio to discuss his documentary ‘A Fanatic Heart’ about the Shakespeare of Ireland that is WB Yeats. During the lively and fascinating interview (with Robert Elms on BBC Radio London) he mentioned that Yeats helped secure a Civil List pension for Joyce.

Joyce and Music and specifically the Sirens chapter of ‘Ulysses’ was the intended subject of this post.

But the radio intervention provides an appropriate Overture for a piece on that chapter which begins with an Overture composed of seemingly randomly colliding sounds and words.

Yeats made a mistake (self-confessed) about ‘Ulysses’. He read parts of Joyce’s great Modernist novel in the ‘Little Review’, the American literary magazine in which it was initially published, and judged it “a mad book” (ironic, given that Geldof has just characterised Yeats as “nuts”). But on further reading Yeats changed his mind: “I have made a terrible mistake – it is perhaps a work of genius… It is an entirely new thing – neither what the eye sees nor the ear hears, but what the rambling mind thinks and imagines from moment to moment. He has certainly surpassed in intensity any novelist of our time.”

Yeats bought himself a copy of the first edition of ‘Ulysses’ (1922) like this one I saw in Dublin in December while I was over working at RTE (the launch of whose TV services Geldof also mentioned in the wide-ranging interview in relation to Ireland’s sense of itself as a nation).

1st edition of james joyce ulysses novel

This one has a €30,000 price tag. A bargain given that a copy sold in 2009 for £275,000.

Yeats was an early champion of Joyce. They first met in October 1902 at the National Library in Dublin (which I visited a few minutes after taking that picture of the 1st edition, it’s literally a stone’s throw away). Yeats was 39 at the time, Joyce half the age at 20. As they parted Joyce declared: “I have met you too late. You are too old.” The kind of thing Geldof would have said when the Boomtown Rats first made their mark.

When Joyce travelled to Paris in 1902 and 1903 he passed through London and hooked up with Yeats (who lived a stone’s throw from Euston), had dinner with him and allowed Yeats to introduce him to his London literary circle.

Here’s another piece I wrote (Yeats Mates) prompted by the Robert Elms show about Yeats (in London). I wrote that piece back in 2015, the 150th anniversary of Yeats’ birth, on 14th June, the day after his birthday and the events described in that post. Yeats’ birthday is therefore the day after Robert Elms’s (which I happen to know as it is the same day as my wife’s) and three days before Bloomsday (the day Ulysses takes place on): 16th June. Things seem to be aligning themselves.

So Geldof, a musician, was talking about Yeats, a poet/writer, as I was preparing to compose a piece on the chapter of ‘Ulysses’ which examines “what … the ear hears”, the seduction of Music.

Last night I went for the second time to the Charles Peake Ulysses seminar, a seminar series that has been running monthly for yonks. I was first told about it some ten years ago by Fritz Senn at the Stiftung James Joyce in Zurich but I never quite got my act together to track it down. Until December, prompted by a visit to the shop where Leopold Bloom bought the bar of lemon soap he has it his pocket throughout 16th June 1904. I wrote about that visit here (Back in the Old Country).

sign for Charles Peake ulysses seminar university of london senate house

On my first visit to the seminar I was welcomed with enthusiasm: “You’re timing is lucky – we’re just starting a new chapter.” I didn’t quite appreciate the significance of this until it became evident that the group had spent 4 years doing the last chapter. When we reached the end of our session someone commented, straight faced, no messing: “Great session, folks – we did 76 lines!”

So the rambling mind comes to the point of this post (which will be an evolving post). While we were working our way word by word, comma by colon, through the next few lines last night I made an observation that when the boots (servant) in the Ormond Hotel bar on the north bank of the Liffey (where the Sirens chapter largely takes place) slams down a tray of tea things for the two barmaids who are those said Sirens, it is like the cymbals player in an orchestra, a lowly member of the ensemble delighting in his simple task and loud execution. For some reason it brought to mind the crescendo of Hitch’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (1956 US version) in the Technicolor Albert Hall.

The crashing tea tray made me reflect on the sequence of non-verbal sounds in the chapter so I took a notion to make a list of those sounds and see what patterns emerge.

So here is a list of the sounds making up the music-focused chapter (No. 11) of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ – ‘Sirens’:

(page references are to the Danis Rose edition of 1997 (Picador) which my Mrs bought me two decades ago as ‘Ulysses’ emerged as my favourite book)

  1. the “ringing steel” of hoofs from the cavalcade passing by the bar (p.246)
  2. tittering of Lydia Douce (one of the barmaids)
  3. laughter of same
  4. “chattering china” of tea for Lydia and Mina Kennedy (the other barmaid) followed by the tea tray being “banged” on the counter by the boots
  5. steel and hoofs (reprise) “steelhoofs ringhoof ringsteel” (p.247)
  6. “shrill shriek of laughter” of Mina (p.248)
  7. “huffed and snorted” – Lydia
  8. Lydia “chimed in in deep bronze laughter”
  9. “giggling peal young goldbronze voices blended” – both barmaids “high piercing notes”
  10. “panting, sighing, sighing”
  11. Mina “gigglegiggled”
  12. Lydia “spluttered … choking … laughter … coughing” “a splended yell, a full yell of full woman”
  13. [to be continued – from p.249]
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Today in 1916, Dublin – Easter Saturday – Nearly strangled at birth

Easter Saturday (22nd April 1916)

As I start this post the centenary commemoration and celebrations of the Easter Rising are kicking off in Dublin. I was hoping to get over there but couldn’t quite make it happen. I got a bit of a feel for the mood and thoughts when I was over in Donegal last week. The last time I was in Dublin for the anniversary was on 8th April 2007, the 91st. That day I went down to the GPO to watch the official commemoration at which a female officer of the Irish army read out the Proclamation of Independence in front of the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the President Mary McAleese. It was on the stairs of the General Post Office that Padraig Pearse first read those words a century ago.

ad-hist-proc.jpg

To transport myself there for the 100th I’m going to post a hundred-years-ago-today account of the Rising over the next week.

The Easter Saturday should have been the eve of the Rising but the big day had to be postponed by 24 hours to Easter Monday.

On the Saturday the under-secretary for Ireland Sir Matthew Nathan writes to the chief secretary Augustine Birrell saying: “I see no indications of a rising”. So a bit like Michael Fish missing the Great Storm of October 1987 or Dick Rowe turning down The Beatles at Decca. Nathan was a career colonial administrator, born in Paddington of Jewish descent.

lh

Before: Liberty Hall

Meanwhile James Connolly and men of his Irish Citizen Army are installed in Liberty Hall on Beresford Place/Eden Quay,headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and of the ICA. It’s where Constance Markievicz and Maud Gonne ran  a soup kitchen for workers’ families during the Dublin Lock-out  in 1913. In 1916 it served as a factory for the manufacture of bombs, bayonets and arms for the impending rebellion. Eventually the leaders of the Rising marched from there to the GPO to proclaim the Republic and start the Rising (but more of that on Monday). The building was left vacant throughout Easter Week, but the British didn’t know that and selected the Hall as the first target to be shelled. It was largely destroyed by British artillery during the Rising.

So back to the previous failure of British intelligence – “I see no indications of a rising”. The next day Nathan and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Wimborne, find out that five 50lb  cases of dynamite have been stolen from a quarry in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin, and the police suspect they have been taken to Liberty Hall. At the Vice Regal Lodge in Phoenix Park Wimborne and Nathan discuss the situation with the military and police. Wimborne wants an immediate raid on Liberty Hall with arrests, using 100 troops and 100 police. The Royal Irish Constabulary are more cautious, reckoning the leaders will not be there (some were), there will be significant loss of life and the press will be highly critical. Wimborne eventually agrees to postpone till Monday to allow time for the military to prepare properly and on the basis the rebel leaders would probably be there. In Wimborne’s words: “It was no good to stir up the hornets’ nest unless they could capture the hornets.”

Had they acted on Wimborne’s initial instincts the Rising would have been strangled at birth on Saturday and, in the words of Euston’s finest, no terrible beauty born.

places_libertyhall

After: Liberty Hall

Tower of Power (Day 89)

Tidied up my model chapter, With a Little Help from My Friend, added the intro and the piece between Chapters 1 and 2 and then sent it to two people for some fresh-eyed feedback. The first tentative steps into the public domain! No. 1 copy went to my Other Half and the second to a friend, Farrah, whose opinion I really respect but who I feel sufficiently safe with.

Then I went for a run back to Sandymount Strand where a Godsky was illuminating the beach.

Sandymount Strand morning sunrise Dublin Ireland

A good breakfast back at Bewley’s, a quick catch-up with an old friend of mine on his way back from an interview for production design on a horror movie, and then a great chat with TV producer Steve Lock who hails from my NW London neck of the woods but has ended up in Greystones, along the coast South of Sandymount and Dun Laoghaire (I’m always impressed with myself that I can actually spell that name). Steve helped me a few weeks back with the Tony Wilson/Music chapter, Chapter 2) by being interviewed about his time working with Tony at Granada. He kindly brought along today the Factory Christmas card for 1988 consisting of a flick-book animation from a New Order video and his FAC51 card for the Hacienda.

Factory records Christmas card 1988 and Hacienda membership card

Steve dropped me off at Sandycove Point where I went to visit the Martello Tower where Ulysses begins. First a scene on the roof of the tower, looking across the bay to Howth Head where the book ends, the story physically embracing Joyce’s native city; then the characters descend and head over the lane to the Forty Foot, a rocky outcrop just opposite the Tower from which people have been swimming in the Irish Sea of Dublin Bay all year round for some 250 years. There was an auld fella swimming just round the corner this very afternoon – January 15th, full on winter, albeit a beautiful sunlit afternoon.

The Forty Foot where Buck Mulligan swims

The Forty Foot where Buck Mulligan swims

I didn’t get any other writing done today, too busy immersing myself in a perfect yellowy afternoon, which will charge the creative batteries if nothing else. I’ll get onto the synopsis document I need to produce tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some images from the Sandycove adventure…

Martello Tower at Sandymount Dublin from Ulysses by James Joyce

The Martello Tower getting a bit of a spruce-up

The Forty Foot Dublin Bay Sandycove

The view to Howth Head

The Tower and the Forty Foot

The Tower and the Forty Foot

The Forty Foot Sandycove

The Forty Foot togs sign

ReJoycing in Dublin (Day 87)

National Library of Ireland Dublin Reading Room

You could call it bathos, you could call it homage, but it felt like a good idea plugging into the Joyce vibe whilst in Dublin, channelling some of that energy into When Sparks Fly. So I’m writing this in the National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street which Leopold Bloom visits to check up on an old ad he’d placed in a Dublin paper. As previously mentioned in relation to Sylvia Beach/Publishing and in this blog pre-sabbatical, I’m a real lover of Ulysses.

National Library of Ireland Kildare Street Dublin

This reading room can’t have changed much since 1904 when Ulysses is set. It’s remiscent of the Reading Room in the old British Library with its pastel colours (here green, there blue) and circular ceiling (here a semi-circle extended into a barrel vault, there totally circular). The only time I ever did any research in that venerable circle was to look up an out-of-print Dr Seuss book (The Big Leap) with a TV project in mind. Here I haven’t even got a Dr Seuss book as I believe you need a reader’s ticket to work in here so I’m an illegal and daren’t monkey with the books in case I get turfed out. It’s drizzly out there and I like this place so head down, eyes on my fries, try not to attract attention. That librarian over there with the Victorian beard and red tie looks like he could turn nasty.

National Library of ireland Kildare Street Dublin

So I got a bit of writing in yesterday (Sunday) to catch up a bit on the slack days at the end of last week, did a bit more before leaving for the airport, and finished off late in the afternoon in my room in Bewley’s Hotel in Ballsbridge, South Dublin, an old masonic school. I finished my second draft of Chapter 1 on Allen Ginsberg after a whole week, longer than I expected but at least it reads well and I finally have a polished draft to use as my model chapter.

On the way over I read Barry Miles’ book about the Beat Hotel in preparation for my interview with him next month and as deep research for the Ginsberg chapter. I picked up my copy at Shakespeare and Company in Paris on Day 53 and visited its location on Rue Git-le-Coeur the same afternoon, another enjoyable literary pilgrimage.

Once I got to the hotel, with the winter late afternoon light fast fading, before settling down to writing I headed down the Sandymount Road opposite the hotel to get some air. I passed a hotel opposite where I once co-wrote a film entitled Memories Are Made of This (with a suitable Doris Day soundtrack). A block down I came, unexpectedly, to an urban cottage on a corner which a brass plaque indicates to be the birthplace of WB Yeats.

I carried on down to the coast, beyond the DART railway, and through a slice of Dublin 4 where I came out at Sandymount Strand, the sun now down and an almost full moon now out, reflected in the wet sand of the broad beach at low tide. I walked up to the Martello Tower, not The Martello Tower but a Martello Tower in the same coastal chain as the famous one in which the opening scene of Ulysses is set. That’s four and a half miles further down on Sandycove Point. I was hoping to go down there this afternoon but the weather’s too Irish (in contrast to yesterday afternoon at this time) so I’ll try again tomorrow and for now make do with the Library which is new Ulysses territory for me (the Tower I’ve been in before, notably on the centenary BloomsDay in 2004).

Martello tower sandymount strand dublin

I went down onto the Strand in the silvery light. A few dog walkers and joggers provided occasional punctuation but largely I was alone with my lunatic self. I took out the ol’ iPhone and on it I have two books – Kidnapped (which I’ve never got far into) and Ulysses. This electronic copy is the vehicle for my slow 4th reading, running in parallel to my further advanced 3rd reading of my trusty hardback copy. I opened the Eucalyptus app and on the very page I had previously reached was Gertie (MacDowell)’s name, the girl Bloom watches (in a naughty way) on this very strand. I leafed forwards a few pages to get Stephen Daedalus out of the stiffling school he teaches in and onto his walk into Dublin down Sandymount Strand. As he walks onto the beach it’s a philosophically charged moment, he has his eyes closed and is wondering what status the world has on the other side of his eyelids, whether and how it exists without being the focus of his conscious mind.

sandymount strand dublin moonlight

“I am getting on nicely in the dark … Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?”

Bloom later crosses Stephen’s path on the strand (Stephen by then long gone) when he spots Gertie and the girls and has a vigorous flight of fancy. Opposite the beach, in the distance, is Howth Head where the book climaxes.

I read for a bit on the illuminated screen on the illuminated beach then headed back to write.

For the evening I made for the gates of Trinity College to meet a colleague from RTE with whom I’m working tomorrow. Chat and food and a little drink was partaken of.

Who does that librarian remind me of? It’s really bugging me now. Lytton Strachey? Roger Casement? No, it’s someone alive and closer to home…

I came home, did a little more writing, read a bit more of The Beat Hotel in a hotel room far removed from Room 32 of M. Rachou’s establishment, no radio coming from the sink plughole or any other eccentric plumbing, no rationed hot water or limiting of the electric light to 40W, no smells of garlic, or of worse from the Turkish-style two foot position squatty hole arrangement so typical of Paris back in the day. You can’t build an empire on crappy plumbing as our very own Bazalgette, forbear of the man who brought the magnificent ordure of Big Brother to Channel 4, proved. I suspect the pipes in the Tower also left something to be desired, but then you got to shave outdoors overlooking the snot green sea so what’s to complain about. It’s a fair city indeed.

 Ginsberg in the Beat Hotel with rimbaud

Lost & Found (your help needed)

My lost pen

My lost pen

I’m just embarking on my next project here at Channel 4, an arts one, working with Tim Wright and Rob Bevan with whom I made MindGym in the pioneer days. It’s to do with lost stuff and we need to gather some people’s experiences to get the ball rolling…

Here’s the questions:

  • What was the last thing you lost that you really cared about? and when was that?
  • What was the last thing you found that might have been difficult for the loser to replace? and when was that?

Seems only fair if I kick off…

The last thing I lost: A Parker Duofold fountain pen, Mosaic model, red white and grey, limited edition. The first time I ever splashed out on a fancy pen. Loved the weight of it, the pearly surface, the resonance of the Jazz Age. Lost it in Dublin airport I think. Just over a year ago. Thought it was irreplaceable as it was an old limited edition, was gutted. But ended happily though it was never found – thanks to my trusty browser, found a bloke still selling them in NYC. It currently has Saffron coloured ink in it from Caran d’Ache – most decadent.

The last thing I found: A mobile phone in the ferns along the path up Slieve Foy, the mountain that overlooks Ceol na Mara, my mother-in-laws house in Carlingford, County Louth, Ireland. It turned out a fella had lost it mountain biking over the ridge near Queen Meabh’s Gap. I rang the first number in it which was the owner’s pal, he got the owner to ring me and we fixed a rendez-vous at PJ’s (officially The Anchor Bar but no-one calls it that) where he bought me a hot port and the Enfants Terribles red lemonade (it’s an Irish thing) by way of reward. That also was just over a year ago.

So now over to you – it would be really helpful if you’d spend a moment recalling what you last lost and found…

Human Behan

brendan behan

I promised previously on Drinker with a Writing Problem to report back on ‘Brendan at the Chelsea’ at the Riverside, Hammersmith once I’d seen it. Well on Thursday I made a bee-line back from the rather sober Oxford Media Conference to get back in time for the press night of the play.

As I emerged from Hammersmith tube I bumped into Grant Dean of Eidos (home of Tomb Raider) and his sweet little daughter. Grant and I know one another from the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Committee – he went on to chair the Video Games Committee while I went on to the TV Committee to try and make the rest of interactive entertainment beyond games part of the mainstream of the Academy. I remember trying to convey to the TV Committee a concept I called ‘New Television’ (you can imagine how well that went down) and introducing to them, among a selection of other emerging sites, this new thing called ‘YouTube’ (which I’d only come across two or three weeks before). A couple of years down the track and Malcolm Garrett, Martin Freeth, Terry Braun, Martyn Ware, a few other stalwarts and I are still fighting that particular battle.

Meanwhile, back in old media Hammersmith I walked past a cinematic Hammersmith Odeon shiny in the night rain, down past the painter Frank Brangwyn’s walled house, to the Riverside.

And there I watched a barnstorming performance by Adrian Dunbar as the Irish playwright Brendan Behan. A charismatic, cathartic, compelling performance.

The play was written by Behan’s own niece – Janet, daughter of writer and playwright Brian Behan. I saw her straight after curtain-down in the foyer and I’ve never seen anyone so charged. It had taken her six years to get this very well written, tight, witty script staged. What a kick to see it realised with such skill and energy to climax in a standing ovation. What a kick to hear your audience join in the singing – “Fair fucks to yer!” responded Brendan (whether that was in the script or not – no idea).

In the bar after, the superbly talented, modest and warm Brid Brennan, who played Behan’s missus, told me and the Missus that, from her experience, the kind of reaction the performance prompted from the audience that night was something very special. My Missus reckoned the turning-point was the scene where a drunken Behan crashes on stage at a performance of his play ‘The Hostage’ on Broadway – in his naturally ebullient way, he breaks into song (Adie has a wonderful classic Irish tenor voice) and the Riverside audience joined in becoming the Broadway crowd.

Equally stunned on emerging was Anna Nygh, Adie’s wife, also an actor. She’d heard him rehearsing the lines around the house (a helluva lot of lines as he drives the two hours of dialogue) but had no notion quite how much he was inhabiting the character – or vice versa… She summed it up by confirming ‘It’s taken his acting up a level’.

The action is centred on Behan’s room in the legendary Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd in New York. He’s struggling to write a book about New York of which he’s already drunk the advance. It’s not only his publisher he’s let down but also his mistress and baby son. And his wife Beatrice is just about to show up from Dublin. With a tape recorder on his desk and a pint of whiskey under his mattress, he reflects on the journey that brought him from inner city Dublin to the weird&wonderful diversity of the streets of New York, through which the paparazzi pursue him. One of the highpoints of the play is a Berkoff-like set piece when Behan enacts the moment a journalist lured him out of sobriety by sending a free drink over to him at a bar, three fellow under-cover hacks watching from the shadows.

The show is punctuated with cracking lines. Like the one about the definition of an Irish homosexual – a man who prefers a woman to a drink.

When Adie emerged from the dressing room afterwards, I had to congratulate him for making such a good fat man. He’s so slight in real life but with just a bit of a belly added beneath his shirt he played Behan’s drinker’s bulkiness with such conviction you saw it in his restricted diabetic movements and bloated lumbering.

What ‘Brendan at the Chelsea’ showed above all was the paradox of a man who clearly loved life and spent every day trying to kill himself. He expressed a great fear of just being an ordinary human Behan which was why he disappeared to New York in the first place – he loved being immersed among the extraordinary flotsam of a big city.

The play is on until 3rd February – do yourself a favour

Happy Christmas you arses

shane macgowan

With Channel 4 Radio coming over the horizon, what better reminder of why it’s sorely needed than Radio 1’s sacrilegious censoring of Shane MacGowan’s lyrics in the best Christmas song ever – Fairytale of New York. The people who failed to censure Fatboy Moyles’ dodgy use of the word “gay” have had the bare-arsed cheek to clumsily cut the word “faggot” from that bit we all love to sing-along with:

You’re a bum
You’re a punk
You’re an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it’s our last

And while we’re celebrating the genius of Shane’s lyrics (difficult to reconcile with the figure who showed up like a benign Bill Sykes at Adie Dunbar’s last gig at the Boogaloo in Highgate with the Jonahs), let’s wheel out the title track from his first post-Pogues album, the Snake:

The Snake With Eyes Of Garnet

Last night as I lay dreaming
My way across the sea
James Mangan brought me comfort
With laudnum and poitin
He flew me back to Dublin
In 1819
To a public execution
Being held on Stephen’s Green

The young man on the platform
Held his head up and he did sing
Then he whispered hard into my ear
As he handed me this ring

“If you miss me on the harbour
For the boat, it leaves at three
Take this snake with eyes of garnet
My mother gave to me!

This snake cannot be captured
This snake cannot be tied
This snake cannot be tortured, or
Hung or crucified

It came down through the ages
It belongs to you and me
So pass it on and pass it on
‘Til all mankind is free.”

Now there’s a song that will be sung in a hundred years time, long after Radio 1 is history. There’s echoes in there of the greatest London-Irish poetry…

I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
“That fellow’s got to swing.”

Dear Christ! the very prison walls
Suddenly seemed to reel,
And the sky above my head became
Like a casque of scorching steel;
And, though I was a soul in pain,
My pain I could not feel.

Here’s to the wilde men of words! Mess with genius in your hole! Happy Christmas your arse! Slainte

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