The sweet, mild temperatures of Christmas 2011 are a real gift after the hassle of last year. Treacherously slippery footpaths, eight inches of built up snow and ice equalled risky driving and much reduced walking for Christmas 2010.
The milder weather is sure not as visually spectacular, though.
The Liffey river Christmas Day 2011
The Liffey river Christmas Day 2010
From my back window Christmas Day 2011
From my back window Christmas Day 2010
And while enjoying an ice-free stroll today along the Liffey, I spotted this heron, who opted to spend Christmas Day 2011, meditating in the centre of the river.
Whatever about the gloomy atmosphere around the country, Christmas had really arrived.
The largest children's choir in Europe sang at the Hallelujah Concerts 2011 held in RDS, Dublin, Monday night, 12 December. Two thousand children belted out a range of rock, pop and folk songs with some backing from The High Kings (it was the other way round - a minor detail)
and other international acts.
Over a hundred schools from all over Ireland participated, and favourites (for me) on the night were a knockout Queen medley (This thing called love, We are the Champions et al) and a rousing rendition of the 16th century Christmas song Gaudete.
Also, Labbi Siffre's Something inside so Strong received a magical makeover by Randolph Matthews and his two thousand backing singers.
And down here in the audience, one pair of eyes (me) anxiously sought out, and eventually spotted, a little ten year girl who had travelled there by school bus with her fellow students from St Conleth's and Mary's Primary School, Newbridge. Not an easy feat when two thousand Christmas hats flew frequently in the air like a flock of crazy birds, Mexican waves rippled tsunami-like through the crowd and the lights went out to reveal the Milky way sparkle of a thousand or so torches.
Shane Hegarty's article in today's Irish Times here got me thinking about the telly and how things have changed since I were a lass.
Gone are the days (in my house anyway)when the family cluster around the one and only box and watch the same programme.
In one room, I've this.
In another, this.
I guess I could come across all disapproving of this anti-social type screen viewing. There's surely nothing very sociable about each of us on our own private screen. But here's the thing: one of the most tired and worn telly programmes, the Late Late Show (RTE One, Friday nights)(Sorry, Ryan) is transformed by a 'modern' way of viewing.
You can now keep your eye on a bunch of internet hecklers, watching the same telly programme as you, who emit a running (often cruel but mostly hilarious) commentary on the show via your lap top.
It was Aaron Sorkin's name on the screenplay ticket what did it. He of The West Wing & The Social Network fame - I assumed one liners would come thick and fast.
Sadly, even Brad Pitt (Billy Beane)at his charming best (marred somewhat by his talking with his mouth full of bread all the way through or constantly spitting in cups-yeech) couldn't save this one dimensional, over long movie.
Okay, it had its moments. I did enjoy the mechanics around the picking of the team, using Jonah Hill's (Peter Brand) unorthodox mathematical formula to project how low priced baseball players with particular skills might perform and from that, forming a winning team of underdogs.
But the pace was not snappy or engaging enough to keep me from wishing Pitt would just get on with it. And judging by the squirming in the seats behind me by three twenty something men and the very audible sound of jaws yawning, I wasn't alone in my opinion.
I will give Aaron Sorkin the benefit of the doubt - he was sharing the screenwriting job with Steven Zaillian which may have curbed the injection of wit.
Here's a quote from Sorkin, showing that even someone with his breadth of talent can have self-doubt:
I love writing but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, "You may have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over, giftless. I'm not your agent and I'm not your mommy, I'm a white piece of paper, you wanna dance with me?" and I really, really don't.
Some more (part one is here ) of those lines that stay with me long after I've turned the last page.
Lines holding a sentiment that lodges in my head.
Lines that make me wish I knew the author personally, so I could tell her/him just how much their creation resonates with me.
Lines that make me wish I was the one who wrote them.
The effect of a death on mundanities: There is something wonderful about a death, how everything shuts down, and all the ways you thought you were vital are not even vaguely important. Your husband can feed the kids, he can work the new oven, he can find the sausages in the fridge, after all.
The dynamic of a large family: There is always a drunk. There is always someone who has been interfered with, as a child. There is always a colossal success, with several houses in various countries to which no one is ever invitied. There is a mysterious sister.......the great thing about being dragged up is that there is no one to blame. We are entirely free range."
The heroine's daughter at the funeral: Her face is full of unshed tears.
Anne Enright's (Booker prize winning) The Gathering
In the voice of a mentally brittle nanny. Alina loved the baby. She loved everything about the baby. The tiny boyness of him, the way his legs kicked whenever he looked up at her....even when he cried, when he screamed, she was very happy. But he did not cry very often. He was almost a perfect baby.
Roddy Doyle'sThe Pram
Forgiveness: The gaping wound of my wrongs, too, was now quite healed: and the flame of resentment extinguished.
Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. On the heroine's return to Gateshead, her former home, where she had been cruelly treated by her relatives.
Irresistible sensuousness: There was a tender but energetic adhocery to our sex, the way there is when young people are not embarrassed by their bodies-what they look like and what they want. Kissing was urgent yet careful, luminous and drinklessly drunk. He hovered-quivering, tense and flight bound - I bucked, humped and arced, a dancer in a sea lion suit. Afterward, he would sometimes say, "That was one for the scrapbook!"
Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs.
And finally a quote within a quote:
A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long. It was a special kind of ice. It kept melting, sending trickles of ice water all up and down my veins, but it never got less.
Quoted by Francine Prose in Reading like a writer from "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin.
For the last few lucky weeks, winter has stayed gloriously away and autumn continues to crane its neck further and further into November. Photos taken while out walking (Newbridge,Co Kildare, Ireland) evoke Autumn by Northamptonshire poet John Clare
A russet red the hazels gain,
As suited to their drear decline;
While maples brightest dress retain,
And in the gayest yellows shine.
And I do love the varied hue,
And I do love the browning plain;
And I do love each scene to view,
That’s mark’d with beauties of her reign.
O while my eye the landscape views,
What countless beauties are display’d;
What varied tints of nameless hues, —
Shades endless melting into shade.
Tis lovely now to turn one’s eye,
The changing face of heaven to mind;
How thin-spun clouds glide swiftly by,
While lurking storms slow move behind.
Beneath a yellow fading tree,
As red suns light thee, Autumn-morn,
In wildest rapture let me see
The sweets that most thy charms adorn.
Beside the brook, in misty blue,
Bilberries glow on tendrils weak,
Where many a bare-foot splashes through,
The pulpy, juicy prize to seek:
And the swans obliged with a "Bottoms up" to winter (needless to say, that's not a John Clare line)
I came across this last June from Nobel Prize winning author, V.S. Naipaul:
"Women writers are different. They are quite different. I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think it is unequal to me. This is due to their sentimentality and narrow view of the world. And inevitably for a woman she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too."
Given that I've never read any of Mr Naipaul'swork, I can't comment on whether his writing is imbued with his very obviously balanced, (not) outlook on all things gender related. A glance back at my own reading list for the past year: Ann Enright Lorrie Moore Francine Prose Kate Atkinson Charlotte Bronte Scarlett Thomas Susan Hill Ann Tyler Helen Simpson Jennifer Johnson
does make me wonder if maybe I need to check out my own impartiality. Guess it looks as if I just prefer to read fiction written by women -so hurrah for 'sentimentality' and a 'narrow view of the world'.
Ok, I admit it. As far as Halloween is concerned, I've always been in the "Bah, Humbug" department.
I know, I know. Wrong season. But you know what I mean. All this orange and black and forced zombieism leaves me cold.
Maybe it's because in the depths of rural Ireland where I was brought up, we never seemed to do much celebrating of Halloween. Or maybe because Christmas is so hot on Halloween's heels that it feels like overkill. Or maybe I'm just a straight descendant of Ebenezer. Whatever.
Either way, the existence of younger, more enthusiastic people in my life has ensured that Halloween is celebrated in my house, with or without me.
Our front door has entered into the spirit of the occasion.
Our front windows are not exactly welcoming.
Best of all, a sheep's skull, retrieved from a Connemara mountain during the summer by my thirteen year old, which I had denounced as at the time as a 'health hazard' but had to concede the battle as far as bringing it home was concerned,
has been resurected for the occasion,
is now pride of place at the front door,
all re-invented with new psychedelic eyeballs.
The sight of it in the front porch made even Scrooge's descendant smile.
After the deluge of debate, digging up the dirt, defending the indefensible, blowing of own trumpets, hogging of airwaves, newspapers and screens, the time of reckoning has come.
All other news has overshadowed by an endless stream of incriminating snippets from shady pasts. At least four of the candidates must surely wish they didn't bother, so rampant have the skeletons from the cupboard been.
So, despite thinking that in a time of recession, maybe we should have done a hachet job on the position altogether,
The prospect of a debate that might answer this frequently pondered (by me)question was attractive. Given that the speakers in the
gorgeous surroundings of
Royal Irish Academy, Dublin
on Friday 7th October, consisted entirely of Creative Writing teachers, the weighting in the debate leaned understandeably towards a "Yes."
Some of the points that emerged:
Brilliant writers don't necessarily make brilliant teachers.
When a teacher is grading a student's writing during a degree course, should the grade be based on the "saleability" of the writing or its "literary" value?
Creative writing teachers frequently encounter students who write for therapeutic reasons such as the reliving of a traumatic childhood or dealing with a life threatening illness. Writing, for these students, is a 'process not product.'
Before close of business Dr Carlo Gebler (Queen's University, Belfast)
threw open the floor for lively discussion with four suggestions:
Do we as writers and teachers tell our students how "truly hideous" this business of writing actually is when it comes to making a living?
To what degree are we to be "bossy boots" to our students i.e. ordering them to "improve" their writing to the way we tell them to?
What degree of "pastoral" care to we give to students who are depressed and are using the classes as therapy?
How do you assess quality? It is only the teacher's opinion, after all.
Even after (me) posing my frequently pondered question to the floor as to whether the teachers felt talent or imagination can be taught, the answer to the theme of the day didn't really manifest itself. Perhaps there is no definitive answer...
The writing as therapy bit did give food for thought, though. As a diehard "journaler"
I'm a firm believer in getting it all off the chest, onto the non-judgemental blank page. Such comfort that brings, especially reading back and wondering in hindsight what all the worry was about in the first place.
Check this link - seems the whole writing as therapy thing has been going on for ages.
It's that time again - to step up to the microphone and voice those creations for an appreciative audience.
Hosted by my writing group, Clane Writers, in The Liffey Arms, Newbridge, the Open Mic saw seventeen readers take to the podium last night to give us a miscellany of poetry, short story, memoir, reflections and a couple of songs thrown in for good measure.
John Martin kicked off proceedings by assuring us his story wasn't autobiographical, and without the assistance of the mic, gave us Upstaged a comic tale about a car crash, helpful bystanders and a BMW, narrated by a very perplexed car thief (who was not John, of course) Liam Power told us he was "descended from a squirrel" and "fessed up" to being a hoarder, in a piece on the hilarious consequences of not being able to declutter. Debbie Thomas read Blue, a short story that weaved colours around us like a soft veil. "Green kissed red into apples" and "Red was busy painting the town."
John Carroll read us a thought provoking poem entitled Be Concerned.
Eileen Keane read her provocative short story on haunting post-affair guilt, narrated by a remorseful husband, Boy on a Window Ledge
Martin Malone gave us The Date from his award nominated short story collection The Mango War - a hilarious portrait of the obstacle course that is blind dating.
Paul McCormack, singer songwriter, and owner of no less than 2,000 of his own song compositions, gave us a break from the spoken word with two of his originals. The X-factor Blues reminded us of our obsession with THAT programme and also told us, accompanied by bluesy harmonica, that "Simon and Louis wouldn't know talent if it broke down their door." Banjo on me back was an "eventful" tour around Germany in the seventies and eighties. Una Ni Cheallaigh read Dream Child, Waiting Room and Joshua Tree from her recently published and very favourably reviewed poetry collection, Salamander Crossing. Sylvia Hickey read us a travel piece from Perth. Mervyn Ennis opened a personal reflection by declaring himself a "Luddite" before launching in a computer jargon charged, extremely humourous description of how being I.T. literate could really help your life. His hilarious image of "cutting and pasting" appropriate clothing onto his teenage daughter stands out. Sheila Briody read The Ghost, an evocative, image filled account of a visit to the misty Scottish Highlands. Mari Gallagher (yours truly) read a piece of memoir My first visit to the Dentist.
Peter Butler gave us some poetry.
Brian Carroll read Gravity in the Glen a descriptive outline of an army mortar competition and a General's incendiary response to lapses in catering standards. "They left quieter than they arrived," summed up the goings on.
Paddy O Beirne gave us some poetry where "scraggy haired boys, tired and hungry" and "big bellied men in wellingtons" roamed the streets on fair day.
Rita Crampton, super M.C., read her short story, Farewell Angelina, a haunting tale of teenhood memories and longing.
And in between the breaks, we chatted and exchanged writerly gossip.
On the way home, the swans on the Liffey were having their own get together.