It might snow

On Christmas Eve our neighbour said he thought it might snow . It was late. We had all been visiting neighbourhood friends.  A teetotaler, he was giving us a lift home. The kids were drowsy in the back seats of his car, their excitement sated by good food and the effort of good behaviour. He said, “I think it will snow.” in his soft, roundy, cheery voice. “Really?” I said brightly.

Later I realised he had said it for their benefit, to squeeze another smidge of excitement out of the day. But it was I who believed him, eyes wide, mind tingling with thoughts of a world writ new and fresh and crystal clear with his idea of snow.

Synecdochal snow.

Sierra Leonean Art: A talk in Collins Barracks Museum, 15 November

Bill Hart plays a ceremonial horn

I got the following email below from my mother recently:

I am a member of the Sierra Leone Ireland Partnership which advocates for justice and civil and economic rights there. Like others in the group I worked in Sierra Leone for some years in the 1960s. The news from Sierra Leone is not good at the moment and we all hope that with help from all their supporters they will overcome this crisis as they have others in recent times.

Bill Hart plays a ceremonial horn
Bill Hart plays a ceremonial horn

Earlier this year before the Ebola outbreak the Irish Government opened an embassy in Freetown and we decided to celebrate by arranging a talk about the Sierra Leone collections in the National Museum of Ireland. It will be given by Dr Bill Hart, an academic with a lifelong interest in West African traditional art particularly Sierra Leone. He has published many articles on this subject. In the course of his research he discovered that there were a number of items from Sierra Leone in our National Museum which had been presented to the museum over the past 200 years mainly by Irish people working in the colonial service.

You are invited to attend this talk at 11.00am next Saturday Nov 15th in the National Museum Collins Barracks. Admission is free but booking is essential at

Please tell any of your friends who might be interested about this talk.

Sounds like a fascinating morning sharing a positive side of life in Sierra Leone and Irish involvement there. If you’re curious to know more about Sierra Leonean Art you should book now before places fill up.

Park. Life.

I have been following the developments in Granby Park with interest thanks to an invitation I received from Springwools to donate to their yarnbomb in their park.

In their own words:

Granby Park, is an urban, ‘pop-up’ park in a currently vacant site in Dublin’s inner city. It is made from up-cycled, recycled, donated and found material and features some of the city’s most talented artists, architects, performers, planners etc. It will have an outdoor cinema, a theatre made by kids from palettes, an education zone, exhibitions, a play area, a café, art installations, and lots, lots more!

Situated just off busy, commercial Parnell St. it is in a prime city centre location surrounded by some of some of Dublin’s iconic Georgian houses, social housing from the 50sish and swish new apartments which should make it a very attractive place to live, full of diversity. But with this enormous hole right in the middle of the community I imagine it’s a little difficult. So somehow or other the local community has commandeered this wasteland and turned it into a wonderland.

#thingsifoundtoday Two bags of #crochet motifs. My next project!

Sorting out the #crochet motifs #thingsifoundtoday

I was really happy to be able to donate some of the motif’s I found in my godmother’s house when we were clearing it out last year and I think she would be pleased they found an amusing end. I’m only sorry I didn’t donate more. Maybe I’ll pop over and bomb some more onto the railings! I would highly recommend a visit: it’s open from 8am til 7pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 7pm weekends until September 22nd 2013. Word to the wise: the coffee shop hadn’t opened by the time I left at 10am last Monday. Below are some shots I grabbed of the Nippers enjoying the various installations and areas in the park. There is also a library – maybe bring a book to donate!

Reassure yo’self: do a first aid course

A long overdue blog post. Story of my life. I have been in four hospitals this week between suspected I don’t know what that required our GP sending us to Crumlin Children’s Hospital, minor surgery in James and an antenatal on the same day and then back to Tallaght Hospitals today for my H1N1 booster. God I hate hospitals!

This may be one of the reasons I was attracted to the idea of a paediatric first aid course. I really, truly meant to do one before Nipper 1.0 was born and that was 6 years ago. So when Tots2Teens invited me to attend their Paediatric First Aid Course in Bewleys Hotel Ballsbridge at the beginning of November I jumped at the chance.

bobIt was a day long course and there were about 15 people on the course. There were a mix of parents but many childcare workers. There were only 2 men there and of course Bob (see left). The childcare workers were, for the most part, doing refresher courses. It was amazing to find out from them how much had changed in paediatric first aid since their original training.

The course was very comprehensive and the trainer whose name escapes me really knew his stuff. I did feel at times that he was just going through the slides. He also tended to presume we understood what he was talking about, jargon and acronyms and such. However he was so likable, straightforward and obviously into the topic that those criticisms didn’t matter.

I worried (and here’s a crazy thing to worry about) that attending the course would make me very worried and if there is one thing that drives me mad it’s worrisome parents. Yes sometimes I think other parents don’t think I worry enough but Nipper 1.0 is so bloody cautious that we’re safe enough I think. That is definitely not the case with Nipper 2.0 so there has been some close shaves in the last year and a half! My main feeling on completing the course (for which I got a cert!) was a feeling of reassurance. I really think confidence is a vital element of parenting so if you think you might panic at the sight of your child’s blood or broken bones (Yikes!) I would definitely recommend this course. If nothing else it will give you the confidence to assess and deal with emergency situations involving your children. But it’s more than just paediatric first aid. The emphasis is on kids but much of the theory is generic while the practical exercises (and there was plenty of them!) focus on children where different.

I am also very grateful to Martina in Tots2Teens for sorting me out with some suggested Antenatal Yoga Class. She sent me details of the Seraph Yoga Centre on Heytesbury St. I started there on Wednesday evening and it was brilliant. It was a little more energetic that my previous yoga classes in Holles St. (which if you are a patient there I would strongly recommend too). That said I had no aches and pains the next day although because of my minor surgery earlier that day I was taking it easy. I also had my antenatal earlier that day and when I told the midwife that I was starting my yoga that evening she said, “You always know the women who have done yoga in the labour ward.” I found the confidence (there it is again!) and techniques I gained in yoga really helped in both my labours. Antenatal yoga helps focus your mind and body on the upcoming event and the poses are specially chosen to help relieve the stresses of pregnancy and labour.

The class in Seraph is taught by a woman name Anne and as soon as I arrived she said, “I know you from somewhere.” She didn’t seem very familiar so I said you might know my sister Abigail. (Although we think we’re very different many people get us mixed up.) Turns out she volunteers for Oxfam (as well as being a great yoga instructor) and was there when Abigail performed at Oxjam last year. In fact I was there too and she did recognise me! Here’s a video I made of Abigail playing at Oxjam last year. Enjoy!

Art for art’s sake?

I’ve had an interesting week of culture in the last week that really got me thinking about the value that we place on culture. Every thought I have makes me think of more values that society and individuals place on culture. For example, describing my week chronologically I could start by telling you about “The Pitmen Painters“. Every year a good friend of mine books my group of friends a set of tickets for one show in the theatre festival. She’s a friend of the festival so she gets a nice discount for us. She goes to loads of shows during the festival and really puts me, the Drama Graduate, to shame. I use my kids as an excuse for my lack of cultural get-up and go. Nice of me eh? This friend says she’ll happily spend all this money as the Theatre Festival is like her Electric Picnic. I can see the attraction and understand her analogy entirely. She’s happy to spend money on events she finds fulfilling, thought-provoking, social and very often exhilarating. And there is rarely much muck involved.

That’s the value she places on the culture she enjoys: the same value others place on a weekend at Electric Picnic.

There are many reviews of The Pitmen Painters online including on which reviews the production on the very same night that I saw it. I really enjoyed the show. I laughed out loud and was interested by the characters and their journeys. The play is written by Lee Hall who also wrote Billy Eliot, a play and then film which, like The Pitmen Painters, examines the nature of culture and questions whether appreciation of culture, whether being cultured, is innate or learned. The Pitmen Painters is based on the true story of a group of coal pit workers in a town called Ashington who undertake a course in painting and art appreciation. The play focuses on 6 characters from amongst the group, how not-a-professor Robert Lyon brought the group along a journey from art ignorance to feted artists in Britain between the wars. The play addresses the pre-conceived notions about what is art, a question that was common in many art forms at the time, not least of all theatre. One of the aspects of the play that I really enjoyed was its nod to theatre practitioners of the time with its Brechtian set & scene changes, but socially realistic via its costume and props then sliding into socialist didactism and educational lecture style presentation. It even took the form of a processional or pageant at one point. (I’m really dredging this up from the far reaches of my BA in Drama Study memories!)

All of these forms were used to great effect to remind us of the types of theatrical culture that these men might have been exposed to themselves. The culture that they were exposed to or not was of great importance to the story and the play’s themes. Using varied forms and breaking down the fourth wall of realist theatre could have forced the audience to think about their role in the creation of meaning, “What does it mean?” being the first question that the Pitmen asked of their not-a-Professor. What does the story of a group of uneducatated, often illiterate pitmen mean to us today who, even in the roughest and most poverty stricken lives in Western Europe, have a far greater quality of life, greater access to education and more safely guarded rights and freedom than anything of which the pitmen could have even dreamed? Does it mean that we should re-examine what we consider artistic, cultural now? Much of the play’s dramatic tension came from the fact that the value being placed on the art that they examined was far in excess of what they might hope to earn in 10 years never mind in one pay packet. One of the painters, Oliver Kilbourn, is offered patronage by a woman of independent means, Helen Sutherland, and eventually turns it down, despite conflicting advice, from his friends and his mentor, Lyon. He chooses to turn down the patronage, which is about 2 shillings extra a week than he earns down the mines, because it will create too much of a difference between him and his society. He was concerned about becoming one of Them as opposed to remaining one of Us. There were many other ideas and themes throughout the play that were just touched upon(the value of lives half-lived, the use of men, the place of women, class, war, modernism, the list goes on…) but I want to keep a focus on the value of art because the next event I went to got me thinking about it again.

(Edit the next morning: I also forgot to add that the irony was not lost on me that we had paid €32.00 each for our front and centre seats. Four weeks ago in a one income household I would not have dreamed of shelling that out on entertainment or even art!)

Creativity as a way of life was brought into sharp focus for me as a result of an event I attended on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately although I had a notebook I forgot to bring a pen so I couldn’t take notes so please either correct me in the comments below or get in touch if I go very much astray. As part of Darklight X I attended (as I indicated in a recent blog post on The Dublin Blog). I got myself along to 2019 AC: After Copyright which was basically a public interview of Anna Troberg (also on Twitter) by Jim Carroll. Anna Troberg is the Vice-Chair of The Pirate Party. I thought Carroll did a poor job interviewing her as he maintained no objectivity. At one point he referred to lawyers as pompous and while I do not have any particular grá for lawyers I also don’t have a grá for biased stereotypes. To be fair he did push her for an answer on the final question from a member of the audience about the recent revelation that a new member of the German Pirate Party had been removed from his previous political party for an alleged child pornography conviction.

But all this is neither here nor there in my current rant! While I admire the idealism of the Pirate Party I did not hear anything revolutionary in terms of how they are going to ensure a way of life for, among many others worldwide, my artistic and musical siblings. Those most at risk are, of course, those who produce work which is digitally reproducible. Once a work of art can be reproduced digitally, it can be reproduced infinitely and any product that can be infinitely produced at no cost reaches zero value. As physical infrastructure and display technologies improve, the quality of the  reproductions will be indistinguishable from the original, certainly to the untrained eye or ear. As society inches closer to this reproduction zen, digitised culture (music, film, writing) becomes, in economic terms, worthless. The Pirate Party wish to accelerate this process by revising copyright laws in Europe and by doing away with Digital Rights Management. I agreed with Troberg’s points on Saturday that the punishment for downloading copyrighted files must fit the crime. I agreed also that royalties should only be paid to living artists as directly as possible and no third parties should gain from art they have not created (meaning that the artists employ their record labels, not the other way around). I also agree that the times they are a-changing and that many will rail against these changes. But the railing is borne of fear and the fear is, I think, mostly a fear of the unknown and artists live with many more unknowns than the rest of us, even in these straitened times. The unknown is a workable alternative and I did not hear an alternative on Saturday. I did try to make my point on Saturday but I didn’t feel like I was getting a lot of support from my fellow audience members.*

Am I like Oliver Kilbourn, the aforementioned Pitmen Painter plucked by Lady Luck from amongst his peers, am I like him, so far and so long down a mineshaft that I cannot imagine this brave new world?  Will it not become the case that choosing a creative career path will revert to the privileged classes  (conceding that it ever really included anyone else)? And what if those privileged enough to create art or patronise it suddenly take up with another? Will the artist’s (he)art be broken? In the future how much amateur guff will we have to sift through to reach the gems? (There’s gold in them hills for creators of filtering & sorting software! And I use the word creator there deliberately.) Will those gems ever be seen or heard on this island when the economies of scale do not make it commercially viable to perform here when performance becomes the paypoint? And what about the monkeys who can’t or won’t perform? Or who won’t perform in a manner that appeals to the groundlings and the toffs? Is it off to the mines with them to live a benighted life listening to endless X-Factor phenomena surrounded by advertising aimed directly at the individual consumer thanks to the generous sharing of their Facebook profile? I’m all for the shock of the new but I’d prefer it to be a nice gentle surprise of the Oooh-that’s-clever flavour.

I think doing away with copyright or shortening it to a term shorter than the average life would have grave economic implications. It would open a whole can of worms about not only how we value art but also about how we value work and how we define it; about the meaning of creativity (is not a web developer a creative? Is not a parent creative?) It would raise questions about our motivations, our self respect and our worth. As society becomes more and more automated this question will loom larger and larger as more people have more time to spend on education, leisure and the arts. There was little mention of the role of education in tackling copyright infringement on Saturday which surprised me. I do wonder if I came from a country of nine and a quarter million who spent EUR 2.1 billion on the arts as opposed to a country of around four million who spent EUR75.7 million on the arts then I might also be more idealistic about the future careers of artists.

* I also pushed on to The Geek Lounge where many of the same questions were discussed: how do digital creatives extract payment when anyone with a digital camera is a media outlet? I got chatting to a real pragmatic graphic designer at the end of this session who said, “I’m just sick of working for free.” I asked her had she been to the Pirate Party session and she said, “No but I heard there was this wan in the audience who just went on and on.” I said, “Yes that was me.” It’s all about perception eh?