Archive for September, 2010

With These Hands

So unusual for me to finish knitting something that I had to photograph it.

There’s just something about October that makes me want to dig out the craftwork. I think it’s nothing more atavistic than the traditional autumn screen binge, actually – because I’m currently watching Mad Men (still wonderful, despite the broken tension), I,Claudius (because of feeling rather ancient worldy following a short September treat in Rome) and Escape into Night (elderly TV version of chilling childhood book Marianne Dreams). I’ve even – don’t start on me – watched The Apprentice on TV3. (But please tell me I didn’t hear Bill Cullen ask the male team “So what was it like being project managed by a woman?”) That’s a lot of sofa-time, and having spent my childhood doing my homework lying on my stomach in front of Diff’rent Strokes and All Creatures Great and Small, I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of watching television and not doing something else at the same time, so I’ve started thinking about the boxes of crafty crap up in the attic, and wondering whether to heave one down.

Lurking there are:

  1. the knitting box (needles, patterns, scraps of wool and my half-finished projects of Octobers gone: an out-of-date class timetable from the Yarn Room, hats, a jumper sleeve, a knitted patchwork quilt in blues, purples and greys which was going to be a. lovely and b. an heirloom)
  2. the jewellery box (semi-precious stones, pliers, silver wire – for a few  years a friend and I had weekly jewellery making sessions together, leading up to a Christmas sale, but we’ve been more diffident for the last couple of years about asking people round for mince pies and Babycham and then springing a till on them)
  3. the batik box (funny wax pens with brass reservoirs, and a great, split bag of wax pellets – currently sliding all over the attic like a monster version of the green lentils at the back of my dry food cupboard)
  4. the sewing box (sadly reduced to some gaudy fat quarters and a bag of recycled nametapes. God be with the days I made my own debs dress. Further into the eaves there’s the sewing machine – must, must, must watch online tutorials)
  5. the art box (lovely, lovely watercolours and that horribly expensive thick, grainy paper, a red bamboo roll of brushes and silky pencils)
  6. the card box (mainly for the youngstas, I couldn’t be more fed up with mini clothes pegs, stick-on shoes, dresses and prams, glue pens and all that general school artroom knick-knackery, give me a beautifully drawn or painted card any day)

Then instead of a cosy asbestos stuffing in the roof, we have several half-finished patchwork quilts and those enormous sitting room curtains whose goblet pleats never sat smoothly. Perhaps I could rework them into a maxi dress? No – because this year I’m not going into the attic on October 1st. I’m ignoring the mouldering relics of previous autumns and learning something new, so that I have something fresh to discard in February.  My jewellery friend and I have signed up to a blacksmithing course at Russborough House, run by Gunvor Anhøj and we’re going to learn how to make fire irons. I’m a little worried about the actual hammering – bang, bang, metal on metal is veering into the sensations of fork-scraping-teeth or nails-scraping-terracotta-pot – and it’s obviously heavy work, too, but I think I’m game, so let’s shovel on a little more coal, and I may well spend the winter lifting embers with half a tongs. I don’t think I’ll test the attic rafters with an anvil, though.

I can’t be the only one with itchy fingers this autumn – what are you up to?

Or, more nosily – what lurks in your attic?

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Bus to the airport and a smoky, treacle-tongued, flirtatious French voice pours through the intercom announcing our arrival. Cooing, purring he embraces us into his delightful conspiracy; yes, we have arrived at Dublin’s International airport. We truly exceptional passengers are indulgently cautioned not to forget any of our belongings all the while confirming with a chuckle that he knows superior people like us would never make such a mistake. With a wink-filled afterthought he hints that if we were to do so that such an action would be recognised as the playful bit of cheekiness it was no doubt intended to be.  Voice a-brim with sighs and meaningful glances, we passengers, the truly sexy people he knows us to be, are advised that it is time alas to leave the bus and continue enjoying our intrigue-filled, exotic lives. As the treacle timbered, cat-lick rasp surrenders us with regret to the outside world the illusion is suddenly shattered as the English version bitchslaps us reeling into reality:

(Dublin accent)

We’re here. Get out.

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As is probably the case for many women of my generation, my perception of the Avon cosmetics company was shaped by memories of the glamorous neighbour who called regularly and handed my mother enticingly packaged pots and tubes. She trailed in her wake a heady cloud of scent and left behind a glossy catalogue that was later poured over by my mum who diligently ticked tiny boxes in eager anticipation of her next delivery of frosted pink lipstick and royal blue eye shadow.

Growing up I gravitated towards the vibrant teen-baiting hues of the Rimmel stand in my local chemist. As I exchanged my pocket money for the glossy veneer of adulthood the Avon brand seemed irrelevant and soon disappeared from my mind entirely.

That remained the case for thirty years until earlier this week a tweet arrived directing me to the Clinton Global Initiative website. So what’s the connection between the two? Well, the Clinton Global Citizen Awards, established to recognize extraordinary individuals who have demonstrated visionary leadership in solving pressing global challenges, has honoured Andrea Jung, Chairman and CEO of Avon Products, for showing leadership in the corporate sector and for significantly improving the lives of women worldwide.

There are two distinct strands to the work that Avon undertakes to empower and aid women globally. Firstly, as part of its core business, the company provides earning opportunities to more than 6.2 million independent Avon Sales Representatives worldwide. Thus the potential to secure an independently earned income is realised by women who would otherwise sink into poverty. Secondly, the Avon Foundation for Women, founded in 1955, has emerged as the leading corporate philanthropy organisation for women globally. Who knew?

the Avon Foundation, founded in 1955, has emerged as the leading corporate philanthropy organisation for women globally

The Foundation has adopted the dual mission of supporting research aimed at eradicating breast cancer and of tackling domestic and gender violence directed against women. Last year more than $725 million (€540 million) was raised and directed towards grassroots programs in more than 50 countries. According to the Avon website, funds raised to fight breast cancer are directed towards improving “awareness and education; screening and diagnosis; access to treatment; support services; and scientific research”. The beneficiaries of the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade “range from leading cancer research and clinical centers to community-based, non-profit breast health education programs”.

In 2004 the Avon Foundation launched “Speak Out Against Domestic Violence” to raise awareness and funds and, crucially, to advocate for the more effective implementation of laws aimed at curbing violence towards women.  Last year Avon awarded more than $12 million (€8.9 million) to domestic violence organizations to help fund awareness, education, direct services and prevention programs.

It seems that there is more than meets the eye to this “lipstick, powder & paint” and the current product range is pretty funky too. Is anyone else amazed to learn of the philanthropic achievements of Avon?

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Press Photographer Paul Graynor (Darren Healy)

Shell suits shimmered. A middle-aged man munched Wotsits. Someone else gurgled a gollier up and down an out-of-view nose shaft. Lovers in fake fur jackets, cuddled. Cineworld Parnell Street on a Thursday night for Brendan Muldowney’s debut film: Savage, starring Darren Healy and Nora-Jane Noone. I was really apprehensive. Most films about Ireland – and especially Dublin – are of the Carrolls Gifts & Souvenirs variety. Jovial women with croissant-shaped curls scrubbing doorsteps, their bacon rumps facing the sky…orthopaedically-challenged husbands bandying down to the pub for a game of cards. Or when the shit-grit is tackled, it usually depicts gangland scangers as dotingly hilarious, in-between ripping nails off with a pliers or disembowelling with a blowtorch for a €200 cocaine debt while a St. Patrick’s Day parade carries on as normal outside.

I was apprehensive too because there’s a PC-tendency to deny what is freely available to the naked eye all over Dublin: junkies lurching  forward in Zombie mode spouting delirium (“scuzzzzzz meeeeee, hav yi got mi bus fayerrr”), Romany kids being led to beg for people who can’t look after them, homeless men covered in piss eating out of bins, mothers fag-choking their fetals to birth outside the Rotunda, shoplifters and car thieves creating ‘opportunities’ in a country where policy stolidly lacks them. And so on. Nothing is as scary as the streets of Dublin at night-time, even if you’re terminally twee and desperately want to pretend you’re blind.

There was a 300% rise in muggings in the city centre in the first quarter of this year, some of which were grotesquely violent (one guy had part of his ear bitten off in the process): the youngest perpetrator turned 12 a few weeks ago. Stab statistics are higher than ever with a notable rise in ‘unprovoked’ attacks. Murder stats are no better: 59 murders and other violent deaths in Dublin in the past two years. Almost as many guns now as hurley sticks begorrah: a gaggle of machine guns were seized by Gardaí last week on the North Circular Road, no doubt business aids for the burgeoning drug market. Staff at Mountjoy Prison staged a walk-out last month in protest against the rise in inmate violence. Out beyond in the suburbs a few bored thugs shoved a firework into a female terrier’s mouth and blew off her jaw. The same thing happened to a bunch of swans in a city park that were fed fireworks concealed in folded slices of bread. Shit City at its best…

…so would Savage be able to colour Dublin with just the right shade of gritty realism? The plot is plain-flour simple: a man tries to come to terms with a brutal random attack and its consequences:

To me this is a film about the effects of personal trauma using Dublin as a whirring backdrop. The cinematography is incredible (filmed in drained monochrome and with shades of oppressive gun-metal grey) which makes it even more of a horror film as you witness Paul, the main character, sink further and further into a Dantesque wheelie bin. There’s such an odd sense of detachment and otherworldly strangeness about him. It’s no surprise that Darren Healy, who plays this lead-role, received a 2010 IFTA nomination. His is a stunning and memorable performance. In many ways this victim turned killer is already a peculiar character before the life-changing assault. He floats above the daily drudge and its cruel realities….which is the life of many press photographers and journalists. The periphery actors who walk the track suit catwalk around Dublin’s mean streets at night, are also superb. They are idiotic and gratuitous and bored and dangerous and unaware. The city for them is a dystopian scrapheap from which to extract shiny bits of metal at any [human] cost.

There’s actually very little violence in the film, despite what you might hear (!), most is suggested but the nugget that is in-your-face will have you pulling your retina clear off. Sound is very cleverly used too (“a visceral rollercoaster ride”, Muldowney called it) assaulting the senses, dragging you wincingly and mincingly inside Paul’s mountingly paranoid trauma. The Director drew his inspiration from various real-life stories including that of New Yorker Bernhard Goetz, the ‘subway vigilante’. He shot four young men on a subway in Manhattan on December 22, 1984, after they tried to mug him. He’d been mugged before and starting carrying a gun ‘just in case’ but was accused in court of actively seeking out trouble. Also the brutal deaths of British soldiers Derek Wood and David Howes, dragged from their car in Belfast in 1988 during an IRA funeral, found later that day in wasteland beaten and executed and bloodied.

What works is that the revenge is not exacted on those who deserve it, but on mere incidentals. It happens a lot. It’s how and why we have victims of crime. Person A is desensitised by a mix of familial violence and lack of care. A meets B, from a similar background and they pathologically wreak havoc on F who spends the rest of his life wondering what happened, himself now desensitised, etc. Ireland grew this particular bacterial brand of densensitisation en-masse in the 1950s/60/70s, with a great deal of help from church-run institutions. Knead this with an ungovernable drug problem and you have a city that is as much about random acts of incredible violence as it is about bodhrans and dead heroes.

The filming, lighting and direction is superb throughout. Although for me, the script has holes in it. Female characters are poor, both in terms of their lines and the actors. Paul’s romantic interest with the nurse/carer Nora-Jane Noone is weak and spectral. “We’ve all been there, where we just have to hold someone’s hand until they’re back on their feet,” she said in an interview about her luvvy role. However, she seems to be a cipher rather than a living, breathing human being. It would’ve been a lot stronger without the crud romance thrown in for good popcorn measure. That being said it is a sincere film, a study of unbending aggression borne out of savourless trauma. Expect to look at city streets differently, especially on cold dank nights on cobbled paths, when a hooded teenager walks towards you and smiles for no reason.
June Caldwell  is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here:

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Actor and director Anjelica Huston is the star of numerous acclaimed films, from Prizzi’s Honour – for which she won an Oscar in 1985 – and The Addams Family to The Royal Tenenbaums. She spent much of her childhood in Ireland and starred in her legendary director father John’s celebrated 1987 adaptation of James Joyce’s The Dead. She has directed several films, including the Dublin-set Agnes Browne, in which she again showed her perfect Irish accent. Oh yes, and she was in Spinal Tap too.

What’s the first record you ever bought?
‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ – Percy Sledge, ’66
What’s your favourite smell?
Frangipani, fresh after a warm rain
Have you ever had a nickname?
‘Jelly-bags’ (my brother), ‘Jel’ (my mother)
What is your favourite room in your house?
What are your guilty pleasures?
Chocolate and naps
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m a farmer.
Who is your closest female friend?
I’ve got a few.
Do you have any tattoos or piercings?
My ears are pierced, twice
Where would you most like to live?
In a beautiful plantation house on a remote but ravishing tropical island
Who was your first kiss and where did it happen?
Joshua Thomas, circa ’66
What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?
Will you marry me?
What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?
What is your favourite word?
Who was your first love?
Joshua Thomas, circa ’65-’66
If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become?
A dancer
Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone?
Alice in Wonderland

What happens after we die?
Things go on
What female historical figure do you admire most?
Sum yourself up in three words:
Hopeful, wary, animal-lover
And finally… What are you anti? What are you pro?
Anti: cruelty
Pro: gentleness and humour

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World of Sport

Defence! Defence! Get it on the rebound! Who’s marking number seven?

I’m sitting on a bottom-numbing wooden bench in a cavernous sports hall somewhere off the M50, watching my son’s basketball team. There are two matches going on simultaneously, and the combined noise of the crowd, whistles, hooters, bouncing balls and even the squeak of basketball boots on the shiny wooden floor, is ear-splitting. All around me there are other parents, team managers and coaches shouting encouragement at the boys and enthusiastically analysing every move and every decision by the referee.

But I just don’t get it. My own feelings are a combination of bafflement and low-level boredom, with added anxiety when my son is actually on the court.

The bafflement comes partly from having only a rudimentary knowledge of the rules of the game, but mainly from my complete failure to understand what everyone is getting so worked up about. I can manage some enthusiastic clapping when the team scores, but that’s about the height of it. I’m fairly detached from the whole business.

I always bring a book or the weekend papers for the inevitable hanging around before and between matches, but I am alone in this. Other parents spend the time in yet more dissection of team tactics, pre and post match analysis and critiques of the referee and the team coach. I know any sports fanatic reading will hate me for this, but all I can think while all this is going on is ‘Come ON, they’re eleven years old, and after all (I think we all know what’s coming next) it’s only a game’.

My ambivalence probably stems from my own childhood experience of sports. I was the quintessential non-sporty kid: skinny, uncoordinated, slow. The last one picked for the teams in gym class. Thanks to undiagnosed asthma, a wheezing mess after each enforced run round the convent grounds. I tried a few different sports – tennis, badminton and, unforgettably, camogie. I was rubbish at them all.

My inglorious camogie career came to an end on a lonely UCD pitch when I was about ten. I was representing Na Fianna and we were playing our sworn enemies, Marino, who always beat us. I was in goal, where it was felt I could do the least damage. The golden rule of goalkeeping had been drilled into me – block, block, block the ball first, and only then clear it. We were doing pretty well and I was having an unusually quiet game. Then a Marino forward took an optimistic swing from a long way out. There wasn’t much power behind the shot, and the sliotar rolled sedately towards me. No problem, I thought to myself, instantly forgetting everything I had been taught. As the ball reached me it had lost almost all momentum, so I took a wild swipe at it. And missed. It trickled on, and came to a stop about six inches over the goal line, to the delighted amazement of the Marino team.

Unsurprisingly, my teammates and coach were less than impressed with this display and expressed their displeasure fairly vocally. It was one of the most humiliating moments of my life.

These memories are what have me on edge when I watch my son play basketball. His dad’s athletic accomplishments were, if anything, even less impressive than my own, and it’s fair to say that when it comes to sporting prowess, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

Our boy is capable of scoring baskets, but is too hesitant to fight for the ball or to dribble up the court with it. He gets into good positions and relies on others to pass it to him, but he is prone to occasionally fluffing the catch. Though not actually watching through my fingers, I do worry that some day he will make an error which will be viewed by his teammates and their parents as catastrophic. I dread the potential fallout.

When he first joined the basketball club, he was very sensitive to the usual slagging and dressing room joking that went on, and there were a few tears shed after training sessions. He found it hard to identify with some of his teammates, many of whom take basketball very seriously indeed. Thanks to a sympathetic coach, he’s fitting in better now and goes to training willingly enough, but if he were to give it up tomorrow he wouldn’t miss it too much.

However, that would leave him playing no sport at all. Here in sports-mad Ireland, a boy who doesn’t play sport is almost viewed as an aberration. He has little interest in football, although he nominally ‘supports’ Liverpool so he can belong to a mini-tribe at school. We tried GAA when he was a lot younger, and I loved the inclusive, family atmosphere at our local club, where everyone got a game, regardless of ability. However, as the years went on and he watched other boys develop those incredible hurling skills, he increasingly lost heart. It became ever more difficult to persuade him to go to training so I let him give it up.

He showed no interest in taking up another sport. But, with the words of teachers and other parents ringing in my ears (“team sport is so character-building!” “they need an outlet for all that energy!”), I cast around for an alternative. Unimaginatively, I chose basketball because he’s very tall for his age.

Sometimes I feel guilty that I have railroaded him into playing sport. But nor do I want him to turn into a lardy, couch-dwelling gamer. I view it simply as a way for him to get some exercise and mix with other boys his own age from a variety of backgrounds. I don’t care about matches and the whole winning and losing thing. But I’ll be there to support him if he has a ‘Marino moment’ and to reassure him that life will, in fact, go on.

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Last night, I was listening to Arena on RTE Radio and caught an interview with Nic Green, the director and writer of Trilogy which opens tonight as part of Absolut Fringe. Much has been made of the appearance of 50 naked women dancers (all volunteers) in the play, but it’s within the context of looking at femininity, representations of the female body and what it means to be a woman.

In the interview Nic spoke about her work with 8 – 11-year-old girls where she started to hear the beginnings of body dysmorphia; of girls fretting over their weight. She also discussed the feminists who inspired her and said that they were “women in my own life, rather than celebrities” and that a lot of writers had also impacted on her. Another  project she is involved in is www.makeyourownherstory.org and according to the site:

“The Make Your Own Herstory Project argues the case for placing creativity and reflection at the heart of political and personal development. For us, this is not a question, but a necessity.”

There are various chapters on the site about making your own “womanifesto” or female Family Tree to making your own anthem. I like the idea of ‘Make Your Own Statue’ which might involve – in Green’s words – “adding a pair of tinfoil ear-rings”.

“Choose your favourite female icon – the chances are, shes underrated! Why not dress a local patriarchal statue as the woman you admire?  Dont forget to stick a sign over the existing name stating who she is, when she was born and died (if applicable) and what she did.”

She was a fascinating interviewee, who spoke in an inspiring way about womanhood and feminism. Trilogy opens tonight at the Project Arts Centre and runs until Saturday. The performance starts at 7pm and runs for three hours.

Arena interview with Nic Green here:

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