The Everyday Irishman


A Beginning

Posted in The Sunday Columns by everydayirishman on July 26, 2009
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Of late I have been working on the very, very final issue of the magazine me and me school pals have been running for over 12 years. To facilitate laziness, this week brings you not a real column but AN EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK at the opening article by me from the final issue of Totally Fushed. Be careful, the excitement may be too much.

‘A Beginning’

I never wanted to be a writer.

As a kid, when I wasn’t dreaming of being abducted by aliens who would give me superpowers, I thought about becoming a scientist or engineer – designing environmentally friendly cars or finding a way to feed the world.

In the end, I never even learned to drive. And, most of the time – excuses about being a struggling just-out-of-college-er notwithstanding – I can’t even find it in myself to drop a few euro into the hands of the child begging for food on the street.

Writing was always something I did. Sometimes it felt like the only thing I could do. Maybe that’s why I never wanted to be a writer – I wanted to prove that I could do other things.

When the time came to college, having reached the understanding that I would never fit in the ‘practical’ world, I still resisted ‘being a writer’. I studied my other love, acting, instead. After four years in Trinity I discovered there was much more ‘putting yourself out there’ in acting than I could handle.

Leaving TCD, I made one last effort to enter the front lines of helping other people – I started studying Law, training to be a barrister. I wanted to go into human rights or defend civil liberties.

I knew after one day that this wasn’t for me, and left the new course after two weeks. Sitting on a bench in Merrion Square on the day I finally decided to leave Law, I was passed by famed poet and playwright Brendan Kennelly. I’d passed him before strolling around the TCD campus or its surrounds, but he’d never taken notice. ‘Hello,’ he said now. ‘How are you?’ I replied.

Over the next day or two, as I hastily arranged my exit from the Law college, a strange calmness filled me. I had stopped running.

I wanted to write one of my wacky pieces for this, my last ever editorial for Totally Fushed or any Nottwel mag – something wildly politically incorrect in the NW tradition. But I couldn’t, because this magazine means too much to me – and in the last issue, I needed to say that.

Writing doesn’t change the world – it’s about communicating with just one person: whoever happens to be reading at any given time. It’s a beginning.

I take a magical pleasure in my life now. I’ve published two books; I have a job I love – writing for the Independent and other papers – and so it seems right to come back one more time to where my writing life began: and where it’s always been. Even while I never wanted to be a writer, I was always writing Totally Fushed. It was pulling me into something I was sure I didn’t want but when it came it was so sweet.

Nottwel’s origins are well known to you. This wasn’t my idea, but originally Terry O’Driscoll’s. There were littal buhrds and puddees; there was a crush on a girl which was perhaps the real reason for starting the mag. There were evenings spent, at 12 years of age, being driven around by my dad while I dropped off magazines on my friends’ doorsteps; there were weekends, spread out now over 12 years, sleeping on the floor of my dad’s office, while I photocopied issues. And there were long weeks spent in Connemara, trying to perfect that poem for inclusion in the next edition, or get the opening article just right.

I’m a writer now.

Thanks, TF.

Irishman’s Daily News, July 20 2009

Posted in Irishman's Daily News by everydayirishman on July 20, 2009

Funny, perhaps, but no meat and two veg

Posted in The Sunday Columns by everydayirishman on July 19, 2009
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In any field where one gender dominates, it’s great to see a person from the other succeeding. Makes us feel that our world really is a land of opportunity, in which we really can achieve our dreams no matter how gender-specific they may seem. During my years in and out of hospital as a child, I always loved being treated by the male nurses. It was such a novelty not to have breasts bobbing in your face while the nurse was cleaning the catheter in your chest.

Er, anyway – during my final year in Trinity, Guerrilla Girls On Tour, a troupe of self-described ‘funny feminists’, performed at Players Theatre. I came across the programme for the event while doing a random clean-out of my room a few days ago, and suddenly felt an awe-inspiring urge to write the piece about the performance I never wrote at the time, being too dissertation-busy. So, here come the thoughts of a male chauvinist pig.

The Guerrilla Girls originated in the US and were over here to appear on The Late Late Show as well as in Players. Each member of the all-women group takes her name from a dead female artist and each wears a gorilla mask to conceal her true identity. They do this, they say, to focus attention on the issues of discrimination and sexism that they raise and not on themselves or their careers. No doubt about it, it all sounds pretty funny so far.

The show began with a video of women showering together and ended with a Commedia dell’Arte sketch as it might have been performed by feminists, with characters such as ‘Machoswine’ and ‘Guerrillaquin’. In between we got a bunch of ‘George Bush Is A Moron’ jokes, a song about how it’s terrible that there have been no female US presidents, and an attack on Ireland for still keeping abortion illegal.

As their name suggests, the Girls use ‘guerrilla’ tactics to get across their political points: they take cheap shots (an actress playing Laura Bush announces she’s married to an idiot – genius!) and rattle off headline-grabbing statistics while providing the audience with visual aids. The main ‘feminist’ issues raised in the performance were abortion, equal pay for equal work, and the fact that there are far fewer female elected representatives than male.

The dogma surrounding abortion was perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the production. One of the Girls read out a letter sent to the troupe asking whether it was possible to be both feminist and pro-life. The Guerrilla Girls’ answer was emphatic: ‘No!’

I recently viewed a DVD of a friend’s ultrasound scan of her foetus at 23 weeks. My friend delighted as she pointed out the fully apparent bits of her child’s anatomy, right down to his ‘little willy and balls’. The legal cut-off point for abortion in the UK is 24 weeks. You don’t have to accept that my friend’s developing foetus has as much a right to life as its mother, but it takes a pretty hard-hearted and dogmatic person not to at least accept that you can believe that and also believe in the advancement of women and women’s equality.

At one point the Girls showed us a poster detailing how women on average earn 30 per cent less than men. However, there was merely a recitation of the statistics and a condemnation of the situation, no substantive exploration of the issue at hand. The fact is that women typically choose to leave the workforce earlier than men: they choose to raise children or focus their lives in a new direction. Therefore, many women will naturally earn less over the course of their careers than many men, and as long as this is the case women as a gender will always accrue less wealth than men as a gender. In exactly the same job a woman earns exactly the same as a man: This Is The Law.

Are things really so bad for women in the West today that these actresses have to go around dressing up as gorillas and hiding their identities until ‘true equality’ is won? More women are getting college degrees than men. More girls are staying in secondary education than boys. The world’s bestselling author is a woman. Wimbledon has even changed its rules so that women get the same prize money as men, even though the women play three sets and the men five. (By the way, if you believe in equal pay for equal work, how is that fair?)

The Guerrilla Girls criticised the Trinity Drama Department for being ‘not quite equal’ because it had only three female lecturers as opposed to five male. Is this what equality means? That every employer should hire staff on a strict 50:50 gender ratio just for the hell of it, regardless of who applies or who’s most qualified?

This is not what equality is about. In saying that someone is equal to someone else, you automatically accept that they are different, because there would be no need to describe them as equal if they were the same. Equality is about equal worth: the idea that any man or woman is free to pursue a life that interests them. In any society, people will naturally have different interests, and the likelihood is that the same number of women will not be interested in the same thing as the same number of men.

The night of the Girls’ performance was one of strange contradictions. During a Q&A after their show, the Girls claimed that you shouldn’t vote for a woman just because she’s a woman. Yet during the performance they sang a song which revolved solely around the idea of finally electing a woman US president, not finally voting into office the person with the right policies. Also during the Q&A, the Girls said it was sexist to judge a woman on her looks, and expressed anger at the portrayal of feminists as ‘bitchy’, yet they derided Pat Kenny for not looking as good without his make-up.

My only point is: the issues the Guerrilla Girls get so worked up about – abortion, equal pay and gender equality generally – are ultimately more complex and deserve more serious consideration than can be given to them by people prancing around in gorilla masks.

Irishman’s Daily News, July 14 2009

Posted in Irishman's Daily News by everydayirishman on July 14, 2009

Dublin’s Top 10 Pubs

Posted in The Sunday Columns by everydayirishman on July 12, 2009
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Something different this week – Dublin on a Shoestring, my new book co-authored with Katherine Farmar, has been out now for a couple of weeks – and I’ve hardly promoted it here at all! It’s shocking! So, to rectify that, The Everyday Irishman presents Ben’s ten favourite Dublin bars from the 50 or so featured in the book…

10. The Sackville Lounge, 16 Sackville Place, Dublin 1, Guinness €4.40

The Sackville is a great place to end up, though it’s small and often busy so you may not get a seat. There is one long, wine leather couch with knee-height tables placed along it, and a TV at either end. If there’s horse racing on it’ll be on here – and with a bookies next door you’re set up for the afternoon. 

9. The Bank, 20-22 College Green, Dublin 2, Guinness €4.80

The building was designed by one of the British Empire’s foremost architects, and the interior is richly Victorian: mosaic floors, marble pillars, hand-carved plasterwork. It’s bright and airy and buzzing on a Friday night, and it is kind of interesting that the men’s toilets are located in the old vaults.

8. Kavanagh’s, Prospect Square, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, Guinness €4.25

Walk into the dark of the bar, through a set of swinging cowboy-style doors, and you enter the perfect place to put everything on hold for a pint of contemplation. Kavanagh’s nickname ‘The Gravediggers’ comes from the fact that this was where the gravediggers at Glasnevin Cemetery would refresh themselves – poking the blade of a spade through the window to have it laden with pints. 

7. Doheny & Nesbitt’s, 5 Lr Baggot St, Dublin 2, Guinness €4.80

A favourite with politicians and civil servants. The narrow bar and the back room are decked out in traditional wooden furnishings, and even early in the week you’ll have to weave your way through the pint-bearing masses. In style and atmosphere this is a classic, complete with hide-away side rooms originally for women drinkers.

6. The Stag’s Head, 1 Dame Court, Dublin 2, Guinness €4.70

On a quiet afternoon go to The Stag’s Head with one friend, order two pints and sit in the plush seating in the heavily mirrored back room. Say nothing, take a long, careful first draw on your pint, and breathe. Nobody following these instructions could find a single fault with the world.

5. Sin É, 14-15 Ormond Quay, Dublin 1, Guinness €4.20

The cottage/barn feel clashes with modern touches such as the red lights lighting up the upturned glasses behind the bar, but this is still a fantastic spot. Sin É is always home to some themed night or other, and there’s always great music playing.

4. The Long Hall, 51 Sth Great George’s St, Dublin 2, Guinness €4.50

The mahogany interior, the rich red walls, the real chandeliers, the colonial portraits and old copper pots… This is a classic straight from Victorian times.

3. McNeill’s, 140 Capel St, Dublin 1, Guinness €4.60

McNeill’s recently reopened as a pub, though the music shop upstairs has been around a long time. The instruments in the window almost seem to invite you in. This is a back-to-basics gem – and with its musical pedigree, you’ll find real trad sessions here too.

2. The Palace, 21 Fleet St, Dublin 2, Guinness €4.60

Empty it is a little bedraggled looking, but the Palace comes to life when it fills up with nattering punters at night. With mini-booths along the bar to allow small groups to gather, and a little parlour room at the back for more relaxed groups, the Palace is charm itself.

1. Grogan’s, 15 Sth William St, Dublin 2, Guinness €4.60

You will find all sorts here – from carpenters discussing Greek tragedy outside at the silver tables, to students curled up with books, to politicians huddled with advisers at the bar. There is no music, unless you count the clink of glasses and the sound of conversation, and the walls are covered in wonderful art. Grogan’s is Everybody’s Local.

Other greats…

The oldest pub in Dublin – The Brazen Head, 20 Lr Bridge St, Dublin 8

Apparently there’s been an inn or a pub here since before the Norman invasion of 1171!

The smallest pub in Dublin – The Dawson Lounge, 25 Dawson St, Dublin 2

Ten people equals a crowd.

The hardest pub to find in Dublin – The Hideout House (we’re not giving any clues!)

Okay – it’s on the northside, near Mountjoy Square, down an alley that isn’t named on most maps and on the edge of a housing estate. Never say the Irish aren’t pioneers when it comes to pub building!

 

Dublin on a Shoestring contains loads more pubs (including where to find the cheapest pint in Dublin), along with countless other tips for anyone visiting or living in the city – where to find the best value restaurants, entertainment for free, and where to shop without a gold card!

Dublin on a Shoestring, by Katherine Farmar and Ben Murnane, is published by A&A Farmar (www.aafarmar.ie), €9.99, and is in bookshops now.

You can also buy it on Ben’s website here.

On this day, RIP

Posted in The Bit Posts by everydayirishman on July 7, 2009
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Dancer

I remember being
so moved by him, by
his being who he is,
the sheerness of his voice
climbing somewhere in soft words,
skipping nothing human,
loving that he could love.

Night skies moved with his feet, stars
pocketing themselves
in and out of the stage lights:
the wonder of socks,
silver glint
sparkle
wink
twirl:
glitter moments.

But –

There were times when he slowed,
curled over
like he wanted a shell.
He wanted us to smile and cry
for him.
Part of the act.

Blues Away: Five Reasons Not to Be Sad about Michael

Posted in The Sunday Columns by everydayirishman on July 5, 2009
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‘Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.’ – F. Scott Fitzgerald

When I heard about Michael Jackson’s death, I was sitting in a bar with a friend. I was already on the way to being drunk; not half an hour before I had been gushing about how much I was looking forward to the O2 concert. Sky News was on in the bar, so I saw the story tick across the bottom of the screen like an unbelievable nightmare…

THERE ARE UNCONFIRMED REPORTS THAT MICHAEL JACKSON HAS DIED

I didn’t need the reports to be confirmed. I knew it was true.

Shock. Like a bullet. I began getting texts immediately. I ran outside to call a friend, who was in Spain but would still always be the first person I called. I was bent over against a wall outside the pub. I later asked my friend what I said on that phone call; she told me I just announced that he was dead, and then cried.

I straightened up, went inside. Drank some more with my friend. Cried a little. Tried to think of other things.

It was when I left my friend that grief really broke loose. I walked to my dad’s office, which was nearby and where I often stayed, collapsed onto the floor and just forgot I had any responsibilities to anything.

Apparently by this time my family were in a panic trying to reach me. My dad eventually found me in the office; I got sick all over the floor and later in my dad’s car.

My dad took me home. I slept for a few fitful hours then got up and went into work, still drunk and shocked, and now feeling like I was coming down with the flu. I was printing out the wrong things in work, finding it hard to speak coherently on the phone. I left as soon as I’d done what I needed to do that day.

I spent most of the weekend in bed, wallowing in the TV news coverage. I couldn’t listen to his music or see his face without sadness swelling inside me.

It was Monday before things began to change. My best friend, returned from Spain, was going to come up the following Friday to watch some MJ DVDs with me, and I found myself looking through my collection to see which particular live version of Billie Jean I’d show her, whether we’d look at parts of Moonwalker or Ghosts

Some of the videos I hadn’t seen in some time, though I still knew them inside out. And I discovered I couldn’t help but smile as I watched the man dance, saw that perfection he touched time and again in his performances. There were so many reasons to be sad, but mostly I just felt grateful that I had become a fan and known MJ’s music and life that way for the last 13 years.

This is a time of profound change for Michael Jackson fans. We’ll no longer have our idol’s physical presence to follow. But we can take heart in many things. Here’s my two (or rather five) cents.

1. He made the best use of himself

None of us, except perhaps the most troubled, choose when we leave this earth. And so all we can do is make the best use of ourselves in the time we’re granted: whether it’s through the art we need to create, the kindness we show to others, the legacy of a family, or simply finding a line of work that we were born to live in. Michael Jackson made the best use of his life: his endless humanitarian and charitable work; his devotion to his children, as corroborated by anyone who knew him. Most of all, he was constantly creating music and using his stunning talent right up until the end.

2. There’s still music to look forward to

Ironically, the world will see more ‘new’ Michael Jackson material now than we have in the last decade of his life. Every unreleased recording, every demo tape, every concert on film will be dusted off, packaged and appear on record store shelves. There’s already talk of producing a DVD from the footage of the London concert rehearsals, which includes a professionally filmed full dress rehearsal two days before he died. Former Sony Music CEO Tommy Mottola describes the archives of unreleased MJ songs as ‘endless’, and we know over the last few years Michael had been recording with contemporary artists for a new album. If the few previously unreleased tracks on 2004’s Ultimate Collection are any indication of what’s in the Sony vault, Michael left much greatness still unheard. While the endless commercialism will no doubt prove nauseating, there is some comfort in the thought that we’ll discover even more of the deep, rich musical legacy left to us.

3. The world remembers how much it loved him

For more than ten years, in the mainstream media, Michael’s music has been a footnote to the scandals; now, the scandals have become the footnote and the music and the man are the story. Of course there is still the tabloid/TV circus and the detractors are still there, but the tenderness and compassion with which MJ has been treated is astonishing: praise and appreciation has come pouring in from all sections of the media and the public at large. All of a sudden he was ‘Michael’ and not ‘Jacko’. The surge in sales of his music has been covered everywhere. In the days following his passing, MJ albums accounted for 15 of Amazon UK’s top 20 albums and all of the top 10; HMV in the UK saw an 80 times increase in sales of his albums overnight – the largest for any artist ever; in the UK chart MJ had five albums in the top 20, including the number one spot for Number Ones; on the Big Top 40 chart show in the UK Man in the Mirror reached number one 20 years after its original release and he had 12 other songs in the top 40; 43 of the top 200 songs in the UK were MJ tunes; at one point 50 of the 100 most-downloaded songs on iTunes were MJ songs; his songs topped iTunes downloads in every country except Japan; he sold a record 2.6 million downloads in one week, making him the first artist ever to sell over a million in seven days; in the US alone, nearly half a million of his albums were sold in the week after his death; in the States, the top nine albums on Billboard’s catalogue pop chart were his; In Ireland currently, Michael has seven albums in the top 20, including the one, two and three spots, and 16 of his songs are in the top 40 singles; in the global chart, he has four albums in the top 20 and 11 songs in the top 40 singles. On a personal level, friends have been sharing stories of their favourite songs, albums and videos, the things that soundtracked their lives – even pals who had little interest in MJ are discovering and rediscovering things they liked about him. On the bus in and out of work this week, so many times I have heard people, mostly teenagers, listening to or singing Michael Jackson, and chattering about him in glowing terms. A whole new generation is finding and downloading him. The world truly loved this man; it forgot that for a while, but it will never forget again.

4. He came back

After his trial four years ago, Michael Jackson was an empty man: you could see it as he left the courthouse. He spent years as nomad, travelling from country to country, before announcing his comeback gigs in the O2. The night before he died he told Randy Phillips of AEG Live, promoter of the London shows: ‘Now I know I can do this.’ Look at the rehearsal video that was released and you’ll know he could have too. Michael looks better, stronger than he has in ages. He’s not playing full out, but you can tell it’s there, waiting behind the tentative motions of a rehearsal: his timing and precision are perfect. Michael died doing what he was born to do: ready for the stage again. He came back. There was nothing more to prove.

5. What more could he give?

This final point returns to the first. Both life and art are about a constant striving for perfection. We are always following an ideal, whether it’s the image we have in our head of the perfect book we want to write, or our dreamed-for life: three kids, a beautiful wife, and enough money to provide – whatever the dream may be. We all have to be content with pieces of perfection, things we find as we take pleasure in the journey, always pursuing the ideal but never realising it, at least in quite the way we imagine. Perhaps we get to kiss the girl we love so much, but not marry her; perhaps the song we wanted to write in our head turns out to be very different on paper; perhaps, as Michael Jackson found, being the most successful person on the planet is twinned with inevitable tragedy – the loss of a childhood, innocence never to be recaptured. There is no pure perfection on this earth; if there were, the world would end, for it is the tension between triumph and tragedy that actually keeps the world moving. No great creation without madness. No great learning without suffering. No progress without loss. We must love people as they come (and leave us) and in the end not ask for more. Far easier written than done of course. Michael Jackson goes down in history as the most successful entertainer of all time (according to the Guinness Book of World Records), selling 750 million records; Thriller – the biggest selling album of all time; he was inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame; he won 18 Grammy Awards, 22 American Music Awards, 12 World Music Awards and endless other accolades including Artist of the Decade, Artist of the Generation, Artist of the Century and Artist of the Millennium; he broke musical and social boundaries of colour and genre, gaining unprecedented global influence and appeal; he supported more charities than any other entertainer and set up the Heal the World Foundation. He became, quite simply, the king not only of popular music but of global popular culture. Not bad for a half century. And MJ was breaking records right up until – and even after – the end. He set a record for the fastest London ticket sales with his O2 concerts. After his death so many people were searching for him that Google interpreted it as an automated attack – at one point 70 percent of all searches worldwide were for his name. Michael Jackson lives, and will continue to live, until the earth crumbles to dust. For all that makes him a legend, however, perhaps the most wonderful thing is that – according to those around him – in his final days, this man was so happy. He’d given so much to earn it. It’s nice to remember him smiling.

Irishman’s Daily News, July 3 2009

Posted in Irishman's Daily News by everydayirishman on July 3, 2009