Upon my Journey Home

(After a Tweet by Reine des Abeilles)

We parted on the main street
You walked off for your train
Now I’m waiting at the bus stop
In the night time, in the rain.
The bus will be so crowded.
I'll have to stand up all alone.
I hope that there's a kindly soul
upon my journey home.

I never have been dumped before
It makes me feel quite small.
It makes me feel this effort
Is hardly worth it all.
So tired and so weary.
So chilled down to the bone.
I hope that there's a kindly soul
upon my journey home.

The rain is falling softly
My heart is falling hard
And a bus stop is no place to be
When you’re so  freshly scarred.

I see it in the distance
Coming down the hill.
A friendly looking driver
I only hope he will
stop his bus to get me
and not leave me in this zone.
I hope that there's a kindly soul
upon my journey home.

Bazaar Memories

Say that word, 'Bazaar', to most people and it will evoke a particular image. An exotic Eastern marketplace, perhaps, replete with exotic spices and plush furnishings. A heady bustling place of commerce and mystery.

Not me though. That’s not the Bazaar in my head.

When I was a small boy, growing up in Sligo town, I was brought to the Bazaar in the Gilooley Hall every year, right before Christmas time. It was, basically (and not to put too fine a point on it) the Most Exciting Thing in the Entire World Ever.

I wonder how many other towns in Ireland had similar Bazaars? Quite a few, I’d reckon. I wonder if any still do them? Not many, I’d say. 

The world has moved on.

But what was it, this West of Ireland Bazaar? This extraordinarily exciting thing?

Carnival wheels, that’s what it was, a large hall full of them. The best thing ever. I’ve stopped writing now to search for the right word for these things. What the hell were they called? ‘Wheels of Fortune’? ‘Raffle Wheels’? I can’t remember. You remember them though, right? Big wheels mounted on a stand, numbered from one to ninety nine. You bought raffle tickets and the wheel was spun vigorously and if your number came up, you won.

This hall must have had ten or twelve of these wheels. A barrier set up around each one to keep the punters away from the treasure trove of prizes that surrounded them. There were tins of USA Assorted biscuits and boxes of Milk Tray chocolates and… well, that was mostly it, actually. Biscuits and sweets, sweets and biscuits.

Mum and Dad would bring us to this magic place on a weeknight evening when we were small. The Bazaar would run from Tuesday to Sunday and each night it would be swamped with people, moving from stand to stand, buying raffle tickets for the next spin, anxiously watching as the big wheel slowed to their number.

We always seemed to come away with something. This seemed unlikely, given the amount of people and the odds on each spin but that’s how it was. I can never remember coming home from the Bazaar without something sweet tucked tightly under my arm.

It was one of those things that changed utterly as soon as I became a teenager. Suddenly too old to go with my parents, I was allowed to hit the Bazaar with my pals and schoolmates. In a moment, I seemed to see it for what it was, a small town fund raiser populated by a herd of tiring, slightly irritable people, slowly becoming desperate for a biscuit win.

As teens, we tended to snub the wheels and, instead, opt for sitting on the steaming radiators and pouring acne-ridden disdain on the milling punters. To play would be to deny a moving-on from the childhood days which had painted this place as magical.

But I couldn’t resist the draw of the wheel. I might have become a teen and the aura of the room may have paled considerable but something remained. A nostalgia, perhaps, for the excitement of the wheel winding down to a stop, the possibility of the win.

So I would slip away from the teen crew and wheedle my way through the mob to the front of the stand and I would buy a ticket and then, once again, unbeknownst to my friends, I would play.

On one such excursion into a wheel, my number came up. This was fine with me. My peers might cast fun at me for being the ‘child’ or the ‘old fogey’ who had to play but I would have the compensation of the sweets or the biscuits. I might even open them on the way home for all of us to share. If that didn’t buy me back some kudos, nothing would.

I was about to wave my ticket, to indicate my win in that understated ‘auction room’ bid manner favoured by Bazaar punters when I was stopped in my tracks. 

The prize. The prize was being help aloft by the stand MC and it was not biscuits and neither was it chocolates. It was a bright yellow toy JCB digger. A sturdy, impressive-looking, thing that some child would have loved.

But I was no child, not any more. I was thirteen, touching on twenty five, and I would not return to my steaming pals on the radiators with this yellow monstrosity under my arm. I would never hear the end of it.

So, while the MC called the winning ticket over and over and over again, I clutched the pink rectangle of paper in my sweaty little paw and I kept my mouth firmly shut. 

He wouldn’t let it go, that MC. The winner had to be out there somewhere in the hoard and so he called and called the number until the room became hostile around him.

“Let it go,” a voice muttered.

“Move on,” another chimed in. It was getting ugly, I could tell.

The man next to me eyed me suspiciously. “Do you have that ticket?” he actually asked me and I replied ‘No’, feeling for all the world like Peter denying Jesus.

Finally, after an eternity, the quest for the missing winner was called off and the wheel was spun again. I returned to my friends. 

Any break from the routine was worthy of discussion and everybody had enjoyed the ‘missing ticket’ event. We were in the middle of analysing it and laughing about it when my friend, Tommy, emerged beaming for the throng. Under his arm he guarded the bright yellow toy digger.

“I won it second time around,” he beamed, “isn’t it cool?”

And all my friends agreed it was indeed cool. Very cool indeed.

For months after, while mooching around in my back garden, I would eye up the sand pit in the corner and I couldn’t help imagining some of the fun I might have had, digging in there with that toy.

My teens had apparently not arrived as completely as I had thought. 

From the Eye to the Brain (and the Words in Between)

(I was asked to open an Exhibition of the work of artist Gary Kearney on Friday evening in The Linenhall Arts Centre here in Castlebar. This is a rough transcript of what I mumbled on about. 

The exhibition runs until 15th February 2014 and is well worth a visit.)

I am delighted to be allowed to open this wonderful exhibition of paintings by Gary Kearney. Mostly because I like the work so very much.

When I was asked to open the exhibition, I immediately asked myself that key question. What qualifies me? By what right can I come here and speak words about this Art? I had my answer really quickly. I’m not qualified. I have no right to speak, no right at all. Having figured that out, I came to another conclusion. I’m not qualified but that’s fine because neither is anyone else.

To my mind, Visual Art is just that. It’s exactly what it says on the tin. Visual Art. It hits us in our eyes. It ‘assails’ us via our retinas, and travels from there deep down into the visual cortex of our brains. There are absolutely no words in the equation. Art – Eye – Brain. There’s no words. 

Personally, I think the use of words to capture the essence of visual art is like trying to convey the touch of a rose petal on your cheek via the medium of professional mud wrestling.

But it’s a thing we do. It’s a thing we all do.

We go and see an exhibition with a mate and we talk about what we see, we analyse it, we give our own humble opinions on it. It’s a good thing to do, I think. So long as we realise it’s not the only thing. It’s not even the main event. The main event is the Art. You, your eye and your brain and what happens between one end of that equation and the other.

I’m not trying to be pedantic. I love talking about visual art as much as the next person but I find talking about it, sometimes, makes me feel inadequate… insufficient. I get to feel that I don’t have the words, I just don’t have the vocabulary to do justice to what I am seeing. So it can turn into a bit of a negative thing for me, if I don’t watch out. But, so long as I do watch out, then I think I’ll be okay. So, with that heftyest of disclaimers, here’s what I think of Gary’s work… in words.

I think it’s wonderful. I think Gary rewards us for stepping in really close to his work, where we actually see the building blocks of his Art, as well as all the little details that you just can’t see from far away and then, when you move back, the ‘coming together’ of the work into a thing of enormous depth and clarity. It’s almost like Gary was gifted with really long arms and that he painted his pictures from out here somewhere. I predict that people will be stepping in and out the gallery all month, like a dance.

I work in the business of Architecture so I suppose I've looked at the built environment more that most people have.  I think we sometimes forget that there is beauty there, in the Built Environment. We’re almost preconditioned to believe that our hearts can only be raised by a vista of some naturally formed landscape or, if that’s not available, of some ancient building made venerable by virtue of its great old age. But it ain’t necessarily so. There is beauty in the urban world. And even if you don’t agree with me on the word ‘Beauty’, there is undoubtedly form and structure and content and colour and texture and lots of other great things, particularly if you look up. 

Our old Art Teacher up in Sligo, he used to say, "Look up, Armstrong, you Low-Type, look Up." 

He was right. There’s such great revelations to be had in our towns and cities, if we only look up. It’s the different view, you see. We tend to trudge back and forth between the Banklink Machine and the Butcher’s shop and we don’t always see what is around us. 

That’s what Gary is doing, for me anyway. He’s seeing for me. He’s reminding me of the world on our doorsteps, the one we ignore the most. And the shapes he captures are lovely, the colours, the shadows, the reflections. And we recognise the subject, we know it, but many of us haven’t really seen it, not really.

As I was saying, these are my words and they are well meant but they don’t mean very much. What means something is what happens when you look at the Art. I’ll talk about it, of course, happily, but I’ll also to take at least one moment without feeling the need to put words on what it makes me feel. I’ll just… see. 

And I think there is sometimes a clue available to tell you if you are successfully bypassing the words and getting right down to the truth of the visual art you are looking at. And that clue is called Memory. I think sometimes, when you’re looking at pictures, memories turn up out of nowhere and I think they are our raw emotions… kinda dressed up in a posh frock. 

I was looking at these paintings earlier today, thinking about what the hell I might say, and a little memory came to me. Something I hadn’t thought of in over thirty five years. It doesn’t make much sense but I’ll share it with you very briefly. 

When I was in primary school, in St John’s in Sligo, and I was only small, we used to get brought down to the Cathedral for Mass. This was pretty grand for me because I was used to St Anne’s church which was - and still is - a much simpler establishment. Anyway at these masses, crammed into the pew, I used to be bored senseless… 

Until one day, I looked up. The arches of the roof over Sligo Cathedral sit on these Granite pedestals high above the ground and I suddenly realised that these pedestals looked exactly like giant robot heads. It was uncanny. There was a row of them up this side and a row of them up the other side and, in my head, these robot pedestals would do battle with each other by firing laser beams at each other from out of their solid granite eyes across the span of the church. One side had green lasers and the other side had red lasers… and this was way before Star Wars came along. It’s a silly memory but I was reminded of it by my time with the art on these walls. What it actually means, what my subconscious might have been trying to tell me, well, I suppose that’s for me to work out. 

I am proud to open Gary’s exhibition. I work pretty much next door and I often come in here to hide when things get rough. Just like John Major allegedly used to do in the toilet. For the next month or so, I know that my hiding will be informed and coloured and challenged by Gary’s fabulous paintings and I look forward to spending quite a bit of time hiding in here with his work. 

I wish Gary’s Art a wonderful time at the Linenhall. It is in the safe hands of the very best of people here. And so, with much pleasure, I declare his exhibition open.

I Keep a Penny on My Bedside Table

I keep a penny on my bedside table. In fact, I keep quite a few. There’s a little stack of them there and sometimes my watch or my glasses knock them over and I have to stack them up again.

They are my bookmarks.

When I’m finished reading at night, I take one of the pennies and stick it in the crease of the book, at the page I am stopping at, then I close the book tightly on it. I like to keep the penny near the outside edge of the page. That way, I can see a hint of the coin within, a small gap to act as a gauge of how far through my book I am.

You would think that one penny would suffice but that’s not the case. When I climb into bed at night and open the book, the penny falls out on the bedclothes and it either sits there or rolls away. Part of the fun comes at the end of the reading-session – the sleepy game of trying to lay a hand on the penny that is lurking somewhere on the duvet. Sometimes it is right there to hand and that can be gratifying, almost as if someone is looking out for my reading routine and keeping it in shape. As often as not, though, the penny will be nowhere to be found and another penny will have to be selected off the stack on the bedside table and dropped into the book. That lost penny will often turn up later as a cold pebble in among the warm sheets. It gets returned to the stack. In that way, new pennies are rarely needed. The penny stack is in perpetual motion but it is also pretty much self administering.

This is just a tiny part of the reason why I haven’t yet come to terms with using a Kindle.

Like everybody else, I’ve been reading forever. I’ve always got a couple of books on the go. I think, for me, reading is almost like a sacrament. There are rituals and practices to be observed, places to do it, things which should never be done. These ‘habits’ which I have developed in relation to the reading of a book are both calming and moment-defining. 

These long days are so full of non-tactile, technological, matters. Screens and keypads, calculators and tinny voices berating us from the ether. To arrive at the end of one of these long days and then to seek out more screens and buttons and such… to me it just seems illogical. It is a bit like a person who lays out deckchairs on a beach all day returning to that beach in the evening to sit on one of his own chairs. He wouldn’t. He would want to be far, far away, someplace with no speck of coarse sand and no hint of folding equipment.

Don’t get me wrong. I have read books on Kindle devices. I’ve read quite a few. There are books I can’t easily get in hard copy and, heavens knows, there are books I can’t afford in anything but Kindle format. I read them, I often enjoy them, but it’s never the same. It feels more like… ‘work’, reading something on a Kindle. It feels more like reading a document than a book.

I’m sorry. I’m old and a bit set in my ways. I just haven’t taken to the new ways of reading.

I’m afraid it’s still books for me. Old, new, hardback, tattered ancient yellow paperback, it doesn’t matter. When day is done, I want something I can open and close and turn pages on and drop my penny into when I’m finished.

I just crave something different, you know?