Monday, 15 December 2014

Following the muse to wherever

Over the last few years, as I labored on the Life & Times trilogy, I listened to the music of Madredeus. I like to write to music, particularly passionate music, because it sets the mood for inking in the nuance of character, etc. And, while much of the story deals with Danny Boyle, an Irishman, his growing up in Ireland, his move to Canada, and his trials and tribulations, I found Madredeus’s arrangements of Portuguese folk music set the perfect mood for what I intended to be a universal story.

And, as is often the case in life, this led to that and I found myself fascinated by a single word: Saudade. Over at Wikipedia they suggest that:

Saudade is a Portuguese or Galician word that has no direct translation in English. It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return. A stronger form of saudade may be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing, moved away, separated, or died.

But something else caught my ear in the aforementioned music, and in the hours of Fado that I have enjoyed. There was something ethereal that awoke a thread of the common memory I believe we all share, even if only subconsciously.

“Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone (e.g., one's children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence. It brings sad and happy feelings all together, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling.” 

So? You may ask. What has all of this got to do with an Irish writer living in exile?

Well I’ll tell you. I still have a bit of the wild Celt in me. I am, despite my best efforts to conform to the world around me, a nomad at heart and am about to head off into the great and wonderful world to go and look at the places that hold significant interest for me. I probably won’t get to see them all but I don’t worry about such things anymore.

And, as a Celt, I have always been drawn towards the edges of the world. Before the Romans, and Gothic kings, the edges of Iberia were populated by Celts. When the Romans encroached, as they were wont to do, many of them (the Milesians in particular) packed up their belongings and headed to Ireland.

Whether or not I am descended from them, I am drawn back and the pragmatic side of me agrees. After thirty-six Canadian winters, life in a warmer climate beckons. So, in the spring of next year, I am selling up all that I have and moving to Lisbon with my wife and my dog and very little else.

Now I am not a wealthy man despite the presumption that all published authors sleep on mattresses stuffed with hundred dollar bills. I am simply divesting myself and going back to what I was when I was young and foolish: a wander who followed his heart.

One of the things writing books has taught me is to learn to determine what is essential and what is padding. I am still learning this but when I looked up from my pages, I couldn’t help but look at my life that way—something that is compounded as I filter through all the stuff in the basement.

Now I do not discard my life in North America so lightly. I came here as a very troubled and disquieted young man, tormented by demons and looking for a fresh start. Unlike poor Danny Boyle, I found one and managed to put much that troubled me in the bottle and firmly cork it. I became a husband and a father here and, depending on who you talk to, not the worst of them!

I will always cherish the times I spent with my two boys when they were young and full of wonder. (They still are but they must follow their own guidance now—which is the way things are supposed to be.) They are both in the early twenties now and more than capable of finding what they want from life on their own. They are always welcome to come and visit but the parental phase of my life is over and I am moving on to the next adventure.

Writing Life & Times reminded me that life, no matter how it is lived, is always about phases and stages and that I was never the type to settle for meandering into dotage. There is still so much to see and do.

For my loving wife, too. She will have to manage the transition from mother back to woman, and that should be exciting.

Now the reason for sharing all of this with you is I am planning to write about all of this as it unfolds. Once I am settled in Lisbon, secure in a nice little place in Alfama, I intend to wander through what was once Al-Andalusia in search of all the was lost in the Reconquista.

Now before you start imagining me riding a stallion at the head of a horde of Berbers, I want you to know that I am going to see the places where science and medicine once blossomed at time when the rest of Europe was using leeches and slashing each other with swords.

You see, for me, as I look around the world today and see the new versions of the old hates, I long for a deeper understanding and a sense of peace. It is the view of Fr. Patrick Reilly, of Life & Times, that in many ways the world is no better, nor worse—that it still spins on its same old axis, sometimes wildly and sometimes gently. And, having written it, I have decided to go and see what was true and what was nothing more than a rationale for war and conquest.

Not that I am going to bore you all with a revision of the retellings of all the distortions of history. I am going to write about the lingering echoes of the really important things in life—the story of ordinary, everyday people still living in places that can still fill us with wonder. Places like Cordoba, Seville, Granada, the great wonder that is Alhambra, and of course the narrow, hilly little streets of Alfama.

The good folks at The Story Plant have kindly agreed to publish the accounts of this adventure as it unfolds so, if you are interested, check back for more.
(Originally posted at

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Signin' on at Werburgh Street.

Gerry hated going to Werburgh Street and shuffling along for doleful pittances. He never got used to it. He was a working man at heart even if he'd no work for years. One of these days, he'd lead the muttering grumbling masses to Leinster House, to demand the striped-shirted Seamuses, give up at least, a tithe from their thievery – they'd all that European money flowing in, and in Dublin, all monies passed through the same greasy hands. But the masses knew no other way. Their remittance begrudged through barred wickets; all revolution bred out of them; they lingered at the mercy of remote corporations and Public representatives for aggrandisement. No one cared about them: never had and never would. He signed his cards and queued again for his few Pounds at the other end of the hall.

            “Have you been looking for work, Mr. Morrison?” the woman asked with disdain.

            “I have indeed, but no one wants to hire old fellas like me. It's a young man's . . .”

            “Have you considered getting retrained?”

            “I have, but I'm a bit old for that.”

            “You'll never get anywhere with an attitude like that.”

            They were giving everybody a hard time. It was how they got them to fuck-off to England; there was always work in England. “And where is it that I should be getting to?”

Friday, 28 November 2014

Meet old Joan, one of my favourite characters

“Would you mind if I sat here?”
Janice blinked into the wrinkled face of an old woman in a large floral hat dripping raindrops. She flopped into the chair and began to tap on the table with the strange bird-like handle of her umbrella. “I must get a cup of tea into me. Who do you have to talk with to get a cup of tea around here?” the old woman repeated into the space behind her shoulder and, turning to Janice, added, “I'm parched and it's raining so much outside.”
She found this amusing and cackled. She continued to wave until someone brought her a teapot, a cup and saucer, milk and a bowl of sugar. She splashed tea across the table and into her cup. She fumbled with bony hands deep within her massive handbag until she found her pills. She rolled two of them onto her spoon, tipped it onto her tongue and swallowed a mouthful of hot tea. She burped silently and implored Janice’s pardon. She smiled between the cup and the spoon, still raised to her face that was impish despite the lines of age and lines of doubt and fear.
Janice was becoming interested, but for the longest time, the old woman sat there, tilting forward every now and then to take another sip of tea. Time passed and the old woman sat in the euphoria of her tea, turning at times to comment on the weather. At first, Janice thought she was trying to converse, but no matter what she said, the old woman didn't reply. Janice returned to her diary, but the old woman showed no sign of noticing. She continued to sip her tea and mutter about the weather. Janice smiled up at her every now and then, just to be polite, and as she was about to leave, the old woman raised her eyes and stared at her.
“What has you so frightened?”
Janice might have lied, but there was no point. “Too many strange things have happened since I came here.”
“Oh! That sounds exciting.”
Janice had to smile. Reluctantly at first, she began to speak, but as the words unfolded, she found comfort in her odd companion’s attention and, with a growing sense of release, told the whole story of her outing to Howth.
As the old woman listened, she started to nod her head and Janice felt more encouraged. She tried to make it sound whimsical, like she was more curious than alarmed. When she finished, she waited for the old woman to comment, but she was hunched forward, as if she was still listening.
“So?” She regretted saying so much. Now that it was out there, it sounded like madness.
“I see,” the old woman finally answered and returned to pottering among her thoughts.
“What do you see?” Janice blurted as impatience got the better of her. “Isn’t that the strangest thing you have ever heard?”
“Oh, no, not at all, the very same thing happened to me.”
“What do you mean?”
“The very same thing happened to me a long time ago, when I was a young woman. I was walking with my young man, just along from the very same pier. We used to like to walk along the cliffs, too, because, back then, we didn’t go to the cinema that often, and of course, there was no television, either. Not that I am a big fan of television, mind you. I prefer reading a nice bit of poetry every now and then. Do you like poetry, my dear?”
Janice nodded; she didn't want to break the silky threads that held the old woman’s gossamer thoughts together.
“Isn’t it wonderful when someone can write a poem that takes you somewhere, even if it's only for a moment or two? And I prefer the old style of poetry because it makes more sense. I can't understand why modern poets don’t learn to rhyme better, don’t you agree? But then again, you're young and you might like modern poetry, especially if it's written by a handsome young man who wants to take you for walks along Howth Head and wants to try to steal a kiss when nobody is looking.”
Janice nodded and wondered how much this crazy old woman could read from her face.
“You mustn’t let them do that, you know!”
“Do what?”
“You mustn’t let the young men kiss you. They're only after the one thing, even the good ones. But they're the ones who'll wait until you're married and appreciate you all the more for making them wait.”
The old woman lowered her head to her raised teacup and looked inside. “That's what I don’t like about television. People meet and start kissing each other all over the face and then start to take their clothes off, right there in front of everybody. I never watch after that because I don't want to see people committing sins. You're not like those people, are you? Are you?”
“Oh, no, of course not,” Janice answered, trying not to think of the night on all fours in her room, “I do like to kiss and cuddle a bit, but you're right, they appreciate it more when you make them wait. But tell me more about what happened to you at Howth.”
“Oh, yes, my dear, I was just about to tell you about that. It was very strange. It was like one of those things you read about in the poems by those English poets – you know the ones that took all that opium – like the fellow who wrote about Kubla Khan.”
“Who, my dear?”
“Coleridge”, Janice repeated.
“Oh! No! I think that it was Coleridge who wrote that poem. But I'm often wrong. Sometimes I wonder if reading all about them and their adventures didn’t addle my brain a little. Have you ever tried opium?”
“Good for you and neither have I. But I've heard of girls who have and then can't get enough and go running off to places like Constantinople and become white slaves to the Sultan. They take off all of their clothes, too, and let the Sultan use them carnally, if you can believe it – and all for opium. It's a shame. Someone should try to do something about it, don’t you think?”
“Yes, yes it's a terrible thing, but you were telling me about Howth. You used to walk there with your young man. Did he marry you?”
“Oh, no, he died years ago.”
She returned to her teacup as the settling sun hopscotched through holes in the clouds and through the fogged-up window. In the place between them, above the tea-stained table, dust and smoke particles gathered in the beams and were gone when the café moved beneath the clouds, but her silence remained.
“How did he die,” Janice asked as delicately as her curiosity would allow.
“Who died, my dear?”
“The young man you were telling me about.”
“Oh, yes, I must be getting addled. Well, let me tell you, he was walking along the cliffs one night and jumped into the sea and was never seen again.” She nodded in agreement with her own lingering statement and raised her cup again but didn't drink. “It was terrible, but I suppose in some ways it wasn’t so bad. He used to have seals come up to him, too, so I'm sure that they are good company for him now – but that might have been because he used to cut up fish.”
“Cut up fish?”
“Yes, dear, he worked in the fishmongers. He always brought a nice bit of plaice for my father when he called around. He used to bring mackerel, too. I'm very fond of mackerel.”
“You were saying that he jumped in?”
“Yes, he went mad for something or other and jumped in. He was mad surely because he was out walking alone on a bitter night in January. Perhaps he was taking opium.” And for a moment, the old woman nodded at the plausibility. “Of course, I had stopped seeing him before this on account of his going mad and all, but I heard stories from the other young women of the time. They told me that he went mad and jumped – right into the sea. I'm surprised he wasn’t broken open on the rocks on the way down, somebody was looking out for him that night.”
“But he did die?”
“Oh, yes, of course he died, he jumped off the cliff! But he died in one piece, and he was a fine handsome man. It would have been a shame if he had died all broken into pieces. There are some that say that he can still be seen out at Howth in January, but what kind of person would go out there then; they would have to be touched in the head, if you know what I mean. They never found his body, either. I think the seals took him down into their place under the water.”
“And why do you think they did that?”
“Because he smelled of fish, were you not listening to me at all?”
Janice sat back in her chair and looked this old woman over. Her hat was decorated with freshly plucked stems of fledgling flowers and her eye shadow was kingfisher-blue and her cheeks a smudged red. It would have made her look whorish if she wasn’t so old. She wore a slender silver chain around her neck, dangling a white gold cross on which hung the dying Jesus. She had her handbag on her lap and had folded her arms on top of it. She was about to ask for more tea when a middle-aged couple whispered together for a moment before walking straight to their table. He took the old woman by the hand and gently helped her to stand up. “Come on now, Aunt Joan, it’s time to get you back to the home.”
“Who are you and what do you want with me? Are you one of the Sultan’s eunuchs?”
“C’mon now, Joan,” he took her elbow firmly, but gently. “Let’s get you back to the home before the night.”
As they struggled to move her away the younger woman turned to Janice, “I hope she wasn’t bothering you, she's my husband’s aunt, and she gets a bit scattered sometimes. She forgets herself and gets a bit confused. I hope she wasn’t bothering you.”
“Oh, no,” Janice re-assured her, “No, actually she was lovely company.” And for reasons she didn't understand, Janice added, “She was just telling me about Howth.”
The other woman’s face changed and she exchanged a glance with her husband before she stepped closer to Janice and spoke softly. “Did she tell you what happened that poor young man? That’s when her mind snapped, watching him fall right before her eyes. Anyway, thanks, and I hope she wasn’t a bother.”
They ushered the old woman out the door to the waiting car and drove off as the rain started again, hesitantly at first, until it gained the courage to pelt the streets and windowpanes. The wind tore at overcoats and twisted passing umbrellas inside out.
Janice sat and stared at the street as the car rounded a corner.
What was that all about? Am I crazy – is she crazy – or is all of Dublin crazy?
She closed her journal and left as the evening rush began. The buses were crowded and crawled along, squealing and shuddering. She decided to walk and raised her umbrella against the teasing winds that rushed out from the passing side streets. She headed toward the Green. It was where the gentry strolled when they came to town for the season. She would find peace and collect herself among the whisperings of spring before the gates were locked.
Since the English departed, the Irish had raised statues among the trees and shrubs. But they weren't the trumpeting statues of heroes who had risen in resistance. These statues celebrated the poets and playwrights who had kept the spirit alive, writers who blended myth and martyrdom, fact and fancy, and even after a half-century of church-dominated self-rule, their words still hovered.
She stopped by the Yeats’ monument. Henry Moore had really got it right. She would have to paint it, the half-man, half-cross before a senate of mythology. When she squinted a little, it looked like one of the faces from Easter Island. From another side, it looked like a Spanish dancer, but from the front it was plain, the cross on a restless grave.
She tugged at her journal and settled down on the cold damp stone. She flicked through the first few pages. She had a done sketch, somewhere at the beginning, one of her early ones. Ah, she found it. She had captured it and added a few notes. But there was something else, something she hadn't remembered writing;
Until she came into the Land of Fairie,
Where nobody gets old and godly and grave,
Where nobody gets old and crafty and wise,
Where nobody gets old and bitter of tongue.
And she is still there, busied with a dance
Deep in the dewy shadow of a wood,
Or where stars walk upon a mountain-top.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

An Irishman’s perspective on the Accursed Land


One of the things about the Israel/Palestine conflict is that you cannot really get to discuss it in rational terms. Many of my efforts to do so have ended in rancour and hostility. I have been smeared and called all kinds of terrible things; Nazi, dupe, Commie, idiot, Terrorist and anti-Semitic—even by those who advocate against Arabs. I might be guilty of some of those, some of the time, but not all of them. I do, however, admit to being Irish and while that might make me suspect in some eyes, it does grant me a certain perspective.

Many people have found similarities between the Irish and the Jewish people—in their suffering and their endurance. Recently, I read that at least some of the Irish may be descended from the lost tribe of Israel. The Tuatha Dé Danann are usually referred to as the people of the Goddess Danu but now some educated class of individual is professing that they might in fact be the tribe of Dan who, we have been told, vanished from the pages of history. Regardless, the Tuatha Dé Danann are listed in our ancient Leabhar Gabhála – The Book of Invasions which chronicles all the tribes that came over and subjugated Ireland and the decent savages that lived there before them, only to be subjugated in turn by newer arrivals – not unlike the Middle East.

I hope for the sake of Jewish people everywhere that it is not true because the Irish can be the most foolish race on the face of the Earth. Even after a millennium of occupation, oppression, being sold off as slaves and finally being starved off a land that was overflowing with food; we turned around and put ourselves in the hands of sleveens and gombeens who demanded our unquestioning allegiance to the good, Catholic State that our sacrifices, great and small, had paid for.

Not for us was it to ponder on the fact that it was the pope himself—albeit an English one—who had signed us over, lock, stock and barrel. Nor was it for us to listen to the likes of James Connolly who warned us that the real fight would begin when the English were gone. No, the possibility that our ancient quest for freedom, and a place to call our own, might be finally over left us dumb and blind and, as the great bank robbery of a few years ago—and the revelation that some of our clergy had been buggering us, literally and figuratively, for years—suggests, subjugated to a new breed of masters.

A clever bunch they were too. They called-out dissenters from the pulpits and derided them in front of their friends and neighbours. Questioning the actions of Church or State was not tolerated as the two institutions were now firmly hand-in-glove. And when it was time to declare ourselves a Republic, guided by the wishes of the people, didn’t our own President send our sacred Constitution off to the Vatican for vetting, even before the people got to accept it.

Hand in glove they were, guiding us like sheep and keeping our little country good and Catholic against all the evils of the world. And those who fell by the wayside; the unmarried mothers; the victims of buggery and abuse; those infected with Socialism and any who dared to question, were shipped off to England.

For what died the son of Roisin then? You may well ask. Only don’t be expecting to get the answer from our political leaders—or the media. What after Assange and Snowden? Who in their right mind can believe a single thing that governments and media say? Who, indeed, you might ask.

Well, it seems that there are lots of us still bound by the prejudices that we learned as children; still believing that by virtue of our history that we will always have right on our side, still willing to huddle under the wings of those who want us to see enemies in any that don’t agree with us.

In Ireland, we learned to ‘litanize’ all the terrible things that were done to us. We learned to idolize our martyrs and to not question those that had picked up the sputtering torch of freedom from their dying hands. And when the fighting flared up again in the North, when the descendants of those who were sent as settlers refused to acknowledge the legal right of the indigenous and let loose their mobs on the Civil Rights marchers and called in the old enemy, the Boys struck back killing and maiming people in the shops and the bars. We shook our heads and blessed ourselves. “Tis the only way,” we told ourselves. “It’s the only language they understand.” But when the other side struck back and killed some of ours, we counted them out on our rosary beads and wrote songs and swore vengeance for each and every one. Martyrs, they were, martyrs for the cause. Didn’t we have the weight of history behind us? Hadn’t the other side let loose their convicts and savages to murder and pillage and burn our homes around us? And then have the gall to call us the terrorists. But after a millennium, even the Irish grow tired of fighting and an uneasy peace has lingered far longer than many a betting man would have wagered. It’s not perfect but it will have to do. At the very least we have stopped murdering each other—for the most part.

What has all of this got to do with what’s going on in the ‘Accursed Land?’ Well, being Irish, I can understand the importance of a homeland to the Jewish people. But also by virtue of being Irish, I can understand the Palestinian point of view. Being overrun and occupied can induce even the most docile into resistance. I can understand both points of view. I can understand them but I cannot agree with what passes for the ‘narrative.’ You see, just like in Ireland, the past is awful murky—something I began to glimpse when I realised that my parents’ families had been on opposite sides during our civil war. (Now that was an interesting turn of events when our own government used arms supplied by our former oppressor to defeat those who opposed the partition of the country.) And we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of what was true and what were the lies of State. Even talking about it could still get you nearly-killed in some parts of the country, not unlike if you go poking you nose into the pages of recent history when those who sought to create a Jewish homeland may have had reason to sit and talk with one of the most dreadful regimes the world has seen.

The older I get the more I realise that we, the ordinary people, have far more in common with those that our masters would have us call enemies. This, I believe, is a reason to hope that we might yet avoid the great catastrophe that some of our ancient texts predicted.
And let’s hope that the Jewish people can avoid the trap the Irish fell into.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Along the road to Rio

I admit it, instead of working on the end of my trilogy; I have been watching the World Cup. I have to. I have watched every one since 1966 and for me; it is the perfect window on the state of the world and its people.
The World Cup has it all; heroism and sacrifice, craft and guile, grit and determination, and of course; xenophobia, racism, tribalism and every form of cheating. It is the world as it truly is: noble in intent but very, very flawed.

Back when it started, in 1930, it was about each participating country bringing their own brand of the world’s game. In the relative obscurity of a pre-television world, teams were unknown to each other for the most part. In a time when nationalism was about to send us all to hell, we saw everything in those terms. Football teams were seen as representative of their country’s national characteristics.

Even now, after years of cross-pollination, and the fact that most of the players involved play in the same top leagues, this persists in the minds of the fans and is part of the media hype.
Sometimes it has credence and other times it is total bunk. For example, the USA, home to all that is glitzed and over-hyped, produces teams that are diligent and honest to the point of admiration while the Greeks field a side that is so well-marshalled and works at a rate that would ensure economic prosperity if it was a true indication of national characteristic.

The Italians, who know how to enjoy life better than most, usually serve up a brand of football that is often dour, cynical, and pragmatic to the point of tedium. Recently, however, the inclusion of Mario Balotelli has made them far more interesting for a number of reasons.
The French . . . well the French can play some of the most majestic football, but always with one hand on the self-destruct button.

The Germans often remind me of Prussian-trained ballerinas. They play with style, skill, iron-willed discipline and determination up to and including the last second and are not above political pragmatism when it suits them.
The Portuguese, often gifted with some of the greatest players of the time; Ronaldo, Figo and the truly great Eusebio, strut their stuff like peacocks until cruel conspiracies contrive against them.

The English, who take the credit for inventing the game, suffer from illusions of grandeur but play like the emotionally constipated twits in a Jane Austen novel.
The Spanish, who served up years of tika-taka, a tedious form of play where you keep the ball for such long periods of the game that the opposition fall asleep, have been and gone and may now return to the classic underachievers they have shown themselves to be for years.

Then we have The Dutch! Back in the 1970s, the Dutch made the game beautiful but lost in the finals of ’74 and ’78. They lost again in the finals of 2010 and this year’s squad, gifted and talented as they may be, must wake in terror from dreams of coral dresses.
The Asians, Japan and South Korea, are heading home with mixed emotions. Their newness has faded and all their huffing and puffing could not disguise that fact that they are still some way from the top of the class.

Australia probably came with the one goal—do better than the Kiwis who drew all three of their games in the last World Cup and went out as the only undefeated team that year. Sadly, and despite the heroics of Tim Cahill, it wasn’t to be.
Likewise, Iran, who had their moment in the spotlight the year the beat their ‘Great Satan,’ are gone but maybe it is just as well. Their kits were shrinking in the wash and there are some aspects of Iran that the world is not yet ready to see.

Many years ago, the great Pele predicted that an African team would soon win the cup.
We are still waiting and I believe we will for some time. Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Nigeria are all blessed with world class players who are the essential parts of the various clubs they play for. Drogba, Yaya Toure, Muntari, Eto’o, Essien . . . the list goes on and on, as does the wait. African teams still have not found the way to become the sum of all their parts.

Though the Algerians were a pleasant surprise and, as young team, might just be one for the future . . . they just might.
Costa Rica are proving to be a huge surprise and should make it to the quarter finals. But beyond that? Assuming they see off the Greeks, they will play the winner of Mexico and Holland and that should be a bridge too far. The Mexican might be for real this time, but that has been said so many times before. Some of the giants of the game will stand between them and the cup.

Argentina have Messi who is, for many people, one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. Diminutive to point of being overlooked, Messi is the type of player who can carry a lack-lustre team a long way. Unlike his greatest rival, Portugal’s Ronaldo, Messi has, despite the showing so far, a superior supporting cast who can only get better. Perhaps in time to win it all?
Brazil will have their say even if the current version is the poorest team they have fielded in years. Yes, Neymar is an idol to soccer tourists, but the rest of the squad are weak. In their opening game, they struggled to overcome a dull Croatia and had to rely on a very dubious penalty.

The Brazilian team of 1970 was the greatest team of all time and subsequent versions have never come close to matching them, despite some very generous refereeing decisions down the years. They are the host team and as such must be heavy favourites. But then there is the matter of the final of 1950, Brazil vs. Uruguay. So confident were the home fans that their newspapers crowned them champions before the game which they lost, 2-1.
And that brings me to Luis Suarez. This is the third time we have video images of him sinking his teeth into an opponent. Add to that his racist taunting of an opponent and you get the picture of a very disturbed man. But there is more. This man is gifted with such footballing abilities that he has an army of supporters who will hear no wrong about him.

This is why the World Cup is the perfect place to watch the world. Here, as in everywhere, right and wrong are so subjective. ‘Our guy’ can do no wrong and ‘your guy’ is an animal that should be locked up. But at the end of the day, the world, like the ball, is round.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

BORN AND BRED — a novel by Peter Murphy

Date: June 13, 2014 Author: BrendanLanders

This is a timely book, set as it is in the Dublin in the 1970s, a pivotal decade in Irish history when, thanks to access to television and affordable travel abroad, the nation’s young people got a taste of what life was like beyond Paddy’s green shamrock shore, and it began to dawn on them that they didn’t have to put up with the stultifying, priest-ridden, Soviet-like drabness in which the country had been mired since the forces of conservatism prevailed in the counter-revolution that followed the War of Independence, when the Free State that constituted 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties won its independence from the United Kingdom.
It is in this milieu where Danny Boyle, the protagonist of Born and Bred, comes of age. Recently uncovered scandals are evidence of the sordid underbelly of the authoritarian zeitgeist against which young people like Danny (and, I suspect, the book’s author) instinctively rebelled – a rebellion which found voice in Banana Republic, a chart-topping song written by Bob Geldoff and recorded by The Boomtown Rats.
The 1970s was also the decade in which the Troubles erupted in Northern Ireland and brought the gun back to Irish politics. It was the decade when the Irish drug trade, which heretofore was dominated by a few longhairs tripping home from Amsterdam or Marrakesh with a bit of weed to flog to their peers, was taken over by organised crime and heroin became a deathly plague that ravaged the poor of Dublin’s inner city. And it was the decade when the criminal underworld, where gangsters and subversives interfaced in occasionally common purpose, burgeoned into a thriving enterprise at the heart of a corrupt and sick society.
This is the world that is masterly evoked in this book, the first book in a trilogy recounting the Boyle family saga, and it is in this world where Danny finds himself entangled in a sequence of events wrought by the confluence of sinister forces. He is a typical young man of the period – outwardly cocky and capable while inwardly awkward and lost. He comes from what the Irish used to call “good stock”, his late grandfather having been a senior operative in the War of Independence and, subsequently, a government minister, so the family name still carries some weight in political and republican circles. Danny’s parents have their demons to fight, his dad, Jerry, being an alcoholic and his mother, Jacinta, suffering from a debilitating psychological condition; so he has been mostly reared by his grandmother, Nora, a devout Catholic, canny matriarch and shrewd operator who dotes on him and devotes all her energies and guile to ensuring his welfare.
Mightily unsure of himself and struggling to find a foothold on life, Danny makes a sketchy living by busking in the Dandelion Market (Dublin’s tame equivalent to Haight-Ashbury) and selling dope for the local dealer, Anto Flanagan. But trouble is brewing between Anto and the Republican gunmen with whom he does business and on top of this there is internecine squabbling afoot in the subversive camp. As is the way with hapless dupes, Danny gets caught in the middle of these nefarious dealings and layered betrayals. Set up as a patsy, his life is on the line.
But he’s not without his allies. Deirdre, the girl he loves, loves him back despite the disapproval of her father, a self-appointed pillar of the community and defender of the status quo. Danny’s father, Jerry, may be an alcoholic but he is not a lost cause and not without his own resources. Father Martin, his mother’s brother, is an idealistic young priest who endeavours to do the right thing despite the dogmatic prejudices of his superiors – and who struggles to choose between his vocation and his feelings for a former nun. And last but not least there’s Nora, his devoted grandma whose ghost continues to look out for him after Nora has left this mortal coil.
Born and Bred is part historical fiction, part political thriller and part social commentary. With a bit of magical realism thrown into the mix it makes for a commanding read and a compulsive page-turner. Will the forces of good prevail? Will Danny live to fight another day. Will he and Deirdre find a way to make their love work? Will Jerry and Jacinta master their demons?
The answers are all in this great book. Read them and weep.
Available from Amazon

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Reading at the Dora Keogh

On the night of August 10, 1977, Daniel Bartholomew Boyle made the biggest mistake of his young life, one that was to have far-reaching consequences for him and those around him. He might have argued that the course of his life had already been determined by happenings that occurred before he was born, but, poor Catholic that he was, riddled with guilt and shame, he believed that he, and he alone, was responsible. He had been dodging the inevitable since Scully got lifted but he knew it was only a matter of time before it caught up with him. Perhaps that was why he paused in front of the old cinema in Terenure after weeks of skulking in the shadows. Perhaps that was why he waited in the drizzle as the passing car turned back and pulled up beside him.

“Get in the car, Boyle.”

Danny wanted to make an excuse—to say that he was waiting for someone—but he knew better. It wouldn’t do to keep them waiting. They weren’t the patient sort, twitchy and nervous, and single-minded without a shred of compassion. He looked around but the streets were empty. There was no one to help him now, standing like a target in front of the art deco facade of the Classic.

The cinema had been closed for over a year, its lights and projectors darkened, and now lingered in hope of new purpose. He had spent hours in there with Deirdre, exploring each other in the dark while watching the midnight film, stoned out of their minds, back when they first started doing the stuff. He used to do a lot of his dealing there, too, around the back where no one ever looked.

“Come on, Boyle. We haven’t got all feckin’ night.”

Danny’s bowels fluttered as he stooped to look inside the wet black car. Anthony Flanagan was sitting in the passenger’s seat, alongside a driver Danny had seen around. He was called “the Driller” and they said he was from Derry and was lying low in Dublin. They said he was an expert at kneecapping and had learned his trade from the best. Danny had no choice; things would only get worse if he didn’t go along with them.

“How are ya?” He tested the mood as he settled into the back seat beside a cowering and battered Scully. He had known Scully since he used to hang around the Dandelion Market. He was still at school then and spent his Saturday afternoons there, down the narrow covered lane that ran from Stephen’s Green into the Wonderland where the hip of Dublin could come together to imitate what was going on in the rest of the world—but in a particularly Dublin way.

Dave, the busker, always took the time to nod to him as he passed. Dave was black and played Dylan in a Hendrix way. He always wore an afghan coat and his guitar was covered with peace symbols. Danny would drop a few coins as he passed and moved on between the stalls as Dylan gave way to Horslips, Rory Gallagher, and Thin Lizzy.

The stalls were stacked with albums and tapes, josh sticks and tie-dyed t-shirts with messages like “Peace” and “Love,” pictures of green plants and yellow happy faces along with posters of Che, whose father’s people had come from Galway.

The stalls were run by Hippies from such far-out places as Blackrock and Sandyford, students from Belfield and Trinity, and a select few from Churchtown. They were all so aloof as they tried to mask their involvement in commercialism under a veneer of cool. Danny knew most of them by sight, and some by name. On occasion he’d watch over their stalls when they had to get lunch or relieve themselves. He was becoming a part of the scene.

As they drove off, Scully didn’t answer and just looked down at his hands. His fingers were bloody and distorted like they had been torn away from whatever he had been clinging onto.

Anto turned around and smiled as the street lights caught in the diamond beads on the windshield behind him. “We’re just feckin’ fine, Boyle. We’re taking Scully out for a little spin in the mountains.”

His cigarette dangled from his thin lips and the smoke wisped away ambiguously. He reached back and grabbed a handful of Scully’s hair, lifting his bruised and bloodied face. “Scully hasn’t been feeling too good lately and we thought that a bit of fresh air might sort him out, ya know?”

“Cool,” Danny agreed, trying to stay calm, trying not to let his fear show —Anto fed off it. He briefly considered asking them to drop him off when they got to Rathfarnham but there was no point. He knew what was about to go down. Scully had been busted a few weeks before, and, after a few days in custody, had been released.

It was how the cops set them up. They lifted them and held them until they broke and spilled all that they knew. Then they let them back out while they waited for their court date. If they survived until then —well and good. And if they didn’t, it saved everybody a lot of time and bother.

Danny sat back and watched Rathfarnham Road glide by in the night. They crossed the Dodder and headed up the hill towards the quiet, tree-lined streets that he had grown up in. As they passed near his house he thought about it: if the car slowed enough he could risk it —just like they did in the pictures. He could jump out and roll away. He could be up and running before they got the car turned around and by then he would be cutting through the back gardens and could easily lose them.

“You live around here, don’t ya, Boyle?” Anto spoke to the windshield but Danny got the message. “And your girlfriend —she lives down that way?”

Danny thought about correcting him. He hadn’t seen Deirdre since the incident in the church but there was no point. They’d use anybody and anything to get to him. He was better off just going along with them for now.
He briefly thought about asking God to save him but there was no point in that, either. They had given up on each other a long time ago. He turned his head away as they approached the church where he had been confirmed into the Faith, so long ago and far away now.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Celtic Lady’s review:

Danny Boyle seems to be doomed from birth, what with his mother, Jacinta, being in a hospital for mental issues and a father, Jerry, that is not around. His grandmother, Nora, thinks the sun rises and sets in Danny though, so he has a chance but when she becomes ill, he gets into the wrong crowd and becomes involved in a murder. He just seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting deeper and deeper in trouble. He meets Deirdre but gets into trouble again when they are found in a church in a compromising situation. Things escalate from there with the priests getting involved with both Danny and Deirdre's families, hoping to ease the situation. There are a few side stories but they all come together nicely to give the reader a better understanding into Danny and what he has to deal with.

This is a novel that is character driven during a time in 1970's Dublin that is full of strife, where the Catholic Church plays a major role in family life. I like how Mr. Murphy had the characters speak, each chapter giving the reader more of a clue into the family life of each one and the changes that occur over a period of time. Full of Irish witticism, history and a bit of the supernatural, this series is one to definitely read. I look forward to the continuation of Danny's life love the cover of the book, almost like Danny is looking to be redeemed for his sins via Nora or Jesus. Do you like Irish novels, with love of family, romance, humor and a feel for Dublin and Ireland as a whole?? Then this book is a must read!! You did it again Peter Murphy!!!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

I just had an epiphany

I was just sitting here, minding my own business, enjoying a coffee and looking out at the world through the selected windows our national broadcaster has chosen to show me, when it hit me. I’ve been looking at things the wrong way.

I used to be suspicious of business activity because of its long history of exploitation, usury, slave trading, destruction of the natural world and the buying and selling of supposedly freely-elected governments.

I blame the years I spent at the bar in Grogan’s among the mumbling socialists and other malcontents—those who were cast into redundancy during one of Ireland’s annual recessions. Over scrounged pints, we smoked our Woodbines and talked about how much better things would be after the Revolution. All things would be held in common, all labour would be properly rewarded and the leeches of Capitalism would be banished to the deepest bowels of Hell. Governments would answer to all of the people and not just the vested interests of those who had paid for their election. Religion would be tolerated providing it curtailed itself to tending to spiritual needs and assisting those who were impoverished by the inequitable distribution of the wealth of the world that God had given for all kind, human and animal. Utopia beckoned. All we had to do was rouse the people from inertia, drown out the indoctrination of Church and State, and march forward under the banners of equality, fairness and the common good.

But I was wrong and can only offer that I was young and foolish then as an alibi.

Yes, we may be hurtling towards an Environmental Armageddon, drowning in debt, snapping and snarling at everyone along the way, but we must bear in mind that it was “Good for Business.” All that we have sacrificed was done in the most noble of causes—making the rich richer. We must remember this when we grovel on the floor hoping that a few more crumbs might fall from the table of our new aristocracy. And while we are there was can marvel at their splendour and grandeur and know that it was our efforts that helped to put them there. Rejoice in the knowledge that they are modern day saints who spent their lives in the pursuit of jobs and prosperity for all and only sit at the loftiest table to set a good example for the rest of us that we might rise up and become like them.  And when we are gone, poisoned by all that we have done to the world in the surety that it was “Good for Business,” know that the Grand Pyramids of Capitalism will be our eternal gravestones.

So hush your mumbling and grumbling now because, like the fella in 1984, there is nothing more to do than to sit patiently until someone from the government drops by and puts the forgiving bullet in your brain.


Monday, 17 March 2014

It’s that time of the year, again


I have begun to loath Saint Patrick’s Day.

I haven’t always. Back when I was a young lad growing up in Dublin, I loved it. You see, back then we were not encouraged to stand on street corners ogling the passing young girls. We even had a derogatory term for it; corner-boys, and no one from the respectable neighborhood I grew up in could openly aspire to becoming one of those. But it was allowed on St Patrick’s Day—in fact it was a mandatory cultural observation, of a sort.

You see, on Saint Patrick’s Day, Dublin was visited by marching bands from every corner of the United States of America—our undeclared colony—and I, along with all the other scuts, would go down to Grafton Street and watch all the beautiful young blonde majorettes showing off their long legs without a bit of shame.

Later, when I moved to Toronto, I threw myself into the celebrations that were more about declaring our presence in a city that had not welcomed us as it might. We drank our green beer and sang along with songs of sedition against old mother England who was still held dearly by most of Ontario.

In no time at all, I had joined a band and was up on stage inciting beery crowds to put aside all that winter had dumped on them and embrace a bit of craic. They were the best of times for folk musicians who, by the end of the night, could be rolling in the only green that matters, providing their bar tab didn’t devour it all.

For a number of years I even brought my kids to the parade, despite the cold and the lack of majorettes. But since then, I have grown very tired of it. It began when I still played with the band and got tired of drunken audiences who only wanted to hear; The Black Velvet Band, Whiskey In The Jar, and the worst of them all, The Unicorn. That and everyone who was not Irish getting drunk and talking like they do in Irish Spring commercials. How would you feel if, on your national day, the entire world dressed up and acted out every caricature of your lot—see what I mean?

Not that I am against people having a bit of fun. Nor do I resent bar owners having a good day though I am a little reticent about Diageo as cultural ambassadors. What bothers me is that being Irish is so much more.

I suppose that in these days of corporate intrusion into every corner of our lives it is too much to expect that the Irish would be celebrated for their real contributions to life. A millennium of resisting Imperialism made us keenly aware of social injustices—to ourselves and others. For centuries we exported revolutionaries to every corner of the world. We also sent out our compassionate to bring some solace to the downtrodden, and, our greatest exports; poets and dreamers but there is not much opportunity for profit in that.

It’s enough to drive ya to drink.

Monday, 10 March 2014

BORN & BRED is the first novel in the Life & Times Trilogy, a cycle of three books that will chart the course of one star-crossed life. It is a work of vibrant imagination from a poetic novelist of the first order.

Danny Boyle was a born angel.

At least that’s what his granny used to say, and she should know – she raised him after his parents proved incapable. When she becomes ill, Danny is reunited with his parents but they do not get to live happily ever after, as the ghosts of the past haunt their days. And when the old woman dies, all of her secrets come to light and shatter everything Danny believes in.

In the turmoil of 1970’s Ireland, an alienated Danny gets into drugs and is involved in a gangland killing. Duped by the killers into leaving his prints on the gun, Danny needs all the help his friends and family can muster. Calling in favors from bishops and priests, police and paramilitaries, God and the devil, the living and the dead, they do all that they can. But even that might not be enough.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

There’s always someone watching.

The whole business with Edward Snowden and surveillance did not come as a surprise to me. I have always assumed that someone, somewhere was watching.

No, I’m not paranoid. You see I was raised Irish and Catholic and, when I was a kid, my mother had eyes in the back of her head and could see across all four, if not five, dimensions. And she had the ability to read my thoughts—even before I thought them. “Don’t even think about it?” she’d warn and I’d stand there, stunned and struggling to blank my mind before I did anything to add to my guilt. 

As well as being my mother, she was also a teacher. In other words, she was the complete and perfect dictator, benign when it suited and draconian when the situation called for it. 

The outside world was no better, the women of the neighborhood were everywhere, watching, filing and disseminating all that went on back up the grapevine. Passing comments, too, to let you know that they were there and you were never beyond their range.

School was even worse, run by nuns who were trained and skilled in the dark arts of espionage. They could turn any lesson into a data gathering exercise. They could find out what we had for breakfast in several languages. The ‘How I spent my vacation,’ essays were nothing less than written statements full of incriminations about ourselves and our families. And, if any of us resisted or showed any reticence, there was always Confession.

Dark and confined, we would kneel and give up all that the data-gatherers had missed, fearful that the dark shape on the other side of the grill would reach out like the Spanish Inquisition and thumb-screw all sin from us. And afterwards, as an example to others, we had to kneel outside where the whole parish could see and say our penance while keeping an eye on everybody around you. Nobody wanted to be the last one—the one who got more than all the rest. It was like when the Pope used to make errant kings sit on the steps of St. Peter’s in sack cloth and ashes. 

And then there was God, the ultimate eye-in-the-sky. Nothing that you had done, did, or might do escaped him. He knew before you did and had probably already consigned you to Purgatory or Hell.

Not surprising that I became a rebel and moved my life into the underground but even there safety was not assured. Informers and spies were everywhere. Kids that you shared a cigarette with would give you up to save their own skin. Girls that you had tried to steal a kiss from would turn on you when you moved on to their friends, ratting you out to the nuns, who’d pass it on to the priest, who was sure to tell your mother while God looked on in dismay that was sure to become vengeful fury. It was no wonder that when I was old enough, I sought refuge in the only place where men could be themselves.  

Pubs. They were the last places where subversives could huddle and scoff at all the sheep who bleated that they were indeed free. We were the only truly free, even if only for as long as our money lasted. 

Poets, politicos, paramilitaries and folk-singers, we gathered in clusters and whispered about the revolution that was just around the corner. And it was in a pub that I met Joe who always smiled like a Yogi because he said it would drive the ever-present watchers mad wondering what he was up to.
So now, many years removed from all that was, I write what I think and feel so that there can be no mistake: I am, always was, and always will be me, like it or lump it.

And my advice to you: fear nought and dance like somebody is always watching. Twerk if you must and frolic like a pagan. You can blame it all on Social Media. Break wind loudly and often to startle eavesdroppers. You can always blame it on the dog because he knows: freedom is just a state of mind.

Reproduced from Part of the Story - the free quarterly for the The Story Plant

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