If there was no audience, why would we blog?

empty

As rhetorically posed by another blogger I read earlier in the context of generating a wider audience, which made me wonder…

Without an audience, would blogging still be to words what needles are to knitting?

Without an audience, would the buzz from the concentration required to knit words together still be a satisfying distraction from everything else?

Without an audience, would there be a mass of never-ending scarves?

Without an audience, would that distraction still lead to a good neurobics workout?

Without an audience, would that workout still occasionally lead the blogger down more oriental streets of thought, where the wall between subconscious and self-conscious is at its thinnest?

Without an audience, would it still be worth the thrill of reaching the weakest point in that wall?

Without an audience, does an unread post with typos still have typos?

Without an audience, can a blog post still be considered read, if only by its creator?

Without an audience, how many bloggers does it take to change a light-bulb?

Don’t you just hate those annoying fuckers who answer a question with a question?

*fuse blows in light*

Hello? Hello?

Shit

Tuesday night music club #3

DVDs of old children’s films have started to migrate from our little one’s Granny’s house to ours. She visits there the odd Saturday morning while her Da is off over-achieving on the 5k park run, and her mother fiercely protects her right to lounge extravagantly by rising at the crack of noon, eleven   ten ish. If she takes a shine to the cover, it goes in her bag, and back to ours. It gives me an opportunity to catch up on some films I missed out on first time round. Like Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Two pairs of grandparents sharing the one bed and all that. Verruca Salt sticking it to The Man. A film ahead of its time.

On Sunday evening we all slumped on the sofa to watch the latest import: Home Alone II (or two, for long). It’s probably inappropriate for her age but there’s Christmas, in New York, and Brenda Fricker, and baddies getting their grisly comeuppance, and tearful reunions. I’m at least six weeks early for this strain of emotional manipulation but they had me at the twinkling lights and the school nativity play.

It also has the impeccable Catherine O’Hara as the scatty put-upon Mom trying to keep it together and occasionally mislaying one of her children without ever having to make herself accountable to social services. She’s one of my new role models. If Catherine O’Hara never does anything but invade our home at Christmas Halloween, it will have been enough because she is also the sister of one of Canada’s hidden musical treasures. Her reminder to dig out an album was a welcome intervention.

Mary Margaret O’Hara defies description. Her masterpiece, Miss America, comprises the bulk of her canon, and despite occasional dalliances with some of her more known fans (Morrissey, Tindersticks), it remains her only album to date. Her vocal tip-toes across songs of love, loss, and longing. Then scales the heights of troubling thoughts with force and fragility. She comes at the world sideways; with out-of-focus shots of her shit that have just enough definition to make you feel what she’s singing. An album best listened to in its entirety but I’ve chosen When You Know Why You’re Happy because it is one of the few live recordings from her early days, and fewer could carry off a two-piece made from the fabric of our old living room curtain with such style and grace. Apologies for the quality, but the hairstyles should compensate.

Singin’ in the reign

Bono and The Edge were back in the terrestrial armchair with Tubridy on Friday night showcasing a few of the reasons that had them anxiously jumping the download queue and straight into the arms of Apple. Then dragging the unsuspecting iTunes subscriber into a non-consensual threesome. In the weeks following the release of the album, an immoderate amount of criticism has been levelled at the band. Wagging fingers shot up waving the consequences of their desperation to stay relevant on standards of artistic integrity. Listening to the unplugged offerings on Friday, it’s not hard to understand why they felt they could do with a leg-up from a sturdy pair of clasped corporate hands.

In Shane Hegarty’s excellent piece on the comparison of Bono’s subsequent apology with the sentiments of Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan, parallels were drawn between the desperation afflicting both parties. Flanagan’s anxiety was born out of a need to earn a sufficient amount to live, and generate sufficiently good material to attract an audience. Bono’s arose from the need to cling on to a sizeable  pre-existing audience. As Hegarty observed, “..the band’s privilege blinded them from the truth most artists, of whatever hue, know all too well. You have to earn both. Each and every time. Both men generalised – Flanagan about writers, Bono about all artists – but only the former sounded sincere, as if reflecting a universal truth that will never change. Bono, unfortunately, sounded as if he were really just talking about himself.”

Listening to the latter’s reflections on the criticism, he remains as impervious as ever to such truths. “You know, I’ve got an umbrella, and when the shit storm happens, I just put up my umbrella”. Which is the multi-millionaire musician equivalent of sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears while shouting I CAN’T HEAR YOU until the other person goes away. Presumably he pays someone else to hold said umbrella. “The truth of it is, the music business, the model for it was broken”. Can’t argue with that. Rock n roll is dead, embalmed and playing the eponymous lead in U2’s production of Weekend At Bernie’s.

Last time I remember seeing Bono with his hands up was on stage in 1998 sandwiched in another threesome with John Hume and David Trimble. Back in those heady days of hopeful peace-building in Norn Ireland. A year had passed since Mairia Cahill was raped by a known IRA leader. The kangaroo court was yet to process her hearing. Her traumatic reunion with the perpetrator as part of the medieval style reading of body language would take place two years later.

In the rush to shelter Gerry Adams from the ensuing shit storm this week, prominent members of the party faithful clamoured forth with offers to hold his umbrella. Commentary from all directions has been shrill and unrelenting. Definitions of justice and judgement are being tug o’warred with back and forth over the unmistakeable line of truth.

Like U2’s desperate determination to wade through the current ‘noise’ clutching their mid-life crisis album, Gerry and his comrades swerved by the truth with their fingers rammed into their ears chanting I CAN’T HEAR YOU in the vain hope everyone will just go away.

Sinn Fein doesn’t have a monopoly on the truth of the matter. And sadly, the victims and survivors of sexual abuse and rape among the nationalist community do not have a monopoly on the horror and trauma of that experience in that warped part of the world.

In their rush to throw enough legitimate shit at Adams that will stick, the fulminating establishment are at risk of dismissing the notion of ‘context’ in its entirety. In a thirty-year conflict, characterised by dysfunctional daily living with the state functions of law and order substituted by grassroots rule, a brow must surely be arched at the shock and surprise that has greeted the revelations.

This year saw the first tribunal open in Northern Ireland addressing institutional child abuse. Given its stunted standards of accountability, it is only now that efforts are able to be directed towards the legacy of victims and survivors in the broadest meaning of those terms. Given the Southern establishment’s pre-occupation with Sinn Fein, and that party’s amnesiac approach to bleaching history, there is a danger in ignoring the fact that it is not just Mairia Cahill who is being denied the right to truth. It is all those victims of sexual abuse during and immediately following the Conflict, irrespective of the colour of their flag or the cut of their God.

The likelihood that there were women on all sides who were condemned to ‘community’ police investigations shouldn’t raise a brow, but many questions. Long before now. That’s one shit storm that would have everyone scrambling for cover.

Tuesday night music club #2

The only thing better than not having to go to work, is the rare feeling of leaving it having got the better of it. Those days when you gained command of it rather than the other way around.

Few songs conjure up the satisfaction of the ordinariness of a good day’s work and the retreat home to the hearth. It’s a feeling that doesn’t register on the scale of giddy relief, nor merits notification to anyone other than yourself. More like the release of a pent up exhale rippling through your fringe on clocking out than a celebratory air-punch.

The Trials of Van Occupanther sounds like the album equivalent of a fire log, chopped earlier that morning in a day full of small jobs that together produce the chemical symbol for near domestic contentment. It’s the similarly small details in the sound that produce the album’s timelessness that had reviewers clamouring to assign it an era. Pianos compete with flutes that rub up against guitars that abseil down wistful lyrics. It’s ’60s English folk. No, it’s ’70s Laurel Canyon. Hang on, it’s the best album Fleetwood Mac never made.

It’s probably a little of all these things, which makes it unique in its own way. The possible metaphors in Head Home are plentiful; unlike the “harvest time” that sounds like it’s not. Taken literally, it’s an apt one to travel home to on a damp Tuesday night that doesn’t leave me dreading Wednesday morning.

Ova simplifying things

Twenty years ago as my twenties shifted into second gear, I gradually found myself the receptacle for sharp intakes of breath at the state of my finances. My eyebrows. My employment prospects. My singlehood. My doublehood. My hair. My ovaries. My leek and pasta bake.

“Make the Credit Union your friend”.

“Have you thought about waxing?”

“Don’t knock the Public Service”

“Have a bit of fun, you’re too young to think about settling down”

“You’re not serious about him, are ya?”

“What did you ask the hairdresser for? A Herman Monster cut?”

“Don’t leave it too late”

“You’ve loads of time”

“That is delicious”

I had only asked these people whether they wanted a cuppa tea. But life is never that straight forward.

Reading some of the commentary in the aftermath of the US corporate offer to keep female employee eggs on ice, one would be tempted to conclude otherwise.

Mechanisms for media commentary are generally set up in favour of polemics, so there was the predictable rush to panels with contributors enthusiastically for, or adamantly against, the proposal. Nothing wrong with this; every “much needed debate” needs a starting point. When I first heard the announcement, my first thought was “wankers” as I worked up an appetite for the ensuing discussion.

The problem with a much needed debate is that everyone tends to have their own terms of reference for what that should be. Inevitably, the dominant strains of consensus wrestled one another to present the “greatest disservice to women”. Given their vantage point, the loudest voices tended to come from those already with children.

There was much level-headed concern regarding the messages the ‘perk’ was sending out on the status of women in the workplace; the inadvertent pressure; the need for employer measures to combat inequality through more equitable parental leave, and corresponding work/life balance supports. Cogent arguments in favour of assisted conception were forwarded by women who “for various reasons” are not in a position to start a family. Insurance measures, however unreliable, are nothing to be sniffed at, or a rule of compliance.

Between the jigs and the reeling, the “various reasons” were neatly stacked up in the shape of a greasy pole for which women are deferring family life in order to have a crack at climbing. From what I could gather, the biggest disservice to women is the attempt to prop up the myth that their fertility is safe under the sphere of human intervention. Oh and women are not sufficiently supported to have children in their prime.

I don’t doubt these career-climbing compromisers exist. I rarely meet them, if ever. But then I don’t tend to move in corporate circles. Even so, most of my band of contemporaries would likely be considered relatively successful, somewhat driven, with a college education and some semblance of a career behind them. Or at least a failed one, or the slowly dying embers of a fantasy of one. Most of them broke, many bitter. All overworked regardless of ambition.

Women are wise to implore their peers to become attuned to their bodies and the sobering realities of decline in fertility, but is this really instructive? Do women not draw their own conclusions? And for how many are the warnings relevant? Far from exploring the “various reasons” women “delay” having a family, we’re given the “career” as a shorthand answer, with the idea of “delay” freighted with the assumption of choice.

Having starred down the barrel of childlessness in my late 30s along with many of my peers, I can’t help but feel the biggest disservice to women is buoying up the myth of the go-getting woman forever hedging her fertility bets, therefore masking the topsy-turvy complexities of her life in the prime of child-bearing years as it is actually lived. Formulae rarely apply.

Kate Spicer attempted to shine a light on this during the debate with Sarah Carey and Kathryn Thomas on Friday night’s Late Late Show. The main weaponry she had in her artillery was a quiet philosophical sense of regret, a succinct reference to the instability of modern relationships, and a pair of shrugged shoulders. These don’t make for raging debate, but they do define the silenced reality for many women who find themselves the receptacles for a great deal of warnings of which they are acutely aware.

Mainstream media is flooded with profiles of challenges to fertility and the personal journeys of couples on the turbulent road to IVF, adoption and so on. Rightly so; they’re important, they’re common. But there’s a distinct stench of silence around the legacy of childlessness pervading the lives of many women in their 40s who desired another outcome but didn’t get there for failure of a relationship. Or having their confidence or financial security pulled out from under them, and umpteen other unanticipated collisions along the firmament. The complexity of women’s lives doesn’t square with the narrow commentary of the go-getting careerist. It’s a pity so much of their experience is silent but where would the women start to articulate their loss, to whom, and how? Theirs is the quietest voice in the room. Add to this the number of women who sought abortions in their earlier years and a further dimension may potentially have relevance. Or not. We don’t know.

In an era when the realities of mental health awareness are no longer fresh, in a world where we’re heading towards one in four women being childless, with many more confronting that prospect, it’s not possible to reconcile women’s fertility with the threat of decline. Or the pros and cons of engineered conception. Or the introduction of more family friendly incentives. It demands another reality check and support of a different character. It’s a much needed debate.

Mind the gap

Hmmm. Can’t say I’m happy about that half centimetre gap in the curtain. I’m experiencing changing room anxiety, convinced folk on the other side of the curtain can cop a load of me through the strip the width of a cigarette. Except I’m in a hospital cubicle about to disrobe for a procedure in the day unit. Other than this, it has everything going for it. The absence of a three-way mirror and interrogation lighting; in their place a bed for a little lie-down when shopping gets too much.

I suppose to truly disrobe, I should be wearing a silk dressing gown, standing forlornly next to a stand-alone bath in a stately pile, give or take a century. I half-tried that at a spa break I was roped into a while back. At one of those lesser spotted fancy houses hidden in the midlands that manages to escape the spread of recession infection. Only it was a cotton gown that had seen one too many boiling washes, and significantly slimmer beings between its side pockets. Think a hospital gown worn back to front. Like the one I hastily get into now before sliding under the sheet designed by Hospital Property.

Lying still, Ray D’arcy competes with chatter at the nurses station across the way. I worry I’ve left my clothes untidily on the chair so I quickly leap out, shove them in the locker, and lie down again. Knickers securely inside my socks inside my boots. Trailing my eye along the neat pleats of the disposable blue curtain, I curse the total recall I have of each admission during my ropey pregnancy when I can barely remember details of the first six months of our baby’s life. My annoyance is interrupted by a clipboard with a nurse at the end of it.

There’s something about lying down in the most innocuous of circumstances that unleashes one’s inner bumbling witness in the dock of the imaginary court of public appeal. It’s the therapeutic setting. Dodge one straight forward question and risk detonating that out-of-body experience of uncharacteristic unwarranted over-sharing. Like an emotional Russian Doll shedding layers until your voice is tiny and your sentences eventually trail off mid-sense because you know you’ve started something you can’t stop so you try to cover it up with inane facial expressions by the end.

It’s a relief that eyebrow treatments take the little time they do, because being horizontally hemmed in with whale music and gaps in chat is dangerous territory. SpaGownGate culminated with being resuscitated from an emotional hemorrhage by a post-it note from the massage therapist containing the name of a revolutionary G.I. Diet Book. It was too smooth a move for her not to have had previous experience of a post-post-post partum woman breaking down over letting herself continue to be bullied by the biscuit tin. At least I didn’t cry like I did in Kilkenny years previously. I’d only gone in for a facial but misinterpreted “how are you looking after your skin these days?” as “why have you let yourself go to shit?” That wasn’t the first time the therapist had heard a break-up story. That smile had heard things before. She continued to apply it like a truth serum.

So I’m concentrating on keeping it brief here with Florence Nightingale. We quickly discover we’re from the same place and laugh conspiratorially at our superior differences to the locals we live among now. I’ll blame this bonding later; after I sail through questions on my family’s medical history, medications taken, even childbirth. I’m on the home straight. “Oh wait. Is there a chance you could be pregnant?” “No, no. Definitely not”. “Would you like to take a wee test just to be sure?”

My eyes dart over to the chair where my bag hangs. I hope I closed it shut. Ah no, I’m grand, I re-assure her. Well, I know for sure I’m not pregnant. And then just to make sure I’m sure, I tell her all about the four used tests in my bag I’ve been meaning to get rid of since the weekend. And how ridiculous anyway. Pregnant at forty two? And sure look at the state of me. Insert lots of inane laughter and the inevitable shoulder-shrug here. Thankfully it is soon my turn to be whisked away to have a camera shoved up my arse.

Tuesday Night Music Club #1

Welcome to the new segment of the blog in which I get to indulge myself even further by sharing my listening habits of the week. Mainly with myself. A Ronseal deal. And an idea pilfered outright from the entertaining Paul over at Alfreds Almanac.

Most folk will be reluctantly trading in their summer wardrobe now for woollen cardigans and those much missed pairs of opaque tights. For some of us, the retreating sun signals the impulse to palm-rubbingly get our mitts to those records that have been hibernating in corners of living room shelves or tucked down driver door pockets. Their sounds incompatible with unsolicited rays of sunshine dancing on their covers.

John Martyn albums are my good winter coats. Timeless and functional. Providing insulation from the cold air I will to come get me. His guitar solos the fur-lined collars turned up high under slate grey skies. Richard Thompson’s bass the scarf that hangs around them. Another of the big brother hand-me-down sounds, so entwined with time immemorial.

Tonight I’ve chosen Head and Heart from 1971’s Bless The Weather album. Because it’s an acoustic kind of day. First stop-off on the way to the ground-breaking echo and reverb he made famous on Solid Air I’ll be back to by November. For now, here’s how to impressively put a full stop to a song.