To the basement, people!

Many surprises await you. Not really. We don’t have a basement. But as a carrier of chronic basement envy, I understand your disappointment.

It all happens in the basement.

Annie Wilkes almost killed off her beloved author in one in Misery. Yes, that was indeed the sheriff who met his untimely demise down there. Nasty. So it made a tense tale even more nail-biting.

Then there was Omar who took refuge in his sister’s basement when it mattered most. So it contributed to the necessary rehabilitation of one of TV’s most beloved characters before… well, before… actually, let’s not talk about it. It’s still too soon. And who could forget Elliot discovering E.T. behind the garbage cans in his. OK, me neither. So they also compel people to re-write scenes from perfect Steven Spielberg films. Still. No doubt the great director regrets missing that trick.

Occasionally, a basement will turn up in a song, and fans of this gem will recognise the reference. My new favourite thing is to drive around town with it blaring on repeat and master my air-drumming as we crawl through traffic. I discovered this retrospectively when I found myself lip-syncing the same chorus to the tenth person over the course of one journey.

Fans of Two-Door Cinema Club are probably aware that the group has a combined age of 8 and three-quarters. I’m certain they’re of an age that I could’ve given birth to all three, a fact I discovered when we showed up at one of their early gigs to be offered the only available seats next to their parents. One for the grandchildren. Oh no, wait, they were on the dance floor.

But few may know the origins of their name, which stems from a venue featured in the new segment of the blog. Welcome to Lesser Spotted Ulcer! Finally, the point of the post! Where every now and again, when I take the notion to remember, we visit one of Norn Iron’s hidden gems. No, really. tudor private cinema in comber county down northern ireland the tudor was built by brothers noel and roy spence in the garden of his house on what used to be a chicken shed First up, Tudor Cinema in Comber. A cute mispronunciation by a local boy inspired the moniker of his brilliant band. It’s privately owned by the lively Noel Spence, owner of 1000s of titles, which he will cheerfully allow you to scan through to book film and screen for a modest donation (no fees as such, or children allowed). Including E.T. and Misery. Donnie Darko, also. And The Blair Witch Project. Or any other film with a critical basement scene. He’ll even put up a personalised welcome message with the classic letters above the entrance. And if you’re lucky, he might give you a free copy of some native yarns and poetry in between performing his roving ice-lolly dolly duties. It takes a decent local map and frequent passenger-window-winding-down for directions to refine this map further, but it’s worth the recline into a red velvet seat when you do.

To Noel, my inaugural rosette. Go Noel (canned applause).

tudor interior

Tudor Cinema. (audience not pictured)

And that concludes this week’s edition. Tune in next time when we’ll be visiting the Stiff Little Fish Fingers factory.


Bless the weather

For condemning us in-doors where we’ve no choice but to run an eye along those racks of tracks that should be lying dormant till Jean Byrne gives us the nod.

Using the wind as a tuning fork, and the rain for percussion, the next two minutes and 33 seconds are brought to you by a man made by angels. Punk angels with a caffeine habit and a fondness for getting their gossamer wings out at the break of dusk. Scottish punk angels who occasionally drop him up a cuppa as he sits hunched over the bureau in his study, high up in his city loft. Glaswegian angels well fit for his scribbling down of inner thoughts at all hours of night. Picking up the tea-stained hardback he frequently knocks over and delicately returning it the sideboard; Yeats facedown, stains included in the price he paid in the second hand book-shop he likes to drape himself around on Thursdays. Hardy no-nonsense-pal angels who lift the needle from the vinyl crackling past last track on the turn-table that rotates to the rhythm of his breathing as he finally nods off. I’d imagine.

Pact full of new trains

She watched her friend’s train pull away with an odd mixture of hope and hassle. In a way it was the ideal parting that left no time for ever-increasing goodbyes to work their way up to the size of a tumbleweed that they’d have to awkwardly hug around; but ultimately disappointing that there wasn’t enough time to hug at all and pay homage to her brilliance with snotty tears and rambling.  There is no greater compliment. Her friend has a supernatural knack of transforming her tiny house into that little bit more of a home whenever she visits.  Just by being in it. Like an open fire everyone warms themselves up against. And that sort of magic transcends earthly description. But thank her, she did. And for pushing ajar the doors of their pasts and helping release some unwelcome residue back into the psychological wild.

Even her wee one continued to grieve her absence all week. She would lie up on her parents’ bed and look out through the window forlornly declaring that she missed her, as an apropos of staring into the middle distance. All very film noir until the thumb was popped back in the gob. She’s so wonderful with her, and the little one only revels in her rays of good humour that detonate her own in return.

It’s now day three of their new healthy living pact but she’s feeling the benefits already. She got such a fright when she stepped on the scales that it knocked the hunger pangs clean off her. They must’ve skedaddled a right distance, even in their grossly unfit state, as there’s no sign of them re-appearing. Not even for a sneaky Curly Wurly, or a muffin, which is closer to the wholesome home-baked goods end of the confectionery spectrum and other misinformation for which she also has a fatal weakness.

No, make no mistake, she thinks, (She stole this from a colleague as it sounds a convincing opener. But then she also once believed that female police officers couldn’t carry guns during PMT) this is a novel shift. Less the temporary euphoria of her usual new beginnings of yore, than a recognition of a change of enemy. She teared-up on the scales but hasn’t looked back since. She drove home, past the petrol station she had eyed-up on the way over, counting up every pound as a self-inflicted stab-wound on her worth. So whatever way she’s managed to reconcile emotion with reason, she’s already feeling lighter, and willing to plod the long road back to health.

Fear not, she emphatically has no notion of defecting to the evangelical side, and vows to continue scoffing mildly at the group talk while clapping a little too enthusiastically at John shedding that four pounds. “Round of applause for John, everyone”. Come on. That’s still pretty impressive whichever side of the sneering fence you’re sitting on, she thinks, forgiving her stray into high-fiving territory. She also thinks there’d better be serious whooping and hollering for her next week. It’ll be like re-writing school history. Take that, Sr. Gabriel! Two fucking pounds!

No, she hasn’t surrendered the compulsion to find the comedy in everything. But sometimes the jokes aren’t funny anymore, not even the one about her Jack Charlton comb-over; and no-one laughed at her crying. Just wait till she gets that half-stone pink certificate and then they’ll all see who’s the loser.

Hail Mary

They don’t make Marys anymore. The word on the birth certificates is that the traditional name has been cast aside in favour of fancier imports. Not wishing to let a good lament go to waste, it got me thinking about the Marys in my life. The memorable ones, the influential ones.

Mary C – bucktoothed teacher in 6th class. Sprang up from the hearth of the Gaeltacht with a swagger in her stride to ply her trade with fire and brimstone. The only woman in our town in 1985 brave enough to wear sun glasses over her head and indulge in the commonly frowned upon practice of draping her jacket over her shoulder thus leaving the sleeves to fend for themselves in the breeze. This was viewed as an indicator of immodesty by some but recognised as an important status marker among fellow bridge players. She was also the first teacher to give the thumbs up to letting our imaginations roam free, even if that meant some questionable dream sequences being reported under ‘my summer holidays’. In possession of a distinctive voice, I enjoyed mimicking her from behind corners to scare the bejaysis outta the comrades. And I was always grateful for her unfashionable discretion when a gang of us were busted for robbing emblems of the biggest blessed Mary of them all on a school trip to Knock. You got the feeling that if only she were 20 years younger, she might’ve kept watch. One more time for the road *clears throat* ‘CIUNÁS A CAILINI!’

Mary G – Mary has never really been a fully signed-up, card-carrying member of my gang as such but since around the age of 12 till the present day, she and I have been colliding on and off across the mountainous terrain of life. Last time I saw Mary was a few years back as she rounded the corner at the bottom of our road out of view having quietly sneaked out of my folks’ house after retreating to my old bedroom, digging out all the packed up 45s and 33s (vinyl, brethren. Ask your parents), divorcing the sleeve notes from their covers and leaving them strewn across the floor, while the rest of us clinked glasses in the kitchen. Bouncing in well after midnight, with her half-mile radius of wine bottle opener curls in the door in front of her, she handed me a plastic bag containing a dog-eared copy of a Dan Brown book, knowing full well I hate Dan Brown, and knowing full well that I know that she hates Dan Brown. But sure that’s the kind of her. Her literature studies were steered off course by the arrival of her son, and there’s a whole other world she dreams of when she stares out that window of the sandwich bar she works in. I must give her a ring so we can meet up and dine out on our unfulfilled fantasies for an evening.

Mary M – Mary would generally be known by the English version of her surname but god pity the fool that addresses her by anything other than her Irish name. This is the woman who protested at a temporary road-works sign painted in English on the road outside her house by painting over it and insisting (successfully) that they lay down the ‘correct’ version. A language fascist, in short. Mary and I started work together on the same day. She the administrator, me trying to administer some self-confidence and belief that I knew what I was supposed to be doing (not a notion). We went on to spend four years trading banter, ideas, fighting over the radio dial and the actions of cute hoor politicians. We only ever had one serious disagreement; it concerned money and was instigated by me. I’ve regretted it ever since but to her credit she never let it corrode her affection. In many ways, she reminded me of my mother, teaching me the unteachables of operating in the workplace and the value of correct formalities you can’t put a value on. Her other enduring lesson was to surrender the universal obsession with seeking an answer to every woe that comes our way. Sometimes you have to let things be. Sometimes there just isn’t an answer. “I know you’re not the biggest believer a stór”, she grimaced to me on the phone at Christmas, “but would you for God sake say a prayer this illness doesn’t develop any further. There’s an overseas coming up in work and I’ve no intention missing out on a freebie”. Can’t keep an indomitable woman down.

Mary Coughlan – Mary’s been singing the blues to me for years with the conviction that she’s lived every word. More an interpreter of songs, but you only have to listen to ‘Doublecross’ for proof she knows full well what its writer meant. First time I saw Mary was in the early ninties in the famous Rotterdam Bar in Belfast, encased in her own world, yawning them out of her with all the fragile force of a woman on the brink. Turns out she was but thankfully sobriety has modified her rage in to something just as humorous and informed.

I could say Mary Robinson at this point; McAleese never did it for me, but I’m going to go with the singer Mary Margaret O’Hara for her unrivalled whooping and hollering. She only managed to stump up one album in the last thirty odd years but she came in to this world with a bunch of polaroid pictures of emotions to pass round. Perfect for when none of your own internal lenses can adequately capture them.


The 348th Mary From Dungloe (Real name: Niamh. Probably)

Join in and raise a cup to your Marys, tell us about yers…

Five reasons to see Song of the Sea

song of the sea

1. For its paced and magical weaving of Irish legends into an enchanting tale of wonder

2. For its stunningly beautiful animated odyssey that goes where CGI and Pixar could never venture

3. For reminding us of the power of our own fables in addressing the big issues of life in unexpectedly moving ways we had possibly forgotten

4. For enthralling and transporting a child to a place where its eyes are transfixed on the screen like rarely before

5. For letting an old cynic be that child

“Equality is all in the surname, ladies”

So ran the headline on an opinion piece by Barbara Scully  yesterday in response to the ‘news’ that Yvonne Connolly had legally shed her Keating title three years following the split from her husband, Ronan Keating.

One can only speculate, but some practices are demonstrably more personal than political. Just as she chose to change her name originally, the pursuit of gender equality is unlikely to have been the sole motivator in changing it back now, if at all. But sparked a public debate, it did. The ensuing clash of on-line opinions ranged from head-scratching mystification at the thought of ever changing a name; tossing about comprises and re-configurations informed by pragmatism and family practicalities, to the merits of blokes changing theirs. Romance featured in there somewhere, back in the early heady days. Overall, it’s a topic that tends to animate a few folk.

“I got married, not adopted. Of COURSE I didn’t take his name”

This is a common refrain among the particularly shrill participants in the debate. As an exercise in dabbling in logic, it’s impressive. Great strides in comprehension demonstrated there. As a statement with the potential to provoke a beating with a beetroot encrusted kipper, it’s irresistible.

Of course, the commentary wasn’t directed at Yvonne Connolly personally, and like any cultural practice, name-changing should not be immune to some form of periodic collective scrutiny and the obligatory on-line kicking. But horror and high octane gasps veer dangerously close to being as out-dated and inflexible as the charges laid against it.

Citing Iceland’s no-nonsense standardised name-changing traditions, Scully interprets it as an influencing factor in the country emerging as the most gender-balanced nation in the world according to The World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report. The corollary being that if Ireland were to take a similarly uniform approach, greater strides would be made in achieving the elusive goals of gender equality. Presumably, Scully, though she doesn’t elaborate on it, is being more considered than this over-simplification.

It’s not unreasonable to suggest the potential that dropping the habit would have in helping diminish inherited sexist attitudes and erode the disproportionate grip domestic life has on women’s identity, however subtly (or not) these are currently played out. How much is another question. The complexity of cultural norms is such that it would require a longitudinal study in attitudes to capture its impact, and few need more than a basic grasp of economics and politics to understand that equality in Nordic countries hinges on a little more than stringent naming traditions, or whether your fella volunteers to change his. As a weapon to combat sexism and equip women with the confidence and ability to invade the legislative arena, it would be foolish to over-state its reach. It also, worryingly, despite thumbs up to Icelandic and Canadian law, invites an over-reaching arm of the State to meddle in the private affairs of its citizens.

Furthermore, there is the implication that women bear the responsibility for promoting changes in equality, and opting to change their names runs counter to the overarching feminist cause. The one for which there is no actual consensus.

Is that not a little outdated in the *thinks for second* 21st century? Interpreting ‘traditional’ rituals in a contemporary context and soldering a neat link with inequality fails to stack up. Take that logic to its conclusion and we see women who have no-one to blame but themselves. With all the subtlety of a brick, many critics of name-changing view the practice as a direct attack on feminism. By feminists! So they can’t be feminists! Can they?

Well, of course they bloody well can.

The history of feminism is fairly static and indisputable, but the context of it is in a perpetual state of flux. Rifling through issues and holding them up for a good sniffing to reject or accept doesn’t undermine women’s appreciation or recognition of the battle that paved the way for strides in gender equality. But not every contemporary personal decision is a direct action against progressive political policy.

Women aren’t any less equal because they have chosen to change their name, or because they haven’t chosen to abandon ritualistic traditions associated with the wedding ceremony. We live in a Western World where women enjoy the freedom to make choices on which traditions they want to pick and choose, and attach their own personal meanings to them in the process. When it comes to name-changing, one person’s political meaning can’t be superimposed on the personal view of another. These simplistic arguments only serve to debase the meaningful fight for equality.

There’s a striking similarity between what these critics assert, and the claims put forward by more radical elements within feminism. The hyper surety of the dominant force of one innate characteristic, and its apparent ability to undermine all others. That to be truly feminist, women most embody all aspects of feminism, all of the time. How exhausting would that be? You can’t wear a white wedding dress, and fight for equal pay; you can’t freely enjoy traditional expressions of femininity, and attack the exploitation of women’s bodies; you can’t be well-off, and speak out against injustice; you can’t be white, and object to the racist sexism against black women.

You can’t be a Ms. Whatever feminist or a Mrs Whatever-Whatever feminist without signing up to the principles of equality; no more than you can’t be a onesie-wearing make-up free feminist without doing the same. As an argument, it has more aggression than logic, and ignores the fact that is it perfectly acceptable for women to reject absolutisms on issues appropriated by feminism. Issues that have a bearing on their own lives, to be adjudicated on privately. It doesn’t undermine their commitment to equality to do so, or the right of other women to do different. It didn’t prevent me from not changing my name.

The rights of women in Western Europe and those in more conservative and unequal societies are not mutually exclusive. Participation in traditional wedding rituals is not indicative of the subservient conditions women live in; inequality, poverty and social exclusion is. Domestic violence, misogyny and unequal pay transcend naming-practices. Individual women, as women, as feminists, as advocates of equality, as cheese addicts, as name-changers, as Bono-bashers, as dishevelled Wurzel Gummage lookalikes, are not duty bound to carry and exhibit all the apparent tasks of feminism all of the time, or prove their integrity by discarding name changing. Integrity trumps all labels and snooty dismissals of fairly benign practices.

Practically, I get the quiet life appeal of integrated names, but not having experienced any pressure to conform, the thought of changing it never occurred to me. As the bearer of an already inconvenient polysyllabic name, I’m often met with officials’ urgent need to know if I go by it. Well, I often get wench and gobshite, but generally yes. I was delighted when all the Eastern Europeans showed up, and those delightful Africans with their penchant for intricate naming traditions that renders each family member with a different surname. They would give Iceland a run for their newly minted money any day of the week, but they would also give us all a lesson in the dangers of holding too much stock in the correlation between non-patriarchal name-changing and growth in gender equality. That’s probably in The World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report, too. Only in more sober language.

Awkward: Top 5 cringeworthy moments this week

1. Discovering our wee one is starting school with the boss’s daughter in the same class. Insincere smiles across the sandpit on induction morning and lousy ventriloquist alert to my fella etc. We all know where this is going. Despite every conceivable intervention, they will inevitably end up best mates, *winces* play daters, college roommates, and married. I’ve a pain in my face thinking about the pain in my face all this uncharted civility will give me.

2. Being discovered eating those new Crunchie biscuits straight out of the packet. At 9 in the morning. I’m not going to bother justifying that one. Suffice to say there were a few hormones involved that gate-crashed the pity party that rapidly got out of hand.

3. Getting caught doing a mildly exaggerated impersonation of my Mother-in-Law by her son to his Mother-in-Law. I did an impersonation of him doing an impersonation of my Mother to my Mother in a hole-digging effort to even up the score. We’ll never speak of it again. Had it been the other way around, I’d have saved it for an argument, but he’s so offensively reasonable it’d have any maladjusted person scrambling for the crunchie biscuits.

4. Pretending to kidnap another child at our one’s childminder’s and being unaware of her mother witnessing the performance. I rarely see this woman, but I have fallen in love with her daughter and if I can’t have her, I can pretend to have her. When her mother isn’t around. I got that glazed smile and the suggestion that I speak to my husband about my needs as she calmly reclaimed the child.

5. Being asked if I’m pregnant. Again. It’s always worse for the person casually asking the question so to diffuse any tension, I didn’t contradict her.