Site Meter

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Silence and the Gaeltacht

‘God be with you o noble person, I hear that you have the English on you. I do be speaking the language a little myself.’

The above is a sentence, it strikes me, I’m not in the habit of using on random Anglophone passers-by. Yet, social klutz though I am, its Irish-language equivalent is one I’ve tried on a fair few people over the years, most recently on the baffled passenger beside me on an Aer Lingus flight when I noticed a copy of Foinse in his hands. He informed me, as a non-Irish-speaking Glaswegian, that this publication now comes free with the Irish Independent, which shows how out of touch I am. But when I went to the Donegal Gaeltacht I noticed how strangely different the dynamic was. Irish-speakers can be hard to track down in Glencolumbkille, but when I did see some – a group of rowdily fluent teenagers sitting at the bar in Roarty’s, a very red-faced and surly-looking farmer – it dawned on me how odd it would seem if I approached them and struck up a conversation for no better reason than to go through the phatic motions so common when Gaeilgeoirí meet outside the Gaeltacht (‘I notice that would be the Irish you are talking’). You speak Irish then, they would have thought – and? Why should I care?! So I just let them me and continued nursing my pint. I mean, if it was Irish-language conversations I wanted I could just have talked to that guy on the right in the photo above (perhaps he’ll let me post his own (excellent) Irish haiku here too – it’s a companion piece to the one I posted the other day). A defining aspect of Gaeltacht life, I thus feel I’ve understood, is being among people you don’t, rather than do speak to in Irish. A defining condition of the Gaeltacht, in other words, is silence. In Irish.

And by way of a pedantic ps, I have also been wondering about the feasibility of adding an atheist spin to the Irish for ‘hello’, Dia dhuit, ‘god be with you’. Dia (nil sé ann) dhuit. Any takers? Please feel free to salute me thus the next time you see me sipping a Smitwicks in Roarty’s. Or rather, think about it for a minute before wisely deciding to sit there in silence instead. This is the Gaeltacht for (there is no) God’s sake, where do you think you are – Prague? Hull?!

Ceiling Cat Goes Japanese

Ceiling Cat Is Watching You ‘Masterbate’, voyeuristic supernatural pervert that he is. But now he is doing so from the vantage point of a specially designed Ceiling Cat-friendly Japanese house, courtesy of architect Sohei Nakanishi, its ceiling full of special frames from which Ceiling Cat, or in fact multiple Ceiling Cats, can peer down. And watch you ‘Masterbate’, obviously. More on this quality-of-life-improving step forward for human and feline civilisation here. Thanks, Gav, for bringing this to my attention!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Larkin Toad 22: Three Quarters Sky Toad, Variable but Currently at The Orchard Centre, Orchard Park

Larkin Toad 1: Maritime Toad, The Deep

Bruno S.

As chance would have it, I watched both The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Stroszek this week, which adds an extra poignancy, for me, to the news of Bruno S.’s death. Who was Kaspar Hauser? Was he a feral child? Was he an aristocrat (the Prince of Baden?) strategically kept out of the way for testamentary reasons before his mysterious release and just as mysterious death? Was he a fraud? Whichever he was, I can think of few more melancholy-lovely films than The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and the happy accident at its centre of the feral child and Findling actor that was Bruno S. I think of the terrible seriousness of his staring into the middle distance and his finger gestures as he speaks, his attempts to disappear into the window of his tower when confronted with the terrifying spectacle of a chicken, the silent tears that course down his cheeks when he puts his finger in a candle-flame. The terrible seriousness too of his logic when he tells his kindly benefactor how much bigger his room in the tower was than outside, since then, when he turned round, his room was still there, everywhere he looked, while now when he turns around, the view vanishes. Or the scene in which he informs a stockinged buffoon of a clergyman of an apple’s wilful disobedience (‘Clever apple!’) when it rolls down the path and jumps over his benefactor’s foot. I think of Hölderlin, taken in by the kindly carpenter Zimmer. But in reality Kaspar’s benefactors found him more of a handful than Herzog’s film suggests, accusing him of deceit and sudden fits of temper. On set Bruno S. was quite a handful too, haranguing the director and the other cast members for hours, it seems, about the injustices of the world (he grew up in Nazi children’s homes, and was lucky to have avoided an early death there). The dawning discovery, watching his other Herzog film, Stroszek, most of whose other cast members were not professional actors, that Bruno had not exactly been acting in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. But very little acting is required for some of the most affecting scenes in the film, anyway. The simple ‘So you’re back’ with which the barman in Bier Himmel greets him on his return after two and a half years in prison. The charming solemnity of his bugle notes to mark his release (‘Bruno gives a signal’). The beautiful Weimar cabaret quality of his performance in the courtyard on the glockenspiel and accordion. His declaration to the bank official in Wisconsin who comes to his mobile home that ‘Your visit does us great honour’. The awful rightness of his spending the last few quarters in his pocket, before shooting himself, on the dancing chicken, piano-playing chicken, and firetruck-driving rabbit in the amusement arcade. They make for an ending to the film that is both sombre, farcical, yet noble all at once, as was the man himself. These are two of my favourite films. I salute you, Bruno S., brave spirit. The chicken is dancing still!

And needless to say, if anyone would like to help me out (despite the five years I have been doing this now) with stopping those embedded youtube clips from mucking up my margins, please feel free, in the comments stream.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Terence Brown

More reviewery, as I write about my old mucker Terence Brown’s essays in The Irish Times, here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Haiku Conallach

Titeann scáth ó ghob
geal an tseabhaic. Critheann croí luich
sa bhfraoch istigh.

Gleann Cholm Cille/Port

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

David Jones

New Statesman article of mine on David Jones here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Distant Prospect of the Minerva

Larkin Toad 14: Chiltern Toad, Jameson Street

Larkin Toad 38: Global Pop Toad, University of Hull

Larkin Toad 28: 10-5 Toad, Morrison’s, Holderness Road

Does anyone else notice this toad’s resemblance to Charlie Hull from The League of Gentlemen, down to the bristling moustache and red and white (Hull Kingston Rovers?) rugby league jersey? Could they possibly be related? Even the location is very League (Iris Krell’s fond memories of ‘all them Morrison’s bags full of sick’ that Mrs Levinson’s daughter used to hide around the house. 10-5, non-Hullonian reader, refers to a celebrated Challenge Cup victory of Hull KR over Hull FC. ‘Sully’ on the toad’s right side is the great Clive Sullivan. Here is a quick Hull streetcred test for any locally based (‘are you local at all?’) readers. How many times have you found yourself drinking in a Hull pub with someone who turns out to have been a former Hull KR or Hull FC player? Ever? I once stood having a pee beside Peter ‘Flash’ Flanagan, let me boast. This toad knows what I’m talking about. What a great toad.

Larkin Toad 29: Cityscape Toad, East Park Animal Education Centre

Larkin Toad 2: Typographical Toad, Footbridge High Street/Humber Street

Larkin Toad 9: Hull Fair Toad, Prince’s Dock Side

Larkin Toad 7: Reflective Colours Toad, Queen Street/Castle Street

Larkin Toad 6: Tigger the Toad, Marina Court

Larkin Toad 5: Archi-Toad, Railway Street

Larkin Toad 4: Fish & Chips Toad, Humber Dock Street/Wellington Street West

Larkin Toad 3: Squatwit Toad, Nelson Street

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Poetry International

A selection of my poems, some of them in new! revised! form, appear on the Poetry International website here.