16 November 2014

Nostalgia? Where we're going, we don't need... nostalgia.

If you look very carefully you can see the ghost of a feral squirrel staring menacingly out at you through the window.
Dwight Street, New Haven, November 8th, 2014
There is a well worn saying that you can’t go back, used frequently without ever seeming to refer to exactly what it is that you are going back to and negated by the reality of simply placing one foot behind the other and shifting one’s weight. Often this is accompanied by the statement that the past is a different country to which your entry visa long ago expired, and sadly now you can only bore people with your holiday snaps of how fantastic it all was.

Last weekend I filled the Mr Fusion with a dozen stale banana peels, set the chronometer to 2002 and cranked up my imaginary DeLorean to 88mph, blasting through space and time back to the shady days of the last decade when Unkie Dave had yet to even turn thirty and sat alone in a squirrel-filled house in the fabulous New Haven, Connecticut while the Very Understanding Girlfriend sat a million miles away in Africa doing fieldwork. 

Seeing as how The Very Understand Girlfriend is currently sitting a million miles away in Africa doing her fieldwork, it seemed only appropriate that given the work-related necessity of being on the East Coast of the US of A I should travel up to the Have’ and relive those glory days of post-Millennial bliss.

Nostalgia is a funny beast, it allows you to be simultaneously delighted by the sudden influx of pleasant memories of the past while saddened at how different your life has turned out in the intervening years. I would have to admit that my 29-year old self would never have imagined the direction my life would have taken between there and here, but there is a definite sense that he would raise his eyebrows and question some of my life decisions. He would also be surprised and disappointed by the lack of alcohol in my life, which is probably why I am a better person than he.

Welcome to Mid-life Angst, Population: Me.

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20 October 2014

And round the prow they read her name

My grandmother on her wedding day, with her father and sisters.
Dublin, November, 1950
This day last week my grandmother passed away. Her passing was a slow spiral that gave enough time for all who loved her to prepare, yet in the end was still somehow sudden.

I have only ever known her as my grandmother, an elderly woman who had lived a difficult life, and if there is any good to come from this last week is that I had many opportunities to talk with my grandfather, aunts and uncles to see a different side of her, to see her as a young woman, a mother and a life-long companion. What moved me the most though was reading through old letters that she had written almost fifty years ago, and through those I think I finally got a glimpse into who she was in her own right, as a person not seen through the lens of other people's labels.

It would seem that only through her writing could she express who she truly was, how she really felt, and it was beautiful. I wish I had known this person more.


27 September 2014

The Art of Ω (a weekend of resistance and resistors)

Ceramic intervention on the V&A façade By Carrie Reichardt and the Treatment Rooms Collective, 2014
V&A Museum, London, 21st September, 2014
Last weekend I was mostly in... London.

Now I realise that this might come as something of less than a surprise, but you need to remember that I actually de-emigrated from London three weeks ago. So, the cause of this boomerang visitation -  did I leave the gas on in our old flat? Did I leave my wallet on the tube? Did the experience of being in Ireland and exposure to our cultural malignancy and institutional hypocrisy for two weeks sicken me to the point of existential dysentery, forcing me to flee the hot zone for a safer refuge abroad?

Occupy Sandy information poster, the people's disaster response for an abandoned community
V&A Museum, London, 21st September, 2014
Sadly, none of the above (though the hot zone escape did look pretty tempting after less than 48 hours), for it was work that brought me back to the land of the Sasenachs, though I did time my trip to arrive mere hours before the Scottish polls closed in the hope of waking up in the rump "United" Kingdom. Alas, this was not to be.

I was taking part in the Digital Design Weekend in the V&A Museum, which was fun. A mixture of quirky technology showcase and hands on hacking, making and modding, over 13,000 visitors passed through and saw that DIY-technology doesn't have to be scary and intimidating. Unless you 3D print guns. Which nobody did.

Here's some you can make at home...
V&A Museum, London, 21st September, 2014
During a brief quiet moment on Sunday, I nipped downstairs to the Disobedient Objects exhibition, and was pleasantly surprised. Showcasing the art of people's resistance movements across the globe, and curated with the participation of those groups themselves, it was actually a moving and engaging testament to the strength and ingenuity of people who stand up and say "No más".

It was also more than a little bizarre to see objects that I have seen in person used in the front lines of resistance now hanging in a museum, removed from their original context but strangely more powerful for it, as if the experience of transition from object/symbol to pure symbol has somehow infused them with all the significance of the entire act of resistance, of which they originally were juts a small part of.

Book Blocs (for knowledge shall be your shield), from Manchester and Italy
V&A Museum, London, 21st September, 2014
The exhibition is running from July through to February of next year, and it is more than a little ironic that I only encountered something like this that is so close to my heart after I had actually moved away from London, and through the medium of work rather than my life in the Really Real World.

I think that speaks volumes of the badly weighted see-saw upon which my work-life balance rests precariously.

Ceramic intervention on the V&A façade By Carrie Reichardt and the Treatment Rooms Collective, 2014
V&A Museum, London, 21st September, 2014

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14 September 2014

Great Cthulhu's Beard!

The stars are aligned, or the salad is off. Or both.
South Great George's Street, Dublin, 14th September, 2014
Dublin Fringe is on at the minute, which I hope and pray suppose accounts for this little squamous beauty on George's Street this afternoon. Either that or one of Mr McGrath's Luscious Lime salads has gone a little too zesty...

It looks like the work of Filthy Luker, and I for one welcome our new inflatable overlords.

Update (27/09/2014)

Sadly this look like it was less a work of Fringe-related art and more a fringe-faced promo for a mobile phone company's ad campaign (which is sushi-related, and not as eldritch as originally thought). Still, I popped a pic of this up on Twitter and it appears to have viraled (a perfectly cromulent word), proving the stars were aligned for someone something.

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10 September 2014

Serves you right for leaving that candle in the window

Not a bear in sight. Seriously, I saw more bears in Connecticut. On the news. In a garden two towns over.
Paddington Station, London, 1st September, 2014
20:02, Monday, 1st September, 2014. London Paddington Station. Unkie Dave's great emigration adventure is coming to an end.

Three hours later I was back in Ireland after spending I-can't-believe-it-wasn't-a-year in LDN - the disbelief coming mainly from the fact that roughly every second Monday I caught the Green Eye (it's like the Red Eye, but for some inexplicable reason a lot of people seem to have a pint or two in the airport at 7:30am before going to Dublin - seriously, what is wrong with you people?) and came back for a fun-filled work week of internet-related hilarity (warning: internet may not contain actual hilarity).

To say the year has been difficult is something of an understatement, as evidenced by the absence of posts on these pages and the dark and haunted look of quiet resignation on my face. I look in the mirror and see my older brother, if I had one, which I don't, so, um, poo, that must be me so. Yikes.

The Very Understanding Girlfriend has headed off now on work-related travels to a destination so far away that it is Spring there now, and she won't be back until the Summer sun starts to fade.  I'll join her there towards the end, but for now I have to get used to being back in our house that for nearly 12 months has been an Airbnb I didn't have to pay for (except I did, because the mortgage), only now it's full of so many boxes from our life in London stacked up around me that it feel more like I'm camping out in AirSelfStorage.

So, I have de-emigrated. 89,000 people left Ireland the same year I did, so I suppose this should be chalked up in the win column.

Only another 88,999 to go.

Start counting those green shoots folks.

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29 June 2014

Are you sitting comfortably?

Rest Your Stalks, by Oliver Dean. Classic sci-fi meets terrible punning in a chocolate/peanut-butter mix I find irresistible.
Senate House, London, 29th June, 2014
Walking through Senate House I saw this today and thought it interesting enough to post up a few photos of it.

Senate House looms large in the landscape of my London, a constant reminder of the historical/literary environment I live in, though normally for the Orwellian connotations it reflects onto 21st Century England. While the Ministry of Truth is the allusion most closely tied to the building, it also appeared prominently in John Wyndham's classic "cosy catastrophe" tale The Day of the Triffids serving as a refuge for some of London's horticulturally-menaced denizens.

Situated outside it today we came across a rather nice looking bench, illustrated with stylised scenes of comet and fauna-based doom by Oliver Dean. The bench is part of a program called Books about Town that is placing furniture inspired by literature around the streets of London for the summer. Ralph Steadman and Discworld regular Paul Kidby are amongst the other artists who have been commissioned to provide pieces, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of these in the coming weeks.

In the meantime I found myself with a big cheesy grin on my face when I saw Dean's bench. The cosy apocalypse has never looked more cosy.

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16 May 2014

Come in to the parlour (but not too far...)

Do we have this in common?
UpStart Poster, Dublin, 23rd February, 2011
I spent a rare weekend in Dublin last week, though the cause was work rather than fun. 

I had a client visiting from America, more specifically from California (for the two are not necessarily the same thing). This was their first time in Ireland and although they themselves had no connections to the Aul' Sod, their partner was Irish-American. They could not say exactly what the ratio of Irish-to-American was, but it was somewhat less than their grandparents fled the Famine-ravaged lands and somewhat more than their grandparents owned an Irish Setter. The connection was far enough back that they didn't know where or when it originated, but not far enough to prevent it from shaping every aspect of their sense of self-identity.

They were Irish, and that was the end of it.

I had a number of restaurants booked for the visit, not too showy but nice enough (a difficult enough task to do when you want to go a) somewhere nice that b) won't contain bankers, developers, rugby "personalities", politicians or Sindo "journalists" and c) uses cutlery), but alas my business partner thought differently. "They want corned beef and cabbage", he said, "They want to try Irish food".

"Irish food?" I asked, "You mean like the chipper?"

"No, proper Irish food, like boxty. Colcannon. Corned beef. They want the full Irish experience".

"Are you sure you're not thinking of a Spice Burger," I said, "cause I'm pretty sure they don't make them anymore?"

But no, corned beef and cabbage it was, which presented a problem because I was pretty sure nobody had actually eaten that in Ireland in a hundred and fifty years. I think it would have been easier if they had asked for some braised swan and a trencher or two.

You see, Americans have a very specific idea of Ireland, one that flows around St Patty's Day and Corned beef, neither of which bare any resemblance to contemporary reality. The image they hold dear is of a devote and superstitious Catholicism, an ignorant, drunken and criminal rabble, a violent masculinity tempered by a devote and chaste femininity, all wrapped up in tales of the Wee Folk and British brutality.

In essence the picture they have of Ireland is one ripped from the lives of the poor and dispossessed, the rural refugees and the urban malcontents, the human detritus of the Irish 19th Century forced to flee their homes and determined to hold on to their sense of self in an alien world. Time has stood still for Ireland in America, 150 years later we are still viewed by them through Famine lenses.

Baudrillard likened America to a hologram, to a perfect simulation of everything that might be:
 "America is neither dream nor reality. It is a hyperreality. It is a hyperreality because it is a utopia which has behaved from the beginning as though it were already achieved. Everything here is real and pragmatic, and yet it is all the stuff of dreams too. It may be that the truth of America can only be seen by a European, since he alone will discover here the perfect simulation - that of the immanence and material transcription of all values. The Americans, for their part, have no sense of simulation. They are themselves simulation in its most developed state, but they have no language in which to describe it, since they themselves are the model, As a result, they are the ideal material for an analysis of all the possible variants of the modern world."

- Jean Baudrillard, America, pp 28-29
It would seem that contained within that hologram is a multidimensional snapshot of every culture ever absorbed in to its foundational fabric, like an insect trapped in amber, preserved for all eternity, unchanging and unmoving.

And yet when we encounter this amber snapshot of Ireland, we recoil, we pull away in disgust and reject it like the most unflattering selfie (#nofilter). We are confronted with all the worst aspects of our own cultural psyche, the drunkenness, the violence, the criminality, the superstitious ignorance and sheer buffoonery that for generations the English press and high society applied to us as damning labels. We see what for generations were public shames heaped upon us by our colonial masters now embraced by our lost children as badges of pride. We are forcibly confronted by an external sense of self that we rejected many years ago, and are frightened by the implication of its resolute preservation across subsequent generations of exiles.

What we have here are two sample groups drawn from the same original culture. One group has grown and matured, the other remains almost identical to the original. Yet it is us left behind in Ireland that have changed the most, that have evolved and matured - but we have done so only in the space of the last sixty years, for would the Ireland of the 1950s really have been as alien a landscape to the amber-preserved Famine emigrant as that of today?

This leaves us with a difficult question, for if our culture has evolved so quickly in the last sixty years, reshaping itself beyond recognition to those who came before, does that not make us the mutation and not the control?

Is this not the true reason we reject the Irish-American and the greater Diaspora beyond, the fear that in them we are faced with a true reflection of who we are at our core and that everything we believe ourselves to be today is just a short term aberration, a mutation, a deviation from our essential essence?

At the Boxty House in Temple Bar, over coddle and corned beef, our guest asked us why there was so little fish on the menu. They wondered why as an island nation was fish not our main food. The answer, we replied, was Catholicism, that fish was associated with fasting on a Friday, that it was a food you only ate when you were forbidden from eating anything else. If you could eat meat, "real' meat, instead why would you want fish?

"But," they asked, "I thought you guys weren't really religious anymore?"

So while we no longer fast on a Friday, culturally we still reject the notions of poverty from the past. Fish was a sacrifice, and since we are no longer poor we no longer have to sacrifice and eat fish, so quick, let's start buying property like the smart ballsy people.

The Celtic Tiger and its inevitable collapse, and our recoil and revulsion when seeing our reflections in the culture of those who come back to find their roots, are two sides of the same bitter coin. We reject the past by ignoring it, by dismissing it, and by distancing ourselves as far as possible from all traces of what came before, mainly because we are afraid that what we see is actually our true essence.

Our fear is that Baudrillard's American hologram is not a simulation, but a Platonic world of forms, that Patty's Day and the fighting Irish are the Ideal, the true Ireland, and we are but the pale shadow cast upon the wall. We have spent the last sixty years trying to shake free from that image, but what if that is actually our true essence and what we cloak ourselves in now is the simulation?

See, if we'd stuck with my original choices, or even gone to the chipper in a futile quest for a Spice Burger, I wouldn't have faced this existential crisis of cultural identity.

Yet another reason why I'm a vegetarian.

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