31 December 2011

The Top Five Places that I have Occupied this year

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Ah, Mr Charles Dickens, the well from which has sprung many a Christmasy blog post, but no ghosts of crimbo past here, my friends, no indeed, for this last post of the year shall attempt to convey the best and worst of times that was my 2011. In keeping with the well worn tradition that at times seems to keep E4 afloat I will once again offer up my annual review in the form of a list, though given the year that is in it this year's theme will be "The Top Five Things That I Have Occupied This Year".

#5 - #OccupyUpStart

February of this year was notable for two things, it was the month when the citizenry of Ireland finally rose up and waddled to the polling booth to rid themselves of the festering boil that was the Fianna Fail/Green Government and usher in the era of happiness and prosperity that we are all enjoying today, and, more importantly, it saw a small arts collective take advantage of the relaxed littering laws enabled by the election campaign to mount a bold project that covered the lampposts of Dublin in a series of artworks and poems that brought art to the masses in a way Dublin Contemporary could only dream of. Operating on the tinniest of crowd-sourced budgets UpStart transformed the city centre into provocative gallery that caught the imagination of all who passed by, even if they had no idea what was going on.

For more than two weeks I cycled the streets of Dublin photographing all the posters I could find and posting them online, and though at the start of the project I knew no one involved by the end I had interacted with many of the writers and artists all happy to learn the location of their pieces, and my own photos and their geotags formed the basis of UpStart's official map of the project.

UpStart recently announced details of their next project for 2012, a pop-up outdoor theatre and park somewhere in the city centre, and they have secured over €10,000 in funding to do so. keep an eye on these folks, they are inspirational.

You can review my Upstart posts here and see all the photos on my Flickr set here.

#4 - #OccupyVenice

For reasons that I will elaborate on later, much of the year was a complete write-off for me health wise. In September two good friends got married in venice (good friends of mine that is, I mean they were also good friends of each other, but that's probably taken for granted with the whole marriage thing). I love Italy, I spent much of 2009 there traveling around by train at a leisurely pace, but I had never been to Venice before. I was a bit hesitant at first because, by and large, I try to avoid anything touristy like the plague, I loathe large slow moving crowds (a good reason why I wasn't chosen to narrate that penguin film) and have very little patience in such situations, but I was blown away by how easy it was to escape the herds in venice simply by stepping away from the main squares. Its almost as if the majority of vistors arrive magically in the morning, are marshaled around like cattle up a Temple-Grandin chute, and then disappear like dew in the morning sun come nightfall.

The wedding was beautiful and moving, and it was amazing to spend so much time with good friends in such a deeply personal time.

To top it all off the Art Biennale was on at the same time, and two glorious days were spent wandering around the various pavilions and exhibition spaces taking in the best and the worst that contemporary art has to offer. In retrospect I might have been less harsh in my analysis of Dublin Contemporary if I hadn't just visited the Biennale a week or two beforehand. Better luck next time lads.

Also, I love canals. I love boats on canals. In my future utopia all public transport will be boats on canals.

That is all.

You can read all my posts on Venice and the Biennale here.

#3 - #OccupyTheAirwaves

In 2011, or at least the last three months of 2011, it has been impossible to escape me. I have been everywhere, and this has been a positive thing for me (I think). Up until now I have tried to maintain a separation of my online and offline lives. Although I have be writing this blog for nearly six years now, it has always been as 'Unkie Dave', and never under my real name. This isn't because I do not stand over what I say, more because I have a deep ingrained suspicion of the internets and am a strong believer in that old-school notion of privacy. A quaint notion in these Facebook times, I know. While I stand over everything I write, I have been concerned that some of my clients or my business partners might not be too happy about being associated with the rabble rousing ramblings (and erratic spellings) of a grumpy misanthrope, and so I opted for the safe harbours of pseudonymity.

#OccupyDameStreet arrived like a tsunami against my harbour walls, for shortly after I started writing about it first Politico.ie and then TheJournal contacted me to repost some of my articles, and then did so under my real name. Oops. To be honest it was already too late by that stage, for I had given a number of interviews to various newspapers and my name and face were already plastered across the airwaves to the amusement of my friends and family.

Still, I didn't expect what was to happen next, as appearances in The Guardian and on Al Jazeera were followed by an invitation to appear on Mariane Finucane's Sunday radio panel on RTE, along with Alan Dukes (chairperson of Anglo Irish Bank), Declan Ganley (absolutely not a CIA front) and others discussing the week's events. This was followed by the Charlie Bird Show and Vincent Brown just before Christmas, and somewhere along the way I seem to have ended up in The New York Times. All of this without having to sleep with a Premiership footballer first.

Meanwhile my relationship with Politico has developed, and a good few more posts by me on topics from World Aids Day to the State of the Nation (by way of Brian Cowen's friendly thighs) have appeared, with hopefully more to come in the New Year. I am always surprised to find that anybody reads what I write, I mostly write as an extension of my thinking process, a way to tease out and clarify ideas that have been bothering me. These last few months have provided more opportunities for surprise, and the feedback both negative and positive has been altogether humbling.

Which is good, I usually could do with a good dose of humbling.

You can read my initial article on Politico here, the post on TheJournal.ie that Billy Bragg linked to and kicked off a ridiculously long and heated comments thread here, and my response to Enda Kenny's State of the Nation address (also on Politico) here.

#2 - #OccupyDameStreet

After the highs of Venice and the lows of my health, on October 8th I wandered down to the Central Bank Plaza on a sunny Saturday afternoon with my camera and a healthy dose of cynicism in tow. Expecting to see the usual crowd of placard waving lefties accompanied by a drumming circle of hippies, I thought I would do my usual thing of taking a photograph or two before retuning home to write a post about how apathetic the Irish citizenry are and castigate them for never getting up off their arses and taking a stand against the ignominies and injustices that the government, that successive governments, have heaped upon them.

Then somebody passed me a rope and said, "here, hold this", and the next three months of my life disappeared.

#OccupyDameStreet has consumed me, given me a new lease of life and motivated me to be something more than I ever thought I could. It has also broken me down and brought me perilously close to the end of my tether. Sixteen hour days have left me both energized and destroyed, and the highs of one night are laid low by the setbacks of the following day, a cycle repeated over and over on a giant roller-coaster of emotions that someone rather unsportingly seems to have broken the off-switch for, meaning there is no gentle wind down between peaks and troughs, and the only escape is a foolhardy leap as it approaches what you hope is the ground.

I love #OccupyDameStreet, and it has been a privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people there.

All my posts from Occupied Dame Street can be found here, there's quite a few so be warned, and photos from the last three months can be found here.

#1 - #OccupyHospital

This is it, the biggy, what 2011 will be mainly remembered by me for. This year I have mostly been... ill. Very, very ill.

Less than a week after the election that ushered in the era of happiness and prosperity that we are all enjoying today I woke up in extreme pain, started vomiting, and then the pain got worse. This continued for a number of days before I finally had the good sense to pack myself off to hospital where I received the good news that my pancreas was broken, and no, I couldn't have a new one. Sorry.

Over the course of the year I have had seven separate stays in the hospital (two separate hospitals actually) for a total of almost fifty days in all. I've experienced eight CT scans, three ultrasounds, one endoscopy, three surgical procedures and had my gall bladder removed, pancreas carved up and attached to my stomach. I lost a quarter of my bodyweight and will never again be able to drink alcohol or caffeine, and at no stage has anyone been able to tell me why any of it happened. After all this my pancreatitis still isn't cured, nor will it ever be.

It is difficult to put into words how this has affected me this year (though that hasn't stopped me from trying). It destroyed my life for most of the year, I was in ridiculous amounts of pain for many weeks and the times in between recovering have been just as debilitating. I try to be stoical about it, saying, "It is what it is", but sometimes that isn't enough.

This is why I have thrown myself with gusto into things like #OccupyDameStreet, why I have stood for sixteen hours a day on the freezing stone of Dame Street mere weeks after getting out of hospital, to end the year with a positive memory, to be in charge of my own destiny once again and no longer to be the hostage of my own broken body.

It hasn't worked out so well these last few weeks, which is why this takes the top spot in my end of year charts, snatching victory away from ODS in the 11th hour, but all the same as I stand here on New Year's Eve 2011 I hold my head up high, look out across all that has happened these last twelve months and say proudly to my body and the world:

Fuck You All, I'm Still Alive!

Thank you all for sticking with my ramblings this year, I look forward to boring you senseless with many more come 2012. Happy New Year to you all!

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At 11:09 am, Blogger Alex Leonard said...

Here's wishing you a better 2012. Really hope you find health on the upswing and I'm sending all the positive vibes possible.

Your blog posts are the ones I most look forward to in my feed reader, always well written and infused with an excellent sense of humour.

Wishing you the best, or at least less hospital visits, in 2012.

At 12:06 pm, Blogger Snag Breac said...

Well, I am glad you can finish on a positive note there and glad to know you are still alive!
Lets hope there is less rancid hospitalisation in 2012 and far more occupying everything else!

At 12:50 pm, Blogger Alex Leonard said...

Amen to that Caro :)

At 12:55 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

Cheers guys, as the man said, "too much soap opera human interest crap, not enough zombies".

onwards and upwards to 2012!

At 1:20 pm, Blogger Alex Leonard said...

Heh, there really is something quite all-encompassing about that line. It applies to so many situations :)

Hopefully I'll have a car in the not-too-distant future and might actually be able to make it down to Dublin for a proper visit.

Yourself and the ever understanding girlfriend are always welcome here if you ever feel like venturing north :)


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