Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Studio Visit

The house was an unkempt red cottage deep in undistinguished countryside. The persistent rain and muddy surrounds rendered the whole place more sad and squalid than bucolic. The artist greeted us warmly and took us into the smokey interior. We ducked through cobweb bedecked doorways as he led us past three yapping terriers into the living room. We were ushered onto a deeply dubious sofa that had obviously served as a bed recently - there were grubby sheets thrown over the back. We made small talk for a while. The terriers climbed all over us - eager to lick their way into our affections. The artist was courtly if a tad diffident. Conversation faltered. Then his rather bedraggled wife burst in and immediately began to fill the lulls. She offered us drinks and I accepted a glass of cider. The honey-flavoured cider was handed to me in a beautiful heavy Waterford glass. She also poured herself a very large glass of wine - her effusiveness suggested it wasn't her first of the day. She began coyly flattering the youngest member of our group: "you can't have children that old", "you're very tall aren't you" etc. As we took in our surroundings she told me, rather unnecessarily I felt, that she hated housework.

There were very many examples of the artist's recent more formulaic work strewn around the room and in the small adjacent studio. There was no sign however of the early work that I was sniffing after. The studio far exceeded Bacon's famous example in squalor. There was dust and cobwebs everywhere and the small room was littered with artist's debris - old paint pots, discarded brushes, torn magazines, ancient plates and a floor matted with dirt. An easel and a chair sat in the centre of the room in the only space available. Overhead was a dirty corrugated plastic roof mostly covered with vegetation. He sat into the seat while we took some photographs. There was a sad resigned slump to his posture.

The increasingly loquacious wife then insisted that we come out and look at their "shed". This turned out to be a self-contained apartment at the side of the house - marginally less filthy that the main house. The wife said they hoped to let it soon.Then we all tramped back inside - fighting off the amorous terriers.

Now I don't have a fetish about cleanliness and tidiness, as anyone who's been to my house will attest, but all this was too much. There's bohemian laissez faire and there's truly alarming filth - this was the latter. But they were a sweet hospitable couple - even if the wife did prattle on. My abiding feeling as we drove off was pity for their predicament. But who knows, it may suit them very well.

Friday, January 20, 2012

DLR Gone to the Dogs

We are used to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown (DLR) County Council interfering in our daily round. An egregious example of this is the most heavily policed parking system in the country. Hordes of whey-faced enforcers, in their comic opera uniforms, patrol incessantly the streets of Dun Laoghaire and Dalkey. To what end? Did we the citizens demand this? Does it promote traffic flow? No we didn't. No it doesn't. It's purely a revenue generating mechanism for DLR and a bloody nuisance.

Looking around for further control mechanisms and revenue streams DLR have now decided to tackle the clear and present danger of dogs in the borough. In the past 12 months litter wardens have started to appear on the beaches and in the parks imposing fines of €150 on those whose dogs are unleashed during certain daylight hours. This is apparently in accordance with some 2009 bye-law. DLR has also started to put dog pens in various parks, thereby herding dogs together all the better to spread diseases. Also, these pens are way too small and generate conflict between the crowded canines. Despite numerous entreaties from the public and the creation of a lobby group, Dogs Unleashed (, by the estimable Liz Neligan, DLR have now come up with an even more restrictive set of bye-laws whereby dogs cannot go on certain beaches (Sandycove and Seapoint) at any time, and can only go unleashed on Killiney Beach before 10:00 and after 19:00 during the winter months.

Why? Killiney Beach is largely deserted (check out the images) during winter months apart from the hardy community of dog walkers. Should we abandon it to cider heads, bonfire builders, and the odd forlorn pervert? There is the last resort of Killiney Hill for those who want freedom for their dogs, but I am determined to stay and fight them on the beaches.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

London Weekend

I arrived on Friday evening and went to meet my buddies in Gordon's Wine Bar near the Embankment tube station. This is a crowded cellar that sells only wine and basic food. It's a cosy spot with an unusually friendly crowd for a London venue. Much badinage at the crowded bar and chit chat between the tables. If I were a fit and single man I would make it a regular haunt. We ate later in an average Italian restaurant up the road and looked in at a listless jazz club (the Alley Cat). The strident and charmless female vocalist drove us out and we headed back to the bosom of our hotel bar.

Saturday morning brought us to the Dickens exhibition at the London Museum. A lot of background padding but it was worth the visit to see his manuscripts. The small regular writing and the copious corrections were in evidence from Great Expectations to his last work The Mystery of Edwin Drood - no change or deterioration in the hand, or in the working method. There was also a ledger of household expenses where you saw evidence of how his financially feckless father was a drain on his resources. We stopped off for a nostalgic visit to Portobello Road on the way back - full of tourists but entertaining. I had some mulled wine and bought a couple of CD box sets (Sam Cooke and Ella Fitzgerald).

On Saturday evening we started with drinks in the French House in Soho - still full of character and characters - and still not serving pints. Then up the road to the Red Fort - one of London's finest Indian restaurants. A bit stuffy in terms of clientele and too many waiters faffing about but the food was superb - delicately spiced and beautifully presented.

Replete we waddled down the road to Ronnie Scott's where we'd booked a table to see Sarah Jane Morris and her band. Nice. She's a big gallumping lass and a bit too right on for my taste ("The Gay Man Blues") but it was a tasty night of music. A couple of great guitarists, including the super cool Dominic Miller (Sting's main man), and an ass-kicking brass section. And so to bed.

On Sunday morning we headed to Hampstead Heath for a stroll down memory lane. We took an unfamiliar route turning onto the Heath just before Jack Straw's Castle and soon got lost. A phone call to a local friend and much GPS consulting soon got us out of there and back on Heath Street where it was time for lunch. We found an adequate Greek place (Bacchus) near the station and had a decent meal of hummus and lamb chops.

We had arranged to meet some friends in the Sir Richard Steele on Haverstock Hill. This is a place of low resort much frequented by scum bags and super-annuated rock musicians. Ideal for a spot of Sunday afternoon drinking. By sheer coincidence it transpired that an old friend Johnny Johnson was playing so we settled down to a couple of hours of rock and roll. It's a long time since I've heard Eddie Cochran's Cut Across Shorty sung in anger. And a fair old dollop of Jerry Lee Lewis - great stuff.

But the schedule was remorseless so at 7pm we headed down to the Roundhousewhere we'd booked tickets for the burlesque circus La Soiree.. Good dirty fun with some notable balancing acts and juggling. Some of the characters combined comedic patter with virtuoso tricks. The girl with the hula hoops fair stole the show.

On Monday, our last day, we finally got to the Courtauld Institute on the Strand. A fine eclectic collection - Van Gogh, Manet, Gaughin and a number of great Cezannes. An interesting curiosity for me was the Wyndham Lewis collection - including a fine cubist self-portrait.

Our hotel, the Radisson Vanderbilt, was a major find. Its location beside Gloucester Road tube station was ideal for exploring the city and it had all the facilities of a decent hotel for only £70 a night.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

A Letter the Irish Times Didn't Publish

Date: Thu, 05 Jan 2012 14:29:46 +0000
Subject: Reporting on Caroline Walsh's Death

Dear Sir,

In the interests of accuracy, something I’m sure Caroline Walsh took seriously, Kathy Sheridan’s account of her funeral (Irish Times 27th December) needs to be corrected. She did not, as reported, die “unexpectedly in St Vincent’s Hospital”. Her body was removed from the sea near Seapoint and taken to St. Vincent’s.

The Irish Times showed no such coyness about mental illness and suicide in its recent reporting of the Kate Fitzgerald tragedy.

Depression and its often tragic consequences should be discussed openly. I would expect a newspaper of record like the Irish Times to put aside its fine feelings for a colleague and tell the truth.