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Jun 16, 2016

Joyce & Rebellion – Dublin on Bloomsday

ReadingIt was a day of threatening rain, that didn’t quite bucket down as expected. But the gloomy clouds above did nothing to dampen the city spirit below. Wandering around were all sorts of wonderful characters. Bowler hatted gents, straw boatered chaps, flapper girls, meringue hatted ladies and modern day Molly Blooms. I’ve been mingling with these types around Town all week, but today we joined in the fun!

Bloomsday Festival guide in hand, our first stop was St Andrews on Westland Row. My church. A holy place neither breath taking nor dull, but imposing if only on the inside. Most folk scurry past this impressive building every day on their journey home via Pearse Street Station. St Andrews is not an intimate church, so its size lent itself perfectly to the concert Joyce & Rebellion: A Musical Journey.

St Andrews is one of the many Dublin landmarks immortalised in Joyce’s Ulysses. The programme evoked times gone by with a beautiful mix of song, music, poetry and story. And of course history. St Andrews’ association with the 1916 Rising is celebrated by an exhibition at the church, well worth a visit. Joyce & Rebellion: A Musical Journey reminded us of the heart and courage of local men and women.

Hosted by Elizabeth Watson and Jean Monahan, the pews were filled by plenty of well dressed Joyce enthusiasts. None under 40… Opened with a reading of Thomas Moore’s The Minstrel Boy, by Carmel Heapes, then Moore again, Silent O’Moyle, read by Connie Murray, both accompanied by Carole O’Connor at the ivories. Oro Se Do Bheatha Bhaile was performed by Greenore Community Choir.

JoyceIt really took me back to a time (the 1980s!) with my Granny and Grandad O’Shea. Being in their tiny kitchen singing old songs. The fire blazing, the wireless humming in the background. A big pot of stew brewing on the stove. Tea for the adults, lemonade for us. Grandad with the toasting fork (hot buttered toast…) in one hand and a billowing Woodbine in the other. Granny standing, stirring, chatting.

Down by the Glenside sung by Jean Monahan, followed by George Smith and Simon Heapes’ performance of The Rising of the Moon and The Wearing of the Green. Catherine Byrne read W.B. Yeats September 1913. More memories! School, this time. Too young we were to appreciate anything at all… Of course I remember these poetic rhymes, learned by heart, but how they really speak to me now.

Simon Heapes took to the stage (or altar) once again with Love’s Old Sweet Song. We helped him, nowhere near his tenor, but enjoying it all the same. He was joined by George Smith, belting out A Nation Once Again, with all of us on hand once again. Catherine Byrne brought us more Yeats with The Song of Wandering Aengus. Historical tales of our 1916 heroes knitted together the songs and prose.

George Smith sang Grace, Carmel Heapes read Pearse’s The Mother and Connie Moore sang The Last Rose of Summer. It truly was an escape from the commercial, digital world we live in today. In fact, my iPhone had run out of juice, I didn’t even have to worry about capturing shots. Just being free of technological distraction for a few hours… It’s so relaxing! How art did thrive before Twitter tyranny.

AltarTo My Daughter Betty by Thomas Kettle was told heartfelt by Carmel Heapes, Oft in the Stilly Night performed by Simon Heapes. The final curtain at St Andrews; all three, Simon Heapes, George Smith and Connie Murray with Carole O’Connor on piano, as throughout, in a roof-raising rendition of The Holy City. We were invited up to encore, us fellow Joyceans, and linked arms with Love’s Old Sweet Song.

The concert was free. It was absolutely excellent. Thanks to the St. Andrews Church Choir and St. Andrews Church Heritage Working Group. And, of course, the hugely talented performers. Nobody my age really goes inside a church these days, unless for a wedding, christening, communion or funeral. Not a regular Mass goer, I pop in for solace from the city. And music. And exhibitions. And fun!

Back out into the light of day, dark as it was, we sailed past Kennedy’s, spying the Bloomsday brethren within. We popped in last time, for a wicked performance by the bold Rose Lawless, doing Molly Bloom to only the flawed perfection she can. This time we were in want of tea, not ale, (’twas only midday!) so we tucked ourselves in at cosy café Tri Via, on Lincoln’s Place. A great people watching spot.

Indeed, as we put away delicious homemade muffins, brownies and croissants, did we see a certain Senator, dressed to the nines cane and all, approach Sweny’s next door. David Norris is a familiar face to all Bloomsday patrons and a huge supporter of the Irish arts. Cameras clicked as he swept in and out of another fabled Ullyses stop. Sweny’s Pharmacy is now an olde worlde bookshop and Joyce museum.

Tri ViaIn we went, events sure to unfold. There was a stall outside doing lemonade and madeleines and plenty of vintage fillies and gents milling about. And the scent of lemon soap filled the air. But an impromptu reading from the Dubliners meant we were in luck with perfect timing. A Scottish man, whose name I do not know, gave a swaggering version of a chapter’s events. It was really very, very cool.

A bar of brown paper wrapped lemon soap in the bag we made our way up into Temple Bar, my neighbourhood. This culture vulture lark is hard work, so we broke off to the Porterhouse for a bit of footie action. England v Wales. It’s a top spot for pub grub. We polished off Scampi, Piri Piri Chicken Sandwich and Mixed Veggies all with lovely fluffy chips and a pint each. Oyster Stout for me. Very nice!

Meeting House Square was next on the agenda, for Bloomsday Readings with Keelin Shanley. The journalist and broadcaster was joined by various Irish actors, writers and musicians for another gratis gig. I’ve been known to listen from my bedroom, which looks onto Meeting House Square, in the past. I can catch bands at the Olympia from here too! The square was filled with Joyceans, old and young.

Roisin Ingle, of the Irish Times, was on the stage as we approached. There were hearty performances from Colm O’Gorman, Domini Kemp and, you guessed it, Senator David Norris. We segwayed into the National Photographic Archive to mix up our rebels with our rascals once again. The exhibition, Rising, is free entry (can you see a theme here?) and documents the events in and around the day.

Davy ByrnesBlack and white images of the destruction done to Dublin, the bravery of young Irish men and the effect on the everyday lives of locals are just fascinating. It’s hard to believe it was only 100 years ago… A walking tour of the exhibition is available, but we were happy to take it all in ourselves. I’ll be back with Himself, who’s a big history buff. And we do live next door! Mama and Papa certainly enjoyed it, too.

We were done by now. Off they went, Mother and Father, to Grafton Street, and up to Davy Byrne’s for one last nod to James Joyce. Bloomday is fast becoming one of the city’s most celebrated events, with Bloomsday Festival running events throughout the week. It’s great craic and I always find Townie friends out and about. Next year, Madre and me have promised to dress up! Or don a hat at least…

www.bloomsdayfestival.ie

May 22, 2016

Fab Food Trails – Dublin Coffee Experience

IMG_0334Disclaimer: I’m a tea drinker. A nice cup of Barry’s & I’m good to go! So it was straight from the frying pan into the fire when I signed up for Fab Food Trails’ brand new Coffee Trail. What was I thinking? Well, that Dublin now has a vibrant coffee scene, new cafes are popping up all over the shop & that Irish people have finally grown up & become serious coffee drinkers. And I want me a slice of that pie!

IMG_0251So what’s all the fuss about? What exactly is this “good coffee” that’s taking over our Old Town? Fab Food Trails, Dublin’s foremost food tasting experience, have done all the hard work, so all I have to do is turn up & find out. We were met by our guide, Aoife McElwain, coffee enthusiast & head honcho at forkful.tv, on the famous steps of Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. Bright, but not yet bushy-tailed…

IMG_0362First stop was Brother Sister, just inside the secret entrance to Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. This little coffee booth has been doing a sterling trade since opening last year. Toure Kizza & his sister Yvonne know their beans. We kick-started with a shot of Mojo (Artisan Coffee Roasters) Palestina. Hand-roasted Colombian beans with a chocolate, liquorice, red berries vibe. But, what would I know?

IMG_0260Enter Aoife, stage left, to pick up where Toure left off. Our guide gently steered us into the Pepper Pot Café, as we sipped away, taking in a history of the Georgian Townhouse as we went. The lovely folks at the Pepper Pot, who recently won Best Café in Dublin at the Irish Restaurant Awards, served up freshly baked mini-scones. With raspberry jam & cream. Ambassador… A real Friday morning treat!

IMG_0259Meanwhile, Aoife explained the ins & outs of a thriving Dublin coffee scene. It all kicked off, not that long ago, with Ariosa Coffee Roasting Co, one of Ireland’s first small batch speciality coffee roasteries & Karl Purdy at Coffeeangel, who started out in his coffee cart on Howth Pier. Since then we’ve had 3fe, Roasted Brown, Vice and a whole host of Dublin coffee specialists, roasters & taste-makers.

IMG_0295Basically we’ve come a long way from Nescafe. Or Starbucks… Aoife tells us how the World Barista Championship, being held in Dublin this year, has made an honest career of coffee-making. It’s the new cocktail shaking! Skerries man Stephen Morrissey, who started out in Bewley’s, is the current world champion, and cites quality Irish milk and water as being central to our ability to make top notch coffee.

IMG_0263The concept of coffee as a nerdy hobby, much like the craft beer scene, came about, says Aoife, after the recent Recession. Folk simply want more bang for their buck. Hence the impressive crop of cafes, coffee shops and delis popping up around Town in the last five years. A soggy hang sandwich just won’t do. Same with coffee. It’s a lifestyle thing. Something that the urban young Irish are truly embracing.

IMG_0274And none more so than Kaph, on Drury Street. Surely, Dublin’s hippest coffee spot. In we go, to be greeted by self-proclaimed Trendy Fecker, Steve. It’s all plaid shirts, bushy beards, beanies & NHS specs in here. Steve, as well as being a fine barista, is actually a very funny lad to boot. He keeps us entertained while serving a totes delish Noisette. A creamy Espresso with hot milk expertly swirled in.

IMG_0277Steve gives us a detailed break-down of all the different coffee beans available around the world. It really is fascinating. Who’da thunk it? My last foray into proper coffee (I’m not including the occasional milky latte) was in Jamaica, where I sampled Blue Mountain coffee, one of the most expensive in the world. Yes, it was quite tasty! Well, anyway, Steve brought us from Arabica to Robusta & back again.

IMG_0266For those coffee anoraks reading, Kaph’s own choice of bean changes on a regular basis. They like to keep it fresh & get whatever’s best in season. With coffee supplied by 3fe & Has Bean, it’s gonna be good! Not to mention milk specially sourced from a dairy in Carlow. No wonder there’s always queue outside the door… Aoife manages to get us out after a nice sit down & through Georges Street Arcade.

IMG_0289The Good Food Store on South Great Georges Street was next up. Love this place! The food, the vibe, the staff. It’s all good. It was time for more bites, both sweet & savoury, in order to soak up the coffee. The GFS sausage roll. Not something that would normally pass my lips, being somewhat of a flexitarian (I know, I know) who leans 95% veggie. But I’m willing to break the rules for this bad boy. Hot & flaky!

IMG_0322Time for more coffee… Roasted Brown, on Curved Street, in Temple Bar. Just around the corner from my gaff & one of my regular writing haunts. It’s big, airy & perfect for avoiding domestic distractions (cleaning the house), when deadlines loom. Ferg Brown is the man from Japan here. A legend on the Dublin coffee scene, Ferg’s journey to Roasted Brown brought him from Oz to New Zealand to London.

IMG_0327Having perfected his barista skills at the Happy Pear, in his hometown Greystones, ran his coffee cart around Ireland’s summer festivals & completed a coffee roasting course in London, it was a phone call from 3fe’s Colin Harmon that resulted in today’s Roasted Brown empire. Ferg now roasts his own beans in Delgany & has just opened Laine My Love, on Talbot Street, a cheeky little sister to Roasted Brown.

IMG_0324It becomes clear that fellas like Ferg Brown & Colin Harmon (whose name popped up more than once throughout the walk) are responsible for the deadly coffee we now have in Dublin. Roasted Brown served us a trio of single origin Kenyan done three ways. Yikes! Ferg recommends that we spray the coffee around our mouths (ooh er, missus…). There’s Espresso, with milk & filtered. All totally different.

IMG_0337By this stage we’re all a bit jittery, to say the least. So, Aoife brings us across the Millennium Bridge for a little jaunt. The in-between walking bits of the trail are a great way to get to know my fellow coffee buddies. Aoife points out a few of Dublin’s many quirks as we make our way Northside. As a native, Fab Food Trails opened me up to local things old & new, but for visitors it’s a rather cool intro to Dublin.

IMG_0364We finally wound up in the pub. But not as you know it! Wigwam (formerly Twisted Pepper) on Middle Abbey Street doubles up as the very slick Vice Coffee Co by day. I’m already high on caffeine, so perching on a tall stool at the bar is no sweat. I love the mood of this place. Dark & interesting. And the idea of midday coffee cocktails was calling my name out loudly! Iced Irish coffee with a twist. Yes Sir!

IMG_0352Vice’s barista extraordinaire, Tom Stafford, is on hand to tell us the final chapter in Dublin’s coffee story. With Vice lined up to host an after-party for the World Barista Championship, Tom & the team have been experimenting with a series of different coffee cocktails. We were willing guinea pigs! Featuring a portfolio of coffee from 3fe, Roasted Brown, Square Mile and more, Vice can work magic in a cup.

IMG_0370Tom shakes up a gorgeous blend of coffee, ice, Teeling & Kilbeggan whiskies. And tips it all into a Champagne saucer, topped with froth & finished with coffee beans. So simple. So scrumptious! Tom even whipped up an alcohol-free Cascara cocktail for Aoife, who was in need of serious refreshment. Thankfully, she could finally retire from talking while Tom filled us in on the upcoming coffee event.

IMG_0377According to Tom, there’ll be over 10,000 people in Dublin for the World Barista Championship (22 to 25 June), with many fringe events taking place across the city. Including the AeroPress Championship at Vice / Wigwam. Tom reckons that all the big coffee stars will be in Town. He then pulled out a box of Dublin Doughnut Company treats, a sweet surprise to end our morning. Fluffy clouds of sugary dough.

IMG_0373My legs were like jelly by the time I got home, a hop, skip & a jump away. And I was on air (what caffeine crash?) after so many lush coffees. All lovingly made, with the best ingredients. These coffee guys are a credit to the Dublin foodie scene. Thanks to Fab Food Trails I’ve had a proper intro to the black stuff. Now I know what everyone’s so excited about. Especially our super-talented baristas!

www.fabfoodtrails.ie

Feb 11, 2016

Silver Boots… A Life in Style

Silver platforms - CopyI want them, I need them, but there ain’t no way… Silver boots. For my 40th birthday? Hell yeah! Or no way Hose? There comes a time in every woman’s life when she must put away her childish things. For some it’s buying a house. Others, getting married. Most, having kids. Me, turning 40! There’s a new sheriff in Town & it’s my older, (slightly) wiser self. The big sister I never had (or wanted). Anyway, she talks more sense than I ever did… So it’s “Non!” to silver boots.

I saw them in the window of Buffalo only last week. Came home & told my husband. Rookie mistake. Eyebrows were raised. Laughter was stifled. “You’ll end up looking like that Mad Oul Wan with the crazy paintings on Merrion Square”. Indignant, I stroke my fun fur leopard coat. The time has come. So soon… I stare down at my shiny black leather Chelsea boots. He’s right. There’s a fine line. I open my wardrobe. The sequins, the statements, the madness… Everything must go!

shopaholicI’ve always known this was coming, so last New Year I got the ball rolling. Several black bags straight on down to Age Action, never to be seen (by me) again. Bubblegum pink 1960s Babydoll dresses, Granny’s curtains 1970s Maxi dresses, electric blue metallic platforms, gold knee-high Wonder Woman boots, patchwork corduroy Baker Boy hats… Buh bye! Clothes I’d lovingly collected over the years; worn to gigs, parties, dates. Even work! Alas, I’m too vintage for Vintage. Sigh…

Ah, glory days! So, before I say a fond farewell to the rest, a trip down fashion memory lane… Aged 0 to 5, as a child of the 70s, I wore a fetching mixture of brown pinafores, anything made of floral sofa material, mustard cable-knit cardies & homemade woolly bobble hats. We also lived abroad in a hot country, during which time I wore just pants & armbands. Stylish! Up to age 10 it was all novelty ankle socks, Mickey Mouse watches & neon pink polyester Kylie Minogue sweaters.

MadonnaThen followed a tres shady Tween grey area of finding one’s fashion feet. I had an old Singer sewing machine by now… We’re talking homemade rah-rah skirts with matching Fergie bows (remember?), a t-shirt with “Madonna is Cool” written with one of those glitter fabric pens, liberal use of diamante & studs, plastic clip-on earrings & my first pair of high heels. And my first lipstick. I can still taste that synthetic pink gloop. So, basically the same gear I was running up for my Barbies.

Secondary school changed everything. First I tried to keep up with the Joneses. Whatever the popular girls were wearing, I had to have it. My Mother was tormented keeping up with trends. Levi’s sweatshirts, Converse, tie-dyed t-shirts, khaki bomber jackets. Next thing… Rebellion! I started buying records. Then began the snakeskin boots, velvet blazers, second-hand purple flares, Morrissey t-shirts. Topped off with Bjork buns, blonde streaks and a complete disregard for school.

LifeMe and my best mate went to gigs every night of the week. Suede, Pulp, Blur, Radiohead, Nirvana, Elastica, Oasis. We mitched off to catch the Manics in Cork, even though we’d just seen them at the Tivoli. I have a vivid memory of the pair of us lusting after serious Rock Chick trousers in ASHA. Silver PVC for me, tartan bondage for her. We’d visit them every week, our baby-sitting money getting closer, but for our pesky record buying habits. We never did get them in the end…

I was 19 when London called. Art School. Parties. Days in bed. Going up the West End. I hated it as much as I loved it. A curious phase of collecting dolls & wearing pink plastic platforms, with a Barbie backpack, melded with a spell of serious clubbing. I was lonely for my friends back Home, yet doing things I would never have done at UCD. I took a second bite at London after finishing college in Dublin, this time all lip gloss & tight jeans. Aged 22, I was King of the World. And then some!

TopshopBlonde & yoga-toned, I worked in a gym & wore my jeans painted on. I had the arms for vests & the nerve for killer heels. Living with five other girls (and, at one stage, two blokes & a dog) in Central London, we’d start in the flat & end up down Soho, in Camden or Shepherd’s Bush. Shopping for Saturday night, I’d hit Topshop Oxford Circus, at the bottom of our street. Loud dance music pumped through it’s floors. Portobello Market & Covent Garden were regular haunts.

Eventually London moved on, and so did I. Back to Dublin. The wilderness years of my late 20s followed. What was I going to  with my life? I lived with my parents for a bit, working lots of silly little jobs. Did writing classes, wrote plenty of fiction. Got into astrology. Started learning French again. Went to music festivals. Partied just as much as ever, only now with hangovers. Wore combats, slogan t-shirts. Adidas Superstars. Cut my hair off. Got a bit fatter. Lost my mojo big time…

Night FeverI wondered if I should return to England. Not London, maybe Brighton? It’s funny, when you’re 30 you think “This is it… if I don’t sort my life out now, I’m fucked!”. For my birthday I had a 1970s disco at my parents’ place (always a party house). Music, lights, glitter. Everyone got dressed up. I drank Babycham & got sick. It was class! But the Celtic Tiger had arrived, roaring madly. My mates got mortgages, careers got real. Folk even got married. But, I was unemployed & living at home…

Then a random phone call. A typing test? A job interview. My first office job. It lasted nearly five years. I got a place in Town. I was workin’ 9 to 5, doing a Journalism degree at night. Still living like it was 1995. Shopping was one of my fave pastimes & the office was my catwalk. I’d do Grafton Street late-nite Thursday, pop into TK Maxx on Saturday morning & browse the Dublin Flea Market, around the corner from my flat, of a Sunday. I loved the Sales. And I adored Vintage.

GirlsMy Boss would ask me, over the phone, “What are you wearing today?”. He hated City Shorts, so I wore them. And silk Pussy Bow blouses with a slick 1970s flared jumpsuit. A black peplum mini dress with a leopard top, fishnets & red t-bar shoes (a colleague thanked me for wearing “Ann Summers” to work). A lilac polyester 1960s dress with cravat & balloon sleeves. Sunshine yellow heels with a green pencil skirt. Heidi plaits with diamante hair slides. Wool suits & knee-high boots.

One day I wore a floaty silk dress. Nothing unusual there. I showed a couple of Big Wig clients to the boardroom, got them some tea. Then clocked my rear-view in the Ladies. Garishly patterned Pink Panther boy-shorts screamed for attention underneath the see-thru fabric. I’d gotten dressed in the dark. A lunchtime dash to M&S for a more subtle pair of work knicks. And a slip! It wasn’t the first or last time I left too little to the imagination… I really don’t know how I got away with it.

TypingRedundancy. I’d graduated by now & decided to give my writing career a go. I had no choice. The Recession was at full tilt & there was no chance of a job. Over the last five years I’ve had gigs as a Costume Assistant in films, Commercial Copywriter, Proof Reader, Shop Manager, Social Media Content. Wrote plenty of fiction. Still not published. And I Love Saturday, of course. I was skint, but I still managed to socialise like crazy. I met lots of new friends & certainly didn’t settle down.

Any clothes money was spent in Oxfam. Granny chic. I filled out again & covered my cushioned tush with floral chiffon dresses, cashmere cardies, an electric blue wool cape from Avoca (second-hand). Red cowboy boots, Kate Betts hats, rainbow silk scarves, stripy tights. My wardrobe, although organised (sometimes), was like a jumble sale. I was losing my edge. Sometimes I looked put together; more often thrown together. I longed to live in a minimalist hotel room, with zero stuff.

HepburnBut, then I met my husband & moved to our one bedroom loft in Temple Bar. I won’t lie, we’re both messy. We binned a load of things. There’s still too much. Most of my clothes are at Home (sorry Mom & Dad). Lying dormant in a Sliderobe prison. I’ve lost the lard (again!) & I’m ready to wear these clothes. However, I’ve moved on… I’ve never been a “classic” dresser. I always loved clothes that made me laugh (I know). So, a more mature image is in order, no doubt about it… Let the cull begin!

I’ve read Marie Kondo’s best seller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying”. Yes indeed. The Madame Chic series by Jennifer L Scott also speaks to me; I have all three books. Today I picked up Stylist Annmarie O’Connor’s “The Happy Closet”. Mindful dressing. I like! And a pair of black Lee skinny jeans (birthday present to self). No silver boots… And no idea what my brand new look is gonna be, but as the Konmari Method promises; it will Spark Joy. Here goes nothing… *opens wardrobe*

Mar 21, 2014

Silk Road Exhibition – Centre For Creative Practices

When some friends asked me to join them for an exhibition launch on Wednesday night I found my knackered self, clutching a cuppa, buried in the sofa. A quick text revealed the destination to be the Centre For Creative Practices, a close neighbour of ILS HQ. I know town’s on my doorstep, but I was glad to be staying local. The short stroll woke me up! And the CFCP is always a joy to visit.

Upon arrival, the place, a rather cool cellar-like Georgian basement on Pembroke St, was already fairly lively. I located a glass of red & found my friend by the canapes. Exotic pastry envelopes with strawberry, creme fraiche & pistachio. Munch! The Silk Road Exhibition, a showcase of photography & artwork, is running as part of the Silk Road Film Festival. A celebration of Silk Road voyages.

The exhibition is designed to introduce Asian & Middle Eastern art, culture & imagery & brings to life many of the countries along the legendary Silk Road route. Indeed, the crowd at CFCP was a melting pot of cultures & an indication of Dublin’s changing ethnic flavour. Photography includes several Irish artists, who have travelled the Middle East, with rich images of life steeped in Silk Road history.

Paintings feature works by artists from Iran, Yemen & Ireland. I particularly liked pieces by Michelle Boyle, Maliheh Zafarnezhad & Farnoosh Rahimi. The exhibition is a sea of colour & texture, allowing the observer to immerse in Silk Road culture. The gallery was officially opened by well-known actress Aisling O’Sullivan & there was a good talk by photographer & exhibition curator Fares Fares.

The Centre For Creative Practices is running the show until next Thursday & is screening a film (Ningen, Japenese) on Saturday afternoon at 5 pm, as part of the Silk Road Film Festival. I got chatting to Iranian film director, Mahmoud Kalari, a charismatic man who’s groundbreaking work is highly influential in Middle Eastern cinema. He told me his next project is a one continuous shot film. How cool.

Kalari is hosting a Cinematography Masterclass at The Screen cinema on Townsend Street from midday on Saturday, featuring break-downs of his Academy Award winning films. The Silk Road Film Festival runs until March 25th, with events including – Bahar Cultural Event, The Adventures of Mirzabalad & Dragonfly’s Pond. No better way to herald Persian New Year Nowruz, Festival of Spring.

Silk Road Exhibition – until Thursday 27th. Free entry. Curated by Fares Fares & Nasrin Saadat.

Centre For Creative Practices, 15 Pembroke Street Lower, Dublin 2 / www.cfcp.ie / www.silkroadfilmfestival.com

Mar 9, 2014

The Cupcake Bloke – Nice Buns!

Mooching about town is one of my fave things to do. I love seeing who’s out to play! The usual townies, hipsters & Irish celebs. Sometimes actual celebs – Beyonce was hanging out in Dublin this week. I didn’t see her at Coppinger Row, where she dined with Jay Z & Blue Ivy. But me & Ma did go for lunch at The Pyg, where none other than Franc was sat next door. Dublin really is a metropolis these days!

I wonder if Bey stopped by The Cupcake Bloke at Coppinger Row Market. We did. I’ve never knowingly walked past cake & it was the super cute owl biscuits that caught my attention. The Cupcake Bloke does the best scones in town too. There was one left – raspberry – and it was calling my name! The savoury scones are yummy. Black pudding & apple, bacon & cabbage. Freshly baked & only two euro.

Cupcakes, naturellement, are the main attraction with a different Flavour of the Day. Full Irish Breakfast anyone? Don’t worry, it’s vanilla flavour. Teenie tiny rashers, sausages & eggs done with sweeties. How clever! There’s Fererro Rocher, carrot cake, banoffi & loads more delish varieties, including gluten-free. Graham is the bloke in the apron & Daithi is the guy behind the stall. Beside Powerscourt Townhouse – Thursday, Friday & Saturday. As a well known cake-spert, they get my vote!

The Cupcake Bloke, Coppinger Row Market, South William Street, Dublin 2

Oct 17, 2013

Very Extremely Memphis – Rock’n’Roll Roots

Having another of our Sunday-like Mondays, me and the Bloke rocked along to the Grand Social that night for Very Extremely Memphis. Free gig, we parked ourselves upstairs in the Loft and ordered a pair of Guinness. The set up was a Q&A with film director Paul Duane and MC Pat McCabe about Duane’s latest release, Very Extremely Dangerous. A documentary on the life of the mad, bad Jerry McGill.

Opening tomorrow at the IFI, Duane’s film charts McGill’s musical beginnings in 1960s Memphis, through his odyssey of crime and jail to his present day ex-con lifestyle. No less wild than his younger days, he brings Duane on the road to recording a follow up to his 1959 single, Lovestruck. Off the rails, McGill isn’t a regular dude. Gruesome too, it deals with his terminal cancer. McGill passed away since.

It’s clear that music and it’s history are Duane’s passion. He spoke animatedly through a number of clips from hazy Memphis days. Really cool, rare stuff. Pure rock’n’roll. Alex Chilton and Jim Dickinson were two memorable features, anti-establishment figures with real rebel blood in their veins. It really gave Himself a thrill. A little slice of New Orleans in Dublin! Duane and McCabe were equally enthralled.

Time for a bit of music. First up were The Problem Blob (ex-Female Hercules), with singer and guitarist Conzo giving it socks. I loved the punky ‘tude of these guys. Using their instruments as weapons of intent. The Slick Hicks were a different kettle of fish. A polished rockabilly outfit, these cats sailed through a blinding set. We shuffled happily to the double bass rhythm. Then home to bed. Rock’n’roll.

Very Extremely Dangerous – Irish Film Institute, 6 Eustace Street, Temple Bar, Dublin / www.ifi.ie

Oct 6, 2013

Keith Cullen – With Eyes Open EP Launch

Last Friday night saw your fave reporter all snuggled up in the Odessa Club for the launch of Keith Cullen’s new EP, “With Eyes Open”. The intimate venue was packed, but me and my fizzy water found a nice spot stage-side. Odessa Club is all leather sofas, glossy walls and sexy lighting – the perfect setting for Keith Cullen. An Irish singer / songwriter, Cullen is known for his heartfelt live performance.

The crowd was immediately animated when Cullen came on stage. Good looking and groomed, he was slick in a black leather panelled jacket and matching top teamed with black skinny jeans. Understated cool. Opening with “Flashing Lights”, Cullen was on his game, backed up by two female singers and a great band. His voice conveyed great feeling and it was shaping up to a be a top gig. A talented guy!

Next up was “Superhero”, a sweeping ballad, atmospheric and damn catchy. I wasn’t familiar with Cullen’s work before, a friend invited me along, but I was really loving his stuff. Big radio-friendly sounds and strong lyrics, Cullen’s style is bold. He was arms out wide for “When I Hear Your Name”. A natural performer, he was in his element as the audience bopped along. Such passion in his deep brown eyes.

An acoustic version of Rihanna’s “Stay” had us all swaying, and Cullen joking “this is the only track you’ll know!”. The song beautifully showcased his vocal range and glam stage presence. Cullen has a clean cut image, with a boy band edge, and I could see him owning Eurovision. He’s got what it takes! Katie Carpenter, one half of Jezzebelle, dueted on “Safe From The World”, one of her own numbers.

A striking combo, Carpenter and Cullen delivered a breathless version, hitting the high notes together to a gentle strumming beat. “Losing My Way” and “The Walls” showed Cullen at his best, voice soaring to marching drums and perfectly choreographed as he moved in rhythm to the music. He really came alive, big songs and a big heart. Announcing his new EP “With Eyes Open”, Cullen closed with the song.

A rollicking tune, catchy with lots of ohh-woahs, Cullen had everyone clapping along to “With Eyes Open”. I can hear this one on the radio, or on the dancefloor, a wave of strong vocals over a powerhouse melody. It was obvious that Cullen’s fans are a loyal bunch as there was such excitement as he bowed out with “let’s have a party!”. He brought a real feel good factor to the room. Now that’s entertainment!

www.kcmusic.ie / Keith Cullen “With Eyes Open” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GY23lMcG_ys

Sep 29, 2013

From Barcelona With Love – Top Ten Things!

Me and the Bloke went on our holliers to Barcelona. And I’m happy to report that we had a grand ol’ time! There was eating. There was drinking. And there was some touristy stuff too. As well as shopping, swimming, dancing, singing, reading & laughing. We stayed in the Blokes’s mate’s gaff (thanks Carlos) in Barceloneta, a salty part of the city with the port on one side and the beach on the other. Nice!

Day One, we left Dublin at silly o’clock for the red eye to Barcelona. On arrival we were sufficiently dazed and confused to order a taxi. We sunk into the welcoming leather and silently watched the suburbs whizz by. Once in Barceloneta, we rendezvoused with our man at the local tapas bar and got the keys to our new abode. The area is all tall, skinny houses and our apartment was at the top of a tall, skinny stairs.

After our first go on the “stairs of doom”, all seventy of them deep and dark, (we never got used to them) it was siesta time. Bliss. We woke up to dinner at Jai Ca, the buzzy place around the corner. Traditional tapas served by hip staff. We munched tortilla (omlette), tomato rubbed bread, grilled sardines, ham croquettes, Greek salad and mixed olives. All washed down with Estrella beer, fresh from the taps. Off to a good start…

A walk along the beach revealed Barceloneta to be a place of many different faces. Originally a fishing district, housing port workers, it retains it’s old skool charm while also presenting an ultra modern beach and promenade. Beside the tavernas, bodegas and tapas bars are sophisticated seafood restaurants. Joggers, skateboarders, bike riders and dog walkers share the slick waterfront with locals and tourists.

Frank Gehry’s giant fish, made of stone, steel and glass shimmered in the early evening sunshine. We stopped by Ice Box for some artisan ice cream, what else (everybody knows there’s no calories in posh food). Made with real banana and vanilla, away we licked… The local supermarket was next for supplies of bottled water, juicy nectarines and, of course, beer. Then a shower, cuddles and dreamy, snoozy time.

Okay, so I’m not gonna do a blow by blow account (ooh er, Missus), as we were there for ten days. But rather a “good things to do in Barcelona” or – here’s one we made earlier. I found Barcelona to be such a diverse city, with something for everybody. Whether you’re rich, poor, a bit alternative or just an ordinary Joe. I’ve never seen so many shops in my life. Or cafes. Or bars. And more art than you can shake a stick at. So, here’s the Top Ten things we got up to…

1.) Gaudi. You really can’t do Barcelona without Gaudi. The legendary Catalan architect embodies the spirit of Barcelona in his fantastical designs and his buildings are among the top tourist attractions in the world. Colourful and unique, Gaudi’s work broke the mould. I remember seeing his masterpiece, the towering basilica La Sagrada Familia, on a family holiday when I was 18. And I never forgot that awe.

La Sagrada Familia. It was a super hot day and of course the queue was around the block. We didn’t go inside, but there was no need as the Gaudi designed church is a sight to behold from the ground. Construction of this magnificent architectural beast began in 1882 and continues today. Gaudi was ambitious in combining Gothic and Art Nouveau forms, with improbable spires that reach for the skies.

Park Guell. Another Gaudi gem. Built for Count Eusebi Guell, the park was inspired by the English garden city movement. However it is anything but quaint. Built over a steep hillside, Park Guell undulates wildly like a sort of Alice in Wonderland playground. Exquisite tile mosaics shimmer above the columns and over serpentine seating in the court. The fountain “El Drac” is its most famous feature. There was live music too!

Casa Batllo. La Pedrera. Palau Guell. Casa Batllo and La Pedrera (Casa Mila) are both situated on the grand Passeig de Gracia, home of some truly magnificent architecture. Palau Guell is tucked in off La Rambla, you can’t miss its quirky chimney pots on the skyline. All feature Gaudi’s whimsical touch, including twisted balconies and curved roofs. His interiors are just as magical, Willy Wonka crazy.

2.) La Rambla. We hit Barcelona’s main thoroughfare several times during our stay. The energy of this area is infectious with street performers, live theatre, market stalls, newspaper stands and flower shops all jostling for the attention of tourists and locals. The main drag stretches from the Monument a Colom (Christopher Columbus) on Port Vell up to Place de Catalunya in the city centre. La Rambla is a metaphor for life.

Apart from the tiled pedestrian walkway, featuring a Joan Miro mosaic, La Rambla is a busy boulevard lined with many shops. It opens into the Barri Gotic on one side and La Raval on the other. We found La Boqueria, Barcelona’s famous food market, half way up. I found Escriba (I’ve a nose for cake), a beautiful pasteleria with an original art deco shop front. Le Gran Teatre Liceu is the grande dame of La Rambla, but there’s plenty of impressive architecture to admire as you, um, ramble.

3.) Tapas. If you like eating, go to Barcelona. There’s endless cuisine on offer, but it’s traditional Catalan fare that tastes best. We got lucky in Barceloneta, being fish fans. Our local joint, Jai Ca, fed us a few times and we brought a pal from Dublin along for a feast. Fresh calamari, pork bomba, fried cauliflower, grilled green pepper, tuna filled pimento. Everything on the menu is homemade and totes delish.

One of our favourite meals was at local bodega, L’Ectricitat, which looks totally un-posh from the outside. But the food… Squid and octopus, raw white fish, crab and eggs, pickled anchovies, two different red wines. None of which we actually ordered, but were brought randomly, by the mad man in charge who urged us on in babbling Catalan. Brilliant. Everyone sat in rows on benches, eating and chatting by candlelight.

We decided to get all dressed up and dine on the port front one night (well, it was our anniversary) at Toc de Mar. Paella was on the agenda and this bad boy came big and bold with king prawns, mussels and squid. I made a good stab at it while the Bloke struggled. Some seriously yummy Rioja helped our cause though. Restaurant prices in Barcelona are very decent and you’ll get good food and wine, as well as top drawer service.

One thing I couldn’t help noticing was the amount of cake shops. And ice cream. And chocolate. Catalans like their sweets. Baluard, a gorgeous bakery conveniently situated next door, was a fave of mine. Fresh pastries with all kinds of fruit, baked cheesecake and cute things with custard. Try churros con chocolat, basically dipping skinny doughnuts into thick hot choc. What’s not to love?

Now, if I can talk a little more about food. Tapa Fina, where tiny open sandwiches with every combination of topping sat on the counter like foodie jewels. Vioko, where chocolates came in gold, silver and sparkling pink. La Rosa Negra, where we gorged Mexican food (homemade guacamole, Sweet Lord) and mojitos. El Nou Ramonet for gazpacho, charcoal grilled sardines, Rioja potatoes.

4.) Barri Gotic. The true centre of Barcelona, this sprawling labyrinthine area dates from medieval times. Mostly pedestrian, Barri Gotic is wonderful to just mill around and let things find you. Shops, bars, cafes and plenty of history. We explored Barcelona Cathedral (Santa Eulalia), Basilica of La Merce, Church of Santa Maria del Pi, Casa de la Cuitat (City Hall). Holy stuff is a big theme in Barcelona, obviously.

Punctuated by squares – Placa Sant Jaume and Place Reial being two of the liveliest – Barri Gotic has many hidden gems in its back streets. Off the main drag, Portal de l’Angel, which is home to big brands and national department store El Corte Ingles, are tonnes of little boutiques. Some cool, some kitsch, some trad. There’s something for everybody. Me and the Bloke actually enjoyed shopping together.

I liked the vintage stores, the shoe shop Kokua which displayed it’s many coloured flats like delicate cakes, the stationery shops (geek) and the jewellery shops. Himself liked the knife shops. We both liked the souvenir shops that sold figurines of famous folk pooing. Y’know, pants down crouching over a mini turd. The Pope, Queen Elizabeth, Obama, Madonna, Angela Merkel. Even Bono! Didn’t buy one…

After dark, Barri Gotic comes alive with myriad bars and cafes. Tucked away in its alleys are some very cool drinking dens. We frequented Manchester Bar, where the vibe was – you guessed it – Manchester music. Who knew The Smiths sounded so good, when off your face on cocktails. I hadn’t been drunk in a long time, the Bloke got quite a kick out of it. But those mojitos were too damn tasty… There are loads of tapas bars in Barri Gotic, so you can fill up before getting tipsy!

5.) El Born / La Ribera. A really cool part of the city, this is where to go to find the edgier shops, cafes and bars. Along with the upper part of La Raval, we found it easy to just wander and find things we liked. Santa Caterina Market stands out with it’s rainbow coloured roof. Santa Maria del Mar Church, along with the Picasso Museum, are hives of tourist activity. We took one at the queues and stayed outside!

But what a beautiful area. Unlike the Eixample, east and west, there are no fine avenues or designer shops. Passeig del Born cuts through a jumble of tiny streets and lanes, with alternative boutiques, vintage stores, little cafes and trendy bars all making for a hopping atmosphere. I totally got the Barcelona vibe here. It’s an outdoor city, where balconies hang over the hustle and bustle of daily Catalan life.

We visited the old El Born Market, which has just opened as a cultural centre, and viewed excavations of the original city from a gallery. There was also exhibitions showing how Catalan life was back in the day. The Bloke, being fascinated by all things revolutionary, got a thrill out of taking part in National Day of Catalonia. The streets were packed. We checked out nearby Museum of Catalan History too.

6.) Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. The building alone is worth seeing. Housed in the Palau Nacional, high up on Montjuic, MNAC is heralded by an impressive sweep of steps, a waterfall, fountains and pillars. Spectacular when lit up at night. It had a been a long hot day for us, and the cool confines of this gallery were welcome. Sweating out the excesses of Manchester Bar, the night before, I demolished a fresh lemon granita, before our next culture injection.

MNAC is split into four sections – Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Modern. There are some amazing Romanesque religious art works, a lot found in rural churches and of such antiquity. This important collection of Catalan heritage is unique to MNAC. The Gothic collection is surprisingly colourful and by contrast the Baroque quite dark. Finally, with Himself losing the will, we hit the Modern art section.

We perked up though, with Picasso, Joan Miro, Ramon Casas and Antoni Tapies. A very well curated collection. He loved the photography gallery, which featured some very cool black and white Civil War shots. I loved the furniture collection, which included zany Gaudi pieces, stunning Art Deco glass work, amazing silk velvet chaise and ornate mahogany cabinets. Far more glamorous than our Ikea world.

7.) Fundacio Joan Miro. One of my fave artists since my art school days, Miro’s colourful creations are at times childlike, at times complex. Set on the rolling idyll of Montjuic, the white building, and example of Rationalist architecture, is a perfect backdrop to Joan Miro’s work. It’s freshness made up a little for the lack of air conditioning on a hot day, but we persevered. We began with the Joan Miro printmaking gallery and sculpture on the outdoor terrace.

This is the world’s most complete collection of Miro, but also houses work by other artists, both contemporaries of and tributes to the master. For me, Miro truly represents the spirit of Barcelona. A sort of carefree joie de vivre. His ceramics, sculptures and paintings have a distinct Catalan flavour. Fundacio Joan Miro really got my art brain ticking. It also has a brilliant art book shop and chic open air cafe.

8.) La Boqueria. And now for some more food. When in Barcelona… The city’s largest food market, La Boqueria is a treat for all the senses. Centred around a fresh fish market, this food emporium fans out to encompass all manner of edibles. Purveyors of fruit, veg, meat, nuts, cheese, sweets, cakes, bread and spices are punctuated by busy tapas bars and fast snack vendors. Let your mouth do all the work!

We munched salmon bomba and calamari, cooked at a fish stall. Vegetable tortilla (omlette) and courgette pastries. Marshmallow in every flavour you can think of (I picked ten). Fruit juices, laid out ready to drink. So refreshing, we slurped on strawberry and banana and pineapple and coconut. Bring your goodies out back to the Eden-like gardens of Hospital de Sant Pau. It really is another world.

9.) Parc de la Cuitadella. Sitting on the edge of the Old Town and right above Barceloneta, the city’s main park is an oasis that houses Barcelona Zoo and the Parliament of Catalonia. It’s foremost features are the Cascada, a spectacular waterfall of the most clear blue water, and the lake, in which young lovers can boat away a romantic afternoon. Me and the Bloke simply sat on a bench, eating juicy apples, and soaked up the sunshine. Barcelona is a city of small pleasures…

The park is designed in a series of winding paths, that almost seem like a natural trail. It was alive with dogs and kids having fun, as well as happy tourists milling about. We saw a group of French lads having great larks on their motorised mini-scooters. A nice breather from the city centre. We made our way from here up to the imposing Arc de Triomf, which was linked to the park by a wide tree-lined pedestrian boulevard.

10.) Barceloneta / Port Vell. Two different areas of the city really, but linked by their ties to the sea. Barceloneta, where we were based, speaks of earthy Catalonia. Not a salubrious neighbourhood, it was constructed in the 18th century to house those displaced by the building of the Cuitadella. So it started off as a ghetto, developed into a thriving fishing community and is now a chi chi beachside haven.

The beach itself is clean and welcoming, with turquoise Mediterranean waters. Barcelona, despite its costal location, was not open to the sea until this area was revamped, along with the appearance of the Port Olimpic marina for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. Now it’s an urban beach with plenty of cafes, bars and nightclubs adding to the cosmopolitan mix. We enjoyed a dip in the cool, calm ocean. Heaven.

Port Vell is the face of wealthy Barcelona, with glistening yachts lined up for miles and massive cruise liners sitting in the bay. But it too was a run down area before the urban renewal of twenty years ago, when I first saw it. The old Customs building leads on to the Rambla del Mar bridge which links the city to Maremagnum, a thoroughly modern mall featuring posh shops, restaurants, an IMAX and the world’s largest Aquarium.

Barceloneta, on the other hand, offers old world charm in the folds of its narrow streets. The port side is brash with seafood restaurants and international cuisine. If you walk further down the cable car to Montjuic is a fun way to see the city. However, we were lucky enough to discover the true Barceloneta. Don’t stay here if you’re shy, the neighbours can see right in the window! It’s a lively place indeed…

We mooched around Barceloneta Market, which was just behind our gaff, and scoffed tapas in El Bar Del Paco. Eggs, patatas, Manchego cheese, olives and tomato rubbed bread. Next door was New Orleans Cafe, which does every kind of tea you can get. Normal tea was what the Bloke wanted. I got chocolat, natch. We sat at the counter, a great spot for people watching.

On our final night, we took a moonlit stroll through our little neighbourhood. Taking a fancy to something spicy, we found Mar Brava. An unassuming Indian place, it was the best Ruby we’d had in a while. Hot Madras with juicy prawns and creamy raita, all washed down with San Miguel. On telly, Barca were giving Ajax a lesson in football at Camp Nou. We’d seen the Dutch team leaving training the previous night. Footie is a way of life here and FCB make it look so easy!

What can I say, Himself fell in love with Barcelona. Me too. The lifestyle is super chilled. Although a busy city, and full of tourists, the Catalan capital keeps a cool, calm rhythm. It’s not exclusive in the way London or Paris can be. Barcelona plays by its own rules. You can have a good time here, whatever your budget. And we loved being by the water, when tired of the heat. Dare I say, it’s totally different to Spain. That’s its USP. We learned so much about Catalan culture and would love to explore more. Barcelona is one stylish city.

Photography by Glenn Brown

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Sep 23, 2013

Culture Night 2013 – Howdy Neighbours!

This is how I played Culture Night. If somebody calls me, I’ll go. If they don’t, I won’t. Just back from my holliers in Barcelona, a loll on the sofa was tempting. Alas, the Bruv announced that he and his chica were venturing out for a a bit’o culture. We didn’t have to go far to find it. The Design Tower on Grand Canal Quay was hosting an interactive tour of its studios. The Tower is home to a dynamic bunch.

Artists, jewellery makers, sculptors, and fashion designers. Glass of Merlot in hand, the lovely people at the Tower also laid on snacks and live music, we made our way up to the artists dens. First stop was silversmith Seamus Gill, whose contemporary collections are housed in glass cabinets front of studio. He gave us a behind the scenes look at his workshop, explaining his craft – materials, tools and skill.

Jewellery maker Breda Haugh talked us through her celtic inspired gold and silver work. She designs heritage pieces for the National Museum of Ireland and told us of the value of the Design Tower to the art community. Indeed, many creative types have passed through its doors over the last thirty years. Fine Art Conservationist Ciara Brennan took us through her fascinating art restoration processes next.

Then it was onto the colourful studio of ceramics sculptor Ayelet Lalor. Specialising in one-of-kind figurative and decorative ceramics, Ayelet’s work is striking and fun. She recently contributed a piece to urban pop-up Granby Park, and collaborated with the Doorway Gallery to make a sculpture from icing for their Edible Art exhibition, for Culture Night. Ayelet also runs classes and special group events.

The Misery Hill Gallery were showing work from their latest exhibition, featuring some exquisite mixed media and painting. Philip Murphy explained their innovative use of plastics and how the warping effect reflects that of the human body in life drawing. Finally we dropped into Da Capo, goldsmith duo Lee Harding & Se O’Donoghue. They told us how the rich history of their studio inspires their beautiful work.

It was such a nice evening and I was showing off my holiday tan (freckles) as we strolled back to Merrion Square. Time to drop into the nabes. We hit no.45, the grandest terraced house on the Square. Now home to the Irish Architectural Archive. We enjoyed a tour and history of the house, including the Raymond McGrath exhibtion which is showing until October 4th. Such an impressive building.

The Irish Manuscripts Commision, which shares the first floor, gave an interesting talk on the importance of documenting history. So much of our identity is tied to the past… Culture Night was coming to a close. The Bruv and Herself went in search of food (and drink!) while I popped into n0.38, The Society of Chartered Surveyors. Another pad with a fine Georgian interior. My place is not so fancy!

An intriguing feature was an old map of Dublin from 17-something. So cool. Merrion Square was just off the radar, but I could see my old gaff in the Blackpitts. Not much has changed, really. Still the best town in Europe! It was time for my good self to retire home, a sort of mini Culture Night under my belt. It’s always a buzz to chat with artists and creative bods, thanks to Culture Night. And now to dream…

The Design Tower, Trinity Centre, Grand Canal Quay, Dublin 2 / Irish Architechtural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2 / Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, 38 Merrion Square, Dublin 2

Sep 6, 2013

Electric Picnic – It’s Not You, It’s Me…

This day last week I landed in Stradbally, Co. Laois, for the 10th Electric Picnic. Not my 10th. I’ve been to the festival four times. I met the Bloke at his gaff, with Simon’s Place sandwiches in my bag. A quick munch and a cup of tea, and were off down George’s Quay to catch the party bus. I didn’t know it then but this was just the start of my journey. An epic time travelling episode that would change my life.

First stop was the pub. Ramsbottoms, for a lovely pair of Guinness. We sat in the beer garden supping and chatting to locals. Just the ticket to kick start the weekend. Here, we liased with our Man in Japan. The Bloke was DJing in Trenchtown and I was Santa’s little helper, so we got our performer passes (swanky!) and jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Serious mileage ahead for my trusty biker boots.

Trenchtown was already abuzz, the crew having been here all week. We were shacked up in our own mini camp site at the back of the stage. If I never hear reggae again… Me and the Bloke managed to get our house built without committing murder. I told him to piss off. He told me to shut up. Still, nobody was hurt in the making of this tent. We even blew up our blow up mattress by mouth. Go team!

Now, the tent was a joke. A nylon condom. I’d found it in Dad’s garage and assumed to be an old tent from festivals of yore. No. I don’t know who owned it or where it came from but it’s been binned now. Sure, it did the job. We squeezed the mattress inside and mashed our bags into the tiny porch. Rain, rain stay away… And so it was out of the rarefied air (ahem) of Trenchtown and off into the main arena.

Walking from our gaff to the security gates, I noticed that Electric Picnic was far more organised than before. The place was like Fort Knox. But that wasn’t the only thing. The punters. “Oh My God. I’m getting Subway tomorrow!” the kid in front of me announced. “They’ve got Subway?” her orange companion gasped, “Like, that’s what so great about Electric Picnic!” Is it? I had a bad feeling…

I realised pretty quickly that the Electric Picnic of my youth is dead. Where were all the cool people? Surrounded by packs of youngsters in Penneys festival uniform – denim cut offs, pleather jackets and faux flower crowns for girls. Hipster lite tee shirts for guys – I suddenly felt old. I thought these kids were supposed to be in Australia? Folk my age were at home in front of the Late Late, obviously.

Everything felt different. Including me. The delicious excitement that anything could happen was no longer mine. It was theirs. I’m not the girl I used to be. Wearing my furry leopard coat, flowery dress and diamante on my eyes I was dressed like my old self but somehow she seemed irrelevant to Electric Picnic mark ten. All around me was fake tan, black tattooed eyebrows and ropey hair extensions.

I was transported back to my college days by the Wu Tang Clan. Well, they were still the same. So many of them, I’ve never known who is who, but they were brilliant. The crowd were loving it. Probably retro cool, these days! The Casa Bacardi was heaving and we got ourselves a couple of mojitos from the Bloke’s mate, who was behind the bar. Now for some food. There was a dizzying array of nosh.

I went for Bombay potatoes and rice from Indian Food and the Bloke picked up a burrito next door. We had a mill about the place to find our bearings – Body & Soul, Electric Arena, The Cosby Stage, Rankin Wood, Trailer Park. Then we ambled back to Trenchtown. Work for the Bloke and a little rest for me. I watched the fireworks, for the Picnic’s birthday from the tent, which was handy for the Main Stage.

Time for round two, I zipped up my body warmer and pulled my trilby down over my nose. A cup of tea was what I wanted. Hardcore! Just me, I dropped into a white marquee right outside Trenchtown. Paradoxology. What do you know? Tea and biscuits. I got chatting to Scott Evans, the guy who was running this little Christian chill out zone. Such a nice chap. We talked books, creativity and God.

I mosied down to the Salty Dog. The stage was a big wooden ship and housed Saint John The Gambler. I caught this lot at a party last summer, so was delighted to chance upon them. Hugh, a young Cork lad, then chanced upon me. He seemed wide eyed and lost. When Hugh asked if he could come to Fatboy Slim with me, I turned from Cougar to Mother Hen and told him to wait there for his pals.

Have I still got it? Ha! I used to love flirting with boys, but now that I’m a woman… The crowd at Fatboy Slim was pure Oxegen. The last time I saw him probably was at Oxegen. Except this time my mates weren’t here. They were in the ‘burbs nursing babies and mortgages. There was a thirty something exodus going on. I bopped around at the back catching the tail end of his set. Right Here, Right Now.

Drifting into Body & Soul I found the amphitheatre of the B&S Stage lined with chilled out bods. Except for those at the front. RSAG was giving it socks. With the flashing lights and manic drumming it was quite magical. I looked up to the black sky. A shooting star! I’ve never seen one before. The spiritual type in me decided it was Granny saying hello. She always encouraged me to do my own thing.

A bit of dancing in the Zen Garden and it was back to Trenchtown, moving through the hordes. I found the Bloke and his chums. A rich aroma all around spurred me to take my first puff of greenery in years. And that was it. One drag. Put away childish things… I went to bed in my freezing tent, wondering what had changed. Me or Electric Picnic? Had we both grown up overnight… I cuddled into Himself.

We woke to sunshine on Saturday. Hurrah! The portaloo was still fresh-ish, thank God. Baby wipe shower, a dusting of glitter (for me!) and we were off to the Salty Dog for brekkie. A Dubliner cheese toastie for me and a bacon sarnie for Himself. And lashings of tea, natch. Blind Yackety were on the ship. The Bloke went off to play his set in Trenchtown Yard and I hit the Electric Arena for The Raglans.

Then it was a spot of Dancergy with Mr. Motivator. Why not? Turns out Mr. M is actually quite the dude. He’s not all ker-azy neon lycra, but a had some top self love tips for us too. Folk were grinning from ear to ear. And I thought he was just the Timmy Mallett of fitness. Respect. Feeling much better than the day before, I slurped on a Purple Haze smoothie and mooched around “the shops”. Any opportunity…

There was lots of crafty gear on offer, novelty thingies, handmade stuff and cool clothes. I picked up a High School Musical cushion for the Bloke, as he’d been using his coat for comfort. Wandering into the Mindfield, I spotted Roisin Ingle and Pauline McLynn chatting to Amy Huberman outside the Arts Council Literary Stage. What luck! Ingle was about to interview the two authors so I took a pew inside.

Hubes was funny in a sassy way and McLynn was funny in a hilarious way. And they both imparted some very savvy writing tips. A great random find. I was forced to think about my own writing. I’m working on my first novel. My laptop was stolen a couple of weeks ago and I lost a fair bit. But the fire has been under me ever since. Listening to two “real” writers was totally inspirational, I’ve gotta say.

Passing the Main Stage I was just in time for the Duckworth Lewis Method. Neil Hannon and the Pugwash crew in fancy dress. They were leading a merry crowd with feel good cricket tunes. Thomas Walsh was in his element, strumming away in a top hat. It was back to Trenchtown via Body & Soul, where I enjoyed a choir all in black and white polka dots. Children danced and played, it was lovely!

After an interlude, reading Scott Evans’ book “Closer Still” in my tent, I met up with the Bloke’s gang. As a bunch of forty something guys, their tribe was more evident at this year’s Picnic than mine. Along with the college crowd, the families and the hippies, forty something types were out in droves. They joked that security hadn’t bothered fleecing them for cans. But the music was certainly up their street.

With Himself working away, I went with the lads to see Robert Plant presents Sensational Space Shifters on the Main Stage. Wow! The Led Zeppelin front man still has it in spades. That unique brand of sexy… Funny how a 65 year old can channel it, but a field full of young ‘uns have no idea. I’ve never seen so much flesh. Cheeks are the new cleavage, but it’s the rare Irish girl has the legs for hot pants.

I got word from a couple of pals who were at Little Green Cars in the Electric Arena, so I multi-gigged and scooched on over. Midway, I encountered two scantily clad girls who asked me to photograph them on their iPhones. As they posed up a storm, and thanked me in faux American accents I thought of my 22 year old self. Vodka, mini skirts and my whole life ahead of me. That was fifteen years ago.

Little Green Cars were ace. Ones to watch, according to my sources. Peckish, we headed to Saba for bites. My chums scoffed Pad Thai noodles and kindly offered me some of their Yellow Curry potato wedges and a round up of their Picnic must-sees. I’m not much good with modrin bands, having stopped buying records when I left school. My music collection is a Britpop graveyard. Back to Robert Plant…

I hooked up with the Bloke, who was free for now, and we went on the hunt for food. I’ve turned vegetarian, after years of being meat-friendly but mostly veggie. It’s so much easier, now I’m 100%. Yummy scran is part of the Electric Picnic experience, whether you want a burger or a gourmet meal. I filled up on paneer and veg curry from Karuna’s Kitchen while Himself enjoyed Dixieland chicken gumbo.

It was hello, goodbye and he was off to Billy Bragg as I went to Bjork. That’s why I love this man. I can be me and he can be him. That simple. It’s something I came to appreciate even more that weekend. I’ve always feared becoming someone’s “other half”. With the Bloke, I’m still a whole person. Me. But now with another whole person to hang around with. Him. Who’s kind, funny and my best friend.

So, Bjork. Due to ridiculous circumstances I missed her last set a couple of years ago. But Saturday night well and truly made up for my past fail. She was stunning. Backed up by a head banging all woman choir, Bjork took the Main Stage by storm in an electric blue bubble dress and sparking headgear. I remember falling in love with the Icelandic singer as a teenager. It’s okay to be a weirdo!

With a giant tesla coil dropping from above, Bjork was electric with energy as she belted out her brilliant new material. Hers is a very special stage presence and the crowd were spellbound. To say she owned Electric Picnic is an understatement. I was on such a high after her show. I celebrated with a mojito from the Casa Bacardi and nipped into the Electric Arena to catch the last choon from Billy Bragg.

Another artist in fine form, Bragg rallied us at the top of his voice. I admire his passion, as fresh as the day he started. These people really gave me something to think about. About myself. The world around me. I’d been a little bit scared at the start of the Picnic, with all the change in the air. But I felt like I was evolving into somebody I truly want to be. Bigger and better. More mature. And I like it very much.

After all of this heavy musing, I was in need of some light entertainment and I found it in the Trailer Park. A good old fashioned hoe down, courtesy of Prison Love. Fronted by the honey voiced Mark O’Mahony, these guys are nothing but great fun, taking unlikely numbers and putting a bluegrass twist on them. I found the lads here too, what luck. Off to the Rankin Wood tent for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

All rocked out, I headed back to Trenchtown for a sup of Heineken backstage. Another cold night in our nylon cell, a few laughs with Himself warmed me up. Ear plugs were an essential piece of kit, with Trenchtown partying ’til the wee hours. My ability to stay up late has dwindled as much as my capacity for drink. Heh heh… But seriously, a hangover in that tent? Would ya stop. I’d rather get up early!

And that I did, on Sunday morning. The portaloo was fairly grim at this stage. I love being a woman, and would hate to be a man. But the one time a willy would come in handy… I did see one girl stop and go as she pleased, and it wasn’t pretty. Breakfast was tea and biscuits at Paradoxology. Scott was doing a service, which was just him sitting on a stool talking about God. This fella is such a good speaker.

The thing about God, is that it’s not very fashionable to like him any more. Most folk my age have ditched religion. Catholicism at least. Buddhism and stuff is socially acceptable. A lot of my friends are atheist, and fair play. Some aren’t believers, but get married in church and have their kids christened anyway. And laugh at me for going to mass. But I don’t care. I’ve questioned my faith, of course.

Is God simply something I grew up with? Maybe. I appreciate science and spirituality. I don’t feel black and white about it. What Scott is saying makes total sense to me, so it felt great to meet someone who gets it. There was angelic hymn singing with acoustic guitar and breaking of bread. Pamela, a beautiful artist I got chatting to, told me all about her time working in India and we exchanged some ideas.

I wasn’t expecting that at Electric Picnic. That’s what’s so great about it. Not Subway! Off I went to Body & Soul, only to bump into some old muckers. They were down for the Sunday, leaving the kids at home. It was nice to see them. Seems like a life time now, but we would have been those 20 something kids back in the day. I remember one wild Summer at Wittness, after I came back from London.

Pizza for Trees provided my lunch from their wood fired oven. Fresh dough, tomato sauce and mozzarella. Delish! Washed down with Wispa hot chocolate. I cashed in my Electric Picnic birthday cake voucher for a giant iced fairy cake, given to me by Rev. Olive Donohoe, the Rector of Stradbally. Next stop was Green Crafts and the Global Green. This was an organic cornucopia of cooking and craft.

More food for thought. Watching people basket weaving, wood carving, sewing and painting I wondered what it would be like to be a total hippy. No mortgage, no car, no boss. Out of the rat race. So many of my generation have been made wage slaves due to the property bubble, career ladder and wedding debt. Not to mention childcare. Some of my friends have chosen to be stay at home mothers.

I’ve chosen none of the above. That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the pressure. Owning a house and driving a car aren’t things I want in life. Getting married or having kids wasn’t something I thought about much. But I like the idea. I’m open to an alternative lifestyle more than the norm. Or what’s expected. Living in town for the last few years has suited me perfectly, but I see my future near water.

At last, Electric Picnic became the place I wanted it to be. A place to dream and just be. Green Crafts was so close to nature, far away from the commercial aspect. I finally realised why the Picnic needs both. It will never be the boutique affair it once was, but it hasn’t lost it’s ability to inspire. I could feel some of John Reynolds’ original vision in the air on Sunday. I hope it doesn’t go changing too much…

After a trip back to Trenchtown to meet Himself for a cuppa (more mild than wild) I tucked him into the tent for a rest while I went off to Johnny Marr. Now, this I was looking forward to. Marr didn’t disappoint. In fact he blew me away. A full house at the Electric Arena, his infamous jangly guitar washed in gorgeous waves over the audience. And he can sing too. His own material and some Electronica.

And of course, The Smiths. I just closed my eyes and danced. Bigmouth Strikes Again, How Soon Is Now and There Is A Light. Amazing. A time machine back to the bedroom of my youth. Now there’s a girl I once was. It was such an emotional moment. I smiled through tears. Although I wished the Bloke could have experienced Marr too, I embraced the music as mine. And I let go of my past in that tent.

Dazed, delighted, I went out into the sunshine. There was the Bloke and his posse. Eels at the Main Stage was next on the agenda. A load of geezers with beards in tracksuits. There was something novelty about Eels that I didn’t get. I mean I got it. But I didn’t like it. So I went off and got Pieminister for Sunday dinner. Heidi pie (goat’s cheese, sweet potato and spinach) with peas, mash and gravy.

David Byrne & St Vincent in the Electric Arena was a spectacle with all of the players lined up marching band style. Excellent stuff. Me and the Bloke slipped into Body & Soul for some chai and a wander about. We just sat and soaked up the atmosphere, happy together. Off he went back to Trenchtown, while I made my way to Mindfield to see what I could see. Crow Black Chicken rocking The Word.

A little munchy I was won over by the smell from Kinara Kitchen, doing Pakistani street food. Fresh naan bread and mango lassi did the trick. I chomped while watching the Arctic Monkeys. Now there’s a band I know nothing about. The turn out was massive and I was really impressed by them. Front man, Alex Turner, was on top of his game. I only know their songs from the radio, I must confess…

Back in Trenchtown, I was ready to party. By that I mean I had a nip of gin and juice from my hip flask, while chatting to the Bloke and various band heads backstage. I’ll start rebelling against myself if I’m not careful. Wasn’t too bad a night in the tent in the end. Living on one of the busiest roads in Dublin city centre, meant all night reggae was a cinch to sleep through. We slept late on Monday morning.

The portaloo was a disgrace. All you can do is laugh! I was chuffed when Himself came back from the camps with tea and sambos. He’d queued for twenty minutes to get me a vegetarian sandwich. With no onions. Awh… Forget diamond rings and Paris in the spring – that’s real romance in my eyes. The time came to pack our things and say goodbye to Electric Picnic. Tired, sticky and hurting all over.

We’d missed the bus, but luckily a mate was driving to Dublin so we bunged our gear into the back of the van and off we went, leaving the crew to dismantle Trenchtown. They were a good bunch. Back at the Bloke’s place in Temple Bar, he crashed out while I fetched dinner. Fish and chips from Leo Burdock’s on buttered batch bread. And tea. Only the best! A fitting end to an unforgettable weekend.

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