This is Waterford

May 18, 2011

One sunny morning last September, I was strolling down the river side of the Quay here in Waterford City. The air buzzed with conversation, shouts of laughter, and people calling out to each other. Mouth-watering aromas made the head practically swim. The car parks, emptied of cars for the weekend, were packed on both sides with market stalls piled high with every possible kind of food produce. It was the Waterford Harvest Festival 2010in full swing.

Reginald's Tower and Quay, Waterford

With all the negative news to hit our City last year, it would have been no surprise if visitors had found the atmosphere on the streets to be glum and muted. Instead, they found the people of Waterford engaged in what was basically a year-long party.

For me, like other locals, the hardest part was picking what to go to. It would have been physically impossible to attend everything.

There are some highlights that have stuck in my mind. A day in early July spent at Spraoi in the Park, when it seemed like the whole City and County was in the People’s Park, sitting on the grass in the sun, listening to the live music. My husband hoisting our daughter onto his shoulders to see and hear the drummers in Arundel  Square at Spraoi a month later. My then-one-year-old kicking up her feet in delight at a “Baby Boogie” dance session with Libby Seward in Garter Lane as part of SprOg, the children’s pre-Spraoi festival. My older daughter and I joining in the dance moves to “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” that Rev. Bazil Meade, leader of the London Community Gospel Choir, taught the audience at a rousing concert at the Waterford International Music Festival in November. (We still do the moves when we think nobody is looking.)

There are too many other special moments to describe: “Seussical the Musical” in the Theatre Royal at the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera; Joseph O’Connor reading from his new novel at the Imagine Arts Festival; leaning against the wall across the road from Azzurro in Dunmore East on a Saturday afternoon in August to catch the music of the Jack Grace Band playing on the restaurant terrace at the Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival.

Now that we are almost half-way through 2011, with Ireland’s biggest ever open-air banner presiding proudly over the Quay, the excitement is palpable as the City gears itself up for the Tall Ships Festival 2011. It’s going to be some party.

Speaking of the Quay, I am reminded again of that morning last September. With the parked cars replaced by rows of market stalls and the place jam-packed with people, my seven-year-old was feeling a little disoriented. She looked up at me with a puzzled expression. “Mam, where is this?”

I could not help but smile as I gestured at the scene in front of us. “This is Waterford, love. This is Waterford.”


Douze points for Denise

May 18, 2011

Things may not have gone quite as hoped for Jedward in the Eurovision, but Denise Quinn’s performance in Garter Lane theatre in Waterford on the same night, May 14th, won a standing ovation and a resounding douze points from the packed audience.

Denise Quinn, author and sole performer of "Bardot Bites" and "Lucy Bastible"

Local woman Denise is the writer and sole performer of two one-act, one-woman plays, Bardot Bites and Lucy Bastible, which ran for two sold-out nights in Waterford last week as part of a nationwide tour.

The plays are beautifully observed glimpses into the lives of two very different women. Denise’s scripts cleverly use humour to draw in the audience and make them feel an instant connection to two women at crisis points in their lives. “Bids” in Bardot Bites is a single, middle-aged, put-upon woman determined to get her life back on track after her elderly mother’s death, while Lucy Bastible is refined, well-off wife of a solicitor who unleashes her wild side after her husband’s infidelity.

While the script is sharp, witty and insightful, it is Denise Quinn’s acting skills and stage presence that made this performance truly wonderful. We, the audience, genuinely forgot that there was only one person on stage. The stage seemed to teem with characters – Leonie and Leandra, Bids’ two young, man-mad colleagues at the cheese counter in the local deli, were particularly brilliant. Denise’s depictions of the ridiculous situations in which people find themselves in daily life were a joy to behold (one scene involving a balcony bra and a roving hand in the cinema will stay in my mind forever).

The script is also a great example of that great maxim of creative writing: “Write what you know”. Not content with being an accomplished playwright and actress, Denise is also a qualified solicitor and sales assistant at a well-known cheese counter in Waterford. Both cheese and the legal world featured strongly in the scripts and the playwright’s background in both greatly added to the credibility of the plays.

Accolades are also due to the show’s director Mary Curtin, a high-profile name in Irish theatre with a long list of theatre and film credits.

Bardot Bites and Lucy Bastible went down so well on the Cork leg of the tour in April that Denise has been asked to give repeat performances there later in the summer. Let’s hope she can be convinced to do the same in her native city at the earliest opportunity.

A miscellany of magic

April 26, 2011

Even in this internet age – or maybe especially in this internet age – the printed word is still loaded with magic.

I’m beyond honoured to be included in the new RTÉ Sunday Miscellany Anthology 2008-2011, edited by Clíodhna Ní Anluain and published by New Island. Sincere thanks to Clíodhna, editor of RTÉ’s Sunday Miscellany, for finding a slot for my piece, A Tribute to Mick Lally.

I also had a completely magical evening on April 7th at the launch of the book in the National Concert Hall, Dublin. It was great to meet Clíodhna and Miriam O’Callaghan, who launched the book and said some very nice things about it. It was also really special to chat to Padraig O’Neill, award-winning production designer, who was a close friend and colleague of Mick Lally’s (including on Mick’s last screen turn in the recently-released Snap) and has some wonderful stories from their times together.

The launch was followed by a wonderful Easter Sunday Miscellany concert, with readings from the book by Kevin McAleer, Mary Molloy, Grace Wells, and Kevin Barry, among others, interspersed with music from artists including Altan, Eimear Quinn and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. The concert was broadcast in the Sunday Miscellany slot on RTÉ Radio One over the last two weekends. Here are Part One and Part Two.

The text of my piece in the book, A Tribute to Mick Lally, is here.

A good dose of reality

April 22, 2011

Reality is relative. I have recently learned this as a contestant on my local radio station’s take on the current Come Dine With Me craze.

In one sense, my encounter with the reality genre has been one of the most unrealistic experiences I have ever had. Under what real-world circumstances would you encounter the following downright weird scenario: you are required to prepare, serve and host a three-course dinner plus entertainment to three relative strangers, all entirely unassisted, while everything you say is recorded for broadcast on radio?

Anastasiya Markovich, Illusion of Reality

Anastasiya Markovich, Illusion of Reality (2008)

On the other hand, for those of us in the “reality-equals-gritty” school of thought, my Come Dine With Me experience was as real as it gets. It’s possible that my three fellow hosts threw together their divine dinners an hour before each meal (though the standard of the meals strongly suggests otherwise), and probably their houses are always immaculate so they didn’t need to get themselves into a sweat with a last-minute burst of cleaning. Personally, taking the day before my dinner off work, as well as the day itself, spending several days beforehand planning and shopping, neatly slicing off the top of my finger and fingernail when practising my dishes the previous weekend, and to top it all off, having to abandon my dearly-beloved usual weekday uniform of jeans and Crocs in favour of a SKIRT (slyly hoping that its bright pink colour would distract my guests from any deficiencies in my hostessing skills) was more than enough reality for me, thank you very much.

So both extremes of the scale were covered – from wandered-into-the-wrong-film weirdness to gritty realism. Where does fun fit into the reality continuum?

The four dinners were some of the most fun experiences I have ever had. Going over to people’s houses every evening to be served delicious food, get to know some absolutely lovely, funny, talented people (including the presenter and sound engineer), and have cocktails and wine poured liberally down your throat, with full permission to say exactly what you thought of the whole evening afterwards and give your host marks out of ten into the bargain – what’s not to like? Or as my eight-year-old would say: “Uh, HELLO??!”

So how did I do? Nobody knows – yet. The dinner parties have been broadcast on The Saturday Show with Maria McCann on WLR FM, one per show, over the past three Saturdays. Only one individual score for each dinner has been broadcast, so nobody yet knows their total score. The final dinner and results are broadcast on tomorrow morning’s show, when the winner and recipient of the €1,000 (in vouchers for the foodstore that sponsors the show) will be revealed. Keep your fingers crossed for me! (I’d do it myself, only the one I sliced open hasn’t fully healed yet.)

Until then – keep it real.

Thanks, compliments and other awkward things

March 22, 2011

Everyone likes to be thanked. So much so, that we tend to get a bit sniffy if someone forgets to thank us for something. Children are constantly reminded to say “Thank you”. So why is thanking often such a thankless task?
The after-dinner speeches at weddings – the main participants’ only chance to formally express their gratitude to family and friends – are dreaded by many of the guests, some of whom pass the time by placing bets on their duration. The tearful thank-yous of award recipients on Oscar night are mocked and satirised. Thank-you cards are the Cinderella of the greeting card world, much bought (good intentions and all that) but little used, often lying forgotten at the backs of drawers.
Personally, I am a thankophile. I get a warm fuzzy glow from thanks of all kinds – whether I am the intended recipient or not. I devour the Acknowledgments sections of books. (Why? Do I secretly hope to find myself in them?) For me, the credits at the ends of films are part of the entertainment. (The cleaners in my local cinema hate me – I stay until the screen goes blank and the house lights come on, while they pointedly sweep up the popcorn from beneath the seats on either side of me.)
Compliments – now they are a different matter. I blame genetics. Being Irish, and a woman at that, I am simply not in the right gene pool to be comfortable accepting compliments. As anyone who has met any Irish woman knows, compliment her and you will receive a self-deprecating eye-roll followed by a rattled-off summary of where she bought it (invariably the cheapest, nastiest bargain-basement place in town), how much she paid for it (next to nothing), and the ways in which it successfully hides her hideous figure (it’s basically a potato sack with buttons so it covers everything).
What is the effect of this tirade on the hapless complimenter? As Gil Gonzalez says, rebuffing a compliment is “the equivalent of giving a gift to someone and having them go on about how you shouldn’t have”. The complimenter feels rebuffed, of course – after all, he has basically been told that he is wrong. He is unlikely to compliment the recipient again. Worst of all, he may feel prompted make a re-assessment and conclude that actually, yes, you do look hideous.
Having recently become sensitised to this bad habit among Mná na hÉireann, I have turned over a new leaf. Now, when a compliment comes my way, I suppress the wave of purchasing information welling up inside me. Instead, I pin a smile to my face and say “Thank you”, even if it is through gritted teeth.
People with religious beliefs are likely to be more familiar with the therapeutic properties of thanking, in the form of prayer. As a child, I bothered God on a nightly basis with a list of thanks and acknowledgments that would have put any Oscar recipient to shame. Now that any notion of God and I have permanently parted ways, I have discovered the concept of “gratitudes”. Gratitudes are like prayer in that (ideally) you say them (usually to yourself) first thing in the morning or last thing at night, or both.
To whom is my gratitude addressed, you might ask? For me personally, gratitudes are a way of enabling myself to feel gratitude for the good things in my life; they are not directed at specific people. Any specific thanking that needs to be done, I like to do in person.
A related issue is the use of terms such as “No problem” and “No worries” to respond to thanks. Now, these statements are appropriate to some degree – at least they are an acknowledgment that thanks have been given. However, as I recently read somewhere, these statements are still off the mark, as their underlying assumption is that there might have been a problem or a worry to begin with. They introduce a negative slant to what should have been a completely positive interaction: thanks given, thanks received. A much happier response to thanks is a simple “You’re welcome” or its more refined cousin, “It’s a pleasure”.
Back to thanks. I recently spent some days in bed due to illness. With the help of family and friends (including my very good friend, the internet), life in the Curmumgeon household continued pretty much as normal while I recovered. All attempts at thanks by me were rebuffed with responses along the lines of “Sure what kind of parent / friend would I be if I didn’t help out?” Which is a very canny way of putting an end to my thanking overtures.
I might have to don a fluffy pink dress, go on TV and burst into tears to show them I really mean it.


March 3, 2011

I overheard the following exchange in the doctor’s surgery the other day:

Older man to receptionist: “Are you the girl that works in Specsavers?”
Receptionist: “No, not me.”
Man: “Are you sure, I could have sworn I saw you behind the counter in Specsavers.”
Receptionist: “No, definitely not me, I work … er … here.”

Seems going to Specsavers doesn’t always have the desired effect…

Mother, reassigned

January 21, 2011

Following the example of our political leaders, I am updating my job title from “Mother of Three” to the following, with immediate effect: Minister for Transport, Health, Education, Defence, Justice, Food, Finance, Equality, Sports & Tourism and Mental Health.