Tall Ships Festival 2011 in Waterford, part 2

July 1, 2011

Yesterday I wondered if the spirit of discovery I felt on day one of the
Tall Ships Festival might be just a product of the excitement of a much-anticipated event finally getting under way. Now as day two draws to a close, I’m delighted to report that the spirit is still very much alive and well.

Here are the ways the Tall Ships Festival took me out of the ordinary today:

– Cycling into town dressed as a pirate first thing in the morning – definitely a first (and possibly a last).

– Strolling up the middle of the Quay mid-morning with hundreds of other “pirates”. We were supposed to be marauding, though I’m not sure we did a great job – do pirates normally chat, bask in the sunshine and carry small children on their shoulders as they maraud?

– Realising that men in their fifties and sixties have a hugely unfair advantage in the piracy imitation game – stick a bandana, an eyepatch and a billowy white shirt on them and they look so much the part, they blow everyone else out of the water (sorry, couldn’t resist…).

– Leaving a city-centre cafe without ordering when the daughter and I noticed to our total shock that the prices on the “Tall Ships Special” menu were double the normal prices. We were shocked, A – because of the bare-faced cheek of it, and B – because the city authorities had specifically requested local businesses not to put up their prices during the Festival (and most have taken heed).

– Sitting at one of the rows of trestle tables on the Quay, admiring the TS Royalist docked alongside, helping the daughter handle her foot-long hot dog while I tucked into Thai noodles, chatting to friends and neighbours passing by.

Now, like yesterday evening, the sounds of the Tall Ships Festival are resounding out across the City – tonight it’s fireworks, their banging and whizzing oddly dulled at this distance. These evening sounds are wonderful, reminding those of us tucked up at home on the outskirts of the City that the Festival is in full swing.

Now to get some sleep for (hopefully) more marauding tomorrow.


Tall Ships Festival 2011 in Waterford, part 1

June 30, 2011

The thing I love about big public events like the Tall Ships Festival 2011, which kicked off in Waterford this afternoon, is that they take you out of yourself. They lead you to do things you wouldn’t normally do.

Sitting in Jordan’s pub on the Quay on a weekday afternoon, chatting away to total strangers, is not something I normally do. Granted, I only ended up doing it today because it was the only way the daughter and I could find to escape the crush around William Vincent Wallace Plaza, where the formal launch of the Festival was taking place. We squeezed our way through the river of immobilised bodies, up the little flagged alley and in the side door of the bar. Five minutes later, the daughter and I were perched on red velveteen seats in the window, sipping lemonade, watching Keith Barry predict something amazing on the Plaza across the way (admittedly it did lose something with the lack of sound) and sympathising amiably with fellow street-refugees about the crush outside.

Once the crowds eased, the daughter and I were off again, doing a grand tour of the market on the Quay, gaily spending money on whatever took our fancy (because spending outside your budget doesn’t count on special occasions, didn’t you know?), eating our own body weight in burritos, hotdogs and cupcakes (an unusual combination, I grant you, but hey, the Tall Ships only come every five years!) and dawdling deliciously with nowhere to be and no schedule to stick to.

When we’d seen and eaten everything we could, we decided to deal with the non-appearance of the bus by walking most of the way home. The Quay to Williamstown on foot was a joy: Strolling along in the late-afternoon sun, hardly a car in sight, daughter in a blissed-out world of her own with her iPod plugged into her ears and her hair dancing wildly around her face, the view of the City spreading out behind us as we advanced up John’s Hill towards Grange and home.

Now I’m sitting on my sofa, listening to the ship’s horns as they echo out from the Quay, across the City and out into the County, bidding us goodnight.

To close, a confession. Jordan’s is one of the most historic buildings in Waterford Ciy. I have often marvelled at it from the outside, at its cheeky sideways tilt and its faded, half-timbered glory. I was born and bred in Waterford. Until today, I never saw the inside of Jordan’s. Circumstances combined today to lead me there.

There are three more days to go of the Tall Ships Festival 2011. I can’t wait to see where it takes me tomorrow.

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.

A Tribute to Mick Lally, 1945 – 2010

August 31, 2010

The facade of the Forum theatre in Waterford looks down on a sloping plaza that is itself surrounded by the small terraced houses that mark this historic part of the city. Here and there between the houses run narrow streets with centuries-old names, some leading down towards the Quay, others up the town to Ballybricken and beyond. It was down one of these streets, as I stood outside the theatre after a performance of The Castlecomer Jukebox in 2004, that I watched a solitary, tall, hunched figure lope away, hands in pockets, probably off for a quiet post-performance pint in one of O’Connell Street’s pubs. That figure was Mick Lally.

I never had the good fortune to meet Mick Lally in person, but I cannot shake the feeling that I have known him all my life. To my brothers and me, like many Irish children in the 1980s, the Glenroe theme tune signalled the dreaded Sunday-night bedtime (as much as it probably signalled to our parents the time when they could finally sit down and watch some TV in peace). Even when we were too young to actually watch Glenroe, we and our schoolfriends knew all the characters and especially Miley, the beleaguered everyman with the bewitching voice and a brilliant catchphrase that we repeated with delight at every opportunity.

Being finally allowed to stay up beyond 8 pm on Sundays to watch Glenroe was a real rite of passage. As well as being a staple in that show, to those of us growing up in Ireland in the 80s, Mick Lally always seemed to be around, be it on TV or radio. He even managed to turn a TV ad for cheese into a memorable experience, his mellifluous tones combining deliciously with the thrumming of a bodhran’s beat.

The years passed, I moved to Dublin, and even though as a student I no longer had access to a TV, Mick remained a constant. My Austrian friend Sabine visited Dublin and to give her a taste of Irish theatre, my boyfriend and I took her to see A Skull in Connemara, with Mick in the lead role. We had great seats looking down on the stage. I remember being overawed by Mick’s looming, menacing presence in that role. I was also delighted that we had an actor of such calibre in this country that enabled me to show off our culture to a visitor so successfully. In the pub afterwards, Sabine’s English was tested to the limits as she tried to put into words the impression his performance had made on her.

These days, my husband and I, now with three children, rarely get to listen to an entire radio show, so it was a special treat on a recent drive to Dublin to turn on the radio and hear Mick’s voice. He and another wonderfully familiar actor, his Glenroe co-star Mary McEvoy, were being interviewed by Miriam O’Callaghan. As the children, miraculously, slept in the back, it was a delight to hear him describe his life and career with endearingly self-deprecating good humour, and just as much a delight to simply sit and listen to his voice. To hear his gorgeous spoken Irish was another pleasure.

Perhaps because that interview is so recent, the news this morning comes as  a particularly sad shock. It strikes me that as we advance into our mid-thirties, us Glenroe children have now reached the age where the death of a well-known person can feel like the death of something in us. Mick Lally was part of the background of our lives, whether we paid his presence there much heed or not. Now that he is gone, I personally, for the first time, feel the loss of a person I never actually knew.

Although, thanks to that radio interview, it is not long since I heard him speak, my last, and lasting, visual impression of Mick Lally is that evening in Waterford in 2004, when I watched him walk away down a dark street after another brilliant performance, alone, seeking no accolades, a quiet master.

(c) Curmumgeon 2010