Dear You

I remember the first time I saw you. The light haloed you. What do they call it? An aura? Yeah, you had something about you. Something that drew me in. I knew I wanted to …. not to question but know, know you. Not like an address book, no I wanted to understand what makes you tick, at a molecular level, (chuckles). I wanted to be close to you. Yes you were beautiful, different, easy to look at, fit, elegant, nothing overstated, something drew me. Maybe your taste, I’m sorry, is this too much? Curiosity killed the cat. Or maybe the Cat had nine lives?

So I surveyed you. I’m not one to leap in. I like to know my locale. I’d find a comfortable position in the middle of the class. Part of your inner circle. I start to know you, through them. The neat way you take in the world, your habitat, the community? You are a warm, reliable, person. Not one who needs to see themselves liked by social media; a people person, touchy feely, a hugger; people feel they can rely on you, and you smell good. Not cheaply floral, no, broad, sweetly herbal, maybe spice and a healthy scent of exercise. I wanted to be immediate to you. The thought of being confined with you tickled me; in a warm closet or airing cupboard, dry and warm, intimate, shared breath, I can still feel your heat, smell your hair, taste your constrained breath. Your body frames mine. Clasping together. Your brother searches having reached ten. I was still small, too small to be taken seriously. But I meant it. Even then I was feeling it and it would only get stronger. But I had to bottle it. I, in the …. past, well, I suppose I’ve been too obvious, wooden, gauche. To win you, it had to seem like your victory. Otherwise you might think I was a stalker.

I love you. I don’t mean in a half hearted flirtatiously attached sort of way. Not dalliance, not a teasing exchange. You make me complete. I no longer imagine going places without you. You’re long term. Not just a travelling companion. In you I’ve seen myself. I can see our potential. You embody it. I commit to you fully.

But what do I get in response? Fear, I can taste it. The way you distance yourself. Not just slyly relocating the table tent at the meeting so as to avoid being my neighbour. No, excusing yourself from events, soirees, involving our mutual friends, always a reason, not a school day, migraine, need to catch that train and look, they can all see it. They know we fit together. Complimentary flavours, primary colours in our social palette. But you don’t buy it. Anyone would think I was toxic, I just need to be close. I’m not asking for conscious commitment. Choice is irrelevant. Our willing compliance is unnecessary. Our connection is fundamental. It seems trite to say we’re made for each other.

An item; we have a future; potential to make something simply beautiful. So this change in your behaviour, this cruelty will not go unanswered. I’m afraid, or rather I’m not. To be brutal is a mark of my passion. It’s all or everything. You can’t just cut me. I know where you are. How you behave and how to exploit your instinct. Take a long hard look at yourself and reconsider. Because I’m resilient, persistent and patient.

C

Pearly Moon, by Suzanne Ledwith

Described by Hot Press as having the voice of an angel, Suzanne Ledwith is a multimedia artist from Mullingar. She was introduced to the acoustic guitar in her youth. ” I remember Mary (Tynan) showing me how to play Romanza on the guitar, for which I am very grateful, as it was the first time I every played a guitar, and I discovered a life long passion. In her teenage years a chance meeting led to her being asked to join a band. Not seeing any reason to say no, she said yes, and Dreams of ID was formed with Patricia Raleigh (electric guitar) and subsequently Monica Raleigh (bass) and Paul Muligan (drums). Eventually this morphed into Suzanne performing solo.

For the past number of years she’s been developing a different style from the early pop/rock focus of the band. Her style reflects an interest in Irish music, world music, folk and classical music. She’s been working with Donal Lunny for a number of years on an album, which is finally coming to a not-too-hasty conclusion (Suzanne’s words). Suzanne says that working full-time as a teacher in the further education sector leaves little space to make her passion for composing, writing, singing and playing guitar more than a hobby. “I am grateful to Mary Tynan for contacting me and inviting me to contribute to her wonderful online space for artists. We are lucky to have you Mary.”

Here she performs her haunting composition “Pearly Moon.” Additional instruments played by Donal Lunny. Notes From Xanadu is very lucky to have you, Suzanne!

Nature in the Raw

In the world of nature, battles are fought daily that exceed in ferocity even those of our bloodiest, be it Waterloo, Stalingrad or Valley Forge. The natural contests differ from the human in that the former are conducted as a matter of survival and predatory food, whilst humans too often have mutually slaughtered for less justifiable reasons.
If you had been present in a garden shed in the West of Ireland, on a day when the sun shone brightly through the small rooflight, you would have witnessed a memorable spectacle being enacted: a fight to the death between a wasp and a spider. The spider is an astute tactician who knows well the importance of selecting the battleground best suited to neutralizing the wasp’s superiority in weaponry and manoeuvrability, to level the playing field. He must at the outset disable at least one of the wasp’s advantages in weaponry.

The battleground was an unusually strong web, right up in a shaft of strong sunshine. Of the forest of webs in this virtually untouched habitat, this fortification was of the strongest. A foraging wasp, minding his own business and failing to keep a sharp lookout, reported his blundering intrusion by a frantic acceleration of his buzzing wings. This (which is well known to a spider) is designed to enmesh the intruder deeper and deeper the more he struggles.
You would observe the entire web violently rocking, such was the energy of the wasp. You would find the spider, and he was a big one, waiting expectantly at the extremity of one web strand, from which position he could sally forth to any point of the web in attack. If you were familiar with spider strategy and language, you would understand that his tactics were to tire out the wasp until the point when he could rush in and deliver the paralysing bite.

It was a long wait. At intervals, the spider would make a rush towards the wasp, a manoeuvre that alarmed the wasp into a renewed frenzy of buzzing. Time and again he advanced and time and again retreated, as the fellow had obviously learned the wisdom of discretion being the better part of valour. As the buzzing got fainter and lower on the audio scale, you might predict how this was going to end. If you were a betting man, you’d be laying odds on the spider.

If you stayed until the denouement, you would have witnessed the countless rushes and retreats and the wasp’s failing strength, but nothing in nature is quite predictable, and, as the spider poised for the final coup de gras, the buzzing re-awoke to a sudden crescendo and the wasp broke free, mocking his erstwhile adversary all the while. The spider was left crouching at the edge of his torn flytrap, and one can imagine his chagrin, in spider language – Damn! If the wasp was trailing a metre-long string of web – for all the world like one of those advertising streamers towed by light aircraft – it was a small burden to carry for his triumphant escape. And if he was trumpeting his triumph over a wily enemy, who are we to criticise him?

Tony Tynan

Abstracts, by Jerome Malenfant

Jerome is our second US contributor to date.  He tells us “I am currently retired after working as a scientific editor on the journal Physical Review Letters.  My professional background was in theoretical elementary particles, with a PhD from UCLA.  Since retiring, I’ve been working on my painting (oil, acrylics, wax crayon), as well as writing.  I started out in poetry, then switched to prose: three murder mystery novels and working on a fourth one.  A short story of mine, “A Quantum Tale”, (sort of ‘Alice in Wonderland meets the Schroedinger Cat’), just won a Honourable Mention in a contest by Quantum Shorts.”

The original art work is not for sale, however some are available as Print-on-Demand at www.ArtPal.com/malenfant188, and you can also follow Jerome’s work on his Facebook page, Jerome Malenfant/ART.

Perspectives, by Mark Fitzpatrick

Today we are featuring photographer Mark ‘Fitz’ Fitzpatrick.  Fitz describes himself as a “full time parent and teacher, part-time visual story teller, background artist, silversmith, bargee and recovering layabout.”

“I like to view the world around use from a different perspective to show there is art all around use, sometimes we just need to step back to see it.”

Bugs, by Colin Byford

This is the second of two exhibitions in our gallery by Colin this weekend.  The first, entitled “Water” debuted on Friday, 1 May.

“I have had a 4 plus decade relationship with photography mostly as a high level amateur and a couple of years fully professional both in Ireland and back home in New Zealand.  My main commercial work to date has been in family and event photography.

I am fascinated by the technical aspects of photography. I learn the capabilities of the equipment and then push them. When combined with my computing background I can get some pleasing results. Sadly the artistic side is hard to teach but I am told I have a good eye.

I hope you enjoy my images. Prints of all these images are available to buy up to A3 size.  My website is www.byfocal.ie and I am on fotocommunity.com as Colin S Byford.”








Energy Saving Lightbulbs

Bloody energy-saving lightbulbs, eh? They’ve attracted a lot of chatter lately, and the last thing this debate needs is rabid, misinformed invective from me. But here it is anyway.

For I have vast and unhappy experience of Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs), aka energy-saving or long-life bulbs. It started when an electrician skilfully smashed one in our small bathroom, a facility used mostly by the kids who were cavorting barefoot nearby. Naturally, he sloped off without a word, believing perhaps that placing one large shard of glass in the sink was sufficient duty-of-care for one lazy shiftless lifetime, and possibly unaware that (a) CFLs contain mercury and (b) mercury is bad.

That’s when I learned the proper, EPA-approved clean-up procedure for such scenarios. I won’t bore you with the details because well, they’re boring, but highlights include not being allowed to vacuum or brush (because that makes the mercury airborne) and using sticky tape to pick up small fragments and powder (because you’ve got all weekend to do this, right?)

Also, be aware that CFLs don’t play nice with dimmer switches. Don’t use them together, or, bang!, you’ll end up exploding both.

We have a CFL upstairs which has started to flicker. Constantly. It cost €7.99 a few months ago, but now it has to go. Last week I replaced the candle-style CFL in a child’s reading lamp, for €5.99, because it was melting.

Yes, melting. The whole energy-saving point of CFLs is they don’t get hot – unless, it seems, a fly gets incinerated inside their ugly tubular coils, which is what happened here. But c’mon, who knew that insects would fly towards lights? You can’t expect the bulb people to plan for something as rare as that, can you?

In the kitchen, we have an even more expensive “soft” CFL which supposedly replicates the warmer glow of incandescent bulbs. It also replicates their curvy, tasteful, almost mammary appearance. Sadly, however, it fails to replicate the not-being-a-piece-of-crap aspect of old-fashioned bulbs, in that it only works half the time. Weeks will pass without a single lumen – then one day it’s back, shining away. And I can’t throw it out if it’s still semi-working. I’m not made of lightbulbs.

Look, I’m being moderate here. I haven’t mentioned CFLs’ alleged links to epilepsy and migraine, the cancer scares around their ultraviolet emissions, and the distinct probability that the CIA is using radiation to brainwash and seduce our beautiful redheaded women. I’m not a crackpot.

But dammit, I’d rather sit in the dark than clean up after another broken “long-life” bulb.

George Wells

Youth and Love, by Laney Rie

Laney Rie is a singer songwriter from Colorado. She has been writing songs since she was 12. Her inspiration comes from her life experiences and the people she has come in contact with. Her musical style is indie pop, with mellow piano and poetic song lyrics. Laney has a soulful sound, especially for her youthful age. She wants her music to impact people in such a way that they don’t feel alone in this world.

This is our third song from Laney this launch weekend.  Her EP, Childish Dreams, can be purchased from Apple Music.

May for ME

May is ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) awareness month. It’s probably the awareness month for several other medical conditions as well – let’s face it, we have more than 12 of them after all, so maybe we should be going for a week, or even just a day?

Whatever. I’m not going to be posting about ME every single day of May (we’re already on day 4, and this is my first one, after all). But I am going to be posting. Today, I’m going to start with a short description of the illness, and then tell you a little bit about my experience with it.

ME is a debilitating neurological illness with numerous symptoms, including bone-weary exhaustion, muscle pain, joint pain, stabbing neurological pain, headaches, intolerance to light and sound, sleep disturbances, light-headedness, orthostatic intolerance (inability to stand), inability to regulate body temperature, persistent flu-like symptoms, nausea and IBS, fibromyalgia, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss, slurred speech and more. But the overriding symptom that differentiates it from every other illness is called post-exertional malaise (PEM). This means that patients have a severe, delayed reaction to exercise, and in many cases never return to the same baseline they were at before whatever sent them into a “crash.” Have you ever massively overdone it on the weights at the gym, and been in so much pain you were unable to move the next day? Add that to having influenza and the fatigue you might feel after doing your first marathon, and you might have some idea how it feels. Plus, if you ever do manage to return to our metaphorical gym, you will only be able to lift half the weight you could before. This is no exaggeration: I moved my sofa a couple of inches in mid-December last year (pushed it with my whole bodyweight), and I was confined to bed for weeks. I almost missed Christmas Day – I did miss singing with the church choir on Christmas Eve.

My ME journey began in 2004. I got a flu-like illness that never went away, although I suspect I had already had fibromyalgia for some time before that – it had been misdiagnosed as ankylosing spondolitis. My doctor thought the original illness may have been glandular fever. Strangely enough, the diagnosis made me feel a bit better – I didn’t know then what I know now about ME. I took a three (long) days a week teaching job and tried to just get on with it. That didn’t really work, and I had to resign from the job. However, shortly after that I discovered a local chiropractor, and spent a lot of money on intensive treatment which put me into about 95% remission, or at least that was what I attributed it to. I later learnt that it is common to go into remission in the first couple of years, and for it to come back again a few years later, in a more permanent form.

I spent the next few years working as an actor and also as a supply teacher – two very physically demanding jobs. I thought I was fine. I even did the couch-2-5k programme at one point with my friend Tracy – although I was a terrible runner: I could almost walk faster than I could run. I would train in the gym every day if I could, and I attended Body Pump and Pilates classes. I went clubbing when the opportunity presented itself. I did physical theatre and danced in musicals.

But at a certain point in 2010, I felt the illness return. In retrospect, it had probably been creeping up on me for a while, but I had been too busy to notice. I was temping in an office Monday to Friday, teaching GCSE English catchup lessons in a secondary school on Saturdays, and directing and playing the leading role in a play for which we were rehearsing three evenings a week plus Sunday. (I am a bit of an overachiever, but this is also what it took to make enough money to live on).

My next play was a physical theatre piece. I had to tell the director that I couldn’t do that part of it. Luckily, I had one of the speaking parts, which didn’t necessarily have to involve a lot of movement. At this point, I could no longer run, work out, or go clubbing, but I could still do the dancing required for a musical a couple of years later, go to two tap classes a week, swim, and walk for miles. Standing up for more than a few minutes was beginning to be a bit of a problem though.

Fast forward to late 2014. I had to give up the intervention teaching job I had been doing (in the same school, but through an agency) for several years. By this point, I could only swim for about ten minutes, there was no tap dancing, or cross-city walks, but I could do yoga. Standing for more than five minutes was problematic, as was navigating steps. I had one last stab at work a few months later when I took over the lead role in a play after someone fell ill. I learnt 70 pages of script in five days. I had worked with the director previously, and he set up the stage in such a way that I could sit down whenever I felt the need to. In the third week of our four week run (with a lot of my friends in the audience – it was St Patrick’s Day and I had arranged for there to be a half-price ticket night), everything went black around me, apart from the face of the actor who was right in front of me. I almost passed out on stage. I finished the run, but I haven’t worked since.

A few months later, I left London and moved to a house in the country in the West of Ireland. At first, I could still walk 5 k each day. It would use up at least half of my daily energy, but I prioritised it because made me feel good mentally. Things have got progressively worse since then, and I recently acquired an electric wheelchair. Some of the simplest household tasks are beyond me, such as changing my bed sheets. Although I live in a dormer bungalow, I rarely go upstairs.  Sometimes I don’t eat, because I’m not well enough to wash the dishes afterwards.

I have already mentioned the sofa incident. In early 2018, I spent three months in bed after a one-week visit to London. I can no longer travel by any form of public transport on my own. Before Covid 19, I was travelling to my nearest city maybe every 5 – 6 weeks.

ME is what is known as an invisible illness. If you see me, it will be because I am having a good day. If I am having a bad day, week, or month, then I won’t be going anywhere. If I seem to be enjoying myself at your birthday party, I probably am – but I will be paying for it for weeks afterwards. This is the reality of life for people with ME, especially those who live alone. There is no treatment and no cure. We are the #millions missing.

Mary Tynan

To understand more about PEM and energy debt, please read my article “Living Life with a Low-Capacity Battery,” which was previously published in The Mighty and Yahoo News.

Stock Take, by Flaura Atkinson

This evocative short zombie film was made by Director Flaura Atkinson in 2009.  Please note that smaller children might find this a bit scary.  Parents are advised to watch the film themselves first and use their own judgement as to suitability.

Image

Blackrock Diving Tower, by Anne Tynan

Galway City native Anne painted this picture of the famous diving tower at Blackrock, Salthill.  This picture is particulary poignant, as, in normal times, there are swimmers at Blackrock every single day of the year, with Christmas Day being a particular favourite.  Anne says:

“Definitely not comfortable with describing myself as an artist.  I was inspired to paint this iconic neighbourhood scene after a thoughtful birthday gift from my sister.  I hadn’t painted for decades, pretty much abandoning it after a year of art school when I was 16.  However, having enjoyed this painting thoroughly, I will definitely keep it up and hope to improve!”

Ein Traum, sung by Ailish Tynan

Ailish Tynan is a world-renowned soprano who has played the lead in operas such as La Boheme, Hansel and Gretel, The Cunning Little Vixen and The Magic Flute, appearing in venues such as The Royal Opera House, La Scala and Grange Park.  She also performs extensively at recitals and concerts, and is a regular on the BBC Proms.  Here she performs Ein Traum by Edvard Grieg, from his Sechs Lieder, Opus 48, accompanied on the piano by James Baillieu.  This was recorded while in self-isolation during the current Covid 19 pandemic.  An English translation of the song is printed below the video.  Ailish is represented by Steven Swales Artist Management.

A Dream

English Translation © Richard Stokes

I once dreamed a beautiful dream:
A blonde maiden loved me,
It was in the green woodland glade,
It was in the warm springtime:
The buds bloomed, the forest stream swelled,
From the distant village came the sound of bells—
We were so full of bliss,
So lost in happiness.
And more beautiful yet than the dream,
It happened in reality,
It was in the green woodland glade,
It was in the warm springtime:
The forest stream swelled, the buds bloomed,
From the village came the sound of bells—
I held you fast, I held you long,
And now shall never let you go!
O woodland glade so green with spring!
You shall live in me for evermore—
There reality became a dream,
There dream became reality!

Viral Times

Deliverance it said.

I have been reading. I mean I do read especially if I’m waiting. For a delivery. You become very aware of time. When I’m logged on, when I’m not. You find yourself kind of quantifying your day by how long and how much; like your score.

Anyway, back to what I was saying. I am part cyborg. Or rather we all are. I read somewhere that increasingly we’re kind of fused with our gadgets. Actually it’s not gadgets as a term – I mean, it sounds like they’re toys – but it’s more than that, and anyway they aren’t toys. In fact if I was talking toys, we’re the toys, or, rather, we feel like toys, as though we’re toyed with. You know – the ones the baby suddenly throws out.

Thrown out, or, rather, dropped; it’s like, I imagine, a bungee jump. You’re falling through life, I don’t know, eating breakfast or digging the garden? And suddenly, ’ding dong,’ it chimes. You’re yanked upward or out of it, delivery! And then it’s like, not exactly panicky, just fiddly – laces, pulling the fleece or jacket or maybe even waterproofs on, faffing but only until you’re on the bike, and the phone is mounted on the handlebars, then it goes smoother as your legs kick in, a change of gear. Almost like film being reversed, because you don’t feel completely there; still tasting the eggs.

From there on you can see yourself doing the routine: showing the number, standing back, social distancing, offer the bag, zipping up and back on the bike. Your senses are attuned to the information on the road. Your mind is elsewhere – maybe back at home, or maybe asking will there be another delivery after this. Until you get to the address, when you complete; then you’re back biking it home or ding dong again. This happens whenever you’re logged in; when it doesn’t happen you feel disappointed, because you’re not earning, and when it does you feel disappointed, because you have to sever yourself.

Anyway, reading: this journalist said that technology is becoming more integrated with our lives and work and that algorithms are increasingly ‘making the big decisions.’. He talks about a crisis in liberal democracy. That it has lost its way. It’s becoming less humane: the poor are getting poorer, the one percent are getting richer and governments increasingly are incapable of protecting the interests of the less well off. He says that we are just expected to behave -in particular ways that we’re nudged to, that the market is seen as the highest good, and human beings are no longer special, in themselves, but only ‘big data’ – just a herd whose behaviour can be nudged into particular directions. Technology is part of that. We kind of fit in with it. Not just the web, no, but everything. Social media, it kind of extends us; we live through it but it actually uses us. The power of it for those who own it is big, big data.

And I kind of get that. I do deliveries to people: they pay for food delivery, and we jump, and it is delivered. We are, notionally, clients engaged in a relationship, a business relationship with the company or more specifically the App. We have a very defined part to play, or be played. We do the moving, the physical part. We can say no, but then there’s always the question, will we get another? Will our stats count against us? It’s like sin, karma. Anyway, we don’t really have a choice if we want to get paid; we say yes, and then we do it. We behave by doing the action that they specify. Then we are rewarded. Our fees are increased – not our pay, because we’re not really employed. They invoice us to tell us how much we are receiving.

We are that thing – the zero hours contract thing. All they expect from us is to behave in a particular way, and if we get lucky we get sustenance. But it is quite fickle, the App; it’s an arbitrary god. At least it feels like that. One day it’s all milk and honey: tips galore, short runs, short waits and doubles. You are cooking on gas. But then, will you still love me tomorrow? Clearly, all too often the answer is no. The next day, week or fortnight is a regular desert, with skeletons littering it. Your mind starts playing with you. When it’s going smooth you think you’ve mastered the App.
If I only accept doubles, or short ones or long ones before six, then I will make enough. But the App has no charity. Because then you spend night after night not delivering. Every passing ‘ped’ is someone else receiving blessings, but you’re fated to die. The system always twists the knife. So the App is a cruel, capricious god. Just like the old gods. Just as you feel blessed, a bird shits in your mouth.

Now someone must have coded that, or made it a feature, because there are definite red letter days, and each rider has them and they rarely coincide. It all seems calculated to keep you guessing, hoping that today will be the day. Maybe it’s a behavioural nudge.

He who wrote the book says we can make one powerful choice, that is to refuse. He sees these moments of refusal as the significant moments. He even goes back to the old gods. Apparently the end of the persecution of Christians within the Roman Empire, and the empire’s subsquent adoption of Christianity, came about as people gave up on the daily performance of rituals in temples to those old gods. People recognised that the routine sacrifice and repeated offerings given actually made no difference to the run of fate. The character of the gods in legend and myth was frequently cruel and despotic, as though the storyteller was trying to explain their indifference to the lives of their worshippers.

The algorithms of the gig are similarly disinterested. Nothing moves them other than wealth accrued. The system similarly relies upon a stunted belief that human needs can be easily met by a greasy morsel presented by an economic inferior, kept in line by a system that favours any who own, and that promises a ladder of improvement to those who buy into acquiring first, a bike and then, a moped with all attendant insurance and security paraphernalia – those willing to submit to the futility of chasing the next good day. This all presented as the nature of the world. It is a line that cannot be questioned. The owners have always owned, and everyone needs to be driven by hunger and need. I wonder how, if ever, the rejection of the old gods can ever be echoed by a similar refusal to labour for such meagre reward?

Maybe the virus has created a window through which another vista is visible? It has certainly created a moment. A kind of sustained pause, a buffering point, at which our frantic ritual travel seems more intensely futile. Against the static painted backdrop, we plunge through the night – only the ambulances have similar urgency – every time the notification chimes. Our status as ‘key workers’ has risen. People frequently tip us and comment upon our service to them and the community. Strangely, this kindness of strangers throws the austere fees we receive from the App into sharp relief. This all occurs in a moment when the economy is faltering, economic activity largely halted.

This gap is less bridgeable for some. Many are living on borrowed time. Reserves are stretched. Disposable income is no more. Some who hoard wealth can sit back on their haunches and wait to pick the carcass clean. But we can all make a decision to not be bound by this, to not deliver. To not accept property as the rule. Eat the food you were to deliver. Insist that hoarded wealth in offshore havens pays out and is redeployed. Bankers bail society out rather than the reverse.

The writer I refer to as ‘journalist’, is Paul Mason, who’s book ‘Clear Bright Future’ I highly recommend.

Ian Macnaughton

Ian is an actor, writer and Deliveroo courier who lives in London.

Neverland, by Laney Rie

Laney Rie is a singer songwriter from Colorado. She has been writing songs since she was 12. Her inspiration comes from her life experiences and the people she has come in contact with. Her musical style is indie pop, with mellow piano and poetic song lyrics. Laney has a soulful sound, especially for her youthful age. She wants her music to impact people in such a way that they don’t feel alone in this world.

This is our second song from Laney this launch weekend.  Her EP, Childish Dreams, can be purchased from Apple Music.

Number Withheld

Yesterday I received four calls from a blocked number. This has been going on for weeks now.

I received them, but I didn’t accept them. Nor will I, no matter how often the dastards call. Like many others, I won’t answer blocked numbers. The era of friendly, unsuspicious telephone-obedience is over, and good riddance to it. Telemarketers, stalkers, creditors and odious prank-calling radio DJs have brought the age of telecommunications innocence to a shameful, paranoid end, like a bankrupt businessman’s relationship with first-class airport lounges.

These days, making a call with your number blocked is like wearing a balaclava to a speed dating event. It’s like covering someone’s eyes from behind, yelling “Guess who?” but refusing to take your hands off. It’s like going to a job interview with one of those black rectangles from old-style “identities concealed” news reports pasted over your upper face (which would actually be totally cool, now that I think of it).

You may well be experiencing similar harassment yourself; I know of two other confirmed cases (and we’re all on the same network, for whatever that’s worth). One guy, Dave, actually answered recently, and got thirty seconds of silence before he hung up. But still that infuriating impersonal buzz keeps coming.

It’s gotta be a call centre. If a reasoning human being was behind this, and they really wanted to get through, surely they’d have the cop-on to change the “send number” setting on their mobile, or fire off a text message. If they’re using an unlisted landline, they should know that entering 142 before dialling makes your number visible just for that call.

Call centres, on the other hand, navigate by the pure hard stars of bits and bytes. Once your number’s on their list, once you’re scheduled, then no force on earth can prevent that hateful ring-ring from finding you. Their evil computer brains advance-call the next number even if no-one’s yet ready to talk to you. Not a microsecond of company time is wasted; immediately poor Jimmy Q Agent on node 212 finishes one call, he’s connected directly to you or me, wondering who the hell this is while he fumbles the intro of his why-you-need-underpants-insurance spiel.

Except he won’t be connected to me. I don’t care how often he calls, who he is, or what he wants. I’m not taking his call. Show your number, you dirty feckers, and maybe we can talk.

George Wells

Ar Líne Le Chéile – Online Together

Before I was involved in an online arts centre, I was involved in an online school.

The Covid-19 has involved a lot of “online firsts” for me, many of which involves using new software for face-to-face online conversation. Ar Líne Le Chéile was the first of the firsts.

As soon as the schools in Ireland were shut, on Thursday 12 March, three friends (Notes from Xanadu contributors Philipa Farley and Simon Woodworth, and electronic engineer Gerard Heaney) and I decided to set up an online school. We wanted to be able to help children of friends and family with any isolation and loneliness that they might be feeling as a result of the crisis, and to give them the opportunity to explore new ideas with each other. The next day, Philipa gave Gerard and me an introduction to Microsoft Teams, and two days later I ran a trial lesson with my niece and nephew, to make sure I knew what I was doing, software-wise (with more than a decade’s experience I was fairly confident on the teaching front).

As it soon became clear that the regular schools would be sending work home for the children, I decided to have a different focus – theme-based, multi-disciplinary lessons designed to whet the student’s appetite for further exploration or activity, in whichever direction might take their interest. The first of these was a virtual visit to the British Museum to visit the Rosetta Stone. We also used a hieroglyphic typewriter, and made posters. After a meeting with parents on the Monday night, the school opened with this lesson on Wednesday, 18 March, with 11 pupils.

We settled into a regular routine after that with the themed lesson on Mondays and an associated feedback class on Fridays. On Wednesdays, I led a half-hour conversational Irish class, whilst Philipa taught Scratch programming on Thursday. Gerard gave us an evening Introduction to Electronics on the second week. During what would have been the school holidays, I led a weekly “keeping in touch” session on the two Thursdays.

Ar Líne Le Chéile has pupils from Sligo, Roscommon, Dublin, Cork and Galway. The school is free, and the teachers are giving their time as volunteers. I asked some of the children and parents for their thoughts for an earlier press release.

“It’s a great way to learn – you feel connected with other learners” said Jack Keaney, a 12-year-old student.

Charlotte Gask, mum of three of the students, had this to say:

“For me, I think the subjects are great. It lovely that it includes lots of ages and abilities, but mostly I love that it is scheduled. It gives us an anchor for our ‘school’ day.”

Her daughter, Georgie Longstaff, added:

“I like it, it’s more fun than school.”

Philipa’s two daughters, Ruth and Zoë, love that they can help demonstrate and make a game (while learning). They also like helping their mother to teach.

We are currently on a two-week break, and there was some thought that maybe the normal schools might be resuming before the end of that, but An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s announcement yesterday has made it clear that primary and secondary schools will not be reopening until September. Ar Líne Le Chéile, on the other hand, will be resuming on 11 May. Our students are the nicest bunch of children you could possibly hope to meet, and I am looking forward to seeing them all again on Monday week – nuair a bheidh muid ar líne le chéile arís (when we will be online together again).

Mary Tynan

More information about our school can be found at www.arlinelecheile.school.

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Art by Joy-Elizabeth Mitchell

Artist Joy-Elizabeth Mitchell is based in West Cork. Her specialities are Animals and Birds, statements of injustice, and landscapes. She also take commissions. The three paintings below are for sale. For details of these, or to discuss a commission, you can email her on joyelizabethmitchell09@gmail.com.

Wish You Were Here

Today we are lolling on bright red towels at Inchydoney beach. The tide creeps out, and a black and white sheep dog and a toddler wearing swimming trunks race each other along the water’s edge. It’s good to breathe in the tangy air. Fachtna has been reading a thriller, turning the pages at a rapid speed, but he soon tires of it all, and joins me in my favourite pursuit – people watching.

A young woman ambles by, her feet sinking into the soft sand, her body swaying with the weight of her bump. She wears a yellow sundress, and moves regally, despite her awkwardness. Fachtna picks up his book, shields his face. I lie back and shut my eyes. We came here to get away from it all.

Two weeks ago we finished the last round. The hope-despair cycle. I suggested adoption last night, but was met with stony silence. Maybe he will warm to the idea.

And in the meantime there is this: a July afternoon, the sand scorching my heels, a barking dog, a giggling toddler. One empty bank account, two worn-out people, three days of marriage-mending.

The sun glistens silver on the tops of the waves. The beauty of it hurts my eyes. Must post a picture to Facebook. Our friends will be envious of our long weekend away.

Geraldine McCarthy

Geraldine McCarthy lives in West Cork.  She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry, in both English and Irish. Her work has been published in various journals, both on-line and in print.