Bringing it All Back Home – Online

Welcome to the relaunch of Notes from Xanadu. The next four days will witness the transformation of the site from online magazine to online arts centre.

Our homepage has always said Welcome Home. It’s been a place to come in, take your shoes off and relax with something to read, whether that be fiction, poetry, articles or reviews. We’ve never published a bad review – if we couldn’t find something good to say, then we wouldn’t say anything at all (but that never happened). We reviewed theatre, art, books, opera, film, eateries, and even, on one occassion, a karaoke booth. It was a home from home that gave you ideas about what to do outside the home.

And now many of us are confined to the home. On deciding to relaunch Notes From Xanadu at this point, it was decided to make it into much more than an internet magazine. I personally had a list of ideas for an arts centre, and decided to see how much of it could be implemented online – quite a lot, as it turns out. We have art, music, puppetry and of course writing, much of which explores the theme of staying at home or living online, as well as how the “new normal” is for the people who do go out to work.

For many people, the online way of life has been a reality long before Covid 19. I am thinking in particular of the chronic illness community, of which I am a member. Most of us are severely limited in how much time we can spend out and about; some are completely housebound; some are bedbound. The internet is a place for people to connect, share thoughts and ideas, and even study – for those who are well enough. This is particularly true for people who live alone. Other people may find themselves in the same boat by virtue of living in a remote location. We have always known how to do as much as possible online. The coronavirus has taught others the same skills. There is a lot of talk about the downside of the internet – people being addicted to their phones, not having real-life conversations, preferring the virtual world to the real world. But in reality the lines between the two are blurred.

And so here we are, bringing it all back home – online. Welcome to my world. Welcome to our world. Welcome to Xanadu.

Mary Tynan

Philipa Farley

Summer Plans

Transplanted. Geeking out about most things AI, law and quantum, offline and online, when not spending time with the family, pets, and friends. Expect commentary on food and wine from time to time.

What are your summer plans? I can tell you that we were planning on a trip to the seaside, possibly to a hotel. This was besides quite a long list of day trips out to touristy joints such as the Cliffs of Moher. We were perhaps partly planning at some point to go to Disneyland Paris*. These things obviously depended on work going well. You know, because I’m ‘self-employed’** and these things are generally achievable and within our control.

Well, Mother Nature, God, the Universe and everything else has handed us 2020 on a plate with a side serving of ‘screw your plans, human’! I suppose at this point on day whatever of whatever we call this situation – lockdown? quarantine? self-imposed semi-solitude while we count our loo rolls? – it is as good a time as any to practice gratitude, mindfulness and everything else akin to such.

I’ll start with gratitude for the fact that we likely won’t be subjected to masses of humanity in small enclosed spaces over the summer. Most likely you, dear Reader, will have experienced the deep joy of overwhelm and meltdown, as we have on several occasions, in the midst of activities that had previously been begged for with much persuasion. So, I am thankful that I can just cite COVID-19 LOCKDOWN 2020 in response to any such Disneyland related requests, parks and cruises included. My screw you to TV advertising during prime time! We’ll save a few ‘youro’ in the meantime too. Happy days.

Let us move on to mindfulness and living in the present moment, because, let’s be honest, there doesn’t seem to be a single human on this earth that can tell us what tomorrow will bring. Our default is the present moment. And it’s pretty damn uncomfortable! I’m on the verge of doing the |||| / on the wall above my desk. I keep having to ask what actual day it is. Now, more than ever before, we realise what a man-made construct time in fact is.

Everything else akin? Well, I for one am at the stage of hands in the air and do what you want***. Really, I am. I am a compulsive goal setter, planner and organiser. These are great skills in the context of a regular and functioning system. Right now, not so much. They are anxiety causing beasts.

Which brings me to the last point of this likely last column because like our previous reality, all changes at some point****. Was ‘before’ regular and normal? Is the universe resetting? Should we have taken the other colour pill? Forgive me, I seem to have woken up in the midst of the type of ridiculous movie that I usually don’t go and watch because when will that ish ever happen to us? Daily life feels like driving in the mist. It just swirls without context or horizon.

So, with time passing as it inevitably does, this summer, you might find me and us here at home, braai’ing*****, fixing up the garden and generally enjoying each other’s company. Outsiders of the household might be welcome but keep your two-metre distance. Happy days!

*The smallies were negotiating a cruise. Not going to happen ever because I have the words DIAMOND PRINCESS forever burned into my prefrontal cortex. Everything from hereon in will be put through the COVID-19 LOCKDOWN 2020 filter.

**On my LinkedIn though, I’m a director, lead auditor and consultant. Sounds so much better, no?
***But only after the daily schedule has been strictly adhered to – school work, cleaning, meals by the clock.
****Someone else can have a turn now!
*****Because barbecuing apparently holds a whole cultural context that we have yet to wrap our heads around.

Philipa Farley

All of Me, performed by Autumn Black

“Hi my name is Autumn Black.  I enjoy writing original songs and covering others on guitar.  I love playing guitar because it’s a way I can express myself and it helps me smile when I’m down.”


Bravery’s Lullaby, 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.

We will be featuring more songs by Laney over the launch weekend.  Her EP, Childish Dreams, can be purchased from Apple Music.

Water, by Colin Byford

This is the first of two exhibitions in our gallery by Colin this weekend.  The second, entitled “Bugs” will debut on Monday, 4 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 and I am on as Colin S Byford.”

Yemeni Exchange

As the elderly Boeing 727 took off from Abu Dhabi and banked around a huge thunderstorm, I realised I was heading somewhere different. In 1998, I was on my way to the port of Aden in Yemen. As the plane approached the airport there, the burned-out hulks of aircraft littered the airfield around the runway. The terminal building itself was gouged out with a huge bomb crater, the scars of a civil war that had ended 4 years previously. We had to enter the arrivals area via the men’s toilets. I was held up by customs who insisted on writing a lengthy note in my passport because I was carrying a (then relatively rare) Toshiba laptop.

I had been sent there by my employers to help commission a telephone exchange. Aden was blisteringly hot as well as being a bustling madhouse, with a good chunk of the city inside a volcanic crater. The base station for our new mobile system sat on top of a ridge at the edge of that crater, over razor sharp lava fields. It was so hot that the 4×4 we used to get there had two air conditioning units. The icy chill of the 4×4’s interior was a huge contrast to the waves of heat radiating from the lava field on which the base station was built.

The telephone exchange was in cooler surroundings, but still extremely hot. A trip to the bathroom involved shooing the rats out from under the toilet! Outside the bathroom was a tented area, at which the faithful prayed several times daily. The calls to prayer from the muezzins were piped over loudspeakers all over the city. It is a sound I will never forget.

The sea was as warm as bathwater to swim in, and we went for a dip one evening, right next to the huge desalination plants which supplied freshwater to the city. Swimming was very pleasant, but not effective for cooling down! The food at the hotel we stayed in was excellent, but I made the mistake of sampling a local drug called Qat. Qat is a leaf which, when chewed, is pleasantly sweet and gives a very mild narcotic buzz. A British colleague described it as “chewing a Privet bush.” It was certainly not unpleasant and it was not unusual to see Yemeni men with a wad of Qat shoved in a cheek for chewing.

Unfortunately, in my eagerness to sample local customs, I had forgotten basic food hygiene and cleanliness. As a result of my Qat–chewing, the subsequent stomach upset caused me to rapidly lose 5 kilos over the following week. The rat–infested toilet was a frequent visiting place. It took 15 hour’s unbroken sleep to finally clear the bug and recover some sense of normality.

Yemeni men used to walk around hand-in-hand and Yemeni women invariably wore black abayas with a slit opening for eyes. Underneath their severe outer clothing, however, you could frequently see a colourful and fashionable shoe peeping out. I was lucky to experience how friendly and helpful Yemenis were: I never felt threatened or unsafe there. Whilst, at the time, there was a habit of kidnapping foreigners, they were always well treated. So much so, that a French kidnap victim was presented with an AK47 on his release and wrote a letter of release to his captors. Unfortunately, this friendly practice ended when the government started to shoot kidnappers, a counterproductive practice that resulted in the deaths of several victims. It was surely a sign of future trouble in the country.

After two weeks, the telephone exchange installation was successfully completed. I was able to make mobile telephone calls on the system, always a gratifying experience. Unfortunately, I had less than 12 hours to enjoy the fruits of my labour. At short notice, I was asked to travel to Egypt to talk to customers in Cairo. I had to travel to Sana’a to catch the flight because of an airline strike in Aden. This involved a 400km journey in an aging Peugeot 305 with a Qat-chewing(!) taxi-driver.

The countryside was epic. It rose from dry wadis near the coast through rocky foothills and mountains to an elevation of over 2000 m in Sana’a. We passed through dusty little villages of cube-shaped houses, as the air grew cooler and the countryside greener. There were frequent military checkpoints and, unknown to me, a lot of the rural areas had local chieftains who were the ones kidnapping foreigners.

The taxi-driver, however, was a lunatic. There’s a scene (not that one) in Basic Instinct where Sharon Stone subjects Michael Douglas to a hair-raising high-speed drive along a narrow cliff road, overtaking into oncoming traffic. My driver did the same thing while nonchalantly chewing his Qat (he did offer me some, but I politely declined).

I arrived in Sana’a unscathed. At 10,000 feet altitude, it was lovely and cool, with much more greenery than the coast or inland. A misunderstanding about my hotel destination lead to a lively conversation between my driver and some locals. All were intent on me arriving safely, and I did – just in time for dinner with a Ukrainian colleague, before an early morning departure to Cairo. When I arrived in Amman for a connecting flight, it was a pleasant shock to see the faces of women again.

Arriving in Cairo, my local contact was crestfallen to see I had no business suit. Unfortunately, I had packed for technical work at a telephone exchange, not visiting customers. Interestingly, all the management of the mobile service provider were women, which went slightly against the stereotype of Middle Eastern countries.

Compared to Aden, Cairo was a huge metropolis – but, nevertheless, another bustling madhouse. Nearly every taxi had dented side panels, as driving was regarded as a contact sport. I spent a couple of days there, with one notable dinner by the banks of the Nile. I did see the pyramids briefly from an aeroplane window on my departure.

Simon Woodworth