It’s doubtful that any other person, apart from the artistic director, has contributed to Notes From Xanadu in as many different ways as James Keaney. He has been both front of house and backstage for all of our live performances in the theatre, as well as playing the piano in our launch concert and taking the part of Colm in Riders to the Sea last December; he did work experience on all aspects of the arts centre during TY (transition year in secondary school, for readers outside Ireland); and has shared his work as a prolific composer/musician with us on many occasions. And it’s in this last guise that we are featuring him today: James has released a new single especially for Hallowe’en, and we think it’s delightfully spooky. This is Kick or Treat!
And I’m still not ready,
when the day arrives,
and the alarm kicks me
out of bed.
I jump into faded denim jeans,
and second best runners,
and throw on a jacket
just in case.
“Sure it could come wet at the ploughin’.”
The neighbours have already left.
I fill the flask and grab the lunchbox
and the dark blue wellingtons,
I bought at the sale in Paul Byron’s
The day before.
Before I know it,
The early morning sun
Is flooding my eyes,
And Screggan is waking up
To the arrival of locals and strangers
And families and foreigners,
queuing to get through the barriers
“to make the most of the day at the ploughin’.”
The men in boots and wellingtons
And arthritic legs and walking sticks,
stand in admiration of the pedigree cattle,
and new breeds of sheep
never seen before.
No wool, no tails, no horns
with name they can’t pronounce
from countries never seen,
“By Jove you’d see strange things at the ploughin’.”
They saunter in groups,
And fill their pockets with brochures
And special offers,
For the day that’s in it,
And half listen to reps,
promoting minerals and vitamins
for guaranteed growth.
and it makes them hungry too
“and you can’t beat a good breakfasht at the ploughin’.”
The stands are surrounded
By girls and women and ladies
Sampling eye shadow and mascara
And buy one, get one free.
And the coat in the wooden hanger
“one size fits all” half price offer
And I wait in the queue
And it hasn’t fitted anyone yet
And it doesn’t fit me either.
And the assistant picks up her business card
“I have more online if you like to browse”
“Sound, I’ll check it out after the ploughing.”
There’s a bright yellow solus bag
Going free at the electric stand.
Well you wouldn’t be seen dead
Wearing it at home
But now it becomes the latest fashion accessory
You fill it with biros and keyrings,
And leaflets and brochures
And you enter competitions to faraway places
Never heard of before,
But you will hear of again
Because they now have your mobile and email
“Isn’t that the whole idea of taking a stand at the ploughin’.”
At midday I saunter over to Aldi
And get a selfie with Daithí
And taste the free food
And meet the neighbour that
I never meet at home
And the conversation moves
Through three generations
In thirty minutes
“and you could bump into anyone at the ploughin’.”
The men with the boots and wellingtons
Are now trying out the new machinery
And look at the size of that John Deere
And how in God’s name
Would it fit through the gap at home
If you could afford it
And the trailer to go with it
If you had enough grass to fill it.
And the sales rep says convincingly
“there’s a few thousand off today for the ploughin’.”
Evening sun sets in Screggan,
And the crowds dwindle
To get out before the rush.
I’m still browsing and I spot
The brown and cream scarf
That I have always wanted
Three for a tenner sounds good.
I wave to the camera on the way out
And hope I’ll be home in time to see myself
Walking across the car park,
Two farmers lament and moan
How everyone is carried away at the stands
“and sure no one goes to see the ploughing at all.”
We’re only 1 year old, not 64, but nevertheless we hope you enjoy our second piece of the weekend by highly-talented puppeteer Aurora Adams.
As part of Day 3 of our birthday celebration, we give you Episode Three of The Prison Podcasts. This is the story of a unique and interesting correctional officer – Sally.
(Please note: this piece might not be suitable for younger listeners.)
Jackson Lara spent nine years working in men’s medium to high security prisons in New Mexico. He first started as a correctional officer, then used his teaching credential to teach GED material to men preparing for the GED test.
Do you read on an e-reader? Do you buy electronic books? Do you buy paper books from stores that may or may not collate your purchases and share them with Amazon and the likes, anyway? Do you use apps like Goodreads to get recommendations, store read and want to read type lists, and to share read books with connections?
Last year, I watched “Online privacy is broken; this is how we fix it” a TEDX GEM talk by Emerald De Leeuw.
I also retweeted a tweet about an (older) mom who had been on Snapchat for a month where she captured her husband, a public school librarian, ranting in the most decent way possible. Two of the snaps stood out for me: one with him refusing to stock a biography of President Trump* and the other about Barbar the elephant being racist, colonialist rubbish. Whilst I absolutely applaud his principled stand, does he as a librarian have the right to censor information that could be put in a section labelled something like: things you should not do and people you should not emulate?
In the recent past, I may or may not have done work that may or may not have involved none or several public libraries. Whilst data protection and privacy were not the focus of that particular piece of work, the subject matter was a subset. Discussion centred around the usefulness of maintaining user reading history versus the expectation of privacy. Librarians like to have access to the list to recommend, when asked, however, the potential to profile (via the electronic management system) the individual using their reading list exists. Librarians generally voted in favour of not retaining the user history and rather discussing with the user asking for recommendations at the time. With the ability to shape the thoughts of a community, librarians are far more powerful than I think they realise.**
Articles have been popping up on my timeline recently about privacy, data protection and Amazon knowing more about you than anybody else. A certain BBC documentary aired the other evening citing the number of data points collected per person per ONE click on the website. Add to this the tracking of reading material via the Kindle ecosystem.*** At this point, Amazon could probably make you the movie of your future life and be 99% accurate.
This is not a piece on digital versus paper as I’ll point you back to the third question above and the TEDx talk. Whilst to some extent, our identity can be influenced and moulded according to the mores of the community within which we live, our identity is no longer influenced but rather curated. Also, curated at the speed of light to suit the motives of the highest bidder. What is the antidote to this? I like to think mindfulness. Do we need an antidote? What do you think?
*Respect the office, etc.
**Disclaimer: this is most definitely not a Tomcats reference.
***And social media posts, etc etc.
We’re starting the final day of our birthday celebrations with our third photography feature. It’s nice to have so many of the artists who took place in our launch weekend one year ago come back and join us for the birthday celebrations! Colin has had two previous exhibitions with us, Water and Bugs. He describes himself as follows: “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.
Notes from Xanadu is delighted to be featuring another track from the prolific James Keaney as part of our birthday celebrations. As you probably know, James has been heavily involved with Xanadu Online Theatre, taking part in the launch concert, playing the role of Colm in our production of “Riders to the Sea” in December 2020, as well as taking on several roles front of house and behind the scenes in both the theatre and the arts centre. Today’s track is called Cat Coup, and is taken from his new album, Wait. If you would like to hear more from James (why wouldn’t you?) you can follow him on Youtube and Soundcloud (and on Notes From Xanadu, of course). Wait, and James’ previous album can be purchased at Bandcamp.
Aurora Adams was part of our launch weekend last year, and we are delighted to have her back with us for our birthday celebrations. If you enjoy this, you will be glad to hear that we will be having more puppetry from Aurora tomorrow.
In a follow up to yesterday’s video dating piece from Ian MacNaughton, today he gives us a glimpse into how it must be for a sat nav looking for love.
“I see babies smile,” sang Louis Armstrong. So do I, Satchmo, and I think to myself: what on earth are they smiling about?
They have to contend with faeces-filled clothing, regular bangs on the head, and twenty miniature daggers of bone slowly slicing their way through their gums – which, in an absurdly vicious twist, also causes agonising inflammation of the arse. This is why we retain no memories of the first three years: because they’re hell.
It’s all to play for when you’re a baby. Everything is at stake. You’ve got to be careful not to eat from the cat’s litter tray, not to attract the nickname “Urinal”, not to turn out a heroin addict. Every beautiful little child, every dribbling, wobbling bundle of boundless potential, has a chance, however remote, of ending up in Real Madrid or Portlaoise Prison, of becoming an astronaut or a car clamper. We’re like those heartbreaking South Sea turtles that hatch on the beach and then have to dodge massed ranks of waiting predators to get to the sea – except it takes us 30 years to get there.
But when you’re a baby, you don’t know any of this. All you know is that damned screwdriver simply will not fit into the stupid electricity socket. All you know is that Mum insists on trying to perch you on the toilet even though you’ve told her about the dinosaurs lurking below. All you know is that there’s nothing Dad can say or do which would be even half as bad as the intolerable existential pain incurred by not being allowed to watch Toy Story right this second – who cares if it’s midnight?
A baby’s screaming has been scientifically proven to be the third most irritating noise in creation, close behind Robbie Williams singing and the words “Hi, could I just have a minute of your time?” Nature, in her wisdom, has gifted the infant humanoid with this infallible mechanism for drawing the attention it needs. But nature ain’t so smart (see also: the Chihuahua, Mike Myers, ragwort, breech birth). The infant’s siren call can easily repel the assistance it is intended to solicit.
But babies will squawk and toddlers will roar regardless, sometimes in duet, sometimes even kicking off just as Mr Williams comes on the radio and a charity mugger commences his spiel. At times like that, it’s easy to lose your temper. Remember, though, you were once the same. Sure, you were probably shouting for a nice new stick, or maybe a pig’s bladder to kick around the boreen, rather than the latest Bratz whore-doll or this week’s Man United jersey, like the kids of today.
But have some compassion, gather all your kindness and patience. We can never understand what babies are going through, but we know it’s bloody tough. In a few short years, they’ll have forgotten too, and they’ll be grey, slope-shouldered adults like the rest of us. These moments are fleeting. Treasure them now, tantrums and all.
We’re kicking off Day 2 of the birthday celebrations with photographer Mark ‘Fitz’ Fitzpatrick. This is Fitz’ third exhibition with Notes From Xanadu. He 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.”
The second exhibition of our birthday celebrations, and rounding out day one, is by our resident knitting expert and host of our monthly Stitch ‘n’ Bitch, Aoife Flood. It’s long been our plan for Notes From Xanadu to feature crafts as well as arts, so it’s wonderful to be able to finish our first day of the anniversary weekend with a show of this type. Although, it has to be said, Aoife really does raise knitting to the level of an artform!
“It took me over 2.5 years to complete this 9 coloured fairisle-like wrap cardigan, adapted from Marie Wallin’s Izmir. It was worth it!”
“This Haute Alpine cabled jumper by Vladimir Teriokhin’s gives an interesting take on classic Aran designs. A beautiful piece for any wardrobe.”
“This 5 colour jumper using Marie Wallin’s Karolin is surprisingly easy as it was completed using mosaic knitting, where only stripes used with some stitches skipped and slipped.”
“This knit and crochet design based on a pattern from Italian magazine, Mani di Fata, contrasts the two techniques well.”
“Connie is a fine lace keyhole jumper with ribbing details and the pattern was designed by Jennie Atkinson. Perfect for dress wear.”
We promised you more short comedy film from Ian MacNaughton, and here it is, helping us celebrate day one of our birthday weekend. Before there were apps like Tinder and Grindr, even before there was internet dating on the web, there was video dating. Would you go out with any of these gentlemen?
Please note: this video contains flashing images.
Happy Birthday to the Arts Centre!
We built it, and wow, did you come! In your droves, from every corner of the earth (although I don’t think we’ve cracked Antarctica yet)!
Notes From Xanadu – the online arts centre – is one year old today! We opened with a bang, featuring 21 pieces of new work over the May bank holiday weekend, and established a global audience right from the start, hitting six of the seven continents during the four days of our launch. Born in the early days of the Covid 19 pandemic, we reached out to the growing online community with something unique, and we have continued to do so and to grow as one lockdown led to another.
To celebrate our birthday, we’re doing something similar to that launch weekend, over three days. We will be releasing new work at intervals over the weekend. We have photography, knitting, writing, comedy, music and more. Links to each piece will be provided via our Twitter and Facebook accounts as they happen. If you are reading this, and you have friends who you think might also be interested, please share the link with them in whichever way suits you. We will be delighted to get shares of any kind to any or all of the work featured during the birthday celebrations.
Going forward, the plan for the arts centre is to release work as an when suitable submissions are received, and to share news about what’s going on in the theatre, rather than having a regular slot each week. There will be posts in Twitter and Facebook when this happens, but alongside that a mailing list will be set up, so that anyone who wants to can be notified whenever new stuff is released. We will let you know when that is in place.
This will allow me, as artistic director, to concentrate more of my energies on the theatre: our regular events such as Stitch ‘n’ Bitch and Canadh agus Caint, alongside new plays and concerts (there’s a brilliant one of those coming up later this month, more details during the weekend).
Although we have a large team of contributors, actors, backstage helpers and so on, Notes From Xanadu is basically run by one person – a person who is chronically ill and disabled (would you be surprised to hear that the arts centre and theatre both operate out of a bungalow in the west of Ireland?) – so a regular PR campaign is unsustainable. But for this birthday weekend at least, we can pull out all the stops!
Enjoy the weekend! Let the party begin!
Everyone who works on Notes From Xanadu and Xanadu Online Theatre is a volunteer. If you would like to join us in any capacity, please send me an email on email@example.com.