Stitch ‘n’ Bitch at Xanadu – April 2021

Our next Stitch ‘n’ Bitch takes place on Thursday, 12 March, at the earlier time of 6.30 pm, in one of the rooms of Xanadu Online Theatre.  For those who haven’t heard the term before, a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is when people get together to work on their various projects while having a natter and a bit of craic at the same time.

The Xanadu Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is hosted by Aoife Flood, a highly experience knitter, who will be on-hand to answer any questions and offer help; beginners are welcome.  You don’t have to be knitting though: you can crochet, embroider, sew, or do any other craftwork you may have underway.

The event is co-hosted by Notes From Xanadu Artistic Director Mary Tynan.  If you wish to attend, please register by emailing notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.  See you there!

About our host: Aoife Flood’s knitting journey began on a trip to New Zealand in 2007, when she came across a book of designer knitting patterns while browsing in a shop. She decided that, if she wanted to have these designer clothes, the best way was to knit them herself. So that was it; she got the bug and has been hooked ever since. Aoife will sharing some of her wonderful work with us in a gallery exhibition in the coming weeks.  She is wearing one of her own pieces in the photo.

Xanadu Reading Challenge – April 2021

One of the lovely things about being an online arts centre is that Notes can Xanadu can feature writing and literature alongside other art forms.  With this in mind, we have created a reading challenge for 2021.  Each month there will be a theme, with several sub-categories, and the challenge is to read one or more books each month to fit the topic.  Feel free to add sub-categories, the only rule is that one book each month should be a new read.  The entire challenge can be downloaded in pdf format here.  We also have an Excel spreadsheet, thanks to Karin Hammarstrom, one of our participants, which you can also download, and use to track your progress.

Every month, we’ll introduce the theme and sub-categories in a post like this, and also give some reading suggestions.  Please leave a comment and tell us what you are reading, and whether you are enjoying it, or any other information that you would like to share with your fellow readers.

For April, the theme is Mental Travelling.

Sub-categories:

. a book from an author from a country you have never visited and have no connection to
. a travelogue about a similar country
. a novel about a journey
. a non-fiction book about the history or technology of one or more forms of transport
. a non-fiction book about space travel

Reading suggestions:

. anything by Bill Bryson
. Sovietistan by Erika Fatland
. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
. The Family Tree by Sherri S Tepper
. Endurance by Scott Kelly

I’m reading:

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster

Come back next month for our May suggestions, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell us how you got on in March or April!  Happy reading!

The discussion group for our March reads will be on Sunday, 11 April, at 2pm GMT.  April’s will be on Sunday, 9 May, at 2 pm GMT.  If you would like to attend either of these, please email notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com if you haven’t already done so.

 

Canadh agus Caint

14 April at 7 pm will see the launch of our latest live event, Canadh agus Caint.  We will start off by learning a simple song in Irish, and then see where the conversation takes us.  Irish speakers of all levels are welcome, from complete beginners (we recommend Duolingo) to fluent Gaeilgeoirí.  As usual, you need to register for this in advance by emailing notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com, and a short vocabulary cheat sheet will be sent out with the link, as well as the words to the song.

Canadh agus Caint will be hosted by our artistic director Mary Tynan and contributor Suzanne Ledwith.  See you there!

Ar 14ú Aibrean, ag a seacht a chlog, tá muid ag tosú le eachtra beo nua, Canadh agus Caint.  Beidh muid ag foghlaim amhrán simplí as Gaeilge, agus ansin, tar éis an canadh, an caint.  Beidh fáilte roimh daoine le gach leibhéal Gaeilge.  Mar ghnáth, ní mór duit clarú le haghaidh an imeacht – seol ríomhphoist chuig notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com – agus seolfaidh muid nasc agus focail an amhráin duit roimh an oíche.

Beidh Canadh agus Caint óstailte le Mary Tynan agus Suzanne Ledwith.  Bígí linn!

Server Sponsorship for Xanadu Online Theatre

Notes From Xanadu is delighted to announce that a new server for Xanadu Online Theatre has been sponsored by County Cork company ProPrivacy.  The server will enable us to customise the code for the theatre (we use open source software, in keeping with the philosophy of the arts centre), leading to a smoother and more exciting experience for both audience and performers.

ProPrivacy is a close-knit, family run data protection and cyber security compliance company based in Ireland. The company works with clientele in many sectors ranging in size, from small businesses to privacy departments in large multinational corporations.  It’s lead auditor and GDPR consultant is Philipa Jane Farley; if you think you recognise that name, you would be right – multi-talented Philipa has been writing the Farley’s Philosophy column for us since the arts centre’s launch in May 2020.  The ProPrivacy team have this to say about the sponsorship:

“2020 has been exhausting. More for some than others, but needless to say, everyone’s lives have changed in one way or another, some for the worst and some for the best. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has taken a toll on our entertainment community. It has affected our livelihoods, hobbies and the community around us.

While we may feel that we cannot control events on our own doorstep, let alone, globally, new and fresh ideas on how to charge through and grapple with such unknown times have emerged. New online businesses, video chats and social outreaches over the internet have been the new trends of the pandemic. New ways to connect with people have become a priority in a world where social distancing is now second nature.

This is where Notes from Xanadu has blossomed. Emerging from what was formerly an online magazine with Arts reviews and periodic COVID-19 articles, Notes from Xanadu transformed into a lively and active social page where artists from all walks of life could come together to continue doing what they do best even with the entertainment industry in complete shutdown.

Mary Tynan, who suffers from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, has overcome extreme personal challenges and advocates to raise awareness of this neurological condition. Mary has taken back her life in a global lockdown and created this forum for her fellow artists to have an opportunity for creativity and to take the stage once again in a transformative way over the internet. And Mary has even dusted off her old coding skills, and learnt new ones, allowing her to customise Notes from Xanadu to her high standards.

As a data protection company fortunate to be able to continue working through lockdown, ProPrivacy got to thinking about how we would be able to make a difference in this industry for which we have a great love. As we have seen the Arts take an enormous knock in this pandemic, Notes from Xanadu came to mind. ProPrivacy took this opportunity to support Mary and her endeavours to grow her platform in a small but hopefully significant way by sponsoring a server for her online theatre. ProPrivacy will continue to supply data protection and cyber security support for Mary to continue running her Arts centre with peace of mind. ProPrivacy feels incredibly privileged to be able to support a woman whose values align with that of our own, inclusive communities sharing resources to enrich those around them.”

The new theatre software is going to be built by Philipa and Mary working together, and we will, of course, share news of the development as it happens.  We live in exciting times for online arts and Notes From Xanadu and Xanadu Online Theatre will continue to do our utmost to stay at the cutting edge of the field.  If you are interested in working with us on a volunteer basis in any capacity, please drop us a line at notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.

As of 2021, ProPrivacy are expanding their services to support small businesses through their offshoot, The Career Designer. This new line of services and digital products is informed by the company’s primary focus, data protection, privacy, and cyber security, and deals with the inner workings of starting up a business with an online first focus from scratch.

The Career Designer is to be launched within the next few months for people who want to make their ideas pay. It’s about helping people and transforming their skillset into a business, especially for those during this pandemic who are out of work or are struggling to make an income. Philipa and team want to share their many years of business experience and niche skills in an easy to understand way which can help people turn their ideas into stable and thriving businesses. They will walk you step-by-step through the process of building a business from start to finish, accounting to marketing and all the legal requirements in-between. Macro-knowledge for microbusinesses if you will, catering for business construction as well as business maintenance.

If you are interested in The Career Designer or other services offered by ProPrivacy, please visit their website, or email the team at info@proprivacy.ie.

Xanadu Reading Challenge – March 2021

One of the lovely things about being an online arts centre is that Notes can Xanadu can feature writing and literature alongside other art forms.  With this in mind, we have created a reading challenge for 2021.  Each month there will be a theme, with several sub-categories, and the challenge is to read one or more books each month to fit the topic.  Feel free to add sub-categories, the only rule is that one book each month should be a new read.  The entire challenge can be downloaded in pdf format here.  We also have an Excel spreadsheet, thanks to Karin Hammarstrom, one of our participants, which you can also download, and use to track your progress.

Every month, we’ll introduce the theme and sub-categories in a post like this, and also give some reading suggestions.  Please leave a comment and tell us what you are reading, and whether you are enjoying it, or any other information that you would like to share with your fellow readers.

As March is the month of St Patrick’s Day, the theme is All Things Irish.

Sub-categories:

  • a book by an Irish author
  • a book about Irish history
  • a travel book about Ireland
  • if you are Irish – a book as Gaeilge. Children’s books are fine, but try to challenge yourself.

Reading suggestions:

  • Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes
  • The Story of Ireland by Neil Hegarty
  • Hitching for Hope: A Journey into the Heart and Soul of Ireland by Ruairi McKiernan
  • Short Stories of Padraic Pearse: A Dual Language Book (English and Irish Edition)

I’m reading:

Piano Mhín na bPreachán le Cathal Ó Searcaigh.

Come back next month for our April suggestions, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell us how you got on in February or March!  Happy reading!

The discussion group for our February reads will be on Sunday, 7 March, at 4pm GMT. March’s will be on Sunday, 11 April, at 2 pm GMT.  If you would like to attend either of these, please email notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com if you haven’t already done so.

 

 

Come back next month for our March suggestions, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell us how you got on in January!  Happy reading!

The discussion group for our January reads will be on Sunday, 7 February, at 4pm GMT. February’s will be on Sunday, 7 March, at 4 pm GMT.  If you would like to attend either of these, please email notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com if you haven’t already done so.

Stitch ‘n’ Bitch at Xanadu – March 2021

After a very enjoyable first outing, we will be holding a second Stitch ‘n’ Bitch on Thursday, 11 March, at 7.30 pm, in one of the rooms of Xanadu Online Theatre.  For those who haven’t heard the term before, a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is when people get together to work on their various projects while having a natter and a bit of craic at the same time.

The Xanadu Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is hosted by Aoife Flood, a highly experience knitter, who will be on-hand to answer any questions and offer help; beginners are welcome.  You don’t have to be knitting though: you can crochet, embroider, sew, or do any other craftwork you may have underway.

The event is co-hosted by Notes From Xanadu Artistic Director Mary Tynan.  If you wish to attend, please register by emailing notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.  See you there!

About our host: Aoife Flood’s knitting journey began on a trip to New Zealand in 2007, when she came across a book of designer knitting patterns while browsing in a shop. She decided that, if she wanted to have these designer clothes, the best way was to knit them herself. So that was it; she got the bug and has been hooked ever since. Aoife will sharing some of her wonderful work with us in a gallery exhibition in the coming weeks.  She is wearing one of her own pieces in the photo.

Xanadu Reading Challenge – February 2021

One of the lovely things about being an online arts centre is that Notes can Xanadu can feature writing and literature alongside other art forms.  With this in mind, we have created a reading challenge for 2021.  Each month there will be a theme, with several sub-categories, and the challenge is to read one or more books each month to fit the topic.  Feel free to add sub-categories, the only rule is that one book each month should be a new read.  The entire challenge can be downloaded in pdf format here.  We also have an Excel spreadsheet, thanks to Karin Hammarstrom, one of our participants, which you can also download, and use to track your progress.

Every month, we’ll introduce the theme and sub-categories in a post like this, and also give some reading suggestions.  Please leave a comment and tell us what you are reading, and whether you are enjoying it, or any other information that you would like to share with your fellow readers.

The theme for February is Spring Awakenings.

Sub-categories:

  • a book about nature
  • a coming of age story
  • a novel where the protagonists are animals

Reading suggestions:

I’m reading:

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow.

 

 

Come back next month for our March suggestions, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell us how you got on in January!  Happy reading!

The discussion group for our January reads will be on Sunday, 7 February, at 4pm GMT. February’s will be on Sunday, 7 March, at 4 pm GMT.  If you would like to attend either of these, please email notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com if you haven’t already done so.

Ficheall, le Gearóidín Nic Carthaigh

Geraldine McCarthy lives in West Cork.  She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry.  Her work has been published in various journals, both on-line and in print. This is her third appearance at Notes From Xanadu.

Ar bhord íseal sa tseomra suite bhí an clár fichille. É foirfe fós, na píosaí go léir ina n-inead féin. Bhí Daithí ina shuí sa chathaoir uillinn, ag fanacht le go n-imeodh an teannas as a chuid matán. Bhí sé tar éis lá cruaidh a chur isteach, fear mar é, go raibh mórán idir lámha aige. Chaith sé braon fuisce siar. Dhóigh an leacht a scórnach, ach b’in é a bhí uaidh.

Ag an am seo den oíche, ba nós leis a mhachnamh a dhéanamh.  Bhí tábhacht leis an oscailt is bhí stráitéis ag teastáilt. Gan méar a leagan ar aon phíosa, d’oibrigh sé amach ina cheann cén treo ina raghadh sé.  Ar deireadh bhog sé an ceithearnach bán chun tosaigh i lár an chláir. Imirt chlaisiceach, ach ba dheacair é a shárú.

*

Bhí fhios ag Daithí go dtéadh Peaidí Ó Dónaill ag spaisteoireacht gach lá i ndiaidh lóin.  Canathaobh nach raghadh sé fhéin ar shiúlóid chomh maith?  B’in Peaidí ar bhóthar an chósta agus é ag féachaint amach ar an bhfarraige cháite .

“Conas tá agat, a Pheaidí?” arsa Daithí.

“A, mhuise, ag treabhadh liom,” arsa Peaidí.

“Is conas tá an cúram?”

“Táid ag déanamh dóibh fhéin anois.”

Thosnaigh an bheirt fhear ag siúil.

“Bhíos ag cuimhneamh fé thigh do thuismitheoirí ar an sráid mhór.”

Stop Peaidí aríst.  “An raibh, anois?”

“Ní bheadh fonn ort é a dhíol?”

“Ní bheadh. Sin tigh mo mhuintire, is beidh sé ag mo chlann im dhiaidh.”

“Raghadh cúpla árasán isteach ann go deas néata, mar sin féin.”

“Níl sé ar díol, a Dhaithí.”

Tháinig faoileán anuas chun breith ar cheapaire leath-ite a bhí caite ar chiumhais an bhóthair.

“Ach gheobhainn praghas maith duit.”

Chroith Peaidí a cheann.  “Mar a deirim, níl sé ar fáil.”

D’fhágadar slán ag a chéile is chuaigh Daithí thar n-ais chuig an oifig.

An oíche sin, áfach, d’fhillfeadh Daithí ar an bhficheall.

 

Chess Middle Game

 

Stitch ‘n’ Bitch at Xanadu

In another first for us in 2021, we will be holding a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch on Thursday, 18 February, at 7.30 pm, in one of the rooms of Xanadu Online Theatre.  For those who haven’t heard the term before, a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is when people get together to work on their various projects while having a natter and a bit of craic at the same time.

The Xanadu Stitch ‘n’ Bitch will be hosted by Aoife Flood, a highly experience knitter, who will be on-hand to answer any questions and offer help; beginners are welcome.  You don’t have to be knitting though: you can crochet, embroider, sew, or do any other craftwork you may have underway.

The event will be co-hosted by Notes From Xanadu Artistic Director Mary Tynan.  If you wish to attend, please register by emailing notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.  See you there!

About our host: Aoife Flood’s knitting journey began on a trip to New Zealand in 2007, when she came across a book of designer knitting patterns while browsing in a shop. She decided that, if she wanted to have these designer clothes, the best way was to knit them herself. So that was it; she got the bug and has been hooked ever since. Aoife will sharing some of her wonderful work with us in a gallery exhibition in the coming weeks.  She is wearing one of her own pieces in the photo.

Xanadu Reading Challenge – January 2021

One of the lovely things about being an online arts centre is that Notes can Xanadu can feature writing and literature alongside other art forms.  With this in mind, we have created a reading challenge for 2021.  Each month there will be a theme, with several sub-categories, and the challenge is to read one or more books each month to fit the topic.  Feel free to add sub-categories, the only rule is that one book each month should be a new read.  The entire challenge can be downloaded in pdf format here.  We also have an Excel spreadsheet, thanks to Karin Hammarstrom, one of our participants, which you can also download, and use to track your progress.

Every month, we’ll introduce the theme and sub-categories in a post like this, and also give some reading suggestions.  Please leave a comment and tell us what you are reading, and whether you are enjoying it, or any other information that you would like to share with your fellow readers.

The theme for January is New Beginnings.

Sub-categories:

  • a book published in 2020 or 2021
  • a book given to you as a present (or bought with a book token) in the last couple of months
  • a book about a new hobby or interest
  • a book to do with a New Year’s resolution
  • a New Age book

Reading suggestions:

I’m reading:

The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski, received as a Christmas present in 2019.

Come back next month for our February suggestions, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell us how you got on in January!  Happy reading!

Update: it’s been suggested that we have a live, in-person discussion group once a month (online) to discuss what we’ve been reading – if that’s something you would be interested in, please comment below, or email notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.

Lesson Plans, by Geraldine McCarthy

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

My temples throbbed. I had stayed up until two am finalising lesson plans.  Scanning the classroom, I noticed Geoffery twirl the pencil in the sharpener, his head bent, deep in concentration.

I had put him at the back, next to Amelia, who threw sideways glances at him, when she wasn’t frowning over her sums.

The contrast between them was striking; him dark-haired and sallow-skinned, her blond and pale.

Some children wandered from their seats.

I left my vantage point at the top of the room and crouched down to correct Rebecca’s maths.  Suddenly I heard a piercing cry behind me.  I shot up and looked around.

“Amelia, what’s the matter?” I asked.  It was my first day in my first job.

“It’s Geoffery,” Amelia sputtered, “he stabbed me!”

I fixed him with my most withering look.  He met my eye and gave a little smirk.

“Come here, Amelia, let me look at your arm.”

The little girl got up from behind her tiny desk and came up to me, pouting and looking at the ground as she walked.

“It’s ok.  There doesn’t seem to be much of a mark.  Is it sore?”

Amelia nodded her head, her lips downturned, fresh tears forming in her eyes.

“Ok, let’s get you a sticker for being a brave girl.”

I put the butterfly sticker on Amelia’s pinafore and told her to sit on the teacher’s seat for a little while.

They had never mentioned pencil stabbings in teacher training college.

“Geoffery,” I said, “This is the third time this morning I have had to speak to you.  Come with me.”

He took his time getting up from the chair.  There was still the hint of a smirk about his mouth.

“We’re going to the principal’s office.”

A hush fell over the class.

I nodded to the teaching assistant, opened the door and marched down the hallway.  Geoffery sauntered after me.  I knocked on the door.

“Come in,” a voice said from within.

I entered, Geoffery in my wake, and we sat on the visitors’ chairs.

“Is there a problem?”  Mrs Murphy asked, looking up from the swathes of paperwork which covered her desk.

“Yes, well, there has been a nasty incident,” I said.  There was a moment’s silence.

“I did nothing, Aunty,” Geoffery piped up, shooting me a look.

My jaw dropped.  I managed to rearrange my expression into neutral.

“That’s not quite true,” I said. “You hurt Amelia and she was very upset.”

“Well, I’m sure he didn’t mean it,” Mrs Murphy said.  She began to stack her papers and looked pointedly towards the door.

I waited a moment.  “Well, sorry for disturbing you,” I said, rising from my chair.

Mrs Murphy nodded and began filling in a form.

I walked down the hallway in silence, Geoffery by my side.  When we reached the classroom door, he looked up at me and stuck out his tongue.

“Were they troublesome?” I asked the teaching assistant, who wore a strained expression.

“No, not at all,” she replied, “but I think that’s the inspector’s car outside.”

I went to the window and saw a grey-suited, grey-haired man alight from his car and pull a leather briefcase from the back seat.

Retrieving the bulging folder of lesson plans from my desk, I hugged it to my chest and cast my eye around for Geoffery.  There he sat in his little chair, cradling the pencil sharpener in his tiny, tiny little hands.

Geraldine McCarthy

 

Priorities, by Breda Hyland

Lipstick smudged in empty coffee cup.
You crush it nervously in your trembling hands,
waiting for his form in the doorway
and he does come,
and fixes his eyes firmly around the room
until he finds yours.

He beckons and you follow him.
Not waiting to hold the door open,
he hurries across the street
away from the thousand eyes of the night.
He bundles himself into his new Mercedes,
lights up a cigar and waits.

He thinks of home, his boring infertile wife,
she, a company director, with all the trappings
that he can’t live without.
But he wants more.
He watches you in the rear view mirror,
and ponders the ravages of time etched in your face.

You have the look of children
and burgers on Sundays,
wearing faded denim jeans
and worn outdated blouse
under an oversized belted raincoat.
Hard to believe you were once a follower of fashion.

Locking your door, he drives into the night air
and stops at a laneway, concealed entrance.
He’s been here before, you can tell.
In the darkness he spits his cigar from his mouth,
and heaves his obese body into your seat,
smoke breath heavy on your face.
You close your eyes and think of the money lender
and hope he’ll be satisfied in the morning.
Relaxing back in the driver’s seat,
he pulls two fifty euro notes from his inside pocket
and stuffs them into your sweaty palm.
‘I’ve had better’.
Sickness and anger rise in your throat
but you pull yourself together, look away
and think of your children,
born to deprivation,
brought up on love.

Home now, the whiff of alcohol greets you at the door.
You spot your inebriated husband
slouched in the living room.
His bloodshot eyes stare through yours.

Breda Hyland

Come Friendly Bombs (with apologies to John Betjeman)

I wrote this poem a couple of years ago (and well before Covid 19), but I think the issues it refers to still stand.

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough
It’s time to say this is enough
The future’s looking very tough
Don’t hold your breath

Don’t be disabled or be sick
ESA won’t miss a trick
You’re made to feel like you are thick
By DSS

And now we’ve left the EEC
There’s no appeal for you and me
Beyond the Tory hierarchy
Which we detest

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough
And help us as we mourn for how
Our futures bright have vanished now
Compassion’s death

Mary Tynan

Hungry for Love, by Breda Hyland

Breda is a writer from the West of Ireland.  She tells us, “I write for a pastime, about ordinary, everyday things, but I like to throw my imagination to the wind and sometimes I laugh at what comes into my mind! I write best in my head, when I’m driving through the fields, out in the open air. It’s harder to come home and put it down on paper, but I’m usually happy with the end result.”

Please note that this poem contains adult themes.

You drove me to Galway
in your Ford Granada,
to buy me a dress, you said,
for the local Macra social.

At 62 you were a devoted member,
I was a novice at 29.
Your car tax was out of date so you
hid it in a laneway nearby.

I stepped out in deep puddles
that soaked my stilettoed feet.
You whisked me past Moons in case
I spotted the designer dress in their window.

Anthony Ryan’s winter sale –
The best in the west, you said.
You bought your last suit there
twelve years ago, maybe more.

I tried on and hinted disapproval
at the colour and the style,
You couldn’t wait to get your hands on it
reduced to half price.

No time for food, you said,
you had to check the Charolais cow
and the new-born calf –
a valuable pedigree heifer.

Next year at the Claremorris show
she’d make the best continental.
You’d win the cup, not to mention the
money and the photo in the Western

and I’d get my hair done,
that place in the corner, you said,
where your mother goes,
she gives good discount on a Friday.

You had your way as usual.
We ate the bacon and cabbage,
cooked by your mother,
when we got home

And you the lucky girl, she said,
you’ll never want for anything.
Prosperous farmer, fine house
I puked her words (and the dinner) down the sink.

Later that night at the Macra social,
like the pedigree in the ring,
you paraded me around the ballroom,
proud of the female trophy on your arm.

And they all gazed and whispered.
And she an only child, they said.
And her land adjoining his, they said.
And wasn’t he always after young ones anyhow.

On the way home, another laneway,
the back seat covered in dog hairs.
My brown hair fell into the half open bag
of Maverick (or was it Frisky).

The plug of the calf dehorner
dug into my lumbar vertebrae.
Thank god it was round,
the damage superficial

And you held me like the calf
in the crush, about to be castrated,
never going to get away
and neither was I.

Your arthritic limbs caused
awkward manoeuvres in the dark.
You moaned and groaned agony and ecstasy.
Was the pleasure really worth the pain?

My dress was full length and fitted,
you cursed because it was waisted
you never wasted anything in your life before,
and I thanked god it was over

And my mind drifted back
to the dress in the window in Moons,
glad I didn’t fall for it after all –
I’m almost sure it was short and flared.

Breda Hyland

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

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.

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.

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

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

Red Hood

(Violence and adult themes)

Seena could hear the foxes howling in the back garden.  She had put out a few scraps for them earlier.  She looked out the window and saw two of them enjoying their meal.  Her grandmother always told her she shouldn’t encourage them, but she felt sorry for the skinny little canines.  She had always been fascinated by foxes, going back to early childhood.  Of course, in those days the animals were not so plentiful in cities, and sightings were rare treats.  Now, however, the animals were everywhere.  Many people found them a nuisance, but Seena often felt comforted by the thought of foxes in her garden.  In her mind they kept her safe.

Thinking of her grandmother reminded Seena that she had promised to bring her round some dinner tonight.  What to cook?  She decided on a new recipe she had got recently for chickpea curry with brown rice.

While the meal was cooking, Seena watched the foxes.  They had finished eating now and were sitting on the grass looking towards the house.  As she gazed out the window at them, it felt like a communion between woman and beast. Shortly, however, the animals got up and left, and Seena returned her attention to the dinner.

When she was finished cooking, Seena filled some Tupperware with curry and rice for Granny.  She donned her favourite bright red coat, and, as it was a cold evening, she put the hood up.

It was about a 20 minute walk to Granny’s house, and Seena travelled briskly to avoid the chill.  It was a relief to walk into the welcoming warmth of her grandmother’s house and receive her cheery greeting.

‘You’re so good to an old woman, Seena, coming out on a cold night like this.’

‘It’s nothing, Nani.  Besides, I want to know what you think of my new recipe,” Seena said as she plated up the chickpea curry.

‘I’m sure it will be delicious, love,’ her grandmother replied.

As the old woman ate, they talked about the family, Nani recently having had a visit from her Grandson and his new wife.  Inevitably, this lead to talk of Seena’s situation – Why didn’t she find a nice boy for herself and settle down like her brother?  Seena, as usual made light of Nani’s questions and deflected the conversation back onto her brother.  While her parents were perfectly aware of her preference for her own gender, it had been agreed within the family that what Nani didn’t know couldn’t hurt her, and Seena was happy with that.

Finally, it was time to head out into the cold again.  Her grandmother asked her to stay the night, but Seena had some work she wanted to finish at home, so she donned her red coat once again and stepped out briskly.  Looking at her watch, Seena was surprised at how late it was.  She really wanted to get home as soon as possible  Should she take the shortcut?  She didn’t usually do so at night, but this was a safe area and she felt such a strong yearning to be home quickly.

The shortcut was a pathway at the side of a meadow, with a high wall on the other side.  It was often busy during the day, but at this time of night it was deserted.  Seena pulled up her hood and followed the pavement at a steady pace.  She was about halfway down when she felt a callused hand grab her arm.  Next thing she knew she was slammed against the block wall and a rough-looking man was in front of her.  He pulled down her hood and ripped it from her coat.

She started to scream but he grabbed her by the throat.  Holding her still with his right hand, he used his left to open her coat and tug at her jeans and underwear.  His face was now looming and she could see his bald head with a union jack tattooed on it and a vein pulsating in the forehead.  She could smell his fetid breath  The fear was a stabbing knife in her stomach..

“Please,” she whispered.  He started to undo his own trousers.

Suddenly, something leapt out of the darkness straight onto the man’s left arm.  It was a fox!  As the attacker turned to see what was there, his grip on Seena’s neck loosened.  There was a growl, and another fox was on his right leg.  Meanwhile a third canine nuzzled at Seena’s hand.  She pulled her clothes back into order and raced desperately for home.

It was several hours later.  The police had been round to see her and Seena had told them everything.  They promised to call if there was any progress.  Seena had gone straight into the shower when they left, scrubbing herself as if she could never be clean again.  Now she was coming downstairs in her dressing gown when the phone rang.  It was the policeman who had visited her earlier.  They had found her attacker.

‘He was easy to identify, ma’am, he had been terribly mauled by the foxes.  He confessed to everything.  He’ll be in hospital for a while, though, before he’s well enough to stand trial.’

‘Thank you Officer.’  Seena put down the phone.  Something made her turn towards the window.  Hearing a faint mewling sound, she opened the curtains.

Six foxes were sitting in a semi-circle on the grass facing her.  In the centre was her red hood.

Thank you,’ Seena whispered.

Nothing happened for a moment, and then, one by one, the foxes seemed to nod to her before walking slowly from the garden.

Mary Tynan