Are You Goin’ to the Ploughin’, by Breda Hyland

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
On television.
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.”

Breda Hyland

Snug Sings “When I’m 64,” by Aurora Adams

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.

Cat Coup, by James Keaney

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.

 

Clarice the Caberet Camel, by Aurora Adams

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.

A South Sea Turtle Reflects

“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.

 

I Need a Vaccine, by Mary Tynan

Lockdown has been going on for a long time.  If you live in one of the countries who are lucky enough to have a good supply of vaccines, the end might be in sight.  For most of us however, shortages are dictating a slower pace.  Inspired by comedy song writers such as Futzy and the Bitch, our artistic director Mary Tynan decided to take a humorous look at the situation.  The backing track is by James Keaney.

 

Preserve, by James Keaney

As well as appearing in our launch concert, James Keaney took the role of Colm in Xanadu Online Theatre’s 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 we are showcasing him on the arts centre for the second time with his new piece Preserve. Do all James’ track titles start with P? Follow him on Youtube and Soundcloud (and on Notes From Xanadu, of course) to find out!

Please note: this video contains flashing images.

 

Dreams, by Tuam Online Choir

Tuam Online Choir was founded towards the end of 2020 by Peter Mannion.  Dreams is their second recording, which was made especially for St Patrick’s Day. Notes From Xanadu artistic director Mary Tynan is one of the singers, and can be seen in this video.

 

Four is Fair

You know what? You deserve a day off. Why don’t you take a long weekend, stay home on Monday? Hey, it’s cool, don’t worry, you can tell them the guy in Notes From Xanadu said it was okay.

In fact, take every Monday. Or maybe Friday. Yeah, Fridays would probably be better. Sure, why not? Take Fridays off from now on. Yes, you – all of you. No problem. You’re welcome.

See, that was easy.

What if we all just started working a four-day week? Simply downed tools, shut off the PC, parked the train, trousered the last brown envelope… all on Thursday evening. Then rang in sick, like the Blue Flu, every seven days.

Yes, those phone calls would be awkward at first: “Well, I guess it is strange how we’re all sick again this Friday boss, but (pinches nose, coughs) I rilly habe a bery bad cold.”  Yes, there would be fury at first. Yes, some of us, many of us, might be fired. But we would be fired for the greater good. You can’t make an omelette without a few pioneers getting arrows in their backs.

And after a while, we wouldn’t have to ring in at all. Eventually, even those most incensed by this great leap backward would capitulate. Owner-managers, CEOs, bosses of every kidney would, after a while, throw up their hands in despair and start taking their mistresses to Kinsale every Friday (metaphorically speaking, of course – at least till the pandemic is under control). After all, how can you work if there’s no-one to work with?

Clients and customers too would learn to appreciate this extended breathing space at the end of the traditional work cycle. Even foreign trading partners would come to terms with it: “Ah oui, the lazy Irish … but what can you do, uh?” In time, and with an easterly wind, our bold initiative would sneak across every European border, like Johnny Logan and the smoking ban. And inevitably, other continents would also follow suit. The grassroots support is already there, worldwide – after all, who doesn’t want to work less? – and once Ireland is out there as proof of concept, nation after nation will tumble before this beautiful historical tide.

With reduced working hours comes reduced productivity, and from reduced productivity flows the manna of reduced prices, thereby slowing inflation and gradually bringing down the cost of living. Possibly. While I’m making stuff up, let’s say also that the social and economic sea-change of a four-day week would, within 12 months, end the current global fiscal crisis, boost consumer confidence and spending, cure Covid, slash the price of oil and put a 64-inch plasma TV in the arms of every schoolchild in the world.

Where did it come from, anyway, this inviolable figure of 40 hours’ work per week?  It’s so uneven, so awkward – such an unwieldy figure. It should be rounded down. Maybe to 30. That’s a nice handy number.

The first step is up to you. Enjoy the long weekend.

The Watchers

In another piece of prose poetry, Ian Macnaughton imagines life in a post-Covid-apocalypse England.

The Watchers

The sky greys, blood-framed as it leeches edge in.
Drifts often tailed across the flat worn ground.
No one watches even I gaze without sight.
My breathe catches, phlegm lines my mouth, bruised and blistered. Guarding our shelter I lean and catch my flagging attention;
she dozes, fitful and sick. Has she long? I wonder.
The ashes are still warm. Though enough to warm a bevvy?
Most likely not. Our hide lets my eyes grasp the gap:
all passers, to’ers. But no fro’ers. Seldom see those now.
Them in the wood take their toll. She stirs, a cry;
my eyes drawn up, instinct, questioning how?
No birds seen since the long night. So why?

When the sickness came first we did not See.
Months rumoured a new illness.
Places with a name we knew not. All seemed vague and distant.
Which shrunk the problem. Made sleight, it becomes fiction.
But like a day dream we had to wake.
Which we did to a creeping shroud.
Slowly obscured the world we believed we knew.
Through its dense weave contrasts grew.
Life or death, withdrawn or at risk, shielded and key.
We had leaders then. Blind they be.
Listened, hearing nothing, threatening only
that which sung their song. Sated a thirst for the apex.
We belittled it. But no sense of scale
allowed our leaders to scale it wrong.
They, full of empty rhetoric, unmasked, grew silent.
Following the science in fits and starts, senseless or unconcerned.
They, only arse covering, hung back.

The cities like a slide revealed our demise:
hollow, eaten out. A ‘donut’ too sweet on the edges,
hole at centre remodels our true being,
broken from within. Grow disquiet,
as idle hands, eyes, desires, breed envy – and hate.

This was long time back.
Not stopped, slowed, seized,
without any maker to oil or note the stop.

Now is the time to clean, wash, purge; hands first and, with a count,
palms, knuckles, nails, back, lines are scoured with stone, safe saved,
then the outer garb and any skin or surface on which particles may fall.
Last is mask renewed. This time the only time I see my face –
and only me. She does not see me.
Only her sees her and I see I.
I know her eyes and the bridge that links but the rest is felt.
That instant in each eve when the mask is shed
is the one time I see self now – a stranger,
glimpsed in fragment.

Because we no longer make, things ran out over time.
Firstly parts so The Machine stops! Later fuel, lubricant,
oil, not because we run out. Because too few need.
So no one will make. So fewer will need.
and soon we are impoverished.

We can laugh, what makes man less feared?
A mask. How do we know? By their masks. If you
love them reveal it by not two.
Whom it may concern know them not.
As love is blind.

 

The Duck, by Jackson Lara

Episode Two of The Prison Podcasts is a tale that is known to correctional officers and prisoners alike. This time, Jackson is telling the story from the point of view of an inmate, so make sure to bear that in mind while listening!

(Please note: this piece contains some instances of strong language.)

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.

 

The Anxiety Song, by Futzy and the Bitch

Guests at the launch concert of Xanadu Online Theatre in September 2020 would have heard this song being debuted.  Many people have had an increase in anxiety levels over the past year, but does yours have a name?

Welcome to Prison, by Jackson Lara

Welcome to Episode One of The Prison Podcasts. We asked Jackson to tell us a little bit about his experience working in prisons, and it turns out he has an awful lot of stories! Welcome to prison!

(Please note: this piece contains some instances of strong language.)

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.

 

Theatre at Home for Christmas

Fancy a trip to the theatre this December? In contrast to the usual visit to the pantomime, Xanadu Online Theatre invites you to watch an alternative Christmas show from the comfort of your own home – all you need is a computer and an internet connection.

Started in May 2020, Notes From Xanadu is, as far as can be seen, the first online arts centre in the English-speaking world.  Since its beginning, it has attracted visitors from countless countries on six different continents (we’re still trying to crack Antartica)! On 23 September, we launched Xanadu Online Theatre with a variety concert featuring artists from two different continents and three timezones.  December sees the debut performances from our in-house theatre company, with a double bill of classic tragedy and comedy: Riders to the Sea by J M Synge and The Proposal by Anton Chekhov.  Tickets are free of charge, but limited, and must be booked in advance at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/theatre-at-home-for-christmas-tickets-129660125927.  Admission is per connection, not per person, so you can have as many people watching with you as you like.  More details are available at the website at theatre.notesfromxanadu.org.

The arts centre and the theatre are the brain children of Mary Tynan, a chronically-ill, disabled creative living in the West of Ireland.  For interviews please contact Mary on notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.

The Internet is too small

The Internet is too small for me.

What’s that you say, Google?  Seventy-eleven gazillion web pages indexed?  Pah.  That’s kindergarten stuff, a puny collection, about as impressive as Donald “Big Brain” Trump reciting the ten times table.  Sure, there’s lots of info out there: if I search for details of artists who work exclusively in the medium of baby duck faeces, for example, the web will ask me to “please specify type of duck”.  But if I then search for jobs for these envelope-pushing visionaries, the electronic ether smugly reports that it found no matches, suggesting instead that I might be interested in some crudely hand-drawn erotica which clearly violates Disney and Warner Brothers copyrights, as well as the laws of good taste, physics and most civilised nations.

This just isn’t good enough.  Now that we’ve sloshed about a bit on the oily, trash-polluted waters of this ocean of cultural bilgewater, we naturally want to sail on bravely, endlessly, like Detective Columbo in the Santa Maria, further and further over the horizon, chasing that last elusive Wikipedia citation on the episode where Pikachu teams up with Akira to defeat nine (yes, NINE!) Digimon in magic battle.

I want, as a bare minimum, blanket CCTV coverage of every celebrity (defined as min 5MHz, or at least five Mickeyhartes), with MMS alerts to notify me immediately every time they go to the bathroom.  I want 3D walkthroughs of every “ghost” estate of unsold housing in the country, schadenfreude-oozing showcases where our on-screen cadavers or avatars or whatever the hell they’re called can scribble begrudgist graffiti on the virtual walls.

I want jobs websites specifically for waterfowl faecal rendering specialists.  I want 10,000-word reminiscences of every politician in the country from everyone they ever went to school with, also their results, disciplinary records, and scanned PDFs of their homework.  I want insider revelations of every dirty trick used by every single profession, from actuaries to zoologists, to separate people from their money.  I want to download endless hours of whalesong, or at the very least a passable dolphin tribute act, to help my insomnia.  I want pictorial tutorials on how to replace every single part in every single consumer appliance ever made, from cars to electric chairs.  I want to know what the second assistant cameraman on “Metropolis” thought of director Fritz Lang, I want to know how many joints George Harrison smoked while watching Lennon and McCartney squabble over the creation of “Let It Be”, and I want to know exactly where in Upton Park my Uncle Billy stood as he cheered the Hammers on to victory over Ipswich in April 1986.

After all, information wants to be free [(TM) and (C) Selected Sarcasm Corporation 2020. All Rights Reserved].

Plank, by James Keaney

Those of you who were at the launch concert for Xanadu Online Theatre will know James Keaney as a talented pianist, who was the first winner of the Junior Musician of the Year competition at the Galway Music School in 2016. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – James is also a skilled bass player, guitarist and composer. Today he makes his debut on the arts centre with his new piece Plank. You can follow James on Youtube and Soundcloud.

Please note: this video contains flashing images.

 

Adam Driver, by Futzy and the Bitch

Have you had any fantasies during lockdown?  They’re completely harmless, right?  I know Futzy and the Bitch have a strong marriage, so I’m not worried about them at all.

In the Queue

In the seventies we used to be sniffy about queues. They were an Eastern Block thing. Behind the iron curtain you’d queue to buy anything; everything had it’s own queue.  A successful purchase could lift the spirits for the week. Pavlov has got wodka; he managed to swap his wife for two bottles, and his little Micha is queuing in Gdansk – for what, she doesn’t know – but we’re bound to need it by the time she arrives at the front. Oh, how we laughed at the foolish communists. Why queue for a Trabant?

Who’s laughing now eh? We got some lovely garden furniture and slug pellets. We were queuing for filler and paint, but you’ve got to take what’s available. It isn’t just shopping either: we now queue virtually as well and, frequently, without a clear objective in mind. Yes, I now understand online means you’re in the queue. It’s weird: I keep finding myself in the waiting mode – buying a ticket, logging in and then waiting in zoom. Time has changed. Anyone would have expected lockdown to make it less relevant. I mean, people are frequently working from home – they can do it in their pyjamas and, probably, whenever they like, but wifi has even inserted a queue there – because everytime you wait while the screen freezes or buffers, you are essentially back in a queue. My youngest gets up every Tuesday at dawn to get a place on the supermarket ‘merry go round’. Whatever we are, wherever we go, we are infront of someone and behind someone, and we don’t really know what we’ll be getting.

You can see it way off. The outriders on the hill down to the junction, along to the gates to the retail car park, and then the extended spiral that allows for social distancing, and on. But do take a trolley before you start, oh, and a novel, script, bottle of water, sandwiches – and always a sense of humour. Oh, you may as well dispense with the list, or at least write it whilst you wait, because, by the time you get there, you are going to be a different person, and stuff you thought you were buying may not be what you leave with.

Happy queuing!

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