Monthly Archives: April 2012

Pogue Laureate

At their height, The Pogues were as vivid an embodiment of the Irish of London as you’re ever likely to see. Their songs bled London and bled Irish — they sang of drunken winter weekenders in Camden and summer days in the old country on the banks of the Shannon with the smell of freshly-cut hay in the air. The band, of course, had their famously raucous side. By 1983, when they were formed, other ex-punks had cleaned up their act and their music and embarked on musical careers but Shane MacGowan and Co weren’t finished the business of the late 70s and continued to get up the noses of most, including the BBC on countless occasions, such as when the band’s Alex Cox-produced video for “A Pair of Brown Eyes” was banned from the airwaves for its insolent depiction of Margaret Thatcher. In 1988, the Beeb banned “Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six” for daring to argue that the sextet of the title were framed by British justice. If getting up the nose of the British establishment wasn’t so difficult, there were more natural allies put out by them back home, such as Noel Hill, the squeezebox player with Planxty — one of the group’s idols — who told them to their face during a stormy RTÉ radio forum that they were an “abortion of Irish music.” Even in the band’s afterlife (they only tour these days) they have been a discomfiting presence. “Fairytale of New York”, probably the earthiest song ever to become a Christmas standard was belatedly censored by the Beeb a few years ago for using the word “faggot”. It was a slavish sop to political correctness that ignored both narrative dialogue and the fact that the Pogues, with a gay guitarist and sympathetic ballads about abused rent boys, had been taking a stand against homophobia long before the mainstream media got the memo.

“A Pair of Brown Eyes”

There was a time however when a certain esteemed British institution did court The Pogues and their dentally-challenged front man. In September 1989 Faber & Faber published a large format edition of Shane MacGowan’s lyrics under the title Poguetry (the band had already used this pun for their 1986 EP Poguetry in Motion). It was essentially a handsome but low-end coffee-table book; MacGowan’s lyrics were accompanied by surreal sketches by illustrator John Hewitt and photographs by The Face and NME alumnus Steve Pyke, both of whom joined the band in the studio and on tour throughout 1988. At the time it was a puzzling publication, especially as MacGowan’s lyrics, excellent as they often were, looked a little flat on the page. The sketches and photographs add context and texture but MacGowan’s oeuvre, by that time, was relatively slim, being drawn from The Pogues’ first four albums and assorted b-sides (and even those were not all his work, with other members contributing lyrics, not to mention many traditional songs). You got the sense that Faber, that soberest of British publishing houses – home to Pound, Eliot, Larkin, Heaney and Beckett – was viewing Shane as a future Bob Dylan. If they were, they can hardly be blamed for it, as MacGowan was surely the closest thing to Dylan Ireland has ever produced, with a lyrical versatility and strength of personality approaching that of the Bard of Duluth.

The book is a curiosity, with Pyke and Hewitt ably capturing the essence of The Pogues, a band that straddled tradition and iconoclasm, sartorial decorum and drunken disorder, gregarious sociability and taciturn sensitivity. It also marks the moment where the group turned to the US, of which “Fairytale of New York” was also a product. The band soon realised there was a huge diaspora (and non-diaspora) following Stateside to play to and nowadays, with appearances on countless soundtracks, including, most famously The Wire, The Pogues are arguably more synonymous with Irish America than the London Irish.

Unfortunately there was not to be much more of it. The Pogues and Shane would be together for only one more album, 1990’s Hell’s Ditch. Shane’s drinking, already the stuff of contemporary lore, was making him increasingly unreliable and at times incapable of performing. The end came in September 1991 during a tour of Japan when the rest of the band sacked him. Neither party ever performed as well again (though it can be argued the quality of The Pogues’ own music had begun to fall off after the peak of 1988’s If I Should Fall from Grace with God). The Pogues, now fronted by long-time number two Spider Stacy, released two anaemically directionless albums in the 1990s but continued to successfully tour in the States.

You can hardly blame them for not giving up their livelihood but Waiting for Herb and Pogue Mahone are like the albums The Spencer Davis Group recorded after Stevie Winwood’s departure, missing all the spark of an emblematic lead singer. MacGowan hardly fared any better, spending most of the last two decades as a celebrity drinker, with a couple of albums here and there with his new group The Popes. There were glimpses of the old Shane (and the odd coup, such as getting Johnny Depp to play guitar when The Popes performed “That Woman’s Got Me Drinking” on Top of the Pops) but much of The Popes’ output seemed like an afterthought, similar to the post-cocaine-hell K-Tel moments of ageing rockers.

The Popes with Johnny Depp on Top of the Pops

Poguetry – The Lyrics of Shane MacGowan has been long out of print and copies now fetch up to $80 on Amazon. Hewitt and Pyke have both had successful careers themselves – particularly Pyke, who is now a successor in portraiture to Richard Avedon at The New Yorker. He later collaborated with the Irish-American writer Timothy O’Grady on the brilliantly Sebaldian I Could Read the Sky, which, like The Pogues’ early work was an elegiac account of 20th-century Irish emigration to England. He also contributed to this beautiful visual tour of Poguetry, which allows those not fortunate enough to own the book to have a look at the unique collaboration between three artists who are each wonderful in their own way.

Steve Pyke – Poguetry: The Lyrics of Shane MacGowan from Lauren DeBell on Vimeo.

I first encountered The Pogues around Easter 1986, when Dave Fanning played “London Girl”, off the Poguetry in Motion EP. The first time I saw what they looked like was two months later, when they appeared at Self Aid, that eccentric Irish answer to Live Aid held at the RDS, which some well-intentioned folk, infused with the spirit of Geldof, imagined would turn things around for Ireland’s young jobless. As a ten-year-old, I was very impressed by all the swearing. I wonder what Faber & Faber would have thought…

The Pogues at Self-Aid

(by Oliver Farry)

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Fancy Paper: A Survivor’s Memoir…

Oh, you hateful, lily-scented bastards...

Something dark and subversive was going on in the suburbs of Limerick in the 1980’s. It was taking over the lives of young vulnerable girls who had no idea of the edge of the dark precipice on which they stood. It began as all habits and addictions do, on a small scale, just experimenting; alone, with friends, in their bedrooms and eventually spilling out onto the streets. In time it made its way to that most precious of all childhood havens – the school-yard. If you were transported back in time to a typical Eighties Irish school-yard, in the heady days of Fancy Paper swapping, you could be forgiven for thinking you had inadvertently stumbled onto the set of The Wire. Little cliques of wild-eyed girls huddled in corners bartering their wares and negotiating prices, debating whether they were getting their money’s worth for their product. The phenomenon? Fancy Paper…and I was involved up to my neck in it. This is my addiction story, triggered by Aoife Barry’s reminiscing of pre-internet Irish childhoods here. I write this post not to inspire sympathy for my plight, but to raise awareness in future generations. Wake up and smell the rose-scented stationery, people. If Fancy Paper had a chance, it would consume you and everyone you love.

Like most addictions, mine was a gradual one. My strongest memory of being addicted to stationery is still The Summer of the Pencil Case. Having come back from a foreign holiday (Santa Ponsa was the venue of choice circa 1987) just before the start of the school year, and my birthday being the first week in September, my parents had bought some of my mini presents out there just for a little something different. I don’t even remember what my main present was that year, but I still remember the pink art deco wonderland box of miracles that was a brand new pencil case staring back at me. Built in compartments housing an eraser and a pencil sharpener that popped out at the simple touch of a button, along with a false bottom under where the pencils were stored so you could house little notes declaring ‘I Heart Michael Jackson’ and various other imperative factoids. It was the Swiss Army Knife of school stationery. I imagined that some genius like Q had a wife that left the house every morning at the same time as him; and while he went into MI6 to make weapons for James Bond, she went to work designing multi-compartment stationery for the discerning girly school nerd. That little drawer for paper became the most exciting little mini universe for me that school year; for it was there that I first began to store my fledgling Fancy Paper collection.

Take this beautiful horror from mine eyes...

Everywhere you looked in newsagents and bookshops, there seemed to be a magical array of Fancy Paper delights of all shapes and sizes. Their value was arbitrary, depending on your neck of the woods and personal taste. The most common were those small printed paper pads with a wonderful design or pattern on the front which then revealed the same pattern in watermark form on each sheet underneath. You wanted to get a good selection of them under your belt to really start trading. Next up from those were papers of the same size and style, but scented. Lightly fragranced notepapers with the watermark were highly sought after, mostly because your entire fancy paper collection would undoubtedly gain some form of olfactory benefit from having a few odd rose or lily-scented sheets scattered amongst the regular ones. The bartering process was a long arduous one. I learned a lot about supply and demand back then. One girl had the most awesome Japanese-style scented pad, brought back as a present from her Dad while on a business trip. For an entire week this girl called all the shots. She was charging upwards of four to five sheets for a single one of hers – and like fools, we paid it. But it was worth it just to have one of those precious leaves with the geisha girl design and powdery fake Jasmine scent infiltrating our collection.

The storage of your assets was also a serious issue. Most of us graduated from giant birthday card envelopes to shoe boxes, which were nigh on impossible to carry on our underground dealings in school. We would need to recall the envelope as a form of travel luggage if we wanted to get any business at all done during Big Lunch. Because of the volume and weight restriction, you had to choose what went into the envelope carefully. The photographic memory of those involved in the swapping and dealing of Fancy Paper was terrifying. Wanting to swap for a sheet you had your eye on, but being told it would be considered only if you brought in that birthday invitation notepaper that was in the shape of a vinyl record with the matching envelope that you hadn’t shown anyone in five months was a sharp wake-up call that this could get very messy very fast.

This is all too much temptation. I have to go to Eason's now. Don't try and stop me.

Sleep was lost, as were friends and colleagues in the field of battle. The Parental Task Force was drafted in to quell the rising violence and so-called ‘bad’ paper that saturated the market; soon you weren’t sure whether the quality and standard of the paper you were swapping was top notch any more. The buzz just wasn’t the same. People were starting to care less about quality product in the face of ever-increasing demand. There was nearly a Fancy Paper civil war in our school one day when a girl was caught spraying perfume onto previously unscented paper to raise its value on the open market. Caused ructions. Plus the paper was stained something terrible after it. What an eejit. She broke the cardinal rule…try scented talc powder first (so I heard).

It’s been over twenty years, and I still get a hankering to start ‘collecting’ once again. But I need to start thinking of the consequences. Soon I may choose to marry, have a family. Nobody needs to be brought into this seedy world without a choice. Being a primary teacher, some would say I have channelled my love of stationery into a career that can benefit society and feed my habit in some roundabout way, and they would be right. But until school inspectors start accepting lesson plans and monthly schemes on 10th Birthday invitation paper in the shape of a vinyl record with a matching envelope, my habit will have to remain firmly printed on my memory – with a Chinese-style pattern watermark and, of course, a light powdery freesia scent.

(by JayRow)

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Andy Ruane, Popped.

It was 1994, and our country’s hopes were as high as our waistbands.

We were pre gap year culture, pre Britney, pre duck-face profile photos. Miley Byrne was rearing a nation, Dustin the Turkey was landing number one hits, and Pat Kenny was but a vague noise sporadically emanating from the metropolis one’s aunts used solely for Christmas shopping. It was as good an era as any to be thirteen. It might yet prove to have been the best.

Thirteen’s a funny age. Your mind is still officiating games of House and Tip The Can, but your body is Judas, dragging you towards conscience and clumsiness and wanting to do funny things with the gawky dreamboat you found disgusting only five minutes before. On one hand, you still want to play with toys, and watch irony-free cartoons, and pretend to be Marty McFly. On the other hand… well, you don’t want to know what the other hand is doing.

Which is why thirteen-year-old ears are perfect for pop music. Pop music combines primary colours and primary urges better than any other mood-delivery system, and our mid-nineties RTÉ execs didn’t miss a trick. Saturday mornings meant eating Frosties in front of the television, from which blared an energetic ginger called Andy Ruane whose sole reason for being was to tell you which pop star was hottest in which provincial pockmark. His domain was The Fanta Roadshow, a travelling disco which uncovered the real issues of the day through the medium known as “rave dancing”.

Ruane was the thirteen-year-old’s civil servant. As the Roadshow’s master of ceremonies, he whipped local music tastes into Top 12 charts, coaxed schoolyard anecdotes out of floppy-haired wallflowers, and pitted uncoordinated hopefuls against each other in rave-dancing showdowns that must have reminded adults of marionettes in a washing machine. Meanwhile, sidekick Mary Kingston prowled the host town for gregarious kids with exhaustive local knowledge. It was like…bullets of wisdom and pertinence coming at you in seizure-tempting waves of ‘90s graphics. Like graffiti that sternly reminded you to Just Say No. Like Mr. T advising you to respect your mother.

This actually happened.

The best bit of the show was the Soap Box. A platform for kids to tell the truth about their towns without fear of reproach from parents, teachers, or the parish priest, it was raw and honest and gave me and my burgeoning social conscience hope for the future. A handful of young ‘uns, from 6th class whippersnappers to lofty second years, would tell the camera the best things about their community: “There’s lots to do!” “We have a great GAA club!” And then, defiantly, the worst things: “There’s nawthin’ to do!” “There’s far too much alcohol!”. Yes, rural thirteen-year-olds in the year 1994 were inordinately down on alcohol. Dismayed by it. Hurt by its very existence.

Anyway, Saturday mornings meant waking up to Andy Ruane and his deftly-controlled mayhem and haphazardly-tucked t-shirts. He was part of our lives, an adult who wasn’t really an adult, a rapscallion who’d definitely let you onto the lifeboat before him. Then one day, in my little south County Galway town, the news broke that the Fanta Roadshow was coming to us. It was coming to the local hotel “niteclub”. We were going to get our very own fifteen minutes, presided over by our very own Andy Ruane. Mary Kingston would stalk our highways and byways, and find prudent youngsters who’d tell her about our folklore and geological features. Our own ambassadors would tell the country exactly what the real issues were in south County Galway. That the GAA was great and there was too much alcohol.

We were in heaven.

Every tween and teenager turned up to the Fanta Roadshow when it set up shop. The “niteclub”, a massive function room that usually couldn’t reach capacity (and probably hasn’t since), was jammed. Girls swayed timidly in oversized synthetic shirts, whilst young bucks threw shapes of the most desperate flamboyance, attempting to rave-dance their way under said shirts. My friends and I secured a spot near the stage, so we might be broadcast screaming our approval when the camera did one of its many, many sweeps.

It was especially exciting for me, as my cousin, to whom I was very close, had been chosen as one of the town’s ambassadors for the Soap Box. He had recorded his spot earlier in the day, and I might have joined him now to pry into the experience, but I didn’t want to lose my premium dancing location.

The noise was immense. The tension, if harnessed, could have given Ardnacrusha a week off. Andy Ruane was preparing to take the stage.



And he wasn’t nice. Not even a little bit. He was shouty and bossy and stressed and not at all one of the gang. Years later, I understood. They tell you never to work with children or animals, and in a cast of teenagers, Andy Ruane had to work with both. But in 1994, it was a shock to discover he didn’t really care about our anecdotes, or our issues, or even our rave dancing. All he cared about was, unforgivably, doing his job.

“Move over there! You, stop that! Get down out of that, you little… Shut up! SHUT UP! Only scream when I tell you!”

We were stunned.

The illusion of the excitable, sensitive, trustworthy Andy Ruane had shattered, and we couldn’t rave dance the magic back. Sure, we screamed on cue for the camera. Sure, three intrepid show-offs took part in the rave dance competition. Sure, we helped count down the charts from twelve to one. But the whisper took off around the hall and nothing could stop it. From every downturned mouth, from every dismayed head, there came the hushed mantra…

“The ginger bastard.”

My cousin had reason to be the loudest of them all. His Soap Box contribution was a deadened reading from a prepared script. He said that the GAA facilities were top notch and that there was far too much alcohol in the town. The Fanta Roadshow didn’t particularly care whether he thought either true. When the show was broadcast, we were all mortified for him. His acting was atrocious, because, well, he wasn’t an actor. A drink might have loosened him up, and it wouldn’t have been out of character for him to have asked for one.

The Fanta Roadshow was never quite the same after that. I still watched, but I declined to attend the next time it swung into town, and I never trusted a TV personality again. When a friend told me, years later, that she met Ray D’Arcy and that he wasn’t dazzlingly pleasant, it ruffled nary a feather on my poor, plucked head. Well of course he wasn’t dazzlingly pleasant. Why would he be dazzlingly pleasant in a world where Andy Ruane could turn out to be a short-tempered, supercilious git?

Thing is, when I look back at old Fanta Roadshow clips with my jaded adult eyes, it’s obvious that Andy Ruane was dead right to have little interest in the featured teenagers’ anecdotes, because they were mind-numbingly shit. It’s a sad truth that teenagers very belatedly realise how boring they are. Thirteen years of self-centred helplessness, widened by hormones into a microcosm of similarly graceless eejits, is not fecund ground for growing great stories or shrewd ethics . No wonder Andy Ruane was so bad-tempered. Having to repeatedly broadcast the same feckin’ story of how some braying kid’s cake fell over in Home Economics class would make anyone depressed.

(by Lisa McInerney)

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Muhammad Ali visits Ireland 1972

It’s hard not to like this video of Muhammad Ali gently rambling on about 70’s Ireland

I like the way they shove a shaleighleigh into his hand as soon as he gets off the plane.

(by Bob Byrne)


Clash Of The Ash

Clash Of The Ash was written and directed by Fergus Tighe in 1987. It was shot on 16mm with a running time of just over 50 minutes and won Best Irish Short at the Cork Film Festival that year. Some months later the film was broadcast on RTÉ 1 where it made quite an impression on my teenage self – primarily because it contained a lot that I could identify with.

Phil Kelly (played by William Heffernan) is the anti-hero; a restless teenager imbued with natural hurling ability and a strong aversion to studying. The location is not fictitious but instead it’s the very real Fermoy in County Cork which is a welcome touch. Like much of 1980s smalltown Ireland it’s a claustrophobic place that drives people away but inexplicably retains a strange sort of hold on them. The latter is exemplified by Gina Moxley’s character, the tempestuous Mary Hartnett who has returned after a stint in London. The other members of their gang are languid Martin (Vincent Murphy), uptight Willy, and mousey Rosie who carries a torch for Phil.

Control and the expectations of others are what Phil fights against. Kelly Senior wants him to take on a job in the local garage while his nagging and snobbish mother has her sights set on him getting a good Leaving Cert. Meanwhile on the sports field the coach Mick Barry (Alan Devlin) has high hopes that his star player will make the county minors and by extension a job in the bank.

“The GAA looks after its own”.

There is a keen build-up to the upcoming match against local rivals Mitchelstown. But Phil isn’t happy. He prefers to train alone (running down a hill backwards and belting a tennis ball around a handball alley) and just can’t apply himself in school. He has little interest in what his well-meaning father can arrange for him and clashes with his mother about late nights and “cavorting with gurriers”.

“It would be more in your line to think about the Leaving Cert”.

Music plays a key part in Clash Of The Ash. Phil wears a Cramps t-shirt, has a Rum, Sodomy and The Lash poster stuck to the bedroom wall and spins Dirty Old Town on the turntable. Mary complains about sharing a house with NME hopefuls The Saints and Scholars while it’s revealed that Martin is talented musician but lacks the motivation to take it to the next level. In a pivotal sequence the gang borrow Willy’s father’s car and drive into Mitchelstown to see The Big Guns play the local nightclub. An exercise in pint stealing means a clash with angry punters and an increase in tension with Murphy (Phil’s nemesis and hurler on the opposing team).

The ill-feeling between the two players explodes during the crucial game. It proves to be a turning point in Phil’s life.

Clash Of The Ash takes place in a world of Silk Cut posters in shop windows, radio clips of Michael Lyster reading soccer results, interminably boring Irish classes and lessons in how to skip mass effectively. The television in the pub is tuned to RTÉ’s Closedown (national anthem), the Sunday Press costs 50p, the dole is paid on Tuesdays and the bank is seen as an ideal career choice. While drifting down the river Martin wistfully remembers a time when local trains still ran and flattened ha’pennies so wide that they could be used to buy penny sweets from the almost-blind shopkeeper. However the sense of claustrophobia is ever-present and the drift towards emigration an inevitable outcome.

The moral: when others try to run your life then escape becomes necessary.

As Mr Kelly states (when offering advice on how to dig properly):

“It’s all about balance”.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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Cad a dhéanfaimid anois?: When Gorgo destroyed Dalkey (kind of)

In the winter of 1959, strange and ancient forces were stirring in the deep waters of Coliemore Harbour, Dalkey. Forces awoken by the destructive meddling of nasty old man. Forces that would soon kick (spectacular) ass while leaving the bubble-gum to one side. But…we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The story begins on November 8th of that year, as announced by The Irish Times the following morning:

“A film unit from King Bros Production Ltd arrived in Dublin yesterday to start location shots for the film ‘Gorgo’. The picture is about a monster which cuts a destructive path through the heart of London. Gorgo (35ft) and Mother Gorgo (200 ft) first appear off an island near the Irish coast”.

On November 10th, the same paper detailed how production supervisor George Mills had shot scenes in Dalkey the previous day (some featuring Dublin-born actor Barry Keegan), before pointing out that “Local extras are being hired – mostly to play the part of fishermen”. Two days later, the cast and crew packed their bags, dried themselves off (it had, predictably, been lashing rain for most of the shoot), and headed back to London. Their 5-day adventure? Soon forgotten. A mere rippling of the surface of Irish film history.

Around this time last year I decided to try and track down some of these local extras, if, indeed, any were left alive. Why? Well, firstly, because I hate the idea of stories being lost, or remaining untold. Secondly, because I bloody adore Gorgo.

The story is a simple one. A salvage vessel operated by the unscrupulous Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and Sam Slade (William Sylvester) witness an undersea earthquake off the shore of the fictional (and palindromic) “Nara Island” (actually, Dalkey). This releases a pissed-off Gorgo, who’s eventually captured and taken to London for public display. An academic realises that Gorgo, giant though he may be, is actually only a toddler. Cue the emergence of a ferociously maternal, 200-foot-tall Mama Gorgo. She stomps out of the sea, destroys Nara, and heads off to London, where she opens a gargantuan can of kick-ass. Baby Gorgo and Mama are reunited. We all learn something about human hubris, greed and puny attempts to tame nature. The end.

OK, it may not be the most sophisticated or original monster film ever made. It may not be the most technically accomplished. It may not even be the most entertaining. But it still remains unique in a number of ways. It is (to the best of my knowledge) the only Godzilla-style Kaiju (Giant Monster) film ever filmed (at least partly) in Ireland. It is certainly the only Kaiju film ever to feature actors speaking in Irish. Irish? Yes, more of that anon.

I contacted Gerard Coakley, editor of the Dalkey Newsletter (“delivered into every residence in Dalkey every month”), and asked him for help. Gerard suggested running my query as a “Letter to the Editor” in the August edition of the newsletter, to see what memories it might stir. It stirred quite a few, though some were a tad…confused. One gentleman called me to tell me that, yes, he had been an extra – charged with rowing Martin Sheen hither and yon. As I tried to think of a tactful way of raining on this false-memory parade I heard his wife bark: “Martin Sheen was never in that picture!”. Saved.

The garbled and partial recollections shared with me meant that investigations never yielded a feature (as was planned), but I did get to talk to local monster-inflater-in-chief Tony Lamb. Over to Tony:

“What we were pumping up was the actual monster than they were using, it was like pumping up a rubber dingy. There was a gang of us down there, and it was only about 12 feet in size, and we used to inflate it up for them. We used to get paid for it, you know what I mean? Just a few bob. Then we used to have to put it into my brother’s boat and bring it outside the harbour into Dalkey Sound. And you’d look at the camera and it was huge then, you know the way they make it into a monster and all that. When we went to see it we were all laughing because a friend of ours was in it. Jim Brown, ‘Coco’ Brown we called him, he’s since dead now he was an old man, you’d see him walking up the slip picking up driftwood. And the next minute he’s in fucking Germany or wherever! Ah we remember it well down in the harbour. We always made a few quid hiring out the boats to them. We used to have to throw old nets over the pier, and make it look like it was a real old place and all. They made loads of films down there, and they still do today. And we’ve been in most of them”.

I haven’t been able to positively identify “Coco”, but I’d like to think it’s this weathered-looking chap:

Or, it could be one of these cagey locals:

Note, you can just about make out the local Martello tower in the background. A better view of it here, squeezed between Bill Travers and William Sylvester:

I initially thought Tony’s memories of an inflatable Gorgo might be muddled, as Gorgo uses the old “Suitmation”, actor in a rubber monster suit, technique. But in a 5-second underwater scene, where Joe and Sam first see the monster, I think what we’re seeing (just about, the water is pretty damn murky) is Tony’s pumped-up pal:

Instead of using a studio-based tank (as you’d expect), the scenes of Joe and Sam diving were, I think, actually filmed on location in Dalkey. Hence the Stygian waters. Anyway, it’s nice to think of Tony’s breath literally making Gorgo come alive.

And what of the Irish/Gaeilge? Well, when Joe and Sam first come ashore on “Nara”, they ask the two sea-dogs pictured above, “Is there a harbour master we can talk to?”. The reply?

“Cad a dheanfaimid anois?”

That’s “What are we going to do now?”, for all you Sasanaigh. An, er, somewhat cryptic reply, and one favoured by the islanders in practically all situations. It’s multi-functional. When they go night-fishing in currachs…

…a local lad announces his intention to chuck a harpoon into the boiling waters with, yes, “Cad a dheanfaimid anois?”. Nara, clearly, is an island of anxious types, crippled by indecision.

In another exchange, Harry (played by Barry Keegan), asks a group of fishermen “Cad tá sibh a dhéanamh?” (“What are ye doing?”). The defensive answer: “Níl am againn caint a dhéanamh le Sasanaigh!”. Harry translates this for the foreign lads as “We don’t have time to talk to foreigners”, which is spot on. Then, when he sees the locals gazing into the waters and looking concerned, he asks, “Cad é?” (“What is it?”) and back comes (once again) good old, “Níl am againn caint a dhéanamh le Sasanaigh!”. This time Harry translates it as “Two of the divers didn’t come up, Joe. They think they’re gone.” Oh, Harry. You mis-translating eejit.

So is Gorgo ultimately just of local interest because of this (slightly Dada-ist) smattering of Gaeilge? Well, no. There’s also a (presumably accidental) “Republican” sub-text. This is, after all, the story of a young Irish monster who is captured, forcibly imprisoned, and taken (against its will) across the Irish sea to be gawked at by punters in Battersea Park. Objections to this dodgy expatriation are lodged by the Irish government (and the “University of Dublin”) and ignored. Bastards!

Seán, the little, apple-cheeked, moral centre of the film affectionately refers to the monster as Ógra, meaning “Youth”. Thus, the re-branding of the beastie as “Gorgo” not only suggests an arrogant contempt for local naming (and a desire to linguistically take ownership of the creature), but the failure to understand the significance of its Irish name leads directly to the flattening of London (by an understandably enraged mother). Big Ben is demolished. Tower Bridge is thrashed. The most iconic structures, of the centre of British power, laid waste – by a vengeance-seeking Paddy Godzilla. My post-colonial-o-meter is going off the fuppin’ scale, folks. And so, humbled Londoners gathered themselves, gazed upon the ruination, and asked: “Cad a dheanfaimid anois?”

(by fústar)

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Taffin: The Extended Cut

I think I spent at least an hour replaying the original clip of this, making myself sick the way you do when you’ve pigged out on processed crisps but won’t stop so long as there’s some left at the bottom of the tube. This above has more “heeeeeere”.

The scene eventually becomes like an irritatingly familiar song, and you find yourself donning shades and screaming along. Found via Broadsheet.

Soon, I will begin to recount the effects of growing up without RTÉ in a forgotten northern neck of the Republic. Nippers? No bite. Wanderly Wagon? Wheels came off. Where’s Grandad? Shame on you for losing him.

Stig in the Mud of the Dump? Now you’re talking.

(by Allan Cavanagh)

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Donegal, Where They Make Their Own

Donegal was a county I knew well as a young lad, on account of my mother being from there and most years I’d spend several weeks at my granny’s in Falcarragh, three to four of those in the summer. It always struck me as a county oddly different from what I knew of the rest of Ireland — it was effectively the next county to the north of Sligo but the distance to my granny’s was about as far as it was to Dublin; people there supported Celtic rather than English football teams (indeed, north Donegal was unusual in being a part of rural Ireland where the locals cared far more passionately for soccer than GAA). A popular newspaper was the Scottish Sunday Post, a “good, clean tabloid” as my father used to call it,  which was probably unavailable anywhere else in the 26 counties. Despite being the second biggest county on the island, it had no railways — the various lines that served it had all closed by 1957.

It was only later when I crossed the border for the first time that I realised this difference was because Donegal was isolated. It was culturally closer to Northern Ireland — both its Nationalist and Unionist elements — than to the ‘south’ and unlike Monaghan and Cavan, most of the county bordered none of the other three provinces. The partition of Ireland in 1920 had cut Donegal off from its neighbours  like a schoolboy who has been kept back a year misses his friends. Donegal was, in a way, the Alaska of the Free State. Most Donegal people, in my childhood at least, rarely thought of the border as anything other than a man-made imposition, viewing it much as the Comanche think of the US-Mexico frontier that cuts through their ancestral lands. And though the overwhelming majority of Tyrconnell folk were enthusiastic for the young republic, Dublin was awfully far away.

I’m not sure if partition had anything to do with a strange industrial subculture that existed in Donegal but there sure was a lot of shit in the shops in Donegal you couldn’t easily get ‘down south’. It probably all started with the Crolly Doll. Made in the village of Crolly since 1939, the dolls were a sort of Hibernian proto-Cabbage Patch Kid, except they had that icy, glazed, all-seeing demeanour of traditional marionettes. They were often clothed in variants of the peasant dress that was rapidly dying out at the time. In a foreshadowing of globalisation, cheaper competition from East Asia killed off the Crolly Doll in the late 1970s and the factory closed but not before my auntie Bríd worked there for a while — something, which, you will understand, represented untold glamour for us as children. A smaller, more ’boutique’ factory was resurrected in the early 90s, and started making more specialised dolls, including ones with porcelain heads (which surely upped the creepy quotient no end), but it appears to have run aground once again.

Image from Wikipedia

Admittedly, the Crolly Doll was available outside of Donegal, and quite famous internationally it was too, if specialist internet doll forums are anything to go by. The fact though that the doll emanated from what was little more than a hamlet in a far-flung corner of the county was strange enough. And it was far from the only star of light industry Donegal could boast. One of the landmarks we always passed on our journeys north was the Oatfield’s factory in Letterkenny, a building that looked strangely more like a convent school than a confectionery wonderland and the company’s motto – ‘the sweet’s that are pure’ – is rather telling. Oatfield’s made old-school sweets, which only came in those larger, more expensive bags that usually hung behind the counter in a sweet shop, so eating them was synonymous with visiting grown-up relatives. The list of Oatfield’s products reads like a demented Séamus Heaney poem: Butter Mints, Sherbet Fruit, Orange Chocolate, Glucose Barley, Eskimo Mints, Colleen Irish assortment. But the crowning achievement was the flagship sweet — the Emerald.

John Byrne, of this parish, has written eloquently of Oatfield’s but I think he does the Emerald an injustice. This coconut caramel with a casing of dark chocolate so thin it might have been painted on, was a toffee of the perfect chewability for my young jaws. It was not fudgey enough to deprive you of your money’s worth nor was it too resilient so as to wedge your teeth together in a masticatory morass. It even had classic packaging (which has now, alas, given way to generic computer-generated design): a portrait of an old biddy encased in a sepia oval, who, uniquely, looked very like the person likely to be holding the bag out to you, urging you to “take two, they’re small.” I have met Eastern Europeans who grew up under communism, who speak fondly of the low-rent sweets of their childhood, which were later bought up by Danone or Nestlé and cast aside as embarrassing relics of the planned economy. Thankfully the Emerald has met no such fate and is still with us — it’s a sweet that symbolised a brave new nation, a sweet that held its own. There was even Arabic writing on the packet, for God’s sake — it was that well regarded!

Another post-lunch staple of those summer holidays was McDaid’s Football Special, made in Ramelton in east Donegal. No doubt the fortuitous result, like Worcestershire Sauce or penicillin, of some crazy stab in the dark at something else entirely, Football Special tasted like no other soft drink. It made Irn Bru seem as recherché as buttermilk; it turned your mouth pink without tasting like gentian violet. It also had football in its name, which made it the best drink ever. I imagined it was the stuff that victorious football teams drank from the cup but later when I started appearing on such teams myself I was shocked to learn there was no McDaid’s Football Special outside Donegal. We had to make do with red lemonade, which was tantamount to imposing Babycham on Formula 1 champions. Last year, Football Special was launched on the unsuspecting  masses south of Bundoran as a sort of Irish Pabst Blue Ribbon in the hope of becoming a hipster favourite. Well, I was drinking it long before any of the rest of them.

Over in Gweedore, they made crisps. This was Sam Spudz, a country cousin to Tayto and King but which nonetheless had a grittier, urban image, with its logo pilfered off Dick Tracy, a ‘z’ where a more pedestrian brand would have an ‘s’, and its avowed specialisation in “thicker crinkled crisps”, which was heralded in gumshoe-steeped radio ads. Sam Spudz probably didn’t invent the crinkled crisp but it was certainly the first to market it in Ireland, long before Hunky Dory’s (whose owner Largo Foods later swallowed up both it and Tayto) or McCoy’s. It also did a line in corn snacks that looked and tasted irredeemably cheap, and, if memory serves me right, outdid the thicker crinkled crisp in popularity in the lower 25. There may have been several but the only ones I can recall are Onion Rings and Burger Bites, each of which bore the same resemblance to their models as Blackpool Tower does to Gustave Eiffel’s effort. In all, the collective output of Oatfield’s, McDaid’s and Sam Spudz means Donegal was probably responsible for me cultivating a fearsome paunch long before I had figured out how to get served in pubs.

I’m still not sure why local industry thrived in Donegal throughout a century that was mostly dismal in Ireland from an economic point of view. You could say it was a pop-culture realisation of de Valera’s dreams of Irish self-sufficiency.  Other parts of the country had their star local brands but few had as high a concentration as Donegal. Even in adulthood I kept discovering them. When I moved to Paris ten years ago, I worked in a bar, whose cranberry juice, in those days before Ocean Spray became available in France, was made by Mulrine’s in Ballybofey – “the juice production experts”, as their website says. One of the owners of the bar was from Gweedore, of course…

(by Oliver Farry)

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Nothing To It?

It was 1987 and I was studying for my Inter Cert.

One welcome diversion from the cramming was Civics. While not an exam subject it was on the school timetable as easy filler; a weekly opportunity to shoot the breeze with a teacher known as Bob (a moniker logically based on his initials). Bob’s role was career guidance and broad-based advice based on vague notions of what we wanted to do after walking out the school gates on that final day. Subject choice for the Leaving was also discussed and endlessly analysed. Given the grim economic times the spectre of emigration loomed for many while the rest of us gradually formed a tenuous bond to those skimpy colour coded leaflets and austere career directories.

Later on that year RTÉ got in on the act. The time was pretty prime – Monday evenings at 6.30pm just as we had our tea (or dinner for the urban-dwellers) and straight after News and Newstime. The name of the programme was Nothing To It?, the question mark recalling the doubts conjured up by Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators‘ business card. In retrospect it could be considered as symbolising the muddled desperation of Irish youth. The programme was written and directed by Gerry Stembridge, later of Scrap Saturday fame.

The premise was simple but devastatingly effective. Three people sharing a chronically untidy Dublin flat played by Michael Murphy, Veronica Coburn and Pauline McLynn. None of them had a clue of what they wanted to be when they grew up – instead they relied on their imagination to conjure up a random career on a weekly basis. Each situation was played out like a miniature drama which was loaded with caricatures. Nobody was safe – from anodyne civil servants to corrupt and sleazy gardaí – taking in journalists, bankers, politicians, computer programmers and even caterers along the way. We were also treated to such joys as interview techniques (culminating in a surreal piece with an all-picture no-sound McLynn) and stern sanctimonious “advice” from agony aunt Agnes Day.

I recall the complaints starting pretty quickly (primarily via Mailbag) and continuing as the series rolled on every week. The boys in blue were certainly not impressed, although Garda Patrol had never done them any favours in the PR department. The final episode could only have had one outcome – our trio deciding to take the boat to England – and was played out with grim inevitability and a deeply cynical parting shot from McLynn’s Agnes Day.

“I suppose there are some young people the country is better off without”.

This barbed comment prefigured Brian Lenihan Senior’s tactless “We can’t all live on a small island” quip by about two years.

Like many RTÉ shows Nothing To It? was never repeated. It did get a five minute feature on Network 2’s @ last tv back in 1997 which can be seen above. Looking back 25 years later it still seems as subversive and funny as ever.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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Vive la Liberté!

Reader Susan Cullen sends us this slightly moth-eaten, but still surviving (goddammit), nipper.

Carrot devoured years ago, alas. Speaking of which, those mangy Velcro-covered paws are giving me the shivers and the fear. Now have visions of my own (abandoned) nipper dragging himself across the floor, into the bed, and then, um, causing me minor skin irritation with some frantic paw-rubbing.

Any others? Send ’em on.

(by fústar)