Monthly Archives: January 2012

One Last Post for January

Well, I’m back in good ol’ Dublin, which I have become quite fond of, really. I came back to get a tourist visa stamp, keeping me legal in Ireland for another 3 months. But, I’ve also taken the opportunity to do a complete theatre and tourist binge. Yesterday I visited the ‘Little Museum of Dublin,’ which is a two-room museum in one of the Georgian terrace houses on St. Stephen’s Green. It consists mainly of photos, posters and letters, with a few odds and ends thrown in, and concerns Dublin’s history in the 20th century. It was really interesting to go to, I heard lots of fabulous little stories about the place, and I’ve consequently grown more affectionate towards it, as I’ve learnt more about it. The tour guide was ridiculously enthusiastic, but I kept tripping her up with my questions that she didn’t know the answers to. I didn’t mean to do it, and I wasn’t meaning to make a point, as I actually thought she was very well-informed and a lovely guide, but it kept happening and became a bit awkward after a while. Anyway, there were some very interesting things on display. One was a letter Samuel Beckett had written to a young boy who was living in Beckett’s childhood home, and who had to do a school assignment on the history of his house. Beckett finished the letter with, ‘If you see my ghost around the house or grounds, please give him my regards,’ or something like that. It was very sweet. There was also a modern art piece, which was of a series of Monster Munch (a kind of crisp you can get in Ireland and the UK – see picture) dipped in gold and on display. It was to symbolise how bonkers everyone and everything got during the Celtic Tiger boom years. It was kind of amazingly awesome and horrendous. 

from http://www.virginmedia.com/homefamily/fooddrink/best-crisps.php?ssid=6

There was also the first (and only) issue of Nouveau, a magazine for the nouveau riche of Ireland, the title of which was not meant to be ironic. Again, a reminder of how crazy things got around here (and, just quietly, the magazine reminded me slightly of ‘the (sydney) magazine’ in style and smugness – but I’ve always hated that publication).
After seeing the museum, I went to see a show at the Peacock Theatre, which is kind of like Downstairs Belvoir in aims and programming. The production I saw was, ‘I ♥ Alice ♥ I’, which originally showed in the 2010 Dublin Fringe. It was absolutely brilliant. A beautiful and intimate piece of theatre, describing a long-term lesbian relationship, it was written and directed by one of the performers (which is something I’ve seen a lot of in Ireland – I haven’t seen nearly so much theatre created that way in Australia. I think a lot of people, in fact I KNOW a lot of Australians would consider it a dangerous hubris, but most of the stuff I’ve seen in Ireland has worked really well), a woman named Amy Conroy. I’ve been going to theatre for a good many years now, and this is the first show that has genuinely shocked and surprised me by its ending in a long time. I wouldn’t call myself a particularly naive or gullible audience member, but I was completely taken in by some aspects of the show, which later proved to be false, and I was completely flabbergasted. To be honest, my first feeling was of absolute disappointment and betrayal, and anger that I was so completely fooled (and some of that feeling still remains), but the rest of me is amazed that the show was so believable, so convincing, so well-crafted, that I wasn’t able to see through the false bits at all. So, yes, if you happen to be around Dublin anytime soon, you MUST see ‘I ♥ Alice ♥ I’. And, even if you’re not, I’m absolutely certain it will be touring to a theatre near you at some point soon. So, see it. SEE IT.
After the theatre, I finally headed to O’Donoghue’s, a very famous Dublin pub, that was the start of many a famous Irish folk band, such as ‘The Dubliners’, ‘Sweeney’s Men’, The Fureys, Christy Moore and others. I’d been putting off going here, mainly because it was out of the way from the places I normally stayed, and I didn’t want to walk around the back streets of Dublin late at night by myself. But, I decided it was time I visited the place. Of course, it was full of tourists. Very loud American tourists, to start off with. And, honestly, I’ve met a lot of lovely Americans, but, when you’re not talking to them, when they’re just getting very drunk and yelling and whooping at the musicians, they just seem like the arrogant stereotype. I mean, honestly. Their whoops were bursting my ear drums. And, whilst Irish men would give up their stools for me to sit down, turn around to check they weren’t blocking my view, make sure I was having fun, the American tourists would stand directly in front of me, not move and then sing, very loudly, out of tune, over the top of the musicians. They actually seem to now realise other people in the world exist apart from them. I know, I know. Australians, when drunk, can be just as horrible. But, I saw Americans last night, so I’m feeling a bit anti-American.
If anything, I should be feeling anti-European, as a large group of middle-aged men from Germany, Poland and France entered the pub later in the evening, and they were unbelievably sleazy. They clocked me and the American girl I had been talking to (see, I do like Americans, I promise!) the minute they walked in the bar, and then wouldn’t leave us alone. In the most ridiculously, sleazy, creepy way too. Anyone who read my facebook wall would know of the 65 year old man who told me he and his friends were from a parallel world who had come to earth because of all the beautiful women. His friend from Germany would lock eyes with us from across the room and start grinding his hips in our direction. When we attempted to get past to go to the bathroom, they felt the need to touch us all over, to help us along the way to the toilets. It was disgusting. The weird thing was that they didn’t seem particularly drunk, meaning that they genuinely thought this sort of behaviour was acceptable. It wasn’t exaggerated due to alcohol (not that excessive alcohol would make that behaviour any more acceptable, but it certainly would have made it more usual). I wasn’t sure if these men were all powerful or rich or influential or something, and that made them think they were able to attract women in such a way. I should check if there was some sort of important European conference on in Dublin yesterday.
Anyway, I’m off to the theatre again tonight, at the Project Arts Centre (which I learnt, through my visit to the Little Museum of Dublin, was a venue that U2 played at once upon a time. So, there you go). And, tomorrow, despite some initial problems with my booking, I’m off to Wicklow! Hooray!

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Filed under Dublin, Ireland

Art and Stuff

Not much to report over the last week. I’ve been hanging out in my house mainly, in my pj’s, watching movies, reading a bit, cooking a bit, sometimes cleaning things, but not doing anything particularly useful, or that you might reasonably call work, or something in anyway related to work, or that might get me work in the future. You may think this would be depressing. I certainly would have agreed with you a few weeks ago. But, I’ve kind of gotten into the swing of it now. In fact, if anything, its a little too comfortable. And, I would get worried about that, except that I’m too darn relaxed. Things feel like they are on an even keel for once. I’m not particularly excited or hopeful about anything, but, then again, I’m not particularly stressed or anxious about anything. I’m just kind of going through my days and enjoying whatever it is I happen to get done on that particular day. Its nice.
But, once again, it leaves me with very little to report. I hardly left the house last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I went into Cork last Thursday to get visa advice (my work visa expires in a week – can you believe I’ve been here a year??), and then headed off to a Creative Connections meeting. Things are starting to take shape with the book, but its still an intimidating amount of work that we need to have done by March. I’m not saying its not going to get done (it will), but its difficult to see exactly how its going to get done at this point.
Friday and Saturday I spent at the Theatre Development Centre in Cork. There were a series of talks on different topics around working in theatre, developing theatre, putting it on, getting paid for it etc. etc. All very interesting, and certainly addressed a lot of the issues that I’m struggling with at the moment. Like, in a world that defines you by your career, and defines your career by what you earn money from, how can someone like me justify calling myself an ‘artist’? And, where does an ’emerging’ or ‘early-career’ artist get their validity from? In other careers, that validity comes from training, or being paid for what you do, both of which are not particularly relevant in the arts. The first is irrelevant, as so many people can get trained these days through a variety of institutions (meaning the value of the training is diluted), and because so many successful artists haven’t been trained in what they do. (As an example, I haven’t given classes in acting since I did a diploma in it. I used to teach drama before I trained in it. I have, most recently, been teaching classes in writing, in which I have no formal qualification). The second is also a bit of a moot point, as there are plenty of high-profile artists who are not constantly being paid as an artist, and have to supplement their passion with teaching, or administration or however many other kinds of part-time jobs. Before you ‘make it’ (and even after, I imagine), you can get trapped in a cycle of looking for validation in other people. ‘If I’m programmed by x festival, that means I’m doing well,’ ‘If I’m given a grant to do x project, that means I’m a real artist.’ I think it comes from a combination of being in a hugely competitive industry, of not being able to follow a traditional career trajectory, and of constantly, constantly needing to apply, audition, beg, steal, borrow, from any number of people to get things you want to get done. You’re constantly looking outside yourself for validation. Before I studied acting, people warned me to get used to hearing ‘no’. They didn’t explain, however, or, maybe I just couldn’t imagine, how those constant rejections eat away, not only at your confidence, but at your sense of self. I went into ‘theatre-making’, because I thought that would solve the actor’s problem of always having to rely on someone else to cast you in something, to decide that you were good enough to be in a show. Turns out though, that producing your own work is just as hard, involves just as many rejections, and possibly involves putting more your self, your soul and your confidence on the line than it ever does to go into an audition and read someone else’s words out in front of a panel of people.
Anyway, the point of all this is not to be depressing or moan about how hard my life is (I mean, I have spent the last 4 weeks watching You Tube videos, whilst some people in the world have attempted to create peace in the Middle East, solve global warming, or find a cure for cancer). Its just things I’m trying to figure out how to deal with at the moment. What happened at the talks over the weekend, was that I (and many other artists) got to meet some of those people with the keys to validity – the festival curators, the arts council administrators etc. There were some heated debate around certain topics too, believe me. At points in the weekend, I felt totally brow-beaten (comments from curators such as, ‘some of the applications are just crap’), and at other times was very inspired (‘make the art you want to make, and it will find its place’). These sorts of events are also usually intended as a bit of a ‘meet-and-greet’, ie ‘networking’, ie ‘the-most-hideous-thing-in-the-world-that-I-couldn’t-do-even-if-you-paid-me-a-billion-gazillion-dollars’. On top of an already difficult weekend, filled with questions of validity and importance and significance and yada-yada-yada, what could be better than an opportunity to make a fool out of myself in front of the very people I am trying to impress (Bridget Jones once again, comes inexorably to mind)? I managed to talk to a few ‘important’ people, however, without spitting cheese at them or turning the colour of a beetroot, and I’ve at least figured out a way that makes networking work for me. I need to have a specific question for the person, preferably about what they were talking about, or what they do (therefore proving that you were paying attention and have a valid reason to talk to them), and this can be the start of a useful, interesting, and not-at-all-awkward exchange. There are people out there who can just go up to the artistic director of the Abbey Theatre, for example, and say, ‘Oh, hey, I’m an actor and my name’s Jenny, and I’m totally awesome, and why don’t we talk about me coming and auditioning for you.’ However, I am not one of those people.
Each night ended with a lovely, candle-lit dinner, with much wine, so that was certainly very lovely, and I made a few new friends, but I’m a bit piss-weak with staying up late at the moment (always have been, really), and my mood steadily deteriorated after about 10pm, which was not good, as by that time, the last bus home had left, and my only chance of getting back to my bed was waiting for a lift from a friend who was much happier staying up much later than me. New friends’ final verdict on me then was that I was an overly grumpy/miserable/moody young lady. Oh well.
Today has been very lazy. More so than even I intended. I blame lack of sleep. I did go and see ‘The Hypochondriac’ at the Kinsale Ampitheatre, which was quite fun. The venue is rather open, and the seats are hard wood, so you need to bring pillows and blankets and, according to my friend Yvonne, a flask full of hot mulled wine, otherwise you spend the performance being cold and uncomfortable, so it was a whole experience even aside from the play. It was the Irish equivalent of Shakespeare by the Sea, I suppose. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.
Tomorrow I’m back off to Dublin, and am staying in the same hostel I stayed in the first time I was there, which is pretty much exactly a year ago now (Good God, where does the time go…). And, yes, I booked it deliberately, because I’m into that sort of thing. I’m off to the capital to get my visa extended – hoping there won’t be any trouble with it – and whilst I’m there, intend to do a good ol’ theatre binge. Shows every night, and possibly an extra one on the Tuesday afternoon. Apart from that, I’m also hoping to go on a day tour to the Wicklow Mountains and see the place they filmed Gerard Butler meeting Hilary Swank in ‘P.S. I Love You.’

from imdb.com

But… ah… not that I care about that sort of thing.
No, really….
I swear I never, ever, at any point, owned that film on DVD.
And if I did, I swear it was only in aid of researching Ireland before I moved.
IRONIC researching of Ireland.
Because, of course, its not at all realistic… and…
Yes…
Well, anyway….
I may as well just go on the Unofficial U2 tour and be done with it.
*Sigh*

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Filed under Introspection, Ireland

A Weekend with the Unthanks

I’m not really sure where to start with last weekend. I think a lot of my posts begin with me talking about my unrealistically high expectations of some sort of activity, and then dealing with the various (and hilarious) ways that said activity failed to live up to said unrealistic high expectations, but were wonderful nonetheless, and I learnt all sorts of life lessons in the process. That’s right, isn’t it? Each blog post is essentially a slapstick, Disney-produced, after-school special, with me playing the high-octane, anxiety-fuelled Hilary Duff/Miley Cyrus character? From what I remember of my previous posts, this seems about right.
Well, I don’t know how to break it to you, but last weekend’s activity actually managed, in all honesty and reality, to live up to said unrealistically high expectations. To the extent that I’m not sure I want to write it all down and tell people about it, in case in the act of writing it down, it may all disappear, or I’ll realise that I was actually dreaming the whole thing.
Where to start? The story starts back in April 2011 (you can actually go back and read my original blog post, if you’re so inclined, how crazy is that?) when I decided, after a brief search through YouTube videos that I definitely wanted to see ‘The Unthanks’ at the Cork Music School. That concert remains one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen, and well and truly moved me from my childhood love of happy-clappy fiddle-dee-dee folk music into the darker, more mournful, verging on the depressive, folk music. At the concert, the band mentioned that they had been organising ‘singing weekends’, where people could come and spend a weekend with them, do group singing, learn harmonies, eat good food, sing in a pub, and just generally be relaxed and sing. All I had to do was sign up to their newsletter, and they would give us folk on the mailing list priority when it came to bookings. I would have happily knocked people down, walked over their heads, and various other terrible and completely unnecessary things in my haste to get to that mailing list sheet. Bookings opened last June, I picked a seemingly impossibly far away weekend in January 2012 and charged my credit card.
In all the stress of the end of last year, I completely forgot about my singing weekend until a week or so ago. But it turned out to be one of the best things I’ve done since I left the au pairing. I’m sure if I could have had singing workshops for the past 4 weekends, I would now feel completely rejuvenated. As it is, I’m still feeling pretty blissful.

Anyway, what is there to tell you? The weekend did start badly, with my flight from Cork to Edinburgh delayed by 5 hours, meaning I lost out on an evening in Edinburgh which I had been looking forward to, and also meant I lost a few hours the next morning, as I had to sleep in and catch up from the night before. Nevertheless, I still got to climb Arthur’s Seat again (I refer you to the original blog post on Scotland in June 2011 as to the significance of this place), which was freezing, but still made me feel incredible. Especially since I could see snow on the mountains in the distance, so the icy blasts only made it seem like the wind had swept directly over those mountains and then flown tiny pieces of ice across Edinburgh, up the side of Arthur’s Seat and right against my face.
I spent 45 minutes or so in a very cute little tea-room, which was, nevertheless, very insistent that I leave as soon as I had finished my tea, something I have never experienced in Ireland or Australia before. It soon became clear from the amount of signs around the place (‘Toilets are for Customer Use Only. Non-Customers will be charged 50p’. ‘We take no responsibility for coats and bags left on the coat stand.’ ‘A service fee of 2 pounds will be added to the cost of the Full Breakfast if its to be shared between two.’ etc.), that whilst it was a very pretty place, it was by no means a friendly place. Let this be a lesson to you all.
At 2:30, I met up with some of the other workshop participants at Waverley Station, one of whom had offered us a lift to the Northumberland farm the singing workshops were taking place on, through a specially constructed chat board for the weekend. We had a quick drive down the coast, where I saw my very first nuclear power plant, which was very strange, not least because it looked nothing like the cartoon Simpsons version of a nuclear power plant and that is, of course, my only visual reference point for nuclear power plants. Do we have nuclear power plants in Australia? I don’t think we do, but I could be completely wrong. Someone enlighten me? Anyway, it was the closest I’ve ever been to nuclear power, and it was creepy. The building was huge, had no windows and looked impossibly futuristic in a very rural landscape. It was both impressive and terrifying. I kept waiting for it to explode or for me to get superhuman powers or something.
The drive only took a couple of hours, and we were welcomed onto the farm by members of the band, including Adrian McNally, who plays piano (and is married to Rachel Unthank) and Niophe Keegan, who plays violin and sings backing vocals. I had been talking very seriously and calmly to myself all the way down, due to the fact that, anyone who is a regular reader of these blog posts will know, I have a tendency to make a fool of myself in front of people I admire. Strangely, I think its worse for me with musicians than actors, I don’t know why. Maybe because on top of the admiration, there is an aura of magic around them, because I feel like they do things I really couldn’t do. Like, effortlessly harmonise, remember what flats are played in what key signatures without looking at the music, and sight-sing. So, I had been giving myself a stern talking to, that, when I met these people who form one of my favourite musical groups, I was not to trip over my own feet, I was not to make incomprehensible gushing sounds at them, I was not to laugh unnecessarily loudly at things they said, but I was to act like the rational and sensible adult human being I know I am, deep down, and treat them like the decent, and perfectly normal human beings that they inevitably were and not as if they were some kind of musical wizards or magical, ethereal beings, the likes of which had never before been seen on this earth, and to whom I was not worthy to talk.
But, there I was, being checked into my room by Niophe, and greeted by Adrian in an apron. I played cool (I think, I hope), though my heart was practically doing backflips. Of course, they acted completely normal, were incredibly lovely and friendly, and after a while, it became clear, that they ARE actually just normal people (surprise, surprise), who are just doing a job that they love, and that they happen to be very good at. If nothing else, the weekend was certainly a comment on celebrity, fame and fortune, and the ridiculousness of that form of mega-celebrity of the likes of, say, Oasis, or Lady Gaga or anyone that you care to name. There is no need to go crazy for these people. Nor should they prance around acting as if they are God’s latest miracle. They’re just people. But, of course, because they create something that gets inside us, and stirs up our emotions, it feels a much bigger deal than it is.
Anyway, after a cup of tea and some cake, we went to our first workshop with Becky and Rachel Unthank, where we learnt a few simple rounds, songs and choruses. They were delighted to hear I was from Newcastle, being Geordie girls, and that I was from Australia, as their cousin from Australia was also coming to the weekend. After a few minutes, it was completely normal singing with them. They were that laid back, friendly and open. We had a lovely dinner, then learnt some more choruses for the pub the next day, and I headed off to bed early, surprisingly tired.
On Saturday, I went for a big round walk of Seahouses, which was the town we were staying in, after breakfast. It was a very pretty little village, with a lovely view over the sand dunes back to Bamburgh Castle, next to the other, very pretty town of Bamburgh. The wind was howling, though the sun was also shining, and the pretty town had a variety of amusingly British sights, the pick of which, for my money, had to be the tiny little laminated sign that stated, ‘There’s No Such Thing as the Poo Fairy’, and was stuck in the ground next to a big pile of dog poo. I liked this sign because one of two things had to have happened for it to be in existence. One, someone on the local council, or in a neighbourhood group somewhere, decided that it would be someone’s job to roam the streets of Seahouses looking for stray dog poo, which would then be shamed by having said sign stuck next to it. Not only would that be someone’s job, but someone, somewhere had to finance the making and laminating of little signs with which to shame. Alternatively, someone saw the pile of dog poo, and then went home and SPECIALLY MANUFACTURED said sign and then took it back to the pile of dog poo. Both of which seem like a hilarious amount of work, time and money to expend on a pile of dog poo. Did it not occur to anyone that perhaps someone’s dog happened to wander away on its own, or, maybe a stray dog did it? Did it not occur to anyone that it might actually be impossible to eradicate dog poo from the world entirely and that the money for the tiny dog poo signs could most likely be spent better on other things, especially in recession-era Britain, where a million young people are unemployed, the cost of living in sky-rocketing and superannuation is being slashed? Anyway, that’s my two cents.
Back to the singing. We split in to two groups after breakfast and my group learnt a few songs and harmonies first with Rachel, and then later, more with Becky. We learnt a beautiful appalachian song the girls heard from a performer named Heddy West, called ‘Awake, Awake’, which was a real joy to sing with all the fabulous harmonies. The girls had said at the beginning of the weekend that they liked group singing, because you could ‘get lost’ in it, and that was certainly how I felt during this song. As a child and teenager, I didn’t like being in choirs very much, though I was in as many as I could be. It always felt like a chore, something I ‘had to do’, to get more practice at singing, at harmonies and learning more music theory. But, I still hated them for precisely for this reason – that a single person is lost in a choir. I didn’t want to be lost, I wanted to be heard! I wanted to be front and centre with the microphone in my hand! I wanted that, because, lets face it, I was more interested in the praise and adoration I might get from the singing, than from the act of singing itself. Of course, I must have had some affection for the actual activity of singing, otherwise I would have chosen something else – soccer, maybe, or… hula-hooping. Maybe it was the set up of the weekend, or because I’ve kind of given up on the idea that singing might be something that I can make a career out of, but, the feeling of being part of a group, and of that group creating simple, beautiful harmonies together, and hearing those resonances build and fill the room, was really beautiful, really relaxing, and, oddly enough, very comforting and therapeutic. It was akin to the things I’ve been doing in my art course.
After lunch, we went for a walk on the sand dunes, and attempted to sing a few songs down there, which delighted me, because I’m always singing in public, down the street, in parks, at the shopping centre, and getting strange looks. When there’s 40 of you, on a beach, singing in harmonies, and someone walks past you, the strange looks are deflected away by the joy of being in a group doing exactly the same strange thing you are doing. We were defeated, unfortunately, by the gale force wind and sand storms, and despite attempting to complete the stroll by walking backwards up the beach so as to not get sand in our mouths and eyes, we decided to pack it in and head to the pub.
The pub was a beautiful, old traditional pub, with oodles of sea bits and bobs hanging from the ceiling, and hot ginger wine for sale. I’ve only had ginger wine once before, at a folk festival, and whilst the night in question was not one of the best of my entire life, due to the rather large consumption of ginger wine and whiskey (the best types of folky alcohol), I still really love the stuff. I’d never had it hot before, and let me tell you, ginger, with heat, is pretty impressive. It catches the back of your throat like nothing else. I was coughing and spluttering and toasty warm in no time. We all crushed ourselves inside the tiny front room and sang the choruses we had been taught the day before, various members of the Unthanks family and band leading them, the few bemused locals joining in on those they knew. At some point, workshop participants were invited to sing, and, you guessed it… I volunteered myself. I decided to give my very best ‘Tippin’ it Up to Nancy’, figuring people might be able to stumble along in the chorus, and, at the very least, it was fast and fun and I knew it well. Of course, though, there is something a little terrifying, about singing a favourite song of yours in front of the members of one of your favourite bands. Its thrillingly terrifying in a way that I don’t think I experience in front of other actors anymore. Well, maybe that’s not true. But, for whatever reason, this felt much more momentous and special. Maybe it was just the atmosphere of the weekend. Whatever. I did it. It was terrifying. I started far too high (nerves), but I got through it reasonably well. People clapped and laughed, and I was personally complemented by members of The Unthanks. Does it seem silly to hold onto those and not want to write down what specifically was said? Probably. But, I’m still not going to do it. It was too wonderfully delightful and slightly embarrassing that I don’t want to crow about it.
After the pub, we headed back to the farm, and had dinner. After dinner there was very intimate concert, which was stunningly beautiful, and we heard a few of the songs from the last CD (which I have to go buy now, thanks for reminding me). After dinner there were games, including the face-to-face competition, a singing variation of the YPT drama game favourite, ‘Honey, I Love You’ (for non-YPT readers, the aim of the game is to get someone to laugh by saying ‘Honey, I love you, will you smile for me,’ said person has to reply, ‘Honey, I love you too, but I just can’t smile today’), which I did very well at, probably due to all that ‘training’ from drama classes all those years ago. I forgot the words halfway through one of my songs, though, and that was the end of me. Ah well.
The evening was spent singing more songs, drinking more wine, until 3:30am. Well, that was the evening for a small group of us, say, 8 people. The rest of the group was in bed, trying to sleep, hating on us 8 for sitting in the common room and singing until 3:30am. It didn’t seem such a big deal until we got in trouble from two of the other workshop participants, who came out in their PJ’s to rouse on us, so we all slunk into bed. We hung around the breakfast tables rather sheepishly the next morning, I can tell you.
Sunday was a particularly short day, just brunch and then one workshop before sending us on our way. I don’t think I’ve mentioned anywhere else, but apart from the band, Rachel and Becky’s parents were helping out on the weekend, their father and mother’s partner were leading a lot of the songs as well. So, when they said it was a ‘Weekend with the Unthanks’, it genuinely was a weekend with the Unthanks – the entire family. We even met Rachel and Adrian’s new baby, who was very cute, very well-behaved, loved the music and stared around at all the new people cooing at him very interestedly. Its just another example of the wonderfully warm, open, community feeling that the weekend had. I think it also a reflection of the type of music that The Unthanks play – there is something about folkies that is very down-to-earth, welcoming, and inclusive. Its very family and tradition orientated. My brother would have you believe that we are all crazy hippies, but whilst there is a bit of cross-over, there is definitely a difference between hippies and folkies. And, I think, though I have nothing against hippies, really, that I do prefer the folkies. They’re a little more grounded then hippies can be.
Anyway, we headed back to Edinburgh Sunday afternoon, and I can’t remember feeling so relaxed and happy in a long while. I was completely re-inspired to get singing again, get out my violin, learn some new songs and find somewhere to perform them. That’s what I’ve been doing this afternoon – teaching myself songs that people told me I should sing over the weekend, or learning ones that other people sang on the weekend and I want to know. I’m working on finding places to sing as well. There’s a freedom and joy in wanting to do it just for the sheer pleasure of it too, and not thinking, ‘this is my career, I have to make money out of it, I have to do it right.’ Lets pray that feeling lasts, and, if I can at all help it, maybe take a bit of that gay abandon and put it into my attitude towards theatre and acting too.

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Nothing to do…

So, I’ve still got very little to report to you all. Life has taken a distinctly cozy, relaxed turn. Well, kind of. I mean, sometimes, I’m all for the cozy, relaxed-ness, and I sit on the couch and watch videos on youtube and feel relaxed and happy, and then other times I turn around and go, ‘Oh, God, I haven’t done anything all day! I’ve just been watching videos on You Tube! OH MY GOD MY LIFE IS SLIPPING THROUGH MY FINGERS, BEING THROWN AWAY, GOING DOWN THE DRAIN AND VARIOUS OTHER METAPHORS BECAUSE ALL I AM DOING IS WATCHING VIDEOS ON YOU TUBE.’
So, its taken on a… I don’t know. I don’t know what its taken on. A schizophrenic, multiple personality disorder edge, I suppose. I haven’t been unemployed for a good 10 years. I’ve always had some sort of job or study to be going on with. And the emptiness is more than a little terrifying. Its certainly good to be not doing things that you don’t enjoy or that are stressing you out, but then, I guess, with me, it gets to a point when most things in my life stress me out, especially the things I technically *like* to do, meaning that all that is left is watching videos on You Tube.
Mind you, I have watched a lot of good videos on You Tube. You know there are entire movies on there? Like, if they’re not big blockbusters, if they’re not with the big studios, so they’re not constantly being checked on or searched for, you can find little gems of entire movies on there. Constantly going through the oeuvre of David Thewlis, my new current obsession, and there are some sweet films on there. I recommend ‘Cheeky’ as an offbeat, black comedy rom-com. Highly enjoyable.
Anyway, I have done some bits and pieces. Applied for a few programs, done some writing. I’m trying to write a story every day using these ‘Story Cubes’ that I bought in Galway last summer. There’s nine cubes with little pictures on them, and you throw them and then have to write a story using all the images. Its quite fun. I’ve been trying not to pressure myself with the stories (ie, not to sit there going, ‘If its good, perhaps I could turn it into a novel, and then maybe I could send it to an agent, and then maybe s/he’d send it to a publisher, and then they’d publish it, and then maybe it would win the Pulitzer Prize and sell a million billion copies, and I could buy a castle in Scotland and never ever have to work for the rest of my life, and just watch You Tube videos, secure in the knowledge that I could win another Pulitzer if I really wanted to, but there wasn’t really much point.’ Which inevitably makes me feel a little low when said story turns out to be about a purple turtle).
I’ve also started back with Creative Connections, which is great, though as also been a little emotional. We had one session last Thursday to talk about the book we’re writing (we’re writing a book!), where I got a little fixated on an idea, and was making an argument out of nothing, and then I got upset when I realised I was making an argument out of nothing, and tried to move on, but by then everyone else was upset, and was trying to make me feel better which made me feel worse, and it ended up with me, at home, on the couch, watching the end of HP7 Part 2 and bawling my eyes out for a good hour and half until I was so tired, I could barely walk to the bed. All my own issues, of course, and linked back to the unemployment thing, but, anyway. Not the best start back to something that I really adore.
The weekend went a bit better. We’re working with an incredible artist, named Mark Storor, for the Cork Midsummer Festival this year, and we had a weekend workshop with him. It was exhausting, a lot of storytelling, a lot of crying (though, not from me this time), a lot of food and a lot of love. By yesterday evening, I was wrecked, but very happy and thought I would sleep as soundly as a baby (unfortunately, sleep was completely interrupted by dreams of David Thewlis… not quite sure what is going on there. Think he must remind me of someone. But, I’m not entirely sure who, at this point…).
Anyway, back to the YouTube videos, and, if you’re interested, you should look at this series of films on ‘The Fat Girl Gets a Hair Cut’, which is a show Mark did with teenagers at the Roundhouse in London.

It seems to have similar themes and aims to that Dutch show, ‘Once and for all we’re going to tell you who we are, so shut up and listen,’ except less… directed? Forced? I really enjoyed that show, but I remember someone commenting afterwards that it seemed like the title of the show should have been, ‘Once and for all we’re going to tell you who other people think we are…’ which was a fair criticism. Anyway, Mark’s show seems a little bit more inspired by what came out of the teenagers’ lives and stories, creating a very quirky and unique piece. There’s 9 videos about it up on Youtube, and I suggest you watch them all (come on, they’re only 2 minutes long, that’s do-able even if you have gainful employment!), but if you don’t have time, look at 1 and 8, as they are very beautiful and give you a sense of the sort of stuff we’re experimenting with. Mark creates beautiful things out of ordinary things, which is very exciting, and is very interested in performance. Some of the women, I think, are finding this a little intimidating, but I cannot wait. Typical Actor.

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Unexpected Outcomes of Living by Yourself

1) Incidence of getting dressed in front of the TV news increased tenfold (associated outcome: incidences of thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll just get dressed here, in front of the TV’, whist in someone else’s house, WHILST THEY ARE ALSO AT HOME, have also increased)

2) Increased consumption of podcasts and audiobooks – sound of people’s voices makes it seem like other people are around

3) Incidence of talking to myself/TV/radio has also increased

4) Incidence of singing about things that I am doing and/or eating has also increased. For example, ‘Mush-rooms on tooooaaaassssttt’. Evidently due to the influence of Liz Lemon:

5) Ascribing names and personalities to inanimate objects has increased. Conversation with said objects will clearly be the next step. This is not helped by things like:

You guys all see that too, right?

6) Taking pictures of the same view day after day, because its ‘sooooo beautiful’, and like, ‘there’s no one here to share it with!’ So, you have to RECORD said beautiful thing, to save it up for the next time you see a person and force them to look at it. Exhibit A:

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An Oxford Christmas and a Brighton NYE

Yeah, so I didn’t write more. I got incredibly lazy, and I also didn’t have access to a computer, and don’t tut-tut at me, I’ve already beaten myself up about it heaps. See, at some point in the year, I noticed the ‘statistics’ part of my blog, and if owning and writing a blog about my travel ‘experiences’, wasn’t self-absorbed enough, I now also check the statistics of my blog, so I can know EXACTLY how many people are actually reading it and whereabouts people are reading it and what sorts of browsers they have (That’s right, I’m watching you, too. Though I can’t tell you your name, I can confidently tell you you most likely came through Facebook, are from either Australia or the USA and use Internet Explorer, or maybe Firefox. Not really the most useful information, actually. I could have probably guessed that all without checking the statistics page, to be honest. Though, I seem to have a growing interest from Brazil. Go figure). ANYWAY, point is, I found the statistics page, and like any good economist worth his salt, I’m now obsessed with CONSTANT EXPONENTIAL GROWTH in the form of hits on the blog. I don’t know why. Its not like I’m selling advertising or anything on the side. Its just a little competition I started with myself and now I can’t keep out of my head.
So, yes, as far as the economist in my head goes, 8 posts in one month (December) is just lazy and not at all conducive to an ever increasing number of hits, and to make up for it, this month, I should just post pictures of Megan Fox nude, to make up the shortfall.
But, I won’t. Instead, I will tell you about the rest of my Xmas and NYE. There’s not much to tell, really. The problem with relaxing, is that I have no paranoid and/or anxiety induced fantasies to report to you. I have a feeling they were the most amusing things I used to write about.
But, I’ll try. Chris and I had a lovely Australian ex-pat Christmas in Oxford. We were at Magdalene College (but, don’t go pronouncing it ‘Magdalene’, now, that would just be sensible. The correct, Oxford pronunciation is ‘maudlin’. Yes, as in: ‘Self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental, often through drunkenness’), which apparently has a lot of Australian law students at it. I found this out, as well as a whole heap of other, useless Oxford ‘facts’ on the day. I was the only non-Oxford person there, and, also, the only SINGLE person there, and if that isn’t the most Bridget Jones-esque set up for a Christmas day, I don’t know what is. At least there was no Turkey curry or chardonnay. I did have a lovely day, though, drank a fair amount, smashed the popular culture celebrity game we played (tick for another Bridget Jones talent), but insisted, loudly and embarrassingly, that I knew various rules of naming Lords and Ladies, which I obviously didn’t and was put in my place my smarter, snootier, younger, more couple-y Oxford law types (tick to another Bridget Jones moment).
I hope I’m not making it sound like I didn’t have fun. Because I did, it was lovely, and I very much enjoyed being around the bright young antipodean things of Oxford. I just felt a little out of place sometimes, was all. It didn’t help that it was like a sauna in the college room (FYI to all of England – I suspect that your greenhouse gas emissions would be lessened if you didn’t insist that every building should, during winter, resemble a sauna or the Sahara desert. Seriously, its not that hot in summer, you must be used to a bit of cold weather, so why do you want it to be SO warm in winter? Put on a jumper), so I kept walking out onto the balcony to freeze my brain for various length of times. There’s just something so very symbolic about being the only person on a dark, cold balcony, with a warm, bright room full of attractive, chatty people behind you, which explains why the image has been overused to the point of stereotype in various movies over the years.
We ended the day, though, with a screening of ‘Mean Girls’, which I was totally on board with, and made me feel very much in my element.
Boxing Day, I did very little. I lay on the couch and read a magazine, which I think unnerved my brother a little (he kept checking to see if I wanted to ‘do something’), but I felt most of Oxford would be closed, and Boxing Day is for relaxing, not for sightseeing. I did get up around 3pm, feeling more than a little headache-y and unwell (again, overheating of the college is mostly to blame) and felt I should go outside and walk around a bit. I went to the great, big, flat area we had seen the ponies galloping over and walked around listening to Van Morrison, which put me in a good mood. Van Morrison puts anyone in a good mood. Chris and I headed out that evening to meet one of his composer friends, who is from Belfast, as well as said-composer’s wife and mother, and that was quite nice. We finally found common ground discussing the horrors of the Australian outback, which seems a pretty good default topic for most new people that you meet in the UK.
On the 27th, Chris and I rushed into London for a day of theatre, which was excellent. We went first to the Little Angel theatre in, believe or not, Angel, to see ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’, a puppet show based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story. I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the story, as we performed it at ACA, so I was a little disappointed with the production. It had been turned into a children’s play, adding a really annoying old lady character who essentially explained all the interesting, poetic metaphors and symbolism in the story for the benefit of the children, which kind of took away all of their interesting poetic-ness. The puppets were cool though, and Chris said he enjoyed it. We then headed to see ‘Jerusalem’ by Jez Butteworth, which was ASTOUNDINGLY good, mainly for the performance of the main actor, Mark Rylance, but the writing was also hysterical, very dark and just… so FULL. So full of SO MUCH. And what I mean by that is that its clear every single line is in the play for a purpose. Everything has meaning and significance. It reminds me of Stoppard at his best (say, ‘Arcadia’), where you can read/see the production time and again and never get bored, because every single time you find something new. Its long – 3 hours or so – but, I don’t think you could cut anything. I’m planning to see it again sometime this year. It was absolutely brilliant, one of the best things I’ve ever seen on stage. In fact, I would go so far to say, that if you are in London, an actor, or at all interested in theatre, I would make going to see ‘Jerusalem’ your number one priority.
Anyway, I headed back to Oxford late, while Chris stayed in London to visit some friends. I didn’t do much on the 28th, except traipse all over Oxford, searching every op shop for a NYE costume. More on that later. I did manage to get to the Ashmolean, a beautifully named museum in Oxford full of many old things that the British really shouldn’t have, but aren’t giving back, thank you very much. I have to say, I’m not such a fan of really old things from Ancient Greece or Rome. No matter how many times I go to museums and stand in front of Ancient Greek statues and say to myself, ‘this was made THOUSANDS of years ago, you know, like, THOUSANDS’, I can’t seem to muster up any enthusiasm. Maybe its because they’re too old for me to comprehend, or they’re just not to my aesthetic, or because I know very little ancient history, but I just don’t find them that interesting. I prefer the sections on Ancient China or Ancient Persia, because the artefacts from there are at least beautiful and colorful.
The next day, I went on a walking tour, which showed me pretty much the same places Chris had showed me on Christmas Eve, but was a little more detailed in terms of facts and information. Plus, it was taken by a very posh old lady called Muriel, so that was an added benefit. She even complained to me about the immigration policy of the previous Labor government, ‘letting everyone in’ and the fact that the high streets of British towns these days could ‘be anywhere’. It felt highly conservative and appropriately traditional and soaked in nostalgia for ‘the good ol’ days’, even if was more than a little offensive and racist. Think I also found a little bag of… umm…. greenery… in one of the colleges, but, being a good girl, I left it where it was. Chris and I went to another crazy museum I can’t remember the name of, but it was very cool, and stuffed full of very random stuff, including bark shields from…. Guinea, maybe? They had images of the Phantom painted on them. Weird.
On the 30th, I headed to Brighton to visit an old uni friend, Viv, who has been living there since February. Brighton is a really cool town. Really cool. People like Nick Cave and Noah Taylor live there. Cate Blanchett used to live there. Its cool. You may know about the cool pier they have there, or that Lydia Bennett wanted to go there. Well, they also have an awesome castle that looks like it was transported straight out of ‘Aladdin’:

Image from: http://maryamibrighton.blog.com/2011/01/27/mi%C3%B0vikudagur/brighton_pavillion/

Also very cool. 
Finally, its full of cool vintage and antique shops, which Viv and I spent most of our time looking through on the 31st. Viv had invited me to a NYE party of some of her friends in Brighton, which was ‘Titanic’ themed, hence my extreme difficulty finding a costume in Oxford. I had eventually managed to pull something together though, and with a few extra bits and bobs from the vintage stores of Brighton, I was exceedingly pleased with my outfit. I mean, it included sparkly gold gloves and peacock feathers. Excellent. Viv and I got some ciders, not intending to have too big a night, as we wished to go ice-skating outside the pavilion the next day. I feel I’m pretty good these days at monitoring my alcohol intake, so that I’m pleasantly tipsy over a long period of time, rather than drinking far too much, far too quickly, and ending up lying on the floor, singing songs to myself and looking at the pretty patterns my fingers make in the air. Its taken a few bad nights, but I feel I have a reasonably mature attitude towards alcohol nowadays.
Problem was, that at around 10:30, we were mostly though our ciders, and weren’t feeling more than a little happy, and the party wasn’t exactly rockin’. So, we decided to go out and get more alcohol. Of course, the problem with going out and buying MORE alcohol when you’ve already had a little bit of alcohol, is that you drastically OVER-estimate your needs. So, Viv and I thought, ‘Sure, let’s get a bottle of rum! I mean, we’re sharing it!’ So, back we went to the party, and proceeded to down a fair amount of rum and coke (ok, half the bottle), on the basis that we had been yawning, and we had to stay awake until some of the members of the party returned at 3am from London.
The party seemed to get much funnier and more entertaining after that. Though, we didn’t do much towards convincing the Brits we were with that all Australians aren’t huge pissheads, a horrible, clearly unfounded and unfair stereotype, which we had been trying to combat earlier in the evening. The next day, needless to say, we didn’t get to the ice-rink, but, it was also pouring rain, and it was an outdoors ice-rink, so, hey, we wouldn’t have been able to go anyway. We had a very… ummm… lazy day on the sofa bed, watching 30 Rock and various movies. At least 2012 can only improve from there.
The next morning, I headed back to London and caught up with another old uni friend and her husband. It was lovely sunny day, so we walked around for a bit through Hyde Park, and then had a delicious (ENORMOUS) lunch in Kensington, before heading to Covent Garden, which I have somehow missed on all my trips to London so far, thinking it was just a big ol’ Opera House and not a place you could go and see buskers and antiques and things.
And, then, it was finally time to go home! Kinsale was in right old form when I got back, with gale force winds and pelting rain, but it was nice to settle down in my own house and my own bed. There’s nothing more comforting than being warm and dry inside, when its wild and whipping outside, knowing you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything, except maybe put another log on the fire and eat another piece of chocolate.

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