‘Rogue’ by Lee Coffey in Smock Alley Theatre

Leaving the Viking Sheds Theatre in Clontarf on March 11th last year, having seen ‘Dirtbirds’ little did I realise that it would be fifteen months before I’d enter an Irish theatre again. The dry spell was broken yesterday evening when I attended ‘Rogue’ by Lee Coffey on the main stage of Smock Alley theatre. Performed by the graduating class of the Gaiety School of Acting, I was very curious. Having seen Coffey’s plays ‘In our veins’ and ‘Murder of crows’ in recent years, I know that he’s a talented playwright. The director for this show was Tracy Ryan (whose direction of ‘Iphegenia in Splott’ in Smock Alley some years ago was a powerhouse of piece.)
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Let my people vote – the Dublin Bay South by-election

Darragh O’Brien

The Minister for Housing is Darragh O’Brien. He is a member of the Fianna Fail party. Its coalition partner Fine Gael previously held this ministry. Since 2011 Fine Gael has been in power. The two parties formed a coalition after last year’s election (although a de-facto coalition existed from 2016 to 2020). The housing crisis has exploded over the past decade since Fine Gael took office. O’Brien’s predecessor was named Eoghan Murphy – a man whose picture appears next to the word ‘failure’ in my personal dictionary (https://midnightmurphy.com/2019/07/03/eoghan-murphy-a-chocolate-fireguard ) . He was an elected representative for the Dublin Bay South constituency, which is the wealthiest in the land. Fine Gael clearly has its finger on the pulse of the nation when it appointed a rich boy whose granddad Russell Murphy was a swindler accountant who fleeced his clients for hundreds of thousands, to solve the housing emergency. After the 2020 election Eoghan Murphy was relieved of ministerial duties. Some months later he decided that politics was not for him. He resigned his seat. Prompting a by-election for a parliamentary seat in the leafiest of suburbs.

Some important facts about housing in Ireland are relevant here. The cost of purchasing a house in Ireland is out of reach of people on an average wage. In Dublin, the situation is even worse. Unless you are earning a minimum of 70,000eur a year as a single person you can forget about owning your own home. This is deliberate government policy – supply has been reduced to a trickle, while prices soar to help banks and institutional investors. Meanwhile vulture funds buy up entire housing estates and apartment blocks to rent at extortionate rates to tenants. Tenants who because they are spending 50% of their available income on rent are unable to save to try to buy a property. These renters aren’t burdened with tenancy rights of any substance. Every now and then a scandal erupts, and the government pretends to act. The housing crisis continues and purchasing or renting a property in Ireland remains a national disgrace.

As the housing crisis will be front and centre of the coming by-election to replace Eoghan Murphy, I thought I’d look at some the candidates for this seat.

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Vaccinated

Since the announcement, late last year, that vaccines against Covid-19 had been developed by several companies, it’s been a waiting game. A torturous waiting game.

The supply issues, along with the third wave of infections, along with the bitter recriminations against the pharmaceutical companies and governments, along with always missed targets, have meant that the entire world has been on tenterhooks. All the while our hair grew longer, and holes appeared in our socks, as the never-ending Level 5 lockdown continued. The challenges were inevitable –  vaccinating a planet of seven billion people was never going to be an easy undertaking. The priority list – the older population in care homes and frontline healthcare workers excepted – changed week to week. News of corruption in vaccine rollout was headline news, as newspapers breathlessly reported on the scandal of a private hospital (that employs Leo Varadkar’s partner) vaccinating teachers at a private school, attended by the children of the CEO of the hospital. And we waited.

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All along the banks of the Royal Canal – maintaining the power of the Church

On the second Saturday of every month I volunteer with a group that cleans up the Royal Canal. We pick up rubbish on the banks, and in the water of the canal. Dublin City Council has no responsibility for the hygiene or maintenance of either of Dublin’s canals – the northside Royal Canal or the southside Grand Canal. Both these waterways fall under the remit of Waterways Ireland, which relies almost entirely on the efforts of volunteers for rubbish collection. There is not a single dustbin kept in the sections controlled by Waterways Ireland. As I am a frequent walker along the banks, I decided that it was my duty as a civic minded person to throw on a stylish pair of overalls and a hi-viz jacket once a month and contribute to the upkeep of these lungs of Dublin.

Today marked my fifth consecutive month volunteering. In pre-pandemic times it was quite a social activity with many people participating. Since lockdown this has changed and it has become a more solitary endeavour. I possess my own litter picker; refuse sacks and gloves however, so company – while nice – is not essential to complete the task at hand.

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Lockdown cooking

I am an adequate cook. By saying that I mean that I am able to function in a kitchen with some basic raw materials. I can usually cobble together something reasonably edible. I make no boasts about being particularly talented or experimental in the kitchen. Before lockdown I had a go-to list of about five dishes I could cook from scratch without referencing a recipe book. That always struck me as sufficient to function as an adult in the world – and allowed a moderately varied diet.

As a single person, cooking can be fairly unrewarding – you don’t want to spend too much effort on a meal that you will consume in ten minutes without a solitary compliment from someone else to reward your ego. Cooking for a large number of people has never been a challenge for me – coming from a family of seven children, I have always been proficient at feeding the masses with the ingredients supplied by my parents. To this day, I still single-handedly cook Christmas dinner for the school of Murphies that assembles in Limerick each December.

Lockdown has changed my culinary narrative somewhat. As all restaurants, theatres, pubs and cinemas have been closed for almost a year, there is no longer anywhere to go in the evening. The evenings can be long. I have an objection to using the delivery apps to bring me food, thanks to how dreadfully the delivery guys are treated and paid by Deliveroo and Ubereats and JustEat. These days I cook at home for myself, seven days a week. Five core meals was no longer sufficiently varied. So I started varying it up somewhat.

For your pleasure here is list of dishes that I had never cooked before lockdown.  This list does not list basic staples of pre-covid life such as spaghetti bolognaise; carbonara; green chicken curry etc. It is new dishes. Also I have of course eaten all the below dishes – simply never prepared them myself. ,This post is sponsored by the Marks and Spencer yellow sticker scheme – whereby I go to the M&S shop across the road for my house each day at 5pm and purchase ‘reduced to clear’ posh, Protestant food for a fraction of the original cost, and then immediately transfer it to the freezer for thawing and consumption at an unspecified future date.

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Living alone with Claire Byrne

Lockdown is tough. It is dreary and stressful trying to obey government instructions on getting through the pandemic. Don’t travel more than 5km. Don’t enter anyone else’s house. Don’t meet in groups outdoors. Wash your hands relentlessly. Wear a mask. Stay two metres distant from everyone you encounter. Only go outdoors for essential reasons. Under no circumstances are you to travel abroad unless Joe Biden invites you. Limit your human interactions. Educate your children from home. We’re all in this together. Blah. Blah. Blah.

I am heartily sick of it. Yet I persist. Not out of any sense of belief in the efficacy of these measures any more. The slogan ‘We’re all in this together’ is a meaningless catchphrase to anyone who lives alone after all. It’s more to do with the fact that there’s little other option. Everything is closed. It’s probably just as boring twenty kilometres from home as it is five kilometres.

Lately the messaging regarding the lockdown is becoming increasingly infuriating. Schools being closed is clearly a hugely, stressful and worrying time for students, parents and teachers. Particularly for those who are sitting their Leaving Certs or for parents whose children have special needs. Clarity on whether exams are proceeding is desperately required for many students. This is utterly irrelevant to me. I don’t begrudge the news monopoly of this story however and it is important and of national interest.

What strikes me as offensive is the complete disregard towards people living alone on the airwaves.

Take today’s Claire Byrne show. This is a daily current affairs radio show on RTE Radio 1, aired from 10am to midday on weekdays. It is presented by Claire Byrne. Byrne is rumoured to have been a member of Young Fine Gael during her college years (Fine Gael being the right-wing Irish Tory party). Whether or not she was a right wing student politician or not is not the main point here. What is pertinent is her bland presenting style and weak interviewing skills on a current affairs show, where politicians and experts routinely appear to discuss the issues of the day. She took over this hugely popular radio slot in August of last year. Prior to her arrival it was presented by Sarah McInerney for three months, following the retirement of long term presenter Sean O’Rourke. I started listening when Sarah McInerney presented the show. She was an excellent broadcaster – well able to cut through the dribbling babble of politicians on the programme. Clearly she ruffled political feathers with her more confrontational presenting style. Bland, processed, white sliced-pan Claire Byrne was drafted in to ask easy questions, and to toe the government line and to give the politicians of Fine Fail and Fianna Gael – the two indistinguishable parties who between them have been in power since the foundation of the state – an easy time. It should be controversial how seemingly compromised the national broadcaster is, when it comes to holding government parties to account.

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Going back – 1991

Yesterday evening I was sent an invitation to join a private Facebook group for members of my secondary school graduation class. This June will be the 30 year anniversary since I did my Leaving Certificate and the organiser wants the class of 1991 to reconnect. The invitation to join is valid for one month. I have not accepted it and I doubt I will be doing so. Until I decline the invitation I can see all activity but they cannot see me. Out of curiosity I clicked on the link to the group – which now has thirty-three members (from a graduating class of 175 people). There was a number of faces I recognised; a smaller number I am already connected to via social media; a surprisingly large number of people whose names I knew, but who for the life of me I couldn’t remember anything about. Other names drew a complete blank.

As would be expected, most of the posts from members were announcements about where their lives travelled – from Limerick to Dublin; from Boston to Brisbane. It was quite a shock to see all these middle aged faces –looking well, but a lot more seasoned than the teenagers I remember. They were a fertile lot, my old school year – pictures of offspring abounded.

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‘It’s a sin’ by Russell T. Davies

Over the past two nights I have watched the new Russell T. Davies show ‘It’s a sin’ on Channel 4. Davies found fame in 1999 with the revolutionary ‘Queer as folk’ TV show which documented the lives of a group of gay men in Manchester. The show was radical in that the characters were not villains or victims – but instead well rounded individuals living unapologetic lives; and engaging in the sex and drugs and rock and roll hedonism of urban, young, gay men. I was in my early twenties and living in Dublin at the time in a flat-share with two other gay guys. Our lives may not have been quite as raucous as the characters on screen, but we had our fun. The show held a mirror up to the lives we were living. Ir was refreshing that the emphasis was not on the message that being gay kills you. The big disease with the little name hadn’t gone away but by the late 1990s, a HIV diagnosis was no longer an automatic death sentence. ‘Queer as folk’ reflected this change in outlook. I loved the programme.

Group Shot

Now twenty years after huge success with ‘Doctor Who’ Davies has revisited the gay life. ‘It’s a sin’ tells the story of a group  of young gay men in a house share in London in the 1980s, just as news is filtering through from the US about a ‘gay cancer’ that is ripping through the male, gay community and killing everyone who gets a diagnosis. There’s Colin – a sweet boy from Wales who works in a tailor’s; Roscoe – estranged from his Nigerian family because of his homosexuality ,and working in a bar; Ash – a school teacher; Colin – an aspiring actor from the Isle of Wight; and Jill – an actress of unspecified sexual orientation.

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Theatrical: ‘The Approach’ and ‘Happy Days’

In the final weeks of January semi-live theatre is making a comeback in Ireland.

‘The Approach’ by Mark O’Rowe is being performed live at the Project Arts Centre from the 21st to the 24th January. ‘Happy Days’ by Samuel Beckett is being staged on January 30th at the Olympia. The shows will be streamed around the world. The seats in the theatres will remain empty.

I am currently engaged in an internal debate whether or not to get a ticket for either or both shows. I know that the Mark O’Rowe play would be worth seeing –  having attended‘Howie the Rookie’ in the Civic Theatre in Tallaght before lockdown last year I was blown away by the performance of Stephen Jones in the title role of an incredible play. It may be blasphemous to say it, but I’d be more reluctant to see the Beckett play. Perhaps I lack the intellectual ability to understand his  work? Having seen ‘Waiting for Godot’ in Smock Alley Theatre, I was slightly bewildered at the hype. Samuel Beckett is like the sacred cow of Irish theatre – a lack of appreciation of his work reveals you to be a philistine. I remain ambivalent about him. However ‘Happy Days’ is being performed by Siobhan McSweeney, who plays Sister Michael to perfection in ‘Derry Girls’ so she’d be the main attraction for this show for me.

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Old movies: ‘Hell’s House’ (1932)

Of late I have been watching a lot of Bette Davis movies. Having come to the realisation that while I knew a lot about her career, marriages, rivalry with Joan Crawford; the only films of hers that I’d seen were the classics ‘All about Eve’ and ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane?’ My mission was to rectify this. This weekend I watched her Oscar nominated performance in the 1941 film ‘The Little Foxes’ and her breakthrough role in the 1934 film ‘Of Human Bondage’ – the film that made her a star at the age of 26. This wasn’t her first film – she’d been knocking about Hollywood for a few years by that stage, searching for that hit film to put her name above the movie title.

One of her earliest films was called ‘Hell’s House’ from 1932. I also watched this one yesterday. At the time Davis was under contract to Universal Pictures. She was loaned out to BF Zeidman’s Production Ltd for this picture. After which Universal dropped her. Which turned out for the best in fact – her next film was her first with Warner Brothers and became a hit. It was called ‘The Man who played God’ and was the start of her reign as the queen of Warner Brothers.

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