In May 2008, Democratic Unionist Party MP Iris Robinson gave an interview to the Stephen Nolan radio show on BBC Northern Ireland. In it she expressed sorrow that a gay man had been beaten almost to death in a homophobic attack in Belfast. Homosexuality was still an ‘abomination’ to Iris however, but homosexuals like murderers could be forgiven by accepting Jesus. She had a lovely NHS psychiatrist, who worked with her who could help those suffering from the ‘abomination’ to be cured. To say that the interview caused a reaction is quite an understatement. Universally condemned for her religious and homophobic extremism, neither Iris or her political party backed down. Her party colleague Ian Paisley Junior (son of the Reverend Senior who in the early 1980s campaigned against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the north with the catchy slogan ‘Save Ulster from sodomy’) supported Robinson. Iris’ husband Peter Robinson – then the First Minister of Northern Ireland remained silent – possibly too busy shouting ‘No, no, no’, at any questions being posed to him.
She later stated in parliament that “There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children” (although she later claimed that this direct quote had been misinterpreted. )
The BBC started doing some investigation into Mrs. Robinson’s background and in January 2010 a Spotlight documentary was released which revealed that throughout the previous year’s controversy, 60 year old Iris had been conducting an extra-marital affair (I’m assuming said affair was ‘torrid’) with a 19 year old named Kirk McCambley, and that she’d been using her political influence to get loans approved for him to open a cafe. Iris checked herself into a psychiatric unit and announced her retirement from public life.
I had previously only seen Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ which I had modestly enjoyed. Last night I felt it was time to go the theatre with new eyes, to experience the Gate Theatre production of ‘Endgame’. Surely this was a work that needed to be seen in its original form, and not through the medium of a surly, jazz-hands, interpretive dance version.
This latest production was directed by Danya Taymor and has received state funding through the Arts Council and RTE. It stars Frankie Boyle as Hamm – a surly, blind and wheelchair bound man living in a grotty room in a post-apocalyptic world. He is cared for by a limping Clov (Robert Sheehan). Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell (played by Sean McGinley and Gina Moxley) have no legs and live in a pair of dustbins in the corner. Hamm spends the play insulting and berating Clov, who threatens to leave Hamm, but never does. There are long speeches (it’s ‘an absurdist comedy’). There’s repetition in the lines and the actions – poor Clov is the only character that moves on the stage (Hamm being wheeled about notwithstanding) throughout the play.
The flight to Kiev from Dublin lasted 3.5 hours, and was a typical Ryanair experience. When you are trapped in the air for that length of time they can try the hard sell at their leisure. We were greeted at the airport by Vladimir – the representative of the letting agent whose apartment in city centre Kiev we were residing for the weekend. He drove us to our abode. It was 11pm. We needed a cocktail and headed to N::B Cocktail Bar (thanks to Google maps) which has to be the loveliest bar I have ever visited. It is just off the Maidan Nezalezhjnosti (Independence Square) and is a cosy yet luxurious and refined placed with the best signature cocktails on the planet.
Avid readers of this blog will be aware of my adventure as the foreman of a jury in a high court criminal case back in 2018. As a result of that I was excused from any obligation to appear on a jury for a decade. However it was also stated that in the event that I was called before ten years had elapsed, and if I was so inclined, then there would be no obstacle put in my place. Jurors are selected from the electoral register. Back in 2018 I was registered to vote at my Dublin address. In the interim I had moved my vote back to my childhood home in Limerick (for reasons not relevant to this tale). Over Christmas a letter appeared, summoning me to jury selection in Limerick Circuit Court on Mulgrave Street at 11.30am. I had been slightly disillusioned (yet fascinated) by my previous experience (you can read about it at this link – https://midnightmurphy.com/2018/04/26/courtroom-adventures-part-one/). Like Sinead O’Connor in her epic hit, I was willing to give it another try however. I take my constitutional responsibilities seriously.
I’ve already described my efforts during the pandemic to visit both Lithuania and Latvia, and how the public health situation had consistently thwarted my efforts. I finally visited Lithuania last November. Vilnius is a wonderful city. Latvia remained unvisited.
About a week ago I was checking the Ryanair website. The evening before I had watched a Dutch documentary on YouTube called ‘Ryanair: Mayday, Mayday’ from 2013. This film had alleged serious safety failings on the part of Ryanair in its relentless pursuit of lower fares. Ryanair denied everything of course. Michael O’Leary doesn’t convince me – he has the grubby demeanour of a used car salesman with a substance abuse problem. Whether or not he would, he looks like he’d scream at an under-seven’s team if they lost a match. That said I am a sturdy flier – getting into a tube of metal and flying at 35,000 feet above ground for hours on end, is a leap of faith. No point in needless worry. I will always try to find an alternative to Ryanair if possible. This isn’t always possible, so I will continue to hit that ‘Buy ticket’ button. On the Fare Finder section of the website while browsing that evening, I found a return flight for twenty-eight euros. As this trip was only forty-eight hours long, I could pack all my requirements into my stylish man-bag without paying for an additional carry-on. Excitingly the journey was only a few days hence.
Last night I went to the Abbey’s Peacock Theatre to see ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe and starring Amy Conroy. First and foremost, this wasn’t an entirely awful show, but one that has major problems.
Written in 2013, about a woman whose mother suffered from mental health issues, attempting suicide for the first time when her daughter was only seven. To cope with this horror, the little girl starts a list of all the lovely things in life – hence the play title ‘Every brilliant thing’. From a seven-year old’s perspective this involves things like ice-cream; sunshine; the colour yellow; being allowed to stay up late to watch television. The story progresses to various points throughout her life where her mother’s continuing struggle with her mental health impacts on her daughter, whose own mental health is challenged. The list of numbered brilliant things continues as time progresses – reaching into the thousands. Clearly mental health is a serious topic, and one that affects every family in the land. This is not where the problem lies.
On January 10th 2003 I was dancing on a podium in a nightclub, in the city of Melbourne, the state of Victoria, in the country of Australia. The tune that I was dancing to was the smash hit earworm of a song called ‘Asereje’ (or ‘The Ketchup Song’ for the anglophiles) by a trio of Spanish sisters, who formed a band called Las Ketchup. Needless to say their time in the spotlight was brief – but intense. This song was the biggest one-hit-wonder since ‘Macarena’. It had a moronic dance routine where you moved your hands, arms and hips in synchronicity with the tinny beat. I was in my twenties. I was on holidays, in the height of Australian summer with my friends from Ireland. We were in a gay club. Of course I knew the lyrics – not that there were many of those mind – and the routine. This…
My final trip of the year was touch and go, as to whether it would actually happen. I booked the ticket only a few days before departure, when Ireland was shutting down once again. I had planned to see Villagers in concert on Saturday night in Vicar Street. As cases of the omicron variant were exploding, new restrictions were introduced, meaning the show was cancelled. Travel was still permitted however, so I went to the ‘Fare finder’ section of the Ryanair website, and entered my flight budget (under 80eur). The result came back as either Birmingham or Sibiu in Romania. I like the city of Birmingham, but this was not a difficult choice. I would be traveling for the first time to the country of Romania, to a city whose name I had never previously heard.
In the days prior to departure I checked the news to make sure that new travel restrictions had not been imposed. I had a bad case of the nerves – fear that while abroad, Ireland might place Romania on a red list of countries. I was still going though. Some precautions would need to be taken. I carried a month’s supply of insulin in case I got stranded. My work laptop was neatly packed in the event I was still abroad on Tuesday when I was due back at work. I had plotted my exit from Romania to Budapest via bus, in case any flight bans were introduced. Excessive planning on my part, perhaps, but everything seemed so flimsy, I thought it wiser to be prepared.
Sibiu is a town of approximately 170,000 people in the centre of Romania. Located in Transylvania it is known as ‘The City with Eyes’ for the design of the houses with eye-shaped windows in the rooves. It was originally a Saxon city, and until World War 2 it was a city where the ethnic German population of Romania lived.
I was staying in a little ground floor apartment in a courtyard off a street, that was metres away from the Piața Mare (Grand Square) where the annual Christmas market was being held. The two bloodhounds roaming this courtyard were very friendly but had a disconcerting habit of jumping on you to express their happiness to see you. I arrived too late on my first night to go out, so ordered a pizza and watched Dolly Parton videos on MTV Romania – the woman is a star the world over.
After my Christmas trip to Limerick, on the 28th of December I bid farewell to my family to catch my train back to Dublin. As is quite common this was not a direct train. I took the 15.55 from Limerick Colbert Station to Limerick Junction, from where at about 16.30 I would board my connection – the 15.25 from Cork’s Kent Station. Then onwards to Dublin Heuston. Upon arrival at the Junction (which I may have previously referred to as the groin of Ireland thanks to its singular lack of loveliness, and unending air of bleakness and despair – not forgetting the eternal rain of course) I saw the Cork train sitting at Platform 2. In just over ninety minutes I believed I would be back in the Big Smoke.
I boarded the Cork train in carriage E. Thankfully it didn’t seem too crowded. I had my book in my stylish manbag (‘The corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen). This trip would be brief, I thought to myself.
Originally my intention had been to visit Latvia and Lithuania in March 2020. I would fly into Riga, spend a few days there; followed by a bus tour to Vilnius which would stop at historic castles and parks en route. My journey would end in Vilnius for a few more days, before my flight home from the Lithuanian capital. Something happened however, meaning the trip was cancelled – the global pandemic. I postponed the holiday until October 2020, as obviously everything would be back to normal by then. Unfortunately that wasn’t possible. I subsequently switched my flights to March 2021. Pandemic said no. Finally I moved the dates to November. The Latvian leg of the trip was cancelled unfortunately, because of a fresh lockdown in that country. Vilnius remained open however. Being both vaxxed and recovered, I decided to take my chances. My trip to Vilnius might be brief but it had been a long time coming. It was time to hit the runway.
After checking in to my grim (but incredibly cheap) apartment I found my way randomly to Bernelių užeiga Vilniuje – a traditional restaurant in the city centre. The food was potato based and tasty. The lounge singer switched between Lithuanian folk music and easy-listening in English. ‘You’ by 10 Sharp was a highlight. I decided against the ballroom dancing when it began. I am not Billy Idol. There’d be no dancing with myself this holiday.