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The Charming Men of Ireland

Strike! Abby McGibbon & Vincent Higgins

Strike! Abby McGibbon & Vincent Higgins (see below)

I had a problem. It had been on my mind for a while. Something had to be done. I needed help from the Charming Men of Ireland. I’ll introduce you to them in a moment. But first the problem…

The thing is, my wife’s English. (OK, half English. The other half’s Manx. But let’s not quibble.) So she’s English. I’m not saying that’s bad. I like English people. I like England. I even live there. Some of my best friends are English – to quote the classic defence against accusations of racism.

Actually, her Englishness isn’t the problem. That’s fine. It’s what it has led to. And that is, our children are half English. That’s the thing.

Actually, that’s not really it either. If they were only half English that would be fine. Half and half. Who could argue with that? Irish blood English heart is good enough for Morrissey.Ah yes, if only they were merely half English. But when you consider that:

  1. They were born in England.
  2. They live in England.
  3. They have (not surprisingly) English accents.
  4. My son supports an English football team. (OK, that could go for being Irish too.)
  5. They were baptised into the Church of England. (Long story. Another time.)
  6. My son is cricket mad.
  7. He supports the England national football team.

It’s clear I’ve been letting things slip. Thank goodness Ireland has been holding its own in rugby, and that my daughter remains stalwart in declaring her half-Irishness. (I fear though that she could be humouring me because she’s lovely.)

So there’s the problem. No, let’s call it a challenge. To somehow reassert the Irish half, as the English side seems to be doing well enough as it is thank you very much. But I needed help. And I had to go to Ireland to get it. I sought out The Charming Men of Ireland. And here they are:

  • The Latvian/Polish guy at Newgrange – He’s fun. He’s enlightening. (But seemingly not Irish.) He took us through the tunnel into the central chamber of  the prehistoric Newgrange passage grave. The subterranean refuge is  illuminated by the sun for five days in late December. It’s in the Boyne Valley of County Meath. Turn off the main road near Drogheda and head for Donore. Or if you’re an Orangeman, head for you-know-where and  keep going upriver a couple of miles.

    newgrange

    Newgrange

If you overcome your claustrophobia and make it into the centre of the mound, look out for the Mickey Mouse logos. (Archaeologists call them tri-spirals or something dull.) And the hundred year old graffiti, including the word Disney. You see? You see? Mickey Mouse suggestion not so silly after all.

And for any Egyptians reading this. Newgrange is about 5,000 years old. That’s older than the pyramids at Giza. By 500 years matey. (Fair enough, I’m not saying Newgrange is better, but you had an extra 500 years to tart up the pyramids. You could have at least invented electricity to light them. I mean, c’mon! Make an effort.)

  • Donal at Kilmainham Gaol – Yes, I took my children to a prison for their short visit to Dublin. I know. I spoil them. Me: “Look, another plaque.” Them: “Does that mean…” Me: Yes, yet another person was shot there.” The prison feels like a real prison – which it was – rather than a film set – which it is – The Italian Job, The Escapist, Michael Collins.

     

    Kilmainham Gaol

    Kilmainham Gaol, new wing

    There’s obvious enjoyment to be had shutting each other in small prison cells and holding the door shut. But what made the big grey forbidding jail and its litany of rebellions and executions FUN, was… Yes, it was another Charming Man of Ireland. Donal. The handsome, friendly, accessible communicator who led us around. To be precise, he let my daughter lead us around. So everyone was happy. (A word to Unionists. Don’t expect your existence to be acknowledged till the very last moment of the tour, when the significance of the orange in the green, white and orange of the Irish flag is explained.)

  • The twinklies in the Palace – The three of us dropped in to the Palace bar on Fleet Street in Dublin. I used to drink there when I lived in Dublin. As often happens, the kids were finding it difficult to understand what a group of men were talking about amongst themselves. “Dad, are they talking Irish?” And, for once, the answer was yes. We weren’t in Belfast. It wasn’t just the accents. It was a genuine foreign language that was being spoken. But more importantly, the group of Irish speakers were friendly and twinkly-eyed, and also willing to discuss techniques for using chopsticks in English. So more good vibes.
  • Vincent Higgins – Vincent (see picture at the top) and fellow actor Abby McGibbon were acting in Strike!, the play Vincent wrote to mark the dedication of a stained glass window in Belfast City Hall celebrating the 1907 Dock Strike in the city. The play was commissioned by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). It was funny and clever, and short enough to fit into a weekday lunch hour – about 30 minutes long. The plan was to take it on tour round factories, but as Vincent told me, they couldn’t find enough factories, so they’ve branched out. Apart from his playwriting prowess, acting skill and general geniality, the most charming things about Vincent are his irresistible smile and very fine singing voice.
  • That bloke at the bar in Maddens – My sister was finding it difficult to get a pint at the bar of my favourite pub in Belfast. No barman was there to be seen. Not upstairs. Not in the basement. Not outside having a fag. But no problem. Another customer nipped round to pour her a Guinness. Isn’t that charming? I thought so. Especially as the Guinness was for me. (Oh, it turned out he was in the toilet. Seems reasonable.)
  • David at No Alibis bookshop in Belfast – Botanic Avenue is a great place for books. War on Want has an excellent Irish section. The cancer shop and an Oxfam also sell books. But there’s an excellent specialist crime bookstore called No Alibis – as often mentioned on CrimeScene NI. Good atmosphere. Good range of imports not usually available in the UK. And wandering the aisles is David, whose charming welcome almost had me accepting a cup of tea before I caught a grip on myself. A narrow escape. (See previous post.) Another Charming Man of Ireland.

So to all you Charming Men of Ireland, thanks for the timely boost.

My children will now be returning to England wearing green sports tops that are nothing to do with England or anything English. That’s thanks to my sister. (Admittedly the sports tops have nothing to do with Ireland either. They’re Canadian. But one step at a time, right?)

PS: To any charming men in Ireland who feel passed over, ignored, snubbed or forgotten, I have two responses. One: Maybe you’re not quite as charming as you think you are. Better work a bit harder at it, mate. Two: A charming man like yourself is too good to share. I have to keep back some information for my personal benefit. Choose whichever response is most appropriate to your own case.

PPS: To any charming women in Ireland feeling aggrieved, passed over, ignored, etc, etc. Yes, of course there are charming women in Ireland. The whole place is coming down with them. But keep in mind that I’m over in Ireland with the children on my own. Wife back in England. So naturally I haven’t been meeting, encountering, palavering or otherwise hobnobbing with any women. Apart from my Mum and other relations.

PPPS: The Latvian/Polish guy. He had an Irish accent, but was obviously foreign. Latvia, Poland, somewhere like that. As it turned out, when I asked him, the somewhere like that was Kerry. He just had a cold.

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Filed under life, theatre

Knock knock. Who’s there? Doctor Parnassus…

What do you do when your leading man departs this earth part way through filming your movie? If it’s Gladiator, and Oliver Reed has sipped slipped away, you resort to some fancy digital effects. But then he wasn’t the lead.

Or – as Terry Gilliam has done with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – you recruit successors. So Heath Ledger morphs into Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law. But thankfully it’s not at all like one of those cringeworthy American sundrenched soaps where a character returns after a long time away, being played by a different actor – and no-one bats an eyelid. On the contrary, the three substitutions work very cleverly with the plot, and probably enhance the whole viewing experience.

I’ve just been to the London premiere …. (Ooh get you! I know, I know.) So here is the instant review:

Never mind the imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, what about the imagination of Terry Gilliam. It’s rich and immense, and shows no sign of flagging. There’s great vivid imagery and a lot of style.

The story revolves round successive deals that Dr Parnassus makes with the devil, and attempts to wriggle out of paying the price. It’s also about making decisions, doing the right thing. The right thing is not always obvious, and a wrong choice leads to hell. Choose well though, and you and your imagination are freed, and you finally experience life in all its wonder. The route to self-discovery lies through a magic mirror into the psychedelic world of your imagination.

The most enduring and intimate relationship is between Dr Parnassus and the devil. Tom Waits is a great Mississippi beelzebub. And rather than wanting to grab as many souls as he can, or to win at all costs, it becomes apparent how much he values having a sparring partner. And how much the battle of wits staves off an eternity of boredom.

Lily Cole (yes, the tall red-headed model) pulls off acting Christopher Lee’s daughter. The woman I was with enjoyed the four incarnations of Heath Ledger. (I found myself wondering if Colin Farrell’s dodgy child-rescuing philanthropist was a sly dig at Bono or Bob Geldof. But that may just be because Colin Farrell is from Dublin too.)  I thought the set was just great – particularly the tall narrow horse-drawn ark in which the Imaginarium and cast travel.

But – for me – the film began to meander a bit too aimlessly in the parallel Salvador Dali-esque dream world. By the time Colin Farrell was being chased, I was wishing his comeuppance would hurry up and come. The suspense sagged. And then, the story having disappeared into an almost final dismal depressing wilderness, it suddenly finds its way out again to the real world, and a last minute happy ending. This lacked the chutzpah of the first two thirds of the film. It was as if Cinderella had settled down and married Buttons.

So should you go to the cinema to see it or hang on for the DVD rental?  Well… Best of all would be to see it projected onto the glass of a giant lava lamp, while under the  influence of whatever you fancy. Failing that, yes, go to the cinema. A big screen is the best place to appreciate the hugely imaginative dreamscapes. And Heath Ledger is most charming.

A note on the premiere experience: Downside – you have to wait for ages for the bally thing to begin. Upside – you’re rubbing shoulders with people off the tele, film stars and severely under-dressed young women. Oddside – seeing Andrew Garfield in the flesh only hours after having seen him in Lions for Lambs. He looks exactly the same. He also appears to be paying homage to Richard Bacon with his choice of jackets.

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Filed under Film