Suppose I told you I had found a radio station that I had listened to for over a decade, and that in all that time it had never repeated a track? Or that this station had inspired me to many new artists and album purchases, and helped me discover tracks from well known artists so long buried and forgotten that I barely remembered them. Would you believe me?
Of course, there is no radio station that good . . . even the best repeat their tracks over the weeks, while the worst have a handful of tunes on 2 hour rotation.
But there is a place, on the streets, rather than the dial, where I have had this experience . . a backstreet barber – one of those small little havens of masculinity in an increasingly feminised retail zone that is the modern city centre.. There are many of these, often noted for their haircutting or conversational skills, but seldom for their musical depth, but Jack’s is different.
Hidden down a back alley running between Camden and Harcourt Streets, I first discovered Jack’s Barbers way back in 2001, when I was working in Phantom FM, then still a pirate station, based above Wheelans of Wexford Street. Needing a haircut one day, I spotted the barber’s pole down a little sidestreet almost opposite our studio, went in on a whim, and have been a regular ever since.
The haircuts and general barbering is well up to standard, and the staff are fine, but it’s the music which keeps bringing me back. There is musical memorabilia all over the walls, but that can be found anywhere. No, it’s the music they play that makes each visit a new adventure.
Most barbers or hairdressers will play generic pop or the safest commercial stations, but Jack’s plays its own selection of music, and it is never, ever, the same. If you visited once, you might think this was a shop where a eclectic brand of lesser known reggae was the thing, but a second visit would give you fresh indie rock, soulful jazz, R&B, bluegrass, classical or perhaps vintage pop, or mixtures ranging across all of those and more. I literally never know what I am going to hear when I walk in the door, and once heard, I have never, ever heard the same selection or tracks again, no matter how many years worth of visits I clock up.
And it’s not some vast library lumped onto an iPod and left to shuffle – far from it. On any given visit the music has obviously been crafted not as a series of tracks, but as an musical arc of mood, theme, style, genre, or aspect. Time and thought has been put into the selection every time.
I have made many purchases in iTunes which were the result of my enjoying something so much in Jack’s that I have committed a few lyrics to memory, so I could Google them later, discover the artist, and buy either the track or more often a whole album. I rarely come home from Jack’s without some kind of musical reward in my head.
Quite often they are new to me, but sometimes, as with my visit yesterday, they are old, old pieces of music, so long unheard by me that they had passed entirely out of my consciousness. (yesterday’s gem was Madame Butterfly by Malcolm Maclaren).
And they do a damn fine haircut too.
Jack’s Barbers is at Montague Street, Dublin 2.
(note: I have no commercial or personal relationship with them other than as a customer, and they are unaware that I am writing this piece, or even that I write at all)
I’m taking a break from my break (!) to fill in on 8Radio.com this morning, 11am to 2pm Sat 14th September 2013.
Join me at 8radio.com if you fancy some great tunes.
I’ll be making a more fulltime return to radio shortly – stay tuned!
Due to an exceptionally high workload in other parts of my professional life, I’m taking a temporary break from radio and writing for the summer, and have stood down from both Caroline and 8Radio.com.
But don’t worry, I’ll be back later in the year, once I’ve got on top of a pretty intense workload elsewhere.
A series of photos showing the progress of dawn, not over one day, but at the same time each day from winter to midsummer, as I walk through the fields to work
In the summer of 2012, I found a long deserted pathway through the fields at Laughanstown in south county Dublin, near to a place where I was working at the time. My discovery and first lunchtime amble along the pathway is illustrated in my short story The Melting.
The pathway runs through open fields alongside the LUAS tram line, and I soon got into the habit of taking a daily walk along the pathway, getting off the tram a couple of stops before walk, and happily walking in solitude through fields alive with fresh morning air, only the occasional whirr of a passing tram to disturb the birdsong. A lovely way to start the day, drifting happily in thought and body. Were I a lamb, you might even say that gambolled happily across the meadow each morn.
When winter came, I was loath to give up this pleasure, even when darkness made it more difficult, and started bringing a torch so I could pick my way along the path towards the lights of civilisation – and work – in the far distance. It was cold, dark, and sometimes hard going, but the sense of solitude and the fresh air more than made up for it.
Far from any houses, the blackness was absolute, and one morning (Jan 2nd this year) at 0724 I took a photo to illustrate the darkness of the walk, zooming in on the lights of Tullyvale and Cherrywood in the distance.
The next morning, the blackness was not quite complete – a tiniest sliver of a crack of dawn was visible over distant mountains, and I took another photo to show the difference a day (and two minutes later) had made.
This gave me an idea. As I walked the route at least three days a week, always at the same time (taking the same outbound tram departure) why not take a series of pictures, to catalog how the dark of winter slowly gave way to the dawn of spring, and the daylight of summer as I took my morning walks.
Those first two pictures were taken randomly, and not at exactly the same point, and possibly not covering exactly the same span, but for this project I would need some way of locking my physical location, so that the field of view would be as close as possible to exactly the same in each picture.
So I used a line of electricity pylons to determine the photograph point – they would not be in shot themselves, but when I reached a point on the path where the crosstree of one pylon aligned exactly with the southern edge of another, I would stand in the righthand rut of the track, thus controlling my physical location. I would then line up the second closest overhead wire carrier on the tramway to the rifghthand edge of the photo, and this would ensure I was covering the same area in each shot. Only the vertical plane had no real means of control.
And so, here are some of the results, as we journey from winter to spring, at the same time each morning, give or take a couple of minutes.
A week after my first photos, the 11th of January 2013 at 0724. The difference in the amount of dawn is quite visible, it is still pre-dawn lightening of the sky, but the clear day makes it much more visible. The field and pathway are still in absolute blackness at this time.
January 15th at 0724, another clear morning, apart from a low lying bank of cloud over the distant hills.
Just a couple of week later, the 6th of February, at 0722. Quite a difference in two weeks – another clear day, but this time the sky is blue, the shapes of things are more visible, and I can see the puddle ahead of me.
Now this is amazing – it is only two week later, the 21st of February, at 0723, and yet the difference in light, even with a totally overcast day, is amazing. Now everything is visible. To the right is the tram line, heading towards Cherrywood in the far distance. The buildings in the centre of the picture are the apartments of Tullyvale. To the left of them a sliver of the Irish Sea is visible, and then Killiney Hill rises on the left edge of the photo.
Four days later, the 25th of February, again at 0723, and a different type of cloud cover darkens the scene, but leaves room for a lovely yellow and pink line above lower lying clouds concealing the rising sun.
A couple of weeks later again, 7th March at 0723, and it is now pretty much daylight. It’s been raining for days, and the distant hills are lost in soft Irish mist.
The 29th of March at 0728, the sun is fully risen, and hidden behind the clouds, sending lovely shafts of light down onto the sea. The foreground looks darker to the camera due to shooting into the sun, but was bright enough to the human eye.
April 17th at 0724 – no fear of sunlight affecting the camera here, as the weather has turned “Irish” again!
And then . .
And then I moved away from that location
but . . .I knew I must come back for midsummer photos.
Midsummers day itself, though hot and sunny later, was wet and misty early on – June 21st 2013 at 0726.
And now I’m working on the other side of the city, and I don’t get to walk through the fields each morning any more. But thanks to a whim and a sudden inspiration back in the dark days of winter, I have a whole selection of photos of my beloved few moments of morning commune with nature, to go with a whole set of cherished memories.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip as much as I have!
“Oh your poor thing” the woman who answered the door said to me “come inside and let me look after you”. I was about to find out if all those stories about bored housewives and door to door salesmen were true . . .
What stirs memory can be very subtle – sometimes a combination of atmospheric condition is needed along with place to really stir the dead leaves of the past.
I had totally forgotten about my wildly unsuccessful three-day career as a door-to-door salesman, fresh out of school, more than 30 years ago.
Until I drove through Ballybrack in the rain a couple of days ago. I have driven along Churchview Road a fair few times in recent years, with barely a flicker of memory, but this particular morning the sky was grey and heavy, a soft rain was drizzling down, the trees were dripping . . . and instantly I was transported back 30 years, to the day I trudged this road with a sack of books, and knocked on every door of every road leading off it . .
Even at the time, the smart part of my brain knew that any job that I could just walk straight into without experience and with barely a five minute interview, was probably not worth having. But I was determined to stand on my own feet and be independent, and I resolved to give it my all.
The publishing company was based in Parnell Square, in the heart of Dublin city centre, and the product was children’s books, and – yes, you guessed it – encyclopedias.
I was to be that living cliche, the door to door encyclopedia seller!
Judging by the number of people (15) that went through the three-day (unpaid) training course with me, the operation had a huge turnover of sales staff. We trained Monday to Wednesday, and then, on Thursday, were were unleashed on the public for the first time. The whole group of us were taken by bus to Sallynoggin in southeast Dublin, and there met by a supervisor in a van who gave us our stock, and split us up among the myriad of new and old housing estates over the surrounding few square miles.
It was a typically wet Dublin day – not a downpour, not blustery, just a steady seeping, weeping soft wetness from a heavy grey sky.
I was given Ballybrack – the vast complex of then fairly new housing along all the roads that lead off Churchview Road – Watson Drive, Watson Avenue, Watson Park, Blackenbush, Pinewood, and what felt like a million other places. I started with zest, and swear I must have have knocked on 500 doors that day . .
Disheartening of course, both for me, and the poor people whose day I disturbed. Perhaps one sale in every 100 houses. But I was glad to have a job and to be (perhaps) earning money, and I kept at it. I would, of course, be paid commission only, so what I earned would depend wholly on my success rate.
As a well brought up (and well read) boy, my sales spiel, if not successful, was at least polite. I was smiling, courteous, and no matter how brusque my dismissal at the door was, I always thanked the householder for listening to me, and apologised for taking up their time uninvited. That last touch actually netted me one of my very few sales – a doctor, who had initially sent me away, called me back as I was walking down the driveway and bought an encyclopedia, explaining that he had never encountered a salesman so well mannered before!
That was one of only two sales the first day, and the next day I was back in the same location, to knock on the doors of a further 400 or so houses.
Late in the morning, I hit the jackpot. Knocking on yet another door, which was opened by a rather harassed looking young woman, I listened in disbelief as she told me that herself and a friend, to whom she quickly introduced me, were in the process of setting up a creche, and had just been discussing the fact that they needed childrens books! I can’t remember how much I sold them, but it probably accounted for more than half of all my sales for the whole week. When I say “creche” this was of course, the pre-modern-regulation early 80s version – i.e. 7 or 8 toddlers being looked after by the pair in a normal 3-bedroom terraced house, hence their rather fatigued demenour.
Later in the afternoon, footsore and weary, and still with far too many unsold books in my heavy bag, I knocked on yet another door, and encountered that fable of lurid fiction, the housewife who didn’t want to buy anything, but who liked the look of me, and invited me in.
Luckily for me, as I was far too innocent in those days to know how to handle such a situation, this was Ireland in the 1980s, and not America or (as I would discover a few years later) the much more liberated England. The Irish Mammy who said I was a lovely looking young thing and invited me into her house did so in order that . . she could give me a cup of tea, and suggest that we say a few prayers together to the Virgin Mary that I might get a better and more rewarding job !
And even if I was disappointed that nothing else was on offer (like the purchase of a book – what else would I be thinking?) the tea was very welcome, and I was touched by her concern for my welfare, and her determination to offer up prayers for my future.
The following day, although a Saturday, was to be a work day, as the publishing house insisted on a sic day week. This time I was taken to Finglas, for an utterly soul destroying day in which I knocked on seemingly a million doors, was chased away from many of them, and did not sell a single book in 9 hours of pounding the streets. Somehow, my southside accent and polite sales spiel did not seem to be quite so appreciated here.
At the end of the week, I had managed to earn myself the princley sum of £13, but out of this I had paid for my bus fares and meals, which reduced my earnings to around £5, or, I calculated, around 3p for each door I knocked on. I knew then that it was not for me, but was pleased with myself that I had lasted longer than most of the class – of the 15 trainees, only 12 had gone out selling on the first day, only 5 remained on day 2, and there were just 2 of us to cover Finglas on the Saturday. And, presumably, a new class of 15 fresh-faced school-leavers to start training on the Monday morning . .
Now, many decades later, and with a solid career in IT management over the years, not to mention a quarter century of radio work, and an emotionally rewarding writing sideline, that first week of commerce after leaving school is long forgotten in my past. But memory is a funny thing, and the weeping sky and rain sodden trees along Churchview Road brought it back to me, clear as a bell, as I happened to drive through the area last Thursday morning.
So long ago that it seems to me it might have happened to another person. Many of the people whose doors I knocked on will be gone now. I wonder how the two ladies setting up the creche fared – was their career as short-lived as mine, or do they now run one of those big modern purpose built childcare centres around the city?
And I have to smile when I think of the woman who gave me tea and prayed for me to have a better career. So nice of her to care for a stranger.
Somehow, I’d love her to know that her prayers were answered.
I’ve been pretty quiet on here recently due to pressure of outside work commitments, but I’m still keeping up my regular schedule of radio presenting on both 8Radio.com in Dublin, and Radio Caroline internationally.
Mondays 6-9pm Radio Caroline, via www.radiocaroline.co.uk
Saturdays 11pm-2am on 8Radio.com, online and via FM 94.3 (Dublin), 106.7 (Cork) and 105.5 (Limerick)
I’m also still a regular reader at the Last Wednesday writers open-mic in Dublin, 7pm at The Twisted Pepper in Abbey Street on the last Wednesday of every month, where you can hear me read new short stories as well as extracts from my forthcoming book Running Away From The Circus – Eeverything I Know About Radio I Learned By Screwing It Up.
I’m insanely busy due to other commitments at the moment, but hope to get back to a more regular update schedule here soon!
I’m currently on-air at 8Radio.com till 2am.
That lovely heady vibe of a late night radio studio, lights down low, music up loud.
There really is nothing like it!