“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.
Whenever I tell people what I have done, some politely look away, others react with shock . . .
It’s just over 18 months since I made the decision described in the post: Farewell Unreal World. The decision which just seemed to evolve naturally as my tastes gradually changed, but which has shocked some people far more than anything else I have done in my long and colourful ife. The decision that I no longer needed a television.
If you read the piece I wrote at the time, you will see that this was not so much a sudden decision to do something radical, as the logical de-cluttering of my lifespace by getting rid of a device which I no longer regularly used. I thought it might be interesting to write about it, and I certainly never expected it to provoke the sort of reaction it did (and still does) from people I meet. But more of that later.
First: a quick catch up. Yes, I am still living without a television, and I so seldom remember or notice this changed state that I have forgotten to write this followup piece on multiple occasions. I was going to write a follow-up when a month had passed, but I didn’t remember, so then I told myself 6 months. But the next time my TV-less status came into my mind it was 9 months, so I resolved to wait for the year anniversary, and forgot again. The only reason I’ve managed to hit the 18 month date is because I put a reminder in my phone the last time the thought crossed my mind, back in February!
So, my life without the actual object in the room seems to be pain-free (I’m not saying “my life without TV” since I had gradually diminished and ceased watching before getting rid of the actual device). I noted in that article 18 months ago having a stack of unwatched DVDs ready in the corner in case I needed entertaining . . . well, quite a few of those are still unwatched, some have been gathering dust for a long time. I will watch the occasional old film, or the odd TV episode on DVD, but aqt a rate where it would take me about 3 years to get through one season boxset. When I got rid of the TV I reminded myself that I could, if I so desired, catch the odd really good TV programme online. 18 months later, my online viewing in that time consists of two episodes of a series on canals from RTE, and assorted video clips from news stories on the RTE and BBC News websites.
As I said, disposing of the TV set and doing without live TV just seemed pretty natural to me at the time, given that I had stopped using it. I imagined that others might find this a little off – people are pretty wedded to their TV after all – but even I was shocked by some of the reactions from people in my life who heard of my decision or read the piece.
There was a visceral, almost fearful reaction, from those around me.
People who had happily chatted to me about “crazy” stuff I had done in the past (such as doing a naked photo shoot for an album cover and Hotpress magazine article, or running away to sea to do offshore radio) declared that this was just too odd.
“You’ve gone too far this time, It’s not funny, just plain weird” one co-worker told me.
Some pitied me. “If you have an addiction to TV, you should just try cutting down a little – there is no need to over-react by getting rid of it altogether” another colleague tired to counsel me, totally missing the point that I had dispensed with the set because I was hardly ever watching it, not because I felt I was abusing it.
Many people seemed offended by my decision to get rid of the TV, seeing it somehow as an attack on themselves for still continuing to enjoy television. Some felt that I would have problems visiting other people’s houses who had TV, because either my hosts would have to turn off their set, or I would be “offended”
Nothing could be further from the truth. I have no problem visiting houses where there are TVs, just as I have no problem visiting people who have Black & Decker Workmates, Wii games consoles, or motorbikes, which also happen to be things which I, personally, do not use. Likewise, my personal preference in women tends to run towards dark hair, and I haven’t dated a blonde in 20 years, but no one would expect me to be offended by, or avoid visiting,someone just because they have a blonde partner.
To me, the way people feel so very personally challenged by my choice to do without a particular domestic accessory tells me more about their anxieties about the relationship with television than my own.
An interesting thing though. All those people, including the ones most vocally hostile when I wrote the piece, all seem to have blanked it out of their minds. They never bring it up, and in conversation will frequently ask if I saw such and such on television last night etc. It’s like I’ve made a choice which is too different for the mind to fully accept and record in memory.
Now, I’d love to tell you that my life is different and more full of time and interesting things since I got rid of the TV set, but that wouldn’t be strictly true, as my life had already become these things gradually, as my viewing declined, long before I got rid of the physical object.
But I can tell you that the space it occupied has been suitably filled with clutter.
Steam-punk style radio ships, terrible choices, but above all: dead air.
I often tell people that many of the ideas for my stories and posts come to me in the small hours of the morning, but this one is very literally so – I’m writing this fresh out of bed, having just woken from one of those dreams . . you know, the ones radio presenters seem to have.
This one was a modern variation on the age-old basic theme, so before I recount my latest fevered imaginings, let’s have a look at the theme.
We all have a vast array of dreams, from the wild and wonderful to the mundane, and of those we can remember amongst the many unique and sometimes inexplicable ones there are also those that come from time to time that fit into certain basic themes that many people share: dreams of childhood, encounters with partners long estranged and parents and other relatives who have passed away. There are the erotic or romantic dreams, repetitive and unfinished dreams, and of course the classic dreams of anxiety.
Many people seem to dream of finding themselves naked in strange places, but I don’t seem to suffer from those.
For me it is usually a different terror – I find myself back on the day of my first Leaving Cert exam, conscious that the results will affect my life and job prospects, but somehow aware at the same time that it has been 30 years since my last class, I’ve forgotten almost everything of the course, and the exam is about to start NOW. (there is also another one I have occasionally, where I have to choose between going back out to sea with Caroline and losing my home and financial stability, or going on shore and being stable, but missing out on wonderful times)
These are all dreams or types of dreams that most, if not all people share
But there is another dream, which comes maybe once or twice a year, which I call the DJs dream.
The details vary slightly from time to time, but the basic formula is always the same (hey, that sounds like a description of commercial radio formats!)
I’m in a radio studio, on air. It’s a really important show. This is make or break for me. I’ve (unaccountably) been asked to fill in for someone on a huge station, BBC Radio 1 or RTE 2FM or some such. It’s a one-off, but if I perform well I will be invited back.
The track is coming to an end and I can’t find my next one. (In years gone by the dream would having me desperately trying to cue a vinyl record but unable to find the right groove on the album for the track, these days it is more often flicking through a set of CDs or playout system and unable to find anything that will play). or perhaps, as the song run out, and the dreaded silence starts, I really want to press play on the next track, but my arms just won’t move . .
Minute follows minute of agonising dead air, and I desperately struggle to hit something that will put audio back onto the airwaves again. I know everyone is listening, judging. My opportunity is slipping away and I am helpless . . .
I thought that was my dream alone, but over the years I’ve heard it back from many other people in the industry, all of whom, like myself, are (or seem to be) normal, well-adjusted presenters, with no particular anxieties, content with their careers etc. I guess it comes from the horror of dead air that fills the radio presenter, and fact that we are so keyed up during our shows to be ready to put something – anything – on that will fill the gap left by a misfiring computer or a suddenly defunct CD.
Speaking of misfiring computers, I had a dream around 8 months ago that I was totally alone on a radio ship miles out at sea (I think it was Radio Seagull) and about to go live on air. I had my laptop with playout system and tens of thousands of tracks with me, and an outstanding playlist prepared. The studio was ready to go, except that no where on board could I find a cable to connect the laptop to the mixing desk, and there was no one else on board to help me, and no other music, only what was on my laptop . .
As I’ve been a newsreader as well as a presenter, I sometimes have a different style of the dream. This comes about once a year also, and in it I am back out at sea with Radio Caroline, which is for some reason broadcasting again on high power AM, and expecting at any moment to see a government tug coming over the horizon to take us away. We’ll only be here for a few days before the powers that be silence us, so it’s really important for us to make those few days count. And day after day after day in this dream I wake up at around 9am to find that I have overslept and missed my morning news shift. That’s bad, but at least I have an evening show. But I fall asleep again and miss that too. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after . . .
The Radio Caroline of my dreams (I’m talking actual dreams here rather than aspirations) is a very strange place.
The ship. seeming perfectly normal above the waterline is yet enormously bigger underneath, with vast Lord-Of-The-Rings style underworld caverns full of clanking machinery, unguarded pits, and hissing steam pipes.
Hissing steam pipes? Yes, for in these dreams the radio ship is steam powered, and down in the very darkest depths our engineer can be found stoking an enormous furnace . .
Above the waterline it is different too, with extra corridors of lavishly furnished cabins, which we discover during the dream, and wonder how we could have been unaware of them all the years that we were previously out at sea.
The dream I’ve just woken from this morning though, was biased in the other direction – modern, clean, but equally frustrating.
Along with Simon Maher, Richie McCormack and other former Phantom 105.2 heads, I am in a makeshift radio studio in London. We’ve decided to bring the goodness of old-style pirate Phantom to London, and are launching a temporary licenced station to bring Irish indie and unsigned music to the UK, convinced that we will take the market by storm.
Richie is presenting the breakfast show, and I’m the news guy.
It’s just touching 8am, and time for the first news bulletin. I have, for some reason, typed it into my iPhone, and will be reading it from that.
As the news jingle tails away I have lost my place on the phone, and am swiping through the various home screens desperately trying to find the notepad app. The dead air is beginning, and Richie starts ad-libbing to fill it, looking at me anxiously. I find the app, but am then confronted with a seemingly endless set of pages of other text i have to swipe aside to get to the news bulletin I have prepared.
This is so unfair – I’ve slaved over this bulletin, I’ve bought stories from AP and reuters, I’ve chased down stories myself, this was going to be the perfect, pithy yet punchy two minutes of news, But i can’t find it and I’m swiping and swiping and swiping . . . time stretches on, it’s five past 8, then ten past, and poor Richie is still ad-libbing, while managing to stay remarkably patient. He should be killing me by now.
I have an idea. We’re an Irish rooted station. Why don’t I go to the RTE news site and give our public some Irish news? I quickly find RTE news on the phone, prepared at this point just to read out their stories verbatim, but all that comes up is a series of ads for an Irish Garden Festival due to be held in five years time . .
As with all these dreams, there is never any resolution, and poor Richie is probably waiting still. It does dawn on me that that it might come as a surprise to the poor guy to find himself starring in my nightmare, but hey, my subconscious was obviously going to go with the top-flight A-list presenters for this important venture, so who else could I possibly have chosen? The guy was a legend on breakfast.
Well, from vinyl to CDs to playout systems to apps, my dreams of radio are adapting to modern technology, but the underlying theme is staying the same.
Well, at least that’s it done for the moment. There won’t be another radio-based nightmare for six to nine months or so, and goodness knows what technology I’ll be using in that one . .
to view the wholly perfect horizon around you in full 360 degrees, nothing but water as far as you can see, with your own self at the perfect centre of it
This set of photos comes to you by request – your request.
Every week, sometimes as often as every day, a particular phrase pop up in my search referrer logs (the bit in my stats which tells me what people were searching for on Google or other search engines which led them to click through to this site).
“pictures of empty sea” or sometimes just “empty sea”
Several people a week, over the last three years, a steady stream from around the world, adds up to quite a few views over the years, and all looking for empty sea.
This blog is actually the first result presented on Google for “images of empty sea” and the second for the text phrase “empty sea”.
This all stems from a post I wrote almost five years ago, talking about a particular scene in a book I had just completed writing, then known as “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” but since published as “Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline”.
The post contained a shot of the view from the Caroline ship – nothing but the horizon and empty sea. And it’s that picture which has brought people here. But since so many people come to look for it, and the sea is, and always has been, my lover, I’ve decided to share a few more of the intimate pictures taken during our many trysts.
As always, you can click on any picture for a bigger version. All pictures taken of the North Sea (or its daughter the Waddenzzee ) off the English and Dutch coasts, unless otherwise specified, during my stints on Radio Caroline and Radio Seagull.
When I went to work on the offshore radio ships, people kept asking if life was boring. After all, the sea was the sea, and was always the same they reasoned.
Boring? When the view through the porthole is never the same two days in a row? The sea is a mistress of infinite moods.
So, those are the “empty sea photos.
Below I include a couple more, where the sea is not quite empty, but which I feel are similarly beautiful.
Wonderful experiences and a great life. The radio was exciting, but the sea was always breathtaking.
Always my lover, I’m not sure if I possess her soul, or she mine.
I hope you enjoyed these as much as I did.
Amongst the response to my post on things seen in 2012, the Fairy Tree and the Forbidden Ground sign have elicited the following query from a UK-based reader, the always inspiring Christopher England (whose own blog can be found here).
“I’ve never seen fairy trees before. I guess it’s an Irish thing. It reminded me of the Tibetan wind-prayer flags that are placed alone and forever, right up in the remote parts of the mountains. Although they do wear and come to pieces in the wind, many remain there long after the person originating the prayer has died. That always makes them something special, imho”
The fairy tree, while not exclusive to this island, does seem to have a long connection with Irish superstition and folklore.
Although I was unaware of them myself before coming across this example in a Dublin park, according to this site they can be found at many locations around the country. There is certainly a lot of fairy folklore in Ireland, and I remember my father pointing out to me the fairy rings and fairy forts in rural Cork and Tipperary when I was very young, and noting how farmers would avoid ploughing or disturbing the ground at these locations.
Perhaps more common in Ireland is the Holy Well or Holy Bush – these can be found in many rural locations, and to this day you will still find strips of ribbon and clothing tied to trees at a “holy” location on a roadside.
The only time I ever saw anything similar in the UK was at Barnes Common, where the tree that killed Marc Bolan is still visited and decorated regularly by his fans, despite the passage of four decades.
Chris goes on to comment on the “Forbidden Ground” sign I photographed in Co. Kerry.
“Also, possibly an Irish thing, is the phrase ‘Forbidden Ground’. An interesting choice of words I’ve not seen before, being more used to ‘Restricted Area’ or the like”.
This one is certainly not Irish, and I am as baffled as Chris by its usage to cordon off a closed pathway in Reenagross Park, Kenmare. I have never seen the phrase “Forbidden Ground” used in a civilian context, and the crime-scene style tape makes it look even more curious. That forbidden zone is just begging to be penetrated if you ask me!
Chris goes on to comment:
“with regard to the many ‘Do Not’ signs in the Dublin Dockland, and mindful of it being an area with an ‘Explosive Atmosphere’, they do seem to have missed out a pretty obvious one of ‘Do Not Smoke’”
Just down the road from the original sign here:
there is another one, on a presumably similarly explosive compound, which does caution against smoking, as well as “spark ignition vehicles” (petrol engines to you and me) – the first time I’ve seen that warning., although apparently if you make a prior arrangement, they are not dangerous . .
As for what is hidden behind the fence, well that also has some interesting signage:
The “Stripping Pumphouse” eh?
Now THAT’S what I call “forbidden ground” in goold old catholic Ireland!
Hidden gems and forbidden ground – things I’ve seen walking in 2012
A year ago this week, I mentioned here that I had started to walk regularly as part of a pathway back to fitness.
My approach to this was to be fairly utilitarian – using walking as a means to fitness and sometimes a means of transport. My friend Chris who commented encouragingly on my efforts suggested that walking might introduce me to things I’d never seen before, but I didn’t really accept that. After all, most of my walking would be in Dublin or other places I already knew well, and what would there be to see that I’ve not already seen?
I also commented in my post, mindful of how new year efforts often peter out, that we would see at the end of the year if I managed to continue the daily walks. Well I did, barring a couple of weeks here and there when I was caught up in some pressing domestic matters.
Perhaps the best way to update you on my progress in the past 12 months, and to illustrate how wrong I was – the walks quickly became as much about discovery as utility – is to share some of the interesting things I stumbled across over the last 12 months (bearing in mind that what is interesting to me might not qualify as interesting to everyone!)
Included below are pictures of things taken only on my walks – not my day to day life – which otherwise would have been unseen by me.)
All of these pictures can be viewed in larger, high-res detail by clicking on the photo.
So there we have it, a few of the the interesting sights I would not have seen if I hadn’t kept up walking throughout 2012.
Below are my stats for the year from the wonderful “Walkmeter” app.
I hope to do even better in 2013. Steve
In addition to the new books I am working on, I have written and continue to write a number of short stories which are based around my own life experiences or things I find interesting.
This story was written in June 2012, and had its debut at the Last Wednesday Series writers open-mic in Dublin on the 27th of that month. I’m presenting it here for your enjoyment, and hope to include it in a collection of my shorter work later in the year.
I’m not sure if you would classify this story as biography or fantasy, but it’s certainly a real-life account of how my mind was working on two perfectly ordinary days . . .
by Steve Conway
It’s freezing cold, and it’ll be several long minutes before the car begins to heat up, and the window de-ices enough for me to move, but I don’t mind really. I am too busy watching the collapse of an empire.
As an introvert, I live a rich inner life, and as a writer, perhaps even more so. It could be that the introspective nature and the gra for writing are linked in some way, but whatever the reason, I find it amazingly easy to tune out of the everyday world around me and retreat into a rich and colourful inner fantasy life.
Or maybe I’m not retreating from the world at all, but just looking at it with other eyes.
The iced over car windscreen is, you see, not a windscreen, but an overview of a fantasy land somewhere beyond reach, it’s people ground down and subjugated in an icy totalitarian regime, frozen in its leaders cruel idology.
Like all such tyrannies its must be resisted and overthrown, but choice of how to do so carry consequences. Oh, I could send in the shock troops – the windscreen wipers or the plastic ice scraper – to hack away ineffectively at the frozen landscape, but think of the casualties of such brutal action. There is death and destruction in the rasp of wiper-blade over still-frozen window.
No, I prefer the revolution to happen from the grass roots, as the whispered idea of freedom issuing forth from my heater blower, slowly infiltrates and changes minds, causing the tyrant to lose his grip, one ice crystal at a time, as his empire crumbles.
At first there is no change, and then, gradually the dark stain of change creeps upwards from the bottom of the windscreen. The initial defences are down, the lands in the far south unfrozen, and soon whole chunks of ice start detaching from the mass and sliding down the screen accelerating their fall towards the heat, like defecting troops fleeing their routed armies.
And that tight knot of extra hard ice in the middle of the window? That is the seat of government and it is besieged and falling, and the ruler and his minions are fleeing north to that part of the top of the land still in the grip of winter, but there will be no escape, for my warm ideology will waft its way to there too, by and by.
And while all this is flashing through my head, I am far too busy and entranced in my own imaginings to mind the cold of the morning, or the delay to my journey, and by the time the last castle falls the car is warm and I’m ready to be on my way.
Another time, a different place.
It is baking hot, and I am walking down a dry dusty road, and straight into a 1950s movie. The dust road is arid, it runs through the desert alongside a railroad, and my destination is a forgotton, tumbleweed-infested station where no one ever gets on or off.
In my mind I have wandered into the world of the 1955 Western Noir classic A Bad Day At Black Rock, one of Spencer Tracey’s finest, in which, for the first time in twenty years, the train stops in the eponymous town, a stranger alights and trouble ensues. Maybe I’m the stranger, maybe I’m the secret he’s searching for, but I’m certainly in the middle of a dusty wilderness.
Actually, in real life, I am in South Dublin, walking alongside the Green LUAS line extension to Cherrywood, at a place where it runs for a mile or so through a semi-razed wilderness, a bulldozed land now returning to nature, a site of several hundred acres where a vast new town was planned, but which never got under way before the boom ended. The LUAS trams go whizzing by every few minutes, and I’m getting close to the ghost station of Laughanstown, where the trams stop, but no one ever gets on or off. There is nothing at Laughanstown but a tiny country lane and a single house, and the tram stop built in anticipation of the vast new development rarely gets any custom. There isn’t actually any tumbleweed blowing past, but it wouldn’t look out of place if it did.
Normally on my lunchtime walks when I exit the high tech office building where I earn my bread I stick to the nearby roads, and wander through a local park, lush and green. But I spy an opening in the fence that has previously sealed off the dirt road through the abandoned wilderness and I am onto it like a shot, wanting to explore pastures new, and silent.
The sun is baking, the rubble-strewn track is rough beneath my feet,I am sweating copiously, but I’m in the bliss of absolute solitude. No one ever comes this way because there is nothing to come for, who in their right mind would walk through this rubble on a scorching day, heading alongside the LUAS line for a ghost station that no one uses? And as I walk I seal myself into the world of the western, the 1955 film keeping me mentally far away from the work-day reality I’ll have to return to in an hours time.
And then, shimmering in haze ahead of me on the dusty track, there is a flash of brilliant pink.
For a moment it is impossible to define any form or purpose, but eventually it solidifies into a feminine form, far in the distance, coming towards me as I am coming towards her. The heat haze makes her seem to float, and immediately I am in a different space in my head, the film gone, I’m now living in the lyrics of the Talking Heads song “And She Was” watching this mirage-like woman as she seems to glide this way and that over the ground without really touching it at all.
I wonder idly if there is a song playing in her head as she sees me moving inexorably towards her . Perhaps she hears an indie beat from The Automatic asking her what kind of monster is cresting the hill ahead of her.
More than likely, of course, she doesn’t notice me at all.
She is so vividly pink, the two of us alone in this desolate landscape are such utterly opposite magnetic poles as we come towards each other, that surely there must be some sort of explosion if we touch.
She is female, young, brightly clad and long of hair, blonde, I am male, older, dressed in black and grey, hair short and greying.
But we pass without any chemical reactions or explosions, and after a while she is swallowed up into the landscape behind me.
There is nowhere she can possibly be going. If she was heading to any destination the LUAS would have been quicker, and this track was not usually accessible. She was walking into that wilderness for the sheer joy of it, and as we passed I could see through her smiled greeting the same dreamy look in her eyes as I must have had, and I loved her for it.
I am not the only loner in the desert today. And that, somehow, just the seeing of her, and the realisation that she is there for the same reasons as me, reconnects me with humanity, and makes a difficult work day more bearable, and all this without a single word spoken.
A bad day at Black Rock.
But a good day at Laughanstown.
I’m very aware of the fact that I’ve let this site grow fallow in recent months, and I’ll do my best to rectify that.
Life has been incredibly busy, both at home and at work, but all continues to be well in my world.
I’m still working on completing my second and third books, one of which will be out this year, and have been writing a goodly number of short stories, one of which I will post up here by way of apology for leaving you alone so long . .
I was always on the rebel side.
It was Us versus Them, the forces of rock and roll and musical freedom struggling against the older generation, those in power, the corporate and musical estblishment whose music was of a bygone age. I was always on the side of “Us” and would never change. Or so I thought . .
Of course, my friend and onetime Caroline colleague Christopher England would tell me differently. Chris has many hobby horses, and one of them is a dislike of “oldie music” and a disdain for how quickly the new young thrusting generation become oldies themselves, despising newer music from a younger generation, and believing that theirs was the only true generation of revolution. Chris talks about this a lot, but it was not Chris who brought me to see the error of my ways, though funnily enough my moment of realisation did come when I was in his company, sitting beside him in a darkened theatre in central London, waiting for a tech launch.
Chris is my tech mentor in life you see. Even though I have been involved in IT for more than 30 years, and have worked either directly or on projects for the biggest names in the business - Microsoft, Apple, Dell, Compaq, HP – Chris has always been at least two steps ahead of me when it comes to living in the future.
My first ever mobile phone? Reccomended and procured for me by Chris (who had earlier got me into that great yuppie trend of the late 80s, the pager).
It was Chris who told me about the Orange network, which had this unique new geeky feature not available on any other network, the facility to send short SMS text messages. My first messages were to and from Chris.
When, at a technology exhibition in Earls Court in 1992 I tried out a very early video-phone on the BT stand, it was Chris who was the blocky, pixellated face at the other end, jerking around at a rate of about 2 or 3 frames per second (or that’s what it seemed like anyway). Skype was far, far in the future in those days.
It was Chris who first mentioned some weird tech start up called Twitter, long before it was anything other than a curiosity, and at least two years before it became mainstream.
Not all of his playthings went on to success however. I vividly remember a huge, multi-caller, interactive premium-rate phoneline called “The Villa” which he was an administrator of, into which you could dial if you wanted to meet and interact with people. By pressing commands on the phone you could go into different areas of the villa, meet different people in different rooms, play games, chat etc. It was woefully clunky and terribly expensive, but I can’t help thinking back to it when I see some of the interactions on Facebook.
And so it was that when Microsoft were launching their huge step forward that was Windows 95, it was Chris that I was sitting beside in a large theatre or other such place somewhere in central London. I can’t remember the exact date, but a look back at the launch schedule for Windows 95 tells me that this must have been sometime around, or just before, August 1995.
As we sat waiting for the show to begin, I was very pleased to hear a Rolling Stones track “Start Me Up” being played. (of course, prior to the launch we would not have known that this was a planned part of the whole Win95 theme, in reference to the “Start” menu).
I remember thinking that, after years of big corporate giants being very conservative and oldies focussed in their music for events like this, that it was great that finally they were moving forward, and recognising the value of “our” generation’s music, being young and rebellious, rather than middle aged. Maybe we were winning our battles after all!
And then it hit me, and that one single moment changed my whole worldview on music. This was not big business recognising the value of youthful rebellious music. This was my generation, and our music having been around for long enough that people of my age were now moving up into positions of corporate and government responsibility. This was my generation’s music, in effect, becoming the new “safe” choice, favoured by people drifting towards middle age. This was the moment that I realised that, without so much as a whisper of warning, time had played the cruellest trick of all, and now “we” were becoming “them”.
And sure enough, the signs were there. A new generation of music bubbling under that was not really listened to by my generation, the fact that our music was now increasingly playlisted on mainstream radio . .
From that day on, I could see the truth in Christopher England’s polemic about how closed people’s minds became to everything new over time, and I resolved to think and act differently myself. And this was a good time to do it, as around about the same time as Microsoft was launching Windows 95 another giant was rethinking its strategy, as the BBC started a revemp of Radio 1, to howls of protest from established presenters and audience, that would see a new generation of presenters coming on board, bringing with them the new wave of dance, rock and alternative sounds that had been there, but ignored for quite some time.
Later I was to end up at Phantom FM in Dublin, where for 11 years I was constantly fed a diet of new bands and live gigs. That really helped me to stay up to date, and I couldn’t help but smile when, on the station’s message board in the mid noughties, I saw listeners complaining about how the new music it was playing now was not the same as the new music it had been playing five years earlier.
“They are playing crap aimed at 16 year olds” these 21 year olds would complain, “not like when we were 16, the music was much better then”.
Having recently left Phantom to strike out on my own, I’m working harder than ever to keep up to date on new music, and try to feature a minimum of 50% new material on my shows each week on Radio Seagull. I don’t have the dislike of oldies that Chris has, but on the other hand I don’t have the dislike of modern music that so many of my contemporaries seem to have grown into.
And, though it is itself an “oldie” now in computing terms, that’s as good a reason to be thankful for Windows 95 as any.
So that’s it – Christmas over, and nose back to the grindstone.
I have a lot to do in my various different worlds this month – a complex global IT project to manage, a ream of radio shows to put together and present, and a second draft of my second book – Running Away From The Circus – to complete.
In times past, these would all be involve very different locations and equipment – transmitter rooms on salt-enrusted radioships, bright office buildings and meeting rooms, and quiet book-lined rooms.
These days though, all my efforts in all the different fields end up as gigabytes of data passing through routers and stored in giant data centres.
Ireland is actually becoming a location of chice for many of these vast temples of computing, as our temperate climate makes cooling less expensive.
Pictured above is a so called “hot corridor” between the backs of several hundred racked servers at a location in the west of Ireland.
Warmer than a drafty hold in a rusty radio ship, and cleaner too, but not quite so much fun!
I’d love to be angry with Chris England.
Logging on to his compulsive-reading England’s England site, and seeing a post titled “Steve Conway Fights Fat Bastard Syndrome” is probably not the ideal way to start a Monday morning, and not the kind of flattering portrayal one likes to see of oneself.
But I can’t possibly object, because I’m a realist, and I have to admit that Chris is only (kindly, as you’ll see when you read the text) telling it like it is.
I have got myself into an overweight, unfit state, and that’s my doing, not his.
Over the last 20 or so years, I have allowed myself to go from this:
So I can’t really complain about Chris pointing out what is inescapable reality, especially as in doing so he admits to similar problems himself, and wishes me well in my quest to fight back to fitness.
And, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, I am taking steps to change. Interventions from friends such as Chris are useful in reminding me of how others see me, but only I can make the change.
Over the past month, I have been walking almost every day, and I’m aiming to continue this. I’m doing a minimum of 2km on working days, and at least double that at weekends.
Now, I’ve done this in the past, intermittantly, but always petered out.
This time has to be different. And I mean has to be.Whereas previously I could start and stop my weight-loss kicks with no real consequences, this time it is a neccessity.
What spurred me into action at the start of December was finding myself at a tipping point, health and fitness wise. I found myself at the point where I was actually beginning to waddle rather than walk. The smallest bit of activity would leave me breathless. And my feet, which had always been fine, were beginning to hurt, presumably under the ever increasing burden of carrying me. As someone who used to walk a lot, who in his youth had climbed all of the Dublin, Wicklow and Kerry mountains without a thought, this appalled me.
I’ve had a full health check-up. My heart is fine, I don’t have any health complications like Type 2 diabetes yet, but it would be only a matter of time if I abandoned myself to further inaction. So I’ve started walking, and I won’t stop.
I wish I could do more than 2km a day, but such is my level of unfitness that my feet give up after this and become numb, so I will have to do a little every day, and get them used to this before I can do more. On the longer weekend walks I have to rest halfway. Just ten years ago, I used to walk from Ballinteer to Eastpoint (about 12km) on bank holidays without a second thought. I’d love to be that person again.
I have some help in the form of technology, a great smartphone app called Walkmeter which tracks and records my walks, maps them for me afterwards, and whispers in my ear each time I have completed another half a km (user defined setting – it can announce at any interval you like).
So there you have it – my biggest challenge for 2012.
Tougher than keeping this blog up to date, more important than getting my second book published, but if I can pull it off, more rewarding than anything else I could achieve.
I’ll keep plugging away at it, and we’ll see how far I’ve got at the end of the year.
But time to put down the keyboard now, and get outside.
And, though it hurst to say it, thanks Chris.