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.
Spotted this when browsing the DVD section of HMV at Westfield, London.
Can’t help but wonder if the sticker placement was by accident or design . .
Click on any picture for a bigger version.
If you’re wondering where the studio, tx and people shots are . . . they’re coming later in the week.
My posting of an old picture on Facebook of myself in pre-Caroline days sparked a discussion below which has revived my memories of those great years in Surbiton in the mid-80s and prompted me to search for other pictures.
First, the facebook discussion:
Friday · ·
Mike KerslakeThat’s the van!Friday at 06:42 ·
Mike KerslakeSame here, only weddings ad funerals see me scrub up!Friday at 06:46 ·
John Burchand when it turned up at a TX site loaded with car batteries, tape machines, a TX and other equipment it looked most incongruous amongst the trees and bushes!!Friday at 09:30 ·
Mike Kerslake:-)Friday at 09:39 ·
Christopher EnglandLooking at the side of the van, whatever happened to ‘Apricot’ computers, eh?Friday at 11:22 ·
Warren StevensonAPS Systems: Were they at the bottom of Brghton Road Steve, close to the petrol station – before you got to the traffic lights at the Portsmouth Road ?Friday at 16:20 ·
Warren StevensonClose to the tyre repair centre I recall.Friday at 16:25 ·
Mike TerryBeing a regular Tuesday night 60s and 70s fan I’m looking forward to your show Steve. Hope you have loads of requests.23 hours ago ·
Warren StevensonIts a coincidence also Steve that the petrol garage in Brighton Road used to sell Epson computers in the late Eighties !21 hours ago ·
Warren StevensonOur paths may well have crossed Steve before I headed for a pint in the Black Lion for a pint or two of Youngs Special14 hours ago ·
Warren StevensonI also recall in the late Eighties that in a road just off the Brighton Road in Surbiton (The Mall), there was always a black Mini parked which was adorned with Radio Nova car stickers. There was also a Triumph Dolomite that could be seen also regulalry in the town with a Caroline 319 sunstrip . OT: There was an excellent fish and chip shop just down the road, next to The Lamb pub !.13 hours ago ·
So, the above has prompted me to search my hard drive for a photo I know I had of A.P. Systems itself, which was based in a tiny office on the forecourt of what is now the Total Service Station on Brighton Road in Surbiton:
Click any picture for bigger version
A. P. Systems was a wonderful little company, it was run by a great guy called Tony Williams whose father owned the petrol filling station (A.P Garage) which sold Total fuel (and was in later years taken over fully by Total).
As well as being a kind employer, Tony was quite a genius with computers, and had written software for the early Epson portable systems, which eventually led to his running a full dealership, at first for Epson, and then expanding to sell other brands such as the Victor 9000 and ACT Sirius system, Apricot, IBM and others. Tony was a very good salesman, and despite our small size, he managed to make sales into companies all over London and much of southern England. This was before the days of Windows (though it launced while I was there) and all programmes were Dos based – MS-DOS version 1.12 when I started (and the Epson PCs used the less friendly CP/M system).
Wordstar was the main game in town for word processing, with Supercalc or Lotus-123 for spreadsheets. But we also provided custom systems written by Tony himself.
I came to work for him in 1984 as the tech support guru for the firm (I had been trained up by the Irish sole distributor for Sirius/Apricot, so my knowledge was good). In those days desktop computers were in their infancy, and in almost every case the company we would sell to would be buying their first computer, and it would be my responsibility to deliver and install the systems, and train the staff in how to use them, as well as being on call for tech support for ever afterwards.
The general public’s knowledge of computers was limited, and employees would be very wary of these new systems I was installing in their firms, a lot of my time would be spent soothing people rather than fixing computers. I well remember one customer who had bought an Epson potrable computer asking, in all seriousness, how much heavier it would be once the data was loaded onto it!
In the three years before I left to work for Radio Caroline, I travelled to every part of London in that little van, as well as most parts of the home counties and beyond. As well as hundreds of small businesses getting their first computers, I also got to deliver and install systems in the GLC (in its dying days), Shepperton Film Studios, Gatwick Airport, and a law firm called Penningtons with offices in the City of London and in Godalming, where I encountered that most rare of beasts, the Apple Lisa – the almost unknown predecessor to the Macintosh.
I also have memories of making several trips down to the heart of Wiltshire, to install computers at a dogfood factory in Tisbury, whose owner was very forward-looking, and incredibly nice to me, putting me up overnight in his country lodge and serving me breakfast in the morning (no – not dogfood!) I think they were called Dinnodog or Dinnadog, but I can find no trace of them on the net these days.
AP Systems was a small operation, most of the time there was just myself as tech geek, Tony running the company and doing the selling, and young women called Kathy who acted as receptionist but did a lot more besides. There was also a guy called Nigel who came to us from South Africa and moved on to Australia, a bit of a programming wizard, and a wonderfully good-natured salesman called Brian Street who joined not long before I left, and I’m sad to have lost touch with these people over the years.
As well as us computer people, there were a steady stream of people working in the garage including a great woman called Ruth who I lodged with for many years, and a new recruit called Gail, who I remember as a part-time a couple of nights a week, but who turned into a mainstay of the site, so much so that now, almost 30 years later, she is still there, as manager for Total.
Another photo I have dug up shows the 65 bus, which in those days was the main route through Surbiton, taken in May 1984, just days after I arrived. This route normally went along Victoria Road, but was diverted due to roadworks when I took this picture. The 65 was two-person operated with Routemasters up until February 1986, but these days does not even reach Surbiton (except night services).
Notice the wonderfully high-tech (!) top-loading video recorder being advertised on the side of the bus – I think 1984 was an Olympic year, hence this being used to push video sales.
There were many nice places in Surbiton, it was quite self-contained, with a good variety of shops and eating places, and remains so today. It was a wonderful place to live a work, and I have many happy memories of the people and places of those three years before I headed off to sea to work for Radio Caroline. (see: Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline).
Looking back, I can’t recall another year in my life when I have lived as vividly as I did in 2010.
Despite 2010 being bleak economically and politically both home in Ireland and pretty much everywhere else in the west, despite long hours and stress in various workplaces, despite some non-threatening but quite inconveniencing medical blips, despite my car heater dying just in time for the coldest December since records began . . 2010 was a year in which I really lived, in which old emotions were reawakened, and new ones discovered, and my store of life experience grew more than it has done in a long time.
I had set myself a challenge at the end of 2009 to start doing things I had never done before, to open myself to new experiences beyond my comfort zone. And while I didn’t get to the arbitrary goal of “10 things” during the year, I reached 5, two of which were experiences that profoundly moved or enriched me, and a third which brought back childhood memories entwined in a futuristic setting.
Not all of the great things that happened to me during the year were as a result of this self-challenge, but perhaps the attitude it engendered in me of being more open filtered through to other things too.
So what made my year?
Well, some unique experiences came about as i sought to push myself into new things.
Taking part in the Bristol Balloon Fiesta was certainly a “high” point of the year, and my first ever hot-air balloon flight, as part of a mass ascent of more than 80 balloons within an hour at dawn, was a unique and moving experience, so much so that I felt to write about it in purely descriptive journalistic terms would be . . to miss some indefinable element of the experience.
Twisting it in my mind, it instead inspired me to write a short story “A Bristol Awakening” that is neither fact nor fiction, but also both. A very intimate story, it has been received well at a number of public readings, especially by women, and I am hoping to see it published in 2011.
Slightly more down to earth, though involving a different sort of (non) flying, as one of my challenges I put myself forward to the Dublin Airport Authority to be one of the special testers of the new Terminal 2 before it opened. Apart from fulfilling my curiosity about the new building, and allowing me a sneak peek at new transport infrastructure, which I’ve always been interested in, the experience reminded me of aspects of my past that I had long forgotten, and also gave me a chance to get my own back on customs, just for once. You can read the details in my post Mr. Beagle Goes To London (Not).
Something I have never wanted to do, and felt I would always avoid, enriched my life and gave me a wonderful experience when i tried it as part of the “going outside my comfort zone” element of my 10-things challenge. A visit to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, accompanied by a an impossibly glamourous companion, opened a whole new world of experience, sight, sound, and stimulation to me. I enjoyed it more than I could possibly have imagined, and do intend to write up the experience here at a later date.
Pushing myself outside my comfort zone, doing what I would not normally consider doing was one of the elements i wanted to achieve in drawing up my list of 10 things, and I am so very glad I did this.
As the year comes to an end, I’ve so far ticked off 5 things, and have more still in planning, with some space left on the list for spontenaity.
So 2011 should continue in similar vein, and to be honest, when I reach 10, why stop there?
Of course, there were other things which made 2010 an exceptional year for me, some planned, others unexpected.
A couple of things that really moved me were radio related, and did not come about as a result of my challenge list.
Going in March to Ramsgate to do a reading from Shiprocked for the benefit of the RNLI, brought me face to face with the men who came to my rescue on one of the darkest days of my life, 19 years earlier.
Meeting the crew of the lifeboat who battled through a Force 10 NE to come to our aid when the Caroline ship was aground on the Goodwin Sands was a profoundly humbling experience, all the more so because of the warmth of the welcome I received, and the support they showed for Caroline despite having been put through hell that morning and nearly losing their own lives on account of our stubborn decision to stay on board the apparently doomed vessel.
I won’t forget the men of the Ramsgate Lifeboat, and will be making another fundraising trip to see them in November 2011, on the 20th anniversary of the grounding.
The same weekend I revisited the Ross Revenge for the first time in many years, and was invited to join the current-day lineup of Caroline on satellite, which, despite the many years of my absence, felt like a real homecoming.
(I can be heard on Caroline every Monday 2-4pm, Sky Digital Ch.0199 and via RadioCaroline.co.uk )
Another emotional moment came about in May, after I had been invited to join the crew of the Dutch station Radio Seagull, which was celebrating a month long offshore broadcast, 8 miles of the coast of Friesland.
There were many memories stirred by being offshore for the first time since 1991, though the most intense of these was to come on me unexpectedly.
The week I spent at sea with Radio Seagull was bliss, with old memories awoken, and new friends and new memories made at every moment of each day. (See the posts OFFSHORE AGAIN and Seagull Day 1 and More Seagull Pictures and Clear White Light and A Ferry Large Tender as well as Seagull Offshore – The Pictures for the week as I blogged it at the time)
But the most vivid experience of that week came for me, unexpectedly, in the middle of the night and alone, and had nothing to do with the radio side of the visit. Being given the job of staying up on watch overnight for one of the nights, while usually regarded a something of a chore, for me brought both fear and redemption, as I was finally able to lay to rest the ghosts of what had happened on the Caroline ship, many years earlier, when we drifted, unheeding, onto the deadly Goodwin Sands.
For all that the storm in 1991 had been so fierce, and our ship so run down and unable to navigate that we could not have resisted being swept onto the Goodwin Sands even if we had realised earlier that our anchor chain had broken, I had carried with me these many years a nagging sliver guilt that I should have known, should have been more alert, should have done better.
Now, here I was again, and for the first time since that fateful night, entrusted to watch over a ship at anchor at sea, and in the grips of bad weather too. I was both siezed with fear that it would all go terribly wrong on my watch, and grateful for the chance to prove myself dilligent and keep the most careful of watches. I checked our position regularly, I did a full round of the ship and checked the anchoring cables every hour, I saw us safely through to dawn, and I slayed a dragon that had slumbered in a corner of my mind for many years.
The week was over too soon, but I was delighted to be asked to join the staff of Radio Seagull and to contribute a weekly show from my own studio in Dublin, with my own choice of music – a mix of new and alternative music as well as classic rock, with a bit of blues and soul mixed in. Presenting these shows on Seagull have been an immensely satisfying experience for me.
(I can be heard 7-9 am and pm each Saturday, on 1602Khz MW in The Netherlands, and worldwide at RadioSeagull.com )
Phantom 105.2 in Dublin also continued to be a source of great enjoyment for me, and though I had to move away from regular weekend shows towards the end of the year due to domestic commitments, the station and its staff still feels like an extended family for me, and keeps me informed on new music trends.
There were lots of mini high points in 2010 – from an unexpectedly beautiful sunrise encountered one morning on my way to work, to, finally after all my years on this earth, a proper White Christmas.
There was also another experience, quite unexpected, which made me feel like a teenager again, one unremarkable Saturday afternoon at a railway station in an unremarkable British city . . but I won’t go into that one here!
Suffice to say that, for me at least, 2010 has been a year in which i started living and growing anew, despite being at an age where comfort and stagnation would be more usual.
May 2011 have more of the same . . and new . . for me . . and you.
Happy New Year
Dundrum Town Centre is probably one of the busiest, and certainly one of the more upmarket, shopping centres in the Greater Dublin Area.
It’s busy at any time of year, but just before Christmas the queues of cars to get in – and out – can be legendary. This post-Christmas week can be almost as busy, with the sales on, and this year in particular as people catch up on retail therapy avoided when travel was difficult during the big chill.
I’m not a big shopper myself, and I tend to avoid crowded streets and malls at these times, and yet Dundrum is one place that I never mind coming to, no matter how busy, and never leave without an uplifting of the soul.It’s not the view of the mountains from the upper-level car-park (though that helps) it’s not the fact that my retailers of choice – Hughes & Hughes, Easons, Marks & Spencer & HMV are all clustered fairly close to each other, though that helps too.
It’s the little unintended quirks in the machinery of modern consumerism that give me a twinkle in the eye.
Firstly, I love the way the car park levels are numbered. You start at ground level, at level 3, and go down to 2M (mezzanine level), then 2, then 1M, then 1 and then -1. Yes, that’s right. Minus 1.
Instead of having a level 0, or starting the numbering at 4, here we have a multi-story car park that utilises both positive and negative numbers. it really appeals to the numbers geek in me!
Then, tucked away in a corner not far from the lower level of Marks & Spencer we have . . the Optimist/Pessimist Lift.
That’s not the official name of course. It doesn’t have a name, it’s just a simple one hop elevator in a distant corner of a very large complex. I doubt that there is any other human being who boards this lift and sees it the way I see it, and views the choices the way I do.
But what other name could you possible give to a lift which presents you with one simple choice of 1 or -1 ?
And then, after I’ve made my choice (always optimism, as I only use the lift to go up, never down), and after I’ve battled the crowds and done my shopping, when the time comes to leave, I know that I can rely on the car-park payment machine to restore my faith in the future, to tell me that the future can be better than the past if only I make the effort . .
OK, so I know it is only trying to tell me that I can use a banknote, and get the difference back with coins.
But I never fail to smile when I see the way that they have worded this, and I leave the centre with some hope in my soul.
“Change is possible“
Happy New Year!
Sign in window of health-shop, Galway, Ireland.
I came across the above a few months ago while in Galway for a book reading, and decided it was too good not to share! I then promptly forgot about it until this morning, while searching for a different picture (which I didn’t find).
What kind of problems do women get for €40 anyway?
One totally unintended effect is the reflection, which puts my face as the background image for “Women’s Problems”.
Art imitating life? Makes pretty unbeatable watermarking for the picture anyway