Archive | July 2012

Great Britain vs. New Zealand. Olympics 2012 kicks off.

Cardiff Millennium Stadium with the Olympics Rings.

Having ducked out of work and taken a few hours early leave I headed to Cardiff with a friend to see the opening event of the Olympic Games 2012. We arrived a bit behind schedule at Cardiff train station and I grabbed a quick burger, eating as I walked, and we were shepherded towards the security entrances where we were asked, airport style, to put all belongings into clear plastic bags provided.We did ask instructed – my camera and my phone, I continued eating my burger – and after an additional pat down none of the items were faced with any real degree of scrutiny. It all seemed a little pointless.

Upon reaching the 6th tier of the stadium I popped up the closest entrance to the seats and took a few quick snaps of the game that had just kicked off. Team GB verses New Zealand in Women’s Football.

Great Britain and New Zealand battling it out.

Once satisfied I made my way over to where my ticket informed me I should be and noticed a distinct lack of staff at every bar I passed. I learned later that there was at least one bar open further along the curved corridors.

Barren Bar.

I reached the appropriate entrance and climbed the steep steps, trying to ignore the vertigo I was expecting, and finally joined my friends and was glad to be seated with a  solid structure beneath me.

A nice safe view of the event.

The first half saw team GB dominate with a few chances, their best a header from Anita Asante striking the post and the NZ keeper, in a display some might confuse for objectum-sexualism, gave her post an appreciative kiss. In the last minute team GB threatened again in the 6 yard box where a short pass failed to come off.

This was the moment the upright did its job keeping Asante’s header out.

The impression I was left with was that GB were looking stronger and most certainly had more of a drive for attack. And so ended the first half. Almost immediately the hubbub of the crowd was aggressively drowned out by obnoxiously loud ‘music’. This had the effect of preventing any risk of easy conversation. It occurred to me – as I was surrounded by young families enjoying the sunshine and the spectacle – just who was responsible for the choice of music and more importantly the level that it was blasted at from the enormous hanging speakers? It seemed unlikely that whoever made these kinds of decisions undertook anything resembling a survey as to who the attendees would likely be since they were apparently under the impression we needed to be subdued by an audio assault that I’d liken to standing too close to a speaker at a concert.

Thankfully the music was eventually replaced by a woman shouting down the mic attempting to galvanize the crowds support by asking who supported who. I’m trying hard not to be too cynical but it was all a bit cheesy and not really what I’d expect to see at a football match. Imagine if it was Man Utd. vs. Man City, for example…

The lady working the crowd with the mic.

After a nice little shout out to kids from various school parties who were present this happened:

The picture speaks for itself.

This seemed to be an even more bizarre attempt to galvanise the crowd by encouraging them to take part in a choreographed – for want of a better description –  ‘arm dance’ from what sounded like a Mexican accented man. I can tell you everyone in my line of sight sat there somewhat bemused at the recorded figure shouting instructions and behaving as though the crowd was following them. If only he knew. Consistency was the order of the day since this was followed swiftly by the auditory assaulting ‘music’ again.

Just before the teams returned Sepp Blatter made a cameo on the large video display.

FIFA’s top dog.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of the man, to put it mildly, and it somewhat irritated me to see him at all when really this event had nothing to do with him. Two lads who had popped off to retrieve some light refreshment in the form of soft drinks had missed this cameo but were graced with another before play resumed. Their exchange – now the music was no longer drowning conversation out – went something like this: “Oh my god, is that Blatter?”, “Yeah.”, “Really? Oh my god…” The impression I got was one that distinctly lacked any sense of being impressed. I liked them already.

Teams GB and NZ return for the 2nd half.

The teams returned and the second half got under way. Team GB continued as they finished the first half and attacked with determination, even though not every opportunity was grasped, such as a great through ball from Kelly Smith that was picked up but received one too many touches allowing the NZ defender Ali Riley to get a vital toe to the ball just as Ellen White released her shot.

An important toe by Riley.

Team GB’s luck was about to change. They were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box. As GB readied themselves for what was a well practised routine the fiery redhead gentleman who shared my disdain for Blatter came alive. “‘This is it. Record this. I’ve had a premonition!” he cried to his friends. Well didn’t he call that just right.

Steph Houghton – after a team-mate performed the almost expected dummy step-over – took a cracking free-kick and slotted it away with ease in the back of the net much to the dismay of the helpless New Zealand players. It was a real crowd pleaser of a goal.

The ball sailing net bound from a perfect free-kick.

The hard work was almost undone later though when Alex Scott and Ifeoma Dieke collided allowing Sarah Gregorius – cool name incidentally  – of NZ to have a one-on-one duel with the GB goalkeeper Karen Bardsley. Unfortunately for NZ Bardsley got down low and comfortably cradled the lacklustre shot. Perhaps Gregorius was too gregarious and needed some support in the attack… a poor joke I know, but at least I didn’t try and strain a joke from the somewhat disturbing poem of the same name.

As the game drew to a close it occurred to me that seeing the kit being worn I often forgot that I was watching GB and my mind kept trying to insist it was an England kit but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. Just before the final whistle blew I must confess to being distracted by a curious, wandering seagull, as were a few others around me.

The uninvited guest by the flags of the Olympics nations.

It circled the stands and at least once dropped a payload on the spectators below and even opportunistically swooped in making an attempt to snatch food from people. With around 7 minutes to go a finger tip save was made by Bardsley after a shot just outside the box, well, more of a lob really. That was one of the last pieces of action.

Players congratulate each other on an effective and determined performance.

As I sat there I reflected on the Euro finals a few weeks ago and also on the casual derision I’d heard from some people towards the skill levels of women’s football. This all woman GB team played better, more fluid football than most of the male Irish team that ‘showed up’ to the Euro finals. Team GB were able to complete what seemed like more passes and other than a few minor things – I’m looking at you Alex Scott and Ifeoma Dieke – they played the game of football better, creating chance after chance and always looked like scoring. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare two completely different competitions – Ireland did have a difficult group – but I was impressed by what I saw and there was undoubtedly a thirst for competition evident. Ryanyllek might have been a better person to comment on the quality on display than me, but that’s how I see it! Speaking of ryanyellek,  I almost forgot to mention, that throughout the game each time a substitution was made it was accompanied by a visual and audio display to ensure the crowd knew what was happening. ryanyllek assures me that this is evidence of the creeping Americanisation of the game.

After those revelations – of sorts – I left and joined the queues for the return train journey, with the inevitable delays, and where I got to see what appeared to be a business person using their hands-free earphones and mic set – for their mobile phone – while using both their hands to do so… but that’s another blog entry of its own perhaps.

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On Writing a Book.

Draft 1 of the Novel.

Ireland, circa 2007, I had undergone many upheavals in my life. The end of a long-term relationship and the death of my grandmother who raised me alongside my mother and grandfather. Life seemed cruel and unfair. Having recently returned from a short stint in San Francisco, where I worked for a wonderful Irish man in a furniture and antique removal company, I was unsure what to do with my future. I was the lowest I had ever been in my life up until that point and the weight of loss and grief stemming from the aforementioned incidents crippled me mentally. I became reckless in my behaviour, angry at the world, myself and my friends around me. Reckless turned to destructive. I was no stranger to locking myself away in my room for hours on end and only leaving the house to go drinking once or twice a week with anyone I knew who’d join me. I started to become the go-to-guy when people in my life wanted a night out. Things seemed grim and continued to escalate until I eventually lashed out at the very people who had been important in my life, my friends. They were drawn into a ridiculous and juvenile spat between myself and the person, whom for many years, had been the most important person to me. Regret doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel towards that particular drama. It all came to a head and I knew that something had to change or I might not be able to turn back.

Like the fabled Atlas sometimes it feels like the weight of the world weighs on our shoulders. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/25482815@N08/2432040894/

It all sounds very dark and dramatic, I know, but if anything I’m playing down the despair and turmoil of those days.

One of the few bright lights in the darkness was my brother. He would have been around 8 years old at the time and he brought me great joy since I’d been an only child for the first 18 years of my life. That’s not to say I didn’t have surrogate siblings in cousins I grew up with but my brother was something different. An instant bond had formed when we met for the first time a couple of years before.

While all this was going on I found myself obsessing over the past and as a result memories of my youth flooded my mind. During my primary school years I was taught by a headmaster who had a passion for all things Greek mythology and history in general. The more I thought about this the more stories from Greek mythology, Irish mythology and Irish history came to mind that my headmaster had recited. I sought out an encyclopaedia on Greek mythology – that my ex-partner had bought me as a gift a few years previously, knowing my interests well- and began refreshing myself on the deluge of characters therein. An idea began to form in my mind about mythology and how to retell some of these stories for children of today. I made the decision to write a short book for my kid brother and have it ready for his 10th birthday and started drawing up notes and a structure for a tale. All this occurred before that fateful night where I knew something had to change.

Before making the decision to change things in my life I first secured an apprenticeship in carpentry – the stint in San Francisco and the love of the work there pushed me towards a more hands on line of work – but not long after that applied for and received a position in the Arts course in NUIG to keep my options open. I reluctantly gave up my offer of the apprenticeship since, fairly enough, my boss wasn’t willing to invest 10 months into training me only to lose me come September 2008. It turned out it may have been a lucky break choosing Galway since it was in 2008 that the bottom fell out of the housing market in Ireland and it still hasn’t fully recovered.

Just after the aforementioned turning point I decided, in order to save some money for the move to Galway, I should spend 3 months living at home. This was the first time since leaving at 18 and would now only be my mother and I without the presence of my grandmother. This is when I really turned my attention to the idea of the book. I wrote a prologue – which is one of the few things that survived in its almost original form – and the first chapter of the book. All the while I was writing out rules of the universe I was creating and coming up with names that I felt would suit the role of each character and their respective journeys. I became immersed in the process and increasingly excited at the prospect of telling this story to my brother. An old friend gave me much appreciated support on the outset of writing the book and also helped with applying to NUIG when I did. It’s doubtful she realises just how much those early words of support propped me up enough to follow through. The dust having settled after the juvenile spat, my other friends continued to support me in this venture as well as my new move to Galway also. It still amazes me the capacity of some people to forgive. Lucky for me.

By the time I had made the move to Galway – again with help from some long suffering friends who lived there – I had a few chapters of the book written. After a few weeks into the new course at NUIG I soon realised that my aim of finishing the book by my brother’s 10th birthday may have been ambitious for two reasons. Firstly, I was again a full-time student with little time for writing outside of assignments and secondly, the book had taken on a life of its own and was becoming something more than a short book. In fact, it was beginning to look more like the first of a trilogy of novels. This realisation forced some changes to the book, which were ultimately better for it. The book was never going to be ready for my brother’s 10th birthday so I had to up the age of the main characters with a more realistic end date in mind. This was the first of many changes to the book.

Not long into my first year I met someone who would become my new partner and we were together for the the full 3 years at NUIG and the majority of the writing of the book. She provided the support and encouragement only a partner can and many times pulled me back from the brink of abandoning the book completely out of frustration when finding out certain aspects of it had been done before, for example. She convinced me to come back at it from a different angle and to figure something new out. Which I did.

I worked hard at NUIG and after first year specialised in psychology. Every summer holidays I’d work on the book. Granted the first summer I spent more time partying with my partner and friends and only occasionally turning my attention to the story. However, the second and third summer I worked on the book like a demon typing away into the early hours of the morning. The third summer was the one and the same where I had completed my undergrad and was seeking a PhD candidacy. Things were tough then and this is where I put most of the work into the book to distract myself from an uncertain future regarding work.

By the time I was successfully awarded a PhD studentship I was a couple of chapters from completion. True to form I stopped writing until the first available holiday which was Christmas. At this stage I was yet again recently partner-less but having learned from my past mistakes handled things a lot better. I took one or two weeks of self wallowing alone accompanied by a few nights of drinking a bit too much and things started to seem not so bad. Unlike in 2007 I had direction in my life and was on the cusp of completing my book.

Once the Christmas holidays started I endeavoured to complete the tale. At approximately 7am on a December morning in 2011 I typed up the last words of the first draft in the same house I had begun it, my family home, and as a single man again. Things had almost come full-circle but thankfully minus the more negative aspects.

I gave the unedited draft to my brother around February 2012 – who was 12, nearly 13, at the time incidentally – and he adored it. Mission accomplished. In January I corrected a few niggles and my old friend who supported me early on is almost finished the grammatical edit as I type and I’ll soon be submitting to agents. I might as well make a go of it. Now that my brother – and a few friends – expressed enjoyment anything else will be a bonus.

I’m sorry if when reading the title the reader was expecting a guide to writing. I’m afraid I wouldn’t know where to begin with that. The one thing I would say however is that when bad shit happens take that and try and use it. Exploit it for something positive. It can act as a source of creativity. It can act as a chance to make the changes in your life you’ve always wanted to. People can change and experiencing the bad is strangely a wonderful experience in and of itself. In order to experience we must be alive and we are fortunate that we can experience negative emotions at all since many do not have that privilege. Sometimes things are not easy but this is life and life is everything.

Long Walk Home (but it could be worse).

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“Right we can do this” was the call from Brian as he bobbed and weaved his way through the throngs making their way out of the Phoenix Park after The Stone Roses gig. He was like a whippet in a foot race with zombies. The spectre of work loomed heavy on his mind no doubt. “We’ll make this bus” I was not sure if he was trying to convince himself or us at this stage but on we went only pausing briefly to shoot our hands in the air in an effort to maintain contact.

The speed at which we were travelling meant that the crowd had melded into one generic slightly paunchy 36 year old stoned Stone Roses fan. As the pain, which I can only equate to someone trying to whittle shards of bone from my shins, throbbed and pulsed; my mind flashed back to early that day when in a discussion about whether or not we would get back to Georges Quay in time for our bus I jokingly remarked “Of course we will, it’s not like the gig is in the biggest enclosed city park in Europe”. Such brevity was in short supply right now.

Wait, what’s that, it’s the shuttle bus, we had made it. The pain in my shins was now replaced with a warm sense of relief. Unfortunately this was short lived as the dilettante stood by the bus informed us that the buses were reserved for people with return tickets firstly. This of course is plainly ridiculous; it wasn’t our problem that people had chosen to shuffle out of the gig at their leisure. Our argument that we needed to get to our bus to Galway by 12:15 fell on deaf ears.

We swallowed our anger and our pragmatism kicked in as we set off in an effort to catch a taxi to Georges Quay. Eventually we got a taxi but we were never going to make the bus so instead we decided to hedge our bets and attempt to flag down the bus at Heuston Station. There we met fellow attendees of the gig hoping to flag down the same bus. So as the bus turned the corner this intrepid 6 mud flecked and exhausted but now with a modicum of hope; stood with our A4 size printouts of our return tickets aloft. Now we knew that this was not an actual stop but we all had return tickets and so we knew that the bus driver would be aware he was missing at least 6 passengers. That allied with the fact that there was this massive gig on in the park gave us reasonable hope that the driver may use his discretion and pick us up. This is not a bus to the suburbs we missed, which can be fixed by hopping in a taxi, rather it was a bus to the other side of the country. Instead we got a bus driver to beep his horn and wave at us with a shit eating grin which seemed to say “Tough shit losers”.  He may well have filled his bus with people who had open ended tickets but a short stop and explanation would have cleared that up.

So about two hours marching the streets of Dublin throwing out Hail Mary text messages saw Paddy and Darren come to the rescue, lodgings were secured for the night and we made it back in the morning. It was not until Monday morning that I heard how lightly we had gotten off. The Saturday night gig featuring Swedish House Mafia had been marred by 3 drug related deaths, 9 stabbings and 1 missing person who has since been returned to her family. Reports suggest that it was a very unpleasant event and the national airwaves are alive with people, who were not at the gig, ringing up to explain what a disgrace it was and how the whole fabric of society is being pulled apart.

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It may well be the case that, as a disaffected youth continues to see their life options steadily decrease instances of violence at large public gatherings like this will continue. The promoters of these gigs also have a lot to answer for. MCD were the promoters of the Oxegen festival which had steadily become a dangerous and unpleasant experience. This was their replacement, a series of concerts in the Pheonix Park which after last weekend’s debacle will surely not happen again. The park is far too large an area to properly control. There are over 1700 acres in which people can get up to all kinds of mischief before and after the concerts. The pursuit of profit has meant that there is a disproportionate number of security guards to patrons which not only means that regular concert goers, there for the shared experience of enjoying the live music of their heroes, have not only their enjoyment spoiled but also their safety compromised. It is time that whatever regulatory body that over sees the granting of licenses to promoters take MCD aside and get them to justify their business practices.