The hamster not only loves his cage, he’d be lost without it.

The perfect life, the perfect lie, I realised after Christmas, is one which prevents you from doing that which you would ideally have done (painted, say, or written unpublishable poetry) but which, in fact, you have no wish to do. People need to feel they have been thwarted by circumstances from pursuing the life which, had they led it, they would not have wanted; whereas the life they really wanted was precisely a compound of all those thwarting circumstances. It is a very elaborate, extremely simple procedure, arranging this web of self-deceit: contriving to convince yourself that you were prevented from doing what you wanted. Most people don’t want what they want: people want to be prevented, restricted. The hamster not only loves his cage, he’d be lost without it. That’s why children are so convenient: you have children because you’re struggling to get by as an artist - which is actually what being an artists means - or failing to get on with your career. Then you can persuade yourself that your children prevented you from having this career that had never looked like working out. (From Geoff Dyer's 'Out of Sheer Rage') 

"Sometimes, it’s OK or indeed necessary to leave a bit of wrongness in": Brendan Barrington

From Irish Times feature on editors >>>
Brendan, you have a reputation as a brilliant, but brutally honest, editor. Do you tailor your approach to each writer, in the sense that you think some writers can take more criticism than others? Do you ever worry that your work might be too intrusive?
BB: When I was very young, I underestimated the distinctiveness of each text and each author; my editing was a bit one-size-fits-all, a bit overconfident. With experience I think I’ve got better at recognising the relationship between what is wrong with a text and what is good about it: sometimes, it’s OK or indeed necessary to leave a bit of wrongness in. The editor’s job is to help the author make the text as strong as it can be, and there are as many ways of doing that as there are authors – so, yes, you tailor your approach to individual texts and personalities. When editing, I try to avoid anything that comes across as pure criticism, pitting the text against some objective standard. My approach is more one of identifying elements that do not quite fit with the scheme and the implicit rules established by the author himself or herself elsewhere in the text, and trying to point the author towards solutions. This has always, from my perspective anyway, been a very straightforward process with Greg, because (unlike many good writers) he has an excellent editorial mind himself.

Maxim Vengerov at the National Concert Hall

Ahead of Vengerov's part in the 150th anniversary celebrations of the opening of the winter garden for the great exhibition of 1865 that became the National Concert Hall, I've dug up this oldie from, I think, 1999, written for some cultural magazine in the Irish Times of the day…

At first the mass of publicity that precedes this 25-year old wunderkind of the violin puts one on one’s guard against another over-marketed phenomenon. But very quickly one realises that in this instance the hype is to be believed.

Not only is Maxim Vengerov a dashing young Siberian, with a romantic past, and amiable personality: irresistible to the publicity machine. He is also one of the greatest musicians alive.

Our own Michael D’Arcy, Leader of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, says of Vengerov: ‘I am always impressed by his wonderful ability to transcend technical demands in order to express the meaning of the music. He excels in all kinds of repertoire and brings the same insight to a three minute encore as he does to the great concertos.’

The essential thing about Vengerov musically seems to be that he is such a master of technique his playing is pure ‘soul’. As one critic has it: ‘The sinful ease with which Mr. Vengerov commands his instrument renders any questions of technique superfluous.’ The violin becomes voice, and the voice sings the soul straight and true. ‘The violin becomes part of your body,’ is how Vengerov himself has put it, ‘an extension of your heart. And you try to sing.’

His intense manner of playing, by the confidence of its musical logic, gives the listener a sense of inevitability about his interpretations. He makes connoisseurs of everyone, is how one enthusiast has put it.

It wasn’t always this way. Vengerov was born into a musical family in 1974 in Siberia. Indeed, he quickly developed into a musical prodigy. (‘I lost two years of childhood in one sense, but in the end I know it was so right.’) In 1985 he won first prize at the Polish Junior Wieniawski Competition, Lublin, and in 1990 first prize at the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition, London.

But when he moved to Israel in 1990 he admits that he wasn’t very flexible in his musical thinking, and needed a bit of loosening up. ‘I was raised in a quite conservative way [musically],’ Vengerov recalls. Then there was his interpretation. When he was invited in 1992 to play with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the conductor, Daniel Barenboim, told him the night before the performance that his playing of the Sibelius Violin Concerto lacked character, didn’t connect with the heart of the piece - without telling him the solution. Vengerov spent the whole night, violin put aside, reading the score as a work of art.

Of the resulting performance one critic wrote: ‘Behold the cosmic talent called Maxim Vengerov. I heard this 18-year-old Russian with the Chicago Symphony, and I came away shaken...I'm pretty sure I never heard a more glorious performance of the Sibelius live - and, over the course of 25 years as a critic, that covers every big artist.’ Vengerov the virtuoso had arrived.

Since then, he has recorded with every major orchestra in the world and worked with all the great conductors. He continues to give much credit for his success to colleagues, teachers and particularly the conductors he has worked with who have helped him develop more sophisticated interpretations of each work.

In 1996 he received two Grammy nominations for Classical Album of the Year and Instrumental Soloist with Orchestra. His recording Prokofiev and Shostakovich Violin Concertos No. 1 won him Gramaphone Magazine’s Record of the Year.

The musical wisdom of Maxim Vengerov

On technique: The trick is never having to think about how to achieve something, but rather being able to call it up at the precise moment you need it.

On challenges: ‘The most difficult thing for me to achieve is bringing out the sound I hear inside my head. Sometimes, I am conscious of my disappointment at what comes out.’

On religion: ‘Playing the violin for me is like praying because I believe in it so strongly; it’s religion… music is unique because you can speak and everyone can understand, since the message is delivered spiritually.’

On the benefits of playing an instrument generally: ‘When you play, you learn how to think better, you learn strategy [when] figuring how to play something hard.’

On the purpose of music: ‘.. to make ourselves better, to be free, to feel wonderful.’

A non-religious view of prayer

Got this via a friend of mine. The reply someone got from Andrew W.K. complaining about the uselessness of prayer as a response to misfortune (in this case, his brother being diagnosed with cancer).

Prayer is a type of thought. It’s a lot like meditation — a type of very concentrated mental focus with passionate emotion directed towards a concept or situation, or the lack thereof. But there’s a special X-factor ingredient that makes “prayer” different than meditation or other types of thought. That X-factor is humility. This is the most seemingly contradictory aspect of prayer and what many people dislike about the feeling of praying. “Getting down on your knees” is not about lowering your power or being a weakling, it’s about showing respect for the size and grandeur of what we call existence — it’s about being humble in the presence of the vastness of life, space, and sensation, and acknowledging our extremely limited understanding of what it all really means.
Being humble is very hard for many people because it makes them feel unimportant and helpless. To embrace our own smallness is not to say we’re dumb or that we don’t matter, but to realize how amazing it is that we exist at all in the midst of so much more. To be fully alive, we must realize how much else there is besides ourselves. We must accept how much we don’t know — and how much we still have to learn — about ourselves and the whole world. Kneeling down and fully comprehending the incomprehensible is the physical act of displaying our respect for everything that isn’t “us.”
Many of us worked for years to build up our idea of the world and who we are in it. We’ve clung ever more tightly to the idea of what is true and what is false. We’ve toiled and schemed to get what we need to “be happy,” and to gain the sense of security that comes with “figuring things out” and “making it.” We do that by building a better and stronger protective shell to shield us from the painful horrors of the unknown.It can be too painful to even imagine, after all those years of effort, simply abandoning our carefully crafted structures, and stepping into the immense chasm of the uncharted and unknowable. And now, it’s time to take it.
I want you to pray for your brother right now. As a gesture to your grandmother — who, if she didn’t exist, neither would you. I want you to pray right now, just for the sake of challenging yourself. I want you to find a place alone, and kneel down — against all your stubborn tendencies telling you not to — and close your eyes and think of one concentrated thought: your brother.
I want you to think of your love for him. Your fear of him dying. Your feeling of powerlessness. Your feelings of anger and frustration. Your feelings of confusion. You don’t need to ask to get anything. You don’t need to try and fix anything. You don’t need to get any answers. Just focus on every moment you’ve ever had with your brother. Reflect on every memory, from years ago, and even from just earlier today. Let the feelings wash over you. Let the feelings take you away from yourself. Let them bring you closer to him. Let yourself be overwhelmed by the unyielding and uncompromising emotion of him until you lose yourself in it.
Think about him more than you’ve ever thought about anyone before. Think about him more deeply and with more detail than you’ve ever thought about anything. Think about how incredible it is that you have a brother — that he exists at all. Focus on him until you feel like your soul is going to burst. Tell him in your heart and soul that you love him. Feel that love pouring out of you from all sides. Then get up and go be with him and your family. And you can tell your grandmother that you prayed for your brother.

The Colour Thesaurus by Ingrid Sundberg

What a brilliant idea! Writer Ingrid Sundberg put this very helpful word resource together to be able to "paint a more evocative image in my reader’s mind". I'll definitely be using it, colour blindness and all.

It's from over here on her blog but I hope she doesn't mind me copying it here for ease of use.


Even walking in the woods on a sunny day: a short story

Even though it was broad daylight, and even though it was sunny and warm, and even though nature seemed to be singing to her through the woods, she became nervous when she saw a man up ahead, coming towards her along the path.
    "Beautiful morning, isn't it?" he called from a good distance off, in a friendly tone.
     Her breathing began to deepen again.

Art in wildlife photography

There are so many amazing and thrilling photographs at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition on in CHQ at the moment, it's odd that the one chosen as the winning entry is in my eyes one of the few dull ones. (It seems to have received very few of the public votes as well.)

Though I loved lots of the straight-up compositions for their natural beauty or immediate drama and spectacle, I leaned towards the subset that displayed some element of art, ones that reminded me of paintings or emphasised something beautiful in the form, colour or context of the subject.

I voted in the end for Richard Packwood's 'The Greeting'. I love the internal harmonies, the musicality of the elements, as well as the more obvious narrative suggestiveness of the two elephants interacting. The bravery too in presenting it as a black and white image reminds me of the maxim: less is more.

The note says:

The greeting

The remains of trees half-submerged in Lake Kariba, the world's largest (by volume) artificial lake, stand sentry around a spit of land. They are ghostly reminders of an ecosystem that was flooded in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the construction of the massive Kariba Dam across the Zambezi River, between Zimbabwe and Zambia. As the lake formed, some 6,000 large animals, including elephants, were relocated as part of Operation Noah, many of them to Matusadona National Park. The lake forms the northern boundary of the park, which is very remote. 'Most people get around by boat,' says Richard. 'We were the first visitors to our camp for five years.' Attracted to this view of the lake by the surreal atmosphere, Richard began watching a lone elephant splashing about in the water. When he realised that another one was fast approaching along the sand spit and that the two would greet each other, he knew he had the chance of a magical shot. That he managed to catch the moment unobscured by any of the trees was a matter of luck, as he had limited time to move position. So for him the shot is a gift from nature.

President Michael D Higgins' speech in Windsor Castle

A Shoilse Banríon, A Mhargacht Ríoga:

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness:

Thank you for your kind and generous welcome and for the warm hospitality you have extended to me, to Sabina and to our delegation.

That welcome is very deeply felt and appreciated by me, and by the people of Ireland, whom I represent. However long it may have taken, Your Majesty, I can assure you that this first State Visit of a President of Ireland to the United Kingdom is a very visible sign of the warmth and maturity of the relationship between our two countries. It is something to be truly welcomed and celebrated.

Your Majesty:

You famously used some words of Irish during your State Visit to Ireland. Today I would also like to draw from the oral tradition of our ancient language a seanfhocal, or wise saying, often applied to the mutuality of relationships. It observes simply:

Ar scáth a chéile a mhairimid

Because scáth literally means shadow, this phrase is sometimes translated as we live in the shadow of each other. However, there is a more open and more accommodating meaning.

Scáth also means shelter. The word embodies the simple truth that physical proximity brings with it an inevitability of both mutual influence and interaction. But more importantly, I believe, it implies reciprocal hospitality and generosity; the kind of generosity reflected in your words this evening that encourages us to embrace the best version of each other.

Ireland and Britain live in both the shadow and in the shelter of one another, and so it has been since the dawn of history. Through conquest and resistance, we have cast shadows on each other, but we have also gained strength from one another as neighbours and, most especially, from the contribution of those who have travelled between our islands in recent decades.

The contribution of Irish men and Irish women to life in Britain, which Your Majesty has acknowledged with such grace, is indeed extensive and lends itself to no simple description. It runs from building canals, roads and bridges in previous decades, to running major companies in the present, all the while pouring Irish personality and imagination into the English language and its literature.

Like so many of our compatriots, Sabina and I feel very much at home when visiting Britain, which should be the case with our nearest neighbour and our close friend.

Tonight we celebrate the deeply personal, close neighbourly connection which is embodied in the hundreds of thousands of Irish and British people who have found shelter on each others shores.

Your Majesty:

History evolves, if we are fortunate, into greater mutual understanding between peoples. The welcome that is so naturally afforded to British visitors in Ireland today was, I think, wholeheartedly expressed on the occasion of your State Visit in 2011. Your gracious and genuine curiosity, your evident delight in that visit, including its equine dimension, made it very easy for us to express to you and, through you to the British people, the warmth of neighbourly feelings. It laid the basis for an authentic and ethical hospitality between our two countries.

Admirably, you chose not to shy away from the shadows of the past, recognising that they cannot be ignored when we consider the relationship between our islands. We valued your apt and considered words when you addressed some of the painful moments of our mutual history, and we were moved by your gestures of respect at sites of national historical significance in Ireland.

These memorable moments and these moving words merit our appreciation and, even more, our reciprocity. While the past must be respectfully recognised, it must not imperil the potential of the present or the possibilities of the future ar fidireachta gan teorainn our endless possibilities working together.

This present occasion, which completes a circle begun by your historic visit three years ago, marks the welcome transformation in relations between our countries over recent years a transformation that has been considerably pr gressed by the advancement of peace in Northern Ireland.

We owe a great debt to all of those who had the courage to work towards, and make manifest, that peace. I wish to acknowledge here the remarkable contributions of my predecessors Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. I am especially pleased that former President McAleese, and her husband Martin, are here with us this evening.

We must, however, never forget those who died, were bereaved, or injured, during a tragic conflict. As the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur wrote, to be forgotten is to die twice. We owe a duty to all those who lost their lives, the duty to build together in peace; it is the only restitution, the only enduring justice we can offer them.

We share, also, the imperative to be unwavering in our support of the people of Northern Ireland as we journey together towards the shelter and security of true reconciliation. We celebrate what has been achieved but we must also constantly renew our commitment to a process that requires vigilance and care.

Your Majesty:

We have moved on from a past where our relations were often troubled, to a present where as you have indicated - Ireland and the United Kingdom meet each other in mutual respect, close partnership and sincere friendship. That friendship is informed by the many matters of mutual interest in which we work together and support one another.

In recent times we have seen our two Governments working ever more closely together in the European Union and in the United Nations. We have seen deepening partnership in the area of trade,as well as in development aid where we both share a common commitment to tackling hunger and upscaling nutrition.

The future we each desire, and seek to work towards is one where Ireland and the United Kingdom stand together to seek common opportunities and to face common global challenges as partners and friends.

Your Majesty:

Ar scáth a chile a mhairimd. The shadow of the past has become the shelter of the present. While we grieve together for lost lives, we will not let any painful aspect of our shared history deflect us from crafting a future that offers hope and opportunity for the British and Irish people.

We again thank you for the hospitality that allows us, on this most joyous occasion, to celebrate the bonds of mutual understanding between our two peoples, and the warm, enduring friendship on which we have so happily embarked.

I therefore invite you, distinguished guests, to stand and join me in a toast:

To the health and happiness of Her Majesty and His Royal Highness, and the people of the United Kingdom; To a creative cooperation and a sustainable partnership between our countries and our peoples; and To valued neighbours whose friendship we truly cherish.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.

The origins of PR in journalism's fondness for sensationalism

We give out about PR companies, often justifiably, but coverage likes this should remind us that it was the Media that created PR: the newspapers and television and radio that we prop up with our money and attention; they have always tended towards the sensationalism they believe we prefer over dry facts.

‘White collar’ crime


‘White collar’ crime, financial fraud, exploitation and dereliction of duty go on all the time because the perpetrators simply aren’t ‘in touch’ enough with their society to be bothered. They can’t get past their sense that it’s all just a game, survival of the fittest, cat and mouse with regulators and authorities and voters, a contest that gives them the same kind of buzz as sports. They blind themselves to the sidelines, to the ‘downside’, the dark side: fellow human beings going hungry and homeless because the game is never a level playing field.