Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Ode to Nutella

Today I'm going to share with you one of my favourite poems. So grab an armchair and sit by the fire (or turn on the air-conditioner if that makes you feel better). Composed in 2012 just after the early noughties, Ode to Nutella is one of Ketki Madane's finest works. Historians believe it was composed in the kitchen, but alternative readings affirm it was the bedroom.

   Ode to Nutella

   Nutella, I write you this poetry,
   To you I'll plead guilty,
   Your familiar chocolatey brown,
   Turns my frown upside down
   I'll spoon you for an eternity.

There you have it ladles and jellyspoons. Lines so moving they would have inspired Robert Browning to rephrase Andrea del Sarto: "Ah, but a man's reach should elude his grasp, or what's a jar of Nutella for?"

One post-structuralist academic was particularly taken by the complexity of Madane's tapestry. William H Kroneburg of the University of Stuttgart wrote: "Madane's ode combines postmodern directness with Irish jingle in a mixture shocking the senses. Who could not be startled with someone getting down and dirty with a jar regardless of the contents. Professor Bloom has rightly stated the juxtaposition of legalese and browniness (perhaps a reference to Robert Browning) is a metaphor for court upholstery. The evocation of vegemite through its legitimate absence turns the nutty narrator back on structuralist fabulation, leaving the reader licking her feminist lips in lustiness."

Madane was flattered by Kroneburg's review, asking if she could put it on the cover of her anthology containing similar limerick-style poetry, aptly entitled, "That's what she said".

Friday, 22 April 2016

Awkward dating profiles

Dating sites. Yeah, they're fun aren't they, marketing yourself to the world. Highlighting your strengths (passion and energy), hiding your weaknesses (passion for pizza). I thought I'd try something different. Rather than concentrate on my obsession with nature, exercise and love of art house cinema, I'd be truly authentic: proclaim my passion for poetry. Surely I'd have the intellectual women of the world slavering over my rhyming couplets, hyperventilating over the skilful hyperbole, panting for more meaningful metaphors.

So I posted this as my profile:

     It is the case that I am one that does not lightly 
     Take the flame. But if you stay to read these lines, 
     Perhaps you'll find someone who is not sprightly 
     Or rough or handsome, but fair enough and sometimes 
     Even nice. So don't think twice about replying, 
     And I promise I won't write in verse unless 
     Of course, you want me to. Have you ever been flying? 
     I travel lots, and am a lover of fine food I must confess, 
     And wine and coffee, they're also good in moderate 
     Amounts. Yes discipline I have in spades, 
     Believe me it's true! How else do I get up 
     And toil, every day a self remade? 
     It is to boldly fill the earthen cup and drink 
     The elixir of life. What do you think?

In the immortal words of the last line, what do you think? Can you suggest a title?

Monday, 11 April 2016

Space Juice - the journey of writing

My latest journey is finally complete: an inner journey spent at cafes and staying awake at night tapping away in front of the PC. Or leaning head in hand dreaming of other worlds.

This journey is the completion of my novel Space Juice, finally published on Amazon!

I won’t reveal how long it took to write. This extends down the years, perhaps into another decade. Over these years I’ve learnt much about the art of fiction writing. My craft has changed, definitely for the better. Early on I was verbose, my style flowery – as of a newly graduated English literature student keen to show his wares. With more experience and wider reading through all genres I’ve tamed my style.

I’ve learnt the art of description, how to write action scenes, narrative development, what to imply and how to edit. Oh how to edit! How to kiss goodbye those sentences that don’t quite fit. How to cull an entire paragraph, nay, entire chapters that stray from the story.

I like to think Space Juice contains incisive satire and social commentary, but these are not included for the mere sake of it. The real world teems with absurdity, beauty, corruption, avarice, desire and the quest for survival. The politics in science fiction and fantasy mirror past, present and future scenarios, and Space Juice draws on all three. It is set in the far-flung future, although the reader may find echoes of historical and contemporary events that I have referenced, intentionally or otherwise. These elements, as well as reflecting reality, make for a good story when properly treated.

But already this post becomes too serious. Space Juice: A Sci-Fi (Mis)Adventure is lighthearted, silly and fun. Straddling the boundaries of comedy and science fiction, my first novel falls into a subgenre that I feel has been all too underexploited.

Many thanks to my editor, Chris Parrott, and to James at GoOnWrite.com for the cover design:

Friday, 19 April 2013

Day 25 - From Crypt to Coquetry

Chloe is sitting on the plinth under the O'Connell statue, nibbling at a sandwich when I approach at 10:32. In the days of mobile phones and instant updates we have managed a rendez-vous without exchanging digital identities.

There are no fixed plans for the day, other than visit the Guinness Storehouse (a revisit, for me). We begin our wanderings aimlessly, as all wanderings should be. They lead us to Christ Church Cathedral, steeped in history: the crypt goes back a thousand years. It is this, of course, which we enter. Like all old subterranean places should be, it is dusty and musty, the ceilings are low, the lighting is feeble. A curator flits behind pillars, one eye on the mysterious guests who are really just two naive tourists. There is a coffee shop in the corner. Tables lie next to relics, no one is seated. Why not have tea in the crypt or filter coffee? Or enjoy a scone near the Rat and the Cat? We don't. It would have to be the gloomiest  place to have coffee imaginable, ensconced by those grey brick supports, served by an old lady who emerges from the shadows once in awhile to chat with those who have seen the light of day, recently.

Admirers of relics should of course visit this foreboding dungeon. It is the biggest crypt in Ireland and Britain. You feel the weight of history, and the cathedral, pressing down on your soul.

Where else to go next but the complete opposite? The Guinness Storehouse and its rarefied Gravity Bar, where the best views of Dublin may be  imbibed with a pint of black liquid.

View of Dublin

Chloe makes a good co-tourist. We're both equally curious and occasionally prone to losing each other. We enjoy many sweet silences - I find this is rare with people, these days. Maybe because the first thing a lot of people do when silence ensues is whip out their phones. Chloe takes two sips of her complimentary Guinness then hands it to me. She nibbles on another sandwich, smiling occasionally. Gazing out the window on a beautiful sunny day looking at the myriad of houses, smoke coming from their stacks, is as refreshing as the drink in hand.

As the afternoon ambles onward I mention to Chloe that I want to see one of Dublin's most cherished landmarks, the statue of Molly Malone. All legends have their variations, and Molly has assumed mythical status in Dublin. The statue was unveiled in 1988, but the legend of Molly goes back 400 years. Was she real or not? Chaste fishmonger or urban whore? Or both? Whatever she was, I lose no time posing for a discreet photo shoot next to the well-endowed bronze woman.

The sun reclines, and we head back to our respective B&Bs. Although I get Chloe's email, it is obvious that after a delightful day we are unlikely to see each other again. She is off to the north west tip of Ireland to protest against logging of protected trees, or something like that. It was good to have company. Friend for a day, memory for a lifetime.

I walk up Gardiner Street, enter my temporary abode, close the curtains, and have an early evening siesta.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Day 24: Recollections in the Temple

Yes, you've guessed it. I'm not actually travelling any more but writing this blog from memory. A year later! My photos serve as a guide. Will I ever finish this log of my travels? Eventually. But in a sense I'm still travelling. I pulled up stumps in Sydney recently and moved to London, so much did these travels influence me. But I will try to recall the rest of these voyages - the next 40 odd days in fact, before moving on to my pilgrim's progress in the big smoke that is London.

Day 24 was a quiet day - initially.

After sending my affairs back to Sydney, I wander around aimlessly, as is my wont, until I enter Dublin's famous Temple Bar district. I pick the nearest random pub, plug myself into a chair, and listen to the successive folk musicians who play upon the stage to an audience who can both drink, chat and listen at the same time - all with respect. Songs range from love of Dublin, love of history, love of love and each musician strums with heartfelt emotion and total absorption in their art.

During a break between musicians I drag out my notebook and begin jotting the day's memories. I notice a young girl with brown hair and a neat curved fringe doing what surely is the same thing. I summon the courage to approach her. She is from Normandy, her English is sparse but commendable, and she more than wants to talk. She is pretty (is anyone from France not?), even with the yellow overlapping teeth, and very sweet in the way she searches for English words - "What is it I want to say? Ah, arrgh, drat! drat. Nevermind."

My delightful chat with this welcoming French girl - and we must have talked for at least an hour - is cut short, because I query a couple of blokes buying some creamy looking shots. "What are those?"

"They're good. Want one?"

Only fate knows if this was a good or bad decision. I agree, and they join our party. I have lost the exclusive company of Chloe, but gained a creamy shot.

They are from all over the place - one is from Italy, one from Spain and one is Irish with impeccable French. He and Chloe converse in total fluency for a while. The trio are beta-testers, and not for business programs. They have the job that many of us lads would sell our soul for - testing computer games. Work comes and goes, but at the moment they are trying to break a first person shooter. How fun would that be? Spending your day trying to run through walls, blast pipes with a BFG, falling 100 feet just to make sure you die.

Everyone goes outside for a cigarette. Everyone in this group smokes. I join them. After all, I am a social smoker! Even if that means I'm sometimes having a social cigarette ... by myself. The conversation continues over beer barrels for tables. Another guy, travelling alone, joins us. He is from Germany, has massive black hole earrings, tattoos on neck, arms and legs, facial piercings. He is an alternative dude who is soft and sweet. Chloe takes an instant liking to him. Later on I find them inside, legs interlocked, deep in shallow conversation. If only I hadn't agreed to that shot.

Last drinks are called and we all part amicably. Chloe and I agree to meet tomorrow. She hasn't seen the Guinness Storehouse and I have an extra day on my ticket. We'll meet at the statue of Daniel O'Connell, 10:30 tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Day 23 - Packing up stuff

I wander about aimlessly on Day 23, but do achieve an important objective. I mail some of my stuff back home. You see, the Australian dollar is doing so mighty fine that I'm buying too much - especially clothes - and my suitcase is rapidly threatening to become a big bulging black bag about to burst. It's pretty heavy too.

So I grab meeself a cardboard box from Dublin's central post office on Connolly Street - a historic building in itself - and head back to my room to see how much I can fit inside it, or, I should say, cram inside it. 

To my surprise and great relief, I can fit about half my clothes, some of my shoes, and extra stuff I thought I'd need, such as a spare pair of gloves, a spare beanie, spare socks, extra jumpers etc. I get the feeling I'm going to miss some of this stuff when I go to Paris. But now I don't care, there's a lot I can buy with the good exchange rate.

I fold the box into a cube that any geometrician would be proud of, tape it with that ugly brown masking tape and, hi ho, walk down Upper Gardiner Street to the post office. It takes me a while to fill out the customs declaration form. Declaring a set of socks takes up so much space there's almost not enough room to mention  'half filled notebook', and I have to leave out 'pretty blue woollen scarf'. The form asks you to be precise with dimensions, so if I was packing underpants I'd probably lie.

I stroll back to the B&B, liberated as one who has divested themselves of life's sundries. I imagine my box on a journey of its own - by van, crane, ship ... I could write "A Blog of the Box" - but don't worry, I'll spare you.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Day 22 - The Gravity of drinking Guinness

Arguably the most famous tourist attraction in Dublin is the Guinness Storehouse. The approach to the storehouse conjures all sorts of steampunk fantasies.

A few friends who have been here pointed out that although it is a must see, it is also a glorified marketing exercise for Guinness. The first three floors talk you through the making of this great stout. I plead ignorance on the intricacies of brewing booze. The manufacture of whiskey and stout seem have a lot in common. I believe one of the prime differences is the roasting of barley that gives Guinness its distinctive black and creamy texture. Arthur Guinness certainly turned beer making into an science and art.

The elaborate exhibition contains a waterfall emphasising the importance of water and a trellis of climbing hops which have climbed at least five metres up the wall!  There is a bewildering array of pipes and valves, a veritable maze of tubing. I am reminded of the complex mechanisms of the Tower Bridge in London. The age of the technology looks similar here, and just as complicated - human ingenuity at its finest. Maybe some of the pipes are just air-conditioning vents or simple plumbing. Who knows? 

 Nineteenth and early twentieth century technology was as mind-blowing then as technology is now, and perhaps more aesthetically pleasing.

Further up is a whole exhibit devoted to the history of Guinness advertising. The retro posters give a sliver of insight into 20th century values. These posters are more artistic than ads today. They aim to get messages across simply and are from an age before theories of advertising (and persuasion) had matured. Many pubs display posters like these as collectors items. They may seem strange and dated to us, but that was popular culture back then.

At the very top of the Guinness Storehouse is the Gravity Bar which offers the best views of Dublin. Unfortunately, by the time I reach the top night has fallen. But when I get my complimentary Guinness the bartender advises me to keep my ticket and come back during the day, for this is a sight that is not to be missed.

I linger over my Guinness and chat to a couple of girls who plan on going clubbing tonight. Am I getting too old for that? The bartender informs them of some of Dublin's best nightclubs and I bid them farewell - they've got to go home first and spend two hours - yes two hours - getting ready.