Monthly Archives: September 2018

The canvas can do miracles

Art for art's sake

Art for art’s sake

‘Mmm, I like this,’ said the voice behind me.
I turned and saw a woman who was taking a close interest in one of my paintings. She glanced at me briefly before turning her gaze back to the painting that was hanging from the railings on Merrion Square. It was a Sunday morning in early May and the place was busy with tourists taking in the colourful canvases. I had recently managed to get a pitch at the city’s most popular outdoor art market and I liked the friendly atmosphere. It was proving to be fruitful for me and I had met some interesting people.
‘Good,’ I said, following the woman’s look to a seascape I had painted a few months earlier. On a breezy day in September, I remembered, when the wind was fresh and clouds scudded across a blue sky. ‘Do you recognise the scene?’
She stepped closer to the painting, her eyes roaming over the canvas. ‘No, but I like the energy. And I think that you’ve captured the moment beautifully.’
I raised an eyebrow in response and looked at the painting that I had called Sea-scape. It was one that I had painted quickly, the idea for it coming almost fully formed at the moment of conception.
That did not happen often, and I was immensely satisfied with the result. And so, it appeared, was someone else.
‘Where is it?’ she asked, looking at me.
‘It’s from the end of the West Pier in Dun Laoghaire, looking across Dublin Bay to Howth. There was a yacht race on that day but I was only interested in the small boat just beyond the harbour entrance.’ I pointed to red brushstrokes that showed the boat with a white sail flapping in the wind. It was being lifted by an incoming wave and the two sailors, in their yellow lifejackets, were holding on to the side rails. In the middle of the bay yachts were racing; and beyond them the sun glinted off windows on sea-facing houses in Howth.‘The single boat is eye-catching,’ she said.

The Beacon, Baltimore

The Beacon, Baltimore

‘Do you sail?’
‘Not now, but I did once upon a time. I lived in Baltimore, in west Cork, and I’m familiar with scenes like this. They were always exciting, and that’s what I remember best.’
The woman was, I suspect, in her mid-thirties and she had short, dark hair that just reached the collar of her cream-coloured blouse. The handles of a leather bag hung on a shoulder and she twirled sunglasses in her hand.
‘But since I moved away, and that’s a long time ago, I’ve no family there anymore…this painting brings back memories.’
‘Happy ones, I hope.’
She grinned. ‘Yes, very happy ones.’

It was nice hearing such positive words, something that I never expected when I finished my first painting. I was in my late teens and liked visiting galleries with my mother and listening to her talk about her favourite artists. So, after a few false starts, I began painting, something that I kept secret for as long as I worked on it. A month or so later I nervously removed the old cloth and revealed my maiden effort.
‘Very good,’ Mum said ‘and remember how good it makes you feel because others will feel it too. And that’s a wonderful thing.’ She gave me a hug, and told me again that she loved what I had done.
She had always dabbled in art, but began to take it seriously after my father died.
He had been killed in a car crash and I remember the sound of her cries as she rocked herself to sleep. Losing the man she loved was painful, beyond words, and it was her love of painting that saved her, and me. I didn’t understand that at the time, but looking back I see how strong she was, and that her search for peace was something that she had to do to give her life meaning.
Over the years she sold many paintings at local fetes and Arts & Craft fairs. That was a great source of pride, but there was more to it, a deeper feeling that I could not see, but knew was there.
‘It’s all about finding peace of mind,’ she told me as we sat in the studio one day ‘and the clarity it brings.’ Then she pointed to different features in a painting and how they worked together to make a coherent, pleasing story. ‘One day you’ll understand,’ she said, squeezing my shoulder.
I nodded, but it took many years before I finally understood what her words meant.

‘And I really like the rhythm,’ the woman said, as my artist friend on the next pitch gave a thumbs-up sign.
‘And what rhythm is that?’ I asked, as another person stopped to look at my wall of paintings. I had discovered that talking with a potential customer was good as it attracted others, and I had a quick word with my latest visitor.
‘The rhythm of life,’ replied the woman turning to the painting. ‘The little boat has left the safety of the marina and is struggling in the waves as it heads into the bay where the water is calmer. And then there is the far-off land, past the big yachts, that the little boat may one day reach.’
I nodded.
‘It’s like a metaphor for life,’ she added and crossed her arms.
‘And do you interpret dreams too?’ I asked, and that got a laugh.
She shook her head. ‘No, but I have been dreaming about finding a painting like this, and I’d like to buy it. So, how much is it?’ she asked, before turning again to the canvas that might just be on its way to a new home.
I checked the price on the back and she said ‘I’ll take it.’ We shook hands and I asked her if she painted.
‘I don’t, but I’m a musician and I love paintings even though I can barely paint a garden fence.’
It was my turn to laugh.
‘And I hope that you have a good place for it,’ I said, as I began wrapping the painting.
‘I have a blank wall in a room where I like to read and listen to music, so it will suit perfectly. It’s a lovely room but it’s been waiting for something like this to complete it. And I’m delighted to have found it.’ She was happy and so was I, as I knew my painting was going to be appreciated.
‘So, what more can you tell me about it?’ she asked, stepping back to let a couple walk by.

I spent a decade living in London where any number of attractions demanded and got my attention and painting wasn’t one of them. I went to plenty of art galleries and exhibitions but I didn’t lift a paintbrush until I returned to Dublin.
My mother had passed away years before and I often walked on the West Pier in Dun Laoghaire as I reacquainted myself with the place. The tangy smell of the sea air and the breeze, sometimes gentle and sometimes strong, were always a draw and I loved it. And with my mother’s old brushes by my side I made quite a few paintings of scenes from the pier, many of which I had, thankfully, sold.
And it was with great anticipation that I accepted my friend Sheila’s invitation to go sailing from the yacht club. ‘Just do as I say,’ she said as we sat in her boat before setting-off.
She was an experienced sailor who was enjoying her new boat, and on a sunny day in early July we were ready to sail. Having often stood on the West pier as boats made their way into the bay I was delighted to be finally enjoying the experience.

Dun Laoghaire the sea

Dun Laoghaire marina…to the sea

‘You ok?’ Sheila asked.
‘Aye, aye, Captain,’ I said, grinning from ear to ear.
Past the lighthouses and into the bay the water began to get choppy.
I grabbed the hand-rail and rocked up and down and back and forth as we bounced about like a cork. I was a little nervous but not afraid, especially as I was with Sheila who knew what she was doing.
No, it was more like I was thinking about something else, but I couldn’t quite work out what that was.
Sheila pulled ropes, shouted instructions to me and used the tiller to guide us to calmer waters. It was demanding, and I had no time to think of anything other than what I was told to do.
After four or five minutes in the bubbling water Sheila shouted something and I managed to do what she wanted and the sails filled. The boat lurched forward and I was suddenly lifted into the air, before plopping back down. It had all happened in a heartbeat but I felt as though I had been flying. I knew it was crazy but I couldn’t deny that something was different.
Then a wave then hit the boat and completely drenched me. Sheila looked over, a look of concern on her face.
‘Are you alright, this is a bit rougher than I had expected,’ she said.
I didn’t remember my reply but Sheila said that she was surprised when I began to laugh, and embrace the choppy waters like an old sea dog.
Back in the yacht club Sheila asked me what had happened. She thought that I must have banged my head, and if I did it was only to knock some sense into me.
Sailing about later that afternoon I thought about my ‘flying’ incident.
When I was lifted into the air all sense of fear disappeared and I experienced an unexpected calmness. It was quiet, and I felt and understood everything around me. I had been released, that was the only word that made sense to me, and I had found my happy place. And the thing was that I could ‘feel it’ just like my mother had said all those years ago.
The sun was a big, orange ball falling into the sea as Sheila and I talked about our trip and I told her about my epiphany.
‘Oh to be beside the sea, is that it?’ she said with a knowing look, and I happily accepted her offer of another trip into Dublin Bay. The sea had given me something special, and I tried to capture it in my paintings. It was difficult, but sometimes I got close and for that I was thankful.

‘And that’s why I called it Sea-scape?’ I said, ‘because it was at sea that I escaped into a new freedom.’
The woman smiled. ‘I understand, and thank you for telling me that. Now, whenever I look at the painting I will be able to see you being bounced around before finding your happy place. It’s a wonderful story.’
I nodded. ‘And I hope that you find yours.’
She put the painting under her arm, slipped on her sunglasses and was about to leave when she turned to me. ‘I have, and it’s called Sea-scape.’

The canvas can do miracles

The canvas can do miracles

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Open wide!

It all started out so good – just like a good starter should do. My cousin and her husband who were visiting Dublin had invited me to dinner and, going on previous experiences, a night out with these folks and some other relationships was always worthwhile. Plenty of chat, food, drinks and no end of rib tickling stories would ensure all had a great time. It was all good fun until something got stuck in my throat, and it didn’t want to budge. I did as much as I could to help the offending morsel on its way south, but all to no avail. I was stuck, just like the little blighter that ruined my evening. Later, after an uncomfortable few hours in bed, wondering if something really serious had happened to me, I finally collapsed into the arms of Morpheus, exhausted.

A&E - safe at last

A&E – safe at last

In the morning when I tried to have a bowl of cereal I realised that my situation was unchanged. I was nervous and felt my heart beat a little faster. As I sat at the table I began to think about something other than my discomfort hoping that a muscle might relax and rid me of the blockage. It was useless, and soon I was unable to swallow water. I was desperate, and knew that I had to visit the local hospital.
The Accident & Emergency area in the hospital was busy when I arrived and took a seat at the back of the room. People of all ages and sizes sat close together expressing their varying degrees of pain in sounds that grew all too familiar. It was not a happy place but definitely better than where they were before. Groans, coughs and the trilling of mobile phones filled the room while the crowd shifted as patients were called. Unfortunately, due to a full room and two motor accident victims being brought in, I waited all night before being seen. It was a real drag, but when I compared my situation with others about me, I exhaled slowly and turned the page of the book that I was reading.

Finally I was examined by a doctor who looked about as tired as I felt. After an x-ray indicated that I indeed did have a foreign body within he scheduled a full test for later in the day. I thanked him and snuggled down in a corner chair and grabbed a few hours of needy sleep.

Just before midday the doctor returned and told me what was going to happen.
I managed a painful gulp but still nothing moved.

The doctor said that I was about to have an endoscopic investigation, and stories from friends who had had a similar examination came flooding back. They had all disliked the experience, and I went anxiously with the porter along white corridors to my appointment. He made some small talk as we walked, doing his best to ease my worried mind.

There were at least six people waiting or preparing equipment when I entered the theatre, and took off my jacket.
‘Just lie down here, please,’ the doctor said, indicating the bed around which the others, who were dressed in green garb, moved with purpose. I noted flashing lights on a tall machine from which a long, black cable that seemed to go on forever, spiralled. Jeez, he’s not planning to stick that thing into my mouth, I thought, a quiver of apprehension running up my spine. It was another uncomfortable moment, but there was no going back.

Now that's what I call a foreign body

Wow, now that’s what I call a foreign body

This was my first time ever to visit a hospital as a patient and the quiet reassurance of those green-garbed professionals was a big help. They explained the procedure and after a few deep breaths the doctor got the show on the road. With my teeth biting into a hard circular ring the doctor said those fateful words that are usually heard in a dentist’s surgery.
‘Open wide,’ he said and there followed the first tickling at the back of my throat. It felt horrible as he probed about and I didn’t help matters by gagging noisily in response. Finally after a couple of attempts the black tube slipped past my tongue and descended into the bowels of my inner self. I thought that I was in Alien and expecting a monster to burst from my stomach at any moment. I could feel something moving about inside me before my breathing levelled out to something manageable.
‘You’re doing fine,’ a voice said gently as a tear was wiped from my eye.
The doctor probed away and assessed his work on the attached monitor. He jiggled the tube up and down before the image on screen drew a sharp breath. ‘Wow, now that’s what I call a foreign body,’ he exclaimed as others leaned closer for a better look.
‘What’s that?’ asked someone.
‘A piece of stir fry beef, I believe,’ said the doctor holding his hand steady and clicking a photograph of the obstruction.
One wag’s quip ‘More like won’t-stir fry,’ brought a fit of laughter to the room. I appreciated the sharp comment and gagged a response. I must remember that, I thought, just before I was given an injection and passed out almost immediately.

I woke hours later in a strange bed but thankfully rid of a certain, unwanted morsel. I stayed in bed overnight, before being released with a clean bill of health. And a photo of the dark, beefy obstruction. The doctor told me in no uncertain terms to steer clear of that type of food. ‘It’s not good for you.’
‘Steer or stir?’ I asked, and this time I was able to share the laugh.

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‘It’s for You…’

Crisp and clear

Crisp and clear

A chilly, breeze blew across the cobblestones and the wedding group shivered, again. The photographer waved his hands wanting us to get closer and, when all was ready, he looked through the eyepiece and said out loud ‘Cheese.’
We grinned, smiled or whatever as the flash went off, briefly lighting the grey afternoon.
‘Don’t move,’ cried the photographer ‘another one, please.’ When he was finished we broke into small groups and stood about chatting about the ceremony while older weddinggoers, more familiar with such events, headed for the comfort and warmth of a car, and onto the hotel. It was a few weeks before Christmas and the day was crisp and clear, with the sun only a temporary, but welcome, presence.

We climbed into Tony’s car and we drove along the Coast Road, past Clontarf and a windswept and empty Dollymount Strand where the  last vestiges of the setting sun were reflected in the windows of the houses that looked upon Dublin Bay. And just beyond the beach, in the dark waters, the white horses were galloping ever closer.
At the hotel in Howth I stood in front of a big fire and warmed my hands. ‘Don’t hog it,’ cried Kate as she discreetly eased past me and bathed in the warm glow. She couldn’t hide her delight and cooed with pleasure. ‘I would love a hot whiskey, darling,’ she said and kissed me on the cheek.
‘You and the rest of them,’ I said and went to the bar.
I also bought drinks for Tony and Claire and went back and re-joined Kate who had now recovered and was ‘warm all over.’ That was great as I once again stood in front of the blazing coals. It was invigorating and soon I stepped away and let some other freezing souls enjoy the fire of Howth.

Fire of Howth

Fire of Howth

Bill, the groom, was my best friend and we had met on our first day in school. Growing up we played football for the same club; robbed orchards; mostly liked the same music; learned to drive within a few months of one another and later chased girls. It was the best of times, and I now wished him the best of luck in the new phase of his life that was just beginning. He and Caroline met at a barbecue two years ago, and he was now happily wearing a new wedding ring. And a smile wider than Dublin Bay.
I was delighted for the new couple and accepted a drink when Tony came back from the bar. It was early and the noise level was already beginning to rise. What would the night bring, I thought, and deep down an idea began to form? I tried to grab it but it was too quick for me, so I let it go and downed a mouthful of a creamy Guinness. ‘Cheers,’ I said to the other three, and ‘here’s to a great night.’

The conversation around the dining table was lively, as the eight of us had plenty of fun ribbing one another, something that we had done for years. That night it was particularly entertaining and helped along by mucho vino. They say that it loosens the tongue and Dave was on fine form telling jokes. ‘You dirty old man,’ laughed Kate when Dave told a particularly rude one. The time passed quickly and, with the speeches over, the dancing started. The DJ turned the music up and soon the floor was packed with giddy dancers.
Over the next hour or so I met and talked with friends and Bill’s cousin, Alex, who I had not seen for a long time. He had moved to Los Angeles and was doing very nicely in the music business and living near the beach. He invited me to ‘drop in’ anytime and I carefully put his business card away. And it was just after he joined the dancers that the idea came back, and this time I got a hold of it. I grinned, lost in thought, and then went off to find Kate, Tony and Claire. It was going to be a team effort but I knew that I would be singled out as the ringleader. I didn’t care, and for Bill, who had played pranks on me before, it was ‘pay-back time’.

I gathered the merry pranksters together and I laid out the plan.
‘You’re mad, he’ll never fall for it,’ said Kate, shaking her head.
But Claire loved it. ‘That’s a great idea, Joe, and crazy enough to work,’ she said and looked at Tony who was grinning his face off.
We spent another ten minutes going over the plan until we were happy. ‘Well, Claire, are you ready?’ I asked.
She took a last sip of wine, smacked her lips and nodded. ‘Let’s do it,’ she said and took up her position beside the public telephone at the end of the bar.
I spotted Bill dancing with an aunt, and I nodded for the game to begin.

Claire picked up the phone, dialled the front desk and asked for Bill. ‘I’m calling from California. Can you get him quickly, please, as this is costing me a fortune.’ She kept a straight face and her American accent was acceptable, especially as it was dulled in all the background noise.
Tony and I watched as a staff member came up the stairs and was pointed over to Bill. He leaned close to hear what she was saying and then he was off down the stairs two at a time. We let him get to the bottom before we made our way to the small landing, and waited.
Behind us, Claire now playing the part of Bill’s old, Californian flame, Debbie, waited as the receptionist handed over the phone.
‘Hello,’ he said and Claire answered with a big, friendly ‘Hi, there, Bill, what a surprise, eh?’
I could see him hold the phone close to his ear, concentrating on the words coming ‘all the way from America’. He was relaxed and crossed one foot over the other and talked with ‘Debbie’. Tony tapped me on the back and whispered, ‘He’s going to kill you.’ I nodded as Bill kept talking. I could just hear him say ‘…how did you find out?’ when Claire put the phone down. She was laughing hard and had to wipe the tears from her eyes.
‘Hello, hello, hello…’said Bill as the line went dead. He shook his head, handed the phone back and turned around. Then he stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked up. It was like a scene from a movie when he saw us and we couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
‘I’ll kill ya, Joe,’ he cried and scampered up the stairs.
He didn’t, thankfully, and The Night of the Caller has not been forgotten. And as time moves on I am very much aware that somebody out there has my number, and is just waiting to ‘make that call’.

'It's for You...'

‘It’s for You…’

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