The Galmire Girls

August 30, 2010

Me: On the train to Killarney surrounded by the Glanmire women's basketball team.

Jesse: Dirty limerick ensues?

Me:
The Glanmire girls were terribly tall
And up to no good I recall
They were headed to Killarney
For some sporting and blarney
After filling their baskets with my balls

Don't You Forget About Me

August 29, 2010

I've been talking with Ayako about some fundamental differences between Japanese and American culture. While Americans are certainly considered hardworking, frequently turning up in the top 10 hardest working countries, I'm convinced we've got nothing on the Japanese.

According to Ayako, entry-level Japanese workers are expected to put in 12 - 15 hour days the first year working at a company. After that, they're able to finally relax and settle in to a mere 10 - 12 hour day. This is so common there's even a term for death by overworking, called karoshi.

Such devotion to work is perhaps compounded by the idea that Japanese at a young age are expected to plot a strict course in life from which they're not expected to deviate. The Japanese sense of happiness also seems to be bound up in their individual talents. There doesn't seem to be an inherent separation between what motivates someone out of preference verses innate aptitude. It was interesting when asking Ayako what drove her to follow how she spends her time (whether it was working or playing piano), she would respond simply that she was good at it.

We talked a lot about this and what it means to be "happy". Is life any less fulfilling if your happiness is predicated on what you're good at? Can we be bred to be satisfied in our jobs, as opposed to more base inclinations? The American perspective is so different -- one of working hard and playing hard -- but there's a strict separation there. There's not an expectation that people should enjoy their work simply because they're good at it. For those slogging through their jobs (and let's face it, that's a fair number), that's what weekends are for. To reclaim what made life important in the first place.

Desperate to communicate the American idea of having a personality totally independent of work, I wandered past a decrepit theatre in Dublin hosting a John Hughes retrospective. I could hardly resist then, taking Ayako to see The Breakfast Club, complete with the dust and scratches of 25 odd years and a warbling sound track. I couldn't think of a better movie to show teenagers resisting categorization, an inherently American claim to individuality. Not sure she totally liked it, though we both had some giggly moments along with the cheering audience.

These are some statistics of estimated annual hours over 8 centuries (to put our contemporary work ethics in perspective) courtesy of Wikipedia:

year               type of worker                      annual hrs
13th century    Adult male peasant, UK            1620 hrs
14th century    Casual laborer, UK                  1440 hrs
Middle Ages     English worker                        2309 hrs
1400–1600      Farmer-miner, adult male, UK   1980 hrs
1840              Avg worker, UK                       3105–3588 hrs
1850              Avg worker, U.S.                     3150–3650 hrs
1987              Avg worker, U.S.                     1949 hrs
1988              Manufacturing workers, UK        1855 hrs
2004              Avg full-time worker, Germany   1480 hrs
2008              Avg worker, India                     2817 – 3443 hrs
2010              Investment Banker, NY              5082 hrs

What do your work hours look like? Are they in line with the contemporary average of where you're living?

Killing with The Colleen Bawn

August 28, 2010

I took my roommate, Ayako, to see a play at the Temple Bar Project Arts Centre called The Colleen Bawn (which loosely translates as beautiful blonde girl). I had no idea what it was going to be about, but considering the long history of good Irish theatre, felt compelled to see something while in Dublin and was itching to get out of the house on a Friday evening.

The Colleen Bawn is a melodrama written by Irish playwright Dion Boucicault in the 19th century. It was first performed in New York in 1860 and so definitely had dated notions of comedy, suspense, and propriety. That being said, the players did a wonderful job with the material given, considering how ridiculously melodramatic plays of that time could be.

To sum up (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Hardress Cregan and his mother have fallen on hard times. His mother tries to persuade Hardress to marry the wealthy Anne Chute. He agrees, although he is already secretly married to Eily O'Connor, a beautiful fair-haired girl (in Irish cailín bán or colleen bawn) who has many admirers including the roguish Myles-na-Coppaleen. Anne, seeing Hardress with Eily one night, mistakes him for her lover, Kyrle Daly, and, angry at Kyrle, she agrees to marry Hardress. Hardress's servant, the hunchback Danny Mann, offers to murder Eily so that Hardress will be free to marry Anne. Thinking that Hardress has agreed, he takes Eily to the lake where he attempts to drown her, but he is discovered and shot by Myles-na-Coppaleen. At the wedding of Hardress and Anne the police come to arrest Hardress for the murder of Eily, but before he is taken away Eily appears. Hardress is released, Eily is accepted by Mrs. Cregan, Anne and Kyrle are reconciled and Anne offers to pay off the Cregans' debt.
This was based on the true story Ellen Scanlan who at 15 was married to John Scanlan, but when his family refused to recognize the marriage, he persuaded his servant kill her. The servant took her out to the River Shannon in County Clare where he killed her with his gun, stripped her, and weighted her down with a stone before tossing her in the river. After her body washed ashore, Scanlan was arrested for murder, tried, and hanged at Gallows Green.

After the play, we grabbed dinner at the delicious Eden and walked the streets of Temple Bar. There we saw an Australian offering a rather intriguing outdoor amusement. He had a bicycle in which he had reversed the handlebars, so when the rider turned right, the bike went left and vice versa. The Australian had laid out a carpet over the rugged cobblestone street, and charged 4 euro for people to ride the bike roughly 8 feet. For those successful, he would give 40 euro. Every ten minutes or so the Aussie would jump on the bike and ride in circles effortlessly. Of course, when anyone else tried it, they couldn't ride the bike more than a foot before awkwardly stopping or crashing to the cobblestone. But considering the amount of drunken revelers at any given moment in Temple Bar, it was the perfect scam. We watched for about 45 minutes as patron after patron tried to master the reverse bicycle before being humbly thrown to the ground. We estimate in less than an hour, the Aussie had made over 100 euros and had a line of brave, inebriated souls still behind him.

For your amusement, here is a small sample:



Awash in Amsterdam

August 25, 2010

I've always wanted to go to Amsterdam. Not simply for its reputation of wanton permissiveness, but for its ecological consciousness and relaxing pace. It always seems to rank as one of the top 20 best cities to live and with good reason. It's a city that's largely tolerant of diversity, lovely to look at, and a marvel of urban planning.

Because the summer tickets were ridiculously expensive, I had to catch a taxi at 4am for a 6am plane. The cab driver told me all about his homeland of Romania where they grow plums in bottles to make ţuică, a kind of plum brandy. There were old Irish people drinking Guinness at the airport at 5 in the morning. God bless.

Jeanette flew in from Copenhagan and because she works in the hotel industry, got us a room at the InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam, which first opened in 1867 as a destination for royalty and noblesa, more recently hosting the likes of Queen Elizabeth, The Rolling Stones, and U2. It was a gorgeous hotel right on the water and within walking distance to the center of town. We grabbed some ham and gruyere pancakes with a crowd of Dutch senior citizens and then strolled through the city. We walked around Albert Cuyp Market sampling cheeses and drooling over the smoked fish and pastries, then headed toward Westerpark to the Westergasfabriek, a former gasworks with galleries, cafes, and performance spaces.

We found ourselves in a crowd that looked suspiciously like The Hell's Angels -- lots of leather, large beards, and tattoos. Jeanette looked at me nervously, wondering exactly what I'd gotten her into, until we intrepidly entered a hall to find... well, a biker rally. These were bikers alright, but of the distinctly Amsterdam variety who had tricked out their bicycles in the most bad ass ways. We walked around stunned at the amazing design, a testament to the commitment that Amsterdammers have for cycling.

Everywhere you go, you find bikes lined across canals, corralled into corners, chained to public property. The sidewalks were the only part of the city I found truly challenging, as they negotiate with bikes, mopeds, motorcycles, light rail, pedestrians, other bicycles, and at intersections: cars. But the commitment to being energy efficient is impressive, especially considering the frequency with which it rains.

After dinner we walked down to the red light district to see what all the fuss was about. To be honest, I was disappointed. Though larger than I'd imagined, it appeared to simply be a lot of women in windows wearing bikinis. I'm sure if we'd taken in a show or something I would have had my boundaries challenged, but I found the red light district to be surprisingly sanitary. That probably shouldn't surprise me, as the rest of the city seems just as efficiently managed.

The next day we did a canal tour and hung out in the luscious Vondelpark where we caught a free show -- some inoffensive bluesy music that made it a fine family affair for a Sunday. Still, it's hard to get used to the amount of marijuana smoke wafting through the air at any given time. Though not unusual in New York, the frequency is just ridiculous in Amsterdam. Literally, everywhere you go. But there's also something liberating in knowing that the state isn't wasting precious resources busting people for drugs as they're going through museum security checks. They're able to focus on what's truly harmful. It's hard to realize how tense it is to live in a security state when it comes about so gradually.

Jeanette flew back and I checked into the humble, but clean, Zandbergen Hotel. Not sure why they would put such a menacing clown painting over the bed, especially in the one city where you don't need to be going to bed with menacing clown paintings over the bed... but I digress.

The next day I rented a bike and rode to the Riksmuseum to see some amazing Dutch painting. The Rembrandts were absolutely breathtaking. Some of the colors and textures looked so surreal, they seemed to be popping off the canvas. Amazing that those kinds of effects could be created hundreds of years ago. Makes me think that most digital art strives to achieve the same affect with less than half the effort. Maybe that's efficiency or maybe just laziness, I'm not sure. I then popped over to the Van Gogh museum where I saw many of his early works I'd never seen and learned much more about his life. Those textures and colors of the French countryside are gorgeous and I found myself eager to travel through the south of France.

I walked around the canals, visiting antique stores full of well designed porcelain and Napoleanic memorabilia. Sat in cafes on the water and watched people enjoying the warm weather and boats drifting lazily through the canals. As the sun went down, turning the canals a dusky gold and the strains of accordion players wafted through the air, the scene around each corner seemed lovelier than the last and I had to keep reminding myself that I was actually here.



It made me think that I could easily chill in Amsterdam for a year or two. It's hard to imagine the quality of life being much better with such kind people who seemed so content. I worked out of the Amsterdam office on Monday which is small and has communal tables for lunch. As I was taking a cab back to the airport, the driver asked me if I had any coffeeshop contraband on me, for he would be happy to take it off my hands.

"I don't smoke myself, you see, but people forget it at the airport and can get in some trouble. I usually offer to take it off their hands and just give it to my friends."

For photos, check out:



Na Zdravie!: Part 2

August 17, 2010

The festival closed down early, so the throng of revelers descended on the poor town of Dun Laoghaire mad with hunger. There were lines everywhere, but none more so than at the off-license liquor store which wound around the block. We walked up the hill toward the center of town and I hit it off with a couple tech guys: Julian a tall strapping Australian who was dating the lovely Judith, and his jovial co-worker Sam (who I believe was Irish, but sounded suspiciously Australian). We opted for fish and chips which had the shortest wait, but even then our party broke apart as others went in search of shorter queues.

We all met up again in front of a local shop where we sat and chatted, eating and smoking. A small, wiry Irishman with a shaved head (not looking unlike Milan2) came up to the tallest of our party, Granko, and snarled drunkenly, "You're sittin' in my seat." At first we all thought he was merely being coy, but he adamantly insisted Granko had taken his seat. Granko explained congenially in a heavy accent that we had been here a while and that this couldn't possibly be his seat. The Irishmen railed that he had paid for his food and this was always his seat. Amused, Granko pointed out that, "Well, there are 8 of us and 1 of you." This set the Irishman off. "I don't care how many you are. You think I care? I'll kill each and every one of you. Don't worry, I'll kill you all quickly, except you..." He turned back to Granko. "I'll kill you sloooowly."

We laughed heartily over the distinction which inflamed the Irishman further. Granko is around 6'4" and a former security guard at Google. Though thin and wearing glasses, he didn't look like someone you'd opt to mess with unless you were an intoxicated Irishman or had mental problems or both. After exchanging some more words so as not to sacrifice too much dignity, Granko graciously gave up his seat and we walked away while Daniella berated us for not walking away earlier. It's well known that people get knifed in Ireland all of the time for lesser misunderstandings. There have been 100 fatal stabbings since 2003 in Ireland and a quarter of these were foreign nationals. Most were Eastern European.

As we walked back down to the port the city was exploding. Lines were queued up around nightclubs and women walked by in soaring heels and strapless dresses. Some of the girls looked young, in their mid-teens. "That one's almost worth the jail time," Sam muttered as we stood in awe of the shortness of passing skirts. We stood on the corner discussing the best strategy to integrate into the madness.

"Hey, isn't that Milan?"

We looked across the road to see Milan2 sitting on a stone wall, his knees to his chest, looking dazed and a little scared. Lucy and Daniella went to go talk to him as we watched hungry men with turned heads and laughing women. A tan, bleach-blond girl in a see-through white dress and white thong walked by prompting speculation that she was Russian. "Эй, ты русский? Я говорю на русском!" She walked up the block without turning. Ten minutes later she walked by again.

Milan2 had been convinced to rejoin the group. He walked up and looked down shyly, "I'm sorry. Sometimes I get a little too much, too intense." "Oh, don't worry. I've been there. I completely understand." He smiled appreciatively.

It was decided we would go back to Julian and Judith's who have a place across the road from the harbor. We entered into a charming little apartment with a view of docked sailboats and sat around the table. They were impeccable hosts bringing beer and vodka, delicious ouzo, coffee, and tea. Judith made popcorn and we sat around and talked with people filtering out leisurely to the porch to smoke. I realized suddenly that I was in the midst of some European fantasy I'd had for years, some mixture of my mother's Peace Corp stories and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. strangely perfect, sitting around with these lovely accents, passing around shots, talking and laughing. A bidet sitting serenely in one corner of the bathroom.

Milan2, feeling overly thoughtful in his drug-induced state, talked to me of life, death, and what it meant to be American.

"You Americans... you left behind your home country. You left behind and never looked back. You don't even know any of your history."

"It's largely true," I admitted, "though my family has been able to trace back at least some basic ancestry on my mother's side. They were Polish on the German border.

Milan looked at me suspiciously. "Let me look at you." He looked me up in down. "No, you're not Polish. You don't look Polish."

I shrugged. "Perhaps, I got more of the German side."

He nodded. "Americans... you have no history. No accomplishments. You were never the first to do anything! You only follow the Europeans."

"Hmmm... maybe... maybe..." I replied attempting to mollify him. "Except, of course, the iPhone. You have to admit we did come up with the iPhone first."

"Oh. Yeah, yeah, okay that's true. The iPhone."

"And also modern air conditioning. We came up with that."

"Hmmm... yeah, I give you that."

"And what about the Internet?" someone chimed in. The Americans invented the Internet."

"Oh, the Internet," Milan2 grumbled.

"And the car? The telephone. What about Google?" Suddenly, I felt like I was in that scene from The Life of Brian, "What 'ave the bloody Romans ever done for us anyway? Nothing!"



Someone reminded us that the last train left at midnight and we scampered across the road in various states of intoxication and merriment. The turnstiles were open to accommodate the crush of people and we hurried on to the DART to be hurled northward into the night back to Dublin.

Na Zdravie!

August 13, 2010

I spotted Milan almost immediately, grinning proudly amongst the throng, his beer chastely covered by a coffee container. We work on the same team at work and he has the habit of making jokes constantly throughout the day, most of which I don't understand, but all of which make me laugh, largely due to his Slovakian accent and second-hand English. He's got these great Slovakian parables, so when the subject of traveling to Amsterdam with contraband arises, he'll say: "In Slovakia we have saying: don't bring wood to forrest," before laughing uncontrollably.

He's playful and keeps the mood light during stressful situations. Of everyone I've met here, he knows how to have a really good time. He's friendly with everyone, so it's not uncommon for a drunken old Irishmen he's met at the bar to come stumbling over to sing a song or two and stamp his feet, as Milan sings along merrily in absolute gibberish. It's also clear that he absolutely adores his wife Lucy and is a trustworthy friend.

The Slovaks welcomed me by first making sure I had something to drink. At the main stage drinking wasn't allowed, so they had all sorts of accoutrement to make sure the beer and vodka was well hidden. His friends were generous, refilling Milan's coffee cup which he'd gifted to me and introducing themselves. We stood around listening to Khaled, an Algerian singer, sipping beer and watching the girls (and an occasional drunk Irishman) limbo.

I got to talking with another Milan, Milan2 as I like to think of him, a wiry, passionate fellow about my own age with a shaved head who was clearly in an altered state and treated me a 45-minute synopsis of Slovak-Hungarian-Czech relations. The short of it is that after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Hungarians employed an ethnic assimilation policy known as "Magyarization" or ("Hungarization") that outlawed Slovak language in schools and imposed Hungarian language and culture on ethnic minorities within the border. In 1918, a Slovak patriot Milan Rastislav Štefánik (the original Milan, which is how we got to talking about all of this) helped organize a Czechoslovak army against Austria-Hungary which became its own nation following World War I.

After a brief stint seceding from Czechoslovakia at the behest of the Nazis and aligning themselves with Germany, Slovakian rejoined Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II only to be federated by the Socialists in 1969. Thus began life under communism that lasted until the end of Communist rule in 1989 and by 1992 Slovakia had become an independent nation. Thus, as Milan2 put it, the Slovakians hate the Hungarians and they used to dislike the Czechs although now they'll hang out with them (pointing to other members of the group), but they don't actually trust them because Czechs like to stab Slovakians in the back.

I guess it's one of the stark differences between America and Europe in that we don't have this weighty history on our backs. These old grudges that stem from years of invasion and persecution that don't die easily. The Slovaks hate the Hungarians who hate the Czechs who hate the Russians. The Danish hate the Germans. The Irish hate the English. There's so much national pride that has to be waved around, flouted in others' faces, traced as a line in the sand to see if anyone will dare cross. That's the gift of growing up in a country that just happens to be a global power I suppose. Not insecure enough to worry about bad blood with the British or Mexico, Vietnam or even Iraq. We've never suffered defeat that was in any way culturally humiliating (yet), and so we don't wear the same chips on our shoulders.

Milan2 excused himself to "let the water out of my body" and stumbled off. As the concert wound down, people started to complain of hunger and a plan was made to seek out fish and chips, but Milan2 was no where to be found. Someone pointed out that he'd left his shoes, which is about the one item of clothing you'll need when seeking out a portable toilet. No one seemed to have his cell phone, not even Daniella, his tall blond girlfriend with the full pouting lips. She was upset and concerned, but after the sky began to get dark, we had no choice but to go for food hoping that fate would throw Milan2 in our path again.

You Can Dance If You Want To

I took the DART (light rail) down to Dun Laoghaire, fondly called the "Irish Riviera," for the Festival of World Cultures, a weekend of music, crafts, and workshops from performers around the world. This seemed fitting, as I've actually met few Irish people since I've been here. Instead, it's been all Spaniards and Frenchmen, Argentines and Slovaks, Romanians, Chinese, and Japanese.

Dun Laoghaire (or Dunleary) was a cute city with gently sloping hills and picturesque sailboats moored in the bay. I was heartened to see plenty of booths advocating for various causes including being green and the realities of the World Bank. I wandered up to a stage on a grassy hillside, grabbed a beer, and enjoyed Afro Eire (Irish African drummers), Alale from Galway who blend Irish and Spanish folk music, Biko band which mixed French and Irish traditions, and the Najib Soudani group that performed classical Sufi dance to African and Moroccan beats.



I was struck by how natural everyone looked, how comfortable in their skins they seemed. In New York (at least on the L train) you have so many people dressing with a sense of irony, or looking outlandish (presumably for the sake of looking outlandish). There's such a self-consciousness to the culture that seemed refreshingly absent at this festival. As the Biko band settled into some light world grooves, people happily joined the big-bearded hippie with dreads on acid who had been dancing crazily on his own and started dancing arm and arm together. My first reaction (shamefully) was to be embarrassed for them, prancing around with those blissful smiles on their shining faces. But then I realized that these folks were really in touch with the sound, the music around them, the expressions of cultural pride without a hint of embarrassment, self-consciousness, or irony. No one was advertising a persona or canabalizing styles from the past. It was just simple, unadulterated joy. If you squint really hard, you can see them in the background of the video.

After, I walked around sampling olives stuffed with feta and almonds; moist, honey-soaked baklava with ground pecans and cinnamon; a delicious paella heaped with seafood, and frozen yogurt drizzled in Baily's. My co-worker Milan called to say he was hanging out with some Slovak and Czech friends over at the main stage so I began to make my way over to join them.

Two months in Ireland

August 12, 2010

For those of you not on Facebook:

Dublin
Howth,

Galway
Cliffs of Moher

Killarney
Ring of Kerry

Man About Town

August 6, 2010

Went and saw a couple bands at a popular venue called Wheylan's a couple weeks ago. The first was Lou McMahon, a lovely singer-songwriter that played acoustic folk pop along with more uptempo numbers with a backing band. She told a story in which a man broke into her and her roommate's house the week before. The roommate, she explained, was exceedingly messy, in fact, creating a mess pretty much wherever she goes. As they huddled in a locked bathroom listening to the intruder go from room to room, they heard him open the roommate's door and simply mutter, "Jaysus," before quietly closing the door and moving on to other parts of the house.

After was The Pulpit, who were a bit more my speed. A cross between Dick Dale and the B52s, The Pulpit was fronted by a sultry lead singer (the nicely named Laura Lovejoy) in skin tight pants, spiked heels and a large gold glitter guitar that she wielded deftly along with two skinny lads on drums and keyboards respectively. There was something completely alluring about the way she played, her long gold lashes turned coquettishly downward and she banged on her guitar. Why is being passionately indifferent so damned sexy?

Stumbling home around 3 am on a dark street bordering Marrion Square, I was propositioned by my first prostitute. She wasn't unattractive and looked unusually dressed up, as if waiting for her friends to pick her up to go clubbing. She said something to me and I stopped and took out my earbuds.

"Sorry?"

"50 for hand, 70 for oral, 90 for sex."

I tried to make sense of what she had said.

"Wait... 50 FOR HAND? Fifty? Wow, I find that disturbingly consistent with the rest of the prices in Dublin."

She stared at me blankly.

"No thanks," I said smiling softly, stumbling off into the night.

Going Galway: Part 4

August 4, 2010

A couple other observations about Galway. Galway is a small town of under 100K people that, like much of Ireland, is mired in deep economic recession. It's not really evident how much until you see headlines from the Galway Independent like "Jobs boost for Galway" where a pitiful 35 jobs will be created in the next year.

Though economically depressed since the famine of the 1840s, the city had had a brief resurgence in the last decade only to find itself on the skids again. Even our tour guide on route to the Cliffs of Moher made a mournful pitch for us to stop and pay money to all of the touristy places along the way like the Aillwee Cave in order to help out the local community. You got the sense that the young lad leading the tour through the underground caves was thankful for the change doled out at the end in the form of tips and, reminiscent of Peru, there were locals next to many attractions selling home spun wool scarfs and Celtic crosses.

It's curious to see how it's size and Catholic upbringing renders romantic relationships here in Galway. A local column in the Indpendent called "Single and the City," ("a tongue in cheek look at single life in Galway") when not writing about beauty products, offers advice to those looking to date:

"Was that a date?" the taxi driver barks at me the second I get in the car, pointing at the (male) friend who had just seen me off. This is a very odd question indeed. I'm starting to wish that I'd sat in the back and not in the passenger seat. I look at his registration photo, feeling a bit too intimidated to actually look at him, with the full intention of memorising his face in case he tried to feel me up and I had to bail out of the car while it was still moving (ask any smart woman who takes a taxi by herself at night - we all do this on some level).

The level of inappropriate sexual overtures (particularly for a culture committed to copious drinking) can definitely be felt in many social situations.

I've heard a song a couple times since I've been here called The Galway Girl. It's actually by Texan Steve Earle, though it's good enough that musicians will play it in the pubs over here. I quite like the lyrics:

Galway Girl

Well, I took a stroll on the old Long Walk
Of a day -I-ay-I-ay
I met a little girl and we stopped to talk
Of a fine soft day -I-ay-I-ay
And I ask you, friend, what's a fella to do
'Cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue
And I knew right then I'd be takin' a whirl
'Round the Salthill Prom with a Galway girl

We were halfway there when the rain came down
Of a day -I-ay-I-ay
And she asked me up to her flat downtown
Of a fine soft day -I-ay-I-ay
And I ask you, friend, what's a fella to do
'Cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue
So I took her hand and I gave her a twirl
And I lost my heart to a Galway girl

When I woke up I was all alone
With a broken heart and a ticket home
And I ask you now, tell me what would you do
If her hair was black and her eyes were blue
I've travelled around I've been all over this world
Boys I ain't never seen nothin' like a Galway girl

Going Galway: Part 3

After the exhibition, I walked across town to check out The Grippe Girls on Carolyn's suggestion. One of Carolyn's friends from acting school starred in this quirky two-woman play about two sets of twins living in a crumbling country estate. Obstina and Hildegard Grippe are elderly British women who have lived days of bygone and reckless adventure. They are being cared for by the devoted Margaret and Brigid, working class Irish and also twins who scheme to keep the Grippe's dark past away from a nosey documentarian by any means necessary. Although I hadn't much interest in the play apart from Carolyn's association, I was so happy I went. It was sharp and darkly comic with the actresses putting on just the right amount of affectation without overdoing it.

After a Guinness stew (which I can't say I would order again), I bought an umbrella that staved off the rain and wind for about 2 minutes and headed over to the Badly Drawn Boy show. It was either that or The Human League reunion which, after 28 years, was looking a little less human than I remember. I'd only known one song by BDB, but it's a song I really love called A Minor Incident.

Badly Drawn Boy was unlike any show I've attended. Shubha had set my expectations low by saying she'd seen him years ago where he kept the audience waiting for a couple hours before stumbling through renditions of his songs. It was so bad, she thought he was on heroin. So I wasn't sure what to expect when he strolled out on stage perfectly on time with long greying hair under a stocking cap, looking quite a bit shorter than I expected.

He started the concert by saying he doesn't play out live very much because he was just "shit" and the self-recriminations continued throughout the show. Sometimes he would stop a song in the middle commenting that he didn't know what the line he just sang even meant. Then continue the song only to stop 10 seconds later to explain the next line. It was almost like Behind the Music meets stand-up meets some odd performance art. I don't think I've ever seen a singer be so self-deprecating on stage and in some way it was refreshing to see all of the insecurities usually hidden behind such rock star pomp laid bare on his sleeve. He seemed grateful of the encouraging crowd and kept expressing surprise that Galway was being so kind to him.

BDB's relationship with the crowd was pure stream-of-consciousness and at one point he started talking about an iPhone game he was addicted to. Then he took out his phone and played a game (in case we didn't believe him) for about two minutes, talking all the while that his contract merely bound him to staying on stage for a certain amount of time and getting through a number of songs. The audience was graciously patient and BDB eventually decided he needed a drum track for his next number and used one of his iPhone apps to lay down the beat under a microphone. He started the song and then stopped because the drum beat was crap, then finished the song, then apologized that the drum beat didn't really fit at all. It was the first time I'd ever seen an iPhone used "professionally" on stage for music. It's a new age...

It sounds terrible, but in fact, the audience was into it, perhaps even sympathized to a degree with how hard it was for him to play live. Those of use who've played on stage (or even open mic) know that it's not easy pulling off songs solo. By the end of the concert, I think we were all rather endeared to Badly Drawn Boy and in return he played song after song long after we expected he would walk offstage. When he finally left, a number of people gave him a standing ovation.