Writer, film maker and public speaker

Ventry Beach.


Ventry Beach is really The Strand. That is what we always called it, but now we've become fancy and use a new name. It's the same place, tranquil and beautiful. This morning, my dog Gooch and I went down as we usually do. Hazy, blue-grey, with strong waves, the harbour seeming to rise out to the hills across the bay. Almost high tide, the sand yielding underfoot. Cool. 

Random thoughts - tasks for the day, Tor Cotton's flu, Páidí Ó Sé, seaweed as fertiliser, bits of plastic in the sand will be the last sign of our civilisation, disappearing dunes, lovely southeast breeze, listen to the waves, hear the undersounds of ripples and splashes. Forty minutes of nothing much. 

Near the car, at the graveyard, a woman crouches to pet Gooch, who responds with pleasure. She is Susan Gottlieb from Pennsylvania, an artist with ideas very like many of us. Have a look: www.susanjgottlieb.com

This is a Ger


A Ger from the Inside

We were on the bus for hours. Flat, bleak, brown plains rolled in front of us, crisp with the onset of winter. I have scoured my photos of Outer Mongolia and have not found a single tree. The wind sweeps across the plains, constant and cold. Eventually we arrive. Here is a photo of a ger. Not a yurt, but it is what you think of as a yurt. It is the kind of dwelling most people in Outer Mongolia live in. Even in Ulan Bator, the capital, they don't do houses very much, although they do the few they have very well. This is a tourist ger, unfortunately. We were tourists, only there for four days, but it looks very like what normal Mongolians live in. It is effectively a round tent, with a waterproof canvas cover.  Inside, as you can see, there are trellises, again lined with canvas. House size is described by the number of trellises it takes to surround the wooden floor. The ger is situated on a fairly permanent platform. The Mongolians are largely nomadic, but they don't move often. Usually, they have a platform for their summer ger, and then another in their winter quarters. Between the two layers of canvas, there are several linings of felt. These are added or taken away according to the time of year and the temperature. 

We picked up our baggage, and trudged across the field, the grass crackling under our boots, the two Marys, Mona, Carmel and me. The frosts have begun, the gers are in winter felt. They do not look prepossing, and we wonder how wise we were. I look at Mary O'Carroll, "Brace yourself, Bridget." Laughter melts away the tension, and once we go inside it is so warm and comfortable and like a hobbit house, we are perfectly content. 

In the foreground of the picture is the stove, a galvanised iron, simply constructed but very efficient heater. In such a bare countryside, yak dung is the common fuel, collected routinely. For the tourists, there was wood, and somebody came in in the middle of the night to feed the stove. You can see the beds on both sides of the door. This is where they are in all gers, and they serve during the day as seating. On our first night, we almost melted with heat. Blankets, bedsocks, even sheets were shed in the sweltering heat. The following night, Carmel volunteered to mind the stove. She meant to try to keep the heat down a bit, but she fell asleep and the stove went out, and it was truly freezing. 
On the left of the door in the photo, you can see a sink with a tap. This is connected to a small cistern outside the ger, and filled daily. There is no running water. That's it for washing. The lavatory is across two fields. Waking up in the middle of a night, I put on my thermals, socks, boots, down jacket, hat and gloves and set out. Outside, the full moon shone on Mongolia, beautiful bare bleak plains rolling to rocky spiky mountains. I sat in that field for a long time, and hoped that I would manage another trip to this amazing place.
Our guide asked if we would like a Mongolian barbecue, and of course we would. Well, if you go, don't try it. We had boiled lumps of several sheep. These seemed to be two-legged sheep. Front legs. There was no back end to any sheep brought to this barbecue. And the bones were long enough to be used as weapons, should we have decided to try single combat. So they were very old sheep. Never mind, back to the cosy ger. 

Next time, we will bring a hard hat and a bottle of Dettol. Mongolians are typically not very tall, and they all have an instinct to stoop as they are entering a dwelling. We don't have that instinct, and the doors are about 1.5 metres high. So some one of the five of us cracked a skull every time we went in or out. The hard hat would help with that. And at night, if there was no tempting full moon, it would serve another purpose. The Dettol would serve to separate the two functions.

Jangling Django


Django Unchained. Not for the squeamish, as might be expected from Tarentino. But if you are happy to close your eyes every now and then this is a good movie. The dentist is a great character. His horse an even greater one. The depiction of slavery is terrifying, and probably absolutely true. The scene showing an early attempt at Ku Klux Klan is a delight, one with very dark undercurrents, but a real delight, all the same. It shows how one or two evil people can create a mood and a madness that draws in the silly and the incompetent, and we are all silly and incompetent from time to time, so it behoves us to be careful. 

The shooting. Well. Yes. There is lots of it. And it is highly stylised and dramatic. They didn't have guns that could do what was shown on screen in 1858. But somehow, Tarentino manages to infuse the film with lightness. There are even times when I said "Excellent" when particularly villainous characters were shot. Even though my eyes were closed a good bit and my fingers were in my ears as well at one point, somehow the violence had a taste of the ridiculous. It may well be intended as a send-up of the NRA fanatics who are trying to attach guns to teachers. The slavery is what remains with me. That I believed.

The soundtrack is magnificent. Go, with the above caveats. 

Zip up the Sky


It was a perfect day in Ventry, not a cloud in the sky. The children were at small play (11 am) in the school yard. In this small school, in those days, boys and girls played separately. Technically, the path from the school gate to the front door was the demarcation line between the two genders. But the boys played barefoot football, and appropriated half the girls' territory, relegating us to the back.

So it was one of the boys who alerted us. "Oh, look, look!" We all ran to the front wall. There, rising from the dead centre of the v formed by the Clasach pass between Mount Eagle and Cruach Mhárthain, the sky was splitting. A narrow white line moved inexorably upwards. We all stared in silence for a few moments, digesting this phenomenon. 

Clearly the world was breaking apart. It was bound to do it one day, the old people referred to disaster as the earth and sky mingling, and this was obviously about to take place. There was screaming, children began to run to and fro. There was crying. I was scared. Eileen O'Sullivan wanted a priest. She was nine. Even in extremis, as we believed ourselves to be, I remember wondering what she could possibly have done that required that she be shriven. I just wanted the sky to zip back up, everything to be all right. To be at home would be good too. 

The bell rang, and the class tumbled with unaccustomed speed into the classroom, gasping the tale to the master. "Oh, yes," he said indifferently. "A jet plane." The first we had seen. 

Now the sky is full of contrails.

© 2012 Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin | Design by Jindra © 2012
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