Tuesday 26 June 2007

Planet Water

The surface of our planet is 75% water. So what's with Planet 'Earth'?

Some time ago I read a great book about the intriguing molecule H2O by Philip Ball - who has a completely enviable blog. A great way to get a small appetizer for the subject is to listen to the BBC 3-part radio science series about water.

Water is full of contradictions; such as it should in fact be a gas, it should get heavier instead of lighter when it freezes, and it has a disproportionately high boiling point. It is utterly essential to life: to the extent the space exploration is always seeking water as a likely sign of life. Yet arguably it is an alien substance to this planet.

There has been a huge amount of rain lately in Berlin - some spectacular storms and downpours. Yet less than one percent of the water on Earth's surface is available to us as drinking water.

Water is life. And as an Irishman knows, 'whiskey' comes from the Irish 'uisce beatha' which means 'water of life'.

At home, we have a peculiar wooden plate on which we keep a jug of drinking water. Inside this plate is a magnetised spiral containing spring water. The theory behind this item is that the spiral and water within somehow teaches the water in the jug to be like spring water. When my wife bought this plate, I thought she was crazy. Yet time and again in blind tests among ourselves and with visitors, water from the jug always comes out as tasting better than water either from the tap or a bottle. What's going on?

Masaru Emoto's book 'The Hidden messages in Water', which I learned about through the documentary 'what the bleep do we know' proposes that water has a personality and will react to good and evil thoughts as it will react to good and bad circumstances. This he linked, naturally, to the fact that we are two thirds water - so we are also open to such good or bad influences. His methods have been criticised, but the idea appeals to the dreamer in me.

The sky has just darkened and I think another downpour is on its way. The skies may also be darkening for the world in terms of water; a precious resource that may yet lead to war....

Saturday 23 June 2007

The Aquatic Ape

A few decades ago I came across and greatly enjoyed the book 'Scars of Evolution' by Elaine Morgan.

Its premise was that we did not evolve from apes who climbed down from the trees to walk out into the savannah, but rather from apes that had lived in and near water. There are many bases on which the theory is presented, and perhaps the most enjoyable introduction to the subject would be through the two-part BBC radio item from Sir David Attenborough.

Today, on a whim, I decided to do a blog entry on the subject and introduce you to a few websites I had come across. Deciding to look for a few extra links, however, showed me just what a wonderland is the World Wide Web.

An introduction to the subject is a website set up by Elaine Morgan's grandson.

A no-nonsense analysis of the subject is presented in this website.

Then I found oddities;

This one is part of a website that is dedicated to the belief that we're headed for a global catastrophe in 2012.

This one is dedicated to what it calls 'primitivism'.

Then there's a New Age one proposing the use of dolphin mid-wives.

There's a creationist site completely ridiculing the theory (claiming, for instance, that AAT proposes that billions of years ago apes lived underwater and gave birth to human babies).

As the X-Files said; the truth is out there. A problem with the web, however, is that you can never be sure of what information you are receiving. Though the Creationist site was the most... what can I say... untruthful.

The subject is fascinating and I definitely believe that we are the Aquatic Ape.

Thursday 21 June 2007

Melvin Burgess

As I seem to have stumbled into writing a series of entries about gifted friends, I might as well draw a line on that subject (for now) with a word about Melvin Burgess. A few years ago (2003, I think) I was invited back to Dundee Contemporary Arts where I was part of some panel discussions about young people and film. Mairi Thomas picked me and Melvin up at the airport and on the drive to Dundee he and I had our first chance to get to know each other. Over the following days we managed somehow to like and dislike each other at the same time; Melvin, like his writing, can be abrasive and provocative, I, like my writing, would be a bit more in the old style. This didn't stop us from remaining in touch after the Dundee encounter and when Melvin was over in Berlin as a guest of the Literary Festival he contacted me and we met up a few times.

I even took him for a little tourist stroll. We remain in contact, and I keep threatening to drop in on him for a visit in Manchester on my way to visit my brother Luke in Chester.

Melvin has a fantastic website and a very active myspace. He has also written a great body of successful, challenging books. If you don't know about Melvin or haven't read any of his books, there is something missing in your life!

Wednesday 20 June 2007

Samuel Menashe

In 1997, while doing some writing at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, I met the New York poet Samuel Menashe. The following year, in Manhattan to direct my second film 'The Bumblebee flies Anyway', I contacted Sam and we became friends. More than friends - he became a kind of father figure for me and also made sure that I was okay. I would get messages on my answering machine from him if I hadn't been in contact for a week or so - wanting to make sure that this Irishman in a strange city was doing alright - and we would meet to take a stroll in Central Park. I also met Sam's friend John Thornton. John and Sam met when they signed up the same day to join the US Army and fight in World War Two. They have remained friends ever since and hardly a day goes by that they don't meet in Central Park - though both men are now in their eighties.

Samuel's work is distinctive in its precision - some of his poems may be only a few lines. I have attended a few readings he has given, however, and in many ways the beauty of his poetry is tied to his voice and his 'performance'. There is a cd of Sam reading his poetry - please buy it!

In the summer of 2000 Sam was again spending time in Ireland during his 75th year. I collected him from friends in Kildare where he was staying and we went on a holiday together travelling north to Donegal. While we were on that trip, we took a walk one evening along a strand. Sam halted with a piece of wood and wrote a poem of his in the sand;

Pity us

By the sea

On the sands

So briefly

As he was doing this, I took a photograph.

When I sent him photographs of his holiday with me, he singled out this photograph as the one that 'defined' him in his 75th year. The photograph was used on the cd cover.

In 2004 Poetry magazine of Chicago gave Sam their first 'neglected masters' award and a collection of his work was published in 2005 by the Library of America to mark his eightieth birthday.

I last saw Sam last year when I was in New York on my way to my son Steve's diploma cermony as he completed his medical college studies to become Doctor Steven Duffy MD. Sam was in poor health, but I took the subway with him up from his apartment in downtown Manhattan to meet John Thornton and take a stroll with them in Central Park.

Thanks, Sam - and John - for your friendship.

Bob Quinn

My son Bernard, who set up my website, also set up the new website for Bob Quinn.

I have known Bob for over twenty years. I met him first through editing his film Budawanny and we became friends. Over the years I have edited again for him from time to time and he is also my daughter Ellen's godfather and was my best man at my wedding. Bob is a filmmaker, photographer and writer - his new novel 'The Accompanist' is available through Ogma Press and the other usual outlets. He is also the founder of the Atlantean theory of how the west coast of Ireland was inhabited by seafarers from the north of Africa. He has made four documentaries about this and has written a book on the subject

Bob is a lover of Berlin and comes over at some point most years to stay with us and take in some music. He and I have also been known to take a drink or two together on occasion.

Visit Bob's site and tell him I was asking for him.

Tuesday 19 June 2007

great Scott!

My first full-time job was as an apprentice projectionist in what was then called the Kenilworth Cinema in Harold's Cross, Dublin. I recently wrote an article about my time there, and in that article I sang the praises of projectionist Harry Colgan. Harry became the step-father of the writer Michael Scott after Michael's father - Harry's best friend - died.

I first met Michael Scott in the early 1990s at a sci-fi convention in Dublin - he and I being two of the few sci-fi writers in Ireland. While I went on to make a few films but write only two sci-fi novels so far, Michael is a writer of gigantic talent with an astonishingly formidable output - over a hundred books to date. He and I remained in contact from time to time down the years, but just today I stumbled on the fact that Michael - already a highly successful writer - has hit the jackpot. His novel The Alchemyst, the first of six parts, has become an instant bestseller and has been optioned for film rights of all six parts!

Another friend of mine, Don Conroy, has written many novels for young people while also writing about wildlife and about painting. He has a great new website, and I must ask him to create a link there to my own young people's novel PEG LEG GUS for which he made the cover painting.

Michael and Don live their dreams. They are rightly rewarded for that. And they are two great people.

I think the secret of their success is persistence: okay, plus huge talent. I wonder will I get away with just persistence....


I've just been helped by 'Editor Bob' to sort out the mess I had initially made in becoming a member of Toytown Germany, a website and forum for English speaking people living in Germany. I've been doing a lot of exploring of forums and chat rooms in the past months - not least to try and let more people know about my family book. I very much enjoy visits to Dublin.ie and to Rootschat.com. What I found with both of those was that older people are finding a way to use the internet to connect and I think that's wonderful.

Indeed, having WLAN at home has connected me to another part of times gone by: radio. I check in regularly for old comedy programmes on part of the BBC website. A favourite delight of mine is to sit out on our balcony on a warm summer night with headphones plugged in so I can listen to classic programmes like 'I'm sorry I haven't a clue'. Another wonderful link to the past is the fact that sites provide out-of-copyright books to download. I found Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, and Nikola Tesla's autobiography - and even a charming book about bees that I referred to a friend.

I know there are plenty of racy and funky chat rooms out there. I know there are downloads of software and who knows what. There's even Second Life - to which my reaction after trying it out for a while was the quote from the teeshirt 'get a first life'.

But the web is for us oldies too.....

Monday 18 June 2007


On this day in 1990 my Mam died. She was 83 years old and had lived an extraordinary life of hardship and triumph. A year before her death I had sat down with Mam and recorded a conversation with her. After her death, that tape became the basis of what would finally be a book I completed last year; BARNEY AND MOLLY: A TRUE DUBLIN LOVE STORY. It has been a family effort: I interviewed my brothers and sisters and other relatives and built up the book over the years, then my eldest son Bernard set up a publishing company, Ogma Press, with the book as its second title.

A very clever thing my son did was make a slide show of photos from the book, and this slide show can be seen on my website and also at various websites including rootstelevision.com.

Rootstelevision.com is part of what I think is a cultural phenomenon in our newly expanding information age. I have written a book about my parents that has been produced (by my brilliant son Bernard!) as a limited edition hardback only for distribution within the family as well as the paperback edition available through amazon and other outlets (hint hint). But what I've done is part of a need for roots in an age when all is constant change. My children - and one day their children - can read about the birth of my father's father to an illiterate woman in a remote part of Monaghan a mere generation after the end of the Great Famine. I had a phone conversation some months ago with the son of a nephew of mine in the USA who had read BARNEY AND MOLLY with great enthusiasm and was doing a school project about my Dad - his great grandfather - who took part in the Irish War of Independence as a messenger when only twelve years old. Worlds apart yet of the same clan, my nephew's son is spreading this family story and so it lives on.

My Mam, born in Dublin 100 years ago, is preserved in the hearts of her children and grandchildren who knew her. Through the book, her memory remains vivid in our clan. I'm proud of that. Every family should have its historian to maintain our bond with the past as we grow into the future.

Saturday 16 June 2007

start blogging

This is me seeing how to set up a regular blog that I will link to my website. I will use it to let visitors know what I'm up to and also hopefully to make contact with other bloggers.....