In September, I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Argentina and Uruguay with a friend. Needless to say, my Kindle was almost the first thing I packed. I’d never been to South America before so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I planned to read a little, but accidentally (as always) ended up reading quite a lot.
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When I first moved to London, I lived in this weird panacea, which only existed in my head. I thought the morning (and evening) Tube rushes were delightfully whimsical- and that the platforms full of shoving, sweaty Tube-dwellers were a modern transportation miracle.
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Note: Patrons for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were asked to #KeeptheSecrets, and I’m a good Secret Keeper: there are no spoilers here. However, you may wish to avoid this article if you want to see or read the play with absolutely no background information.
In July 1999 my father read to me a small article in a national newspaper about a book called Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He (a teacher) said kids in his school talked about it. I asked him if I could read it. He came home a while later with a hardback copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which I chomped in a day. A few days later, we were in a local bookshop and a copy of Harry Potter and the Philsopher’s Stone was in the bargain bucket for £3.
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In 2001, Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima met on the set of Harry Potter and began a collaboration that would become iconic. The graphic design work in the Harry Potter world has brought visual joy to millions- think about the letter addressed to ‘Mr H Potter, The Cupboard Under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey’, or the eclectic beauty of a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.
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On March 18th last year, in a hospital bed in Ireland, one of my best friends passed away. She was 25. Diagnosed with a brain tumor at eight months old, Aileen fought for a quarter of a century before her war ended. She barely had a chance at life but she used the card she got dealt to live the life she did have with a resounding courage that I still can’t comprehend.
Aileen and I first bonded over books- namely, Harry Potter. She was one of the first friends I made in secondary school and we stuck together while we negotiated the move from childhood to adulthood, via the Teenage Years of Embarrassment. One of her favourite books was War of the Buttons by Louis Pergaud and in later years she remembered it really well even when her memory faded. It was the first book I read in an effort to bring her back to life in my mind- a story of rampaging children fighting a seemingly silly war with far-reaching consequences. The book stayed with me: even the smartest of us have big lessons to learn before we can properly grow up.
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As a child, I stumbled across a miracle book. There was a bright place in the woods where a giant tree stretched to the clouds, its branches hosting a plethora of whimsical residents. The magic spilled out of every page and I read, and re-read, and read it again. It was called The Enchanted Wood. I was 6 years old, I’d just found Enid Blyton, and the world exploded.
Arguably, the adventures of Jo, Bessie, and Fanny were my introduction to fantasy, a genre that I adore to this day. I had no idea, reading The Farway Tree series in 1996, that it had been written in the 1940s. The world was at war a second time, hardship was everyone’s neighbor, and Enid Blyton was producing stories that would, for generations, help young people imagine a better, brighter place.
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Ireland has a sort of mythical status among creative types. The land of saints, scholars and Guinness. Many depictions show Ireland as a home of parties and alcoholism, religious dogma and at time, Troubles. Ireland is both more and less than this mythical generalisation- but understanding the real Ireland takes more than a read of Ulysses.
2016 marks 100 years since the Easter Rising in Ireland. Revolutionaries, aggravated by years of imperialist rule, took up arms and led a struggle against the British forces in Ireland, beginning on Easter Monday 1916. It’s a story that often gets lost in the babble of world history, but some of Ireland’s best creative work covers that period. Sean O’Casey wrote , a play based in central Dublin in that week of 1916, and shows the experience of a family dragged into the rebellion and the devastation created in Dublin by rebels and British soldiers alike. The play is a microcosm of a history that gets lost and forgotten too often.
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Yoga has been around for centuries and as a result, there are endless books about it, some sublime and some ridiculous. I’m currently working hard to become a yoga teacher so I’ve spent months leafing through all types of books on the topic (because I’m a nerdy yoga teacher!)
Yoga is more than the physical movements that people practice in classes. Not all parts of yoga suit all people (I discount quite a bit of it because I’m a tad cynical), but it has been a seriously mind opening experience to read about the different types, branches and effects of yoga, built up as a practice over hundreds of years. There’s a history in yoga that people just don’t see in their weekly vinyasa class- so I’m gathering the best books, technical, philosophical, instructional and plain old fashioned fun.
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Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre recently published a report I worked on while I was working for the organisation. As Communciations Officer, I worked with the Youth Work Coordinator and young Travellers to establish the research, carry out workshops with young Travellers nationally, and produce the final report with findings.
On March 18th, 2015, a close friend of mine passed away after 25 years of illness and pain. Her sense of humour remained, to the end, incorruptible. This is my recollection of her in some of the best and worst moments of the time we spent together.
“The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.”
— from Everything Is Going to be All Right, by Derek Mahon
It’s uncommon to remember exactly how you met someone. Sometimes, we remember specific meetings because they’re unusual or because we come to love the person we’ve met.
Meeting people for the first time often falls into the background; irrelevant in many ways, once the moment has passed. The ones you remember are rare and they are special.
I met Aileen at a screening of Harry Potter on a school trip in Winter 2002.
Taking my seat in a row near the back, I somehow got talking to the girl sitting directly in front of me. She said I seemed familiar to her, and I said I had the same feeling. We spent a few minutes going back and forth, trying to work out if we had mutual friends, acquaintances or experience. We never worked it out. I’m not a big believer in fate- but maybe there’s something to it. Maybe she was just destined to end up in my life and I in hers. Who knows?
From that day on, Aileen would migrate from her classroom to mine for lunch. She was, first and foremost, a shock to the system. At times it was awkward to talk with her because she was so upfront and honest about her experiences. Her life was a pottered history of discomfort and pain- I had nothing to compare it to.
Aileen was diagnosed with a brain tumour at eight months and wasn’t expected to survive- but she did. There was a reoccurrence before she turned 10 and, suffering the chemotherapy to defy the odds, she made it. These huge truths were among she first things she told me, a naïve and innocent child of 12.
The idea of a young person being so ill startled me. I could never work out how she was pretty much always in a good mood when it seemed to me she was dealt a hard hand. It would take me years to work out what she and Churchill already knew: to endure is to conquer.
Once Aileen decided you were her friend, you didn’t really have a whole lot of choice in the matter. She was polite and friendly to everyone- but her genuine friendship and loyalty was a gift to the few and not the many.
Aileen was quick to laugh, easy to wind up and loud as hell. It took us a while to build a group of friends, but we managed it, all of us different and trying to claw our way into being teenagers without dying of embarrassment along the way.
Through the first three years of school, Aileen and I were separated in different classes, rarely sharing lesson time. But early in the morning, she would be among the first to school for gossip and was ever present at lunch times.
Perhaps the funniest and most frustrating thing about Aileen was her devilish love of the fabled purple snack. Early in the morning, Aileen would cajole other students to go to the shop and purchase a small number of purple snacks for her. Not the pink ones, not the yellow ones- just the purple. She had a group of people essentially lined up to do her bidding and she knew exactly where to find them at 8.30am. From what I remember, nobody ever turned her down.
It was frustrating because Aileen had significant health concerns- we pointed out to her that it probably wasn’t good for her. She didn’t care: her love affair with purple snacks was simply all-consuming.
Needless to say, given her history with a brain tumour, Aileen’s head was a constant risk: accidental whacks to the head simply weren’t an option. To her delight, this meant she couldn’t participate in PE. I think now that Aileen would have been great craic on a sports field, given her sense of humour, but at the time I was busy trying to skive off PE myself and didn’t think about it. I firmly believe her ferocity would have led her to great success in women’s rugby.