Culture Night: Owt for Nowt?

Brocure Cover

Our passport to culture!

Last Friday evening saw yours truly, accompanied by The Bookworm heading into Dublin’s city centre for some more Culture Night activity. As usual, we had been studying the brochure and marking possible activities. We had decided to more or less stick to the ‘Trinity and South Georgian Quarter’ to be handy for the Luas. In no particular order (as if memory serves me), here is our final tally of venues visited: The Arts Council, Merrion Square; the Pepper Canister Church; the National Gallery of Ireland; and the Science Gallery. We listened to musical offerings at the NGI and Pepper Canister and then explored differing ways of seeing at the Science Gallery. I am not sure whether tea and cake at the NGI counts as a cultural activity, but it was very tasty all the same. We were disappointed that three of our book marked events were cancelled, but it was not clear whether this had any connection to the bus strike or not. Particularly, we felt the loss of the light show at the Royal College of Surgeons as we had planned to round off our night seeing the 3D display before jumping on the Luas to head home.

On the morning after the night before, I scrolled though plenty of tweets from happy, satisfied Culture Night goers and event organisers. However, poet Colin Dardis made the reasonable point that ‘If you loved the free events at #CutlureNight remember to support your local artist and pay for their work during the rest of the year!’ Art practitioners and writers clearly all need to eat and welcome paying punters. One commenter, The Fingal Pimpernel went a stage further and declared ‘Great as I think #CultureNight is it shows up how stingy fuckers will turn up in huge crowds for free but won’t pay their way other 364 days’. I’m not sure whether the latter comment was intended to be genuine or tongue in cheek (such is the peril of Twitter) but as a dedicated Culture Night-er, I felt vaguely miffed at being apparently included under this tag. Confession: I admit to a liking for free stuff to do; after all, what parent doesn’t welcome the opportunity to do interesting (even educational) activities with kids that doesn’t break the bank. Having said that, I am not averse to paying for events etc and I frequently do so during the rest of the year. As a member of the book trade, I try to do my bit by attending (paid) events to hear my favourite writers. Now, I can’t be sure how many other Culture Night visitors fall into that category, but inevitably you are going to get folks who always want something for nowt and will never pay for anything. To some extent, I suppose such people fulfill a function on occasions such as Culture Night, by performing the role of ‘warm bodies’ to help to give the event its air of success.

Nevertheless, I  feel that complaining about ‘stingy f****s’ misses a couple of the great aspects of Culture Night. One of the big attractions for me, (and judging by the queues, I am not alone in this) is the opportunity to view places usually closed to the public. It’s a chance to see behind the scenes, in a way that another great festival, Open House, also offers. In other words, many people are just plain nosy, rather than miserly in their Culture Night activities. For example, one of the biggest queues I saw on the night was to tour Iveagh House, home of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There is usually a queue of similar length to have a tour of Freemasons’ Hall; to the extent that it took us about four years of dedicated event queue monitoring to nab an Open House tour in a quiet-ish moment last year. One of my regular Culture Night/Open House goals is to add another previously unexplored building to my repertoire.

Culture Brochure

Deciding on our culture route!

Another great aspect of Culture Night is that institutions and charities not directly involved in the business of culture open up and invite visitors to learn something new. For example, Concern Worldwide, The Mendicity Institution, Amnesty International and Focus Ireland were all giving talks and raising awareness of their work. Add to that various community groups such as the Irish Polish Society and the Afghan Community of Ireland and you can see that there is much more to Culture Night than an open invitation to free loaders. It is also worth pointing out that many of the places open, such as the national cultural institutions would be free to visit anyway (though donations are requested). There is the additional pleasure of visiting cultural venues after hours, which can only be good for encouraging people to take the time to browse the exhibits. Visiting places out of hours feels like a delicious treat to be savoured.

I think it is reasonable to suggest that many people who visit places during this events will follow up new discoveries and pay for events or buy a piece of art in the future. All in all, I think that the Culture Night is a positive initiative one which should have a productive knock-on effect over the years. Or maybe that is just my wishful thinking. I admit though, that it is going to be hard to calculate the benefits in terms of hard cash to various arts organisations, practitioners and writers.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this question…





Lewis Chessmen and Noggin the Nog

Last Saturday afternoon my daughter and I went along to one of the National Gallery of Ireland’s regular showings of made for television art documentaries. This week’s film was on the Lewis Chessmen and their strange history. We have (or should I say He Who Put The Shelves Up has) a replica set of the Lewis Chessmen and even though I’ve never mastered the game I’m very fond of the little men (fiendish to dust though they are).

The Lewis Chessmen

Incredible Carving

The history of the chessmen is shrouded in mystery as they were discovered sometime prior to April 1831 (when they were exhibited in Edinburgh) having been at some point buried in sand on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. It is now thought likely that the figures which were carved from walrus ivory, were made in Norway between 1150-1200 AD. But how they came to be where they were found and who owned them is still, and will probably remain unknowable. The most likely theory is that they were being taken by a merchant to be sold. Even the details of the actual discovery of the carvings seems vague and uncertain.

The hoard found consisted of seventy-eight chess pieces plus fourteen counters and a belt buckle. The chess pieces are all exists  from four chess sets but the remaining pieces have never been discovered. The known pieces are all in public hands, with sixty-seven in the British Museum and eleven in the Museum of Scotland and they do also apparently go on tour. The cover shown here is from a British Museum booklet that we have on our bookshelves. I scanned the back too because it gives a good idea of the tremendous detail in the carving. In the documentary, a craftsman explained how difficult and with what skill the ivory figures were carved.

Lewis Chessmen Book

The Story of the Chess Set

But where does Noggin the Nog come into it I hear you ask? The answer is that the creator of the BBC Children’s Television series Peter Firmin was inspired by his visits to see the Lewis Chessmen to tell ‘their’ story. The result was a delightful saga of Noggin the Nog and his kingdom. As a child I loved this series so much that it is an indelible paart of my childhood memories. For anyone out there who has never heard of Noggin, or indeed of Nogbad the Bad, if you have trawl though YouTube you will find plenty of excerpts. The series was made by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate and was first broadcast in 1959, originally in black and white.

Every episode began something like this (I think it was Oliver Postage’s voice):

Listen to me and I will tell you the story of Noggin the Nog, as it was told in the days of old”, or “In the lands of the North, where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long the Men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale … and those tales they tell are the stories of a kind and wise king and his people; they are the Sagas of Noggin the Nog. Welcome to Northlands, a tribute to Noggin, King of the Nogs and the People of the Northlands.

I am now feeling very nostalgic for old television programmes. I also have a renewed interest in one day going to see the original chessmen in either location. There have been calls for all of the pieces to be relocated to Scotland but there’s probably not much likelihood of that happening in the near future. However, the history society in Uig, Isle of Lewis has said that it doesn’t support calls to remove the men from London and is happy for them to remain where they are. Now, if anyone ever proves where the chess pieces were actually made then no doubt there will be another claim put foward for return to rival that of Lewis.


Credits: Lewis Chessmen image taken from British Museum pages.

Noggin the Nog quotation taken from Wikipedia. 


Flaming June is Poetry Month #PoetryinJune

Woman in orange dress asleep on couch

Flaming June, Frederick Leighton, 1895

If you all cast your minds back to last December, you will recall that I set myself the daunting challenge of writing a seasonal posting every day during Advent. Somewhat to my surprise, I did indeed manage to do just that very thing. Ever since then I have in mind to attempt a similar challenge later in the year. Well, dear reader(s) that time has now arrived with the advent of spring (or what passes for spring in these parts at any rate).

To a great fanfare (well you’ll just have to imagine that bit) I am hereby announcing that the month of June will be Poetry Month (#PoetryinJune) on The Landing. I have been scouring the shelves here and blowing the dust off a few volumes that I have not looked at in a while. My intention is to put together a mixture of old and new(ish) poems, which will include a few childhood favourites too. My grand plan is to work out a complete list ready for June 1st but I may end up flying by the seat of my pants part of the way through the month.

I belatedly caught up with the poetry readings at the National Gallery of Ireland, which are run in association with Poetry Ireland. This has also helped to spur me into action and to include a sizeable chunk of poetry on the blog. Yesterday I was listening to Peter Sirr reading from both his own poems and his translations. One of the translations he read was Maison á Vendre (House for Sale) by André Frénaud both versions of which you can find on Sirr’s blog The Cat Flap.

I will have to apologise in advance if my choices for next month are not your choices but I will try to put together a reasonable mixture culled from our shelves. In fact, I have to come clean and admit that I never manage to read as much poetry as I would like. I am much more likely to pick up a novel or short story collection if I’m browsing and in need of something to read. Last year was supposed to be my year of reading more poetry so I picked up a couple of Faber volumes in a book sale to try and broaden my range but they are still languishing on the shelf.

Next month may then prove to be a voyage of discovery for me as there are clearly poetry books on our shelves that I have barely even opened. However, I will certainly feature a few poems from my childhood that have been read many times over and that are still enjoyed. This will, I hope even the balance a little and perhaps remind me of a time when I was more poetry minded than I am now. I used to have a Puffin collection of children’s poems and a Children’s Treasury containing stories and poetry. The latter still survives so I will choose a favourite memory from its rather battered pages for one of my blog entries.

At last Wednesday’s Poetry Ireland reading by Michael Krüger I jotted down his assertion that ‘a day without reading a poem is a lost day’. Let’s see what I can do about that during the course of next month.

Let me know about your favourites if you have time to drop me a line (use #Poetryinjune on Twitter).

(Picture Credit: Wikipedia – original painting in the Ponce Museum of Art, Puerto Rico)