Category Archives: living in ireland

Loss of R116

Until I left Ireland in November, I used to live quite close to Beaumont Hospital, and, before that, quite near to Dublin Airport. The Coastguard helicopter used to fly over both houses regularly, to or from Beaumont, or to or from the airport. If I was at home when it passed over, I used to pop out to the garden to watch them fly over. There were nights I lay in bed listening to gale force winds as it passed over and I often railed at the misfortune that brought people braver than myself out of their warm homes or base to fly to someone’s assistance. There were some very ugly nights that the Coastguard helicopter was out. .

I was devastated this morning to hear R116 was missing. To be honest, my first reaction was “I’m sure R116 is the Dublin helicopter. What was it doing off the coast of Black Sod?”

It and its crew were doing its job. Providing support to R118 on its way to do a medical evacuation 150 odd miles off the coast of Mayo.

At this point, only one of the crew members has been retrieved, and she ultimately did not survive. She was a year older than me, and she left behind a three year old as well as sisters, brothers and other family members. There seems to me to be something awful unjust in a story like this. In the same way that the hearts of normal people would have to go out to the crew of R118 who became part of the SAR effort for their own colleagues on the way back in. I’m sure that they would say they were just doing their job but their job is a very special job and it makes the kind of demands which my IT job never really has.

My hope is that as soon as possible, the rest of the crew are located so that their families will too have some kind of closure, or something tangible to hold to.

These people, and their colleagues in the RNLI, and in the mountain rescue services, and the other emergency services are very often, unsung heroes. We do not talk about what heroes they are until we lose one. Or, as the case to day may be, several

RIP.

On washing machines…

It is a beautiful sunny day here in Luxembourg. I’m sitting here with a cup of tea, listening to the dulcet tones of Air via my computer and the somewhat less sweeter tones of the washing machine.

I love the washing machine. I love it like I love my bed, my sofa and the three sets of bookshelves that arrived yesterday. But I especially love the washing machine.

Mostly I love it because I own it, but also, because it works properly.

It works properly, because it’s pretty much brand new. I bought it two months ago. I own it.

I don’t want to go on at length about it but I have never actually owned a washing machine before. I have had washing machines in my rented houses in Dublin. Some of them have been good, some of them have been bad, one or two of them have been downright awful and not much newer than a 1950s roller washer thing.

This one was bought in the sale, with about 25% knocked off. It was a brand I recognised (generally good), and more importantly, it is a doddle to use. I think it’s got a timer on it but that doesn’t really bother me because otherwise, I put stuff into it, I press the button, and it then tells me how long the wash is going to take. It even has a 15 minute wash for those quick needs.

I haven’t tried that yet.

The thing is, when I pointed out to people that in Luxembourg, it was going to be a tall order to get an apartment (it is) and what’s more, I’d need to furnish it, I was greeted with horror. Wasn’t that going to cost money? Well yes. But you know what. I own the washing machine and it works and I have the instruction book.

I once lived in a house with a washing machine that was so old, the instruction manual was not on the internet. In this day and age, that’s fairly Jurassic.

I don’t mind the whole furnishing thing. Here’s why. I chose the mattress. It’s comfortable and I can sleep on it. I chose the washing machine. It washes my clothes properly and quickly. I wonder sometimes if Irish people would not be better off learning to deal with unfurnished accommodation and getting more autonomy over their furniture. I mean, I’ve been in some houses with fairly desperate furniture options and requests to remove it have been met with flat refusals. Take or leave the house.

In the meantime, the light coloured wash currently decorating the soundscape of my Sunday afternoon will be done in 30 minutes. It’s wonderful.

How we see ourselves…

In keeping with the fact that it is Saint Patrick’s Day next Friday, a day notable in my calendar for reasons relating to hopefully finally getting my central heating fixed, the Irish Times is running a competition for a hamper of Irish goods. I looked at the list of stuff on it and was pleased to note it had Barrys Tea, Gold Blend (no other tea counts in my opinion and even the choice of Dubliners, Lyons, is not blended in Ireland any more) and it had a bunch of other stuff. I didn’t really want any of it since I was in Ireland last week and now have 160 teabags plus whatever was in the box I opened just after Christmas. I have now a rule of not entering competitions for stuff I don’t want/need/have never really heard of on the grounds that I moved house internationally before Christmas, filled a skip, donated an awful lot of stuff, and then put another room full of stuff in storage. I’m not sure where it ALL came from but a lot of it was free. I like free stuff as much as anyone, but only if it’s free stuff I want. I’ve had conversations where the other side have been wailing “But it’s free, why would you not take it?”

Anyway, while I would probably drink the Barrys tea sometime in about Autumn as it goes through my stock rotation system, and would guiltily eat the Taytos (I am in my 40s after all and the word “cholesterol” occasionally gets mentioned), it is safe to say that there are other people who would want the Irish Time’s auld sod hamper more than I would. I know where to get Taytos and Barrys Tea in this town after all. It’s held by a gatekeeper who can honestly say “You’ve never been here before, have you” when you first venture down to the Aladdin’s cave of every single sweet you can get in Ireland, plus parsnips. And, of course, Barrys tea, plus the aspirational not Barrys teas but teas by other companies that are not Barrys.

The thing was, someone was scathing about Barrys tea and Taytos and what a copy cat hithole (I’m assuming a typo but that could be because I have never heard the word hithole) Ireland must be.

I wonder sometimes why some Irish people are so negative and scathing about Ireland. Then I looked at his Facebook feed and decided I was not totally surprised.

Saturdays on the buses

Since I have moved to Luxembourg, every Saturday, the city bus service has been free. As in gratis. As in not charged for. I have not yet worked out whether this is a regular thing, or whether it was just for Christmas and the sales

Anyway.

Even if it is not, they have an interesting pricing set up around here. A short term ticket will cost you 2E and a long term ticket will cost you 4E. And they are valid across the entire Luxembourg public network. Buses and trains. The difference is the 2E ticket is valid for 2 hours. The other ticket is valid until 4am tomorrow morning.

A monthly card for the city of Luxembourg will cost you 25E unless you are with a really big employer in which case you may get it free. A monthly card for the entirety of Luxembourg will set you back 50E. You can by annual versions of these passes which I think charge 9 months rather than 12.

The population of Luxembourg is about 550,000. The population of the city is around 100,000. It has 31 local bus routes and another twenty or so of the national network can pick up and drop off within the city area.

What am I driving at here? Why should it matter? Well one of the news stories from Ireland which penetrated my consciousness lately is the Bus Eireann issue. I happened to get a number 51 bus from Cork to Charleville at Christmas. It was packed. The line was on the list of lines threatened with closure lately.

I lived in Dublin for 17 years and to be honest, one of the things which increasingly drove me up the wall was trying to navigate the city. It was expensive, journey times were wildly unpredictable; enthusiasts seemed to think all I needed to know was what time a bus might arrive to me. I wanted and needed to know what time my bus would get to where I was going.

Paris has lately had a few days on which public transport has been free, mainly to try and get people to leave their cars at home and try and keep pollution levels down.

Luxembourg is not a big city. The country is not without its moments of “seriously, you are kidding me. People smoke that much?”. But it seems to me they have an objective of enabling people to move around by public transport. To that end, the buses are seriously prioritised over cars, they are comprehensive, they are regular and generally reliable. They have a pricing system which feeds into enabling people to travel by bus and making it economic for them to do so. I spent 25E a week on bus fares in Dublin and it completely wrecked my head.

In contrast, it seems to me like Ireland isn’t. Public transport is underfunded. There isn’t a coherent supply side structure and i terms of interoperation of fares, it took years and it still isn’t there perfectly. In Dublin, at least, there tend to be ongoing turf battles between bus operators demanding access to the Dublin Bus route network. The building of the tramlines has tended to feature considerations of Yerrah we don’t really need undergrounds anyway. Metro North is still lost in transit. And now this Bus Eireann saga. If I had to make any conclusion from all this, the State, or its government are not interested in the environmental ramifications of getting private cars off the road, not interested in making the lives of people living in the bigger cities better. Owen Keegan is pouring his efforts in Dublin into bike lanes, probably because he doesn’t get to make the decisions about public transport. Sure the Luas will carry 13 million passengers but the re-routes of buses to allow for bike lanes around Trinity College will discommode a similar number of bus users who re already held up trying to get across O’Connell Bridge most days.

At no point is someone going to decide “okay, buses on Saturday will be free because long term it is better that we…”

At this point someone is going to point out that Luxembourg is smaller than…and I know. It’s smaller than County Cork. But

Last time I got a bus in Cork, that Number 51 I mentioned up above, it cost me 12E one way. A similar journey in Luxembourg would have cost me 2E. IF someone, anyone, had vision in Ireland, they would look at applying the Luxembourg model on a county level. Maybe start funding public transport more effectively. That there is the problem. We do as little as we can get away. I know there is only so much money in the pot but seriously, Luxembourg is smaller in population than Ireland is. Maybe a regional model in transport might help. Give Dublin City Council some control over public transport Take regional bus services away from central government. Have a vision for making life easier to organise around public transport and allow our cities to breathe better. Stop  using sticks and start using carrots.

Cannot see it happening.

Impossible to commute by car in Dublin

This doesn’t really affect me all that much any more since I left Dublin a month ago but the Independent had some words from Dublin City Manager Owen Keegan, on the subject of life after Luas Cross City goes into operation. Effectively, it will become impossible to commute by car across the city. This, he says, will be an effective congestion charge. You can read the piece here.

“Increasingly, the private car as a commuting option is going to be squeezed out.

The problem – as I see it – is that the replacement is hardly going to exist for a lot of people who commute by car. I commuted by car and looking at the plans for Dublin traffic post LCC, I’d still have to commute by car as LCC would not have helped me at all, but the planned re-routes would have made my life hell.

I’m aware that Owen Keegan is an advocate for cycling. I hate the activity. I’d prefer a functional public transport system and with all due respect, LCC isn’t going to turn the mess that is Dublin public transport into something usable any time soon. I recognise his hands are slightly tied given that central government gets to decide whether money would be spent on Metro North or not (well not any time soon anyway).

I hated driving in the city of Dublin for a few reasons. The drivers there are unfamiliar with how traffic lights and junction boxes operate. Cyclists have death wishes. People park in buslanes which causes some hassle to buses yes, and the knock on is chaos in the general traffic lanes. I think people like Owen Keegan need to realise that running a double buslane across College Green isn’t going to get the city moving any faster. Reroutiong the 16 bus down the keys is a material disimprovement to a major service. I spent sometime reviewing the College Green plans and came to the conclusion that there was an unspoken policy to favour bikes over absolutely everything else. You could see it in the documentation. Cyclists featured heavily as benefiting from the proposed changes.

When I see Owen Keegan suggest the private car will be squeezed out, I am disappointed. Buslane infrastructure in Dublin is awful. College Green and Dame Street changes, plus the changes knocking on elsewhere (Parliament Street for example), will not improve commuting for many people. Luas Cross City is not going to have a massive city wide impact. In a normal world, I’d prefer to see less sticking plaster, cosmetic things done. I’d prefer to see wider bus lanes and, if we’re not going to get serious rail based public transport in Dublin – which I doubt for the next 20 years t least, serious prioritisation given to bus operations in the city.

This requires cooperation between Dublin City Council, Transport for Ireland and the bus operators where the core objective is to put bus passengers front and centre of change. I can’t see it happening because mostly, these result in turf wars. You can see it already with ticketing. I live in Luxembourg city where 31 bus routes are operated by at least 4 different operators, there isn’t even a single brand identity for the bus service and individual routes can be operated by 2-3 different operators; there is a single ticketing system. A monthly city card costs 25E. A national transport card costs 50E per month. And as far as traffic planning is concerned, the buses are prioritised over everything else. Plus they are building a tram.

Owen Keegan can’t fix Dublin public transport on his own. I appreciate this. But he will have to stop pushing bikes and castigating cars and start dealing with public transport if he and anyone who holds the job in the future want to be doign anything other than applying sticking plasters to their mass transit issues. Owen Keegan is not in favour of an elected mayor for Dublin. You could argue that well he would say that, wouldn’t he. I’m not in favour either because I don’t think the non-urban parts of Dublin would be benefited by it.

But if Owen Keegan and his team don’t start dealing with the mass side of transit, all the bike lanes in the world won’t fix his problems.

Movement motivation

In the way that you do, at 5.30 in the morning, I found myself looking at running pins on Pinterest this morning. I’m reasonably sure that I did not find what I was looking for but that’s life on the internet. What I did find were a lot of motivational quotes. They varied in quality. The one that sort of stood out this morning was this one:

No matter how slow you’re going, you’re still lapping people on the couch.

Or words to that effect. Anyway, it was nice and snappy and had an image, so I drew two people, one on a couch, and one running. I’m not very good at humans but we’ll leave that aside for the moment. The point is, while I was planning out the drawing, it occurred to me that this was a fierce judgmental way to go about things. And a lot of the motivational quotes were of a similar vein. If you go running, you will be better than other people. There were a few where they went with “the old you” being the other people you were better than but I’m not sure that’s any better.

I’m not getting anything near enough exercise at the moment. This I know to be true. But I do know from when I used to, that starting off is hard work, and then it gets enjoyable. I didn’t really see this anywhere in the motivational stuff for running.

And there’s lots of it. Run to beat yourself. Run to beat others. Run to be healthy. Run to reduce the risk of [some illness].

All good laudable things. But the most effective way to get yourself to do something is to enjoy it and very little around running involves the words “at some point it will get more enjoyable”. It must do but when the motivational quotes include “It won’t get easier; you’ll get stronger” well that’s really not motivating.

It’s the same with swimming. You see articles like “Why do we swim? It’s really hard. Why do we overcome this?”

Well personally, it’s because I enjoyed it. I actively like swimming and even though it’s rough going when you’re not fit and it’s been a couple of years, even the individual lengths are enjoyable despite not being fit enough to chain very many of them together. It’s that little spark that keeps you going.

I was browsing magazines in Easons a few weeks ago while waiting to get a train south, and picked up something that focused on trail running. I’m more interested in that than anything else. In it there was an article that pretty much hit the problem from how I could see it. No one talks about running because it’s fun. It’s not fun. If you haven’t run for years, it’s not fun. And if the big selling point is “you will a) get used to it and b) feel sanctimonious in some way”…

I can’t believe that this is all there is. If someone asked me, I’d say “look, swimming is hard to start off. No word of a lie. But, you know what, if you’re making it too hard for yourself, you’re not doing it right. What matters isn’t so much how far or how fast you swim, but how often you do. Just keep on going to the pool. Do one length, do 4, go up, go down. Just keep on going.” Three months later, I was doing 64 lengths.

Meanwhile, running motivations are “start thinking about the treat, like a massage, or a smoothie or a….whatever”. You need to be bribed to do this? Every single time?

And running gear. Art is a bit like this. “Oh you don’t need much. Just a pair of shoes and somewhere to run”. Sounds incredibly easy, doesn’t. Fantastic. Dead fecking easy.

And then there’s this kind of fabric top, shorter shorts, longer things, stuff to keep you warm, stuff to keep you cool. I read one piece on habit forming this morning that said “lay out your running gear the night before cos if you have to rummage for stuff, you will put it off.” Strictly speaking, this is true. I have two swimming bags so that there is always one ready to go and one drying if I am swimming daily. I need a new swimsuit but we’ll deal with that later. She then proceeded to list an amount of gear for running that was a bit kind of long to say the least.

It’s not very helpful in my opinion.

So, this long essay on motivation. What is it going to do for me? Well sometime ago I figured that I needed to start building time into my life to get more exercise. I’m going to be honest and say that while other people manage this, I struggle in Dublin. My efforts to find 2 hours a day to go swimming (time to get there, change, shower before and after and all that) have been seriously kiboshed by the fact that Dublin sucks as a city to try and move around in. Whether you’re driving or bussing, you’re losing a lot of time. I started walking early in the morning and while that has benefits in that there’s a marked lack of traffic and it’s reasonably quite and I did it on occasion even if it was raining, the truth is it was also concrete jungle.

But I want to trail run and to at least be able to run trails when I can find them, I need to be fitter than I am now. I need to walk more and I need to run more. And I have figured, having looked at what the running world has to offer me, that the best way to approach it is the same way as I approached swimming. Always do it. Never trash yourself for doing worse this time than you did the last time. You only ran 400m this time when you ran 600m the last time? Treat your body like it’s your partner, not your enemy. It’s a journey, not a war.

As an added bonus, I’m leaving Dublin and I expect the change of scenery; the novelty of nice European buildings will make it a more entertaining activity.

 

12 Sketches by Leonardo da Vinci

I always get very disappointed when yet another survey demonstrates that the biggest tourist draw in the country is the Guinness Storehouse. All the more so bearing in mind that we have, in Dublin, a gem of a Museum of Archaeology, and, especially, a gem of a National Gallery.

At the moment, and until mid July, you can go to the National Gallery to see 12 sketches done by Leonardo da Vinci, on loan from the Royal Collection. They are wonderful. Not only are they wonderful, they are inspirational. Some of his drawings make things look so easy. I know they are not (for me at least) easy but…Anyway his sketches of cats are worth going in for anyway and entry is free. There really is no major excuse.

Thursday mornings aren’t mad busy either.

I must confess I loved the cats, I loved the work being done to support other major work he was planning. And in some sense, I found it remarkable to understand that this drawings, on cotton rag paper, have existed for the guts of six hundred years. The average piece of electronics hardly lasts five years lately. These drawings provide a line of communication to a man who is dead for ages and people who were his contemporaries. In a way, they are as much a piece of social history as they are a piece of the history of science and art.

I wish I had been able to see these things when I was 13 years old. I might have started drawing sooner as his lines just make things look very clear and comprehensible.

Small pleasures

I do not know what time sunrise is these days but as I left the house at 6 this morning, it was to face the sun coming over the roofs of the house across from my own.

It was truly beautiful.

I woke at 5 this morning, which might seem awfully early but for someone who regularly wakes with a view to getting up at six (with varying degrees of success), it is only an hour in the difference. I read some, mostly about SpaceX this morning. I realised sometime ago that a lot of what I read in bed in the morning was so utterly meaningless that I had forgotten what it was, by the time I got to breakfast, cursing my tardiness in the morning.

Today, however, I don’t have to be anywhere at 8, but I was still awake, and failed to talk myself out of going for a walk. It wasn’t a long walk, and it took me around the estate I live in. However, it was far more than I tend to get. In an ideal world, those 15 minutes would happen every morning but they haven’t been.

I love the early morning. There’s something utterly peaceful about it and one of the things which has made my life feel very stressful is the disconnect I have had from enjoying the peace of the early morning. The world looks very different and you hear sounds very differently as well. There is not the constant sound track of traffic. This morning, I am not hearing the aircraft taking off either. It is utterly gorgeous as a feeling.

Working in the city has a major downside and that is trying to negotiate the thorny question of “how long will it take me to get to work”. In Dublin this is not a question with a consistent answer.

The thing about it is, if you get up in the morning generally feeling good, it sets a tone for the day. It is not yet 7am and I have been for a walk, I have done some needlework. I have done some reading about SpaceX. I have coffee beside me and shortly, there will be breakfast.

A lot of what comes into my inbox lately is exhorting me to be better. To be more successful. To do this. To do that. I don’t read very much of it, and I cleared down some of the bossier elements of it lately. I sometimes wonder if we know what better and more successful is. Whether we have a superficial view of what life should be like. Much of our discussion in that area is by comparison to someone else.

I am not in favour of exhorting the rest of the world to get up early and go for a walk. The beauty and solitude I enjoyed this morning would be destroyed if 800 people leaving around me all decided to go for a walk at 6am just to get some fresh-ish air. What I am in favour of is people identifying the small pleasures that put some shine on their days. There’s an article somewhere on the web – I did not save the link – but it includes a list of 10 things to make your day better or some such. Maybe 11 because it’s being hip and edgy. The underlying idea, I like. Make small pleasures through your day so that even when things are hard, you have a something small to look forward to. And make them a part of life rather than a reward for life. They do not have to come from a blog list and I’m not in the business of telling anyone else what those small things should be. Some people might call it “being kind to yourself”. If it is something as simple as blocking accounts on twitter whose primary objective is to make you feel outraged about something, so be it. If it is fifteen minutes with a newspaper, so be it.  If it is an early morning walk in the dawnlight, so be it.

For me, the small pleasures are a small cup of coffee in the morning. A non-rushed, non-piecemeal breakfast. Fresh bread from Marks & Spencers. Time to myself. I wrote last week about how I struggled with the fact that I just didn’t have time to do all the things I wanted to. I still don’t. I have to set priorities. And my primary priority is to try and set aside time that is sacrosanct to me and which doesn’t include the remotest possibility that the word “should” in terms of “you’re not good enough and you should…” gets to get in the way.

It seems to be hard, sometimes, to take time out for ourselves. So much so that the world appears to have decided that we need loads of advice to do so.

There is a section of the film Le Vrai Destin d’Amelie Poulain where the narrator talks about how Amelie likes the simple things in life. Skimming stones at the canal, the sound a spoon makes as it cracks through the caramelised sugar on a creme brulée. It is very evisceral as a sequence.

I like getting up early. I like the possibilities the morning gives me. I like the way that sometimes, I might do nothing between 8am and 5pm on a Saturday, but what I did between 7am and 8am has made the day massively more productive than it might have been if I had stayed in bed until 9am. I have never, ever regretted getting up early. I have always regretted getting up late.

And this morning, that bought me a little bit of sunlight that made the world of a north Dublin suburb look beautiful.

 

The Ormond Hotel

Back in 1999, when I came home first, I was job hunting, looking for anything basically I could sell myself into. One of the options was technical writing and eventually, I found myself applying for a job with an educational software company. I cannot remember the name of them and I have no idea if they even still exist. A lot happened between then and now, and educational software is not what we are pinning our hats to at the moment.

Anyway, this educational software company – we’d call it an edtech startup now, I suspect – were in the process of moving offices and didn’t want, for the first interview at least to bring their candidates into the chaos of their offices so they invited me for a first interview in the Ormond Hotel. To this day, it is the only time I was in the building and to be honest, I do not remember much about it at this stage. I did not do hotels at the time, and I do not do them much in Dublin since I live here and do not drink cocktails.

It is also the last time I have been in it. But I drive past it every single day and it is deteriorating badly. Apparently the hotel itself closed in 2005 and permission has been refused to demolish it and replace it with a new development. That decision happened in 2014. We are now 2016.

One of the things which saddens me about Dublin is just how much dereliction there is around the city. At some point, someone is going to have to make a hard decision about the hotel. I don’t care that it featured in James Joyce’s Ulysses – I’m not from Dublin and for all the books I’ve read in my life, he’s not God. Ultimately, it is one thing not to approve of a given design for a replacement building, but I cannot believe at this point that the Ormond Hotel as it exists is positive or sustainable either. In many respects, it is an utter blight on its location. Some more of the front panelling appears to have been taken again recently.

I just wonder, at this point, what development is preferable to letting the site decay still further. It isn’t fair on the people of Dublin that this state of affairs is allowed to continue.  That major sites in the city centre just decay like that. IN the context of a campaign to clean up the city, it’s depressing. We can pick up all the paper we like but frankly, as long as the fabric of the city is decaying, it doesn’t matter much if there isn’t any dust on the roads.

Drawing, maths and languages

Yesterday, when I was talking to one of my friends, she told me that you could see, across the various Facebook posts (my instagram pictures are usually sent across to my Facebook account), how I was getting better at the drawing all the time.

This made me happy for the obvious reasons of you’d like to think that as you do more of a thing, you get better. But this was also the friend with whom I had the original conversation of “I was never very good at drawing” where I realised that I got irate with people who said that about maths or languages and pointed out to myself, about art at least, that for most things, few people started out very good at anything, it was very much a learning by doing thing that got them better. And that I’d never given much time to art because “I was never very good at it”.

So the above is some approximation of Mount Fuji, done on a train last week or the week before. Let me tell you, drawing on trains in Ireland is not easy. The trains bounce quite a bit. You need to get the drawing bit done in Heuston before the train sets off. The painting bit, requiring a lot less precision, is okay.

I’ve found myself in conversations about learning Irish during the week and the message I have taken away from it is that many people, in Ireland at least, are unable to draw advantages from things they have to do, even when they don’t want to do it. When you point out those advantages, you get yelled at.

It is fair to say that usage of Irish is not particularly broad, but that’s not why anyone really learns it, and even if you never see yourself speaking Irish, there are tangible benefits to learning it as it has a lot of sounds that are just not in English which may be useful should you want to learn another language later.

What that language might be is also something you cannot dictate at the age of 4 or 5.

I don’t speak Irish on a day to day basis, mostly because an chaighdeán and I speak slightly different varieties and I just don’t understand the radio a lot. But I do speak French and German significantly more regularly and I am learning Finnish. Having learned Irish has fed into all three of those, especially the Finnish (as it happens). Knowledge is only wasted if you are the wasting type.

What saddens me most is the argument that education should be dictated purely by what most people are likely to need to earn money. Education should be directed towards equipping people to learn on an ongoing basis, and towards teaching them to think.

When I see a lot of arguments online in Ireland, I feel that in those two objectives at least, education has failed. Much of the argument also centres on how education has failed to provide adequate vocational training. If we focused on education like this, then arguably, 80 years ago, it was fair enough to get people out of school when they were 12, not worry too much if they could read or write, because sure, they weren’t ever really going to need it, were they?

We got to a space in our country where we provided an adequate basis for people to develop their own views on their lives and then move on. I sometimes feel that with a focus on what “industry needs” and “what people need for their careers” that we will lose that view of education, that it is a tool for living, and not just a tool for an employer.

Which brings me back to art.

It’s hard to make a living from art. Most people can’t. An awful lot (embittered photographer comment coming up) of people expect to be able to get art for free or “a credit, which will be good for you”.

Most of the people I know in the tech sector, so people who do the currently fashionable professions of tech related programming, network management or software design, system administration or whatever you’re having yourself, have developed hobbies which are fundamentally not tech focused. Anecdotally, for the women, it tends towards craft work, knitting, crochet, sewing, and for the men, it tends towards craft beer, and, wood turning.

This leads me to think that despite arguments that the tech sector can be very creative, in terms of designing solutions to problems, that creative side of things is not really tangible enough.

I regret massively that I did not take up drawing and painting at a much earlier stage in my life (and I’m going to write a couple of excuses in a moment).

Part of that is because there is, I think, a truth missing from our lives. It really doesn’t matter how good you are at something provided you are enjoying doing it. And if you focus on enjoying it, you may wind up getting good at it.

We are not all born to be Olympic champions but that’s not why people go running every day.

School is where we should be getting the fundamentals of these skills, the building blocks on which we can build stuff later. Anyone who knows anything at all about languages knows that you never stop learning. No one who is 40 years old today has a static command of their native language. Anyone who works in technology has an ever increasing set of use cases for various words whose meaning was actually reasonably set down prior to tech, eg, analyst, architect, and, let’s face it, computer. Yet, I suspect if someone popped up and suggested that the ability to draw might be a skill which should be part of a rounded education, the same arguments coming from the cohort who see no value in Irish for the simple reason that they were never very good at it (and didn’t bother trying) would be advanced in terms of art. This is a pity because it is predicated on the idea that people are born good artists. But drawing is a skill which can be acquired to some reasonable level.

When I went to school, there was a tendency of seeing some people as good at art, and some as less talent. In many respects, art was seen as a talent and less as a skill. People in my class were seen as good at drawing and the others…well. I was, for the most part, one of the others, bar on one occasion, when I drew a holiday scene, actually won a prize for it, and still had a teacher demanding to know why I didn’t colour in something which, in real life, was white.

In an act of rebellion, I coloured it in pink, when, age the age of 8, I lost that argument. Pink was about the one colour this thing was never going to be. Looking back now, I don’t much remember the praise.

I remember the surprise, the astonishment, that someone from the “Not good at drawing group” (but terribly good at maths and English) had produced something that didn’t look like a spider had been at a paint box. I retreated back to the maths and the English. It seemed somehow safer.

No doubt, there were others who retreated to something else from the maths and English. We all, as children, have our safe places.

There is research around that suggests that kids learn better when effort is rewarded rather than success. I don’t have a link to it handy but it’s particularly interesting in the context of other research which says in the US, in particular, children from Asian families have a view that working at maths will enable you to get better at maths, whereas in other groupings there is a view that you have to have some sort of leaning towards it. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m inclined to see some merit in that argument, and not just limited to maths.

As it happens, I did Mount Fuji twice, once in my watercolour book, and once as part of my inktober getting better at drawing notebook which isn’t so great for paints. This is how it looked first.

#inktober #inktober2015 #sennelier #hahnemuhle #fineliner A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

When my friends can actually recognise the places I am drawing, this makes me feel very good. Drawing is fun, and you can learn how to do it. The same is true of most things.