Monday, June 30, 2008

Interview with Sophie Merry, BandyToaster

Sophie Merry isn't dancing today. Following what sounds like a painful landing poor Sophie is on crutches.

However, sitting in Dublin's Lighthouse Cinema, participating in the Viral Marketing symposium during the Darklight Film Festival, she seems at times bemused by her video, which I imagine she's watched a few hundred times now, and genuinely appreciative of the warm applause she receives at the end of the showing.

Sophie, 26, is of course one of Ireland's best YouTube stars. With almost 3 million views on her Groovy Dancing Girl video and with over 3,854000 views on her YouTube channel, Sophie's experience is a viral marketer's dream, a fun idea that went truly viral.

Hers is a story I have been enthralled with since it's come to notice. From the talk she comes across as being very down-to-earth, not at all positioning herself as a "morketing expert" (despite her presence with such luminaries as Bebo's Philip McCartney and Strategem guru Fionn Kidney) and her accent is pure Dublin, not in any way affected or "put on". She speaks well - plainly and forthrightly with the authority of her experience.

Indeed it is this groundedness that makes her so endearing. She doesn't feign any special knowledge or expertise, rather using the truth of her story "I did it to have fun" to show just what a success it was. Her case-study is the hightlight of the talk.

In what Grannymar has now termed "doing a @Darragh" I sat down with her to find out more.

The background:

"I was doing animation in college and listening to Daft Punk on the iPod on a bus home when I thought of doing something. Basically it was filmed out in my friend Billy's garden. I watched the video and decided to speed it up.

Billy recommended I put it up on YouTube. That was February 2007. It took about a year to reach one million views and hit 2 million a month later. That's pretty much when I started to get contacted and it's gone from there."

Sophie, an animator with a Dublin based animation company (she describes them as "a bunch of legends") is now the face and body of French clothing line Etam. Featuring on a dedicated website, the site shows Sophie modelling the jeans and featured a well promoted competition for others to show off their own dancing skills, with the winner receiving a year's supply of jeans for herself and 10 friends.

On the viral aspect
"To be honest I didn't really know that much about You Tube - to me for years it was one of those places you went to watch a guy fall off a bike or a funny cat or something. Now though it's become such a depth of content and creativity it's almost preferable to TV.

I didn't set out to make a viral - I set out to do something I'd enjoy and I did it honestly. I do it because I love to do it. If people like it that's a plus. It was when the positive comments started appearing and sites like Dailymotion and BoreMe featured the video that I began to see it happening.

We've put up other videos and I've also seen the animations, the mash-ups and the tributes. I'm really glad people seem to like what I do."
On creating a viral video:
"Anything you depend on other people passing on to each other can fail. Trying to create something artificial specifically for people to pass on is a lot more difficult than doing something that there's a lot of fun in that people will respond well to. You have to give value to the viewer as well."

On friends, family and being recognised:
"Oh the folks are very proud. My friends think it's savage - they call me the Irish Crazy Frog. I'm not really recognised much though I was in Tripod recently and because it was a younger crowd I got noticed a lot.

I have a MySpace page for my fans where I post the videos online and people get in touch with me."

Finally, advice for fans or people with an idea:
"Do something with feeling, whatever that is, from the heart and without an aim. Enjoy it. You'll have fun."
Sophie's MySpace is here and YouTube channel is here. Thanks for the interview! It was a real pleasure :)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Another story is shared

Have a read of Peter's blog post about gardening.

But when one is passionate about anything in life, like a first girlfriend or a hobby… a passion; it excites you and it feels almost electric.

I still feel that about what I do. I am still that passionate.

Sometimes I feel like I’m on top of the world. Sometimes I feel a little down. It makes me sad.

But loving something, pretty much all you have know since you were a child, can do that. It's allowed. The reason you were isolated. The reason people thanked you. The reason they often cried. It is part of life.
Passion is so important. Doing what you do with love, with consideration for other people and the world and realising that you are one person with the power to change the world is an amazing thing, and every time you do it, you should be proud.

Bronze casting in Drogheda with Sean O Dwyer

The Traveller, oil painting by Sean O Dwyer

Wednesday evening I got the chance to work with painter, sculptor and now bronze casting enthusiast Sean O Dwyer as he starts his Bronze on the Boyne project.

My friend Sean is at a well developed stage in bringing this to life. Although a well established artist and teacher, he feels that this project could bring a lot to anyone wanting to learn the skill.

The project brings the participant from making a small clay sculpture into learning how to make a mould, preparing a wax and investing in a unique form of ceramic, into finally casting and finishing the piece in bronze.
I tried to capture much of the experience on the phone camera, but a low battery didn't help. However, I got to see parts of how a project like this is done:
  • A mould is prepared ready to take the molten bronze

  • Pieces of bronze are chosen for melting and are cut down to size

  • A furnace is lit (heated with butane) up to approximately 1200 degrees with the crucible holding the bronze inside

  • When molten, the bronze is poured into the mould and allowed to set. This can take about 30 minutes

Because of the high heat, the molten metal and the short cooling time the practise involves a certain amount of coordination and teamwork. It also requires heavy fireproof safety equipment which made us look like two extras from Spamalot.

As with his previous casting, Sean is eager to document this process, which meant Niamh and I worked together on videoing the project, which hopefully will make an appearance on his blog soon.

I finally worked out how to Qik from my phone (there you go Damien!) so I conducted a short interview and talk about the project with him:

Speaking as an artisan - istic ignoramus, I found the entire procedure fascinating. The tireless preparation that goes into getting things ready for the pour, the delicate balance between the correct heat and time of pouring, the procedure of getting the molten metal from the furnace to the mould is all so integral that you'd have to wonder how artists created such works in our own Bronze age, lasting nearly 2,000 years from about 2200BC.

More work needs to be done, but the learning is just as interesting. I look forward to being educated more about the process and being involved again. Plus, I like wearing the safety gear ;-)

You'll find Sean online at and you can read his blog here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dublin: The movie - a film shot in 24 hours

I'm very excited to be involved in this:

As part of the Darklight Film Festival, 30 film makers are taking part in a shoot of 24 hours tomorrow around Dublin.

The idea is to create a mini-movie of 3 to 5 minutes which will then become part of an overall feature film, to be shown at the end of the Festival.

Let's take that again:

  • 30 film makers
  • 24 hours (tomorrow)
  • 3 to 5 minutes of film each

    will hopefully equal

  • 1 feature film
  • in 4 days.

Welcome to the 4 Day Movie project.

I'm honoured to have been invited to blog, twitter, twitterfone, interview, shoot and otherwise cover this event. My friends Niamh and Emily are helping out over what will be a very manic weekend.

I've set up a blog on and a Twitter account on 4daymovie.

I've already been talking to some of the filmmakers and they're getting back to me. They sound very excited!

Also a big thanks to Pat Phelan of Twitterfone and to Alan, resident Twitterfone genius for their help :)

Some links for you to have a look at:
Wish me luck!

Reputation: Gossip, Rumour and Privacy on the Internet

Letting it all hang out: Privacy vs. Publicity in the Virtual World.

I've been invited to join in on the Darklight symposium on Friday at 10am in Filmbase, Temple Bar, Dublin.

Professor Daniel Solove, author of "The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet" is due to speak together with a panel chaired by solicitor and digital rights expert Caroline Campbell including Damien Mulley, Jim Carroll, Niall Larkin of Relevant Media, and Cormac Callanan, director of

The panel will take a look at the mirror to the soul that is Facebook and the powers wielded by the blogging community in deciding peoples' fates.

Professor Solove will take a lawyerly look at the fates of little fatty, dog poop girl and star wars kid.

We'll ask:
  • Can bloggers say what they like?

  • What's wrong with having nothing to hide?

  • Who is really stalking you on Facebook? Does anyone care anymore?
It should be very interesting to see what comes out of the talk. I'm looking forward to it.

For more information visit the Darklight website. If you can't be there, are there any questions or points you'd like raised?

( I'm also volunteering for the festival so if you're there, feel free to say hi :) )

Getting to know Grannymar

I may not (officially) be her favourite toyboy but I'm very proud to call her a friend.

Here's an interview with Grannymar at the Belfast Barcamp on Saturday, done by Mairin, the raving reporter.

In the interview you'll hear toyboy confessions, about the start of her blog, the origin of her name, her views on commenters and above all the enthusiasm, affection and wonderful sense of humour that has endeared her to so many toyboys.

Sound is a bit low so get close to your speakers :)

If you could ask her a question, what would it be?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The people who post on The Lives of Others


"I realised over the weekend that I’ve been clinging onto a number of friendships, that have been dead for a while now."
"I have come to the conclusion that people don’t want to hear about your accomplishments. No matter how good of a friend your friend is, no matter what they say, they really don’t want to hear about it."
"I change my mind at the last minute about a promise I make, for no reason... Am I a bad person, or am I just a person?"
I have read
"I cant believe what a difference hair has made to my well being. i didnt think it would matter, especially after going through the entire cancer thing - you figure any hair is better than no hair and it shouldnt be a priority, but you know what? how you see yourself in the mirror really does have a huge effect on how you feel even if you ‘logically’ know it shouldnt."
here today
"We’d met through a friend, we were both single and she was obviously a thousand times too beautiful to be hanging around with someone like me, yet she did".
could have been
"i’ve never felt so lonely. Actually I’ve always felt an undercurrent of loneliness but it’s just so terrible right now".
"My friends think I’m this wonderful self-less saintly human being and I’m nothing of the sort. I”m selfish, I’m a terrible friend, I am cynical and bad tempered at times, egotistical and impatient."
by me
"All I want is to wake up next to someone who looks at me and makes my heart stop beating. I don’t know who that is. She may not exist."

If you can, please go over and read The Lives of Others. Leave a comment to let the people who share their secrets there know that they are not alone. Or to thank them for sharing. These are only some of the amazing posts over there. There are many more.

I'm going to more often. Thank you all. Knowing I'm not so alone has made my day a lot better.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Spencer: Cork seems to have been better

I know this is a long post so I've tried to break it a bit: pre nudity, nudity, in the sea, overall feeling. Thanks for reading :)


1) Orientate garment so that arrow points upwards
2) Rotate garment 180 degrees laterally
3) Lift garment over head then pull down over body until head has passed through neck aperture and torso is fully covered
4) Insert left arm though left arm hole and right arm through right arm hole.
5) Act casual."
It was somehow appropriate that I decided to wear the t-shirt I got from Rick O' Shea, bearing the instructions above on Saturday morning. Rick had asked "when would you ever wear one"? and the fact that I'd have to reverse instructions 1 - 4 and keep 5 in place appealed to my strange sense of humour. So 2.30 am saw me approaching the Customs House, bag containing towel and water with considerable trepidation. What the hell was I thinking?

Buses lined the street in front collecting the waiting crowds. I scanned nervously for anyone I knew, almost hoping not to see anyone. There were hugs and shrieks as groups met up, laughter as couples nervously waited their turn, their release forms in hand. All around the place were young and not so young, male and female, sober and not-so-sober. I climbed aboard the first bus to pull up "makes a change from the nitelink" I said to the driver. "I wouldn't know" he said, "I normally don't drive this late".

Driving down the docks at night towards our location, I distracted myself with my phone. In front of me four Italian guys are joking "What, you mean this isn't the bus for the airport?" A girl and her gay friend are comparing it to a scene from Sex and the City. For me it's just like the nitelink - loud people, conversations in many languages, people shouting, me quiet.

We're on our way to the South Pier of Dublin Port. As we drew nearer I was surprised to see a queue of buses in front of us waiting to release their passengers. I had expected around a thousand would be brave enough, maybe more, but this gave me some idea of the scale of the whole thing. As I got off I caught a glimpse of the buses still waiting behind.

I had been awake all night. I'd written a very personal post that just rose within me, I'd been on Twitter and I'd been sorting out things for my talk with Grannymar in Queen's University, Belfast the next day. I wasn't expecting it to be quite so cold (something Niamh just rolled her eyes at) and I hadn't checked the weather. The chill wind that blew through the darkness didn't bother me though, I was more focussed on the fact that all around me were people I was going to be naked in front of, as they would be me. I tried not to catch anyone's eye. Two girls from Belfast were walking beside me "Aye, I just came down for this" one says, "Cork sounded so good."

And indeed it did. From the comments on the Midsummer festival blog:
Wow, exhilarating is exactly the word i've been using.
I am merely a unique, differently shaped body amongst a number of extraordinarily uniquely shaped bodies, offering our form and enjoying the experience of this slightly different and new form of formality.
and from Stereotyping's great post:
Despite the cold and the Irish embarrassment, I’ve never felt anything like it. And while I don’t think I’ve “changed” as a person, I feel enriched for having gone through with it.
These were my frame of reference for what to expect so I had high hopes. Not for the event itself but just how I'd feel after it.

Following the crowd along the pier I began to look at people, curious as to the other types around me. I was surprised by the groups of friends male and female who had come together. Much as I love mine, I can't imagine being naked in front of them. There seemed to be a lot of non-white, non-Irish there - Italians, Spaniards, Germans, Asian - all conversing in their groups and languages. I walked on, unsure of where to go but assuming the crowd were at least going the right way.

Eventually coming to the second group of portaloos, with queues of six or seven outside each one, I began to see more official - and clothed - personnel around. A loudspeaker shouted directions - go, sit, wait with your clothes, Spencer will tell you what to do. Look for the X's they said, that's where you'll be going. Go towards position one. Again, I followed. Once the crowd got too thick to walk through, I chose a spot to wait.

I sat beside the sea, staring out into the darkness. The floodlights lit the faces of the people around me as I clutched my bag, trying intently to suppress my thoughts of "Well if I leave now..." and not wanting to look up, as these would be the people I'd be stripping in front of. These people would be stripping in front of me. We talk about Irish repression and embarrassment as being stereotypical but for me at 4am it was a stark reality. I stared towards the breaking clouds over Howth and tried to meditate.

People kept on walking down. The mix of dialects from the small sample in my earshot indicated this wasn't just Dubs or even just Irish. There were quite a few Cork accents, laughing and joking. "Ah sure it was great craic on Tuesday, the laughs we had" one guy is making friends fast. "I tell you though, I needed a beer afterwards". You and me both buddy was my thought.

Security were escorting the drunks off the premises. At least five times someone either too paralytic to stand, or groups of rowdy young fellas were taken out quietly but firmly. "Burr I wanna see de boobies" shouted one, provoking a snigger from the crowd around me. People weren't quiet, weren't reflective, seemed completely non-plussed by it all. I almost envied not having someone to talk to. The lady beside me leaned in "Where do we go first?" she wanted to know. "Sorry, I don't know" I replied. That was about the extent of it.

The sunlight started streaming on the horizon as the loudspeaker came to life. A disembodied voice asked us to stay away from the side as we'd be facing the sun for our first position. "If you all look at your paper" he said "you'll see the way you should be in." What paper? Around me some people had blue A5 sheets detailing the postures for the pieces. Other people didn't have them. A lot of borrowing went on. Okay, position A standing. Grand. B was sitting with the arms back. Okay. C then was lying in a foetal position. I was cold but thought the morning sun would rise and give us more heat. "Spencer's waiting for the sun", the voice said, "then we'll start". In the background we can hear instructions being given, plans being changed. It all seems a little chaotic but there is a big crowd of us.

The loudspeaker crackles to life again "Hello everyone, on behalf of Dublin Docklands welcome to this morning's Spencer Tunick installation". The crowd stands, giving a cheer, expecting instructions "We've been trying to get Spencer to Ireland now for over ten years and are delighted he's here. When we chose this venue six months ago we didn't expect this amazing turn-out but what you're doing today is part of art, part of Irish history. I hope you enjoy it". Another cheer from the crowd is followed by a groan when we realise there's more waiting. The cold is starting to settle in.

It's about 5.15am. It's getting a lot brighter and I begin to see the scale of the operation. I can see the lighthouse at the end of the wall in the distance and Dublin Port and Howth at opposite ends of the view. The first position will be out towards the sea, we're told, the second towards the port and there'll be a mystery third position. "The sea" the Cork lads tell us "that's why he said to bring towels". I gaze out and wonder.

We all stand. It must be near time. Each time the loudspeaker crackles we're told it will be in a few minutes. When the light is right. Apparently. I wish I'd brought a warmer jacket, had a cup of tea. The only facilities I'd seen were way back at the start. That's silly I thought, they should have something here.

On funny moment for me is when I realise my fly is open because of the position I've been sitting in. I'm mortified for a moment and then laugh at the fact that I'm worried someone may have seen my underwear. Sad, eh?

I look at the girls around me. I'm glad that people seemed to have gone for the casual, not over dressed or over made up look. Some are wearing pyjamas, some dressing gowns. A petite girl near me is just stunningly beautiful. Each time I glance in her direction she seems to be looking in mine. A brunette with highlights, she's wearing clothes that hug her full figure. Suddenly I'm simultaneously gladder I'm here for the experience and more insecure about being naked. It's a strange thought.

The midsummer sun is amazing as a ferry comes into view. We all stand and clap and wave, laughing about the thoughts of those aboard if they'd see us naked. The ship acknowledges the crowd with a long blow of its horn (if that's what it is) and suddenly the loudspeaker announces Spencer. There's a cheer. "Good morning Dublin", he starts "Thank you all so much for coming out. We had more than we expected and I hope we can make this great. I won't be shooting for long so the quicker you get to your positions the quicker it can be done". He continues on and I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one freezing and wishing he'd just hurry up.

Suddenly I'm sensing an awkwardness in the air. A silence begins as we count down the minutes. We're going to do it is the thought, soon we'll all be naked. You'll be able to see me naked. It's a nice silence, almost reverend as we contemplate it. And then the order comes and we're doing it. Stripping. Naked. In front of each other. Clothes abandoned we all start walking towards the lighthouse. Fully dressed security and staff show us the way. It's funny but they're now out of place.

I thought I'd do a lot more staring than I did, but not only was it FREEZING but I'm almost not aware of the fact there are naked girls. Instead I'm looking at the different skin tones, the complexions, some of the stunning tattoos. The scars on people's backs. The petite girl I'd seen earlier has a good body. Not a model's body by any means but somehow that was even more attractive. All around me people are clapping, high fiving, walking hand in hand, laughing, joking. Putting their hands in the air to show they're not ashamed.

"Jaysis lads this is great" says one of the Cork crowd, "We should do this every week. Same time next Friday?" Another amusing comment was "Lads, very nice. I saw her on the bus and was hoping I'd see her again. She's a cracker". But it's really nothing special. Apart from my nakedness (which is no longer even in my mind) all I can think is how similar to queuing for a big music festival it is. Waiting to get in.

The nakedness is not an issue - in fact it's too cold to let it. While I may not have been uber confident about my shape or size before, what I saw that day relieved any anxieties I may have had. I couldn't help but notice how many different shapes we were, how different people looked. One amusing thing was the amount of girls covering their bellies rather than their chest, choosing to be more shy of showing one than the other.

A ferry passes by. "Careful lads", comes a shout, "She'll tip to one side in a minute as people rush over". The crowd cheers and waves and shouts, rejoicing in their nudity. Ahead towards the lighthouse is a sea of bodies, their whiteness a stark contrast to the dull grey of the location. I'm stunned by the sheer amount of people.

"Okay you're going 4 deep"
come the orders, "Get into position quickly so Spencer can take his shot". We walk down towards where we think we're expected to go. Follow the person in front we were told, when they stop, you stop. Well now it's herd mentality. I'm one in a crowd, oblivious of my lack of clothes because it's so cold. We walk one way and are directed back another. Turn around walk back. Back towards the camera. It takes a good 20 minutes of to-ing and fro-ing from personnel who seemed not to have a clue before we're told it's now five people deep. More and more people are waiting to pass the camera to join the shot. I finally get into a position at the front towards the sea, staring at the sun as opposed to someone's back. That's a blessing.

And so we wait. Spencer comes on the megaphone shouting orders. I don't shoot digital he says, this will take a couple of moments. We stand waiting while the people at the front take their positions. It seems to take ages. Okay we're nearly ready to go Spencer yells, just stand in position. Don't look at me. Don't look at me. We wait. Stare at the sea, don't look at me, get into position at the front is all he seems to be yelling. I'm wondering how there can be such confusion.

Finally the shot is taken and we're told position B. Sitting on the ground leaning on our hands behind our backs. All around are people groaning as they sit on the freezing stone, hoping that this shot will take less time than the last. No joy. Hands towards the sky comes over the sound system. Some people raise their hands as others say No, he said Heads. Heads towards the sky. Put your faces to the sky Spencer yells. He doesn't seem to be happy or in any way empathetic. He just wants his shot.

We seem to be waiting ages. Ah Spencer hurry the hell up someone behind me says, me neck's getting stiff. You're lucky if that's the only thing a woman down from him says. The banter is what's making this bearable. Spencer certainly isn't as he yells at people in the front to stop kicking each other. Messers.

Suddenly there's a loud applause from down towards the lighthouse as people rise and clap, heading back towards us. Are we done? Are they in another shot? What's going on? Again it seems to be the messers. Sit down yells Spencer. Sit down we all yell sit down. It's too cold for this. Lack of communication is an issue. We're more angry than amused. We want this over with. From today's Sunday times article:
Tom Lawlor’s one reservation is that Tunick doesn’t undress himself. “I’d like to have seen him join in. He was quite aloof up on his pedestal. If he had been freezing too, there would have been more of an empathy with the volunteers,” he said.
The third shot is lying in the foetal position on the concrete. It seems shorter but God it's so so cold. I can't believe how cold it is for June. Tunick takes the shots and suddenly it's all over. We cheer. We clap, we run back towards our clothes. Walk, walk please yells a security guard. Easy for you to say says a passer-by. We laugh and look for where we'd left our bags. The walk back seems longer and as we dress we seem to somehow revert back to the embarrassment again, the more reserved. No one is rejoicing now. We're much too cold. "Jesus this is the warmest t-shirt in the world" the guy next to me announces. I know the feeling.

It begins to rain. Fecking Ireland. I'm glad it didn't happen during the first shot but suddenly, despite my clothes I'm freezing. We start walking towards the second location when it's announced that his second shoot is cancelled. The third shot is going ahead but is on the beach. In the water. And the rain.

Around me people decide to leave, to head back to the buses. It's too cold to continue. I'm torn. On the one hand I'd committed to doing this, on the other I'd done it, I was due in Belfast in a couple of hours and I was so cold. I rang Debbie, who I knew was doing it as well. Are you staying? I chatter into the phone. "Yes", she says, "I'm going the whole way". "Damn you" I say, "If you'd have left I'd have followed you". And I would have.

The Evening Herald, in its usual journalistic "accuracy" reports that 2,700 people went to the Beach. Like hell they did. I'd be impressed if it was 270. We stood beside a wall waiting to be told where to go, questioning our madness as people hurried towards the buses and a warm coffee, a warm shower. The rain came down. Once the order and directions come in, more by hearsay than by the sound system, we strip hurriedly and run down, trying to keep warm. I legged it until I was knee deep.

Spencer arrives and we turn towards him, clapping and cheering. A chant of Olé Olé Olé starts and suddenly I feel part of something. We're the ones who stayed. Come on Spencer, show your appreciation. A girl in luminous jacket on the wall claps in unison with us. Everyone else seems bored, like they don't realise just what the hell we're doing, how cold it is. I stare at a man beside me, his arms unnaturally purple. Are you okay I ask? He glances at mine and I see mine are even more so. Some bastards started kicking water. I wished I had a cattle prod. Think that's funny now, eh?

He uses two megaphones to direct us. Again it's a strain to hear him but we have to turn around, look away. "Heads down this time. Heads down. Heads down. Don't look at me. Don't look at me. Don't look at me". "We're not looking Spencer, take the bleeding shot!" is heard. "Buy a digital camera" is another. Over on Colm's blog he reports a lonely "I don't know what a tracker mortgage is". We laugh, but we're cold.

We stand waiting. And remain waiting,. Come on Spencer, the shouts start. "Would you come on, we're turning into smurfs here!" a man near me yells. Someone over the way starts "I'm singing in the rain" which we all join in on. Someone else starts Raindrops keep falling on my head. Thank God for the Irish sense of humour I think. We wait an age and I feel like he doesn't care - we're not people, we're just pieces of his art and he doesn't get the fact we're cold. He says "Right, I'm done" and we cheer as we run up the beach towards our clothes. I don't think I've ever run so fast.

In my clothes I see the texts are coming to my phone. Seán has texted a moment before so I ring him as I pass Debbie, fully clothed. We hug and start the walk back. Well, how was it? I ask, wondering if my lack of exhilaration and enthusiasm was just me being awkward? Okay she says and as we talk I realise she's feeling pretty much the same way - glad we did it but without a feeling of awe.

I think Cork may have been better for a number of reasons, both the humour of the people and the location and I hope it was better organised. For something that was in organisation for at least six months according to the announcement I have serious issues with things like the sound system for announcements, the handing out of information that could have been emailed to us, the positioning of people on an ad-hoc basis rather than organised and especially the fact there was only one small place with 2 people serving tea and coffee at the end. For a euro a cup. Surely someone should have thought there may be a need for more? Or that soup could be an option? Or that it could be free? Or that a better system for finding your clothes might help. Or even, quite simply that there could be a group of people like at the end of marathons or races cheering the people and saying well done. But no, there wasn't. One cheery girl says "Have a great day guys". It doesn't quite make up for it.

Looking at the photos today I'm wondering if it was worth it. Yes, I'm glad I did it, but I don't think I'd ever do it in Ireland again. It was too cold, seemed too badly organised, too difficult to enjoy. At least I did it I console myself with and I'm glad that some people came away from it having felt freer. I was asked when I first said I was taking part if this was art? I'm not sure I can say yes any more. The artist didn't seem to have any love for what he was doing or us as models, and so it's hard to have any love for what he's done. I look forward to seeing the shots of us in formation - that might make it worth it, but now it's just something I wouldn't even consider.

I'm glad people like Alison O Riordan writing for the Indo felt different. She says.
Taking part in a Spencer Tunick installation was a life-affirming and perhaps life-changing experience for me and I'm not exaggerating when I say that.

I'm not the most confident, have a tendency to be a little shy on occasion and I wouldn't dream of baring all in the normal course of events, so I figured if I could get through this, I could do just about anything. Yes, I remove my clothes a couple of times a day, but to be part of this unique experience and part of a powerful living art work was something else.

For me, there was a real sense of liberation simply because of the sheer volume of people willing to set aside their inhibitions and take a leap of faith together.

I dared to bare all for the sake of art, and would again without a moment's hesitation.
Fair play and congratulations to everyone who took part and shed their clothes at any stage. The courage you showed and we shared is something unique for Ireland and for that we should be proud.

Other posts about the experience:
If you were there, I'd love to hear how you got on please:

All photos taken by me, borrowed from other blogs or from here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Have Pride in who you are

"Doyle, you're a pansy!!"

That's the second insult I remember being hurled at me when I was growing up. I was a pansy. Not the small colourful flower in gardens but "one who lacks the appropiate masculinity associated with testosterone; someone very pathetic and wimpy, generally used as an insult" as urbandictionary says. That was me. A pansy.

From the age of five or six, my life was defined by that term. Growing up in the small town that I did where everyone knew everyone else, social standing was important but fitting in was even more. If you didn't go out with the boys playing football, if you didn't follow the crowd or if you weren't "up for it" then you were different and that was bad.

My mother was 39 when she brought me home to no. 33. I was very ill as a child and she nursed me back to health despite a myriad of doctors advising her to accept the inevitable. I have quite a stunning letter detailing some of my illnesses including whooping cough (pertussis), respiratory problems (necessitating months between Cherry Orchard and Crumlin Hospitals), gastroenteritis, dermatitis, eczema and anaemia all in the first 10 months of my life, which made it a bit difficult to thrive. An allergy to all dairy products, a weak digestive system meaning I couldn't hold down food (or travel) and a stubborn Leo streak can't have helped.

But my Mam is a stubborn woman, and having waited so long for a child (she was married the year before) she wasn't going to let me go. With her constant care and attention as well as being tended to by as many doctors as she could find and afford on my father's meagre labourer wages, I survived the illnesses to become a happy wee child - admittedly an odd looking young fella, a big head and a little body (because of the lack of early nourishment) so I was a bit like a lollipop.

And so I grew, with my younger sister, in an estate full of children all in and around our ages. My mother, coming from a large family and having immense pride in her new children made sure we had everything we needed (without spoiling us) and showed us proudly to the neighbours and her siblings. She had been a good daughter to her mother (who she left school at 13 to mind until she died in 1976) and now was going to be a great mother to her children.

Looking after me of course also meant protecting me from harm. Being "fragile" I couldn't go and play football in case I got hurt. I wasn't allowed off on my own in case I got sick - I was a clumsy child and fell (head first) against walls and columns, off pavements and generally just over a lot. The first time we went to Knock as a family we were on the way to the shrine when I fell and broke my nose, so straight back to Galway with us.

I didn't have the same social interaction as some of the other children who went off with their siblings and cousins - my cousins were a few years older and in fairness would have been killed if anything had happened to me. So I spent time at home with my mam, who looked after me and taught me to read and write when I was very young. And dressed me in the height of fashion.

Because I spent so much time with her I was far more used to adults than I was to other children. The grown ups were fascinated by this little kid who could read big words in the newspapers, who knew who the Taoiseach was and who had aspirations to be a professor (though I suspect my mother had a hand in this). At times when children were reading Ann and Barry I was racing through the Three Investigators, the Famous Five and heading towards Narnia.

"Doyle, you're a pansy!" As the crowds of youngsters passed while I was playing with my sister outside, this became a chant. "Mammy" said the six year old me, "what's a pansy?" "Don't mind them, they're just jealous" I was told. And I accepted that. While they went off strengthening muscles, learning hand eye coordination, social interaction, learning to be insulted and take it and other skills on the GAA field, I was learning about BASIC, code and driving a formula one car around the track on my Amstrad CPC 464. And was happy to be so.

Image from Retro Treasures

A pansy, a cissy, a mammy's boy, a wimp, a girl - as I stumbled through primary school these terms were levelled at me. I was definitely gay. Not homosexual gay, but different gay. Gay because I liked to read and I didn't know who the captain of Man Utd was. Gay because I didn't go to the local discos. Gay because I couldn't catch a sliotar or kick a ball in a straight line or because I didn't know about the offside rule. A gay pansy cissy.

I don't mean to make myself out to be persecuted here. I had great friends and relatives who made sure I wasn't totally insular. I went to school, was enrolled in the Beavers and did all of that but I was a child who listened to what was said. My mammy said I was special and better than the others so I acted like same. My mammy said I was to ignore them because they didn't know what I knew or weren't as intelligent as me, so I acted like same. I was a damn annoying child as well with a formidable mother so it became easier I think to just ignore me.

But they said I was a gay cissy pansy. I listened to that as well. When I was enrolled in Mensa at seven my mother blasted it from the rooftops. Proof she was a great mother. Proof her son was different. Other people listed to that.

It's not easy growing up for anyone. We all have stories. I was a child far too sensitive to criticism, far too dependent on acceptance and being liked, far too demanding of the spotlight without doing anything to deserve it. Slowly but surely I withdrew into my room, leaving only for secondary school and mass. I was still small for my age at 13 - this conversation happened in my first week in first year:

Guy in my class: Hey, I just wanted to say, you know, that I really admire you. I think it's great.
Me: Eh, oh, thanks. For what?
Him: You know for being here, for getting in and everything. Your parents must be proud.
Me: Oh they are, very. Yeah.
Him: Cos it can't be often a seven year old gets into first year. Good for you.
Me: Seven? I'm 13!
Him: Really? And you're that small? I heard you were 7...
I was an easy target. I was used to wipe blackboards, to be placed in bins, to be locked in rooms. Because I was fragile my mother thought it best I didn't do sports in the first year, so while the lads ran around pitches developing muscles and rapport on the field, I was on the sidelines, reading, being different. I hated the changing rooms because I felt so different, so small, so underdeveloped compared to everyone else. I was ashamed of who I was. Being a bit of a nancy boy. A cissy.

I floundered through secondary school, awkward, insecure, annoying. I tried to mix but failed miserably. Girls were a complete mystery having been in all boys schools for the past eight years and so I was an easy target for ridicule. Having a big head, big ears, a big nose, a lisp and properly pronouncing my "TH"s all were up for grabs. At the time I had been reading a lot of religious books so I felt I had a vocation. I felt different.

But was I gay? Were they all right all along? Was it because I was homosexual that I was frail, that I was awkward, that I felt different? You're told something often enough you start to believe it and I wondered. Because I didn't have any friendships with girls I formed close relationships with male friends. Nothing sexual but I was quite dependent and needed acceptance. When I didn't get it I withdrew even further.

I became a Boo Radley figure, only seen running through the town early morning in an effort to not talk to anyone. I was pale from the darkness. Illness had followed me. All I wanted was the comfort of my room, my books, my writing, my solitude. I wanted to hide my difference. I couldn't accept who I was because I didn't know.

Over 10 years after leaving home, as I sit typing this, I can't help wanting to give that kid a hug, to tell him it would all turn out far better than he'd ever believed possible, that labels didn't matter and just because they said it didn't make it true. That he'd have amazing friends who loved, accepted and respected him, that he'd have loved and lost but at least he'd loved, that he had so many great opportunities and that he was trying to make the most of his life, his talents and his skills.

I'm going to strip naked with hundreds other people tonight for Spencer Tunick. Like so many others I'm putting the "traditional" need to be ashamed or embarrassed about who I am, how I look and being better or worse than anyone else behind me as I join the masses in welcoming the Midsummer sun over the port of Dublin.

Tomorrow the Dublin Pride parade, now in its 25th year, takes place, and others who have felt they're different, who have been bullied and persecuted, given labels like dyke, lesbo, faggot, queer, perverts, poofs, homos and worse all for who they are and how they were born and who they choose to love take to the streets to celebrate being themselves, being just the same as anyone else, being alive. Being proud of who they are. As they should be.

As I am of who I am
. It's taken a long, long time. But here I am. This is me. Hiya. :)
If you were gay, that'd be okay
I mean 'cos hey, I'd like you anyway
because you see, if it were me,
I would feel free to say that I was gay (but I'm not gay).
For anyone out there who may feel different and think that's a bad thing, it's not. Trust me on this. Be proud of who you are. Enjoy being you.