So I did my back in. I managed to get a new TV corner unit on special offer, and had help getting it into the car, but had to get it out on my own. I was well impressed with my own display of Herculean strength, until I got up the following day with a stiff back – a condition that got steadily worse. Soon, I wasn’t able to stand up straight. I was walking around tilted over, like a cyclist taking a right turn. If you’ve ever suffered from a bad back, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, be glad. Mine is okay most of the time, but ten years of martial arts training (including countless times being slammed onto the floor) has left me with an absolute humdinger of a gremlin in the base of my spine. On the rare occasion when it shows up, my life has to slow down.
It was still bad the following day, and the day after that I had to cancel a session in the JCSP library in Killinarden Community School (sorry again, Helen). The next day, it was still giving me trouble, so I had to sit down through both the sessions in Mullingar Library, which I don’t normally do unless I’m dealing with very young kids.There’s nothing you can really do with this thing, you just have to rest it and keep it warm and it sorts itself eventually. I was doing better, and then, a couple of days ago, I had to change the wheel on the car, and that set me right back to square one again.
Add to that, the fact that I’ve had a gluey cold for the last few weeks that I couldn’t shake, and I was in no shape for sessions at all. The last bit of that cold is passing away, but I’ve had a few sneezes that jolted my back – my yelps, grunts and cursing would sound hilarious to anyone who heard them.
It got me thinking about my work environment again. Over the years, I’ve moved my studio many times, and I normally have to fit it into whatever room I can make free in the flat or house. When I came back from London, I made two standing-height desks to work at, one for the computer and one for the drawing desk, so that I wouldn’t be sitting down all day (we learn that particular bad habit in school and it stays with us for life). It’s helped a lot, but there’s still a lot about my workspace that still doesn’t come up to scratch – not least the chair I have to use at the desk; it’s really hard to get a chair that high which is also good for your back.
I have high hopes of having a whole studio space built-to-purpose some day soon, instead of trying to fit a mixed batch of furniture into ill-suited spaces.
Last Sunday, we took the kids to Imaginosity in Beacon South Quarter in Sandyford. It’s a fantastic building, packed with activities for everyone from tots to brats (we have one of each) over several floors, including a roof-top set-up. It’s an environment that encourages physical play, interaction, make believe, and curiosity. Our baby daughter’s only problem with the place was sensory overload – there was too much to see and do. But she had a ball, especially in the areas that weren’t aimed at her. Our nine-year old was just barely catered for, having already sold his soul to football and computer games, but stick him and his sister anywhere and they’ll have fun together. She particularly liked the spinning cup-seats up on the roof and demolishing the well-ordered kitchen and post office.
These play centres are great, but I sometimes think they are part of a continuing tendency to create manufactured playing environments for our kids. They’re one more reason not to send the kids out on their own, to make up their own games and play, y’know . . . for free. Without the need for a ticket, or a supervisor with a childcare certificate. One good part of Imaginosity was that it wasn’t supervised – the older kids could wander on their own, and you had to stay with your younger kids and play with them. Next time we have a day out, though, we’re going back to our nearest forest, or a park.
Just to catch up on the reports of my gigs; before the Easter break, I visited the JCSP Library in Trinity Comprehensive in Ballymun, one of many great JCSP projects, (I’ll be back down that direction next week to talk about Dorian Gray, sin, vice and hedonism). I did a day’s course for Inkwell Workshops, a very professionally run outfit altogether, and spent that Saturday talking shop with a lovely bunch of people.
On the 23rd of March, I was over in London for the Middlesex University Literary Festival, where I gave a talk with Frances Hardinge, author of ‘Fly by Night’ and ‘Verdigris Deep’. The college is on spacious, forest grounds, with a beautiful manor house as its centre, but they’ve been trying to rebuild their boxy old faculty buildings for years and may have to move because they can’t get planning permission. They should come to Ireland; seems you can build any oul’ shite over here if you build it big enough.
I’ve blogged earlier about the event in Trinity with Philip Reeve and Conor Kostick and, of course, explained above how I missed Killinarden in Tallaght. I did get to Mullingar Library, which boasts an amazing new building where, as I arrived, people were queuing to get in and get libraring. Last week I visited Glenasmole National School, a small country school in the hills above Tallaght, though despite its proximity to the Big Shmoke, it could have been anywhere in rural Ireland. They were out playing tag-rugby when I arrived. It was nice to see the walls covered in murals. We need more of that!
I took the opportunity to take a peek into the new Tallaght library (well, new to me) and was well impressed, particularly with the kids’ section. Unlike so many of the old libraries my generation grew up with, these are places full of light and space, welcoming layouts and innovative features. The folks in Tallaght had some really cool little book-rack/reading booths that the kids must love.
This week I was in the JCSP library in St Paul’s CBS in Brunswick St, talking to a cool, good-natured bunch of lads. Then I did a few sessions for the junior infants up to second class in St Mary’s in Blessington (so close to my beloved Wicklow Mountains – God, it’s been a long time since I got out hillwalking!). I’ve been there before, and it’s a big, busy, buzzing school. And I’m not just saying that because they gave me wine and chocolates as we said goodbye.
While I was in St Paul’s, Annie the librarian there, told me that the contracts for all the JCSP librarians run out on the 31st of August. They have no idea if they’ll all be out of a job come September. I’ve seen enough of these libraries to know what a hugely positive impact they’re having. Ireland’s schools have suffered for years from having no proper libraries, and we’re still playing catch-up with places like the UK. It’s not enough that we just save these projects from going under – we need them in every secondary school in the country.
Take note, Ms Coughlan, our new Minister for Education and Skills: books may be made with wood pulp, but educations don’t grow on trees. And those imaginative, enlightened, educated kids will be vital to your plan, as you put it: to market Ireland as the innovation island ‘like Einstein explaining his theory of evolution’.
Truly, these kids will need all the help they can get – it’s survival of the physicist out there.
To end this spatial exploration on a positive note, I recently heard about the Room 13 project in Scotland. We need more of this kind of thing over here.