The departure of Books Upstairs from Dublin’s College Green is not at all as bad as I feared
Today is World Book Day and as I’ve mentioned before, I have something of an addiction for the things – although I’m far more successful at accumulating them than reading them. There are certain bookshops around Dublin I can’t pass without stepping into and too often, I can’t leave empty-handed. My guess is that I end up buying at least five books for every one I manage to read, but as Sydney Smith once put it, there’s “no furniture so charming as books.”
The New York Times recently quoted George Orwell as saying that a bookshop “is one of the few places where you can hang around for a long time without spending any money”, and it’s very true (I don’t always buy something). When I step into a good bookshop, I often get a giddy thrill, at once excited and daunted by the seemingly endless possibilities – excited by what I could read and daunted by what I’ll never manage to. Excited or daunted, whether I buy or don’t, a good bookshop is simply a wonderful place to be and to pass time. However, that Orwell quote appeared in an article entitled ‘Assessing the health of independent bookstores’ as an illustration of the enduring challenges of the independent bookshop to stay afloat. The article noted that over the past ten years more than one in three independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland have had to shut up shop, unable to compete with the large chains and online retailers.
Last night, the 5th of November was just a quiet ordinary night for me – unlike the last two years amid the chaos of Guy Fawkes Night in the ‘bonfire capital of the world’. Lest I forget, I dug out this little film I shot last year and thought back on the whole visceral experience, and the brutal history behind it:
The first thing that struck me about Granby Park was the smell. The warm earthy aroma of woodchip and mulch is something more connected with garden centres and countryside than with the heart of a capital city. The day before Granby Park opened I went down to the site to get a take a look at how it was coming together. Behind the decorated railings, volunteers in hi-vis vests were swarming around the site making the final preparations. And the air all around the park, all up Dominick Street, was filled with that sweet, slightly musty smell. Even before Granby Park opened, it was already changing the way I sensed the city.
A while back, I wrote about a book called “Slow Dublin” by Anto Howard, a handy little guide for taking a deeper, richer approach to life in Dublin by slowing down and taking in more of the city. “Live more, fret less”, the book’s cover exhorts, and in the introduction, Howard explains his approach:
“Adopting a slow approach to life is about arousing the senses, connecting with community… and in these hard-hit times it’s about pulling together, sharing a burden, sharing a hope and learning to live with less.”
This is Granby Park, in the heart of Dublin’s north inner-city. A few weeks ago, it didn’t have a name. It didn’t have an open-air theatre or a café. There was no library or creative workshop space. There were no art installations, and no children playing here. A few weeks ago, it was just another vacant, derelict site in an area of the city with more than its fair share of vacant, derelict sites. But for the next month, this site has been given a new, creative and inspiring lease of life by the volunteer arts collective, Upstart.
I used to live around here, not too far from this corner of Parnell Street and Dominick Street Lower, in the last of the boom years. I passed the flats that used to stand on this vacant site just about every day, on my way to work, to buy groceries or just walking into town. I watched those flats be boarded up, one by one, saw the council notice about their impending demolition and the regeneration of the street. Then I moved away. First to the suburbs, then to the south side, and then to another country, and never saw what happened next. Or didn’t happen. Continue reading →
I didn’t think I’d be here. A few months ago, sitting on the balcony of my ninth-storey flat, looking out over Brighton, past the flamboyant Pavilion to the open sea, I would never have guessed that I’d so soon be living back in Dublin, where I’ve spent almost all of my life.
I love Brighton. It is a vibrant, lively, interesting city – small enough to have a real sense of community, but not so small that you feel enclosed. Not that you could feel enclosed in a city whose thriving heart opens right out onto the seafront. I lived there just long enough for it to become familiar, but without yet having lost that sense of novelty.
I could feel bitter and disappointed. I could sit around moping about being stuck here when I’d rather be there. But if I did, it would undermine the positives gained from the reason why I stayed here in the first place. One of the great things that I’ve developed over the past three months of counselling is a sense of acceptance of where I am right now, instead of regret or longing for where I could be. For now, and for what it’s worth, I’m in Dublin. Continue reading →
I’ll admit my knowledge of the UK is pretty basic, but I am surprised that, despite its proximity and centuries of shared history, many English people seem to know very little about Ireland – including the name of the country.
T_ tells me that, before moving to Dublin from Sussex, she knew virtually nothing of the country she was making her new home. She had no idea where Dublin was, if it was on the coast or inland, on the top of a hill or at the end of a leprechaun’s rainbow. In history class at school, she says she wasn’t taught much about the fraught relationship between her country and mine, while my history lessons were completely dominated by it.
Maybe it’s understandable. The telling of history is subjective and selective, and compared to the scale of the whole British Empire, the little western outpost of Ireland probably seemed rather insignificant to most ordinary people here. Still, I am amazed at a certain phrase that keeps cropping up when I mention Ireland here… Continue reading →