Author Archives: howies

Frawley’s Bar

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2010

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Frawley’s Bar

Frawley's Bar
Tom Frawley was born here in 1914. He has been pulling pints where he had always lived – for 86 years. Think about that for a moment. He and his bar are still points in the flow of time.

Ireland has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. The Celtic tiger hadn’t begun to roar when I first set foot in Tom’s bar fifteen years ago. All of a sudden, something happened. The economic boom that resulted had changed Ireland forever. Now that beast had been licking its wounds quietly in the shade of a recession. I had been wondering whether Tom and his bar would still be there.

It’s a simple, quiet place. It feels more like an old fashioned living room than a pub as most of us know them. Behind the red Formica counter where he sits there’s a flotsam of objects that local people might have to pick up after the shops have closed. You can get disposable razors, packets of salt and firelighters. Brown sauce and custard powder sit next to the usual assemblage of bottles stacked at room temperature.

There is of course a solitary tap for the Guinness. The smell of boiling potatoes and cabbage filters in from the room next door.

Tom’s a bit of a local hero these days. There have been appearances on chat shows. Local journos come and talk to him about the old days. He’ll answer your questions in clipped, simple sentences. Historians come in and ask about his old neighbours. Away-with-the-fairies locals who have been coming here years shoot the breeze. He remembers serving his first surfer, an Australian, in 1965.

Have a drink with Tom when your system has been doubled up on endorphins – your brain chemistry shifting and bubbling from the surf, your limbs calmly quieted. Stoked. On a good day the waves at Lahinch Lefts will do that to you.

The tilt of the planet into the 21st century had come and gone and Tom was still in his place, holding court, slowing things down just so.

Plastic Beach

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2010

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Plastic Beach

Plastic Beach
It’s easy to think, when you gaze out into the wild Atlantic, that you are confronting a wilderness free from the processes, laws and weirdness of the modern world.

At one level, of course, you are. No human hand or institution can properly tame the watery portion of the planet, which is of course the greatest in volume and area. But at another level, the apparently unruly ebb, flow and shudder of the seas is as much about us stand-up monkeys as the geophysics of the elements.

Ever since the age of exploration when human empires scoured the edges of the known world to claim territory, plunder goods and subjugate peoples, we have imposed definitions, laws – not to mention the product of our own frailties – on the ocean. We have along the way changed the nature of the floating world.

We’ve spent the last couple of centuries imposing the laws of the landlocked highways on the oceans whilst at the same time throwing our crap over the sides of our boats – and all the while arguing over the spoils. Our beaches are strewn with the evidence of our carelessness – like the pristine hedges along the country lane besmirched by jettisoned cans of Red Bull and tubes of Pringles.

Millions of tonnes of waste are thrown over the side of commercial shipping every year. International crews sail on ships under ‘flags of convenience’ under which no human rights, health and safety or environmental regulation are enforced. They are under no legal obligation to do anything other than chuck their rubbish, their waste, and the excess baggage over the side.

But it’s not only irresponsible sailors who are causing the problem of this toxic jetsam. The cruise ship industry has been booming for the last twenty years. These floating cathedrals of consumption, carrying as many as 5000 people at a time, are adept at leaving a toxic trail of untreated sewage in their wakes.

According to Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) who have called on the cruise industry to make the necessary investment to introduce onboard sewage treatment solutions, only a very few ships to date have made a commitment to do so.

Loopholes in current legislation mean that sewage and other waste continues to be discharged to sea, even from ships sailing under the British flag.

Coastal fauna is damaged and marine wildlife destroyed – and the unsuspecting recreational water user (that’s you and me) is put at risk.

The seemingly unstoppable tide of plastic, which it has been estimated can stick around in the ocean for as much as 500 years, is increasing in volume every year. Some scientists have calculated that there can be no beaches left on the entire planet – even in the furthest flung islands of Polynesia, that aren’t strewn with plastic waste.

Join the Surfers Against Sewage campaign to rage against the toxic tides:

www.sas.org.uk

Winnie The Brave

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2010

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Winnie The Brave

Winnie The Brave
Ok, so our 1973 Winnebago Brave was beautiful. That pretty face! That beautifully chromed flank! That killer veneered interior panelling! The Red Indian kitsch on the walls alone was worth its substantial weight in unleaded fuel.

But there were downsides. Sure, we weren’t clogging up the roads with a slow crawling, white plastic motor home and communing with the middle-of-the-road deep within us.

We were barreling through the Irish lanes with the accompanying soundtrack of a 5.9litre Chrysler V8 and feeling like things were just as they should have been. What was missing though, were the country and western soundtrack (the radio hasn’t worked since Woody Guthrie popped his clogs) and a sense of security and wellbeing.

The steering ratio on the Winnie was scarily slack, the column wobbling alarmingly over every pothole from Pembroke to Oughtdarra. What was worse was that the drum brakes’ slow compliance meant you had to drive like a track cyclist on a busy city street, anticipating junctions, tight bends and the erratic nature of Irish drivers’ lane selection. But wasn’t that part of the charm? Who wants a vehicle dreamt up in a corporate focus group, designed to within an inch of its life by marketeers?

The huge American engine, which was located just under the driver’s right elbow, belched out a steady stream of noxious fumes and enough decibels to drown out the sound of the over-priced Euros disappearing down the drain with every kilometre. The engine note, meanwhile, was something approaching that of a dragster, and the leaf sprung ride was vomit inducing. The Texas-scaled refrigerator didn’t work and we had to fill the radiator with Radweld after the first forty miles.

Most scarily of all, the Winnie’s brakes failed almost completely after a late night wander on the Burren and we had been brought down to earth by the reality of immanent collision after contemplating the spin of the earth on the mystic limestone scar.

But despite all of the above we loved our Winnebago. We think though, that she should be retired to grow old gracefully and used for spare accommodation in the back yard, perhaps giving her a run-out each summer when the roads are dry and the sun is out.

You’re meant to enjoy the Winnie rather than simply drive it. And you can do that wherever she parks. She’s just so cool.

Different Sports, Same Soul

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2010

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Different Sports, Same Soul

Different Sports, Same Soul
Somewhere climbing and surfing intersect. The place where it happens in not obvious, but it exists.

Every surfer has experienced it. After every decent session you’re left with frozen moments that are locked into your consciousness – instantaneous images that crystallise in your mind with a vague yet powerful tangibility. These moments evoke the kind of immediate nostalgia as that of Polaroid prints.

You lean into your bottom turn and see the wall of the wave reeling up ahead of you. Click. You hold a stylish body position while attempting to cutback to the power source from out on the wave’s slackening shoulder. Click.

The sensorial cacophony that accompanies the union of man, ocean and earth is particularly evocative of these moments and results easily in the mystic leap between brain chemistry and muscle memory.

Out there on the crag, though, a hundred miles from the coast, climbers experience these moments too.

There is an ache and a fear and a pounding of your heart and an increased intensity of perception. When your body and your mind are stretched to extremes hard-won physical knowledge takes over. The climber’s world is distilled to the square centimetres that surround that finger hold. The universe becomes the angle and camber and extension of that crux move.

A wave is essentially ephemeral. It never truly exists in space and time but is simply a manifestation of natural given form in liquid by the interaction of the sea floor and the energy itself. A rock face is pure energy too – but formed in imperceptible increments over geological time. It is warped and cracked and affected by environmental conditions that stretch over aeons rather than the fleeting moments that form a breaking wave.

Is it too great a leap of the imagination to acknowledge that they are both outriders of the human race’s deep instinct to dance with the elements? Could it be that both surfers and climbers simply play in the beauty and the menace of the planet?

Illustration: Chris Gray

The Burren

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2010

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The Burren

The Burren
Go wandering on the Burren and you realise that the world turns to a different rhythm than your own.

The Burren is a hundred and fifty square miles of Limestone upland that rises from the sea off West Clare in Ireland. Its craggy shards are riven with ancient fissures. The deep valleys that cut into its heights are edged by natural pavements and monolithic clints – island-like slabs of free standing stone in pools of hardy grasses.

In the paths themselves still deeper grykes are etched, lending the rock its tortuously wrinkled surface. Limestone, you see, is the rock most susceptible to erosion.

Over the aeons even the mildly acid tang of the Irish rain edges its substance away.

Round Black Head in the North the Burren meets the full force of the Atlantic and the prevailing south westerlies into whose face the rock submerges.

It’s like West of the Island itself is listing in the force of the elements. Gort Plain lies in the Burren’s lea to the East, while Doolin’s pulsating pubs and rocky right-handers define its southernmost border. From there it sinks to a bog deep as Ireland itself.

Whispered lore suggests that the Burren is a spaghetti junction of ley lines. But whether or not the limestone contains unseen, connective energies, when you wander here the sky itself seems to flatten and press even in the immaculate blue of occasional summer.

When the clouds gather, which is most of the time, a tangible weight flattens the light. Sound is warped on the surface of the rocks and muffled by the grasses between clint and gryke. There is a strange, quiet magic to things. Generations leave traces. The Burren’s human history is as long as civilisation itself. Man was driven here deep in the past for the shelter the rock afforded his family and flock. Evidence suggests, though, that it wasn’t only the saints and crazed hermits of the Christian era who found this place so special. There are ancient dolmens and cashels, tributary monoliths and places of devotion that can be dated back seven millennia.

By what we call the Middle Ages the high central uplands of the Burren had been cleared of trees and the soil left free and open to the force of the wind. What remains is therefore a skeletal landscape of natural pavements that lead in concentric circles from nowhere to anywhere.

Structures that sheltered Stone Age settlers are buried in the fissures where you’ll find tiny flowers in pockets of soil protected from the winds. The arcane herbage here gets contemporary botanists hot under the collar. Plants like mountain avens and spring gentian that originate in the arctic nestle cosily by the panoply of fern species whose ancestors were bred in the balmy Mediterranean.

When the rain falls heavily water pushes up through the cracks in the rock to form temporary lakes that appear suddenly and drain away slowly to nothing. These Turloughs are garlanded with arrangements of fleeting petals that bloom and die with the pulse of water, wind and sun.

The Burren is a unique, sensitive environment that shows the scars it has suffered. Human history and elemental power have taking their toll – but such is its power that it has managed to make a beautiful virtue out of its reality.

It was here in this unique upland that we rested our heads and took stock of stuff.

Nick Radford

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2010

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Nick Radford

Nick Radford
Music, surfing and art. These things are essentially intertwined. Think about it. Waves are ephemeral accumulations of energy. They don’t exist as objects. They form and quickly disappear, just like music. Surfers draw lines on waves that leave nothing but foam traces.

Down the ages a debate has whispered away in the imaginative margins of surfing: what is it that surfers actually do? Are they sportsmen? Are they drop-out slackers who should know better than to dedicate their lives to this beautiful indulgence? Or are they actually performance artists whose canvas is the environment – trimming along ahead of the curl with a golden secret that the landlocked can never share?

With Nick Radford these questions are easier to answer. He is all of the above.

At times, it’s difficult to know where one world ends and one begins. His musical influences are Jazz guitarists such as Grant Green and

Kenny Burrell – imaginative improvisers who sculpt staccato lines around the melody. The surfers he has admired are similarly creative: think David Nuhiwwa’s offbeat flow, mad grace from the sixties – or Tyler Hatzikian’s craftsman dynamics in contemporary California.

Nick’s favourite artists – legendary American modernist Charlie Harper among them – have taken colour and natural objects and fused them in unexpected mediums and contexts, and our mate Geoff McFetridge has placed the surfboard in the realm of art with his amorphous juxtapositions and freakoid figures.

Stick all these forms of creativity in a pot, stir it with a healthy dose of calm poise and self deprecating humour – bake for a couple of months in an ex-council van by the side of an Atlantic point – and what you get is Nick Radford. One of the good souls.

www.frootful.co.uk

Elsie Pinniger

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2010

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Elsie Pinniger

Elsie Pinniger
When you are supposed to write about someone, you’re supposed to encapsulate who a person is. That’s never a simple exercise. With Elsie, it’s particularly problematic. Elsie, you see, is a million different things. She constantly surprises. One moment she is cooking great food for her friends. The next she is conducting an improptu yoga class on the lawn outside the howies house. On the Burren’s most Westerly coastal fragments she leaps about at sunset enthusing while collecting dried and crispy discs of cowpat for the fire. She dances a dodgy Irish jig on the roof of the Winnebago (this act is the physical analogue to her terrible imitation of an Irish accent, possibly the worst in the history of Anglo-Irish relations). Cut to another image in your mind and she’s cross stepping gracefully, eyes fixed down the line. In another still she is transporting rolls of Japanese limestone-based neoprene around Cornwall in her thirty-five-year old Morris Marina Estate (in faded Harvest Gold). She can go toe-to-toe with anybody in a drinking competition. And she can throw a strop at times.

A few years back Elsie got sick of buying and wearing uncomfortable wetsuits. They never fitted properly. Suits marketed at women were too short and cut in the wrong way. Wetsuits made for men were completely wrong. So she decided to make them herself. They fitted well, looked the business and had that elusive bespoke quality that everybody likes. Soon, her mates wanted one for themselves. A one-woman industry was created.

Typical Elsie. She is self-sufficient – reliant on no one but herself. These are not usually the elements of an individual that appeal. But Elsie has a kind of searching, restless quality about her – an essential fragility that is at odds with her formidable exterior. Despite this she attacks the day with more energy than any of us, even after the fourth dawn patrol on the spin. But that’s what Elsie is all about. She is in the moment. She acts on instinct – her physicality at the centre of things.

Elsie goes with howies like potatoes go with cabbage.

Jack Abbott

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2010

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Jack Abbott

Jack Abbott
Up on the Burren, Jack Abbott is improvising an obscene little ditty about Lily Allen, his oversized ukulele in hand. It’s a nice tune. Can’t print the lyrics, though. The sun sets around the fire and we laugh. Jack has an incredible laugh (it sounds a bit like a sea lion). He gets a little embarrassed about it though, so instead tends to use what he refers to as his ‘safety chuckle’.

He plays guitar and he surfs but our Jack is no Jack Johnson. When our Jack waits for the tide, he’s not sitting in the shade of a coconut tree and sucking languidly on a papaya. He’s more likely to be rubbing shoulders with an old couple with tartan rugs and flasks of tea.

Jack lives you see, at the back of Freshwater West, a stumble away from the shore. He grew up surfing in his back yard and started competing every now and then a couple of years ago. He did well in the Welsh Nationals last year and met Paul and ended up on the surf team at howies.

Jack’s just back from a bit of requisite surf travel to Australia and South East Asia. Irate sex workers in Kuta chased him. He lost his mind in Raglan. He was irritated by the local heavies at Dee Why and got a little skunked in Bali. That sort of thing.

He doesn’t fit into the clichés of what defines a nineteen-year-old grom. He doesn’t own a pair of sunglasses and in a whole week I didn’t hear him utter the word ‘dude.’

In a way he’s not really a surfer. He just surfs. 

And that’s why we like our Jack.

Get There Before The Planners Do

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2010

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Get There Before The Planners Do

Get There Before The Planners Do
Two of Ireland’s most beautiful surf spots are currently threatened with extinction.

The threat comes from developers who want to build a new pier at Doolin. There’s already a pier at Doolin, but a small one. If the development is allowed to start, hundreds of tonnes of limestone will have to be blasted from the floor of the natural lagoon to make room for a line of concrete revetments. This process, and the presence of the revetments themselves, will undoubtedly change the hydrodynamics of Doolin Point and Crab Island forever.

These surf spots are natural wonders in their own right. Once taken away they can’t be put back.

And if the waves disappear, then the surfers disappear. If the surfers disappear, then so does the money they bring to this part of Ireland. If money is the major motivator in the developers’ plans, it probably still makes no sense in the long run to build a huge new pier.

www.howi.es/doolin

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