Be Careful What You Wish For...

Weird Goldfish

People are funny. Goldfish, not so much.

Some years back, a colleague was moving to Dublin and needed someone to take his fishtank and fish. Seeing as I had been daydreaming about a fishtank in my home office, I volunteered. I thought; "how nice it would be, to work upstairs, while in the company of fish, swimming around. How relaxing!" I built a sturdy structure into the wall, wired in sockets for the air pump and filter, and took delivery of an enormous fish tank and two goldfish. One of the things they don't really mention, is that fish tanks must be kept out of direct sunlight and mine wasn't. It didn't take long for the local algae to make themselves at home. It also didn't take long for my newfound friends to discover that I had a purpose beyond entertaining them while I stared at the computer. My purpose, such as it was, was twofold. Firstly, they delegated the feeding task to me, whenever I happened to pass by. Who says goldfish have no long-term memory? It's a sham. Whenever I walked into my newly-aquatic office, two goldfish would heft their weighty bodies to the surface, gobbling fresh air, while waiting for me to endow them with food. Of course, we know that matter cannot be created or destroyed, so all that food has to end up "somewhere"...

My second purpose was to clean the filter. Let me try to describe this function in basic terms. Their filter was comprised of two small pieces of foam. About 4cm by 10cm, and perhaps a centimetre thick. It didn't take long for this filter to become encrusted with the, uh, reprocessed food. Regularly, after first feeding them, I would have to remove the filters and take them downstairs to be cleaned. Not a trivial task, let me tell you. Fish poo can embed itself in a foam filter like nothing I've seen before or since. No matter how often I cleaned the tank, it would again fill up with algae, and the filter would be clogged. The fish would stare out at me through the mire, as if to say "Dude! Seriously! This is unhygienic." From an evolutionary perspective, goldfish are way down the pecking order. We are apparently far more evolved than them. So why is it, I spent so much time cleaning their crap out of the filter? Maybe the Intelligent Design people are right. Maybe we're just not as intelligently designed as we might think.

This is where a friend intervened. To protect the guilty, we'll call him "P". I explained my problem of the two goldfish, the filter, and the evolutionary scale. He rolled his head back in glee, clapped his hands together, and announced that I needed a garden pond. I insisted that I was trying to minimise the effort I had unduly taken upon myself, but he was having none of it. He explained that what I needed was a sufficiently big garden pond, to balance out the equilibrium, so to speak. He explained that what I needed to do was build a particularly big pond in my back garden, dump the two goldfish into the pond, along with ten or twelve new fish and some plants. The plants would eat the fish poo, and the system would remain balanced. Easy peasy! No more filters, no more algae, no more evolutionary problems. Apparently the area where I live has a high number of herons, and they can empty a pond in a day or two. In order to avoid turning my reluctant friends into bird food, I would need the pond to be deep. Very deep.

Once persuaded, and to be fair, it didn't take a huge amount of persuasion, I set about digging a hole in my garden. A deep hole. A very deep hole. One which was also kidney-shaped, and ornate. It took a lot of digging, but the more I thought about the crap-infested foam filters, the harder I drove the shovel into the ground. I was possessed! Within about a week or so, I had a decent-sized hole. I could probably have buried a full-sized human in there, and I think my neighbours were slighly concerned. I lined it with plastic, filled it with water, put some potted plants at the bottom, and left it for a week or two to equalise. After that, my two little office buddies were relocated, and were joined by 12 new-hires. I got rid of the tank, the air pump, the poo filter, and the elaborate wooden structure I had built. Harmony was restored. I could visit my pals down in the garden, and their effluent was now plant food. Needless to say, the plants thrived.

About a year later, I noticed some shimmering within the pond. Hard to discern, but there was something unnatural in the water. At first, I thought my lovely garden pond had been contaminated with insects, and I set about in full CSI mode, to investigate. I discovered that the infestation was none other than a shoal of tiny goldfish. Newborns! Naturally, I was thrilled. I had created a happy place for my fish. A place where they thought they might settle down and raise families. Then, I wondered what kind of birth control methods do fish use. I know that earthworms can control their population, but I also know that goldfish will keep eating until they explode. In other words, they're not exactly very sensible about these kinds of things. I then noticed that there were definitely more than fourteen goldfish in the pond. Panicked, I started counting fish. Unlike sheep which apparently can put you to sleep, counting fish is akin to herding cats. I stopped after I reached thirty five. Yes, my fish pond now had over thirty five fish, not counting the newest generation who were too small to count, and those that evaded counting. This was not a good development.

I immediately contacted "P" to get his advice. He came to visit. His first reaction was to rub his chin, and to repeat the epithet "Wow!" This was not the reaction I expected. "How many fish did you put in there?" he asked. I told him about the two originals and the twelve new-hires. Again his reaction left something to be desired. "Fourteen? Fourteen fish! You put fourteen fish into the pond?" Apparently I had misheard him. A happy medium was three or possibly four fish. I distinctly remember him saying ten or twelve. From now on, I will take notes. Particularly when talking to "P." I then asked if that was the cause of the, uh, "murkiness" in the water. Yes, I had also noticed that the pond was anything but clear. In fact, it was even worse than the fish tank. He looked at it, and said no, there must be something wrong with the filter. "What filter?" I asked, incredulously. His reaction was to see my look of incredulity and raise it. "You don't have a filter?" He was beside himself with disbelief. I patiently pointed out how had said there would be an equilibrium or some such, and that the fish would eat the food, the plants would eat the poo, etc, etc. Harmony. Evolution as it should be, etc. "No, no, no," he countered. "You have to have a filter. Even for four fish, you need to filter the water." His facial expression made it clear that any idiot would know this. My facial expression revealed homocidal tendencies.

So, suitably chastened, and stopping short of homicide, I drove to the garden centre. I handed over a shocking amount of money, and brought home a large contraption which now sits beside the fish pond. While the fish have shown no tendency towards birth control, the water is at least clear and free of fish poo. For my part, I now have the unenviable task of regularly hand-cleaning three very large blocks of foam, which comprise the filtration system. Each block of foam easily dwarfs the previous blocks of foam, and a menial cleaning task has now taken on the spectre of a full-time career at a waste treatment facility.

So, what have we learnt? Yes, be careful what you wish for. This is a very true statement. Sometimes improvements aren't what they seem. More importantly, we have learnt that goldfish don't have goldfish memories, but the same can't be said of humans.

Clash of the Ash


In thinking some more about this John Michael McDonagh idiocy, I remember in 1990 that San Jose, California decided to start an International Film Festival. Because San Jose is twinned with Dublin (a little-known fact), they decided their inaugural film festival should have an Irish focus. Back then, our catalogue of films was pretty thin, but they showed The Field, The Dead and a few others. I lived in San Jose, so attended everything. Including a little-known film called Clash of the Ash by our own Fergus Tighe.

I had no idea what to expect, but I was blown away. In an audience of mostly Americans, they had no idea what they were watching, but so many of the scenes in the film resonated with my life. A Christian Brother pacing through a classroom speaking Irish held me in Post-Traumatic Shock. For the first time in my life, I saw a film which related to me. Not the "Eighth Grade" (whatever that is), not the High School Prom, not Baseball or American Football, but Hurling.

This, to me, is Irish cinema. Produced by the inestimable talents of Lelia Doolan, the film leapt off the screen and into my psyche.

It's not that I dislike American cinema. Of course not. But it's nice to see a story which derives from my upbringing rather than people I've never met, which doesn't resort to hackneyed cliche or thin characterisations about Oirish people.

Perhaps these are the Irish films that McDonagh poured scorn upon, but to me they represent a truth of living here. A truth echoed in the works of Kieron Walsh, Lenny Abrahamson, Terry McMahon, Conor Horgan and a host of other Irish filmmakers telling stories which don't try to mimic Tarantino, which don't try to retell American westerns on an Irish landscape, which don't dip into the Irish Book of Cliches, but instead seek to tell a story about a real Ireland which is part of our upbringing and part of our psyche.

If these are what McDonagh had in mind, then I say yes, let's separate his derivative works from the real canon of Irish Film. Let's put his into the heap with Darby O'Gill, Far and Away, Leap Year and others which show a foreign and spurious view of this sodden rock. Let's keep telling our stories the way we want them told, and to hell with the begrudgers.

The view from the office

George's Taverna, Kalamos

This is the view from George's Taverna on the Greek island of Kalamos. During the day, George busies himself by helping the visiting boats deal with the vagaries of stern-to mooring, with cross-winds, crossed anchors, frayed tempers and too many boats in one small area. At night, the grateful visitors frequent his taverna and eat from a varied menu. The other tavernas sit empty, save for the few tourists who may have already dined at George's or who have decided there is no need to add their patronage to his busy restaurant.

Kalamos is a nice town. And a beautiful, majestic island. The pilot book tells us "the islanders make a living from fishing and a little agriculture [...]. Sadly the village is dying as the young move away to more lucrative jobs on the mainland." For the visitors, it's easy living, here. You get the impression that days flow into weeks and the rhythms of visiting boats coming and going, the hustle and bustle of feeding the travellers, interspersed with the local fishing boat edging its way out. Broadband is of course hard to find. Like most places, the WiFi is free but intermittent. Cash is also hard to come by. The island does not have a "bank network" whatever that is. As a result, no credit cards. Just cash, please. One sceptically wonders if the cash-only business also helps when it comes to tax time.

Today is particularly breezy but we are spared the torrential rains of yesterday. A brief opportunity to dry clothes.

At George's Taverna you can have a warm shower for €2.50. Overall, you cannot help to think that George is creating his own micro-economy. Yes, the state (or more likely the ECB) paid for the harbour, but he makes the most of it. By contrast, when the Volvo Ocean Race came to Galway, the clear winners were the pubs and hotels in the city. How much did they give back to the organisation which brought the event to Galway? A scant few shillings. Guess where the Volvo Ocean Race isn't going, this year? Eventually these types of events will dry up in Galway. Eventually the pubs and hotels will cry crocodile tears about how they have been short-changed by the Government and by all around them, but really they are the perpetrators of the misjustice.

They could learn a lot from George.

The Sharp End of the Camera.

There's a book somewhere, or if there isn't, there should be. It's called "The Definitive List of Unpleasant Activities for Humans."

It has the obvious ones, like visiting the dentist, tax returns, "frank discussions" with the bank manager, and for some, public speaking. Now personally, I have nothing against public speaking as long as it's not too public and doesn't require too much speaking. On my personal list, I would rate "listening to my own answering machine message" as fairly horrendous. Picture the scene; you're at a friends house, where they have one of those old answering machines (in the days before we went all "voice-mail" on everyone). You drop by to visit, and they're surprised. You explain that you left a message that you were coming, and they dash over to the contraption, with the blinking, red numbers. They press play, and listen with delight at your long, rambling message about dropping by. Meanwhile, you're hoping some sort of Stargate-sized galactic hole will appear, and either swallow you up, or else take away your friend and their infernal answering machine.

When we got married, Lara and I hired a very good cameraman to video the event on the basis we'd have final editorial control, we could make as many copies as we wanted, and most importantly, we'd save money. The flaw in this plan? It requires that I edit the volumes of footage down into a cohesive film, and that involves watching myself on screen for hours on end. I would rate Root Canal Work lower on the unlike list. To date, the footage sits on a disk somewhere, waiting for me to get over my dislike, nay hatred, of watching myself on screen.

Recently, we decided to put the proverbial toe into the cold and turbulent waters of crowd funding, to see how it worked, to get the project over the finish line, and also to see if it was suitable for something long-form. The experiment has begun (if you're interested in helping us fund our short film, you can find the details here).

One of the key requirements of crowd-funding, is a personal appeal by either the director or the producer. Seeing as the producer was cowering under the couch, it was left to me, your humble director, to do the "piece to camera." So, I wrote a little script. I described the project, a little bit about me, about the company, and what we were trying to do.

We then set up an interview lighting arrangement, with yours truly in the hot seat. Lights, camera, action, and all that. Well, not quite. I kept having to refer to my notes. Plus, it sounded as stilted as a news report by a very small TV station in Antarctic.

Take Two! This time, I ad-libbed it. I talked about the project, the company, the actors, and what we were trying to do. Not quite as staged, but the viewer was left in no uncertain terms, that this rabbit was very afraid of the oncoming headlights.

We tried another couple of takes, some rearranged (and less fake) backgrounds, to no avail.

I double-checked with the FundIt guys, and yes, a pitch to camera was entirely necessary, if the project was to succeed. Drat! Double Drat!

After a two week absence, due to that thing called Life, we tried again. This time, I managed to seem almost natural, introducing myself as the writer and director. After a dozen takes and at least one stiff drink, that is! We decided to forego any further pieces to camera, until we could see exactly what we needed, for the pitch video.

As it happens, I was able to edit something together with little more than a four second PTC, and a bunch of still images and text overlays.

The ninety second piece was loaded up onto Vimeo, and the project was unveiled on FundIt. If you want to see the eventual pitch, you can watch it here. I hope you're not squeamish!

Anyway, there it is. Our little project is out in the open, and who knows if it'll make it to the finish line. It's in the hands of the gods, now. All I know is, I have a new and profound respect for people who make their living by talking to lenses and acting natural in the process.


I think it's too early to say that crowd-funding will really shake up independent film, but there are a lot of people (present company included) who would like to see it do just that.

With The Dead Drop, our upcoming short film at Claddagh Films, we are seeking funding through Irish site FundIt. We are attempting to secure €3,500 towards the production costs of the film. We chose this amount for several reasons. We believe we can bring the whole project in for under €5,000 so the FundIt component will cover the bulk of the cash budget, with Claddagh Films making up the difference. Also, it seemed a reasonable amount, judging by other film and television projects on the site. Only time will tell if we are successful.

Our ultimate goal would be to use crowd-funding for a component of the Green Star Liner budget. As that film has a much, much higher budget, we figured it was better to start with The Dead Drop and see how we got on.