I am rarely ever in Ireland for a prolonged period of time. And by prolonged period of time, I mean more than 72 hours. I come back for the odd weekend which usually involves an evening with family, an evening with friends and an evening of recovery before the early flight the next morning. As a result, the last time I really lived in Dublin was when I was seventeen. When I go home, I’m really returning to a past life, as it were.
This can get rather monotonous when, like now, there are so few of my friends around and so, now that I’m home for a whopping great five days, I am trying to cram my days full of stuff to do and things to see. Róisín Kiberd is a friend of mine of old who studied English at Magdalene College, Cambridge and has just returned to Dublin, having graduated.
She’s currently free-lancing and spending vast amounts of time in the offices of newspapers and magazines and in the presence of people whose job it is to have their fingers on the cultural pulse. Now, Kiberd has always been my go-to person whenever I felt I needed a boost of really obscure/cool material which I could read up on and thus sound vastly au courant. But recently, even by her own standards, the woman has been on FIRE!
Tonight, I met up with her and she took me to a place called The Exchange in Temple Bar, which is an ‘independent, non-commercial space’ run entirely by volunteers. The aim of The Exchange is essentially to provide a scene for discourse of any shape or kind to people of all ages in Dublin. This evening, it was hosting a monthly soiree called Milk + Cookies. The idea is a simple one, but something I have actually never seen done before. This is made all the more suprising by the sheer simplicity of said idea. The evening is an open mic event where members of the audience are invited to stand and tell a story – any story they like, with the one rule that it must be no more than ten minutes long. Meanwhile, free cookies and milk are passed round to all and sundry, as is a jar for donations (the event is completely free). There are clearly regulars who all know each other well and I recognised a few faces – not least my old friend Declan who scared the bejesus out of me by greeting me with a rugby tackle out of nowhere.
What I loved most about the whole affair was the sheer range of people and subject matters. One man in a suit and tie recited a story of Siberian exploration and near-death experience. Another boy told a polemic about his discovery that Santa Claus isn’t real. One elderly gentleman regaled with the hilarious consequences of a construction worker’s death and a teenaged girl stood in front of us and related the horrid-ness of an ex-boyfriend.
For a long time, it seems, I had forgotten the Irish culture, and seemingly unanimous talent, for story-telling. Some tales were lengthy, some were short. Some were hilarious, others truly tragic. Not a single one failed to hold my attention. There was no alcohol at the event, no accessories, not a single mobile phone went off in the four hours I was there. That such an event can be such a success (the place was packed) in a day when, seemingly, all our entertainment needs are being constantly catered to by modern appliances, shows that there is still a place for the most traditional forms of entertainment. And I’m very glad of it.