Season 5 Episode 1 ‘The Big Pause’
What happens when the things you’ve been planning, the projects you have been dreaming of, get postponed, cancelled or become impossible to do? In the first episode of a new season of Pantisocracy, Panti Bliss is hosting a gathering of storytelling and song, with three people who found themselves launching their beloved projects, the results of years of work, in the middle of a global pandemic and lockdown.
Welcome to Pantisocracy. And this is your host, Miss Panti Bliss.
Well, hello and welcome back to Pantisocracy. It has been a while and for a time I wasn’t sure if I’d get out at all this year, but we are back. Back in our parlour of conversations and music. But in a rather more intimate or socially distanced version. And it’s quite different from me, I have to say on a personal note, not to have an audience here with us.
So it’s going to take me some time to get used to. But my guests, on the other hand, it’s all new to you anyway.
So with me are two very different writers. Debonair is the word that’s often used to describe you.
Mark O’Connell, debonair. Whose dark, witty new work ,Notes from an apocalypse, seems spookily apt for the times that we are living in. And he’s literally gone to the ends of the earth to hang out with some doomsday folk. And then we also have an Indian woman who has adopted Ireland as her home since the late eighties. So that’s a journey. Please welcome Cauvery Madhavan. Thanks for being with us Cauvery. And your new novel is The Tainted.
And it’s a mixed race love story against the backdrop of Irish soldiers mutiny in India. A story, which I knew nothing about until I came across your book.
Then finally, we have a songstress, Lisa Lambe. You are one of only two people who’s been a guest on this show twice, including Jack O’Rourke, so congratulations. That is some sort of prize. I’m also intimidated when I meet you Lisa, because of your incredible hair. So if you’re at home, listening to this, go online, find the video clip on Pantisocracy.ie and look at Lisa’s hair and swoon with jealousy.
Lisa, we all remember your last time here, and it was a Christmas show. And here this time when going you talk about your new album, Juniper, because, We’re going to talk about that because there’s something that links all three of you here today. So you all have these artistic babies that were delivered in the middle of a global pandemic. That’s the sort of scary sort of feeling, I imagine, when things that you’ve been preparing for so long are suddenly thrust out into the world and everyone is screaming.
Yeah. And we’ve all, of course, had to be dealing with the whole lockdown.
And my lockdown has been very interesting for me. I learned stuff about myself. I have always thought that I’m naturally lazy and that given the opportunity, I would just love to lie around doing nothing.
I’ve also liked the idea of being the perfect lottery winner, but it turns out that’s not quite true. I’m just a procrastinator. Because if you do give me the opportunity, or force me to lie around the house all day I just get so bored so quickly. And so I hated that part of it.
But do you know what everything has a silver lining because that drove me to find things to do.
And what I did was I upskilled.
I have really gotten into, you know, hair styling and stuff, you know, more than I ever did before. And I’ve even overcome my fear of technology and have learned how to edit video. And I’m pretty good.
So it’s been a mixed bag for me. On one hand, I’ve hated it. And of course, I have other things in my life that are just all paused in a way that’s looming and dark and I’m worried about.
But then there’s these other things that I’ve learned about myself. And yeah, I think I used the time productively. Mark, have you?
Well, what a question. Have I used it productively. I mean, it’s been a strange time for me because obviously the book has come out. And so I’ve been through much of it, been kind of busy with doing the promotional stuff for the book, which has all happened in my spare room. Yeah. So all of the things that I was going to be doing throughout the spring and summer, flying around and going to festivals and things like that, some of them are happening, but they’re happening online.
But it is it’s hard to work. It’s hard to get into the headspace of doing work, you know, especially when you’re at home and I have two young kids and all that stuff.
And everybody’s experience of it is the same and yet different, too. Cauvery, you’ve had nine people in your house.
Yeah, because I have three children and their partners were with us almost the entire period because
By choice yeah, not by my choice. But, you know, we have three grown up children and they’re all three studying abroad. So when they came back home, our son came back with his Norwegian girlfriend because she couldn’t go back to Norway because her mother has a lung condition and she you know, she didn’t want to go back there.
So she came to us and she came to us with her dog. So we had sort of. And then my daughter, you know, her boyfriend decided to they wanted to be together so he decided to come to us as well. And my younger daughter as well has her boyfriend staying with us.
But it’s been not too bad.
You also have your own mother.
And she only came from India like relatively recently.
Yeah she’s been with me for the last three years. You know, she came and just before she turned 80. And boy, I’ll tell you something, I am so glad she’s with me rather than be alone in India.
Yeah, yeah. And well, of course you’re really at the face of it because your husband is a surgeon and working in the hospital front line.
Yeah. For the first four weeks I mean, I was so distracted because, I mean, I literally achieved nothing because all I did was watch the news. And I was anxious when he came home, you know, that he stay separate from us. So, you know, I moved bedrooms and I’m never going back. (Laughter)
It’s fabulous to have your own bedroom. Nothing like it.
No but jokes aside, you know, we were quite worried initially. But, you know, you we’ve kind of we’ve let it go now. We’ve let that anxiety go about, you know, because. I know, sure, he is super careful, you know. So you can’t do anything more than that?
Well, it’s amazing how quickly we adapt to all these things. Although we were saying, when we were meeting each other early on and we hadn’t worked out what to do about a handshake and all that’s still I find that so awkward.
Now, Lisa one of the things you said about your album is that it’s like going through the stages of grief when you’ve spent all this time and you expected to be out there then selling it and performing and all that and then it just stops.
Yeah, it was a very interesting kind of race to the launch of the album. And the launch of the album was April 3rd, which was just about a week into what we were all about to kind of face together. And I remember in March, I was talking to the record label who were over in Los Angeles and everything was sort of in motion for it to come out like yourselves and touring it, promoting it, everything. So it almost felt we couldn’t almost delay it or we couldn’t postpone it.
And it felt the album was such, I suppose, a devotion or a love letter to nature that I kind of felt, well, you know, look, this is meant to happen. It’s meant to come out now. And I just have to be brave about it and I suppose embrace that thing of technology, which I was so afraid of. And so I launched my album on Facebook and we pre-recorded it and we put it out. But I got to, you know, pour myself a glass of wine and watch.
the performance unfolding. But what was fantastic was that everybody who’s been part of the making of the album, which took 18 months of going to Connemara writing it, songwriting, going to studios to prep it and then going to Donegal to make it finally. Everybody that was involved, all the music makers, came together for this performance on April 3rd, which was really special.
So there was 10.
Like what, do you mean came together online?
Came together but apart I suppose is the phrase. So there was from all corners of Ireland, everybody was in their home studio or their bedroom. And it was really moving, actually. I supposed to reimagine how to put something together that would still represent all of those crumb trails and all of those things that have brought you to that moment. So I was really conscious I suppose of the quality of what was going to be shared for the very first time.
And you, a bit like me, had to overcome your fear of technology and then you learn something in a way. But you’re also putting a positive spin here on the lockdown, too, because it wasn’t all easy.
And, you know, I saw a thing where you were the first month you found hard and then you sort of, I don’t know, got into it.
Yeah, I think so. I think initially,
You’re a hugger of course.
I know, I know. I’m the youngest of 10, so I’m used to being around lots of people. Like your lovely home during lockdown. So, yeah, it’s been a learning process for sure. I think initially when the news and the pandemic was so new to all of us, I didn’t feel like I wanted to go online or post things that, you know, I usually post things about my work, which was obviously very different.
But like Mark, I mean there was so many things that were coming up. So I kind of in the first few weeks, kept working on the album, kept promoting it, doing stuff online. Taking phonecalls, interviews. And I suppose mid lockdown is when I really kind of stepped into the oh, I can you know, I can wear my pajamas now for the next little while and Zoom, you know, from my kitchen table.
And so it’s been it’s been great, though. I think I’ve definitely slowed down, which has been really good because you don’t realize how busy you are.
It’s also, one of the positives that I got out of it is, I realized you know the world can just stop and we don’t all die. In a way our lives continued in some ways normally.
You know, the world order didn’t break down, apart from stockpiling toilet roll.
You know, my bank card still worked.
You know what I mean, and that was actually kind of a surprise because the world didn’t end.
And that actually is comforting to me somehow.
Well your whole book is basically about that, Mark.
Yes, it is. I mean, yeah there was so many sort of dramatic ironies around the book coming out when it did. And the themes of it obviously are about anxieties to do with situations. I mean, apocalyptic situations, whether they’re to do with climate change or an asteroid hitting the planet or they’re just sort of a slow disintegration of civilization or whatever, you know, viral pandemics do come into the book here and there.
But yes, there was a lot of sort of it was a weird time to be releasing a book on exactly that topic. And, you know,
Sort of a brilliant time in a way.
I mean, has that been a good thing or a bad thing?
Well, I don’t know. I guess it’s still quite early days, you know, in terms of publishing, because like yourself Lisa, the book came out right on the cusp of when this thing was becoming obviously very serious and there was a lot of anxiety, it was too late really to pull it. But it was also it seemed like, well, maybe if any book is going to have something to say, something to speak about to this moment, maybe this is one of the books.
But, you know, you decided to write a book about, you know, apocalyptic anxiety called Notes on an Apocalypse.
There must be something in the ether. Because you were like sensing. I mean why did you write it?
I mean, part of this sort of idea of the book is that it’s always the apocalypse. I mean, that’s sort of what I’m getting at in the book is that it’s never not the end of the world, depending on where you are, or who you are there is always cause for apocalyptic anxiety. And it seems like, you know, I guess this is just the nature of psychology when we look back to sort of six months ago now, as a sort of halcyon period or whatever?
But, you know, when I started writing the book in sort of mid 2016, it did seem like there were sort of apocalyptic intimations in the ether, as you’d put it. And I was sort of trying to pick up on those and sort of trying to explore my own anxieties around these things and, you know, going out into the world and encountering other people’s versions of these anxieties and the ways that they were preparing for them and so on.
At the same time, I mean, a lot of the conversation around the book, since it’s come out, you know, whether it’s reviews or interviews or whatever, has been around the idea that the book is sort of weirdly uncannily prescient and the timing is, you know, couldn’t be better. Obviously, it’s not prescient. I’d no more idea than anyone else that something like this was coming.
Well that’s what prescience is, you know, you just sense it.
No, I’ll take it. Yeah. I’ll happily take that.
But are the apocalyptic fears or the anxieties are they generational or are they always the same. I mean like I’m in some ways I’m surprised that I’m sitting here talking to you because I thought at one time that I was going to be burned to death under my school desk by a nuclear holocaust.
And that was the big worry when I was in primary school. You know, nuclear annihilation.
Yeah, I guess I sort of caught the tail end of that. It was sort of in my consciousness in terms of things that were in the culture of the times
You’re just trying to point out that you’re younger than me
Absolutely. Did I not do that subtlety enough?
But I guess the thing for me, like growing up, was like the ozone, the ozone layer. That was like the big apocalyptic fear, certainly for kids. I don’t know, you know, and that sort of went away. But I mean, the sort of big kind of looming thing in the background of my book is really climate change. You know, it’s not a book about climate change, but that’s the sort of for me, the moment that I started writing, it was a moment of sort of combined anxiety about the perception of this, like really sort of vast darkness on the sort of horizon of the future, combined with a sense that politically things were fragmenting.
Just the idea of the future was like a very dark place. And that combined with, you know, bringing young children into the world.
And it’s funny because, you know, you’re not the first gentleman we’ve had on the show who speaks about that, but when you have children and suddenly your world view or your perspective on things becomes longer. And that’s certainly true of you in this book.
I guess it is. Yeah. Like, it’s not like I was never, you know, concerned about climate change or anything like that. But certainly it becomes personal. The future becomes personal I think for me anyway, after I had children. Because you’re implicated in it. You know, not only it’s easy to think of the future in sort of abstract terms when it’s just you. And I think then when you have kids like you in some way extend further into that future.
And also, the big thing for me is that you are responsible for in some way, that person’s future experience. You brought them into the world. You know, you’ve in some way made a case for the world and the future by having a child. So there’s a kind of a moral kind of dimension to all that for me that I wanted to explore in the book.
Yeah. And now Cauvery you have three kids and not just the big decision, but these smaller, relatively smaller decisions that we all make also impact on, you know, your kids. So moving to Ireland, your kids were all born here?
Our eldest was born five years after we moved. .
Oh, actually, yes. Because there’s a brilliant story about you and the condoms, tell that story.
Well when I came here, my husband came six months ahead of me. We were just newly married. So 1986 straight from India to Sligo. And he came in September and I joined him then the following February and about a week before I left, I had both my grandmothers in law alive at that time, both his grandmothers and my mother and my mother in law. And the four women wanted to pack for me, you know, wanted to pack my suitcases because I was coming away.
And of course, in those days, you know, you weren’t coming for, you know, for two months, you know, you went and then you probably might come back after two years. So the women, the in-laws, you know, the two grandmothers in law were determined that I was going to take all the linen that I got as wedding gifts. Anyway, there’s a severe amount of packing and repacking going on.
And then my husband rang me and said, oh, by the way, you don’t get condoms here, so you better bring some condoms. And of course, in India in those days and even now, I mean, no woman would ever go out to a pharmacy to buy a condom, you know
And I said, what? He said, no, you don’t get them, you know, you only get them on prescription. And no GP in Sligo will prescribe.
So, you know, the phone calls are eight pounds a minute. And he just said that and put the phone down.
So I spent the last two days in India going from one pharmacy to another very sheepishly, buying condoms and then trying to figure out how I was going to get this into the two suitcases, you know, like how many condoms was I to take in the first place.
He said, oh, we’re here for two years, bring two year supply.
I’m not saying anything.
But I actually arrived in Belfast with my suitcase full of condoms. I remember thinking if I get stopped in customs, what am I going to say, you know. And it’s difficult. I mean, I don’t think like my kids would never get their heads around that. You know, recently when they heard the story recently, they just couldn’t couldn’t believe.
I’m finding myself having a hard time and I was alive and well, you know, when they were illegal.
Still that is so bizarre that we thought that was just normal.
Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, you know, for somebody coming from India where, you know, the government distributed condoms for free, you know, if you wanted to get your head around the fact that in the West, which is supposed to be like, you know, sex, drugs and rock and roll, you know, I mean, I came from a conservative country to a really, really ultraconservative Ireland.
Can I just announce here that my dad is a pharmacist and I’ve never really spoken about this, but in the 80s around about this time. I don’t know when they became legal, was it like early 90s, right.
They became semi legal for, you know, you could buy them and you could get them on prescription from a chemist. And then that Virgin Megastore thing was early 90s, 91 or something.
So it was around this time. I don’t know whether he’s gonna kill me for saying this, but I think it’s quite cool, actually, it’s one of the things I’m very proud of him for. But like around that time, late 80s, early 90s, him and a bunch of other pharmacists in Kilkenny did a train run up to Belfast and basically smuggled a bunch of condoms back. And I think a lot of pharmacists around that time just had had enough and said we’re not get deny.
I actually think, you know, just, you know, for my experience to have been that and then actually my three children came back from wherever they were studying to vote in both the referendums, you know. I just find that just so amazing. That you could come to such a conservative country and then your own children would just change. Be part of that change.
You well that’s kind of what I was getting at in a way, because your decision to move here it impacted, you know, enormously on the kids you had. They would have been entirely different people.
Absolutely. Yeah. They would have been. They would have been. Yeah. Because the pressures of growing up in India are so different because in India, if you come from, you know, an educated middle class family, then your childhood is only about studying and studying and you have to become this and you have to become that you can become anything else because otherwise you’re a failure, your family’s a failure, your father’s a failure. You know, it’s such such huge pressure.And that was one of the reasons we stayed back in Ireland
But you still ended up with two doctors and the vet.
It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous because our eldest girl we said, do what you want. She said, I’m going to be a chef. So she’s a fully qualified chef. And then she said, I’m going to do medicine now. So that was quite crazy. And then our son, we said, do what you want. And he said, oh, I want to study music. So he studied music. And then he said, I’m going to be a vet, you know?
So after all that, then and our youngest was the only one who knew what she wanted to be. And, you know, she is a doctor as well.
Well, Lisa you are, of course, what age are you I should know, in your 30s?
I like the idea of hearing about a time when you couldn’t buy a condom in this country must seem like nuts to you even.
Absolutely. I mean, just to sit here and hear this is like I’m kind of I’m almost like
The huge fuss about the Virgin Megastore selling condoms. But anyway at the time, you were probably in the Gaiety Panto because you, she’s known what she’s wanted to do all her life. She’s been a Billie Barry kid, the lot. So tell us a little bit about this album because we’re going to hear some.
Well, the whole idea of everybody during Lockdown, I think embracing nature a little bit more. I remember at the very start before Lockdown happened, I was in the west of Ireland and I was making one of the videos for the new album, and the song was called Dust and Sand and it’s kind of about a place of purgatory. In the video I’m completely alone and isolated in these beautiful bog roads the scenery is stunning. So little did I know kind of, you know, 10 days later, we would all be practicing social distancing and isolation.
And so the video also felt very timely. And I remember sitting in a O’Dowd’s pub in Roundstone after we finished the shoot and everybody kind of talking about hand sanitizer and in this very, very small, little beautiful idyllic place and kind of knowing that something big is going to happen. And but the album was written in Roundstone and it was written during downtime from theatre.
And what does Juniper refer to? A tree.
Yeah. So it’s a tree. I used to pass this beautiful bog roads between Clifton and Roundstone.
They’re all bog roads
They’re all bog roads. They’re all beautiful, undulating bog roads, and they’re really quiet.
And this particular road, there was a tree always on this part of the road on the bend that I loved. And I think it wasn’t very pretty or anything, but it was gnarly, but it was really resilient. And I loved the shape of it. So I found out this was a juniper tree. And it’s part of the Cedar Wood family, which is the tree of community and the juniper tree is so special when I looked it up.
It was the first tree that planted its roots in the Irish soil after the Ice Age. And it’s a tree that sheltered Baby Jesus from Herod. So it’s a tree of protection and love and strength and resilience. And I thought this is kind of really amazing. And all of those qualities are things I think we’ve all kind of, well I certainly have, really tuned into I think during this this lockdown time.
Now, the song you’re going to do for us is from the album and it’s called Holding Back the Tide. And you have some accompaniment.
I have the wonderful John McLaughlin with me here. John has played with me for many years.
This is one of the best parts about doing this such a treat.
This is the first time I can sing it except for the shower
Lisa Lambe performs Holding Back the Tide
It is honestly one of the best parts about doing this to have these live performances when you’ve a small space and it feels like it’s just for us. You know, I do love it. Thank you Lisa and thanks John.
But, Mark, one of the things we briefly touched on already that links you to Lisa’s album is the climate change stuff.
But, you know, you went around the world to people who are, in a way, preppers, you know, preparing for the apocalypse. And some of them are doing that with a lot of money and buying huge plots of land in New Zealand. And some of them are using a more smaller way. And climate change is the fear that’s driving a lot of not all of them.
Did you come away from it feeling comforted or more anxious?
I mean, the book took like two and a half years to write or thereabouts. So there was a lot of sort of changes in my life that happened during that time. You know, it was a hard book to write. I was dealing with a lot of dark sort of stuff and a lot of anxieties. But somehow by the end of that period, I did feel like I had sort of relinquished or set aside in some way a lot of the anxieties that impelled me to write it in the first place.
And some of that had to do with, you know, having a second child, which in a way, should have caused me to be more anxious about the things I was anxious about in terms of parenting in the first place. But it somehow didn’t work out like that, just getting a little bit older. All of these things. But, yes, somehow I did find that I was less anxious by the time I finished writing it than I was in the beginning.
And then, of course, the apocalypse happened.
Yeah. But it seems to be a strain in your thinking or something, the sort of future stuff, because obviously your previous book, which is so brilliant and a fun read, as well as interesting and informative, To be a Machine, it’s all about transhumanism, and award laden.
But there’s a theme between those two books and they’ve often sort of connected with sort of powerful men and money and all these intersections. I found them entertaining, but also terrifying.
Yeah. I mean, I guess that’s not an uncommon reaction is people do find particularly with To be a Machine and in different ways this new book as well, people have found them sort of upsetting and disturbing as well.
And they’re both kind of about people trying to cheat death.
But I think yeah, that’s right. And they’re about dark things. You know, the first book is about death and capitalism, and the second one is about the apocalypse and capitalism, I suppose. So these are kind of my themes. Well, I like to have fun along the way while also sort of terrifying myself. But yeah, I mean, I suppose both books are unavoidably about the future.
The future becomes, for me, a way to talk about the present. So for me, in both books, I’m writing about the present while using the future as a kind of prism through which to view the sort of anxieties and yearnings of the present moment.
Do you think it’s a particularly male preoccupation? I mean, the vast majority of the people you meet in both books are male.
That’s right. Yeah, well, I mean, certainly like the transhumanism sort of milieu that I wrote about in the first book is an overwhelmingly kind of repressively male environment and sort of set of obsessions and that in some ways has to do with Silicon Valley because Silicon Valley is sort of the locus point of all of these sort of movements. Silicon Valley is obviously quite a male sort of environment, the tech world in general.
But there is something about this sort of desire or obsession with escaping death that seems to be a peculiarly sort of male obsession, I think.
And sort of a grandising is what I thought like the Elon Musk stuff. Like trying to find other planets or trying to upload your brain, god I can’t think of anything worse than living forever.
Well, yeah. I mean that’s the sort of position that I arrived with in the first book is that I’m not on board with death I don’t particularly want to die in some ways, it seems like the worst thing I can possibly imagine right now, certainly. But also at the same time, never dying seems somehow more unthinkable.
A compromise between dying and not dying I would be would be happy with that. I do talk to women in the transhumanist movement in the first book. And I also talk about women in this sort of apocalyptic doomsday preppers bases and so on in the new book. But they are both unavoidably, overwhelmingly male concerns. And I think, you know, in the second book, similarly, at certain points in the book, I realize that I’m writing about masculinity, particularly when it comes to the kind of the fantasies of the doomsday preppy people that I’m writing about, which are often fantasies of sort of reclaiming former modes of masculinity that have kind of fallen out of cultural prestige, that kind of male protector who, you know, pits himself against a savage nature and defends his, you know, children and women folk against, you know, marauders.
These are all like really sort of fever dreams of a kind of mode of masculinity that never existed really in the first place. But it’s certainly like a fantasy of reclaiming the past.
I want to find out, what the two women sitting here make of all this male obsession with living forever and overcoming our mere mortal bodies through technology?
Well, I was thinking, as you said, that I was thinking I would love to kind of pause a perfect moment. And, you know, in your life when you’re having a great time and just have a few more years in that sort of Elysium where, you know. But yes, it’s such a terrifying idea. But I’m kind of just fascinated listening to you and I and I think sitting here after, you know, 10 weeks in lockdown it’s proper brain food, for me.
Well Lisa I think your hair will live on forever.
Well, you know when you were saying Mark, how male oriented that whole prepper movement and you know that the reclaiming lost identity. I actually I wonder sometimes, is it because men have more time?
And you know I’m not being smart. I genuinely, genuinely mean it like is it because women just have stuff to do and, you know, they wouldn’t. I just wonder whether is it because men have more time.
I think there might be an element of that. I mean, there’s a show on National Geographic called Doomsday Preppers. So then, you know that most of the sort of episodes revolve around these men who have, you know, too much time on they’re hands. And the women who are sort of being dragged along for the ride. And are always generally quite skeptical.
Also the culture, has encouraged men to have grand ideas and all that and it hasn’t certainly in the past encouraged women to.
Now Cauvery it is interesting to me this possible male/female view of the world because in your book, Tainted, it’s literally the opposite because you’re looking back one hundred years, going through three generations. But again, you are illustrating the present through the past.
So my book is called Tainted. And it’s called Tainted because to start off with it’s the story of, based on the story of the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers. An Irish regiment that were posted in India in the 1920s. And the Irish Catholic soldiers mutinied because of what was happening in Ireland with the Black and Tans.
I’d never heard that before.
Yeah, it is little known outside academia, but, you know, it’s been a well studied mutiny amongst historians.
And the reason I called the book The Tainted is because it’s about three groups of people who are tainted by association. You know, the Irish Catholic soldiers because they serve the crown. Anglo Irish officers who were tainted because they were not English enough, they were not Irish enough, they were kind of in limbo. And then even the children, mixed race children in India, many, many thousands of them fathered by Irish men who served in India over the period of 250 years that the Irish people have been in India or rather that Irish people were in India at that time.
So it’s you know, it’s the story of these three groups of people and what happens to them. But it’s interesting because though the book is based, you know, is is set in the 1920s and then again in the 1980s.
But actually, I never thought of it as I was writing it. The theme of, you know, mixed race and belonging and, you know, your identity, that’s actually just so current.
It’s very now. Yeah.
You know, so, so very current. And for me personally, you know, I started the book 18 years ago. My children were very small. I never thought of them having children. And now I’m actually looking at my own children and saying, gosh, you know, my own grandchildren are going to be mixed race.
They are going to be mixed race. So.
And your own children are kind of mixed culture.
Yes. Mixed culture already. Yeah. Yeah.
And you know that I mean, there’s anxieties that come with that knowledge that, gosh, you know, my grandchildren are going to be mixed race. And having said that now, none of my children are even married or don’t even have a ring on their fingers.
And we know they have condoms.
Exactly. I’m not saying how many are left over.
But, you know, it does make you stop and pause and think, gosh, you know, I wrote something that was set in the past, but nothing has changed. Nothing has changed because people of mixed race still face massive prejudice.
Yeah. And and, you know, obviously, we’re here we we concern ourselves with our own things and the Black Lives Matter movement. But in India too race is very.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, there, you know, racism, colourism, casteism sure Indians are champions at that. And, you know, it’s the one thing that’s holding India back. And, you know, Mark, you you were talking earlier on about always feeling that you’re at the edge off of an abyss. So, you know, at every point of time, you know, even in 2016 when you were writing, you thought, you know, the world was at the edge.
I was in India in January and literally I thought, my God, you know, this country’s on the brink of collapse because of, you know, religious bigotry, casteism. It was actually quite sad when I left India because when I originally left India in 1986, I was so proud if somebody asked me to say that I came from the largest secular democracy in the world, can’t say that anymore. Yeah, it’s such a tragedy, you know.
And how do your own grown children who grew up here and everything? Well, like when they go to India, is that a shock to them?
Well, I mean, not so shocked because, I mean, they have been often enough. But they do question.
I mean, for example, you know, when I was in India, in February, it was actually quite shocking that so many of the ads for whatever, whether it’s shampoos or washing machines or whatever.
The models are all Ukrainian women. Like it’s blooming daft, you know, because they’re fair.
And, you know, all of East European models being used to advertise products in India. There’s no Indian woman that would be as fair as a Ukrainian woman, you know.
And I said that kind of stuff when my kids see that. Yes. They would they would be kind of quite exasperated, I would say is the word, you know.
Well, you also have this other funny little connection to the apocalypse cause I was reading all the stuff about you, and I’m reading this little piece in the Irish Times about your first book launch you know, when your first book came out, Paddy Indian, and I was just a little social kind of column.
But it keeps mentioning everyone’s reaction to the horrific news and where they were, and I was like, what is this about? And then I looked at the date and it was September 11th
Yeah 9/11. It was a peculiar thing. I was actually in RTÉ Studios to be interviewed by Marian Finucane and I was actually with her when somebody came in and said, there’s a small plane gone into one of the Twin Towers. And from there, you know, within half an hour or so, it had gone from a small plane to what had happened.
And now this book has created the viral apocalypse. So I think you need to stop writing.
There’s a lot of talk about the tainted might end up being a film. And I can see why it has the dramatic sweep and all that. That would be exciting, wouldn’t it?
Well, I’m ready with the gown.
Now you came here, of course, in 1987 was it? Which is a very different Ireland. Very few people, you know, with brown skin in this country at the time. But I read a thing were you sort of felt you were insulated in some way from, well certainly from any overt racism because your husband was the doctor
Yeah. I mean. And I think that fact colors a lot of brown people’s experience, you know, anywhere in the world compared to black people’s experience or compared to, you know, Travelers’ experiences or because I think with racism there’s also classism invades racism. And that mixed sometimes leaves some people better off. And some people really terribly off. You know, so if people just assume if you’re brown, you’re a doctor or you’re a, you know, IT person, but I mean, if you were black, you could just as easily be a doctor or an IT person or a, you know, Nobel Prize winner, you know.
But it’s just perceptions of between class and race get so mixed up and, you know, can create really horrible problems.
In some ways India was always presented as being this hippy version of being a sort of perfect place a you know it’s a funny
I mean, you know, it’s such a country of such contradictions because middle class Indians are the first ones to, you know, jump on the bandwagon of Black Lives Matter or whatever, because, you know, their children are studying abroad but the very same people would treat people in India, you know,
Yeah. So, you know, it’s a peculiar country.
Mark, one of the other things in this latest book, you’ve also been to Chernobyl. How was that? Because that is post apocalyptic.
I mean, it is I mean, that’s the reason why I went there, because, you know, I’m writing this book about apocalyptic anxieties and sort of imagining what the end of the world might be like. And there are you know, there are several places in the world where some kind of apocalyptic event has happened. But, you know, Chernobyl happens to be one that you can visit as a tourist, essentially. In fact, it’s the only way that you can really go officially to Chernobyl is as a tourist.
You know, you get taken on a tour bus from Kiev and you go for like a couple of days and you stay overnight in a hotel and all that kind of stuff. I mean, it’s an extraordinary place because, like in one sense it’s very beautiful because it’s like it’s completely uninhabited.
Nature has reclaimed it.
Yeah. And like, very, very quickly, I mean, it’s, you know, it’s it’s 30 years or so since the since the disaster.
But it’s like the only thing I can compare it to is it’s like walking around Pompeii or something. But it’s also fundamentally different because it is a ruin of the modern era. So, you know, in a way, obviously, you know, the Soviet Union is a kind of a collapsed civilization. So in that sense, it is a form of civilization, but it’s still it’s still recognizably of our own time. Yeah. I mean, it’s the technological kind of era that we’re still in.
And it’s very strange and jarring to walk around a place like that, that is both modern and a complete, you know, civilizational run.
Yeah. And it sort of is the apocalyptic dreams of my childhood. Not the bomb dropping. But that is what we were like all so afraid of.
I mean, it’s fascinating. I wouldn’t recommend it as a weekend break or whatever, but it is definitely a unique and fascinating place to visit.
Lisa I could do with some cheering up and I think you might be the one to do that. You have a song, One Drop of Rain, do you want to tell us something about it.
Sure. So this is a song that was inspired from a beautiful book of short stories by the wonderful writer Mary Lavin. So I wrote a couple of songs inspired by the words of Mary Lavin. And in the short stories, this one lady and one character called Veera, who I fell in love with at the start. The first story, her husband has died and she’s living in a big farmhouse surrounded by fields, and she loves the isolation of the place.
But at nighttime, she’s very scared of the dark. And one evening she hears a knock on the door after dark. And she’s very, very nervous. And there’s just beautiful imagery all through it. And imagery like she, you know, her brushing her hair and the blue spark of electricity from the hairbrush. I took inspiration from that for example.
Of course you did Miss Hair
But this song, One Drop of Rain is a couple of stories into the book. And it’s when Veera has an encounter with a young gentleman. And in her heart, she is recalling her husband, who she sees as the blue star, or as I phrased it. He’s the blue star in the sky watching over her. And in this song, I’ve written one drop of rain. She’s in reverie and she’s missing him. And he is the one drop of rain in her heart that will keep her going.
You’re a big, sappy, old romantic.
I sure am. I love romance.
And John McLaughlin is going to come back and accompany you, I believe. Is that right? Yes. She’s like the opposite of you Mark
Whatever I am.
Lisa Lambe performs One Drop of Rain
Thank you Lisa, thank you John. So perfect and beautiful. Thanks, Lisa.
Thank you so much.
The last thing that I wanted to talk to you about is missing stuff because you are one of the hardest working actresses in this country and suddenly theater’s gone. If you’d have said that to me a few months I just couldn’t even have imagined it.
Like, my world dropped away. And I think I sense sometimes a bit of a divide now at the moment between people who worked in jobs that were able in some way to continue even though they’re working from home now or something and other people’s who’s everything just disappeared. And theater has disappeared.
Yeah. It’s like we just ran out of road really you know, it’s like Road Runner, you know, he’s sort of in midair and you’re just about to fall.
And you you’re in the lucky position meaning you’re a working actress and it’s all gone.
It’s all gone. And I’ve realized how incredibly lucky I have been. And I think what’s really kind of been a great focus for me during this time is with everything on hold and stalled and to realize I really love what I do and it means so much to me. And music is the same. You know, I often get asked, do you prefer being an actor than to being a singer? And I see them as complete companions. So I think my vocation, I suppose if that’s the right word for what I love to do has really been a great strength for me during this time.
And it just allows you, you know, I’ve tried to be positive and allow it to. We’ve just got to wait.
There’s something that, you know, so the writers here in the room, they’re used to working alone and sitting down at a desk and writing.
What you and I have always been doing the whole point is to get into a room with all these people and feel their reaction to what you’re doing and at the end, hopefully get some applause from them. And that’s just that is not the same online.
It’s not the same. And I think I’ve noticed this especially as a musician, that, you know, if you’re onstage in character to a certain point, you’re interacting with an audience, but you’re within a kind of a scaffolding or there’s a mask in a way of your character. As Lisa Lambe singer songwriter that’s, like yourself, It’s completely immersive and it’s about, you know, the tide of the evening. And, you know, you might have a setlist, but it might change.
And John would know this like we write our setlist, but they evolve depending on the night, the audience and no audience is the same. And that complete live, walking the plank and immersing yourself with the crowd is something I really miss.
And I used to sort of not complain, but I used to say that for me it was often a relief to end up in a group show, like when I was in Riot for example or something because afterwards you come offstage and there’s a whole gang of you and you’re all excited and you’re, you know, the adrenaline is running. You sort of have that.
Whereas if you’re doing a one woman show, you come off and you’re alone in the dressing room, you know. But that pales in comparison to sitting at home when you’re all dressed up in your gear and you’re doing something on your phone camera that’s going off on Zoom and then it’s over and you’re sitting in your kitchen.It’s depressing.
It’s you know, even on Zoom you kind of, I think your brain thinks you’re going to be able to touch that person there or say hi or hug them or you know.
And yet you’re denied that. So you’re I think there’s quite an exhaustion with all the Zoom stuff, too, that you’re trying your best to interact, but it’s not the same.
Obviously on stage you’re hoping, you know, nobody’s going to run up and hug you, you would hope, in the middle of a show. But there was that possibility and that’s just gone.
Nobody’s clapping there’s no way you can’t read reactions.
You can’t read reactions and you can’t sort of see
You’ve no idea if people are loving it or hating it or how many of them are there
Although poor old Skype, what did they do wrong? Yeah, they’ve gone from being a verb to nothing.
Mark. So you’re going to sit at home?
I kind of have notions of things that I want to do, like themes of things that I want to explore or whatever, and also things that I don’t want to do. You know, both of my previous books involved a lot of travelling, and I was starting to feel ambivalent about that in various ways. It’s expensive. The carbon aspect of it was sort of increasingly becoming a bit of an albatross around my neck and also just being away from my family.
Cauvery, you are working on another book.
Yes, I am. And, you know, for me, I think that the lockdown actually just brought me back to where I was before, before you know, before this book came out before the current book came out, which is, you know, I’m a free range pig farmer.
Yes, I am.
I thought I knew everything about you. I read a lot about you. I did not know that.
Yeah. So I actually I keep free range pigs, but because the book was coming out and I knew I’d be travelling a lot. So this year I had said to myself, in fact last year as well, I was so busy with the edits and, you know, going back and forth to India, just finalizing, you know, the last bits of the book, I had actually decided not to do the pigs this year
And the minute we went into lockdown and I realized, you know, this is going to be, you know, a year that there was going to be less travel, less of everything. I just reverted back to my old thing and I keep my pigs.
The pigs must be thrilled.
Yeah, but it’s great because you know the hobby of free range pig farming and writing, believe it or not, actually go together because, you know, when you’re out with the pigs, or you’re doing whatever you have to do with them in terms of farming? You have so much thinking time, you know, and it’s almost always, always very early in the morning or late at night.
I don’t like thinking and I don’t like learning, but I do like pigs. Well, listen, thank you all so much. And especially for making our first show back in this weird new format easy for us.
And so that is us for our show this week. And I have to say that it was worth squeezing into the corset again, even with my added lockdown weight.
My thanks to the guests, Mark O’Connell, Cauvery Madhavan, Lisa Lambe and John McLaughlin accompanying her.
Thank you for those songs and those thoughts.
And we’ll be back next week with a very different mix of guests. And if you head to Pantisocracy.ie, you can find videos and much more from this show and all the others.
With her are writer Mark O’Connell, whose book ‘Notes from An Apocalypse’ – explores our obsession with the end of the world and the Indian-Irish novelist Cauvery Madhavan, whose novel ‘The Tainted’ is a love story set against the background of the Irish soldiers, serving in India with the British army, who mutinied in 1920.
Alongside them is singer/actor Lisa Lambe who will be performing from her new album ‘Juniper’ launched in lockdown, after a couple of years of work, and whose plans to perform it were postponed, cancelled and parked.
If you’d like to hear more about Cauvery Madhavan’s book The Tainted here’s what the Irish Laureate of Fiction, acclaimed novelist and playwright Sebastian Barry said about it when he picked it as a recommendation for #LaureatePicks