Lovin' the Ploughing
So I was at the Ploughing. I’ve gone every Thursday of the Ploughing for years because of a gig I do there and it has always been, in my urbane, world-weary eyes, a mixture of the creepy town in Deliverance, Galway Race Week, the Electric Picnic with chainsaws and the Winning Streak audience at play in their natural habitat. But to be fair, some of the choreographed displays of chainsaw skills on one stage were better than 80% of the bands I’ve seen at the Picnic (and much more fun). It was also held in Stradbally, right across from where the Picnic was held, but that’s where the similarity ends.
This thing is a monster. An entire city built in a field, not unlike the one in Apocalypto but with twice the amount of human sacrifice. Over 220,000 people attended from all walks of life, strolling around stands and tents that encompassed everything from Bord Bia to Irish Water (yes – they showed their faces) to Bord na Mona to Irish Political parties to the aforesaid machinery and produce displays. We are a food nation so we should look past the base Country-and-Irish-ness of the whole thing and see what Dublin can learn from this staggering event that is bigger than a Slane gig, the Web Summit, the Electric Picnic and Fallon & Byrne combined.
Firstly there’s the sense of welcome. Everywhere you went people had smiles wider than their own heads. I was thinking this could have been because of a particularly good magic mushroom crop, but it seemed that everyone was genuinely happy to be there. Some Dublin Restaurants need to take stock, particularly the ones that ‘don’t take bookings’ and seem to be buried in their smug-phones, obviously studying Lucille Ball’s ‘Charm School’, e-cover to e-cover…
There was none of that at the Ploughing. Everyone was engaged, doing deals, roaring and shouting and smiling constantly. You were beckoned into tents, forced to chat. Infuriating for someone who hates being asked ‘how can I help’ in city shops, but after a while I got used to it. And I know Dublin wants to retain some of the self-checking decorum of a big city, but a little bit more of a welcome spilling onto the street would be a good thing. Not the Temple Bar pushing of fliers into punters hands or ‘have a look at my bleached menu’ insistency, but something in between…
Secondly, I liked the variety on offer. Dublin still isn’t over the 80s where so many busy shopping streets like Cork St were widened (demolished), leaving chunks of the city like ghost-towns. We need to fill every available site and space here to generate an atmosphere, much like the teeming, mad atmosphere at the Ploughing. Why shouldn’t Fine Gael or RTE have a public space where the public can walk in and engage (enrage)? Why can’t there be permanent ‘shop windows’ to new technologies or eco-products given rent-free until they establish themselves as viable businesses? It’s better than empty space? Why can’t smiling when a customer walks through the door be made a EU Directive? Dublin’s a lucky place – a big city that supports itself – but we can’t rest on our laurels. Like Galway, like the Ploughing, we need to make every day like a festival, every street like Moore St, and every shop and restaurant a world of wonder. If I want rude inefficiency, I go to Paris. We’re better than that - and dare I say it – we need to catch up with our country cousins.
See? I DO like culchies!!