My weekly show MindFeed was broadcast every Sunday on Newstalk 106-108 FM
MindFeed was one hour of Sunday morning brain-stretching starting at 10am. A quirky selection of news bites from the world of geeks, science, inventions and sometimes outer space. You were guaranteed to learn something you never knew, never thought you knew…perhaps never wanted to know. Plenty of food for thought to stimulate the grey matter.
In the Hot Seat…
Every week I did a one to one interview with a guest with an interesting mind…delving into the inner reaches of the brain to discover what makes him or her special, talented or famous. These in depth interviews featured some incredible stories from amazing people who offered great insights into life and the lessons learned – often the hard way. Click on the links to read more about what they had to say and listen to the interview.
“I like your girl, Wheeler. I get the feeling she’s female. You know what the difference between female and feminine is? Huh? Well, here’s a hint: a feminine woman never laughs out loud and always shaves her armpits…I’ve only met about a half dozen females in my life, and I think you’ve got one there.”
You might recognise this quotation from Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. If you don’t… Suffice to say it’s one man’s take on another man’s wife, and intended as high praise indeed. And – while ignorant to her shaving habits! – this ‘all female’ description comes to mind when considering my next heroine. Fionnula Flanagan.
Image-search her name and this is what you’ll find: a striking, stylish woman with a witty spark in her eyes; a woman on a red carpet, fingers aloft in a peace sign, collar up in cool elegance, pearl-coloured hair teased to the right side of rock’n’roll. You’ll find this Irishwoman in Hollywood, walking with kings, or in the wilds of Connemara, a firm grip on the common touch. You’ll find a seventy-three-year-old superstar whose inner fire has illuminated the world.
Facing a blank page and creating something out of nothing – now that’s what I call spark. This is even more the case when you use that blank page to create stories that resonate with people all around the world, regardless of race, religion or creed. Cecelia Ahern makes it look easy.
She is internationally famous as the young woman responsible for twenty-two million book sales, the woman who, at twenty-one years of age, hit headlines with the release of PS, I Love You and, perhaps most simply, as the woman so many readers have shared more than a decade of their lives with. Cecelia’s creative power have also been transposed to screen, with audiences in countless countries falling for movies and TV series based on her books.
Yet – and here’s the thing – Cecelia Ahern would continue to write, even if no one was reading.
The ‘spark’ can be a glint, a glimmer, a vibration within us that ignites a will to achieve and grow. Or it can be something that flickers in the dark matter of our being. For astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, this spark, manifested inwardly and outwardly as her scientific brilliance, allowed her to discover her own kind of spark – flashing neutron stars known as ‘pulsars’.
In the late 1960s, while working on a PhD project at Cambridge, Jocelyn observed radio frequencies emitted by a pulsing star. Her supervisor initially dismissed the findings as flare stars or other radio-waves, but this young post-graduate student continued her investigations, eventually concluding the signals to be unique. Jocelyn’s discovery revolutionised the field of astrophysics by providing the first substantive evidence to Stephen Hawking’s theory of black holes, as well as contributing to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Her work was to receive the first ever Nobel Prize for Physics in the field of astronomy – but the award was not given to Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Instead her male supervisor and male colleague received the award for what was largely her work. It was a decision that caused outrage among many of her fellow scientists. Incredibly, her ‘non-award’ was not a source of discouragement for Jocelyn. She went on to build a tremendous career in astrophysics, and is generally credited with fundamentally challenging what scientists thought about the universe.
‘Music is still a mysterious, magical alchemy for me.’
It’s a brilliant word, isn’t it? Alchemy: a power or process of transforming something common into something special, or, to use its original etymology, an attempt at turning an ordinary metal into gold. Alchemy is a word the articulate Adam Clayton, bassist to the world’s greatest rock band, U2, uses when we speak, to elegantly describe his enduring belief – his awe, almost – in the transformative power of music. And who better to champion music as a magic elixir? Without music, Adam Clayton’s life story could have echoed in an entirely different tone. Without music, the boy from Dublin’s north side, a self-confessed ‘brat’ at school, was more than unlikely to achieve the international acclaim and influence now synonymous with U2.
The thing I love most about my work? The people. Time spent in TV, radio and publishing has afforded me a very special privilege: I’m allowed to get under the skin of the most extraordinary of people. What they have accomplished in life is of course interesting, but what really fascinates me is the psychology underpinning their achievements. Be it the refusal to conform, or the will to win – those are the magic ingredients, the dots to join in shaping a blueprint for success.
Boxing is not my strongest subject, but Michael Carruth’s is a name I know well. Michael – who in 1992 won Olympic gold in Barcelona – was the man who brought a nation to its feet as his hand was raised aloft, victorious. He is the man who, while a relative underdog, won Ireland’s first Olympic gold medal since 1956 (and no other Irishman has claimed gold since). The world has laterally come to perceive Ireland as a crucible of boxing excellence – thanks in no small part to the inimitable Katie Taylor – but it was Michael Carruth who put us in the ring.
When we meet, I want to learn more about those magic ingredients – his family, upbringing and talent – that conspired to create a world-beating athlete. By our conversation’s conclusion, however, I have come away with a more intriguing piece of information still: in order to succeed, Michael Carruth needed to fail first.
There is an awe-inspiring young woman I’d like you to meet. Before I introduce her, I have a little exercise for you first. I’d like you to cast your mind back to when you were sixteen. Remember how it felt. Exciting, perhaps. Overwhelming, too. Lonely, for many. One thing I think we all felt as teenagers was that we were somehow different, that the world could not possibly begin to understand the unique constellation that was us. We may even have written terrible poetry to that effect. To find what fit you pushed limits: you tried on new emotions for size, tested your family to their limits, and probably broke a limb or two, just to find out what your body could – and could not – do. You felt different, yet so desperately wanted to feel the same. And those terrible, terrible clothes? You’re forgiven. At sixteen, you most likely wanted to look like everyone else, too.
I want to convince you – no matter your age – that you have many more exhilarating journeys still to embark upon. I also want to convince you that it is never, ever too late to start again. For those of you who need convincing, I have just two words: Pat Falvey.
Pat is something special. Hard to define – because this man has worn many hats in his lifetime – he is just about the most inspirational guy I know. Now in his sixth decade, Pat is an explorer, entrepreneur, author, motivational speaker, film-maker and environmentalist. He is the first person in the world to have scaled the seven continents’ highest peaks … twice. He led the first Irish team ever to complete the 1,140km trek to the South Pole, traversing the most desolate of terrains in the process. Pat has experienced life with more than thirty tribes across the world, and through them has ‘discovered fascinating similarities and traits in all of mankind: to challenge, to change, set goals, and to achieve’. It strikes me that the words challenge, change and achieve will most likely feature on Pat Falvey’s gravestone … not that he is going anywhere anytime soon!
In life, there are those who tell themselves they’re doing it all. And then there are those who, despite all they do, tell themselves it’s never enough. Allow me to introduce one woman who, as difficult as it may be to fathom, falls firmly into the latter category: Pauline McLynn.
The actor, comedian and novelist was born in Sligo, on Ireland’s west coast, her family relocating down the road to County Galway when Pauline was six months old. A talented student, she studied History of Art and Modern English at Trinity College, Dublin. It was at Trinity that she made her first foray into the arts, signing up to the renowned ‘Players’ Drama Society ‘immediately’. From an administrative role with the group, the self-confessed ‘bossy one’ soon gravitated towards the stage, where her flair caught the eye, and the pen, of director and former theatre critic Gerry Stembridge. His glowing reviews of Pauline’s performances led her neatly to a gig with the national radio broadcaster, RTE, where she was to encounter a man familiar to us all: Dermot Morgan, aka Father Ted.