Monday 2 May 2016
I was having a cuppa with an excellent friend, when I stumbled across a realisation that shocked me to my nether regions. We’d been talking about the launch of the Galway Anti-Racism Network, and my mate explained how he was proud to live in Galway, because we’re open-minded and friendly and embrace different cultures.
I understood where he was coming from but suggested that his experience of every day life might be very different to an Algerian living in Doughiska, or a Romanian in Salthill.
Then he asked me if I’d ever experienced antisemitism in Galway, which precipitated a rambling response from me that finally had me goggle-eyed on the inside of my soul.
As my friends will attest with weary sighs, during those disastrous conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians I become an agnonised screwed-up beast, lost between my desire for Israel to exist alongside a free Palestine, those family members who fall out with me when I criticise Israeli military actions, and Irish friends who perceive the combination of my silence and Jewish identity as a sign that I support all the tactics of the IDF.
I completely believed that this was my truth, but when my friend asked me about antisemitism, he’d unwittingly spun me around until I stumbled upon a new path.
“No!” I told him, “Not in any way. Back when I arrived here there was a lot of anti-English feeling, but ever since the arrival of Africans and northern Europeans, we’ve dropped down a few places in the Irish Racism League.
“But well, y’know, during those wars, when I walk down`Shop Street and see yer man standing with his giant Palestinian flag, I feel…”
and there I trailed off, because I realised I was about to sound ridiculous.
“Are you okay?” asked my friend, perhaps worried to see my head go down, my arms wrap themselves around my chest in a bracing hug.
His concern was not misplaced, as inside my brainbox cogs were whirring, balls rolling, down chutes until finally, I looked up at him and smiled.
“Yeh mate, phwooh, just realised something that’s shaken me up. S’gonna sound really stupid this, but I think I’ve just sussed out what makes me go crazy during those Israeli wars.”
“Well, there I was rationalising it all, saying it’s about me feeling lost between being seen as an anti-Israel self-hating Jew and a Zionist warmonger, while actually it’s not any of that. Well, it is, partly, but now I know there’s another feeling. Deeper.
“Look, I know I’m safe in Galway. I chose the West of Ireland, it wasn’t imposed upon me, but apparently I don’t feel as safe as I thought. I’ve just discovered that sometimes I feel threatened. Threatened, yeh, that’s the word. Powerful word, but then it was a strong feeling.
“I know, I know it’s stupid, irrational, illogical and stupid, but I just tried to describe how I feel when I walk down the road and see that flag and feel at that moment how much anti-Israeli outrage and hatred is being displayed in so many ways around lreland, and then I wonder how far has that bile got to go before it’s aimed at me as a Jew and - kapow! - I feel threatened.
“See, I was raised by someone who was raised by someone who fled the Nazis. My Dad used to tell me all the time how we were guests in England and one day we might have to move on.
“What I didn’t realise until now was the influence of my formative years of as a child, in synagogue and at home. Those rivers still run deep and strong within me.”
Very understandably, my mate reckoned I was overreacting; being a mite melodramatic.
“No mate, I’m deadly serious here. I know yer man with the flag is a lovely guy, and I know that nobody is ever going to harm me for being Jewish in Ireland, but that counts for little, when you’ve been cut through with indoctrination. Hardly have to illustrate the effects of it on young people to an Irishman, eh?”
It’s far too easy to assume that racism doesn’t exist in the West of Ireland. Indoctrination’s evil cousin is socialisation and I’ve felt the effects of that here too. Growing up in England I was vehemently anti-racist, loving the multi-cultural mix of food, music, philosophies and attitudes to life.
Imagine my horror then when I moved in 1995 from an all-white West of Ireland to San Francisco, only to discover that I suddenly felt scared when black people got on the bus.
After a mere four years of seeing no black people beyond the TV and cinema screen, I was dismayed and appalled by my own reactions. I’d changed beyond self-recognition.
Deeply ashamed of myself, I didn’t have a good night’s sleep until that vile streak of bigotry was erased from me.
Made me wonder, though. If my core feelings and values could change that much in a few bleached-skin years, what might it be like to be born here?
You might feel threatened by the changes going on in Ireland, but I’m still learning about myself as I near 56, so long may your life education continue too.
Remember though: self-knowledge is utterly useless, until you do something about it. We can all make sure nobody, whether white Irish or any other shade of human in our society has reason to feel threatened.
We’re walking bundles of socialisation and indoctrination, but it’s our duty as sentient adults to overcome those barriers and our ignorance.
Monday 25 April 2016
My lovely dad...
Ever since I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the Irish not doing enough complaining I’ve been bombarded with complaints from complainers, complaining about my complaint about Ireland’s lack of complainers.
Can’t complain, really, I suppose. If it turns out that the one thing guaranteed to rile the Irish soul sufficiently to catapult a complaint is an English gobshite giving out to them, then amen; so be it.
As it happens there’s been a lovely upside for me to this tide of negativity. Whilst forced to contemplate the nature of complaints, memories of my lovely Dad have been dropping into my brainbox.
Dad was a great complainer, and by that I don’t mean that he did it all the time. After an unhappy childhood, Dad wanted his kids to feel more joyful than he had, but when things went wrong, as they inevitably did, he would complain, and when my father complained, you knew it.
Towards the end of his life, long after he’d lost his joie de vivre, Dad combined an embarrassingly low pain threshold with his natural ability to exaggerate anything beyond all reason.
When a kindly hospital nurse gently wiped his face with a warm towel, Dad would writhe and groan and shout:
“Torture. She’s torturing me.”
Sometimes it was quite hard not to laugh, while at the same time hurting to see a beloved parent so distressed.
Back in his complaining prime, Dad added his unique creativity and a dollop of otherworldliness to things that upset him. Once, while visiting me in San Francisco, the family was waiting at a bus stop. Granted, Dad usually either walked or drove, but still I imagined that he’d have some grasp of the delays inherent in Public Transport.
We stood quietly for ages until suddenly,with an assertive Alpha Male clap of his hands, Dad caught all of our attentions, announcing:
“Right! Waited long enough now!”
For a second we stood in silence, imagining that as he’d decided we were no longer getting the bus, he’d share with us his plan for our next manoeuvre. But no. I soon realised there was no plan and could not hold back my laughter.
“Okay, Dad. I’ll just nip round the corner and tell the bus drivers they can come now. They were just parked out of sight, until you decided you were ready.”
Later the same day in a plush hotel on the city’s Union Square, we sat and took tea. My father had been to the States many times before, so I was surprised that he hadn’t yet encountered the American way of serving our national drink.
My amazement was nothing however compared to his stupefaction and bewilderment when presented with a cup of hot water, alongside a tea bag wrapped in a paper sachet.
He started to roll his eyes and hyperventilate, lifting his hands over and above the cup, raising and dropping the tea bag, as we tried to show him how it worked. Small whines came from his mouth and even though everyone knew he was behaving ridiculously, just like with the nurse’s warm flannel, it was painful to watch him believe he was suffering.
Eventually I became impatient and spluttered:
“For goodness sake, Dad, it’s only a cup of tea!”
This gave my father the perfect opportunity to drop the string with dangling tea bag, replace the cup on the table, raise his back, project himself upwards and outwards until all around were drawn to look at him, and then declare loudly, with a polished English accent able to rip asunder any genteel Californian gathering:
“It's not a cup of tea! It’s a disaster!”
Long before Craig Revel Horwood’s camp Strictly Come Dancing’s catchphrase ‘Disaaaster Daaarling', my father had taken the word used to describe the Hindenburg and Hurricane Katrina and applied it to a teabag.
We laughed long and loud at the time and because my father was a humble man with a great sense of humour, he finally saw the funny side and giggled at the absurdity of it too.
This story came to mind because the other day I heard myself complaining so much like him. A guest had requested a cup of camomile tea, but upon looking in the cupboard I realised to my small-minded horror that we were out of Twinings.
A box of a lesser-known Irish brand sat there looking back at me.
The Snapper found me staring gormlessly into the kitchen cupboard.
“What’s the problem babe?”
“Out of Twinings. Only got this sort here, but really, how bad can it be?”
As soon as those words wobbled into the air I tried to snatch them back, appalled at how arrogant and incredibly English I’d sounded.
How bad can it be? Just because it’s Irish and not Twinings?
Is that what I’d meant?
How vile and ignorant of me.
Feeling fairly appalled with myself, I brewed the tea and then, as I lifted the bag from the cup I dared to squeeze the last of the liquid from it, so as not to make a mess dripping on the floor.
The bag exploded, ejaculating a boiling hot disgusting greeny-grey sludge - sort of seagull pooh meets volcanic lava - which flowed all over my hand, into the teacup and splattered on the floor.
How bad can it be?
Being my father’s son, the words ’magnificently awful’ sprang into my mind, but then I wondered how Dad might have described the incident.
When you love someone as much as I did (and do) my dad, you know well how they complain.
Had such a minor domestic hiccup happened to my father, we would have been treated to the following verbal explosion:
“What a complete and utter catastrophe!”
Sunday 17 April 2016
.....nothing like a walk in the country...?
I hate you. Hate is a dangerous word which I use neither lightly nor loosely, so let’s establish the fact here and now that I have no idea who you are, but I’m pretty sure there’s more than one of you.
Last year an oven appeared on the bog just up from Grassy Knoll.
Representing both the pinnacle and nadir of our civilization, that oven sitting proud a hundred yards into the bog bugs me every day I walk Lady dog.
A few feet away bags of hand-cut turf await the traditional journey home, to be burned in a fireplace, as they did hundreds of years ago, with cauldrons and kettles hung low over the slow glow of peat’s heat. Now however we don’t need to make a fire to survive or cook our food. We have ovens to do that.
We also have beds and cupboards and you saw fit to dump them alongside your oven. A metal gate and oh, lovely, a bag of trash right in the middle of the road.
“No girl, stop sniffing at that. Come on Lady! Away!”
A couple of weeks ago some chopped conifers and tree stumps appeared at the end of the bog road. If you dumped them in the field they would eventually return to the earth, but no, you just tipped them onto the tarmac.
Around the same time the smashed pieces of a brown garden wall were left in the middle of the bohreen at Grassy Knoll. A few days later when you tipped a whole load more conifers onto the edge of the bog, you thought it’d be a great idea to plug those gaps of open air with broken drawers, old kitchen cupboards and - especially lovely for the local wildlife - plastic netting.
The oven is no longer alone. Now there’s all kinds of crap that will never rot on a bog.
500 years hence, when archeologists dig down to discover what kind of a civilization lived here now, will they think we worshipped ovens?
Will they create great legends and mythologies, drawn from these bizarre ancient people who buried their holy broken possessions on the bog, possibly because they knew well the bog would preserve them?
Day by day, month by month, the countryside around here is filling up with crap.
There are torn plastic sheets at Pheasant Nest Corner, and Sniffy Woods is now scattered with evidence of stupidity and ignorance, in the shape of plastic bags, more of that evil netting on the roadside and up in the branches of trees, keeping the plastic and shredded silage bags company.
Crushed cans of Red Bull, bottles of 7Up, fag packets and aluminium takeaway chip trays line the once pristine avenue.
Nature fights back with explosions of primroses and it is still a magical place, but you are guilty of doing everything that might detract from the beauty of the place; that might harm the wildlife, and -
- and here, for once, your colyoomist is at a loss for words, which is why I resorted to using hate.
My anger stems from having seen it done properly. Back in ’84 I was walking through a national park in New Zealand with a guy who just happened to be a Canadian Forest Ranger.
Normally I prefer to travel alone, but if I have to have a companion, I’d choose a Kiwi or Canadian any day. They both come from empty countries, generally quiet souls who enjoy a gentle respect for their environments.
Rob was a godsend. Apart from his dry wit and sparse conversation, the skills he’d learned in Canadian forests turned out to be pretty darn useful.
As a sub-tropical downpour swamped over us, Rob proceeded to light a roaring fire from soaking wet kindling and a flint that appeared to make no spark. Then he led me to the lake edge where as he predicted, we found a boat.
After checking out the boat’s condition, Rob rowed out onto the lake. From his pockets he produced a fishing line, a hook and a lure. He then cast his line upon the waters and two minutes later brought in a great fat fish that we cooked on his fire that burned wet wood.
Later, just for the craic, we went down on all fours and drank from the lake under a full moon. Slightly crazy, mighty wonderful and as for the water, Rob said it was glacial and clean and by god by then I trusted him.
Would I drink straight from Lough Corrib?
Are you out of your mind?
New Zealand has a similar population to this country, yet I saw nobody drop littler. Look out of your car or bus window anywhere in this country and see the endless ribbon of trash in ditches.
I use the word hate because I’m at a loss to better describe my cocktail of intense frustration and utter mystification. You fought so long and hard for your land. You sang songs of dreams of rivers running free, yet up the bog road now the drainage ditches are filling with the detritus of arseholes who, for reasons that are beyond my understanding, think it’s okay to leave their nappies, their bottles of cider and cans of baked beans in open countryside.
I loathe the arrogance of thinking it’s okay to screw up the natural world. I detest the fact that you spoil the country not just for us now, but for those who might walk along these roads in years to come.
After all these weeks of Easter Rising celebrations, I wonder: did you really fight so long against us English so that you could be the ones who destroyed your own beautiful country?
Is that the liberty you sought? If you wanted the freedom to ruin the exquisite land you live in, then you’re doing a great job.
Monday 11 April 2016
Winter wasn’t gone but Spring was in and how did that work? I was neither here nor there. Between the frosty blue sky mornings and the warm wet windy afternoons, lived under a carpet of grey, stretching above to each horizon, I was lost, but no longer.
In an earthly visceral way I need seasons, but along with many other aspects of life here in the West of Ireland, lines of definition are blurred.
You might turn to the scientifically proven, or prefer meteorological methods. Then there’s the Pagan way, all sorts of Christian and Judaic calendars, lunar cycles and which way the dog farts into the east wind.
Yet really, it’s quite simple.
It’s up to us. If you feel it’s Spring then it’s Spring.
Trouble was, I didn’t know which season I was in. Each Winter I rig up my extra toasty bedding, with a bare duvet on top of the mattress, under a fitted sheet, below a duvet and a blanket.
Why all the detail? Because if you’ve never done as my good friend in north Mayo advised, and slept through the cold season with a duvet both below and above you, well, what can I say?
There is no warming-up process. You slide in as a cheese slice and instantly melt.
If that image has stunted your libido, I apologise.
Anyway, this year I clung a disgustingly long time to the comfort of all that palaver on the bed, and when I finally picked up the cleaned duvet and washed blanket from the launderette, I said to myself,
“Putting Winter to bed.”
Well, actually I said it out loud by mistake, but I’m funny like that.
As soon as I heard those words Spring instantaneously arrived in my soul; the very same simultaneously in my step.
All around me signs of the new season have been flooding my senses, but confused by the combination of an intimidating To Do list and those harsh March nights, I was feeling unpleasantly out of synch with the season.
Sometimes capable of the odd thought and mildly diverting ramblings, I am and aspire only to be a fairly benign animal, essentially an insignificant bit player alongside the magnificent beasts and beings that wander this planet.
Some might see such an apparent lack of ambition as a cop out for lazy base behaviour, but I can think of little more worthy.
Throughout my life I’ve taken immeasurable pleasure from smelling, observing, falling over in and standing silent among the wonder of the world out there.
I bloody love it and that’s why it’s been strange this Spring, because I knew it was happening from a host of signs, but just hadn’t felt it.
I’d shed the heavy jacket for the walking and the hat and gloves finally went too. I’d dropped the extra T-shirt and could see from those very same walks that all manner of buds were on the verge of bursting everywhere.
Frogspawn was morphing in the drainage ditches into tiny jumping squidge-balls, much the the delight of Lady dog, who would use the arrangement as some kind of Drive-Thru restaurant, if I let her, which I don’t.
I knew Spring was here because I saw it in my houseplants. Usually I switch back on to feeding them around the equinox, but this year didn’t even look at the date.
They looked hungry and it was time.
Forsythia bursting through the gloom
In front of me the season of yellow was raging. Thanks to the Snapper’s endeavors, primroses beam their lemony light right along the hedge, while celandine and dandelion glow like sunshine in dark corners. In the shrubbery the forsythia pumps forth its own breed of yellow and still I feel between the seasons.
Instead, from the dry side of the kitchen window we looked out at the sideways rain and I announced we’d do no dead-heading at all.
We’d see what happened if we allowed all the plants to do what they were designed for.
...it ain't yellow, it's a hebe, but a Hebe has to have a hebe...
Over the dark months Autumn leaves fell on top of any spare spaces between the plants. Tall cornflower stems bent in gales, spilling their loads, spreading rolling waves of plants to come.
Smaller poppies, Nigella and several types of dodgy weeds rotted down, and to me the mulchy muddy mess looked lovely, but all Winter the Snapper saw only a job that needed doing, so as soon as I gave the green flag, she grafted long and hard and cleared the detritus, leaving soil I could rake into a seed bed.
Fair play to her.
Much to my delight the bed has done just what I wanted, so for the last couple of weeks Spring has been looking back at me in the shape of millions of minuscule green eyes.
These seedlings coming up now have appeared far earlier than any sewn this Spring, so we’ll have flowers at least a month earlier this year and that makes me happy, if not full of the joys of Spring.
Considering your colyoomist’s claims to be all down in the ground and animalistic, you’d hope that shedding clothes and sewing seeds might be enough to make me feel Winter had passed, yet for some reason it’s been different this year.
It wasn’t until I held a polythene bag in my hand, with a blanket and duvet inside, that I felt Spring had arrived.
Strangely unnatural goings-on for the Adley brainbox to consider, yet what a fabulous place I must be in, if there’s room for this to worry me.
At last: a mental Spring to go with the one in my toes.
Monday 4 April 2016
The traffic flowed freely all over the fair land of Ireland and loh, the forces of evil saw that this was bad, and they did deem a curse be cast upon Ireland’s drivers, and the black tarmac was covered with colours of white and red, the colours of flesh and blood (if you have white flesh!) as an infestation of plastic cones spread along the roads, dividing the motorways and yea, even the bohreens of the nation.
Did we not drive aside mile upon mile of cones protecting empty carriageway, that smooth sleek unbroken asphalt over there that we are forbidden to drive along tempting our souls to become angry.
For over there nothing is happening, not a kango, not a kettle being boiled nor even seven lads staring at an eighth lad in a hole.
Were our wills not sapped by steering between the cones, and was our spirit not challenged by serpent legions, disguised as Stop Go roadworks, designed to destroy our will.
I really tried to stay calm and happy, because I’d been looking forward to driving down to Kerry. I’m weird. Four hours alone in a car allows much mental dribbling to be done, yet instead of ‘point and shoot’ driving my journey became a test of patience; a game of bagatelle in which I was the hapless ball, being stopped, started, bounced around diversions and squeezed into hard shoulders by lines of cones … mesmerised by the cones … the cones … a plague of cones........
Yes, I know that the roads have to be repaired. I know that Ireland needs its infrastructure updated and on the way, hooray, there’s loads of jobs for the workers. I’m all in favour of jobs for the workers who mend the roads and keep the wheels of trucks and people carriers hurtling around.
All praise the workers and please let them be paid double time for the sweat on their brow as they labour long into midsummer evenings. Nobody should have to work on our roads when it’s cold, lashing rain and dark at four in the afternoon, so let’s make the most of the extra hours of daylight afforded to us in the other three seasons.
If the worst thing that might happen to a worker is a midge biting an exposed builder’s bum at 9 o’clock on a summer’s evening then Hallelujah! Praise be to overtime, workers with stuffed wallets, and getting the bloody job done within something approaching the timeframe.
If I’m sounding even grumpier than usual, it’s because for the last year and a half I’ve had to drive through the Stop Go roadworks in Moycullen, day in week out, month in year out, watching them rip up the road, lay it again, rip it up again, lay it and then I lost touch with what was going on with the road, because they were demolishing the beautiful old stone bridge built by Alexander Nimmo, at a crossing point in the river where, before Nimmo, a bridge had stood since medieval times.
Showing sensitivity worthy of Alan Partridge and Donald Trump combined, this they proceeded to replace with an anodyne effort, matched only by their decision to line the new road with ersatz stone walls.
Even an amateur eye such as mine can see that the stones on the cladding do not interlink. They are separated by clearly visible sections, and really, why bother?
Anyway, the point is not that the roads are being mended, nor that there appears to be no semblance of any kind of planning.
I’m not actually giving out here about the scattergun approach to various roads being worked on; closed; given intelligent traffic lights that only one person knows how to work, nor that he’s apparently gone to live somewhere else.
I’m not giving out about the way a car can hit a control box in Dangnan and put out lights on Quincentennial Bridge for days.
I’m not giving out about how a lump of hedgehog poo by Terryland can cause traffic jams in Craughwell and Salthill.
I’m not crying out for a by-pass either, nor another bridge, so keep me off that bandwagon. More roads just create more traffic.
What I am truly upset about is that you Irish put up with it all. Spare me that ‘800 years of fear of putting your head above the parapet’ stuff just for a moment and think: why not complain?
In Ireland moaning is a way of life. Every afternoon this nation talks to Joe Duffy in a quasi-religious minor key that is uniquely Irish and relentlessly depressing. Yet neither a peep nor a whisper have I heard about roadworks that run months over schedule.
There is a quantifiable difference between moaning and complaining. Born in England only 12 years after the British Empire was called to a halt, I was told throughout my youth how everything used to be better.
Complaining was seen by the English as a right. If something did not do what it should, you made a complaint, and did not rest until justice had been served.
Even though there’s a legacy of Empire in the arrogance of that attitude, you did end up feeling that you had some influence upon life.
Ireland is on a very different journey. Here things are generally perceived as better now than they were in 1948, but for some bewildering reason, when they go wrong, you’re loathe to make an official complaint.
Yes, you got off your bums and marched against water charges, but not because an injustice had been done, but rather because so many had been visited upon you, the poor camel’s back was in shreds.
Be brave and complain. Write letters, sign petitions, knock on doors, shout aloud, before everything you love about this country is destroyed by progress.