Saturday 29 December 2007
People say that Christmas is for kids, and New Year is for grown-ups, but I’m not so sure.
Unlike New Year, there are several different reasons to celebrate at Christmas, or the Solstice, depending on your sensibilities; but by the time New Year comes around, I’ve had it with enforced festivities.
I’ve smiled my way around crammed shops to buy presents.
I’ve kept my cool in the supermarket when my trolley is blocked between herself with the three kids and the special promotions stands the shops put up to sell even more stuff but just get in the bloody way.
I’ve been sung to by thousands of Muzak tapes that ‘tis the season to be jolly, and I have been jolly. My heart had been warmed by the smiles of the kiddy widdies. My palate has been pleasured with foods of all kinds and levels of cuisine. My liver has been under siege from the ports, brandys and cold ones from the fridge.
What about the whiskey, I hear you ask?
Didn't you know? Whiskey doesn’t count.
Oh my, so so jolly.
But now I’ve had it with jolly.
Now I’ve had just as much fun as everyone else, and I want it to stop. I love fun, and I love being happy, but don’t tell me that Christmas was just the hors d’oeuvres for the main course to come, because I’m not interested.
I think Christmas is for kids and grown ups, and New Year is for people between the ages of 18 and 25.
At those splendid years all you really want is an excuse to get plastered. You feel the need to drink insane combinations of as many different kinds of alcohol together as fast as your poor body can take it.
You want to be in a crammed pub with all your mates, or squashed into a house party with a multitude of fellow hedonists of little experience.
I don’t. To be honest, New Year has never really tickled my fancy. Don’t know about you, but the movement of a metal arm from one minute on a clock face to another does not make me feel excited. The fact that there has suddenly been a sequential increase in the number allocated to each year I find incredibly unexciting.
When I feel like it, I love to party and have fun. I have been known to dance, and smile for long periods of time, sometimes simultaneously.
But spare me from being compelled to cheer and yell and sing.
If my grump is upsetting your equilibrium; if you think I am being unnecessarily grouchy, please tell me why I should celebrate something that affects me not in the least.
Okay, I’ll try it out.
Here I am at 11:59 on Monday night, and here comes the next minute.
Oh whoopeeee, it’s New Year.
No, sorry. Still underwhelmed to the nth degree.
Some of the insignificance I attribute to New Year might come from the fact that while the culture in which I live is celebrating the arrival of 2008, my family’s culture is already in the year 5768.
Yep, sorry folks, but in the pointless world of years and numbers, the Jews are way ahead of the pack.
We all have different New Years anyway. The Chinese say ‘Gung hay fat choy’ in February and go partying the streets with dancing dragons and swathes of red silk, so who can say which is the most significant?
The best New Year’s Eve party I ever attended was held by the Guru, back in the days of yore when we all still lived in London. He hid his TV, radios and clocks, and upon arrival at the door, we all had to hand over our watches (this being long before the intrusive invasion of the mobile phone).
We just partied and had a great night. Of course there were a few wimps who started getting a bit antsy around what they considered to be midnight, but the Guru held firm against their pleas for contact with the world outside.
We all knew we were in the New Year when we saw the first gentle and pale shards of dawn seep from the grey London sky.
“Happy New Year, lads!” we said to each other, slumped by then on our arses, past caring what planet we were on, never mind what year or time zone we were in.
We are are naturally a happy species, and lose sight of that fact far too often, so we have constructed a formal time, precisely at which we have to be instantly ecstatically happy, and it simply doesn’t work.
When you’re nineteen years of age, and the bells of midnight strike, you live only if you have managed to grab a bird or bloke and are playing tonsil tennis as the New Year comes in. You sing and dance in an alcoholic haze and love life like there is no tomorrow.
Fantastic. But not for me now, thanks all the same.
What will I be doing when we ring in 2008? What will Mister So Very Mature be doing, that’s so bloomin’ different from what he was doing back in the 70s?
Well, errr, hmmm, I suppose I’ll be intoxicated, surrounded by beloved friends, probably having a lovely time.
But I won’t feel I have to enjoy myself.
Sadly there can be no DV Awards for the year of 2007, because the absurd truth and rank reality of Irish politics this year simply leaves no room for satire.
There is, however, room to recognise the winner of The Worst Lyric Of All Time, as voted by the listeners of the BBC.
Beating off serious opposition from this enigmatic little ditty from Snap:
‘I’m as serious as cancer / when I say rhythm is a dancer.’ and the crass efforts of Razorlight: ‘And I met a girl / She asked me my name/ I told her what it was., the runaway winner was soul singer Des’ree, for her 1998 song ‘Life’:
‘I don’t want to see a ghost / It’s the sight that I fear most / I’d rather have a piece of toast / Watch the evening news.’
Mazeltov! Great goin’, girl!
On that magical musical note, I thank you all, new readers and time-hardened colyoomistas, for bearing my blather in 2007, and for the New Year, I wish you all you wish yourselves.
Saturday 22 December 2007
More than any other time of the year, when we sit around our dinner tables on Christmas Day, we are aware of who is there and who is not.
At the age of 17, having performed impressive acrobatics with my Yamaha 250, a saloon car, a ditch and a barbed wire fence, I spent six weeks in hospital, over Christmas and New Year. My femur was snapped in two, which is no mean feat with thighs like mine, and my tibia had a crack or two as well. Bed-bound, with my leg in traction, I developed a bronchial chest infection after an emergency operation.
So every two seconds I coughed in hacking spasms, thus shaking my smashed leg, which was hung in a sling, supported by a metal pole they had driven through me, just below the knee.
Then came the discovery that orthopaedics is a brutal art. In our part of the ward, there were four beds and three bikers with broken bones.
There was Kev, who had fallen off his sleek and mean Suzuki GT750 (a two stroke 3-into-1, since you ask), and opposite us two was brick shithouse Yorkshireman Gary, ex-SAS, and mighty embarrassed, having survived several covert tours of duty in Northern Ireland, to have to admit to falling off a Honda 125.
Then Gary was told that because his bone had set at a bad angle, they would need to re-fracture it, to re-set it, so that he might walk again.
Wishing him luck, myself and Kev waited in hushed anticipation for just under three hours, when finally the big guy was wheeled back onto the ward, writhing in agony, swearing profusely.
“How’d it go, mate?”
“Yeh, Gaz, all sorted, is it, eh?”
Gary was a hard man who could really take pain. He’d already told us how he hated himself for flinching after being stabbed in a bar in Belfast, but now he was hurting so much, it took him an age to form words.
“ ...they couldn’t ... break the bloody ... bone, lads ... they banged me with hammers ... smashed and chipped with chisels ... jumped on my leg ... couldn’t re-fracture it....”
Kev looked at me and then we both looked at Gary.
“But but but mate, you’ve been gone for two and a half hours! They can’t have been trying to break your leg for two and a half bloody hours!?!”
“Aye, but that’s what they did, lads. They tried, but it wouldn’t break. So I’m a bit sore now, like!”
So no, a fine and precise art it is not, but compared to the other patients in the hospital the three of us were well off.
We were not sick. We had all had our operations, and apart from antibiotics for wounds, and pain killers for broken bones, we needed very little medical attention.
We were young, male and bored, and allowed to drink beer. Naturally, we tried to attract the attention of the student nurses as much as possible, and equally, they were happy to have a bit of a laugh with lads who were not ill, physically, at least!.
By the time Christmas came around, the three of us were well aquatinted with all the student nurses, and then we were told we would be allowed to drink spirits during the Christmas period.
So we did.
We got plastered, if you’ll pardon the pun, and so did the student nurses. We told them that by having a tipple or three with us they were really doing their jobs, because they were helping us through a difficult time.
On Christmas morning, the Consultant Surgeons came around the wards, carving the turkeys at our besides, and general merriment was had by all.
Karen, my favourite student nurse, had had a lickle ickle bit too much to drink. She pulled the curtains around my bed, produced a half bottle of vodka from under her skirt, and taking some lemonade and a clean specimen bottle from my bedside cabinet, mixed us up a festive cocktail, after which she gave me a lovely snog, and left me feeling a million dollars.
Looking back now, I can only think how wonderful she was, because not only was I away from my family Christmas table, but so was she.
After the Christmas pud, we were all wheeled out of the ward in our beds, and taken to a large and crowded area, where the staff were putting on a Panto for the patients.
Gary’s wife, (a woman of such substantial proportions and brooding menace that she clearly put the fear of god into our man of iron) had turned up with several cases of brown ale, and so we sat up in our beds, enjoying the show, drinking frothing foaming pints of beer from plastic glasses.
Half way through the performance, I realised I needed to pee. I’d done precious little but drink all day, and now I really really needed to go, all of a sudden, with the fiercely demanding urgency of someone who knows that he cannot go.
There was no way I could ask anybody to wheel me to the loo. To get me and my bed out of that area would have meant interrupting the show, and causing a kerfuffle that would spoil everything for everybody.
So I did all I could do.
I drained my pint glass of beer, and, errr, then I refilled it!
In my drunken state, I decided it made perfect Archimidean mathematical sense.
Reaching out of my bed, I placed the foaming frothing pint onto a shelf, and watched the rest of the show, making a mental note to remember to pick it up afterwards and dispose of it myself.
Trouble was, when the lights went up, it was no longer there, and to this day I do not know whether some unfortunate alcoholic scrumper thought his luck was in.
Free beer! Whoopee!
Best not think about that too long.
But on Christmas Day, please, let’s all for a minute think of those who have given up their day to work: to serve us with safety in our homes, at sea and overseas; those who comfort and care, and those who volunteer to help others without a home to go to.
If you spare them a thought and give thanks, you won’t be far off pleasing whichever God you might worship!
Happy Christmas, Diwali, Hannukah and Solstice, and may your God go with you.
Monday 17 December 2007
Back from four exhausting and emotionally trying days in England, but with Dadley Adley still in hospital there’s a temporary feel to each day, hour, minute.
If all goes well and he comes home soon, I can relax, but if not, I’ll be back there again in a few days.
I’m all over the place. Splattered, scattered and shattered, that’s where I’m at this week, lost midway between my lovely life in Galway and my loving family in England.
Midway eh? So my soul is treading water just off the coast of Liverpool, is it?
You’ll not get much sanity out of me this week, as if you ever did, but anyway, I’ve always felt that sanity is vastly overrated.
Find me a human being who has never declared aloud or silently wondered to themselves just what a crazy world is ours. Thus it makes sense, does it not, if we all agree our world is crazy, that crazy people are the only ones who know what is going on.
I’ve never really been attracted to sane people. All my friends and loved-ones are nutty as fruitcakes, in wonderful, interesting and sometimes challenging ways. As I’ve got older I’ve developed a talent for seeing the inner hidden nutter that lurks just under the surface of some people who still, to this day, regard themselves as sane.
In fact, they are now doubtless outraged that I have slurred them as less than sane; but were they not, I could not count them among my friends.
If only our forbears had had the foresight to listen to their loonies, instead of locking them up and making them walk around and around in circles in grey stone prison-hospitals.
Maybe the mad people of 1799 were muttering
“It ha would be ha wonderful if when ha they invent the aerosol ha ha ha, they didn’t use chlorofluorocarbons!”
“Tel them! Tell them!! You must tell them there will be no WMDs in Iraq!”
“Iraq irackky missy mack Iraq aq aq aq wackker dacker dack. Oh, you have to be careful to use the drop-down menu to select ‘No Insurance required’ on that Ryanair interwebby malarkey arkey dooby doo.”
So this week ‘sane’ is very totally oh-so absolutely last Millennia, and ‘crazy’ is the new ‘black’. Crazy turned out to be pretty handy, when last I had to keep a straight face, having just met a man who lived in Lickey End.
A gentle and wonderful nurse in my Dad’s hospital, the 20something lad had a bit of a local yokel combine harvestery oooo aaaaarrrr me lover accent about him, and so I asked him where he came from.
“Me? Oh, I come from Lickey End.”
Holding my childish breath to stifle my guffaw, I let my eyes bulge out a little too long.
Bless him, he had no idea that he had so amused me. Looking over at my contorted features, he reckoned that must be what I look like when I’m thinking, trying to work out where Lickey End might be.
“It’s in the West Midlands.” he offered.
By then I had settled down. My ‘Infantile Response To Humour Team’ had been arrested by the tiny but efficient ‘Adley Adult Assault Force’, and I was able to offer a little conversation.
“West Midlands, eh? Sorry, I thought I detected a South-West accent. No offence mate.”
“None taken!” said he, “And you’re right! I’ve got a strong Devon accent, because my mum comes from Pennycomequick, see?”
Staring into his eyes I detected not the slightest trace of irony. He was genuinely telling me the truth.
I can believe that this bloke might have gone through life never seeing anything the slightest bit funny in the fact that his mother came from a place called Pennycomequick, and he now lived in Lickey End. However, what I couldn’t quite buy was the chance of his going through life without anybody else having a laugh at his locational expense.
Back in the sad bad days of my youth, I used to drive over 1,000 miles a week around England, in my smart reppy suit in my zippetty-dippetty reppy car. During those dreadful years, I did take some solace from noting England’s wealth of eccentric and bizarre village names.
So I knew this guy was being straight.
But was he being just a bit too straight?
Just as the Drink Driving adverts on the tele advise us to always expect the unexpected, when faced with somebody who appears just too unbelievably sane and normal, I suspect the contrary.
Hah! Yes! Was that not a twinkle in his eye?
“C’mere!” say I, all of sudden sounding just a ton or two too Oirish for a good ol’ London boy, “Don’t suppose you’ve got a brother living in Great Cock-Up, have you?”
His eyebrows instantly lift, stretching his face upward into a smile.
“How did you know?”
“Oh, i don’t know! Just a feeling!“
“Yes, and I’ve got three sisters.”
“Have you indeed? Do they live together?”
”No, they live in Fry Up, Splat and Pity Me.”
Finally we relaxed and laughed together. He confessed to changing his home town as often as the sun pops out of a LOndon cloud.
“It helps me get through the day, and sometimes I get a laugh or two out of a patient. But I never let on, and if I don’t like the people, I can act quite offended if they have a laugh at what they think is my expense.”
Extraordinary behaviour. This guy was a professional. He had had me fooled completely at the beginning. Deep inside me, just when I most needed it, my love for the madness of our species burgeons anew.
I love our compassion, our imagination and our utter lack of regard for whatever normality might be.
Instead we seek whatever it takes to get us through, which is, in my experience, rarely sanity and sanity alone.
For five magical minutes, the nurse and I played at high speed a shouting exchange of all England’s strangest place names”
“Nob End! Great Snoring! Piddle!”
“What about Slack Bottom! Horneyman! Hackballscross!”
Right, but beat Pox! Or Twatt, for that matter!”
My own favourite? Ever enigmatic and mysterious, I wonder how life (or just simply the filling-in of forms) might be for the folk of Co. Durham, who live a town called No Place.
Friday 7 December 2007
Nostalgia ain't what it used to be. Sadly it seems it doesn't matter how many times the Irish state broadcaster extract the urine from us licence fee payers by repeating 'Reeling In The Years'; I'll still watch it.
Maybe I just can't resist the incredibly low level of effort required to enjoy the mix of music and newsreel.
So there I was, audiovisually drifting back into the early 1990s, when looking back at me from my telebox appeared our ignoble leader: one young and fresh-faced Bertie Ahern as Minster of Finance, talking away to the journalist on RTE News.
My, but what an eloquent and lucid chap he was back then.
Yet, somewhere along the line, he developed a sig sig sig significant speech impediment.
While never being a slave to the ridiculous dictates of Political Correctness, this colyoom does not seek to ridicule anyone but the ridiculous.
People who have a stammer are not ridiculous.
People who choose to affect a difficulty with their speech are, however, certainly ridiculous: oh so very worthy of ridicule.
Ba-ba-ba-ba Bertie has, over the years, cultivated a brilliant way of buying time. In the old days, politicians just used to procrastinate, prevaricate and do their imaginative loathsome best to avoid difficult lines of questioning.
They used to buy time by saying:
"Ah yes, I'm really glad you asked me that, because..."
Another favourite tactic of our political yesteryears would be the use of twisted rhetoric:
"But that's not really the issue on the minds of everyday people, is it?"
"But surely what we need to do right now is focus on the family."
My own personal favourite snippet came from the mouth of Michael Dobbs' terrifying Ministerial genius, Francis Urquhart:
"You might say that; I couldn't possibly comment."
We all resignedly accept that politicians need to find a way to avoid having to give an explanation as to why their government department had spend 562 million quid on a weekend fact-finding mission to a five star hotel in the Seychelles to study parking meter innovations in the Indian Ocean.
What we don't accept is a strange stammer that is there now, that wasn't there before. Ba-ba-ba-Bertie's oral bounce is rapidly becoming the latest fashion accessory. In the last week, I have heard a TD who used to rattle out words like farts in a colander and a local councillor who shall remain nameless stalling for time with ba-ba-brand span-span-spanky new and sig-sig-sig-significant speech impediments.
They wouldn't affect a limp, or pretend to need a wheelchair, and yet, by following the trend set by ba-ba-ba-Bertie, they are mocking the afflicted, and so we now mock them.
While we're dealing with affectations of speech, let's pause to ponder the swear word.
The phone rings.
My Dad is unwell, and my life here is instantly put on hold as I once again dash off to England. This unfortunate and sadly regular state of affairs has many detrimental effects on my head, not least of which being the way it wrecks my sleeping patterns.
Whilst staying at my sister's, I sleep on a sofa, my mind racing with all the emotionally testing events of these long days in hospital.
This time, however, my brain decided to take a head start, and kick in with some full-on mental nonsense before I'd even left Ireland.
After packing, I spent the evening half-watching 'Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares', while the other half of my mind wandered to England; my family; my Dad; just how long I might be away this time; oh woe woe and thrice woe type of thing.
By the time I went to bed I had succeeded in totally messing myself up.
That night, I took the 'Nightmare' part of 'Kitchen Nightmares' a tad too literally.
Unable to sleep,I lay tossing and turning for hours, tormented by waking dreams (which is, I suppose, a posh way of saying 'hallucinations').
Somewhere in my consciousness I became surrounded by TV chefs.
(What is the collective noun for chefs, I wonder? A passion of chefs? A sweat of chefs? More likely, an expletive of chefs!)
Anyway, there they were, crowding my addled insomniac brain: Gordon himself, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Heston Blumenthal.
Thankfully, even in my sleeping state, I can exercise some critical judgement, and Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver, who have sunk to self-parody, were happily absent.
There in my poor head these three famous chefs were engaged in an extremely heated argument about how best to fry an egg .
With his usual enthusiasm, Gordon Ramsey grabbed a big fat brown hen and, whilst staring the poor beastie in the eye, raised it in his hands.
"This is how you make a fucking fried egg! You take a fucking chicken and - mmmrgghhfff - squeeze it hard, here, on its fucking belly!"
At this point the poor chicken squawked and struggled and wrestled, fighting for its freedom, but chef Ramsey held it firmly in his grip.
"Look! See! The egg is about to drop out! Then - mmmgggrrrdfff - one more squeeze, out comes the fucking egg into your hand! Crack it into the fucking pan, a little olive oil and boomph, the perfect fucking fried egg!"
Trouble is, just like ba-ba-ba-Bertie, all Gordon's 'fuckings' are affected and false. On his American TV shows, there's barely an F word to be heard!
If speech is powerful, then song must reign supreme.
At the time of writing, there rages debate as to who might be the best soccer coaches for Ireland and England.
Aside from the fact that Steve McLaren was incompetent and the English footballers played abysmally, there was in fact a very good reason for England's loss to Croatia at Wembley.
This colyoom can now reveal why the lads from Croatia played with such fire in their bellies.
It's all down to Tony Henry.
"Who he?" you cry.
He was the excellent gentleman who sang the National Anthems before the game, and he who injected a little too much machismo into the Balkan footballers' steps.
You see, instead of singing:
'Mila kuda si planina',
which, as you all know, translates as:
'You know my dear (country) how we love your mountains'
the opera star belted out:
'Mila kura si planini', which offers a slightly different, and where men are concerned, most encouraging meaning:
'You know my dear, my penis is like a mountain!'
Monday 3 December 2007
The other day I heard a priest being interviewed on the radio about the proposed new drink-driving limits.
His argument was that, in the course of a busy day’s work, it was quite possible he might drink the alcohol-equivalent of several glasses of wine. As part of his work in the parish, he had to perform Mass at many different locations, and he was worried that if he were breathalysed, he might be over the new lower limit.
The interview then lost its way, as the journalist and the priest pontificated about where the best New World wines came from, blah dee blar.
My mind, however, was racing, careering along a motorway of curiosity, hurtling inexorably toward one extremely dodgy question.
If the wine has become blood, why does he fear the breathalyser?
Despite how it may appear to some readers, this colyoom does not seek to upset or vilify anyone. The weekly flushings of a disturbed mind might inadvertently be mistaken for diatribe and invective, but usually, all I want is to understand what on earth is going on in the minds, hearts and spirits of the people of my adopted country
As a mutant Atheist-Pantheist from a Jewish family in a mostly Protestant multi-denominational country, I am genuinely curious.
Until I came to Ireland I had never encountered a country that had written the Catholic Church into its constitution, so when I first started spouting for this Noble Rag back in the early 90s, I upset a whole heap of worshippers with ignorant blather.
Sadly, some saw fit to respond by sending me soiled condoms in the post, alongside a regular supply of dumped foetus photographs.
Nowadays, despite falling attendances in the cities, you only have to drive through the Irish countryside on a Sunday morning to see, from the miles of parked cars around rural churches, that worship is alive and well .
Yet the Irish have become much harder to shock since the 90’s. No other European nation has endured such a lot of social engineering. The Irish, with their fragile post-colonial psyches in the first flush of independent wealth have been sanded down with the removal of plastic bags, polished up with the banning of smoking, and dressed up with a ribbon by the introduction of the Euro.
Now, their leader can award himself a raise worth €38,000, while the Irish average industrial worker earns €33,000 all year, and nobody says ‘Boo!’.
This colyoom has never sought to be shocking for shocking’s sake. That would be a pretty sad and desperate way to write. And thankfully, the messy used condoms have dried up, so to speak.
So it is with some confidence that I ask these questions.
Is the miracle of transubstantiation not a central tenet of Catholicism?
And if so, surely, either the wine and wafer turn to blood and flesh, or they do not.
And if they do, then why would a priest fear that he might have drunk too much wine?
Did all those thousands who fought the post-Reformation wars die in vain?
Are the churches of Catholicism and Protestantism built simply on different levels of symbolism, or do Catholics still actually believe that body and blood are physically and not just spiritually that?
Because if they do, somebody should get on to that priest, and show him the door.
Why do I shudder at the thought of bread and wine becoming flesh and blood in my mouth, when I love rare steak and a drop of the old Saint Emillion Grand Cru?
Maybe I just like a bit of symbolism in religion.
Every single Friday night of my childhood, without fail, my family gathered around the table, and my Dad read from the old book for Kiddush, the arrival of the Jewish Sabbath.
The mother lights and blesses the candles, the father tells the story of how God rested on the seventh day and made it holy. As one, we recite the blessing of the wine, pass the Kiddush cup around the table, and we all take a sip. Then we all bless the bread, break the cholla loaf, dip our piece into the salt, and eat.
For us the wine and bread are clearly symbols of all food and drink; a reason to give thanks. No miracles, save for the greatest of all: that to this day, my father still reads every Friday from the same book, to my mum, brother, sister and nieces.
And when I am there, I love to join in, because even as an Atheist-Pantheist mutant, I still feel Jewish; love the tradition, the culture and the knowledge that, at the heart of the faith, family itself matters most.
It is possible that the Last Supper was just such a Kiddush night, but many believe that it was Seder night when Jesus broke bread and drank wine for the last time with his friends and followers
The Seder, like the Kiddush and all other Jewish festivals, starts in the home, and heralds Passover. It is the time we tell the story of the escape of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt; of the plagues; how the Angel of Death passed over and the Red Sea split, delivering us from bondage.
At the end we al toast:
‘Next year in Jerusalem!’
and then take time to pray for the release of all those around the world who are today in slavery and bondage.
If the Eucharist is a legacy of the Seder, then indeed, the wafer would make sense. Every Friday, at the Kiddush, we eat curvy fluffy cholla bread, but at the Seder we eat matzo, (water biscuit), because, as the Passover story explains, so great was the rush to get away from Pharaoh's men, that the Israelites did not wait for their bread to rise.
Hopefully you'll have twigged by now that I’m being neither flippant nor derisory, but genuinely interested in the official line:
Is it blood or wine?
And if it’s blood, then surely it has no alcohol in it? So write, email or leave a comment on the blog.
For some reason, I cannot rid my head of the image of Father Ted trying to train his young apprentice how to respond to a visiting Bishop.
“Remember Dougal , whatever he asks, always just say ‘Ah now, that would be an ecumenical matter!’ ”