Subsequent to the last colyoom, I have been visited by a neighbour who is taking the said hotelier to court, and last night during a taxi ride into town, the cabbie volunteered to tell us how he too had clashed with the bloke, and how he had once had the pleasure to 'put him in his box!'
So I feel slightly less crazy and somewhat vindicated by my long-standing struggle to force manners, respect and any kind of consideration out of this human stone.
Wednesday 26 November 2008
Beep-bip! Beep-Bip! Beep-bip!
No please no! I’m not ready to wake up yet. It’s still pitch black outside and -
Hang on. I don’t have an alarm clock. Well, I do, but I only use it when absolutely necessary, because I loath and despise alarm clocks.
There are scientists and philosophers all over the world trying to work out why western society has failed; why so many people are unhappy, bad-tempered and aggressive all the time.
Maybe it’s our diets, they wonder, or the chemicals in the water. Maybe it’s a side-effect of global warming or Cable TV.
Or maybe, like, duurrrr, just maybe it’s the fact that nobody has had enough sleep. Everyone with a job or children who need to go to school is woken up by a bleedin’ alarm. Ripped cruelly aforetime from their vital slumbers, innit.
How hard is this to grasp? If your alarm wakes you up, then you are ignoring a biological imperative. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Creationist or a Darwinian, you can’t stand there and tell me that you can live without sleep. Sleep isn’t a funny little afterthought added in by God to give him some time off. It’s not an aberrant evolutionary behavioural mutation designed to give predators an even chance of scoring their dinner.
Sleep is vital, and sleep is lovely, a time for our bodies to repair damage; a time for our subconscious brains to drip-feed us in dreams the horrific secrets of our true natures.
Sleep is snuggly and -
Beep-bip! Beep-Bip! Beep-bip!
I look at my clock.
Before the shape of the word ‘bastards!’ can form in my mind, I am angry. It’s not an alarm clock, but that bloody truck again. There has always been a truck that delivers to the hotel behind my bedroom window. It arrives around 7 am, and I have grown used to it, aware how very lucky I am not to have to be already up and scurrying around. But now there is this new truck, which arrives sometime around 5 every morning, making just enough noise to wake me up, with a mere 30 seconds of
Beep-bip! Beep-Bip! Beep-bip! Beep-bip! Beep-Bip! Beep-bip!
as it reverses down into the hotel’s service area.
As I say, my first response is one of anger, because this hotel and its attendant never-ending building programme has been my nemesis ever since I moved to this house.
But equally, I am a mature adult with at least half a brain and probably two-thirds of a heart, and am well able to put matters into perspective.
The noise lasts for 30 seconds. There is no banging or crashing, not like a few months back when the recycling company used to empty and replace the mega-skips outside the site between 4 and 5 in the morning.
I still feel slightly guilty about the poor driver of those skip transporters. The young lad was only doing his job, and yet, one morning, was confronted by an insane rabid bear in a dressing gown doing an impersonation of Tony Soprano on amphetamine sulphate. As I raged shouted and screamed at this driver, he rather excellently and admirably managed to blank me completely, which believe me was no small achievement, as my roar and growl tore the summer dawn tranquility into tatters, terrifying the local wildlife into thinking that an earthquake was taking place.
Happily, that matter has now been resolved but this new truck is a different matter. A reasonable person would just smile, wrap the duvet around them and feel smug and thankful as they dozed back to sleep, aware that out there that poor trucker is catching a couple of hours of shuteye before his first drop of the day.
Trouble is, when I’ve been woken night after night after night at 5 in the morning, after having tried to concentrate all day on tiny vital editing details accompanied by the constant banging crashing and yes, beep-bipping of the building site that still continues four years later, I’m not a very reasonable person.
Not at all.
Add to that the sad fact that at the moment I am like a teenager possessed by a poltergeist, the overwhelming energy of working on the book’s final edit coursing around my blood vessels like the Severn Bor.
The second that I am awake my mind immediately fills with a thousand bookish details, and then as my natural anxiety builds, other less worthy shite strolls into my mind.
Bastards bastards. I’m going to write them a letter and get them to stop this truck delivering so early.
No, no you’re not. They’ve had scores of letters from you already and it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference. Just go back to sleep, man.
But why should I have to put up with it?
Because it’s not about you, idiot. Yer man didn’t design his hotel to piss you off. The truckie didn’t reverse down the drive to upset you. You just got angry, you sad git. Now go back to sleep.
But how dare he not reply to any of my letters? How rude is that?
Well he did call you on the phone.
Yeh, but only when I sent a copy of my third letter to the hotel’s manager, and then he only left a message on the phone, leaving no contact number. So he’s covered his arse. He can say he tried to get in touch, but he didn’t really.
Cute hoor. Is he what the Irish would call a cute hoor? He really knows how to work the planning permission system, that’s for sure.
Seems to me, in Ireland, if you want a gym and a bar, first you must apply for permission to build a wall with 50 bricks. You build a wall with only 35 bricks and then apply for permission to have another 20 bricks to add to your spares, so that you can add an extension to your wall. After the extension is built you apply to put a roof over it, and add a gym underneath it. When you’ve built the gym you ask for a bar to go over the gym and ... let it go, man. Sleep, for pity’s sake. It’ll be light in a minute. Rise above. Zen it out. All is good. Drift off, oooh, yeh, yeh, that’s it, lovely ...
Beep-bip! Beep-Bip! Beep-bip!
Bugger - there’s the 7 am truck already.
Thursday 20 November 2008
I love Americans! Americans are great! Yes, that’s what I said, and no, I haven’t been flown by the CIA to Singapore via Hamburg and on to Riyadh, Shannon and all points west to Guantanamo Bay. They didn’t bundle me into a gaudy orange jump-suit and torture me by playing endless video loops of Arsenal beating Chelsea.
It’s just that now, almost two weeks on, with the shock of what happened in the States finally sinking in, I am filled with admiration of and respect for the American people.
Over here in Europe we all love to write the entire US population off as ignorant rednecks with imperialist ambitions. We have all nodded, knowingly and smugly, when a story told of somebody acting foolishly, brashly and inevitably loudly, ends with
“Well, he was a Yank, wasn’t he?”
Writing off 300 million people as blind idiots is beyond crass. Sure, there are scumbags in America, but they come in as many varieties as skin types; as many guises as Galwegians and Guatemalans.
My sincere hope is that one of those scumbags doesn’t assassinate another young and charismatic American president. Beyond that, time will tell how much President Obama will have to compromise and change before he fits into the mould of World Leader.
But my excitement is less about the first black president and more concerned with the millions of people who voted for him.
Despite the culture, comfort and confidence we garner from our millennia of European history, there is no nation on our own continent close to electing a black leader. There is still much wrong with the way the US deals with its black population, leaving them to languish in vast urban project estates, the victims of economic apartheid, but also there are the black middle classes, and black people at the pinnacle of both sides of the political paradigm, with Colin Powell and Barack Obama offering the ethnic masses a chance to turn to their children and say, look, you too can aim for the top of the heap.
I’ll admit that when sat in one of our quaint tiny pubs or cute little restaurants, Americans invariably sound loud, but consider the economics of space. Over there everything is bigger: simply and straightforwardly larger in every way possible. When standing on American soil I sense in my gut a feeling of almost overwhelming immensity, (the country, stupid, not my belly!) and my European eyes feel like they have been transported to Alice’s Wonderland. The milk cartons are huge; the fruit and veg are vast (and sadly, tasteless); the fridges are small cathedrals and the countryside goes on forever; well, 3, 000 miles, but you get the point. If our national mindset ran all the way from Ireland to Istanbul, and we all had infinitely more space, we might well talk a bit louder too.
Judging people for the actions of their leaders is plain dumb. I am not Margaret Thatcher, any more than you are Bertie Ahern or the American people were guilty of being George Bush.
We in Ireland know well what it feels like to be offered an inadequate and pathetic choice of electoral candidates. Here we choose between one party’s crooked sensibilities allied to personal charm, and the other’s ineffectual lethargic honesty.
So we cannot blame Americans for their politicians, but we must congratulate them when they make brave and fantastic choices at elections.
The only downside of the entire election was Obama’s choice of slogan:
“Yes we can!” served only to make me think of Bob the Builder. ‘Can we fix it? Yes we can!’ says the little fella with the yellow hard hat. Obviously Americans don’t know the show, but when Joe the Plumber suddenly appeared on the scene alongside Alaska Barbie and Acton Man McCain with Almost Working Body Parts, the whole thing was in danger of becoming a puppet parody of that wonderful puppet parody, Team America.
Not so much: “America - Fuck yeh!”
as: “Can We Fix it? You betcha, wink wink.”
Instead of looking after each other, Americans prefer to believe they can make it on their own, as their recent ancestors did in the making of their vast nation. They believe that if you can feed, house and educate your children yourselves, why should you pay taxes to any government to help others? Even though it’s intrinsically selfish, this frontier spirit can be adapted and shaped to inspire young men like Barack Obama to think ‘they can’, and then the powerful and wonderful collective American belief in the individual allows him to be elected president.
Americans are warm, generous and intelligent people, who more than any other live in the society that defines the modern world. They and their leaders have now shown themselves to be collectively brave and open-minded, infinitely more so than their European counterparts, who shelter in the bureaucratic backrooms of Brussels, hammering out and imposing international treaties that nobody wants or voted for.
Much as I love Americans, their society’s lack of a social safety net scared me to death. After four years of living in the USA, three of which I had neither doctor nor dentist available, I was more fearful than I have ever been.
The frontier spirit that spawned the dream, the culture of the individual, is driven in no small way by a deep-seated fear of failure. The reason Americans crave success and admire celebrity with such fervour is that the alternative is instant, unthinkable and cataclysmic. One month whilst living over there I couldn’t make the rent, and had I not made an excruciatingly hand-wringingly embarrassing begging call to my parents for financial aid, we would have been homeless, on the streets, pushing our shopping carts around in the park.
While America clearly still has a long way to go, it’s high time we appreciated Americans as the inspiring and courageous people they truly are.
Saturday 8 November 2008
The only surprising thing about all these budget protests is that everyone’s acting surprised.
Well, if you’re amazed that the same politicians who gave away all that free money with the SSIA schemes have now hit up the weakest members of society, I’m just flabbergasted at your naivety.
How can the people of Ireland stare themselves in the mirror and with a clear conscience wonder why their government turned out to be so cruel and nasty? Are you truly shocked when the same bunch who oversaw the Celtic Tiger now try to save €100 measly million on medical cards for the over-70’s, out of a budget of €64 billion? How can they say there’s no money left for the health service and education system?
I’ll tell you how: because they are acting to type.
All of you giving out about how incredibly out of touch the government is with the common people should shut up and look deeper into that mirror. You voted for this heinous Fianna Fail -PD coalition (well okay, nobody actually voted for the PDs, but they came as part of a 2-for-1 deal), so what the hell do you expect?
Did you really think that a political party with a culture so rotten to the core would somehow give a damn about your grannie?
Did you really believe that after decades of scandal, fraud, lies and self-interest, Fianna Fail would metamorphose into a morally sound and socially-concerned bunch of do-gooders?
Did you really think that the PDs believed all that crap about the drip-drip-drip effect of wealth flowing from the rich toward the poor?
Well you must have, because you voted for them, or rather, you voted for the money, for the lifedecadence, greed, style and the extra holiday, and now, just when society needs a compassionate helping hand, you’re stuck with a decadent government of Bottom Line guzzlers who showed their contempt for all of you greedy money grabbers by targeting exactly and precisely those who have little or nothing to give.
The voters of Ireland should be ashamed of themselves. You voted for your SSIAs instead of your NHS. You chose your HDTVs over your MRIs, and your DVDs and PCs over CT and EKG scanners.
You just kept on voting for the money, whilst all the time well aware of who was running this national edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: the very same people whose self-serving brown envelope culture had robbed the country blind since the silk-shirted 1970’s. You knew that Mary Harney and her PD cohorts said they loved the NHS but were really hell-bent on creating a Public-Private Partnership that would remove the right of universal healthcare forever. You knew that in their hearts, this FF-PD coalition didn’t really want to build a land of caring committed well-funded public services. They just wanted to create a few billionaires, and if that meant everyone else ended up with massive credit card bills, 100%mortgages, grievous debts of all kinds, poor powerless victims of future government policy, then so be it.
Politicians are just like you and me: biped mammals with active brains, whose prime instinct is survival. They threw sweeties to us proles from their victory parades, but when times became hard, they turned their backs on us and showed their true colours: avaricious and self-serving.
And now all of you who voted for these selfish Soldiers of Destiny and their neo-Con Thatcherite spawn buddies are yelling and marching in the streets to protest. Well, instead of chewing your fingernails as you worry about your job security, consider this: if you treat democracy like a TV game show, you’ll end up being a loser. If you vote for the money every time, you end up lonely and broke, living in a vile society wherein nobody gives a damn about each other.
Of course it’s not going to be easy. (That’s what the politicians say, isn’t it? It’s not going to be easy, Brian, but I’m sure if we all pull together we can make it.) Well, I’m saying it now, too.
Come on people, it’s time to start demanding some basic rights.
Forget about the second SUV and little Eugenia’s riding lesson, and start prioritising what’s best for our society. The Irish need to stop spending millions on less-than-vital roads, sparkly new stadia, aquarian centres and pump money into the staffing of our hospitals.
The Irish need to stop giving billions in tax breaks to American and multinational companies who come and go, offering and destroying Irish jobs at the whim of a Wall Street flutter or a wobble on the Dollar, and start funding jobs for class teachers, substitute teachers, specialist language and special needs teachers, and school improvement schemes.
The Irish need to get over their post-colonial inferiority complex and start to believe in themselves. Yes, I know you all had a boom and wasn’t it just lovely? But deep in your hearts you know that it came as a result of untold billions of Structural Adjustment Funds from the EU and massive yet temporary foreign investment in a workforce that was, at the time, offering high productivity for low wage costs.
Now the wages are gone, the investment has run out, and it’s down to the Irish to solve their own crisis. The global economic tempest will continue, but here on this tiny lump of land there is enough money, intelligence, elbow grease and resolve to build a better society.
So please, would you ever stop looking up to the Fianna Fail gangsters in their flash suits? I swear, I think some of you voted for them simply because they look like they do alright for themselves. You wouldn’t want to suffer their company for a minute at your table in the pub of a night, but an auld Oirish part of you thinks that if dem yokes can live in big plush houses and drive the fancy cars, then maybe they’re worth voting for, because maybe if you do, your life will become just like theirs.
Indeed, dear voters of Ireland, it will, and in the process you will lose your compassion and sense of community. You will feel flush with the rush of profit for about ten minutes, and then you’ll be back marching in the streets again to save your grannie’s medical card.
Friday 7 November 2008
I’m tired. I’m so tired that when I blink my eyes stay down and before you can say ‘ga ga’ I’m off with the faeries, dribbling from the mouth and snoring a passable impression of the Flying Scotsman express train steaming through a tunnel.
Nobody wants to feel tired, but there’s good tired and bad tired.
Bad tired is where you feel like the world is against you and you don’t want it with you anyway because it’s a horrible cruel place where the bad people live, and all you want to do is go to bed and sleep and hide.
Interesting: I tried to define ‘bad tired’ and came up with a description of depression!
Whichever way it defines itself, ‘bad tired’, is always accompanied by feelings of frustration or anger, often an oneself. Maybe you’ve failed to meet a personal target, or let down a loved one; whatever it is, you just don’t have the energy to drag your sad sorry arse up and out to make yourself do the necessary.
And then there’s good tired, which is where I am today. Exhausted, yes, but satisfied. However deep down my spirit slumps when I try to remember the last day on which I awoke and had absolutely nothing to do, a proper day off, and even though I know that up ahead there’s still unfinished business; indeed tomorrow I have to sit and fill out my Tax Form 11 and prove once more to the Revenue Commissioners that I have not earned enough money to contribute anything to the nation except my own PRSI contributions, and, of course, my own madness; and the day after that I head off once more to England to spend a few days with my glorious lovely Mum, and then return to start work again; despite all of the above, I know that right now, while I may be tired (I think I mentioned that, didn’t I?) I am happy.
Four days ago I finished the second draft of the novel, which should now be completed by Christmas, hastening, as Sir Alex Ferguson so poetically put it, ‘Squeaky Bum Time’ when I must turn this manuscript into a good book, and then be judged.
The day after I finished the draft I found out that my friends from Melbourne were arriving at Shannon with their two teenage children the following day; the day that was going to be my day off, but no matter, because these folk are precious souls who I have not seen since 1989, so all was good. I raced around like a mole on speed, shopping cleaning and picking up mattresses, whilst also writing what you read in this space last week, so as to free more time with my Ozzy-tralian mates.
So brilliant, emotional and wonderful was it to see them that on both nights of their visit I lay awake insomniacal, brain racing, trying to come down from the fantastically intense work that I had just done on my book; the welcome sight and stories of my lifelong friends, and generally, as ever, needing time alone and awake to process the marvellous yet messy and mixed-up monstrosity that is life.
Rising before dawn on the second morning we all headed up to Knock Airport, whence I returned yesterday, so drained as to be barely able to stand and breathe at the same time.
In that state I knew I had to just keep on keeping on until all the boring necessities of life had been executed, so I made a shepherd’s pie from yesterday’s leftovers, stumbled, did the bins and recycling, dribbled, blinked but opened my eyes just before I fell over, then rushed backwards and forwards from garden to kitchen as I tried to cook whilst simultaneously listening to the most lucid engineer who came round to service the boiler. Then I passed out on the sofa.
So tired, yes, but feeling fulfilled, having reached my goal of the second draft just in time for my mate to fulfil his lifetime goal of returning to Europe to meet the mates he made growing up in the 1970’s.
Glorious stuff indeed, and yet my paltry pathetic tiredness pales into insignificance when I look at the goals that others set themselves.
As regular colyoomistas will know, this scribbler loves a good adventurer, and recently, thanks to the Sunday Times’ Camilla Long, I read of a woman whose story left my jaw dropping so wide and long it has scarcely recovered.
The woman in question is one Rosie Swale-Pope, a 61 year-old resident of Tenby in South Wales, who tragically lost her husband to prostate cancer in 2003. In October of that year she set off to run around the world, and two months ago she made it back home, after having journeyed alone though Europe, Russia, Siberia, Alaska, Canada America, Greenland and Iceland.
Despite searing heat and sub-frozen temperatures, a breast-cancer scare, breaking five ribs and fracturing a hip, Rosie kept on running, raising awareness for Prostate Cancer Charity (www.prostate-cancer.org.uk), whilst dealing with her personal pain and loss.
When the sun shone she could run 30 miles a day, but when conditions deteriorated, she’d sometimes only manage 500 yards.
“This is the scenario at -62C .... your hands freeze, and if your hands freeze you cannot undo the zips, so you cannot tend to your feet ... inside the (30 x 60 inch) rig, I would massage my feet, put some oil on them, stick them in the wet sleeping bag, and in the morning wake with eyelashes frozen shut. Every night I’d face bears and wolves ... No one else on the expedition except you, with the howling of the wolves and the blizzards and the storms. It’s extraordinary.”
No Rosie, you are the extraordinary one. She suffered frostbite, lost consciousness after eating raw spaghetti, and in Russia had to eat pasta with reindeer hair in it for days, before nearly starving to death in Alaska.
Worst of all was the business of being alone.
“Loneliness is like a knife wound.” she says,”It started out of cancer, loss, sorrow and heartache and a wish to turn something round. You can always turn things round, and if you can’t, then someone you love can do it for you.”
Nah missis, you won’t catch me whinging about feeling tired while there’s people out there like the thoroughly splendid Rosie Swale-Pope.
Saturday 1 November 2008
My mate Angel is bemoaning the arrival of a table cloth on his living room coffee table.
“Don’t know what she was thinking of. Now there’s even less room to put down my mug of tea.”
”She probably thinks it looks pretty!” I suggest, to which he hrrrummphes grumpily.
Then my arm flies out in front of me, causing my fingers to slap the full mug of tea he has just bought me.
No longer is the table draped with a cloth: it is now covered by my tea, which has spread dynamically, drenching the entire cloth, the television remote control and Angel’s rolling baccy.
As he tries to rescue his remote and mops and soaks up the ugly mess, I apologise, explaining that it is down to what I call my ‘spasma’.
Oh dear, how do I describe my spasma? The root of the trouble clearly lies in a spasm, and I have added the final ‘a’ to make it sound kinda cutesey, all innocent and harmless, because the trouble with my spasma is that to the unsympathetic eye, it often looks very deliberate.
Shrinks the world over would look at the anecdote above and conclude that I destroyed the table cloth in a subconscious effort to please my friend.
Unfortunately, my spasma doesn’t work like that.
Most of the time, it appears at the most undesirable and awkward of moments.
Back in May, the day before our collective families and friends all arrived in Galway for our big wedding party, the Snapper excitedly laid upon our kitchen table a beautiful blue table cloth, instantly transforming a slightly shabby piece of furniture into an eye-catcher.
I, however, was less than impressed, and mutter and grumble about having to keep it clean until everyone arrives, and where am I going to eat, and blah blah -
Yep, tea rushing and flooding forth, spilling from the cup that I had appeared to deliberately flip into the air and serve as Raffa Nadal looking for a killer ace against Federer.
Thankfully my beloved woman is familiar with my spasma, and knows that however much it might look like I just behaved like a spoilt belligerent arsehole, I was in fact innocent of all charges.
Nevertheless, it was hard to hear the sadness and exasperation in her sigh.
The worst part of my spasma is the way it looks so utterly deliberate. With appropriate acknowledgement to all sufferers of real the syndrome, my spasma can best be described as a Tourette of the arm. Even though the broad sweep of movement looks impossible to perform without volition, it happens completely spontaneously and almost always at the least appropriate moments.
Many years ago I was out on a first date with a gentle soul. We arrived at the restaurant, both excited at the prospect of a pleasant evening ahead. After handing us the menus, the waiter lit the candle on the table, and retired gracefully.
I looked over at her. She looked back at me and smiled.
Under its own steam my arm rose from its resting position on my lap, raised itself high above the table, moving towards the lit candle. As this elaborately spasmodic movement came to its impressive conclusion, my fingers dipped toward the candle, where they somehow proceeded to flick the pool of hot molten wax right across the table, scoring a bullseye as it splattered right onto the left shoulder of her pretty blue blouse.
My mouth alternately gaped open and clammed shut like a guppy on speed, as she quite wonderfully made little of my inexplicable attack.
Indeed, the dear soul sat for a while with her hand clasped over her freshly-decorated shoulder.
“Why are you sitting like that?” I enquired. “Did the wax burn you?”
“Oh no!” she replied, “I’m just covering it up because I don't want to spoil our evening with you worrying about how the stain looks.”
How do I find such beautiful people with which to populate my life? I am not worthy, but neither am I guilty of these noxious twitches.
Funnily enough, despite this natural talent for muscular disaster, the faux pas that earns pole position on my personal league table was not down to this treacherous independence of my arm muscles, but rather, an unfortunate response to my own gag reflex.
For this sorry tale we must travel back to the late 1970’s,when the Guru and I were leather jacket-clad bikers, bubbling with youthful exuberance, energy and enthusiasm, lacking only the knowledge of our own limits and any notion of self-control.
We had been invited to sunday afternoon tea at our friend Lucy’s house. She had a good friend of hers visiting that she wanted us to meet, and it all sounded rather lovely.
And lovely it was: genteel and traditional, until we arrived.
Inevitably late, rather intoxicated, and finding ourselves suddenly sitting around the tea table with these proper young ladies, Lucy’s parents, bone china teapot, scones and jam, we found ourselves unable to suppress a fit of the giggles. The more we tried to stop laughing the more funny and ridiculous it all seemed. When he saw that Lucy was becoming understandably impatient and upset, the Guru, to his credit, managed to control his laughter, and I too did my best to calm down.
Finally, having attained a modicum of what I thought was reasonable behaviour, I felt ready to take a sip of tea.
As I raised the delicate cup to my lips, taking a good swig, I looked across the table to see the Guru looking back at me with beetroots that were once his eyes.
Feeling something bad coming, I managed to replace my cup onto its saucer, before the muscles in my throat took it upon themselves to reject the tea in favour of what they thought was going to be more laughter.
Instead, and most impressively, there shot out of my mouth a long perfectly-formed projectile stream of partially-ingested tea, which flew clean across the table, hitting Lucy’s friend full square, wet and nasty in the face.
With myself and the Guru now helpless, hysterical and beyond social repair, we ejected ourselves from proceedings offering neither apology nor excuse.
My spasma may be beyond my control, but even now, 30 years later, I still think of that poor girl, her wet tea-stained face, and wonder just what she thought of me.