Monday 27 June 2011

This is my Jerusalem!



‘Happy Ever After’ is a pointless ambition. Happiness comes like a swallow in Summer, like a snowflake landing on warm grass. Happiness lasts for a second or two years, and the only important thing is to realise it, feel it while it lasts.

I felt happiness for a few precious minutes last week, and I drank deeply of it.

A brief hiatus appeared in the midst of the maelstrom that has been life in recent times, so I packed Blue Bag and headed off to Newport. Co. Mayo.

Walking into the first Bed and Breakfast I came upon in the small town, I lingered in an empty reception area as an older man and an invisible woman had a heated discussion in the kitchen. I walked up and down, knowing that they knew I was there, slightly irked that they were ignoring a potential customer, but patient; grateful to be there at all while the Snapper was back in Galway at work.

Eventually the older man decided to acknowledge me, walking towards me asking what I wanted. I was standing by a reception desk with a bag on my shoulder, so I was just a tad surprised when he raised his eyebrow at my request for a room.

He called for Herself, and out she came. Lined fifty year-old skin on the face of a forty year-old smoker, she refused to return the smile I was pumping at her, instead telling me she had to check her book to see if she had a room. While she did that I cast an eye into the Visitors Book, wherein the last entry had been made two days previously.

She had a room. She was just looking for the least good room she could award to this single traveller. On the ground floor, two single beds and a tiny en suite, but fine, I’ll take it, I said. How much? Oooh, er emm, bit steep, but okay. I was tired and even though she pitched her price at the top end of the B&B marketplace, I wasn’t going to argue.

So I unpacked, put on my trackies and a fleece and lay back on the bed. The wall opposite was one huge window that opened out onto the rear car park, so anybody and everybody could see me. I boiled the kettle and found in the fridge in the hallway some nasty rank milk. The little pre-wrapped 3-pack of Custard Creams on my room’s tea tray were beyond their Best Before date.

Refusing to let anything get me down, I lay back on the bed.
Peace and quiet, hoo yeh baby. I never ever nap or take a siesta, but here, now, I had a chance.

No I didn’t. Outside my door, noisy as if in my face, fresh B&B guests had arrived. Herself was laughing and chatting and being generally lovely with them and I wondered why I’d lost out on her charm. She showed them into the room next door and was oh ho ho having a good old laugh with them, so she was, ho ho.

They went to their loo and took a shower and I swear I felt like I was immersed inside the runway of a major airport. Explosive noises shot over under and around me as symphonic plumbing went mental in my lug holes.

I felt miserable. All I’d wanted was to find a quiet clean place  The place was clean alright but it was neither cheap, friendly, quiet nor private.

Facing Herself again would be a pain, but screw it.
So I dressed and packed and headed back to reception, where I had to knock on doors and wait for ages. I could’ve just left but wanted to be polite, offer her a couple of quid for her trouble and the cup of tea with off milk and stale biscuits (oh come on, of course I ate them - it was only a Best Before date!).

Her face was a picture as I mumbled some ill-thought out excuse as to why I had to go.
She shook her grim chin at my couple of Euro and headed off at high speed to the room I’d been in, doubtless to see if I’d stolen from her.

As I climbed back into the car I laughed. What was I going to nick? Her bedspreads? I think not.

At the top of the hill I headed into the hotel, where Roisin quoted me a price ten euro more than the B&B (ignore any rate cards you ever see in Irish hotels, absolutely). She listened to my needs and gave me a quiet room tucked away far from the bar. As I opened the door I let out a whoop! It was huge and modern and clean and way well worth the extra tenner. The skin-piercing shower alone was worth the extra dosh. All of a sudden I wanted to sing out loud.

Feeling for the first time that I might be on holiday, I started at the furthest point from the hotel, hitting each of the five pubs in town, ordering a Jameson in each and being given exactly that. No urban enquiries of whether I’d like ice or water or essence of Christian Dior in my whiskey, just a simple glass with a neat Jamie.

Many evenings of my life have been spent in rural pubs and small town bars in the West of Ireland, but that night I didn’t really feel like chasing the craic. I hadn’t the energy, so after I ran out of bars, and while the sun was still above the distant dark hills, I walked up the road to the church.

Having reached the top of the hill, I leaned on the stone wall and realised it was June 23rd, St. John’s Eve: bonfire night in Catholic countries. Below green fields fell away toward the windy wee road, twisting its way to somewhere. Beyond the road the valley rose with stone walls and lush fields, blending into the black distant Nephin Beg range of hills.

Bonfires, everywhere, how many? 12, 13, 17, every house that might have been invisible in the fading evening light became a point on the map. Smoke spires dotted the landscape, as if a thousand new popes had been announced.

Small clouds clipped the fading sun’s dazzle, as it started to slip below the hills, and I found peace.

This is my green and pleasant land. This is my Jerusalem. This was my moment to be happy. I know how to spot it now. So many people miss their own happiness. It’s gone before their next bad time hits them over the head. They might then wonder why life is worth it, and that is a tragedy.

The only thing I didn’t know was how long this happiness would last, but I didn’t care. The sun was gone, the sky purple and pink as I turned away from the stone wall and took a wander around the church. Recently restored with shiny pointing and a mini round tower, it was lovely.

A woman in a house behind me suddenly said hello. She was having a ciggie out of her window and I said hello back.

Hello, lovely evening isn’t it.

Strangers who say hello, just because you’re there.

Around the far side of the church I came across a door with a sign that said

'Sacristy and Toilets’

and behind it, I heard a young man singing. He had no idea that I was there, but I could tell he was writing a song. Maybe he was a young priest, composing something for his Sunday sermon. He sang as a priest might, with a strong steady falsetto voice, ecclesiastical, lyrical and ethereal.

"La la laaaaaaaa..."

He was writing a song. I wondered what it was about?

"Laaa laal la la laaaa..."

He coughed and then sang the words of his song for the first time.

“Property Tax, Property Tax,
They’re going to give us a Property Tax,
I’m looking forward to the Property Tax.

“Water Tax, Water Tax, 
How will we pay the Water Tax?
I’m looking forward to the Water Tax...
We’ll all go to jail for the Property Tax....
lal la laaa...”

and then he was wordless again, doubtless penning the lyrics to a second verse.
But it was perfect.
A priest in touch with the plight of his flock.
A scribbler at one with the splendour of rural Ireland.
Happiness, for which I am grateful.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Avoid the propaganda on Page 1 - Seek out the silent heroes of page 32!

Why did my heart sink when I saw The Observer’s front page headline ‘Revealed: war crimes files that could convict Gaddafi’?

Do I not think Gaddafi is a potential monster, capable of systematically killing his own people?
I do.

Do I not think that it’s good to have a War Crimes Tribunal that can punish perpetrators of massacre and genocide?
I do, even though, with few exceptions, all war is a crime.

So why so sad?
Because it was such blatant propaganda. Perchance it’s all true and maybe none of it is, but what matters is that The Observer ran the headline. Of course it did. Even though it’s the favourite paper of this sad news junky’s week, it still follows the line.

This colyoom has often in the past mused that one human life is neither more nor less precious than any other, but here in the Developed World we need to have a regular supply of enemies. As Orwell showed us when he wrote 1984 in 1948, a good hate figure helps to divert the population’s negative energies elsewhere. As long as we’re Us and they are Them, we behave ourselves.

So yes, Gaddafi is a dangerous megalomaniacal nutter, capable of genocide, who is killing his own population.
But so is Assad in Syria.
So are leaders of the Congo, Sudan, Somalia and North Korea.
So why don’t we see them on the front page?

We’re told from an early age to pick our fights. You can’t take on the world and win. As adults we’re force-fed our fights by the media, and if foreign journalists are not allowed into the country, we don’t hear about it.

We know all about Netanyahu. We know all about the Taliban, just as we knew all about Saddam Hussein. Liberals and conspiracists are right to be appalled by what’s going on in Gaza and the West Bank, but Israel is a democracy, so the voices of the moderate Israelis and peacemaking Palestinians are heard the world over.

In North Korea, Kim Jong Il does as he pleases, and we’re none the wiser. The international media can’t report the truth of what happens there, and the size of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is such that Americans cannot threaten the country without fear of lethal reprisal, so we don’t hear.
So we don’t care.

It’s what I call ‘anti-propaganda’: the omission or under-reporting of a story.
The situation in the Congo region is so complex, involving so many disparate groups in extremely hostile conditions that the western media just don’t bother to try and report it.
So we don’t know about it.
So we don’t care.

As long as NATO warplanes are bombing Tripoli we’re going to hear about Gaddafi. We’re going to be reminded again and again how bad he is. Assad can continue to kill and torture and maim swathes of his Syrian people, but because foreign media are not allowed inside the country, we’ll hear little about it compared to atrocities performed in neighbouring Israel/Palestine.

As ever it’s the news stories on pages 14 and 27 that I read. The tiny paragraphs that slip through the net unnoticed. If it’s under-reported it piques my interest.
I don’t like being told what to think.
I just want to know what’s going on, so I’ll stick to my own news, thanks very much.

Right there, on page 32 of the Sunday Mirror (well, you have to buy a red top once in a while) runs my favourite story of the week, The antidote to my anger at anti-propaganda is a story reported by Richard Jones and Susie Boniface, revealing how 300 Old Age pensioners in Japan have volunteered to

 “...give their lives in the battle to bring the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant under control.”

Michiaki Okimoto, one of the volunteers, was 8 years old when he saw the atomic bomb explode over Hiroshima:
‘I know about the fear of radiation. I saw the flash and heard the explosion. To me this is like any other project. My physical strength may be weaker, but I have the same spirit as a young man.’

72 year-old Yastel Yamada explains:
‘We feel responsible. The nuclear plants were created by my generation and we should fix the mess. The cancers take 10, 20, 30 years to appear. Most of us will be dead by then.’

Avoid the anti-propaganda of omission on Page 1. Seek out the hidden secrets of page 32.

And raise a glass to those selfless heroes in Japan.

Saturday 18 June 2011

We've been here before...

so colyoomistas know that normal service will resume at any time: two seconds hence or halfty three o'clock.

Been one of the strangest and most demanding weeks I can remember, but all is good.

A little tired though.

Friday 10 June 2011

It's Pip the Greek’s 90th birthday, so here's his Top Ten Tragic Utterances!

Despite the Irish slagging me for growing up as a ‘Subject of the British Crown’ I really couldn’t give a damn whether I live in a Monarchy or a Republic. I felt no more or less of a citizen in England than I do in Ireland, or did whilst living in the USA or Australia. Heads of State, be they King, Queen, or President, are all the same: wholly and utterly irrelevant to me. As long as I’m free to feel apathetic about them and have the right to write about how I don’t give a monkey’s fart, I’m a happy and grateful man.

I'm also a compassionate man. I feel Elizabeth II’s pain. Her hubbie the Duke of Edinburgh has been a blight on her reign, a pain in her royal pachoochy for decades. He’s a vacuum of tact; an overt racist; a vile creature of the lowest order.

So (with due thanks to the Daily Mirror’s Steve Myall) this colyoom celebrates Pip the Greek’s 90th birthday today with a Top Ten of the Tragic Utterances from the anachronistic inbred blue blood ignoramus.

10. Conciliatory as ever, as said to Atul Patel at a 2009 reception for influential Indians:
“There’s a lot of your family in tonight.”

9. Exhibiting great honesty whilst visiting the Paraguayan dictator General Stroessner:
“It’s a pleasure to be in a country that isn’t ruled by its people.”

8. Never one to bear a grudge, he explained to an Ambassador in 1967:
“I’d like to go to Russia very much - although the bastards murdered half of my family!”

7. Sensitive as ever in 2002, he chatted to blind Susan Edwards and her guide dog:
“They have eating dogs for anorexics now.”
(don’t laugh, it’s not funny, oh go on then!)

6. While on the only slightly offensive remarks, there’s the classic encounter in 1995 with a Scottish driving instructor:
“How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?”

5. Showing his lack of awarenss of domestic politics, to the black Conservative politician, John David Beckett, Lord Taylor of Warwick:
“And what exotic part of the world do you come from?”

4. Not even his family are safe. Of his daughter Anne in 1970:
“If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she isn’t interested.”

3. Even though he’s Greek, he seems to feel very English about France. When asked if the Queen was enjoying her trip to Paris in 2006, he retorted simply:
“Damn fool question.”

2. Almost worthy of the top spot of this disgusting chart, in 1998 Prince Philip scraped his tongue along the dregs of the barrel of poor taste when talking about smoke alarms to a mother who had just lost two sons in a house fire:
“They’re a damn nuisance. I’ve got one in my bathroom and every time I run a bath the steam sets it off.”

1. Top of this Party Pooper Pops has to be Philip's universally notorious comment to an English student in China in 1986:
“If you stay here much longer you'll go home with slitty eyes.”
Happy 90th Birthday Philip . Thank goodness we English are so different to you.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Rain, beer and then more rain - it's Summertime in Galway!

Can’t think, can’t write, trying to make it successfully through a difficult period, but refuse to let down my colyoomistas.

So by way of a total cop-out, here are a couple of auld Summer colyooms, one dedicated to the rain, rain rain rain ha ha ha rain Summer rain, the other a quick snapshot of your colyoomist, back in those drunken days when I faced up to a night out in Galway City in the same way that a prize-fighter takes on his opponent...

July 1999.
The Riddle of Galway?

Ahh, the relief of finally lying down ... as that cruelly early Galway Summer dawn appears from behind the curtain ...ooohhhhh ... god, bed feels good.

Now, time to check the spin-ometer. Just close the eyes for a few seconds, see if the insides of my head are of a mood to start challenging the laws of centrifuge, physics, Copernicus and Pat Kenny.

Nope. Brain and senses feel calm and stationary.


Next see if the ooo ... aaahhh ... eee ...contents of my distended stomach are going behave themselves, or prove Newton’s laws of motion, acton and reaction kind of thing.

Well, there’s no lack of activity in my voluminous belly, where happy groups of assorted and varied ingredients are lovingly forming themselves into a peristaltic bullet train, bound for express travel to Morning town.

Lovely. Smashed but safe and intact.

As I strain to lift my head to see if the Scores on the Time Doors say 4:30am or 5:00am, the Snapper soothes my partied brow.

“Ssshhhssshhh ... you’ve been feeding the Beast, babe, that’s all. You know how Galway City loves to be fed excess...”

So true, so very true, and the day being the Guru’s birthday, I had drained it of every drop of celebration there was to be had in it.

A riddle for Galway occurs to me, worthy of the Sphinx herself.

In which city can you step out in the morning on two legs, walk all day alongside many legs, and return to lie down, legless?

June 2008.
Is the pint as long as the shower, or the other way around?

The Summer Galway afternoon sky holds a million possibilities. Light grey clouds float above dark grey clouds, hanging below the canopy of the billowing thunderstorm anvil.

Scattered cracked saucers of blue show through, and the rain has abated.
Well, at least, for the moment.

Time to leave my friend’s house and walk home, but before I reach the bottom of his cul-de-sac, the rain begins to fall. Sure, it’s only a shower, and if I’m walking I’m walking.

Down the hill, and the rain is holding off. Good thing too, really, because these drops are not soft. These drops are not mist. These drops are Galway Summer Style‘n’Fashion Mother of All Wet-Making Drops, soaking, permeating, getting down to business drops that have one purpose in life: to seek flesh through cotton.

Being a bloke means that you’re not allowed to stop walking to do your coat up. You have to keep walking as you do it, or risk being misinterpreted as a man of less than wholesome substance. So whilst moving at full speed, my hands are flailing below my line of vision. To a stranger it must look as if I’m trying to read my waxed cotton jacket in braille. Without looking down like a sensible human being to see what I’m doing, lest I lose a moment of momentum, I struggle to wrap the collar flap around my oak tree neck. Ah, now, here comes the rain.

Now, wouldn’t you think I learned something useful in my 16 years in Ireland, beyond my affected Irish use of ‘now’ and ‘wouldn’t’?

Didn’t I learn how to deal with the rain?
Didn’t I learn to take shelter, because for 360 days of the year, the weather in the West of Ireland comes as sunshine and showers?
Didn’t I learn that these showers were the reason everybody clears the streets to take shelter in shops? A shower of Galway rain lasts just exactly the same time it takes to pour and drink a pint of the black, so the shower was the very reason that, back in days of yore, a barrel of beer arrived in the back of every wee shop.

So when you arrive in a tiny West of Ireland town that has two shops and 47 pubs, you can blame the nature of the shower.

Sheltering under a bush at the side of the road, I’m feeling smug in a ‘I’m not a local, but hey, I’m no tourist either’ kind of way. The rain stops, and I emerge into the steamy sunshine, walk on, waaaalk on, with my head held high, chin shiny and dry.

And then the rain really comes. The universe sensed my hubris, and now I will truly be punished. There is no ambiguity about this sky. It is black, heavy and low. As I round the crest of the hill the rain kicks up two gears, turning into flash-flood sub-tropical downpour.

I know it can’t last at this level long, because we’re temperate in these parts, but shelter is now out of the question. I am going to get drenched to the skin, and, well, that’s okay. The Irish have a word for it. You have to get drownded once in a while.

The Irish get drownded.
The English get drenched.
They both hit my mark.

My hair is sodden, dripping floods into my eyes, and now I cannot see through my glasses, which are steamed and under torrential attack. Crossing by the lights at the top of Taylor’s Hill, I head down Threadneedle Road towards the Prom, deranged, repeating over and over to myself

“Do not miss the footpath out to the left. Do not miss the footpath out to the left.”
Onwards, onwards, until I lift up my glasses and peer out to see I have, of course, missed the bloody footpath.

Turning around and heading back up the hill, I stumble into what I think is the footpath, which turns out instead to be a block of flats, and then the rain goes into overdrive again. Now I’m in the zone. Carefreeeee however wet I’ll beeeee. Lollopping back down towards the Prom, I am slapping flappy-dapping around in my sodden wet jeans with insane abandon, laughing out loud crazy, not giving a damn.

“Okay!” I yell to the skies,”You’ve shown me who is boss, and I accept. I am worthless. Thank you!”

Yet even the joy of that fleeting moment of acceptance is taken from me, for as I turn into my own street, all the clouds disappear, the sun comes out, and I am steaming in my saturated clothes under a hot clear blue sky before I turn the key in my front door.