Monday 26 November 2012

From Fox News to Al Jazeera, your truth is out there!



I’m the meat in a terrible sandwich. Each time there is conflict within Israel and the Occupied Territories, my heart starts to bleed through several holes. My soul gets twisted and screwed until eventually I feel overwhelmed and profoundly sad.
It is during these periods of conflict that I feel more alone than at any other.  

Trawling the Facebook feed I read posts from close friends in Galway crying out in support of the beleaguered Palestinian people. They say we have to stop buying Israeli produce and show maps of how much the Palestinian lands have shrunk since the United Nations recognised Israel’s right to exist back in 1948.

I agree with every one of them, just as I agree with my family who feel an emotional and historical link to Israel that is impossible to justify to non-Jewish people.

Then I think how these friends will be shocked and plainly appalled that their mate, usually so caring and compassionate, can possibly have anything positive to say about Israel.

Then I think of my family, and the fact that they won’t be reading this, because the last time I wrote about these crushing periods of war, they de-friended me from Facebook and sent e-mails saying they didn’t need this type of thing from me.

As I do to my Irish friends, I tried to explain to my family that there is no crime in seeing both sides. During the Apartheid years, it would have been impossible for me to feel the same emotional connection I feel with Israel towards South Africa. As a youth, my weekends were spent marching from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, crying out for justice for black South Africa.

In the same way, I dream of justice for the Palestinians, but there also exists an incredibly strong irrational need within me to cling to the existence of the State of Israel.
Logic shmogic, my whinging isn’t going to help a jot, but what is really important is to realise how subtle and subversive are the ways that you free-thinking colyoomistas are trained to think.

Somewhere between Fox News and Al Jazeera, your truth is out there.

My brother calls Fox News ‘Israel TV’, seeing their gloss coating of Right Wing truth for what it is, while my sister regularly bemoans the anti-semitism of the BBC. Over here, RTE presents itself as a voice of moderation, but everywhere, subversive insidious bias exists.

Of course your opinions are your own, and you are entitled to every one of them, but never ever make the mistake of believing that you have considered the facts and come to a conclusion.

Others have manipulated the facts and presented your conclusion to you.

We need news, and as most of us are moderate intelligent people, we spurn the extremities of tabloid TV, and watch our State Broadcasters in hope of dispassionate journalism.

Sadly it rarely exists.

Let’s go back to the start of this present crisis (rather than to the moment when Moses saw the Promised Land from the top of Mount Sinai, or when Abraham sent his son Hagar to dwell in the land of Egypt) and compare the BBC and RTE reporting.

On November 16th, the RTE Signing News reported that:
“At least 20 Palestinians and 3 Israelis have died since the Israeli Air offensive began two days ago.”
Three minutes later, on the BBC’s 6 o’clock news, Fiona Bruce reported:
“20 Palestinians and 3 Israelis have died since Wednesday.”
No mention of who started it. No use of “at least’’ in connection with the numbers of Palestinian dead.

They might not appear at first particularly earth-shattering, but these differences are very significant. Alas, if you suffer this colyoom each week, you might have forgotten how immensely powerful a weapon language can be.

Online, the bias continues.
On the RTE website it states:
“Israel began the offensive Wednesday by assassinating Hamas' military chief and striking dozens of rocket launchers. But militants have continued to rain rockets across Israel … Hamas militants have vowed to resist the Israeli offensive.”

The BBC website on the same day reads:
The latest flare-up of violence began on Saturday evening, when Palestinian militants fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli patrol on the Israeli side of the border fence, wounding four soldiers. The Israeli army responded by shelling sites in Gaza, killing six Palestinians, including four civilians.”

The same BBC that appears anti-Semitic to my sister appears to be incredibly pro-Israel to my Irish friends. In a similar way, while to my family I’m seen as a disloyal Jew who hates Israel, if I dare to express my opinions to my Irish friends a heavy silence falls, as they consider what it’s like to have mad bad Zionist bastard in the room.

So as you form your strong opinions, never forget that a dead Israeli child is a loss as great as a dead Palestinian child.

Yes, there is an agonising crime of scale involved in this conflict. The IDF are terrifyingly more powerful than any of the Palestinian military brigades. As I write, there thankfully hasn't yet been an Israeli ground invasion, which being offensive rather than defensive, could not be justified.

But scale plays a part on the Israeli psyche too. They live in a country the size of Wales, surrounded by the vast land masses and populations of Jordan, Syria and Egypt, all of whom have at one time sworn themselves to the annihilation of Israel.

Nothing justifies the death of innocent people, but there is something we can do to help. If we all take seriously our personal responsibility to look that little bit further into the news as it’s reported, we might start to build our collective truths on stronger foundations.

With compassion in our hearts, our eyes and ears open and a stronger desire to understand, we might then start to think less reflexively of the evils of one side and more about how to collectively find a peaceful solution.

Monday 19 November 2012

Super adventure, super memories: Super 8!


My brother and sister with an adorable little me in the middle (c.1964)!

I’ve just had a fantastic adventure involving my distant past, cutting edge technology, passion, expertise, a missed flight and the discovery of lost treasure. Best of all, the whole thing was pure Galway!

Last time I was back in London I found an old 1960s vanity case in one of my mum’s cupboards. Clicking open the little metal clasps revealed a collection of old cine films.

Swallowing hard, I tried to keep down deep emotion.

Nobody in the family had seen these little babies for 40 years. I snuck them into a carrier bag and brought them home with me.

Googling ‘Super 8 conversion to DVD Ireland’ brought up a link to a company called Super8Ireland. Where were they based? How far would I have to drive, only to find out I couldn’t afford to pay for the conversion?

Where else of course than Dominick Street, Galway City! Any doubts I’d felt about the enterprise vanished. This was starting to feel as if it was meant to happen, and by the time I’d spent a half hour in the company of Julien Dorgere, I was more than sure.

Even though he’s from France and I’m from England I knew he was pure Galway. Passionate about his work, brimming with love for music and film, he exudes a calm confidence and no shortage of style.

How did he end up in the West of Ireland?

“I came here working as a translator and conference interpreter, missed the plane from Galway back to France at the end of the year and decided to stay. I worked as a translator, while having my Super8 website (http://www.super8ireland.com) on the side.”

More pure Galway than I ever imagined. There are many reasons we blow-ins end up here in Galway, most of which start “Came for a few days, got drunk…” and end “… ran out of money…” But the missing of that plane sounded more kismet that craic-driven.

Soon Julien was working full time with Super8, bombarded as he was by customers who wanted to digitise their old films. At the same time he kept his beloved 8mm format alive by supplying cine equipment, films and advice to film shooters worldwide.

Having worked on film and music collaborations with Donal Dineen, Vivienne Dick and Mike Smalle, Julien performed as Mr Weasel at the Galway Arts Festival, DEAF, Tulca Visual Arts Festival, Artisit! and the Electric Picnic. But that wasn’t enough for this French Galwegian. He also wanted to celebrate the 8mm format, so he did what many Galwegians had done before: he created a festival.

Set up in 2010, Super8 Shots Festival is non-profit independent film festival, aimed at the entire community, as well as Super8 film makers, enthusiasts, artists and musicians. Running last weekend in Galway, the 2012 festival was a resounding success.

Three weeks after my initial meeting with Julien, I returned home with 10 beautifully formatted DVDs, guaranteed to generate much happiness within my family this Christmas.
Plonking myself down in my chair, I watched the first 10 years of my life unfold.

The 1960s were special to me, because until financial crisis came along in 1970, we lived a privileged life in a beautiful home with a huge garden. Dressed to the nines, we took holidays abroad every other year, which back then was pretty high-flying.

As when you look at photos of your childhood self, I felt no connection to that adorable little child I saw running around my TV screen, yet nothing could ready myself for the tsunami of joy I experienced at seeing my late father as a young healthy man once more. With a smile the size of Cyprus stretching my lips, I sat transfixed as I relived my life of 5 decades ago.

So many long gone now appeared alive in front of me. Grandmothers, uncles and cousins lounged around that wonderful garden, as I watched the tenderness with which my big sister played with me as a baby. I nearly fell off the chair in hysterics at the sight of my father’s torturous efforts to climb down some jagged rocks.

It was absolutely fantastic, and I know I’m far too excited to wait until Christmas to spread this family magic. Those DVDs are already in England as you read this, bringing loved-ones back into living rooms where they are still missed.

If you have old Super8 films, please take them to Super8 Ireland. The experience is tremendous from start to finish.

Back in 1970, my world changed forever. Having never known anything apart from affluence, huge gardens and posh holidays, the leaving of that lovely house and those splendid grounds came as a brutal shock to 10 year-old Charlie. I’d never dreamed of the possibility of losing that lifestyle, and now, 50 years later, I have it back in my possession, to revel in at the touch of a button.

Thanks Julien - and thanks Super8!





Monday 12 November 2012

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Chelsea FC!



Chelsea FC are Champions of Europe, FA Cup Winners, riding high in the league and playing beautiful creative attacking football. Everyone’s talking about Chelsea. Trouble is, nobody’s talking about football.

Being a True Blue Chelsea fan can drive a man crazy. Cancel that - you have to be crazy to be a Chelsea fan. Blimey, how embarrassing. It’s taken the 43 years since Dad first took me to watch Chelsea play to realise that. Mind you, it explains a lot, like why it is that wherever I’ve lived in the world I’ve been drawn to those who subsequently turn out to be Chelsea fans. Be it in west Connemara or a bar in San Francisco, I’ve made friends who suddenly become top notch types, as they reveal their Blue hearts.

Nutters, every one of them, but as a nutter myself, I’m biased, and digressing. I’m steering clear of illustrating the pain of being a Chelsea fan. There have been moments of intense pleasure and pride alongside times when I just want to curl up and die of embarrassment. Maybe there’s a psychological reason why Blue is the colour? Even Chelsea’s good times test me to the limit.

When we made it to Wember-lee for the FA Cup Final in 1970, Chelsea had a team of flashy wide boys, whose exciting skills on the pitch were unburdened by any moral or intellectual substance. As excited as a 10 year-old can be, I went to the game with my Dad and watched the longest-ever Cup Final, which ended in a draw, followed by a replay. For your young scribbler this was a disaster. All I’d wanted to do was to see Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris lift the cup for Chelsea, or failing that at least be at Wembley when somebody lifted the bloody cup, but no. Dad went to the replay up in Manchester 4 days later, but I wasn’t allowed to go. It was a school night.

Ouch.

The following year, when Chelsea beat the mighty Real Madrid to win the European Cup Winners Cup, my mum decided I should spend Chelsea’s night of glory stuck on a train to Devon to visit Aunty Sandy. Frantically trying and failing to find commentary of the game on a tiny transistor radio I clasped to my ear, I yet again missed the chance to experience Chelsea winning a trophy.

Later that year Dad and I went to Wember-lee again, where we watched Stoke City defeat Chelsea in the League Cup Final. At last I saw a captain lift a cup. Shame that his shirt had red and white stripes. I think I may have cried a bit, but consoled myself that it was only the League Cup and not the FA Cup, which then carried enormous cachet.

For the next 30 years Chelsea drifted around footballing backwaters, making exciting yet infrequent excursions out to win cups and play sexy football. Mixing anguish with triumph, they tortured us fans by confirming they could win when they could be bothered. Fantastically inconsistent, we’d beat the giants of the day, the Liverpools and the Leeds, and then lose to a team of part-time Norwegian fisherman who had a striker with a wooden leg and a one-eyed goalie.

Everything changed with the arrival of the super-rich Russian, who bought us a team of international superstars and put the handsome, charismatic and outspoken José Mourinho at the helm. Chelsea became consistent overnight. The Portugueeser (with just a little fascist ripple running through his raspberry) won back-to-back Premierships in his first two seasons, breaking league records for points earned, goals scored and wearer of the most perfect overcoat.

As a True Blue I loved the titles and the cups he won for us. Sadly though, I didn’t care for Mourinho’s gruelling and efficient football. Yes, I’m a Chelsea fan, but also a football fan. I love to watch the game played beautifully, so even when Chelsea were unbeatable for two years, while revelling in our success, I also pined for missing pride.

Anyway, nobody gets to be bigger than an oligarch, so Mourinho was fired, to be followed by a ‘Who’s Who’ of international football managers: Scolari, Hiddink, Ancelotti and, er, Grant. Bless him. Stylish and wise, Carlo Ancelotti produced an attacking Chelsea team that played with flair and freedom, winning by margins of 7 and 8 goals. I loved watching his team more than any previous, but unlike dynastic Northern clubs, Chelsea’s culture is horribly fickle. Having won the League and FA Cup Double in his first season, Carlo was fired too. I still miss his ironic raised eyebrow.

After we dumped that ‘Mini-Me Mourinho’ AVB fella on Spurs, Roberto di Matteo guided us to Champions League glory last year. But the ecstasy of being Champions of Europe was severely tempered by the agony of winning it by putting 10 men behind the ball and focusing like a collie on speed. While incredible to watch, once more our glory came tainted. Punters talked about ‘Doing A Chelsea’: winning a game despite rarely having possession of the ball.

I hated it.

This year, as butterflies emerging from that dark cocoon of ultra-defence, we are playing magnificent football, with a trio of skilful midfielders scoring for fun. Everyone's talking about Chelsea.

They (and I) want to know why our captain was too weak to admit that he said something disgusting. They can’t understand why, having finally got past that dreadful episode, Chelsea set its own PR machine to self-destruct and accused a referee of calling Mikel a monkey.

This isn’t about racism, it’s about Chelsea: the agony and the ecstasy. Here we are, finally playing the game in a way that makes my heart fill with joy and pride. Everyone is talking about Chelsea, but nobody's talking about football.

Monday 5 November 2012

How do the Irish grow organic breeze blocks?

Being a stubborn fool, it took me over a decade to accept that the seasons in the West of Ireland are a month ahead of those in my native London. Every February I’d mock the locals for giving out about how cold it was for Spring. I’d recoil in horror when my farmer landlord in North Mayo said each August 1st:

“Well, that’s it now, Charlie. Summer’s over.”
‘No it’s not!’
I’d say to myself, because just as February is Winter in England, August is pure Summer.

 

So now I know. It takes a while, but I get there in the end. In Connacht, November is Winter and Summer starts in May. It still sounds a bit whackadoodle, but that’s my fault, not yours.
 

This Summer was one of my happiest and most memorable, because for the first time in my life I’ve had a patch of land to work on. It is now almost a garden, but when we first moved here there was a jungle to clear.
 

People say I’ve got green fingers, but I don’t see it like that. It’s not me that’s growing the plant. The plant is designed to grow, reproduce and thrive. All anyone can do is provide what it wants, which in the case of just about all plants is varying amounts of light, water and food.
 

To use the modern psychobabble terminology, a gardener is just an 'enabler'. The plant is primed to survive, and we can really overcomplicate things and spend fortunes underestimating the incredible tenacity of nature.
 

For example, in my last home I grew wildflowers and sunflowers in containers on the patio. There’d be potting compost, slug pellets, slow-release food pyramids and regular watering. Sure enough, the place was a riot of colour for months, and the sunflowers grew up their carefully-placed bamboo canes, held by twine ties.
 

They were stunning, yet better still was the sunflower that appeared out of the crack in the patio stones. A seed from the year before must have fallen in there, survived 9 months of neglect and then exploded into life.
 

Unfed, unwatered and unnoticed it shot up, growing as high and flowering as long as its cosseted pot-dwelling neighbours.
 

That self-seeder brought me joy, because it confirmed what I’d always felt: that plants have an incredibly strong desire to fulfil their growing destiny, and sometimes the less we do the better.
 

‘The Lazy Gardener’ wouldn’t make much of a TV show, but there’s something to be said for it.
 

A few months ago I spotted a little green leaf sticking out of my compost patch. Even though I’ve never felt the desire to break my back growing something that I can by dirt cheap around the corner, I’ve seen enough of my friends' beautifully constructed ridges to recognise a little potato plant.
A month later the entire patch is covered in lush green leaves and I’m incredibly excited. Not only do I have my first potato patch, in itself a pathway to as-yet unexplored realms of Irish society, but I haven’t done a stroke of work.
 

All I have done is eat a potato, and thrown the peel in the compost. In return, nature has seen fit to give me a whacking great potato patch. No digging, no watering, no effort on my part at all.
 

Then there’s warm drizzle swamping the air, blight is being mentioned on the weather forecast and I’m wondering if it’s time to start interfering with the process by spraying the patch.
 

No, I won’t. I’ll just keep my eyes peeled. I’ve read Walter Macken. I know how quickly the blight can wreak havoc.
 

Weeks pass. I remain vigilant until there, yes, dammit, the plants have all collapsed and gone mushy brown. With blighted potato plants I've never felt more Irish. I’m gutted, just ready to burn it all when my garden fork comes out of the patch with a huge beautiful healthy spud stuck on its tine.
 

Spuds! There are spuds!
 

Digging and scrambling I harvest 30 or 40 wondrous white flawless spuds, which we eat boiled, mashed, roasted and as chips and then give away to friends.
 

They were bloody lovely. Nobody had green fingers. It was all nature’s work.
 

Mind you, there is one gardening talent I’d like to have. In a way it’s truly green-fingered, because it’s something that you Irish seem to do incredibly well.
 

At the back of many Irish gardens there lurks an extraordinary and diverse artificial crop. Somehow you canny Celts have learned how to grow long metal chains from a single link. After planting a baked bean, you have the skill to grow a can in the ground. I’ve found plastic bottles that someone must have reared from a drop of spilled bleach, and deep-buried breeze blocks galore, each propagated from a single meagre grain of concrete.
 

That’s the kind of growing talent I’d like to have! Mind you, while nature’s doing all the work, I should be happy with what the land delivers unto me.
 

I love living this mixture of unreconstructed Old Bloke, digging holes, raking muck and strimming, alongside New Man who cooks wicked hot-pots, hoovers and does laundry. All very civilised donchaknow, but I‘m still well capable of acting like a foolhardy idiot.
 

Having blathered at length to the Snapper of the horrors of the noxious hogweed in our hedge, I armour myself as if working in a radioactive lab and clear the worst of it.
 

Feeling I’ve ‘conquered’ the dangerous foe, I start to think with my testicles, grab the root in both hands and proceed to pull like a loony.
 

With gloves glistening in toxic resin, I crash back into reality, and spend the next two weeks waiting for blisters to appear on my skin when I step out into sunlight.
 

I get away with it, but like the spuds and so much else in nature, it would’ve been better to leave well alone.