Tuesday 29 September 2015
Looking at the number plates of the cars outside Rosleague Manor Hotel, I’ve a secret window into Ireland’s economic recovery. In the past there used to be only spanky new rental cars, Beemers and Mercs parked here. Now ‘06’ Dublin plates sit attached to Toyotas and Fords.
No surprise that fortune has hit Ireland’s capital city quicker than Connemara, but during the 16 years the Snapper and I have been visiting Rosleague, I’ve taken a perverse pride in owning the oldest car in the place.
I still do, but it’s good that more people can afford to come here.
We don’t live under any such delusion. We know we can’t afford it, yet that never stops us. To be fair, the rates are very reasonable given what you receive in return, but we never let tiny details like fiscal responsibility get in the way of our time away together.
If we did, we’d never leave the house.
Instead we glean from a night at Rosleague as much rest, recuperation and guilt-free self-indulgent consumption as we can.
This year we’ve only managed one night in the Spring and this September night, when heavy rain is falling on the pink Georgian mansion, as if Noah was out collecting wood.
The mountains of Connemara have dissolved into cloud, and despite the ferocity of the downpour the midges are enjoying their own Electric Picnic on my neck, so I venture inside, knowing that all will be well.
That’s what you want from a hotel. Whether staying for pleasure or business, you want a sanctuary; a place where you feel cared for and about, where regulars are treated as old friends.
Settling my voluminous frame into a wicker chair in the conservatory bar, I sip my whiskey and become hypnotised by the rain, cascading in waves down the glass roof.
My mind drifts off to the recent trip the Snapper and I made to London for my niece’s wedding.
During precious moments when we step off our daily treadmill and look life - and each other - in the eye, the Snapper and I dream of being made to feel a little special.
Living far from our families in England, trips away together are rare. This one offered the chance to dance and celebrate a marriage, so I booked us a suite at the Grim’s Dyke Hotel, where the Snapper and I tied the knot.
A beautiful Victorian pile, Grim’s Dyke was home to W.S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. The house is grand and stately, its gardens stunning and elegant. Given that my family has had a relationship with the hotel for decades, you might think we’d love the place, but there’s the rub.
The Grim’s Dyke offers so much, yet consistently fails to deliver. There’s always something wrong. When my parents held their Golden Wedding there, the room was not set up on time. While planning our own wedding there, we found it hard to get anybody to answer the phone.
Now affiliated to Best Western, the Grim’s Dyke Hotel represents the only Love/Hate relationship in my life. Around 5 times a year I stay in one of their Lodge rooms, whenever I visit my mum.
Costing no more than the Premier Inn, they feel infinitely nicer, so I was looking forward to our suite.
At check-in we were told we’d booked a Lodge room, but no matter, the suite was still available.
To reach the suite we had to go through the Music Room, where our own wedding ceremony took place years ago. Noticing a table laid there, I nipped back to reception. We’d need access to our room around noon the following day, but didn’t want to interrupt a wedding. Was that going to be okay?
“Fine!” she said, “No problem at all.”
Later that night we saw that several tables and chairs had been laid out in the Music Room. Back to reception. Was it still okay?
“Oh fine!” she said, “No problem at all.”
The next morning, after ordering 2 room service breakfasts and receiving only one, I dried myself on bathroom towels smeared with old dry dirt. With trust running low, we decided to check at reception a third time.
Would we be able to get into our suite in a couple of hours? It looked like there was a function in the Music Room.
“Yes, you will!” she said, “Absolutely no problem at all.”
Two hours later we were back at the hotel to change for my niece’s wedding. I’d never worn the black tie caboodle before, while the Snapper was looking forward to dressing up and looking fabulous.
The Music Room was full of people.
The Snapper asked a member of staff if we could get to our room, at which point the Hotel Manager suddenly stepped in and coldly instructed us:
“No! You cannot go through the Music Room. You’ll have to use the fire escape.”
There’s a reason it’s called the hospitality industry, yet some in the business fail to understand the word.
So later, dressed up dandy and frilly in our finery, we stepped out of a wall and climbed down a mossy metal spiral fire escape, feeling little better than muck.
Later I discovered we should have been informed about the fire escape when we first booked the suite.
Our everyday life is far from luxury, so those golden brief moments when we visit it can become either blissfully romantic or miserable and dispiriting, representing the difference between these two hotels.
Tonight we relax in the friendly excellence of Rosleague Manor, where everything is wonderful in a gentle way: neither swish nor ostentatious, simply top notch hospitality with a welcoming smile.
Mind you, there has been one noticeable change here. The Snapper and I used to share Rosleague with only a smattering of guests.
Now in September the place is abuzz with happy customers, testimony to the success for which local man Mark Foyle and his excellent crew have worked so hard.
Sunday 20 September 2015
I'm glad I was born in 1960 because I grew up in a world where all knowledge was not instantly available. The internet offers every truth and untruth, so today’s generation still have to sort the wheat from the chaff, but if I wanted to gain knowledge as a child, I had to go and find the most pertinent book, or talk to someone older and wiser.
By the age of seven, I decided that the best way to garner knowledge was through actually doing stuff: harvesting the barley, cycling up a steep hill just to swoop down again, getting sweaty in a good way.
These days it’d be called something like Direct Experiential Planetary and Social Interaction. To that little boy in 1967 it simply felt like wringing a good life from the world, in a way that PS4 can never offer.
I’m not knocking the gaming. A huge part of me is envious of today’s teenagers sitting in front of huge flat screen TVs showing their games of FIFA 16.
I’m glad I was born in 1960 because I’ve experienced the whole technological journey. I can marvel at what is new while reflecting how life was also good without it. Our first TV was a huge wooden box with a tiny sheet of glass that offered two channels, after the valves had warmed up.
This ain’t nostalgia. I’m not hankering for the days of disappearing white dots or clunky channel controls. I do not miss fiddling with the horizontal and vertical controls, nor twiddling with a rabbit ears aerial.
I love digital TV and remote controls, but having lived through the transformation of innovative machines of old into the sophisticated devices of today, I can enjoy modern technology with true relish. I’m glad that I grew up without computers so that I can now embrace their use with a broader perspective.
I’m glad I was born in 1960 because I was a 13 year-old boiling bag of hormones when David Bowie released Aladdin Sane.
Desperate to be rescued from twee pop music, I leapt and bounced around my room as Ronson and Bowie ripped through songs that still prove perfectly modern in 2015.
I’m glad that I was born in 1960 because by the time 1976 came around I was bored stiff of Progressive Rock Supergroups playing on stages half a mile away, offering little beyond 20 minute drum solos and drug bust stories in the papers. 16 was the perfect age to encounter Punk, which I did, 3, 4, 5 nights a week at the Marquee on Wardour Street, with with my late and much missed friend Jon Lewin. The searing heat and anger of three chord thrash lit up those miserable streets of 70s London like a streak of bat pee on a moonless night.
I’m glad that I experienced the thrill of hiding under my bedcovers every Tuesday night, listening to Radio Luxembourg on a tiny transistor radio, so that I’d know who was number one, top of the charts, before school the next morning.
I’m glad that I don’t particularly like the pop music of today. There’s something dodgy about hip adults digging their kids’ tunes. Boy Bands and X-factor winners offend me because they are so inoffensive.
Born in 1960, I expect the youth of today to rise up and fight the older generation, to challenge our ideals and strive for a better life.
Instead the rebellion of this young generation is to offer anodyne music as a background to the latest trainers, the hottest new app or game. Each understandable, but I wish there were more obnoxious and challenging ideas in their hearts.
Music offered my generation a chance to challenge the status quo.
One Thursday, as my family sat together watching Fay Fife dancing and singing to the Rezillos latest hit on Top of the Pops, my mum rather brilliantly observed:
“Somebody is that girl’s mother.”
I’m glad I was born in 1960 because I survived the Cold War. My home was in the same suburb as the RAF’s Bomber Strike Command and I went to school in the same suburb as the Royal Navy’s Military Command Headquarters and NATO’s Allied Maritime Command.
Back then we Londoners lived in mild fear of the constant IRA bombs and utter terror of the nuclear ICBMs pointed directly at us from all over the Soviet Union. I used to lie in bed at night waiting for the flash. Sitting on top of a massive underground military command centre, my house would be right at the epicentre: dead on target; dead in an instant.
Cold comfort for an insecure adolescent scribbler that it might all be over quickly.
Yet it didn’t happen. Of course it still might, but enduring the dread and fear of those years now allows me to put other scenarios into perspective. I’m not recommending you raise your children to be terrified of impending nuclear devastation. Just observing that having done it myself, it has helped me see more clearly and fear less.
I’m glad I was born in 1960 because that was a mere 15 years after the end of the Second World War. My Primary School atlas showed a third of the world’s countries in red, denoting that they belonged to the British Empire, recently transformed into the Commonwealth. I was very young and blindly patriotic, so for a few simple years as a boy I believed Britain was brilliant.
I’m glad I was born in 1960 because as a teenager, when I first stuck out my thumb to hitch on foreign soil, I completely understood why so many people in such a lot of different countries had good reason to appear antagonistic to me as an Englishman.
I’m glad I was born in 1960 because over the last 55 years I’ve seen the world become an amazing place where all knowledge is available at any time.
Thankfully though, you still have to go out and do stuff to feel truly alive.
Saturday 12 September 2015
Refugees or economic migrants...?
I love the Irish people! Your compassion and love for your fellow human beings proved so strong and fast to flow, you beat me to my deadline date. I was planning to write about the refugee crisis, but I have to file each week’s copy by Monday, and last Sunday on RTE news there was one of the demonstrators on the streets of Dublin, showing the colour of her Irish compassion, saying how she remembered the history of her own people.
That’s when I knew I was too late, but never have I been so delighted to be out of date. I’d been thinking about those horrific famine ships, loaded with the haggard starving masses, leaving Ireland to find a better life elsewhere. When your starving forebears fled their blighted bare fields, did they go to the ships as refugees or economic migrants hoping for a better life with more opportunity in America?
When you watch the huddled masses at European borders on the TV news, can you tell which is a refugee and which a migrant? For a reason that completely escapes me, some of you out there feel that people fleeing a war zone are important, while others searching for a better life are irrelevant.
Please, I beg you, do not waste a second of your lives pondering such a quandary, because nobody leaves the security of their home, their family, their culture and country to strap themselves to trucks, crowd their kids onto lethal inflatable dinghies or walk hundreds upon hundreds of painful miles unless the alternative is to die a miserable death.
What we do need to think of is the dignity of human beings, not the difference between them. Back in England and here in Ireland I often hear Daily Mail readers muttering about how “...we’re only a small island.”
Yes indeed, and as an Englishman living in Ireland, I have often been held culpable for the horrors of the famine, when this country’s population fell from 8.2 million to 4 million.
There is room here. One of the things I adore about Ireland is that, more than any other European country I’ve visited, we have so much empty space. From vacant lots in city centres to the thousands of acres of unused farmland, I love it all, yet would happily deprive myself of that joy if the loss of it gave homes to desperate human beings.
Despite what politicians and small-minded fools often say, there is room in Europe for all of them. In fact, although we hear precious little about it, right now there is a depopulation crisis going on in several European countries. Portugal, Spain, Italy and Germany are experiencing massive falls in birth rates, whereby if such trends were to continue, populations would fall by 40% within 40 years.
For once I have sympathy for politicians. The only reason they legislate to limit immigration is because they have to in order to win elections. In private they understand that economic success is completely reliant on a large population of migrant workers. In public they have to posture to appease the bigots who might reject them.
The numbers speak for themselves. In the UK the Office of Budget Responsibility recently reported that net inward migration fuels growth for the entire population. They show that there are 239,000 more non-UK nationals presently holding down jobs in Britain compared to last year, while in the same period the number of UK nationals in work rose by 375,000.
So let’s not hear any more nonsense about ‘them’ taking ‘our’ jobs. Without immigrants’ willingness to work long hours for poor pay, none of us would be able to enjoy our standards of living. Shame on the UK, Ireland and Denmark for officially opting out of their EU responsibilities to take their fair share of refugees.
Anyway, there’s no huge queue knocking at Irish gates. Very few people want to be shackled to the confines of Direct Provision, living in over-crowded hostels for years, paid a paltry €19 a week, forbidden to cook for their own children.
Every time you hear political leaders talking about the evil human traffickers, be aware they are blaming the metal in the bullet rather than the man who fired the gun. Doubtless the traffickers are evil, but they are responding to market forces. What we must do is take some blame ourselves.
If the refugees come from countries where there were Arab Spring revolutions, then we owe them sanctuary as we encouraged their revolutions.
If they come from either French, British, Spanish or Dutch ex-colonial countries then we owe them a living.
If they come from Iraq, Syria or any other countries that European forces have bombed then we owe them a peaceful haven.
All power to those wonderful Irish people who have already acted. The Ireland-Calais Refugee Solidarity Group is collecting cash, and all manner of supplies which will be delivered in an aid convoy to Calais. If you live in Galway and want to help, contact Eimear on 085-2780227.
Let's turn this terrible tragedy into an opportunity to show the wonder of humanity.
Let's open our hearts and doors to the poor, the needy, the war weary.
Let's ignore those leaders who claim to have our best interests at heart. They don't. Our best interest is served by doing unto others as we would be done to ourselves.
Let’s embrace the needs of these people in a wretched position.
To paraphrase an English war leader:
We shall meet them on the beaches.
We shall greet them on the landing grounds.
We shall never surrender our humanity!
Sunday 6 September 2015
Over the decades my hopes for a fairer society in England have relied upon a rag tag bunch of Labour Party leaders. After Jim Callaghan’s brusque bank manager posing as Ronnie Barker, we had Michael Foot’s unwashed hair and the indignity of watching Neil Kinnock address a rally with his nauseating mid-Atlantic cry of
“Well alriiighhhht...weeell aaaalllriiiight!”
After John Smith’s tragic and untimely death, Tony Blair created New Labour, and such was the joy we felt to finally be rid of the Tories after 4 successive governments we scarcely stopped to notice how Labour’s leader was suffering from megalomaniacal tendencies.
Blair had the Labour Party’s heart ripped out, pumping its last on the floor between the left and right benches of the House of Commons.
As Thatcher had shown so terrifyingly, by their third term Prime Ministers lose the plot altogether. Blair was praying with Dubya, believing he was on a mission from God.
Then, just as in Ireland with Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern, Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair when the boom was over. Both charismatic leaders had milked the Boom and now handed over the Bust to loyal, less media-savvy Chancellors.
Having lost two General Elections in a row, I hoped that the Parliamentary cohorts of the Labour Party might cop on to the fact that offering the electorate a mish-mash of Blairite liberalism and Tory-lite economics doesn’t work.
Yet 3 of the 4 candidates in Labour’s current leadership race offer nothing new nor different. A lily-livered bunch of hypocrites and narcissists in smart casual clothing, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall are living proof of madness, given Albert Einstein's assertion that
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
Why do they imagine they might one day succeed where Ed Miliband failed?
Then, as if paying patronising homage to the soul of Old Labour, they decided to offer a place on the podium to a left wing candidate.
Enter Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington. As a proud Socialist he was meant to look conveniently Red and lose, but instead people have flocked to his cause. Despite those who believe him to be unelectable, Corbyn now looks almost certain to become the next Labour leader.
Hundreds of Conservative Party voters have now registered online to vote for Corbyn’s leadership campaign. Indeed, he’s even got the registered support of a herd of llamas on a Tory farm.
How silly these subversives might look, when Corbyn defeats Osborne in the next General Election. How dumb the red-faced fools will feel to have called a man who’s held his own Parliamentary seat since 1983 ‘unelectable.’ The only unelectable person is yet another Labour leader brandishing a Tory-lite manifesto.
The one surprising thing about Corbyn’s success is that anyone was surprised by it at all.
Sitting next to those Labour leadership candidates on the Common’s opposition benches are hordes of SNP MP’s, representing a massive outpouring of public support for anti-austerity policies.
All over Europe voters are refusing to give up hope. People want compassion back in their politics, not mere lip service from politicians, about how they recognise the hard sacrifices that the poorest and weakest in society have to make, to subsidise the failures of the rich and powerful.
As the Irish have shown with their resistance to the water charges, people can’t take another cut. They won’t pay any more. Desperate to feel empowered and represented, people turn to Syriza, Podemos, Sinn Fein, the SNP and Jeremy Corbyn.
As his ratings grew, so Corbyn came under attack. Accusations flew that the Party had been infiltrated by hardcore socialists; that the leadership election process was no longer fair.
As opposing forces of the Establishment worked together to discredit Corbyn’s supporters, references to Michael Foot’s disastrous election campaign started rising from the muck, but that was way back in 1983. Only politicians could think that the world now is the same place as it was back then.
Far from Michael Foot’s manifesto, notoriously dubbed 'the longest suicide note in history', Corbynomics (as the Labour leadership candidate’s policies are known) are modern, relevant and admired by the conservative IMF.
Combining investment in infrastructure and industry with quantitative easing, Corbynomics have received the backing of a group of 41 respected economists, including Danny Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee.
Instead of helping the poor, the sick and disabled, the governments of the West have for too long poured scorn on the needy while seducing global corporations with low corporation tax rates, turning collective blind eyes to corporate offshore accounting.
With the gap between rich and poor extended ever-wider, as we feel more cynical and detached from governing bodies, how can it surprise anyone that people are looking to the Left?
Democracy no longer counts. As Syriza’s very public castration by the EU showed, the ruling élite will ignore the will of any people who disagree with them.
They claimed the Greek people’s mandate for change was ridiculous. It could never work, they said
Of course, because Free Market Capitalism has been such a great success, hasn't it?
If you’re relaxed about the idea of grandmothers lifting wheelie bin lids to find dinner and children going without insulin injections so that €86 billion more in bail-out funds can be moved straight from the ECB to the IMF, then that’s a raging success story.
Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s leader, has said many times that Greece’s debt is unsustainable; that the country needs debt relief.
Then she takes the bailout payback and goes out for dinner.
People all over Europe are voting for politicians who will invest in them. An old-fashioned idea, but an idea nonetheless.
The centre-right social democratic governments of the last century no longer offer a relevant ideology to our post-crash, austerity-riddled Europe. These days only the Left has an ideology that might care about you and me.
Come on Corbyn!