Saturday 29 December 2007

Stop forcing me to be happy!


People say that Christmas is for kids, and New Year is for grown-ups, but I’m not so sure.
Unlike New Year, there are several different reasons to celebrate at Christmas, or the Solstice, depending on your sensibilities; but by the time New Year comes around, I’ve had it with enforced festivities.
I’ve smiled my way around crammed shops to buy presents.
I’ve kept my cool in the supermarket when my trolley is blocked between herself with the three kids and the special promotions stands the shops put up to sell even more stuff but just get in the bloody way.
I’ve been sung to by thousands of Muzak tapes that ‘tis the season to be jolly, and I have been jolly. My heart had been warmed by the smiles of the kiddy widdies. My palate has been pleasured with foods of all kinds and levels of cuisine. My liver has been under siege from the ports, brandys and cold ones from the fridge.
What about the whiskey, I hear you ask?
Didn't you know? Whiskey doesn’t count.
Oh my, so so jolly.
But now I’ve had it with jolly.
Now I’ve had just as much fun as everyone else, and I want it to stop. I love fun, and I love being happy, but don’t tell me that Christmas was just the hors d’oeuvres for the main course to come, because I’m not interested.
I think Christmas is for kids and grown ups, and New Year is for people between the ages of 18 and 25.
At those splendid years all you really want is an excuse to get plastered. You feel the need to drink insane combinations of as many different kinds of alcohol together as fast as your poor body can take it.
You want to be in a crammed pub with all your mates, or squashed into a house party with a multitude of fellow hedonists of little experience.
I don’t. To be honest, New Year has never really tickled my fancy. Don’t know about you, but the movement of a metal arm from one minute on a clock face to another does not make me feel excited. The fact that there has suddenly been a sequential increase in the number allocated to each year I find incredibly unexciting.
When I feel like it, I love to party and have fun. I have been known to dance, and smile for long periods of time, sometimes simultaneously.
But spare me from being compelled to cheer and yell and sing.
If my grump is upsetting your equilibrium; if you think I am being unnecessarily grouchy, please tell me why I should celebrate something that affects me not in the least.
Okay, I’ll try it out.
Here I am at 11:59 on Monday night, and here comes the next minute.
Oh whoopeeee, it’s New Year.
No, sorry. Still underwhelmed to the nth degree.
Some of the insignificance I attribute to New Year might come from the fact that while the culture in which I live is celebrating the arrival of 2008, my family’s culture is already in the year 5768.
Yep, sorry folks, but in the pointless world of years and numbers, the Jews are way ahead of the pack.
We all have different New Years anyway. The Chinese say ‘Gung hay fat choy’ in February and go partying the streets with dancing dragons and swathes of red silk, so who can say which is the most significant?
The best New Year’s Eve party I ever attended was held by the Guru, back in the days of yore when we all still lived in London. He hid his TV, radios and clocks, and upon arrival at the door, we all had to hand over our watches (this being long before the intrusive invasion of the mobile phone).
We just partied and had a great night. Of course there were a few wimps who started getting a bit antsy around what they considered to be midnight, but the Guru held firm against their pleas for contact with the world outside.
We all knew we were in the New Year when we saw the first gentle and pale shards of dawn seep from the grey London sky.
“Happy New Year, lads!” we said to each other, slumped by then on our arses, past caring what planet we were on, never mind what year or time zone we were in.
We are are naturally a happy species, and lose sight of that fact far too often, so we have constructed a formal time, precisely at which we have to be instantly ecstatically happy, and it simply doesn’t work.
When you’re nineteen years of age, and the bells of midnight strike, you live only if you have managed to grab a bird or bloke and are playing tonsil tennis as the New Year comes in. You sing and dance in an alcoholic haze and love life like there is no tomorrow.
Fantastic. But not for me now, thanks all the same.
What will I be doing when we ring in 2008? What will Mister So Very Mature be doing, that’s so bloomin’ different from what he was doing back in the 70s?
Well, errr, hmmm, I suppose I’ll be intoxicated, surrounded by beloved friends, probably having a lovely time.
But I won’t feel I have to enjoy myself.
Sadly there can be no DV Awards for the year of 2007, because the absurd truth and rank reality of Irish politics this year simply leaves no room for satire.
There is, however, room to recognise the winner of The Worst Lyric Of All Time, as voted by the listeners of the BBC.
Beating off serious opposition from this enigmatic little ditty from Snap:
‘I’m as serious as cancer / when I say rhythm is a dancer.’ and the crass efforts of Razorlight: ‘And I met a girl / She asked me my name/ I told her what it was., the runaway winner was soul singer Des’ree, for her 1998 song ‘Life’:
‘I don’t want to see a ghost / It’s the sight that I fear most / I’d rather have a piece of toast / Watch the evening news.’
Mazeltov! Great goin’, girl!
On that magical musical note, I thank you all, new readers and time-hardened colyoomistas, for bearing my blather in 2007, and for the New Year, I wish you all you wish yourselves.

Saturday 22 December 2007

There really is no such thing as free beer!


More than any other time of the year, when we sit around our dinner tables on Christmas Day, we are aware of who is there and who is not.
At the age of 17, having performed impressive acrobatics with my Yamaha 250, a saloon car, a ditch and a barbed wire fence, I spent six weeks in hospital, over Christmas and New Year. My femur was snapped in two, which is no mean feat with thighs like mine, and my tibia had a crack or two as well. Bed-bound, with my leg in traction, I developed a bronchial chest infection after an emergency operation.
So every two seconds I coughed in hacking spasms, thus shaking my smashed leg, which was hung in a sling, supported by a metal pole they had driven through me, just below the knee.
Then came the discovery that orthopaedics is a brutal art. In our part of the ward, there were four beds and three bikers with broken bones.
There was Kev, who had fallen off his sleek and mean Suzuki GT750 (a two stroke 3-into-1, since you ask), and opposite us two was brick shithouse Yorkshireman Gary, ex-SAS, and mighty embarrassed, having survived several covert tours of duty in Northern Ireland, to have to admit to falling off a Honda 125.
Then Gary was told that because his bone had set at a bad angle, they would need to re-fracture it, to re-set it, so that he might walk again.
Wishing him luck, myself and Kev waited in hushed anticipation for just under three hours, when finally the big guy was wheeled back onto the ward, writhing in agony, swearing profusely.
“How’d it go, mate?”
“Yeh, Gaz, all sorted, is it, eh?”
Gary was a hard man who could really take pain. He’d already told us how he hated himself for flinching after being stabbed in a bar in Belfast, but now he was hurting so much, it took him an age to form words.
“ ...they couldn’t ... break the bloody ... bone, lads ... they banged me with hammers ... smashed and chipped with chisels ... jumped on my leg ... couldn’t re-fracture it....”
Kev looked at me and then we both looked at Gary.
“But but but mate, you’ve been gone for two and a half hours! They can’t have been trying to break your leg for two and a half bloody hours!?!”
“Aye, but that’s what they did, lads. They tried, but it wouldn’t break. So I’m a bit sore now, like!”
So no, a fine and precise art it is not, but compared to the other patients in the hospital the three of us were well off.
We were not sick. We had all had our operations, and apart from antibiotics for wounds, and pain killers for broken bones, we needed very little medical attention.
We were young, male and bored, and allowed to drink beer. Naturally, we tried to attract the attention of the student nurses as much as possible, and equally, they were happy to have a bit of a laugh with lads who were not ill, physically, at least!.
By the time Christmas came around, the three of us were well aquatinted with all the student nurses, and then we were told we would be allowed to drink spirits during the Christmas period.
So we did.
We got plastered, if you’ll pardon the pun, and so did the student nurses. We told them that by having a tipple or three with us they were really doing their jobs, because they were helping us through a difficult time.
On Christmas morning, the Consultant Surgeons came around the wards, carving the turkeys at our besides, and general merriment was had by all.
Karen, my favourite student nurse, had had a lickle ickle bit too much to drink. She pulled the curtains around my bed, produced a half bottle of vodka from under her skirt, and taking some lemonade and a clean specimen bottle from my bedside cabinet, mixed us up a festive cocktail, after which she gave me a lovely snog, and left me feeling a million dollars.
Looking back now, I can only think how wonderful she was, because not only was I away from my family Christmas table, but so was she.
After the Christmas pud, we were all wheeled out of the ward in our beds, and taken to a large and crowded area, where the staff were putting on a Panto for the patients.
Gary’s wife, (a woman of such substantial proportions and brooding menace that she clearly put the fear of god into our man of iron) had turned up with several cases of brown ale, and so we sat up in our beds, enjoying the show, drinking frothing foaming pints of beer from plastic glasses.
Half way through the performance, I realised I needed to pee. I’d done precious little but drink all day, and now I really really needed to go, all of a sudden, with the fiercely demanding urgency of someone who knows that he cannot go.
There was no way I could ask anybody to wheel me to the loo. To get me and my bed out of that area would have meant interrupting the show, and causing a kerfuffle that would spoil everything for everybody.
So I did all I could do.
I drained my pint glass of beer, and, errr, then I refilled it!
In my drunken state, I decided it made perfect Archimidean mathematical sense.
Reaching out of my bed, I placed the foaming frothing pint onto a shelf, and watched the rest of the show, making a mental note to remember to pick it up afterwards and dispose of it myself.
Trouble was, when the lights went up, it was no longer there, and to this day I do not know whether some unfortunate alcoholic scrumper thought his luck was in.
Free beer! Whoopee!
Best not think about that too long.
But on Christmas Day, please, let’s all for a minute think of those who have given up their day to work: to serve us with safety in our homes, at sea and overseas; those who comfort and care, and those who volunteer to help others without a home to go to.
If you spare them a thought and give thanks, you won’t be far off pleasing whichever God you might worship!
Happy Christmas, Diwali, Hannukah and Solstice, and may your God go with you.

Monday 17 December 2007

In a mad world only the crazy people know what’s going on!


Back from four exhausting and emotionally trying days in England, but with Dadley Adley still in hospital there’s a temporary feel to each day, hour, minute.
If all goes well and he comes home soon, I can relax, but if not, I’ll be back there again in a few days.
I’m all over the place. Splattered, scattered and shattered, that’s where I’m at this week, lost midway between my lovely life in Galway and my loving family in England.
Midway eh? So my soul is treading water just off the coast of Liverpool, is it?
Fair enough.
You’ll not get much sanity out of me this week, as if you ever did, but anyway, I’ve always felt that sanity is vastly overrated.
Find me a human being who has never declared aloud or silently wondered to themselves just what a crazy world is ours. Thus it makes sense, does it not, if we all agree our world is crazy, that crazy people are the only ones who know what is going on.
I’ve never really been attracted to sane people. All my friends and loved-ones are nutty as fruitcakes, in wonderful, interesting and sometimes challenging ways. As I’ve got older I’ve developed a talent for seeing the inner hidden nutter that lurks just under the surface of some people who still, to this day, regard themselves as sane.
In fact, they are now doubtless outraged that I have slurred them as less than sane; but were they not, I could not count them among my friends.
If only our forbears had had the foresight to listen to their loonies, instead of locking them up and making them walk around and around in circles in grey stone prison-hospitals.
Maybe the mad people of 1799 were muttering
“It ha would be ha wonderful if when ha they invent the aerosol ha ha ha, they didn’t use chlorofluorocarbons!”
“Tel them! Tell them!! You must tell them there will be no WMDs in Iraq!”
“Iraq irackky missy mack Iraq aq aq aq wackker dacker dack. Oh, you have to be careful to use the drop-down menu to select ‘No Insurance required’ on that Ryanair interwebby malarkey arkey dooby doo.”
So this week ‘sane’ is very totally oh-so absolutely last Millennia, and ‘crazy’ is the new ‘black’. Crazy turned out to be pretty handy, when last I had to keep a straight face, having just met a man who lived in Lickey End.
A gentle and wonderful nurse in my Dad’s hospital, the 20something lad had a bit of a local yokel combine harvestery oooo aaaaarrrr me lover accent about him, and so I asked him where he came from.
“Me? Oh, I come from Lickey End.”
Holding my childish breath to stifle my guffaw, I let my eyes bulge out a little too long.
Bless him, he had no idea that he had so amused me. Looking over at my contorted features, he reckoned that must be what I look like when I’m thinking, trying to work out where Lickey End might be.
“It’s in the West Midlands.” he offered.
By then I had settled down. My ‘Infantile Response To Humour Team’ had been arrested by the tiny but efficient ‘Adley Adult Assault Force’, and I was able to offer a little conversation.
“West Midlands, eh? Sorry, I thought I detected a South-West accent. No offence mate.”
“None taken!” said he, “And you’re right! I’ve got a strong Devon accent, because my mum comes from Pennycomequick, see?”
Staring into his eyes I detected not the slightest trace of irony. He was genuinely telling me the truth.
I can believe that this bloke might have gone through life never seeing anything the slightest bit funny in the fact that his mother came from a place called Pennycomequick, and he now lived in Lickey End. However, what I couldn’t quite buy was the chance of his going through life without anybody else having a laugh at his locational expense.
Back in the sad bad days of my youth, I used to drive over 1,000 miles a week around England, in my smart reppy suit in my zippetty-dippetty reppy car. During those dreadful years, I did take some solace from noting England’s wealth of eccentric and bizarre village names.
So I knew this guy was being straight.
But was he being just a bit too straight?
Just as the Drink Driving adverts on the tele advise us to always expect the unexpected, when faced with somebody who appears just too unbelievably sane and normal, I suspect the contrary.
Hah! Yes! Was that not a twinkle in his eye?
“C’mere!” say I, all of sudden sounding just a ton or two too Oirish for a good ol’ London boy, “Don’t suppose you’ve got a brother living in Great Cock-Up, have you?”
His eyebrows instantly lift, stretching his face upward into a smile.
“How did you know?”
“Oh, i don’t know! Just a feeling!“
“Yes, and I’ve got three sisters.”
“Have you indeed? Do they live together?”
”No, they live in Fry Up, Splat and Pity Me.”
Finally we relaxed and laughed together. He confessed to changing his home town as often as the sun pops out of a LOndon cloud.
“It helps me get through the day, and sometimes I get a laugh or two out of a patient. But I never let on, and if I don’t like the people, I can act quite offended if they have a laugh at what they think is my expense.”
Extraordinary behaviour. This guy was a professional. He had had me fooled completely at the beginning. Deep inside me, just when I most needed it, my love for the madness of our species burgeons anew.
I love our compassion, our imagination and our utter lack of regard for whatever normality might be.
Instead we seek whatever it takes to get us through, which is, in my experience, rarely sanity and sanity alone.
For five magical minutes, the nurse and I played at high speed a shouting exchange of all England’s strangest place names”
“Nob End! Great Snoring! Piddle!”
“What about Slack Bottom! Horneyman! Hackballscross!”
Right, but beat Pox! Or Twatt, for that matter!”
My own favourite? Ever enigmatic and mysterious, I wonder how life (or just simply the filling-in of forms) might be for the folk of Co. Durham, who live a town called No Place.

Friday 7 December 2007

Do the ba-ba-ba-Bertie - it's all the rage!


Nostalgia ain't what it used to be. Sadly it seems it doesn't matter how many times the Irish state broadcaster extract the urine from us licence fee payers by repeating 'Reeling In The Years'; I'll still watch it.
Maybe I just can't resist the incredibly low level of effort required to enjoy the mix of music and newsreel.
So there I was, audiovisually drifting back into the early 1990s, when looking back at me from my telebox appeared our ignoble leader: one young and fresh-faced Bertie Ahern as Minster of Finance, talking away to the journalist on RTE News.
My, but what an eloquent and lucid chap he was back then.
Yet, somewhere along the line, he developed a sig sig sig significant speech impediment.
While never being a slave to the ridiculous dictates of Political Correctness, this colyoom does not seek to ridicule anyone but the ridiculous.
People who have a stammer are not ridiculous.
People who choose to affect a difficulty with their speech are, however, certainly ridiculous: oh so very worthy of ridicule.
Ba-ba-ba-ba Bertie has, over the years, cultivated a brilliant way of buying time. In the old days, politicians just used to procrastinate, prevaricate and do their imaginative loathsome best to avoid difficult lines of questioning.
They used to buy time by saying:
"Ah yes, I'm really glad you asked me that, because..."
Another favourite tactic of our political yesteryears would be the use of twisted rhetoric:
"But that's not really the issue on the minds of everyday people, is it?"
"But surely what we need to do right now is focus on the family."
My own personal favourite snippet came from the mouth of Michael Dobbs' terrifying Ministerial genius, Francis Urquhart:
"You might say that; I couldn't possibly comment."
We all resignedly accept that politicians need to find a way to avoid having to give an explanation as to why their government department had spend 562 million quid on a weekend fact-finding mission to a five star hotel in the Seychelles to study parking meter innovations in the Indian Ocean.
What we don't accept is a strange stammer that is there now, that wasn't there before. Ba-ba-ba-Bertie's oral bounce is rapidly becoming the latest fashion accessory. In the last week, I have heard a TD who used to rattle out words like farts in a colander and a local councillor who shall remain nameless stalling for time with ba-ba-brand span-span-spanky new and sig-sig-sig-significant speech impediments.
They wouldn't affect a limp, or pretend to need a wheelchair, and yet, by following the trend set by ba-ba-ba-Bertie, they are mocking the afflicted, and so we now mock them.


While we're dealing with affectations of speech, let's pause to ponder the swear word.
The phone rings.
My Dad is unwell, and my life here is instantly put on hold as I once again dash off to England. This unfortunate and sadly regular state of affairs has many detrimental effects on my head, not least of which being the way it wrecks my sleeping patterns.
Whilst staying at my sister's, I sleep on a sofa, my mind racing with all the emotionally testing events of these long days in hospital.
This time, however, my brain decided to take a head start, and kick in with some full-on mental nonsense before I'd even left Ireland.
After packing, I spent the evening half-watching 'Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares', while the other half of my mind wandered to England; my family; my Dad; just how long I might be away this time; oh woe woe and thrice woe type of thing.
By the time I went to bed I had succeeded in totally messing myself up.
That night, I took the 'Nightmare' part of 'Kitchen Nightmares' a tad too literally.
Unable to sleep,I lay tossing and turning for hours, tormented by waking dreams (which is, I suppose, a posh way of saying 'hallucinations').
Somewhere in my consciousness I became surrounded by TV chefs.
(What is the collective noun for chefs, I wonder? A passion of chefs? A sweat of chefs? More likely, an expletive of chefs!)
Anyway, there they were, crowding my addled insomniac brain: Gordon himself, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Heston Blumenthal.
Thankfully, even in my sleeping state, I can exercise some critical judgement, and Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver, who have sunk to self-parody, were happily absent.
There in my poor head these three famous chefs were engaged in an extremely heated argument about how best to fry an egg .
With his usual enthusiasm, Gordon Ramsey grabbed a big fat brown hen and, whilst staring the poor beastie in the eye, raised it in his hands.
"This is how you make a fucking fried egg! You take a fucking chicken and - mmmrgghhfff - squeeze it hard, here, on its fucking belly!"
At this point the poor chicken squawked and struggled and wrestled, fighting for its freedom, but chef Ramsey held it firmly in his grip.
"Look! See! The egg is about to drop out! Then - mmmgggrrrdfff - one more squeeze, out comes the fucking egg into your hand! Crack it into the fucking pan, a little olive oil and boomph, the perfect fucking fried egg!"
Trouble is, just like ba-ba-ba-Bertie, all Gordon's 'fuckings' are affected and false. On his American TV shows, there's barely an F word to be heard!


If speech is powerful, then song must reign supreme.
At the time of writing, there rages debate as to who might be the best soccer coaches for Ireland and England.
Aside from the fact that Steve McLaren was incompetent and the English footballers played abysmally, there was in fact a very good reason for England's loss to Croatia at Wembley.
This colyoom can now reveal why the lads from Croatia played with such fire in their bellies.
It's all down to Tony Henry.
"Who he?" you cry.
He was the excellent gentleman who sang the National Anthems before the game, and he who injected a little too much machismo into the Balkan footballers' steps.
You see, instead of singing:
'Mila kuda si planina',
which, as you all know, translates as:
'You know my dear (country) how we love your mountains'
the opera star belted out:
'Mila kura si planini', which offers a slightly different, and where men are concerned, most encouraging meaning:
'You know my dear, my penis is like a mountain!'

Monday 3 December 2007

Surely you can’t lose your licence after a miracle?


The other day I heard a priest being interviewed on the radio about the proposed new drink-driving limits.
His argument was that, in the course of a busy day’s work, it was quite possible he might drink the alcohol-equivalent of several glasses of wine. As part of his work in the parish, he had to perform Mass at many different locations, and he was worried that if he were breathalysed, he might be over the new lower limit.
The interview then lost its way, as the journalist and the priest pontificated about where the best New World wines came from, blah dee blar.
My mind, however, was racing, careering along a motorway of curiosity, hurtling inexorably toward one extremely dodgy question.
If the wine has become blood, why does he fear the breathalyser?
Despite how it may appear to some readers, this colyoom does not seek to upset or vilify anyone. The weekly flushings of a disturbed mind might inadvertently be mistaken for diatribe and invective, but usually, all I want is to understand what on earth is going on in the minds, hearts and spirits of the people of my adopted country
As a mutant Atheist-Pantheist from a Jewish family in a mostly Protestant multi-denominational country, I am genuinely curious.
Until I came to Ireland I had never encountered a country that had written the Catholic Church into its constitution, so when I first started spouting for this Noble Rag back in the early 90s, I upset a whole heap of worshippers with ignorant blather.
Sadly, some saw fit to respond by sending me soiled condoms in the post, alongside a regular supply of dumped foetus photographs.
Nowadays, despite falling attendances in the cities, you only have to drive through the Irish countryside on a Sunday morning to see, from the miles of parked cars around rural churches, that worship is alive and well .
Yet the Irish have become much harder to shock since the 90’s. No other European nation has endured such a lot of social engineering. The Irish, with their fragile post-colonial psyches in the first flush of independent wealth have been sanded down with the removal of plastic bags, polished up with the banning of smoking, and dressed up with a ribbon by the introduction of the Euro.
Now, their leader can award himself a raise worth €38,000, while the Irish average industrial worker earns €33,000 all year, and nobody says ‘Boo!’.
This colyoom has never sought to be shocking for shocking’s sake. That would be a pretty sad and desperate way to write. And thankfully, the messy used condoms have dried up, so to speak.
So it is with some confidence that I ask these questions.
Is the miracle of transubstantiation not a central tenet of Catholicism?
And if so, surely, either the wine and wafer turn to blood and flesh, or they do not.
And if they do, then why would a priest fear that he might have drunk too much wine?
Did all those thousands who fought the post-Reformation wars die in vain?
Are the churches of Catholicism and Protestantism built simply on different levels of symbolism, or do Catholics still actually believe that body and blood are physically and not just spiritually that?
Because if they do, somebody should get on to that priest, and show him the door.
Why do I shudder at the thought of bread and wine becoming flesh and blood in my mouth, when I love rare steak and a drop of the old Saint Emillion Grand Cru?
Maybe I just like a bit of symbolism in religion.
Every single Friday night of my childhood, without fail, my family gathered around the table, and my Dad read from the old book for Kiddush, the arrival of the Jewish Sabbath.
The mother lights and blesses the candles, the father tells the story of how God rested on the seventh day and made it holy. As one, we recite the blessing of the wine, pass the Kiddush cup around the table, and we all take a sip. Then we all bless the bread, break the cholla loaf, dip our piece into the salt, and eat.
For us the wine and bread are clearly symbols of all food and drink; a reason to give thanks. No miracles, save for the greatest of all: that to this day, my father still reads every Friday from the same book, to my mum, brother, sister and nieces.
And when I am there, I love to join in, because even as an Atheist-Pantheist mutant, I still feel Jewish; love the tradition, the culture and the knowledge that, at the heart of the faith, family itself matters most.
It is possible that the Last Supper was just such a Kiddush night, but many believe that it was Seder night when Jesus broke bread and drank wine for the last time with his friends and followers
The Seder, like the Kiddush and all other Jewish festivals, starts in the home, and heralds Passover. It is the time we tell the story of the escape of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt; of the plagues; how the Angel of Death passed over and the Red Sea split, delivering us from bondage.
At the end we al toast:
‘Next year in Jerusalem!’
and then take time to pray for the release of all those around the world who are today in slavery and bondage.
If the Eucharist is a legacy of the Seder, then indeed, the wafer would make sense. Every Friday, at the Kiddush, we eat curvy fluffy cholla bread, but at the Seder we eat matzo, (water biscuit), because, as the Passover story explains, so great was the rush to get away from Pharaoh's men, that the Israelites did not wait for their bread to rise.
Hopefully you'll have twigged by now that I’m being neither flippant nor derisory, but genuinely interested in the official line:
Is it blood or wine?
And if it’s blood, then surely it has no alcohol in it? So write, email or leave a comment on the blog.
For some reason, I cannot rid my head of the image of Father Ted trying to train his young apprentice how to respond to a visiting Bishop.
“Remember Dougal , whatever he asks, always just say ‘Ah now, that would be an ecumenical matter!’ ”

Friday 23 November 2007

I've gone from curious to furious,and now have to find a new Butcher!


Oh poopers! Relations with my Butcher's shop just went down the drain, and none of the badness needed to happen at all.
For over 25 years, as often as possible, it has been my absolute pleasure to cook a roast dinner on a Sunday.
Sunday roast was always a central occasion in my childhood week. We all love food like mama made it, so even when I lived on my own, I found nothing easier than to shove a chicken leg into the oven with a couple of spuds. Steam up some fresh crunchy veg, and Bob's your uncle. A veritable feast.
Now that I make my own Yorkshire pudding too, there are few mysteries left for me in the process.
A couple of months ago I popped into my Butcher's, an award-winning establishment on the western side of the city, and bought a rolled beef rib roast. This a cut I'd never buy in the supermarket, but on the day that was in it, I found myself pointing out a lump of meat to the young man behind the counter. He assured me that it was a lovely tender piece of meat.
At that time I wasn't even sure if we had guests coming, so thinking it would be relatively inexpensive, I told him I'd have it.
When I found out that the meat cost 20 quid, I wished I'd invested in a bit of Silverside, or even better, rib on the bone. But I trusted my Butcher. They had never let me down .
Come Sunday, there were five hungry mouths at my table, and although we all feasted on crunchy roasties, yummy Yorkshire pudding, roasted parsnip, braised onions, and a plethora of veggies in wine gravy, none of us were able to enjoy the meat. There was so much sinew and gristle that I had to plead with my guests not to be too polite, but spit it out and leave it.
How disappointing!
Aware of all the good years' service I have enjoyed at said Butcher's, the next time I was passing I popped in and told one of the blokes behind the counter what had happened.
To be honest, I felt a bit embarrassed, and I told him so. Clearly there was nothing much he could do. Nevertheless, he was very sympathetic, and told me that the next time I came in to buy something, I should tell another member of staff, and they'd see what they could do.
Can't say fairer than that. As it happens, what with trips to England, at least a month passed before I was back in the Butcher's, to buy a free range chicken.
Clutching my intended purchase, I explained to the bloke behind the counter how his colleague had asked me to tell my tale of woe when I next made a purchase.
'Oh well, that's the way it goes. Sorry about that."
"Yes, I know. But why do you think your colleague asked me to tell somebody the story again?"
He gave me a big warm smile and told me that maybe he'd said that because they were always interested in feedback.
Up to that moment, I hadn't really been bothered how this all turned out. Certainly, I hadn't gone in there to get a refund.
I had gone in there to get a chicken, and follow the advice I was given the last time, if the mood took me.
But now my mood was overtaking me. As I approached the woman at the till, she asked me how I was.
"Not the best!" said I, relating the whole story again.
She then proceeded to tell me, at great length, what I already knew. Maybe it was because I have a penis. I do find that women in Irish shops seem to assume that if you have a dangly thing between your legs you cannot possibly understand food and the cooking thereof.
She told me how it wasn't a good cut. I told her I knew that.
She told me that it was just the fat that was the problem. I told her that this was not fat, which would have rendered down in the cooking. It was sinew and gristle and inedible.
She told me that if I had only brought it in so that himself the Butcher could have seen it, then she might have been able to do something about it.
I asked if that meant she didn't believe what I was saying.
Oh no, she said, of course she believed me, but there was nothing she could do if she hadn't seen the meat.
By now, I really couldn't be arsed to inform her how incredibly unlikely it was that I would have either the time or inclination to wrap up the shitty leftovers of a very disappointing dinner and bring them back to her shop.
Yet she persisted, and in the process her inability to help and generally patronising attitude managed to turn my mildly disappointed ambivalence into a raging fury.
Once again she told me that it wasn't a good cut of meat to buy. She told me that she would never buy that cut. And once again, trying to be a better human being, I declined to point out that her own employee had told me what a good piece of meat it was, how tender it would be.
Neither did I mention that it cost 20 quid, which is a juicy chunk out of this household's grocery budget.
It just wasn't worth it.
Finally, I'd had enough. I paid for my chicken and made for the door. She called out.
"You do understand, don't you? There's nothing I can do!"
"I do I do I do. Oh, and you'll understand that I won't be back."
A few minutes earlier, I'd walked into that Butcher's shop, feeling there was no real reason why they should refund me any money.
But in an astonishing inversion of customer service, by simply following the advice of their own employee, I had been dragged into an argument I didn't want to have. I had been treated like a moron, and ended up furious, wondering why she hadn't just given me a couple of quid off the chicken I was buying, for no other reason than to save a little goodwill and customer loyalty.
Now I have to find another Butcher's . What a bloomin' shame!

Double Vision
Caricatures Ireland

Mild-mannered dreams make waking up much easier!


Rarely a night goes by without my brain concocting a dream that either thrills, mystifies, terrifies or beguiles.
If I am about to try something for the first time, anything from a weekend away to a job, I dream of people and places I have never seen or been to. These 'Adventure Dreams', as I call them, often involve a small town set on the side of a mountain, bustling and friendly, and generally I wake feeling elated. I have no idea whatsoever where the place may be, but if I ever find it and settle there, I wonder if my dreams will be of here and now!
My dreams have never been dull, and without doubt the strongest ones begin with me lying in my own bed, because from that point it's easier to believe that everything that happens is fiercely real.
People who I admire, trust and respect inform me that these dreams are, in fact, Astral Planes, or flights, and I am not going to poo-poo such an idea. Quite simply I do not know, but if I am doing something wilful, I wonder why I let such terrible things happen to me?
Back in my seedy North London bedroom, I dreamed that I was lying in my bed, when round the closed door came a nebulous black shape. It settled by my bedside, and stretched out to reveal a long triangular 'Clockwork Orange' steel blade, which it then plunged swiftly and fully deep into my chest.
Whilst living on my own in a farmhouse deep in the countryside, I dreamed I was lying in my bed, where I was almost seduced by a couple of women, who proceeded to become skeletal zombies, dragging me through my own home and then pinning me down as they hacksawed their way through my left ankle.
Honest, Doc, I'm as sane as you are.
Every night, more enthralling nonsense. My dream-making abilities are quite amazing, especially when you take into account the altered state my addled old head finds itself in some nights as it hits the pillow.
There are the usual smattering of sexual and erotic encounters, but ever since the very unwelcome advent of a dream-state guilty conscience, some of the action would barely make an 18 rating.
The heaviest and most exhausting periods come when I am ready and able to write fiction, but prevented from doing so by the distractions and imperatives of real life. Despite all my efforts to behave like a calm and mature human being, I go a bit mental altogether, my brain boils over, and I have to endure three or four full-on rushing crushing toiling broiling adventure dreams every night, night after night, week after week, until I sit here at the keyboard and spill.
Such a period came around a month ago, and coincided with my having read Cormac McCarthy's brilliant post-apocalyptic novel, 'The Road'.
For three weeks, three times nightly, showing in my DreamoPlex, Charlie deals with different post apocalyptic worlds, where he almost gets a bit of nookie but never does because he chooses to leg it off into the dust storm, burning hellhole, boiling mud pit.
One memorable night, when I lived free and happy in Co. Mayo, I dreamed I could fly. Even though it has never come again, I can still recall the feeling, and for that I give thanks.
So it was hardly surprising that the other morning I awoke feeling faintly and privately embarrassed. Used to a diet of dreams that offer either splendid excitement and adrenaline rushes, or self-help symbolism of the subtle-as-a-baseball-bat-hitting-you-on-the-back-of-the-head variety, I had dreamed that I could run.
Yes, just that, On a personal level, it does make some sense, because although I am perfectly built for walking ("Perfect? Are you having a laugh? Perfect, maybe, in yer dreams!" cry my own long-suffering knees from below) and can march for miles and miles, I am not, and have never been built for running.
Thus it seems only fair that I should award myself that ability in dreams.
But it's a bit sad, isn't it? I mean, while others soar above the clouds, make fantastic multi-orgasmic love to whichever gender and number takes their fancy, I am running, like a latterday oval-shaped Forrest Gump.
Even more embarrassing was the way it all began. Not for me a starting block, alongside some worthy fellow competitors. Not a race to rescue a damsel in distress, nor an emotional rush to a lovers' reconciliation.
No. My running skills emerged only as I was being chased by Frank Lampard off the playing surface of Chelsea's Stamford Bridge pitch.
Oh look, gosh. I can run run and run.
I wake up. I can't run.
Hmm, maybe there's something to be said for having mild dreams after all.
Although it was massively wonderful to discover that I had not been murdered by the steel blade-wielding black shape, and deeply emotionally gratifying to see that the ankle that had been so agonisingly hacksawed off my foot was, in fact, still attached to the end of my leg, life comes a little easier and smoother when waking requires only a simple reminder that I'll still be keeping one foot on the ground with each step I take.
Many thanks for all the ingenious emails offering differing definitions of 'disingenuous'.
Máirtín from Carna tickled my pleasure zones with his tirade about hotels, and their attitude to towels.
In nearly all of the hotel bathrooms of the world is a printed message about how the environment suffers from the overuse of towels, and how we can help save the planet by not wanting fresh clean towels every day.
'Do you know how many towels are washed each day in all the hotels of the world?' it asks.
Máirtín considers this to be the pinnacle (or nadir?) of disingenuousness. Admitting it may not be a serious problem, he asks:
'Do they not know why people like to stay in hotels? Do they really think we buy that nonsense about them caring from the environment, when really all they are trying to do is cut down on the costs of their own laundry bill? Disingenuous: Please don't use the towels because then we have to clean them, er, I mean save the planet.'
Keep those emails coming, good people.

Double Vision
Caricatures Ireland

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Please let me 'Let you go!' before you 'Let me go!'


Is there anything more painfully embarrassing that being in the company of someone who is trying to sound interleckshual by using big posh words that they don't understand?
We all do it sometimes, to see if we can get away with it, and more often than not whoever hears it and knows better will say nothing, not only to save your blushes, but also because they don't want to come over as pedantic or prickish.
For years I had a bit of a problem with my 'eclectic ' and 'esoteric'. Not exactly the vital bread and butter vocabulary of your daily trip to the shops, they nevertheless seemed to crop up in conversation, and until I was sure exactly which one meant what, I used to hang back and hope for the best.
Words, like the languages they build, change with usage and time. These days, if one is described as being 'sophisticated', one might be considered a fully-rounded and complex human being, but not so long ago the same term was used to show that somebody had become corrupted; that they had lost their innocence.
As our morals and ethics morph to apply to the times in which we live, so too our language adapts itself though common usage to carry new meanings, hip buzzwords and zippy idiom.
With insincerity= running riot in our society, it comes as no surprise that at the moment there is a bit of a hoo-haa going on in wordy circles about 'disingenuous'.
You hardly ever used to hear it, and now politicians and journalists are bringing it up as often as mama seagull's herring breakfast.
In the past, 'disingenuous' was used to describe someone who was giving a false impression of being honest and open, whilst actually being insincere, often for personal gain.
Now though, it has been hijacked by those who would naturally be disingenuous sons of bitches, to mean something altogether more positive.
In its latest incarnation, 'disingenuous' describes that moment when your opinion is sought by others who consider you something of an expert on a subject, and you respond by pretending you know very little about it.
"Come on Charlie, tell us what Chelsea used to be like!"
"Who? Me? Why well, I wouldn't know really, cof cof."
Sad, officially sad that that was the only way I could think of to illustrate the new 'disingenuous'.
The reason I'm going on and on about the word is that there is a despicable and completely yukky behaviour pattern we all use that, for me, defines 'disingenuous' for once, for better or worse, richer or poorer.
We've all done it, said it, or heard it down the phone line:
"Okay then - I'll let you go!"
Oh yeh baby, you know that one, don't you! It's nasty and mean and dishonest and, as the dictionary suggests for 'disingenuous', morally fraudulent.
When you hear it said to you, you know what's going on.
Instead of just being honest and coming right out with
"Look, I have a life and you clearly don't, so I've got to go now, you boring tedious drip of a human, because I have important places to be and real people in my life who really love me, while you, quite clearly do not, because if you had, you wouldn't be wittering on and on about insignificant and, well, let's be honest, pathetic almost-but-not-quite- worthy topics of conversation. So byzee-bye, oh, and and next time you think you might call me for a chat, don't."
There is something so sneaky and weak about 'I'll let you go!", that it upsets me quite profoundly. The suggestion is that we trust each other so little, respect each other and desire honesty in such tiny amounts, that we have neither the courage nor the decency to say simply:
"Look - I have to go now! Thanks for calling, but I've got to dash!'
Somehow we have to pretend that the other person is much more important than us, and that we are somehow boring them, when clearly it is the other way around.
And yes, even though I conveniently can't quite remember when, I am sure I've done it myself. So I'm not raising the flag atop high moral ground, just aware that, as language reflects and runs through every facet of our lives, so this kind of verbal shenanigan only appears as a turn for the worse.
Maybe the next time somebody does it to me, I'll just say
"Yeh, thanks, 'cos I was beginning to think you'd got verbal diarrhoea of the typhoid kind, mate! Don't you ever shut up?"
Conveniently moving from shutting up to peace and quiet, it is noise itself that will drive me from this city.
I love living in Galway, and having lived in the country for many years, I know that even on a quiet country day, there are still sounds, noises made by humans that feel invasive. Tractors drone and dribble as they run astride hills; chainsaws spit and sizzle as they cut down trees, and diesel tanker trucks tick over for hours on end.
But today I was woken at 7:15 by a passenger coach reversing, and then breakfasted to the delightful song of an angle grinder at the slowest building site in the world, still running at the back of my house.
Then came a couple of lads with leaf blowers at the front of the house, followed by hydraulic drills tearing tarmac and cracking concrete back at the site.
Later I was serenaded by the bass boom of a function at the hotel, followed by the late night voices of people shouting their good-byes as they left the 'do'.
Finally, my day and my patience ran out, when naked, insane and apoplectic, I reach for the phone at 3:45a.m., to ask them to tell their drunken guests who are partying outside at the back, right by my bedroom window, to shut up, please.
Wish I wasn't so sensitive to noise, but I am.
According to a new report (sure, aren't they great with their new reports!) scientists recently proved beyond doubt that stress from noise pollution causes untold heart attacks.
Whatever noises the countryside makes during the day, at night I recall hearing nothing, save for the sound of God's wind, and, occasionally, my own!

Double Vision
Caricatures Ireland

Monday 29 October 2007

News is news and facts are facts, but squishing truffles is much more fun!


There it was, on page 30 of the Irish Daily Mirror, Friday, October 12, 2007:
Life, and all the emotion that is in it.
The bottom half of the page showed a photo of Thornton's chocolatier Barry Colenso proudly clutching an Easter egg, beside the headline:
"Grabbed by the truffles - top Chocolatier caught squishing rival's treats!"
Mirror writer Brian Roberts explains that Barry, evermore to be dubbed 'Willy Wrongka', was caught behaving bizarrely on CCTV in a store run by Thornton's main rivals, Hotel Chocolat.
Apparently he was "methodically gripping several chocolate sections."
A spokesman for Hotel Chocolat said
"Mr Colenso admitted 'handling' products in an 'inappropriate' manner. This was an extraordinary act of truffle squishing. We can only guess at what provoked it."
If this is fact, what might be 'surreal'?
If Barry's squelches were an "extraordinary act of truffle squishing", then what, one wonders, is 'ordinary' truffle squishing?
Above this gripping (ha!) tale, the Mirror ran a photostory showing hundreds of bloated wildebeest carcasses floating down a river.
The recent destruction of nearby forest has corrupted weather patterns in the Masai Mara, and 15,000 wildebeest have died in the rivers that now rage with an intensity matched only by that which impels the Wildebeest to cross.
Finally, on the left-hand side of the page, Greig Box-Turnbull's story relates how Bryan Drysdale had turned to the police, and called the health service complaining of a nervous breakdown; a feeling of 'his head cracking'; paranoid episodes in which he thought he was being targeted and heard voices in his home; worries that he might have HIV; and fears that he might take his own life.
When his car was later hit by a train on a level crossing, six people died.
Page 30 of the Daily Mirror, and what do I get? Only the entire gamut of human emotional response.
I am horrified that nobody listened to Brian Drysdale's cries for help; tormented by those avoidable deaths; disgusted by our uncaring society.
For those wildebeest, lost to the excesses of our needs, I am filled with guilt, compassion, sorrow and rage.
As for the truffle squishing, I'm thankful that not all news is a matter of life and death; shocked by this decadent act of wanton chocolate sabotage; and naturally, I am highly tickled.
But all we have considered are emotions.
What of fact? Do we care if these stories are true?
Fiction can be fun, but news is news, and never the twain should meet.
Not a journalist, I am merely a blabbermouth who is paid to give opinion, so I have the utmost respect for those professionals who take seriously the matter of accurately reporting news.
Those who leave their arse-groove in newsroom seats have to check their facts. They live by the rules of 'Who?' 'What?' 'When?' 'Where?' and 'How?'.
A few months ago I contacted a local journalist, who had reviewed in print a You Tube movie showing teenagers driving recklessly in a Galway car park.
Communicating privately, I told him that I had been approached by parents of teenage children who were furious about his coverage of this life-threatening activity.
He said that his journalistic responsibilities were intact, as all the facts were true.
My heart sank. There is far more to journalistic responsibility than fact. Integrity and social responsibility rate pretty highly too.
Facts are indeed the building blocks of news.
That's why it is so dangerous to run a front page lead story about asylum seekers and hotels when facts have not been checked. By the time your correction appears, the damage has been done.
The racist responses an erroneous story and patronising editorial evoked are already embedded in the Galwegian psyche.
I was shocked to find behind the correction of last week's story another editorial about how a recent murder victim's parents are waking up in Galway, when in fact, at that time, they were not in Ireland.
Yes, I know I am being petty, but a newspaper editor must check facts.
The Galway Advertiser is a vital and impressive part of Galway life. There cannot be a person under 40 in this city who has not queued on a Wednesday for the Accommodation Lists. When I want to find a job, I go to Business and Appointments in the Galway Advertiser, and then, when I realise I am not qualified for very much, I go to Situations Vacant.
The Galway Advertiser is an advertiser, and as such it is excellent. But there is a massive difference between a free advertiser and a newspaper that is paid for by the reader. Within these pages (save for this colyoom) you read stories that will have been robustly checked and well written.
Of course, nobody's perfect. Mistakes will be made and clarified . But if you want news, buy a newspaper, and if you want to find something to buy, pick up an advertising free sheet.
Despite persistent rumours of the end of all newspapers, you can in Galway now pick up a different paper each day, from Monday to Friday. More than anything, this glut of advertising shows only that there is still much cash in the coffers of local companies.
There is one matter it is important to clarify.
Figures appearing in two free local papers recently declared massive circulation rises, as compared with the sales figures of the rags of this Noble House.
Certainly, circulation of the Galway Advertiser has risen at my address by 200%, as where we used to receive nothing, we now have two copies put through our one front door every week, anytime between Thursday and Sunday.
When Galway First was launched, we had to call and ask them to take away a bundle that had been dumped at the end of our street.
A friend who lives in a block of 15 flats claims his building took delivery of 50 Galway Advertisers last week.
If we gave away this Noble Rag, and filled empty swimming pools with bundles of unread papers, we could 'circulate' more copies than any paper in the world.
If you want to believe what you read, try one paper per household, paid for and read from cover to cover.
And never forget, beyond all those depressing headlines, there may well be some truffle squishing going down!

Double Vision

Caricatures Ireland

Thursday 18 October 2007

Unpredictable, astonishing and appalling: Chelsea are back to mirror my life!

Football humour

With a little dust precariously settled after the departure of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea, this colyoom stumbles disconsolate once again towards the truth that football (the 'English game') is a metaphor for life.
If you do nothing but defeat all your enemies, then your victories will feel increasingly meaningless and shallow. To truly know the value and excitement of winning, you have to know what it is to lose.
If you win all the time you have no hope; there are no dreams left unfulfilled. All you are left with is the dread of loss, whereas if you lose often, your dreams of winning grow all the time.
Before the arrival of the Special One at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea FC offered their fans all that life had to offer.
They would destroy Manchester United at Old Trafford, and three days later lose ignominiously to a team of part-time herring fisherman from a hamlet in Norway whose goalie was blind in one eye.
Regardless of whether managed by Hoddle, Vialli, Gullit, or the original Tinkerman, Claudio Ranieri, Chelsea never fielded the same team week to week, played one day with passion, commitment and flashes of dazzling brilliance, only to offer for the next game a performance damnably lacklustre and dreadful.
Each glamorous manager bought international superstar goalscorers to Stamford Bridge, who, having donned the blue shirt, became instantly unable to find the net ever again (some things never change).
Following Chelsea before Mourinho was excruciating, infuriating, exhilarating and inspiring.
The former because an ethos of inconsistency permeated the entire club.
The latter because life is like that: scattered with rare and beautiful victories, besmirched by ugly shoddy shabby times and most importantly, completely beyond our control.
Then came the Russian billionaire, who hired the Portugeezer, and immediately everything changed.
Suddenly Chelsea were entirely predictable.
Almost impossible to beat, they were Premiership Champions two years in a row, whilst picking up an FA Cup, and two Carling Cups on the way. There were two Champions League semi-finals and a double-header against mighty Barcelona that some consider the most exciting European game ever played.
Mourinho picked the right players. He made daring and impressive tactical substitutions, and kept his players out of the English tabloid papers by gushing forth a constant torrent of apparently mad and egocentric nonsense for the gutter press to feed upon.
Something of a genius, something of a despot, it was no surprise that he failed to get on with the post-Communist fascist who was his boss.
Although I have enjoyed the last three years, I am not inordinately sad to see him go.
All that winning became a strain. It didn't feel quite right, and the football was rarely stimulating to watch.
As football reflects life, so my team should have erratic, flawed, passionate yet talented players who do their best, will not always win at the expense of style, and accept their fate with dignity.
Chelsea have never been a dynastic club like Manchester United, who suffer a joyless search for perfection. The Blues are more like you and me: living on the edge of uncertainty, aware that change is the only constant, relishing the good times, and learning from the bad.
My only deep concern for the club I love rests with Chelsea's Russian billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich.
We all sit and shout at the TV and tell our mates what we would do if we could boss the team, but we realise that in the real world, the Manager knows best.
Blinded by power and wealth, misguided by sycophantic Yes-Men, and drowning in his own vanity, Abramovich decided he knew more about football than Jose Mourinho, the man who won the European Cup with a team from Portugal; the man who did not lose a single home league game throughout his entire tenure at Chelsea.
If Abramovich continues to play 'God' by deciding what he thinks is best for the team on the pitch, Chelsea will crumble and die within a few years.
But now, with Mourinho gone, what will happen?
We might win and we might lose. Once again, Life and Chelsea are back on the same track, and it feels good!
In purely commercial terms, Roman Abramovich has scored a massive own goal by sacking Jose Mourinho, but ironically, in the process, he gave me back the team that mirrors life as I see it: ever unpredictable, often astonishing and sometimes plain appalling, Chelsea came back to me. (The Snapper, however, is still in mourning.)
On a slightly more literate note, by now the winner of the Man Booker Prize will be known, and the winning author will be showered with fame and wealth.
Indeed, each writer on this year's Booker Shortlist is guaranteed to sell several thousand copies of their nominated novels.
However, it's worth taking a quick look at the numbers of those books sold before they were nominated on the Shortlist.
While über-scribbler Ian McEwan's novella 'On Chesil Beach' had found its way into a respectable 99,660 homes, Nichola Barker's 'Darkmans' had sold less than 500 copies.
Two of the other shortlisted books had sold less than 900, and quite amazingly, 'Animal's People' by Indra Sinha had made it onto the list despite having sold only 231 copies.
231 copies? Is that all it takes to catch a ride on the Man Booker Prize Express?
Once you've flogged a few to your mates, your family, and the barstaff at the launch; put 20 in a box in the attic for those yet-to-be-born grandchildren who will be oh-so grateful for your foresight, you'll have flogged 250 copies.
So why would anyone want to try and write fiction? Clearly, it's not for the money. Sure, the above shortlisted books will now make their writers rich, but it is, after all, a short list.
Personally, I think we scribblers are just a bunch of nutters who need to write in order to function as vaguely acceptable human entities, and some of us are better at it than others.
But if you only need to flog 200 copies to make the Man Booker Shortlist, there's hope for us all.
So the next time somebody tells you they are writing a novel, hesitate for at least a second before you gush
'Oh wow! You'll be loaded! Remember us simple folk when you're a gazillionaire!'

Double Vision

Caricatures Ireland

Monday 15 October 2007

This is not the Vietnam War - it's just an hotel near Girona!


Towards the end of our holiday, the Snapper receives a phone call, and has to return to England.
On a scorching hot morning, I drive her to the airport, where an emotional goodbye leaves me with 48 hours to kill.
No longer in holiday mood, I have booked a room at an hotel directly between Girona City and the airport. My plan is to pass time, because the only place I now want to be is home.
Unfortunately, I read a few internet guest reviews of my hotel after I had booked the two nights. Many referred to dark dingy rooms and an unfriendly man at reception.
I drive off into the midday heat and proceed to get completely lost, puffing and sweating around the Catalan countryside, until I finally find the hotel, between a motorway construction site, a dual carriageway, the high-speed rail link and the flight path.
Ah well, it looks nice enough. Palm trees and a pool - how bad can it be?
Knowing that I look a wreck, with five days stubble, three hours sweat and old geezer shorts on, I employ my biggest smile and to show willing, greet yer man behind reception with a big native Catalan "Bon dia!"
He neither smiles nor greets me back. His melancholy eyes sit on a huge Humpty Dumpty head, which unfortunately twitches from the neck, his low-hanging jowls wobbling in a less-than-sexy way.
"Your room not ready. 20 minutes."
No 'Sorry!', 'Please!', 'Hello!'; not a 'Why not wait over there, Sir?' or anything. I ask him for my passport.
"Why you need your passport?"
"Because... because it's my passport!"
"I must put it into computer. You do not need your passport."
I go to wait in a lounge, and later hear him yelling out to me, but my obstinate feet will not budge. He can bloomin' get off his lazy rude arse and come to me, which eventually he does.
I lug my heavy bags up to the room, where they sit on the bed for 20 seconds, before I take them back down again.
My plan is to stay in my room for many hours over the next two days, and this room is vile.
My spirit is so low, my energy supply gone, but I do not want to stay here.
Giving Laughing Boy his keys back at reception, I explain that I'll find somewhere else.
"You cannot do that! If you do that I will charge your credit card!"
"Look, mate, see this printout? It says I have a top floor room with balcony. You just gave me a first floor cupboard with a tiny window, soaking wet floors and I don't want it!"
"If you leave I take your money on your credit card!"
"If you do that I will call my credit card company and make sure they cancel their account with your hotel! I phoned two days ago, and spoke to somebody who sounded very much like you, and they said my room was on the first floor, and I said I wanted the top floor, and they said the hotel had only a first floor. If your builders can knock off that whole second floor in two days, seems to me you should send them down to Barcelona, so they can get cracking on Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral. They'll have it finished in no time!"
Laughing Boy twitches up a storm and starts to lose it.
"I book you this room. I don't know why! I book you this room and I not know why!"
For once in my life, I actually lose my temper: good and proper, arms waving, voice shouting, all guns blazing, nothing held back.
It felt great.
"You don't know why? I'll tell you why! Because you're working in a fucking hotel, that's why! I book a top floor room with balcony and you confirm it by email, and then I get a middle floor room with wet floors, no light and barely enough room for a mouse to masturbate, and I don't want it. If I go to a bakery and ask for a loaf of bread and they give me a brick, am I going to eat it?"
To be fair, that was a little obscure, and Laughing Boy is lost.
"I know nothing of a phone call. Nobody called me on the phone!"
"Are you calling me a liar! Are you? Are you? Look, I walk in here with a smile on my face, say Bon Dia and you do nothing. You don't even offer to help me with my bags."
"I help nobody with their bags!"
"Yeh, I bet you don't! So I want out! Bye bye fruitcake features!"
As I head for the door he shouts to me:
"Come please, let us try again! Please, we can start again!"
Ever compassionate, I turn and smile.
"Now you're talking! Ola! Bon dia!"
"Hello. Look, here are the keys to a room. Leave your bags here and go up and see if you like it."
The room is huge, with a balcony and pool view. Shaking from anger, stress and exhaustion, I unpack everything and lie on the bed, taking notes.
As I write, a noise comes into my head. Sounds like a flood.
Up on the wall the air conditioner is shooting two jets of water out of itself, down onto the table below, upon which I have spread my phones, the phone charger, the electrical adapter, my wallets, cards and documents.
Rushing for the button I turn off the unit, and the flood subsides to a steady trickle. Almost in tears, I carefully dry off all the electrical appliances, remove all my cards and documents from their soggy homes, and then lie on the bed, in 35 degrees of heat, doing a bit of 7-11 breathing ... calm down ... calm down.
If only there were a propellor fan above my head, I could have relived my favourite scene from Apocalypse Now.
But this is not the Vietnam War. This is supposed to be a holiday.
I know that I will not be telling Laughing Boy about the air conditioner.
I do not want to move rooms again.
I do not want to have engineers in my room.
I just want to lie here, breathe calmly, feel intolerably hot, and wait two days for my plane home.
Horror. Horror.

Double Vision

Caricatures Ireland

Thursday 4 October 2007

Holidays are like life: it's not how much you get, but what you need to be happy!


Having scrimped, saved, and slogged our guts out, the Snapper and I are back in the Costa Brava, the northern Spanish coastline stretching from Barcelona to the French border.
Right now I am sitting on a large balcony feeling smug. For less than the price of a Galway B&B, we have a two bedroom apartment by the pool, with a view high over the stunningly beautiful Cadaques bay, looking far to a headland that Co. Clare would be proud of, dropping into the bluest of Mediterranean waters speckled by fifty bobbing white fishing boats, washing onto a beach by terracotta houses with red tiled roofs baking in the midday sun, the olive trees swaying in the breeze.
We really enjoy our two nights at Carpe Diem in Cadaques, and could have stayed at the chilled-out comfy complex for the entire fortnight, but tomorrow we must move down into the town, to the three-star Llane Petit Hotel.
I'm not sure if I like hotels. Why do we all look forward to paying wads of cash to be surrounded by people on all sides, above and below? Children are crying, the plumbing is whooshing all around, despite it being only 08.30 on a Sunday morning - and this the morning after every man woman and child in the town danced and partied in the main square until 3 am celebrating Cadaques' own Fiesta.
But hotel breakfast starts at 08:30, so naturally at 08:32, all the other guests feel obliged to pile out of their rooms, into echoey narrow corridors.
God knows what those accents are yelling to each other, but my hangover-knackered mind performs its own translation.
"Ah good look! See mother and small children of mine! An empty corridor, and behind one of these doors lies a hungover decadent writer. So Mutti and Alfie, go down to the far end and then shout to to me, and I will shout back a few more times and then we can all laugh because it is so funny, so very funny to make a big noise early on a Sunday morning. Aha. Aha. Aha. And they say we do not have possession of a sense of humour! Aha! What are they knowing? Come on now, shout louder. I think some of them are still sleeping, yes?"
Somewhere in this hotel a creature - for that is how it sounds- produces the most terrifying sound I have ever heard. Audible from a distance of 500 metres, the screaming howling wail sounds like a victim of the most heinous torture. Evidently from something young, I imagine a mutant feral beast, half-human half wildcat, with claws for fingers and fur on its back, its massive Leonine mane wrapping contorted features around a tortured mutant feline-human face.
The screech, which makes me feel simultaneously terrified and crushed with compassion, comes roaring in 30 second bursts of steady tone and massive lung capacity, as if the creature's claws were being ripped out one by one with a pair of red-hot pliers.
The Snapper turns to me and simply says: "Teething."
Next we head towards Calella de Parafugell, where we check out the Hotel Garbi. Sadly, the lass behind reception doesn't give a shit. You can smell it a mile off.
We're off before you can say 'Stuck-up Peahen!'
Now exhausted from our day on the road, I fortunately have a secret weapon.
Down the road is the Hotel Sant Roc.
Unique and imposing in a grandfatherly way, the Sant Roc is only a three star, but the people who work there make you feel you're in a five star. They care, take pride in their work, and a cocktail on the terrace at dusk can be both electric and charming.
Run now by the third generation of the same pioneering family, the Sant Roc feels like a classy joint. Sure it's pricey, and with Balco de Calella, their new restaurant, they are trying to offer fine dining, which might be a mistake.
The Sant Roc is wonderful because of its atmosphere and gentle class. They should stick to what they have been doing exceptionally well for five decades, which is making people feel fantastic, and let somebody else grate truffle over the sorbet.
The secret of success in business is simple. All you have to do is to know your market, and then meet its needs
The next day we find the Port Bo Hotel, a business that knows exactly what it is doing. Conveniently behind the town centre, the place has little charm, but offers a crew of friendly efficient staff, large clean double rooms with balcony and sea view; a whirlpool swimming pool and loungers; free internet and laundry; and the best buffet breakfast we have seen so far, all for ¤33.00 per person per night. The Port Bo has no pretensions. It just delivers what it offers for a very reasonable price, and all power to it for that.
I don't care if I stay in a cave or a castle. Holidays, like life, are not about how much you get, but rather how much you need to be happy.
Bizarrely, I cringe with embarrassment when I spot or hear other English abroad. At breakfast one morning I hide behind my croissant, as three tables of posh English Sixtysomething friends start to swap a bit of banter.
The vowels are stretched from table to table, repeatedly misunderstood and misheard, in true Tony Hancock style, until I find myself laughing with them as well as at them.
"Little Brian is doing Latin. Says he likes it."
"How old is he?"
"12 now."
"I remember when I was 12, my Latin teacher came at me with a knife, so exasperated was he with my inability to grasp the lingo."
"Bloody hell! He'd go to jail for that now!"
"Did he?"
"Did he what? Go to jail?"
"No! Did he come at you with a knife?"
"How long did he go to jail for?"
"He didn't! I just said he would have under the present regime."
"Bloody right. Be strung up for that now. Bloody shame!"
Ah me, yes, indeed.Such a shame that teachers can no longer run at their pupils brandishing sharp blades. What is this modern world coming to?

Double Vision
Caricatures Ireland
Connacht Tribune

Sunday 30 September 2007

The sad truth is that we all choose to ignore the truth!


Due to my need for a break, this piece was written several weeks ago. Since then, such is the way of the world, there may well have been a major terrorist attack in a country near us.
And there may not have been.
As we become older we see bigger pictures, and truths gradually reveal themselves to us.
A realisation dawns that we are all complicit in lies of such enormous proportion that it becomes wearying to write them down.
As Greek tragic dramatist Aeschylus (525 BC - 456 BC) pointed out, "In war, truth is the first casualty."
Sometimes you just have to stick your head above the parapet and spell out some truth, so that it doesn't die a death.
We all know that the US bombing and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan is not going to defeat Al Qaeda.
We all know that the Taliban will probably prevail, however undesirable that may be. We all know that the so-called 'Coalition' will fail where the Soviet Union failed before. We all know that Afghanistan is not a country that any foreign power can occupy and impose its own peace upon.
We all know that democratic government set up in Afghanistan is no more a viable or realistic representation of the people's wishes than is the similar puppet government in Iraq.
We all know that Saddam Hussein had no links with Al Qaeda. They distrusted each other.
We all know that, as a result of the wars being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, Al Qaeda is now growing in numbers every day.
We all know that neither war was really a retaliation for 9/11. We all know that Bush was going to do it anyway.
We all know that hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and injuries remain uncounted by Coalition forces, and that the untold suffering imposed upon local civilian populations will serve only to recruit more dissent directed against the occupying forces.
We all know all these things, and we all moan about George Bush, but by our silence we tacitly allow these wars to happen.
And they do, but not because they seek to liberate subjugated populations; not because by superimposing the Western ideal of democracy onto Arab and Asian cultures we will improve the lives of indigenous peoples.
But because western society thrives on two conditions beyond all others.
For our governments to rule us 'successfully', we must have enemies, and we must fear them.
In order to write this piece, I went on the internet to find out how many people had died in recent terrorist attacks in western Europe.
All I found was site after site raving on about the growth of Islamic terrorism; how we should be afraid of Islamic terrorists; how Islamism is destroying our way of life.
It is?
Not mine.
When I was a boy, terrorists were white, real and unavoidable. The IRA bombed the hell out of my home town. Nowadays, too many supposed Islamist attacks are filed under 'Imminent' and 'Alleged'.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world was starting to look peaceful, so new enemies had to be invested in.
At this point conspiracy theorists might have something to say, and I will neither sit here and rubbish their theories, nor claim that their ideas are correct.
All I can do is say what I know. What we all know:
That ever since the end of the Cold War, the US and its allies have been investing heavily in future enemies.
They have bombed and invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. They have accused the Iranians of State Terrorism and threatened their nuclear programme with military action. They have antagonised the Syrians, the Lebanese and the Somalians.
In fact, Somalia shows perfectly how American foreign policy succeeds in recruiting for Al Qaeda
Over the last ten years, Somalia has offered what looked like an ideal breeding ground for Islamic terrorism. A weak government sits alongside a traditional Islamic (or good old-fashioned 'Muslim') nation with a glut of religious organisations from which Jihadis might grow.
But they didn't, because the people wanted peace.
So the Americans, working with the Ethiopian army, chased suspected Jihadis into the southern tip of Somalia, and then sent in AC 130 helicopter gunships, which proceeded to wipe off the face of the planet all the villages and any signs of life in the area.
As a British soldier put it, having perfected the military equivalent of drift-netting, they 'kill everything that moves, and then see who you have got left afterwards.'
Sure enough, after this and many other airborne attacks, a terrified population runs to Al Qaeda to protect them from the deliverers of death from the skies.
We all know that we don't want to see innocent people die. We all know that there are dark evil people out there who happily kill murder and maim innocent people for political religious and economic gain.
We know that sometimes these killers come in the form of terrorists, and sometimes in the form of governments.
What we have to decide, each and every one of us, is where we draw our own personal lines over the old maxim, 'One man's Terrorist is another man's Freedom Fighter.'
Anyone who fights an American is now described as a terrorist. Might not the 'insurgents' of Iraq just be Iraqis fighting an occupying power?
We know that Nelson Mandela is today an heroic liberator, just as we know he used to be perceived as a mad terrorist.
We know that Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams used to be terrorist bombers, just as today we see them as peacemakers. We know that General Musharraf of Pakistan and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia preside over brutal and repressive regimes. But they are not our enemies because they do what America tells them to do.
We know that we are fed a diet of lies, and yet we choose to swallow, because it is easier to eat the convenience foods of hate that to forage, cook and serve up a little truth of our own.
We know, because we are intelligent people, that when we are told to hate certain people, our crime is to obey, because then we don't have to understand them.
Yes, some people just kill for the hell of it.
But usually, people kill because they are already in hell, and are looking for a way out.

Double Vision

Caricatures Ireland

Monday 24 September 2007

Immigrants are the icing on Ireland's cake - now let's layer them into the sponge!


"They're not the same as us, Charlie."
Looking deep and long into his Irish eyes, I wonder if he has any idea how that sounds to this Englishman.
"And what is 'Us', exactly?"
"Sure, we're the same, kind of, y'know. These fellas are different. Nothing wrong with them, mind, but not, y'know, just not like you and me."
Oh right, so now all of a sudden we're the same, kind of, are we?
This could have been a moment of great celebration. Having first set foot upon Irish soil 15 years ago, I have been only too conscious of being English.
If this little verbal exchange had opened the door to a life free from historical slagging, from gentle ribbing all the way to lacerating livid hatred, I might have been jumping up and down with glee.
But I wasn't, because it didn't.
Far from a liberating leap beyond the muddy shite of bigotry, yer man had merely promoted me in some kind of Racism Premier League.
Mind you, if the English are suddenly looking good (or at least, not so bad) to the Irish, you'd better be sure somebody else is getting it in the neck.
For months, years, I've been in agony, listening to lovely intelligent and lucid Irish people speaking indescribable drivel about immigrants, immigration, racism and xenophobia.
And then I realised that I was wrong.
No no no. I haven't suddenly seen beauty in fascism. There will be no burning upside-down crosses on the Adley lawn.
I was wrong because I pooh-poohed and ridiculed the Irish as they raved about the size and speed of the change. I was adamant that immigrants made up only a tiny percentage of the population, and then the census showed otherwise.
It was in England last week that I realised why I had failed to see the situation clearly.
Where I grew up, people of all colours, creeds and cultures lived together with a common nationality.
They didn't always get on with each other, but few ever doubted that they came from one nation.
The reason I failed to notice how many immigrants there were in Ireland was because this place is still a million miles away from that.
I love Ireland and the Irish, but I will love Ireland and the Irish a whole lot more when the native white Catholics stop being fearful of everything and anything that they perceive as different; when they realise how ridiculous are their demands for everyone to behave as they do; when they see how ignorant it is of them to want, expect and insist different people from different countries to completely conform and comply.
I will love Ireland and the Irish a whole lot more when they learn to love difference. The reason ye all got so upset with the Rev. Ian Paisley when he criticised the 'mono-ethnic monotheistic mono-cultural State' is that it was true.
Horribly true.
Bloody hard taking it from him, I'll admit, but true nonetheless.
Enlightenment has to first be administered by government.
The deeply sad truth is that while people like Conor Lenihan are happy to deny Sikhs employment in the Garda Siochana by banning the right to wear turbans; while it is acceptable for a Minister to display such arrogance as to declare that Sikhs must "fit in with our culture"; while we have a government that sanctions the withdrawal of that most basic human right: the freedom to worship, positive change will take generations.
When people are sent to prison for incitement to racial hatred, (as they are in civilised countries); when it is illegal for newspapers to report the ethnicity of a suspected perp (a Romanian did this, a non-national did this and a foreign national did that), unless it is relevant to the story, we might stand a chance.
I'm not crying for the moon here. Just asking hoping praying for a realisation to dawn upon the Irish psyche.
Yes, racism will always be with us. Despite losing 6 million of our own people to the Nazi gas chambers, I still have to endure the racist nonsense I hear in the Jewish homes of Northwest London.
But we do know that difference is good. Some people eat different food to us, sweat a different smell to us and sing a different song. They pray to a different god and go to different heavens. But they love their children, like to live in peace and enjoy good health.
Stop and wonder how it sounds when you wax lyrical about how great your country was with only one skin colour and one religion.
"Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!" ring any bells?
Let's talk cake. Immigrants in Ireland are at the moment just the icing on Ireland's cake. They sit on the outside of your society, visible and obviously different. Already they offer something new, something sweet and exciting, but they are far from being an essential part of the fabric of our everyday lives.
With racism spared for the English, the Travelling community and Protestants in the North, the old Irish sponge cake was a bland ethnic affair. Completely white and mostly Catholic, any change or integration was resisted.
Ever since your independence, all you've had is one flavour, one colour and one shape.
Now you have the chance to add something to the sponge.
Instead of fuming about how the eastern European fella has an 05 Opel Astra, or being upset because the funny-looking woman is talking with a funny-sounding accent; instead of walking past a black taxi driver at the rank, or refusing a drink to anyone who looks nothing like your own family, add a little Essence of Wisdom to the mix.
Instead of leaving out all the new and different ingredients, to later scrape as icing hanging on the edges, why not layer the sponge with different flavours?
Irish culture is unique, strong and often wonderful. It will survive intact, but your lives will be richer with humanity, and happier for the variety.
If all this cake stuff seems a tad trite and simplistic, that is because it is simple.
Instead of hanging on to the way you've always been, make that leap: The greater the variety of colours, flavours, sugars and spices, the mightier the cake.
Sure, you never know. Maybe the Irish layer cake will taste better than you ever imagined.

Double Vision
Caricatures Ireland

Friday 14 September 2007

Scientists don't help with pink and blue and a boy named Sue!

In the early days of political correctness we were told that it was wrong to dress girls in pink.
Apparently we were imposing cultural and sexist prejudices upon our innocent children. Exactly how much of a boy or girl they were going to be was best left to them.
Even so, we had to give them names, but had no idea at the time quite how huge an influence our choices would have on their lives.
Professor David Figlio, of the University of Florida was horrified when he heard his daughter's 'Talking Barbie' doll declare "Math(s) is hard!"
Why would a girl, more than a boy, think that?
He took 1,700 letter and sound combinations that people associated with being either male or female, and applied them to 1.4 million names on birth certificates. From his data he calculated a linguistic 'femininity' score, and then built a league table of the most and least 'feminine-sounding' girls names.
After a massive amount of research, including the study of 1,000 pairs of sisters, Professor Figlio found out that names given to girls have a profound affect on their career choices.
If Barbie was a real girl she might indeed find maths difficult. With twin daughters called Alex and Isabella, Alex will be twice as likely to study maths than her sister.
He explains: "Girls with feminine names ... may feel more pressure to avoid technical subjects"
While Annas, Emmas and Elizabeths will perform just as well as anybody else doing science, they are far less likely to choose the subject, which is perceived as 'male'. But if you're a girl with a name that sounds like a boy - a Lauren or an Ashley, for instance - people will treat you differently, and it will be much easier for you to cross sexually stereotypical obstacles.
So have celebrities got it right? By giving their children names like Twinklebot, Raindrop and Carrot will they avoid the whole business of gender stereotyping?
Maybe, but their childrens' funky names won't help them receive a good education. Professor Figlio studied 55,000 children, and discovered that those given unusual names performed poorly.
Kids whose names had modern spellings or included punctuation (you know the sort of thing: "Hi, I'm Lavinia! That's big 'L' small 'a' big 'V' and an apostrophe, small 'i' big 'N' small 'i' big 'A'. LaV'iNiA!") scored around 5% lower on all exam scores, mostly, it's believed, because teachers tend to take them less seriously as people.
As Anushka Asthana reported in The Observer, Primary School teachers find it difficult not to make judgements on children's names before they have even met them.
We are all so very human, and, according to UCLA Psychology Professor Albert Mehrabian in his book 'Baby Name Report Card', we are drawn to certain names and repulsed by others.
Some names sound like success on a plate, while others make people form images of drug addicts and homeless people. Old-fashioned and traditional names still appeal. Rachel and Robert seem to sound like particularly popular people.
While Breeze scored a miserable 16 out of 100, Christopher got top marks for respect in the name league table.
The book's author has strong feelings on the subject:
"A name is part of an impression package. Parents who make up bizarre names for their children are ignorant, arrogant or just foolish."
Certainly there is a strong case to be made for the old adage 'Give a dog a bad name...'.
Simply, if we are told we are intelligent and beautiful, then we are more likely to believe it of ourselves.
The day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, a wonderful schoolteacher in Iowa called Jane Elliot conducted a tremendous experiment on her class.
After splitting her pupils into groups depending merely on eye-colour, she told first one group and then the other that they were inferior.
Just as she suspected, each person who had been told they were a lesser being displayed feelings of self-loathing, fear, and proceeded to perform worse than ever in academic tests.
Since then, scientists at Stanford University have taken her research, and proved beyond doubt that the observable differences in exam scores between black and white students is nothing to do with genetic differences, but wholly down to what is known as 'stereotype threat': that is, people who feel stereotyped, who have been stereotyped all their lives, are likely to fulfil those expectations.
Hence black kids from poorer areas tend not to perform as well as their white equals.
Meanwhile, Anya Hurlbert (now there's a name that forms an image in my mind!) has thrown all this modern research on its liberal head.
As Professor of Visual Neuroscience (you wot?) at Newcastle University, she has discovered that women like pink and blokes like blue.
Well cor blimey guv'nor, give her an apple. Not an Apple Paltrow, just a piece of fruit.
Apparently, women react positively to pink because they needed to find it when we were hunter-gatherers, back when we lived in caves.
In tests that covered populations around the globe, she amassed tons of data that confirmed that women were drawn to the colours of berries, because, according to Hurlbert (yikes, I just saw that image again!): "Women were the primary gatherers and would certainly have benefited from an ability to home in on ripe red fruits. A clear blue sky signalled good weather, suggesting a good day (for men) to hunt."
And then she goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like
"Clear blue also signals a good water source."
Doesn't that defeat her own arguments? After all, don't both men and women need a good water source?
Ah me, there's nothing like a big stinky pile of scientific research to confuse the hell out of us.
If we give our sons manly names, are we depriving them of the right to do the Billy Elliot ballet dancer thang?
Should we call our daughters Samantha and Jessica so that they feel all womanly, or are we wrecking their chances of winning a Nobel Prize for physics later in life?
Only one thing is certain. Whatever we call them and whoever they feel like being, they are going to need loads of guidance and plenty of encouragement to make the best of their lives in a world full of experts that can't tell a peeper from a punanny.

Double Vision

Caricatures Ireland

Monday 10 September 2007

Email is impersonal and almost useless, so why can't we live without it!

Computer Virus
"Oh my good God! What have I done?"
A black line, carrying behind it a greying area of screen, is descending from the top of my computer screen, slowly spreading to the bottom, veiling my beloved desktop in a chilling shroud.
Oh no! Oh no no no! Have I somehow managed to download a virus onto my iMac?
Or was that grey cascading down my monitor an Apple Safety Curtain, a protective shell built within to protect my compootchah from scabrous net scum?
A dialogue box jumps up on screen, telling me to restart my computer, but does the order come from within Apple's software, or from a new invader?
Is that voice of the virus, the disguised plea of lurking cyber lurgy, hoping only that I will ignorantly obey, thus somehow opening the micro passages and nano doorways it needs to copy and probably dissolve my data?
What the heck!
I hit restart and sit, dry mouthed, as I wonder whether my faith in Apple is about to be trashed.
We Mac-ites are of the belief that the vast majority of the world's cyber viruses, trojan horses, worms, bats, crabs (and probably slugs by now) are designed to battle with the might of Microsoft. As long as you stay away from Outlook Express and Windows, Vista or whatever operating system the PCs of the world are running, you're safe as houses.
Thus, there I was, deleting crap from my inbox, musing upon how bleedin' useless email is as a form of communication, when my eye struck upon a message that looked vaguely legit.
Yes, it had an attachment, which might be enough to extinguish it on sight, but it wasn't offering me an enlarged penis. This email wasn't trying to sell me Viagra, and it wasn't inviting me to buy stocks and shares, or invest in a new block of flats. It wasn't written in a foreign language and it didn't say 'H®éDT£16n#™¦'.
Don't know about you, but when emails announce themselves with a subject like 'H®éDT£16n#™¦', I tend not to think 'Oh, that must be a message from my sweet cousin Jenny!'.
A man could feel pretty excited and popular if he were to take his Spam (junk email) seriously.
Last week I was invited to become an honorary member of a Rambling society. I won a lottery. An old classmate (who I suspect was neither old nor a classmate) wanted to contact me. A bloke in Nigeria wanted me to look after ¤36,000 for him, and some other bunch wanted to help me make my tadger grow to the size of a small tree.
I never used to get Spam, but inevitably, as I visit more sites, so my email address appears more often, and I end up deleting loads of messages each day.
In fact, these days, I tend to just delete anything and everything that I do not recognise or trust, which rather begs the question: 'What is the point of emails?'
Outside of the business world, the whole point of one human communicating with another is that the interaction might feel personal.
I know I'm about to sound incredibly old-fashioned, but while the internet and email have revolutionised my working life, for which I am eternally grateful, I used to like writing a letter, and receiving one back.
There was something sensual and intriguing about the envelope, the notepaper, the twist and whorl of a girlfriend's handwriting.
To hold a message, a piece of news, an impulsively-included sweet nothing in your hands, to take in the scent was quite magic.
Letters helped you to feel close to, or more aware of, the sender.
Email is instant, inhuman and cold.
We don't write letters any more, and increasingly, we don't write emails either. We just write txts, which could never be accused of either expanding or enhancing the language, and yes, even on your mobile phone, the spam/service message junk comes pouring in.
Spam accounts for over 85% of all email traffic worldwide. According to the Ferris Research Group, University of London, the average office worker spends 49 minutes 'managing emails' each day.
If you make the dizzying heights of Senior Management Worker, you will apparently spend 4 hours a day 'managing emails'
Anyway. what's all this 'managing emails' stuff? We just used to call it 'sciving' when I were t'lad.
Once again, the need to ask how efficient a form of communication is email, when we not only fear for the health of our computers, but also, when spotting the real messages amongst the detritus is harder than Viagra overload?
Over the years, I have received hundreds of emails from readers, but nowadays, unless they make real and understandable reference to the piece, or the newspaper in question, I might well be missing out on bona fide reader messages.
If they look dodgy, I delete them.
At least with junk mail that comes through your letter box, you have the chance to read it, judge it and then chuck it out, without threatening the fabric of your household. But on a computer it's just not worth the risk.
As I said, up to now, being a Mac user, I have often felt arrogantly indifferent to viruses, trojan horses and all that. It occurred to me that they might become more of a target to begrudgers after the success of the iPod, but there I was, struck fearful and shwetty, staring at the screen in front of me.
Why oh why did I open that email? Haven't I always sniffed and scoffed at how the silly people who open their silly emails and then click on their silly attachments get what they deserve?
And now is it time for my comeuppance? Has pride finally earned this fool a fall?
Was it a virus that made my computer go all wonky, or was it a brilliant piece of Apple software that sensed something unwelcome in the machine, and has since chewed it up, kicked it right up its cyber jacksy and spat it out through a portal in the Ethernet?
Sounds good, doesn't it? Almost like I know what I'm talking about?
Thankfully my compootchah still seems mucho intacto, so all power to Apple.
Now, pass me my pen and paper.