Monday 26 February 2007

Ireland has problems, but Britain is going bonkers!

Tony Blair George Bush
Back in London, the city of my birth, to celebrate my much-loved Mum's 78th birthday, I'm aware that while Ireland may have problems, England is one step away from going totally bezonkers.
Ever since arriving in Ireland in 1992, I have held up British multiculturalism as something to which the Irish should aspire, but now it all seems to be going horribly wrong.
It is pointless to compare British and Irish attitudes to immigration, because the experience of the two peoples is so different.
While the British seem now to be stumbling and threatening to fall, after a long and mostly successful journey through immigration, integration and acceptance, the Irish are just stepping off the boat.
Most of the racism and bigotry expelled from Irish minds and mouths comes from ignorance born of a complete lack of experience. Good Irish people with healthy minds and wholesome hearts suddenly come out with the most abysmal drivel, and I know that they don't realise how bigoted they sound.
'That foreign person did that differently to us!' they say. 'I'm not sure if I like that. Shouldn't they at least try to be the same as us, if they want to live over here?'
Gentle Irish souls who consider themselves to be intelligent, liberal and informed are now, for the very first time, face to face with a tiny minority of people who do things their own way. All of a sudden theory is out the window. Intellectually you know what is and is not acceptable, but experientially you've never seen the like of it before.
The future of Irish society will be won and lost over the battle between two words: At the moment, when an Irish person says 'integrate', what they really mean is 'assimilate'.
Should 'assimilate' win ownership of the Irish psyche, there is a long hard struggle ahead for all of us
If, however, the Irish cop on, see beyond their fear of change, and come to understand the massive and manifold benefits of integration, life will be a lot richer, happier, less fearful.
These two words do not merely represent a semantic choice. The difference between expecting assimilation and enjoying integration is that between ignorance and wisdom.
In Britain these days there is much fear.
When I were t'lad, you had yer occasional riot on long summer heatwave evenings, but down at street level, we all got on well and enjoyed our differences. You knew you were a Londoner when you were supping a pint of Real Ale, eating Jamaican goat curry while listening to Monsoon play Indian bhangra - English pop fusion music.
All wasn't right with the world, but it was more than alright that most of the world lived in my street.
But chip away at something for long enough, and eventually you will whittle it down to form whatever shape you want. After decades of assault from Thatcher, Major and Blair, the open minds, inquiring eyes and accepting hearts of the British have finally mutated into hate-filled fear-ridden monstrosities who believe the Daily Mail.
For Blair's legacy to appear meaningful, the 'War on Terror' has to be perpetuated. Just as Irish communities were once under threat, Muslims in England now live with a burgeoning fear, resentment and anger.
As one alleged terrorist attack after another is nipped in the bud by Scotland Yard, before coming to fruition, there's more reason to invade and tear open Muslim homes and arrest Muslim people en masse without charge.
In an essentially secular country that has defended its citizens' pluralism and freedom of worship better than almost any other on Earth, there was recently mass hysteria about women who choose to wear veils.
At the same time, on Celebrity Big Brother, a housemate suggested that Shilpa should "Fuck off home!"
There are no three words that cut so sharp deep and straight to the bloody heart of racism. Speaking with a broad Scouse accent, the same lass moaned:
"She carn' ivven spee kenglish proppah hennyweh!"
Here's a recipe for hate: Add a dash of invisible 'Islamist' bomb to a dollop of Big Brother bollocks, season with hysterical veil bigotry, and mix well with suspicion and fear of your neighbours.
Bake at high heat, and when it catches fire, our civil liberties get burned again.
Bigotry, racism and the inevitable ensuing wars rob us of our most basic human right: The right to live without fear.
Governments play with civil liberties, reducing our freedoms as they will, but we are guilty too. We allow fear to poison our thoughts, words and actions.
We deny ourselves a fear-free life by choosing suspicion and bigotry.
Fear is ready for me as I step off the plane at Luton Airport.
Having passed through customs, I pop over to the World News shop in the Arrivals Hall.
Grabbing a bottle of water, I head for the woman at the cash register, who sits on a chair inside a semicircular counter, with ciggies lined up behind her, sweets all around her, you know the kind of way.
"Can you stand over here?"
At first I don't even realise she is talking to me, because the other side of her counter looks identical to this one.
"Can you stand over HERE sir, PLEASE!"
Oh boy. Welcome back to Britain. My long-dormant yet ever-belligerent London buds are reactivating.
"Why? What difference does it make?"
"I am a very nervous person, and once I was threatened by a customer who stood that side, so I never serve from that side any more."
"You spend your whole working life afraid? That's terrible. You should change your job!"
"I love my job, but always feel frightened here."
"Well you should get over it then."
"I'll never get over it!"
"Well no, you won't! Not if you keep saying that!"
As we inevitably care more for ourselves and less for our neighbours, so they gradually become more easy to distrust, and eventually hate and fear.
The sad truth is that eventually fear will win.
Shame, because all we have to do to avoid that is trust each other and enjoy our differences.
England is becoming America, and Ireland will become England (sorry!).
The European ideal of society looking after its own will perish in the pursuit of individual wealth.
Until then, the west of Ireland is my home because here humanity lingers yet, and while I expect only the inevitable, I can at least appreciate what is now good.

Friday 16 February 2007

Townland Directory Enquiries- A very scary place to be!

ireland map
"So who's going to be there? Will I know everybody?"
"Sure, there's going to be meself and himself and herself and yourself, and Maggie. You know Maggie."
"Oh yeh, Maggie! Great, that's fine. So what time did ye say?"
"Around half eight nine, and -"
"Errmm... hang on a minute! Who is Maggie again? I'm not sure I know Maggie."
"Sure you do. Tommy's sister."
"Tommy who?"
"You know, Tommy with the car. Ronan's brother, the fella with the stripy T-shirt and the bad teeth."
"Oh yeh, right, Ronan with the bad teeth. Got that. So who's Maggie?"
"I jus' told you! Maggie's brother's car was Tommy's mate up in Dundalk."
"Oh yeh, right."
Ever since I moved to Ireland I have been astounded at the insistence the locals show that everyone should know everyone else.
To this London-born Brit, to whom survival depended on talking little, never poking a nose where it didn't belong, and minding your P's and Q's (whatever on this earth they were) Irish flock knowledge comes as a wondrous and sometimes welcome phenomenon.
Unlike in England, where massive migrations to the cities began with the industrial revolution of the 19th century, in Ireland life continued to be centred around the village and townland.
With the arrival of the 21st century Service Industry Revolution, there are now millions of Irish people living in cites, seemingly all hanging on to the expectation that, just like back home in the village, everyone will know everyone else.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking it, because I can see that it comes from a human and compassionate place, but whilst within the Townland it nurtures and reassures those vulnerable that nobody will be left alone, within the urban environment it can simply be a right royal pain in the hole.
Usually, as in the the snippet above, these discourses are not based entirely upon a need-to-know basis, as they are wont to say these days.
Clearly our talker didn't really need to know who Maggie was. At first he decided to pretend he did know who Maggie was, because then he might reap the information that he really sought from his mate.
So just as might you and I, he steered well clear of the whole Maggie issue to begin with, but then he wobbled.
As soon as he found out from his mate what time things were starting in the evening, he felt a little bit safe, a tad comfy with proceedings, at which point he lost it, and went and asked who Maggie really was.
And that was his fatal error, because he tapped into Townland Directory Enquiries, a national Irish synapse.
Walk warily into Townland Directory Enquiries, because with these talks, the journey is long. To succeed, in order to preserve your sanity and your friendships, you will require endurance and tenacity, enthusiasm, and a little secret knowledge, which I will impart to you anon.
The depth of your enthusiasm should be equal in strength to the sum of your tenacity and endurance, because as long as you continue to show an interest, the person who knows the person that he/she insists you know (henceforth known as the Insistor) will continue to try and find a way that you might and must and will know this person too.
Alas, this is nowt but 'Mrs. Doyle Reflex' at work, and just as Farther Ted used to play his insistent tea lady like a trout, allowing her a good few 'You will you will you will's, he also knew how to release himself from her grip.
So stay the course as long as you are able to sustain a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Soon your admiration of the Insistor's seemingly Olympian skill at this Community Scrabble Challenge will wane, and then the entire thing becomes tiresome.
Never ever let your enthusiasm run shorter than your endurance, because if you absorb too much blather whilst your Happy Tank's on empty, you might well blow at any time:
"I don't give a feckin' shite who David's brother's girlfriend's cat was run over by after Siobhan fell over in the pub where you lost your mobile phone. I forgot who it was I asked you about in the first place now. I no longer care, and what is more, I do not ever want to see you again. Please please shut up please now please."
That or anything like it would be a most unfortunate outcome, so now I can reveal the
smidgen of vital secret knowledge that will help you out when ensnared in the 4 million to one longshot gamble that Insistors ever-so mightily want you to win
First up comes the friendly gentle let-down. The Insistor will most probably not realise that you are backing out, if you simply refer to a pub that you both hold dear.
For instance, with my personal history:
"I'd probably know her/him from either/or The Quays; Tobar days; Taylor's days."
At which you most likely will receive a gentle breeze of blessed relief, in the shape of
"Oh yeh, that'd be her/him."
But sometimes you get it totally wrong, and the whole thing goes Public Bar upwards. "No!" says your Insistor, "They never drank there, not in that pub!", but now you've gone and shown more enthusiasm, right at a point when your Insistor was thinking to let it go, because Insisitors know it doesn't matter too.
You both know it's a waste of time and energy, and you both know it doesn't really matter, but you both have to do it because you have roles to fulfil.
Until finally, you pull off your Maesterstück.
In all the years that I have lived here, this one has never failed. A simple line, it has saved friendships, stopped me pulling my phone out of the wall in moments of wretched desperation, and sometimes, just on the odd occasion mind, it has been true.
"Ah yeh, I think I know who you mean! I'm sure I'd know 'em to see 'em!"
To which, absolutely invariably in my experience, comes:
"Ah ye would! Ye'd know 'em to see 'em!"
After which exchange, life can begin again, two souls no longer locked in a pointless endless quest to prove something that neither mattered in the least nor existed in any real or metaphysical sense.
By God, I love this country!

Friday 9 February 2007

'I love you!' Three Little Words that can mean so very little!

I love my woman. She loves me. She knows it and I know it and lots of other people know it too.
Sometimes quite out of the blue I become burdened in the chest region, and I have to tell her I love her. Sometimes it's when leaving or returning from overseas; after joyous acts of kindness; intimate moments... there is no definitive list.
The point is that there are certain moments when saying 'I love you' is perfect, and there are an infinite amount of other times when it is pointless.
So harsh. So cruel. So 'male', I hear the females out there cry.
Well yes, as male as male can be. But did you ever wonder why men tend not to say 'I love you' as much as women?
Did you ever consider that it may be because, for us, those three words really mean something?
To us men it seems like women play for some kind of Fantasy Love League, where each time they say 'I love you' they score a point, and when their partner says it back to them they score five. Every text, phone call, trip to the loo for a peeper, all can entail the need for profound emotional exchange.
It used to be all too easy to try and pin it down to old-fashioned stereotypical behaviours, but they are outdated. Women these days are out there, sisters doing it for themselves, so surely they do not need the same constant reassurances that their more constrained predecessors longed for.
To us blokes, the constant reiteration of the Three Little Words does nothing more than diminish their power. It's not that we are incapable of feelings. Despite appearances to the contrary, we do not lack the full emotional panorama.
It just looks that way because women have for centuries carpet-bombed the Arena of Lurrrve with their very particular version of romance.
Take Valentine's Day. Please, take it. (arf!)
Is there a day out there more lacking in romance than the fourteenth of February?
Don't you dare accuse me of being bah humbug about this. I am absolutely not attacking romance, but rather launching an assault on Valentines Day, that killer of romance, murderer of amore.
Valentine's Day is to romance what New Year's Eve is to spontaneity.
Each of those occasions carries a feeling of obligation, alongside a list of places to be, acts to perform. You are meant to dress up, drink a lot and for god's sake be happy.
Can there be anything worse, or indeed more pointless than being forced to be happy?
Well, yes. Being forced to be romantic, because that, to me and I suspect millions of other men, is impossible.
Just because we don't fit into the framework of romance as constructed by women, we are considered devoid of romance.
But what, pray tell me, is romantic about obligation?
What is romantic about having to do something on a certain day?
What is romantic about everybody doing the same things - eating chocolate drinking champagne eating heart-shaped food in suddenly pink restaurants -at the same time?
Absolutely nothing. To this male, Valentine's Day is something you do to keep 'Her Indoors' on board, and if that makes me sound horribly unromantic, then you couldn't be more wrong.
I love romance. I adore being romantic, and I'm saying that as a bloke who loves beer and football, a man who prefers to wake up with someone who has different bits .
Being romantic gives me a thrill of excitement that I hope will be imparted to my woman.
Sometimes romance is about being thoughtful, thinking what she might like, or love to do, and then planning it, and presenting it as a surprise.
Other times, romance is a random and sudden act of love or kindness that exhibits consideration and, ideally, a special and insightful understanding of herself, executed in a way that nobody else could.
Romance can be a tingle; something unique - perchance an occasion on which to utter those Three Little Words, and give them back the power that they deserve.
I love you.
And look, see here! See what I have done to show you that this is true. See this romantic act or gift or evening or drive or meal or act of love. It shows you that I mean what I say when I say I love you.
So yes, we men know what romance is, and we know what it is not. We know is not about having to do anything. Romance is not an obligation, and it can never be a duty.
Romance is pure unadulterated pleasure, a selfish excitement at the thought of the smile that will be implanted upon the face of your loved one.
So don't be disappointed if we men don't conform to your own very female construct of love and romance.
We love the power of love so much we do not not want to go on and on about it. We do not want to say it 40 times a day, precisely because it becomes pointless and worthless, and then, well, then what is left?
We do not love romance when it is ordered from us like dinner from a waiter, yet given the chance, we are full of it. Just because our notion of romance doesn't come in the girly wrapping paper that you dreamed up in your collective minds' eyes, it doesn't mean men are incapable of it.
Just let us do it our own way.
I'd hate to see women squander their hard-won liberation by making as many ignorant assumptions as did their old male oppressors.
Last week I was in a shop in the Westside, and the woman in front of me was having a giggle with the checkout lady about a fridge magnet she was buying.
She blushed as she turned to show it to me.
'If we can send a man to the moon, why can't we send all of them?' it said in its comical way. I chuckled and behaved myself, but inside I fumed as I imagined what her outraged and offended reaction would have been had I handed her one wherein the word 'man' was replaced with the word 'woman'.
Romance is a two way street. We men have changed, and I suggest that women might look anew at yourselves, and wonder if you might not benefit from a little modernising too.

Friday 2 February 2007

If I pay you not to pack my bag, does that make me a control freak?

Here I am, in the checkout queue at Tescos, building nervous tension and breaking a sweat because there are teenagers helping pack the bags.
Yes, you read that right. After months of suppressing the needs that have to be satisfied to preserve my sanity, my neuroses are now spilling forth like farts in a colander.
Teenagers per se do not disturb me in the least. Thankfully there are many children I come into contact with in my daily life, and that pleases me and eases my heart. No, it's not the fact that they are teenagers, but more the fact that they are lined up in yellow T-shirts and blue baseball caps, eagerly happily helping the weary shoppers with their bagging, whilst raising money to buy as many three-legged rabbits as they can so that they can send them off to cheer up the children of Chernobyl on their long journey to Lourdes to play hockey with the local Police Force Youth Team.
Why the madness?
This colyoom tends to be spilled from addled brain on Sunday mornings. At this quiet hour the world is calm and I can disappear - some might say up my own backside - and scribble.
It is no surprise that the production of novels requires more time and separation from the madding crowd.
Two of the three novels I have completed took three years each, but the one I wrote whilst living alone in Connemara was rattled out in a year. The freedom to live in an uninterrupted fantasy world, lost between the realms of fact and fiction, with time to walk the back roads, beaches and bohreens; the absence of demanding human contact: for me at that time was ideal.
But we do not stay the same person throughout our lives, and for the last few years I have been participating in society. Living and working the city life does not offer the same time and freedom to inhabit the writer's happy place.
I tell myself that if I am the same man who found in peace in the countryside, I can achieve that mental state anywhere.
Yet upon waking up, my mind is automatically writing lists of people and places to see and be, and the day is gone again.
Faced with this challenge of how to create a vent for my creative steam, I flail around like a walrus, whingeing and crying and wailing, trying and failing to impose my needs, either by attack or terminal retreat.
I think writers seek to control their environments more than all other creative artists.
Deprived of the rhythms of the empty house and vacant day, I try and fail to isolate times and spaces wherein I can sit and be at peace with my scribbling urges.
If that fails, all that controlling energy has to be to dumped somewhere else.
Hence your colyoomist is not well in the head.
Having negotiated the weekly shop, I want the entire process of paying for it, packing it up and putting it away at home over and done with as quickly and efficiently as possible, to hasten the hour that will allow me to be sitting down at home, calmly contemplating what it is I might write today.
Hence sadly, I am twitching as I prepare to be served. All the frustrated controlling energy that is bursting out of me has already sorted the stuff in my trolley so that the heavy stuff can roll down the conveyer belt first.
The fruit and veg are all together, and the eggs, bread and breakables are at the end.
Shit, it ain't rocket science. It's only the goddam shopping, but today I am Mr. Neurotic Creatively Frustrated Crazy Guy, and I want - nay, need - to be left alone.
As nice as pie, I ask the unsuspecting young lass not to pack my stuff. I smile at her, trying to look non-threatening and relaxed, but she isn't fooled for a moment. She quickly retreats, as I rather ostentatiously place a few euro in her collecting bucket, to show I mean no harm; that I may be weird but i still have compassion
Sorry love! Quite possibly I looked a lot more frightening than I thought I did.
So I end up paying her not to help. In fact I end up paying her more money not to help me than I would if she had helped me.
But when does help stop being helpful?
Yes, yes, it's all very bloody wonderful and just marvellous that these young people are so well intentioned and well dressed and well mannered; it's just dandy that they are working; that indeed they are out of bed so early in the day, considering they are young people and it is morning, but I do not want to help the three-legged rabbits and little children of Chernobyl by giving gastro-enteritis to my friends and family.
I do not want my raw meats squashed into a bag of leafy vegetables. Nor do I want my eggs crushed under 2.5kg of Rooster potatoes. The frozen stuff goes in the freezer bag, and yes, I know this looks like complete control freakery, but that's the point.
If had more control over when I was able to write, I am sure I could let go of the need to control other aspects of my life.
There is no pleasure in all this control. It's not as if there's a target you reach, when you sit back and become happy. Into the bargain, I have been in a mild state of depression since mid-December, so there is precious little sanity to spare.
In order to write fiction, to completely let go and have those winds blowing free through my mental doors and windows, I have to know that there is nothing else I should be doing.
I find it so hard to stop giving a shit; to let the household run out of stuff; to let the bills remain unpaid, so instead I walk the earth with entry-level O.C.D. and eruptions of control freakery.
Perchance when the depression lifts I will see that there was time and space availiable all the time; that I was simply blind to it.
At least I know that one day the depression will lift. I suspect that my neurotic behaviours might be here to stay.